Friday, August 27, 2010

TOB and the spousal analogy

The spousal analogy is a key point in TOB, and in her thesis on Christopher West’s work, Dawn Eden includes it as one of the ten major points. She summarizes West’s understanding of it as follows:
“The nuptial analogy is the primary means by which the faithful should understand their relationship to God—and ‘nuptial’ is to be envisioned in sexual terms.”
She continues, quoting West, “With this image in mind, God’s action upon the human person should be understood as ‘impregnation,’ with the Virgin Mary as model: “[T]he spousal imagery throughout all of Scripture [teaches us] that God wants to ‘marry’ us. Furthermore, through this mystical marriage, the divine Bridegroom wants to fill us, ‘impregnate’ us with divine life. In the Virgin Mary, this becomes a living reality.’ This is true for men and women. ‘The key to authentic masculinity’ is seeing oneself as a bride of Christ. ‘Don’t worry, guys—it doesn’t mean we have to wear a wedding dress or anything. It means, essentially, that we, as creatures, have to learn how to open and ‘receive’ the love of the Creator.”

[note: I will use the word "spousal" instead of "nuptial," since Dr. Michael Waldstein indicates this is the better translation of the term John Paul uses.] Is West really saying that “‘spousal’ is to be envisioned in sexual terms”? On the basis of these brief quotes, it might seem so. But what happens when you look at the fuller context of the quotes from West?
He says: “The Song of Songs teaches us – as does the spousal imagery throughout all of Scripture – that God wants to "marry" us. Furthermore, through this mystical marriage, the divine Bridegroom wants to fill us, "impregnate" us with divine life. In the Virgin Mary, this becomes a living reality. And this, as the Catechism says, is why "Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as ‘the bride without spot or wrinkle’" (CCC 773).”
Right before this paragraph he indicates he’s taking his basic idea from a passage in True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. The word “impregnate” might seem to give it a more sexual nuance. But if you look up that word on, you’ll find five meanings, only the first of which is directly related to procreation. The meaning West intends is from the third definition, “to cause to be infused or permeated throughout, as with a substance; saturate: to impregnate a handkerchief with cheap perfume.” West is stressing that God fills us with divine life. He uses the example of Mary in this particular article (with its relation to pregnancy) because he’s writing at Christmastime about the Incarnation. Context is important.

What about the second quote concerning men and receptivity? It might seem provocative because of the wedding dress. But here’s the whole passage:

“ ‘Spousal prayer’ means, very simply, to open oneself wholly and completely to Christ, surrendering to him in a union of love like a bride surrenders to the loving embrace of her bridegroom. And, yes, as uncomfortable as this might seem for men at first, this includes us too. As John Paul II wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem, "According to [the spousal analogy], all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the 'Bride' of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way 'being the bride,' and thus the 'feminine' element, becomes a symbol of all that is 'human" (MD 25). (Don't worry, guys - it doesn't mean we have to wear a wedding dress or anything. It means, essentially, that we, as creatures, have to learn how to open and "receive" the love of the Creator. This is not a threat to our masculinity, but the key to authentic masculinity.)”

I wonder why Dawn left out the quote West uses from John Paul, who is the real source of the idea. Omitting it gives the impression West is a bit more provocative than he really is. In fact, in that same paragraph of MD, the Pope adds: “In the Church every human being—male and female—is the ‘Bride,’ in that he or she accepts the gift of the love of Christ the Redeemer, and seeks to respond to it with the gift of his or her own person.”

In all of this, West's basic point is actually drawn from John Paul--something that Dawn doesn't make clear. West is presenting John Paul's thought in a popular way. If West's approach doesn't appeal to you, that's fine. Don’t read him. Use whatever other way you prefer. As I saw firsthand at the TOB Congress, more and more people are developing a wide variety of approaches to breaking open John Paul's thought, and that's all to the good.


Lauretta said...

Such a beautiful teaching. Thank you for examining and explaining it, Sister. Would not his example of the Blessed Mother being impregnated specifically make it not sexual since her impregnation was not derived from a sexual act but from her total openness and receptivity to God?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Lauretta, for adding that important point. That's very true!

Dawn Eden said...

One more note, regarding your writing that West takes his concept of "impregnation" from St. Louis de Montfort: I have researched this question extensively and can assure you that Montfort uses no such term. I know that West, in his article "The Spousal Mystery of Christmas," claims the saint wrote that Our Lady was "impregnated" by "heavenly dew," but the saint's language, which I've checked in the original French, does not bear this out.

Sr. Lorraine said...

This comment from Dawn came on my email but didn't appear on the blog; (I don't know why so I'm posting it myself (SL)):

Sister, thank you for letting your readers know about my master's thesis. If readers would like to read the quotes you cite in context (and, as you say in quoting West, context is key), the full thesis may be downloaded for free from Catholic News Agency at this link: Catholic News Agency also published an article about my thesis, including a section where readers may comment about it.

