Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Wood in the Water -- What Does the Easter Candle Symbolize?

I'm reposting this now on Holy Saturday, since the Easter vigil is tonight. It's about the symbolism of the Easter Candle.
Happy Easter to all!

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The question of the symbolism around the Easter candle is one of the things Dawn Eden mentions in her thesis. As I've noted before, I think she makes a good argument in this regard. Here are some further reflections on the matter. While I’ve drawn the elements of this argument from various authors, the way I’ve put it together is the result of my own reflection on this. Comments are welcome. Thanks!


1. The Candle and the Cross

Fr Hugo Rahner was an expert in patristics. In his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, he explains the meaning of the Easter candle in a very beautiful way. The symbolism has to do with the cross, the baptismal water, and the Church.

He cites many quotations from the Fathers, for example:
“What is water without the cross of Christ?” Ambrose asks his newly baptized, and answers, “an ordinary element.”
A post-Augustinian sermon: “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church.” Rahner says, “It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.”
He explains that ultimately the symbolism is based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, with its relation of baptism to the cross. “Baptism is “the mystery of the wood in the water.’” (P. Lundberg)

The main point is that the mystery of the Lord’s baptism is closely related to the mystery of the cross. Rahner says, “In this baptism of Christ there was symbolically enacted all that became reality upon the cross, all that in the mystery of baptism passes back its effects from that cross to man.” St Ignatius of Antioch voiced the same idea in saying, “Jesus Christ was born and was baptized, so that he might sanctify the water by his passion.”

Rahner points out that Christian artists began to depict the cross in the river Jordan. There was also a cross put up in the river itself. In Eastern liturgies a wooden cross is dipped in the water during the consecration of the baptismal water, intended to signify the same thing as the cross in the river.

He continues, “This cross symbolizes the fact that the baptismal water has through the death of Christ been made a bestower of life—it is the tree of life.” Then he mentions another important element, that the wooden cross is also a giver of light. The same fire bursts forth from it that was associated with Jesus’ baptism:

The cross is also a bringer of light, and when men seek to express this mystery in explicit liturgical form, they do so by lowering a burning candle into the baptismal font as a sign that, by the power of the cross, the water is a source of the lux perpetua, the everlasting life of light. In a word the cross is both the tree of life and the light bringer and both symbols represent Christ himself who “by his Passion sanctified the water” by giving to it the doxa, the glory which he had won upon the cross, the power of the Holy Ghost.


Rahner mentions an inscription found on a baptismal font at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome:
A tree bears fruit. I am a tree but I bear light.
Christ is risen. Such is the gift that I bring.


So according to Rahner, the Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ. We can see this also from the five grains of incense that are put into the candle in the shape of the cross. And the candle represents not only the cross, but the light that comes from the cross.

2. The Spirit and the Cross
On the cross, Jesus hands over the Spirit


The Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus died, “he handed over the Spirit.” (Jn 19:30b). What does this mean?
Several very good Scripture scholars say it means that Jesus handed over the Spirit to his disciples who were standing there by the cross. In other words, at the moment of his death Jesus is giving the Holy Spirit to the Church. (Francis Moloney, The Gospel of John, pp. 504, 505, Liturgical Press, 1998; also R. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, p. 1082, vol. 2).

A look at the Greek text shows why this is a very plausible interpretation. The Greek is paredōken to pneuma. The word paredōken is an intensified form of the verb meaning “to give.” It indicates that a person or thing is being transferred to someone else’s possession. The Greek text also uses the definite article to, which points to the Spirit. It means that Jesus is giving the gift of the Holy Spirit, “handing over” the Spirit.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7). When the hour of Jesus’ death had come and he fulfilled his mission, he handed over the Spirit to the disciples, just as he had promised.

In chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, the evangelist had said “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (Jn 7:39) It wasn’t yet time for the Holy Spirit to be given to the disciples. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is glorified through the cross. He reigns from the cross. So at the moment of his death he is already glorified and can hand over the Holy Spirit.

And who was there? “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn 19:25-27)

The two principal figures are Mary and the beloved disciple. When Jesus died and handed over the Spirit, they were the first ones to receive the Spirit. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit had overshadowed Mary and made her virginity fruitful. She became the Mother of Jesus. Now, at the foot of the cross, the Holy Spirit again overshadows Mary, and she again becomes a mother, not physically, but as the spiritual mother of the beloved disciple. John here anticipates what Luke brings out in Acts on the day of Pentecost. Mary was present with the disciples in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them.

In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple is never named. It’s possible that this is because he represents the disciples of all times. (That’s not to deny he was a real person.) He is the ideal disciple, and is the example of what we are called to be. So we can see in this profound Marian text the biblical basis for calling her Mother of all the faithful, Mother of all the baptized.

Shortly after this scene, the soldier comes and pierces the heart of Jesus. Blood and water flow out, symbolizing the fountain of sacramental life in the Church. “Through the blood we have the water of the Spirit” (St. Hipppolytus).

3. Our Lady of the Font
The Marian symbolism of the baptismal font

The ideas in this section are again drawn from Fr Hugo Rahner, this time from his book Our Lady and the Church (Bethesda: Zaccheus Press, 2004). Chapter 6, “Mary at the Font,” is a most beautiful explanation of Our Lady’s connection with baptism. Fr Rahner quotes a wonderful thought from a sermon of St. Leo the Great, referring to Christ: “He bestowed on the water what he bestowed on his Mother” (Dedit aquae quod dedit matri).

Keep in mind all the points above about Jesus handing over the Spirit when he died on the cross. He bestowed the Holy Spirit on his Mother. So too, he bestowed the Holy Spirit on the water of baptism.

Going back to the Easter Vigil, what is the symbolism of the priest dipping the Easter candle into the water blessed for baptism? The candle represents the cross. Dipping it into the water symbolizes what Christ did as he died—he handed over the Spirit. The power of the risen Christ, given through the Spirit, is now communicating to the blessed water the power to bring the new life of grace to those who are baptized. In the water that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side we can also see a reference to the waters of baptism. The imagery here is so rich.

At the cross, Mary stands there with John, and becomes the mother of the Church as Jesus hands over the Spirit. Just as she was a virgin in conceiving Christ, Mary is a symbol of the virginal Church bringing life to those who are baptized.

At the Easter vigil, dipping the candle in the water symbolizes the Holy Spirit flowing forth from the cross of Christ and consecrating the water to be used in baptism. Mary is mother; so too the Church is mother. That is why the baptismal font is compared to the immaculate womb of Mary.

Fr Rahner mentions an inscription found on an ancient baptistry at the Lateran, written by Leo the Great when he was still a deacon:

The Church, Virgin Mother, brings forth from the river
The children she conceived by the breath of God.


The breath of God, of course, is a reference to the Holy Spirit. After citing a few more texts, Fr Rahner states, “And it therefore follows in the strict symbolism of theology, that the womb of Mary is a true symbol of the baptismal font, from which Christians go forth as newborn children of God.”

He cites another beautiful quote from St. Peter Chrysologus:

Therefore, my brethren, when the Spirit of heaven through his mystical light has given power to the virginal womb of this water, by this power all who are made from the dust of the earth and are born earthly, are reborn heavenly, into the likeness of their Creator.


Note that the saint specifies that it is the Spirit giving power to the water. The prayer of blessing over the water at the Easter vigil also brings this out, for example, “At the very dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness….. By the power of the Spirit give to this water the grace of your Son, so that in the sacrament of baptism all those whom you have created in your likeness may be cleansed from sin and rise to a new birth of innocence by water and the Holy Spirit.” Then, precisely at that point, the priest lowers the candle into the water, saying, “We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the waters of this font.” Thus, the prayer of the liturgy confirms that this action represents the sending of the Spirit.

Again, this is about the action of the Holy Spirit sanctifying the waters. With that in mind, it becomes very clear that any kind of sexual symbolism in regard to the candle is completely out of place. Christ’s handing over the Spirit is not analogous to a sexual act. Let’s briefly recap the sequence of what is happening:

The candle represents the cross.
At his death on the cross, Jesus handed over the Spirit.
Lowering the candle into the water symbolizes the Holy Spirit sanctifying the waters.
The Holy Spirit empowers the Church, through the waters of baptism, to become the mother of the newly baptized Christians.
Mary as a type of the Church is also in this picture, the spiritual mother of believers. The Church is a virginal mother, just as Mary is a virginal mother.

