A Small Talk

All forgotten, except by me, and now by you.

A  PreNote:  All my life I have been subject to “party” jokes which pivot off an emphasis on the first syllable of my surname.  Perhaps the most learned is “Good night, Good Night! Partee-ing is such sweet sorrow.”

The truth is that I do not like parties at all unless I can find a wall to put my back against and watch the happy extroverts engage in small talk.  In my defence I have very little small talk. All my talk is big talk. At least that is what I tell myself. However, on this occasion I delivered this small talk of which I am inordinately proud. A short speech is much harder to write than a long speech.  Moreover, I am congenitally inclined to put up with things as they are rather than choosing to be responsible for change..

This was the situation.  Then and now there are some good people who do not believe that all the leadership positions in the Christian church should be open to women.  Inevitably some of them could be your friends. At that time our family was worshipping with a congregation, (called Ecks Presbyterian Church in this reflection) of about 500 members which contained a lot of people with this view although church rules insisted otherwise.  Curiously, this congregation had elected women elders (including my wife), but their role was, as we experienced, severely curtailed. One year the congregation’s nominating committee proposed eight new elders ALL MEN, duly elected at the congregational meeting, and now requiring a vote of approval by Pittsburgh Presbytery having been approved  by the Presbytery’s Oversight Committee. Contrary to my nature, I made the following small talk.

                                                                        000

                                 Mr Moderator:  Fellow Presbyters:  I am Charles Partee

     The majority vote at Ecks Presbyterian Church and the Oversight  Committee are weighty items to consider. However, this matter is now before Pittsburgh Presbytery for action, and I am compelled to stand in opposition.

      My family and I have attended Ecks Presbyterian for five years.  There are many positive things to commend in the life of this congregation (one need look no farther than the moderator’s chair), and I speak within the context of real appreciation and gratitude to its ministers, officers, and members.

     Among the negative aspects–in my judgment–are the deliberate rejection of Presbyterian polity by some; a decided hostility toward the too-long delayed role of women in positions of leadership by some; and a consequent refusal to be guided by Presbyterian law by some–albeit couched in smooth words of support.

     There can be no doubt that this fine congregation numbers among its large membership many remarkably gifted women more than qualified to serve as elders each year.  I find it impossible to accept that eight men, some of them new Presbyterians, were found qualified to fill eight ordained positions and not one women–many of them life-long Presbyteians–could not be located.

     I offer four (4) observations

                One (1):  I have never seen a Presbyterian elder, who happens to be a woman, serve communion to the ministers….I wonder why?

                 Two (2):  I have seen the few Presbyterian elders, who happen to be women, serving communion, Sunday after Sunday, in the side aisles where I am told they do not so offend those congregants  who reject their ordination.

                  Three (3):  I am told that no Presbyterian, who happens to be a woman, has ever served this congregation as a trustee…I wonder why?

                   Four (4):  I am told that no Presbyterian elder, who happens to be a woman, has ever been invited to serve on the immensely powerful policy committee of the session.  I wonder why…?

            It may be true that the exclusion of women to be elders this year was not intentional.  They say it is so and they are honorable men. All honorable men, but the result is the same as if it were deliberate, and I submit the result for that congregation is unacceptable.

            However, this is not, in my judgment, the real issue before us.  The real question is whether this congregation will be allowed–even encouraged–to violate both the broad spirit and clear letter of the constitution of the church by appealing to its narrowest and most exceptional provision  Unless you vote for the waiver of the rules that govern us–Ecks Presbyterian Church is in non-compliance.

             That is for you to decide now.

     I believe that it is essential to the life and witness of this great congregation as a Presbyterian Church for Pittsburgh Presbytery to deny the recommendation of the Oversight Committee.

                     As Presbyters, you have the unquestionable right to vote “N0.”

                     This Presbyter has the unquestioned duty to vote “No.”

A PostNote:  I had asked several sympathetic friends to speak in favor of my motion to deny.  They were wonderfully eloquent. I think neither of the pastors were attending the Presbytery meeting and the two (male) elders attending were founded dumb.  Precisely, dumb founded. The coda for me was in the discussion when a brasher Presbyter asked if any woman from the Ecks congregation was present. My dear wife (one of the second class elders) had come to quietly observe the proceedings.  She shyly raised her hand and was called to the podium for examination! As she walked bravely to the front of the presbytery meeting, it was obvious that she did not want to be where she was. Nevertheless, she looked the presbytery (mostly men) straight in the eye and declared in a clear voice her conviction that women were discriminated against at Ecks Church.  I was never so proud of her. The motion to deny was carried.

