June 10, 2015

Woman and Redemption

By Alice von Hildebrand *

Dedicated to his Eminence, Raymond Cardinal Burke

Any reverent reading of Genesis sheds abundant light on the key role played by woman in the economy of redemption.  She was created last – the apex of creation – and her body was the only material creature taken from the flesh of a person. Whereas Adam’s body was taken from the slime of the earth – an un-aristocratic beginning – her body was taken from the one of Adam honored by having an immortal soul. Worth mentioning is also Adam’s joy when waking up from his sleep and seeing her for the first time: he exclaimed: “blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh” acknowledging thereby that she was worthy to his companion. Then he declared her to the “mother of the living” – proclaiming that she has received the unfathomable privilege of giving life. However he himself is not called “the father of the living”. God also states that man is to leave father and mother and adhere to his wife. Between woman and man there is a unique bond, but they had to differ from each other for their reciprocal mission is to complement each other. The fullness of human nature is to be found in their union.

When Eve gave birth to Cain, she joyfully exclaimed: “with the help of God I have brought a man into the world”. Adam is not mentioned.  I can picture him in the background, sheepishly muttering: “I too had a role in the becoming of my son”. Why this omission?  The reason is obvious: Eve proves to be a budding theologian: for what Adam gave her was his semen generously put by God in his body and over which, once given to his wife, he has no control whatsoever. He can do nothing to guarantee that it will fertilize her egg. Crucial is to recall that the very moment a new living substance comes into existence, an amazing thing takes place: God simultaneously places a new soul into this new animal body which, through the divine action, becomes the body of a person. The latter has an immortal soul which can be produced neither by father nor mother. All they can do is to give a chance to what God Himself has placed in their bodies, to produce a new physical organism.  Animals too have living bodies but are denied personhood.  It is only when God Himself who at the very moment of fertilization, places a totally new soul which He alone could create and places into the woman’s body that a new human person comes into existence. The newly conceived person has a dignity that no other material being possesses. This divine intervention sheds light on the horror called “abortion”. Hence, Eve was fully justified in giving God credit. Let us also not forget, that whatever has been touched by God has a note of sacredness. This is why Eve’s body is blessed. This divine contact gives her body a dignity that calls for awe and veiling; it is in this light that we should understand the command of St. Paul that women should be veiled in church. It is sign of their privileged dignity. How it is to be hoped that a Christian husband, worthy of this name remembers this when he embraces his wife. But today, alas, the secularists have persuaded feminist numbskulls that the very make-up of the female body is a sign of her metaphysical inferiority.

The reading of a fact will depend on the mind’s approach to this fact. It will inevitably be differently interpreted by a “liberal” mind and one blessed with humility, that is the only adequate posture for reading God’s message: on one’s knees. The validity of Biblical scholarship depends upon the metaphysical position adopted by the scholar: this explains why his work leads to either a deepening of one’s faith or to a “liberal” interpretation, inevitable when one reads this sacred book with the deforming lenses of human pride. Liberal scholars have arthritic knees. Such a scholar’s mind is set upon refusing to be “baptized”.

Feminists have fallen victims to the spirit of the time which is definitely not the Holy Spirit. The way the female body is “read” gives us a key to the moral status of a society. Alas, this carries with it a condemnation of our contemporary world where not only is the female body shamelessly “unveiled”, but as a result it is more and more seen as an object of pleasure – thereby objectively denying her dignity. We only need go to a mall or looking at a fashion magazine to see how low we have fallen. The key virtue of reverence, that – to quote Dietrich von Hildebrand – might be called the mother of all virtues, has definitely been “buried”.

How clever the Evil one was in convincing our decadent society that wearing a veil indicates some sort of inferiority: purposely ignoring that we paradoxically veil both what is sacred, and what is filthy (it is said in the Bible; “I shall cover their nakedness”) but obviously for radically different reasons.  To some, veiling plainly indicates that what is covered is “filthy”, and indeed this is the deplorable puritanical view. 

God had given permission to our first parents to eat the fruit of any tree found in the beautiful garden of Eden, except from for one. Then the serpent comes in:  he is astute, he is sharp, and devises a very clever way of bringing Eve to disobey the divine order. He is too clever to challenge it: he “only” raises a question. Can’t persons raise questions? Is it not typical of their dignity that they can raise them? Animals do not raise questions. But there is a wide gamut of possible questions: some are plainly stupid: “Why can’t two plus two be five?” There are meaningless questions, there are coarse and vulgar questions (why can’t I spit in your face?)   There are intelligent questions, and there are questions which, by the very fact that they are raised, condemn the person raising them. Here I would like to write in large letters: CAVEAT.  Alas, it is tragically typical of our “time” precisely to raise questions that it is shameful to raise. Teaching has taught me that we can judge a student’s intelligence and moral integrity by the questions that he raises. The serpent cleverly asked Eve why she was not permitted to eat of the fruit of one particularly tree inviting her to question God’s ‘right” to give commands. The answer is clear and prompt: because if we do, we shall die. Then the Serpent – the father of lies – practices his “trade”: he tells her a huge lie. It is confirmed by the Spanish proverb: the cake and the lie should be big (“la torta y la mentira, gorda”). He arrogantly asserts: No, you shall not die; you shall become “like God”. This could be the object of a long chapter. To challenge an order given by a legitimate authority should be condemned because it denies his right to give orders. God being God is fully entitled to prohibit certain things: to question this right is already to step into forbidden territory. Eve falls into the trap, and engages in a conversation with the Evil one, when in fact, she should have said: “Vade retro, Satana”. The drama will pursue its course. The perennial temptation of rebellions for creatures is to resent their being “only” creatures. Therefore Lucifer declared proudly: “non serviam”. Much of modern philosophy – let us recall Feuerbach and Nietzsche – makes is clear that God’s existence is not welcome. Nietzsche tells us “honestly” in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” that he does not want God to exist: it would limit his “self-glory”.

