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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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and honour and not for her degradation, and which
only galls so far as it is unlawfully resisted.

Once more the head and body are inseparable,
save by death ; Christ and His Church are eternally
united ; for He is the King immortal, " of whose
Kingdom there shall be no end." He is the mediator
of an everlasting covenant or marriage-contract
between Himself and His Church, a contract sealed
with the Blood of the New and Eternal Testament.
So man and wife whom the God of grace joins
together by a supernatural tie in the Christian
sacrament, no man may put asunder. It is for God
alone, the Author of life and Lord of death, to
sever by the sword of death the band which the
breath of His Spirit has fastened. There is no
power on earth which can undo what is done by
Christian marriage ; and all pretence at such power
is founded in blindness, ignorance, or blasphemous



A GREAT MYSTERY. 239

denial of Christ and His Church. Moreover, one
head and one body, and no more. Two heads and
one body ; two bodies and one head, were a
monstrous violation of nature. Christ has one
Church and only one, " One is My dove, My fault-
less one ; " and the Church has but one Christ, one
Life-giver, one Law-giver. And the Christian sacra-
ment forbids and nullifies absolutely, what the law
of nature forbids all but absolutely, the simultaneous
union of one man with more than one woman ; so
that adultery, which was always a sin of deadliest
dye, is in a Christian a sacrilege also — a profanation
of a great sacrament.

Again, the Church, the Virgin Spouse of Christ,
through the overshadowing power of His Holy
Spirit, is the joyful mother of His children, " Who
maketh a barren woman to keep house,* a joyful
mother of children." " Then shalt thou see, and
abound," is foresaid of the Church, "and thou shalt
say, Who hath begotten me these?" "Thy sons shall
come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at
thy side." And of Christ it is said : " Thy wife as a
fruitful vine, on the sides of thy house. Thy children
as olive plants, round about thy table." It is of the
new birth in the font of Baptism that wondering
Nicodemus asks, " Can a man when he is old enter
into his mother's womb and be born again ; " and
he receives for his answer : " Amen, I say to you,
except a man be born again of water and the Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."

The Christian parents are not merely imitators,
but in some sense co-operators in this fertility of the



2 4 o A GREAT MYSTERY.

Church. They, together with the ministers of baptism,
are the means by which the Church increases and
multiplies and replenishes the earth and subdues it.
They should, therefore, be conscious and intelligent
agents of Christ in this matter. The Christian mother
should remember that her child is not full-born
until it is born to grace ; that the fruit of her
maternity is not the child of wrath, but the child of
grace ; and that the care, nurture, and education ot
her offspring has for its principal aim the formation
of their early consciousness to the knowledge, love,
and grace of God — not merely their natural spiritual
perfection, not merely their intellectual and moral
development, but their engracement and supernatural
sanctification.

Such being the type, the ideal of Christian
marriage," what shall we say of the reality as we see
it around us in this de-Christianized country, where
Catholics find it so hard, so impossible to keep
mind or heart free from the infectious pestilence of
unbelief, misbelief, and moral corruption ; a country
where the true idea of a sacrament of any sort has
been lost to the people at large for three centuries ;
where the nature of the Church and of her mystical
union with Christ is wholly unknown ; where the
Catholic teaching concerning purity and chastity is
simply ridiculed as Manichean in theory and impos-
sible in practice; where the law of the land sanctions
an adulterous remarriage of those who have been
divorced, and permits marriages which in the
Church's eyes are incestuous, null, and void ; whose
religion despises virginity and celibacy, and holds



A GREAT MYSTERY. 241



but lightly to the perpetuity or unity of Christian
marriage.