Watch Out!

In baptism every parent promises to bring up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  The Greek term for nurture is paideia, which was really a dynamite word for the Hellenes, especially those who were kept in the Attic.  One needs only to mention the magisterial three volumes of Werner Jaeger’s study of that topic.  Paideia was the unlocking key to the glory that was Greece.  It means the intentional transmission of values and may be translated as civilization, culture, education, nurture, and tradition.

Unfortunately, deeply embedded in American anti-intellectualism is the conviction that “History is bunk” — a view wonderfully exemplified by the hotshot young technocrat who suggested that the way to make room on the library shelves was to get rid of every book written more than 10 years before.  On the contrary, for Christians history, being the memory of the Church, is a survival necessity.  Traditionalism is often defined as the dead faith of living people, but tradition is the living faith of dead people.

Obviously passing traditions from one generation to another makes a culture cohesive.  I am especially amazed at the complex traditions in which women instruct girls.  For example, the demure and devastating eyelid drop is a marvel of timing and musculature.  It cannot be easy to learn.  Likewise, fastening buttons on the back of your shirt must be extremely difficult.  In some cultures women speak a language among themselves which men cannot understand.

Some remnants of that situation appear in English.  For example, no man that I know would admit to owning a “hankie.”  As a matter of fact, cultural decline has dropped to the point where many younger men to not even carry a handkerchief and those who do place it somewhere else than in the right hip pocket where it belongs.  In the good old days male persons were also expected to carry a clean handkerchief in the breast pocket of the jacket in case a female person was overcome by “the vapors.”  Of course, we did not know what “the vapors” were — and it was not considered polite to ask — but we understood we had to be handkerchief-ready.

I am embarrassed now to admit that for a number of years I have stood prepared to teach my sons to tie a Windsor knot.  To my dismay not only do they evince small desire to master this upper level masculine achievement, they demonstrate small interest in the arts and sciences of neckties at all.

I had better success passing on my father’s conviction that “A real man always carries a knife.”  This is partly the result of the pocketless women of our family always needing to borrow a man’s blade and hooting at him and making his life thoroughly miserable if he did not have his knife on his person; being without it, not a real man.  Actually I may have succeeded too well since my 8-year-old grandson sliced his finger with the knife he was supposed to carry only when his dad was around.  My daughter understood her son’s desire to be a real man, and she recognized where he got his definition of that condition, but was not too thrilled by its bloody result even though I showed her the manly scar on my own hand cut by my first knife.

I am certainly not a blind advocate for all things traditional.  For example, I would not lament the discontinuation of the unanchored and totally useless drawstring in men’s hats which was only appropriate several centuries ago when a well-dressed man wore a helmet to work slaying dragons and dragoons.

However, before this new millennium gets too far along, I want to register a strong complaint about the old one and enlist support for change.  A disaster has occurred to the human race (men’s division) which no end-of-century list of decisive social changes even mentioned.  This is, of course, the disappearance of the watch pocket from men’s trousers — at least in the cheap trousers I buy.

I can remember the gracious age when learning to tell time by the location of the big hand and the little hand was a great accomplishment.  In those days the reception of a pocket watch was a male rite of passage.  You could tell when you were grown up because every man, and no boy, had both a pocket watch and a watch pocket.  It was generally understood to be a requirement of primogeniture that the oldest son inherited his dad’s pocket watch.  I am reliably informed there were fathers in the late twentieth century who did not even own a pocket watch to bequeath.

This sorry state was voided by my ministerial generation who learned the distinction between kairos-time and chronos-time in our first month of seminary by reading Oscar Cullmann’s Christ and Time.  Since all time belonged to God, true Presbyterians recognized that having a chronometer strapped on your wrist in plain view of the whole world demonstrated an unwarranted panic about chronos-time and an appalling lack of confidence in God’s kairos-time.

