Fundamentals of Symbolism
This essay was inspired by, and written in critical response to, the popular PBS television series, The Transformation of Myth Through Time by the openly apostate Roman Catholic, Joseph Campbell
“I will espouse you to me for right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.” Hosea 2: 21-22
Man's interest in symbols, it would appear, is as old as his existence. Hieroglyphs and the various alphabets of man, for example, are visual signs or conventional symbols that convey meaning by evoking words, which in turn evoke objects, events and ideas. Musical and mathematical notations are symbols that convey specific meaning as well. There are also conventional symbols, invented by man, such as the dove of peace, the anchor of hope or the flags of nations that may become universal through verbal explanation. Again there are secret symbols which men use to convey allegiance to a certain ideology that they wish to hide from the profane. It is supposed that the "fish" drawings done by early Christians in the Catacombs of Rome were such sort of symbol. This essay is not concerned with any of these. There is, according to psychologists, yet another set of symbols that deal with man's fundamental view of himself, the cosmos, and God.
These symbols come to the surface in the varying poetic insights and myths of mankind. Myths, it must be understood, are not “fantasies” invented by man, but a pre or proto -conscious glimpse of reality. Regarding myth and imagination, C. S. Lewis, in his The Pilgrims Regress, puts these words in the mouth of the Creator, “ [Myth] is, “… of My inventing, this is the veil under which I have chosen to appear even from the first until now. For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination, that you might see My face and live.” 1 Given the effects of Original Sin, however, man’s mythic understanding has become blurred and confused and can only be truly set straight according to the Salvific Mystery of the Judeo→ Christian Revelation.
Referring to the Book of Genesis, H.H. John Paul II, in his weekly Catechesis on Human Love, reminded us that , “Myths are a privileged source of these experiences [described in Genesis] because, in a sense, they are about those experiences of the mystery of the origins of our identity. Myths articulate the religious sense, the most fundamental of our levels of consciousness, the awareness of our contingency as creatures.” He goes on to quote Paul Ricoeur: "The myth is something other than an explanation of the world, of its history and its destiny. It expresses in terms of the world, indeed of what is beyond the world, or of a second world, the understanding that man has of himself through relation with the fundamental and the limit of his existence.... It expresses in an objective language the understanding that man has of his dependence in regard to what lies at the limit and at the origin of his world." In particular, this analysis of "original anthropological experiences" allows us to discover "the very structure of human identity in the dimensions of the mystery of creation, and, at the same time, in the perspective of the mystery of redemption" (CHL, 9/19/79).
Catholic scholar Father Martin C. Darcy S.J. in his book, The Meaning and Matter of History, also recognized that poetic insight and myth ought not to be dismissed. He affirmed that myths were not mere fiction but more like reality as lived through the imagination. [emphasis added] He stated that "... It (myth) is a manner of describing what lies behind the dry facts as noted by the perceiving mind, and it is the recurrent way in all civilizations for giving expression to the innate hopes and desires of man, and his sense of the past. Poetry and myth, therefore, are enlisted by the philosopher of history to describe the truth he is seeking. Perhaps even more pertinent to the philosopher of history is the view now widely held that the human experience can be presented through types of symbols and images. There is a mysterious analogy which runs through the varying levels of human experience, of which the simplest examples are 'left and right', high and low', 'up and down'. Material symbols serve for spiritual realities, and so the psychologists tell us, there are fundamental symbols which contain a wealth of meaning, so that when they appear in religious or poetic form in other civilizations the historian is initiated into the ideas and in to the ritual of behavior of the people who use them." 2
These fundamental analogies of "right – left" and "up-down" spoken of by Fr. D’Arcy, may be represented as in the diagram below.
Top – Above - Up
Left -Beginning - ┼Right – End (Time)
Bottom – Below- Down
It is difficult to say with certitude how these symbols function, but it would appear that they operate at an unconscious, or pre-rational level. However they work, such pioneering authorities, as Edward Sapir, Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, and Claude Lévi-Strauss believe that by identifying these visual patterns one may obtain valuable insights into the lives of both individuals and cultures. While these authors agree upon the existence of these spatial structures, their conclusions regarding them are often conflictive and confuse more than clarify their true meaning. Without delving too deeply into any erroneous conclusions, I should like to reassemble the known facts into a cohesive overview that will show the similarities and, most importantly, the differences between the spatial symbols of Christianity, especially Catholicism, and all other belief systems. Given the reigning confusion, this appears at first glance to be a daunting task, but as Claude Lévi-Strauss rightly pointed out, " The symbols of man are infinite in their complexity, but simple in their rules." 3
It should be stated from the beginning that these rules, referred to by Lévi-Strauss, govern archetypal expressions of the "self," its individuation, and reciprocity and are not to be confused with the symbolic theories of Sigmund Freud which deal with erotic desire and repression.4
According to J.A.
