ARTICLE NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 28
What a feast we have coming up on Wednesdays? Today Tom McMahon dips his timid toe in the water of that place where even angels might fear to swim — the relationship between men and women, the meaning of sexuality, sexual morality, marriage — and the meaning of all these things in a religious or sacramental context in today's milieu. After much reflection over recent months, Tom has decided to carve the subject up into eight historical epochs and examine how our ideas of marriage evolved down through time.
How did the Church get involved in marriage?
Charles Davis in 1962 wrote THEOLOGY FOR TODAY, a call for reform and investigation into fundamental teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. His book preceded the church council Vatican Two, yet Davis, may well have had insights into the forthcoming council being the leading Catholic theologian of England and playing a major role in the gathering. I take great interest in the reality that Theology for Today has no chapter on marriage, nor does Vatican Two have a specific document or place for the conjugal state.
What excited the interest of the Roman Church in present day marriage? And what is the history of this so called sacrament or sacred sign? As one who has been married for over three decades I need to state at the beginning of this mini series my long chanted motto "there are no experts" and I am surely not one.
As our Polar Express seeks to uncover Sacraments for the Age of Technology we shall bravely venture forth into territory that warrants a blinking warning sign:— this is territory where angels fear to tread. We are headed into a storm of ideas; with hope we move forward, aware that the evolutionary process is liberating us from a dark past. I sense few sound and fixed positions.
In looking up the definition of MARRIAGE in Webster's I was disappointed to read that the latin root of the word is "maritus", which translates "male". I should not be surprised as the male (latin vir) has driven the marriage machine since that awful anthropomorphic version of creation in the Garden of Eden; only tribal males could have sanctioned this fable in those days we call biblical. From the Hunter-Gatherer era the female seems to have been fated by her biology to be the dependent baby maker and her need for domestication.
Liberation in an Age of Technology…
Our age of technology is offering liberation from these age-old concepts. Desmond Morris offers good insights into human evolution in THE NAKED APE and THE NAKED WOMAN. I doubt that Paul the 6th and the other Roman experts on human anatomy and conceiving-birthing practices have read either. The roles and union of man and woman in the age of technology are undergoing seismic changes. The ramifications of using the word "marriage" call for a 101 course in the mystery of human sexuality.
Looking back to my early days in priesthood and over 50 years of my witnessing numbers of ceremonial weddings, perhaps 350, I can say briefly that few were Christian yet were performed in Catholic ritual. How that ritual effected lives is up for grabs. Maria of Sound of Music fame offered the model of the pomp and circumstance ceremony designed for royal shows while adapting these regal customs to the ordinary couple broke their parents' pocket book. Virtual teeny-boppers in low-cut gowns and boys who had to pop the cork to exhibit their masculinity haunt the dreams of my aging years … so many lasted just a few years. (Oh how I dreaded wedding rehearsals, a farcical practice I refused involvement in after being ordained five years.) Some merely played house in adult bodies with a child's mind and institutional religion was often a co-dependent in the games. There were those who expressed well and grew in love and persevered, raising good children, such as Ann and Peter, now treasured and my loyal friends of 54 years.
Emotionally I have difficulty in writing about the general subject of marriage, perhaps due to the death of my father when I am two and the clerical cloud under which I entered the marriage state close to 50; my formative years were in a single parent household. I have difficulty keeping separate my personal feelings and objectivity. I may offer some clarification here as to religious hang-ups in marriage as I begin our trek with a movie we recently viewed called BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. On an historical scale of one to ten I begin this series with an understanding of marriage at around a three.
Wait McMahon, you have jumped centuries ahead as one might know Brideshead Revisited is still the Victorian Period, and there are automobiles on road and lots of female cigarette smoke … Yes, I know the period; while watching in fascination the dowager mother control her homosexual son and his compliant sister I saw them use marriage not as a state of romance and personal love but rather a contractual refuge from the evil of passion and human sexuality. I could see the 4th century monastic influence, fearful of natural feelings and male-female psychology, attempting to bury nature's creative instincts; trivial religious practices forced on the children even into adults years kept them "pure" and "worthy" so as to enter the eternal kingdom. Their "proper" Catholic religion did not approve of marriage; they suffered the condition. The daughter endures a horrible but correctly-arranged marriage and sees herself in time sold by her proper husband to her lover; mother triumphs as daughter cannot sanction the trade as divorce and remarriage will endanger her heavenly salvation. The atheist, a new comer to this pathological tradition, resists the family seduction until the very end, …until… embittered with rejection of genuine love he revisits the chapel at Brideshead … and dips his finger in the holy water fount … This man of free love seems to question if there isn't something in the old lady's thinking after all.
