Monday, 28 April 2008

All my worldly

In the latest Briefing #356 (so hot off the press that that link is still to #355!), Phillip Jensen writes about marriage prenuptial agreements:

...Surveys show that although [after divorce] the wife most commonly gets the house as well as her 'share' of the assets, within a few years she is worse off than the husband. It is much less lucrative for her to restart her career than for him to continue his. She generally has to sell the house and start eating into the capital.

So what would you agree to—a 50/50 or a 60/40 split? The old Book of Common Prayer was much simpler. The bridegroom promised "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow". And the bride did not give him a ring and endow him with any worldly goods. There was no mention of a wedding ring for men.

Later prayer books have tried to express the mutuality of marriage in terms of both bride and groom giving wedding rings and making the promise "with all that I am and all that I have I honour you". It is a wonderfully vague and meaningless declaration of mutual love that avoids the reality of money altogether.

The modern marriage is a 'fifty-fifty' relationship. But marriage is built not on two halves becoming one, but on two wholes becoming one: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Once you have endowed your beloved with all your worldly goods, there is no room to split your assets. You do not have any. You have already endowed her with them all.

Ah, gone are the days when gentlemen promised total commitment! Little wonder we have to ask the question of what percentage of the assets each gets. Little wonder we are facing the question of splitting up at all.


The 1662 Book of Common Prayer embodied a far more muscular conception of Christianity than is normally on display today. And in the area of marriage, this showed itself in a right understanding of the gracious and total commitment that the man was expected to make as he initiated the relationship with his wife.

15 comments:

Ben said...

I think this is another example of Phillip making a good point, and the truth be damned. I feel like it's a bit of a straw man actually.

The fact is that modern bridegrooms do "promise full committment" to their brides... and then they break their promise.

*That's* the issue: breaking promises. Not that the promises have been altered to become meaningless. I don't think many bridegrooms would assent to a vow that goes something like,

"I promise to love you as long as an insofar as it's convenient for me - and no further."

The words of the vows aren't the problem - it's the hearts of the men and women involved that cause all the grief.

And I know Phillip probably wouldn't disagree with that, but I just wish he wouldn't pick on things like this.

Don't get me started on his whole "I do/I will" thing.

Gordon Cheng said...

The heart is indeed the heart of the problem!

That's why we need solid vows though, isn't it? To bind weak hearts and sinful flesh, before witnesses. Of course that doesn't really address the heart of the heart problem, but it's one of those things that apply a legislative brake to the extremes of human sinfulness and slows down our capacity to hurt each other somewhat.

Ben said...

I suppose that's right, although our laws aren't really doing their job, binding sinful flesh.

(As Phillip is wont to point out - correctly, in my view).

Gordon Cheng said...

Mmm... perhaps the death penalty for adulterers wasn't such a crazy OT idea.

Dark Knight said...

Ah yes, how I long for the days once again when the church exercised strict control over all areas of human life, including sexuality and economics. Those were good times!

apologies said...

The 50/50 thing is as you say a misconception on the world's part. In our premarital counseling(something else that is lacking these days) we heard repeatedly "marriage will never work on a 50/50 basis it has to be 100/100" - sound advice I think.

RodeoClown said...

I'm with Ben on this one - I think Phillip has missed the point (as much as I usually think he's spot on).


"With all that I am and all that I have" seems to match (and possibly even beat) "with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow".

I went with the former at my wedding, and I surely meant it to be absolutely everything I have and own.

The problem is people not following through on the commitment, not that their vows are rubbish (although many self-written ones truly are).

Gordon Cheng said...

However, part of Phillip's observation was not just about vagueness, but also about the fact that the vows are not mutual. The man gives everything he owns to the woman, not the other way 'round. It rather sharpens the point, I think.

RodeoClown said...

Jen's vow to me was almost exactly the same - if anything, she had one more word than I did in mine ('honour').

Gordon Cheng said...

Jen's vow to me was almost exactly the same

While I am all for mutuality, our current vows (and mine were probably about the same as yours) tend past that towards symmetry. And symmetry between male and female is not something the Bible teaches.

apologies said...

***penny dropping***
(light bulb on)
It all comes down to the biblical role of leadership for the husband doesn't it ... I think this might where you (& Phillip) are heading. Christ gave his all for the church. The Church gives nothing in return. There's no symmetry in salvation - which marriage is a picture of.. thus "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. (/light bulb off) :)

apologies said...

your comment on symmetry has prompted a sudden realisation...
it really all comes down to the husband emulating Christ. Christ have his body for the Church, husbands are to do likewise. There's no symmetry in salvation or else grace would not be grace as Paul said in Gal 2.
The man must take the lead in all areas. I guess Hosea is another vivid example from scripture.

Anonymous said...

I have not read all of PJ's comments, just your extract. Gordon, subject to whatever the full text may say, it seems to me that PJ's swipe at prenups is misinformed. What about the situation where all I own is not mine to give away? A family business where the son has worked in it for years without having any other trade or means of support, a share in a farm owned for generations by members of bloggs family, the rightful expectations of children from a prior marriage. It is commonplace for business partners will Will their share in a business to the business parter. There are lots of righteous situations (not a few exceptions or hard cases) where prenups are needed because all is not rightfully yours to give away. Is PJ aware of this? Does he profess knowledge in this area? If he want to speak on the subject then let him get advice first. Its just headline grabbing for PJ to bag prenups in the way he does. I wish PJ on this occasion would not be so unsympathetic in his generalisation. I know the broad point he is making and I agree with it; but its dangerous for him to give such limited advice because people will follow it thinking that it is spiritual and ignore the advice of others who know better. Do you see any merit in what I am saying?

Gordon Cheng said...

What about the situation where all I own is not mine to give away?

I would argue that there's a sense in which if it's not yours to give away, it's not yours!

But as the 1662 prayer book specifically focusses on giving stuff away, the stuff that is not yours to give away would I suppose not be included in such an oath. Which would deal with the central dilemma that you raise.

Phillip's point, I think was primarily about the total commitment that is initiated by the man, with the older form of the vows hitting us where it tends to hurt the most—in our wallets and all that they represent. Pre-nuptial agreements as a general rule seem to be a way of reneging on that commitment. Where such agreements are a matter of clarifying legal ownership ahead of the wedding, I suspect that is not what Phillip had in mind.

Dannii said...

Hmm, a prenup that gives the wife everything... now that's an interesting and challenging idea.