Laponce of the
Historically, this configuration,
the dot surrounded by one or more circles, would indeed appear to be the most
ancient and perennial of all human symbols. It appears as a recurring motif in
the monuments of all civilizations. The image to the left is of one of many
Neolithic (3000 BC) cult symbols unearthed in
America Indian (
The phenomenon represented by the Mandala, ie., the union of the individual consciousness with the divine reality at the core of its being, is fundamental to Oriental philosophy, especially the Vedanta that evolved from the ancient Upanishads. The Vedanta teaches: "1 ) that man's real nature is divine. If, in this universe, there is any underlying Reality, a Godhead, then the Godhead must be omnipresent, If the Godhead is omnipresent, it must be within each one of us and within every creature and object. Therefore man in his true nature is God. 2 ) That it is the aim of man's life on earth to unfold and manifest his Godhead, which is eternally existent within him. But hidden." 8
However, just as early man's intuitive awareness of the sacred nature of life and all reality may have led to an identification of his own consciousness with that of some intuited divine source, there has also existed, along with this conceptual unity, a sense of duality. This duality is largely defined in terms of male and female principles and attributes. In the East it comes down to us in written form through the Tao-te Ching (way of nature) of the legendary master Lau-Tzù, and in the West via the Pythagorian Table of Opposites passed down through Aristotle. . See Appendix 1
Yang - ----Yin
Male -- --Female
Table of opposites
The earliest depictions of this Male -Female polarity , for which we have no written explanation, seem to have obvious generative and gender connotations The prehistoric "Crick stones" from Great Britain and the "Grand Alix" from Guatemala shown below are clearly based on male and female sexual organs, while the reconstructed view of the Avesbury circle, again in Great Britain and "Tara" mound in Ireland, present the dual principles more stylistically (the small circle with the dot or mound being male and the small circle with an even smaller circle being female). It is, thus a generally held hypothesis, that the cyclical regeneration of nature influenced primitive (fallen) man producing an awe of sexuality, and the birth, growth, death, and rebirth cycle that he observed around him. Based on such figurines as the "Willendorf Venus, (to the right) "Marija Gimbutas in her 1974 study The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe proposed that, before the first Indo-European herdsmen arrived with their patriarchal gods, the Neolithic farming peoples of Europe did indeed base their religion on "Mother Earth" with the concomitant cyclical and sexual connotations. The emphasis on the enlarged belly and breasts of this figurine coupled with the lack of a face - imago dei - or rational guiding principle would reinforce this hypothesis
Another expression of cosmic duality is the general attribution of masculinity to the sun ( El Sol m.) and femininity to the moon (la Luna f.) As explained in Appendix # one, this dyadic presentation of the greater and lesser lights has prevailed from prehistoric times up to our present day. The figure to the far left from the Paleolithic (approx.30,000 BC) shows faceless “Woman” holding the crescent moon presumably symbolic of the force behind the changing tides and her menstrual cycle. While the ancient Greeks worshipped Apollo as the unique deity representing the sun (m), they divided the identity of the Moon (f) in to three personifications tied to the cyclical nature of the luminary. Artemis (Diana), Apollo’s twin sister, (above) whose symbol was the crescent represented the perpetual virginal state, Selene, the oldest definition among the Greeks, represented the full moon and maternity, while Hecate, was seen as hag, the waning or dark side of the moon tied to witchcraft and sorcery. The illustration to the right is from an Alchemical text of the 17th century depicting the “mystical marriage of the sun and moon to bring forth the “New Humanity.” (Alchemy, with its concomitant symbolism, will be discussed in Part Two of this essay)
The same duality was apparently expressed in early languages. According to linguistic scholar, Alexander Humez, virtually all Indo-European languages, in the beginning, emphasized the "dual," as a distinct from the "singular and the "plural.’ This duality, it may be presumed, was based on the male and female attributes of living creatures and projected into the existing cosmos. It may be added that this division continues in many, if not most Languages today. "Male" words tend to be aspirate, breathing out, such as Father ( Pater Latin, Greek, Abba Hebrew) or Spirit ( Spiritus L.atin, Pneuma Greek, Ruah Hebrew) and "female" words tend toward labial, sounds formed by the lips, such as Mother, based on the original Indo-European phoneme "Ma," signifying the "totality of the feminine or earthly principle" (Mater, materia, matrix Latin) etc.
While this polarity or division into male and female cosmic forces may, indeed, be based on observed sexual differentiation and fertility as described above, or, as proposed by Claud Lévi-Strauss, an invented binary framework by which the individual or group can make choices as to what is desirable or undesirable, the ubiquitous manifestation of the same symbols and sounds leads to the premise that they likely have a meaning of universal dimensions. This is even more apparent when they appear in a sublimated form. For example, when they are shown as either two antagonistic forces represented as snakes or dragons placed left and right in eternal battle for dominance, (as seen in the Native American shield on the right or the Chinese drumhead on the left) or as the union of these two opposing forces as seen in the awe inspiring solar and lunar eclipses as mentioned above, or in human artifacts such as the Caduceus. 10
The Caduceus is among the oldest symbols of man, going back to at least to Sumerian times. The example at the left is taken from the sacrificial cup of King Gudea of Lagesh (c.2600 BC). It is also seen at the entrance of ancient Hindu temples and is the basis of Kundelini, Serpent force Yoga. It is, again, the attribute of the Greco –Roman god Hermes/Mercury and is, of course used as the symbol of modern day medical practice. In all of these instances it is a symbol of fusion of opposites involved in the process of healing and wholeness.
Another example of unification of opposites is the classic T’ai chi image of equal black and white yin – yang hemispheres separated by a sine curve within a circle. Within the black and white hemispheres is a dot of the opposing color. According to the prevailing wisdom these opposite markings designate the inclusion of a small part of each of the opposing forces included in its counterpart. One might well counter that this symbolic statement might refer to the innate attraction of one for the other. The T’ai-chi image is ubiquitous throughout the East and has re-emerged in the West as a fundamental “New Age” symbol. It represents the embodiment of the ancient notion of the Tao that both the Yin and the Yang are emanations of the undivided One – to be ultimately bound together in harmony with the leveling of all distinctions in the end. 11
symbolic manifestation of the fusion of opposites is the depiction of two or
more intertwined triangles within the same enclosed circle. This symbol, the
hexagram, known to many as the “Seal of Solomon” or “Magen David” is, once
again, of most ancient origin. The authoritative Jewish Scholar Gersholm
Scholem points out that this symbol was used, “From as early as the bronze age
–possibly as an ornament and possibly as a magic sign – in many civilizations
and in regions as far apart as Mesopotamia and
We have seen thus far that the symbols, - the dot, the circle or circles, the Mandala, the two serpents, the T’ai-chi, and the hexagram, are among the most fundamental graphic images used by man. Are there any overall conclusions to be drawn from them regarding the human condition? First off, the use of the dot and circle as a symbol of identity shows that reflective self-awareness is present in all human beings from early childhood in all cultures and all locations. No other species uses this or, for that matter, any other symbolic statement of identity. Second, The use of the same symbol, the dot and circle to depict a unique divine presence shows the universal belief in such a being or presence. Third, Virtually all cultures view reality in a dyadic fashion based on an overall male-female polarity. Fourth, symbolic representations such as serpents or dragons in opposition demonstrate a universal awareness of antagonistic or complementary elements in the cosmos that in some way are related to a quadratic relationship between male and female (right and left) and the heavens and earth (up and down). Fifth, There appear in all ancient cultures symbolic manifestations of a desire to resolve these opposites and that the Caduceus, the T’ai-chi, and the hexagram are manifestations of this universal desire. As Dostoevsky mused in “The Grand Inquisitor”: “This craving for a community of worship...and for a universal unity ...is the misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.”
The overall commonality of symbolic structures among all peoples has, indeed, led many writers on the subject of symbolism, e.g., Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell, among a host of others, to posit the theory that all the religions of man are variations of the same primal aspirations to identity, transcendence and wholeness. While man’s aspirations appear symbolically similar, their resolution is another matter. The Judeo → Christian tradition, for example, uses a parallel symbolic system, raised however, to higher level by the revelation of a God who is wholly other. [Deus] est re et efinitiv mundo distinctus, et super omnia quae praeter ipssum sunt ineffabiliter excelsus – [God] is essentially a reality other than the world and ineffably superior to all that possibly could be.15 This, as we shall see, provides a unique vision of man and his destiny with its own symbolic structures, especially within the artworks of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy,
Before looking at the continuation and change to these basic symbols by revealed religion, there is one more ubiquitous symbol to be discussed, the Labyrinth.