Not long ago, for men sound theology was indicated by the possession of a pocket watch — a fact which saved pastor-nominating committees a lot of time, so to speak.  The committee simply asked the candidate, if male, for the correct time and unless he hauled out a pocket watch, he was not considered further.  But now, sad to say, there is no place to put a pocket watch.  Of course, one may carry a watch in a vest pocket, but few men wear vests and the purpose of the waistcoat was always to hide the suspenders worn in conjunction with a belt by truly conservative men who wished to avoid all unnecessary risks.

In these days of lowered moral standards, it goes unremembered that the admonition, “Don’t get caught with your pants down” was originally designed to keep a man from stepping on his pocket watch.

Presbyterians Expose Their Buts!

In their proper place, I have long, and roundly, maintained a lowdown admiration for nice, big Presbyterian buts.  To close and appreciative observers like me, the fundaments of Reformed dogmatics are both ample and shapely with lots of wiggle room.  Being generously endowed (and with intelligence, too), Presbyterians are aware that many theological affirmations are so complex the only proper response to them is, “yes, but….”

Most Presbyterians do not run around em-barr-assed; they cover their buts decently and in order to confess the truth aright.  For example, our scholars teach divine sovereignty, but they also assert human choice.  We affirm God’s free grace but also our bounden duty.  We study revelation in Scripture but also cultivate reason in the world.  We trust in eternal election but also work for temporal improvements and so on.

The issue before us, and behind us, is not about having buts.  Being privy to buts is part of the walk of life.  Trouble appears when buts are uncovered in the wrong place.  This is called the downside to the backside.  The diversity of Presbyterian buts is ordinarily a benefit.  Since each of us is unique, our bottom lines are naturally different.  The problem is not our diversity; the problem is our unity.  On what do we all agree with no ifs, ands, or buts?  For Christians the answer should be that “we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5).

At least on the paper of The Book of Confessions, Presbyterians confess with one voice that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God is Our Lord — and the world’s Lord — full deity and full humanity.  This confession is not one doctrine among many; it is the basic conviction that makes us Christian and the starting point of all Christian doctrine.  Sadly, a number of commissioners at a recent General Assembly exposed their ugly buts in public.  Their Christological affirmation was in my judgment tentative and defective — a shapeless “yes, but….”  In strongest opposition, I was taught in Presbyterian confirmation class that Christ was Lord of all or not Lord at all.

Without invoking the seventh planet, I think Presbyterians should bite that but.  Everyone who has ever tried to explain the extra calvinisticum well knows that the doctrine of Christ is a great mystery.  However, the Church’s confession of Christ as Lord (Philippians 2:11 passim) has long been unambiguous and non-negotiable.  Since theology matters (both right and left), Presbyterians have normally recognized the difference between humility before the divine mystery (God’s sovereignty) and the disavowal of the divine revelation (God’s incarnation).  These doctrines are, it presently seems, being confused at the highest levels of the Presbyterian Church.

Is it now possible that Presbyterian leadership requires no more faith than to say, “Yes, Jesus Christ is Lord, for me, but I make no claim about you and the world?”  To say nothing of the “alls” of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), when did Presbyterians quit believing Colossians 1:19-20?  The fundamental question confronting the Presbyterian Church (USA) is whether to (1) kiss that but or (2) kick that but.

In my gridiron days quarterbacks called the plays on the field.  As the signal-caller, I always thought using a holder for extra points made the play too easy.  So one night, when we were winning comfortably, and nothing much was at stake, I informed the guys that I was going to try to drop-kick the extra point.  Younger Presbyterians have probably never even seen a drop-kick.  Nevertheless, I am once again loosening up the old leg.

The way I call it — the entire game is on the line in the confession of the Lordship of Christ.  Since by God’s grace we wear the Saints uniform, we must kick the sorry but of the recent General Assembly into the stands and completely out of play.

A Running Behind

In democratic America every person is supposed to be equal to every other person.  However, in spite of this quondam theory, a lot of people regard themselves as superior not equal.  They prefer to be leaders rather than followers.  This is a perfectly understandable desire because on a sled run, only the lead dog gets to look at the scenery.  All the other dogs are looking at something else.  In fact, what the other dogs see and what they do can both be described as a “running behind.” 

Testimony to the natural desire for leadership in the church is well illustrated by the number of books devoted to its acquisition.  Presumably leadership is a craft that can be learned through the employment of certain techniques.  Among Presbyterians this desire for preferment suggests our doctrine of total depravity to which a dash of original sin and a soupçon of actual sin might be added according to taste.  The truth is no tribe can be composed entirely of chiefs; somebody must be a follower. 

