The Bond of the Spirit

by Eberhard Arnold

Note: Spoken June 23, 1933; printed in Love and Marriage in the Spirit (Plough 1965).

As we speak about marriage we recall the German youth movement of the early twentieth century which conveyed a new feeling for union with nature, for the fellowship of men, and for the liberty of boys and girls to get acquainted with each other. There, something became living once more which had almost been forgotten. It is difficult to place oneself in the position of young people about the year 1900. The youth of that day were firmly rooted in middle-class conventions. Social custom, strict rules and regulations encased them in a suit of armor. Obviously people were afraid that without this armor the worst might happen at any moment. There was no association between boys and girls. Right down into the lower middle class there was a carefully thought out supervision which took special pains to see that young girls did not go out with young men.

What was the chief thing recognized by the youth movement with regard to the mutual relationship of man and woman, of boy and girl? The main recognition arose from the fact that nature requires of us and gives us a feeling for the wholeness of life. Whoever is in living touch with nature--on a hill, on the water, on a great mountain--is at the same time united in a common bond with all those people who have the same experience. Most important for these young people was the experience that in the feeling of communion with nature they sensed the community of the group, of the hiking troop, or of the little band. In this feeling of community, young people experienced a fellowship of trust so free from sensual desire that to think immediately of engagement and marriage or of other emotional relationships would have been grotesque.

The following thesis was accepted in the youth movement: if we are drawn into a real experience of fellowship, our human souls will be so united that when boys and girls do meet we need not expect an emotionally binding relationship. On the contrary, we can hike, dance, sing, talk, and work together without assuming that emotional or sexual relationships must arise.

Part of the youth movement went a little further. As the movement grew a little older, the purely negative attitude to marriage and to erotic relationships between man and woman had to make way for a more mature attitude. It was like this: one experienced an emotional, romantic feeling for nature and for community, a feeling of union with nature, and a feeling of human solidarity and comradeship. This inner experience of fellowship and of nature produced a common obligation for a group of young people to live together, at least for a limited time, for the purpose of a common fight against a degenerate and soulless social order.

Thus it came about that the relationships between boys and girls came under the influence of emotional ties. In this part of the youth movement, whose first founders were already twenty-five to twenty-eight years old, it was no longer expected that one should keep free of erotic experiences, but it was expected that physical union should and could come only from emotional oneness. Oneness of two souls was the premise. People could only come to a physical union when they had found each other emotionally; when on the emotional plane they had won a love and reverent appreciation for each other; when something great and beautiful was revealed to them in this oneness of souls.

Now I want to try to explain the attitude of the church-community to these questions. In the youth movement the emotional experience of nature and the feeling of community in the fellowship of the road were deemed fundamental to the soul's need of love. In the Church, however, it is the spirit of profound and ultimate community that is the deepest source of all experiences of life. Put more strongly: the youth movement rejected physical union without emotional unity as an abuse unworthy of man, and demanded the unity of souls of two people as essential for marriage. The church-community goes further and says: real unity of souls is absolute and complete only when it proceeds from the unity of the spirit of the Church.

We must first become one in the spirit of faith, in the spirit of uniting love, in the complete unity of God. Then we will be able to experience an emotional harmony which kindles a fire of human sympathy. In this human sympathy we shall experience something similar to that which was felt in the youth movement. We shall have a warm feeling for nature and for what God has given us in the first creation. We shall have great joy in one another every time we meet and speak and shake hands. We shall have great understanding for the varied emotions which sway our circle of men and women. But in the Church of unity all this is confirmed and guided by the Spirit.

The purification of emotional relationships by the Spirit is of a higher order than the purification of the love life by emotional unity. This is going a step further, for the unity of the Church in the Holy Spirit is greater than an organic unity of emotionally inspired bodies and greater than all other experiences. We need not fear, however, that the emotional atmosphere is disregarded in the Church. We can definitely expect the emotions uniting people to produce a relationship similar to that in the youth movement, only more constant and definite. All members of the common table and common household are united by a sense of fellowship which is very similar to that of the youth movement. We think of this life and activity when we read the words, "In God we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) Because we live in God, a thread of living relationships and loving mutual interest makes its way among us all, a thread that can never be broken so long as the life-giving Spirit continues to spin it anew.