So the action of dipping the candle into the water is not a sexual symbol, because Christ’s sending of the Spirit is not analogous to a sexual act. There is no basis for saying the Easter candle is a phallic symbol, or that dipping the candle into the water is meant to symbolize a sexual act. Such an interpretation would go against the meaning of the liturgy itself as well as the meaning of the Gospel.

Some Clarifications

All of this is not to deny the spousal imagery of the Church as the bride of Christ, the Bridegroom. That too can be a rich and fruitful source of reflection. But it seems clear that any spousal imagery in relation to the baptismal font seen as a womb concerns the mystery of virginity. It concerns the Holy Spirit imparting the life of grace through the baptismal water. Those who say that the symbolism of the womb requires a phallus are missing the point: this is a matter of a virginal conception, one that takes place through the power of the Holy Spirit. The proper comparison is when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s power at the Annunciation. It is an overshadowing of the Spirit.

When it comes to particular elements of the liturgy, there has to be some basis for making a connection with the spousal mystery. It can’t just be something haphazard that happens to strike our fancy, like the shape of a candle. The candle could have been designed in another shape. In fact, James Monti points out, “During the Middle Ages, paschal candles more often than not were made with a square cross-section, rather than the cylindrical shape we are familiar with in our own day” (This Week of Salvation, p. 330).

Using the spousal analogy could be compared with reading Scripture. Any sound exegesis of a Scripture text has to have some basis in the text itself. If it does, we have exegesis, or a reading drawn out of the text. It it doesn't, we have eisegesis, or a reading into the text. We can’t just dream up our own interpretation of Scripture based on something we see in it that we like, or what it reminds us of. It's not like looking at clouds and imagining shapes. So too, in the spousal mystery in the liturgy, there has to be some basis in the liturgy itself for making a particular connection. As Fr Hugo Rahner points out concerning the Easter candle,

What we witness here is a symbol of Christ crucified giving to the water the illuminating power of the Spirit, and those who insist on seeing a phallic symbol in the candle appear to be completely oblivious to what not only the Roman, but all other liturgies have to declare on this particular point, of what, in point of fact, they declare with considerable emphasis. It is that the baptismal font is immaculatus uterus, and that, like Mary, the Church bears her children solely by the power of the Spirit. (Greek Myths, p. 83).


Another important point to keep in mind is that made by David Delaney in his blog post about analogy in reference to the Easter candle: “The marital act reflects the eternal Trinitarian embrace but as a pale foretaste. Thus the visible liturgical imagery must not point to the pale foretaste but to the perfect Source from which it has drawn its participated perfection.” Any analogies made have to work in the correct direction. The Trinity is the fullness of life and love. Our human loves and its expression are only a pale shadow. Our love can resemble and point to that of the Trinity, but not vice versa.


In summary, then, I have hoped to show:

1. The Easter candle is a symbol of the cross of Christ, and indeed of Christ himself.

2. On the cross, as he died, Jesus handed over the Spirit to the Church, represented by Mary and the beloved disciple.

3. At the Easter vigil, the action of dipping the candle in the water symbolically represents the sending of the Spirit to sanctify the waters of baptism. Mary, Our Lady of the Font, is a symbol of the virginal Church bringing life to the baptized.

4. This meaning excludes any supposed phallic symbolism of the Easter candle.

A Concluding Prayer

I beg you, holy Virgin, that I may have Jesus from the Holy Spirit, by whom you brought Jesus forth. May my soul receive Jesus through the Holy Spirit by whom your flesh conceived Jesus.... May I love Jesus in the Holy Spirit, in whom you adore Jesus as Lord and gaze upon him as your Son. (St. Ildephonsus, On the Perpetual Virginity of Holy Mary)



Amen!

62 comments:

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Dear Sister,

Thank you for responding to my appeal to look at the theological points made by Fr. Hugo Rahner, and in such great depth.

I fully understand that the "phallacy" of the Pascal candle, as I call it, was once taught in certain circles. That Fr. Rahner felt the need to address it, tell us that some had this interpretation. As we can see, it does not make it necessarily the correct interpretation.

I don't think anyone would dispute that it was taught for many years, and was accepted teaching. I know a solid, orthodox, 80 year old priest who tells me it was taught to him when he went to seminary.

This is a classic example to keep in mind with regards to what was "commonly taught". It's simply not sufficient to rely on an argument on that basis alone. I'm not referring to Church Fathers who were in concert with one another on things. Rather, I am referring to well-intentioned moral theologians and liturgists whose words are reverred as if they are on par with the Magisterium. I could give an example, but don't want to go down a rabbit hole in this thread.

;)

As these discussions continue on ToB, I hope we can all explore to deeper theological levels some of the issues which seem to be dividing people.

God bless

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks, Diane, those are great points.
In his book on the Greek myths, Fr Hugo wanted to show that the Christian liturgical mysteries do not derive from the pagan cults.
That idea was being promoted too.
That's another reason for staying away from presenting the Easter candle that way, because it makes it look like a pagan fertility rite, which it is not.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

The question on my mind, considering that both Christopher West and Dr. Janet Smith defended the phallic interpretation of the Pascal Candle, will they reconsider those positions in their talks and materials? Will they take the time to enlighten people on these points here?

Sr. Lorraine said...

Hi Diane,
If I read her essay correctly, Janet Smith said about it, "I leave it to the liturgists to work this out, but CW’s mention of this point surely does not vitiate all of his work." Before that she had used a quote from Msgr. Bux that seemed to support the interpretation, but then added that Serra did not support it.
So I think that Janet Smith did not really intend to support this interpretation. She seemed to be saying that the matter should be worked out more by liturgists. I think her purpose was to show that if there is discussion about it among respected liturgists, then West's position might have some merit.

As to West's position, to be honest I'm not sure exactly what it is. The quote that Dawn Eden uses in her thesis about it does not actually speak of a phallic symbol, but speaks of Christ impregnating the water. Now admittedly that is pretty close! So maybe that's splitting hairs. In any case, though, personally I would hope that he would not use it if he has.

Brian Killian said...

What is it about West's word's that makes him guilty of phallic symbolism?

Is it the language of 'impregnating'? This language is of the same family as the word 'procreative' that Fr. Rahner himself uses regarding the meaning of the Easter vigil. Words like 'impregnating', 'conception', 'consummation', 'procreative' are all sexual metaphors. They are all rooted in human reproduction. They are legit as signs of the Paschal mystery. The precedent is found in St. Paul, and in a more cosmic way in St. John. The Paschal mystery also touches on the mystery of sexuality. And even if liturgists choose to emphasis certain elements, this one will also be there nonetheless.

Or maybe it's the accidental resemblances of the candle to a phallus that lead people to think West is using phallic symbolism?

But you could get rid of those phallic characters of the candle and West's words word still be applicable wouldn't they? What if there was no candle, just a flame. Couldn't West still say:

"And the priest takes the flame that represents Christ and plunges it into the baptismal font. What's going on here? Christ is impregnating the womb of the Church from which many children will be born."

Is this substantially different in meaning than Fr. Rahner saying "it is only by the procreative power of the cross that the Church is fructified?"

Or mabye it's the gesture itself of 'plunging' the candle or the flame or whatever into the font that is the proof of the phallic symbolism?

But it's not necessary to interpret this to refer literally to human sexual mechanics. Instead it could be seen as representing a more universal pattern that human sexual intercourse itself participates in. A pattern that one might call metaphysical sexuality. This is what I think Fr. Loya was getting at when he was talking about the womb being useless by itself.

Fr. Loya's language was imprecise and he set himself up for the objections about the virginal conception. But I think his intended meaning was sound. And that is that the womb can not bear fruit by itself. It requires an outside principle to give it life. In the case of Mary, that principle was the Holy Spirit instead of 'knowing man'.

The pattern is that difference in unity that bears fruit. The Trinity is the archetype of that pattern.

The flame plunges into the font.

The seed falls into the ground.

The Holy Spirit hovers over the waters (water is symbolically related to the womb).

The Holy Spirit overshadows the womb of Mary.

Isn't this all the same pattern?

This is why I don't see West's words necessarily being a phallic symbol in a literal sense.

What do you think?

Brian Killian said...

I forgot to mention that Christ's baptism in the Jordan is also part of that metaphysical sexual pattern. Whether carnal or virginal, it's the same pattern.

