The Nuptial Mystery

The Nuptial Mystery

by Angelo Scola


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Translated by Michelle K. Borras

The idea of love pervades our society, yet it is nearly impossible to answer the question What is love? especially as we witness the divorce of love from sexuality and of sexuality from procreation. Aware that many people today are skeptical about marriage, Angelo Cardinal Scola nevertheless suggests that only in the category of nuptial mystery do we find a way to adequately describe the phenomenon of love.

A bright new leader in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Scola argues that the male-female relationship lies near the heart of what it means to bear the image of God. Scola's book explores the essential sexual differences that both separate and unite men and women, and it shows how men and women can realize their purpose in marriage or celibacy.

Conversant with papal teaching and Catholic writers from Aquinas to von Balthasar, Cardinal Scola writes with a deep regard for marriage and the family. His Nuptial Mystery will leave readers with a thoroughly Christian appreciation for incarnate love.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802828316
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 05/12/2005
Series: Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought Ser.
Pages: 446
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Angelo Cardinal Scola is Archbishop of Milan.

Read an Excerpt


By Angelo Scola

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

ISBN: 0-8028-2831-0

Chapter One

A Theological Sketch of Man and Woman

1.1. A Constant Concern

John Paul II, from the very beginning of his pontificate, unfolds the anthropological and theological foundations of the man-woman pair, and he returns to this important topic with noteworthy frequency. At least two very important documents have been dedicated specifically to this reflection - Mulieris Dignitatem (= MD) (1988) and the Letter to Women (1995) - and it has appeared with analytical comprehensiveness in catecheses, talks, addresses, homilies, etc. Moreover, with respect to the teaching of previous pontiffs, such teaching marks a considerable advance, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

In the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem we find the most organic expression of the pope's thought on this subject. It therefore constitutes our primary point of reference. In its turn, Mulieris Dignitatem is to be read in the context of the celebrated Wednesday catecheses on the theology of the body, apart from which the richness of the letter would not be fully apparent. In Mulieris Dignitatem John Paul II, referring to the Synod of Bishops in October 1987 on the vocation and mission of the laity in the church and the world, affirms:

One of the recommendations [of the synodal fathers] was for a further study of the anthropological and theological bases that are needed in order to solve the problems connected with the meaning and dignity of being a woman and being a man. It is a question of understanding the reason for, and the consequences of, the Creator's decision that the human being should always and only exist as a woman or a man. It is only by beginning from these bases, which make it possible to understand the greatness of the dignity and vocation of women, that one is able to speak of their active presence in the Church and in society. This is what I intend to deal with in this document. (MD 1)

In this text the pope offers us a basic methodological premise for our reflection: only by beginning from the proper foundations can one grasp the depth of the dignity and the mission of women. In fact, only by going to the root of the personal being of man and of woman, which implies identity and difference, is it possible to consider woman as a being who is "other," and not just "another thing."

In this chapter I intend to present the theological foundations of the man-woman pair in the teaching of John Paul II. In the context of a brief but systematic overview of the pope's reflection on this subject, the novelty of the two anthropological theses contained in Mulieris Dignitatem can emerge more clearly. These theses will provide the subject matter for our further study; for convenience' sake we will mention them both here. They both refer to the theme of the imago Dei.

The first establishes an (in a certain sense direct) analogy between the dual unity of man and woman and the relations between the three persons in God. Developing the classical analogy between the individual person and God, inasmuch as man is created in his image, the pope holds that the imago Dei also includes man's communional quality. He discerns an analogy between man's existence in dual unity and God's existence in the relations of the Trinity. The second thesis, strictly connected to the first, affirms that human sexuality is an integral part of the imago Dei (cf. MD 6). Both affirmations, which remain in continuity with the church's perennial teaching, expand this teaching in an original way and open up a fascinating field of research.

Before entering into the question to be addressed here, I must make two important clarifications: First, our point of departure is pontifical teaching and not the extensive debate about this thematic as it has developed in the fields of theology, philosophy, and the human sciences, as well as in the cultural and social arena. Obviously, this does not mean that we have disregarded the relevant literature, or that we have not considered the challenges of feminist thought. It means, rather, that our discussion will not on this occasion enter directly into the cultural debate by way of examining the positions of others, but will present some suggestions for a fundamental reflection on the theme. Our choice should, however, allow for an adequate response to the legitimate claims of "feminism" and, at the same time, a calm critique of specific feminist positions that are irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine.