The labyrinth or spiral
maze is as old and ubiquitous as any of the above mentioned symbols. At the left
is a prehistoric British “turf Maze.” At the right, are three intertwining
spirals on the wall of the Neolithic gravesite at New Grange, Ireland.16 There are vestiges of these symbolic
figures found throughout Great Britain and Europe as well as North and South
America. According to Jung, it is a symbol both of the unconscious and the
inward journey, as well as the underworld. As the latter, it is mentioned in
Virgil’s, Aenead as inscribed at the gateway to Hades. The best known
description of a labyrinth or maze, however, with a clear insight into its
meaning, is found in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to
the legend invented by the Attic Greeks, Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of
mytho-poetic or imaginative mind, of these early Greeks with their incipient
awakening of discursive reason, somehow grasped that what lay at the center of
the labyrinth or inward journey was to be feared. They intuitively understood
that the inner drives of sex and violence was the lair of the beast and that
only with intelligence, valor, and pure love could one escape it in tact. Thus
the story of Theseus, the noble Athenian, with the unselfish aid of Ariadne,
King Minos Daughter, overcame the Minotaur and escaped with his life. The
Medieval builders of the Christian Middle Ages understood the symbolism as
well. Circular labyrinths or mazes were traced on the floors of the great
cathedrals. No, the faithful did not walk to the center of these mazes to gain
insights and mystic experiences as some of our modern priests and priestesses
avow. The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral was placed over the ancient shrine to
the earth goddess Belthane and beneath the West Rose window dedicated to Mary
the Mother of God. The same window that Henry Adams had labeled in his Mount
Saint Michel and Chartres, , “Our Lady’s promise of Salvation.” At the
center of the labyrinth at
The primordial symbol of
revealed religion that can be traced to its origins in the Hebrew Bible is the
twin pillars Jachin and Boaz that stood on the porch of Solomon’s
The dyadic nature of the relationship between the Deity and His creation is actually reflected in the Hebrew letter “he”, ח the symbol for “He Who Is,” in contrast to the monistic mandala⊚ Eastern symbol for the unity of being seen above.
These same free standing pillars were absorbed by
early Christianity and used in the same symbolic context as seen in the picture
at the left of the 3rd Century Catacomb of
A further example of this Creator – Creation, Male – Female polarity
is show in the icon from
According to the Eastern tradition, the entire composition is placed in a golden setting signifying that the picture represents an eternal theme. Here again we see the golden tower “stage right” representing the Creator and the silver tower “stage left” representing the creation. If one observes closely, the golden tower “opens” on to the male, Abraham, while the silver tower is sealed over the woman, the infertile Sarah, whose head is covered and hand concealed. Trees representing life grow from their respective heads towards each other: from Sarah a single trunk, and from Abraham a double trunk to signify the line of Ishmael born of the slave girl, and the line of Isaac to be born of Sarah. The three seated “angels” are displayed with their right hands displaying three fingers identifying them with the Tri-une Deity. They also carry in their left hands, rods (the male symbol “baton de commandemant”) of equal length representing their equal authority. The three angelic strangers, according to tradition, represent a manifestation of the Trinity of God. (possibly, Micha-el = who is like God, reminiscent of the Father; Gabri-el = messenger of God, reminiscent of the Word; and Rapha-el = healing of God, reminiscent of the Holy Spirit.). In continuing symbolism, The angel on the “stage left” creation side has his feet on a square form below representing the earth as “God’s foot stool.” Both Abraham and Sarah bring equal offerings (bowls) to the angels seated below at table as again representing equal dignity. The table is square, a symbol of the material creation with its four corners, four winds and four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). The sacred meal which they are seen sharing is, presumably, representative of both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Eucharist.
From a Christian perspective, however, the traditional Ukrainian Catholic icon shown to the left depicting the Annunciation holds the full meaning of the Creator and Creation towers or pillars. At the moment of the Annunciation, the golden tower, stage right, is joined to the silver tower, stage left by a shawl to symbolize a mystical marriage between God and His chosen people the Jews. Mary, the Rose of Sion, receives the “Word” and thus reversing Eve’s fall becomes the mother of the New Creation.- the Church. “No longer shall men call thee forsaken, or thy land desolate; thou shall be called my beloved and thy land a home... Gladly as a man takes home the maiden of his choice...Gladly the Lord shall greet thee as the bridegroom his bride.” (Isaiah 62: 4,5) .20
The details of this great mystery are visually presented in this icon as well. Beneath the golden tower, the Angel Gabriel, messenger of God, extends his right hand displaying three fingers while in his left hand he carries a rod, baton de commandemant, topped with three balls. He thus approaches Mary showing that he bears a message from the Triune God. Mary holds up her right hand to inform the angel that she “knows not man” (the stage right “masculine” pillar within the silver “creation” tower) . The Holy Spirit descends from above to overshadow her as she receives the Divine Child in her womb. In fulfillment of the Scriptures and the aspiration of all humanity, the Creator and creation were definitively joined in a unique manner in the person of Jesus Christ at this precise moment. In her left hand Mary holds a spindle of thread, reminiscent of Ariadne, that will lead souls to salvation. Here, visually depicted is the great mystery pondered by both the Eastern and Western Fathers, The identity of Mary, as typos, and the Church. “Mother Earth it was that bore all flesh, and was accursed. But for the sake of the flesh that is the Church incorruptible, this fleshly earth blessed from the beginning, for Mary was the Mother Earth that brought the Church to birth.” St Ephram the Syrian “: So Mary and the Church are two, yet one single mother, two virgins and yet one. Each is a mother, each is a virgin. Both bore to God the Father a child unblemished. The one, without sin, gave birth to Christ’s body, the other restored his body through the power of remission of sins. Both are Mother of Christ, but neither can bring Him to birth without the other.” St. Augustin, 21
The divine hierogamos or nuptial between God and His Creation may be schematically presented as in either of the following diagrams. To the left is the Byzantine model where the two towers representing God and His creation are joined by the marriage shawl to produce the new Adam, Jesus Christ, True God and true man. To the right is the more familiar Western monogram depicting the two realms of Creator and creation joined in the cross. This union was prefigured in the first Passover when the Hebrew people were commanded to smear the two upright posts as well as the lintel with the blood of the slain “Lamb” to ensure their escape. (Exodus 12:7)
Western art many of the symbols of iconography are reduced or omitted for
aesthetic reasons as well as for psychological reasons, as the
In these three paintings by Fra Amgelico, Felippo Lippi, and Mausolino Da Pancale, respectively, the right – left orientation of the realm of Grace (divine life) and the realm of nature is maintained
The male – female analogy continues in the
New Testament. Jesus Christ is the bridegroom (Matt. 9:16, Mark 2:19, John
3:29) and the Church his spotless bride. “Husbands, love your wives, just as
Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her, that he might
sanctify her, cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word; ...For
this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and
the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery – I mean in
reference to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 2: 25 – 27, 31-32) This
mystery was touched upon by both the Eastern and Western Church Fathers as
well. St Ambrose states clearly that, “The husband is Christ, the wife is the
Church, a bride for her love, a virgin for her unsullied purity.” *** St. Cyprian of
An interesting and recurrent theme in both Eastern and Western symbolic iconography is the Crucifixion with generally anthropomorphic sun and moon symbols placed upper stage right and left.
