Friday, July 23, 2010

Hildebrand versus West, Part Three

Analogia entis Mariae

This is one of the most interesting aspects of the debate. It always is for me: the horizons of human possibility that we see instantiated in Christ and, to a lesser extent, in Mary. H does well to bring up the topic and the problematic that resides in W's treatment of it. For W it seems that the proper anthropological context lies with our primordial nature. But this is wrong, it is not with what we were but with what we were always intended to be. This is not an obvious problem - would we not do well to rise up again to the state of Adam before the Fall? Would this not be a significant improvement? But it'd be like choosing a car instead of an airplane. Kind of, especially if you were hired on by Boeing. Your boss would be undoubtedly chagrined if you presented the new car you came up with at the end of the week.We were not made to be virtuous pagans, and every baptized person, or person who has heard the Gospel preached, who ends up this way his life can be considered nothing other than a catastrophic failure. Our life is to be like Christ's and Mary's, not Adam and Eve's. There is a certain limit to talk of our originally constituted nature. The point is not simply about this original constitution, but the whole end intended by the Father, an end which has a lot more to do with Christ than with Adam. The heresy of natura pura.

Think about how this would have ramifications for sexuality. The models of human sexuality are a man and a woman who never had it. What an absurdity! So it was for Augustine: but he insisted on it, and for good reason. The Pelagian heretic, Julian of Eclanum, thought that the perfection of human virtue as it pertained to sexuality was to overcome desires by force of will. Augustine, on the contrary, said that it was to be so ordered as not to have them at all, because the mere having of them was a symptom of deep disorder, no matter how familiar this disorder is to us. Christ's sexuality was so perfect that it looked nothing like ours.

(If you want to read more on this consult the Summa Theologica, III, q.41, or, even better, Augustine's Unfinished Work Against Julian - much harder to get ahold of, though.)

Nor Mary's. There are certain problems with a comparison with Mary, frankly, as there is with comparisons to Christ. The difficultly lies in figuring out how our life is like hers, and can possibly be like hers, and how it cannot be. If the question is asked: How did Mary feel sexual desire? This is like saying what is the cleanest way to swim in mud? or, How is it that God can move an immovable object? It's a contradiction in terms.
People often confuse what pertains to Christ in light of His freedom from sin, in light of His enjoyment of the beatific vision, in light of his great intellect as man, great intellect as God, great love as perfect man, great love as perfect God, and what He has taken on in virtue of His kenosis (the self-emptying that is the Incarnation). Not surprisingly, the errors they make here transfer over to Mary. Mariology and angelology are the proper corollaries of christology, but I think you have to begin with Christ to get the other two right.
A great deal of the treatise on Christ is about aptness and fittingness, not about hard facts, and so it is with Our Blessed Mother. So drawing Mary into the debate about sexuality is sometimes profitless, but sometimes quite edifying and informative for anthropology.
H's main point about the analogy with Mary is that we should not pursue it, at least not haphazardly, without awareness of the greatness of the thing being discussed. She says W fails here. The more interesting question here is, when we do it rightly, what conclusions do we actually come up with? I'd have to say that H borders on ignoring the central mysteries that define who we are - the mystery of the Incarnation, and by extrapolation, the mystery of Mary. W isn't at fault for ignoring it; he just gets it wrong when he thinks about it. Let me put it this way: does he think that the Holy Family stood in front of mirrors contemplating their holy beauty, walked around the house nude, etc., as was done in the Garden?
I do not believe it an article of the Faith that Mary felt no pain in childbirth (quite to the contrary of some of my students' contentions). I do think Mary has wonderful things to teach us about sexuality and femininity, but not on account of having experienced everything that we have, just in a somewhat better way. There is, for example, no somewhat better way to feel sexual desire without sin. This is not to say that all sex is depraved or that some kinds of desires are not better and holier than other kinds - but there's still sin in them. So there is a mis-analogy here. The best people come up with, in other words, is far less than Mary's worst. (She doesn't have a worst, actually.)
For sake of his audience, W should stop talking about Mary in the context of actual married sexuality, if he in fact does. It would create far more problems than it would solve. Mary didn't contend with sexual desire. The Josephite marriage is not the model for all. (Here I part company with Augustine.)


  1. "Let me put it this way: does he think that the Holy Family stood in front of mirrors contemplating their holy beauty, walked around the house nude, etc., as was done in the Garden?"

    Well put. Absurd.

  2. I only know what I've read through secondary sources, but I think I'm getting what they are talking about re. West. It's easy to exaggerate and lose hold of the truth. That's seems to be the end product here.

  3. Colin,
    It sounds like you're saying that all sexual desire has sin in it. Do you mean rather that all sexual desire is affected by concupiscence, so has a *tendency* to sin? [I agree that tendency, i.e. concupiscence, is always there.] It's problematic to see all sexual desire as corrupted by sin.
    I believe Aquinas argues that the sexual act (for married couples) can be an act of virtue, thereby increasing the holiness of the couple.
    Also, we can't forget that sexual desire is a sign of man's interior ordination to "otherness"--to be fulfilled in a self-gift to an "other" (ultimately God).

  4. Maria,

    This is the fight I fight every year with my students. I know it's problematic, but I stand by it (as a good Augustinian). I suppose you can look at it this way: there are lies and there is truth, but even when a saint tells the truth it is infected with a small degree of egoism. The act is not over all sinful, but it is not the act of Christ. Why can't it be? Because we will not be completely freed from orig. sin until the end. It's not a point of logic; it's a point of revelation, i.e. the just man sins seven times daily, etc. Again, it's not that the act (here, the sexual act) is to be primarily designated as sinful; it is holy; it is just not the act of Christ. The sexuality of Christ is totally different. Augustine saw that no sex act can actually even physically work in the here and now without concupiscence - at least on the side of the man. He said the problem lay in the spontaneous, irrational character of sexuality as we know it and experience it. It is suppose to be a totally rational and deliberative thing, an act totally and consciously oriented toward the good. Passion is passive, not good: sexuality is meant to be an expression of the total character of man, i.e. as knowing and willing the total good. Insofar as it is self-oriented (and it always is here and now to some degree) it is not a willing of the total good: it is a preference of self to some extent. But now we are hitting on the essence of the Wojtylan / Augustinian split. Wojtyla says that other and self are the same thing in their fullest form, and to be human and good is to be selfish/otherish. Augustine says no: other and self are antinomial.

  5. confused here.
    There seems to be a failure in language on some level.
    Correct me if I'm wrong please, this is my current understanding.

    To the Greeks ( and Augustine ) Passion was something imposed on someone from without.

    But what is the relation in your use between the word 'desire' vs 'passion' ?

    It seems to a desire at least in part indicates an act of the will?

    Also, I am a little confused as to what delineation if any there is to be made between appetite and desire in your use of the term.

    Appetites are created in man by God are they not? So in what context can an appetite ( properly ordered) be evil?

    If by saying Mary was free from sexual 'desire' you mean she was not 'imposed on from without' and she did not 'will' a sexual act, that you are correct.

    Although it seems like you are taking something away from the humanity of the blessed mother , if your intent is to claim she did not have all the same appetites in a well ordered fashion, that exist within the human body an a mechanical and hormonal level.

    Could you clarify some of this form.