In the second place, it belongs to the nature of the magisterium to enunciate Christian doctrine by affirming its contents and by marking its parameters. The magisterium directs itself, therefore, to all the people of God, and becomes a point of departure for further reflection. The avenues opened by the pope in his teaching on women beg to be probed critically and systematically, by the appropriate theological method. We will develop our reflection in three parts. In the first place, we will inquire into the anthropological foundation of the man-woman pair. Secondly, we will point to the christological context into which this is inserted. Finally, we will address its ecclesiological and Mariological foundation.

1.2. The Anthropological Foundation: The Dual Unity of Man and Woman

One of the preeminent aspects of the anthropology implied in John Paul II's teaching consists in his reflection on the relation between man and woman. The pope begins with a series of considerations on the two accounts of creation in Genesis (1:27 and 2:18-25), which converge in the affirmation that man is made "in the image and likeness of God," an affirmation the Holy Father calls "the basis of all Christian anthropology" (MD 6). Mulieris Dignitatem asserts in section 7 that "man cannot exist 'alone' (Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a 'unity of the two,' and therefore in relation to another human person.... Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'" (MD 7). The man-woman pair appears, in this way, to be the expression of the ontological principle of dual unity, according to which, unity always presents itself in a contingent reality within an intrinsic polarity (this also holds true for soul and body, and individual and community).

We will limit ourselves to itemizing, almost by a list of headings, four essential features of the meaning of the man-woman pair.

a. Man exists always and only as a masculine or feminine being. There is not a single man (or woman) who can by himself alone be the whole of man. He always has before himself the other way of being human, which is to him inaccessible. In this way we discover in the relation of man and woman the contingent character of the human creature: the "I" needs the other and depends upon the other for his fulfillment. The duality of masculine and feminine "gender" thus presents itself at once as internal and external to the "I." Or rather, the "I" registers a lack within himself that opens him to one "outside of himself." It is in this context that the reflection on the principle of a helpmate (understood not unilaterally but reciprocally) arises. This contingence identifies not only man's limits, but also his capacity for self-transcendence in the discovery of the other-than-himself as positive for himself. In this sense contingence reveals that man, like every creature, is a sign: he is not only an individual (identity) but also a person (relation/difference). Accordingly, the pope says: "Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'" (MD 7).

b. At the same time, we can characterize the relation between masculine and feminine as a relation of identity and difference.

The question of identity is easily traced back to the absolute equality of the two (of man and woman) in their being as persons and in everything that derives from this. The conciliar text constantly recalled by the pope to illustrate this claim is taken from the constitution Gaudium et Spes (= GS): "If man is the only creature on earth whom God has desired for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself" (GS 24). In this sense the pope joins with the Western philosophical tradition expressed in the definition of Boethius: "persona est naturae rationalis individua substantia" [a person is an individual substance of a rational nature].

The question about difference is more complicated. In fact, to think about sexual difference is the very thing that appears problematic today. In any case, sexual difference is not reducible simply to a problem of roles; it must be understood ontologically. Dual unity, in this sense, is a phenomenological sign of that which Thomas called the distinctio realis, and Heidegger, ontological difference: even in the relation of man and woman, as in the relation between being and ens, is expressed the call of Being, addressed, through reality (which is its sign), to human freedom.

It is for this reason that the dual unity of sexual difference does not mean an irenic and symmetrical reciprocity as Aristophanes supposed in Plato's Symposium. Man and woman are not two halves destined to merge so as to regenerate a lost unity. This is evident even at the phenomenological level of the states of life. Man lives relations not only of a spousal sort, but also of paternity, maternity, fraternity, etc.

On the other hand, the reciprocity of man and woman "can stand as a paradigm of that community dimension which characterizes man's entire nature."

There is another aspect linked to the question of sexual difference that we cannot fail to mention. I am referring to how it is that dual unity inevitably imposes an ulterior and more acute awareness of one's own original dependence. By virtue of his sexual nature, in fact, man discovers death as mediated through his connection with generation. Dual unity places the "I" within the circle of human generations, which follow one upon the other relentlessly. In this way the species itself is preserved, but the individual is exposed to death.