The iconography of the Byzantine crucifix is, as
always the more complete. At the top, outside the frame of the cosmos, resides
the Eternal Father who blesses the scene below. Within the cosmic scene at the
top, stage right and stage left respectively, flanking the two grieving angels,
as stated, are the “male” sun and the
“female” moon. This schematic placement follows the pagan or pre-Christian
understanding of the cosmos as we have seen. There is an interesting
innovation, however, in this and virtually all depictions of the Crucifixion
that show the reversal of the natural order within the New Dispensation. Mary
is to Christ’s right and
Another way of
showing this same analogy of the supernatural order superseding the natural and
forming a new creation is seen in many medieval and early Renaissance
triptychs. In this case the cosmic active Male and receptive Female of the
created order are represented on the outer panels by the two rock escarpments
behind a man and a woman respectively, and the Mystery of Salvation, with its
reversal, within the central panel. Such is the case in the Crucifixion scene
painted Perugino now housed in the National Gallery in
The two paintings shown below, the top section of
Jan Van Eyk’s 1432 Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, (left) and Hugo Van der
Goes Portinari Altarpiece, (right) show the same distribution In the first
instance Adam (M) stands stage right and Eve(F) stage left according to the
natural order of creation. In the center panel according to the new
dispensation of grace, the order is reversed with the Blessed Virgin Mary at
the right hand of the Father and
There are, in fact, myriad visual presentations of the Mystery of Salvation that follow the basic formulas presented above. To emphasize this fact I should like to show three more examples: one taken from the Byzantine or Eastern tradition, and the other two from the Western Catholic tradition.
The first is a fresco
from the Church of the Savior of Chora in
The second picture is from an illuminated manuscript titled the Très Riche Hueres of Jean Duc de Berry, painted by the Limbourg brothers between 1413 – 1446. It is obviously a vision of Hell and would appear to be the bottom half of the Byzantine paining described above. Here the same rock escarpments converge at the end of time as the souls of the damned fall into the flame issuing forth from the demon’s mouth.
The final piece in this section is Fra Angelico’s
fresco of the Last Judgment painted c. 1440 and presently displayed in the
The case of Fra Angelico is somewhat unique. Not only is he universally recognized as a painter of genius, he has also been raised by the Roman Catholic Church to the title of Blessed, one step below canonization as a Saint. Naturally graced with great talent and imbued with a supernatural vision he may well be called the quintessential “Catholic artist.” It is therefore worthy of note that he follows the universal up – down, right – left symbolism in his painting. See Appendix # 1 esp. Myth of Er
this painting of the resurrection and judgment on the last day, Christ comes
down from Heaven above riding the clouds surrounded by His angels and already
risen saints. As in the Byzantine Anastasis, He is framed in the
mandorla symbolic of His two natures. Below, the earthly tombs are opened and
the dead rise to judgment, as the angels blow their trumpets. The blessed, from
all ranks and walks of life, stand on the Lord’s right (our left) and are led
upward to the gates of paradise (by angels as St. Dominic and
Thus to recapitulate, we have seen thus far how
the universal symbols of man originate in the innate understanding of his own
identity, his sense of the divine, the division or rupture inherent within the
original creation, and his desire for unity and wholeness. We have further seen
how the achievement of this unity and wholeness is fulfilled in the incarnate
person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and the establishment of the
Church as His bride as a new creation. In the birth of this “new creation,”
Shown to the left
of the page is the 14th century Flemish painting from the
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in
The final example of this first section is that of “The Woman” of the Apocalypse as depicted in the miraculous image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe from Mexico, imprinted on the tilma of Blessed Juan Diego in 1531,. “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Apoc. 12:1
Traditionally this image has been seen to reflect
St. Methodius, apostle to the Slavs, describes the vision thus: “ Indeed this she, our Mother, the great woman in heaven. This is the heavenly archetype, greater than all her children. This is the Church and all her children, born through baptism in all parts of the world, die on earth but rise again and hasten to join their mother. Mark now her progress majestic, the Lady exalted in wonderful splendor, spotless and, and pure bright as the stars of the sky. For she has been clothed by Him, whose essence is light everlasting.” 23
The visual message of this image is striking in that it contains the universal symbols of fallen humanity raised to a new supernatural meaning. First we have seen how man from earliest times related the feminine crescent moon to the sign of a virgin. In this case it is not part of a cyclical eventuality – virgin, mother, hag – but of a heavenly supernatural reality – the perpetual virginity of both Mary and the Church. The “Woman” – Mary , Church – is encompassed, if not eclipsed, by the sun, the masculine principle of life giving light. In this case, however, it is not the natural light of the visible sun, but the everlasting light of Sanctifying Grace supplied by the tri-une God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit that both covers and fills the “Chosen Bride,” first Israel then Mary and the Church.
