Foreward to "Casta Meretrix" by Hans Urs von Balthasar
There are several reasons for making Hans Urs von Balthasar’s work “Casta Meretrix” available on newtorah.org. First and foremost, it gives some important patristic and mediaeval background to the interpretation of Babylon the ‘great prostitute’ (Rev 17-18) presented on this site (especially in: “The Metaphor of Prostitution in the Interpretation of Babylon in Revelation 17-18”; “Revelation 20,1-6: The Millennium and the Mystery of Iniquity”; “The Prostitute: Babylon the Great” and “Babylonian Theology Today”). It is a difficult subject for any Christian to confront, let alone a loyal Catholic. Von Balthasar’s study, however, helps to understand this interpretation within a very long tradition of Catholic interpretation. The second reason is that his work is itself a comprehensive demonstration of the ways in which leading churchman down the centuries have grappled with the past and present sins of the Church’s members, often approaching the prophetic denouncement of Babylon described in the Book of Revelation. Thirdly, the theological tradition formed by these churchmen encourages us, too, to be ever mindful of the constant need for repentance in the Church—a need that finds expression in a recent Papal appeal: "Whilst the second millennium of Christianity is coming to a close, it is right that the Church assumes responsibility for the sins of her children with greater awareness, remembering all those circumstances in which, during the course of history, they have distanced themselves from the Spirit of Christ and from his Gospel, offering to the world—instead of the testimony of a life inspired by the values of the Faith—the spectacle of ways of thinking and acting which were really forms of anti-testimony and of scandal" (Pope John Paul II, 'Tertio Millennio Adveniente', 33). As von Balthasar himself remarks at the beginning of this work: “Without endangering the immaculateness, holiness, and infallibility of the Church, one must look the other reality in the eye and not exclude it from consideration. Much would be gained if Christians learned more and more to realize at what price the holiness of the Church has been purchased.” With such a valuable role to play, it is unfortunate that von Balthasar’s study is so difficult to obtain and we are indebted to the Liturgical Press for granting us permission to reproduce their English translation of his work here. With their permission, then, the following essay is taken from 'Explorations in Theology, Vol II: Spouse of the Word', San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991, pp. 193-288.
"CASTA MERETRIX" by Hans Urs von Balthasar
1. The theme
When Luther dares to equate the Roman Church with the whore of Babylon, it strikes us as the height of blasphemy. But he was not the first to coin the phrase. Similar things can be found in Wycliffe and Hus, and their language was not a complete innovation but the violent simplification and coarsening of a very old theologoumenon. This in turn has its origins in the Old Testament, in the words of judgment spoken by God, the betrayed Husband, against the archwhore Jerusalem, and in the New Testament's application of these texts, which are so fundamental to the Old. Now it is true that the Church regards herself as profoundly different from the unfaithful synagogue; in her there is at least one identifiable place where she is perfectly pure and unchangeably faithful. No believer, no Christian theologian (including Luther), would ever doubt these truths. But is that the only thing she has to be? Could the real Ekklesia, made up of these particular believers, be something different? Christians of other times have unhesitatingly acknowledged that it would be rash to deny these possibilities a priori.
Two examples from the Middle Ages, as "high" gives way to "late". On the summit of Mount Purgatory, after all kinds of testing and purging, Dante sees the Church approaching in an allegorical procession. A carriage, the Church, is being drawn by a griffin, the eagle-lion symbolizing Christ in his two natures, surrounded by the theological and cardinal virtues. Enthroned in the carriage, as a symbol of the pure bride, is Beatrice, whom the poet glorifies as the anima ecclesiastica. But to meet Beatrice, he has to go through a final, terrible, and remorseless confession. Beatrice's reproaches, harshly and mercilessly hammering down, smash the lover to the ground. His shame, his infidelity, is there for Church and world to see. She had warned him from heaven, but the warning was-fruitless, and so she sent him into hell. And now she demands full repentance, total confession, of a kind that is possible only when a man meets the spotless love of God. Only when the shattering experience of confession has taken place is the poet allowed to go through Lethe, the waters of oblivion; only when he has done penance does he leave behind him the essentially earthly experience of estrangement from love, the constant inability to do enough, the fall from the height of "first love" (Rev 2:4-5); only then, when he has been duly prepared, can he receive the paradisal vision. When he awakes, he no longer sees the heavenly glorification of the Church. All that is left is the carriage with Beatrice and the seven virtues and seven gifts of the Spirit: the earthly equipment of the Church. Now, newly purified, he has to experience the transformation of this form of the Church (Canto 32). The Church carriage is tethered by its shaft to a tree. Shaft and tree are of the same wood: the shaft is the Roman See; the tree is the earthly kingdom. An eagle swoops down on the carriage: the persecution of the early Church by the Roman state. Then a bony fox comes out of the carriage: the heresies. But Beatrice drives the fox away. Next the eagle covers the whole carriage with his plumage: Constantine takes the Church under the secular wing of the state. A dragon tears off a piece of the carriage: this may symbolize the Great Schism or Islam. The rest of it is entirely covered by the feathers: secular power and wealth spread out over the Church, and her true nature almost entirely disappears beneath. Finally, emerging from the carriage, come the seven heads and ten horns of the Beast of the Apocalypse: the Church appears as a monster. In fact, the whore of Babylon herself replaces Beatrice in the carriage and flirts with a giant (the King of France), who out of jealousy abuses her and finally abducts her: Avignon becomes the Babylonian captivity of the Church. The poet sees this not as an external accident but as an appropriate internal symbolic punishment. The next canto begins with the lamentation over the fallen Jerusalem—Deus, venerunt gente…—intoned by the seven virtues. Beatrice, when she consoles them, almost has the appearance of Mary at the foot of the Cross. "A little while," she says, "and you will not see me", because of the obscuring of the present form of the Church. "And again a little while": Beatrice, here expressing Dante's hope, promises an avenger and deliverer. The appalling defilement of the Church is compared to the first sin: violence is here done to God himself (33, 58).1
The great Bishop of Paris, William of Auvergne, was one of the most serious-minded theologians of his time. Even as a magister, he combined immense erudition and knowledge of the theological and philosophical Tradition with keen insight into the state of the Church. "In his lectures and writings he reacted with a vitality all of his own and in language of a bluntness and graphicness without parallel in the works of other scholars of the thirteenth century."2 This is illustrated in the following passage in his commentary on the Song of Songs. The verse where the Bride is compared to one of Pharaoh's chariots provides an opportunity for praising the flaming chariot of the Church militant, within which glows the fire of the Holy Spirit. But then the image is turned round.
It is obvious that everything nowadays is topsy-turvy. The Church is more like Pharaoh's chariot than God's! It hurtles down into the abyss of wealth and sensuality, even into sin. The wheels of the Church's teachers have come off the track and are far removed, in their unlikeness, from Christ… Today the chariot of the Church is no longer moving ahead but falling behind, because its horses are running backward and dragging it after them. It is no longer strong steeds that are chosen for ecclesiastical office, but young foals of little relatives, with neither chest nor withers for pulling. On the other hand, there are stallions: in heat, degenerate in their unbearable lust…wild in impatience and wrath, ripping their reins, snapping their harness.
If one thinks of the Church as the bridled war-horse of Christ himself, then it must be said that the modern leaders of the Church have bridled it "not as a horse but as a donkey". They force the Lord himself to "sit at its rear-end". Then William denounces the avarice of the clergy, who are far more concerned with their income than with the salvation of souls. In fact, they prostitute Holy Church, because for squalid gain they invite all and sundry to shame her. And so her nipples are cracked and her breasts torn out, in a word.
"The sons of Memphis and Tahpanhes have deflowered you, even to the crown of the head", as Jeremiah says (2:16).
"Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee."… Yes, all fair is she. Her individual members have a befitting beauty of their own and are coordinated to each other. This applies to the members of the Church: to the head, the company of the prophets; the neck, the Doctors; the shoulders, the martyrs; the breast, the confessors; the arms, the defenders of the Faith; the hands, the subtle preachers and those who do the works of wisdom. "All fair", too, is the human soul… The opposite is true of Babylon: she is the mother of all harlotry and idolatry on earth, as we read in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of the Apocalypse. She is of extreme ugliness.
Then follows a description of sinners in the Church, the licentious, the teachers of lies and false wisdom, those who are as brazen in their sin as the men of Sodom:
Whether they be clerics or laymen…they teach and suggest carnal things under the pretense of humanity.
And now it appears that Isaiah's threat (4:17) to her [the bride] is fulfilled: "God has made bald the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion." By depriving her of the contemplation of doctrine and heavenly wisdom, he took away her forehead, and we see the words of Jeremiah fulfilled: "You had a harlot's forehead; you would not blush" (3:3). He took away her eyes, for, according to Isaiah (56:10), all her watchmen have become blind. The eyes of her prophets and princes, who for her saw visions, he has closed (ibid., 29:10). Her cheeks are ashen; her lips are bloodless, the sure sign that her soul is ossified… As we read in the book of Lamentations, "From the daughter of Zion all her beauty has departed" (1:6), so that in truth it can be said of her, as Isaiah says (21:4), "Babylon, my beloved, has become an abomination to me." God's beloved is the Church, so long as she walks in the footsteps of the Fathers. But now she has become Babylon through her heinousness and infestation by unclean spirits. For God himself she has become an abomination. Is there anyone who would not be beside himself with horror at the sight of the Church with a donkey's head, the believer's soul with the teeth of a wolf, the snout of a pig, furrowed ashen cheeks, the neck of a bull, and in every other respect so bestial, so monstrous, that a person seeing it would freeze with terror? Is there anyone who would not regard and describe this dreadful perversion as Babylon rather than the Church of Christ? Is there anyone who would not call it a wasteland rather than the city of God?… Heretics call the Church "whore" and "Babylon" because of the appalling scandal of the Church being overrun by the degenerate and carnal, a mob so large, riffraff so noisy, that the other members of the Church are hidden and cannot be seen. Although the heretics may have rightly felt and spoken in this way about the degenerate and those who are Christians only in name, they did not extend these terms of abuse to all Christians. We are no longer dealing with a bride but with a monster of terrible deformity and ferocity… It is clear that it cannot be said of her in such a state: "Thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee."
William is not alone in using this fierce language. Odo of Cheriton speaks in a similar way, while the great Dominican exegete, later Cardinal, Hugh of St. Cher, takes over much of William's commentary word for word.3 Although such texts should not be regarded as dispassionate theology, they nonetheless powerfully raise a theological question. Do the Old Testament's words about the archwhore Jerusalem have any kind of application in the New? Can any theological idea concerning the old people of God, especially one as important and central as this, be written off as totally redundant and irrelevant to the New, of historical interest only? Convinced that it was impossible to deal with the matter in this way, Erich Przywara developed his passionate "Theology of the Hour", which he called "Covenant Old and New". In what follows we want to do something much more modest. We shall assemble some of the material (by no means all of it!) from the theological Tradition that shows how strongly the great theologians felt that this idea was still relevant to the New Testament. Ours is a purely historical undertaking. We intend, without prejudgment, by critical examination and in temperate language, to set out the most important themes. It will then be for the theologians to draw their conclusions. They should do this calmly, and yet not so anxiously that, by maneuvering and making subtle distinctions, they empty the whole thing of content and render it harmless. Without endangering the immaculateness, holiness, and infallibility of the Church, one must look the other reality in the eye and not exclude it from consideration. Much would be gained if Christians learned more and more to realize at what price the holiness of the Church has been purchased.
2. The theme in the Old Testament
The theme of the Covenant as a marriage between God and his people was alive in Israel long before Hosea. It is a way of teaching the people about God's justice and love. His love is jealous and exclusive, lordly and yet totally committed and devoted to his wife, a love that expects from her an exclusive love in return. Without lengthy explanations, the other theme is placed directly alongside: deserting Yahweh, Israel's God and Covenant Lord, is like adultery. Israel must expect from God the same treatment reserved for the adulteress and wife turned whore not only in the law but also in the logic of love and fidelity.
"You shall worship no other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they play the harlot after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and one invites you, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make your sons play the harlot after their gods" (Ex 34:14-16, the Yahwist). The sacrificial regulations in the "law of holiness" forbid the Jews to "slay their sacrifices for satyrs, after whom they play the harlot" (Lev 17:7; cf. 20:5). However, retrospectively, in Deuteronomy Yahweh says to Moses: "Behold, you are about to sleep with your fathers; then this people will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake me and break my Covenant that I have made with them" (Dt 31:16). The book of Judges describes the beginning of this constantly repeated adultery (2:17; 8:27, 33; cf. 1 Chron 5:25; 2 Chron 21:11, 13), and the psalms declare the punishment that by law it deserves (72:27; 105:39).
A new dimension opens up with the prophets, especially Hosea, who is commanded by God to go to a harlot, to marry her, and to have children of harlotry, upon whom the shame of their mother will fall. This shows that God wants to give his relationship with his people an incredibly vivid reality. It is no longer the legal relationship of the earthly wife with her heavenly Lord. It is the relationship of love of a God humiliated by the woman's adultery, a God who in his wrath discloses more his own "shame", a God who, by taking back the harlot, by betrothing her in justice and changing the names of he sons, shows the "weakness" of his love. Clearly, the harlot should have been rejected, but God's love humbles itself to woo her back. There is nothing even remotely suggestive about this love, nothing of the unsavoriness of the heathen gods' relations with their peoples. Yahweh is the God who is strong and gentle and yet, from the very beginning, betrayed. It is he who led the people through the wilderness (11:1-5; 12:10; 13:4-5), he who relentlessly threatens and yet promises the victory of his tender love.
Isaiah takes up the theme fleetingly: "How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice. Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers" (1:21). But Jeremiah, following Hosea, develops it at length. Yahweh reminds Jerusalem of "the devotion of [her] youth, [her] love as a bride, how [she] followed [him] in the wilderness" (2:2). But seeing that she has "played the harlot with many lovers" and would now like just to return to Yahweh, he raises the bitter question, which will become more and more pointed in the course of the book: "If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, does she still have the right to return to him?" (3:1-2). No, God must abandon his former beloved to her enemies and to wild animals (12:7-9). He forbids the prophet to intercede for her (11:14). "I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them" (13:14). And yet everything is still bound up with the mystery of God's love. Even the rejection is to be seen as a kind of guidance, a way to a new election, though that, of course, given such hardening of the people's hearts, can be accomplished only through God's "everlasting love" (31:3).
In Second Isaiah the rejected wife is so abandoned and humiliated that God can console her only in the misery of exile. The shame will be taken from her. God cares for her with a love like a mother's (49:15). But the profundity of Hosea has gone. There is no longer any talk of taking back harlots, runaway wives; a bill of divorce has never been issued (50:1). "The mystery of divine love is…weakened in that it now approximates more closely to the kind of conduct required of man in his communal relationships."4
In contrast, Ezekiel, with his vivid depiction of Israel's shameless adultery, exploits the image to an almost unbearable degree. In a first chapter (16), he tells the whole story from Israel's first election. In a second chapter, he describes the infidelity of the two separated halves of the kingdom: Samaria under the name of Oholah ("her own tent") and Jerusalem under the name Oholibah ("my tent in her").
In both descriptions the imagery has been so intensified that the characteristics of the archwhore Jerusalem merge with those of the archwhore Babylon. Jerusalem's adultery is, in fact, portrayed as being far worse than that of her "sisters" Samaria (the northern kingdom, infected by heathenism) and Sodom (the manifest depravity of the heathen world).
Jerusalem was originally a "foundling", of heathen descent. Her father was an Amorite, her mother a Hittite. On the day of her birth she was cast out on the open field, naked, unwashed, her umbilical cord uncut, and there, on the ground, writhing in her own blood, she was found by God. He brought her up, she became sexually mature, and yet she is still naked. "You were at the age for love, and I spread my skirt over you and covered your nakedness; yes, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil… You grew exceedingly beautiful and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed upon you"(16:3-14). We should note here motifs that will be taken up in the New Testament: the Ecclesia ex gentibus washed clean in water, the clothing with the mantle of grace, the perfect glory of God bestowed upon the bride, the plighting of troth, the nuptials.
But the bride, foolishly trusting in her beauty, uses her renown "to play the harlot" and "lavishes [her] harlotries on any passer-by". Out of her gracious adornments she makes "gaily decked shrines": the old heathen shrines in Israel, which were places quite literally of cultic sexual depravity in the service of the goddesses of fertility. The literal accuracy of his description gives the prophet's words their extreme astringency without lessening their permanent relevance to times and places where they do not apply literally. Religious sensualism is inevitably accompanied by religious sadism: Jerusalem slaughters her children, whom she had borne to and for Yahweh, and sacrifices them to Moloch: "You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them." And in all this she never remembers what God has done for her (15-22). Not content with increasing her harlotry to exorbitant proportions by offering herself at every street corner, Jerusalem reverses the usual practice: instead of receiving payment for her harlotry, she pays her lovers to use her as a harlot: "None solicited you to play the harlot; you gave hire, while no hire was given to you" (30-34).
God takes revenge.
“I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you loathed. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into the hand of your lovers, and they shall thrown down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your fair jewels and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a host against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords, and they shall burn your houses” [35-41].
