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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Gender & Sacrament Pt II

In Genesis, God commands man to do two things - to fill the earth and to subdue it. As John Paul II has observed the task of filling the earth of generation itself is an essentially bodily activity in that it is (as we have observed) only because man is a bodily creature that he reproduces; while the subduing of the Earth is an essentially reasonable task for it is precisely the subjection of sub-rational material things to the reason of man. Nevertheless, human generation exists so that man might be a more perfect image of the Trinity and thus procreation in its full sense, including the raising and education of children and the preparation of the proper context for this task, must be permeated throughout with intelligence and reason. Likewise, man is only able to subdue the earth because he is bodily and able to act upon other bodies. It is clear both from natural reason and from scripture that the task of filling the earth is appropriated to the woman and the task of subduing it to the man. The woman is equipped by nature to carry her child for nine months and feed it for at least a year. In the absence of human intervention no very long period would intervene before most women would once more be carrying a child. The physical role of man in the transmission of life is, by contrast, incidental. Man is potentially considerably stronger than woman and equipped to labour to provide for the subsistence of his wife and children and to fight in their defence. In Genesis 3:16-19 it is clear that man and women are punished in accordance with their natural roles each of which becomes a burden to them. The woman finds pain in childbirth the man discovers that the soil yields him thistles and brambles. St Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5:20 - 33 that the institution of marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and the Church. We can see from Genesis why this is so. Woman is a symbol of the bodily perfected by reason and man of reason (logos) enfleshed. St Paul reinforces this conclusion by comparing the union of Man and woman to that of head and body. It is not in their humanity as such, in which they are both essentially intellectual-corporeal beings and absolutely equal, that this analogy exists but in their gender which is distinct from their humanity while inseparable from it. Ultimately gender exists to order man towards a community of persons by which the Imago Trinitatis of his intellectual powers (memory, understanding and will) goes out of itself and is perfected in spousal, parental and filial love and ultimately in the love of charity. But in doing this gender also reveals the second great mystery of salvation that mystery by which the mystery of the Trinity was itself revealed: the Incarnation, the unity of Creator and Creature in Christ and between Christ and the Church. Gender is like the sign of the cross written into human nature. So St Paul says 'I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.' (1Cor 11:3). Like marriage, ordination is a sacrament. In ordination a baptised Christian is made ready to stand in the person of Christ and mystically commemorate the moment when Christ on behalf of the Church laid down his life on the cross. He died for her and he fed her upon the altar, and at the table, of the cross as the perfect spouse of an immaculate bride. In their community Man and Wife form a family whose members, as baptised rational animals, form an image of the Divine Trinity whose equality they imitate, this image calls for a mutual submission. But they also form an image of the Incarnation and in this the wife as image of the Church submits to the husband as image of Christ. So St Paul says in Ephesians "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:22 - 32) In each Sacrament Christ takes something which is a natural symbol of the reality He intends to make supernaturally present and he makes this 'matter' the instrument of that presence in his hands. Oil for strengthening and healing, water for cleansing, bread and wine for food. When we say the matter of every sacrament is a 'natural symbol' we mean that its symbolism is not something imposed upon it by human will but something proper to it and grounded in its essence. God made Man and Woman to symbolise Christ and the Church. Christ who feeds and gives up His life his bride in the holy Eucharist, the Church which bears and nourishes for Him countless spiritual children. Just as oil because it is a natural symbol of strength carries the same symbolism through the sacraments of confirmation and anointing, so gender determines that maleness symbolises Christ the Head and Bridegroom both for the married and the ordained. In the images of the Bridegroom and the Mystical Body, of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies that it might rise again to feed the multitude, we approach the heart of the teaching of Christ and of His person. Just as to dispense with His choice and example in the ordination of priests is to betray His person and deny His divinity; so too, it is to distort His teaching and to falsify the sacramental economy which He instituted and by which He remains with us until the end of time.