Dr. Alice von Hildebrand The mystery of sexuality

Materialism is a never dying temptation. We are born and live in a world  created by God,  perceived through our senses.  We see objects, we hear sounds, we sense, we touch, we smell. Already very small children respond to the glory of the universe in which we have been born; the beauty of a star studded sky, of a glorious sunset, of the radiance of a spring day. Sense knowledge is shared with animals but they too have sensations. But having been denied the dignity of personhood, the sense information they receive  will be very differently “read.”

Our bodies are parts of this awesome cosmos. They are visible,  extended in space, have weight, size, color. These again are features that we share with other material creatures.  It should not surprise us that Aristotle defines man as a rational animal. Why animal? Because of the characteristics we share with other animated creatures; why rational? Because man alone among all visible, material creatures is capable of reasoning. Like all living things on this earth, we are born, we grow, we develop, and then slowly our bodies decline, and end in death. The temptation is therefore great to see man as just another animal  with only one specific difference: reason.

We claim that valid as it is to underline all the features that a human being shares with  animals, his body being  essentially linked to a soul, all these characteristics will speak a very different language. For the soul is a spiritual substance that  has none of the characteristics of matter:  it is not visible, it is not divisible, it has no color, no shape, no weight, and last but not least,  it is immortal. Therefore man is neither just a body, nor just a soul: he is a human person made to God’s image and likeness, incarnated in a body.

This bond between body and soul is so close that inevitably it will radically modify our physical make up. This claim should justify our making the following paradoxical statement: the abyss separating man from higher animals is powerfully expressed in the very thing that seems to unite them, namely, his body.

This becomes luminous upon realizing that whereas many animals have much sharper senses than we humans (the sight of eagles , the hearing of dogs, the sense of smell of bears, the speed of predators  etc), they do not perceive beauty. Their senses are guides for survival. They do not carry a spiritual message, pointing upwards.

When we refer to man’s body, it is crucial that the word “human” be added. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to fatal misunderstandings.  This is why John Paul II’s message coined “Theology of the Body,” can so easily be misread by people who, since their youth, have been poisoned by the dangerous vapors of materialism.

Let me be more specific:  the abyss separating man from animals finds a powerful expression in their sexuality.  To most people the word “sexuality” is exclusively biological. This is a dangerous mistake, and we shall try to shed light on this widespread misunderstanding.

Far from denying that sexuality finds a valid expression in the biological sphere (“they shall become one flesh“) and  that this also applies to animals under various forms), it can easily be misread, unless we grasp the radical difference between speaking of male and female in the animal realm, and between the Human male and the human female.  In speaking of masculinity and femininity we clearly refers to differences which essentially also have a religious, spiritual, intellectual, affective, human and social dimension.

The spiritual complementariness of the two sexes is evident to anyone willing to see,  that is who is not blinded by his fascination with the biological sphere. To limit one’s horizon to the physical expression of this crucial complementariness, will inevitably lead to a fatal caricature of femininity, being either limited to her crucial role in the preservation of the species, or as a pure object capable of fulfilling the dictatorial demands of a powerful instinct.

In our materialistic society, rooted in its disastrous philosophy, all that sex means for many  is that like fast food, it is a short cut to intense physical pleasure. Hence its power over  human beings - fully shared by animals.

If sexuality were exclusively biological, the words of Christ telling us that in heaven human beings will neither marry nor be given in marriage  and will be like angels, would  lead to the conclusion that the two sexes will then be abolished. This is a claim from which all of us would immediately reject.   In heaven, one thing is certain: men will remain men; women will remain women, but the biological sphere will be radically transcended.  This transcendence does not imply that its beauty and meaning will  be lost: no, but it will be both fulfilled and enhanced.

Man (homo): this “Divine Invention“, is comprised of both male and female, admirably complementary, admirably made to enrich each other. One only needs read the  story of the foundation of religious orders  to see that their founders were  often assisted by a woman; St. Benedict was of one mind and one soul with his sister, Saint Scholastica. St. Francis of Assisi was best understood by St.Clare;  we all know the spiritual affinity which existed between St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross and St. Francis of Sales and ST. Jeanne Francoise de Chantal, to mention but a few.

This admirable enrichment and complementary is to be found in all domains: not only religious, but also intellectual, affective, human, and social. Let us recall the words of Dante, referring to Beatrice. It is to her that he owed his “Vita Nuova”. She was his muse, his inspiration. The words he dedicated to her after her death, give her the highest possible praise that a man can give to a woman.  She inspired the “Divine Comedy” - this Catholic literary masterpiece par excellence.

