The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
"He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."
THE church began as a romantic movement in the shadow of the synagogue. What could be more romantic than the son of a carpenter in Galilee coming down to Jerusalem and driving the money changers out of the court of the temple? What greater romance than the Son of Man, himself divine, yet being born and living like a mere human, finally returning to his divine state through martyrdom upon the cross?
No less fanciful are the lives of the twelve men who assembled for the Last Supper with him whom they called their Lord. There they were meeting for the last time ere their ways were to part—their Lord to follow the weary road to Calvary, there to be crucified between two thieves; they to carry their own crosses into diverse corners of the world. Theirs was the call to spread the new faith that began at Bethlehem and apparently ended at Golgotha, only to rise to new life in the blood of the Christ.
There was romance in the birth of the church and in the lives of its founders. There was romance no less in the way the new religion took root and found a following among the peoples of the world. It did not take to the
conservative countryside, self-satisfied in its drabness, but followed along the main thoroughfares into the big cities of the day. There, it attracted not the mighty, resting in their opulence, sipping their cup of plenty and pleasure, but the poor and the downtrodden, the outcast and despised, those without opportunity or hope. They who had no place in the realm of earthliness sought a kingdom of heaven upon earth. For them the new faith was a ladder of hope, of distinction and greatness, a spiritual romance set against their dreggy existence.
And yet it was all within the shadow of the synagogue. The bearer of the faith was a member of the older institution. If he took issue with the elders, it was not to break the law, but to fulfill it. The immediate apostles of the new faith were all of the synagogue, as were the first communities professing it. But, as the faith of the cross spread to various climes, its Hebraic provisions were not quite appropriate for the new adherents. Nevertheless, they were all bound by the Law that was kept within the ark of the synagogue.
It required still another synagogue man to break the Law, rather than to fulfill it; to cut the navel cord and let loose the new faith, leaving it to find its way as best it could over the face of the earth.
In its relations to sex and women, the faith of the cross was again characterized by romance operating within the shadow of the synagogue. There, one could find two very distinct attitudes toward sex and woman. The more primitive, held to by the "people of the land," the peasants and other common folk, was positive. They looked upon sex as upon a natural function, something like eating. It was necessarily circumscribed by social customs—by taboos,
like those against incest, and by regulation, like that of marriage—but within these limits its exercise was not only proper, but obligatory. God's first command to man was: "Be fruitful and multiply."
A nomadic people ever in bitter struggle for existence, the tribes of Israel could afford neither to indulge in sex nor to keep the women out of the sphere of activities within the tribe. Women not only participated in all phases of tribal life, but even took the places of exalted leaders or advisers. It was this idea of sex and woman that the children of Israel brought with them into the land of Canaan. This attitude was preserved among the large, conservative masses that lived upon the soil and were least influenced by neighboring or invading civilizations.
In the church, this positive attitude of the synagogue toward sex and woman is represented by Jesus. Born in the back hills of Galilee and raised among the common folk, Jesus imbibed the wholesome attitude toward woman that prevailed in his social stratum. He did not despise her nor did he conceive of sex and birth as the plans of the devil. Woman was to him a human being, sex a natural function, and birth retained the halo of mystic sanctity that it conveys to the wholesome man. In fact, he did not hesitate to compare the joy of his return to earth after the crucifixion with the joy of a woman bearing a child:
"A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
"And ye now therefore sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no man taketh from you."
We further see, quite distinctly, the difference between Jesus and his immediate associates in their attitude toward children:
"And they brought young children to him that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
"But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased and said unto them: Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God."
Following his attitude toward sex, women, and children, it is natural that Jesus should exact great devotion from the husband to the wife. He said:
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
At the same time, Jesus looked kindly upon the women who had gone astray. It is the normal mind with the normal attitude that can best sympathize with and be generous to those out of the normal fringe. When Simon the Pharisee wondered at Jesus allowing a woman of the streets, a sinner, to come near him, the latter replied:
"Seest thou this woman? I entered thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
"Thou gayest me no kiss, but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I say unto thee: Her sins which are many are forgiven, for she hath loved much, but to whom little is forgiven the same loveth little."
"Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
"For John came unto you in the way of righteousness and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him . . ."
And when a woman was brought to him with the charge that she was taken in adultery, in the very act, Jesus said:
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Symbols in early Christian art
[paragraph continues] "He that is without sin among you shall cast the first stone." When all the accusers, convicted by their own consciences, left one by one, Jesus said to the woman: "Woman, where are thine accusers, hath no man condemned thee?" She replied: "No man, Lord," and Jesus said unto her: "Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more."
The son of Nazareth's carpenter could be charitable to the wayward women. He had no consciousness of guilt to project, no complex to overcome. He had been little concerned with sex himself. He had neither married nor had relationships with women. He was preoccupied with a passion greater than sex—the salvation of mankind. He who set the highest ideal for the relationship between the sexes could be generous to those who followed it least.
But there was another attitude toward sex and woman within the shadow of the synagogue. It was new, to be sure, but was rapidly spreading with the current of Hellenic civilization that had invaded the land of Israel. It had come from foreign climes, where people, wallowing in wealth, were wont to slake their sexual appetites in orgiastic fashion. It was a product of the idle, supersensitive mind, drowning in its own sea of speculation. It was the weed of decadence sprouting forth from the mouldering walls of the temple of the gods.
This attitude turned man's mind away from sex and made him look down upon woman. It considered the sensuous life as carnal sin and forbade the pleasures of the flesh. It despised woman as the object of man's desire and the harbinger of the joy of life. The son of Israel who would be a Greek must do as Greek does and think Hellenic. He overindulged in sensuality and was all the more depressed as a result. That ancient observation—post coitiem omne animal triste est—was more true of him than of anyone else.
And as he was considering his own state of mind, the son of Israel found in his Greek learning ample justification
for his spiritual distress. Did not the master of all, the great Aristotle, say that woman was unfinished reality, while man was reality complete? Did not the Greek philosopher speak of the worthlessness of women? And he who was more than anyone else both Hebrew and Hellene, Philo-Judæous, admitted all that. He even identified sinfulness with the flesh and spoke of the original sin of the human race with all its dreadful consequences.
