A word from literature on marriage

I recently came across this excerpt from G.K. Chesterton (printed in Brave New Family, pp. 51-52). It is remarkable to me how something written almost a century ago can still apply so strongly to the culture in which we live. If you have older children, I would challenge and encourage you to share this piece with your child and discuss its implications.


The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words – ‘free-love’ – as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

As we have said, it is exactly this back-door, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it. … Thus in love the free-lovers say: ‘Let us have the splendor of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.’

Discussion questions:

  1. Chesterton claims that love is by nature self-limiting. How do we see that in marriages, families, or friendships today? What in our culture challenges this notion?
  2. “They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.” Put another way, modern culture wants to give everyone freedom, but the idea of marriage is to voluntarily give up freedom. How could giving up freedom actually make someone “more free”?
  3. Chesterton compares free-love to “[committing] suicide an unlimited number of times.” Looking at relationships in pop culture, in your own experience, or in popular films or literature, where do you see examples of this? How is marriage different?