Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Having a Spousal Relationship with Christ

In the post below on St. Thérèse and marriage and family, we show that Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his theology of the body, which was discussed in a series of Wednesday Audiences, as well as various encyclicals, apostolic letters, and homilies, advanced the remarkable insight of "marriage as primordial sacrament." That is, in the outward visible sign of human marriage between man and woman, we see the primary model for the Triune God's plan for humanity.

The spousal meaning revealed in the human body by God, and the spousal imagery used in His divine pedagogy throughout Salvation History as recorded in scripture, shows that we are called, not to a mere generic kind of love of God, but most especially to have a spousal kind of love for Him, a complete gift of self in a dynamic loving communion of persons in one Body. The name Jesus (Joshua or Yeshua in Hebrew) means "God saves." Jesus is our Savior, but redemption and salvation are not the only reasons for God becoming man. The Lord is also Emmanuel, God with us. It seems that He because man also because He loves us and wanted to join us to Him more fully for its own sake. We are all called to this spousal-type of relationship with the Lord. Each of us is called to be a "bride" of the Bridegroom.

We are all called, each and every one of us?? I can understand how a woman might see herself as called to be a bride of Christ, I can even understand how a cloistered virgin nun, such as St. Thérèse, might see herself as being a bride, but men too? Isn't that confusing things a bit too much, isn't this a bit like the secular world out there which denies any sexual differences in favor of an androgynous society, not to mention sounding a bit like "same-sex marriage"? Isn't this taking the spousal analogy a bridge too far?

Yes, it cannot be denied that the secular world, with its dictatorship of relativism, has been quite successful in taking the truth of the human person and twisting and distorting that truth for various ideological purposes. So we must readily recognize that understanding the spousal analogy is now a bit more challenging. But included in this concept of "bride" are men as well, not just women. Perhaps we can get beyond our discomfort if we focus first on just exactly what a spousal love, or a spousal-type of love if you prefer, entails -- a full and complete gift of self, a fullness and purity of love that is so full and so pure that two are able to become one, that we are able to become one in and with God Himself.

Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1998)
Blessed Pope John Paul II
23. In [the Letter to the Ephesians,] the author expresses the truth about the Church as the bride of Christ, and also indicates how this truth is rooted in the biblical reality of the creation of the human being as male and female. Created in the image and likeness of God as a "unity of the two", both have been called to a spousal love. . . .

Since the human being - man and woman - has been created in God's image and likeness, God can speak about himself through the lips of the Prophet using language which is essentially human. In the text of Isaiah quoted above [Is 54:4-8, 10], the expression of God's love is "human", but the love itself is divine. Since it is God's love, its spousal character is properly divine, even though it is expressed by the analogy of a man's love for a woman. . . .

25. In the Letter to the Ephesians we encounter a second dimension of the [spousal] analogy which, taken as a whole, serves to reveal the "great mystery". This is a symbolic dimension. If God's love for the human person, for the Chosen People of Israel, is presented by the Prophets as the love of the bridegroom for the bride, such an analogy expresses the "spousal" quality and the divine and non-human character of God's love: "For your Maker is your husband ... the God of the whole earth he is called" (Is 54:5). The same can also be said of the spousal love of Christ the Redeemer: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). It is a matter, therefore, of God's love expressed by means of the Redemption accomplished by Christ. According to Saint Paul's Letter, this love is "like" the spousal love of human spouses, but naturally it is not "the same". For the analogy implies a likeness, while at the same time leaving ample room for non-likeness. . . .

Christ has entered this history and remains in it as the Bridegroom who "has given himself". "To give" means "to become a sincere gift" in the most complete and radical way: "Greater love has no man than this" (Jn 15:13). According to this conception, all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the "Bride" of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way "being the bride", and thus the "feminine" element, becomes a symbol of all that is "human," according to the words of Paul: "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

From a linguistic viewpoint we can say that the analogy of spousal love found in the Letter to the Ephesians links what is "masculine" to what is "feminine", since, as members of the Church, men too are included in the concept of "Bride". . . . In the sphere of what is "human" - of what is humanly personal - "masculinity" and "femininity" are distinct, yet at the same time they complete and explain each other. This is also present in the great analogy of the "Bride" in the Letter to the Ephesians. In the Church every human being - male and female - is the "Bride", in that he or she accepts the gift of the love of Christ the Redeemer, and seeks to respond to it with the gift of his or her own person.

Christ is the Bridegroom. This expresses the truth about the love of God who "first loved us" (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and who, with the gift generated by this spousal love for man, has exceeded all human expectations: "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). . . . At the same time Christ emphasized the originality which distinguishes women from men, all the richness lavished upon women in the mystery of creation. Christ's attitude towards women serves as a model of what the Letter to the Ephesians expresses with the concept of "bridegroom". Precisely because Christ's divine love is the love of a Bridegroom, it is the model and pattern of all human love, men's love in particular. . . .