In Jeremiah (4:29-31) the fall of Jerusalem is portrayed precisely as a sexual murder: the prostitute is killed by her paramours. Again we should observe the continuation of the motif in the New Testament. This time the archwhore is Babylon. By the judgment of God, all her fornication rebounds upon her. She too has committed fornication with all the kings of earth and quaffed the cup of intoxication that was her reward. She too has made rich the merchants of the earth. She too drips with the blood of the saints (Rev 17:2, 6; 18:3f.). And she too is given up to the hatred of her lovers, who make her desolate, rob her, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire (17:16; 18:8).
Ezekiel has one final crescendo: "Like mother, like daughter". All the demonism of her heathen origins has reasserted itself in the daughter, in the one who was endowed with more grace than her sisters Samaria and Sodom. At first she seemed to lag behind them, but soon her bad behavior had outstripped theirs; they did not commit "half the sins" of Jerusalem. Previously God exposed her bodily shame; now he does it to her spiritually. Her shame will make the other two appear righteous (44-52). But then the unthinkable happens. God has mercy on the archwhore who broke every covenant. Mindful of his covenant in the days of her youth, he enters into a new covenant with her, this time an "everlasting" one. And yet the word shame runs like a refrain through the celebratory conclusion: "Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God" (53-63). It is precisely the new and everlasting forgiveness, justification, and marriage that bring about Jerusalem's most extreme exposure. Her situation is just like that of mankind at the beginning of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. First of all, God abandons it to the logic of its religious perversions (including sodomitical homosexuality). But then humanity divides into two groups. Israel, endowed with more grace, fell more grievously than the Gentiles: "As it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'" (Rom 2:23). And so it is not Israel's covenant fidelity and merit that count, when God, out of pure grace and fidelity, remembers his covenant promises, and "every mouth is mute, and the whole world must be held accountable to God" (3:19). And is it not essential that Christ's Church too was finally founded in the sight of Peter, mute in his shame and tears, thrice humbled for his threefold betrayal?
Ezekiel plays through all the motifs again in Chapter 23, this time with a modulation into the political key. After the Egyptians Oholah (Samaria) takes the Assyrians as her lovers, yet without giving up the Egyptians. And so the Assyrians uncover her nakedness, rob her of her children, and slay her with the sword. Oholibah (Jerusalem) behaves even more wickedly. After the Egyptians and Assyrians she makes love with the sons of Babel, sends messengers to them, and commits fornication with them, whose sexual power is like that of rutting asses and horses. But God rouses her lovers against her. They cut off her nose and ears, rob her of her children, tear off her clothes, rip off her jewels, chop her up, and throw her into the fire. Her sister's cup of frenzy passes to her. She must drain it to the dregs and chew its shattered fragments, which gash her breast from the inside. For she has desecrated God's oil and incense by using them for her lovers, and in God's own house, too. She has sacrificed to alien idols the children she had borne to God. This time the parable ends with the extermination of lewdness through the extermination of the lewd.
After the exile the theme fades away. The past is transfigured. The picture of the eschatological future is unclouded. The individual comes to the fore in his struggle with God (Job), in his confession of sin and his trust in salvation (the psalms). And then suddenly, unrelated to the imagery of the prophets, connected only conceptually with the rest of Scripture, there emerges the Song of Songs: from its main theme the New Testament will develop the theology of the Church. In the apocalyptic literature the two images, which the prophets had linked in a tremendous drama (this inter-connection was the core of the whole of the old revelation), appear unrelated and apart, as pure white and pure black. The Qumran texts bear witness to this eschatological dualism; its final form is in the images of the two women in the Apocalypse of St. John. For the abyss that yawned in Ezekiel, when confronted with New Testament grace, opens up even deeper recesses: not only Hades, into which the prince of Tyre descends (Ezek 27, 28), in which Pharaoh is buried (31, 32), but hell in the full sense, which really blazes only when it comes face to face with the new heaven of the grace of Christ. This fulfills and surpasses the great either/or of the law, which is in its most intense form in Deuteronomy.
3. The theme in the New Testament
Compared with the explicitness verging on crudity found in the prophets (and in another form also in the books of law and wisdom), the New Testament seems at first restrained. In contrast to the fortissimo of the judgments of the Lord, here speaks one who is "meek and lowly of heart": "He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets" (Mt 11:29; 12:19). But this soft speech is heightened power, the quietest blazing of the hottest flame. In any case, the Son is not sent to say again what the prophets said. He fulfills what they said, and not a jot of it is without significance. He presupposes the prophets; the New Testament cannot be interpreted without the Old. He takes the prophets up in such a way that the great political events and the great rhetorical diatribes "become human" on the stage of his own life.
At this level of one human being meeting another, the scenes in the gospel involving sinful women always fascinated the Fathers of the Church. Ultimate forces and decisions stand in the background; after all, here human beings meet God himself in human form. Mary, the Lord's Mother, looks after the beginnings and the Child himself, but then her figure almost entirely disappears to emerge just once more (and then only in John) at the foot of the Cross (alongside Mary Magdalen the sinner). Between these two points, it is the sinful women who are to the fore: the harlot in Luke 7; the dubious Samaritan woman with her five or six husbands; the adulteress of John 8; the Mary of John 12 who, at least in her action of washing the Lord's feet, resembles the sinner of Luke 7; and the Magdalen, from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman splashed by the blood of the Cross, the first person to proclaim the Resurrection to the Church. This graphic evidence, together with the repeated assertion that Jesus eats by preference "with tax collectors and sinners" (Mk 2:15-16; Mt 9:11), that he is "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 11:19), justifies the words of judgment: "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him" (Mt 21:31-32). And so the son who squandered all his property on prostitutes will celebrate the banquet with the one who stayed at home with the father (Lk 15:11f.).
The Bridegroom comes in the sign of the wedding banquet (Mt 11:19) and is "seen and justified" by the "bride" herself as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (ibid.). His personal presence provokes explicit memories, with contemporary relevance, of the "great whore Jerusalem" of Ezekiel 16. Again and again, in the person of her official representatives, she is called "an adulterous generation" (Mt 12:39; 16:4; Mk 8:38). Moreover, as St. Paschasius Radbertus rightly emphasizes (In Mt 1, 6, 11; PL 120, 447C), it is Jerusalem that Jesus is thinking of when he upbraids Chorazin and Bethsaida, unrepentant, yet the scene of many of his miracles (cf. Mt 11:20-21). These cities, to which so much was given, represent Jerusalem. This is the implication of the recurring comparison with the sinful cities, for whom it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment than for the "beloved city". On two occasions, as in Ezekiel, the city "justified" in this way by Jerusalem is "Sodom", or "Sodom and Gomorrah" (Mt 10:15; 11:23-24; cf. Jude 7). Linked with this are the words addressed to the Pharisees: "The tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you" (Mt 21:31). But increasingly the city with which Jerusalem is compared can also be "Tyre and Sidon". In the Old Testament, Tyre (and Sidon with it; Ezek 28:20-33) is the archetype of arrogance and self-glorification, for which it is thrust into the pit. It is virtually the archetype of Antichrist. And yet on the Day of Judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for the whore Jerusalem. It was, after all, these cities that the Lord met in the person of the Canaanite woman, with her "great faith", when he "withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon" (Mt 15:21-28). The city can also be "Nineveh", the Assyrian Babel, and "the Queen of Sheba", who will arise at the judgment against the great whore Jerusalem. The new and greater thing demands it: "Something greater than Jonah is here! Something greater than Solomon is here!" (Mt 12:41-42). This condemnation of Jerusalem by Gentiles, tax collectors, and harlots is a "self-condemnation" (12:27, 37). Taking up the other great images of the prophets, the Lord says that it is the destruction of the "vineyard" (Mt 15:13; 21:33f.), the leaving of the "flock" (Lk 15:4), of the "righteous persons who need no repentance", who shift the guilt of "extortion" and "adultery" from themselves to the tax collector (Lk 18:11) and in so doing make the temple of God a "den of robbers" (Mt 21:13).
St. James (4:4-5) takes up the old prophetic image when he challenges those Christian souls that find space for earthly desires: "Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?… Or do you suppose it is in vain that the Scripture says, 'God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us' [or, 'The spirit that he has put into us yearns jealously for God']?" Whatever the exact words of this lost text may have been, there is a clear reminiscence of the jealous relationship of God the loving Bridegroom and Zion the unfaithful bride.
As for the repentant prostitutes in the Gospel, in these episodes all the light falls on the Lord, on the liberation from sin that he brings about. There is no stress at all on the prostitute herself; she serves as just a demonstration. In fact, in the case of the woman taken in adultery, the Lord first of all points out the Jews' solidarity with her and then absolves her almost incidentally, as a matter of course. The light falls on the assertion that "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her [consecrate her, hagiazein], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph 5:25-27). That is the important thing. The question of what he purified her from and what she was like before is left entirely in the dark. The prostitutes, too, come into the light only at the moment when they have already been attracted by his grace, when they kneel at his feet in sorrow for their sins. All the light falls on the act of putting them back on their feet, on the absolution. But what becomes of the woman who has been absolved? Can we say that she has been confirmed in grace?
"Go and sin no more!" (Jn 8:11). It is up to her not to sin again. The house may be empty, swept, and garnished, but the devil may return with seven others worse than himself, "and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first" (Mt 12:45). The same is true of individual sinners. It is true of stumbling Peter and his fellow apostles: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." Peter's promise to go with the Lord to prison and to death shows he misunderstands what the Lord is promising and immediately earns him this other assurance: "The cock will not crow this day until you three times deny that you know me" (Lk 22:31-34). Peter is sustained by a prayer that protects him from Satan, but not so protected that he cannot fall, deny, come so very close to Judas. The same thing is said to him when he confesses the messiahship of Christ: "Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (Jn 6:70). It would be incredible if such words and events referred only to the actions that founded the Church and had no relevance to her continued existence. The New Testament speaks of the safeguards granted Christ's Church, but at the same time, in harsh juxtaposition, there is the threat of abuse, the possibility of defection. Nowhere is the immaculateness of the bride an established fact for the bride just to accept and not to worry about any further. The relevant text from St. Paul shows this clearly: "I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough" (2 Cor 11:2-4). Where on earth does this susceptibility of the Church-bride come from, this curiosity and lustfulness? What makes her turn her head? Why does she heed every passer-by? Why does she not let herself be led by the apostle to her one and only Lover? Every epistle of the apostle shakes with this fear. Apostasy and relapse are always possible. No sacrament, no receiving of the word and Spirit, gives definitive assurance of salvation (Heb 6:4f.). The frightening thing is not so much that they themselves go astray but that they "despise authority" (2 Pet 2:10; Jude 8), the kyriotês embodied by the God-Man on the Cross. "They crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt" (Heb 6:6). "If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth", in other words, if we consciously and deliberately spurn the Cross, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:26). Since with the Cross we stand at the end of all the ways of God, there is not, as there is for the whore Jerusalem, a final promise overcoming all shame. That promise has already been fulfilled in the Cross. In fact, in a mysterious way, the Cross of Christ stands in an unimaginable position beyond all sin, even the ever-greater sin of the old and new bride. The person who tries to get beyond this absolute terminus, who is content with it, the one who has "spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the Covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace", falls into a fiery abyss very different from the one experienced by Persephone's crowd: "the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:29-30). In this sense the Old Testament mystery of the prostitute is surpassed in the final mystery of all, the mystery of the Cross. In fact, already in the Old Testament, especially in Hosea, the shame of the daughter of Zion is reflected on the shamed God-consort (as it were, Dieu cocu). And when, in Ezekiel, Zion is asked to experience shame at the very moment of her final engracing, it is as if she were bearing God's shame with him. On the Cross the shame is definitively taken on and endured, in a way beyond all imagining, for the redeemed Church and humanity. Consequently, the Church feels her shame nowhere more deeply than in her crucified Lord and in what, as an unfathomable grace, he allows her to feel with him. At its innermost and purest core, the harlotry of the new daughter of Zion merges with the supreme "folly of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), with "what for the world is foolish", "what for the world is shameful", "what for the world is without nobility", "of no repute", "even things that are not" (1 Cor 1:27-28), which God has claimed for himself. Now this idea of a humiliation and dishonoring that goes as far as nonbeing (mê on) comes from the Old Testament. It can be seen in the names of Hosea's "children of harlotry". Paul cites the passage expressly (Rom 9:25-26; cf. Hos 2:23), as does Peter (1 Pet 2:10). It is this that God took upon himself to shame the wisdom of the Greeks and the Jews' demand for signs, a humiliation surpassing all possible derision, every kind of contempt, and it is this that, as a seal, as a pure grace of the Cross, he has impressed upon the Church. The Jerusalem ensnared by the rulers of this world, stripped by them of her garments and all her finery, her shame held up to ridicule, finally hacked down and hurled into the fire: that Jerusalem's final place is none other than the Cross. That is why Christians are also called to take the shame of Jesus upon themselves by leaving the old Jerusalem (cf. Heb 13:13).
So can the Christian settle down and put the Cross behind him once and for all? He could only do that if he allowed himself to think he had the "perfect love" that "casts out fear" (cf. 1 Jn 4:18), that total eschatological "confidence on the Day of Judgment". But he is a liar if he maintains he has no sin (cf. 1 Jn 1:9), if he thus fails to move, time and time again, from the Old Testament to the promise and hope of the Cross, if he fails to approach Jesus, time and time again, in the company of all the sinful women and men who encounter him, if he fails to acknowledge him, all the time as if for the first time, as his Savior. People like to accuse the apostolic Church of a somewhat naïve assurance of salvation, and yet with what insistence do the apostles remind the Church of her origins. She must never forget from where she comes. She must keep her former shame before her eyes in the attitude of Mary Magdalen, in a gratitude, like hers, of confession and adoration: "Formerly, you were…!" (Gal 1:13; 4:8; Phil 3:4f.; Eph 2:11-12; 4:17-24; Titus 3:3; I Pet 1:14, 18; 4:3-4, etc.). The real Church is as real, as physical and full-blooded, as the old Jerusalem. How could anyone consign her to a pure eschatological grandeur beyond the reach of all peril, safe from all shipwreck? (The Fathers interpreted St. Paul's shipwreck in Acts 27 as a symbol of the historical Church.) How could anyone restrict her to the bare structures she is given and guaranteed from above? That would be to cut her off from historical reality, from all faith, hope, and charity (which can be "heroic" only in the face of peril). Neither "in the Church" nor "as Church" is there a "subject" that can be identified with an existence that is guaranteed and trouble-free. For "Church" can find salvation and security only in the Cross of her Lord (and not in herself). And if she knows that she is the fruit of the Cross (and every Christian knows that is what he is), then the only way for her to live is to follow the way of the Cross in penance and conversion. That is how the Church sees herself before God in the liturgy, which is her surest lex credendi: "Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church in thine unfailing mercy, and since without thee human frailty cannot but fall, keep her ever by thy help from all harm and lead her to salvation" (Collect, 14th Sunday after Pentecost). "O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church, and since without thee she cannot continue in safety, preserve her evermore by thy grace" (Collect, 15th Sunday after Pentecost; cf. Collect, 1st Sunday in Lent). Here and everywhere the Church prays for herself, not just for her children, with whom she might be identifying in a mother's attitude of "as if". All these people praying together are the Church of Christ, these people who beg for the grace that purifies, sanctifies, protects.
The central issue in what follows is the way in which patristic theology handled and interpreted the recovery and translation into the New Testament of the Old Testament's "revelations" about Jerusalem. Was too much or too little taken over? And what is the final shape that emerges for Biblical-speculative theology of Biblical revelation taken as a whole?
4. The Rahab theme: the salvation and purification of the prostitute
Exegetical theology has never failed to notice the clear and deliberate way in which St. Matthew selected the female figures in Christ's genealogy. According to Anselm of Laon, these are named "to show that Christ was to be born not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles; not only of the righteous, but also of sinners" (In Mt 1; PL 162, 1239C; cf. St. Paschasius Radbertus, In Mt 1, 1; PL 120, 67C). Rabanus Maurus underlines this idea:
Legitimate spouses are passed over, while four foreign women are taken up in Christ's genealogy: Tamar, sitting at the road side in the garb of a whore; Rahab the harlot, joining herself to Salmon, prince of the tribe of Judah from Jericho; Ruth, coming from Moab after her husband's death and joining herself to Boaz; Bathsheba, who conceived through the adultery of King David. In the literal sense, this took place so that we might admire the supreme mercy of God, because, to destroy the sin of man, he deigned to be born not simply of human beings but of sinners and prostitutes. In its spiritual sense, however, these women symbolize the Church that was to come from the error of the Gentiles to the Lord [Hom. in Evang. 163; PL 110, 458].
