The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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A little controversy about Eve

Canisius | 17 February, 2006 20:23

The meditation for Thursday of Septuagesima week (Vol. 4, pp. 140-141) was distracting to me, because I (brace yourself) disagreed with ALL of it! This is basically a Gueranger fan site, but I'm interested in getting these thoughts out for discussion.

The meditation is in three paragraphs:

The first paragraph says that one of the punishments inflicted on Eve is this: "[C]onjugal union, notwithstanding the humiliation of concupiscence now brought upon it, is to be, as before, holy and sacred; but it is to be inferior in dignity, before both God and man, to the state of virginity, which disdains the ambitions of the flesh." It seems to me that the reason virginity is better than marriage is not because it "disdains the ambitions of the flesh", but because it is taken on for the sake of and in resemblance to the kingdom of God. In other words, it is not just any virginity that is better, not just any abstinence from conjugal union, but specifically Christian virginity undertaken for the kingdom. The reason celibacy is better than marriage is not a negative reason (absence of bodily desires) but a positive one (ordering towards and resemblance to the kingdom).

The second paragraph recounts the punishment of pain in childbirth, and concludes, "The sin of Eve shall thus be memorialized at every birth...." I've grown cautious about this kind of absolute claim. The fact is, there ARE painless childbirths--unless we wish to say that the witnesses have lied about them. We don't need to make extreme statements about EVERY childbirth. After all, Adam's punishment was that he would have to work very, very hard to make his living, but clearly not every man has felt that punishment; it is rather a general condition of the human race. Furthermore, the pain in having a child can (I think, reading closely) be referred to the whole process of raising a child, so that pain in the actual birthing process is only one part of a larger picture. So the curse of Eve may be more apparent later in the child-rearing process than in the initial moments.

The third paragraph speaks to the dominance of Adam over Eve. While there was originally to be equality between them, Gueranger says, now Adam will be lord over Eve, so that woman's lot before Christ was little better than slavery. Once Mary came, though, woman regained a power of gentle persuasion so that, while she is still subject to the punishments of original sin and therefore still subject to her husband, the effects are mitigated. Now this seems all wrong to me: the proper authority of a husband is NOT an effect of original sin. Just as Adam was going to work the garden, but now must work it with sweat, and as Eve was going to have children, but now must bear them in pain, so Eve was going to be under her husband, but now there will be a tendency for this to degenerate into a master/slave relationship. That Eve was to be under her husband in some way is already implied by the verse that says she was to be a suitable helpmate for him.

Our age understands nothing less than authority. Gueranger himself was embroiled in the struggles against the government's claims to authority over the Church, and the French church's claims against the authority of the papacy, etc. Authority was already a much controverted thing, and has been, I think, since the enlightenment. The authority of a husband over his wife is not an evil thing that could have been avoided had Adam and Eve not sinned; but had they not sinned, it would have operated smoothly as a sweet harmony of two parts within the family, rather than the fierce struggle of two individuals it usually is.


Comment Icon Virginity, etc

Louis | 18/02/2006, 01:44

I'm really not sure what's wrong with what Gueranger says, on all three counts.

Gueranger says that marriage is inferior to virginity, which disdains the ambitions of the flesh. I don't think you would have to take him as saying that this is the cause, but it is true even if he is, because it is the means by which one is using to attain the end, i.e. ordering towards and resembling the kingdom. What makes Christian meritorious is that it is a "disdaining the ambitions of the flesh" for God's sake. Both of these elements are essential to its merit. Gueranger empathizes one side, while you empathize the other.

Second, I simply don't see how it is possible to read the account in Genesiss without seeing that the pain in the actual process of childbirth is a result of original sin.

"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children."

I see that it could also be possible to take this as referring to the raising of children, but the most obvious sense is that it is referring to the act of giving birth.

Finally, Gueranger is simply going off scripture with what he says about the authority of a husband over his wife.

"Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

I think it's right to say that the proper authority of a husband over his wife does not come from original sin, but the need to exercise it at times against the will of one's wife does come from original sin.

Also, bear in mind that Gueranger is not saying this is a good thing, or anything, he is simply saying it is a consequence of original sin.

Comment Icon Clarifications

Peter Canisius | 18/02/2006, 04:26

With regard to the first paragraph, here's a simple way to put my beef: the state of virginity that Christianity holds is superior to marriage is not a PUNISHMENT of ANYTHING, Eve's sin or otherwise, but a gift given DESPITE sin. It would have been held as superior to marriage even had original sin never occurred. To call the superiority of virginity over marriage a punishment is an error.

