While preparing an RCIA lecture on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, I was a little bit stunned and confused to come across the following paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Notice the last sentence:
Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good for man to be along." The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate; she thus represents God from whom comes our help (CCC 1605).
I have read this section in the CCC before, but I never really noticed this passage before. Is it asserting that in marriage, the woman represents God? If this is the case, I think this would be a very novel application of symbolism to the Sacrament of Marriage. Of course, in Scripture one thing can represent various other things, as a serpent can represent the devil or also Christ (as in the case of the bronze serpent of Moses). But what is the traditional symbolism attached to the marital union and is it consonant with the CCC's assertion that the wife represents God?
If we look first to St. Paul's famous passage from Ephesians 5, we read the following:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (v. 22-24).
From this passage, St. Paul makes two points: first, that the husband represents Christ and the wife the Church. Second, that the wife is to be in submission to the husband as Christ is to the Church. He goes on to reaffirm the husband's symbolic representation as Christ:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (v. 25-32).
I think it is painfully obvious that the man represents Christ. As such, the woman is said to be in submission to the man. Now, here is the question: if it is clear that the man represents Christ, if the woman represents God, as CCC 1605 says, then what type of symbolic imagery are we creating? If we take the CCC's passage on the wife and St. Paul's passage on the husband representing Christ, then we are left with the absurd symbolism of God being in submission to Christ, as it clearly says that the wife (who "represents God") is to be in submission to the man (who represents Christ).
When, in Scripture or Tradition, is God ever said to be in submission to Christ? Though Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity and co-equal with God the Father, as pertains to His mission He is always said to be in submission to God, both on earth, in heaven now and in the Kingdom to Come, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians:
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all (v. 24-28).
In looking at these passages, in which Christ's submission to the Father is emphasized, one can see the absurdity of equating the woman with God in the marriage. Tradition has constantly asserted (following Paul's plain words in Ephesians 5) that the wife represents the Church, not God, and that the husband represents Christ. Otherwise, the wife's submission to the husband would not make any sense; why would "God" submit to "Christ"?
I don't know what the writers of the CCC were thinking when they said that the woman represents God. I don't think it is heresy to make such an assertion, for when we talk about biblical symbolism we are not talking about dogmatic statements. But I do think it is a reckless and stupid conclusion to draw and not consonant with the clear words of Scripture and the way the Fathers and the Church has always interpreted the relationship of man and woman in Matrimony.