One of the three Old Testament harlots is mentioned three times in the corpus of the New: Rahab. It was she who let Joshua's two spies into the city of Jericho, hid them, and then by her cunning protected them from being hunted down by the King's men. While their pursuers look for them on the Jordan plain, Rahab tells them to make their way through the hills. She makes a profession of faith in Yahweh and receives an assurance from the spies that, if she keeps the agreement, she, her family, and everyone staying in her house will be spared when the city is taken. The spies give her a sign by which her house can be recognized: a scarlet cord, hanging out of her window over the city wall, will indicate to the attackers that this is the house to be spared. And that is what happened. The rest of Jericho is utterly destroyed, but Joshua spares the house of Rahab, "and she dwelt in the midst of Israel to this day" (Jos 2:1-21; 6:17, 22-25).
In Jewish speculation at the time of Christ,5 Rahab is already a symbolic figure. On the one hand, she is an example of the saving power of good works (Strack-Billerbeck 1, 21); on the other hand, she is endowed with the spirit of prophecy (Josephus, Ant. Jud. V, 1, 13), because she acknowledges the true God and the election of Israel and foresees the fall of Jericho. All on her own, she admits the people into what will later be the Holy Land and opens up for them the way to conquest. Her spiritual role is central. She really does invite symbolic interpretation. For the Jews, she is already a type of the Gentiles who are incorporated into the people of God, the ekklesia (Strack-Billbeck 1, 22). What the New Testament has to say about her must be seen against this background.
For theology inspired by St. Paul, Rahab is the witness to justification by faith. "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies" (Heb 11:31). For theology inspired by St. James, she is justified by works. "And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" (James 2:25). The special place given Rahab alongside the most important figures in salvation history indicates the distinction she already enjoyed in the thinking of this period. Now while these two texts, like the original story in Joshua, do not give any particular emphasis to her earlier profession, Matthew must have made mention of Rahab in the Lord's genealogy (Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Rahab are the only women mentioned) with this aspect in mind. The Christian Tradition will develop both aspects further. Rahab the convert, the prophetess, the woman incorporated into the Church, in fact the Church of the Gentiles itself—and Rahab the harlot. For the Fathers, the first aspect predominates. Origen, though, says that Rahab and Tamar became types precisely because of the role they play in Christ's genealogy (cf. Hom. 28 in Luc.; Rauer IX, 173).
Development, based on Jewish and New Testament Tradition, begins already with the Epistle of St. Clement. Combining Paul and James, the Pope says, "For her faith and hospitality Rahab the harlot was saved" (12:1). Moreover, the scarlet cord has a significance for him: "It showed beforehand that through the blood of the Lord there would be redemption for all who believe and hope in God. You see, dearly beloved, not only faith but prophecy is found in this woman" (12:7-8). This "sign" can be compared to the streak of blood from the slaughtered Passover lamb, which the Jews had to paint on their doors to protect them from the angel of death who struck down the firstborn of Egypt. For Clement, this is also the "sign" of the Blood that redeems both Jews and Gentiles: "The sign of the scarlet cord…for its part reveals the Blood of Christ, through which the unrighteous and former prostitutes out of all the nations are saved, if, having received the forgiveness of sins, they do not sin any more" (11:3).
St. Justin Martyr (Dial. III, 4) extends this theology of redemption by placing the flood and the ark alongside Rahab and the rite of the Passover lamb. Here too there is salvation from general destruction. Rahab's house and those present in it become the saving ark and thus a symbol of the Church, the Church that, since Rahab came from Jericho, is precisely the Church of the Gentiles.
In the work of St. Irenaeus the theme gains in intensity:
Thus Rahab the harlot condemned herself, because she was a Gentile and guilty of all sins. Nevertheless, she received the three spies [speculatores: in Greek philosophy kataskopeusai, "to spy out", also means "to examine" and is used of Providence and its governance of the world], who were spying out the whole land—in other words, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and gave them a place of hiding. And when the whole city in which she lived, at the sounding of the seven trumpets, fell into ruins, Rahab with all her household was saved through faith in the scarlet cord. This explains what the Lord said to those who did not accept his coming, the Pharisees, who despised the scarlet cord, in other words, the Passover, the redemption, and the Exodus of the people from Egypt: "The tax collectors and harlots enter the Kingdom of heaven before you" (Mt 21:31) [Adv. Haer. 4,20, 12].
The three saving events—the ark, the Passover lamb, Rahab's cord—are definitively linked and, through the Matthew text, more strongly related to the Old Testament theology of the harlot. And that is not all. Irenaeus invokes Hosea's treatment of the theme and brings Rahab into connection with the idea of redemption through marriage: she becomes the "Church to be sanctified through communion with the Son". That is also the significance of Moses' relationship with the Ethiopian woman: the wild olive branch (of which St. Paul speaks) is grafted into the holy trunk.
In the first of the Easter homilies in the tradition of St. Hippolytus the thinking progresses from the Passover lamb to Rahab as the Church: "The fact that the entire victim had to be eaten in the individual houses and none of the meat was allowed to be taken out means that only one house contains salvation in Christ—the Church universal. Once she was distant from God, but now she alone belongs truly to God, because she received those sent by the Lord Jesus, just as the household of Rahab, the former harlot, had received the spies of Jesus [Joshua] and were the only people to be saved when Jericho was destroyed" (PG 59, 724; cf. Hippolytus' commentary on Daniel 2:19; Bonwetsch I, 1, 79). One of the fragments of Hippolytus' works has something similar: "These twelve spies (cf. Nb 13:1) are the type of the holy apostles, and Moses is the type of Christ. Just as he sent twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan, so Christ sent out his apostles in order to scan the world in his name and for the sake of the gospel" (Frag. in Num. 13; Bonwetsch I, 2, 104). Here we have strong endorsement of the Tradition of seeing Joshua, because of his name's similarity to "Jesus" (his first name was Hosea!), as a special type of the Lord. In light of all this, Rahab really does become the Church of humanity, as the next stage in the theme's development, Origen, shows so clearly.
Origen is the classical exponent of the theology of Rahab. No one after him will add anything really new. As he meditates on it, every detail of the story becomes significant:
Rahab means breadth [latitudo]. What is this breadth if not the Church of Christ assembled out of sinners as well as harlots?… It is this "breadth" that received the spies of Christ. In the book of Hosea there is another harlot, whom the prophet is instructed to accept, as a symbol, of course, of the Church assembled out of the Gentiles… From a prostitute she [Rahab] becomes a prophetess, for she says: "I know that the Lord your God has handed over this land to you." So you see how the woman who was once a whore, godless and impure, is now filled with the Holy Spirit. To things past she bears witness, in the present she has faith, and the future she prophesies. So Rahab, the "breadth", extends and grows until she reaches the four corners of the earth… But let us see how this wise harlot behaved with the spies. The advice she gave them was mysterious, heavenly, with nothing earthly about it: "Make your way through the hills", in other words, do not go through the valleys, avoid what is base, proclaim what is sublime. She herself places a scarlet sign on her house, by which she escaped the destruction of her city. She chose none other than a scarlet sign, as a symbol of the Blood, for she knew that no one could be saved except in the Blood of Christ.
And now we come to the theology of the one house. "The former harlot receives this instruction: 'All those to be found in your house will be saved.' If anyone wants to be saved, let him come to the house of the former harlot. Even if it is someone of the [Jewish] people who wants to be saved, let him come to this house to find salvation. Let him come to the house in which Christ's Blood, as the sign of redemption, is to be found… And let no one deceive himself, no one delude himself: outside of this house, that is, outside the Church, there is no salvation. If anyone leaves it, he is guilty of his own death." The sign at the window represents the sacraments: the water of baptism and the Blood of our Lord. With the ark and the Passover lamb, the house of the harlot forms the third great symbol of redemption and the Church. "The people in the house escape the coming Judgment of God, when, at the sound of the trumpet, Jesus our Lord conquers and overthrows Jericho [this world], and only the harlot and all her household are saved." But Rahab remains in the holy people to the present day. This cannot be interpreted literally. "If you want to see more clearly how Rahab was incorporated into Israel, consider how the wild olive branch is inserted into the trunk of the cultivated olive tree, and you will understand how those inserted into the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are rightly regarded as incorporated into Israel until the last day. For we wild olive branches, taken from the Gentiles, who once were prostitutes, worshipping stone and wood instead of the true God, have been inserted into the cultivated tree to this day" (Hom. 3 in Jos. 4; Baehr VII, 304-6; Hom. 6,4; ibid., 326).
What is remarkable, indeed unique, about this statement is that Origen takes the phrase to this day to mean that the Rahab episode has an abiding relevance (he will give us several other testimonies to the same effect). In this passage what is abidingly relevant is not so much the transformation of Rahab from whore to holy Church as the engrafting of the Gentile Church into the Jewish Church. No other Father has felt so strongly as this spiritual master that the Old Testament cannot be superseded, and not only the Old Testament but also the economy and people of the Old Testament. This is the reality in which the Gentile Church is rooted, into which she is engrafted even now and will be time and time again, in the sense that she owes her salvation and sanctification to her admission to the people God originally chose for himself. Origen insists that the process and event of the Gentile Church's incorporation is a living reality. This position is in marked contrast to ecclesiologies that either forget and pass over "the Church of the Jews" (experiencing and describing the Church of the New Covenant as simply "the Church of the Gentiles") or regard the synagogue as the "unfaithful bride" left behind by God, thus allowing Christians through the centuries to do the same (cf., for example, the pseudo-Augustinian Altercatio Ecclesiae et Synagogae, PL 42, 1131-40, where the synagogue is simply dismissed as adultera et moecha, 1131A, 1135D). In contrast, St. Augustine says in the most emphatic way that the New Testament interprets Hosea's harlot to mean the Church, not Israel according to the flesh, but the Church of Jews and Gentiles according to the promise (C. Faust. Man. 22, 89; PL 42, 459-461). The implanting of the Gentiles into the Jewish Church is an act of purification. Origen shows this has abiding relevance when he comes to the "moral sense" of the passage, that is to say, when he applies it to the individual soul, albeit in connection with what is affirmed about the whole Church: "The harlot who received the spies sent by Jesus did it so that in future she would be a harlot no more. Now the soul of each of us was this harlot while it lived in vice and lust. But it has received the messengers of Jesus, the angels, whom he sent before his face to prepare his way" (Hom. 1 in Jos. 1, 4; ibid., 292).
The phrase coined by Origen—"outside Rahab's house, the Church, no salvation"—inevitably became an axiom for St. Cyprian. It provided him with a graphic image to express his basic idea about the Church's unity. "It was said to Rahab, who prefigured the Church, 'Gather into your house your father and your mother.'… Do you think you can live when you leave the Church and build new dwellings and different homes? After all, it was said to Rahab, in whom the Church was prefigured,…'Whoever leaves the doors of your house shall be guilty'" (De cath. eccl. unit. 8; CSEL 3, I, 217; cf. Ep. 69, 4; 3, II, 752-53). The harlot theme is inactive in Cyprian.
St. Jerome, in the Origen Tradition, speaks more pointedly, "Rahab, the justified whore, contains us" (Ep. 22,38; PL 22, 422). "Rahab the harlot, as a type of the Church, hung from the window a cord containing the mystery of the Blood, so that her house, when Jericho was destroyed, would be saved" (Ep. 52, 3; PL 22, 530; cf. Adv. Jovin. I, 23; PL 23, 243A). Similar things are said in the Altercatio Simonis et Theophili (TU I, 3  33), which also refers (34) to Hosea's harlot.
The Song of Songs mentions that the bride has a "coral necklace" (1:10). Theodoret, in his commentary on the passage, is reminded of Rahab's scarlet cord. This gives him the opportunity of interrelating, in the reality of the Church, the harlot of the Old Testament with the bride of the New. "By referring to the coral necklace, he reminds us of the harlot Rahab, who was her type and prefiguration in the Old Testament. For by receiving the spies sent by Joshua the son of Nun, she was deemed worthy by them of eternal salvation" (In Cant. 2, 4; PG 8l, l29C). However, in his commentary on Joshua, Theodoret stresses the fact that the Church, who once was a harlot, must not forget her past: "Let no one regard the image of Rahab as unworthy of the Church. Listen rather to the apostle: 'We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another' (Titus 3:3), and again: 'Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord' (Gal 4:8). And yet again: 'Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals…will inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10), and he adds immediately, " 'And such were some of you, but you have been justified…' just like Rahab the harlot" (Qu. in Jos. int. 2; PG 80, 462).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem identifies himself more with St. Matthew's version of the Rahab Tradition: "The type of Jesus saved Rahab the harlot when she believed. But the true Jesus said: 'Behold, the tax collectors and prostitutes go before you into the Kingdom of God' " (Cat. 10,11; PG 33, 676C; cf. Pseudo-Chrysostom, In Meretricem; PG 59, 533).
For St. Hilary the Rahab episode, together with the reality and symbol of Hosea, moves to the very center of typological theology: "We have called the [Hosea] text to mind chiefly so that now, as we consider Rahab, we can show her to be a type of the Church. Church and harlot can with certainty be compared, because we can show that the harlot united to the prophet has been wedded by God in eternal expectation of faith, justice, and wisdom" (Tract. Mysteriorum II, 5; Sources Chrétiennes 148). In the spirit of Origen, Joshua is interpreted as a foreshadowing of Jesus; he is the type of the New Covenant, just as Moses, who led the people through the wilderness but not into the promised land, was a type of the Old.
The story [of Rahab] is one long chain of important images of salvation and of the spiritual goods that were to come. The harlot receives the two men sent by Jesus to spy out the land. In other words, the sinful Church receives the law and the prophets sent to spy out the faith of men, and she confesses that "God is in heaven above and on earth beneath". From the same spies she receives the sign of salvation in the scarlet cord, clearly a symbolic color, signifying in dignity kingship and in the bodily sphere blood. Both are proper to the Passion, for thus was the Lord's robe procured. The houses daubed with this blood in Egypt were spared, with this blood the book of the Covenant was sprinkled, with it the people were sanctified. Every member of the family found outside of the house made himself guilty. That means whoever is found outside the Church will be guilty of his own death.
Like Origen, Hilary gives the image an eschatological slant: "For six days Jericho, the type of the world, was encircled. On the seventh, at the sound of the trumpets, it collapsed, and Jesus spared the whole house of Rahab…because she confessed the Incarnation of God, and because Jesus gave her the sign of scarlet" (II, 9-10; l54-57).
In his twelfth treatise (Ed. Batiffol, Tr. Origenis [Paris, 1900], pp. l28-39), St. Gregory of Elvira has arranged the Rahab theme, together with the other harlot motifs from Scripture, in a kind of fugue. In so doing, he makes vividly clear the interwoven unity of the theme in the Bible. We shall return to some of these motifs later. Gregory wants to draw our attention to the oikonomia of the mysterion: "Why Rahab? I do not think she was mentioned by chance but with prophetic good reason. For this harlot meets me in many passages in Scripture, not only as the hostess of the saints but also as spouse. After all, Hosea, the holy prophet, is commanded by the Lord to take a harlot as a wife…and the same Lord, who is our Redeemer, when he was sitting by a well in Samaria, spoke first of all with a harlot… And finally a harlot washed the Redeemer's feet with her tears" (129). "This Rahab, though called a harlot, bears prophetically within herself the sacraments of the Virgin Church and the shadow of the things to take place at the end of time." The traditional themes are unfolded: idolatry is adultery, so the Church from the Gentiles is called a harlot; she receives the messengers sent by the Lord. And when at the end of the world, at the blast of the trumpet, Jericho collapses, only the people in the harlot's house will be saved. But the Church is Christ's bride, washed clean through baptism: "From being the harlot she once was, she becomes virgin, in accordance with the Lord's words to the Jews: 'The prostitutes will go before you into the Kingdom of heaven.' '' So by "prostitute" Jesus meant the Church of the Gentiles. Gregory portrays both Rahab and Mary Magdalen as an image of the bride of Christ. He compares the scarlet sign to the red of the bride's lips in the Song of Songs and links the sparing of Rahab's house with the deliverance of those who ate the Passover lamb in Egypt. Having presented all these themes, he then gathers them together. He sees them circling round a central point-the contrast between "once" and "now". "Once, while we dwelt among the Gentiles, we were not his people, but through faith in Christ we were destined to be transformed into his people and be called sons of God. And the Church too, before being taken to himself by Christ, was once unbeloved, but then was destined to become his beloved" (133). The flood and the ark are drawn into the analogy, and the Jericho/Rahab episode now becomes the vivid illustration within history of the two great destructions-at the beginning of human history and at its end. "The flood, the Passover, and the Rahab story are the three great sacramenta that contain the Biblical theology of redemption." 6
A few more testimonies can be cited, though they change the general picture very little. First, St. Augustine: "Rahab represents the Church of the Gentiles. That is why the Lord says to the arrogant Pharisees: 'Truly, I say to you, tax collectors and harlots will go before you into the Kingdom of heaven' (Mt 21:31)… 'I will be mindful of Rahab and of Babylon' (Ps 86:4)…not only of Rahab, but also of Babylon. But for whom will he be mindful? For those 'who remember me' (ibid.)" (En. in Ps. 86; PL 37, 1106). Cassiodorus (Exp. in Ps. 86, 4; PL 70, 619) repeats the statement. What is important here is that Rahab (who really refers here to Egypt but is taken by the patristic exegetes to mean the historical person) is mentioned in the same breath as Babylon, the great harlot. Theologians coming after Augustine dwell on the wonder of the transformation of harlot into virgin. Augustine himself had emphasized that Christ "redeemed his Church from harlotry with demons and made her a virgin" (Serm. 188, 4; PL 38,1005). St. Caesarius of Arles makes the same point: "That harlot, dearly beloved brethren, symbolized the Church, who, before the coming of the Lord, used to play the harlot with many idols. But Christ, on his coming into the world, not only set her free from fornication but also changed her, by a great and mighty miracle, into a virgin" (Serm. 116, Morin 1,483). St. Fulgentius: "Rahab symbolizes the Church of the Gentiles… By receiving the spies of Jesus, she, who hitherto had played the harlot with idols and was a godless whore, became a woman of faith, fidelity, and chastity" (De rem. pecc. 20-21; PL 65, 543-45). Similarly, St. Paschasius Radbertus (Expos. in Mt. I, 1; PL 120, 6ICD) and Pseudo-Ambrose (Serm. 46, 15; PL 17, 698-99). Rupert of Deutz goes into more detail and adds a new idea, which we shall have to consider more closely later on (in part 7): the parallel between the whore who "gives herself to every passer-by" (Ezek 16:25) and the womb of the Catholic Church, which is open to receive all who come to her: "This whore, of noted faith and illustrious memory, …symbolizes the Church that is gathered, and gathers, from the Gentiles… The spies rested in her house, and she refreshed the depths of her soul by opening her door to them and receiving the word of salvation… Before they entered her house…she was a whore, a bed of demons, a brothel of idols. But when they had entered, and she had received them, she became pure, the chaste virgin of one husband, his one friend, one dove, one immaculate, one perfect woman" (De op. Trin.; in Jos. 10; PL 167, 1008-9; cf. In Cant. 1, 3; PL 168, 887BC). Duramdus too links the two themes: the Church "is presented in the image of a harlot, because she was assembled originally from the heathens, and because she closes her womb to no one who returns to her" (Rationale div. off. 1, 14  12). The idea of this comparison was first developed by St. Ambrose, who excelled in the discovery of such bold ideas, as will be seen. The man on the roof, says the Gospel, must not come down—in other words, must not return to the world. "But I know a roof on which Rahab concealed the spies sent by Jesus. Rahab as type was a whore, but as mystery the Church, which is linked to the Gentile peoples by consort with the sacraments" (In Luc. 8,40; PL 15, 1776).