Dog or person the leader is the one who has the right, power, and wisdom to say, “Follow me!”  And, of course, Christians believe those words belong properly and pre-eminently to Our Lord, Jesus Christ (Mark 2:14).  All Christian leadership, then, should be derivative from him.  However much leadership in the church is arrogated from him.  Part of this situation is due to power needs located deep in the psyche of the individuals but part is an erroneous understanding of the gospel tolerated by anti-intellectual communities which value sincerity above truth. 

For me the perfect and unforgettable demonstration occurred in September of 1960.  The event was my ordination to the ministry of the Word and for almost 60 years I have passionately resented the so-called sermon to which we were subjected on that occasion.  It was an astounding example of self-satisfied superficiality that undoubtedly took longer to deliver than to prepare.  

The preacher read Hebrews 4:14-5:10, which would lead one to expect an explication of the High Priestly Office of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Instead, Mr. Ecks drew a cozy comparison between the great high priest who has passed through the Heavens and the rather low priest (me) who was coming into their congregation.  I had never so devoutly wished for some alert and brave Presbyterian to stand up and shout, “This is false doctrine!  Presbyterians have one priest only!  And his name is Jesus!” 

Although Presbyterians are quire committed to the concept of “ordained lay person,” they are not likely to replace the more Luther phrase “priesthood of all believers” with the more Reformed conviction of the “laity of all believers.”  Undoubtedly many of our ministers will continue to be set apart by the title, “the Reverend” (or to set themselves apart with it).  This practice is perhaps acceptable as a functional designation but never as an ontological designation.

 Other Christian traditions may be comfortable with a sacerdotal ministry, but our forebears shed their blood protesting all forms of priestcraft.  Their noble sacrifices delivered to us a church re-formed according to the Word and not formed according to the priests.  Presbyterians believe (or ought to believe) that thinking and talking about ourselves as priests not only dishonors Our Lord but also our ancestors in the faith.  Whatever so-called “leadership gifts” any one of us may possess, our primary call is to be followers.  And a disciple is not greater than the Master (Matthew 10:24).

John’s Bunion or This Pilgrim’s Progress

            Having a poor visual memory is a source of considerable regret to me.  Art historians stir a profound awe in me because they need to know everything that any expert knows and in addition apply it to what they have seen.  On the three occasions in my life when I was in some danger of committing the sin of pride, I picked up Charles Cuttler’s great book, Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel and committed the sin of envy instead.  I will know for sure I am in heaven if I see Munich’s Alte Pinakothek down the golden street and receive a free ticket to visit one day a week (preferably Monday) throughout eternity. 

           These reflections are occasioned by memories of a trip to China.  Since I never remember much of what I see, I am quite content to travel by book in my trusty reading chair.  My idea of an exciting and exotic journey is from this chair to the coffee pot and back.  My lady wife, on the other hand, loved to travel.  Like John Wesley, the world is her Paris.  I attribute this love of travel to her school years in Assiut, Egypt.  For little Peggy with her family at the tiny Presbyterian mission station among the Anuak people at Akobo Post deep in Sudan, going to school every year involved a month-long, thousand mile trip by outboard motor down the Sobat River, by steamer down the River Nile, and by train across the Sahara Desert.

           Lady Margaret studied the guidebooks, researched the history, checked the internet for local weather, packed the suitcases with all things needful, and so on.  My role was to deal with the big suitcase and then follow her around carrying the camera case, the extra film, the water bottles, foreign currency, and whatever else she did not want to bother about.  Actually, I enjoy travel because I realize how wonderful it will be to get back to my long suffering and faithful chair.

            Lots of Americans have seen China’s forbidden city in the movie, “The Last Emperor.”  A few remember “55 Days in Peking” with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner and therefore know something about the Boxer Rebellion.  Younger Americans probably assume the Boxer Rebellion concerns the rejection of an underwear style.  (Lawyers, I am told, prefer briefs to boxers.)  I will not attempt to decide whether the Chinese Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists was an indigenous liberation movement, a savage civil revolt, or an early form of tai chi.