A husband 'knows' his wife.

The flame (or Christ candle) plunges into the font.

Christ plunges into the river Jordan.

The seed falls into the ground.

The Holy Spirit hovers over the waters.

The Holy Spirit overshadows the womb of Mary.

The Persons of the Holy Trinity all indwell each other in an eternally fruitful and blessed union.

Also, I see the words you quoted from St. Ambrose in a similar light: "What is the water with the cross?"

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks for those interesting points, Brian. I agree with you that there is spousal imagery in the liturgy and that this can be a fruitful area of reflection. I do think also that care is needed in saying how particular things might be involved with the spousal analogy, as in the case of the Easter candle.

The key point, as Delaney pointed out, is the direction of the analogy. The Trinity is the reality, and creatures in some way reflect that. So human sexuality in some way reflects the communion of Persons in the Trinity. That’s the ultimate reality.
Perhaps the term “metaphysical sexuality” does not really bring out that aspect, for it seems to make sexuality the primary category. But God is primary.

There’s also a difference in the way creatures reflect God’s perfection. Persons are at the highest level, since they are the image and likeness of God. Other creatures that are lower on the scale of being--animals, plants, and inanimate objects--are not the image of God. They could be said to bear the “imprint” of God in some way. So while it may be that there is some sort of universal pattern, it is quite different in persons than in other forms of being.

You bring out an interesting point concerning the procreative power of the cross, as Rahner calls it. In TOB, John Paul says that “marriage as a sacrament is an efficacious sign of God’s salvific action ‘from the beginning.’” So he seems to be saying that there is a connection there with the cross. But again the direction of the analogy is the key.

In regard to the idea of Christ impregnating the womb, as I’ve thought about this I’ve come to see the candle as a symbol of Christ sending the Spirit, as the blog post indicates. So while it’s true that Christ gives life and this comes through the cross, which has procreative power, Christ sends the Spirit to bring us that life. So I don’t think it’s correct to say Christ is impregnating, because he is sending the Spirit, who then gives life. There might be some implications here from Trinitarian theology, but I’m not sure how to develop that. I mean in the sense of the Trinitarian missions, that Christ sends the Spirit.

Anyway thanks for your ideas because this is an interesting topic.

Dawn Eden said...

Sister, I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you are treating the subject of the Paschal Candle, particularly the comment you just made about the proper use of analogy in theology.

Kevin said...

Brian,

With all due respect, you tried this line elsewhere, and it didn't work.

West himself said that the true meaning of the liturgical practice was far more scandalous than traditional forms of piety would want it to be. He then goes on to say how by Christ candles descent into the water, that impregnates the womb.

As Fr. Rahner showed, that clearly isn't the case.

Haven't read the entire post yet, but I find this very well done so far. There really is a richness.

We need to remember that while the liturgy is certainly "spousal", it isn't "sexual"

The two are not synonymous.

Brian Killian said...

Sister, I agree that this is a very interesting subject!

And also completely agree about the importance of getting analogy right. What I see when I read some of West's words or Fr. Loya's words is that although they clearly (to me) intend the correct direction of the analogies they are using, the language that they use has the effect on the reader of reversing the analogy so that it can appear that the arrow pointing heavenward gets turned around and starts pointing back down.

For example, when Fr. Loya quotes the Eastern liturgy to the effect that Christ comes out of the tomb like a bridegroom from the bridal chamber and fills the women with joy. This is a nuptial (including the human sexual aspect) that is the basis for pointing to the theological meaning of the resurrection. The arrow is going up like it should.

But then he adds "wow, is that sexual or what?" Now the effect of saying that is that it seems to make the arrow point back down to the nuptial-sexual. Now he seems to be saying the meaning of the resurrection, or the meaning of a particular portion of the liturgy is s sign of human nuptial-sexuality instead of the nuptial-sexual being the symbol of higher things. The sign becomes the signified.

So Mark Lowery seems to have right when he observed that West gives the appearance of sexualizing Christianity.

On the other hand, I also see West's critics misusing analogy in the sense that they refuse to read them as analogies and instead read them literally, which of course leads to phantom problems. If you read the Hound of Heaven literally, then it certainly will appear that the poet is calling almighty God a dog. But why would you do such a thing?

There is a severe literalness in some of West's critics that is puzzling. Could this be why they insist that West's words must be read as pornography?

They also give the impression sometimes that there is no analogy at all between the human nuptial-sexual and the liturgical. It's as if they wanted all the lofty virginal nuptial meaning of the liturgy while denying its roots in the human carnal and yes, sexual, domain. It's like a subtle form of angelism, a false purity that would imply the inherently impure character of human sexuality.

They seem so intent on making sure that no one is sexualizing Christianity that they seem to end up denying any analogical quality at all to human sexuality.

But the fact is that their prized and pure virginal theology is inseparable cognitively from the human and carnal. Their understanding of heavenly nuptiality is bought and paid for by sweaty sex and bloody birth. Much like the lofty mystical understanding of the Song of Solomon rests on the foundation of human erotic love poetry. You can 't have the one with out the other.

So, there are 'impressions' and dangers on both sides.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Kevin, I'm glad you seem to like the post.

Brian, that's a very good analysis of the promise and pitfalls of both approaches. I agree with you that the language used is very important, and some ways of saying things make it seem like the analogy is pointing the wrong way.
I especially like your last paragraph; very well put.

Maybe the path toward a balanced approach could be to use the liturgy as a cue. For example, there's an interesting antiphon in the liturgical Christmas novena we use in our community. (It originated in Italy.) "With the rising of the sun, you will soon see the King of kings and Lord of lords coming forth from His Father, as the bridegroom from His bridal chamber."

The Fathers use quotes like this in talking about the Incarnation. God becoming a man, becoming united in that way with humanity is a staggering mystery. As you pointed out in regard to the resurrection antiphon, it's not saying the Incarnation is like sex, but that sexual union is a sign of the higher things.

I have a copy of Cardinal Angelo Scola's book "The Nuptial Mystery" but have only read a little of it. However, it has an appendix in which he discusses the proper use of the nuptial analogy. If I find some time to read that, maybe I could post a summary of what he says. It could help to clarify things.

For now I can just note that he urges caution in navigating between two poles. One is a maximalist interpretation that "ultimately tends toward an anthropomorphic deformation of our understanding of God, and even introducing sexuality into God himself."

To avoid this, he says, some others go to the opposite extreme and "fight every attempt to give the nuptial mystery theological weight. This group includes a wide range of positions." He goes on a bit then he asks, "Is there a way past this Scylla and Charybdis? Does analogy warrant the claim that the nuptial mystery is a fully legitimate component of the knowledge of faith as such, without falling into systems that reek of gnosticism and threaten to transgress the limits of analogy that theology lays down for us?"

Perhaps the debate that is unfolding right now is about this very thing, how to keep a balance between two extremes. No wonder that it can get so intense! It may end up being one of those things in which different "schools" take different approaches. At any rate, it certainly needs a lot more theological clarification.

Brian Killian said...

I think you're right Sister.

Maybe the schools emerging now are analogous to the famous rivalry of the schools of Antioch and Alexandria!

I do think this issue is as complex and dangerous as other lightning rod issues in theology, such as the relationship of free will and grace. One has to try an walk a very narrow tightrope between gaping chasms on every side!

Cardinal Scola summarized it well, as did your last comment.

We should all remember it and stay humble in the face of such a challenging topic.

Kevin said...

"On the other hand, I also see West's critics misusing analogy in the sense that they refuse to read them as analogies and instead read them literally, which of course leads to phantom problems. If you read the Hound of Heaven literally, then it certainly will appear that the poet is calling almighty God a dog. But why would you do such a thing?

There is a severe literalness in some of West's critics that is puzzling. Could this be why they insist that West's words must be read as pornography?"

With all due respect Mr. Killian, where do you see this? Any of us who comment on these things admit there is a nuptial analogy. We just reject the idea that analogy must also be "sexual."

When it comes to the liturgy, it is a heavenly liturgy. We join with the angels and saints in heaven in offering our worship. So talking about the marital act within the liturgy really makes no sense, since there isn't any of this in heaven, and the union of Christ and His Church is asexual.

Now talking about nuptiality is eminently proper, as the Mass is ultimately the supreme marriage banquet to end all marriage banquets.