Regarding the meaning of "impregnate," using precise wording is extremely important in theology. As you note, the primary meaning of "impregnate" is explicitly sexual. To say that the Virgin Mary was "impregnated" is to deny that she is virgo intacta, as Father Angelo Mary Geiger F.I. has noted. If that is not West's intention, it is his responsibility as a lay catechist to use language that excludes such an interpretation.

You did me the favor of pointing out to me privately that a phrase I used in my thesis, which I was using in its secondary meaning, had a primary meaning that could be taken to mean something other than what I intended. Although that phrase had not been criticized by my thesis's official readers, I immediately removed it once you brought the possible confusion to my attention, so that it would not be in the revision made available to the general public via CNA. If using the primary definition of a phrase is important in the one case, with my thesis, surely it is important in the other case, with West, whose teaching materials are used by millions of Catholics.

Regarding your writing that West takes his concept of "impregnation" from St. Louis de Montfort, I have done extensive research on this assertion of West's, and can assure you that Montfort uses no such term. I know that West, in his article "The Spousal Mystery of Christmas," claims the saint wrote that Our Lady was "impregnated" by "heavenly dew," but the saint's language, which I've checked in the original French, does not bear this out.

Posted by Dawn Eden to "Open wide the doors to Christ!" at 7:13 PM

Sr. Lorraine said...

I think there's some problem with the commenting function on blogger. It seems to be acting a little strange. If anyone's comment didn't appear just let me know or repost it.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Dawn, for responding to this. I think you do make a good point here about the word "impregnate." To be honest, I don't really have a problem with West's use of it knowing the sense he intends it, but I agree it's something that might sound odd or not be the best expression, and that it is important to use precise terminology.
About St Louis de Montfort, I was just referring to what West said in his column, but you offer a good clarification. Thanks for that too.

I have a friend from the Marian Library in Dayton and I'm asking her if there are other instances where the term might have been used by other writers. It’s an interesting point I’d like to find out more about. I did find online a couple interesting quotes from Augustine concerning some of the mystical/bridal symbolism in regard to Mary:

From Conrad of Saxony in “Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary, quoting Augustine:
6 ”He Who wrote on the tablets of stone with iron, made Mary with child of the Holy Ghost; and He Who produced bread in the desert without ploughing, impregnated the Virgin without corruption; and He Who made the rod to bud without rain, made the daughter of David bring forth without seed.

7 A Virgin Mother was chosen, who would conceive without concupiscence, and who brought forth a Man without a man. Augustine—[but no further citation is given].

From Augustine on the Gospel of John 8:4

"For the Word was the Bridegroom, and human flesh the bride; and both one, the Son of God, the same also being Son of man. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which He became head of the Church, was His bridal chamber: thence He came forth, as a bridegroom from his chamber, as the Scripture foretold, And rejoiced as a giant to run his way. From His chamber He came forth as a bridegroom; and being invited, came to the marriage."

Thanks and God bless you!

Kevin said...

I would say Fr. Geiger pointed out rather conclusively that on this instance, West completely misinterprets St. De Monfort. (the hidden ambrosia, nectar, is not related to the proposal, but solely the recitation of the Hail Mary. West might think the exegesis of the passage bears it out, but he should make plainly clear he is being speculative on that one.)

I think West also misinterprets "impregnate" with "incarnate." They are two different terms. Our lack of precision in english might be a root cause of that, but when the Church uses "incarnatus est" there's something going on that's different from merely "impregnating." The error is entirely understandable, but also entirely unacceptable. Even the English equivalent of incarnatus, when we say "born of" during the Creed, really doesn't bear out the full reality of the phrase.

Lauretta said...

I have been doing some research on this subject of impregnate. First of all, my dictionary gives as the first definition for impregnate: to make pregnant, fertilize. I think we can all agree that Mary was pregnant, can't we? It seems that the Church goes out of her way to emphasize the very human pregnancy of Mary by the fact that the feast days of the Annunciation and Christmas are the same distance apart as nine months of human pregnancy.

Also, the Catechism states this:
485 The mission of the Holy Spirit is always conjoined and ordered to that of the Son. The Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of Life”, is sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and divinely fecundate it, causing her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own.” (CCC, 485)

Part of the first definition of fecundate in my dictionary is to fertilize, the same as for impregnate.

If the concern is that the word impregnate somehow connotes intercourse, I think we can relax about that since in our world today many impregnations(is that a word?) are done outside of the sexual act.

And, in conclusion, Mr. West makes it clear in his books that he is speaking in a capacity other than that of a theologian, that his language is not going to be as precise as that of those scholars. He is an evangelist primarily and uses evangelical language--the language of the people. Just as many of the great saints did. I can imagine poor St. Patrick if he were alive today being severely chastised for using the shamrock as a way of explaining the Trinity. How imprecise. Not to mention all of the stories that Christ told to try to explain things. Sheep and goats, doors, vines, etc.

