Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wife symbolizes God??

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.


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Is the "official" CCC the French version or the Latin version? It might help to see it in those languages:

French: La femme, "chair de sa chair" (cf. Gn 2, 23), son égale, toute proche de lui, lui est donnée par Dieu comme un "secours" (cf. Gn 2, 18), représentant ainsi le "Dieu en qui est notre secours" (cf. Ps 121, 2).

Latin: Mulier, «caro de carne» eius, id est, ei par, ei omnino proxima, illi a Deo donatur tamquam «adiutorium», Deum sic repraesentans, a quo nostrum est auxilium.

I'm not skilled at Latin, but I know enough French to be able to offer a possible explanation. The French could be interpreted to mean the woman, as a helper, coming from the man is a representation of our help coming from God. Whether the Latin supports this interpretation I cannot tell.

Do you see my meaning? It is not the woman (the helper) who represents God from whom comes our help; rather the woman represents the help that comes from God. The man in this case represents God.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

(Of course, the English translation says something entirely different!)

Boniface said...


I could totally accept an interpretation that says that the wife represents the help that comes from God..perhaps this is the correct interpretation. But, as you pointed out, the English says something completely different.

Anonymous said...

I think to get the truth in this, one needs to step back about 60 years or so. Before the liberal, feel good, protestant thinkers in the church (boy I hope some read this) dabbled into the truth. Take a look at Genesis. I think it's pretty clear there.

Stella Orientis said...

Does the CCC carry any magisterial authority of its own, or does it only transmit the authority particular to a given article from prior magisterial assertions?

Anonymous said...

I think that the CCC means exactly what is says, because it relies not on the Latin, but on the Hebrew. The Hebrew word for "help" in the context of Psalm 120(121)is "ezir" (ayin-zayin-resh). Interestingly, the only person in the Bible other than God who is referred to as a "helper" using this word is Eve in Genesis 2:18. There are other psalms that are unambiguous about the Lord being our "help" and not just the source of "help," so I think that in this case it is not particularly useful to try to get around the wording of the CCC by reifying rather than personifying the woman.

I think that the anaysis in the main post goes astray because it is too quick to zero in on the submission part of marriage, and skips over what "helper" really means. Obviously, if God is man's "helper" and Eve is Adam's "helper" the word "helper" itself has nothing to do with any sort of power relationship between the helper and the helped. Whatever St. Paul says about marital roles, it seems clear to me that this particular paragraph in the CCC is concerned with a very different aspect of marriage.

I don't see how any Christian should have a problem with the idea of the wife being an icon of God for the husband. The reference to Genesis is a reference to the creation of Eve for Adam, which is done because Adam is incomplete without Eve. If, in this case we take Adam as representative of mankind (Adam) as opposed to men (Ish--see Gen. 2:24) as contrasted to women, then Eve is certainly an icon of God, since without God, man is incomplete. Both the Greek and the Latin versions of Genesis are compatible with this reading, since they use "anthropon" or "hominum" in the relevant passages where "Adam" as a proper noun is not used. In contrast, in St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle is talking about "andres" or "viri."

In short the symbolism of the matrimonial relationship is not ONLY the relationship between Christ and His Church, just as St. Paul is not the only Apostle.


The Schaubing Blogk said...

I agree with the original poster. All of our help, regardless of it's nature, comes from God. But this here seems to go beyond that and states that the wife is a metaphor for God, which would fly in the face of not only Ephesians five, I Cor 11, but many OT references to God and 'a wife'.