No wonder then that the negative attitude toward sex and life made its appearance within the very shadow of the synagogue, resulting in Hebrew ascetic sects that rejected all the sexual life had to offer. And the further one travelled from the synagogue the more his mind became permeated with this attitude, particularly as one turned to the shores of Africa.
The man who led the church into foreign climes also led this foreign influence into the church. Paul of Tarsus was a Jew of the world. He knew Greek and possibly attended the Greek university of his town. He did not attend the temple of Sandan, the Baal of Tarsus, but he knew how the god was worshipped and that was why he was so zealous for his own faith. He was a contemporary of Philo and may have known of the ideas emanating from the sage of Egypt. So long as he kept within the fold of the Pharisees his personal life may have been little influenced by the current ideas of his day. Once he turned to the faith of the Christ, he took to it with all the vehemence of his nature.
What had been the sexual life of Paul before he embraced the new religion? Very little in regard to this is definitely known. His early life is hidden in the mists of time. There is, however, some conjecture as to his having been married. If we are to assume that he had been a
member of the Sanhedrin, he must have been married and the father of a son. But not every pupil of Gamaliel was necessarily a member of that august body. Was he a widower at the time of his conversion, as some scholars would have us believe, or had he divorced his wife? Was he at all capable of sexual living, and had the "infirmity of the flesh" to which he made reference, any bearing upon his nervous condition?
However Paul lived in his old faith, when he turned to the new religion he separated himself from women. He exhorted his followers to forego all sexual relations, marriage included. He wrote to the Corinthians: "I say to the unmarried and to the widows it is good for them to abide even as I." He would have all people celibate, saying: "I would that all men were even as I." Again: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman."
At times, Paul gave a wholesome, if not adequate, reason for his insistence upon self-denial in sex. He saw in the sexual relationship, with its concomitant responsibilities, a hindrance to the service of God. "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord, but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife and is divided." Paul had never been "divided." When he was against the faith of the cross, he was violently against it, persecuting its followers by all that was in his power. When he became converted, he devoted himself entirely to the new faith. He dissolved his very self in the divine essence of Jesus. "I live," he said, "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." He consequently could not permit any phase of living, however desirable or important, to interfere with the absolute union of man and his savior.
Generally, however, Paul based his demand for celibacy upon an aversion for sex and woman. For Paul, man alone was created in the image of God and for His glory. The woman was created solely for the temporal use of man. The husband is therefore the "head of the wife" and the wife should be "in subjection" to him "as unto the Lord." When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, it was the woman, not the man, who transgressed. "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in transgression." In her sinfulness Eve had even lost her name and is referred to as "the woman." It was Eve that brought sin into the world and she and her daughters are eternally responsible for human depravity and death. God had to sacrifice His own son to save the world from the plight into which it had been led by woman.
Consequently, all that appertains to the sexual life is anathema. Celibacy is the ideal state, but marriage is permitted where the flesh is too weak. "Because of fornication, let each man have his own wife; and let each woman have her own husband." And again: "But if they have not continency, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn."
To save men from the flames of hell, Paul permitted them to marry, and to guard them from Satan he advised men and women to live sexually while in the marital state. "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment."
If such was the attitude of Paul to the sexual union of the married, he naturally could look only with disgust and
dismay at the illicit sexual relationship. The presence of so many prostitutes in Christian Corinth only fanned his zest. Paul had not enough fire in which to burn the unfortunate women: "Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?" And again: "Know ye not that he that is joined by a harlot is one body . . . but he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit? Adultery is the greatest sin of all since every sin that a man doeth is without the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit."
Even the birth of a child, so glorious to Jesus, assumed a sombre aspect in the words of Paul. For the child came into the world by an act that is hardly worthy of true servants of the Lord. The child was born with the blemish of sin upon his infant soul. He came, a defiled being, into a world of sin, for "how can he be clean that is born of woman?"
Paul's attitude toward sex and woman was tempered by his early education in the shadow of the synagogue, by the practical circumspection of the leader and by his inherent sense of justice and consideration. Realizing that the ideal of celibacy was beyond the nature of the average man, he permitted marriage. Permitting marriage, he conceded the sexual intercourse. Maintaining the inferiority of woman in the scheme of creation, he was sympathetically mindful of her position in life. He admonished the husband not to be bitter against his wife and exhorted him to love her. He even promised woman salvation through
childbirth, if she continues in faith and love and sanctification.
The immediate followers of Paul, particularly those who came from the Orient and Africa, went far beyond him in their negation of sex. They vied with one another in the suppression of their sexual instincts. Jerome and Chrysostom condemned marriage as an invention of Satan. Many converts who were already married made amends by taking the vow of chastity. Tertullian tells us: "How many there are who, by consent between themselves cancel the debt of their marriage; eunuchs of their own accord through the desire of the kingdom of heaven."
It was Tertullian who elaborated this Pauline idea into a system and gave it intellectual and philosophic form—a heritage to the fathers of the church in subsequent generations. To Tertullian, virginity was the highest state of life, but he allowed marriage because it is permitted by the Divine Word and because it is necessary to the propagation of the race. He did, however, frown upon a second marriage, and in Montanism, the religious creed to which he belonged, such a marriage was absolutely forbidden. The first marriage was a union for time and eternity.
In the marriage relationships, the exercise of the sexual function should be guided by the extent to which one is tempted by Satan. To later theologians, it seemed a terrible admission of weakness for one to fulfill his sinful desire according to the strength of his impulse. In consequence, the sexual life of married people was quite carefully delineated. Intercourse was to be had only for the purpose of procreation. Once the wife had conceived, no further sexual activity was to be engaged in by the pious. During
the union great care need be taken not to succumb to lust. One was to derive the least possible pleasure out of the sexual intercourse.
One hundred and seventy years after Christ, Athenagoras defended the new religion against the accusation that the Christians "respect neither age nor sex, neither ties of blood nor bonds of family," saying: "Each of us who takes a wife does so only for the purpose of bringing children into the world. He is like the farmer who entrusts the soil with his seed and then patiently waits for the crop." And Clement of Alexandria, in his Apologia, states: "Christian couples do not put away their modesty even on their nuptial bed, for if God permitted them to marry, he did not permit them to lust."