The idea of the Gentile Church as a converted harlot is so common that it can also be developed independently of the Rahab story, especially when the Church is seen in universal perspective and is identified with the human race that is to be redeemed. This is true of Aponius, for whom "the Church consists of all those who have faith in Christ, the Church who, before the coming of the Bridegroom, lay in her own blood" (cf. Ezek 16)" (In Cant. 1, 1, p. 6; ed. Bottino-Martini [Rome, 1843]). Thus in speculation connected with Ephesians 5:26-27, the Church's bath of purification may be taken to mean in general terms redemption or more specifically the sacrament of baptism, or more narrowly still the baptism in the Jordan in which Christ both purified his bride "his flesh" and married her. The famous Epiphany antiphon expresses this idea: "Today the Church is joined to her heavenly Bridegroom, since Christ in the Jordan has washed away her offenses" (Hodie coelesti Sponso juncta est Ecclesia, quoniam in Jordane lavit Christus ejus crimina).7 From the fact of the one true bride's purification, St. Cyprian concludes that she has exclusive legitimacy: "Only the Church that has been joined and united to Christ spiritually bears sons, as the apostle says: 'Christ loved his Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing in water.' If Christ's bride and beloved is she who by Christ alone has been purified and cleansed in the bath, it is clear that heresy, which is not Christ's bride and cannot be cleansed and sanctified in his bath, can also not bear sons for God" (Ep. 74, 6f.; CSEL III, 2, 804). The numerous Syriac liturgical and theological texts8 all vigorously insist on the act of cleansing, but they say very little about what the "poor bride" (Jacob of Sarug) was before her cleansing. Cassiodorus speaks of the cleansing bath when commenting on Psalm 50: "That the Gentile Church, which was covered with the filth of its sin, may be cleansed through union with God" (PL 70, 358; cf. St. Augustine, In Joh. tr. 57, 5; PL 35, 1789).
The Fathers kept returning to the idea that the former whore has been miraculously transformed into a virgin. They were not afraid of applying to the Church the graphic proverb (Prov 30:20): "This is the way of the harlot: she eats, and wipes her mouth, and says, 'I have done no wrong.' " "This harlot is a type of the Church. Once she dwelt among the Gentiles, depraved by idolatry, disgraced by the fornication of idle superstition. The crowd of false gods had made her an adulteress… But once our Lord Jesus Christ had poured the pure water of baptism over her, she received the washing away of both her crimes and her earlier name through the grace of faith. By God's grace the former harlot becomes a virgin" (Pseudo-Ambrose, Sermo de Salomone 46, 15; PL 17, 698). And again on the same proverb: "What it says about the adulteress applies to the woman that is the Church. Formerly she followed idols and whored after foreign gods, but once…washed in baptism, she is convinced she has never sinned. She becomes pure, dies to the devil, is reborn for God" (Pseudo-Ambrose, Sermo in Prov. 30, 19-20; 47, 5; PL 17, 702A; cf. St. Isidore of Seville, Alleg. 73; PL 83, 111A). Finally, St. Anastasius of Sinai: "This is the way of the adulteress: she eats, and wipes her mouth and says, and says, 'I have done no wrong.' '' This is the way of the conversion of the Church that has faith in Christ: she whores after idols, but then she renounces them, and the devil is washed clean from her sins, receives forgiveness, and says, 'I have done no wrong' " (Quaest. et Resp. PG 9, 593AC, with use of a text from Hipploytus, though Bonwetsch does not accept the attribution: Hipp I, 2, 176-78; PG 10, 624). Origen, without reference to the proverb, asserts the same truth: "It can happen that someone who has sinned and has now ceased to sin is called 'sinless'. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ prepared for himself "a glorious Church without spot", not because any individuals within the Church have ever been without "spot" but because they no longer defile themselves, a Church "without wrinkle" not because the "wrinkle" of the "old man" has never adhered to them but because they no longer have it" (Hom. 2 in Luc., Rauer 9, 14).
What Rahab is for the theology of the Old Testament, Mary Magdalen9 is for the New: the former harlot converted into the Christ-loving soul. In fact, at the foot of the Cross, she quite explicitly becomes the symbol of the purified Church, entrusted on Easter Sunday with bearing the message of salvation to the apostles and the world. This is particularly clear when Mary Magdalen is identified, on the one hand, with the sinful woman who anoints the feet of Jesus in Luke chapter 7, and, on the other hand, with Mary of Bethany, who also anoints him. The former sinner meets the future virgin, the pure contemplative and friend of the Lord, and the two converge to the point of identity. "The harlot was transformed. She was no longer a harlot but became more honorable than a virgin" (Pseudo-Chrysostom, In Meretricem et Pharisaeum, PG 59, 531). "The harlot who washes the Savior's feet and dries them with her hair is the type of the Church, gathered from the Gentiles. To her these words apply: 'Your sins are forgiven you' " (St. Jerome, Ep. 122, 3; CSEL 56, 66). St. Augustine likewise identifies the woman bearing the jar of ointment with the Church (En. in Ps. 21, 2; PL 36, 171).
According to Origen, when Mary Magdalen anoints the feet of Jesus, she is the penitent Church, the Church at the beginning of her conversion, in contrast to Mary of Bethany when she performs the same action: "When she begins to serve God and to know Christ, the Church on earth is his 'footstool', just as that penitent woman, that sinner, lay at Jesus' feet at the beginning of her conversion, having not yet been permitted to empty the fragrant ointment of her good works over the head of Christ. For her desire was this: to be at Jesus' feet and to anoint him" (Serm. in Mt. 8; Klost.-Benz. 11, 13). Similarly, St. Ambrose says that the two distinct anointings were carried out by the same woman: the first is carried out by the Church inasmuch as she is a sinner, the second by the Church inasmuch as she is making progress toward sanctity. More will be said later about the fact that the Church of the saints adopts the gesture of the Church of sinners (St. Ambrose, In Luc. 1, 6, 12-35; PL 15,1671-78). St. Paulinus of Nola follows this interpretation and adds the lovely detail that the Church of sinners washes herself by pouring oil over Christ, cleanses herself of her sins by drying his feet, loves herself by embracing him in love (Ep. 23, 32-33; PL 61, 277-79). According to St. Gregory the Great, who liked to distribute the figures in the gospel between the synagogue and the Church, the Pharisee in Luke chapter 7 is simply the Old Testament, whereas "the sinful woman, following the footsteps of the Lord, covering his feet with her tears, symbolizes the Church converted from heathendom. And this woman can symbolize us too, when, having sinned, we turn back wholeheartedly to the Lord" (Homiliae in Evangelium 2, 33, 5; PL 76, 1242). Similarly, speaking in general terms, St. Peter Chrystologus: "See, a woman who once was a sinner, known all over town. Who is this woman? Without doubt, the Church. In which town? In the town of which the prophet says, 'How faithful Zion has become harlot' (Is 1:21; Jer 11:16-17)" (Serm. 95; PL 52, 467-68).
Most of the texts referring to Rahab and Mary Magdalen stress the transition in time: once she was a whore; now she is a saint. Secondly, they place special emphasis on the Gentile Church: once she played the harlot with idols; now she is chaste and faithful to Christ. Only the greatest of the theologians of the patristic age go beyond these two categories: Origen, who regards the whole unabridged Old Testament as a model, a visual aid, for the Church; for him, what was relevant in the past has to be still relevant today. And St. Augustine, starting from somewhat different premises, holds a similar view. For the Church's great Doctor of sin and grace, the difference between the engracing of Israel and that of the Gentile Church is not so great. Thus, in the famous sermon about the two harlots who argue over the dead child in the presence of Solomon:
The two women are the synagogue and the Church… Both were harlots, for the Apostle says that Jews and Greeks are all equally in a state of sin, for any soul that turns away from eternal truth to indulge in earthly filth goes whoring away from God… But one mother woke up and realized, not by her own merits, for she was a harlot, but by God's grace, that a son had been given her—the work of evangelical faith… Yet both were harlots, because all had been converted from worldly lust to the grace of God. The only things she could really confess to be her own were her sins. The gift of fruitfulness comes from God [Serm. 10; PL 38, 92-95].
It is worth placing Rabanus Maurus' interpretation alongside St. Augustine's:
There can be no doubt that the Scriptures call both the synagogue and the Church adulteresses and prostitutes. At first sight, this seems blasphemous, but then we turn to the prophets. Hosea takes a harlot to be his wife, has children of harlotry, and later marries an adulteress.10 Ezekiel calls Jerusalem a whore, because she chases after her lovers, opens her legs to every passer-by, sets up a brothel in a public place. Christ, therefore, came to lead prostitutes to marriage… Similarly, the prostitute in the Gospel (Lk 7), who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair, the woman whose every sin was forgiven, clearly represents the Church gathered from the Gentiles. I have spoken openly about this, so that it does not seem incongruous to call both women prostitutes, to one of whom, by the judgment of Solomon, was given the custody of the son. The attentive listener will ask how a prostitute can represent the Church, who has neither spot nor wrinkle. But we are not saying that the Church remained a prostitute, but simply that she used to be.
Rabanus Maurus then goes on to show that the Church lives in the same house as the synagogue, that she gave birth in the chamber of the synagogue (in other words, in the sphere of revelation), that the synagogue crushed her own child to death, and then tries as fast as she can to make the Church's children her own ("Read the whole of Galatians!"). The dispute of the two women before the King is thus the great conflict in the early Church between St. Paul and the Judaizing party. The fact that the Church would rather give her living child to the synagogue than see it cut in two represents St. Paul's concessions to St. James' party (In 3 Reg., 3; PL 109, 127-29).
For St. Augustine and the exegetes who follow him, as we shall see, the really pure Church is an eschatological concept. It is only these theologians who are able to some degree to overcome the deficiency in the Rahab theology of the Fathers: the overhasty replacement of the spurned synagogue by the chosen Gentile Church (the theology of history to be found in Romans was surely warning enough about the dangers of that idea). Patristic theology (and almost all theology following it) has given insufficient consideration to the truth that "salvation comes from the Jews", that the Gentiles have been engrafted onto the "holy trunk", that the theologoumena of God's ancient people are transformed and taken up into those of the new people of God, for whose sake (1 Cor 10) they once were abandoned. This deficiency also weakens the idea of metanoia as something relevant to the Church as a whole: the turning from old to new as something with an absolute and permanent relevance, an unending process of coming from the old and moving into the new, the dynamic of all existence and reality in the Church. In the words of St. Gregory the Great: "Let the Church cry out, 'I am black but beautiful', black by your judgment, but beautiful through the radiance of grace…black by merit, beautiful by grace…black by myself, beautiful by gift, black from the past, beautiful through what I am made to be in the future" (Cant. 1,5; Heine, 183; PL 79,486-88). As a concrete community of believers, the Church always exists in this tension, and so concretely she looks in two directions, as St. Dionysius the Carthusian shows. She is always both "spotless Church" and "disfigured Church", always both "virgin" and "harlot", for "the whole, through the diversity of its parts, can get conflicting names". "Thus the Church is called disfigured, estranged, bloodless, or whorish with regard to believers without charity or good works, yes, those who have been befouled by vice, whose souls are not brides of Christ but adulteresses of the devil" (In Cant. art. 12; Opera Omnia VII, 368B; art. 18, 406B; Riedlinger, op. cit., pp. 396f.).
4a. Hosea: redemption through union with the harlot
In the Rahab story the chief character is the woman; through her faith, or through her works, she is cleansed and saved. It is she who opens the gates to Joshua/Jesus the Redeemer. It is likewise Mary Magdalen who goes in person to the Lord. In the Hosea story the light falls on the man and his humiliating action. Hosea is the image of the mercy of God and of the extreme self-abasement of his love. Only through this love is Israel the harlot, type of humanity in the Church, saved and her descendants are renamed. Here at last the theme reaches its unfathomable depths of meaning.
Hosea does what he does in fulfillment of the mission given him by God. He is, in that respect, the type of Christ. But what he does is not only degrading for him; it is also ambiguous and easily misunderstood by other people. That is why it was possible and logical for the Fathers to see other carnal unions in the Old Testament as pointing to Christ and the Church—for example, Samson's relationship with the Philistine girl ("His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an occasion against the Philistines" [Jg 14:4]), and especially with Delilah, who robs him of his strength; Moses' marriage to the Ethiopian woman; even David's adulterous affair with Bathsheba.
In these texts the stress falls on the action and intention of the man, an intention that is unrestrictedly redemptive. If we look at the other partner in the relationship, it is clear that the role of bride cannot primarily and properly be played by a delineated, delimited Church, because that would mean that God's saving plan in Christ applied to only a section of humanity. No, "the bride" here means simply "the flesh": first, the flesh of Christ himself as, so to speak, the primal and archetypal Church, and then, by means of this assumed flesh, "all flesh", the whole of humanity, which is meant to be in the Church and is being progressively incorporated into her. This universalist motif is thus not primarily ecclesiological; it functions as a counterweight to the Rahab motif, which is all too limiting in its implications.
St. Irenaeus introduces the theme with his customary realism:
It pleased God to take his Church from the mass of sinners. She was to be saved through union with his Son, just as this harlot was sanctified through union with the prophet. And for this reason St. Paul says that the unfaithful [infidelis, unbelieving] wife is sanctified by the faithful [believing] husband (cf. 1 Cor 7:14). What the prophet did by a symbolic act, Christ, as the apostle shows (cf. Eph 5), did for the Church. In similar fashion, Moses took an Ethiopian woman to be his wife… The marriage of Moses was a pointer to the marriage of God's Word [Adv. Haer. 4, 34, 12, Harvey; cited in Pseudo-Ambrose, Serm. 46, 15; PL 17, 699].
Earlier (4, 22, 1f.), in connecting with the foot washing, Irenaeus had already spoken of "the Word washing away, by himself, the impurities of the daughter of Zion", so that the whole body of Christ should, to its very feet, be sanctified and led to purity.
St. John Chrysostom explains the appearance of prostitutes in the genealogy of Christ by the brisk assertion that "God espoused to himself a prostituted nature, which the prophets from the beginning declared to have taken place with respect to the synagogue" (Hom. in Mt. 3, 4; PG 57, 35).
