Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Man and Woman

By Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

In human love there are two poles: man and woman. In Divine love there are two poles: God and man. From this difference, finite in the first instance, infinite in the second, arise the major tensions of life. The difference in the God-man relationship between Eastern religions and Christianity is that in the East man moves toward God; in Christianity, God moves first toward man. The Eastern way fails because man cannot lift himself by his own bootstraps. Grass does not become a banana, through its own efforts. If carbon and phosphates are to live in man, man must come down to them, and elevate them to himself. So if man is to share the Divine Nature, God must come down to man. This is the Incarnation.

The first difference in the man-woman relationship can be understood in terms of a philosophical distinction between intelligence and reason which St. Thomas Aquinas makes, and which has saved his followers from falling into errors like those of Henri Bergson. Intelligence is higher than reason. The Angels have intelligence, but they have no reason. Intelligence is immediacy of understanding and, in the domain of knowledge, is best explained in terms of "seeing." When a man says, "I see," he means that he grasps and comprehends. Reason, however, is slower. It is mediate, rather than immediate. It makes no leap, but takes steps. These steps in a reasoning process are threefold: major, minor, conclusion.

Applying the distinction to man and woman, it is generally true that man's nature is more rational and woman's, more intellectual. The latter is what is generally meant by intuition. The woman is slower to love, because love, for her, must be surrounded by a totality of sentiments, affections, and guarantees. The man is more impulsive, wanting pleasures and satisfactions, sometimes outside of their due relationship. For the woman, there must be a vital bond of relationship between herself and the one she loves. The man is more on the periphery and rim, and does not see her whole personality involved in his pleasures. The woman wants unity, the man, pleasure.

On the more rational side, the man often stands completely bewildered at a "woman's reasons." They are difficult for him to follow, because they are not capable of being broken down, analyzed, torn apart. They come as a "whole piece"; her conclusions obtrude without any apparent basis. Arguments seem to leave her cold. This is not to say who is right, for either approach could be right under different circumstances. In the trial of Our Blessed Lord the intuitive woman, Claudia, was right, and her practical husband, Pilate, was wrong. He concentrated on public opinion as a politician; she concentrated on justice, for the Divine Prisoner in her eyes was a "just man." This immediacy of conclusion can often make a woman very wrong as it did in the case of the wife of Zebedee, when she urged Our Lord to allow her sons to sit at His right and left side when He came into the Kingdom. Little did she see that a chalice of suffering had to be drunk first, for Divine Reason and Law has dictated that "no one would be crowned unless he had struggled."

A second difference is between reigning and governing. The man governs the home, but the woman reigns. Government is related to justice; reigning is related to love. Instead of man and woman being opposites, in the sense of contraries, they more properly complement one another as their Creator intended when He said: "It is not good for man to be alone." In the old Greek legend referred to by Plato, he stated that the original creature was a composite of man and woman and, for some great crime against God, this creature was divided, each going its separate way but neither destined to be happy until they were reunited in the Elysian fields.

The Book of Genesis reveals that Original Sin did create a tension between man and woman, which tension is solved in principle by man and woman in the New Testament becoming "one flesh" and a symbol of the unity of Christ and His Church. This harmony, then, should exist between man and woman, in which each fills up, at the store of the other, his or her lacking measure in quiet and motion.

The man is normally more serene than the woman, more absorbent of the daily shocks of life, less disturbed by trifles. But, on the other hand, in great crises of life, it is the woman who, because of her gentle power of reigning, can give great consolation to man in his troubles. When he is remorseful, sad, and disquieted, she brings comfort and assurance. As the surface of the ocean is agitated and troubled, but the great depths are calm, so in the really great catastrophes which affect the soul, the woman is the depth and man the surface.

The third difference is that the woman finds less repose in mediocrity than man. The more a person is attached to the practical, the concrete, the monetary, and the material, the more his soul becomes indifferent to great values and, in particular, to the Tremendous Lover. Nothing so dulls the soul as counting, and only what is material can be counted. The woman is more idealistic, less content over a long period of time with the material, and more quickly disillusioned about the carnal. She is more amphibious than man, in the sense that she moves with great facility in the two zones of matter and spirit. The oft-repeated suggestion that woman is more religious than man has some basis in truth, but only in the sense that her nature is more readily disposed toward the ideal. The woman has a greater measure of the Eternal and man a greater measure of Time, but both are essential for an incarnational universe, in which Eternity embraces Time in a stable of Bethlehem. When there is descent into an equal degree of vice, there is always a greater scandal caused by a woman than the man. Nothing seems more a profanation of the sacred than a drunken woman. The so-called "double standard," which does not exist and which has no ethical foundation, is actually based on the unconscious impulse of man to regard woman as the preserver of ideals, even when he fails to live up to them.

