2018 Conference Talk
Make Men Pious Again
by C. R. Wiley
The word piety appears to have fallen out of circulation. In some circles, the thing that it once referred to is now known as "a personal relationship with Jesus."
I'm old enough to remember the transition. When I was young, old preachers promoted piety, particularly those whose vocabulary had been formed by reading John Wesley or George Whitfield. I suppose the word sounded sanctimonious to younger men; that's probably why they used more youthful-sounding terms, such as "devotions," or even "quiet time" ("QT" for short). You may be able to detect a downgrade here. Piety was something that carried you through life. QT is something for your to-do list.
But I think it's safe to say we have arrived at a nadir. A few years ago there was a push to get the last vestiges of sanctimony out of Christianity. I'm thinking of the slogan, "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship."
I miss religion. I miss piety, too. I'd like to have them back. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, piety could have been included in a list of things that made you a manly man. I don't think QT could have made such a list.
What I'm thinking of goes much further back than Wesley and Whitfield. Even in the eighteenth century, piety's sphere had already contracted. It's a story that I'm sure is familiar to many of you, but I think I can sum it up succinctly: What was once public truth, by the eighteenth century had been reduced to private conviction.
Ecclesial authority had already been downgraded by then. Authority in general had eroded, due to revolutions in politics, science, and industry. To meet the challenge, evangelists like Wesley and Whitfield were forced to stress direct, very personal experience of the supernatural by everyone. Catechisms and Confessions were no longer enough. Then came Romanticism in the nineteenth century, and before you knew it, you had Cane Ridge.
This is a broad, sweeping generalization, I know. But I am only trying to describe the Zeitgeist here, not the path of every leaf on the wind.
What we have been left with is heart-religion, because now the heart is the only place Jesus can be publically acknowledged to live. Ironically, many people think that this is the very essence of Christianity. The notion that the faith once stood for more is inconceivable.
Now, what does this heart-religion look like?
Allow me to use an image. (Even bookish religions rely on images: think of the Prodigal Son—now there's an image for you.) The modern conceit is that facts are what we need, and nothing but facts. But no one lives by facts alone, not even scientists. Instead, we live for what we love. And images show us what we should love.
Now when it comes to a personal relationship with Jesus, I think the image that best captures what many have in mind is found in the old song "In the Garden." I know it well; when I was a pastor on Cape Cod, I sang it a lot. The Cape is a place where people go to die. I buried a lot of folks during my time there, and "In the Garden" was second only to "Amazing Grace" among songs requested for funerals. Here, allow me to sing it for you:
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
Here's the refrain:
And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
There are more verses, but it is the refrain that really sticks with you.
"In the Garden" was written by the prolific C. Austin Miles and was originally published in 1913. I am told by an apologist for it that Miles had in mind the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Lord in John's Gospel. That may be true, but that is not how the song functioned for the people I knew on Cape Cod. They weren't singing about Mary; they were singing about themselves.
This never troubled me until I read The American Religion by the Yale scholar Harold Bloom. It was Bloom who brought the Gnostic undertones of "In the Garden" to my attention. For Bloom, a self-identified and serious Gnostic of the old school, this is something to celebrate. But even if Bloom overstates the case, the song is cloying and embarrassingly intimate. It reminds me of the bridal mysticism that Lee Podles talks about in The Church Impotent. And in my experience, this is not the sort of thing that masculine men find
A Contrasting Image
Let's contrast "In the Garden" with another image, one found on coins that Jesus and Paul probably held in their hands. It is the image of a man with an elderly man on his back, accompanied by the word pietas—the word that is the basis of the English word piety.
This wasn't the only image of pietas found on Roman coins. Another shows a woman holding a baby to her breast; yet another shows a woman pouring out a libation. But it is the first image I intend to consider, because it performed the same mythic function for Romans as the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock once performed for Americans. It is an image of Aeneas fleeing the ruins of Troy, carrying his father.
Here's the legendary scene as described by Bernard Knox, director emeritus of Harvard's Center for Hellenistic Studies: "[A]fter realizing the fighting was no longer of use, that Troy was doomed, [Aeneas] carried his father Anchises on his shoulders out of the burning city, holding his son Ascanius by the hand, with his wife Creusa following behind."
It would be hard to find a more manful image than this. Most men would find it inspiring. It has the potential of giving a heroic cast to even the most routine tasks of domestic life.
