more than just ’til death do us part’

On the Sailboat – Friedrich (1820)

The following are notes from art history class:

As Pascal famously said, “We are embarked” – we have set off on the voyage… what is this a metaphor of? Human life.

Embarking is a metaphor for the true condition of human life, our birth, our point of departure is behind us, there’s no turning back or standing still, nothing but the uncontrollable influence of wind and water bringing us closer to the end of our journey with every passing moment. This painting is about where their lives are headed. The image constitutes a kind of emblem, a symbol of a three part relation between a man, a woman, and a destination they share. The painting shows this all at once, holding it fast.

The man and the woman take each other’s hand and look at the distance toward their destination. They are not looking at each other, but rather are joined together in looking at their common destination. They are joined by their own will, two people choosing to move through their lives together. The painting shows them joined in their shared attention to something that lies beyond them, that toward which their lives are moving. Not just the unknown, not just the life they will live together, but the thing they’re moving toward is seen by them both as beautiful and captivating, even more so than they are to each other. It’s that shared destiny that unites them, freely joined and moving through life together.

Aristotelian telos – every human life has the telos (purpose, end) of a human life, that perfect condition which by its actions and choices it hopes to reach, ultimate fulfillment, the highest good. The knowledge of this end has a huge impact on life. It is necessary to have a perception of that end so that one is capable of moving open eyed toward it. What is that telos for a Christian? The beatific vision.

We are not married by choice, but in spirit and in truth relative to where our lives are going and what our lives are for. A good marriage would be one where the end really sought in the way one lives is the same for both, sought in common.

In this unchanging end lies the unbreakable core of marriage, stronger than all intention and promise and struggle and effort, since here one has actual union, not just abstract, promised union. One vessel, a ship, carries them forward toward the same thing. Any force that pulls a couple toward different destinations would rip the ship to pieces. Here’s a painting that shows us a conception of marriage, presenting literally and figuratively a depiction of what marriage is. A distinct conception of what makes a true marriage.

This conception of marriage is more than just ’til death do us part’, it’s a state of being bound to someone not by choice, taste, desire, or will, but by a shared destiny purposed beyond each other, given that the inclination of their hearts join each other in a single striving. That’s a clumsy sentence, but the painting shows it.
Lecture by Dr. Edward Tingley, Augustine College


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