I haven't heard anyone criticize the poem "Hound of Heaven." What we did do was flip when Dr. Janet Smith compared God to a pathalogical stalker. Pathological stalkers terrorize someone against their will. God doesn't do that.

One thinks of a dog, and one sees within the dog certain characteristics as undyielding love, even if the person doesn't return it. And we also see a certain "seflessness" (dogs aren't persons, so I've gotta make that clear) with a dog, that is analogous, in an imperfect sense, to the perfect selflessness God has. There's nothing wrong with that.

Saying God is akin to a pathological stalker? Not so much. If anything, I'd say we advocate the proper limits of analogy.

Kevin said...

Finally got around to reading the whole thing, and my original thoughts were confirmed: this is outstanding work Sister!

I've tried to say some of these things in the past, but what I could articulate only through implication, you articulated splendidly.

The exegesis of Christ "giving up the Spirit" is also something that I never really considered before, and makes the text all the more inspiring.

It also makes it even more impossible to read the phallic interpretation. Unless one wants to say that what is passed in the marital act from husband to wife, that fluid "sanctifies" the spouse. I really don't think Mr. West wants to say that, but he needs to think out his positions carefully.

I would like to quote what you said before, and then ask a question of Mr. Killian. you noted:

"Those who say that the symbolism of the womb requires a phallus are missing the point: this is a matter of a virginal conception, one that takes place through the power of the Holy Spirit."

Mr. Killian references the "pro-creative power of the Cross" and states of this as not only a nuptial, but sexual analogy.

I ask this question, and I ask Mr. Killian to consider it VERY carefully before answering:

Is it by neccessity that pro-creation occur through the marital act in Christian theology? This is a trap question, I make no attempt to deny it. Yet I think the answer is very illimunating for the significance of the candle, and the "pro-creative" power of the Cross.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Well thanks, Kevin, I'm glad you like it. I thought it would be something we could agree on!

Actually I like this interpretation of the Easter candle because it's rooted in Scripture, supported by the Fathers, and confirmed by the prayers of the liturgy.

Kevin said...

I think it also heavily reinforces the incarnational nature of the liturgy. This sense is something that has almost completely evaporated from the minds of many Catholics today, and it's a shame.

Taking the "crude" things of this world, sanctifying them, and pressing them into the service of God, restoring a part of their initial purpose. I've written about that a lot in the "Why the Incarnation Matters" segment at my blog, and wrote a lot about the "water" by drawing off the examples of Elijah and Elisha, and what they mean for Catholics today.

Lauretta said...

You have all been very busy while I was gone! I just read through this quickly so I may have missed some things but I did have some questions.

First of all, the fact that the marital embrace is a pale foretaste of the eternal Trinitarian embrace. Is that not the case for all of our analogies and signs? To me the light of a candle is much less an accurate representation of the light that is Christ than the marital embrace and the Trinity. The same with the water at Baptism as a sign of cleansing. The cleansing that comes from water is nothing compared to the cleansing of our spirits at Baptism.

Also, if the paschal candle represents the Cross, isn't the Cross sometimes referred to as a marital bed and didn't Bishop Sheen say that it was nuptials that were occurring on the Cross? Aren't nuptials a reference to something "sexual"?

If one looks at the marital embrace as a sign, wouldn't it be a sign of fruitfulness, of giving of self? Is that not what Fr. Rahner was saying about the Paschal candle?

I'm also confused about the direction of the sign being distorted. It seems to me to be pointing the right direction. The sign that is the marital embrace would be pointing to the procreative power of the Cross that is being bestowed on the water in the Baptismal font. An earthly sign is pointing to a heavenly reality. Isn't that the right direction?

These are just a few questions that I had in reading through this post and comments quickly. I look forward to your answers.

Lauretta said...

Also, if anyone has the time, I would like their opinion of this article by Christopher Derrick. He discusses the Paschal candle imagery as part of a larger discussion on the marital embrace in general. This is the link to his article:
http://www.cfpeople.org/Apologetics/page51a046.html

Brian Killian said...

Lauretta, I agree with Derrick about the de-sacralization of sex that is manifested by our embrace of contraception.

There is a sacred structure to sex that must be respected even when you don't explicitly desire a particular act of intercourse to result in conception.

The difference between a contraceptive user and a NFP user is that one has total disregard for that structure while the other has respect for it and is willing to deny himself because of that respect.

And I would argue that the theological justification of that sacred structure to sex is derived from the relationship between the sexual domain and the domain of God.

The human dimension of sexuality is inseparable from the theological dimension.

Not only is the nuptial experience the privileged experience for signifying the relationship of God and the Church, but their connected relationship also allows the mystery of the Church to reveal and deepen the mystery of the nuptial experience.

Wade St. Onge said...

Brian, could you please address Kevin's point that he made earlier, namely: "With all due respect, you tried this line elsewhere, and it didn't work. ...
West himself said that the true meaning of the liturgical practice was far more scandalous than traditional forms of piety would want it to be. He then goes on to say how by Christ candles descent into the water, that impregnates the womb."

This is the third time this was asked of you (twice on Catholic Exchange), and so far, you have not responded. I like much of what else you have to say, but until you respond to this excellent challenge, I cannot seriously consider your position in defense of Mr. West.

Kevin said...

"First of all, the fact that the marital embrace is a pale foretaste of the eternal Trinitarian embrace. Is that not the case for all of our analogies and signs? To me the light of a candle is much less an accurate representation of the light that is Christ than the marital embrace and the Trinity. The same with the water at Baptism as a sign of cleansing. The cleansing that comes from water is nothing compared to the cleansing of our spirits at Baptism."

I would say this refers more to the prophecy of Isaiah, where "the people in darkness have seen a great light."

While we really have fallen out of using them, candles were a great symbolism in the liturgy. Based on how many candles was lit, you knew what kind of Mass you were having.

The Paschal Candle dwarfs all of these other candles. This could be said to signify the light of Christ as the strongest source of light around. It's why as we enter the Church, one hears the chant of "Lumen Christi!"

I'm also a little confused about what you say in regards to baptism. The water, sanctified by the Spirit, is what cleanses the soul.

As far as the statement about Bishop Sheen, I honestly think this one has been covered. It was the ultimate "gift of self" not in pleasure, but in pain. Are we going to say that the marital embrace is painful? If not, then what's the point?

As far as the direction of the sign, in the liturgy, heavenly things do not point to earthly realities. Earthly things point to heavenly realities. The marital embrace is indeed a foretaste (a pale one) of heavenly bliss. That is why, as John Paul II states, "conjugal life becomes liturgical." Yet to say that something in the liturgy is analogous to the earthly reality, it distorts the entire "sacramental worldview" (As Fr. Loya is fond of saying) as the signs are now pointing outward to that around us, instead of elevating our thoughts to heaven, which is the point of any liturgical action.

In essence, we come to the question: is our liturgy "man-centered" or "Christ-centered"

Kevin said...

"Is that not what Fr. Rahner was saying about the Paschal candle?"

No. The sign of the candle was Christ descending into the waters, and the rammifications of the mystery of the Incarnation. His very self transforms the waters from the simple cleansing of the flesh, to those waters which also cleanse the spirit. The outward cleansing of the flesh is a visible sign of the invisible reality of the cleansed spirit. This is why, nowadays, white is worn as a baptismal garb. It helps represent best the symbolism being undertaken.

Brian Killian said...

Is this what concerns you the most? West's words that "the true meaning of the liturgical practice is far more scandalous than traditional forms of piety want it to be?"

Well, after reading stuff from those who are the most vocal about West and this Easter candle business, I can see what he means. There really are people who seem to be scandalized by the fact that the human sexual domain is inseparably a theological domain.

West's critics do seem to be scandalized by the fact that, for example, a marriage bed is a legitimate metaphor for the altar. Or that the altar canopy might represent this.

They seem to be scandalized that what is sexual in human nuptiality is a symbol of divine nuptiality.

They tip toe around the obviously sexual aspect of spouses being 'one flesh' when Ephesians 5 is brought up.

They carefully stay away from the bridal chamber connotations of the altar canopy. They will allow any number of domestic connotations in it's historical development, so long as it's not the bedroom.

We are reminded time and again that the nuptial is not synonymous with the sexual. You wonder if the critics admit any relation between the two at all! It seems to be OK to talk about nuptiality so long as sex is nowhere to be found.

The union of Christ and his Church is not sexual, after all.

