Over the last week or so my attention has been drawn to two articles that touch upon the subject of the “feminine genius.” Both of them tend to underscore, in different ways, the problem I mentioned in my recent post, “War in Paradise.” To reiterate what I wrote there: The feminist narrative has dictated our presentation of sex relations in such a way that fatherhood has been left to hang out to dry.
The Thinking Housewife has rejected John Paul II’s use of the feminine narrative outright, in particular, where he seems to overcompensate for historical discrimination against women by asserting that every woman, by the “simple fact of being a woman,” makes the world a better place.
The Thinking Housewife responds.
This is not true. Every women [sic] is not good, nor is any woman entirely good. All women do not enrich the world’s understanding by their sheer existence. John Paul II was a holy man fulfilling a complex role. These words are grave missteps on his political journey. It is no exaggeration to say that these particular words are anti-Christian. No human being is to be exalted for the sheer fact of being human. We are born in sin and error.
On the other hand, Bill Donaghy from the Theology of the Body Institute, sets up a hypothetical dichotomy between the Petrine and Marian principles of the Church, which he never entirely resolves. Mr. Donaghy uses the familiar caricature of St. Peter as the archetype of the masculine side of Catholic spirituality: plodding “impetuous, lovable, ‘open mouth, insert foot.’” And on the feminine side the spectrum he posits Our Lady as the “the primordial way, the first way, the fundamental posture for those who thirst for the Holy Spirit.”
I believe these two very different perspectives highlight the extent which gender confusion has made a mess of sex relations.
In fact John Paul II did ascribe a certain primacy to the Marian principle over the Petrine:
This Marian profile is also—even perhaps more so— fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united. In this vision of the Church Mary precedes the People of God who are still pilgrims. . . .
Mr. Donaghy rightly points out that
The Marian Way is receptive, it waits, receives and is still. It listens to words and contemplates the Word. By no means, incidentally, is it to be confused with passivity.
Unfortunately, he goes no further with his rejection of passivity as to affirm “active listening and eager expectation.” From here he proceeds to the familiar “impregnation” analogy typical of the school of Christopher West. There is more to active receptivity than listening and expectation and it has nothing to do with being “impregnated.”
Without question, the Marian principle enjoys a certain priority over the Petrine on the basis on the consent of Our Lady upon which our salvation was conditioned. However, it is necessary that this be stated precisely.
First off, John Paul II states that Mary is the “archetype of the Church” on the basis of the “divine maternity,” because the Church is called to be both “mother and virgin.”
For this reason, I believe the hyper-eroticism of the school of Christopher West is fundamentally misguided. God did not impregnate Mary. She conceived virginally by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The analogy to be used is not sexual reproduction. Mr. Donaghy says to men that the Marian dimension is “NOT an affront to our manhood,” but then goes on to suggest that in the spiritual life we are all impregnated by God. Personally, I am not particularly interested in being impregnated, and I am quite convinced that the vast majority of men feel the same way—for good reason.
Incidentally, Dawn Eden has shown in her thesis that the phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle is completely misguided, confirming much of what I have written on the subject. She has shown by means of more extensive research that is certainly no patristic basis for asserting any phallic interpretation, and that, on the contrary, it is of modern origin and connected to pagan interpretations of the liturgy. Furthermore, Dawn has shown that when the Easter liturgy was revised as mandated by Vatican II, those responsible deliberately undertook the work so that the triple immersion of the candle would not be construed to be symbolizing the sexual act.
The insistence on using the sexual analogy to represent the bridal aspect of spirituality has the curious effect of exalting male eroticism on the one hand and of making female submissiveness the definitive archetype of spirituality on the other. This promotes the worst kind of chivalry. One extreme of historical chivalry idealizes sex by way of the worship of the goddess. Another—not entirely unrelated to the first—reduces the noble behavior of men to purpose of serving women.
But if all this is problematic, in what sense dose the Marian principle hold primacy over the Petrine? Or in what way do we begin our journey in receptivity without being purely passive?
I believe that the answer lies in understanding that adult faith is expressed in a particular way by that virtue and—more importantly—gift of the Holy Spirit known as fortitude. Confirmation is the Sacrament that strengthens us to become soldiers for Christ, and this is principally a matter of fortitude. In the first place, it is constituted by a kind of receptivity, which is endurance in the face of fear. Hence, fortitude helps us to overcome fear of death on the battlefield and even to count it as our greatest honor, as in the case of the martyrs. However, fortitude also concerns, secondarily, a moderate assertion of daring in order to overcome the aggressor. Spiritually, the aggressor is Satan, but in the social order, there are temporal evils that must be opposed.
Hence, “receptive but not passive,” means that grace is always primary and is first of all a matter of resisting a spiritual enemy through endurance. But it also means that we will have to actively oppose what is dishonorable and contrary to the common good.
This is true for both men and women, but, in a particular way, fathers will be called upon—not to be impregnated, but to fight the good fight. It is, therefore, telling that Mr. Donaghy uses the caricature of St. Peter to represent the masculine and never once mentions fatherhood in connection with the Petrine principle.
It is also understandable, then, that The Thinking Housewife has had enough of the feminist narrative and has tired of the “feminine genius” being construed as the supreme archetype. On the other hand, all women do represent something by means of their femininity, even if they do not realize it in their persons.
Bob Hope was right in what he used to say to the fighting men when he visited them on his USO tours. He would bring a starlet out on stage and say: “I just wanted to remind you what you are fighting for.” While there is much to criticize about this, there is also a grain of truth to it. Sorting it all out is never easy.
The most fundamental archetypes of the Christian life are not Peter and Mary, but Jesus and Mary. Our Lord was a fighting man and ultimately answered only to His Father. But He also condescended to become the Child of Mary and asks us to have the humility to do the same. By reflecting on this, we may learn to redeem the relationship between man and woman, but it is unlikely that we will ever redeem feminism. Or as Dawn Eden has written:
The Word who saves us was, like the woman who brought Him forth, immaculately conceived. Not so with the word feminism — which is why it cannot save, and should not be saved.
The real mysticism of the Church is not eroticism or worship of the goddess, but the heroism that unites authority and power with the willingness to die in battle for those one loves. Instead of advocating a new feminism and asking men to imagine themselves as being spiritually impregnated we need to examine more closely what I have called Marian Chivalry.