While they would have admired the picture, I don't think the old preachers of my youth had something like this in mind when they talked about piety. So what were the Romans thinking of when they called this pietas? Here's Bernard Knox again:
The word pius does indeed refer, like its English derivation, to devotion and duty to the Divine; this is the reason cited by Poseidon in the Iliad for saving Aeneas from death at the hand of Achilles. And in the Aeneid he is always mindful of the gods, constant in prayer and thanks, and dutiful in sacrifice. But the words pius and pietas have in Latin a wider meaning. Perhaps the best English equivalent is something like "dutiful," "mindful of one's duty"—not only to the gods but also to one's family and to one's country.
The Greeks had a similar word, and in Acts 17:23, the Apostle Paul used it to commend the Athenians. The verb he employed is a form of eusebeo. The concordance defines it as follows: "to act . . . reverently towards God, one's country, magistrates, relations, and to all to whom dutiful regard or reverence is due."
What should impress us about classical piety is its comprehensive nature. It didn't withdraw from the world. It didn't have to. The world wasn't divided up into religious and secular categories. The world was a cosmos, a sacred order; and it was filled with other beings, some of whom were people; others, gods. And you owed things to them. Piety paid its debts.
I know this is not what comes to mind when most of us think of Rome. Instead, we think of a litany of crime. A gap separated Rome's ideals from actual practice.
But many Romans admitted that. It was the very reason Virgil, and others, wanted the old piety back. You could say that they wanted to Make Rome Pious Again. In retrospect, we know that they failed. But that failure contributed to the success of the Christian piety that came later.
But here's the irony I'd like us to consider: the piety of those early Christians looked more like the piety of Aeneas than what substitutes for it today. In what follows, I hope to use the Aeneid to get our old piety back. I want to make men pious again.
There's a disagreement about whether or not Christians should do this sort of thing, and it goes a long way back. Tertullian summed it up with the quip, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?"
Even though he was probably thinking of Platonism, Augustine encouraged us to plunder pagan literature in the same way that the Israelites plundered Egypt on their way out of town. I'm with him; let's plunder Egyptian libraries, not burn them. We see a precedent in Scripture. Speaking of Athens, Paul employed the technique at Mars Hill when he debated Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. And missionaries ever since have been on the lookout for what C. S. Lewis called "good dreams"in order to show how the gospel can make good dreams come true.
Aeneas & Abram
Now, here is the method to my madness:
The Aeneid and the Bible will be my dowsing rods. Where they seem to cross—where they seem to say something similar—I'll stop and consider what it may mean for Christian piety. It may sound like I'm superimposing Virgil onto the Bible. But my purpose is just the opposite of that. I hope to show you that our modern way of looking at the Bible actually screens out what early Christians took for granted.
Let's begin with mission statements. Aeneas had one.
His story begins at sea, in medias res. The Trojan fleet is caught in a storm that has been stirred up by Troy's old nemesis, Juno. After Neptune comes to the rescue, Aeneas anchors off the coast of Libya, not far from Carthage. When he comes ashore, his mother, the goddess Venus, appears to him disguised as a huntress.
Ironically, she's the one who asks, "Who are you?" Here is his reply: "I am Aeneas, duty-bound. I carry aboard my ships the gods of house and home we seized from enemy hands. My fame goes past the skies! I seek my homeland—Italy—born as I am from highest Jove."
This is not your typical mission statement. It could only belong to the founder of a great house. And Aeneas is that. But he didn't give his mission to himself; it was impressed upon him during the sack of Troy. First, his mother appeared to him in all her glory to tear him away from fighting so that he could save his family. Then later, after he has been separated from his wife in the confusion, he goes back into the burning city to find her. But instead of finding her, her ghost finds him. And after seeing his tears for her, this is what she says:
My dear husband, why so eager to give yourself to such mad flights of grief? It's not without the will of the gods that these things have come to pass. But the gods forbid you to take Creusa with you. . . . The king of lofty Olympus won't allow it. A long exile is your fate . . . the vast plains of the sea are yours to plow until you reach Hesperian land, where Lydian Tiber flows. . . . There great joy and a kingdom are yours to claim, and a queen to make your wife.
I hope this reminds you of something similar in the Bible. There the speaker is not a ghost, but the one true God, and he is addressing a man named Abram:
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:1–3)
A Child of Promise
Both men leave their old world behind; both are headed to a promised land, and both will be remembered. But these are not the only things they have in common.
In both stories there is a child of promise.