True, true, but it is signified by the sexual. The carnal symbolizes the virginal. Sex is a substantial component of normal human nuptiality. And divine virginal nuptiality is only grasped via the human.

And since the liturgy is a ritual that is composed of signs, this means the heavenly banquet can't be signified except through human, sexual, nuptial, carnal, union. Just like it is in the resurrection antiphon, and the altar canopy.

It's why Augustine and others talk about the Cross of Christ as a marriage bed and as a consummation, and as a bridal union.

Now if the Easter candle pertains to the "wood in the water". If the mystery of the cross is inseparable from baptism in the same apostle who made the comparison of the 'one flesh' of spouses with Christ and the Church, then it would seem legit to speak in spousal categories of the Easter Vigil ritual.

It's not spousal because the candle is like a phallus. It's spousal because it represents Christ going down into the river Jordan, which is analogous to the cross, which is analogous to the grain of wheat falling into the earth, which is analogous to a bridegroom going into his bride "in the manner of all the earth".

This is indeed a great scandal to certain kinds of Catholics who turn their nose up at what they consider to be such base comparisons.

Lauretta said...

Thanks, Brian, for the great comments. After re-reading Mr. Derrick's article, I got the sense that he was saying that because we had desacralized the marital embrace, the way was paved for the acceptance of contraception. He mentioned that the Church in the past saw the marital embrace as sacred but that the Manichaean influence(here we go with that again) keeps creeping in, that this influence has been in the Church at various levels from the beginning. He mentions that the pagans treated the marital embrace as sacred even if they had some pretty wild manifestations of it with ritual orgies and such.

He said that if we look to theologians rather than to scripture, it becomes more difficult to see this sacred understanding. I quote, "The positive attitude just indicated is not precisely what we find in the Fathers, even when at their least misogynistic.."

He says that we need to return to the understanding that the marital embrace is divine, that we break the first Great commandment(love of God) as well as the second(love of neighbor) in matters sexual.

I wonder how different life would be if we treated our relationships between the sexes with a similar reverence as we do the Eucharist? We would no more lust after another than we would go to the tabernacle and gorge on the Blessed Sacrament.

He is saying that the problems we have concerning sexuality rest with this loss of the sense of the sacredness of the marital embrace and if we want to make progress in fighting these issues such as contraception, we need to return to that sacred understanding. He says it has liturgical implications as well and specifically mentions the Paschal candle rite at Easter vigil as having sexual symbolism.

This was written in 1981 as a response to an article in America magazine by a Jesuit who was trying to lower the level of sinfulness of contraception. I think we might do well to ponder what he is saying. It seems to fit right in with what JPII was attempting to do with Theology of the Body--help us to see the body as having a theological(Godly), sacred meaning.

Lauretta said...

Kevin, all of our liturgy takes earthly things and uses them to point to the divine. We use water, bread, wine, candles, incense, etc. to point to divine realities. The Easter vigil ritual would be doing the same thing. It would be using the earthly marital embrace to point to the divine reality of God's spiritual fruitfulness.

Rahner uses the term, the procreative power of the Cross. Is not procreative a very sexual term? People keep mentioning that the womb symbolized by the baptismal font is virginal. That is true but in the case of the Blessed Mother her viginal womb was fruitful, which took a masculine procreative act to accomplish. Mary did not fructify her own womb, the Holy Spirit did.

We need to come to see the sign value of the marital embrace. What is the marital embrace a sign of? It is a sign of fruitfulness, of total gift of self, etc. Just as in the Paschal candle liturgically we don't "see" wax, a wick and a flame but we see Christ. That is how we would look at the marital embrace in a liturgical sense, we wouldn't see the physical act itself but that of which it is a sign.

You asked if the marital embrace is painful. Yes, if we are making a total gift of self, there is pain but within that pain is intense joy as well. The same with Christ on the Cross as others have expressed so well. If the Cross is the place of consummation of the marriage of Christ and the Church, we need to see within the marital embrace similar elements that were present at the crucifixion. As Bishop Sheen stated so profoundly, the blood and water from the side of Christ is spiritual seminal fluid. That is a pretty direct correlation with the marital embrace in my opinion.

Christopher Derrick spoke of how we see the marital embrace as sacred but often people in the Church tend to push it toward the side of the demonic and that this is wrong. We need to redeem the marital embrace in our minds and put it in its proper place in the faith, liturgically as well as in other areas.

Kevin said...

"It would be using the earthly marital embrace to point to the divine reality of God's spiritual fruitfulness."

There's just one problem with this Lauretta. The Church isn't using the marital embrace here, for obvious reasons. It would be using an "earthly" sign to point to an "earthly" sign. It ruins the entire concept of liturgy. That's why the Fathers don't teach it (Fr. Loya's own concession) nor was there any strong consensus on this matter liturgically. About the closest you get is there were enough people who believed it to have the group specifically responsible for implementing the liturgical reform reject it.

"Rahner uses the term, the procreative power of the Cross. Is not procreative a very sexual term? People keep mentioning that the womb symbolized by the baptismal font is virginal. That is true but in the case of the Blessed Mother her viginal womb was fruitful, which took a masculine procreative act to accomplish. Mary did not fructify her own womb, the Holy Spirit did."

God is not sexual though. While we understand God as "male", that's only via way of human understanding, not what God actually "is." The Trinity (with the exception of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man) is asexual. The Holy Spirit didn't inseminate the Blessed Virgin Lauretta! There is no male-female analogy one could use to describe the Virgin Birth. It happened outside of the "laws of nature." Elsewhere, as Scott Hahn noted, there are "feminine" aspects of the Paraclete as well. Does this now become a lesbian affair? With all due respect, you are walking into a theological minefield here, and this is why the Church doesn't use the language you use.

As far as "pro-creative", it is not an inherently "sexual" term, since there need not be any sex for procreation to occur. The Virgin Birth is proof of this.

Once again, I will use the words of our President. Let me be perfectly clear , nobody is denying the analogies between the marital embrace and the Cross. NOBODY. You've said this on several occasions now, and I've stated time and time again that nobody is denying it.

What we are denying is that the heavenly liturgy is designed specifically to represent earthly realities, instead it is vice versa.

This is why we have a controversy surrounding Mr. West. He sexualizes almost everything in Christianity. The ethos of the world is used to interpret the ethos of the Gospel.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Welcome back, Lauretta, I hadn't seen your comments in a while so I'm glad you had a good vacation.
I've been a little busy so I haven't been commenting too much on this thread.

Kevin said...

I would also like to ask a serious question Lauretta:

When God breathed life into Adam, creating life as it were, was this also a sexual act and a "masculine" act?

Lauretta said...

Kevin, this comment you made is what I was responding to:

"It was the ultimate "gift of self" not in pleasure, but in pain. Are we going to say that the marital embrace is painful? If not, then what's the point?"

Sounded like you were having a somewhat difficult time connecting the marital embrace with the Cross.

We use "sexual" terms to describe all kinds of reproductive, procreative acts, Kevin. We say that flowers have male and female parts, not because they are having sexual intercourse but because one part of the flower is giving, fertilizing another part of the flower, which is receiving the gift of fertility.

We call God Father also. Why do we do that? Because like earthly fathers who give life to their wives' wombs resulting in a new human being, God gives us spiritual life. We are all feminine in relation to God. We all receive life from Him. That doesn't in any way deny that God manifests feminine attributes at times, but in regard to giving us life, He is male, father.

The fact that the Blessed Mother's womb became fruitful indicates that a masculine act of giving life occurred. It doesn't have to be in the natural order of sexual intercourse any more than we have to think that God had intercourse with our mothers to give us spiritual life. But, the marital embrace is an earthly SIGN of life-giving love which points to the spiritual life-giving love that God bestows on us.

I still do not understand why this cannot all apply to the Easter vigil liturgy. If the candle is a symbol of Christ on the Cross, which is the marriage bed on which Christ consummates His marriage to His Bride where He gives His spiritual seminal fluid to her, wouldn't it make sense that there would be some sort of phallic imagery there? Rahner and Bux use the terms procreative and fertilize which are both masculine actions. Phallic images denote the masculine act of fertilizing since they are used in relation to crops and animals as well as human fertility.

Any time new life is conceived, whether it be natural, virginal, or spiritual, the masculine act of giving life has taken place. I just hope that we are not continuing that Original Sin of denying the fatherhood of God.