St. Jerome gives a rich orchestration to the theme in the prologue to his commentary on Hosea (which refers to the now unavailable commentaries of his predecessors, Origen's above all, but also those of Origen's disciple Didymus and of Apollinaris): "Who, at the very beginning of the book, would not be scandalized when Hosea, first of all the prophets, is told to take a harlot as his wife and does not refuse?… No frown creases his brow… He just goes straight to the brothel and takes a harlot to his bed. And he does not introduce her to the ways of marital chastity but shows himself to be a real debauchee and wastrel. After all, he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her (cf. 1 Cor 6:16)." The answer to this question is to be found in the New Testament:
Then we understand who Judah is, the patriarch chosen as king, and we are not surprised that the holy man went in to Tamar as if she were a harlot; nor that Samson (whose name means "sun") loved Delilah (whose name means "poor") and, having been on her account mocked and condemned to death, slaughtered thousands of his enemies; nor that Salmon, by Rahab the harlot, begat Boaz the just, who covered Ruth the Moabitess with the corner of his cloak, and, as she lay at his feet, transferred her to the head of the gospel; nor do we wonder why King David had so many wives and appointed as his successor on the throne none other than the son he begat by Bathsheba, or why it seems that not only harlots but even adulteresses are pleasing to God. And so we read in this same prophet [Hosea] that he had carnal union first with a whore and then with an adulteress… This is the woman, the harlot and adulteress, who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried them with her hair, and honored them with the ointment of her confession… And lest we think that what she did was a small thing and refer the nardos pistikos, the faithful ointment, to something other than the Church, the Lord helps us grasp its meaning…when he says: "Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." This is the harlot of whom the Lord says to the Jews: "Truly, I say to you harlots and tax collectors will enter the Kingdom of heaven before you." For you refused to receive the Son sent to you…whereas this harlot with kindness received my spies, two sturdy lads, one of whom I sent to the circumcision, the other to the Gentiles… In the Song of Songs she says of herself: "I am black but beautiful."
Having assembled these various Biblical motifs, Jerome considers Hosea's relationship with the harlot in more detail. He shows, when expounding the text quia fornicans fornicabitur terra Domino (1:2), that the important thing is "not so much the prophet's liaison with a harlot as the whole human race's defection from fellowship with God". Now Jerome adds that here are three distinct ways in which the harlot and the adulteress can be interpreted. First, they can be taken to represent, respectively, the ten tribes of Israel and the two tribes of Judah. But these, in the books of the prophets, usually symbolize the Gentiles on the one hand and the Church that comes from David on the other. But since Israel (Samaria) was not really Gentile but a degenerate form of the Jewish people, the third line of interpretation sees the two figures as expressing the relationship of heresy and Mother Church (In Oseam, prol. and cap. 1; PL 25, 855-64).
There is no doubt that this whole exegesis derives substantially from the lost commentary on Hosea of Origen. He had already observed that the genealogy of Christ that descends from God mentions the sinful women, while the ascending one does not. St. Matthew mentions Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba: "Since Christ came to take upon himself the sins of men, he took over, in descending into the world, the person of sinners and depraved humankind' (Hom. in Luc. 28, Rauer 9, 173). Two commentaries dependent on Jerome's are those by Haymo (PL 117, 11f.), who incorporates quite extensively the Ezekiel theme of Jerusalem the archwhore, and Rupert of Deutz (PL 168, 15f.), for whom the whore is none other than the human race, to which God goes in order to extract from it the children of promise, the people of Israel. But they keep on playing the harlot (Rupert refers to Ezek 16), and finally they split into the double harlot of Ezekiel 23. To one of the two, Oholibah, God goes one last time, "when the Son of God was born of her flesh in the virgin's womb' (22A). So Hosea's action is a sign for yesterday, today, and tomorrow, "for this race, unfaithful to God, has played the harlot, still plays the harlot today, and will go on playing the harlot" (22B).
Also in the Jerome Tradition is Pseudo-Rufinus' commentary on Hosea (PL 21,962f.), though it limits itself to the historical interpretation: the whore is Israel (964CD). This is true, in the main, of the great Hosea commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria (PG 71, 12-328), which inspired Theophylact (PG 126, 563f.). However, Cyril does strongly emphasize how much Hosea's humiliation clarifies the word of God and refers to St. Paul's desire to be anathema for the sake of his brethren. The prophet's action sheds light on "all our pneumatic communion" with the Lord (33A).
For St. Hilary, the mystery of Hosea is one of the primary components of Old Testament typology:
We should have no hesitation in seeing here a prefiguring of the Church. The Apostle himself thought that what was said to Hosea about the sons of this harlot applies to the people of the faithful, because he says to the Corinthians…[then follows not 1 or 2 Cor but Rom 9:24-26]. What took place physically in the prophet, namely, conjugal union and procreation (for the harlot bore him three children, the first of whom, at God's behest, was called Israel,11 the second Not-Loved, and the third Not-My-People), is confirmed and accomplished by God to teach us a spiritual lesson. For "in justice and faith" the Lord took to be his bride the harlot married to the prophet. He did this when he made "a covenant with the beasts of the field", that is, with the humans rendered inhuman by the law of this world, and with "the birds of the air", that is, with those who live in the vanity and vacuity of this world, and with "the serpents of the ground", that is, with those who carry within their bodies a poisonous, lying soul. And he broke the "bow" (in the serpents), the "arrow" (in the birds), and "warfare" (in the beasts of the field) (cf. Hos 2:18ff.).
Israel is begotten as firstborn son, chosen out of all the nations of humanity, but he loses the promise:
In the first place the harlot is chosen as bride for the God of faith and justice, and then Not-Loved and Not-My-People, born of the harlot, are called "sons of the living God". Now we must call to mind the words of God, by which the prophet was instructed to take an adulterous woman as his wife, because we are taught that everything has been prefigured by the events of the Old Testament and will be fulfilled in and by the Lord. Thus the union of the prophet with the harlot is meant to show us that Gentile ignorance has been united to the teaching of the prophets, and that the children of the two are to be given new names: "Not-Loved" becomes "Loved", "Not-My-People" becomes "My People"; offspring of a harlot mother become sons of God [Lib. myster. II, 1-4; CSEL 65, 30-32].
St. Hilary sees Hosea's sexual intercourse with a harlot as a type of the union of divine revelation with sinful humanity, the fruit of which is the people of God, the sons of God. Pseudo-Ambrose goes one step further and describes Christ himself as fruit; in other words, he sees the hypostatic union as a marriage between Divine Word and human flesh. "The Lord demands marriage with the woman who had committed fornication, and the fruit of this marriage is Christ. The name 'Jezrahel', meaning 'divine birth', is bestowed by the Lord on the son born of the harlot (that is to say, of Hosea's wife, who had been a harlot)… A pious union of dissimilar spouses took place when the Word was made flesh, for the consorting of divinity and flesh is irregular… God took flesh to himself and assumed a soul. Through the unwonted irregularity of the Incarnation, God has regularized the union, so he may be all in all" (Apol. David 2, 10; PL 14, 908). Pseudo-Ambrose is also familiar with the other interpretation of Hosea's harlot, which applies it to the Church; this, however, leads back to the Rahab theology (De Salom. 15; PL 17, 698f.). The interpretation that sees it as referring to the flesh of Christ is decisive, because in this personification of the caro we can see the destined unity of all flesh, indeed of all "sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3), whose guilt the flesh of Christ will take up into itself (2 Cor 5:21). "The flesh wanted to adhere to Christ. It hurried to the marriage so as to be "one spirit" and to become the flesh of Christ, the very same that before had been the flesh of the harlot. It remembered that beforehand it had fallen in Eve, when it had preferred bodily lust to the commandment of heaven" (Exp. in Ps. 118, 1, 5; CSEL 62, 8).
What concerns us here is not the general idea of the hypostatic union as a marital union—that is common enough in the Fathers12 —nor the widespread view that Christ's flesh is itself the primordial Church, from which derive, through the assimilation of all other flesh, the Church and the Christus totus (St. Augustine, In Ep. I Joh. tr. 1, 2; PL 35, 1979). No, our concern is with the view that it is precisely through the Incarnation that adulterous humanity is restored. Citing Jeremiah 3:1 ("If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her?... You have played the harlot with many lovers, and would you return to me? says the Lord"), St. Gregory the Great gives us this reminder: "Ponder well, brethren, the weight of such kindness. Behold, he calls, and the very ones he brands as befouled he takes in his arms and kisses, the very ones he complained had deserted him" (Horn. in Ev. 2, 33, 8; PL 76, 1245).
In a famous sermon of St. Augustine, which Hugo Rahner regards as genuine but Dom Morin ascribes to St. Caesarius, the Hosea mystery becomes the mystery of Samson and Delilah:
What was the meaning of Samson? If I say he signified Christ, it seems to me that I speak the truth. However, the thought immediately occurs to anyone who reflects: Was Christ overcome by the flattery of a woman? How is Christ understood to have gone in to a harlot? Then again, when did Christ have his head uncovered or his hair shaved, himself robbed of courage, bound, blinded, and mocked? Watch, faithful soul. Notice why it is Christ, not only what Christ did but also what he suffered. What did he do? He worked as a strong man and suffered as a weak one. In the one person I understand both qualities; I see the strength of the Son of God and the weakness of the Son of Man. Moreover, when the Scriptures extol him, Christ is entire, both Head and Body. Just as Christ is the Head of the Church, so the Church is his body; and in order that it might not be alone, it is the whole Christ with the Head. Now the Church contains within itself both strong and weak members… There is a further fact that must be admitted: in association at the sacraments, the imparting of baptism or participation at the altar, the Church has both just and unjust men… The harlot whom Samson married is the Church, who committed fornication with idols before knowing one God but whom Christ afterward united to himself… When Samson went in to the harlot, he was impure if he did so without reason, but if he did so as a prophet, it is a mystery… He took away the city gates through which he had gone in to the harlot and carried them to a mountain. What does this mean? Hell and love for a woman Scripture joins together; the house of the harlot was an image of hell. It is rightly considered as hell, for it rejects no one but draws to itself all who enter. At this point we recognize the actions of our Redeemer. After the synagogue to which he had come was separated from him through the devil, they shaved his head; that is, they crucified him on the site of Calvary, and he descended into hell… All saw the fact that he went in, but the fact that he arose just a few knew, remembered, felt. Moreover, he removed the city gates; that is, he took away the gates of hell [St. Caesarius, Sermon 118, ed. Morin I, 491-99; ET, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 47 [Washington, D.C.: 1964] , pp. 184ff.].
When it passes from the harlot Church to the harlot hell, the sermon appears to be digressing. In fact, at a deeper level, the connection is preserved: in both cases what is involved is the overcoming of the sin of the world.
But it is the image of David's adultery with Bathsheba that gives the idea its most vigorous expression. Once again it is the Ambrosian Tradition that takes it furthest. Ambrose himself introduces the image. He describes David's arrogance and presumption in claiming that he would never be moved (cf. Ps 29:7), followed by his fall and humiliation. But then he asks whether there might not be a deeper mystery in the fact that it is precisely the offspring of his adultery who was to be David's successor on the throne. Perhaps the death of Bathsheba's first husband and her affair with David point in some way to the Church. "Christ is called David… To him is wedded the Church, and she, by the seed of the Word, filled with the Spirit of God, gives birth to the body of Christ, that is to say, the Christian people. She is the woman who is 'bound by law to her husband as long as he lives' (Rom 7:2). That is why her husband died—so that she would not be an adulteress by being with another man. Here, then, we have a mystery in the figure, a sin in history; guilt through man, mysteries through the word" (In Luc. III, 38; PL 15, 1605).
The second (spurious) Apology of David takes up Ezekiel's image:
[Adam] became naked to himself after becoming guilty of sin. In him the whole human race was denuded through the succession of nature… Christ saw his family naked and loved it, for Christ loves the holy soul. Thus Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary, and Christ loved his Church, though naked, though not yet clad in the beauty of the virtues… He saw her, he before whom all things are laid bare (cf. Heb 4:13), from whom the inner secrets of the heart cannot be hidden, for he is the searcher of the heart and reins (cf. Jer 17:10)… He saw his Church naked. He saw, and he loved her. He saw his beloved naked, and as the "Son of Charity", he fell in love with her… Here we have not the scandals of adultery but the mysteries of charity… Where you have faith, you need not fear adultery.
But the mystery of love can be foreshadowed, by way of type, in adultery.
Adultery took place as a type of salvation, for not all adultery deserves condemnation. Indeed, the prophet was told, "Go, take to yourself a harlot for a wife" (Hos 1:2). It is the Lord who commands there to be a marriage with a woman who was a harlot. Now, as we have said, the fruit of this marriage is Christ… If, then, union with a harlot can be pious, so too can association and union with an adulteress. This applies to the Jews. However, as regards divine things, I do not dare to speak of adultery, even of a pious kind, so as not to offend anyone with the sound of my words, even if their reverent meaning is manifest. What can be said more cautiously, even if less clearly, is that a pious union of dissimilar partners took place when the Word was made flesh. For the nuptials of divinity and the flesh are not lawful, nor is it the case that, as flesh is united to soul, soul to flesh, in a natural covenant, so divinity and flesh, as it were, keep the law of the marriage bed… By taking [Bathsheba] to himself, God the Word made the union lawful. The nuptials in the Song of Songs point to this mystery, the nuptials whereby the Church is married to Christ, and flesh to spirit. And so the bride runs around looking for God's Word, for the wretched flesh, wounded and naked, adulterous in all things yet immaculate in Christ, looks for her Redeemer. This flesh Christ united to himself to make it immaculate. He joined it to himself to remove the adultery. And since it was under the law, it had to die, in order to be free of the law, so that, through that death, what one might call the marriage between law and flesh could be dissolved. Thus the flesh died in Christ, so that we, having died to the law through the body of Christ, as the apostle says (cf. Rom 7:4), might belong to another, to him who rose again from the dead… so that we might rise again… as Christ's new marriage [Apol. David II, 10; PL 14, 903-9].
Cassiodorus makes the general point that "it was appropriate to those [prophetic] times that the future mysteries of the Lord should be announced by an act of this kind, that what among men seemed blameworthy should be shown to have a spiritual meaning, a reference to the great mystery". He refers to Hosea and Tamar and, on the subject of David and Bathsheba, follows Jerome and Augustine. Bathsheba signifies the Church or human flesh in general. David is Christ. 'Just as [Bathsheba], while washing, unclothed, in the Kedron brook, delighted David and was compelled to accept the King's embraces while her husband was slaughtered at royal command, so the Church, that is, the congregation of the faithful, as we know, is cleansed of sin's defilement in the bath of baptism and united to Christ our Lord" (In. Ps. 50; PL 70, 358).
For St. Paschasius Radbertus, too, David is Christ, who, from his "solarium", looks out on the earthly Church: she washes herself in baptism and yearns for heaven. "As foreseeing, he saw the predestined. As Bridegroom, he loved the one he had called, so that as lawful husband, he might in spiritual marriage unite her, the justified, to himself. But for Bathsheba to be married to David, her husband Uriah had to be murdered"—in other words, Jewry (In. Mt. 1,1; PL 120, 66-67).
The Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum is odd; "In his very worst sin, David was a symbol of Christ and the Church. Just as he, happy on his terrace, saw and desired lovely Bathsheba and made her his own, even though she was still married to another man, a Hittite, so Christ, happy in his highest heaven, saw the Church of the Gentiles, lovely in her heart, displeasing in the filthiness of her errors…for she was still the mistress of the devil: he desired her and made her first his own… And that is what Christ does with every upright soul" (Hom. 1; PG 56, 620).
Later the Bathsheba image is played down. Gerhoh of Reichersberg will serve as an example.
David is the image of Christ, Bathsheba of the Church, Uriah of the devil. Just as Bathsheba, as she washed unclad in the Kedron brook, pleased David and was found worthy of the King's embraces, while her husband, at royal command, was slaughtered, so the Church, that is, the congregation of the faithful, through the washing of sacred baptism, is cleansed from the defilement of sins ... and the devil, against whom the apostles waged war, was destroyed… Bathsheba did not sleep with her first husband after being joined to David; neither does the Church… Do not be surprised that an adulterer symbolizes Christ, an adulteress foreshadows the Church, and a chaste man represents the devil, for it is no good for vice to be written in letters of gold, just as it is no disgrace for virtue to be noted down in ink [In Ps. 50,1-2; PL 193, 1602-3].
Despite the blatancy of the imagery, this allegorizing of the David story is in danger of detracting from the seriousness of the reality to which the image points: the Incarnation of God, his extreme self-humiliation. It is only this extreme humiliation (going down into "harlot flesh") that is the instrument and precondition for the transformation of "harlot" into "saint", of fallen humanity into immaculate Church. Some of the Fathers used Solomon's proverb about the washed harlot saying she has done nothing wrong to describe the wonder of a Christian good conscience. However, there are no less insistent voices that, at the same time and in sharp dialectical contrast, warn the purified never to forget their past, the condition from which they were delivered.
5. The Eve motif: heresy as harlotry
The bride, the Church, is preserved in her chastity by the Bridegroom. She knows this is pure grace. But she can know it only if she has consciousness, and she has consciousness only in the human beings who form her. Now these human beings are nature, not grace. As human beings, they have been brought into unity and elevated above and beyond themselves in order to form the Church. Left to themselves, they can fall back again on themselves and become sinners. The dialectic of existence in the Church lies within the undeniable reality of these two poles: "There is an infallibly pure Church! It is made up of fallible human beings!" St. Paul is forever recalling this dialectic, even when he speaks of the nuptial mystery: "I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds will be corrupted and led astray from simplicity toward Christ" (2 Cor 11:2-3). The verses that follow show that the "deceiving" of which Paul is thinking here is the corruption of Christian doctrine. He speaks of the preacher of "another Christ", "another Spirit", "another gospel". The unity of the Church is the "simplicity [haplotês] of your spirit" toward the Bridegroom. Alien doctrine under the cloak of Christ, of the Spirit, of the gospel, means the ruination of this bridal simplicity and thus the disintegration of the ecclesial mind, the pursuit of an alien spirit, infidelity, adultery—this time in the image of the primal infidelity, the infidelity of Eve.