When Aeneas comes home to save his family, he finds his father resolute to stay. Because he is unwilling to leave him behind, Aeneas prepares to return to the fighting. But then his wife bars his way with their son. Then, the following:
So Creusa cries,
her wails of anguish echoing through the house,
when out of the blue an omen strikes—a marvel!
Now as we held our son between our hands
And both of our grieving faces, a tongue of fire,
watch, flares up from the crown of Iulus' head,
a subtle flame licking his downy hair, feeding
around the boy's brow, and though it never harmed him,
panicked, we rush to shake the flame from his curls
and smother the holy fire. . . .
But Father Anchises lifts his eyes to the stars in joy
And stretching his hands toward the sky, sings out:
"Almighty Jove! If any prayer can persuade you now,
look down on us—that's all I ask—if our devotion
has earned it, grant us another omen; Father, seal this first clear sign."
No sooner said
than an instant peal of thunder crashes on the left
and down from the sky a shooting star comes gliding,
trailing a flaming torch to irradiate the night. . . .
At last Anchises is ready to go, and Aeneas says to him,
"So come, dear father, climb up onto my shoulders!
I will carry you on my back. This labor of love
will never wear me down."
The power of the story is undeniable. Must we renounce it? Not even Augustine denounced the image of Aeneas with Anchises on his back. And we don't have to, either, if we receive it as a good dream, a harbinger of better things.
Now let's return to Abram's story. He set out for a promised land, too, but without a son to lead. And after years of wandering, he wonders what it is all for. Then this happens:
Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? . . . Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the Lord came to him. "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Gen. 15:2–5)
Then Abram is also given a sign:
[The Lord] said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. . . .
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. . . . When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram. (Gen 15:9–10,12,17–18)
The sign was the cut that binds, the oath sealed in blood, a covenant that promised death for covenant breakers. Like Aeneas, Abram is now duty-bound, and so are his heirs. Circumcision will be the sign of their binding duty, repeated over the generations, binding the sons of Abram to Abram's God. And in days to come, when his heirs ask, "Who are you?", God will invariably reply, "I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Returning to my dowsing rods, there is another parallel between the stories of Aeneas and Abram. In both of them the promised land is won by pious war.
That a war could be pious is incomprehensible to modern people. And for modern readers, the best part of the Aeneid is the first half. But for the Romans, it may have been the other way around. Everything has been building to a fight. And for the original audience, this was a prelude of coming attractions. The story reveals that.
To prepare her son for the fight, Venus plies her womanly wiles to persuade Vulcan to make Aeneas a suit of armor. And the most important thing that he makes is a shield, prophetically emblazoned with the story of Aeneas's ever-victorious children in years to come. Here's Virgil:
Such vistas the God of Fire forged across the shield
that Venus gives her son. He fills with wonder—
he knows nothing of these events but takes delight
in their likeness, lifting onto his shoulders now
the fame and fates of all his children's children.
Did you notice the subtle shift in the burden of duty here? Having set his father down, Aeneas now takes up his armor to wage war for his children's children.
Although we can dismiss it cynically, the Romans justified their conquests as the progress of peace, of the Pax Romana—the Peace of Rome. Virgil has Father Anchises give the Romans their charge from Elysium:
But you, Roman, remember, rule with all your power
the peoples of the earth—these will be your arts:
to put your stamp on the works and ways of peace,
to spare the defeated, break the proud in war.
Augustine began his defense of the City of God by quoting the very words of Anchises. But he rejects the piety of the Pax Romana, instead insisting that Rome was founded on fratricide. Romulus should get the credit, a man, like Cain, who killed his brother, then built a city.
But Augustine said that in the fifth century. As I noted earlier, the old piety was moribund by the first. The civil strife that brought the Caesars to power had cut the thread of piety that had held the Roman way of life together. The Aeneid was an attempt to bring it back, but without its republican connotations. Intellectuals like Tacitus and Lucan wanted none of it. Piety had been a republican virtue, after all, and the old model had been Cincinnatus, the patrician who resigned his dictatorship following a military crisis, so that he could return to the household farm. Rome was a long way from that. Now new cults from the east were using Roman roads to spread their beliefs throughout the empire.
Another Set of Armor
But in the east, the house of Abraham looked like it had failed to live up to its promise. It had never fully occupied its land, and its most successful dynasty saw its northern territory peel away after only two generations. Then one empire after another swept over it, and by the first century it was subject to the heirs of Aeneas; and soon its temple would be destroyed by them.
