Bridal Mysticism

A very non-stereotypical Catholic woman and I recently had a minor disagreement on Bernard of Clairvaux’s concept of Bridal Mysticism: the idea that the soul is inherently female because it accepts the “bridegroom” of Christ as a bride.

I bring this up because Podle’s “The Church Impotent” addressed this as an issue that helped drive men from the churches.  This all prompted me to look into my own soul and how I viewed myself in relation to the almighty… and I found the following: father-son, master-servant, king-vassal, leader(chieftain)-warrior.  Nowhere was was there even the possibility of bridegroom-bride and I was internally repulsed by that particular type of intimacy in this matter.  Perhaps this speaks to a defect in myself, perhaps this demonstrates the inadequacy of the Bridal Mysticism view.  I am inclined to believe the latter (as full of defects as I know I am).

My opinion is that viewing yourself as the bride in a “wedding” to Christ can be a very healthy view, provided that is how God intends you to serve him.  However, casting as THE blanket path for all souls to follow does not sit right with me. Look back at the “relationships” I listed in my own case, for instance.  How many of them are probably particular to myself?  How many of them do you think apply to you?  To me, how we view ourselves in relation to Christ is a devotion and a necessary one; but it will differ from person to person.  Forcing one particular devotion on the whole of the faithful would be ill-advised.  As such, I do not demand that men accept my view and I respect those men who find comfort in St. Bernard’s viewpoint as different as it is from my own.

I have always seen myself as a child or, more specifically, a son of Christ in a sense with THE CHURCH being His bride and my mother.  The thought of me suddenly rewriting that and view Christ in such an intimate, effete, or even erotic manner is personally stomach-churning.  Christ is like my father, my role model if you will.  It is my goal as a man to BECOME Christ to the furthest extent I am able.  This is just incompatible with Him also being my bridegroom.

As a side note, I do not buy into the idea that the female is necessarily submissive and the male necessarily dominant (I know plenty of cases that contradict both).  Regardless of Bridal Mysticism’s correctness or incorrectness, that has no bearing on whether the soul as a whole is masculine or feminine.  I believe the soul – being angelic – is beyond gender as the concept is entirely alien to our angelic nature.  It goes beyond “angels have no gender”; having gender to an angel is like growing pollen to an animal.  We, as humans, are a fusion of the angelic and the animal just as Christ is a fusion of God and human.  The concept of gender is from our animal nature and thus must either be entwined with our angelic nature (meaning that our soul’s gender is that of our body’s), or be apart from it (which means our soul has no gender).

Readers, please feel free to add your own thoughts on the matter.  Am I alone in my line of thinking?

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7 thoughts on “Bridal Mysticism

  1. I find that focusing on my spiritual relationship to God as a father-son or even as a body-member relation is the most fruitful for my own purposes. I recognize that there is a long monastic tradition of interpreting the Canticle of Canticles as an allegory for the soul’s relation with God (especially in orders like the Carmelites), but I expect that this spirituality is more fruitful for women than for men. And in any case, there’s a good argument that Christ’s spiritual Bride is more accurately the whole Church, not the individual soul—an argument I believe Podles makes in his book, as well.

    Even so, I cannot deny that the early Church often spoke of departed souls of men and women in feminine terms. Early Christian art bears this out, as well, with the common figure of the female orans. I think the idea was that the souls of both men and women, when considered purely in relation to God and not in relation to one another, are all feminine: that is, essentially receptive and submissive.

    St. Paul used bridal imagery less than he expounded on the metaphor of Christians as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. He also frequently speaks of Christians (men and women) as adopted sons of God. The early Church may have latched onto the bridal imagery because it provided a certain kind of comfort in times of persecution, but I don’t know that for sure.

    I have never thought of myself in terms of a king-vassal or chieftain-warrior relation, possibly because I have can scarcely fathom what it must feel like to be a vassal to a king, and I’m not the warrior type. I do have a friend with a military background who immediately started thinking of his relationship with the clerical hierarchy in military terms after his conversion, which led to some awkward conversations about the problems with today’s bishops.

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    • I think you hit precisely my point as regards our relationship with God. Bridal Mysticism (or the ones you and I mentioned) are all valid ways to view ourselves and God and each of us needs to utilize the view that suits us as we were uniquely created. The square peg in a round hole analogy and all that…

      I am not of the opinion that receptiveness and submissiveness is necessarily feminine. A son to a father is a submissive and receptive relationship, a soldier to his officer is a submissive and receptive relationship, but both of these are masculine are they not? We do and should have a submissive relationship with God, but it does not follow that it must a a feminine relationship. I’m not knocking on feminine relationships, but I am pointing out that there is plenty for the non-feminine of spirit.

      I think your friend’s gravitation towards over-fidelity to the hierarchy is a pretty common thing among converts. Unfortunately, its also a widespread problem among the cradle-Catholics. If there is one thing I am grateful for from my $$PX upbringing, its a healthy skepticism towards clergy in general.

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      • Receptivity and submissiveness are feminine by physical analogy, not necessarily by the psychological dispositions of the sexes. There is also an analogy by way of the created order, in which God placed man over woman, husband over wife, Adam over Eve. These two analogies—creation and procreation—are the ones by which I am given to understand receptivity and submissiveness as feminine. But this is by way of symbol and analogy, and it does not imply that a man who submits in some fashion to another man, or even to a woman, is effeminate.

        So I’m using words like “feminine” and “masculine” sort of in a neo-Platonic meaning as spiritual symbols, if that makes sense. Unfortunately, the sexual confusion of our time makes it difficult not to confuse this method with implications of a grave moral disorder.

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  2. The old Roman rite of episcopal consecration, when the ring is blessed and place on the hand of the new successor of the Apostles, admonishes the bishop that the ring is a token to “guard the unblemished honor of God’s bride, Holy Church, with fidelity.”

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    • That is an interesting tidbit that ties into something I remember from my confirmation. From the moment I began preparing for it (at the age of 7, right after first communion) the analogy I was given by my parents was that this was knighthood and that I would be a “soldier in Christ’s army” when finished. This imagery is very appealing to a young boy of that age and I looked forward to the event for the next six months.

      When it came time to pick my saint I chose St. George, probably because I was influenced by this idea of soldiery for Christ.

      I don’t know what constructs they use in “normal parish settings” (i.e. not a 1990’s SSPX church), but I can’t imagine anything that strikes of “militarism” going over well.

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