Thursday, December 8, 2011
A Sororal Warning to Fellow Thomists: This rather anecdotal post delves into matters almost entirely consisting of poetic knowledge, relying on intuition and immediate appeals to common sense often bereft of syllogisms. May produce eye-rolling and groans in many Aristotelians.

This essay was born in September, where so many times in that month, I saw Father Krzysztof mount the steps to the altar in his samite fiddleback, embroidered with a lush depiction of the Immaculate Conception in swirling robes of white and blue. The Scriptural verses which speak of her and the hymns dedicated to her had resounded throughout St. Clement Church, as the congregation admired the intercessor for both the weak and the strong. And even as she intercedes for us, does she not also soften many who claim to hate God? And can we of the West ever deny that devotion to her moulded the chivalry to which the best of its people yet cling? 

However, has that chivalry (whether cultivated in men or expected by women) occasionally gone too far in elevating women in general for the sake of the Virgin Mother? So far that even men of good will have given up the practice? In the rather insipid (but otherwise inoffensive) hymn, 'Gentle Woman,' there is a verse which is apt to make any member of the male 'species' roll his eyes:

Blessed are you among women 
Blessed in turn all women too  

'So estrogen can make you holy?' one priest wrote on his blog concerning that very line. While I agree with him concerning the puffed-up, anti-masculine sentiment the song implies, I winced at his language. Was he reducing womanhood to the hormones and chemicals that govern the characteristics of what it is physically to be female? Whether it is fitting for men to speak of their manhood in such a way is a matter that men must settle, but civilized instinct indicates that just as the reproductive organs of a woman are veiled within her flesh, so should her womanhood be veiled in discourse.

However, the flesh is fallen, and is it not wrong to put a sinful creature on a pedestal? For whether purer than man or not, she is fallen, and eaten up with her peculiar tendencies towards vice. Perhaps attendance at church is mostly made up of women, but when women take control of the liturgy, does it not often give way to hysteria, irreverence, or even spiritual prostitution? Priestesses have always been either possessed virgins or temple harlots, and they had one unifying principle: they were vessels for either gods or demons, not promoters of morality or ethics. More importantly, they were not 'givers of sacred things' as the sacerdotal title would imply. The postmodern, ahistorical attempt to revive paganism only confirms that notion.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, it would seem that no human being in a yet unbeatified state is to be venerated.

Sed Contra, the Gospels do not encourage us to judge. Christian tradition is to esteem one's self as the lowest of the low, which is really the only logical thing to do, for true self-knowledge will always give us cause for improvement. A traditional Catholic justly possesses the lowest opinion of the practice of taking Holy Communion in the hand, but he may not regard the Catholic who even carelessly drops the Host as less virtuous than he. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says that one learns humility through humiliation. Elevating others at one's own expense can be a very good practice for cultivating that virtue.

Even Aristotle, who could not have foreseen the paradoxical and supernatural demands of Christian ethics, observed that a man possessed of one vice, must sometimes adopt the practice of the opposite vice in order to rescue himself from his own disposition. Alcoholics must become teatotallers, and those who have too severly abused their sexuality may have to practice celibacy for the duration of their lives. Praxis often entails actions not directly following from our rational code in order to produce the proper balance in the soul. 

Does this argument then justify idealizing the 'fair sex'? Either physically or spiritually? Alas, now one must delve into the mucky world of experience and instances.

I was six years old when watching a film where the heroine was said to be able 'to tread on cobwebs without breaking them.' I was ten years old when I began reading books in which the fair maidens almost universally could laugh 'like a silvery peal of music.' 'Really?' I wondered in genuine puzzlement, 'and I thought one was doing well not to sound like a braying ass when laughing heartily.' At fourteen, I came across a novel where the lady had sweet breath even after eating fish. It was not difficult to find similar hyperbolæ regarding their lovely and irresistible characters. By the time one is a teenager though, such metaphors and descriptions are a bit ridiculuous.

One's feelings towards glorifying the feminine, as in the examples cited above, do serve to steer a girl down the path of either the lady or the feminist, and a boy, down that of the gentleman or just simply, the male. 

I turned abruptly about face from the path of feminism at age thirteen for two reasons: the horrific moral evils the movement promotes, (e.g. abortion) and the fact that the major tenet of feminism is that women ought not to be expected to behave better than men. Females would no longer be martyrs in the home, and they would certainly not provide men with the example of spiritual submission, as St. Paul instructed them to. A wife to act as her husband's gentle counsellor? His conscience? No, indeed! 

I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there. _Maureen Reagan

Only the modern era could produce a movement that would proudly espouse practical and moral evils as the fruits of its labours. No, a woman often does better in the role of Pontius Pilate's wife than that of Pilate himself.

