Well, I have taken a long hiatus from this blog for moving across the country, early pregnancy with my second baby (I’m 6 months now), and some other projects, but I’m back, and I’m going to start right where I left off. I left near the beginning of the second part of six in the whole work of TOB, and I’m hoping to at least finish the second part before the baby is born in June, when there may be another break.
It might be useful, if you’re trying to follow this study, to skim the two last blog posts to remind yourself of where we are. (Whomever looks at a woman, Original shame.) You also might want to check out this summary page, which has an outline of TOB at the bottom. We are in Chapter Two, in the subsection I called “Concupiscence.”
The last thing we discussed was original shame, the new dimension of the human experience caused by original sin which is expressed in the statement, “they realized that they were naked, and they were ashamed.” Today we we are going to elaborate on how original shame affects the relationship between men and women.
Do you remember what original nakedness means? A large part of the first chapter of TOB is elaborating on the meaning of original unity with concepts like original nakedness, original innocence, and the spousal meaning of the body. In short, original nakedness was an experience of Adam and Eve before the fall. Through their bodies, particularly in their masculinity and femininity, they completely express themselves to one another, they know one another fully, they give themselves to one another, and they love one another. Their bodies are the vehicles of their perfect union.
After the fall, this is no longer the case. While their bodies are still the vehicle for their union, it is no longer perfect. Their relationship, which constituted the greatest part of their happiness on earth, is broken. Their masculinity and femininity, which used to attract one another to personal communion, suddenly becomes grounds for mutual suspicion and opposition. Where they used to see in each other’s bodies the expression of a person in the image of God, now they also see something which could bring personal sexual satisfaction, an object to be used and enjoyed. John Paul calls this a “‘second’ discovery of sex.” (TOB 29.4)
This new defect in the spousal union, in sexuality, John Paul calls the insatiability of the union. Insatiability – the union can never satisfy. The physical, sexual, personal relationship between a man and a woman is no longer the perfect communion it was meant to be. Without being able to fully know one another, to purely see each other, to love one another with the vision of God himself, man and woman cannot find complete happiness in their marriage anymore. They are never really satisfied.
“Your desire shall be for your husband, but he will dominate you.” (~Gen 3:16)
The whole history of human experience confirms this concise but accurate statement of Genesis over and over again. We read that some inequality becomes part of the relations of the sexes and puts the woman down, relative to the man. John Paul tries to dig deeper and define exactly what this inequality is.
The “domination” of the man over the woman changes the entire nature of their relationship. While femininity still arouses in him the desire for personal union with her, for true love, concupiscence often distorts this into a desire to satisfy his own body, even at the cost of love. This distortion is not only a problem of the passions, but also an intellectual problem in which a man sees a woman as something which exists merely for his pleasure. When men lust after women, it becomes true sexism in which they see themselves as superior to women; they think, implicitly if not explicitly, that women exist for the sake of their sexual pleasure.
“He will dominate you.” Whenever this impulse to dominate, to use, takes over in the man, the whole relationship changes from one of love and communion to one of possession and objectification. As this happens, the woman reciprocates, desiring the man for lust rather than for love. “Perhaps at times, [her desires] precede the man’s ‘desire’ or even attempt to arouse it and give it impetus.” (TOB 31.3) Is this dynamic not plainly visible in so many aspects of our sexual culture? Just think about pornography, casual hook ups, and the prevailing tone of pop culture media! Lust threatens to take over the entire sexual sphere.
As the man and the woman become aware that they no longer see or love each other perfectly, shame takes a permanent root in the human heart. On the one hand, shame makes us aware of concupiscence, of our mutual tendency to hurt one another, and so we are afraid and distrustful. On the other hand, shame itself becomes a weapon against lust and a shield protecting the true spousal meaning of the body, working in our hearts to guard the state of original innocence. Shame is at work when a man or a woman realizes that they are in danger of being used, they rebel against the idea, and they work to avoid harmful relationships and cultivate honest, loving ones. Shame preserves the prehistoric, collective memory of what sexual relationships were like “in the beginning,” and shame is what makes us feel unhappy when we settle for less.
While this text, “he will dominate you,” and the one from Matthew, “whoever looks at a woman to lust after her,” point to the man as the one with lustful desires, it is important to realize that both the man and the woman are now deeply affected by concupiscence and shame. It changes the personalities of both in different ways. In the next post we will look further at how the spousal meaning of the body is corrupted by sin, and how the mutual gift of self gets lost in concupiscence.