The Fathers saw the unity of the Church as two inseparable things: something given, an institutional grace, but also something to be achieved ethically through love and faith. It is not surprising, then, that they had the elemental feeling that heresy, the ruining of the ecclesial mind, is an intensely dangerous spiritual fornication. Origen has most to say on the subject. On the one hand, he describes and experiences the mystery of this ruining as the continuation in the Church of the Passion of God's Word (Hom. 18 in Jer. 12; Klostermann 3, 168; ibid., Hom. 10, 2; Klostermann 3, 72; Comm. in Jo. 20, 6; Preuschen 4, 334). On the other hand, he is particularly sensitive to infidelity hidden within the heart, the infidelity that comes from listening to alien spirits. "The human soul is very lovely. She has a wonderful beauty… Certain adulterous and sordid lovers, attracted by her beauty, want to corrupt her and 'commit fornication with her'. Wise Paul, therefore, says, 'I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your soul will be corrupted' (2 Cor 11:3). In carnal fornication our bodies are corrupted, but in spiritual unchastity our 'spiritual senses' are corrupted, and the soul herself is wounded" (Hom. 7 in Ezek. 6; Baehr 8, 396).
Fornication of the body is execrable. For what is more execrable than to violate the temple of God, to take the members of Christ and make them the members of a prostitute (cf. 1 Cor 6:15)? Far more execrable, though, is that general fornication that contains every kind of sin. It is called general fornication when the soul, the soul that has been admitted into fellowship with the Word of God and united to him, so to speak, in marriage, is corrupted and violated by some stranger… As long as the soul clings to her Spouse and heeds his word and embraces it, she receives from him, without doubt, the seed of the Word. As he himself says, "By your fear, O Lord, we have conceived in the womb" (cf. Is 26:18)… If the soul, then, has conceived by Christ, she bears sons, for whose sake it is said to her: "She will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with modesty" (1 Tim 2:15)… But if the unhappy soul deserts her holy marriage with the Divine Word and gives herself up to the adulterous embraces of the devil and the other demons, deceived by their allurements, she will also, without doubt, bear them sons, of whom it is written: "The children of adulterers shall not come to perfection, and the seed of the unlawful bed shall be rooted out" (Wis 3:16)… The soul can never exist without bearing children. She is always giving birth, always bearing sons [Hom. 20 in Num. 2; Baehr 7, 187-89].13
Finally, Origen refers to Romans 7 and distinguishes three situations: (1) the husband is alive, and the wife lives with him, that is, under the law; (2) the husband is alive, and the wife is unfaithful to him, acting in accordance with "the other law in her members", which seduces her into adultery, "for every opposing power that wins a victory in the human soul and mixes with her commits adultery with her"; (3) the husband dies, and the woman is free to marry again—the husband who can never die, the Word of God. This is why, says Origen, Jesus addresses the synagogue not just as "evil" but as an "adulterous generation" (Mt 11:39). And so "the Word of God abandons the synagogue of the Jews and goes off to take a 'wife of harlotry', the people, that is to say, of the Gentiles, who were harlots when Zion was still a faithful city" (Comm. in Matt 12,4; Klostermann 10, 75).14
This last text broadens the motif ecclesiologically, but usually it is applied to the individual soul as she hovers between being faithful to God and being unfaithful to him by going off to the devil. The idea emerges already in St. Hegesippus, who says of the Church in Jerusalem that she is still a pure virgin because she has not been infected by any heresy (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. III, 32, 7),15 Clement of Alexandria uses strong words: "Any person who lives like a heathen in the Church, by deed or word or even just by thought, introduces fornication into the Church, [Christ's] body" (Strom. VII 14, 87-88, 1; GCS III, 62, 24f.). Origen applies the great Ezekiel text about unfaithful Jerusalem to those who leave the Church to join the heretics. The devious methods of the myriad Gnostic sects of his time must have almost forced the image upon him. "Opening a brothel on every street": that is what the heretics do when they take the words of Scripture and make themselves shacks in which to commit fornication. "She goes to Moses, to Isaiah, to Jeremiah, and collects honey from their writings." In those who remain within the Church, the adultery is secret; in those who leave the Church, it is open. Using images from the Song of Songs, Origen shows the difference between true virgin Church and false harlot heresy. "The breasts of the chaste are unbroken, but the harlots' breasts are slack and wrinkled. The breasts of the chaste are erect and swell with maiden vigor. They accept the word of the Bridegroom and say, "Between my breasts he shall rest' " (Hom. in Cant. 2, 3; GCS 46). St. Cyprian adapts the theme to mean that the Church as bride really cannot be now led astray: "The bride of Christ cannot be defiled; she is inviolate and chaste… Whoever breaks with the Church and enters on an adulterous union cuts himself from the promises made to the Church" (De unit. Eccl. 6; PL 4, 502-3; ET, M. Bévenot, S.J., Ancient Christian Writers 25, pp. 48f.). St. Gregory of Nyssa, too, calls the heresies harlots (Or. in suam ordinationem; PG 46, 548C). For St. Ephrem, the heretics are "deceitful suitors, trusty when sent out but now changed into tricksters", promoting themselves instead of Christ.' They tried to imitate the beauty of the Bridegroom in order to snare the bride. They "shamed the bride of the Son", and she, "her love now dissipated, clothed herself with the name of a slave" (Hymn 24 Against the Heretics BKV2 vol. 61, 91-92). St. Augustine calls the heretics harlots' sons who do not attain their inheritance. They may be children of Abraham but not of the lawful mother (Civ. Dei 16, 34; PL 41, 513). Once again, in the sermon on Samson already quoted:
"Samson was angry because a friend married his wife" (cf. Jg 14:19, 20). This friend prefigured all heretics… By departing from the Church and the gospels, they attempt through adulterous wickedness to seize the Church, that is, the body of Christ, as their portion. For this reason that faithful servant and friend of the Lord's bride says: "I betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor 11:2). Moreover, through the zeal of faith and a rebuke, he touches the person of his wicked companion: "And I fear lest, as the serpent seduced Eve, so your minds may be corrupted from the truth that is in Christ Jesus" (cf. 2 Cor 11:3) [Serm. 364, 3; PL 39, 11641; ET, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 47, pp. 185f.].
In the sermon on Solomon, also mentioned above (St. Caesarius, ed. Morin I, 489f.), the two harlots disputing before the King are the Church and Arianism. The Church struggles for the unity of the Child, whereas guilty heresy is content to see it divided.
The context in which the idea is presented by St. Paul, who is the thread that links every stage of its development, prevents any kind of Pharisaism. It is not a question of people in the Church complacently leaning back on the bride and looking down on the adulterous heresies outside: it is the possible apostasy of those entrusted to the Lord as his bride that Paul fears so much. Origen supports him in that view. He sees the origins of the open adultery of Church division as lying hidden within the Church, in her secret or open sinfulness. The frontier between holiness and heresy runs through every member of the Church. St. Augustine will complete this Origenist and general patristic view of the Church with his doctrine of the two cities, of caritas and cupiditas, which, like Origen's Church, have existed since the beginning of the world, indeed from before the world's foundation (Comm. in Cant. 2; Baehr 8, 157-58). For Augustine, the division between them cuts through the heart of the individual. According to both, the Church as pure bride is as much a "spiritual" as a historical reality. For the individual she is never so much a "historical reality" that she is not also something "spiritual" constantly to be strived and prayed for. True, the Church has her grounding in Mary, but in her members she constantly tends to lapse back into being Eve, or at best to strive upward from Eve to Mary.
Rupert of Deutz describes how Eve-Church, sunk in the depths of Hades, cries out, as redemption draws nigh: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord… For he has clothed me with the garment of salvation" (Is 61:10). "I had been stripped bare in Adam. With fig leaves I hid my nakedness. In a pitiful coat of animal skins, I was thrown out of paradise. But now, in place of leaves, my Lord and God gives me the garment of salvation. In place of the itchy fabric of desire, he clothes me with the first stole of baptism and the remission of sins. In place of the skins of mortality, he girded me with the second stole of resurrection and immortality" (In Is. 2, 36; PL 167, 1352D).
In this context we must point out a further, very strange kinship between ideas. Luther was no more the inventor of the "harlot reason" slogan than he was of the jibe that the Roman Church is the whore of Babylon. Behind lay an allegorical interpretation of the commandment in Deuteronomy: "When you go forth to war against your enemies…and you see among them a beautiful woman, and you have desire for her…then you shall take her…and she shall shave her head and pare her nails, and she shall put off her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house and bewail her father and her mother, and after thirty days…you may marry her" (Dt 21:10-14). Origen did not fail to see this fair captive as worldly wisdom, who can only be wedded after due paring and penance (Hom. in Lev. 7, 6; Baehr. 6, 390-91). St. Jerome (Ep. ad Pamm.; PL 22, 44) takes up the idea, and, by so doing, he gives it a long and memorable history in the Middle Ages. Henri de Lubac has written about the motif, with equal measure of learning and humor, in his history of spiritual exegesis ("La belle captive", in Exégèse médiévale I , pp. 290-304). The fair captive's fate varies from theologian to theologian.16 Many are terrified of her and would be glad to get rid of her. Others fawn on her. St. Thomas confines himself to the Biblical rule (Boeth. Trin. 2, 3). Only St. Bonaventure17 actually utters the word that is never far from the others' lips: "whore". "The Jews refused to listen to wisdom from the mouth of wisdom; and we who possess Christ within ourselves refuse to listen to his wisdom. This is the supreme abomination: that the most beautiful daughter of the King is offered to us as a bride, and we choose to be coupled with the filthiest servant and to deal with harlots; and we want to go back to Egypt, to the lowliest food, since we reject the food from heaven… Do not love the harlot and dismiss your wife" (Collations on the Six Days 2, 7; 19, 18; ET, Jose de Vinck [Patterson, 1970], pp. 268, 293). The whole problem of faith's relationship to knowledge, of theology as divine wisdom and human thought, comes to the surface here in the imagery of the holy nuptials.
6. The Jerusalem theme: sin in the Church as harlotry
The seriousness of the issue dawns on us when we stop seeing the bride's infidelity as something largely outside her, in heresy, and realize that it exists inside her. At this point the Church cannot avoid confronting the Jerusalem texts of the Old Testament. All Christians are sinners, and if the Church does not sin as Church, she does sin in all her members, and through the mouths of all her members she must confess her guilt. Cassiodorus formulates it explicitly in that way: it is the Church who, in her members, confesses the copiousness of her sins (In Ps. 25, 10; PL 70, 180). And St. Bernard says: "Were the bride to say that she had nothing black in her, she would be deceiving herself, and the truth would not be in her" (Serm. in Cant. 25, 3; PL 183, 900B). "Once the Church has attained salvation", says Eusebius, "she remains in constant need of that same salvation" (In Ps. 39, 10; PG 14, 850). Even Charles Journet, who scrupulously protects the Church as such from having any blemish, cannot avoid ascribing to her confession of sins and acts of penance, supported by grace. Similarly, Origen depicts the Church, symbolized by the Queen of Sheba, approaching Christ-Solomon: "'She opened her heart to him', in other words, by confession and penance for her earlier sins, and she told him all that was in her heart" (Comm. in Cant. 2; Baehr 8, 119). Now this act is one that the Church never ceases to perform, and surely all the other acts that accompany it—pleading for the grace of fidelity, anxious yet trustful clinging to the God who is man's only strength and stay, "standing over self" (as St. Augustine says)—are likewise acts of ecclesial feeling and praying:
We are the Holy Church… Let us honor her, for she is the spouse of such a great Lord. What else can I say? Great and singular is the condescension of the Bridegroom. When he found her, she was a harlot. He made her a virgin. That she was a harlot we must not deny, lest we forget the mercy of him who set her free. How can we fail to call her a harlot, when we think how she lusted after idols and demons? There was fornication of the heart in all: in some, of the flesh; in all, of the heart. And he came and made her a virgin. He made the Church a virgin. In faith she is a virgin. In the flesh she has a few consecrated virgins. In faith all her members must be virgins, men as well as women.
Then follows the citation of 2 Corinthians 11:2-3: "Thus the Church is a virgin. She is a virgin, and a virgin may she be. May she be on her guard against the seducer, lest he prove to be a corrupter" (Serm. 213, 7; PL 38, 1063-64). This caveat rings out even more loudly in St. Ambrose: "Not in herself, daughters, not in herself, but in us is the Church wounded. Let us, then, be on our guard, lest our fall be the Church's wound (Caveamus igitur, ne lapsus noster vulnus Ecclesiae fiat )" (De Virginitate 10,48; PL 16, 278D).
The trembling of the penitent Church, the Church that "stands over herself", achieved very early and memorable expression in the writings of St. Hippolytus. Again it is Mary Magdalen who represents the Church kneeling at the feet of Christ. "I clasp the feet of Christ. Let me not fall back to the ground, lest I succumb to temptation. The serpent is after me. He is again trying to use me to set a trap. He is again out to conquer Adam. Lead me into heaven!" "Accept Eve! Accept the woman who is no longer naked, no longer wearing fig leaves but clad with the Holy Spirit!" (Hl. ed. Bonwetsch TU 23 [NF 8], 65-66). This text is all the more remarkable because Hippolytus rejects the idea of a Church made up at the same time of both righteous and sinners. The Church-bride can be "beautiful" only when she does penance (ibid., 40) and hears the words: "Be consoled, daughter; your sins are forgiven" (ibid., 47). In the commentary on Daniel the Church appears as Susanna, while the two old men are the devil, who threatens and tries to ruin her (1, 18; Bonw., p. 30). "In truth what befell Susanna is to be understood as something happening here and now to the Church." The two old men are the Jews and the heathen, both bearing the Church false witness (1, 20, p. 32). They are joined (1, 21, p. 33) by "those who call themselves Christians but are not in reality". In 1, 22, with a reference to St. Paul's words about the serpent's seduction of Eve, the earnest entreaty is made that she should not be seduced (p. 34).
St. Ambrose, in his own works, took over many of these words of Hippolytus about the Song of Songs (references in Riedlinger, pp. 20-23). To understand them correctly, we need to remember that in Hippolytus there is what one might call a "presentialism", the conviction that these texts have a present relevance. For example: "The Church does not cease to give birth, in her heart, to the word, who is persecuted by unbelievers" (De Chr. et Antichr. 61; PG 10, 780). And again: "Understand, O Man, the text, 'The mouth of the Father has brought forth a good word' (Ps 44:2). And now a second word appears, brought forth in the holy. The word constantly gives birth to the saints, just as the word is constantly brought forth by the saints" (In Da. 1, 9; GCS 1, 17). Thus, for Hippolytus, the transition from synagogue to Church is a permanent present reality. The synagogue is the Church of the past, the past of the Church. "I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem. I am sinful, but still more am I lovely, for Christ has set his heart on me" (Hl. TU p. 35). Through the liturgy and its Hodie, the Christian is enabled to stand within this "transition". Just occasionally, he looks beyond the present tense of Christ's saving mystery to another equally important present tense, to an event that is also Christ's work—the transition from Old to New Covenant. Pascha means transition, passover, "for at this time the Church, through baptism, passes from unbelief and infidelity to faith and fidelity" (Beleth, Rationale 113; PL 202, 118).
The same "presentialism" enables Origen to apply the prophetic texts to the Church. For example:
Blessed is he who is ever born of God. For the righteous man is not born of God just once, but constantly, in every good work, God gives birth to him. This can be explained by reference to the Savior. The Savior was not begotten by the Father at some specific moment; no, the Father is forever begetting him. The same is true of the righteous. The Savior is the Radiance of [the Father's] glory, but radiance is not emitted at a certain moment. It radiates as long as the light shines. Thus the Radiance of God's glory is begotten eternally… And the same is true of you, inasmuch as you possess the Spirit of sonship [Hom. 9 in Jer. 4; PG 13, 356-57].
Origen's commentary on Ezekiel, in twenty-five books, has been lost, but Homilies 6-10, translated by St. Jerome, give us a reasonable picture of the master's thinking. In what follows we shall present a few important passages:
What is it I admire about Ezekiel? The fact that when he was told to bear witness and to make known the iniquities of Jerusalem, he thought not of the danger in which his preaching might place him prophetically accuses her of "harlotry", of "playing the harlot with every passer-by". He bears witness with a voice of condemnation. He rebukes the city for her crimes. But because he had the confidence to do God's will, because he was ready both to die and to live, he spoke without trembling… "Thus says the Lord: your root and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite" (Ezek 16:3). What city was so lofty and held her head so high in the world as the "city of God"? And yet, reassuring herself of these great things, that she was so close to God, his very own city, she sinned, and because she sinned, the Holy Spirit declared her to be a degenerate foreigner. Her father was an Amorite, not God. So long as she did not sin, her Father was God. When she did sin, an Amorite became her father. So long as she did not sin, the Holy Spirit was her Father;18 when she did sin, a Hittite became her mother… If such things are said of Jerusalem, to whom in Scripture so many exalted and wonderful promises are made, what will become of wretched me if I sin? Who will be my father, my mother?… If I sin, who believe in Christ Jesus and have given myself to such a great Master, who will be my father? Not the Amorite, a far worse father. Who? "He who commits sin is born of the devil" (1 Jn 3:8). And again: "You are of your father, the devil" (Jn 8:44)… So if I become a sinner, the devil begets me in my sins, and makes his own the words spoken by God the Father to the Savior, "You are my son; today I have begotten you" (Ps 2:7).
