[Saint] Lioba was to live on more than twenty years, beloved and venerated by the German Christians as the dearest link with their apostle [St. Boniface, her brother]. Men of affairs in Church and State sought her counsel; Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, among others, held her in high esteem. Queen Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne, herself esteemed as a holy person, fain would have kept Lioba always at her side. And the simple countryfolk round about Bischofsheim in their sicknesses and perils trustingly brought all their troubles to its venerable abbess.

But more than all others, her own nuns loved her intensely; they used to refer to her drinking vessel as Dilectae parvus, “the darling’s little cup.” According to her biography, compiled by Rudolph of Fulda from the testimony of her nuns, she was singularly beautiful and her face, the face of an angel, was always pleasant and smiling. Yet if the affair demanded it, Lioba could be resolutely strong, as when she moved with vigorous energy to clear one of her nuns of a cruel slander.

Whenever she journeyed to Fulda to pray at her brother Boniface’s tomb, the monks honored her with the extraordinary privilege of entrance into their own church. With an aged nun as companion, she was allowed to assist at divine services and to participate in the monastic chapter’s conferences. Such a permission no other woman has ever received.

Martin Harney, SJ, Brother and Sister Saints (1957)


Imagine for a moment Gilbert Keith Chesterton without Frances. Gilbert alone could have been a famous author, but he would have failed to arrive at most of his speaking appointments. He might have indulged his appetites disproportionately. He might have died in 1915, failing to write The Everlasting Man, Eugenics and Other Evils, St. Francis of Assisi, The Outline of Sanity, many Father Brown stories, St. Thomas Aquinas, all issues of G.K.’s Weekly, and a host of other articles and books. He might have never converted to the Catholic faith. Without Frances, he simply would not have been able to do all he did. As [Father] O’Connor wrote to Frances after Gilbert’s death: “How much of him and his best might have been lost to the world only for you.” […]

She who quietly carried the cross within the context of her own life, through the duties of the married state and the extra duties of marriage to Gilbert Keith Chesterton, was thereby able to bring it to another. This is an authentic apostolate, a bringing of Christ to a fallen world. And, as an enduring example to married women, she did so through the very basic, repetitive duties of her state in life (duties that might be monotonous, even married to G.K.).

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

That summer, Frances [Chesterton] returned to Bath for another highlight: the production of her play, Faith and Fable: A Masque. The public received it enthusiastically and publicity photos abounded. Frances was asked to give a speech at the Bath Festival of Drama on August 9, 1927. Frances spoke on the subject of the children’s plays, and expressed the opinion that children should act in their own play, not simply watch movies or listen to radio. Movies and radio, she believed, were for older people who could no longer entertain themselves.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

All of the practical aspects of life were left to her; Gilbert was not a man who dealt in details, he was an ideas man. Frances not only prepared Gilbert for the public by dressing him, she coordinated his meals; shopped; negotiated with his agent and publishers; kept a kitchen and a flower garden; took care of the children and visitors constantly welcomed under their rook; hired the cooks, gardeners, secretaries, and housekeepers; cared for the pets; kept up the correspondence with everyone; paid bills and taxes. It is no wonder she was still up at midnight, finishing up the lasts of fifteen – or more – letters: “Since we came back from our holiday I have answered one hundred and seventeen letters for Gilbert,” Frances once said.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

As 1924 dawned…Gilbert attained the honorable age of fifty (Frances would turn fifty-five). Their writing output continued on a prolific scale, as always. Frances enjoyed particular success. Samuel French, Ltd. published three of her verse children’s plays – The Children’s Crusade, Sir Cleges, and The Christmas Gift – as a set.

The plays, Frances stated in her preface, “make no pretense to any historical or literary value. They merely serve as a text or background for the exercise of that ingenuity and love of pageantry and even rhetoric which is the common heritage of all children.”