Though not depicted in the miraculous image of Guadalupe, the heavenly vision of
Mary/Church of the Apocalypse wears a crown of twelve stars. Again, fallen man
dimly saw the significance both the stars and numbers. The Babylonians,
counting the twelve months or “moons” of the year divided the starry heavens
into the Sidereal Zodiac of 12 zones. The Children of Israel were divided into
12 tribes. Our Lord chose 12 Apostles and it is precisely these, now “heavenly
inhabitants,” destined to rule over the 12 tribes of
Whereas authors such as Joseph Campbell as well
as some virulent Protestant critics have tried to show that the acknowledged
use of universal symbolism by the Catholic Church shows that it is but one more
of a variety of “pagan” religions, it has been the premise of this study to
show quite the opposite. “Paganism” while having a dim understanding of
“Paradise Lost,” is simply the default
“Instead they have pointed us to fire, or wind, … To the wheeling stars, or sun and moon and Made gods of them. …
[M]en imparted to stocks and stones the incommunicable name of God. Nor were they content with these false notions of God’s nature; living in a world besieged by doubt, the misnamed its innumerable disorders a state of peace. Peace amidst their rites of child murder, their dark mysteries, and vigils consecrated to frenzy.” Wisdom 13, 15
Beginning, as shown, with God’s revelation to the Jews, the Almighty Father has broken the chain of cyclical death with its concomitant “Paganism” and instituted a wholly new creation, the Church, espoused to His unique Son, the incarnate Word. This new creation, the Church (as is Mary the archetype and emblem thereof) is mediatrix of all the graces necessary to gain eternal life – the end for which man was originally created.
Symbolically, the wholeness sought by suffering humanity as seen in this introduction to universal symbols is completely fulfilled in the Catholic Church under the See of St. Peter reflected in the Papal seal illustrated above: the two crossed keys of (heavenly) gold, oro m.and (earthly) silver, plata f. under the stewardship of Peter.
In the light of the “nuptial” image of the Church as bride of Christ, found in the Old Testament, the Gospels, St. Paul and the Apocalypse as developed in this essay, I offer the following personal reflection on this most awesome mystery according to St. Augustine’s threefold model of “prefiguration,” “configuration,” and final “fulfillment.”
“Not only does the Old Testament as a whole prefigure the New, but equally the coming of Christ in the flesh and in the Church prefigures the Parousia,” 24.
At the Fall, our first parents, and through them all humanity - in quo omnes peccaverunt (Romans 5:12) lost friendship and intimacy with God. Man became a slave to Satan, sin, and death. Salvation from this situation was, however, promised. A covenant was to be established between God and man and there was to be a woman who would provide a son who would smash the Serpent’s head and break Satan’s claim over humanity.
This covenant was first proposed
to Abraham the Chaldean whom God
approached with a “test” to set in motion the reversal of Adam’s sin. “Are you
willing to sacrifice your only son, Isaac, to Me.” Abraham trusted and
hoped against hope, and God accepted Abraham’s faith. The Covenant was
established and God would, in fact, sacrifice his only son to
reestablish the bond between man and God. (Hebrews11:1-23)
The children of Abraham, the Jewish people, became thus, the natural
forerunners of God’s kingdom on earth. This terestial kingdom would eventually
extend from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great Euphrates and have as its capital
The “Old Testament” is filled
with accounts of this prefiguration set in motion by Abraham. At the first
“Passover” a spotless lamb was sacrificially slaughtered and eaten. The people
were to be girded and shod as on pilgrimage, according to God’s command. The
blood of the lamb was smeared on the wood of posts and lintel of the doorways
through which they would set fourth on their journey. This ritual slaying of
the lamb continued right up to the slaying of the true “Lamb of God,” Jesus
1:29) and the sprinkling of his blood on the wood of the cross, doorway
to heaven. Blood and water flowed from
His, the new Adam’s side and the Church, his bride, was born just as Eve had
been brought forth from the side of the old earthly Adam. This bride, the
Church, is a “New Creation” the supernatural configuration of the
Just as God espoused Israel as his Bride as recounted by the Prophets Hosea, 2:19-20 Isaiah, 62:4-5, Ezekiel 16: 8-14, and Jeremiah 3:14 to bring forth the Messiah, the “New Adam,” born of Mary, the spotless virgin, Rose of Zion, so Christ, the Bridegroom will espouse his bride, the Church, a mystical union not to be fully fulfilled until the end of time
At the time of the first Passover, the Children of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, passed miraculously without drowning, via the Red Sea, out of Egypt, the land of sorcery and oppression on their journey to the Promised Land, just as Christians would in the future pass through the waters of Baptism to reach the Heavenly Kingdom, not just as children of Abraham, which through Jesus they are, but as the adopted children of God.
50 days after the Passover,
Moses, from the top of
Midway between Abraham and Jesus,
David, root and prefiguration of the Christ, ruled from
It has been suggested that the prophetic promise of David in the Psalms, “The throne of your fathers your sons will inherit, you will make them princes throughout the lands.” (Psalm 45: 17,18) may be applied to Christendom, as embodied in the spiritual and temporal power (millennium) of the Roman Catholic Church as it flourished in its glory from the imperial crowning of Charlemagne by the Pope in 800 AD to the self crowning of Napoleon, embodying the revolutionary new cult of man, when he seized the imperial crown (a copy of the original) in 1804. Since this time, it certainly appears that the temporal power of the Church (Christendom) has, and will, alas, continue to diminish and ultimately disappear as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
“The Church will not enter into the glory of the Kingdom except through this latter Easter, in which it will follow the Lord in his death and Resurrection. Hence the Kingdom will not be fulfilled through the historical triumph of the church on an ascending path, but through a victory of God over the last unleashing of evil that will cause the Bride [ the Heavenly Jerusalem] to descend from heaven…after the last cosmic upheaval of this world that passes.” ( CCC 677)
The fulfillment, then, of God’s
kingdom will not come until “heavens and earth have passed away” and the final
judgment of all souls with “the sheep set apart from the goats.” a transformed
new order of creation will be established as the Bridegroom, Christ, as in
Solomon’s Song of Songs, is united
with his bride as the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church Triumphant, safely under
the mantle of Mary, descends. In this heavenly kingdom to come there will be no
longer either pain nor suffering. There will be neither
H. R. A.
The second part of this treatise will deal with the same symbols and their subtle (and not so subtle) variations from the Renaissance to the present.
** Within the Roman Catholic tradition, the natural order of reality is studied and understood within its own context. The supernatural order, that is to say, Revelation does not abrogate what is understood of the natural order, but builds on and adds to it. This study will be based on the evidence of symbolic manifestation existing in the natural order and how these symbols are transformed in accordance with revealed truths.
