Heaven’s Last Best Gift: Marriage as the Final End in Persuasion #JaneAusten

22 December 2015

By: Br. Aquinas Beale, O.P.
April 11, 2014 (Original Date of Publication)
Posted at Dominicana Blog


The fifth in a series considering considering Jane Austen in light of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas
“Above all other blessings Oh! God, for ourselves, and our fellow-creatures, we implore Thee to quicken our sense of thy Mercy in the redemption of the World, of the Value of that Holy Religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not by our own neglect, throw away the salvation thou hast given us, nor be Christians only in name.” —from Jane Austen’s Prayers

One of the characteristic aspects of all of Austen’s novels is that they end in happy marriages for the heroines. Several modern literary critics have wondered at the motivation behind this feature of her novels, given that Austen herself never married. Is it the case that she was vicariously living through her characters? Was she simply giving the readers what she knew they wanted? Or is there perhaps something more profound motivating her use of the marriage construct? Some critics have speculated as much. For example, one can find traces of a critique of the French Revolution in Pride and Prejudice, complete with an ‘English’ solution: a marriage between the middle and upper classes.

Here, I would like to offer quite a different allegorical interpretation of the marriage plot as used by Austen. It is easy to consider the marriages simply as the reward for the virtuous efforts of her heroines, especially considering that each one is brought about through a Deus ex machina. They all have struggled through the challenges of life and have come out on the other side as women possessing and growing in virtue. From this perspective, then, marriage is the end towards which the virtuous lives of her heroines are directed. Turning Henry Crawford’s allusion to Milton on its head, for Austen’s heroines, marriage is heaven’s last best gift.

Such a notion of a final end that rewards all the trials of a virtuous life is by no means foreign to virtue ethics. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identifies the end of the virtuous life as contemplation; it is this state of rest to which every act of virtue is directed and in which true happiness consists. Like true friendship, contemplation is sought for its own sake; it is the most self-sustaining form of life and the most pleasant of activities. Building upon Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas identifies the final end of contemplation with the beatific vision. For St. Thomas, the virtuous life is framed as a way of perfection which finds its consummation in the last end: beatitude. It is the greatest good to which all other goods are ordered, and, holding that human actions are ordered to the good, St. Thomas concludes that the beatific vision, final happiness, is the fulfillment of all of human action. Ultimately, it is a rest that is given by God, that perfects all our potential, and that satiates all desire: heaven’s last best gift.

One of the virtues closely associated with man’s final end is hope. According to St. Thomas, it is hope of the final end that gives way to charity, which is the perfect love of God. So in a way, hope is one of the final virtues that must be acquired before the end can be attained. In Persuasion, it is precisely this virtue that Anne Elliot acquires throughout the course of the novel. She, who had been “forced into prudence in her youth [and] learned romance as she grew older,” must now learn to hope in order that she may know happiness once more.

As the novel begins, Anne is surrounded by harbingers of fading life: the time of year is autumn, her father’s line is in danger of extinction, and her family must let Kellynch Hall in order to make financial ends meet. On top of all this, she is oppressed by the prospect of her former lover once again being near her, and when he does arrive, she is made miserable in his presence. Mistakenly, she prepares herself to meet him with as much indifference as possible and to “teach herself to be insensible on such points” as meeting him and hearing others speak of him. In short, she harbors no hope for happiness and looks only to avoid as much pain as she can manage.

In the closing chapters of the first volume, there are such exquisite descriptions of the fading year that one cannot help but imagine that their narration is tinged by Anne’s despondency as she struggles to endure the affliction of a renewed, yet torturously more distant acquaintance with Captain Wentworth. Anne struggles to derive pleasure from “the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges,” mining the reserves of the contemporary poets for an “apt analogy of the declining year with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together.” She is withering in spirit, as she has done already in beauty, and she does not become fully aware of her closeness to despondency and despair until her discussions with the unfortunate Captain Benwick, in which she counsels him in “moral and religious endurance” in the face of the temptation to mourn ruefully over lost love.

