Sunday, October 30
An Apology for Virginity
Granted, I see marriage in my future. Nonetheless, I’m sure that, from living in the place and times that we do, you can all understand my desire to defend virginity. It is not simply some sort of lack, or an arbitrary, purgatorial period of waiting before marriage: rather, virginity gives its own unique happiness in the Christian life.
This is because virginity has an iconic significance: it is a symbol of the soul dedicated to God alone. Now, of course, all souls are ultimately dedicated to God alone: but it is easy to forget this, and to live our lives for many, many other things; that is why we need the symbol, the icon, of virginity—that is, of souls who draw their deepest intimacy from God alone.
And that is why it is important that the symbolism of virginity is, in a sense, a real symbol. It cannot be simply a meaning which I, or which a group of people, have assigned to virginity. Were virginity as simple a thing as an assigned or imaginary symbol, it would in fact be disordered—who could justify, especially existentially, the rejection of that great good which is sexual activity, simply for the comparatively self-centered purpose of declaring oneself a symbol? No, virginity must be a real symbol—that is, a way of making Christ, God, uniquely present in the world—just as, in a very different and even more powerful way, the Eucharist makes Christ uniquely present in the world. (Though of course, in the exalted case of the Eucharist, Christ is made present in the fullness of His body, blood, soul, and divinity; that is, He is utterly present in a completely objective sense).
Of course, to make a claim so bold as to mediate God’s presence with Christ through the witness of virginity, or have Christ, through us, mediate God in this symbol, we must know that God has established and ratified this symbol: it cannot be a symbol whose meaning comes from human tradition or innovation, but rather divine initiative. This seems particularly problematic, given that we are created with generative faculties—do we not have a sexual mandate in our bodies? How, then, can we say that God created anyone for sustained (or, in the case of some, even life-long) virginity?
Yet all of us have been created for virginity, even if it is only ultimately an eschatological virginity. That is to say, “in heaven, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” The validation of virginity, God’s ratification of virginity, lays squarely in the fact that we are all ultimately and finally called to divine espousal eternally.
This radical eschatological vocation to loving God alone dictates how we are to understand sexual activity—a gift which, eventually, most of us are called to enjoy. The primary purpose of sexuality becomes, not procreation (because God could create human beings any way he desires, and needed not depend upon sexuality), nor greater union between the spouses (because this union is, itself, until death do we part), but rather, education. Sex as education is a divinely-appointed course in understanding how to love in the manner of agape, to love in a self-emptying way. Imagine you are God: how will you teach the little individual disembodied minds you have created to give of themselves in a manner which mirrors Your Divine Essence—that is, in a manner of complete self-giving, creative love? Perhaps you might embody these minds, giving them a particular way in which to give of themselves completely in a creative love. And yes, by that I mean sex. Sex is the school of divine love—the divine pedagogy by which we grasp a shadow of what is the essence of God.
So is, however, the Cross. And the difference between the sexual love imprinted upon our natures, and that Eucharistic love in which God gives His body to us in the Sacrifice of the Cross and the same Sacrifice of the Altar, is that sexual love is only a pedagogy, and only a school: eventually, we shall graduate (hopefully having learned how to give completely of ourselves). But Eucharistic love, the love already present in the Eucharist, is exactly what we shall graduate into: the agapic love of Christ pouring forth the essence of participation in the life of the Trinity. And because we have access to this ultimate eschatological end now, in the Eucharistic love of Christ, we can also now have living symbols, iconic individuals, forsaking the school of the body directly for the joys of Heaven alone—just as we shall all enjoy them in the end.
Virgins, that is, by divine approbation, remind the Church and the World of our ultimate fate, and of our own eschatological virginity. They are even icons of the Church herself, showing the Church exactly what she is called to be: holy, a people set apart for God alone. They do this not by forsaking the lessons of sexuality, but rather by embracing now, on earth, our shared eschatological destiny. It seems, further, to me, that, because this is an unusual calling which is contrary to our fallen nature, God is especially generous with these souls: rendering them a degree of divine intimacy which enables them to continue in the virgin state, unto their marriage or unto their death. Surely, the virgin soul depends even more completely upon God at least insofar as God becomes that soul’s source of deepest interpersonal intimacy. God must make present to the virgin exactly that grace which the virgin signifies; He grants his presence to these unique symbols in an appropriately unique way.
I feel I should also add that Christian marriage is similarly, though not equivocally, unnatural for fallen nature: Christian marriage demands a self-sacrifice which the fallen cannot make, save by the grace of God. This again demands its own unique graces, and allows God to show forth His presence in another appropriately unique way. In the Christian incarnation of marriage, the lessons of the Cross are applied directly to the pedagogy of sexuality. Marriage is ennobled by the application to it of the lessons of the cross. That is to say, by glimpsing from Christ Crucified what we are ultimately called to become (that is, utterly selfless), the married individual can pour him or herself out in a similarly selfless way into the marriage. Christian marriage, then, is also a symbol, not an imaginary symbol established by human agreement, but a divinely proglumated symbol which serves as an iconic witness of Christ’s love for the Church—as opposed to the virgin witness of the Church’s love for Christ and destiny in Christ. But this was not the point of my reflection, because this is more universally understood, and can be found in many reflections on marriage.