Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Marian Model

Given our culture’s severe misunderstanding of marriage (including, especially Catholic circles) in attempting to discuss marriage, I have covered many issues that may be considered tangential, but which I view the building blocks of any discussion. When discussing the man’s responsibilities towards marriage, it was essential to discuss the nature of authority, and the love which is required for that authority to function properly. I will attempt to do the same when focusing on woman.

We know from Ephesians 5 that the woman in a marriage represents the Church, just as the husband represents Christ. This always struck me as peculiar when I read Ephesians 5. For the husband there is a very personal representation that is the analogy has two persons, man and Christ. The woman on the other hand is compared to what is known in our minds as an object. Now while modern philosophers within the Church do in their writings speak of the Church as a person (and in a sense classical theology would understand this since the Church is the body of Christ), I’d like to take a different route. In a certain sense, we could describe the woman in relation to Mary.

Now before we start, a few things need to be explicitly understood. First and foremost, we are speaking in an analogical sense. We are not speaking in a literal sense, that Christ and Mary are married. Yet as Mary was, forgive the cliché and bad pun, “the perfect woman”, if we want to understand how a woman is to act, should we not look to our Blessed Mother?

However, the appropriateness of using the Blessed Virgin in this analogy not only corresponds with her being woman, but in relation to the Church as well. The Second Vatican Council recognized this insight. They devoted a lengthy section of the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium to this relationship. I will only quote a few passages, but I recommend everyone, I don’t care who you are to read this section.

    By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God's messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.

As one can see, there is ample reason to consider Mary for this discussion. Numerous virtues are mentioned that both the Church and the Bless Mother posses. If the wife is to be the model of the Church, one would need to consider these virtues as well. In future columns we will do just that. There is however one more way I’d like to consider this comparison, primarily by referencing a popular Marian devotion, which is to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.

When one is a young bachelor such as this humble journalist, one is going to eventually end up discussing the marriage issue amongst friends, particularly those of the female persuasion. Even in Catholic circles, my constant reference to Ephesians 5 and the issue of subjection tends to draw quite a bit of anger from the females; however they rarely seem to understand it. So often I hear “there is no way I am going to be subject to a husband, I will never be in a marriage where he has 100% authority and I just do whatever he says.” While it is understandable the world sees the Catholic concept of marriage as this (failing to understand the mystical elements), it is far less forgivable that Catholics see it in this sense as well. We seem to underestimate just how devastating feminism has been in the Church today. We think like egalitarians. We think equality in dignity means equality in everything else. If man has authority in one aspect, he must have authority in domination in every aspect. It’s an all or nothing game for some today. There’s just one problem with this concept. It is as far from Catholicism as night is from day. In his landmark encyclical (and required reading for any study of marriage or the mystical union of man and woman before anything else) Casti Conubii Pope Pius XI, in developing the thought of Leo XIII (who wrote what could be viewed as the groundbreaking work on Christian Marriage Arcanum), had the following to say about the issue of “subjection” in Ephesians 5:

    This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.

One could say that while the man clearly has authority in the household, there is indeed “the sphere of the woman.” Women by nature are far better at matters of the heart than us men. Whenever the child needs discipline, they are sent to the father. Whenever it is something deeply personal, that requires great care and love to talk about, the father is the last person that child dare approaches. We don’t handle these matters well, but the mother most certainly does. It could be said that in matters of the heart, the woman reigns supreme. It is her guiding influence in manners of the heart that keep the marriage along a safe course, and it could be said it is the principles of love and the heart which keep the head of the household in the right direction so that he may lead.

It is here the Heart of Mary may be reflected upon. Not tainted by original sin as the hearts of everyone else, Mary’s heart could indeed be viewed a heart of perfect love. That love manifests itself in two ways, in regards to Christ and in regards to the Church. Whenever a Catholic asks the intercession of the Mother of God, it can be said to be the classical principle of going “to Christ, through Mary.” Mary leads us always to her Son. She never uses her love for her own sake, for her own glory. That is the antithesis of love. Love has no room for narcissism. It always to someone else. It could also be said to function for the benefit of the Church as well. In all the Marian apparitions, whatever one thinks of them, it is always something similar that Mary appears to draw people to the Church. As a result, what logic and clever argument could not do, a Mother’s love would do in causing numerous conversions to the Church.

In what specific ways did the Heart of Mary act, and how can this relate to the issue of the action of women in marriage? Future installments will ponder this very relevant question.