Surely it is only too evident that Protestantism
has done its work thoroughly ; that it has first
rationalized the notion of marriage and robbed it of
all its mystical and spiritual import ; then secularized
what was a sacrament of the Gospel, and betrayed
it into the hands of Caesar; and by these means has
finally succeeded in degrading and profaning an
institution on whose elevation and purity the whole
fabric of true civilization depends. Even if those
other causes which in some Catholic countries have
retarded the Christian idealization of marriage, have
co-operated with the principles of Protestantism
and hastened their development in this country,
still the development is none the less legitimate.



in. 1

It only remains to add a few words on the
subject of the intellect and moral equality of man
and woman as bearing on the Catholic conception of
domestic society. Here, while we have to guard on
the one hand against the false principles on which
the modern movement in favour of the intellectual
and social emancipation of woman is based, and the
excesses to which it is carried, yet on the other
there is a danger lest we suppose the Church to
be altogether hostile to certain conclusions because

1 This is condensed from an article which appeared in the
American Catholic Quarterly, July, 1897.

Q



2 4 2 A GREAT MYSTERY.

she is hostile to the premisses from which they are
drawn, or to the spirit in which they are enforced.

In this, as in other matters, we must distinguish
between the practice and sentiments of certain
Catholics and the principles and teaching of the
Catholic religion ; we may not conclude that the
condition of woman in any Catholic country or at any
particular epoch is the product of Catholic principles
unless we can clearly trace the connection. For the
leaven of an idea works its way slowly. The Church
will tolerate much, and will connive at many inevit-
able evils attendant on imperfect stages of social
development, if only she can secure the essentials of
religion. She " has many things to say " to the
semi-pagan and semi-barbarian, but they "cannot
bear them yet." The natural growth of subjective
truth cannot be hurried, else it will have no deep
root ; and this is as true of the collective, as of the
individual mind.

It need hardly be stated that the two principles
of self-sufficient individualism and rationalism are
essentially uncatholic and anti-catholic. Although
the Church abhors the socialist extreme which
enslaves the unit to the multitude, making society
an end in itself and not a means to the good of its
several members, yet she holds firmly to the truth
that it is only in and through society — domestic,
civil, or ecclesiastical— that personality can be duly
developed. In the mystical body of Christ she
finds the archetype of all society, whose unity she
accordingly concludes to be rather that of a living
organism than that of an artificial aggregate of



A GREAT MYSTERY. 243

independent units bound to one another by the
force of self-interest. Nemo sibi vivit — " None for
himself," is the law of the former association ; " Each
for himself" is the law of the latter. Together with
this conception of society as a natural organism
goes the doctrine of the right of authority and the
duty of obedience. If the subjection of members to
the head, of parts to the whole, is demanded by
nature, it is therefore commanded by that Personal
Power in and above nature. Hence obedience to
lawful authority becomes a duty to God, and the
right of that authority is, in some sense, Divine. On
the other hand, if all society originates in a free
contract, whereof the motive is self-interest ; if no
unit cares for the universal good except so far as it
is a means to his own isolated advantage, then the
submission is really to self-imposed restrictions, and
eventually one obeys oneself ; which is only a wrong
way of saying he follows his own will, and not
the will of another. In a word, with the artificial or
contract-theory of society, the very notion of obedi-
ence must vanish.

As, in the Catholic view, the family is the
simplest social unit, so the conjugal association is
the simplest and germinal form of the family. In
that society of two, as in all society, the distinction
between head and body, ruler and ruled, is essential,
because where a conflict of wills in morally indifferent
matters is possible, social life requires a power of
determining and ending such controversy ; a right
of decision on the one hand and a duty of acquies-
cence on the other. We say " morally indifferent



244 A GREAT MYSTERY.

matters," for where it is a question of right and
wrong and of God's law, the decision of a higher
court has already been given. This right of social
superiority in the conjugal society the Catholic
religion has always attributed to the husband. She
has regarded it as the postulate of nature, and there-
fore as the command of God. She finds it confirmed
by revelation in the account of the primitive and
Divine institution of marriage, and further, in the
restoration of that institution by Christ to more
than its pristine dignity ; in its elevation to the rank
of a sacrament signifying and effecting a relation
between husband and wife analogous to that which
subsists between Christ the Head, and the Church,
His body, the archetype of all social organism.
"As the Church is subject to Christ, so let women
be to their husbands in all things ; " for " the
husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the
head of the Church." Obedience in all matters
pertaining to that little society, and when nothing
is ordered contrary to any higher authority, is the
wife's duty; and to command in such matters and
under such limits is the husband's right. And it is
not, as contract-theories conceive it, a right which
the unmarried woman possesses over herself and
which in marriage she gives over to her husband,
as she might give over her fortune ; but one which
springs into existence for the first time together
with the contract. As I cannot obey myself, so
neither can I command or force myself; and, not
having that power myself, I cannot give it to
another. But I can posit the conditions on which



