FLESH OF MY FLESH
When writing about wives and their role in society and in familial life, it is extremely interesting to consult the account given of the creation of Eve, the first wife, in the Book of Genesis. The most particular feature of the account, in chapter 2, is the fact that Eve is created as a wife. There is no account given of any nuptial rite or action subsequent to Eve’s creation by God from the rib of Adam. Whereas, Adam is created and immediately given the task of subduing the earth, Eve is created from the primal being of Adam, the female from the male, the feminine from the masculine, as helpmate in this task of achieving mastery over the world. Here Adam has a task and calling before he cries out in his loneliness. He is alone, yet he does his work. His occupation is to achieve dominance over that which has been given to him. This drive for dominance has a two-fold aspect; it is both physical and intellectual. The first man must have herded the animals before he named them; to name them is to classify them according to type. It is to “capture” them within the boundaries of the concept; it is to open them up with an intellectual incision that reveals the essential content of each. Adam, the first male, achieves these conquests, mimicking the Creator’s facile mastery over the non-order, rather than the disorder, of nothingness, with a certain self-sufficiency that is characteristic of the male mind.
The Genesis account of the creation of Eve portrays a being of quite a different character. Here, there is no such self-sufficiency on the part of the first female. After finishing his work, Adam is lonely, and that is why Eve is created. From her beginning, Eve’s role was derivative. It is Adam, who had not as yet lost the fullness of rational clarity, who recognizes in his wife the derivative character of both her being and her temporal occupation. In chapter 2, we read, ”And Adam said: ‘This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.’” It is, thus, the first man who defines the essential feminine character of the first woman. Eve achieves full self-understanding only after Adam has revealed his own reasoning to her through the spoken word.
It is interesting, that in trying to bring about the fall of man from his state of primal innocence and grace, Satan should attempt to seduce the understanding of Eve rather than that of Adam. How he goes about doing it is even more interesting and enlightening. Rather than merely relying upon arguments that gave the appearance of rationality, Satan seduces Eve’s reason by provoking her imagination, hoping that Eve’s sensation and imagination would soon have her reason following in train. By manipulating the feminine tendency to apply general statements to themselves with an immediacy which goes well beyond the intent of the statement itself, Satan uses a word as part of his seduction which can easily be both personalized and materialized, it was the word “eyes.”
It is in chapter 3 of Genesis, that we read, “And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doeth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” By focusing her attention on what she saw, rather than on what she knew, Satan achieves his objective. In what follows, we read, “And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.” The individual condemnations and curses leveled by God upon both Adam and Eve for their respective acts of rebellion are also indicative of the respective roles which both were meant to play and would play in the history of mankind. Eve’s punishments are leveled on her life as wife and mother, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.” Adam, however, being condemned because he “harkened to the voice of thy wife,” is punished through God rendering more difficult his task of mastering the world about him: “ cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. . . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken.”
Woman as Wife-Man
In this age of triumphant Feminism, which has as its most irritating aspect the drive for the use of “inclusive” language, the etymological roots of the term “woman” cannot be very comforting to those bent on eradicating from a feminine nature any intrinsic orientation towards those with a masculine nature. The word itself is a contraction of the words for “wife-man” in the old Anglo-Saxon tongue. If the Feminists, who, in the word Ms., have given us an abbreviation for an, as yet, unknown title, seek comfort from the “chauvinism” of the English tongue, they will surely find none in Latin (mulier), French (femme), German (Frau), or Spanish (mujer) all of whose words used to designate a “woman,” can be used, unaltered, to designate a “wife.” Most of the Feminists, of course, realize this, hence their proclivity to employ the generic term “person.” There is a certain irony present even in their use of this term, however, since the word has its etymological origin in the Etruscan word phersu that was their word for “mask,” or that, which hides one’s true identity! Hence, “chairperson”! Their constant use, in their writings, of s/he is, seemingly, counterproductive.
So a mature woman has, both biblically and linguistically, been conceptualized as a “wife,” as one who has given herself to a man for the primary and express purpose of bringing into being and, moreover, into perfect being (i.e., educating) human offspring. An interesting point to consider here is the profound meaning of the biblical designation of Eve as a “help-mate” of Adam. To be a “help-mate” is to have a cooperative, yet secondary, role. The seemingly pejorative implications of the designation “secondary” can be tempered if we look at the relation in a more philosophical way, rather than relying upon the commonly understood meanings of words.
The way we might bring the respective masculine and feminine roles in the spousal union to the philosophical level is by understanding the husband to be the active agent in the relationship, while the wife can be seen as the passive receptor of the action initiated by the active partner. The husband’s initiating role exists as such in the physical, psychological, economic, and social domains. Just as it was the male’s place to work to establish the nascent relationship by indicating interest and by struggling to win the affections of the female, who should only reciprocate interest if he struggles in a manly way to gain her attention, so too must he be the one, if the social and economic ventures of the family are to succeed, who injects his ideas, talents, labors into both family life and the civic order. This power of transmission belongs, or ought to belong, to the husband. From the male come the seeds of life and insight.