            In any event, the Boxers were aroused to murderous fury by western commercial exploitation of their country. As a result of the industrial revolution, the English found they could sell cloth in China two-thirds cheaper than it could be made locally.  So the English happily ruined the Chinese cloth industry for their own profit.  Nothing personal, just business.  Many Chinese believed that the mining activities of the foreign devils were releasing the precious breath of their mountains and the railroads being built were disturbing the benevolent dragons that lived under Chinese soil.  Perhaps modern, sophisticated Presbyterians who pay some attention to their zodiac sign will not scoff overmuch at the simple Chinese of a century ago.

            With his pen the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also fought in the Boxer Rebellion.  I concede that the opening lines of chapter nineteen of Huckleberry Finn is the finest paragraph ever written by an American.  However, Sam Clemens took a strongly negative view of Christian faith in general.  In general, therefore, the relation of my theology to his may be fairly described as “never the twain shall meet.”  Sadly, I must agree with his protest in this event.  After the Boxer Rising was crushed, some American Christian groups coerced extravagant reparations from entirely innocent Chinese.  Mark Twain was justifiably outraged and used his considerable literary skills in vigorous and righteous denunciation of gun muzzle extortion by Christians (See North American Review Feb. & Apr. 1901).  Reformed theology has always known that even the best causes are served by sinful people.

            Mark Twain most clearly pointed out that our missionaries can be terribly misguided in some things they do. On the other hand, certain contemporary theologians insist that our missionaries are most clearly misguided in the main thing they do.  According to our sophisticated pluralists, it is erroneous to proclaim Jesus Christ as the world’s Lord and Savior because there are many paths to the sovereign God.  Faith in Jesus Christ, they say, is one path to God but only one path.  What a momentous theological difference between believing that Jesus Christ is only one path to God and believing that Jesus Christ is the only one path to God!

            For this “progressive” view to prevail, Christians will need to believe that the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt is NOT one Lord but just one God in a cozy pantheon with others.  If there are many ways to God we can cease worrying about committing the sin of idolatry because all the top gods are essentially the same at bottom.  Had Presbyterians a century ago believed that Jesus Christ is one Lord among many, none of our obedient missionaries would have died in China and no disobedient reparations would have been collected.

            The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can still save a lot of money if it disallows the claim of Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  Exclusively Christian evangelism will be replaced by pluralistically interfaith dialogue.  Presbyterians can close down their long-term worldwide mission enterprise, bring all their missionaries home, and set up a Board of World Religions to fund occasional seminars on the faith commitments of the peoples of the earth.  With all that money saved, there should be funds available to “Re-Imagine God.”  Now there’s a hoot.          

Belly Button Lent

With the double exception of Adam and Eve, every single human being possesses a navel. This is because we are born connected to our mother by an umbilical cord that is severed after birth and then dries up. The purpose of cutting the cord is to enable you to sleep in your own bed, although the child is later reattached to the mother by apron strings.

I know this stuff about umbilical cords because, during the birth of our final child, I was present in the delivery room giving essential aid to the doctor and the mother in their labors. Also attending were some student nurses who had never seen the father in the delivery room. I had an important responsibility for them, too. The physician made this clear in his dramatic instructions to me: “Don’t you dare faint!”

When our son was born his first action was to urinate on the doctor. Since I knew what the hospital bill was going to be, I was mightily tempted to do the same. At that moment the doctor was distracted by the new mother’s gracious invitation to bite the umbilical cord as she had seen done so many times in Africa where she grew up. However, apparently American obstetricians have bad teeth and he declined.

Since neither Adam nor Eve were born the way we are, the first navel battle occurred “east of Eden” (Genesis 3:24). This event is not described in any military history that I could find. More surprising, theological textbooks generally ignore the meaning of this mark we all carry around all our lives. Perhaps Buddhists have given navel-gazing a bad name, but mainline Christians ought to find midline reflection quite helpful in their Lenten devotions. I expect a number of eye-catching sermons will be breached using the title, “Belly Button Lent.’ Reflection might, for example, focus on this natural sign of our connection to preceding generations on the Earth. “No man is an island, entire of itself . . . I am involved in mankind” (Devotions XVII). That’s the way it is when all is said and Donne.

In Scripture a tacit contrast is very likely suggested between the skeptical and disobedient Eve and the faithful and obedient Mary. In any case, the contrast between the first and second Adam is most explicit in 1 Corinthians 15. According to this biblical typology, the first Adam leads us to sin and the second Adam leads us to salvation. Also included are the great themes of creation and redemption, the new being in Christ and the virgin birth.