And, as I am writing all of this, I am thinking of Christopher Derrick's statements about the denial and distortion of the sacredness of the marital embrace both within and outside of Christianity. The Church may be wise in not emphasizing this aspect of our faith since we, in our world today, have such an extremely distorted view of all things sexual.

Lauretta said...

Hi Sister! It's good to be back. I have pondered the comments on this blog all week. This is such a wonderful thing to do as long as we can all remain respectful. We can all learn so much and continue to deepen our understanding of the faith.

Lauretta said...

Just saw your question, Kevin. Yes, I would say that God's breathing of life into Adam would be a masculine act, therefore making it a sexual(used as a noun) one as well. Not in any way having to do with sex as a verb, however.

Kevin said...

Now a follow-up Lauretta:

Can you show me where the Church teaches this? Where John Paul II taught that? Where the Fathers teach it?

Heck, can you show me where even Christopher West teaches that? With all due respect, I submit the answer to all of these questions is nobody teaches that about the creation of Adam.

Now, to the rest:

"Sounded like you were having a somewhat difficult time connecting the marital embrace with the Cross."

No, just trying to point out there are limits to such an analogy that I don't think you are willing to consider. Spouses are called to hold nothing back, just as Christ held nothing back, sacrificing even His life for His bride on the Cross. While the marital embrace is analogous to this, the analogy doesn't travel very far. The entire point of Mr. West's theology is the "mysticism" and "good news" about Sex, how lovely and great it is. The cross, while joyous, was also a great tragedy. Where is tragedy in the marital embrace?

You are correct that we say "male" and "female" parts in a lot of things. We just need to remember, God does not have "male" or "female" parts. God is not sexual, in the noun sense, or the verb sense. We can use filial terms to describe our relationship to Him, but they are only by way of analogy. God does both "masculine" and "feminine" manners towards His people, using your terms. On what basis do you make the distinction on which is which? Or does God just "change" sex whenever it suits the purpose?

You continue to say Rahner talks about the "pro-creative" and interpret this as pointing to the phallic nature of the Paschal Candle. Yet Fr. Rahner specifically rejects this interpretation! Why can't we just take the man at his word?

Lauretta said...

Kevin, I understand your concern about making God sexual--He is not, He is pure spirit. In these discussions I am assuming that we all understand this and so I don't speak with theological precision. I would be more careful in how I phrased things if speaking to someone who was ignorant of Christianity.

When I speak about masculinity in relation to God, I am referring specifically to His actions having masculine attributes. In relation to creation, I take these masculine attributes from basic biology. The male gives his seed to the female who receives and nurtures this seed, this life, which is given to her. From that perspective, God's action in creation is masculine--He gives life to all living things. We humans, in relation to God, receive that life and allow it to bear fruit in the world--both physically and spiritually. In that respect, in relation to God, we are all feminine because we receive life from Him.

Regarding God breathing life into Adam, that is a masculine act in that He is giving life to Adam. God isn't male but he does things that have masculine, according to biology, attributes. This isn't sexualizing everything, it is just acknowledging the reality that is. God created us male and female and He wants to reveal Himself through that sexual reality and that reality can be used to help clarify who we are in relation to God.

Also, I wanted to make a comment about the hound vs pathological stalker comparison. I haven't read the Hound of Heaven more than once so I don't know the context at all but I do know a little bit about hounds. Hounds when they are on the trail of their prey are relentless. There are times when the owners of hounds have to literally drag them away from their pursuit because they will follow the trail until they die. If they corner their prey, it is not a pretty sight--they rip their prey to shreds in no time flat. If I had to choose between being the prey of a hound or the victim of a pathological stalker, I would probably choose the stalker! So, my perception of God as the Hound of Heaven is much different than yours just because of my different experience of hounds! I guess that would be an example of the need to define terms well before engaging in debates. I hope that my explanation of God's "masculinity" was helpful

Lauretta said...

That's kind of a chicken/egg question isn't it, dcs? Creation itself would be the fruit of God's life-giving action but in that singular instance, there would be no "mother" would there? Hmm... Speculating, but would this be a case of God's complete sufficiency--giving life and receiving life within Himself? He certainly can and does manifest both masculine and feminine attributes--He is the source of both!

Kevin said...

"Speculating, but would this be a case of God's complete sufficiency--giving life and receiving life within Himself? He certainly can and does manifest both masculine and feminine attributes--He is the source of both!
"

And that's why referring to creation or the Incarnation as a "masculine" or "feminine" act really falls short.

And it's why I asked the question about creation. There was no "receptivity" in the creation of the human race.

With the Incarnation, there was indeed a "fiat", reversing the previous "no" of mankind. The consent was the "receptivity." There was no marital embrace between God and Mary at the Incarnation, and outside of her consent, there really wasn't much any human element could do in regards to the Incarnation. It was a miraclous conception, and an equally miraclous birth.

Kevin said...

I think we might be arriving at the crux of the issue.

And I think it stems from Mr. West's erroneous view that "sex plunges us headfirst into the Christian mystery." I think the logical corollary of that is a belief that everything that can be told about someone is revealed not just in their creation as male and female (which is true), not just in their interactions with another (also true), but in a specific interaction, the maritcal act. This is where I think he errs.

And it comes from a reductionism of JPII's teachings to a "Theology of Sex." Before there was a "nuptial" aspect, there is a familial aspect that takes precedence. Indeed, without the familial aspect, you cannot have the nuptial aspect (for the same reason you can't marry an animal!)

Since we are of the same family (the human race), we all have the same traits "hard-wired" into our bodies. We are all called to be a gift. now that "gift" is carried out in a variety of ways.

In the act of physical pro-creation, Lauretta's analogy is true enough. Yet are we dealing with a physical pro-creation with the Church and Christ?

Lauretta said...

Sorry to not have responded quickly but I have been busy trying to catch from a week of vacation!

In response to your last statement, Kevin, isn't physical procreation a sign of something spiritual? The same with the marital embrace. They have their corollaries in the spiritual life. We have an all male priesthood, call the Church she and mother and bride. These are sexual distinctions so then the sexual attributes must have something to do with the reason that we give the Church these names and limit the priesthood to only males.

What is the primary thing that distinguishes male from female? I would posit that it is the way in which we participate in the creation of life. Males give their fertility, females receive it and nurture it. Both equally important and complementary but very different. God, in His creative capacity is giving life to what He creates. If you look at the two sexes, that is an inherently masculine thing to do. When God does other things, those could take on the attributes of the feminine, but creation, giving life and existence to something else, is inherently masculine.

Our masculinity and femininity, the marital embrace, family life, everything is supposed to reveal something about God to us. It is not going to reveal something physical about God to us because He is not physical, so there must be a spiritual reality that all of these things are supposed to reveal to us.

Almost everything in our faith uses something physical to reveal a spiritual reality. The Sacraments in particular. They use physical signs to reveal and transmit spiritual realities. The same is true about our masculinity and femininity and the relationship between the two. We should be understanding something spiritual about all of that. Seeing the marital embrace in a liturgical ritual is not going to be speaking to us about something physical. It is going to be speaking about a spiritual reality that is occurring. Even though the consummation of Christ's marriage to His Bride the Church on the Cross looks much different than the consummation of a human marriage on their wedding night, they are still both marriage consummations and both teach us something about the other.

I think we need to try to not put such a distance between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. They are both good and they both reveal something about the other.

Wade St. Onge said...

We are missing a very important truth:

God IS Father AND Son BEFORE the universe was even created and thus is Father AND Son APART FROM creation.

We must first of all determine "masculine", "feminine", "paternity", etc. within the processions of the Trinity before we speak of them in regards to creation and humanity.

Within the Holy Trinity, there is no "masculine" or "feminine". There is, however, a "giving" and a "receiving"

Kevin said...

"In response to your last statement, Kevin, isn't physical procreation a sign of something spiritual? The same with the marital embrace. They have their corollaries in the spiritual life. We have an all male priesthood, call the Church she and mother and bride. These are sexual distinctions so then the sexual attributes must have something to do with the reason that we give the Church these names and limit the priesthood to only males.
"

The problem with that is this Lauretta. We aren't talking about the priesthood. We are talking about God, whom, as you admitted, was pure spirit. And while I readily admit there is a spiritual aspect to the marital embrace, I'm simply saying that isn't going to really describe the relationship between Christ and His Church, which is ultimately eternal (not temporal), and without the marital embrace, since the marital embrace is but a sign of a far greater reality. Getting back on to the original topic, the liturgy points out those higher realities, not the signs.