The passivity of the wife and of the feminine nature in general does not, in any way, entail the inactivity or the “nonbeing” of the female. What it does entail is the receptive quality of the feminine character and constitution. Here I appeal to a Thomistic philosophical principle: potency in itself does not exist without its proper act. It will be my contention that women have their being as women actualized only through their relationship with men. Women need men in order to be truly women. Men, however, do not need women in order to be truly men. The military, the monastery, and the seminary confirm this. Every convent has its father confessor and the Eucharistic Bridegroom.
As has been stated above, the “passive” nature of a woman does not at all entail her inactivity or any sort of lack of substantiality. Rather, the term is used to emphasize the dependence that a woman has upon the formative and actualizing potential of the male mind. Whether the Feminists like it or not, a woman’s relationship with her father and/or her husband is formative, it impresses a fixed stamp or character on her existence which she can never efface. This fixity which is given to a woman’s character and her situation in life by her husband is a further manifestation of the biblical teaching that while God created the male in His own image, the female was created according to the image of the male. She, whether in her primal or in her personal being, bears his image and determinative likeness.
The form, impressed by the husband upon his wife’s life and, consequently, the life of the family, is not something that is stagnant. Rather, the life of the family, which is given its basic character by the father, is developed and enfleshed by the mother. This is how the wife fully participates in the life transmission and engenderment initiated by her husband. She must keep alive what he has made to live. She must nurture in a way only she can, that which he has willed.
In his Symposium, Plato states that man naturally seeks after one or both of two forms of temporal immortality. The first, is accomplished by the teacher who, by placing the seed of truth into the mind of his disciple, ensures that his ideas will continue to live long after he himself is dead. The second form of temporal immortality, which is sought after by the great majority of men, is physical immortality that is had through the engendering of children. It is no small thing that a wife’s call to be the “help-mate” of her husband, includes, as its most noble and sublime aspect, the guaranteeing of immortality. Of course, in a spousal union in which the bond is of a sacramental nature, there are three forms of “immortality” which are the fruit of the cooperative efforts of the spouses. First, the physical “immortality” which perpetuates in time both the paternal and the maternal line. Second, the immortality possessed by a human soul that comes into being through the activity of God and the material cooperation of the father and the mother. Third, the supernatural immortality which is the consequence of the sacramental life which is cultivated in the child, through the agency of the priest, on account of the efforts of both spouses. Even though in Heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage, the achievement of matrimony is immortality. It is no small thing.
A Mother’s Duty
The etymological rendering of “matrimony” as matris munium or “a mother’s duty,” gives us an insight into one of the fundamental necessities of the successful marriage. This necessity is the strict separation of the husband and wife’s respective roles. The rationality of this separation and the separation’s simplification of the roles of each is not only grounded in the natural position of the husband and wife in the context of the family, but it is, moreover, rooted in the essentially active nature of males and the essentially passive nature of females which we have discussed above. When considering the fitting and natural division of these various roles, we must, also, never forget that the greatest formative task, other than physical procreation, which the husband has is to impress his own rationality, itself informed by objective truth, upon all the various aspects of a family’s life, both its internal life and its collective actions within the community. It is a husband’s uniquely masculine calling to “stamp” the life of the family with his intellectual image, thereby giving to the family its own form and character. After stamping his rational image on all of these realms of activity, the husband and father is charged with ensuring that the entire family conforms to this form. It is thus the father’s task, as a necessary part of his patriarchal office, to enforce discipline within the family.
In tandem with this impression of his own rational understanding of the true nature of things upon family life, a husband is called to attempt to impress, successfully, his own stamp on some, no matter how obscure, aspect of the outside world. This attempt by the male to impress his own rational image on some aspect of the outside world, we will call his “project.” Every man must have a “project.” A “project” is much more than a mere “job.” It is a desire to transform and change for the better. That all men, intentionally or unintentionally, have such a “project” is something that a woman and wife must appreciate if they are to adequately understand how they are to be the “help-mates” of their own spouses.
Rather than resenting such a due separation of roles within the context of the family, a woman should find it a great consolation. First, it is the most obvious and effective means of avoiding the conflicts that, normally, are the clash of wills over a projected course of action. If a wife clearly appreciates the realms over which she has delegated jurisdiction and those over which she, normally, has no jurisdiction, over the course of time there will be an inevitable lessening of conflicts between she and her husband.
It seems to be a characteristic of our post-1960’s era, that, whether in “good” marriages or outside of good marriages, woman are having to deal with a stark fact. Most men either do not know what their proper role is in family life or they simply refuse to fulfill their proper role. On account of this, a woman’s natural desire to trust in the power and prudence of her husband is frustrated; her reaction to this situation is to usurp her husband’s authority, along with directly challenging the legitimacy of that authority. If we are ever to restore peace to the feminine soul, Feminism being the most obvious manifestation of a lack of such peace, women must be able to trust that a man, her man, specifically, both understands his obligations and will put all of his power into fulfilling them. For women to be women, men must be men.