Once Eve has tasted the sweetness of the forbidden food, she gives it to Adam who does not make any objection and thereby shares in her disobedience and guilt.  Suddenly their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked: that is, stripped of the beauty that God had given them. For it is God Himself that gives us “wedding gowns” without which we are unworthy to attend the Wedding of His son and partake of his divine meal.

The punishment is immediate and fearful: death, that is, not only the brutal separation from their Creator but also the separation of the human body from its soul. Moreover, man is condemned to earn his bread with the sweat of his brow (something that some men try desperately to escape from), and a curse that Eve shares with him. She, being the main culprit, is severely punished in the sphere that was her glory: to give life. Indeed, “a woman in labor” means being in excruciating pains. There is a deep symbolism in this “curse”. She has eaten the fruit of death, and pays the price by suffering in giving life.

God then tells us that there will be an enmity between Satan and the woman, and that one day his head will be crushed. In the course of time – after centuries of darkness during which the majority of women were abominably used and abused by men – God created a female child, born without the curse of original sin, tota pulchra, blessed by God from the moment of her conception; her name was Mary who by declaring herself to be the handmaid of the Lord, received the unfathomable privilege of being fecundated (fertilized) by the Holy Spirit. Christianity was born in her womb, and changed the world. The birth of this blessed a creature – a female – must have been puzzling and upsetting to the Evil one. He had achieved a great victory in defeating Eve. How will he face this new challenge? One trump is to try to stain Mary’s honor. Could the child she has conceived be the fruit of sin? But an angel protects her and informs Joseph in a dream, that she is all pure and has been fecundated by the Holy Spirit.  From this moment on, the very existence of Mary will baffle the Serpent. He realizes that the enmity between him and the Woman has now taken a totally new turn: Eve was defeated. Mary will conquer by declaring herself to be the Servant of the Lord. Through her fiat, the Evil one will suffer a crushing defeat.

The Middle Ages – called the “dark ages” by those blinded by the light of faith – is a glorious period in the course of which the devotion to the Blessed One Among Women will blossom and, give birth to the noble male virtue called “chivalry”. It will be a constant source of inspiration to great saints, great writers, and great artists. St. Bernard sings her praise in words that have the perfume of the supernatural. Dante’s love for Beatrice reminds women of the beauty of their mission. St. Dominic has a special devotion for the blessed one. Jacopone da Todi adds his voice to the choir of those honoring her through his sublime Stabat Mater Dolorosa. The Middle Ages is indeed Satan’s dark ages. But he refuses to accept defeat. The Renaissance gives him an opportunity of spreading the germs of secularism, and the so-called Reformation will be marked by a radical decrease of the loving devotion that Mary had enjoyed during the Middle Ages. He spread the lie that Catholics adored the Holy Virgin – thereby offending her Son. Many ill - informed Protestants assume that Mary is deified and thereby  justify their abandoning any sort of devotion to the mother of the Savior. Let us recall Joyce Davidson’s book “Smoke over the Mountain” (later she became Mrs. C.S. Lewis) in which she writes that a Catholic priest, praying the rosary along the St. Laurent’s river, was severely chided by Christ himself reminding them that “you have only one Master”. The priest gets the message; the devotion to Mary is offensive to her son. It is not by accident that feminism was born in Protestant countries. Once the Blessed One Among Women is denied her rightful place in the drama of redemption, women will be the victims. The abuse of the “weak” sex always threatens a society where Mary is ignored. The time was ripe for launching feminism; a very talented writer, Henry Ibsen, wrote a play entitled “The Doll’s House” which, inevitably, was to spread the disease in Scandinavian country. For, the most powerful tools for spreading ideas are plays, movies, TV shows, and even songs. This play was going to trigger a female revolt which must have delighted the Evil One. Feminism was now fully justified. Following its course (most diseases are contagious, health is not) it will spread like wildfire, and in the course of time, invaded Catholic countries where the cult of cult given to Mary (hyperdulia) was still flourishing.

