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Letters from an Ancient Mind

My dear young friend,

Since you ask an old man’s opinion of the matter, I shall give it. You are wrong.

The demand of the Church is that a man have relations with none but his wedded wife. I will not pretend to you that all men are so pious in my day, but at least the sinner pays tribute to the virtuous by means of hypocrisy. You ask why.

You may recall my words about the matter of an oath. Consider, if you will, that nuptials are largely centered upon the exchange of vows – which are naught but an oath by another name. Bride and groom speak to each other such oaths, binding each to the other in this life. Did they not take particular trouble to do this in front of kin and many friends? And in a holy place, with a priest of God to sanctify the occasion? Should a man then treat the Almighty so lightly as to break such a vow? Will he not visit him with swift punishment indeed? The matter, sir, is not one of passion but of honesty. If you will not keep your marriage oath, with what oath will you be trusted?

I grant you that – of all oaths – this is the species most frequently defiled. There are no excuses for that. But the guilty in my time know that they are just that: guilty. Your view, it appears, is that no sin has been committed – as long as there is passion. If the breaking of a solemn oath is not a sin, then what is?

Consider this matter of passion as excuse in another light. Peradventure I am a brigand – but a brigand of passion. With all my heart I desire your purse. Being so passionate, then, you would argue no doubt that my lightening of your fortune was no sin, but virtue. Indeed, I would consider it so; for is not virtue profitable? It is absurd.

Your argument does come with a proviso: “as long as no one gets hurt.” This is beneath contempt. Look about you. In your time there surely are many women whose husbands have abandoned them for a younger wench. It is the nature of men to desire beauty; it is the nature of women to seek men of accomplishment. Thus a beautiful woman may snare an older man – but in her turn will give way to a younger. Have you not seen it often?

You argue the matter as being one of happiness. Indeed, you think you are given happiness as a right. I cannot see how. If your fortune is good, it is just that: good fortune. If a man seeks happiness in his marriage, he will need to put forth effort. One does not drink the wine if one does not tend the vine.

As ever,

Puzzled at your ways,

Isaac the Alchemist

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