Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene The Natural Family

Westminsterian Aristotelianism: Marriage (3)

Previously, we remarked that Samuel Willard first subdivides “political” relation into “public” and “private” (=”oeconomical,” i.e., pertaining to the household), and then divides the latter into the relations of husband and wife and master and servant. He then discusses the marriage relation, as was discussed in the previous post.

He then continues as follows:

These are the most Necessary, as well as the principal Parts of a Family. I do not say, that there can be no Family without these, the Death of one of these doth not necessarily dissolve a Family, tho’ it doth mutilate it; nor is it compleat where this Relation is not. It was the first reason of making Families, and had Man continued in his Integrity, it would have been necessary; whereas, whether the other were not introduced by the Apostacy, may afford matter of consideration.

Willard here asserts that the marriage relation is prelapsarian rather than postlapsarian; that is, it is not the result of the Fall. If man had not fallen, the institution of marriage (ordered to the natural propagation of the species and, derivative from its natural purpose, the production of a holy seed) would nevertheless have existed. Scripturally, so much is clear from the opening chapters of Genesis.

But though he first calls both relations (husband/wife, master/servant) the “most Necessary,” he then goes on to make a qualification: though marriage would have been necessary in any case, perhaps the master/servant relation (here called “the other”) would not have been. In fact, Willard makes clear in the next sermon that it certainly would not have been. The master/servant relation is purely a result of the Fall of Adam–that is, it, unlike marriage, is the result of sin, “a fruit of the Curse.” In unfallen nature, God had ordered the household of husband and wife (and children) to exist; he had not ordered it to include the master/servant dynamic.

But in the rest of the sermon under consideration here, Willard keeps to the first kind of relationship. He next notes that the marriage relationship brings duties with it, some of which are mutual, or shared, and some of which are proper to one party or the other. This is because there are certain respects in which husband and wife are unequals, and certain respects in which they are equals. This language is apt to offend in our day, so it is important to table our sensitivities for a moment and first to be careful about what he means. Willard writes:

In the further Prosecution of the Duties between these, we are to take Notice, that of all the Orders which are unequals, these do come nearest to an Equality, and in several respects they stand upon even ground. These do make a Pair, which infers so far a Parity: They are in the Word of God called Yoke-Fellows, and so are to draw together in the Yoke. Nevertheless, God hath also made an imparity between them, in the Order prescribed in His Word, and for that reason there is a Subordination, and they are ranked among unequals. And from this we may observe some Duties that are mutual or common between them, and others that are proper to each.

Indeed, it seems to me that Willard could have been clearer here; for instance, he could have said what I just did! Instead, he says that they “come nearest to an Equality,” and then qualifies that statement by saying that “in several respects they stand upon even ground,” which implies, not “nearly equal,” but “precisely equal in several respects.” It would have been better, then, because it would have been clearer, to say that husband and wife are equal and unequal in different senses. What he means by “imparity” is simply that there is an established order in the household as everywhere else in human political life that imposes different kinds of duties on the interested parties; this is what is usually referred to today as “headship” and “submission.” But that political ordering of the household occurs within a context in which husband and wife are “yoked” together in equality coram Deo and also in many aspects of the marriage relationship itself. In future posts, we shall see how Willard develops this line of inquiry.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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