Kevin said...

With all due respect Lauretta, I think that's a bit of a red herring. We all use imperfect analogies. In the case of impregnate, there's a good reason the Church (outside of perhaps a few rare instances, but there's really no citation, or the original languages used, so I'm going to still say it doesn't really exist) doesn't use that word.

In the pagan religions of the world, there was a direct connection between sex and the creation of the world and of gods. Sex was also intimately (poor choice of words I know!) related to their cultic religions. The religion of Yahweh is different. He didn't create the world through an act of sex. He created it out of nothing. They "desexualized" (lack of a better word) religion.

The birth of Christ through the Virgin Mary occured with Christ being "incarnate" not impregnated, which would signify an act of copulation with a god and a mortal, making Christianity little better than paganism (think of Zeus' countless trysts with mortal women).

In turn, Christ was INCARNATE fully human, fully divine, from the very moment, within the womb of the Virgin Mary. It is for that reason her conception was truly miraclous.

As the world descends back into paganism, it's not a surprise that rampant obsession over sex has increased (this is the main reason for the sexual revolution, not a revolt against "Victorian prudery") and people run the risk of sexualizing Christianity again. (Many heretical sects have done this over the years.)

One can freely grant that West is trying to speak the "popular" language. Yet sometimes, the "popular" language is not enough. The Church uses words for a reason. One has to be VERY careful when talking about the features of Christ in regards to his humanity and his divinity. Almost every heresy traces its roots to this.

Things like the shamrock are useful so far, in that they can point to something greater. There is a big difference between an incarnation and impregnation. A devout Jew (which the Apostles were) would've been horrified by the concept of the Holy Spirit (God) "impregnating" Mary. Instead, just as the world was created when Yahweh was over the formless void, so the Son is Incarnate when the shekinah overshadows Mary, and Christ is conceived by a means completely out of this world.

There's a reason why the Pope hasn't said this, nor did the Saints. West is just making it up as he goes along here. Maybe a good question to ask is why wasn't this language used?

Lauretta said...

Kevin, I read quite a bit in the Catechism and it used the terms conceive and conception numerous times in relation to Mary and Christ. To conceive means to become pregnant according to my dictionary. If someone told me that a woman conceived a child, or that she was pregnant, or that she was impregnated, the phrase that would cause me as a lay person to think most probably of something other than that which is natural occurring would be that of being impregnated. The other phrases would cause me to assume that the normal manner of course of events had occurred to bring about new life.

I do not at all understand why conceive and pregnant are fine but impregnate is not especially since impregnate is a much better term to use when comparing what happened between the holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother and what happens between us and the Holy Spirit. Also, in the Catechism when discussing this subject, the term Incarnation was seldom used. Conceive and conception seemed to be the words of choice.

Kevin said...

There's a difference between "impregnate" and "pregnant." One describes a state of being. i.e. my best female friend, the is pregnant and will be due in November. Her husband impregnated her.

The Blessed Virgin was indeed pregnant. The manner in which the Incarnation took place was indeed an Immaculate Conception. These were indeed the "state on the ground." Yet she was not "impregnated" by a man, or through an embrace of the diety (compared to the pagan religions, where gods or demigods were born of the union between men and gods frequently.)

So there's a HUGE difference between "conception" "pregnancy" and "impregnate."

While the word "Incarnation" is "seldom" used (actually in the Latin it is used quite frequently when discussing the Creed, since they devote time to "incarnatus est") in a Catechism, a Catechism is not a theology manual. It's a compendium of teaching the Church puts forward, normally accessible to a popular audience. The importance and pre-eminence of the Incarnation can be easily found throughout the thought of John Paul II in essentially every encyclical where he talks about anthropology, since for him, he treats every one of those matters through the Incarnation (just as Leo XIII developed a rather robust anthropology and social policy based around the fall of man in the garden of Eden and his redemption at Calvary.)

The importance of the Incarnation is also why I'd wager JP II doesn't say many of the things West does when talking about this, being the very careful man he was. It wasn't snobby academia that caused him to avoid this (this is the Pope who wrote as a Bishop of "mutual climax" in the marital embrace afterall!). It was a robust Christology influenced by 2,000 years of Catholic tradition.

Kevin said...

I'd also like to say just two more things.

First thanks to Sister for allowing an open discussion. :)

Second, I was reading recently and I think there's a good example of someone who can write to a popular audience, but still handle even controversial issues with a proper discpline. That's Scott Hahn. In "First Comes Love" he posits a theory which, if not handled carefully, can lead to all kinds of heretical statements and blasphemy.