With all due respect Lauretta, your distinction that "creation" is inherently masculine and "receiving creation" is inherently feminine, such is a distinction without evidence. Or the fullest expression of giving and receiving if you will.

Giving and receiving is practiced to the fullest extent in the Trinity, which existed before the distinction between male and female did. (Since the Trinity existed before creation, let US make man in OUR image)

Kevin said...

I also think Lauretta's distinction is ultimately flawed when you consider pro-creation. It is not simply that man "creates" something out of nothing, and places it within the womb of the woman. While the man ultimately determines the sex of the child, the child, male or female, takes on the characteristics of both parents in their personality, healthy history, appearance, etc. (For example, deespite my father ultimately being the one who determined I would be male, I resemble my mother a lot more.)

The woman is just as much a part of "creating" as the man is.

Furthermore, the immortal soul the child has at conception is not the result of either parent. The child doesn't take after the father or mother's soul. That soul comes from God. So does the woman have a "double masculine reception", receiving from the man to create the flesh, and God to create the spirit?

Or can we not just realize that God isn't assuming an inherently "masculine" role in the creation of life, since God would carry traits humans understand to be "masculine" or "feminine" based on their cultural understandings? (And since our understandings are limited, it is why we don't say that the Trinity is sexual?)

I honestly think this goes beyond what Christopher West teaches. Yet when you read absolutely everything through the prism of sex, it's not surprising.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Yes, that's all true, but don't forget that John Paul did not limit our being the image of God to the fact of our rational nature. He also brings in the essential aspect that we are the image of God because of the communion of persons. He develops this theme at length in TOB 9.
"man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. The function of the image is that of mirroring the one who is the model, of reproducing its own prototype. Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion." That's very important because in this way man is "also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons."

Lauretta said...

Read the Genesis account of creation. It says nothing about our rational nature when speaking of our being in the image of God. It says male and female He created them. Have no time to expound since grandchildren are arriving but look it up. Also the Catechism talks about God as Father in the act of creating. Don't have time to look up the paragraph but it is there.

Kevin said...

which, in laymans terms, is what me and DCS have been saying all along. :)

Calling God "father" is by way of analogy to human experience.

Nowhere does the Church state that God's act of "creating" is a specifically masculine trait.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta: "Read the Genesis account of creation. It says nothing about our rational nature when speaking of our being in the image of God. It says male and female He created them."

This is where Schindler's critique of West's overemphasis on "original unity" over "original solitude" gets him into theological trouble.

Genesis DOES speak about man as "rational being in the image of God". This is where West's presentations leave out something extremely important from JP2's TOB. Lauretta, go back to TOB and read JP2's account of Adam in the state of "original solitude". JP2 says that Adam discovers, in the naming of the animals, that he is, unlike them, a RATIONAL creature made in God's image and likeness!

Once again, Schindler is correct - West's theology becomes a theology of sex that completely omits this "state of original solitude". Please refer back to my 7th point in the combox of Sr. Lorraine's critique of Dawn Eden's "Ten Themes".

Kevin said...

While I know Lauretta and Sr. Lorraine will hate this name, I am reminded of something Steve Kellmeyer said.

When JPII did TOB, he was well versed in the proper Thomistic understanding of things. One of his teachers was the most eminent Thomist of his time.

So when he does TOB, it is with those foundational ideas and principles. The problem with West and his supporters is they typically aren't very familar with Thomism (for the layity, let us be honest, how many laymen are going to read all of the Summa?) and they wind up stating things JPII never intended.

Of course, for those who read JPII's remarks in light of tradition (with perhaps a bit of development here and there), they mainly avoid this problem (though it still happens from time to time.) Those who read JPII divorced from tradition (not in stating it is a contradiction, but tradition never enters the discussion) wind themselves into a myriad of errors.

Okay, so I'm extrapolating on what he said, but that's the gist, minus the ad hominems lol.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta, the following Wednesday Audiences contradict what you stated above (and what West teaches):

5. Meaning of Man's Original Solitude.
http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb5.htm

6. Man's Awareness of Being a Person.
http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb6.htm

7. In the Very Definition of Man, the Alternative between Death and Immortality.
http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb7.htm

Lauretta said...

Wade, I don't have time to read all of the links right now but I did read the first one. I am under the impression that you all must be thinking that I deny that our rational nature is a way in which we image God. I don't deny that at all but I am stating that it is not only our rational nature but just as importantly our capacity of being in communion with another that we image God. Since God is love I presume that capacity to be in communion is of indispensable importance in our imaging of God.

As the Catechism states:
355 God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. Man occupies a unique place in creation I he is in the image of God; II in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; III he is created male and female; IV God established him in his friendship.

356 Of all visible creatures only man is ab le to know and love his creator. he is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:

What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.

357 Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.

This is the first thing that is stated concerning man's creation in the image of God. Is it primary? Don't know but it obviously is quite important.

Lauretta said...

"By calling God 'Father', the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority"

dcs, this states that we call God Father first because he is the first origin of everything--in other words he is creator.

The Catechism then states:

"He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father."

God as Father is the origin and standard of man being father. Therefore the masculine attributes have to come from this Fatherhood of God. One of the main ways we are distinct as man and woman is the way in which we uniquely participate in the creation of new life. A man's fertility goes out from himself, a woman's does not. Her fertility receives that of the man's and holds it close and nurtures it in the immanence of her womb. One is not more important than the other but they are quite different.

Sometimes I feel as though I am debating with radical feminists who are denying the very obvious differences between the sexes. We are quite different and have very distinct roles, particularly in the area of procreation!

Our sexuality is important, it is good and it is holy because it is one of the primary ways we image God. We need to order our thinking rightly concerning this most important aspect of our humanity and not allow the distortions of our secular hedonism or the Manichaean (or dualist or whatever term you want to use for the denial of the goodness of the physical) to cause us to lose this understanding. If we want to overcome all of the evils that surround the misuse of sexuality, we have to understand its inherent goodness.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta says: "I am under the impression that you all must be thinking that I deny that our rational nature is a way in which we image God. I don't deny that at all but I am stating that it is not only our rational nature but just as importantly our capacity of being in communion with another that we image God."

I do not have that impression. I think I understand you perfectly well: although we image God in our rational nature, we image God "just as much" or even "more importantly" in the "communion of persons". This is clearly erroneous.

Man's #1 relationship is with God (original solitude), not other Humans (original unity). This is what the state of "original solitude" reveals - that man, in his rational nature, "apart from any consideration of his relationship with other humans", is created in the image and likeness of God, to be in communion "with God".

I am going to repost Schindler's critique since I don't think you went back and re-read it as I asked you to. It will be in the next post ...

Wade St. Onge said...

“Love has its roots most basically in the soul, and ultimately in God. Sex and gender do not, properly speaking, exist in persons who are not embodied – angels and God – but rather indicate the new form that love takes when it takes form in the human-embodied person. ... In a word, what is proper to the love that begins in the spirit and ultimately in God is revealed in the body in a new and different way, in the sexual difference. ... Regardindg the human body itself. John Paul II says that the body in its “original solitude” is “substantially prior” to the body in its “original unity” and hence in its sexual difference (see Man and Woman He Created Them, p. 157; General Audience, 7 November 1979). This means that the body in its most original sense is made for God. The body, we may say, bears what is first a filial relation to God. As a creature (hence child) of God, I bear a basic relation to or capacity for God, and only consequently, though simultaneously, inside this relation, do I bear a capacity for another human being. Indeed, this filial relation is rightly understood as a “virginal” relation – bearing a different shape in the celibate and married states – because it involves the whole of my being in relation to the whole God. It is crucial to understand that this original filial relation to God retains its priority within the relation between spouses, though the filial and spousal relations ... each illuminate the inner meaning of the other, in their own distinct ways. In the terms of Joseph Ratzinger, filial love is the “content” (Inhalt), and spousal love the “consequence” (Folge) of the imago Dei. ... Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation. The filial love proper to the body in its original solitude establishes the primacy of the virginal state already in the natural order, and thus indicates that there is a virginal fruitfulness that takes priority over marital-sexual fruitfulness. ... One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality.”

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta: "Sometimes I feel as though I am debating with radical feminists who are denying the very obvious differences between the sexes."

