20 May 2014

Consecrated Virginity, Eschatological Secularity and the Descent and Ascent of the Bridegroom

[[Sister Laurel, when you talk about consecrated virginity as a form of eschatological secularity you are talking about it in terms of this same eschatology you have been explaining the Ascension in aren't you? The bridal imagery Jesus uses to explain the Ascension applies directly to this vocation then doesn't it? It is an icon of this new creation and this new heaven and earth the Scriptures talk about. Is that right? If that is the case then I understand better why you have insisted this is a "significantly qualified secularity" defined in terms of eschatology and consecration. It is not only that CV's are icons of something still to come but that they are icons of something already here; both consecration and secularity are essential dimensions of this. . . .]] (Paraphrase and transcription of part of a conversation I had with another Sister on this matter. It builds on the following article among others: Consecrated Virgins and the Interpenetration of Heaven and Earth)

Yes, exactly.  When I write about consecrated virginity lived in the world as a form of eschatological secularity I am specifically thinking of the ascended Jesus and his mediation of God into the world as well as his mediation of the saeculum or created world into God. The new heaven and new earth we look forward to, that reality in which God is all in all has begun to exist but is not here in fullness. CV's living in the world are icons and apostles of this proleptic reality in a way which is unique not only because of the bridal imagery associated with the vocation but because of the vocation's secularity as well. Just like the Bridegroom CV's are called to mediate between heaven and earth by representing both fully. They are not to flee the world as some forms of religious life stress, nor do they represent an unchanged secularity. Instead they are icons of the ascended Christ and the new creation, the new heaven and earth his own life in God represents and mediates.

You see, when I think about Jesus as mediator there is an amazing symmetry about it. It is quite literally beautiful to me to see the way Jesus as God's Christ stands between two worlds and brings them together in himself.  All vocations participate in Christ and in his role as mediator but the bridal imagery used in the Gospel of John to speak of the Ascension and his "going to prepare a place for us" in the very life of God seems to me to be especially explicit in the vocation to consecrated virginity. So is the transformed secularity, that is, the eschatological secularity, of this new heaven and new earth. It may well be that any Christian consecrated in baptism can represent this kind of secularity but because of the explicit bridal imagery associated with it it seems to me that consecrated virgins represent this is a more vivid, explicit, and perhaps too, a more integrated way than other forms of consecrated life.

In the early Church folks were in greater touch than we are today with the fact that they belonged to an earth which was objectively different than it had been prior to Jesus' death and resurrection. They lived and breathed a truly eschatological secularity because they saw the new heaven and new earth both now present and its coming in fullness being right around the corner. We have lost touch with this sense but the renewal of this vocation, it seems to me, could represent a completely new (and very ancient) approach to the cosmos which is profoundly eschatological. Christ as Bridegroom models the movements of descent and ascent, kenosis and pleroma, self-humbling and glorification. It is in Christ that things which were once separated and alienated from one another are reconciled so that God might be all in all.

Remember that it was typical of religions to believe these things did not belong together in God or in the Divine (God could not be associated with kenois, humbling, sin, death, godlessness, suffering, etc); thus it was similarly typical to believe that created reality or material reality did not belong to the spiritual realm or vice versa. The Christ Event changed all that and it is Jesus as mediator and bridegroom that makes the reconciliation and eventual transfiguration of these both real and vivid. Christ mediates the sacred to the secular and the secular to the sacred, so to speak; the reality that comes to be in him, whether proleptically or in fullness, is an eschatological secularity --- a new heaven and a new earth. His Bride (the Church) shares in this mediatory vocation. It should not be surprising then that consecrated vocations serve to demonstrate a similar paradoxical "belonging together" of those things which were once seen as incompatible and rightly alienated.  So you see, I continue to believe CV's living in the world are called to demonstrate this in a privileged way. Those who reject the eschatological secularity of their vocations seem to me to have missed this central piece of what the NT bridal imagery is really all about.