There never can be a Giver without a Gift. This suggests the fourth difference. Man is generally the giver, woman the gift. The man has; the woman is. Man has a sentiment; woman is sentiment. Man is afraid of dying; woman is afraid of not living. She is unhappy unless she makes the double gift: first of herself to man, then of herself to posterity, in the form of children. This quality of immolation, because it involves the wholeness of self, makes a woman seem less heroic than a man. The man concentrates his passions of love into great focal points. When there is a sudden outburst of love, such as on a battlefield, he is immediately crowned the hero. The woman, however, identifies love with existence and scatters her self-oblation through life. By multiplying her sacrifices, she seems to be less of a hero. Her daily dissipation of vital energies in the service of others makes no one act seem outstanding. It may well be that the woman is capable of greater sacrifice than man. not only because she is gift, which is the same as surrender, but also because seeing ends rather than means, and destinies rather than the present, she sees the pearl of great price for which lesser fields may be sacrificed.

These differences are not irreconcilable opposites; rather, they are complementary qualities. Adam needed a helpmate, and Eve was made --- "flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone." The functional differences corresponded with certain psychic and character differences, which made the body of one in relation to another like the violin and the bow, and the spirit of one to another like the poem and meter.

There is no such problem as, "Which is the more valuable?" for in the Scriptures husband and wife are related, one to another, as Christ and His Church. The Incarnation meant Christ's taking unto Himself a human nature as a spouse and suffering and sacrificing Himself for it, that it might be unspotted and holy; so husband and wife are bound together in a union unbreakable except by death. But there is a problem which is purely relative, namely, "Which stands up better in a crisis --- man or woman?" One can discuss this in a series of historical crises, but without arriving at any decision. The best way to arrive at a conclusion is to go to the greatest crisis the world ever faced, namely, the Crucifixion of Our Divine Lord. When we come to this great drama of Calvary, there is one fact that stands out very clearly: men failed. Judas, who had eaten at His table, lifted up his heel against Him, sold Him for thirty pieces of silver, and then blistered His lips with a kiss, suggesting that all betrayals of Divinity are so terrible that they must be prefaced by some mark of esteem and affection. Pilate, the typical time-serving politician, afraid of incurring the hatred of his government if he released a man whom he already admitted was innocent, sentenced Him to death. Annas and Caiphas resorted to illegal night trials and false witnesses, and rent their garments as if scandalized at His Divinity. The three chosen Apostles, who had witnessed the Transfiguration, and, therefore, were thought strong enough to endure the scandal of seeing the Shepherd struck, slept in a moment of greatest need, because they were unworried and untroubled. On the way to Calvary, a stranger, interested only in the drama of a man going to execution, was forced and compelled to offer Him a helping hand. On Calvary itself, there is only one of the twelve Apostles present, John, and one wonders if even he would have been there had it not been for the presence of the Mother of Jesus.

On the other hand, there is not a single instance of a woman's failing Him. At the trial, the only voice that is raised in His defense is the voice of a woman. Braving the fury of court officials, she breaks into the Judgment Hall and bids her husband, Pilate, not to condemn the "just man." On the way to Calvary, although a man is forced to help carry the Cross, the pious women of Jerusalem, ignoring the mockery of the soldiers and bystanders, console Him with words of sympathy. One of them wipes His face with a towel, and, forever after, has the name of Veronica, which means "true image," for it was His image the Saviour left on her towel. On Calvary itself, there are three women present, and the name of each is Mary: Mary of Magdala, who is forever at His feet, and will be there again on Easter morn; Mary of Cleophas, the mother of James and John; and Mary, the Mother of Jesus --- he three types of souls forever to be found beneath the Cross of Christ: penitence, motherhood, and virginity.