And sometimes (actally, most of the time), Kevin, dcs, and myself feel like we are debating liberal Catholics who believe Vatican II trumps everything the Church taught before 1962.

Wade St. Onge said...

Lauretta: "Our sexuality is important, it is good and it is holy because it is one of the primary ways we image God. We need to order our thinking rightly concerning this most important aspect of our humanity and not allow the distortions of our secular hedonism or the Manichaean (or dualist or whatever term you want to use for the denial of the goodness of the physical) to cause us to lose this understanding."

How many times do we have to say it? Sex is GOOD. Sex is HOLY. That "original solitude" is primary and more fundamental doesn't mean we think Sex is BAD or PROFANE. Sex is "good", but celibacy (the perpetual state of original solitude) is "better". That is the Church's pernennial teachings. St. Paul says it himself, as did Christ. It is Scriptural. Does that make Jesus and St. Paul "Manichaean"? I HATE how that word is thrown around as a talisman. It allows West and his followers to get away with their errors and thus enables them to avoid dealing with the substance of the arguments.

Lauretta, you have been pretty good about not throwing around the Manichaean talisman. But it seems as though when you find yourself unable to respond to an argument (and most of the time, you have excellent responses and defend your position well), that is when you resort to playing the "Manichaean" card.

Kevin said...

"God as Father is the origin and standard of man being father. Therefore the masculine attributes have to come from this Fatherhood of God. One of the main ways we are distinct as man and woman is the way in which we uniquely participate in the creation of new life. "

Yet, technically speaking, the "maternal" attributed, God is the epitome of as well. So why, under your criterion, can we not call God "Mother"?

Or we can admit that pro-creative isn't inherently "masculine" (since again, the woman participates in the pro-creative aspect equally in the life she creates)

It's not that we are "radical feminists." It's that we are frustrated you are either unwilling or unable to be consistent.

With all due respect, I think your just throwing around terms like dualist and Manichean because it sounds nice. Even if we are guilty of what you say (denying differences between the sexes, which we aren't!) that isn't Manichean.

How about from now on, we leave the declaration of those labels to the Church? Is that agreeable?

Sr. Lorraine said...

In the audiences on original solitude, JP is clear that original solitude has two meanings. The first one derives from man's very nature, from his humanity, and the second one derives from the relationship between male and female (p. 147 M & W).
The first meaning would seem to be the primary one.
There's no question that the fact we have a rational nature is crucial to who we are as persons. But I have a sense that some of this discussion is skimming rather lightly over JP's insistence that the communion of persons is also a very fundamental element of how we are the image of God. "we can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman from from the very beginning.... Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion" (p. 163).

Another aspect of this came to mind today. Children can only develop properly if they have contact with other persons. Babies need to be held, hugged, carried, talked to, etc. If they don't have human interaction, even their brains don't develop properly. This is basic psychology. In the actual reality of how human beings grow and develop, no one can do it alone. I'm just throwing that out there to emphasize that even empirical sciences confirm we are made for communion with other persons. It's not limited to the relationship of husband and wife, of course, as my example indicates. But there is no such thing as the fully independent person with mind and will who can become such without the support of other people. And we know how neglected children suffer when they don't get that support.

Wade St. Onge said...

And yet, the highest call in the Church has long been regarded as contemplative religious life. As Fr. Thomas Dubay said, they are the most joyful because they are living most authentically what we are all called to live.

St. Simon Stylites lived on top a pillar for 36 years. Yes, this is possible because his parents first loved him. But human love is supposed to lead us to our Divine Lover in the progress of time. The "sign" is meant to lead to the "reality"; the "sign" is meant to "gradually" give way and lead us to the "reality".

This reality of "giving way" is absent from West's theology. He seems to think couples should enjoy sex every day until they die at 85, at which time the "earthly orgasm" is exchanged for the far more intense "heavenly orgasm". But as Michael Matt said in his critique of West, the Jesuit who prepared him for marriage taught him about the "weaning off" of the marital privilege. To West, this is "Manichaean". But the principles of religious life, namely, "sex is good, celibacy is better", is perfectly in line with that.

Sr. Lorraine, would you disagree with the quote from Dr. Schindler?

Wade St. Onge said...

Sr. Lorraine: "Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion."

I would take this to mean that on a "natural level", man alone does not image the Trinity as much as man and woman together do. But ultimately, we are all called to participate in the "supernatural communion of persons", which marriage is supposed to point and give way to. God is first, the person's spouse is second.

Taken to its logical end, Sister, your understanding of JP2's statement runs contrary to the Church's dogma on the superiority of celibacy over marriage.

Wade St. Onge said...

Sr. Lorraine, the mind is "invisible", but the body is not.

That is why in the "theology of the BODY", we "visibly" image God more in the communion of persons. But the "invisible" (spirit) is greater than the "visible" (body). Once again, that is not "Manichaeanism".

Lauretta said...

I'm going to cease to debate these issues since I believe we are at an impasse. I will leave these technical details to those much more knowledgeable than I.

I want to, however, make one thing perfectly clear. Wade, Christopher West does not say at all what you just said about the marital embrace. He has said on almost every series that I have heard that abstinence within marriage is a very positive thing and the he and his wife have used it at times to assure themselves that they are coming together for the right reasons and not slipping into a utilitarian habit. He says over and over that the marital embrace is a sign of the joy that is in heaven, not that it is the goal in life as so many of you seem to think he says.

You three may have perfectly healthy understandings of sexuality but most people do not. Most men struggle immensely with lust and their spouses suffer for it. This applies whether they have very secular attitudes or puritanical attitudes or think they understand the Church's teaching perfectly. If you think you have a method of helping people learn to overcome this distressing dilemma better than Christopher West has, I encourage you to go out and preach it to the world.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thank you, Lauretta, for your contributions here.
I too am feeling this discussion is not fruitful. For example, in my comment above I was quoting the Pope about the communion of persons, and Wade is saying that this leads to denying Church teaching about continence and marriage. Well, no, I'm focusing on his Genesis talks. He discusses the subject of continence later on. The Pope makes an important point about the communion of persons and how we are the image of God.

Loretta's last point is a really important one. You may or may not find Christopher West's approach helpful. But he is out there doing something positive to help people understand and live the Church's teaching on human sexuality. He has helped many people understand why contraception is wrong, and they have stopped using it. The same goes for other sexual issues. It's easy to criticize people when they're out there doing something positive. No one is perfect; those who want to find fault will find it. But as Loretta said, if those who find fault think they have something better to offer, let them go out and preach it to the world.

Lauretta said...

I think, Sister, that you must suffer from a lack of knowledge of Thomism as I do ;) But we're in good company--you know, Cardinal Rigali, Janet Smith, Michael Waldstein, etc.

Many thanks for all of your positive and enlightening thoughts on this most interesting of subjects!

Sr. Lorraine said...

This is the end of the debate here.
Big events coming next week.
Prayer is the most important thing now.
God bless you all.

Unknown said...

Dear Sr. Lorraine, thank for a very informative post.

I can relate very well to the debate that is going on presently about the TOB and its popular presentation.

I am a former Protestant minister who now teaches high school catechism. One of the modules I employ in my curriculum is "The Theology of the Body for Teens" (by Brian Butler and Jason & Crystalina Evert). However, some of my closest Catholic friends are opposed to my doing so. They're objections are two fold:

1. They think that such matters should only be discussed with teenagers by their parents.

2. They lump all TOB presentations together and, therefore, think that all of them sink into impropriety or border line blasphemy.

Yet, in my experience, it seems as if most Catholic parents do not discuss the beauty of chastity in the light of Church teaching with their teenagers (they rely on the Church as an institution to do so). Moreover, teenagers (and, quite often, adults) are often under the impression that chastity is primarily a negative imperative (i.e. "Don't do that because you will get pregnant, contract an STD, or go to hell.") While that may, or course, be true, fear of negative consequences (as important as it is) is inferior to the impetus supplied by love.

So, following the lead of Brian Butler and the Everts, I've tried to present the TOB in terms of realizing and becoming who it is that God has made you to be (and your responsibility to help others do the same). Such is the pathway along which charity and chastity grow together in the human person.

Along those lines I encourage students to utilize a prayer that I offer several times each day: "Lord, please help me to see others through your eyes, to love them with Your love, and to serve them in your name."

Thanks again for such a great blog.

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