"On the day you were born, your umbilical cord was not cut" (Ezek 16:4)… He presents Jerusalem allegorically as a newborn baby girl. However, we should realize that everything said about Jerusalem applies to all the human beings in the Church. So our first state is as here described. God forbid that our third should be like Jerusalem's! All we who once were sinners are called Jerusalem" by God, and our beginning is as here described. The second stage applies to us when, after God has visited and made himself known, we persist in our sins. Of the third evil, which we totally detest, we shall speak when the time comes… Just as in the male the foreskin is circumcised, so in the female the umbilical cord is cut off…but she sins, and so her umbilical cord is not cut off…"You were not washed with water for salvation" (Ezek 16:4). Let us look at the things that happen to Jerusalem, so that they are not reproduced in us… We who have received the grace of baptism in the name of Christ have been washed, but I do not know who has been washed "for salvation". Simon [Magus] was washed, and, having received baptism, he remained in the company of Philip. But he was not "washed for salvation"; he was condemned by the person who said to him in the Holy Spirit, "May your money perish with you!" (Acts 8:20). It is very hard for the one who has been washed to be washed "for salvation". Pay heed, catechumens; listen to what has been said here and prepare yourselves…so that you are not like those who are washed, but not "for salvation", who receive water, but not the Holy Spirit… The very things said here to Jerusalem will be said to every sinful soul who appears to have faith. So I will not climb up to greater matters and probe what surpasses my powers and talents. "You were not rubbed with salt" (Ezek 16:4). Jerusalem is at fault. She was not worthy of the salt of God. If I believe my Lord Jesus Christ, he himself will make me salt and say to me, "You are the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13). When I believe the Spirit who spoke in the Apostle, I am seasoned with salt and can keep the commandment, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt" (Col 4:6).
"And you were cast out on the open field." Why? "Because of the depravity of your soul on the day of your birth" (Ezek 16:5). Can anyone have a depraved soul on the day of his birth? He is describing our passions, human vices, and habitual depravities… If we sin again after the regeneration of baptism and the receiving of God's word, then "on the day of our birth" we are "cast out". All too often we find people who have been washed in the "bath of second birth" but who do not bring forth "worthy fruits of penance" and enliven the mystery of baptism with no greater fear of God than they had as catechumens, with no greater charity than they exercised as hearers of the word, no holier works than before. The fate of such people is described here… But see the mercy of God, behold his singular clemency. Although Jerusalem is "cast out on the open field", he does not so despise her that she remains cast out forever; he does not so abandon her to her depravity that he completely forgets her and never raises up her from where she lies. Notice what follows: "And as I passed by you…" (Ezek 16:6). You were cast out, but I came to you; you had fallen, but I did not fail to visit you. "I saw you weltering in your own blood" (ibid.), as if to say, I saw you guilty of murder, guilty of blood, guilty of mortal sins… "I caused you to multiply like the grass of the field, and you grew up" (Ezek 16:7)… I came to you, visited you in your abjection, and caused you to multiply… "Your breasts were formed, and your hair grew, but you were naked and dishonored" (ibid.). Whoever does not "put on Jesus Christ" (cf. Gal 3:27) is naked. Whoever does not put on "compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance" (cf. Col 3:12) is dishonored… "And I passed by you" (Ezek 16:8). A second time he comes to her, he sees her sinning, and, because of her sins, he departs. And yet he comes back again. Again the kind and merciful God visits her. "And I came to you and saw you, and behold, it was your time and the time of your corrupters" (ibid.). What does "your time" mean? The time of maturity, when fornication becomes possible… And who are the "corrupters"? While we are small, those who want to come and corrupt us—bad Christians, unclean spirits, demons—have no chance of corrupting us. But once we have grown up and are able to sin, they look for an opportunity of corrupting us… And because this time had come, our Lord Jesus Christ came again to visit wretched Jerusalem, that is, our sinful soul. "And I covered you with my wings" (ibid.)… Blessed is the one whose shame is covered by the wings of God; blessed is the one who wants to persevere in the blessedness in which Jerusalem did not want to persevere… After so much that made him return, he turns back once more. After so many visits, for the first time he enters into a covenant with her.
"You became mine, and I washed you in water. After all these things, I took you and washed you myself for salvation, and I cleaned away your blood from you, and anointed you with oil, and clothed you in bright raiment…and you ate fine flour, honey, and oil" (Ezek 16:8-13). But after [all this] wretched Jerusalem is again upbraided for her harlotry… Let us take care that, after the pure words of "fine flour", after the sweet words of the prophets, after the "oil" that "gladdens the face" (cf. Ps 103:14), the oil with which we "anoint our heads" to make our fasting acceptable (cf. Mt 6:16f.), we do not lapse again. And we do not just anoint ourselves with oil; we enjoy it. "You became exceedingly beautiful!" (Ezek 16:13). He praises her beauty, praises her fine appearance, her lovely form. "You came to regal estate" (ibid.). What progress, regal estate! "Your name went forth among the nations" (Ezek 16:14). All this befits one who has begun to be free of the world, who is progressing toward the blessed life; yes, it is right that such a person should have renown in the world. But God forbid what follows next! It is written to instill fear in the hearers' hearts. After the beauty, after the renown, wretched Jerusalem begins to commit fornication. So "do not boast about tomorrow, because you do not know what the day to come has in store" (Prov 27:1)…and again: "Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Gal 6:1).
"Your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the loveliness that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God, but you trusted in your beauty" (Ezek 16:14-15). Beautiful Jerusalem became proud and puffed herself up in the awareness of her beauty. And because she became proud, and did not humble herself, and did not give God the glory, listen to what is said to her: "You committed fornication because of your renown, and you lavished your fornication on every passer-by. And you took your clothes and stitched them into idols for yourself" (ibid., vv. 15-16). The things I used to adorn you, the things that made you lovely, you have used to make idols… The "clothes" are the divine Scriptures and the meaning in them. Heretics tore these clothes and stitched text to text, linked word with word, but not with the right and proper links. By stitching together their impieties, they made "idols" for themselves, by which they tempted many into believing and agreeing with their cult, and into accepting a bogus [Church] discipline.
Let us, therefore, beware of the heretics, whose manner of life is blameless, although it is perhaps the devil rather than God who teaches them how to behave. Just as bird catchers put out certain foods as bait to trap the birds more easily through the delightfulness of the taste, so, if I may dare to say so, there is a chastity of the devil that is a snare for the human soul. Through this chastity, meekness, and justice, he can the more easily catch and trap us in the net of false doctrine. The devil uses various tricks to attack and capture wretched man. He gives the evil a good manner of life to deceive the onlooker and brands a bad conscience on the good. He lays traps for me, a preacher in the Church, so that by my conduct he can bring down the whole Church. People in high places are particularly prone to attack from the devil. The idea is that, through the conspicuous downfall of one person, all may be caused to stumble, and faith be upset by the corrupt morals of the clergy… The prudent person is not tricked by the heretics' meekness into accepting their teaching, and my sins do not cause him to stumble. He considers the dogma, concerns himself with the faith of the Church. He recoils from me in horror, but he accepts the teaching, as the Lord says: "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you but not what they do, for they preach, but they do not practice" (Mt 23:2-3). This text applies to me. I teach good things but do the opposite. Like the scribe and Pharisee, I sit on Moses' seat… Let us not imitate anyone. If we want someone to imitate, then the model given us is Jesus Christ. In sacred Scripture we have a record of the acts of the apostles and the deeds of the prophets: this gives us a sure example to follow… But if we choose to emulate the wicked and in the same breath say that they teach one thing and do the opposite, then we are acting against the commandment of the Lord… Yes, wretched Jerusalem sinned greatly. Time and again, through the prophets, God tried to lead her back to better ways, but she would not heed his counsel or accept his commandments. And so God has doubts. He says that he does not know what to do. "'How', says the Lord, 'shall I restore your heart?' " (Ezek 16:30)… You are held fast by the bonds of many sins. Your trespasses prevent your life being restored by my words. I tried to restore you often enough, speaking through my saints, but you did not listen. And now I do not know what to do, and so I say to you, "How shall I restore your heart, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot?" (ibid.)… Those who do not give up their religion altogether but are conquered by sin and try to hide their sin are like a blushing harlot. But those who completely abandon their religion to the point where they do not care about the bishop, the priests, the deacons, the brethren, and sin with total effrontery—these people are like a "brazen harlot"… We were not at first told that Jerusalem had sisters, but now he adds, "You are the sister of your sisters, who cast off their husbands and their children… Your elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters who dwell at your left hand, and your younger sister, who dwells at your right hand, is Sodom with her daughters" (Ezek 16:45-46)… Virtue makes Christ my brother, and when I am good and consistently virtuous, he says to his Father, "I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church I will praise you" (Ps 21:23)… Now just as virtue makes the Lord Jesus my brother, so iniquity gains me many brothers; yes, as it grows, iniquity bears brothers for me. At the beginning Samaria was not sinful Jerusalem's sister, nor was Sodom. But when she had advanced in wickedness—as we have just shown—she found herself in the middle between two sisters… Who are these two?… Schism and separation made Samaria what she is… So when we Church people sin, we are not far from the heretics and their depraved doctrines. Whoever sins has bad faith. If our conduct is evil, Sodom is our sister, for the Gentiles are Sodom. And so when we sin, we are the brethren of heretics and heathens… "Behold, these were the iniquities of your sister: pride, fullness of bread, and abundance" (Ezek 16:49)… Which is the greatest sin of all?… Self-importance, pride, arrogance is the sin of the devil… Now pride's raw material is wealth, rank, worldly glory. Very often, for those who hold ecclesiastical office, the order of priest and rank of deacon can be the cause of pride. How often priests forget about humility! As if the purpose of ordination was to put an end to humility! As if they did not have to pursue humility because they had received a dignity! As Scripture says, "The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself" (Sir 3:18)… Think how often the gospel condemns the pride and boasting of the Pharisees. The Pharisee stood and prayed like this: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week" (Lk 18:11). But the publican, humbly and meekly standing far off, did not even dare to lift up his eyes, and said, "God, be merciful to me a sinner" (ibid., v. 13). And the publican "went down to his house justified" (ibid., v. 14), not justified absolutely but justified in comparison with the Pharisee… For it is one thing to be justified, another to be justified by another person. Just as the tax collector was justified by the Pharisee, so Sodom and Samaria were justified by comparison with sinful Jerusalem. We ought to realize that, on the Day of Judgment, each one of us will be justified by another person and condemned by another person. Even when we are justified by another person, that justice is more an occasion of shame than of praise. If, for example, I am found to be guilty of sodomitical sins, and then someone, else is brought forward who has committed two kinds of sins, I am justified but not justified in the sense of being just. I am justified in comparison with the person who has committed several sins. I am judged as just, although I am far from justice… I do not want to be justified by the wicked, because such justice is shameful. I am anticipating, because the prophet now goes on to say, "Your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done… Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more iniquities than they and have justified all your sisters by all the iniquities you have committed" (Ezek 16:48, 51). Sodom sinned. Samaria also sinned. Jerusalem is covered in sin… There is only one who is justified by all and justifies no one. Therefore "in your sight no man living shall be justified" (Ps 142:2). Abraham may have been just. Moses may have been just. Every illustrious man of the past may have been just. But compared with Christ, they are not just. Compared with his light, their light is like darkness. Just as the light of a lamp is darkened by the rays of the sun and fades like any other lightless stuff, so it is with the light of the just. The light of all the just may "shine before men" (cf. Mt 5:16), but before Christ it does not shine… Before sunrise, the bright moon and the sparkling stars of the firmament shine in their stations, but when the sun rises, they are hidden. The same is true of the light of the Church. Like the moonlight, before the rising of that true light, the "sun of justice", the Church's light shines and is bright before men. But when Christ comes, it fades away before him. It says somewhere else, ''The light shines in the darkness" (Jn 1:5)… Anyone who gives this matter long and diligent consideration cannot be proud when he sees his light reckoned as darkness in comparison with the greater light… "The iniquity of your sister Sodom is pride" (cf. Ezek 16:49). When we read what is written about the destruction of the Sodomites, we should not say, "Poor old Sodomites, no more does the earth bring forth its fruits for you! Unhappy people, so greatly to be pitied; you have had to endure such dreadful things, such gloomy things!" No, instead we should apply this text to our own hearts. We should examine our "reins and thoughts", and then we shall find that those whom we pity exist within us, and that the sins of Sodom, Egypt, and Assyria, indeed all the sins listed and condemned by Scripture, can be found within ourselves… It is not hard to see that nothing so leads a man to arrogance as wealth and abundance and the consumption of great riches and rank and power. At a higher level it is easy to see that I feed my pride when I have understanding of the word of God, when I am wiser than others. "Knowledge puffs up" (1 Cor 8:1). Those are the Apostle's words, not mine… Such a great man as the Apostle Paul needed a blow from "an angel of Satan" to strike him, to keep him from being "too puffed up" (cf. 2 Cor 12:7)… Before Uriah came along, no fault was found in David. He was a blessed man, blameless in the sight of the Lord. But because he became conscious of his spotless life, he said what he should not have said: "Hear, O Lord, my justice… You have tried my heart and visited it by night. You have tested me by fire, and no iniquity was found in me" (Ps 16:1, 3)… And so he was tested, stripped of help, so that he might see what human infirmity can do… He found himself in the very sin of which he boasted he was free… The first thing is to commit no shameful deed, but to do only those that can gaze upon God with untroubled brow. But since as human beings we often sin, we should remember that the second plank of salvation, after shameful deeds, is blushing and lowering one's eyes out of shame for one's crimes rather than going around with a bold face as if one were guilty of nothing. After shameful deeds it is good to be shamed… So a great blessing is reserved for Jerusalem, if only she will believe the Lord who says to her, "Be ashamed, and bear your shame, for you have justified your sisters" (Ezek 16:52). Let me give you an example from Church life. It is shameful to be separated from the people of God and the Church. It is a disgrace in the Church to leave the order of priesthood, to be thrown out of the diaconate. Of those expelled, some stir up trouble, while others accept, in all humility, the judgment made on them. The rebellious ones, smarting with the hurt of their dismissal, gather people round them and make a schism… They do not accept their disgrace… But the ones who, in all humility, leave the judgment in God's hands, whether or not they were justly dismissed, the ones who patiently endure the sentence passed on them, these receive mercy from God, and from men the summons to return to their former grade and forfeited glory. If someone complies with the instruction, "Be ashamed", if he carries out the divine command that follows, "Bear your shame, for you have justified your sisters", he will see the grace that repays him mercy for shame… What is promised? "I will reverse the aversion of Sodom and her daughters, for you have justified your sisters Sodom and Samaria" (Ezek 16:53)… First, I will reverse the aversion of Sodom, secondly of Samaria, thirdly of Jerusalem, and if I reverse the aversion of Sodom and Samaria and Jerusalem, they will be restored to their ancient state, first, Sodom…secondly, Samaria…thirdly, Jerusalem… Those loved more by God will receive salvation last. Sodom, justified by Jerusalem, is the first to receive mercy: Sodom represents the Gentiles. Samaria—that is, the heretics—receives salvation in second place. Thirdly, as if they were unworthy of a more rapid remedy, the people of Jerusalem are restored to their former state. The Gentiles receive grace before us; so do the heretics, when we offend God, when sin weighs us down. The closer we are to God and the nearer we are to blessedness, so, when we sin, the further we are from him and it, the nearer we are to the most terrible and extreme punishments. For the judgment of God is just, and "the mighty shall be mightily tormented" (Wis 6:7), whereas the smallest deserve the swiftest mercy. Smallest of all is Sodom, and after her, in comparison with Jerusalem, not Sodom, Samaria is very small… And if I find that I am Jerusalem, a sinner in the middle between my sisters, when will he "reverse my aversion"? When I hear the words "bear your shame" (Ezek 16:54)… And this is the end of the promise: "I will remember my Covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting Covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed… that you may never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done" (Ezek 16:60-63). Even when my many sins are expiated, I cannot open my mouth. Even when he forgives my misdeeds, I am no stranger to shame [Hom. in Ezech. 6-10; Baehr 8, 378-423].