A GREAT MYSTERY. 245

he receives it from the very nature of things ; that
is, from God. In every free promise I put myself
in another's power ; yet the power exercised over
me is not and was not mine, but it is the binding
power of truth, or of that Lawgiver who forbids me
to lie and commands me to fulfil my words. In
this sense, all lawful authority is Divine, even as
truth is.

It is, however, important to notice the distinction
between social or official superiority and personal —
a distinction ever insisted on by the Church in the
interests of liberty. Just as, in her ministers and
priests, she bids us discern between the man and
his ecclesiastical office, and assures us that the
personal unfitness of the minister in no way affects
the validity of his ministrations, so, in the question
of jurisdiction, ecclesiastical, civil, or domestic, she
admonishes those in office not to credit themselves
with personal superiority, or to govern, as it were,
in right of possessing greater wisdom, or holiness,
or ability than their subjects ; nor to imagine that
an appointment necessarily carries with it an infal-
lible guarantee of aptitude, present, past, or future.
Thus Ignatius of Loyola, who expresses the common
doctrine of the Church in a form peculiarly distress-
ing to the pseudo-liberal mind, says, in his well-
known Letter on Obedience : " For indeed it is not
as though he were endued and enriched with
prudence or benevolence or other divine gifts, of
whatever kind, that a superior is to be obeyed, but
only on this account that he holds the place of God,
and exercises His authority, who says : ' He that



246 A GREAT MYSTERY.



heareth you, heareth Me.' " The tyranny of indi-
vidualism in government is altogether opposed to
Catholic theory ; and we cannot conclude at once
that, becaase the husband has authority over the
wife, therefore the man is superior to the woman ;
but, at most, that there is in the man, as such, a
certain aptitude for that particular office which is
not found in the woman. Let it suffice, by way of
illustration of our last remark, to refer to the
Catholic veneration for the Holy Family of Naza-
reth, where St. Joseph, as the husband of Mary, held
the office of superior over one who, in the Church's
estimation, was almost immeasurably his better in
light and wisdom and divine grace. Official superi-
ority, therefore, does not involve personal superiority;
any more than personal superiority in one point or
more, means superiority in all.

Still less is it in keeping with the Catholic con-
ception that the subjection of the wife should be
slavish, or the government of the husband despotic.
For matrimony is a true " society,'' and the wife is
socia, and not serva ; that is to say, she is, as a
person, both intellectually and morally her husband's
companion and friend, and the end of their associa-
tion is not the repression, but the fuller development
of her personality. And this is the Church's ideal
of government everywhere, in home and state, so
far as men are sufficiently imbued with unselfish
and social instincts to profit by it. The law and
the spirit of fear is for the infancy of races ; the
Gospel and the spirit of love for their maturity.
Where the less ideal state of domestic societv



A GREAT MYSTERY. 247

prevails, the Church may tolerate it as expedient or
necessary under the circumstances, but she is never
satisfied with it.

Now all this is wholly unintelligible if we accept
the contract-theory of society in general and extend
it to the matrimonial bond. There is, in that view,
as little assignable reason why the wile's place in
the association should be one of inferiority, as why,
in a partnership of any two free individuals for a
common advantage, one should preside over the
other ; and where there is no authority there is no
place for obedience.

Thus an American advocate of Woman's Rights,
in a chapter headed Obey, 1 tells us how he protested
one day to a clergyman against the " unrighteous
pledge to obey," used in the Protestant marriage
service :

" ' I hope,' I said, 'to live to see that word
expunged from the Episcopal service, as it has been
from that of the Methodists.'