Only on the basis of these two facts, unity in the Spirit and unity of souls, can marriage be given. It does not necessarily follow that it should be given. There may be people among us who are so filled with love to all men, to the community household, to guests, and to other people, that they feel no need as a man to win a girl or as a girl to belong to a husband. There are people who are so taken up by joy in all men that they have no energy left for an individual relationship to an individual human being. Paul saw this as a special gift. But boys and girls, men and women, because they have a task to preserve the human race, will be led ever anew to strong mutual relationships and through these to physical union. And this physical union can be joyful and meaningful only when it is born of unity of spirit and of soul.

The youth movement could find no clear attitude to the problem of marriage. Their experience was one of nature, an experience of union with nature and union of human beings with one another. On this basis of the purely natural creation there is no clear order for marriage. One cannot say it follows from the story of creation that it is imperative one man should have one wife. There is no reason to be found in the world of nature or in history for one definite order of marriage. Even where emotional unity is required and all merely physical attachments are rejected as unworthy, still Christian marriage does not result.

Christian marriage is intended by God to have more than historical significance. It has an immanent and a transcendent significance. Christian marriage is not based on the evidence of natural conditions in woods, fields, and pastures and among different peoples; nor is it based on what has become custom in the course of centuries. That is not possible.

Christian marriage can have its origin only in the other world. Its significance is purely religious. This religious significance is based on the comparison of unities; as the one God has His one people, as the one Christ has the one Church, so one man has his one wife; as the one Spirit unites with the inspired unity of the gathered Church, even so one man unites with his one wife.

The New Testament and the early Christians represent that of all the possibilities for founding a family, monogamous marriage is the highest and most worthy basis. This religious basis leads to a fulfilment not given by any other ordering of these matters. One must consider that all this only applies to those people who come to physical union through an emotional relationship based on the Spirit alone. It cannot be applied to civil law marriage. There it does not come into question. This matter is clearly a concern of the Church.

We find exactly the same is true in the question of marriage as in the use of force and in other questions of governmental authority. We cannot ask the state or any individual who is striving for authority in the state to use no arms. These things are imperative in order to suppress evil and to protect good, to fight injustice and support justice. But we must confess that the Church of Christ may under no conditions use the sword. In other words, if anyone uses the sword he may have acted rightly from the point of view of the state, but with this act he cuts himself off from the atmosphere of the kingdom of Christ. He has surrendered to the atmosphere of might and political power. It is a matter of deciding whether we want and are able to take our stand on the side of the communal life experience, or whether we want to remain in the natural sphere of human probabilities. In the latter case we can at best attain the attitude of the youth movement which was beyond doubt a great improvement upon the mire of the cities.

We must ask our guests to look deeply into this Christian basis, now that the marriage of our Kurt and Marianne is about to take place. Some may say this is truly an unnatural affair. That is so. Yet it must be understood that the natural element of the creation is included in this marriage of the Spirit. The early Christians were in no way hostile to the inclusion of the natural element of creation in marriage. They in no way defamed, debased, or disparaged the sexual life; on the contrary, they placed it under the guidance of the Spirit. On the natural plane, marriage guided by Christ becomes very natural. It does not condone the prevention of children, but would have a revulsion, a feeling of sin and perdition if it should seek to avoid giving birth to children. In such a marriage there will be as many children as possible, to the limits of health.

Communities of life similar to ours should be founded and carried on. The spirit of the Church and the inner life of the Church are the premise. Then the economic possibility must be placed where it belongs. That is to say, the sexual question cannot be cut off from all the other questions of life. We feel that the regulating of economic conditions must arise from the spirit of the Church. The economic conditions cannot be separated from the social conditions. There must be a place where every child is regarded and accepted as a gift of God.