All Satan needed do was to enlist the help of a famous and talented woman. He found one in Simone de Beauvoir – already famous because of her friendship with J.P. Sartre – whose philosophy was conquering a country devastated by a Second World War in less than 26 years. She wrote a book that following in the footsteps of Saul Alinski, she should have dedicated to Satan, entitled “The Second Sex”. It is a masterful combination of errors and lies. The purpose is clearly to convince women that their “mediocrity”, their social and political insignificance, are to be traced back to their biology. Let us listen to her message: whereas Man, the male, is a human being; she is “only” a “female”. She dares tell us that a woman is not a complete reality but rather a “becoming”. She suffers from a castration complex, conscious that there is something missing in her anatomy. It matches in stupidity the remark that ‘a young niece of mine aged six, the oldest of three girls who seeing a little boy for the first time at a doctor’s office, diagnosed him as having a tumor’.  No valid excuse can be found for her! According to her, the woman is purely passive, whereas the male is active. Here she falls victim to the famous mistaken claim of Aristotle that man is superior to woman because he is “active”; she is only “passive”. Granted that activity is superior to passivity, The Philosopher, as St. Thomas calls him, makes a very grave confusion between passivity and receptivity – the latter being one of the noblest human attitudes. For in fact is there anything in our lives that we have not received?

The female feels “alienated”; whereas the man is “transcendent” – one of the many ambiguous words in our vocabulary. 

She writes further that “women are disgusted by their own body”. Granted that men and women share in the humiliation of ejecting their excrements – to bleed or giving one’s blood has always been viewed as heroic: Christ has shed his blood to save us; martyrs gave their blood for their faith; heroes give blood for their country. It would be shocking indeed if one said: “So and so has sacrificed his urine and his excrements for his country!” This is a coarse remark indeed, but sheds light on the stupidity of her claim. Moreover De Beauvoir has the right to speak for herself, I deny her the right to speak in the name of other women, blessed by the consciousness of the greatness and mystery of their body. Any woman deserving to be called one, has an innate feeling of reverence toward her own body. But any lie, when cleverly presented, will be used as a trump card by the Evil One and alas, many numbskull females will buy this diabolical merchandise.

Feminists are the greatest enemies of femininity, and their punishment is that they have succeeded in murdering chivalry – so prevalent in the Middle Ages and so deeply Catholic. Today one is pleasantly shocked when meeting a male who still understands that chivalry is one of their noble missions toward the other sex. It is a necessary fruit of their awareness through faith that women have the very same body as the Mother of our Redeemer who has a mother and no earthly father. This is no longer possible in a society where men and women are “rivals”; they compete on the human theatre where earthy fame, money, power, control are the cherished prizes.

Her poisonous eloquence tells us further that “women produce nothing” (sic) for to give birth to a child does not deserve praise: after all, it is done better by animals. The prison of women is their despicable body. A woman should therefore liberate herself from the bonds of maternity. She once wrote the phrase: “I hate babies”. When a woman wrote such words, the sun sets. Marriage should be abolished altogether: “it diminishes men; annihilates women”. It is obscene to make a duty of something that should be the fulfillment of a spontaneous urge. Attack on the family follows suit. Children – when and if they are wanted – should be taken care of by the state: for such educators will inevitably be better than mothers who tend to be irritable being by personally involved, and thereby hurt their progeny. In other words, Socialism (at one point she definitely refers to the great Soviet Union) should give hope to women – a country that liberates them from the mediocre duties of house hold duties and enables them  to enter the work force  thereby contributing to the glorious “wheel of progress”.

From what we have said, we can draw the sad conclusion that the contemporary world is at a cross road and prey to a deadly disease. We need courage to acknowledge it and diagnose it.  From what I have said, it seems luminous that the devilish attack on marriage and the family is the main cause of a disaster that will destroy not only our nation, but the world. Once the bond that God has established between man and woman, – poisoned by the mendacious propaganda of the news media – is accepted a propagate in so called education; once the woman  loses sight of her glorious mission, and opts for death, the world is, humanly speaking, doomed. Once truth and error are no longer distinguished, moral good and moral evil are willfully confused, the serpent has achieved his greatest victory since he convinced Eve to eat of the forbidden news. Should we opt for despair?  No, indeed, for God will have the last word but a new army of martyrs is called for.

What is crucial is to identify among all the dangers facing us and the one that should be challenged first. The future of our society will depend upon our willingness to SEE that no society can survive if our vision of what a human life should be, is lost sight of. Our educational system has betrayed its children: relativism, opening the door to all sorts of moral and intellectual distortions, has dominated our schools and university for many years; the awesomeness of the natural moral law has been ridiculed and viewed as an attack on our “freedom of choice”.

The diabolical attack on maternity should be our first concern because once accepted as legitimate, and justified by “freedom of choice”, the very foundation of human life will be shaken to its very roots: religious, moral, intellectual, social and political. We are driving toward an abyss and should open our eyes and see the danger. Neither political power, nor money, nor the amazing technology that “we” have has conquered it. Far from solving the problem, it has made it worse because without a sound philosophy, it will be misused and inevitably lead to suicide. We can now glorify ourselves that if we cannot as yet create the world by a fiat, we can destroy it by using the same word.

The future of any society, nay of the world, depends upon the soundness of its “heart”, that is, its relationship to God, and his awareness of the moral law, the dignity of the word “truth”, and the key role that women have been called upon to play from the very beginning of creation. May God have mercy on apostates and apostasy which is much worse that the most decadent paganism. It is a betrayal.

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.