The golden thread of fear of human sexuality, particularly female bodily functions (read THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant, 1997 and CHALICE AND THE BLADE by Riane Eisler, 1988) is recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, possibly written in the 7th century BCE; after my brother's death his widow reminded me of the Levirate Law (Duet: 25: 5-10) and I smiled, aware that my sister-in-law was a childless widow; with humor she let me off the hook as I was a celibate priest.
For the sake of making a series of this hunt I catalogue eight eras of the union of woman and man as this amateur sees them, particularly in the books I have read. I offer the following epochs or eras:
We shall attempt a keen eye on the institutional church's position during these periods. Our polar train of thought has many roads to travel … all aboard! Today we have room for only one era stop.
MARRIAGE STOP #1:
Historically we fall back on archeology and the Leakey scientists to interpret the bones of Lucy … Not the Beatles' Lucy in Sky with Diamonds (LSD; not so bad a comparison for we are on a "trip") … and we have to imagine what the union between male and female was like. I would think in a migrating people there would be little romance (this for the wealthy in superficial Era #7). When I come down to Australia in May I want to research the Aborigines, mindful of their mating habits as viewed in the book I once had and now cannot locate … something about Downunder in the title. My classmate Fr. Ron Burke spent years in Guatemala. I questioned Ron on the sexual customs of the indigenous peasant; the male rose at dawn to go into the field and returned at nightfall and the only contact wife and husband had was when she wanted another child, the primitive instinct for survival of the human species and the cultural need for children to take care of their aging parents being uppermost.
Evidence outside a few fragmented bones offers little of mating practices. In her VALLEY OF THE HORSES Jean Auel's woman, Ayla, is imaginatively and innocently independent. She is not humped as is the practice of the animal kingdom but mates eye-to-eye, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, genital-to-genital. An evolutionist might ask when did this magnificent switch from back to front take place? And what is the psychology that goes along with this adaptation. Who knows what was the status of male and female relationships during the initial migrations of Homo Erectus from Africa 125,000 years ago; the instinct for tribal survival warrants that we accept male and female mated.
The Aborigines of Australia today have unique "sexual union" practices, leaving one to wonder about the human practices of those who 19,000 years ago painted bulls and other animals in the Lascaux Caves of modern day France. The bull is a powerful sexual symbol and we could write ten papers from ancient mythologies (MYTHS and MODERN MAN by J & S Roper), like the bull given by Poseidon to King Minos and today's modern spiritual labyrinth. Yet "in popular myths of all cultures woman is the temptress who is irrespirable and who is both the highest prize and the ultimate destruction of man". (We all need that 101 in human sexuality.)
The imaginative Genesis account of Adam and Eve cannot be included in this era; the folk lore stories are authentically ancient tribal traditions, yet gathered and compiled into what is now called the Torah during the period of Jewish exile in Babylon, using language and customs of the period, circa 700 B.C.E. The male Judaic priesthood is up front in the writing and compiling of tribal traditions. One would have difficulty in finding a female rabbi at this point of history.
Oral traditions are subject to the influence of gender or putting such bluntly they are more than likely subject to the thinking of the male king. When you have such militarists as Alexander (325 BCE, some call him the Great) pillaging and marauding the known world one has carefully selected historical records. Obviously male dominance overshadows woman's dignity and rights and so history tells us of men's superiority. The warrior Alex always marries a daughter of the defeated king for political purposes. The O.T. Book of Esther, an Egyptian story around the year 114 BCE, offers us the power of a loving woman while the Book of Judith shows us the frightful power of a warrior woman. Both females will remain in the background of Judaism and surely never proclaimed saints of the roman church … wrong gender and all that.
Next week let's take a look at Sarah and the lot of the Egyptian woman in Era #2.
Tom McMahon, still married and glad of it yet at times puzzled. 07/03/2009
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 28
Image Credits: The image used in the headline is adapted from an image available from AllPosters entitled "Tender Passion" available at: www.allposters.com. Clicking on the images in the body of the article will take you to the original source.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?