While sex was banished from the church, it stealthily returned under cover of love—physically emaciated and highly spiritualized, but love nevertheless. The very man who first lowered the whip on sex in the church was the one to raise it to the altar. For it was none other than Paul of Tarsus who spoke of spiritual love as the bridge spanning the chasm between the sexes.
There were love affairs in Paul's day among the converts to his faith, but they were intended to be kept on a purely Platonic basis, on a spiritual plane—"keeping a virgin, but not marrying her." Not a few of these relationships, however, terminated in marriage, because the male partner might wish to save his virgin from the fate of being forever excluded from the marital state, a fate that would most likely come to her had she passed the flower of her youth without being married. In order to ease the consciences of those who worried themselves over this matter, Paul held out an assurance. Those who felt
that they must marry their loves might do so without sin, but those who could remain on the purely spiritual plane did better. "He that giveth her in marriage doth well, but he that giveth her not in marriage doth better."
There was, then, such a relationship as "keeping a virgin and yet not marrying her." It was the forerunner of the "spiritual loves" that were so prevalent in the early period of Christianity. It was through them that romance and love were introduced into the Church to take the place of sex banished in disgrace. Together with the belief in the Virgin, they humanized the new religion and found therein a place for woman and for the greatest of human passions: Love.
And this is the story of Thecla, the spiritual love of Paul of Tarsus:
Thecla was a beautiful maiden of Iconium, the daughter of rich and illustrious pagan parents. When she reached her eighteenth year, she was promised in marriage to Thamyrsis, a young man of the same fortunate station in life. But, one day as the girl was sitting on her balcony, she heard Paul preaching in the street. His words moved her and she became a convert to the new faith.
Rejecting her betrothed and dressing in boys' clothing, she left her home and went out to follow Paul on all his journeys. But Iconium would not have one of her fair daughters drag down into the mire the reputation of the town. Thecla was appropriately punished.
The young girl was to be burned, and the flames were devouring the pyre. But as Thecla, armed with a cross, threw herself upon the burning platform, a rain poured
down and extinguished the fire. She was then thrown to the wild beasts, but they would not touch her. She was fastened to two bulls in the hope that she might be torn asunder, but the bulls walked together and Thecla came out uninjured. She was cast into a pit full of serpents,
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(From a painting by Lorenzo Costa)
but she only baptized herself in the water at the bottom of it. The maiden could neither be destroyed nor prevented from following Paul, helping him to convert souls as they went along.
When Paul died, Thecla, still a maiden, withdrew to the solitude of a mountain. By a shining cloud she was
directed into a cave, where she lived for seventy years, still a virgin and still in love, in spiritual love with Paul, the man of Tarsus.
Spiritual love became an institution of importance in early Christianity. It had a philosophic basis in the Greek thought of the day, which completely divorced the material from the spiritual, the body from the soul. Passion, sex was of the body; love was of the soul, hence, it could be spiritual, Platonic, without any sex basis. But somehow it occurred only between members of the opposite sexes.
Spiritual love also had an emotional basis. With some, it was the only kind of love they could experience. They who had loved physically, but could love no longer, still retained memories of experienced passions. They were still moved by the emotions that accompany the function of the sexual impulse. They who had lost their virility may have felt an aversion toward women and sex, but they longed all the more for the mental content of the erotic experience.
Again, for others more normally constituted, spiritual love was the only love allowed them. Forbidden to love physically, or at least discouraged by piety from doing so, they had to seek refuge in the emaciated love called "spiritual." They followed their master in his denunciation of sex intellectually, but not emotionally. At best, they could control their love activities but not their love attitudes. To Paul, love may have been only spiritual. For others, there was no definite boundary between the physical and the spiritual. Beginning upon the higher
plane, they may have soon found themselves upon the plane of the physical. For after all, love is love, however it may be defined and designated; and, while some manifestations of the passion may appear more physical than others, all love springs from the same source.
There were social and political reasons that made the early Christians particularly susceptible to spiritual love. They lived in their own small, often secret, circles, generally organized on a communal basis. All worked together, all lived together. At any rate, all met together in the dark of night for spiritual services. Their meeting-place may have been the communal hall or the dwelling of a pious soul. It may have been a catacomb, the burial place of the poor, where the grave diggers, of whom so many turned to the new faith, put up. Whatever the place, all met there, men and women, to spend the long hours of the night.
These nightly meetings gradually assumed the form of love-feasts, Agapæ. It was the love for Christ that was being feasted there, in imitation of the Last Supper. They may have begun piously enough, but they gradually took a jovial turn. There was song and dance, and, while they were a sort of Eucharistic rite, they contained a number of pagan ceremonies taken over from the worship of Priapus. These were evident in the amulets and idols carried by the virgins in the processions as well as in the shape of the cakes eaten at the feast.
It was inevitable that these meetings should lead to irregularities. The people were poor and downtrodden. They had few joys in life and still fewer channels for emotional expression. The nightly meetings were the great moments in their lives. They offered the joy of
feasting and the pleasure of comradeship. To this exaltation, there was added the glow of sex. True, sex distinctions were to be obliterated at the meetings, yet great consideration was shown to the virgins who came in special dress, with the mithra, and were given places of honor. Sex was abolished from the Agapæ, yet the entire atmosphere was charged with it, and the free mingling of the
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Cave church of the Apocalypse in Patmos
sexes only aggravated the situation. One could expect that under these circumstances the spirit would give in to the flesh and there would be scenes of sexual indulgence along with religious ecstasy. No wonder, then, that Saint Paul had faults to find with the Agapæ of the Corinthians.
At these nightly secretive meetings of the early Christians, friendships sprang up between the individual members of the faith belonging to the opposite sexes. These friendships amounted to love affairs, but, as both the man
and the woman in this relationship had taken the vow of continency and were animated by the desire to keep their vow, they were supposedly all "spiritual" loves. Doubtlessly, many of them were, the sexual element having been eradicated, sublimated, or suppressed, leaving only the love sentiment and the feeling of comradeship. These spiritual loves and marriages were fired with the great enthusiasm of asceticism and faith that spread like wildfire all over Christendom. It was said to be "well pleasing to God to have several such wives." Tertullian recommended that all men who could not get along without women enter into spiritual relationship with them and advised preference for those that were "least dangerous"—"widows beautified by faith, endowed with poverty, and sealed by age."