In spite of all that, the hope of Abraham's children lived on, because they had been promised a deliverer who would restore the kingdom to Israel, and not only take back its land, but actually fill the entire world with the kingdom of God.
Into this hope stepped Jesus of Nazareth. Some of Abraham's children believed that he was the promised king. But their leaders rejected him, and handed him over to the Romans to be crucified.
Then there was a sudden, joyous turn: Jesus rose bodily from the dead, demonstrating that he was the promised messiah, and heir to the world.
Believers were strengthened because the Resurrection demonstrated that not even death could stand in the way of the kingdom of God. Then, in the very house of a Roman centurion, another sign followed that indicated that anyone who wanted to join Abraham's household would be welcome to, so long as he believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
This is the point in the story at which the Apostle Paul appears. He was uniquely equipped to help people immigrate. He was a Roman citizen, after all. But he also belonged to the household of Abraham. Here he is in his letter to the Romans at Ephesus:
[R]emember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were . . . separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near. . . . So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God. (Eph. 2:11–13,19)
This didn't happen without a fight, though. The kingdom of God had to wage its own pious war to win new territory. At the end of the letter, Paul lays out another set of armor, this one forged by the one true God. And this implies that every member of the household of God was also a citizen-soldier.
To anyone on the ground in the first century, these warring pieties looked mismatched. But the conflict was asymmetric because Christians fought a guerrilla war at a level the Romans were not prepared to fight. Paul said, "We fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers" (Eph. 6:12).
Today, we don't take this seriously. But for believers in the first century, the cosmos wasn't empty space, like it is for us; literally every square inch was full. And at the level just above the ground, there was the Prince of the Power of the Air to contend with. The war Christians waged against him went right over the heads of their human opponents. Rome wasn't the real foe. It even served God's purposes, regardless of what the Romans intended.
Nevertheless, the line of conflict passed right through every human being. Paradoxically, that's why it did come down to a fight over human institutions in the end—but only as a consequence. As C. S. Lewis said, aim at heaven and earth gets thrown in.
Penultimately, the Christian way of war won, and eventually even the emperor submitted to another peace, the Pax Christi. Here's Prudentius, from the fifth century: "Now the successor of Aeneas, in the imperial purple, prostrates himself in prayer at the house of Christ, and the supreme lord adores the cross."
The Law of the House
So, how can all of this make men pious again?
Before I can show that, I have to show you what household religion looks like. And before I can do that, I need to show you what a household really is, because sadly, the subject is lost on us.
Imagine a world without business corporations or social welfare agencies. As John Lennon sang, you can do it if you try. Where do you suppose people made a living, or found help in time of need? In their households, of course.
Now, let that sink in.
A household wasn't a building. It was an authority structure. The physical building that housed it was the analogy, not the thing itself.
Something else to remember: a household was an economy. The etymology of the word tells the story. It is derived from two Greek words, oikos, meaning "house," and nomos, meaning "law." An economy was the law of the house. It directed the labors of people in a house toward their common good.
Household economies were based on some productive enterprise, usually farming or trade. Sometimes they were subsistence economies; other times they produced goods for the market. Either way, they were nearly the only industry. They produced food, clothing, and nearly anything else worth having. And on top of that, they were social welfare agencies, educating the young and caring for the elderly and infirm.
Something else to recall: pre-modern households could get quite large, and actually house more than one family. Remember, when Abram went to war, he was able to muster over 300 fighting men from his household alone.
Because of these things, a father's authority in antiquity was unquestioned. People depended on him for so much that life without him was hard to imagine. He adjudicated household disputes; in a world where the police were never a phone call away, he defended and enforced its boundaries, and he spoke for the household's interests in public forums. His job was to govern his household and represent it in the larger community. (Wives were more directly concerned with the internal affairs of daily household management—as Proverbs 31 or Aristotle's Politics shows.) A father was so important that his untimely death could lead to the break-up of his household and the distribution of its members to his relations.
A father gave a household its vertical dimension. (You've got to have a hierarchy when so much is at stake.) And on the ground that's the reason for patriarchy. But verticality didn't begin or end with him. Fathers were subject to higher authorities. They were like the centurion Jesus commended for saying, "I am a man under authority. . . ." You could call them the middle managers of the cosmos.