Regarding the second paragraph, I agree that the pains of childbirth should be read as a result of original sin; the only (minor) disagreement I have with Gueranger is that I don't think this particular punishment is present at every individual birth. In other words, the sin of Eve is not memorialized at EVERY birth. Minor point--ticky, even.

Regarding the third paragraph, I think we disagree about what Gueranger says. For the sake of clarity about how I'm interpreting him, I'll reproduce the relevant paragraph here, with my comments in brackets:

"Lastly, she who was at first created to enjoy equality of honor with man, is no to forfeit her independence. [If the proper authority of a man over his wife is not from original sin, then Eve was not created 'independent'.] Man is to be her superior, and she must obey him. [And this is from original sin?] For long ages, this obedience will be no better than slavery [this MODE of authority is of course from original sin]; and this degradation shall continue until that Virgin comes, whom the world shall have expected for four thousand years, and whose humility shall crush the serpent's head. She shall restore her sex to its rightful position [OK, this favors your interpretation], and give to Christian woman that influence of gentle persuasiveness, which is compatible with the duty imposed upon her by divine justice ['justice' meaning punishment for sin?]: the duty of submission."

Going through it, I can see a little of why you interpret him as you do, but perhaps the comments in brackets will indicate why I took from it what I said in the original post.

Comment Icon Virginity

Philip | 18/02/2006, 15:59

(1) I took "disdains the ambitions of the flesh" as descriptive of virginity and not as defining it. In any case are we not all to disdain the ambitions of the flesh, married or not (as in "deny your very self")? The state of virginity does this in a superlative degree. I do agree, though, that the merit lies in the intention or will rather than the fact itself.

(2) I agree more with your clarification than your original post in that I doubt that Guerenger's statement meant the EVERY birth memorialized Original sin, but that his statement is rhetorical rather than literal.

Comment Icon Clarification on authority, virginity

Louis | 19/02/2006, 01:30

Okay, I agree with you that the proper authority of a husband over his wife is natural and not a result of original sin. Now, if Gueranger is saying that the proper authority comes from original sin, I would disagree with that. I guess it just depends how you read him.

Now, about virginity. I did not realize quite what your problem with Gueranger was, until your clarification.

Now that you have stated it, though, I strongly disagree with it. It is rather evident that the superiority of virginity over marriage is a punishment of original sin.

The reason for this is that the good of virginity lies in abstaining from venereal pleasure in order that one may more easily come to God, or as St. Paul puts it, that one may think more on the things of God.
But it is also true that before the fall, since marriage was not disordered by concupiscence, and thus in regard to thinking on the things of God a married man or and unmarried man would not differ.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives a similar argument to the same effect, in the Summa Theologica, which I reproduce here:

"The aureole is not due to virginity except as adding some excellence to the other degrees of continence. If Adam had not sinned, virginity would have had no perfection over conjugal continence, since in that case marriage would have been honorable, and the marriage-bed unsullied, for it would not have been dishonored by lust: hence virginity would not then have been observed, nor would an aureole have been due to it. But the condition of human nature being changed, virginity has a special beauty of its own, and consequently a special reward is assigned to it. During the time of the Mosaic law, when the worship of God was to be continued by means of the carnal act, it was not altogether praiseworthy to abstain from carnal intercourse: wherefore no special reward would be given for such a purpose unless it came from a Divine inspiration, as is believed to have been the case with Jeremias and Elias, of whose marriage we do not read."(Supplementum Tertia Pars, Question 96, Article 5, Ad Tertium)

This is taken from Thomas's Commentary on the Sentences. If you would like to look at the latin, it's from Distinctio 49, Quaestio 5, Articulus 3, Ad Tertium.

Comment Icon Virginity again

Peter_Canisius | 19/02/2006, 05:16

I'm quite willing to concede that I read Gueranger wrongly on the authority issue, and that he was speaking rhetorically on the point about childbirth. He is French, so we have to give him some slack. :-)

Now, about the third issue. Louis, you said, "The reason for this is that the good of virginity lies in abstaining from venereal pleasure in order that one may more easily come to God, or as St. Paul puts it, that one may think more on the things of God."

