The Restoration of Woman
The Restoration of Woman
St Fulgentius has especially contemplated the Blessed Virgin as ‘the restoration of woman’. He shows how she passed through every state and office of her sex, that all might find a model and a help in her, and that as the new Eve she might recover and raise up the fallen state of woman.
This then has Mary done for woman as the head and type of her sex. She has freed her from a state of bondage, and has lifted her up from her degradation. On Eve the Almighty laid a special curse: ‘I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee’. Here is indicated a severe yoke and bitter trials. For though man from the beginning was the head, yet woman was ordained for his companion and helpmate. But between the fall and the coming of the Gospel woman is everywhere in a state of bondage and of servitude beneath the power of man, and everywhere the wife is guarded with excessive jealousy. Even in the old law polygamy is both permitted and practised by the holiest men, and because of the hardness of men’s hearts, as our Lord himself has said, divorce obtained a legal sanction; and to this day, beyond the sphere of Christianity, woman is still in the condition of a slave.
What then has raised our mothers and our sisters from so low and degraded a condition? Mary was given to us. In her Eve was set free and made resplendent. All her daughters have shared in the honour of this new Mother. Mary has brought grace and favour to all women. They are reverenced through reverence for her; and when, amongst a people of faith, woman calls for protection in her distress and anguish, ‘For the honour of the Blessed Virgin’, she reveals the foundation on which the respect due to her rests.
But Mary has delivered woman in a yet more striking way: she has given honour to the state of virginity. She has established it as a state of life by her example and her influence. Woman is made free, because she has a choice of states: she may keep her freedom to the Lord her God, or she may give it to a husband; and this power of choice, which the grace of the Holy Spirit guides, has given a dignity to woman which grows the more exalted in our minds the more deeply we reflect upon it. She who in her youthful innocence becomes the spouse of Christ and leads a life of divine and contemplative love in the presence of God, and she who devotes herself to the same Lord in His suffering members and becomes a sister of charity, owes her happiness and dignity to Mary; and this holy state has thrown a halo of sanctity and freedom around the entire lot of woman, whilst she who gives herself to a husband has given so far more precious a gift, as she might have been consecrated to God alone; and when she becomes a mother she rejoices in a respect paid to her maternity, which derives its dignity from the type of all mothers. This wonderful restoration, as it arose with the uprising of the Church and took its origin from the perfect Virgin and Mother, was more striking then than now, since from long custom it looks like the natural order of things.
Wherever the Church has been overwhelmed through worldliness and error, wherever Mary has ceased to influence, and tradition concerning her has become hesitating, there the reverence for woman has begun to retrograde.