1) C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrims Regress (New York: Bantam Books, 1981) p.176
2) Martin C. D'arcy, The Meaning and Matter of History (New York: The Noonday Press, 1967) p.68 See also, for example: Edward Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study Of Speech (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1921); and his "symbolism article in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 1934); Mircea Eliade, Traite d'histoire des religions (Paris, Payot, 1949); Mircea Eliade, Images et symbols, essai sur le symbolism magico religieux (Paris: Gallimard, 1952); Mircea Eliade, Mythes, reves et mystères (Paris: Galliard, 1957); Georges Poullet, Les metmophoses du cercle (Paris: Pion, 1961);Carl Gustav Jung,, Psychology and Religion: West and East (English trans., Princeton University Press: 1958); Psyche and Symbol (New York: Double-Anchor, © Bollingen Foundation Inc.. 1958); Man and His Symbols (London: Aldous Books, 1964); Analytical Psychology (New York, Random House, 1968); Joseph Campbell The Hero With A Thousand Faces (New York: MJF Books, © Bollingen Foundation, 1949); The Mythic Image (Princeton University Press, 1974); Transformations of Myth Through Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1990)
3) Claude Levi Strauss, The Raw and the
Cooked, Introduction to a science of Mythology, Volume one. Chicago;
4) While many of the insights of Sigmund Freud regarding the workings of "subconscious" mental processes are valid and of interest, his basic premise regarding the Oedipal origins of neurosis in a repressed racial memory of sexual pleasure/guilt and repression is pure invention. There is simply no anthropological evidence for the primal tribe that killed and devoured the patriarch and incestually possessed the mother. By his own admission he developed this theory because of his perception of " the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster and the necessity of resignation" and "ones own impotence before the will of the gods" which he would not accept. Cit. Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, 1938 Edition, p. 103. Psychologically speaking, a far more intellectually satisfying natural understanding in keeping with Dr. Freud's own position of primal conflict is found in Hesiod,s Theogony vss. 50-80 where Gaia (Mother Earth) induces her children, esp. Kronos (time) to rebel against the Patriarchal Ouranus, (Sky God) who "wickedly" refused to allowed them to see the light.
5) J.A. Laponce, Spatial Archetypes and Political Perception, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 69, 1975
6) H. L. von Franz, The Process of Individuation; Aniela Jaffe, Symbolism in the Visuaal Arts in Man and His Symbols ed. C.G. Jung (New York: Doubleday, 1964) pp. 160-162, 240-241. The ubiquitous nature of this symbolic configuration used by children as a means of expressing self identity is confirmed by twenty years personal experience teaching elementary school art. It is most often seen as a doodle done while daydreaming and often appears during times of stress for an emotionally immature or self-absorbed child.(I have such images in my own files) One such child who was suffering anxiety over his poor academic performance, home life, and uncertainty over self worth, drew such a figure during class and subsequently tried to destroy the drawing in self-destructive rage by poking holes in it repeatedly with his pencil.
7) See: Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959) pp. 20 - 36. Also: J.E Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1983) pp. 199-203
8) Swami Bhasyananda, in Vivekananda (Chenai: [Inidia] Swami Jyotirmayanda, 2000) p.131
This concept of the essentially divine nature of man entered the Western philosophical tradition along with its symbolism via such neoplatonists as Plotinus, and Proclus and from the writings of Hermes-Trismagisus. It was the latter who is credited with the formula, "Deus est sphaera infinita cuijus centrum est ubique nusquam circumferentiae"(God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere). It is the central doctrine of the "Gnosticism" that battled against Early Christianity. According to A.J. Fustigiere, the pessimist Gnostics, e.g. the Manechians, believed that the world was impregnated with evil and must be avoided through asceticism and purification, while the optimist Gnostics held that world was filled with divinity and therefore all was permissible. It flowered in Renaissance circles around Marcilio Ficino, Pico dela Mirandola , and Giordano Bruno. (To be discussed in Part II of this treatise) In modern times it was espoused by the American Transcendalists, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman who came under the influence of the Vedic master Swami Jogut Sangooly
10) The serpent or dragon symbolism is of ancient origin. These figures (d r a k o n t o s , draconis, for either one in Greek and Latin) represent the "life force." According to Cirlot "If all symbols are really functions of things imbued with energy, the serpent or snake is, by analogy, symbolic of energy itself - of force pure and simple." J.E. Cirlot A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1983) p. 285. It is seen frequently in Mesopotamian, Cretan, and Greek art, usually as paired opposites representing masculine and feminine energies according to the near universal formula expressed in various tables of opposites. See:-appendix-one- (below) As to the Caduceus, see: Cirlot. 35 -37
11) Lao Tzu, The Way of Life Tao te Ching R.B. Blakney, Trans.(New York: New America Library,955) p. 37 This is not to be confused with the 6th century writings of Confucius who also used the word Tao (way) to describe a system that is in many ways similar to the Western concept of Natural Law.
12)Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (New York: Dorset Press, 1974) pp. 362-68
13) ibid. J.E cirlot, p. 351
14) ibid. Gershom Scholem, p.194
15) Const. Dei Filius,
This does not preclude God's active presence in the created order. While St. Thomas Aquinas states that. "...it is impossible for God to enter into the composition of anything, either as formal or material principle." (ST, 1,3,8), he goes on to say that, "God is in all things, not indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident, but as agent is present to that on which it acts immediately, and reaches it by its power; hence it is proved in [Aristotle] vii. That the thing moved and mover must exist together."
16) The depiction of the spiral symbol shown to the left was drawn by an eight-year-old boy in a highly emotional state after listening to a concert of African drum rhythms (observed by this author). This would confirm the near universal psychological hypothesis that this symbol has visceral connotations. The spiral or labyrinth as a symbol of involution, has been associated with the "feminine" principle from the Stone age to the present as seen in the schematic "woman" shown below to the left by Marija Gimbutas "language of the Goddess" (Harper&Row) and the etching by Pablo Picasso to the right. According to Clare Tuffy, chief guide of New Grange, at the Winter Solstice, a shaft of sunlight covers the three spirals representative of the triple Goddess and fecundates the land for the following year. Historically, at least in the majority of traditions, (see: appendix # 1 below) the sun and sunlight have represented the "masculine" principle. Thus the "sun symbol" generally represents the masculine sky god and the "spiral" the feminine earth mother. It is the work of religion, [or in primitive religions, the shaman ] to unite these two opposites.(coincidetia opsitorum) There is ample evidence from primitive religions of gender transforming rituals to bring this androgynous union about. See: Elémire Zola, The Androgyne (New York: Crossroad, 1981) The figure shown directly below represents an aboriginal shaman holding a shield wherein is depicted symbolically this fusion of the male and female principles.
Stone age schematic, Marija Gimbutas.
