The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 35.


The World the Woman Loves

CHAPTER 12 Man and Woman

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
In human love there are two poles: man and woman. In Divine love there are two poles: God and man. From this difference, finite in the first instance, infinite in the second, arise the major tensions of Me. The difference in the God-man relationship between Eastern religions and Christianity is that in the East man moves toward God; in Christianity, God moves first toward man. The Eastern way fails because man cannot lift himself by his own bootstraps. Grass does not become a banana, through its own efforts. If carbon and phosphates are to live in man, man must come down to them, and elevate them to himself. So if man is to share the Divine Nature, God must come down to man. This is the Incarnation.

The first difference in the man-woman relationship can be understood in terms of a philosophical distinction between intelligence and reason which St. Thomas Aquinas makes, and which has saved his followers from falling into errors like those of Henri Bergson. Intelligence is higher than reason. The angels have intelligence, but they have no reason. Intelligence is immediacy of understanding and, in the domain of knowledge, is best explained in terms of "seeing." When a mind says, "I see," he means that he grasps and comprehends. Reason, however, is slower. It is mediate, rather than immediate. It makes no leap, but takes steps. These steps in a reasoning process are threefold: major, minor, conclusion.

Applying the distinction to man and woman, it is generally true that man's nature is more rational and woman's, more intellectual. The latter is what is generally meant by intuition. The woman is slower to love, because love, for her, must be surrounded by a totality of sentiments, affections, and guarantees. The man is more impulsive, wanting pleasures and satisfactions, sometimes outside of their due relationship. For the woman, there must be a vital bond of relationship between herself and the one she loves. The man is more on the periphery and rim, and does not see her whole personality involved in his pleasures. The woman wants unity, the man, pleasure.

On the more rational side, the man often stands completely bewildered at a "woman's reasons." They are difficult for him to follow, because they are not capable of being broken down, analyzed, torn apart. They come as a "whole piece"; her conclusions obtrude without any apparent basis. Arguments seem to leave her cold. This is not to say who is right, for either approach could be right under different circumstances. In the trial of Our Blessed Lord the intuitive woman, Claudia, was right, and her practical husband, Pilate, was wrong. He concentrated on public opinion as a politician; she concentrated on justice, for the Divine Prisoner in her eyes was a "just man". This immediacy of conclusion can often make a woman very wrong as it did in the case of the wife of Zebedee, when she urged Our Lord to allow her sons to sit at his right and left side when He came into the Kingdom. Little did she see that a chalice of suffering had to be drunk first, for Divine Reason and Law has dictated that "no one would be crowned unless he had struggled."

A second difference is between reigning and governing. The man governs the home, but the woman reigns. Government is related to justice; reigning is related to love. Instead of man and woman being opposites, in the sense of contraries, they more properly complement one another as their Creator intended when He said: "It is not good for man to be alone." In the old Greek legend referred to by Plato, he stated that the original creature was a composite of man and woman and, for some great crime against God, this creature was divided, each going its separate way but neither destined to be happy until they were reunited in the Elysian fields.

The Book of Genesis reveals that original sin did create a tension between man and woman, which tension is solved in principle by man and woman in the New Testament becoming "one flesh" and a symbol of the unity of Christ and His Church. This harmony, then, should exist between man and woman, in which each fills up, at the store of the other, his or her lacking measure in quiet and motion.

The man is normally more serene than the woman, more absorbent of the daily shocks of life, less disturbed by trifles. But, on the other hand, in great crises of life, it is the woman who, because of her gentle power of reigning, can give great consolation to man in his troubles. When he is remorseful, sad, and disquieted, she brings comfort and assurance. As the surface of the ocean is agitated and troubled, but the great depths are calm, so in the really great catastrophes which affect the soul, the woman is the depth and man the surface.

