“I think that the gods exercised especially acute discernment in establishing the particular pairing which is called ‘male and female,’ to ensure that, when the partners cooperate, such a pair may be of the utmost mutual benefit.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager

One of my daughters accepted a marriage proposal this past weekend. So I have extra reason today to be grateful for the “especially acute discernment” which has ordained that men and women get married.

Yet a father can have a certain fear and trembling for his daughter. Most people, I think, who have been married any length of time have had occasion to question this especially acute discernment. Perhaps we do so most of all when an especially acute dis-connect–seemingly reserved just for spouses–leads to especially acute suffering.

Xenophon suggests that the divine discernment that established the pairing of male and female only comes to fruition “when the partners cooperate.”

I can hear my first-grade teacher saying sweetly to me and my classmates: “Now children, make sure you cooperate with one another.” I think for most of us those words passed in one ear and out the other without much impact in between.

Co-operation. Of course the word literally means working together. Real work is always challenging, and working together adds a further wrinkle. But eventually we need to learn that the most important ‘operations’ in life are always co-operations. And more to the point, we have to become the kind of people that are actually willing and able to cooperate, day in and day out. Especially with those closest to us.

In the early glow of the love between man and woman it is near impossible to picture how difficult such co-operation will be. And that is natural. But in spouses who persevere in fidelity and humility, there will arise a profound, even if sometimes shaken, conviction of the reason for it all.

Xenophon really was right. In fact, he was even more right than he realized. There is a discernment so acute that it had to be divine: a discernment only possible in a God who loves with a power beyond our imagining. And this primordial love devised a plan of love that, when followed, yields another reality almost beyond our imagining: a happy marriage.

And so with all my heart I congratulate my dear daughter and son-in-law to be. And I pray that the truth of Xenophon’s words become ever more evident to you both.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.

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