c. From a more theological point of view, human sexuality, and therefore the difference of the sexes, belongs to man's being as image of God. This statement helps us avoid, in any attempt to define the human being, every move to confine him within the intracosmic (and thereby to reduce sexuality to the level of animality). On the other hand, sexual difference helps us understand that the image cannot be reduced to some purely spiritual element. Moreover, the inclusion of sexual difference in the imago Dei allows us to speak-under precise conditions, to be sure - of a certain analogy between the relation of man and woman and the trinitarian relations. Communio as an essential dimension of man is part of his being in the image of God.

d. What we have said thus far allows us to see in spousal love the analogatum princeps of every kind of love and, at the same time, to consider it a privileged metaphor for man's relation with reality. On this subject the pope affirms: "The nature of one and the other love (virginity and marriage) is 'conjugal,' that is, expressed through the total gift of oneself. Both types of love tend to express that conjugal meaning of the body which from the beginning has been inscribed in the personal makeup of man and woman."

These four elements, which characterize the meaning of the relation of man and woman, allow us to conclude that sexuality is an original, and not derivative, dimension of man. One cannot construct an anthropology apart from the human being's sexual nature. Were sexual difference not essential to the consideration of the person, the relation to the other would be established independent of such difference. Sexuality in that case would be a purely accidental fact. Does not this sort of disincarnate anthropology, so to speak, end in a negation of the woman as a personal subject of "desire," with the risk of reducing her purely to an object of masculine desire? Similarly, any position that understands the personal dignity of the woman not as its essential premise but rather only as one of its consequences, would end up compromising the value of maternity and virginity.

The affirmation of human sexuality as an integral part of the imago Dei, as we have said above, also allows us to establish a radical differentiation of human sexuality from animal sexuality, with which it obviously maintains solid bio-instinctual connections. Against every Gnostic temptation we must affirm the fully human, that is, personal, character of sexuality. In this sense the body expresses the person, and expresses it even in its being masculine and feminine. Every attack upon the dignity of the body (and here unfortunately the woman is more exposed than the man) is an attack upon the dignity of the person.

Another consequence of this conception of the dual unity is the radical elimination of every exclusionary counterposition between man and woman. Rather, only in their reciprocal dependence is their personal character fulfilled. This implies the simultaneous affirmation of their identity and difference. The exclusive exaltation of one of the poles over the other cannot help but rupture the original dual unity willed by the Creator. Therefore it will not be possible to promote the dignity and the rights of women if this characteristic is not respected. On the other hand, it is obvious that every form of "chauvinism" contradicts the creative design. Thus the fact that the current debate on the question of women is posed in terms of reciprocity, having evolved from its earlier forms of emancipation and separation, is something positive. Without entering here into the merits of particular questions, it is beyond all doubt that the search for equality (or, as we would prefer to say, identity), with respect to sexual difference or diversity, better corresponds to the Christian vision of life.

The work in favor of the dignity and mission of women in the church and in the world can be eminently creative by defending all dimensions of the woman's being, those she shares with the man by virtue of their common identity and those proper to her by virtue of her being woman.

1.3. The Christological and Trinitarian Context of the Dual Unity of Man and Woman

The anthropological affirmation of the dual unity of man and woman is decisive. However, it needs to be deepened. We cannot, in this place, even hint at the philosophical foundation of dual unity, which would require us to articulate the terms of an adequate ontology for the anthropology underlying our discussion. We will rather pause for a moment on its theological foundation, which, starting with the data of revelation, provides a better explanation as to why God wanted us as man and woman.

For this task we must fix our gaze upon the fullness of revelation, and therefore upon Jesus Christ: "The eternal truth about the human being, man and woman - a truth that is immutably fixed in human experience - at the same time constitutes the mystery which only in 'the Incarnate Word takes on light ... (since) Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear,' as the Council teaches" (MD 2). In the revelation of the Son of God incarnate, we should therefore be able to shed light on dual unity, even the dual unity of man and woman.

In the event of the incarnation a new, definitive relation between God and man is established. In fact, through the hypostatic union the person of Jesus Christ constitutes the place of the encounter between God and humanity. This encounter can be read as a spousal union; indeed, it constitutes the new spousality: "Only the supreme act of God's love who, emptying himself of his divinity, gives himself entirely, opens the possibility of a renewed union." The dual unity of man and woman is remade in the hypostatic union of Christ, which becomes its foundation. "Through the union of the two natures in Christ the global plan of God is manifest, that plan which, beginning with the one flesh of Adam and Eve, through the one flesh of the Redeemer, reaches the one flesh of the Mystical Body within which, through the travail of the Paschal-Mystery, man and woman reach the perfection of their likeness to God."


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