The third difference is that the woman finds less repose in mediocrity than man. The more a person is attached to the practical, the concrete, the monetary, and the material, the more his soul becomes indifferent to great values and, in particular, to the Tremendous Lover. Nothing so dulls the soul as counting, and only what is material can be counted. The woman is more idealistic, less content over a long period of time with the material, and more quickly disillusioned about the carnal. She is more amphibious than man, in the sense that she moves with great facility in the two zones of matter and spirit. The oft-repeated suggestion that woman is more religious than man has some basis in truth, but only in the sense that her nature is more readily disposed toward the ideal. The woman has a greater measure of the Eternal and man a greater measure of Time, but both are essential for an incarnational universe, in which Eternity embraces Time in a stable of Bethlehem. When there is descent into an equal degree of vice, there is always a greater scandal caused by a woman than the man. Nothing seems more a profanation of the sacred than a drunken woman. The so-called "double standard," which does not exist and which has no ethical foundation, is actually based on the unconscious impulse of man to regard woman as the preserver of ideals, even when he fails to live up to them.

There never can be a Giver without a Gift. This suggests the fourth difference. Man is generally the giver, woman the gift. The man has; the woman is. Man has a sentiment; woman is sentiment. Man is afraid of dying; woman is afraid of not living. She is unhappy unless she makes the double gift: first of herself to man, then of herself to posterity, in the form of children. This quality of immolation, because it involves the wholeness of self, makes a woman seem less heroic than a man. The man concentrates his passions of love into great focal points. When there is a sudden outburst of love, such as on a battlefield, he is immediately crowned the hero. The woman, however, identifies love with existence and scatters her self-oblation through life. By multiplying her sacrifices, she seems to be less of a hero. Her daily dissipation of vital energies in the service of others makes no one act seem outstanding. It may well be that the woman is capable of greater sacrifice than man, not only because she is gift, which is the same as surrender, but also because seeing ends rather than means, and destinies rather than the present, she sees the pearl of great price for which lesser fields may be sacrificed.

These differences are not irreconcilable opposites; rather, they are complementary qualities. Adam needed a helpmate, and Eve was made "flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone." The functional differences corresponded with certain psychic and character differences, which made the body of one in relation to another like the violin and the bow, and the spirit of one to another like the poem and meter.

There is no such problem as, "Which is the more valuable?" for in the Scriptures husband and wife are related, one to another, as Christ and His Church. The Incarnation meant Christ's taking unto Himself a human nature as a spouse and suffering and sacrificing Himself for it, that it might be unspotted and holy; so husband and wife are bound together in a union unbreakable except by death. But there is a problem which is purely relative, namely, "Which stands up better in a crisis - man or woman?" One can discuss this in a series of historical crises, but without arriving at any decision The best way to arrive at a conclusion is to go to the greatest crisis the world ever faced, namely, the Crucifixion of Our Divine Lord. When we come to this great drama of Calvary, there is one fact that stands out very clearly: men failed, Judas, who had eaten at His table, lifted up his heel against Him, sold Him for thirty pieces of silver, and then blistered His lips with a kiss, suggesting that all betrayals of Divinity are so terrible that they must be prefaced by some mark of esteem and affection. Pilate, the typical time-serving politician, afraid of incurring the hatred of his government if he released a man whom he already admitted was innocent, sentenced Him to death. Annas and Caiphas resorted to illegal night trials and false witnesses, and rent their garments as if scandalized at His Divinity. The three chosen Apostles, who had witnessed the Transfiguration, and, therefore, were thought strong enough to endure the scandal of seeing the Shepherd struck, slept in a moment of greatest need, because they were unworried and untroubled. On the way to Calvary, a stranger, interested only in the drama of a man going to execution, was forced and compelled to offer Him a helping hand. On Calvary itself, there is only one of the twelve Apostles present, John, and one wonders if even he would have been there had it not been for the presence of the Mother of Jesus.

On the other hand, there is not a single instance of a woman's failing Him. At the trial, the only voice that is raised in His defense is the voice of a woman. Braving the fury of court officials, she breaks into the Judgment Hall and bids her husband, Pilate, not to condemn the "just man." On the way to Calvary, although a man is forced to help carry the Cross, the pious women of Jerusalem, ignoring the mockery of the soldiers and bystanders, console Him with words of sympathy. One of them wipes His face with a towel, and, forever after, has the name of Veronica, which means "true image," for it was His image the Saviour left on her towel. On Calvary itself, there are three women present, and the name of each is Mary: Mary of Magdala, who is forever at His feet, and will be there again on Easter morn; Mary of Cleophas, the mother of James and John; and Mary, the Mother of Jesus - the three types of souls forever to be found beneath the Cross of Christ: penitence, motherhood, and virginity.