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

“If I had anything to do with this girl I should go down on my knees to her: if I spoke to her she would never deceive me: if I depended on her she would never deny me: if I loved her she would never play with me: if I trusted her she would never go back on her: if I remembered her she would never forget me.”

Gilbert in a letter, after meeting his future wife Frances, as quoted in Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

For nearly a century, Frances [Chesterton]’s story has been hidden amongst the pages of the poetry Gilbert wrote, Christmas cards sent to friends, letters to priests and relatives stored in library special collections, out-of-print biographies written by literary contemporaries, in boxes in the attics and garages of her grandnephews, and in scattered periodicals and books. Few people are now familiar with the details of Frances’s own writing career; few have read her published works.

It is, of course, a story intimately woven with the story of Gilbert. This is, after all, a love story. Frances and Gilbert worked as a team; they were lovers and friends, writing coaches and companions. They worked, ate, laughed, and slept together for thirty-five years, dependent on each other physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The love between them defined her life – and his. She was his first and biggest fan; his most successful marketer, and his most devoted cheerleader. She was the first to laugh at his jokes. She took dictation, dusted his hat, and tied his shoes. She clung to him when her life seemed out of control. She cherished the love poetry he wrote her, treasuring the words tenderly in her heart, never sharing the most intimate specimens with anyone. It is not an exaggeration to say that she was the person who would affect Gilbert’s life more profoundly than anyone. He was totally dependent on her for his happiness.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

John Stuart Mill’s ideal of marriage as “a private, bargained-for exchange between husband and wife about all their rights, goods, and interests” has become a legal reality in contemporary America…But John Locke’s warning, echoing Thomas Aquinas, that the private contractualization of marriage will bring injustice and sometimes ruin to many women and children has also become a reality in America. Premarital, marital, separation, and divorce agreements too often are not arm’s-length transactions, and too often are not driven by rational-calculus alone, however much courts and mediators insist that they are. In the heady romance of budding nuptials, parties are often blind to the full consequences of their bargain. In the emotional anguish of separation and divorce, parties can be driven more by the desire for short-term relief from the other spouse than by the concern for their own long-term welfare or that of their children. The economically stronger and more calculating spouse triumphs in these contexts. And in the majority of cases today, that party is still the man, despite the loud egalitarian rhetoric to the contrary.

“Underneath the mantle of equality [and freedom] that has been draped over the ongoing family, the state of nature flourishes,” Mary Ann Glendon writes ominously. In this state of nature, contractual freedom and sexual privacy reign supreme, with no real role for the state, church, or broader civil society to play. In this state of nature, married life has become increasingly “brutish, nasty, and short,” with women and children bearing the primary costs. The very contractarian gospel that first promised salvation from the abuses of earlier Christian models of marriage now threatens with even graver abuse.

Recall the statistics we recounted in the preface to this volume. Since 1975, roughly one-quarter of all pregnancies in America were aborted. One-third of all children were born to single mothers. One-half of all marriages ended in divorce. Two-thirds of all African American children were raised without fathers in their homes. Single mothers faced four times the rates of poverty, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. Children from broken homes were much more likely to have behavioral and learning problems, and suffered four times the rate of serious sexual or physical abuse. More than two-thirds of all juveniles and young adults convicted of major felonies since 1975 have come from single- or no-parent homes. While these numbers have improved somewhat in the past decade – owing in part to a strong new family-education movement and new family-policy initiatives – the burden of the modern family’s breakdown falls disproportionately on women and children.  

The modern welfare state has softened and spread out the costs of marital and family breakdown over the past two generations by supplying nonmarital children, single mothers, abandoned spouses, and aged parents with resources and services traditionally supplied principally by their own natural kin. These are valuable advances that promote social justice and greater happiness for all. But the modern welfare state remains an expensive and risky modern experiment: it is not clear that it is a sustainable long-term solution even for the affluent West, let alone for underdeveloped or developing countries. In America today, those who depend on state social welfare often face bitter financial and emotional hardship and endless bureaucratic wrangling, and basic health insurance and decent public education are still beyond the reach of tens of millions. Better social welfare and health insurance systems are in place in Europe today. But these, too, depend on high median wealth in the population, all of which can disappear quickly, as the threats and realities of national bankruptcy in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Spain, and italy have recently reminded the world.

