Manly Marian Militance

On Saturday I conducted a day of recollection for the Knights of Lepanto. The question as to whether there is such a thing as Catholic masculinity was one of the main topics.

In the course of my presentation I brought up the controversy between Cardinal John Henry Newman and Charles Kingsley. Kingsley accused the recent convert to Romanism, Newman, and the Catholic clergy generally, of dishonesty. The polemical exchange between the two thinkers generated Newman’s masterful defense of his conversion and of the Catholic faith, Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

In the debate, much more was at stake than just the honor of the the Catholic clergy. Kingsley was an advocate of “Muscular Christianity,” a kind of manly expression of Christian faith, which emphasized physical exercise and sport as a necessary balance to a more bookish approach to Christian spirituality. While much can be said for a distinctly manly expression of Christian faith (as is often advocated here), Kingsley went further, by blaming Catholic Marian devotion and asceticism for the emasculation of the Church, and especially Catholic men.

Newman refuted Kingsley soundly, but the assertion that Catholic spirituality produces effeminate men is an idea that remains. Leon Podles in The Church Impotent: The Femininization of Christianity traces the current of bridal spirituality throughout the history of the Church, and even notes the Marian character of western chivalry as a contributing factor to the development of feminine spirituality. He also points out that while St. Bernard was one of the foremost influences on the development of bridal spirituality, he was also the great promoter of the Knights Templar, that is, of militant spirituality. While Podles critiques much of the ascetical and marian dimension of the western Church, he does admit that bridal spirituality is a part of the scriptural data.

Bridal spirituality cannot be jettisoned. Marriage is the fundamental metaphor for the spiritual life. It is the great sacrament as St. Paul says in Ephesians 5. It is the sacrament of nature; man is created male and female, and as such is the image and likeness of God. Christ is, in fact the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride. These realities are too fundamental to minimize.

If we adopt the language of Benedict XVI which he uses in the inaugural encyclical of his pontificate, Deus Caritas Est, and speak about the necessary balancing of eros (possessive love) by agape (oblative love), indeed if we assert the primacy of agape over eros, I think we have the answer to what sometimes might legitimately be perceived a feminizing tendency of bridal spirituality. Asceticism or perhaps better, spiritual discipline need not appear exclusively contemplative and oriented to religious experience. It is also part of the training of the whole man to confront the World, the Flesh and the Devil, our cosmic enemies. Likewise, Marian devotion is not merely the imitation of Our Lady’s virtues, particularly Her feminine virtues, but a commitment to defend all that is true, good and beautiful. Our Captain, Christ the Lord, enters into battle for the sake of His Bride and defeats the Dragon, but only at the oblative cost of His life. Yes, in the end oblation is a manner of submissiveness to the provident will of God. It is obedience. But it is also an undaunted militance. It is warrior spirituality. It seems that the real argument here is about the right balance.

On Saturday, one of the guys asked if I could give a practical example where the critique of Muscular Christianity against Catholic spirituality has shown itself false. After a little thought, I replied that perhaps the best example is the almost universal compromise of Protestantism with contraception. Wayward eroticism not only produces effete men who are more occupied with words and feelings than actions and principles, it also produces, as we know, men who brutally subordinate women to their own desire for sexual gratification. Only in the Church where the Virginity of Our Lady, and the ideals of consecrated chastity have been retained has the full doctrine on the sanctity of matrimony and chaste love survived.

Contraception is a plague upon our world which must be fought to the death, and those who choose to do so face humanly insurmountable odds. Even in nations where the demographics are radically changing and birthrates are well below the replacement rates, governments are finding that their efforts to encourage large families with entitlements are ineffective. The sort of self-indulgence which is involved in contracepting the future has certainly not produced a manly culture.  On the other hand, facing the monster and fighting against it, no matter how difficult or lonely the quest might be, is exactly the militant and evangelical spirit necessary to restore manliness to religious experience.

It seems to me that it is only chivalry, specifically Marian Chivarly, that guarantees for men, both prayer and action, chastity and strength, obedience and authority.  I will fully admit, though, that if Our Lady remains only and ideal and not the living and acting Queen Mother in the order of grace and prayer, then the extremes are not likely to be avoided.

11 thoughts on “Manly Marian Militance

  1. This is a very insightful post.

    First, there I don’t think you should have any fear about a conflict that devotion to Our Lady will turn you into a metro-sexual (unless that’s your style and that’s okay, too – I will explain that another time).

    Secondly – muscularity, I think, is a confusion between those men with very active personality (doers and buiders), those with a more intelluctual bent and those who are just overly macho (a male weakness).

    Years ago I was a computer programmer/engineer which means working with large groups of men. (I’ve been a homemaker for the last 20+ years – so don’t expect me to remember much – gave it up and never looked back for a more satisfy family life). But I had an opportunity to see different groups of men with different backgrounds and how they behaved toward women. At the first company I worked for (a sub-contractor for the military and aviaition companies – navigation systems) many of the men had a military background. And the place, while it had problems, was a decent place to work for. We talked often about the difficulties of men and women working together. They were proud of their work and their families.

    The second place I worked for was a bit of a shock. To make a long story short, the few decent men who didn’t hit on the staff (or were involved in some personal fantasy about doing so) usually had all the women assigned to them. This, of course, caused more problems and jealousies. And that was just that issue – it was a madhouse. Still I learned a great deal about how a few honorable men in an insane world can make that world a decent and worthwhile place to be. (Unfortunately though that is not always recognized – but those whose lives are touched by them they are not forgotten)

    There’s a great deal to say about that, but I want to get to the last point.