This is the greatest crisis this earth ever staged, and women did not fail. May not this be the key to the crisis of our hour? Men have been ruling the world, and the world is still collapsing. Those very qualities in which man, apparently, shone are the ones that today seem to be evaporating. The first of his peculiar powers, reason, is gradually being abdicated, as philosophy rejects first principles, as law ignores the Eternal Reason behind all ordinances and legislation, and as psychology substitutes for reason the dark, cavernous instincts of the subterranean libido. The second of his powers, governing, is gradually vanishing, as democracy becomes arithmocracy, as numbers and polls decide what is right and wrong, and as people degenerate into masses who are no longer self-determined personalities, but groups moved by alien and extrinsic forces of propaganda. The third of his powers, dedication to the temporal and the material, has become so perverted that the material, in the shape of an atom, is used to annihilate the human, and even to bring the world to a point where time itself may cease in the dissolution of the world as "an unsubstantial pageant faded." His fourth attribute, that of being the giver, has in its forgetfulness of God made him the taker; assuming that this world is all, he feels he ought to get all he can out of it, before he dies like an animal.

This does not mean that woman has kept her qualities of soul untarnished; she would be the first to admit that she, too, has failed to live up to her ideals. When the bow is broken, the violin cannot give forth its chords. Woman has been insisting on "equality" with man, not in the spiritual sense, but only as the right to be a competitor with him in the economic field. Admitting, then, only one difference, namely, the procreation of species, which is often stifled for economic reasons, she no longer receives either minor or major respect from her "equal" --- man. He no longer gives her a seat in the crowded train; since she is his equal in doing a man's work, there is no reason why she should not be an Amazon and fight with man in war and be bombed with man in Nagasaki. Totalitarian war, which makes no distinction of combatant and civilian, of soldier and mother, is a direct consequence of a philosophy in which woman abdicated her peculiar superiority and even the right to protest against the demoralization. This is not to condemn women's place in economic life, but only to condemn the failure to live up to those creative and inspiring functions which are specifically feminine.

In this time of trouble, there must be a hearkening back to a woman. In the Crisis of the Fall of man, it was to a Woman and her seed that God promised relief from the catastrophe; in the crisis of a world when many, blessed with Revelation, forgot it and the Gentiles abandoned Reason, it was to a Woman that an Angel was sent, to offer the fulfillment of the promise that the seed would be Word made flesh, Our Divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a historical fact that, whenever the world has been in danger of collapse, there has been re-emphasis of devotion to the Woman, who is not Salvation but who renders it by bringing her children back again to Christ.

More important still, the modern world needs, above all things else, the restoration of the image of man. Modern politics, from Monopolistic Capitalism through Socialism to Communism, is the destruction of the image of man. Capitalism made man a "hand" whose business it was to produce wealth for the employer; Communism made man a "tool" without a soul, without freedom, without rights, whose task it was to make money for the State. Communism, from an economic point of view, is rotted Capitalism. Freudianism reduced the Divine image of man to a sex organ, which explained his mental processes, his taboos, his religion, his God, and his Super-Ego. Modem education denied, first, that he had a soul, then that he had a mind, finally that he had a consciousness.

The major problem of the world is the restoration of the image of man. Every time a child is born into the world, there is a restoration of the human image. but only from the physical point of view; The surcease from the tragedy can come only from the restoration of the spiritual image of man, as a creature made to the image and likeness of God and destined one day, through the human will in cooperation with God's grace, to become a child of God and an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. The image of man that was first ruined in the revolt against God in Eden was restored when the Woman brought forth a Man --- a perfect man without sin, but a man personally united with God. He is the pattern of the new race of men, who would be called Christians. If the image of man was restored through a Woman, in the beginning, then shall not the Woman again be summoned by the Mercy of God, to recall us once again to that original pattern?

This would seem to be the reason for the frequent revelations of the Blessed Mother in modern times at Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima. The very emergence of woman into the political, economic, and social life of the world suggests that the world needs a continuity which she alone can supply; for while man is more closely related to things, she is the protector and defender of life. She cannot look at a limping dog, a flower overhanging a vase, without her heart and mind and soul going out to it, as if to bear witness that she has been appointed by God as the very guardian and custodian of life. Although contemporary literature associates her with frivolity and allurement, her instincts find repose only in the preservation of vitality. Her very body commits her to the drama of existence and links her in some way with the rhythm of the cosmos. In her arms, life takes its first breath, and in her arms, life wants to die. The word most often used by soldiers dying on the battlefields is "Mother." The woman with her children is "at home," and man is "at home" with her.

Woman restores the physical image, but it is the spiritual image that must be restored, both for man and woman. This can be done by the Eternal Feminine: the Woman who is blessed above all women. Through the centuries woman has been saying: "My Hour is not yet come," but now, "The Hour is come." Mankind will find its way back again to God through the Woman who will gather up and --- restore the broken fragments of the image. This she will do in three ways.