Perhaps we are simply witnessing today the birth pangs of a new marriage order that will feature the final removal of sexual stereotyping and exploitation; the real achievement of distributive justice to women, children, and the poor; the sensible pluralization of Western marriage laws to accommodate new global patterns of sexuality, kinship, and bonding. These are goals to which the Western legal tradition of marriage must surely aspire. And as Harold Berman reminds us, great legal revolutions always pass through radical phases before they reach and accommodation with the tradition that they had set out to destroy.

It is hard to see the promise of these future benefits, however, in the current phase of the legal revolution in America. The rudimentary disquisitions on equality, privacy, and freedom offered by courts and commentators today seem altogether too lean to nourish the legal revolution of marriage and the family that is now taking place. The elementary deconstructions and dismissals of a millenium-long tradition of marriage and family law and life seem altogether too glib to be taken so seriously. The growing academic calls for the abolition of marriage seem so blind to the needs of children and to the dangers of depending on the benevolence of the state to carry on the work traditionally left to natural kinship networks.

John Witte Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, 2nd edition (2012)

One initial difference is that in the confessional tradition only men are named as witnesses, whereas in the narrative tradition women play a key role, indeed they take precedence over the men. This may be linked to the fact that in the Jewish tradition only men could be admitted as witnesses in court – the testimonies of women was considered unreliable. So the “official” tradition, which is, so to speak, addressing the court of Israel and the court of the world, has to observe this norm if it is to prevail in what we might describe as Jesus’ ongoing trial.

The narratives, on the other hand, do not feel bound by this juridical structure, but they communicate the whole breadth of the Resurrection experience. Just as there were only women standing by the Cross – apart from the beloved disciple – so too the first encounter with the risen Lord was destined to be for them. The Church’s juridical structure is founded on Peter and the Eleven, but in the day-to-day life of the Church it is the women who are constantly opening the door to the Lord and accompanying him to the Cross, and so it is they who come to experience the Risen One.

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011)

It’s not that the world of work is closed to women. The problem is that women can’t seem to change the world of work. Either you accept its rules, its rhythms, and its hours or you’re out. […]

Every time the issue of flexibility for working moms is discussed in newspaper articles or in public debate, the talk is always of building more preschools, never about real flexibility in work practices. Building even more preschools to leave your three-month-old baby is not the kind of help working mothers need. Equal opportunities would really be promoted by allowing a mother to stay off work to look after her young children rather than killing herself both in the home and outside the home, leaving her hungry baby in the hands of someone else.

It seems clear to me, therefore, that women cannot work the same way that men do; they have to find their own way, one that is designed around them and fits their needs. It’s not right to force people to choose all the time – you need to accept the rules, the timetable, and the ways of male colleagues and forget everything that’s happening at home. If not, you’re out!

My friend tells me that in many offices, the amount of time they spend in front of the computer is the main consideration, even if they are surfing the Internet, playing solitaire, reading horoscopes, writing distant relatives and unlikely friends, or taking endless trips to the vending machine…A woman with a thousand things to do at home will always try, where possible, to concentrate on her work and cut out any time-wasting activities so she can get home earlier. It’s just that for some perverse reason that my poor mind is incapable of comprehending, this ability to do the same amount of work in a shorter space of time is not considered an attribute but a limitation. With that logic, prevailing women are always going to suffer.

As long as working arrangements continue as they are, failing to integrate family life and working life, lacking in flexibility and intelligence, and ignoring the interests of those very children that they are always boasting that they want to protect but that they really don’t care about, women will be obliged to pay a very high price on the altar of work sacrifice or give up and walk away.

Costanza Miriano, Marry Him and Be Submissive (2016)