It is related of the bishop, Paul of Samosata, that he had virgin lovers, maidens in blooming youth who followed him on his journeys. Another bishop, the famous Athanasius, living in the fourth century, escaped from persecution by "direct orders from above" and fled to a virgin, an extraordinarily beautiful girl, with whom he lived for six years.
In these spiritual loves, we meet again with the tendency to imitate Christ. Jesus was supposed to be in spiritual wedlock with the virgins who consecrated their lives to him. One of the early church fathers pictured Christ as jealous of his virgins and put this as the motive for absolute purity. Cyprian asked: "Shall Christ be composed seeing the virgin that was dedicated to him sleeping with another and not become wrathful? And not threaten with the severest punishments for such unclean relationships?" He therefore insisted that any deacon or clergy
of any degree who lived with a virgin should be expelled from the Christian community.
Some idea of the general relationship between the male and the female members of the early Christian communities may be gleaned from an old Christian work dating to the first century, which relates a characteristic instance of spiritual love. The writer is left by the Shepherd of Hermes with twelve virgins. He asks them where he may put up for the night and they answer him:
"With us thou shalt sleep, like a brother, not like a man, for thou art our brother and in the future we shall serve thee. We love thee."
The writer continues: "One who appeared to be their leader began to kiss me, and, as the others saw her kissing me, they, too, began to do likewise. And the virgins spread their linen underclothes upon the floor and made room for me in their midst, and they did naught but pray. I also prayed with them uninterruptedly. And I remained there together with the virgins until two o'clock in the morning. Then the shepherd appeared and said:
"'Thou hast not done anything ignominious?'
"'Ask him thyself,' they replied.
"I said to him, 'I was glad to spend the night with them.'"
Two early Christians, Theophile and Maria, lived twenty-four years together, and Maria preserved her virginity. They kept in mind the beatitude: 'Blessed are those that have wives as though they had none, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven." They hardly realized that they were thereby exposing their chastity to a great danger, which proved fatal to so many when their spiritual union turned physical.
The "spiritual love" may have been entered into by priest and nun, or any others who were animated by the great ideal of asceticism and had taken the vow of chastity. The spiritually married couple may have lived together in a monastery or in a simple dwelling. In such a relationship, the woman became the assistant of the man, his helpmate and housekeeper, doing for him most of the
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Spiritual lovers in the art of the catacombs
drudgery. Here, the man held the place of superiority. But there was another kind of relationship as when a rich widow, unable and unwilling to remarry, entered into spiritual union with a priest. In such a case, the priest resided with the widow and took care of her estates or business enterprises. He was the manager of her worldly affairs and a private secretary as well. Socially, the priest was her inferior, as he was also economically. In either case, the two entered into this arrangement whole-heartedly
and in good faith, trusting to the purity of their own minds and to the piety of their intentions.
Often, the ascetic and his spiritual wife betook themselves to the desert where they might, in solitude and undisturbed, reflect upon God and do penance for the sins of others. The woman, who was the spiritual wife, actually became the man's servant and mother in one. She sought a shelter for the two of them; she provided whatever small comfort they could find or allow themselves in their asceticism. She did most of the work that desert life entailed. The man led a passive life, unconcerned with things material. He devoted himself almost entirely to prayer and meditation. And there the two lived with only two things to guide them: their faith in God and the dictates of their conscience.
Occasionally, monk and nun would go to disorderly houses and perform there the amorous duties as a kind of chastisement and self-debasement. It was another form of self-torture, like the shirt of hair worn next to the body or the girdle of nails. Sometimes, the monk would travel as a mime or troubadour and the nun as a prostitute. "Such a couple," we read, "came to suffer this martyrdom and returned from the world apparently impure and dissolute, while the all-purest Lady in Heaven knew well that the two never touched each other."
The all-purest Lady in Heaven was kind to these nuns. So were the fathers of the church. They were equally kind to those virgins who were forced into prostitution by pagan persecutors. For it was a customary punishment in Rome to sentence a Christian virgin to the Lupanar. Ambrosius said that a "virgin may prostitute herself without becoming thereby impure," and the fathers claimed
that force could not defile the bodies of pious women. Only the attitude, the prostitute mind, made of one a harlot. If her mind was pure, her engaging in prostitution was only a defilement, a most supreme humiliation for which she would be rewarded in heaven. Love not only became dissociated from the body but dared to go directly against the physical in the very pit of sex.
In mysticism, spiritual love reached the height of its development. No longer did persons of the opposite sexes need to live together in spiritual marriage. Mere human loves were cast wholly aside for far more perfect ones. Saint Gertrude found her love supreme in Christ. Saint Bernard looked with yearning eyes of love upon the Virgin Mary, while Saint John of the Cross, perhaps the most spiritual of them all, conceived of his soul as the mystic bride united to God in perfect union. And the lives of the leading mystics—men and women far removed from even the slightest interest in things material—furnish us with romances more real, more vivid, and more inspiring than those of the greatest earthly lovers.
Saint Catherine of Siena came into the world at the time that Italy was torn apart by internal strife and disorder reigned in the church as well. Boniface held the papal throne in Rome, while Clement had set himself up at Avignon. At this same period, great mystical movements were overrunning all Europe. Ferocity and beauty thus mingled together in their influence upon the young girl's life. Inspired by the stories of the different saints, she determined to devote her life to God and, when she was only sixteen, she took the habit of a religious order.
[paragraph continues] For the next three years, Catherine lived in one continual series of ecstasies and visions. In each of these, her relations with Christ seemed to grow more intimate until, one day, He appeared to her with His heart in His hand and, placing it against her side, said: "I exchange My heart with thine." Shortly after this vision, this series of ecstasies—a period of intense courtship as it were—culminated in her "Mystical Marriage with Christ."
This experience took place at the end of the carnival season. Christ appeared to her with the announcement that He had determined to espouse her soul to Him in faith, and the marriage ceremony was immediately carried out in the presence of the Virgin, David the Psalmist King, and a group of saints. As the Bridegroom placed the nuptial ring, heavily set with earthly jewels, upon the maiden's finger, he addressed her in these words: "Behold I have espoused thee to Me, the Maker and Savior, in faith, which shall continue in thee from this time forward, evermore unchanged, until the time shall come for a blissful consummation in the joys of Heaven."
Ever after the ceremony, Catherine remained strong in her belief that she was now the bride of Christ. Throughout her life she wore the marriage band upon her finger and remained constant to her heavenly Spouse. From this time on, she was no longer given up to visions and ecstasies, but devoted her time to other interests. She nursed the poor, taught the ignorant, used her influence in trying to establish political peace in Italy, and worked for the restoration of the papacy. She continually struggled to weave into her life the idea she expressed in these words:
"The soul is a tree existing by love, and can live by
nothing else but love. If this soul have not in truth the divine love of perfect charity she cannot produce the fruit of life, but only of death."
A hundred years before Saint Catherine lived, there was, in Germany, a young girl whose life, like hers, was destined to be devoted entirely to the spiritual. As a child, Saint Gertrude was placed in the Benedictine convent at Rodalsdorf, where later she took the veil and, at the age of thirty, was elected abbess. As she was passing through the adolescent stage, she gave herself up to the unrestrained enjoyment of her imagination. It was not, however, until she was growing into womanhood that she began to have visions.
One day, while praying in the chapel, she heard the words "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus," in sweet song about her. At the same time, the Son of God leaned toward her like a gentle lover and gave her soul the softest kiss. As the second "sanctus" was uttered he said: "In this sanctus addressed to my person, receive with this kiss all the sanctity of my divinity and of my humanity, and let it be to thee a sufficient preparation for the approaching communion table." A few days later, her heavenly lover again came to visit her and, taking her in His arms, presented her to His father and to the Holy Spirit. Both of them were so delighted with the beautiful bride He had chosen, that they, in turn, endowed her with their sanctity.
In one of her visions, she received a nuptial ring from Christ. From then on she regarded herself as his Chosen Bride. She often told how her heavenly Spouse had brought his mother to make the acquaintance of her daughter-in-law. After her spiritual marriage, Gertrude
became more settled and devoted her entire being to the betterment of the lives of those about her, drawing to herself a host of admirers.
At the time of her death, the nun who had been her confidante during the greater part of her life, told how she had seen Christ, accompanied by his Virgin Mother
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The marriage of St. Catherine
(After a painting by Titian)
and Saint John, coming to receive his dying bride. According to her vision, at the moment Saint Gertrude breathed her last, her soul precipitated itself, "like an arrow shot to its mark," into the heart of Christ and was then borne up into celestial glory.
Both Saint Catherine and Saint Gertrude passed through the natural period of adolescence, in deep religious fervor. Their sexual awakening took on a spiritual aspect. They
reached the climax of their erotic experience, however, in their mystic marriage with Christ. Thus satisfied in their love-life, they settled down to occupy themselves in the activities most pleasing to their great love.
In the life of Marie de l’Incarnation, spiritual love was belated, coming after actual sex experience. Of a more recent period and of French birth, she married at the age of eighteen. Three years later she was left a widow with one child. It was only then that she began to have her mystical experiences. The period of her spiritual adolescence came in her late twenties when, for three years, she seemed to live in intense emotional rapture and lyrical joy. Her whole being was submerged in the love she bore her heavenly lover.
"When I go about the house or when I walk in the garden," she once said, "I feel my heart constrained by continual impulses of love; and sometimes it seems that this heart must rush forth and as it were leave its own place."
Her divine Spouse became a living presence and she was wont to speak to him in language of intense passion. "Oh, my love," she would exclaim, "when shall I embrace you? Have you no pity on the torments that I suffer? Alas! Alas! My beauty! My life! Instead of healing my pain, you take pleasure in it. Come, let me embrace you and die in your sacred arms."
Thus filled with love for Christ she joined the Ursuline order and, a few years later, she was sent to Canada on a mission. It was only after her spiritual marriage that her ecstatic experiences came to an end and the constructive period of her life began. For all the actual sex experience in her past, spiritual love became the overpowering urge
in her life. Only after she had found satisfaction in her spiritual marriage did her life go on smoothly again.
And what is this spiritual marriage? How does it appear in the visions of the saint and how is she affected by it? Saint Teresa describes this spiritual love union in her own inimitable, outspoken manner:
"Often when the soul least expects it, our Lord calls her suddenly. She hears very distinctly that her God calls her, and it gives her such a start, especially at the beginning, that she trembles and utters plaints. She feels that an ineffable wound has been dealt her, and that wound is so precious in her sight that she would like it never to heal. She knows that her divine Spouse is near her, although He does not let her enjoy His adorable presence, and she cannot help complaining to Him in words of love. In this pain, she relishes a pleasure incomparably greater than in the Orison of Quietude in which there is no admixture of pain. The voice of the Well-Beloved causes in the soul such transports that she is consumed by desire, and yet does not know what to ask, because she sees clearly that her Lord is with her. What pain could she have? And for what greater happiness could she wish? To this I do not know what to answer; but that of which I am certain, is that the pain penetrates down to the very bottom of the bowels and that it seems that they are being torn away when the heavenly Spouse withdraws the arrow with which He has transpierced them. As long as that pain lasts, it is always on the increase or on the decrease, it never remains at the same intensity. It is for that reason that the soul is never entirely on fire; the spark goes out and the soul feels a desire stronger than ever to endure again the love-pain she has just experienced."
Just as so many women directed their love to Christ and lived in heavenly union with him, so did men often find the object of their love in the Virgin Mary or some other personification of the female principle. Heinrich Suzo was
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(From the statue by Bernini)
one of these. Living in Germany in the first half of the fourteenth century, the time when the church was holding up to the youths the ideals of self-denial and chastity, young Suzo was readily impressed and became a member of the Dominican order.
Of a highly sensitive nature, his sole reason for existence was to love and be loved. Cut off as he was from the love of woman, Suzo turned to the spiritual, finding in Mary, the "empress" of his heart. He pictured her as a maiden with lovely waving hair and delicate skin, with whom he entered into a warm and intimate love relation. Addressing himself to her, he would say:
"Should I be the husband of a queen, my soul would find pride in it, but, now, you are the Empress of my heart . . . In you I possess riches enough and all the power that I want. I care no longer for the treasures of earth."