And this brings me to the most important duty of a patriarch: he represented his household in a cosmic hierarchy. Heavenly laws were the basis of the home economy, and the welfare of a household depended on the blessings of heaven. This is why patriarchs never defined piety in exclusively personal terms. A father was embedded in a structure that he did not invent, and he had responsibilities that he did not choose. His piety consisted in doing his duty.
The Lost Second Story
As you know, things are different today. Households are not economies in the old sense of the term; they're more like recreation centers. We've outsourced productive enterprise to the workplace, and when it comes to social welfare, the young, the old, the sick, and the out-of-work now all depend on social service agencies.
The unexpected consequence of these changes has been a downgrade in the father's authority. (Unexpected by anyone who isn't a Marxist, that is; Marx saw it coming and rejoiced.) In our time, just what is a father supposed to be in charge of anyway? What's for dinner? What to watch on television?
Speaking figuratively here, this is why most households today don't have a second story. Recreation centers don't need one. Now people live in ranch-style houses.
Not coincidentally, this fits in with the way we understand the cosmos today. We've lost its upper levels. We don't live in an ordered cosmos, we live in chaos, matter in motion, illusory and temporary order, with no points of reference, just empty space. We no longer look up to get our moral bearings—and this, by the way, is what Nietzsche was getting at with his lament that "God is dead."
This is a long way from the cosmology shared by Abram and Aeneas. They lived in a Downton Abbey-style cosmos, with an upper floor. They disagreed about who was upstairs, but they agreed that there was someone up there. Consequently, they built their own households on the same plan. They built two-story houses.
Bringing this home, without a point of reference by which a father and husband can be said to represent a higher authority, households have been reduced to networks of emotionally satisfying relationships. Marriage is now justified solely on this basis. Children are a lifestyle choice; if you want them, good for you. Some people prefer cats.
When it comes to raising children though, fatherhood has been repurposed. Dad is now a buddy, or a second mommy. (In other words, Heather always has two mommies, even when one of them is her father.) The goal of the friendship and the nurture is the happiness of the child, as in, "I just want him/her/it to be happy." And we're not talking about happiness according to Aristotle here. This comes straight from Oprah Winfrey.
It's hard to justify duty in the terms of emotionally satisfying relationships. Duty impresses a structured hierarchy onto our lives. Duty never says, "You be you," or "Go ahead and do what makes you happy." Duty says, "This is who you are; do what is required."
Reviving the Household
Some people think the change is all for the better, that old-fashioned households have been replaced by more capacious modern institutions that give us room to be ourselves. The people who think this way believe that Christianity must adapt or die.
There are at least two problems with that. First, the freedom these people celebrate is an illusion. We're more servile than ever, because we're more vulnerable than ever. Contemporary institutions are so large, and we're so small, that we're naked and powerless before them. We're like little interchangeable cogs in vast machines.
And the other problem is that, historically, the household, with its attendant structure, its roles and its duties, has been at the center of Christian faith and practice from the beginning. Consider: God the Father, God the Son, Mother Church—and this is just a start. If we lose the household, can we even think like Christians any longer, let alone live like Christians? Will what we call Christianity even be Christian any longer? Or will it be something else? I suspect the latter. I think it is already happening.
As you have probably guessed, I think we need to revive the household, in some contemporary form, if we're going to get the old piety back. And I don't think this is quixotic. I think there are at least two ways we can do it.
The first is to recover the productive household. We need to depend on our households again, and the way to do that is by taking back their old functions. If we depend on them for more, we will also depend on them to tell us who we are. Duty will come back. I talk about this in my little book Man of the House. If you'd like some practical suggestions on how to proceed, this book may be helpful.
Now for the second way: we need to recover a larger frame of reference to build our houses in. We need to get back to the cosmos.
One last time to the dowsing rods: there's one more place the stories cross—both end with a marriage. A king must have a queen, after all. There's no future without her.
Aeneas waged war for a princess. And it is only when his warfare has ended that he will be able to take his throne and reign with her. But since Virgil died before he could finish the poem, sadly, we can only infer this
Abraham's story actually does end this way, although he's not the one who wages war for a queen. That comes later. First there was the dry run, in which his heirs failed to institute the kingdom of God on a small sliver of real estate. Long after that, his true heir, the Son of David, appeared and won the greatest victory imaginable. It was through that victory that he won a bride, and the Bible ends with their wedding day. And they live happily ever after (Rev. 21).
So, what does this mean for piety today? I believe it means the same thing it did for the Apostle Paul in the first century. Again, his letter to the Ephesians shows us. But we tend to miss it because the garden I mentioned a while ago keeps blocking our view.
