"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Nuptuality of Catholicism

As some of my vast readership knows, I started this blog chiefly to develop my thoughts on John Paul the Great's "theology of the body." One of my first major entries consisted of a partial draft of an article I had planned with a view to setting TOB in the larger context of those distinctively Catholic doctrines to which non-Catholic Christians generally object the most. The value of doing that would be to exhibit the genius of Catholicism in terms of the "analogy of faith," and thus render the Faith more credible by its beauty to those who generally see it as an archaic and peculiar amalgam. But I got stuck because I felt I had to study TOB more closely in order to clarify for myself the pivotal point I had only intuited. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, however, I am stuck no longer. On this feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who was unusually sensitive to the beauty of creation, it seems especially appropriate to adumbrate where I'm headed and thus, I hope, elicit helpful feedback.

In her helpful comments on my post of Sunday, October 2, dilexitprior wrote as follows:

The mystery of nuptiality rests on three points: otherness, self-gift into communion, and the fruitfulness of communion. That mystery is perfectly expressed in the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ in relation to the Trinity. In the Eucharist, Christ satisfies our hungering for a return to the nuptial union we had “in the beginning.” According to Pope John Paul II, "Nuputiality manifests the holy reality of the donation of which the first pages of Genesis speaks" (Love and Responsibility). God knows that we long to enter into communion with Him, to enter into the nuptiality of the Trinity, and allows us to taste and see this nuptial union in the Eucharist.

As a groom proposes nuptial union to His bride, so too does Christ propose to us, in the Eucharist, to enter into nuptial union with Him. As in authentic love we are enabled to truly perceive the meaning of the personhood of the other; if we approach the Eucharist with authentic love we see the Truth of Christ. So when I speak of nuptiality in the Eucharist, I am referring first to the mystery of the relationship withing the Trinity: just as in the Trinity the Son is generated by the Father's love but not without Christ's reception of the gift, the same structure is present, or should be present, in human marriage; and secondly to Christ's espousal to the Church. In looking to the life of Christ through His body in the Eucharist, within the context of the Theology of the Body, we are reunited with the meaning of the nuptial union which we rejected with the Fall and which has been redeemed for us in Christ. Ultimately, rediscovering the nuptial meaning of the body through marriage and in the Eucharist is in fact rediscovering the whole mission of Christ and the whole reality of creation and redemption.

Nice. God the Son wants to marry us and hence gives himself to his Bride, the Church, in the Eucharist. That is why marriage between ordinary men and women in the Church is a sacrament even as the Eucharist. Marriage is a sign and instrument of Christ's communion with his people. Priests, who confect the Eucharist, emulate that model by giving themselves to the Church as alteri Christi. Thus the sacrament of unity, celebrated by all the Church's members, is the model for the sacraments of mission: matrimony and holy orders. And the Church in general, laity and hierarchy, is the Bride who delights in her husband because he is her hero: the One who has rescued her at enormous cost from evil and darkness.

Though quite Pauline, that theme is curiously overlooked outside the context of the theology of the body, itself an enthusiasm that few Catholics seem to share despite John Paul the Great's brilliant exposition of it. (That's probably because he used it to support the teaching of Humanae Vitae, an encyclical no more popular today than when first issued in 1968.) What seems to be even more widely overlooked, however, is the ecclesiological point: the very structure of the Church herself iterates the same model. Here's where the words of my earlier post are pertinent:

What the late, great Hans urs von Balthasar called the “Marian” and the “Petrine” charisms within the Church form a spiritual polarity that symbolically recapitulates the intimate relationship between Christ and the Church and thus serves, sacramentally, to cement her unity with him. The Marian charism of receptivity to God, submissive fidelity to Jesus Christ, and fruitfulness in bearing him into the world is fully shared by every member of the faithful, from the bottom to the top; it just is the superordinate, multi-layered gift of grace empowering the Church to be the Bride of Christ and thus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear his children into the world. The Petrine charism of teaching and governing authority, invested primarily in bishops and derivatively in priests and deacons, exists to facilitate and serve the Marian by efficaciously signifying Christ as the self-immolating Bridegroom and Head of the Church. Hence the hierarchical nature of the Church—her hieros arch√© or “sacred order”—is an unpagan kind of hieros gamos, a sacred marriage. Just as Jesus is the male Bridegroom of the Church, all the faithful together as his Bride are female.

That is the sacramental sign by which the ecclesia, the assembly of the faithful, is effectively related as collectivity to her Lord as he intended. Extending that truth to the horizon is the teaching of Lumen Gentium: "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of such union and unity." As the sacrament of such union, the Church is also the sacrament of salvation (I prefer the Eastern term theosis) for humanity.

As "one body" with her Head in the way spouses are one body with each other, the Church "is" Christ. Hence, the sacrament of marriage and the sacrament of the Church are signs and instruments of each other, each being in turn signs and instruments of Christ's loving union with humanity.

That's why sex, rightly understood and engaged in, is so important. It is important not in spite of the holy but as a means of holiness: within marriage, open to procreation. Outside that context, it is a mockery of the human vocation, a descent into bestiality at best and idolatry at worst. That's why the Devil loves sexual sin—the more perverse the better. That's why it's so important not only to avoid such sin but to do so with an adequate understanding of why. And that's why people who love their sexual sins generally hate the Church.

I'm convinced that that is not primarily because the Church "officially" tells them that what they do is wrong. What's operative here is far more basic: a natural law of action and reaction. When darkened and trampled, the innate human conscience snaps back with equal force, so that one can continue to darken and trample it only by ever-greater denial and sin. One of my favorite contemporary authors calls that "the revenge of conscience." The revenge of conscience is to cause those who ignore it to become ever worse. That is why things in general seem to be getting worse very quickly now.

I'd better get that article out soon.
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