Mistress of Man’s Soul
Since a man must “conquer” in the civil sphere if he is to maintain the domestic realm in which his family can grow and prosper, a wife’s duty to help her husband must extend beyond tending to the daily needs of his children. It must include an attempt to facilitate, both psychologically and materially, her husband’s “project.” Before a wife can, truly, render such help, she must overcome any resentment she may feel at having to “share” her husband with his project. This is extremely difficult, since the male’s placing of his project on an equal, if not higher, level than his concern for the maintenance of personal relationships is foreign to the feminine mentality. Often it appears to her to be more than slightly absurd! What a wife must realize is that it is a reality nonetheless. It is beneath a woman’s dignity to compete with her husband’s project. Rather than compete with it, she must support him in it and then she will unite the domestic and the civil aspects of her husband’s life and win his undying affection. A man must conquer and a woman with him!
Of course, a wife and mother has a right and a duty to remind her husband that his marriage and his family are “projects” which he has willfully started and must, therefore, attend to. One does not attend to a wife and family like one attends to a business. It is in helping her husband focus on the personal dimension of his various “projects,” that a wife can most profitably enter into her husband’s psychological life and, subsequently, contribute to its augmentation. Here we find a task for wives that few fully appreciate. It is to rectify a tendency to objectivize and instrumentalize normal social and professional relationships. Since a man is normally immersed in his struggle to render docile the particular difficulties he has taken on, there is a real tendency to view other men as mere “cooperators” in his task and not as men.
Just as the feminine psychological preoccupation with individual persons, their needs, their affectivity, and their personal circumstances, makes a woman better qualified than a man to tend to the daily needs of children, so too this psychological occupation with persons, rather than projects, can allow a wife to help her husband develop the personal aspects of his social and professional life. Of course, for this to happen, a woman must, to the degree that she can, understand and genuinely appreciate the work of her husband, its implications and its long-term importance.
What, also, must be understood is why this work is important for her husband. What ideal motivates him? For I would maintain that all men are motivated by an ideal, whether that ideal is true or false. If they are not, they are not truly men. More. If they are not motivated by a true ideal (i.e., an ideal founded in the Mind of God), they have not actualized their potential for true masculinity. Women, look for a man who has his eyes to the heavens, yet his feet firmly planted on the ground!
Real Wives in an Androgynous Age
In our own time, wives or woman looking to be wives, are faced with a problem not encountered by their female ancestors, the ideal of masculinity, which was the thing, other than religion, true or false, most cultivated by all significant civilizations, has been mugged and absconded from the cultural scene by the minions of the Revolution.
This official exiling of the masculine ideal is best manifested in the incessant discussion concerning the ever-growing list of human “rights.” As the enforcement of these “rights” expands, the available sphere of truly masculine action decreases. A “right” is a prohibition against the masculine enforcement of truth! A husband’s constitutional helplessness in the face of his wife’s desire to abort their unborn child is one of the gravest manifestations of this legal and social castration.
The most obvious temptation of the woman who experiences a patriarchal “power-vacuum” in her own family is to try to fill the office and exercise the functions meant to be exercised by the husband. To attempt to “wear the pants” in the family, whether metaphorically or literally, will not solve the woman’s problem. A woman, even a strong woman, cannot truly take the place of a husband and father. It is unnatural and contrary to the divinely appointed ordering of things. The children will, moreover, fail to learn the proper distinctions between the role of the father and mother, the husband and the wife. This will ensure that the failure of patriarchy and true masculinity will continue and, most likely, will become even more exaggerated in the coming generations. A woman while doing her duty as wife and mother and, therefore, as a woman, must always let it be known to her children that the office of father is necessary and ought be respected, even if there is no or, at least, not a fit occupant of that office.
Woman, in our own androgynous age, must refuse to usurp the natural place of the husband and father. Rather, they must learn to encourage their husbands and husbands-to-be to exercise the office of prudent governor, which is rightfully his. This can be done by a woman calling upon her husband to make the decisions which are rightfully his to make, while, also, indicating to him that he must enforce those decisions. If a man feels, no matter how “subconsciously,” that his family is a republic rather than a monarchy, he will not boldly and virilly exercise his patriarchal office. He will feel no need to. Since money is one of the levers of power, a family that has come to “depend” on the wife’s income, is almost sure to end up as a republic. In that case, the traditional model of the family will have been laid aside and trouble is, undoubtedly, ahead.
In our own day, when, contrary to all the previous ages of mankind’s history, normative models of true femininity and womanhood have been lost, we must return to the reality of the bride in order to uncover a woman’s most abiding nature. In the bride, who is only a bride on the day of her wedding, we find the virtues that must be reflected in the female soul. These are the virtues of faith, of abiding hope, and of selfless charity, with the fortifying virtue of courage to protect the others. A bride has faith, because she, more so than the bridegroom, takes a “risk” when she offers her entire self, and she always offers her entire self, in love and in submission to her spouse. A bride has trust, that the one she offers herself to will bear her up, providentially, she and hers. A bride has love, a love that knows no conflict, which knows no other, which cannot be without. It is in these virtues that a wife best resembles the Spouse of the Lord, Holy Mother Church. For like Her, after the nuptials have been consummated, faith will turn into knowledge and understanding, hope will turn into possession, and love, love will always be love.
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