And yet, in these last chapters, the reader finds the faintest glimmer of hope for new life and happiness in Anne’s reflections and experiences. After her conversation with Captain Benwick, she realizes just how close she had come to despairing of happiness, having sought to console another in his own loss and instill hope for the future. The morning after this conversation, Anne’s outlook begins to change for the better. She looks on nature with a more positive outlook than her November walk, praising the morning, glorying in the sea, and delighting in the fresh-feeling breeze. This internal change is mirrored by her external appearance, as she, along with Mr. Eliot and Captain Wentworth, finds herself coming into a second bloom of softened beauty.

Once she arrives in Bath, Anne begins to hope more consciously for greater happiness in life, freed from remorseful recollections of her actions in the past. Aided by the exemplary behavior of an old, poor school-fellow and the news of Louisa’s engagement to someone other than Captain Wentworth, Anne fully embraces this newfound virtue and lives in hopeful expectation of a life of happiness that is yet to come.

Of course, she is rewarded with marriage to the man she loves, but in comparison to the rest of Austen’s heroines, Anne stands out as living the most independent life of virtue; even the paragon of all things good, Fanny Price, does not quite learn to expect happiness apart from marriage with Edmund before providence intervenes. Anne’s is a more mature hope for happiness, which is not too surprising considering her superiority in age (Anne is, by far, the oldest of Austen’s heroines). Such a development is in line with Aristotle’s conviction that complete virtue took time to perfect and mature and, consequently, was rarely found in the young. The difference can also be seen in Anne’s ability to instruct others in virtue and Fanny’s conviction that she would be ill-suited for such a task.

As a result of her more solid foundation in virtue, Anne begins to develop a more independent sense of virtue. Impressed by the upbeat disposition of her poor and ailing friend, Mrs. Smith, Anne begins to contemplate a more stable and permanent source of happiness than that which the goods of this passing world can provide. Even before she begins to seriously hope for a life of happiness in a marriage to Captain Wentworth, Anne has proved herself capable of sharing in the happiness of others with little concern for any of her own selfish desires, as the many episodes at Uppercross and Lyme illustrate. More importantly, in the midst of her concern for the happiness of others, she does not compromise her own standard of happiness (“her feelings were still adverse to any man save one”). While it does not entirely depend upon the fulfillment of any single desire, Anne’s happiness does rest on a hope that finds its eventual fulfillment, its final rest, in love. Likewise, in this life, the gift of hope points us to our final rest: the vision and love of God.

Image: John Atkinson Grimshaw, In Peril (The Harbor Flare)

About the Author

Br. Aquinas Beale is originally from West Virginia, and studied Political Science at the University of Virginia, receiving a Master’s degree in 2010. He entered the Order of Preachers in 2011.

Meditations for Each Day of Lent by Saint Thomas Aquinas – Friday after the Second Sunday of Lent

6 March 2015

6 March 2015 Anno Domini

From the website, Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals

Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas by Santi de Tito 1593

by St. Thomas Aquinas

Friday after the Second Sunday of Lent

Feast of the Holy Winding Sheet

Joseph taking the body, wrapped it up in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new monument.– Matt, xxvii. 59.

By this clean linen cloth three things are signified in a hidden way, namely:

(i) The pure body of Christ. For the cloth was made of linen which by much pressing is made white and in like manner it was after much pressure that the body of Christ came to the brightness of the resurrection. Thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day (Luke xxiv. 46).

(ii) The Church, which without spot or wrinkle (Eph. v. 27), is signified by this linen woven out of many threads.

(iii) A clear conscience, where Christ reposes.

And laid him in his own new monument. It was Joseph’s own grave and certainly it was some how appropriate that he who had died for the sins of others should be buried in another man’s grave.

Notice that it was a new grave. Had other bodies already been laid in it, there might have been a doubt which had arisen. There is another fitness in this circumstance, namely that he who was buried in this new grave, was He who was born of a virgin mother.

As Mary’s womb knew no child before Him nor after Him, so was it with this grave. Again we may understand that it is in a soul renewed that Christ is buried by faith, that Christ may dwell by faith in our hearts (Eph. iii. 17).

St. John’s Gospel adds, Now there was in the place where He was crucified, a garden ; and in the garden a new sepulchre (John xix. 41). Which recalls to us that as Christ was taken in a garden and suffered His agony in a garden, so in a garden was He buried, and thereby we are reminded that it was from the sin committed by Adam in the garden of delightfulness that, by the power of His Passion, Christ set us free, and also that through the Passion the Church was consecrated, the Church which again is as a garden closed.

Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage to End Abortion DAY FIVE!

22 January 2014

Posted by Sarah Campbell
22 January 2014 A.D.


January 18-26 2014

Pray with the bishops to end abortion!

On January 22 our nation will mark the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the U.S.
Since that tragic decision, more than 55 million children’s lives have been lost to abortion, and many suffer that loss — often in silence.
Join thousands of Catholics across the country coming together in prayer for a “culture of life” from Saturday, January 18 – Sunday, January 26!

4 Ways to Join

HERE to go to the Bishops site to signup for emails, text alerts and an APP!


Day Five: Wednesday, January 22, 2014


For an end to legal abortion in our nation and for the conversion of all hearts, so that the inherent rights of every human being—especially those most at risk of abuse and rejection—will be upheld.

Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, Glory Be


Today, on this 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we consider the past four decades in which our society has legally permitted abortion and wandered far from God. Instead of accepting children in joy and hope, many hearts seem hardened against making commitments to others, fearing the demands others may make on our time or our freedom. We are becoming a culture marked by rejection, by loneliness and sorrow. In today’s Gospel, we hear how Jesus grieved over the Pharisees’ hardness of heart, as he heals the man with the withered hand. They remained silent when Jesus pointedly asked them: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Our laws now make it legal to destroy life by abortion, by abortifacient drugs, in destructive embryo research, in the course of in vitro fertilization procedures, and in some states by assisted suicide and the death penalty. How Jesus must grieve over this culture of death! Let us open our hearts in faith, entrusting our culture to the healing power of Christ, the One who has overcome sin and the power of evil.

Acts of Reparation (choose one)

Today is a day of prayer and penance for restoration of the right to life. Step out of your comfort zone and witness publicly to life in a march or rally, or call your elected representatives to ask them to promote policies and laws that respect life.

Gratitude helps us love God and neighbor. Today try to not complain or be negative. Say a prayer of thanksgiving instead.

Don’t push the snooze button. Get right out of bed and offer your day in prayer to God. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14).

@BillyKangas asks: How will you be joining the Pope in prayer on December 10th?

9 December 2013

9 December 2013 Anno Domini
Posted by Billy Kangas at his blog,
The Orant


Francis has decided he’s going to try to end hunger through prayer! On December 10th, human rights day, the Pope is sparking off what’s being called, “a global wave of prayer” that will spread across the world starting noon in Australia and sweeping across the world. This will be the kickoff of a global campaign to end hunger by 2025. This is a global effort being spearheaded by Caritas Internationalis, joined by all its member organizations, and strengthened by other national leaders in ending hunger like Bread for the World.

On December 10th at noon, local time, join in the global wave of prayer by meeting with others in your community at noon and offering prayers on behalf of the hungry people in the world. Bread for the World has set up a prayer resource page with a number of prayers about ending hunger from a variety of Christian traditions. I was honored to be asked to contribute my own prayer, inspired by my Catholic liturgical tradition. Check it out and see if they are useful for you and your community as you gather in prayer to end hunger!

Now click below to read and pray Billy’s prayer…

Continue after the jump for the rest of Billy’s post…>>>

Our friend Layna Hess is back to blogging…Deo Gratias!

18 June 2013

18 June 2013 Anno Domini
Posted by Sofia Guerra

One of my favorite young bloggers is Layna Hess. We have published her here several times and were sad when we haven’t seen a post since last September. She is back now and as usual, writing beautifully about her love for Christ. In this post, she talks about spiritual dryness. It is something we all face and I, myself have struggled recently with it.

I am posting it first because she is a wonderful writer and a glorious soul but most of all she will hep those like me who sho struggle with an acrid prayer life at times.

Welcome back Layna and thank you.

A New Chapter

by Layna Hess at her blog,
My thoughts, my words
June 8, 2013

My dear friends,

I apologize for never writing and just disappearing. In all honesty, I have been through a lot since my last post. Work, meeting new people, experiencing new challenges, personal struggles, and spiritual struggles. I lost focus on my spirituality in a deep sense. While I still attended mass, I wasn’t “devout”. I went through a very dark and dry time. My prayer life became less and less and I got wrapped up in the world and it’s struggles. I allowed the darkness to take over me. Writing has always been a hobby for me, but it has always been different. If my soul was right with God, then it would be His words and not my own. There were times where I would come back to my blog, start a headline, and I would stare blankly at the text box….I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? I was so far from God, and no longer could hear Him, or feel Him working through me in a spiritual sense. I knew what was right, I desired God, but I had a hard time finding Him. I felt like anything I taught, wrote, or spoke of in my blog would be hypocritical because of where I was in my own spiritual life. In all honesty, when I write that’s when I feel God present the most. (Aside from Mass and adoration). I know the most peace I had in my life when I was writing on here like crazy.

