19 October 2015

So, hiding among her pigs, Saint Frideswide prayed to S Margaret and S Catherine, who made a spring arise from the ground (the Holy Well can still be seen at Binsey, restored by a Tractarian Vicar) with the water of which S Frideswide cured her erstwhile suitor of his blindness (I bet he was more careful thereafter to practise Custody of the Eyes).

So were S Margaret and S Catherine the other two ladies in the arms of the See of Oxford (see above)? Probably, but I'm not sure that my great predecessor at S Thomas's, Canon Thomas Chamberlain, thought so, since in his famous Eucharistic Window he portrayed S Frideswide, S Margaret, and S Etheldreda - another Saxon royal virgin who preserved her chastity against onslaught (this time, the importunities of no fewer than two husbands).

I don't know what you think about those female saints - some of them a tadge legendary - who sprawl all over the Analecta Bollandiana and whose sanctity appears to lie at least partly in their heroic and determined protection of their virginity. It's easy to call this dualist or paranoid; to complain about an unnecessary denigration of the holy estate of Matrimony; even to speculate along Freudian lines. Just possibly some of these points could have been validly made in earlier generations. But in our culture, surely, a quite different point has to be made. Our Zeitgeist has its own novel superstition: that everybody is inevitably going to express genitally the sexuality about which they either say 'God has created me' or 'I have chosen this gender'. The point which these Armoured Virgins - even the mythical as well as the historical ones - make is that it is neither compulsory nor inevitable to be sexually active. Our Christian cult of Virginity teaches that if you want, or, rather, are called, to be a male or a female who is not committed irrevocably to pursue fruitfulness with another individual 'in bed and at board', the consequence is simple. You offer up to God a sexually abstinent life. The assumption all around us now is that, since mechanical means exist whereby sexuality may now be divorced from both fertility and commitment, we are all at liberty to be uncommitted, sterile, and promiscuous. This preposterous nonsense is now solemnly enshrined in the 'laws' of this and many other lands! It is one of the most superbly crafted of the deceits of the Evil One. Day by day, it becomes increasingly clear that it is only in a culture which values Virginity and Celibacy that Matrimony itself can flourish ... paradoxical as that may seem to us.

During the 2014 Synod, the suggestion was made that the modern debates within the Church about Gender and Sexuality may be our equivalent of the debates in the first six Christian centuries about Christology. I think this is quite an acute observation. If it is true, this could mean that we have several centuries of the present mayhem in front of us.

Those who observe the pre-Pacelli rules and celebrate today's solemnity of S Frideswide with a Privileged Octave, will have seven more days to meditate upon these matters!


David Nelson said...

Dear Father,

I would disagree. Gender is an ideological construct and not a philosophical one. This is the attempt to square the circle and to arrive at a conclusion that says the Catechism is wrong and St. Paul is wrong (or misunderstood) but his contentious passages are clear and you can, I'm sure, speak to that. The greatest document of the 20th century is the Humanae Vitae--who would have expected Paul VI to write that one sentence that only could have been done through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit which unleashed the blind fury of many. I don't think this is a philosophical struggle.

Anonymous said...

Debates about Gender and Sexuality are debates about our very human physiological make-up. Debates about Christology are debates about the eternal God who assumed human nature. Not quite the equivalent, I dare say.

Luciana Cuppo

Peregrinus Toronto said...

If, as the Eastern churches and theologians assert, redeemed humanity is in the process of 'divination' by divine grace then this period is, as you point out Father, one in which we are engaged in yet another stage of the development of doctrine (following Newman's categories) as it relates to our understanding of being - Trinity, Christology, Mariology, Christian Anthropology.

fenfrk said...

People at all times will get things all wrong.

Banshee said...

Actually, the understanding in a lot of Germanic tribes was that the woman did not have much say in marriage, that it was weird to want to be a nun, and that nuns could be withdrawn from the nunnery against their wills to be married off by their families. After getting Christian, the Angles and Saxons and Jutes in England seem to have ended up respecting nuns and letting them stay in convents a lot more than, say, the Franks did. But there probably was a lot of struggle at first, and the nuns of England probably had to be a strongminded lot.

The other consideration was that a lot of these ladies had money and property, and bringing that to the convent meant that the clan no longer had the moolah and goodies for their own use. The shock to the family seems to be softened by the tendency of all the women in a family to join the same monastery, and for a safe and good education to be provided to the girl children by their aunts and cousins in the place.

But again, the first generations of nuns probably had a lot harder time than the second or third.