Go back and read what St. Paul says again (it's in 1Cor 7:25ff). While he says that inability to abstain from venereal pleasure might be a reason to marry, he does not say that the superiority of virginity is due to abstinence from venereal pleasure, and he does not say that venereal pleasure prevents one from thinking on the things of God. What he says is that the married person is anxious about worldly affairs, and about how to please his or her spouse. In other words, marriage entails duties to children and to spouse that take time and thought, and that takes away from time spent focusing on the Lord. To take just one example, a monk can pray for five hours a day, but I, being married, must support a family, look after their health, play with the kids, talk to my wife, etc., and so don't have five hours a day for prayer, or for missionary work, etc.

Paul also emphasizes that "the form of this world is passing away." In other words, it behooves us to adopt the form of the NEXT world. Jesus spelled out that in the next world, we will neither marry nor be married, but will be like the angels. So there is also an inherent superiority in the celibate state inasmuch as it is a more literal living out of the state of heaven.

I don't have time at the moment to go sort out what question St. Thomas was addressing in that Sentences quote, and how it relates to the superiority of virginity over marriage. If the good doctor was saying what Louis says, then I have to disagree with him on this one. While abstinence from veneral pleasure for the sake of the kingdom has a virtue of its own, it is NOT what Scripture gives as the reason for the superiority of the celibate state. It may be one reason for that superiority, but it is not the only one, and therefore that superiority is not a result of original sin.

Comment Icon Virginity once more

Philip | 19/02/2006, 15:25

Not being competent in theology, I can't say whether or not St Thomas is wrong here; but, going back to Gueranger, I think that at least we can say that his comment about virginity and the Fall may not be unreasonable, since he probably is just following St. Thomas here.

Comment Icon Virginity... again

Louis | 20/02/2006, 02:02

Canisius, I'm not quite clear on what you're saying. You say that the reason St. Paul praises the unmarried is because of the time it takes up to be occupied with your wife, and you give an example of a monk who can pray for five hours a day and do other devotions which you are unable to do. I really don't disagree with this; I just don't see that it proves your point.

A monk praying for five hours a day, saying the divine office, etc. is a means to an end, perfect love of God. In our state of fallen nature, it is much easier to love God perfectly when you have more time to devote to him, as in the religious life, but in the state of unfallen nature, this was not the case.

I'm not certain whether you are claiming that it would be the case even before the fall that there would have been virgins, and that it would have been more meritorious for them to do this for God's sake.

I'm not sure that bringing in the example of the next world helps; We ought to go from the more known to the less known, and I don't see that it follows immediately that just because we shall not marry in the next world that virginity is in itself superior to marriage.

For example: We are not going to eat or sleep or exercise other functions of this like. Does this mean we ought to give them up in order to conform ourselves to the next world. Further, does it follow that not eating is superior in it self to eating, because we will not eat in the next world? A more probable statement would be that what is better is that we have bodies which do not need to eat, not that eating is worse than not eating.

Again, even supposing that one granted that because we shall not marry in heaven, that therefore virginity is superior to marriage, would it necessarily follow that the virginity merits a greater reward than marriage?(Keep in mind here that I'm speaking of virginity in relation to marriage before the fall)

I'm certainly not adverse to the position you are holding; it just seems to me that you have not given a very convincing reason for holding it. If you could convincingly show your position from theological argument, or even from authority(Although keep in mind here you would need something which would relate to it as it was before the fall), I would be satisfied.

Comment Icon A Major Controversy on Eve

Peter_Canisius | 20/02/2006, 08:56

OK, so that SHOULD have been the title of this post, but I didn't know it at the time.

Louis, let me keep it simple: Gueranger held that the superiority of virginity over marriage is a result of the Fall. St. Paul gives reasons for the superiority of virginity over marriage that are not related to the Fall. Therefore the superiority of virginity is not a result of the Fall. Q.E.D.

That's the whole argument. It's not about whether there would have been virginity had the Fall not happened (I don't know), and it's not about whether virginity merits a greater reward (probably does), but ONLY about whether the superiority of virginity over marriage is a result of the Fall. I am maintaining that it is not.

Regarding the relationship between virginity and the next world, it is true that I did not develop an adequate case from Scripture. I was using the Scripture under discussion to bring the point out, but was primarily operating under the memory of JPII's encyclical on the religious life (I think). What I said does make sense, but I don't want to clarify those points at the moment, lest I de-clarify what I have already said in this note.

Comment Icon St. Paul on Virginity

Louis | 20/02/2006, 23:11

Canisius, I do not know what texts of St. Paul you are referring to when you say that St. Paul gives reasons for the superiority of virginity over marriage that are not related to the fall. Which texts are you speaking about?

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