Prehistoric petroglyph, Bryce Canyon, Utah
17) For a resume of the original details of the story of Pasiphae, Theseus, and the Minotaur see: Mark Morford & Robert Lenardon, Classical Mythology (New York: Longman, 1977)
18) While Biblical scholar John L. McKenzie, S. J. affirms the basic translation of Jachin and Boaz as variants of "He will establish" and "in strength" respectively, he refrains from further commentary save that "many scholars believe that they must have had some symbolic cosmological significance." John L. McKenzie, S.J. Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1965) p. 774
According to Occultist, Thomas Troward, cited in
Eden Gray's A complete Guide to the Tarot (New York: Bantam Books, 11th
printing, 1982). The two pillars (Jachin & Boaz) "contain the key to
the entire Bible and to the whole order of Nature, and as emblems of the two
great principles (male & female) that are the pillars of the universe, they
fitly stood at the threshold of that temple which was designed to symbolize the
mysteries of Being...). Abert Pike in his Morals and Dogma of Free Masonry (
19) In the Traditional Mass, prior to changes made after Vatican II, there were two positions reminiscent of Jachin and Boaz designated for the reading of Scripture, the so called, Gospel side, and Epistle side. The Gospel, the life of Our Lord (m. active) was always read stage right of the central tabernacle, and the Epistles, the life of the Church (f. receptive) from stage left.
20) See also for example: The Song of Solomon, Hosea 2:19-20, Jeremiah
3:14, Ezekiel 16:8-14 etc. For a thorough treatment of this topic, see: La
metfora esponsal en els Profets by Teresa Sola, (I – II) Revista
Catalana de Teologia XXVIII/1-2. (
.21) Both these quotes are taken from, Our Lady and the Church by Fr.
Hugo Rahner, S.J.( Zaccheus,
Continuing below are some more recent commentaries on the subject:
CCC, 511. "The Virgin Mary "cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation" (LG 56). She uttered her yes "in the name of all human nature" (STh III,30, 1). By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of all the living."
According to Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., " In the act of redemption, this Creator-creation relationship is raised to a new order. That nothingness out of which all creation came is raised to the level of personality in Mary, whose virginity and whose "nothingness" express the perfection of all material creation raised to the personal. God speaks a second word - a word of grace and redemption - not this time into the void of non-being, but into the personal emptiness, the receptivity of the purest virgin. Mary, who is symbol of all creation, becomes at that moment the symbol of the Church as bride of Christ. God becomes man and specifically male, not arbitrarily, but because God so created the real symbolic world of man and woman precisely to provide for Himself a language in which He can speak to us. The male Christ therefore represents and is the presence of God the Father (whose perfect image He is) in the midst of maternal creation and maternal Church, which is Mary." The Mediation of Mary in the Church. Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., from his book, The Church and Women (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989,) p. 184. Hans Urs von Balthasar continuing the analogy refers to Mary as "Mater, Materia, Matrix" (Mother, Matter and Pure Womb) from which God can fashion whatever he will." Elucidations, "The Marian Principle"(London: SPCK, 1975) p.68
22) From these and the following quote of Ildephonsus of Toledo) from Fr. Rahner’s book, Our Lady and the Church, ( p. 53) " There is the Virgin Mary, in whose womb is signified as by pledge or earnest the whole Church: and we believe most firmly that thus the Church remains securely and forever united to God," it may be speculatively deduced that the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, to Heaven, is a pledge and earnest of the spiritual and physical resurrection of the entire Mystical Body-living in Sanctifying Grace-, ie., the Church, at the end of time.)
23) "For some... failing to distinguish as the should the precise and proper meaning of the terms the physical body, the social body, and the mystical Body, arrive at a distorted idea of unity. They make the Divine Redeemer and the members of the Church coalesce in one physical person...But Catholic faith and the writings of the holy Fathers reject such false teaching as impious and sacrilegious; and to the Apostle of the Gentiles it is equally abhorrent, for although he brings Christ and His Mystical Body into a wonderfully intimate union, he nevertheless distinguishes one from the other as Bridegroom from Bride," Pius XII Mystici Corporis, Art. 86. For a clear exposition of the problems which arise from a misinterpretation of this doctrine, see, Father John Hardon, S.J. The Mystical Body of Christ, The Catholic Faith magazine, Inter Mirifica 1997
24) Daniélou, J, From Shadow to
Reality, Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers (
The dyadic nature of imaginative expression
Male/Female - Right/Left - Up/Down
Unlike other Indo-European languages ( Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, German, Russian etc. ), the English language differentiates masculine and feminine only as regards procreative ability in plants and animals. All inanimate objects are relegated, in English, to the genderless class of neuter. This fact, unfortunately, makes it more difficult for an English speaking audience to grasp the "poetic" or unconscious proclivity of human beings, especially but not exclusively children and primitive peoples, to animate the surrounding world with anthropomorphic male and female projections.
Writing in 1905, Edison Best was one of the first anthropologists to observe critically the universal propensity of primitive man to attribute gender to all beings in the universe including inanimate objects, and the division of all reality into two immense classes which are identifiable as male and female. Discussing the Maori of New Zealand, Best quoted their expressions, tama tane, "male side" to designate virility and creative force, and tama wahine, "female side" to designate corresponding passivity. This cosmic distinction, for the Maori, rests on a primordial religious understanding of good and evil in which maleness and femaleness are the basic constituents. The Maori religion, according to Best, considers the male sacred and the female profane. The woman, for the Maori, is the source from whom all evils (including sorcery) come to man. 1
According to another pioneer in the field, T.O Beidelman, the Kagurus people
Beidelman reported also on the Meru tribe of
Right North White clan Day Sun Man Superior
Left South Black clan Night Moon Woman-child Inferior
A similar dichotomy appears among the Zuni Indians of the American South West. The Zuni personify the left and right sides of the body as two distinct brother gods, the former passive and reflective and the latter active and impulsive. As pacifists, the Zuni extolled the former. 4
One of the largest surviving indigenous societies of the New World, the Mapuche
Right-------- Man--------- Good-------Life --------- Day --------Shaman -----Afterlife -----(good)spirits- Sun---------White -------Dominant ---Above ------Mapuche----
Left --------- Woman-child- Evil-----------Death---------Night--------- Sorcerer -----Underworld --(evil)spirits ---Moon --------Black --------Subordinate--below --------(Other)-------
The evidence of this intuited dialectical polarity is virtually
inexhaustible from ancient to modern times and extends across the entire globe.
Not only do we find the masculine/feminine duality in North and South America
and Africa, but in
Dialectical symbolism continues into Western Civilization with the Greeks, in the works of Parmenedes, Pythagoras and Plato. Even the encyclopedic Aristotle, who based his philosophy on the categories of observed phenomena, presumed "Right," "Above" and "In Front" to be starting points and superior according to the Pythagorian table of opposites 7
Right --Straight Light-- Good -Up----
Left --Curved Dark--Evil -- Down
The intuitive placement of a dominant male deity in the sky above and the dismal abode of the dead below apparently conforms to a near universal construct. This does not, however, mean that there are no exceptions. According to Human Relations Area Files prepared in 1977 by UNESCO, of the sixty examples where sufficient data was available, fifty three cultures placed the dominant divinity above, three valued up and down equally, and only four favored down over up.
