Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nuptial Mystery

In The Nuptial Mystery, Cardinal Angelo Scola synthesizes insights from John Paul II and Balthasar to highlight “nuptiality” as the deepest truth about Being and Transcendent Being, God’s very self. “Nuptiality” he sees as the circumincession of three realities: (sexual) difference, love, and fruitfulness. The key text is the creation account of Genesis: “male and female he created them, in their own image he created them.” Taking these words literally, we see that the “communion of persons” between male and female, in all their radical difference, is inherently fruitful (procreative) and a privileged icon or image of the inner life of the Trinity which itself is that same threesome: difference of persons, love between them, and infinite fruitfulness (the Holy Spirit.)

Tradition has always found the image of God in the human’s distinctive spiritual nature: intellect and will. This view ignores the physical as participating directly in the imaging of the Divine. Following John Paul and Balthasar, Scola integrates the tradition into a new synthesis: the community of the Trinity and the Infinite Self-donation of each of the Three is imaged fully in the communion of persons, especially marriage, and the complete gift of self which is physical as well as spiritual, intellectual, volitional, emotional and social.

He echoes Balthasar’s understanding of the dramatic nature of the person: a created freedom who interacts with infinite, creative Freedom. He finds three distinctive polarities: man and woman, body and soul, person and community. The human person is, therefore, always a dual unity: a communion of contrasting polarities which are held in tension and yet in union with each other, with neither ever losing its identity by melting into a single monad. The person is never complete in himself, but always dramatic: always in relation to the other, always in tension, always “on the way.”

The body-soul polarity is perhaps best captured by the question: “Which is more true: I have a body or I am a body?” Most initially answer “I have a body.” This is contradicted by the conclusion that if I torture or make love to your body, I am not doing it to you but to something you have, something extrinsic to yourself. On the other hand, “I am my body” is a complete identification with my physical self and tends to deny transcendence and the possibility of life beyond the mortality of the flesh. So we see that both statements have to be held in tension: “I am my body, which is to say that my body is me, but I transcend my body, I am more than my body, which is the spiritual dimension.” But the two are married together so that they cannot be separated but also cannot be confused and must be distinguished.
And so, regarding sexuality, every human is male or female…which is to say that each person is already directed to the opposite. Each person is a unity but a unity directed to the opposite so that it is only in the meeting of the two that you have complete humanity. Neither man nor woman is a completed human and yet each is completely human. The completion of humanity is found only in the couple.
But the Greek myth (Aristophanes) which held that female/male are the two halves of what was originally an organic whole is rejected by this understanding of nuptiality. It is NOT true that man and woman complete each other by forming a completed, satisfactory whole. Rather than complete complimentarity, there is asymmetric reciprocity. While there is partial complementarity in the spousal union, there is also asymmetry: the two do not perfectly fit together. If anything, a genuine love between man and woman will accentuate and recognize the difference between the two. There is distance and difference between the two which never disappears but is bridged by love, surrender, gift of self, and reception of the other in her very difference or alterity.

Out of this union in difference, love in alterity, there emerges no completion, but the fruition of another person, the child. So the love of man and woman does not lead to satisfaction, completion, wholeness, and rest; rather it self-transcends (imaging God’s own inner life of superabundant fruitfulness) into another person, another love and another mission…actually two loves and two missions, those of maternity and paternity, which are themselves distinct, complementary and asymmetric.

So we see that the sentimental language that speaks of “my soul mate” or “the one who completes me” or “my satisfaction” or even “my better half” is misleading: nuptial love does not complete or satisfy itself in the union of the two, but it opens itself up to the Other, the third: the other who is the child, the other who is all the other beloveds (family, community, the needy), and ultimately the Other who is God.

Today’s Unique Historical Situation
All human cultures have always intuited the circumincession of the nuptial realities: sexual difference, love, and fruitfulness. Modern technology, initially contraception and now an entire network of bio-technical processes, has torn the three apart. The Pill separated sex (and love) from fruitfulness; in vitro procedures and cloning tear procreation away from the love act itself; and the gay movement diminishes the iconic meaning of sexual difference. Modernity tears apart the nuptial icon, the very image of the Divine in the human person, the spousal union of man and woman.

(Circumincession is an important term: it refers to the Mystery by which the three persons in one God “live within each other.” So complete is their love for each other that they literally indwell each other: to see the Son is always to see the Father and the Spirit. By analogy, in the created realm, we are able to “indwell” each other to the degree that we really know each other but especially when we love each other. So, spouses “indwell” each other by a finite, limited “circumincession;” as do parents/children and friends, To the degree that I love my mother I carry her within me as a good son; to the degree that I love my daughter, I carry her within me as a good father. All of reality, imitative of the Trinity, at the various degrees (analogy) within the hierarchy of Being, is oriented to donation-of-self and reception-of-the-other. The classic formulation is that “being diffuses itself.” Every reality gives itself: the rose its aroma and the bird its song and the lover his heart. Ultimately, or eschatologically, we will live in God and in all of reality. All of Being, in other words, is nuptial.)

Modern culture can be understood as the disparagement of "difference:" men are not really different from women; the foetus not really different from tissue; the Creator from the creature; and the animal from the human. Catholic, Trinitarian faith by sharpest contrast exults in "le difference!"

Providentially, this deconstruction has occasioned the articulation of the nuptial mystery in all its splendor in a genuinely novel manner. The “communio theology” of Benedict, John Paul, Balthasar, Schindler and Scola is penetrating into this magnificent mystery in a way hardly glimpsed by Thomas and Augustine.
For instance, while Catholics have always known that women cannot be priests, now we know why that is so. Christ’s love for the Church is a nuptial mystery: he is the groom that loves his bride. He is the initiator, she the responder; he the donator, she the receiver; he gives his life, his blood, his body, his word, and his seed (of eternal life) and she receives the same, sacramentally which is to say in the flesh. So, the priest who re-enacts the role of the groom, in word, sacrament and governance, is playing a masculine role, a spousal role, a paternal role…and clearly is a man.

The consecrated or virginal life is itself a higher form of nuptiality since it is the direct surrender, body and soul, of the bridal (ontologically “feminine” or receptive, even if male) person to the Godly groom. If marriage is the highest icon of the Divine in the created or natural realm, the virginal life transcends this in entering into an eschatological or heavenly marrage, a participation in the Triune Life itself in a physical, historical, concrete manner.

This nuptial mystery is the key to all of reality as it reveals the inner life of God and permeates all of creation which is in his image. The different levels of Being show this reality in analogous ways. The crucial doctrine of analogy identifies a similarity within always a greater dissimilarity. And so, I as a man am an image of God…as a son, a brother, a husband, a father…in all of this I image God; but there is an infinitely greater dissimilarity between me as creature, and him as creator; me as finite, him as infinite; me as historical, him as eternal.
Even here, however, the dissimilarity, the gulf between us, the difference between God and us is not absolute. What is absolute is Love. He created us to love us, to enjoy our difference, to bear fruit with us and in us and through us. He delights in our “not-Godness” as we rejoice in his “Godness” analogously as we men delight in femininity and we fathers cherish our daughters.

The Bible ends with the wedding feast of the Groom and his Church. Each of us is conceived in the nuptial embrace; each of us (and all of reality) was originally imagined and envisioned in the nuptial intimacy of the Trinity; each of us lives each second of our earthly lives within the love and difference and fecundity of Nuptial Being; and we are all together, nuptially, moving dramatically towards the Great Wedding Feast.

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