Theologians tell us that we live in the time of "already, but not yet."From the start, Gnostics have downplayed the "not yet" side. They perform this nifty trick by denying the goodness and meaning of the world outside their heads, especially when it comes to their bodies. And this is why, wherever you find Gnosticism, you find mutilated bodies.
And that's what we see today, particularly in the rejection of the biological basis of the family. Trans-genderism, trans-humanism, trans-ad nauseam—each abstracts the mind from the body in the way that C. S. Lewis described in That Hideous Strength, where the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments—marvelously shortened to "NICE"—preserves the head of its leader in a machine after discarding his body.
Within Christianity, Gnostics have seized upon a few statements by Jesus about the world to come. A favorite is Matthew 22:30, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." What tends to be downplayed by Gnostics is the fact that this describes the new creation, not this one.
And this is why the trend to reduce Christianity to a "personal relationship" should alarm us. It makes Christians vulnerable to Gnosticism. A garden in your heart makes your body an afterthought, if that.
Ironically, it also mutilates another body—the one that serves as our model for the world to come. Allow me to end my politically incorrect little talk by referring to this model. Naturally, I'm thinking of the New Testament household codes.
Like "In the Garden," I never gave the codes much thought. Then I noticed how scrupulously people avoid them. That's when I began to suspect that they may be absolutely indispensible.
Paul baptized Roman households. I don't just mean the individuals living in them; I mean the institutions themselves. (Most contemporary commentators inform us that this was a concession to the prejudices of the time. But just why Paul should have done that when he was willing to take on idolatry and sexual perversity, no one cares to discuss.)
But baptism did change those households. They were given a new end; better, they were given their true end, the one they had always pointed to without anyone knowing it.
Each role in a baptized household was put into the service of Christ and his kingdom. Each of the members, through their given roles, modeled some aspect of the reign of Christ. The duties of husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, and children to parents—each role served a common Lord as well as a common good. And the center of a Christian household, and serving as its nexus, was a conjugal union.
In both Genesis and Ephesians, we're told that it is a one-flesh union. Paul said that it's a mystery, meaning it hides something that reveals something.
One flesh begins with a conjugal union; that's why a conjugal union was once called consummating a marriage. But this is just the beginning; one flesh also refers to the issue of that union in children. And even beyond that, it is a union of interests, of goods, and a common life. It means that what goes for one, goes for the other. And Paul tells us that all of this applies to Christ and the Church. What belongs to the Church, belongs to Christ; and what belongs to Christ, belongs to the Church, because they are one flesh.
Now please allow me to get a little Presbyterian on you for a moment. Because sinners are condemned to die, Christ died for his chosen bride; and because Christ was raised and glorified, the Church is raised and glorified, too. The Reformed call this "double-imputation." If that term bothers you, leave it aside for a moment; what it accounts for is the one-flesh union of Christ and the Church.
Duties to Perform
I hope you can see what this implies when it comes to Christian piety.
It implies, in a real way, that the Christian household points to a new heaven and a new earth—a new sacred order, a new cosmos, in which the Church reigns with Christ forever, like a queen with her king. It's like a sign that reads: This is the way that the world will end, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with the sound of wedding bells.
Marriage beganin a garden when the Lord said, "It is not good for the man to be alone."And ever since that day, pious men never go to the garden alone. They are duty-bound to take their households with them.
And even though they leave father and mother behind, to be bound in marriage, pious men still have a duty to honor their parents. And of course, they also have a duty to multiply, because children not only bear the image of their parents, but they also bear the image of God.
So men are surrounded by duties to perform. And this is what manly piety amounts to: doing your duty.
And if I had to choose an image from outside the Bible with which to impress upon a man his responsibilities, I couldn't imagine a better one than that of Aeneas leading his household out of the ruins of Troy.
But I would baptize it by giving Aeneas another city besides Rome to journey towards, as lovely as I am sure that place is. My Aeneas would look for, and fight for, a better city, the City of God.
C. R. Wiley has written for numerous periodicals, including Touchstone, Modern Reformation, Sacred Architecture, The Imaginative Conservative, and First Things. He is the author of The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Canon Press, 2019) and Man of the House (Wipf and Stock, 2017). His short fiction has appeared in The Mythic Circle (published by the Mythopoeic Society) and elsewhere, and the first book in his young-adult fantasy series, The Purloined Boy, was republished by Canon Press in 2017. He is a member of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters.