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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

The Nuptial Structure of Being

William Blake, "Satan watching the endearments of Adam and Eve" (1822), illustration for 'Paradise Lost' by John Milton (IV, 325-535)

In Martin Scorsese’s great, great film The Last Temptation of Christ (based on the Nikos Kazantzakis novel) we find a scene central to all “Jesus movies”: the Agony in the Garden. But this one is a little different. We listen as Jesus (played by Willem Defoe) prays:

Father in heaven, Father on earth, the world that you’ve created, that we can see, is beautiful. But the world that you’ve created that we can’t see is beautiful, too. I don’t know… I’m sorry, Father… I don’t know which is more beautiful.

Kneeling, Jesus takes up soil sand in both hands, blows on it, and says, “This is my body, too.”

This little prayer articulates beautifully one aspect of what can be called “the nuptial structure of being.” These two worlds, the created and the uncreated, though not really “separate," define our reality. It is unfortunate that so much Christian theology ignores, or at least downplays, this fact.

My suspicion is that this stems from monastic misinterpretation of St. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:7—“be as I am.” Paul, certainly, is speaking of his celibacy, but those who have pointed to this statement as evidence of celibacy as a “higher order” willfully misread the text. Paul was writing under the assumption that the Parousia (“the Second Coming”) was imminent (well, it was/is, but not in the way he was thinking of it at the time). If the Lord’s return were only a matter of chronological time, that he would be arriving sometime around A.D. 40, what would be the point in marrying? But that’s not how it worked out. What happened was the rise of monasticism (how that was derived from the communities described in Acts I’ll never know) and the celibate life became held out as the “highest” or “ideal” form of living in this world, maybe not in theory, but certainly in practice. This is clericalism writ large. And all the sins of clericalism, I contend, flow from this one. I’m not saying anything is wrong with the celibate life. Just don’t hold it up as an ideal.

that time I was nuptially structured

Not only did this emphasis on the, allegedly, “spiritual” over “matter” have repercussions on sexuality, it also affected our relationship with the created order in general. The materialism of the Scientific Revolution, then, was merely the logical conclusion of the spiritual materialism that had been infecting Christian thinking since everybody thought Neoplatonism was such a big fat deal during the second and third centuries. Our estrangement from nature, in the meantime, has only grown more vitiated. With this in mind, Marcel Gauchet’s observation that “Christianity is the religion for leaving religion” leaves something more than a scratch.[1]

The Anglican priest and theologian A.M. Allchin diagnosed this problem long ago, and also proposed a cure:

it is clear that if the way of spirituality is to be followed anew in a time of changing consciousness, it will involve a new discovery of the place of the body and the life of the senses in our whole approach to God, our fellow-men, and the world around us. It is through the whole of human nature that God works and is present in this world of people and things. And only as our nature is being restored in God can we learn to be truly present where we are, present with all the life and love of God.[2]

A contributing factor of the distorted picture of reality that we now (as a culture anyway) possess originates, again, in a distorted reading of the nuptial structure of being described in scripture. This misreading starts from Genesis 1:26 and 27: “Let us make man in our image…. Male and female created he them.” As the Eastern Orthodox (and former Benedictine) priest Alexis van der Mensbrugghe (with Proverbs 8 in mind) argues in his fascinating (and so hard to find!) book From Dyad to Triad, God here speaks to Sophia. As he explains, “That most Christian Fathers have interpreted the passage in [a manner suggesting God was speaking to the other members of the Trinity] is evident, but one cannot help feeling that they have read their Trinitarian theology back into the old text, and forced the text in consequence.”[3]

I think most of our culture’s current anxieties and problems with gendered typology started with this misreading of Genesis. Sow the wind and you reap the whirlwind.

Yet, as I’ve said many times before, sophiology offers an antidote to our fractured relationship to nature which is simultaneously a fractured relationship to the Divine World (the two cannot be separated other than in thought). Sophiology, as I conceive of it, is nothing other than a restored relationship with reality (phenomenological reduction is a very useful tool in this regard). Perhaps one of the greatest sophiologists, the Anglican priest and poet Thomas Traherne, succinctly describes our situation:

They Study a thousand New fangled Treasures, which God never made: and then Griev and Repine that they be not Happy. They Dote on their own Works, and Neglect Gods. Which are full of Majesty Riches and Wisdom. And having fled away from them becaus they are Solid Divine and True, Greedily persuing Tinsild vanities, they walk on in Darkness, and will not understand.[4]

All it takes to remedy this situation is to learn how to see.

To be continued…

[1] Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World, trans. Oscar Burge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

[2] A.M. Allchin, The World is a Wedding: Exploration in Christian Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 51.

[3] Alexis van der Mensbrugghe, From Dyad to Triad: A Plea for a Duality against Dualism and an Essay towards the Synthesis of Orthodoxy (London: The Faith Press, 1935), 25–26.

[4] Thomas Traherne, Century 1, 32 in Poems, Centuries and Three Thanksgivings, ed. Anne Ridler (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 178.

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