In Germany, it was the custom for the young men, at the beginning of the new year, to go out at night to serenade their loved ones. Suzo tells in his autobiography that he followed the custom. He went before the statue of the Virgin with her infant in her arms, sang love lyrics to her, and addressed her thus: "You are the love whom alone my heart loves; for you I have spurned all earthly love."
Again, writing in the third person, he describes one of his ecstatic experiences:
"A stately youth from Heaven led him by the hand upon a beautiful green meadow. Then the youth brought forth a song in his heart, so winsome that it deprived him of all his senses because of the excessive power of the beautiful melody, and his heart was so full of burning love and yearning for God that it beat wildly as if it would break, and he had to put his right hand on it in order to control it, and tears were rolling down his cheeks. . . . He saw the Mother and her child, with a banner waving from her skirt and written upon it: "Beloved of My Heart!"
Saint Bernard was likewise a lover of the Virgin. One of the greatest mystics of the twelfth century, he entered
the newly formed Cistercian order at an early age. His extraordinary ability as a leader and thinker was soon recognized and within three years he was sent to establish the monastery of Clairvaux.
Saint Bernard conceived of religion as a love union, of which he held an exalted opinion. "Love," he said, "is sufficient by itself, it pleases by itself, and for its own sake. It is itself a merit, and itself its own recompense. Love seeks neither cause nor fruit beyond itself. Its fruit is its use. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love, then, is a great reality. It is the only one of all the movements, feelings and affections of the soul in which the creature is able to respond to its Creator, though not upon equal terms, and to repay like with like."
His love impulse found its outlet in his intimate spiritual relations with the Virgin. Often, in visions, she would come to him in strong embrace, and in moments when passion surged high, he would address her in glowing words of love: "My Love! My Love! Let me ever love thee from the depths of my heart!" When he celebrated her feasts, he was so seized with rapture that his soul seemed to go from his body to join his heavenly love.
Saint Bernard was not only in love with the Virgin but also with her divine son. In this love relationship, the saint considered himself as the bride of Christ, assuming the feminine rôle. For to him, like to many other mystics, the soul was an entity entirely distinct from the physical organism. It dwelt in the body but was not of the body. It constituted a complete personality like the Word of the Gospel or the pneuma of the Stoics. One could, therefore, commune with his own soul as he might with another person. Once a separate being, the soul could be of the
opposite sex. And since it was the object of the love of Jesus, the lover of souls, it came to be considered as feminine. The soul was the bride and Jesus the spouse. Love was the union of the soul with God. Hence, in speaking of his soul and his intimate attitude toward Jesus, Saint Bernard refers to himself as female. And he describes the spiritual love relationship in highly sensuous language:
"Suddenly the Bridegroom is present and gives assent to her petition; He gives her the kiss asked, of which the fullness of breasts is witness. For so great is the efficacy of this holy kiss, that the Bride on receiving it conceives, the swelling breasts rich with milk being the evidence. . . . And the Bridegroom will say: Thou hast, O my Spouse that which thou prayedst for; and this is the sign: Thy breasts have become better than wine. By this may you know that you have received the kiss, in that you have conceived and your breasts are full of milk."
Often the spiritual lover gave vent to his emotion in such songs as this:
Occasionally, the unsatisfied love of the saint was emptied not upon the Virgin but upon some other personification
of the female. It was some ideal that was dear to his heart. This ideal became his love and consequently his lady love. Denying himself worldly riches and serving the ideal of poverty, Saint Francis came to see in deprivation a Lady Poverty, and all the emotional exuberance that saints
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The Church as the Bride of Christ
usually bestowed upon the Virgin, he devoted to his own imaginary love.
Saint Francis was the son of a rich merchant in the little town of Assisi in Italy. His early years were spent in dissipation, and he might have continued in the disorderly life had not serious illness overtaken him. Like every man in anguish, young Francis sought a refuge in love and
faith. Upon recovery from his illness, he invited his friends to a banquet and while they were hilariously drinking and enjoying themselves, their host slipped away. When they found him, he was in an ecstatic condition. "What is the matter with you?" they cried, as they tried to arouse him.
"Don't you see that he is love-sick? He is thinking of taking a wife," jested one of the guests.
Thereupon, Francis spoke up: "Yes, I am thinking of taking a wife more beautiful, more rich, more pure than you could ever imagine."
She was Lady Poverty as he called her. She became his bride, his ideal; to her he swore faith and love, and throughout his life his thoughts were directed to her. Often, in visions, his bride descended from heaven to join her spouse. He would welcome her in his arms, kiss her gently, and show her all the delicate attentions that the ardent lover showers upon the object of his desires.
In Saint John of the Cross, we reach the summit of erotic Christian mysticism. A poor son of Spain, he lived at the time that his whole country was a garden of mystic roses. There was Saint Teresa, well known for her ecstatic experiences and her deep understanding of divine communion. There was Fray Luis de Leon, who sang his songs of anguish and desire, filled with longing for his heavenly dwelling.
Saint John had passed the point where the personal element enters into love for the Divine. It was not he who was in love with Christ, but his soul. He himself was only an humble witness of the sacred union. He could, therefore, so freely describe the conjugal bliss of the soul and her divine Spouse.
"The thread of love," he says, "binds so closely God and the soul, and so unites them, that it transforms them and makes them one by love; so that, though in essence different, yet in glory and appearance the soul seems God and God the soul. Such is this marvelous union. God himself is here the suitor Who, in the omnipotence of His unfathomable love, absorbs the soul with greater violence and efficacy than a torrent of fire a single drop of morning dew."
In a further explanation of this spiritual relationship and its progression, he likens it first to the relations of the betrothed and then to those of the lovers after marriage:
"In the one there is mutual love, but in the other there is communication of the self likewise, and the difference is as great as that which exists between betrothal and matrimony. For in betrothal there is but a mutual consent, and agreement of will on either side and the jewels and the adornments of the betrothal, which the lover graciously gives to his beloved. But in matrimony there is communication between the two persons, and there is union; whereas in betrothal, the lover from time to time visits his beloved, and bestows gifts upon her, as we have said, but there is no union of their persons, which is the end of the betrothal."
Saint John's whole being was filled with this sincere emotion, which at times found utterance in beautiful lyric poetry:
O night that didst lead thus,
O night more lovely than the dawn of light,
O night that broughtest us,
Lover to lover's sight,
Lover with loved in marriage of delight.
