17 July 2019

Homer's Iliad Book VI and S Ambrose: Episode 3

Finally, I will succumb to your impatience and move on to S Ambrose!

I invite you to apply the cultural analyses I have drawn from Homer to S  Ambrose's Book 2 in Lucam. Here are a few extracts.

The Angel went in to [Mary]. Learn that she was a virgin by her way of life; learn it by her modesty; learn it by the Angel's word; learn it by the Mystery. It is the characteristic of virgins to tremble, and to be afraid whenever a man enters; to fear every utterance of a man. Women should learn to imitate the resolve of her chastity. Alone in the innermost parts of the house, so that no man might see her, that only the Angel should find her; alone, without comrade, without a witness, lest she be corrupted by any ignoble address, she receives the greeting of the Angel ... 

... When Mary heard this, not as if unbelieving concerning his words, nor uncertain about his news nor doubtful about his example, but joyful for prayer, religious for duty, hasty for joy, she went to the hill-country. For, indeed, being now full of God, where should she go with haste except to the higher places? ... Mary, who previously lived alone in the most private recesses, was not delayed by the modesty of virginity from going out into the public realm, nor did the harshness of the mountains keep her from keenness, nor the difficulty of the journey from her duty ... Virgins: learn not to run around (circumcursare) other peoples' houses, not to hang around in the streets, not to gossip together in public. Mary was late leaving her home, but speedy once she was in public, and stayed with her cousin for three months.

Presumably, the habits S Ambrose castigates did exist, or he would not have wasted his time criticising them. It is the assumptions he can share with his hearers about what constitutes modest and decent behaviour that I wish to highlight.

Our society has lost, it seems to me, the entire concept of female modesty. This has been replaced by the bizarre notion that women can dress themselves and conduct themselves as shamelessly as they please and as publicly as they desire, but that a man who is misled into drawing inept conclusions from this is self-condemned.

I do not think our Christian forebears or the Greeks for whom Homer wrote or the Italian congregations to whom S Ambrose preached would have had any doubt that our society has been driven completely and incomprehensibly insane ... barking mad. To our shame, our Islamic neighbours are more likely to understand Christian and pagan antiquity, Homer and S Ambrose, than we are.

We are the strangers, the crazy misfits, the arrogant out-of-place tourists who plant our inappropriate and unwelcome feet in every other country, in every other culture, on every other age of history.

And we are so  pleased with ourselves.

4 comments:

mike said...

Fr
they have been conned into thinking they must brazenly compete for a boyfriend or husband. They can then in their society boast in school, work or sport. They show off as much of their body they can and lavicious scoundrels and moneymakers drool over every square inch of flesh, seeing as gold for their pockets.

Bop said...

Before we castigate those shameless women who comport themselves shamelessly, may we first address all those men who shamelessly, daily undress and variously address and caress those and other women imaginatively and in spirit?

If those men first cleaned up their own mental activity they would hardly feel outrage or the need to castigate women for their shamelessness. Rather they would feel compassion for those mired in sin as once they were.

I sometimes wonder if the Father is a Christian at all.

Banshee said...

A lot of this stuff is unthinking, even from girls in the heart of worldly culture.

I remember when I was a very young girl, that my mom made the rule that I was not to have any boys in the neighborhood in my room, and that even my brothers were not to hang out in my room and sit on the bed. And vice versa. I was very indignant at the time, because we had grown up all sleeping in the same bedroom, me sleeping in my brothers' bunk bed and my youngest brother in his crib.

But when I got to a preteen age, that bizarre regulation began to make sense to me.

And yes, it probably didn't make any difference with my brothers; but then again, puberty is weird and it's better to avoid problems. Also, it's better for teenage siblings not to be tempted to kill each other more than they already are.

A lot of today's girls are not admonished in this way at an early age, when they can get mentally used to the advantages and disadvantages. They aren't told not to gross out their brothers or the neighbor kids, and they aren't told to watch out for awkward situations. They get told about sex, but not about STDs or damage to their emotions. And so on.

But a lot of times, they do appreciate a word to the wise, if you are tactful and in a position to do it. (Like if you have worked together with them for a while, and they know you have nothing against them and no reason to give bad advice.)

Charlesdawson said...

Just out of curiosity, Father, how would you define female modesty? Strict Muslims, Hindus and ultra-orthodox Jews [Haredim] all consider a female immodest if in the presence of males she is not covered from head to toe with at most a slit for eyes. In Imperial China the cheongsam, which can be slit to the upper thigh while covering the neck and shoulders, was regarded as acceptable (but caused confusion among European visitors for whom the opposite would be true). Dr Johnson remarked, on the subject of suitable female behaviour, that if one saw a seated woman presuming to cross her legs (all the while enveloped in yards of material) one would be tempted to kick her legs under her.

I think modern young women are merely taking the opportunity to behave as their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons have always been free to behave.