    I would have no fear about Our Lady remaining only an abstract ideal. Although one cannot see it now I believe she is preparing, and has been for a long time, a way to restore to a post-modern world a way of understanding the true nature of man (and I include women), his purpose, and his strengths and weakness (in a personal way). She is doing this through her apparitions. In the near future (I hope) everyone will be able to see that the purpose of each visit was not only for that time and place and people, but for all time and all places and all people. You will see that they are not over, but only beginning to show forth the mission of each of these places – and then you see that it is to carry these understandings to the ends of the earth. That’s what I believe.

    At the moment all these things are obscured and I suppose we wait for certain dramas to come to completion.

    But trust it will happen, we do have a future. How we get there and what trials are ahead, I do not know. But in the end Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart will triumph, as she has promised.

  2. Sorry, forgot one more point. Aso, do not worry about the “Bridal Spirituality” sapping a man’s masculinity. That’s the complaint of the earthly marriage. Men have a dual nature, I think, one that looks to find his place in the world and the other devoted to his family.

    There is a famous statue of Moses (Michelangelo). On either side there are figures of Leah and Rachel. This is supposed to represent the earthly and spiritual life of a man (I read that somewhere). I think this is reasonable. And for the women, I would not interpret that to mean that the one will be unloved even if that’s what the story in the Bible indicates. That is not the point of the spiritual life – it’s to complete the person. When one reaches that state of perfection love is seen in all. That’s what the saints say and that is how they behave (even if with a temper – it’s out of love).

    So I think that all troubles are for a purpose – to engage and overcome with help from above. And that “Bridal Spirtuality” allows a man (or woman – though the role is different) to complete their earthly mission with the light and grace from God. I think, also, from what the saints say, that without this insight one would lose hope and zeal for that mission – for the suffering is so great there must be a great grace bestowed in order to bear it.

    That’s what the saints say.

  3. That’s okay, Fr. Angelo, you don’t have to answer. It’s hard to evaluate something that’s still hidden.

    I had to try one more time, a public appeal to one who could help. It’s the last time I will ask.

    One day, though, that light will be seen in each of Our Lady’s visits – it’s a promise.

    God bless you. Liz Gormley

  4. P.S. From tomorrow’s reading (joy and completeness)

    Jn 15:9-11

    Jesus said to his disciples:
    “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
    Remain in my love.
    If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
    just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
    and remain in his love.

    “I have told you this so that
    my joy might be in you and
    your joy might be complete.”

  5. Father:

    Is it possible that Cardinal Newman’s argument has been proven true by the obvious emasculation experienced by the protestant denominations following wide spread acceptance of contraception? It might be argued that most mainline protestant churches today and their related activities, are largely overseen by women ministers and directors. The role of men in the various protestant churches seems to have been marginalized more so than can be said of the Catholic Church. This might explain the frequent break-up and formation of new denominations, and the changing creeds to conform to secular world views.

    The fundamentalist churches may have evolved in reaction to the feminization of the mainline churches, just as we are trying re-awaken the masculinity in our Church.

  6. Liz, I wasn’t putting you off. I am in Indiana giving a retreat to our sisters, so my blog time has been almost nil.

    I would agree that Our Lady’s authentic apparitions tend to incarnate the ideals of our faith. This has always been true of prophecy. The law can be viewed as abstract, but the intervention of God through prophecy (not so much foretelling as intervening in our lives), is intended to be an experienced manifestation of God’s love for His people.

    We can, I think, appreciate how Marian prophecy reinforces this, not only by the manifestation of extraordinary signs, but by the devotion and recourse that those signs encourage.

    Clearly the triumph of the Immaculate Heart is a restoration. But there are secret thoughts that must be laid bare. I guess when I read that others have recognized the humanizing presence that Our Lady has exercised on history, and then carry on to minimize its importance, or even speak of its feminizing influence on men, I tend to think that they have failed to implement dogmatic faith into a program of living.

    I also hope in the power of Our Lady’s intervention to change hearts.

  7. John,

    I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t think there is much difference between the culture of dissent within our Church, and the amorphous theology of mainline Protestantism. Someone told me of a sermon they heard in an Anglican Church on the Assumption of Our Lady, in which the preacher contrasted the Catholic doctrine with the “less definite” commentary on the tradition presented within the Anglican tradition. The person who told me the story chuckled at the understatement.

    I recently read a question and answer column in a well-known Catholic magazine. A mother wrote in to ask Father a question that her daughter asked her and which she was unable to answer: “Why can’t I become a priest?” The Father never once articulated the Church’s position or even mentioned the papal teaching, as though the Church had never spoken on the matter. Neither did he say that women should be ordained priests. He simply sympathized with the poor girl, said it was a good question and we should all consider it as a matter of justice with a broad mind, after all no one knows the mind of God.

    More of the same from both the Modernist “Catholics” and mainline Protestantism. Mush-headed Milk toast and namby pampy gobbledygook.

    We are so terrified of doing anything paternal.

  8. Fr. Angelo,

    Oh, I certainly, agree that nothing that is hidden will remain so forever. My point has been that we are in an age where the faith is difficult to to spread because we no longer use the same words to mean the same things.

    For example, religious people believe the soul exists and is not the same thing as the body or the mind. Many non-religious people do not believe in a soul and when you talk about it they think that you are speaking poetically (charitable explanation) or as a fool (not so charitable).

    I do no think that Our Lady brings a new teaching, but a way to “talk” to the modern and postmodern soul. It’s mainly about communication. And the communication is focused on the Gospel. And that’s the Light, Our Lady magnifies the “Light ” in her messages (she is not the source) so that it can be seen in the world again.

    But that’s my opinion.
    God bless you, Liz

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