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.
Another excellent post Father. Thank you.
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Father, I’m not a theological expert of the rank of yourself or Dawn, and I may be going all Nestorian(*) on you both here, but “begotten not made” is the credal expression for the mystery of the Incarnation at the Annunciation, correct? Génitum, non factum, the event “became incarnate of” in Greek σαρκωθέντα [sarkothynta] and “made man” ἐνανθρωπήσαντα [inanthropesanta]
This taking flesh in human form (ie the anthropology of the JPII catechesis hinges on an adequate anthropology) cannot be comprehended as an operation antecedent in time, like a the biological process termed “conception” that Mary’s parents were privy to in Palestine of the last century BEFORE the Year of our Lord, reduced to the mechanics of the nuptial embrace, for sure, since He is antecedent to all time, he exists outside time, but the begetting part, the mothering is not possible without the anthropology of the communio personarum, the female body is a sign all by itself (even one as vulnerable as Terri Schiavo for example, she menstruated to the bitter and horrendously insufferable end) as dramatically presented in the play “Radiation of Fatherhood”
Click to access Radiation_of_Fatherhood.pdf
So I wouldn’t say Jesus and Mary were begotten by the same means in the same breath -that doesn’t sound right… they’re not the same mystery – Mary was once not embodied, but she was a thought in the Mind of God foreseen from eternity, and then she became embodied complete with the egg cells (sarx, flesh) necessary to implant inside her womb when the moment came for one of them to be made incarnate (ie a separate genetic and complementarilly-gendered identity or body, ie XY not XX), and she will receive her XX-gendered body at the Resurrection right, while Christ’s XY-gendered body never truely left us as Emmanuel, the Mystery of his presence in the Host we receive at Mass we are taught is NOT a reenactment, but one and the same sacrifice, right?
But I would say with the Catholic feminists like Mary Shivanandam
that every woman is a sign – she may be a stained sign, but that’s still better than not extant at all (see reference to Terry Schiavo earlier) as the Thinking Housewife and you yourself seem to imply… The XX seat of the filial relationship to fatherhood is key… part of God’s plan… ineffable perhaps but not to be rejected outright… the Church is modelled on this sign afterall, how can we discount that? Sir Gawain may have fallen for the lady with the green girdle, but he still venerated her as a lady, right? He saw her fruitfulness, as we see the five point symmetry inside an apple core, but he overlooked what she was pointing to, he forgot the meaning of the five points:
No matter where he moved in melee or in battle
it was his fervent thought through thick or thin
that when he fought his courage came from the five joys
the high Queen of Heaven had of her child.
(And so the noble knight would never wear his shield
till her image had been painted on the inner half;
for when he saw her face his courage never failed.)
Click to access sggk_replica.pdf
for those who like the original texts!
(*) and look how long that sad misunderstanding took to sort out, he who breathed air in his Eastern and his Western lung reconciled the small remnant left in Syria just in time for our Martial Arts Dept to nearly wipe ’em out again… JPII warned us about that too but a fat lot of good it did us… we weren’t thinking like
GOD BLESS I have to get going otherwise I’ll become aschenputtl in a flash (I don’t blog after midnight)
I’m a fan of the simple piety of the medieval St. Anna Selbdrit form (her hand relic is a fascinating thing culturally-speaking all by itself) but see that it can be misinterpreted along the lines of an Agreda-like Matriarchy-Mediatrix-idolatry of the female fecundity aspects of the mystery, no? Salic secular law has a certain ethic all its own, that mimics Islam too closely for my tastes. The corruption of motherhood into the monarch-mater-monstrosities of European dynastic hegemony that led to such impotent inbred regal eunuchs as the Hapsburgs is NOT the narrative I’d like to see our post-Vatican II Church use to prosecute the culture wars… Benedict must be sensitive to this perspective, his patronymic ‘Ratzinger’ being a Latin transliteration of the austro-glagolithic Rodziny (think Radix Jesse) as in Sw. Rodziny = Holy Family headed by Joseph of the line of David, as distinct from the Anne-Mary-Jesus Heilige Sippe (or Holy Kinship) antiseptically severed from the Semitic roots of our brothers and sisters in Faith (perverse as it is, since Hebrew identity is secured in the Matriarchal line… even as maternal mitochondrial DNA reveals zilch about agnatic kinship, for that you need the masculine body fluids)
The faithful are all regenerated “cognati’ in filial relation to phenomenological personalism of “knowing” Christ – a freely given gift experienced in the piercing contrition of our restless heart’s desire spent unrequited in futile, nay sterile, earthly pastimes. But we are born “agnati” – capable of consciousness of our filial descent… what separates the two is the Gordian knot of Human Salvation history…
or expressed perhaps more reverentially, the sigillum Salomonis of the Mystery of the Incarnation
the symmetrical complementarity and lyrical beauty of the Hebrew poetical form revealing Divine Wisdom in all its ineffable profundity…
God Bless Father. I hope I’m not being a nuisance, but rather pliantly offer my contribution as an idle curiosity, a spiritual sudoku puzzle for your entertainment in the trenches of the Church Militant.
One must beware in other words of a gendered Fiore’ism, no?
No son born of woman will ever excel John the Baptist – he who revealed/foretold the Jordan baptism/burial famed in the Eastern icons, and evoked in the blue-white lozenge shapes of Wittelsbach heraldry symbolism (blue=Neopolimaya Kupina white= Anastasis) famed in BMW automobiles and their British mini vassals and certain claimants to the throne of Mary’s Dowry; that treasury impervious to moth or rust… 😉