27. In the context of the "great mystery" of Christ and of the Church, all are called to respond - as a bride - with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church's Bridegroom.
For a man to be a "bride" is not meant to emasculate him or to detract from his manhood, but to see that manhood in the proper light of placing himself in the position of servant. Far from holding themselves to be superior to women, men are called to raise themselves up to the dignity and "genius" of woman in their thoughts and actions of love (and, conversely, women are likewise called to recognize and live up to their own inherent dignity and genius as intended by God). Men, in addition to women, are called to give themselves to Christ "as a bride," not only in order to become one with the Bridegroom, but because it is from the "bride" that new life is born. Men too are called to become like the Blessed Virgin Mary, allowing themselves to become "pregnant" with Jesus in the "wombs" of their hearts so that they take Him with them in all their encounters with others. Filled with His Spirit, men too must help produce for Him new children of God through the Church's mission of witness and evangelization.

If you still do not like the term "spousal," if Blessed John Paul's explanation above isn't satisfactory, since he notes that it is a term of analogy and imagery, perhaps you would prefer to speak of having a Trinitarian-type of love, that we love Him as He Himself loves? God is Love and God is Truth. He is, by His nature, a relationship in loving communion of three persons in one divine being, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and this Love which proceeds from the Father and the Son is Himself the person of the Holy Spirit, a Trinity of three in one. And man -- male and female -- is made in the likeness and image of this divine Trinity. We are made to love as the Triune God loves within His being. This is what is meant by "spousal-type of love."
7. The fact that man "created as man and woman" is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a "unity of the two" in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God through the unity of the divinity, exist as persons through the inscrutable divine relationship. Only in this way can we understand the truth that God in himself is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). . . .

Being a person means striving towards self-realization (the Council text speaks of self-discovery [Gaudium et Spes 24]), which can only be achieved "through a sincere gift of self". The model for this interpretation of the person is God himself as Trinity, as a communion of Persons. To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist "for" others, to become a gift.

This applies to every human being, whether woman or man, who live it out in accordance with the special qualities proper to each. . . .

29. The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians already quoted (5:21-33), in which the relationship between Christ and the Church is presented as the link between the Bridegroom and the Bride, also makes reference to the institution of marriage as recorded in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:24). This passage connects the truth about marriage as a primordial sacrament with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1). The significant comparison in the Letter to the Ephesians gives perfect clarity to what is decisive for the dignity of women both in the eyes of God - the Creator and Redeemer - and in the eyes of human beings - men and women. In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. In the intimate life of God, the Holy Spirit is the personal hypostasis of love. Through the Spirit, Uncreated Gift, love becomes a gift for created persons. Love, which is of God, communicates itself to creatures: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). (Mulieris Dignitatem)
Understood in this Trinitarian way, any objection to the idea of a man having a spousal love of God should disappear. It means that that purity of love that is the longing of a husband to be in the presence of his wife, it means the fullness of love that is a complete gift of self, even to the point of laying down his life. This is the pure fullness of love that a man should have for the Lord, a love that is so pure and so full that it is both unitive, it creates communion with Him, two become one, and it is dynamic and fruitful -- from the fullness of such love with the One who makes all things new, new life bursts forth.

See also, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect)


She said...

According to Saint Paul's Letter, this love is "like" the spousal love of human spouses, but naturally it is not "the same". For the analogy implies a likeness, while at the same time leaving ample room for non-likeness. . . .

I should say. And it seems so very complicated.

Bender said...

Well, any analogy concerning God or our relationship to Him will have its limitations.

God is ultimately mystery, we can know something of Him, but like the exchange with Job demonstrates, our limited human brains cannot fully comprehend Him, we cannot fully see the entire picture.

But the spousal relationship, repeated throughout scripture, allows us some measure of understanding. There are other relationships to be had with the Lord as well, as we shall discuss in a further post.

She said...

I understand the limitations. I understand and fully accept the whole spousal relationship thing. I might be having a little trouble understanding why it is necessary to call a man a bride. And that has nothing to do with emasculation or anything - I just find the term 'bride' curious with regard to men.

Bender said...

Like I said, part of the difficulty is the sign of the times.

But would you prefer that we call a man a bridegroom with respect to the relationship with Christ?

Then that would create even more problems since it is Jesus who is already the Bridegroom. Of course, if we are speaking not simply of a man as a man, but a man who is an ordained priest, then he is an alter Christus with a relationship with the Bride that is the Church.

But note that, again, we are a communal faith, that is, the man as bride is also in and through the Church, who is the Bride. If a man wishes to be one with the Church, then he must necessarily be one with the bridehood. That does not mean that he must become a feminine girly-man, he retains his manhood -- the differences of male and female are not wiped out, but there is unity in diversity -- so if he is to be in the Church, One Body with Christ, then he must necessarily be in the position of the Bride with respect to Him.

She said...


Well, I think I will just stick with spouse. No ambiguity there, eh?