A wiser man than I said, “For every current book you read, read five at least 100 years old.” I would modify that a bit and say, “For every 19th, 20th, or 21st century book you read, read five from before then.”
One old book worth reading is Plutarch’s Lives of the Nobel Greeks (His Lives of the Nobel Romans is good as well.). In his entry about the hero of Athens’s, Pericles, he begins with this rather stunning observation by Caesar:
Caesar once, seeing some wealthy strangers at Rome, carrying up and down with them in their arms and bosoms young puppy dogs and monkeys, embracing and making much of them, took occasion not unnaturally to ask whether the women in their country were not used to bear children; by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who spend and lavish upon brute beasts that affection and kindness which nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind (Plutarch, Lives of the Nobel Greeks, Edmund Fuller, ed., Garden City: Nelson, 1959, p. 121).
First note, the comment about the women of foreign countries not being used to bear children. St. Paul says a similar thing when highlighting the sin of homosexuality as the crowning sin of a fallen society. He says, in Romans 1: 26-27 that it begins with both women and men exchanging the natural use of women for something beside or even contrary to nature (the Greek is para.).
You will search most English translations in vain for this point. The Greek lexicon, B.A.G., gives the first definition of chresin as “use, usage,” the translations have “natural relations” (ESV, NIV, GWN), “natural function” (NASB), and “natural way, natural relation” (Beck). Thus making Paul’s point about aberrant sexual practices rather than about not using women to bear children. The KJV and the NKJV alone retain “natural use.”
Of course, we know why. We wouldn’t want the Bible in favor of “using” women. The only thing worse than that would be “using” them in a way God didn’t intend. How about as protectors of men? How about as purely sexual objects apart from bearing children? How about as keepers of pets, much less expensive than children, so that men might have their “toys?” N.B. No one speaks of women and their toys. No that luxury, that extravagance is reserved for us selfish, self-centered men who only use things on our terms. Also note well Paul doesn’t say the only “use” of women is childbearing, but do realize there is no other way to get children into this world without them, the “promise,” or more aptly, the curse of cloning notwithstanding.
Popular culture helps to scare us into having pets instead of children. Though Americans spend over 34 billion a year on their pets, that’s not much per pet. There are upwards of 69 million pets in the U.S. If my math is correct, always problematic, that translates to about 492 dollars per pet. When my wife and I were first blessed with children, the news regularly reported that it took 500,000 to raise a child to age 18. By 2007 three of my five children were 18 or above. That means it should have cost us 1.5 million dollars up till then. This would mean I would have had to have averaged making over 68,800 dollars each year. (My wife has always worked in the home. God provided the living through me and made the living worthwhile through her.) Most of the years between 1986 and 2007, I made less than half that. I still don’t make that today. How they got to age 18 I’ll never know. By God’s grace, we’ve never been on any kind of government subsistence, welfare, food stamps, etc. We’ve never had to live off of credit cards, second mortgages, etc. Of course, the first three were boys; maybe the girls are the expensive ones.
In the interest of complete disclosure, I should add that we now have two dogs. Caesar would be appalled at how much love and affection we lavish upon these brute beasts. But rather than taking the place of the children at the table, our brute beasts live off the crumbs that fall from the children’s table as the Gospels point out they may fittingly do.
C.S. Lewis wrote about the benefits of reading old books in an introduction to Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” — you can read it here:
I enjoy reading your blog!
We should take the general rule about reading more older books and apply it to the hymns we sing in worship: for every hymn from the 18th-21st centuries we sing, we should have five written before rationalism, pietism, and romanticism transformed hymnody into a subjective Jesus lovefest. Maybe we should sing one of Luther’s catechetical hymns every Sunday, too, and folks would memorize them. Grace Ann is only 2.5 and can already sing along with the first few stanzas of These Are the Holy Ten Commands. Repetitio est mater studiorum, indeed!