Volume > Issue > In Defense of Jacob

In Defense of Jacob


By Alice von Hildebrand | June 2014
Alice von Hildebrand, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author of numerous books, including Man and Woman: A Divine Invention (Sapientia Press); The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius Press; preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand; and By Love Refined (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and works closely with the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, the aim of which is to translate her late husband's work into English. Her latest book, The Saga of a Happy Failure, is soon to be published by Benedictine Press.

Dr. Michael Healy, in his letter to the editor “How Do I Love Thee?” (Jan.-Feb.), questions my glorification of Jacob as a great lover in my article “Unity & Procreation: Which Has Ontological Priority?” (Sept. 2013), and points out my failure to examine whether this claim is compatible with Jacob having fathered sons from four different women. He is fully justified in doing so. My key concern in that article was to highlight two truths to which Jacob’s love for Rachel gives lasting expression: (1) Jacob’s willingness to suffer in order to obtain Rachel’s hand in marriage illustrates the deep link between love and sacrifice; (2) Jacob’s steadfast love for Rachel even during her difficult infertile years underscores the clear priority the intentio unionis has over procreation in the marital embrace, though there is an essential link between the two.

Nevertheless, I am indebted to Dr. Healy for giving me a chance to address the question: Is not marriage essentially linked to monogamy? I now intend to do some repair work.

Let us take a step back. As beautiful as the marriage of our first parents was before the Fall, since the coming of Christ “all things have been made new,” and marriage, elevated to the dignity of a sacrament, has been given a dimension of greatness and sublimity that transcends what Adam and Eve could possibly have experienced. The Offertory of the Tridentine Latin Mass expresses this truth thus: “O God, who in a wonderful manner didst create and ennoble human nature and still more wonderfully renewed it….”

After the Fall, man’s vision of certain truths that were luminous before our first parents sinned became obscured. Should we be surprised that Adam and Eve sinned together? Or that the sacredness of the bond God had created between them should have been severely affected?

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