Upon my flowery breast,
Wholly for him, and save himself for none,
There did I give sweet rest
To my beloved one;
The fanning of the cedars breathed thereon.
When the first morning air
Blew from his tower, and waved his locks aside,
His hand, with gentle care, Did wound me in the side,
And in my body all my senses died.
All things I then forgot,
My cheek on him who for my coming came;
All ceased, and I was not,
Leaving my cares and shame
Among the lilies and forgetting them.
As Love came out of the monastery it found its way into the religious life of the populace, where it soon lost a good deal of its hot-house atmosphere. There, it became more like the love of the adolescent—a love romantic rather than sexual. It thus ended its long climb from the pit of gross sexuality to the amorous longing in a highly refined symbolic form.
Love was ever symbolized in religious art. Primitive man tried to express the religious stirrings of his heart in line and figure. As love was the chief component of his
religion, it naturally formed the basic element of his art. In Christian civilization, we again find art resorted to, to symbolize man's concept of the Divine and his attitude toward it. Here again, the love motif is dwelled upon to a large extent. And for all the distance in time and space, old and new religious symbolism bear a striking resemblance in many essentials, with only a progression in refinement to mark the course of the centuries.
The spirit of mankind is forever overflowing with hope and expectation. New life was the crying desire of Old Anthropology Adam. Renewed life is the hope supreme of every true Christian. The former conceived the fountain of life in the organs of sex. They became his symbols of the ever-flowing stream. He painted them upon the walls of the place in which he lived. The early Christian looked to heaven for the consummation of his unfailing dream. Death became the gateway to this everlasting life, and, in this gateway, he poured out his soul. He expressed his longing in the art on the tombs of the catacombs. To primitive man, spring, with all its sprouting plants, budding trees, and bursting blossoms, was the very embodiment of regeneration throughout nature. Similarly, the pictures of roses, shrubs, and flowery meadows ornamented the graves of the early Christians reminding the faithful of spring in paradise.
Early man conceived the creative force in nature as twofold—male and female—and evolved symbols for both sexes. There still are male and female symbols in the church, although their original meaning has been superimposed by theologic speculations. To primitive man, the fish was the symbol of the feminine. The fish is still a feminine
symbol in the church, representing the soul in her mystic union with Christ.
Primitive man saw in the pillar, the column, or the stately palm tree, a fitting symbol of the male, the active force. And the same palm in the Christian religion became suggestive of virility, of victory in the race of life. On Palm Sunday, the triumphant entry of Christ with his followers into Jerusalem is still celebrated. On this day, blessed palm leaves are distributed to the faithful who reverently carry them to their homes. There, they are placed above the door in the belief that they will bring blessings upon the household. To this day, agricultural people burn these same leaves and sprinkle the ashes over the fields to insure fertility and to protect the new crop against the destructive forces of nature.
In all times, the vine, so prolific in its fruit, has been symbolic of abundance in life, vitality, and birth itself. For the Christian, the vine is suggestive of the "Fountain of Life" in which the soul is reborn through communion with God. The ark, the classic symbol of the female principle in all times, is used every day during the Mass in the form of the pyx, the holy receptacle for the body of Christ. The cross, from time immemorial a symbol of the creative forces in union, was early brought into the symbolism of Christianity, where it has ever grown in importance. And the Christian, mindful only of its relation to his Savior, does not see in it the symbol of the saving grace of generation.
The priest, as he puts on his robes for the Sacrifice, is unaware that they are full of symbolic meaning. The flowing gown, the stole he wears around his neck, and the
vestment, are all suggestive of similar symbolism in ancient pagan faiths, in which the priests attired themselves appropriately for the worship of their goddesses. The vestment, itself a symbol, bears upon it still others; there is the cross both in back and in front, and from beneath the crosses extend the golden rays of the sun in themselves suggestive of the great life-giving force in nature.
And even where people have turned against ceremony and ritual in their faith, banishing all ornaments from their houses of worship, a few symbols have lingered on. They
Christian symbolism in the Catacombs
abound in the architectural designs, the decorative motifs, and especially in prayer and hymn. Many of these prayers, beautiful expressions of ardent love toward God, approach the utterances of a worldly lover in their intensity. The devout soul may yearn for union with God. "O my God, my adorable Love! Come into my heart, that I may enter Thine. Come, and by one sweet transport of Thy love, concentrate every power of my soul in Thee. Teach me, my heavenly Spouse, that I may deserve to repose in Thy arms, to lean on Thy breast." Again, the soul may anticipate the moment of her communion with Christ in words like these: "Oh, happy moment when I shall be admitted
to the embraces of the living God, for whom my soul languishes with Love."
Of all the symbols that have entered into the Christian religion to lend it charm and beauty, the most striking, the all-inspiring one is the Virgin. Mary is the greatest symbol of all. She is the Mystical Rose, the Spiritual Vessel, the Tower of David, the Ark of the Covenant. The poor, the sick and the humble, find in her a source of comfort and aid. The sinner turns to her for consolation. Those whose troubles are few admire her as the symbol of ideal womanhood. She is loved as a queen and reverenced as the Mother of God.
The New Testament tells little about Mary. It presents a vague picture of her, leaving room for the imagination to play. But the early Christian felt no need to busy his mind with Mary." He was all absorbed in her son, Jesus, the Christ. His heart was full in anticipation of the promised kingdom of gladness and cheer, in which there was to be no injustice, no sorrow or misery. This blessed state was to be realized here on earth with Jesus as the ruling king. The strain of waiting for it was relieved by the attitude the early Christian took toward Christ. To him, Jesus was the lover of all, especially of the poor and the downtrodden. To them, Christ was a person, human, experiencing the same joys and sorrows as they did. He was on their very plane, and they could go directly to him. He was their intimate friend. They opened their souls to him, and he received them with outstretched arms.
As the Christian religion continued in its growth and development, the aspect of Christ changed considerably.
The kingdom so richly portrayed by him was slow in arriving. Instead, sin and misery seemed to increase on earth. The doctors of the church were growing more and more concerned with the idea of sin and its punishment eternal in the crackling fires of hell. Men forgot their longings for life in their dread and fear of the hereafter. Instead of being the harbinger of joy, Jesus became the dispenser of punishment, holding the balance of right and wrong. Christ, no longer the mild and gentle lover of
(From the Utrecht Psalter)
souls, became a stern and awful figure. His humanity was torn from him and forgotten. His divinity lifted him far above the human plane. He could no longer experience the joys of his people or come down to share their sorrows.