In a remarkable talk that Edith Stein (now St. Edith Stein) gave in Salzburg in l930, she admirably sketched some of the striking differences between the two sexes. She remarks that women are more person’s centered than men. A new born baby moves their  hearts; men are likely to be more attracted by a new computer. Maternity is something so beautiful that in Holy Scriptures its perfection is attributed to God Himself: we are told in the Old Testament that if a mother were to abandon the fruit of her womb, God will never abandon his children.  In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul tells them that he is going “through the pains of childbirth’”( 4, l9) for their sake. It is a woman‘s mission to awaken in men a greater  sensitivity for what is “human”, for what is “weak”, and thereby to  “humanize” him. This is a point that Chesterton made in “What is Wrong with the World.”

Personal beings are infinitely superior to impersonal ones, and yet  the craving to control and to manipulate in so strong in many men that machines will always be tempting for them.
Edith Stein remarks further that women are more concerned with the concrete than with the abstract. This is clearly related to the first difference between them. Edith Stein is pointing for man’s fascination with theories; woman are more concerned about individuals. A man can write a brilliant treatise about education. A mother educates her child, this unique little creature confided to her, so different from other children. She knows that each little one is unique, and not just a “type”. Finally  -- and this is crucial, women are more interested in the living than in the non living.  From the beginning, men have been the great “killers” -- in a way, it was their mission;  they had to protect their family from predators whose physical strength by far exceeded their own. This challenged them to make tools and instruments that compensated for their weakness. A sword can compete with a wild bear‘s claws; man’s nails cannot.

From our very youth, most of us are, acquainted with the Bible. We read and re read it, but do we pay sufficient attention to the amazing words uttered by Adam about Eve:  he calls her the mother of the living.  Few qualifications can  equal this one in dignity. The bond between a woman and life is so profound that it sheds light on the serpent’s hatred of the  “weak sex“. Indeed, being a “murderer” from the beginning he inevitably hates life. Hence, his arch enemy is the woman.  This is clearly the reason why the Evil one addressed himself to Eve, and not to Adam. St. Augustine - this luminary of the Church -, mistakenly explains it by saying that the serpent turned to the weaker one, I.e. the one easier to defeat.  In fact, the wily animal addressed himself to the woman, because being exceedingly cunning, he knew how great was the power Eve had over Adam. Once she yielded,  he would follow suit. This is exactly what happened.

This sublime bond  between a woman and life received a new glory when Mary accepted to become the Mother of Christ, He who declared solemnly that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Eve was called mother of the living; Mary gave birth to the One who is Life itself. Meditating upon  this makes one shudder with horror  about the legalization of abortion. It is a clear indication that we have entered the Apocalyptic time, when the final and fearful duel between The Woman and the Dragon will take place.

More in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

The hour is grave: when innumerable women (who are often victims) endorse the murder of the fruit of their womb,  the legion of evil spirits have a big celebration; whereas Angels (if they can weep) sob.

It is the call of the hour to wake up to the fact that sexuality is a magnificent divine plan unveiling the mutual fecundation that man brings to woman and vice versa, and to warn people how dangerous it is to limit sexuality to the biological sphere. The Theology of the Body to be properly understood  (and mans talent for misunderstanding is nothing short of remarkable) should be read in  its true meaning: the Theology of the Human body, that is  a physical reality inhabited by a person made to God’s image and likeness.

The animal male and the animal female complement reach other biologically. Deprived of personhood,  their complementariness is limited to this domain.  The admirable enrichment found between man and woman is to be found in all domains of human existence, and is also expressed in their biological make up. But whereas the animal male is attracted by the female only when she is in heat (at very specific periods of the year), and has little to do with females outside of these specific  periods, the mutual attraction of a man for a woman and vice versa “never sleeps”, because  they know that love essentially desires union, and this desire should be “super actual“, that is not time bound.

This is mysterious expressed in the fact that a loving husband’s interest in his wife is not limited to the periods in which she can conceive. Is not God  telling us thereby that the desire for union between human beings is a typical expression of love characterized by a constant “intentio unionis”. 

It is high time that we fully realize that “sexuality” is much richer and much deeper than the biological complementariness  we share with animals.  We only need meditate on the love uniting the Blessed one among Women, with St. Joseph, a union that already realized on this earth what “sexuality” will be in eternity, where “all things will be made new.”

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