He teaches that there are certain characteristics of the work of the Spirit that can be classified as what we would view "Maternal" aspects. Yet he also makes the distinction in very plain English between that and "Calling The Holy Spirit Mother" which is blasphemy plain and simple.

I think the difference between the two is one has a far more rigid theological background (Hahn.) His scholarly stuff is many times beyond comprehension (at least for lesser mortals such as myself.) Yet when writing on the accessible level, he is able to do it without losing any potency or effectivness of his message. I think he would be a proper example of being able to make distinctions, while West I honestly think lacks in being able to balance precision and accessibility.

Lauretta said...

Here are the two definitions according to Miriam Webster:

Pregnant: containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body
Impregnate: to make pregnant : fertilize

Using these definitions, how does one become pregnant without being impregnated? Reading the explanation in the Catechism, which we were told when it first came out was for scholars, I get the impression that they are saying it was her own egg that was used--"a humanity drawn from her own". That egg had to become fertile in some way, didn't it? Yes, it was by miraculous means, since a human male was not involved but Mary was still impregnated, made pregnant, by some means. She did not become pregnant by herself. God made her pregnant, he divinely impregnated her.

It seems to me that you are reading a definition into the word impregnate that is not there. None of the dictionaries I looked at gave any indication that the meaning was as narrow as you seem to indicate. The meaning does not mention the means of becoming pregnant anywhere that I have looked.

I, too, wish to thank you, Sister, for allowing us to hijack your blog! I would be very interested in your opinion on this subject since I believe Kevin and I may be at an impasse.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, both Lauretta and Kevin, for contributing to this discussion.
This morning I received an email from my friend from the Marian Institute, and she told me she will investigate more about the use of the "impregnate" in regard to Mary. I would like to wait until I hear from her before saying more about it. She has a doctorate in Marian studies from the Marianum in Rome, and is eminently qualifed to answer this question.

Kevin, I agree with you that Dr Hahn is certainly a good writer on this subject. But I wonder if you have ever read Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained from cover to cover. In 600 pages he carefully explains the Pope's writings in a way that is accurate and accessible. While it's a little more challenging than some of his popular talks, it's not that difficult to read.
But in this regard, the problem today is how to talk to an audience that has very little if any understanding of the faith. It's no longer possible to assume even basic understanding of the faith among Catholics. This presents a difficult situation.
Much of West's presentation has been in his talks. While I suppose Scott Hahn does this too (I don't follow his work so I'm not sure what he does), Hahn seems to write more books. So part of the difference between the two can also be attributed to the difference in dealing with a live audience, etc.

Kevin said...

I think Dr. Hahn is most effective in his books. He has quite an audio library. St. Joseph's carries a lot of his talks, especially from his earlier years. (Minus his original talks on preterism, which even Hahn admitted he was way off base on later.)

I have read the book Sister. In fact, I read TOB explained rather recently. I started it some 6 years ago after it was given to me by a girl I dated at the time. (Fresh with an autograph to her from Mr. West no less!) I dropped it (as I'm semi-allergic to philosophy) and recently picked it back up during my writings on the Incarnation I've been doing. Took me about 2 and a half months to read it.

I do not deny that there's a lot of good in the book. Of particular usefullness I found was his initial discourse on "celibacy for the Kingdom" (Pope Benedict this year gave a brilliant discourse on it where he made a lot of the same points) and his tying of "recaptiulation" into the Our Father.

That being said, I am not shaken int he belief that he paints TOB in contrast to previous Church teachings as "rupture." His statement that Sirach is "for the one bound by lust" painting a "new" teaching from Christ (as opposed to a reinforcement and strengthening of Ben Sira's phrases, which he arrives at with some very clever quoting of JPII from several different documents, not necessarily related!), his exegesis from 1st Corinthians (which we covered earlier), his misunderstanding on continence and Aquinas, and I would argue the general unfamilarity with Church history (especially the battles with the Docetics, Gnostics and Manicheans, while he mentions them, he never mentions in-depth the way the Church refuted them, which is actually a lot similar to what JPII did in TOB) the work exhibits. (For example, Tertullian writing against Marcion wrote about the importance of Christ having a physical body, and how that translates towards our own flesh being redeemed).

I think some of these issues end up being why West gets so much fire. And for Catholics, it does a grave disservice I think, since many of them seriously believe that any questions about West are really just our individual ghosts in the Manichean machine. (Though he avoids some of the even bigger whoppers that other prominent speakers make to his credit.)

Would be interested to hear what your friend thinks. Think my email is linked on my name, if not, will check the blog and see what else is said. :)


Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Kevin, for your insightful comments. While I do have a different point of view on some of these matters, I thank you very sincerely for your contribution to this discussion, which has made it much richer. You are certainly an intelligent and informed critic!
I'll be happy to email you when I get a reply from Dr. Flores. I'm not sure when that will be, so it will save you the trouble of coming back just to check for that.