According, for example, to the classical Greek Cosmogony as initially propounded by Hesiod, Ouranos, the male sky god is above the female goddess, Gaia, Mother Earth. From the union of these two primitive cosmic principals come the Titans, or primal forces of nature. The union of the primal forces Chronos (m) time with Rhea(f) feminine charm produces Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the anthropomorphic gods, and through them Ares the god of war and Aphrodite the goddess of carnal love. The union of these two produces Harmonia, harmony, this latter considered an illicit union that would eventually lead to universal frenzy and chaos. By contrast, the union of the primal forces Chronos, time and Phoibe, brilliance, produce ultimately Apollo the brilliant sun god and Artemis the cool reflective moon goddess and through them, poetic inspiration. As can be seen, the mythopoetic understanding of the Greeks, starting from Oyranos and Gaia, works itself out methodically in the standard up-down, right-left, male-female dyadic reciprocity or zyzygy
A final pre - Christian example of this right/left, up/down analogy of paired opposites is presented by Plato's Myth of Er which concerns the plight of the dead souls. When the shades of the fallen arrive at the plain of judgment they are confronted by judges who must decide whether they merit the "right hand" road of the just "upward" or the "left hand" road of the ignoble "downward." The just place a placard listing their virtues in front while the ignoble carry a placard of their misdeeds behind. Interestingly, neither the just nor the ignoble receive eternal judgment as they are reborn every aeon or thousand years. The journey of the human soul, according to Plato, follows an endless cycle of reincarnations according to the eternal "figure eight," 8 the cosmic "Lemniscate" or "infinity" symbol. 8
In conclusion, it would appear that for whatever reason, the unconscious or intuitive understanding of human nature considers : 1) the right hand side to be male, dominant and usually superior, and 2) places the Male principle above as active and dominant over the passive (or sometimes hostile) Female principle below. Any change in this configuration generally reflects a psychological or religious deviation from the norm.9
End Notes to Appendix One
1. Robert Hertz "The Pre-eminence of the Right Hand" (1909) in Right & Left, essays on dual symbolic classification edited, by Rodney Needham, (University of Chicago Press, 1973) p. 9. This is the seminal work on this subject to which most other authors refer.
2. J. A. Laponce Left and Right, The Topography of Political Perception (University of Toronto Press, 1981) p. 29
3. ibid. pp. 29 -30
4. ibid. p. 18
5. Louis C. Faron, (1962) "Symbolic Values among the Mapuche of Chile" in Right & Left ed. R. Needham, pp. 192 -94
6. Marcel Granet (1933) "Right and Left in
7. ibid J.A p.31
8. Plato, The Republic, Trans. F. Cornford (Oxford University Press, 1945) pp. 350 - 359
9. J.A. Laponce, "Political Community, Legitimacy and Discrimination" British Journal of Political Science, 4 (June 1974). 125-126. See also: Robert Hertz, La prééminence de la main droite: êtudes sur la polarité religieuse, translation by Rodney Needham (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1973) pp74-87
CREATOR (M) --- CREATION (F)
The Man Woman Relationship
By Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., from his book, The Church and Women (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989,) p. 184; quoted with permission
In creating the natural world and in particular in creating human brings male and female, God had in view both his ultimate intention of divinization or elevation of mankind and also the salvation of a fallen mankind through the Incarnation. Thus among the many meanings of the distinction of sexes, saints and theologians throughout the entire tradition of the Church have discerned an important symbolic or representative Function which men and women fulfill in their very being.
Sexual differentiation is manifested in what biologists call the reproductive system. And although this difference extends into every cell in the human body, it is expressed most obviously and visibly in the physical differentiation between men and women. But it would be a lapse into metaphysical dualism to think that these differences were merely physical or biological. By the principle of the Incarnation, in which the invisible is intimately united with and expressive of the spiritual, these physiological differences are a manifestation of a mysterious' but profound spiritual complementarity between men and women. Difficult as it is to describe this complementarity in adequate language, it may be seen from the vantage point of the marital act, or by the reproductive act, as characterized by equal dignity and equally active participation but diversity of role.
The woman is active in receiving from outside of her that which comes from the man and nourishing within her the new life which is the fruit of their union. The man is active in giving what is interior to him into the womb of the woman. For this reason, even though both man and woman come from the creative act of a God who contains eminently all the perfections of all his creatures, woman has been created by God to represent what she and her male helpmate are by nature, i.e., creatures who receive all of their being from the creating God. And man has been created by God to represent what he and the woman are not: the creating God who gives being to nothingness, who speaks his word into the receiving void. He speaks and material creation (Materia = Mater) is. This does not imply any difference in dignity be between man and composite, woman as creatures of God. But it does express a difference in roles intended by God so that the human which cannot live or communicate without material symbols, would have this symbolic representation drawn from the highest of God's creatures to help those creatures grasp in their proper form of knowledge the relationship between God and his creation.
Mediation of Mary -- Church
In the act of redemption, this Creator-creation relationship is raised to a new order. That nothingness out of which all creation came is raised to the level of personality in Mary, whose virginity and whose "nothingness" express the perfection of all material creation raised to the personal. God speaks a second word -- a word of grace and redemption --not this time into the void of non-being, but into the personal emptiness, the receptivity of the purest Virgin. Mary, who is the symbol of all creation, becomes at that moment the symbol of the Church as Bride of Christ. God becomes man and specifically male, not arbitrarily, but because God has so created the real-symbolic world of men and women precisely to provide for Himself a language in which He can speak to us. The male Christ therefore represents and is the presence of God the Father (whose perfect image He is) in the midst of the maternal creation and maternal church which is Mary. "
St. Ambrose (Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca) : Opera Esegetica X/II Milan-Rome: 1978, p289.
St. Ambrose goes on to say in, Le Vergini
"What married woman has more children than holy Church? She is virgin through the holiness she receives in the sacraments and she is mother of peoples. Her fertility is also attested by scripture which says: "For the children of the desolate one will be more than children of she who is married' (Isaiah 54:1 cf. Gal. 4:27); our mother has no husband but she has a bridegroom, for both the Church in the peoples and the soul in individuals --imune from any kind of infidelity, fruitful in the life of the spirit -- not without modesty, espouse the Word of God as their eternal Bridegroom" (I, 31: SAEMO 14/1, pp. 132-133).