Recently, I left my home to go on Ignatian silent retreat up in Los Gatos, California with my Grandma. I stayed in California and took 6 weeks to really get my spiritual life back on track, which was probably the best experience of my life, and the retreat truly reset my entire way of thinking. I even have an entire new outlook on the religious life and I am discerning again.

For the rest of Layna’s post please click HERE

Please follow Layna on Twitter: @Layna_Hess22

Lisa Graas gives us pause; it is our hearts God desires…

11 August 2012

Today’s Readings: God Desires Our Hearts, Identity in Christ, Jesus Rebukes Peter

August 9, 2012
By Lisa Graas at her blog,

My friends Mark and Clare will understand this, I think. I apologize if I’m not clear enough for others. I will try to post some relevant links to other posts I’ve written to help you get what I’m saying. I’m not thinking that clearly today.

Today’s readings here in America speak to us on three topics discussed, as of late, here on my blog.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 shows God desires all of our hearts. He is less interested in our brains than in our hearts. (See my article: Which is more important? Right Thinking or Right Doing?)

I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.

Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19 speaks of this, as well.

R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Mt 16:13-23 is very powerful, indeed, showing that “flesh and blood” will not reveal Jesus to us. In other words, our brains alone will not reveal Him to us.

Please click HERE for the rest of this post…

Updated UPDATE FROM my sister Mary (@AncientSoul) :)

28 February 2012

Two weeks ago I made an urgent appeal for my dearest sister Mary in her our of need. All of you responded with an avalanche of prayers! Let me thank you for your kindness and for your Faith.

Mary came through her surgical procedure and is doing well in spite of the diagnosis of a chronic problem that is at the very least debilitating. I believe she is still with us because of the prayers of those who truly care about this great lady.

Mary will continue to need prayers as she tries to continue her Prayer and Rosary Ministry. Without your help with this, it will not be possible. I am asking that particularly during these 40 days that we keep Mary in our prayers that she may be able to pray for all the souls who need it just as desperately. Let us continue to beg favor with Our Lord that she have the health to continue to make the world’s most beautiful Rosaries and Faith Jewelry that give honor to Our most Blessed Mother.

Please consider joining her in her project “Paters for Peace” on FB. AS usual, my dearest sister always puts Our Lord first. I promise to keep all of you in my prayers daily (as I do now) in thanksgiving for your generosity in praying for her.

God love you,


You can find Mary at, on Twitter @AncientSoul on FB HERE and at her Blog, BattleBeadsBlog.

Update from Mary!

Thanks so much for all the kind prayers and concern .. it’s truly very much appreciated. Although the biopsy for temporal arteritis was negative (as is over 60+%), it unfortunately doesn’t mean it’s POSITIVELY negative lol … It can also be giant cell ateritis, but I think they’re leaning more towards trigeminal neuralgia at this point. I think we’re just waiting for things to either go away or get worse while we pursue more diagnostic tests … I’m hoping the sed rate is normal next time they take blood :) Time will tell .. meanwhile, I feel like I have a gazillion hands all over my head and face, just about touching. Kind of how you’d feel after a slap in the face actually. Some intermittent pains here and there all over, but nothing we can’t handle, praise God. Trying to stagger the steroids, so no additional problems come about … good timing for trials though :) I’d also like to encourage folks to look into living the Divine Will and participating in the Hours of the Passion that can be found here:
This devotion has been heaven sent as far as I’m concerned. The perspective and insight into the Passion is much greater than anything I’ve ever experienced and makes you never want to leave His Side. Praise be His Holy and magnificent Name! Again .. thanks so much for the prayer, kind thoughts and concern … to Sofia & Sean for posting and for all that have participated in storming heaven on my behalf … you all remain in my daily 3pm’s. Blessings!

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