Not to throw an ad hominem spear in the direction of feminists, but it seems all too often that they never learned to gently laugh at some of those poetic exagerrations mentioned above or to appreciate their sisters to whom these sayings were applied. Bitterness that one has not been worshipped as those women were worshipped is not good ground for any kind of ideology. There is a much better route to take.

Charles Dickens noted that there is a moral beauty which 'only exists in woman': that she is capable of loving in another that which she herself has never possessed. Women who dote on their lovelier, more talented, or more virtuous friends and sisters are examples of this. That affectionate, selfless virtue contra the vice of misogynistic, female envy are the two forces that form the feminine dichotomy between those who love the old notions of exalted womanhood and those who hate it.

And what of men who refuse to put women on a pedestal? As with feminists, there is occasionally an element of anger, though it might just as often arise from indifference. 

Concerning anger, it is not seemly in a man to growl on hearing a woman being praised, and anyone bearing witness to this rancour would immediately assume one of two causes: disappointment in love or overbearing women in his family. Neither of these are worthy things on which to base one's conduct.

As to indifference in men? That is another thing, especially concerning Eros, when one accepts the tenet that only what is truly known is truly loved. Ergo, 'love is blind' is patently false. A lady professor of mine once made the case that Shakespeare's sonnet, 130, in which he rather degrades the form and demeanour of his mistress, was a beautiful expression of realistic love. 

Yet, there was not one female or male in the class bereft of an arched eyebrow. While indeed it would be folly for the Bard to have painted 'roses damask'd' in his lover's cheeks when there were none, the subjectivity of love should have moved him to like her face as it was. Have not men who had always loved sapphire eyes turned their preference to emerald orbs on falling in love with a green-eyed woman?

Leaving aside romance however, perhaps indifference is more justified on the rational scale? After all, one cannot and should not be as devoted to all people as one is to one's spouse. Why should a man rise from his chair, because a skirted creature entered the room or kiss a hand because the owner is female? Why should he curb his language or speak more delicately just because a woman is in earshot? Why is she due any of his particular homage simply because she is the daughter of that first one who was made from a rib?

The answer is that (as science has even proven and continues to prove) the differences between men and women are indeed as psychically entrenched as they are physically. Placing the two genders in the natural world, without the artificial constructions of the postmodern order, woman is still a remarkable thing. She may not be as strong as man, but she is built to endure more, both in stamina of labour and in pain. She is eminently practical and useful, and in beayty, she is the climax of the symphony of Creation. Woman is the last thing God made, and He made her from the best of matter--the flesh and bone of a rational creature. 

Moving the argument again into the civilized realm where her beauty initially inspires poetry of the giddiest (and perhaps silliest) order, woman must also take up the more mundane duties of the home: 

It takes a woman all powdered and pink 
To joyously clean out the drain in the sink 
And it takes an angel with long golden lashes 
And soft dresden fingers 
For dumping the ashes... (Hello Dolly)

There is another paradox in woman that while she may inspire abstract ideals, she is often more fond of what is concrete. At least until some modernist gets a hold of her, women are more realistic than men:

Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men. _G. K. Chesterton

To inspire idealism and to ground the world in realism. What better alloy could there be in the metal of any creature?

It is in such an attitude as Chesterton's, romantic rationality, that allows one to see things in truth. To see something 'in truth' is farther than the seeming 'reality' of how it is and nearer than the chimeric ideal of how it ought to be. Balancing on the slender thread of this paradox allows one to pass over the offenses of a coarse, shrewish woman and treat every female as if she were a lady--to see Dulcinea in even the coarsest concierge. 

When a man moulds his thoughts and acts in this way, he works for the defeat of extreme feminism. For he renders unto women the appreciation they are not allowed to seek. The trials and sufferings of womanhood can only find their glory in silence. Whereas men are allowed to exalt in their victories, and society pays public homage to their entrance into manhood, a girl who takes up the burdens of womanhood must discreetly pass over the details. The male sex must take the female rite of passage for granted. If it does not, the postmodern era has shown us that women who are indignant enough will degrade themselves and their sisters by dragging womanliness and all its secrets into the public eye.

Such is the necessity of chivalry in man. In woman, it cultivates the attitude that will not only lead her towards striving for sainthood, but to secure the same for the men about her. When she says, 'I must act in this way, because it is the proper sphere of my sex. I must do this humble thing, because it is not a man's province. I must bear this suffering quietly because of Eve's curse. I must bend, because I am woman, and the Lord has asked this of me,' she steps on the head of the serpent that lured our first mother from her throne.


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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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