The relation between Adam and Eve is husband and wife; Mary and Jesus are mother and child. For centuries Christians believed this child was the son of Mary and the only begotten Son of God. The paternity of Jesus of Nazareth is found in God the Father Almighty and in Mary was his maternity clothed. Not long ago a theological liberal could be identified by disbelief in the virgin birth. Today, of course, theological liberals are much bolder and deny the entire incarnation in all except a mythical, metaphorical sense.

The virgin birth is a complex doctrine well beyond the scope of this brief note. However, this one small point can be indicated. That Jesus was born without a human father does not teach us how different he is from us. Rather, in having a human mother, we learn how closely Jesus identifies with us. The birth of Emmanuel means that God is with us (Matthew 1:23). We are one with him and he is one with us. And, although some Presbyterians seem to have forgotten, he is one with the Father (John 10:30). John Calvin never doubted that Jesus Christ was full deity and full humanity in one person. However, Calvin also thought Christ’s humanity was double in nature. In himself our Lord was sinless; for us he became sin (2 Corinthians 5:12).


The first Adam, born without a navel, was sinless until he chose otherwise. The second Adam, conceived by the Holy Ghost, was born of the Virgin Mary attached to an umbilical cord just as you were. It’s a mark that he belongs to us and we belong to him.

The Flying Chaucer

Every body, or to be precise – every mind, needs three reading lists. The first will contain the essential books of your field. The second list will offer solid insights into and felicitous expressions of one’s individual and community interests. The third is just plain fun to read.
In the old days, before I understood my reading tastes as well as I do now, long airplane trips, especially to foreign countries, meant packing pages in each category. Eschewing checked-through luggage required carrying all these volumes on my sometimes up-standing but usually down-sitting person. I solved the problem by sewing two huge pockets on the underside of the detachable lining of my overcoat. With these crammed pockets, I could not actually wear the coat, but I successfully got the books onto the plane and into overhead storage.
Unfortunately, this brilliant scheme is not practicable for summer travel. Even without a heavy overcoat, my flashing personality looks suspicious to airport personnel. They always search me. I am considering an overture to the next General Assembly demanding for Presbyterian travelers the right to choose the security person who pats them down and the degree of thoroughness with which this action is conducted. My overture should pass unanimously since it offers Presbyterians of all persuasions the opportunity to get their jollity without publicly declaring their orientation.
Still the question remains if you found yourself on a dessert (non-sic) island, what would put icing on your cake? The answer is to select one book which functions in all three categories combining the good, the true, the beautiful and the delightful.
I recommend the translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by David Wright. Long years ago the Chaucer course in my college was required of, and normally reserved for, upper level English majors. Apparently no previous sophomoric 19 year old non-English major had ever wanted to study Middle English and been willing to compete with the best and most mature literature students. That I was granted premature and special permission for the class was then – and remains – a matter of considerable satisfaction to me.
Doubtless, it is a serious character fault but I admit a continuing and enthusiastic admiration for Chaucer’s fabliau. However, truth to tell, reading Middle English in the wee, wee hours of an overnight flight is entirely too much like work. Therefore, a modern translation of Chaucer’s comic, frankly coarse, and often cynical poetry is a great way to be booked in the friendly skies.
For reasons imperfectly understood by me, I have always been afraid of real women oscillating somewhere between bemused fascination and complete bewilderment. In contrast, between the covers I have known and enjoyed many fictive women. If they give me trouble I turn over the page or in extreme situations I will close the book on them. Among our major poets, Chaucer is most interested in the estate of marriage, devoting seven tales to the subject. The most memorable character is Alice, Wife of Bath.
Alice’s story deals with the single question that puzzles every male person all his life, “What do women want?” The Wife of Bath has an answer of course, but I do not want to incur female trouble so I will not endorse or even report her conclusion. Curiously, at the beginning of the twentieth century scholars thought Chaucer loved women. Now they think he hated women. I would really like to hear a panel of modern women discussing the contrasts between the militant feminism of Alice, wife of Bath, and the unquestioning obedience of patient Griselda.
Meanwhile, I am willing to make my own modest contribution to the theory and practice of marriage based on years of careful observation and profound reflection. For a husband to lead a happy married life he needs only two phrases frequently employed. The first is, “Yes, my love.” The second is, “Please, dear, let it be my fault.”