" ' Why ? ' he asked. ' Is it because you know
they will not obey, whatever their promise ? '

" ' Because they ought not,' I said.

" ' Well,' said he, after a few moments' reflection,
and looking up frankly, ' I do not think they ought.' "

The writer goes on to say : " Whoever is pledged
to obey is technically and literally a slave, no matter
how many roses surround his chains " — from which
we must conclude that soldiers and sailors, civil
servants and all subjects are slaves, or else that they
are perfectly free, morally and physically, to do as
1 Common Sense About Women, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson.



248 A GREAT MYSTERY.

they like in everything. Finally he says : " Make
the marriage-tie as close as Church or State can
make it, but let it be equal and impartial. That it
may be so, the word obey must be abandoned or
made reciprocal." The idea of "reciprocal obedi-
ence " is hard to grasp ; but, as far as we understand
it, it does not augur well for domestic peace. But
in truth, all obedience is to a superior; and just so
far as there is equality, obedience is impossible. In
fact, on equalitarian principles the matrimonial
relation is essentially different from what it is con-
ceived to be, not only by Christianity, but by the
hitherto unsophisticated reason of mankind. There
are still, even for the equalitarian, certain prudential
motives which make monogamy desirable and divorce
undesirable within given limits, but those limits are
soon reached.

It is absurd and futile for would-be orthodox
writers to contend against the inevitable weakening
of the marriage-bond, which is the necessary result
of certain false social principles, unless they are
prepared to repudiate those principles altogether.
If all authority, civil and ecclesiastical, is only by
delegation from the people, with whom it rests
inalienably; if they not only designate its holder,
but create its binding force ; if it represents only
their preponderating wishes and appetites, and not
their judgment of what is eternally and divinely
right and just, — whether they judge for themselves
or choose others to judge for them; if it is merely
self-interest that binds the members of society to
one another ; if obedience is only an indirect



A GREAT MYSTERY. 2 4 g



following of one's own will, subjected to that
of another freely and revocably; then the self-
interested association of man and woman must
be conceived m the same way, and the word
" obey " either expunged from the Protestant
marriage-service or explained away. Indeed, we
must freely admit that the most advanced and
extravagant ideas of woman's position are but the
logical outcome, a necessary product of equali-
tarianism. That philosophy tends to deny any
difference between the sexes that is not strictly
physiological. It refuses to admit that, morally and
intellectually, they are complementary one of another;
that the perfect humanity, the complete mind and
character is divided between them ; that human
parentage includes the mental and moral forma-
tion of the offspring, to which both parents are
instrumental and necessary each in their own way.
Beyond the limits of physiology it regards all
differences and inequalities as artificial and iniqui-
tous, and it tends logically to the eventual abolition
of matrimony in any recognizable sense of the
term.

And now we may inquire in what, precisely,
consists that inequality which, in domestic society,
gives the husband headship over the wife. Those
who make no distinction between what is and what
must be, between what must be and what ought to
be, will freely grant that in the state of rude savagery
the wife depends for protection on the superior
physical force and liberty of the husband, and that
such dependence puts the reins into his hands. But



250



A GREAT MYSTERY.



as social evolution relieves her of this dependence
more and more, it may be asked, What basis remains
for the old relationship ? If woman is not intel-
lectually and morally inferior and dependent, why
should she be the one to submit ?

Now it is most necessary to observe that
"superior" is here a relative term, implying
some end to be secured. The end in question
is the government of the domestic society, the
government of the members only in matters
pertaining to their common good, and in no
others. For example, when we agree that in the
savage state the man is more fit to govern the
house or wigwam than the woman, we mean that he
is superior in fighting power, being physically less
encumbered. We do not mean that even physio-
logically he is a superior being all round, but that,
having some attributes which she has not, he can
secure an end which she cannot — just as, in many
matters, she is superior in virtue of capacities which
he has not.