Before the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the sky, a need was felt for an intermediary between man and God. Jesus of Nazareth became the bridge to span the gaping void between humanity and divinity. Now again a need was felt for a mediator, a bridge between man and Jesus, himself the bridge across the former void. People were hungering after someone to whom they could open their hearts. They needed a friend to bring sunshine and happiness into their drab existence, to commune with their
pining souls whenever they desired communion. And the human heart, ever yearning, longing, looking outward for union, sought a means to bridge the gap, to fill the void, and to come into the Divine Presence.
What could be more appropriate for this purpose than the very person who had been so close to Christ, who had brought him into the world? Thus it was that they turned to the Virgin as their intercessor, their mediator. They called upon Mary when they would speak to Jesus. She was the mother of Christ, and, no matter how stern he grew, could not a mother always approach her son?
As Mary the mother and mediator came to be a figure of pre-eminence, she was clothed with many attributes in accordance with the various movements in Christendom. The ascetics and priests who were themselves celibate and devoted to the ideal of chastity could not conceive of this sacred figure in their faith but as a virgin. The Divine Savior of mankind could not have been the fruit of the sinful sexual process. His mother could not have been less pure than the devotees of her son. Hence Mary was to become a perpetual virgin. At the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, this doctrine was definitely accepted. Mary was the Virgin, imaged as the Virgin Mother with the child on her arm. The attributes of the early Christ were woven together into her figure, and she ever took on more of the divine nature. Along with idea of her perpetual virginity grew the thought that she had entered the world without sin. Like her son, Jesus, Mary came into the world not by the sinful way of sex but through the intermediary of the Holy Spirit. This idea developed as time went on and in 1854 was formally accepted by the church in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The new converts to the church from the sensuous pagan world added their attributes to the concept of Mary. They saw in her a figure familiar to them from their own
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Jesus in the womb of the Virgin
beliefs. For in every pagan religion there was a goddess, a virgin mother whom the faithful worshipped. Mary became for them the symbol of womanhood like these goddesses that graced their pagan temples. In Asia Minor, during
the first centuries of Christianity, the women worshipped Mary as a goddess and offered her phallic cakes as was the custom in the worship of the female nature deities.
As the Virgin Mary rose from the ranks of womanhood to her exalted throne in heaven, all other women rose to a position of higher esteem upon earth. There was little to envy in the condition of women in the early centuries of the Christian era, or of pagan times, for that matter. True, in the Græco-Roman world, the influence of women was felt in the most influential quarters of the community. It was the courtesan who brought into the life of the ruler the inspiration and love he needed to carry on his work. It was the mistress who provided companionship and confidence for the burdened statesman and man of affairs. But for all their power and importance the courtesan and mistress were of the demi-monde. They were not the women of the household, those on the surface of life. Whatever glory the pagan world had for women was laid at the door of the sub-social woman. For the wife and mother there was little regard among the pagans and even less among the early Christians. Wives were even forbidden to approach the altar or to touch the eucharist. But the fact that one woman was elevated to the nearly divine plane was bound to make the others at least human.
As the feminine influence began to be felt in Christendom, it contributed new traits to the mold of the Christian character. To the pagan ideals of strength and courage, vigor and physical charm, were now added the sentiments of kindliness, self-sacrificing gentleness and universal brotherhood. The crusades contributed their mite toward enriching the concept of the Virgin. The call to recover the Holy Land for God was enthusiastically received
throughout the entire Christian world. The noble, in all his power and opulence, marched side by side with the poor peasant in his superstitious zeal. The brawny-armed laborer, his hands roughened from toil, marched alongside the priest whose hands knew only the telling of his beads. The poor, the sick, the social outcast, found a place in the ranks along with the rich and mighty. It became
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The Spirit of God moving over the waters of creation and bringing forth life
the duty of the strong to protect the weak, the duty of the healthy to comfort the afflicted. The new condition required the ideal of maternal care and disinterested devotion. All were at once not only brothers in Christ but also children of the Virgin Mother, who stood for protection and aid and comfort.
The crusades gave birth to the orders of chivalry in which the pagan and Christian ideals attained a heroic harmony. In the heart of the knight burned the fire of
the pagan warrior, fierce in his defiance of pain and death. In the same heart was the flame of the Christian hero, exalting himself in his brotherly love and self-sacrifice.
The object of chivalry was the protection of the weak, and woman symbolized the knight's ideal. As the object of his protection, she came to be the source of his inspiration. This womanly influence tended to soften the heart of the knight, of humanity in general. It helped to spread an interest in universal humanity along with the spirit of brotherly love. Like philanthropy of a later day, chivalry with its ideal of womanhood furnished man with a channel through which he might pour out the finer side of his nature. And woman, as the knight's ideal, grew in prestige and influence. No longer relegated to the private family and religious life, she stepped out into the open, secular sphere into which she brought with her those feminine graces which were to refine, to soften, and to modify the whole social organization. And these changes were all a part of the growth of the spirit of Christianity. They sprang out of the worship of the Virgin Mother.
As years passed and Mary ever grew in the esteem of the faithful, she, too, was relegated to the realm of the divine. Her body was made the dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity, and she herself came to occupy a throne on the right hand of the heavenly father. People began to seek her assistance in all kinds of troubles. Women in child-birth called upon her. Men turned to her as they would to an earthly lover. Mary filled each vacant place in the ever-yearning human heart. Proclus spoke of her as "the spotless treasure-house of virginity, the spiritual paradise of the second Adam, the one bridge between God and men." Cyril of Alexandria called her "the mother
and virgin through whom the fallen creature is raised up to heaven." John of Damascus referred to her as "the sovereign Lady to whom the whole creation has been made subject by her son." And Saint Bernard addressed her thus:
"In thee the angels find their joy, the righteous find grace, and sinners eternal pardon. Deservedly the eyes of every creature look to thee, for in thee, and through thee, and by thee, the kind hand of the Omnipotent has renewed whatever he has created."