By restoring constancy in love. Love today is fickle, although it was meant to be permanent. Love has only two words in its vocabulary: "You" and "Always." "You," because love is unique. "Always," because love is enduring. Love never says, "I will love you for two years and six days." Divorce is inconstancy, infidelity, temporality, the very fragmentation of the heart. But how shall constancy return except through woman? A woman's love is less egotistic, less ephemeral than a man's. Man has to struggle to be monogamous; a woman takes this for granted. Because every woman promises only what God can give, man is prone to seek the Infinite in a multiplication of the finite. The woman, on the contrary, is more devoted and faithful to the one she loves on human terms. But modern woman too often fails to give an example of this constancy; she either lets her love degenerate into a jealous possessiveness, or she learns infidelity from law courts and psychiatrists. There is need of The Woman, whose love was so constant that the Fiat to physical union with love in the Annunciation became celestial union with it in the Assumption. The Woman, who leads all souls to Christ, and who attracts only to "betray" them to her Divine Son, will teach lovers that "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder."

By restoring respect for personality. Man generally speaks of things: woman generally speaks of persons. Since man is made to control nature and to rule over it, his principal concern is with some thing. Woman is closer to life, and its prolongation; her life centers more on personality. Even when falling from feminine heights, her gossip is about people. Since the whole present political and economic world is gauged to the destruction of personality, God in His Mercy is trumpeting once more to The Woman to "make a man," to remake personality. The twentieth-century resurgence of devotion to Mary is God's way of pulling the world away from the primacy of the economic to the primacy of the human, from the things to life and machines to men. The praise of the woman in the crowd who heard Our Lord preaching and exclaimed: "Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the breasts that nursed Thee" (Luke 11:27), was typically feminine. And the answer of Our Lord was equally significant: "Yea! Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:28.) This, then, is what devotion to Mary does in this troubled hour: it restores personality by inspiring it to keep the Word of God.

By infusing the virtue of Purity into souls. A man teaches a woman pleasure; a woman teaches a man continence. Man is the raging torrent of the cascading river; woman is the bank which keeps it within limits. Pleasure is the bait God uses to induce creatures to fulfill their heavenly infused instincts --- pleasure in eating, for the sake of the preservation of the individual --- pleasure in mating, for the sake of the preservation of the species. But God puts a limit to each to prevent the riotous overflow. One is satiety, which comes from nature itself and limits the pleasure of eating; the other is the woman who rarely confuses the pleasure of mating with the sanctity of marriage. During the weakness of human nature, the liberty of man can degenerate into license, infidelity, and promiscuity --- as the love of woman can decay into tyranny, possessiveness, and insane jealousy.

Since the abandonment of the Christian concept of marriage, both man and woman have forgotten their mission. Purity has become identified with repression, instead of being seen as it really is --- the reverence for preserving a mystery of creativeness until God sanctions the use of that power. While man is outgoing in his pleasure, womanly purity keeps hers inward, channeled or even self-possessed, as if a great secret had to be hugged to the heart. There is no conflict between purity and carnal pleasure in blessed unions, for desire, pleasure, and purity each has its place.

Since woman today has failed to restrain man, we must look to The Woman to restore purity. The Church proclaims two dogmas of purity for The Woman: one, the purity of soul in the Immaculate Conception, the other, the purity of body in the Assumption. Purity is not glorified as ignorance; for when the Virgin Birth was announced to Mary, she said, "I know not man." This meant not only that she was untaught by pleasures; it also implied that she had so brought her soul to focus on inwardness that she was a Virgin, not only through the absence of man, but through the Presence of God. No greater inspiration to purity has the world ever known than The Woman, whose own life was so pure that God chose her as His Mother. But she also understands human frailty and so is prepared to lift souls out of the mire into peace, as at the Cross she chose as her companion the converted sinner Magdalene. Through all the centuries, to those who marry to be loved, Mary teaches that they should marry to love. To the unwed, she bids them all keep the secret of purity until an Annunciation, when God will send them a partner; to those who, in carnal love, allow the body to swallow the soul, she bids that the soul envelop the body. To the twentieth century, with its Freud and sex, she bids man to be made again to the God-like image through herself as The Woman while she, in turn, with "traitorous trueness and loyal deceits" betrays us to Christ --- Who in His turn delivers us to the Father, that God may be all in all.

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