If, then, woman's subjection in more developed
domestic -society is founded on a certain intellectual
or moral inferiority, it does not mean that she is in
all points intellectually or morally inferior to man, but
only other than man ; it does not mean that she is
less fit for high intellectual or moral attainments,
but only less free for government, less often endowed,
with all the qualities, positive and negative, required
for that trust. Whether those qualities are of all
others the most admirable and enviable may be
questioned. Widespread intellectualism is not a con-



A GREAT MYSTERY. 253

dition favourable to social tranquillity and progress ;
far more important are the stolid, practical qualifi-
cations to which the Teutonic races owe their steady
progressiveness, and the absence of which makes
free government almost unworkable in more fervid
nations. Where idealism, imagination, and emotion
prevail very widely, they are fatal to that stability
which is needed for social order and growth. It was
not without a touch of humour that Plato looked
forward to the rule of philosophers as an ideal
government ; nor should we choose a civil pre-
sident on account of the fervour of his piety or
the sublimity of his political conceptions, although
allowing these gifts to be far superior to an insight
into the theory of taxation. What, then, is this
peculiar characteristic which naturally fits man for
the headship in domestic society ? Aquinas tells
us: " TheFe are two kinds of subjection, servile,
and domestic or civil. The latter is the kind of
subjection whereby the woman is by nature subject
to the man, because of the greater rational discretion
which man naturally possesses."

The whole human character in its adequate
perfection is put into commission between the two
sexes. Morally and intellectually, no less than
physiologically, they are complementary ; and that
not merely as companions or associates, but as
parents and educators of their offspring. It is on
this natural and necessary diversity of mental and
moral character that matrimonial society is founded.
But when we reflect on the qualities needed for
direction and government, chief among them seems



i$2 A GREAT MYSTERY.

to be that discretio rationis, or reasoning discern-
ment of which Aquinas speaks — a power of taking
a cold, impartial, abstract view of things ; a gift
immensely useful, if not very attractive Not, of
course, that every man possesses this pre-eminently,
but that he does so normally in so far as the mascu-
line character is duly developed in him. Where, on
the other hand, it is the wife who excels in this
talent, there usually results a disturbance of due
domestic harmony, or else a complete inversion of
che matrimonial relationships, which confirms the
theory of Aquinas very satisfactorily. It is not,
however, the actual possession of this reasoning
discernment that constitutes or measures the
husband's right to govern, any more than the
authority of any other ruler depends on his
aptitude. The presumption of such aptitude is the
implicit condition of his designation, but the desig-
nation is not invalidated by the falseness of the
presumption.

The scope of marital government, as we have
already said, is confined to matters concerning the
common domestic good, and the subjection of the
wife is not servile, but social: "for the servant
knoweth not what his master doeth," but the wife
is governed in domestic matters, not despotically,
without reference to her views and inclinations,
but politically, as a person, and with the greatest
deference to those views and inclinations which is
compatible with the common good. Nemo sibi vivit —
" None for himself," is, as we have said, the ideal of
all Christian society. The husband is not made for



A GREAT MYSTERY. 253



the wife, nor the wife for the husband, but each for
the twain.

It will be already evident that there is nothing
in the Catholic view favouring a belief in the general
intellectual or moral inferiority of woman ; and how
perfectly in accord with the mind of Christianity
is her highest development in both respects will
presently appear. Of course, we make a distinction
between necessary and actual inferiority. The former
may be repudiated very plausibly, the latter cannot.
As we have said, the division of labour and of
domestic cares which was needed in rude social
states, and which is now, and perhaps always will
be, needed among the unleisured classes, requires
for the majority of young girls a training which will
fit them for their probable after-work ; a training
which concentrates the mind on small, practical
details, and which tends, apart from precautionary
measures, to produce narrowness, except so far as
religion raises the mind to greater and more universal
conceptions. Indeed, the very existence of the
movement for woman's intellectual emancipation is
a confession of an actual and widespread inferiority.
Again, it may be taken for granted that the un-
natural will never so far prevail, but that the majority
of married women will always be involved in the



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 17 of 31)