Origen chooses his words with great care and moderation. He is speaking of the human members of the Church, not of the Church as such. And yet he is speaking of these human beings as forming and representing the Church. The more "ecclesiastical" they are, the more he has them in mind. Above all, he is thinking of those who are the Church's official leaders and preachers. He spares them as little as the prophet spares the whore Jerusalem. But at the same time he speaks existentially. He must be speaking, especially in this sermon, of himself. The Church would be pure if he were not so impure. Here as elsewhere (for example, in the magnificent seventh homily on Leviticus), he presents himself as the unworthiest of all and takes all the guilt on himself. The force and sincerity of this gesture help him convince other believers that the gravest, the most momentous guilt is to be found in Jerusalem, in the members of the Church. And the more pharisaically proud they are of their ecclesiastical purity and gnosis, the guiltier they are.
St. Jerome, in complete dependence on his Alexandrian master, writes a commentary of his own on Ezekiel chapter 16. "Jerusalem" can be understood in four ways. It is either the city burnt by the Babylonians and Romans, or the heavenly city of the "firstborn" (cf. Heb. 12:23), or the Church in the sense of the "vision of peace", or the individual souls that know God by faith. Some think they can apply the text to the heavenly Jerusalem, but the Church does not accept that interpretation, lest we be compelled to refer all the details of this present prophecy to the heavenly powers—their downfall, torment, and restoration to their original state." After this elimination of an extreme Origenism (the Gnostic myth of the fall and apokatastasis of the heavenly Church), Jerome keeps the three other interpretations—the Old Covenant, the Church, the soul—and gets them to shed light on each other. "'Your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite' (Ezek 16:3). If she had to listen to such things, what will become of us, called from Gentile filth and cleansed of all stain in the Savior's bath, if we defile the garment of Christ and lack a wedding robe at the feast?" (In Ez. 16; PL 25, 130CD, 131C). And when God passes by naked Jerusalem: "What mercy! It was not enough to see her once, weltering in her blood, and to call her to repentance, but once more he visits her." The washing is baptism. The anointing is confirmation, through which Jerusalem receives the name of Christ (135B-37A). The shoes she is given are the preaching of the good news (138A). The new garment is Christ (137BC). She becomes the "fragrance of Christ" and finally Queen (140B, 143B). "Let us apply everything we say about Jerusalem…to the Church. If, according to the Apostle, Jerusalem is our mother (cf. Gal 4:26), and our mother is the Church, it follows that Jerusalem is the Church, the mother of the firstborn enrolled in heaven (cf. Heb 12:23)" (143CD). "[God says to her:] It is by my kindness and incredible generosity that you are allowed the title of Queen… But what kind of discernment is this? Trusting not in God's mercy but in her own beauty! The higher a person is, the more he has to fear falling and, by fornication, abusing his title" (144B). In what follows this fornication of the Church is interpreted first of all to mean heresy, then immorality in the broadest sense. Jerusalem gives herself up to every passer-by, spreads her legs at every street corner. "A double curse is directed at our Jerusalem, whether she be the Church or the souls of believers when they are negligent and give way to every kind of vice: 'Woe, woe to you' (Ezek 16:23)" (149B). "She imitates the whore of the book of Proverbs [5:2ff.; 7:10ff.]. Openly in public places and on street corners, as foolish youths pass by, she invites them to her embraces. She pollutes the beauty of her soul, which she received as a grace from God the Creator. All her senses are full of indecency. All her thoughts encourage vice. She opens her heart, spreads out her legs, and fornicates with her Egyptian neighbors. She follows their example, the example of the heathen, people who boast of their indecency. She is so wicked she even surpasses them in indecency" (149CD). So she is given up to the punishment of the heathen. "Our Jerusalem" too will be punished in that way "if we neglect the holy ordinances of God". "And so great will be wretched Jerusalem's censure and ignominy that even the powers hostile to us will blush at the magnitude of our sins" (151CD). "She did not imitate the cunning prostitutes who like to raise the price of lust by holding back, thereby driving their lovers to distraction… 'You fornicated three times in your daughters.' This can be attributed literally to Jerusalem… or to the Church and to believers who have been led astray…who have committed fornication of every kind in body, soul, and spirit… The daughters of the fornicating Church are, first, the souls of believers, secondly, the souls of those led astray by heresy, whose guilt reflects back on the mother [quarum culpa refertur ad matrem]" (153A-54A).
"And after you there will be no fornication." In other words, compared with yours, all later fornication will seem less heinous. Whatever we said about Jerusalem refers to the Church and to the souls of believers. They give away their wedding gifts—gold in thought, silver in speech, the clothes that cover our ugliness and shame. They give them to their lovers, either the hostile powers or the teachers of perverted doctrines, people who maintain that unchastity is not harmful, that the lust that overcomes the sexual organs demands copulation by a law of nature, that we can eat everything indiscriminately, because food is there to be consumed, that prudence is necessary if it is to our advantage…and other things of that kind. In accepting such opinions, wretched Jerusalem, in whom there should have been the "vision of peace", turns keenness of thought and charm of speech into turpitude. And to spite her spouse, she goes off to her lovers in the very finery with which her husband, in the superabundance of his goodness, had adorned her [155AC].
In comparison with the sins of Samaria and Sodom, Jerusalem's sin, is the greatest of all.
Samaria and Sodom [in other words, the heretics and the heathen] often commit less grave sins than those who are thought of as Jerusalem [in other words, Churchmen, ecclesiastici]. Thus it is said to the Corinthians, who believed in Christ, but were encumbered with deeds of wickedness, "It is reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans" (1 Cor 5:1) (159D)… Sodom and Samaria may be bad, but they have not sinned half as much as Jerusalem. "The servant who knows his master's will and does not do it shall receive a severe beating" (cf. Lk 12:47) (162BC)… We corrupt our brothers and sisters by our sins, when our sins incite them to greater wickedness. Let me explain myself more clearly. Someone in the high office of priesthood does not behave well, and so by his conduct he defiles its dignity. Will not the imitation of his vices corrupt the layman, his brother? For "whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble ought to have a millstone fastened on his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea" (cf. Mt 18:6)… Who can doubt that of three sinners, three impious men (the Gentile, the heretic, the Churchman), the one with the greatest dignity deserves the greatest punishment?... On the other hand, the least of the three deserves mercy… As St. Peter says, "The time has come for judgment to begin on the house of God" (1 Pet 4:17).And in our prophet Ezekiel the men wielding axes are told, "Begin with my holy ones" (cf. Ezek 9:6). Jerusalem's sisters repent before she does and are restored to their former state, but she continues to bear her disgrace… We read the same thing in the gospel: it will be more tolerable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for the city that did not accept the apostles (cf. Mt 10:15) [162C-64B].
If at last Jerusalem is welcomed back to grace, "It will be through my mercy, not [her] merits, and then she will be ashamed and say with the Apostle, "I am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God" (1 Cor 15:9). "And you will never open your mouth any more because of your shame" (Ezek 16:63)… From this we learn that, even when by God's mercy we have got back our former glory, or rather when we have received the eternal Covenant of the gospel, having pleased God in all that we do, we still have the memory of our past sin, and our mouths remain closed for ever, because we have been saved not by our own works but by the grace of God" (167AC).
This patristic way of speaking was not likely to please a more sensitive age, as we can see from Savonarola's thirtieth sermon on Ezekiel:19 Sono alcuni che dicano che li propheti non si expongono della Chiesa presente: Va, legi un poco santo Hieronymo et sancto Gregorio e li altri doctori che toccono questa expositione! See also Savonarola's thirty-second sermon on Ezekiel:20 "Despicable Church! 'I lavished lovely garments on you,' says the Lord, 'but you committed idolatry with them.' The vessels were abused for pride, the sacraments for simony. In your lust you have become a shameless whore" (he describes this very vividly: Selected Writings and Sermons , pp. 165f.).
Through Rabanus Maurus (Commentaria in Ezechielem; PL 110, 665-94), most of Jerome's commentary is passed on to the Middle Ages.
The great admonitory sermons of Origen and Jerome shed light on the deep inner connection between the destiny of the Church as a whole and that of her holy or sinful members. Church, abstracted from all her members, is no longer Church. Her destiny is in her members, theirs in her. The sins of the sons and daughters reflect back on the mother, which is why she has to pray in her members and beg for her own salvation. St. Hilary gave this strong expression: "The Church is made up of tax collectors and sinners and heathen. Only her second and heavenly Adam has not sinned. She herself is a sinner and is saved through bearing children who persevere in the faith. 'Adam did not sin, but the woman was led astray and fell. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they persevere in the faith' (1 Tim 2:14-15). Now, of course, this does not mean that the woman is not saved from her sins by the Lord and is baptized in vain and had to be redeemed through the merit of childbearing. On the contrary, not even childbearing guarantees her salvation. She is only saved if the children she has borne persevere in the faith' " (Lib. myster. De Adam, CSEL 65, 5-6). Similarly, Rupert of Deutz applies the Old Testament names to the mother because of what the sons have done: "The woman clothed with the sun is Holy Church. Scripture in many places describes her as the woman united to her spouse, God, and loved by him. However, occasionally, because of the vices of the wicked and the sins of those who have fallen into idolatry, she is rebuked as a whore" (In Apoc. 7; PL 169, 1041).
It is true that the Church "has" the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that the Church as a whole—and each of her members—does not have to pray constantly for the presence of the Spirit. It is true that the Church is immaculate (in the sense that she is the place where God sanctifies human beings with his grace), but that does not exclude but rather includes the Church's unceasing confession of sin. "The Church stands in prayer, so that she may be cleansed in confession. And that is how she stands as long as she lives here [stat Ecclesia in oratione, ut mundetur in confessione; et quamdiu hic vivitur, sic stat]" (St. Augustine, Serm. 181, 5, 7; PL 38, 982). Being near or far from the light of grace is a reality for the Church too: "Thus speaks the Church: 'I am "black", I am a sinner, because 'the sun has discolored me, because at times, when my Creator removed himself from me, I fell into error' " (St. Gregory the Great, In Cant. 1,5; Heine, 183).
The Church, who is able to see and condemn herself in this way, has this strange duality within her: standing where she is, thinking of how she ought to be, she can reject within herself what ought not to be. St. Peter Damian links this duality once again with the symbol of Rahab. It struck him that the house of Rahab was besieged by the ark of the Covenant—in other words, that the Church was to be found inside as well as outside Jericho. "Church conquers Church! It does not seem unreasonable to me that the ark of the Covenant and the house of the harlot, which is being besieged, should both symbolize one and the same Church, since there are different kinds of members in one and the same Church. Some do the besieging, walking round the city with sacred preaching. Others, in the bulwark of their infidelity or corruption, have to be captured by weapons of saving doctrine. Some already belong to the house; others by the aversion of misdeeds are still alienated from it" (Serm. 57; PL 144, 825C-26D). St. Bede the Venerable had already spoken in similar fashion (Exp. sup. Jes. Nave. 7; PL 93, 419). He in turn must have borrowed his ideas from St. Ambrose: "Outside the city walls the name of Jesus gave the attackers victory. Inside the sign of the Lord's Passion gave the attacked salvation. And so because Rahab understood the heavenly mystery, the Lord says in the Psalm: 'I will be mindful of Rahab and Babylon' " (De fide ad Grat. 5, 10, 128; PL 16, 674-75).
The same idea of two sides to the concrete reality of the Church can be expressed in a different, harsher way. The abuse, by the sinners within her, of the Church as a pure and bridal mystery can be presented in the imagery of fornication, except in this case the Church herself is not a "harlot" but a woman abused passively and against her will. Take, for example, a fragment of St. Hippolytus, which is probably part of the Benedictiones Jacob. The text "You went up to your father's bed" (cf. Gen 49:4) is applied to the "people" (i.e., the Jews), who go up to the "bed of the Father" (i.e., the Church) to ruin her by persecution and calumny (Bonw. 1/2, 55-56). Mention has already been made of Clement of Alexandria's assertion that anyone who lives in a heathen way in the Church, by thought, word or deed, commits fornication with her (Strom. 7, 14, 87-88, 1). This coarse image was bound to appeal to the Middle Ages, during which the original patristic imagery faded away. Thus St. Bernard would never call the Church a whore, but he does say that the bad shepherds who devastate the Church "prostitute" her rather than "institute" her (Serm. in Cant. 77, 1; PL 183, 1156A). In a vision Hildegard of Bingen sees the Church covered in dirt, with ragged clothes and filthy shoes. She looks like a child who has been rolled around a pigsty. She bewails the devastation that has come upon her. Once, in the blood of the Son of Man, she was chosen as his immaculate bride, but now she has been soiled and plunged in filth by "fornicating and thieving" priests. In her the wounds of the Bridegroom open and bleed afresh. They open as long as the wounds of sin open in the lives of men. But these wounds, too, have been soiled by priests. The visionary sees a drawn sword hanging over the clergy. They are corrupt in what they are and what they do. "And I saw how this sword was poised to strike at not a few of the places inhabited by religious people, just as Jerusalem was struck after the Passion" (Letter 52; PL 197, 269f.; H. Rahner; Mater Ecclesia , 104-6).
To conclude, a rather bombastic text:
The state and face of the Church are in these days so wretched that it is hard to think of a text one can decently apply to her. One, though, that comes to mind is the story of the Israelite's wife in the time of the judges who for a whole night was raped to death by the men of Gibeah. Her husband found her dead early the next morning, her hands stretched over the threshold. He placed her on his donkey and took her home, where he cut her body into twelve pieces, which he sent to the twelve tribes of Israel, stirring everyone to compassion and zeal for revenge… Who is this woman, who left her father to be the wife of an Israelite, if not holy Church, who left her father (the devil or the world) to be joined in marriage to Christ? Just as the woman in the story often left her husband and returned to her father, so the Church, growing cold in her love for Christ, goes off to socialize with the world, or its prince, the devil, in the house of infidelity and immorality. But whenever that happens, Christ, her husband, calls her back, and through the mouths of pastors and doctors, by the infusion of his Spirit of love, he revives ardor within her, saying to her, as it were coaxingly, "Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline your ear; forget your own people and your father's house. So shall the King desire your beauty" (Ps 44:12). While the Church here below walks among proud and depraved men, she is violated by their proud and depraved…doctrines and morals. And though the Church has many times suffered from wicked and depraved men, she has never been more shamefully subjected, so it seems to me, to corruption than she is today with an unbridled gang of Simoniacs assaulting her chastity to satisfy their lusts. It is like the boats in the gospel: "Both were filled, so that they began to sink" (cf. Lk 5:7). They did not sink, but they were in danger of sinking. In the same way, we can say of the Church that her corruptors are abusing her all night (the hour of darkness!) so much that she is dead, i.e., close to death. Yes, in many parishes, the vital fire of the sacraments, from which they could have drawn life, has been totally extinguished, just like the fire of the altar of the Lord, which was kept alight through so many years of the Babylonian captivity, is said to have been extinguished at the time when Jason and Menelaus were buying the priesthood [Gerhoh of Reichersberg, Syntagma de statu Ecclesiae 12; PL 194, 1458-59].
7. The Tamar motif the Church in the form of a harlot
When they spoke of the Church as the fulfillment of Rahab, the Fathers made contradictory demands. On the one hand, the Church must forget what she used to be, a harlot, and in the future think of herself only as the virgin bride, indeed, as mother of Christ: "I have something wonderful to tell you, something wonderful but something true. If she so desires, this harlot can in no time at all become a virgin. She is 'virginified' and conceives and bears the Son of God. 'Out of your fear, Lord, have we conceived and given birth. We placed the Spirit of your salvation on earth' (Is 26:18, LXX). So you see…Rahab the harlot can conceive and give birth to the Redeemer" (St. Jerome, Tr. in Ps. 86; Anal. Mared. 3, 2; 104-5). "What is inimical to Christian faith about a harlot abandoning her fornication and being changed into a chaste spouse?" (St. Augustine, C. Faust. 22, 80; PL 42, 453). On the other hand, the very same Fathers insist that she should never forget her origins; in fact, her very salvation depends upon her remembering.
The tension is heightened in the Hosea story. There the harlot, who bears the self-humiliating and humiliated prophet's children, not only cannot forget her background but also constantly has to confront it in her children's names of shame until the day the Lord changes them into their opposite. And unfaithful Jerusalem (in Ezek 16 and 23), the last to be taken back, can really only accept the fact of being taken back in the deepest silence and shame. Thus, in some incomprehensible way, the two things must be true at the same time: the past has been graciously crossed out and totally overcome, and yet something from the past lives on and clings to the present, something formal and somehow constitutive.
Here a new Old Testament motif becomes important, the very subtly told story of Judah and Tamar. Let us briefly recall the details. Judah, the son of Jacob, lives away from his brothers among the Canaanites. He takes Shua's daughter as his wife and receives from her three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. He gives Tamar to Er as his wife, but Er dies, so he asks Onan to raise up progeny for his brother from Tamar. However, Onan does not want children that will not be his own, and so each time he spills his seed on the ground. He likewise dies. Shelah is still a minor, so Judah sends his daughter-in-law home. He puts her off, but he does not give her to Shelah when he comes of age, because he does not want a third son to die. Tamar hears that Judah is coming to Timnah for the sheep .shearing, so she changes out of her widow's weeds and sits down, her head veiled, by the side of the road. She wants a child of the blood of her husband, Er. Judah sees her and takes her for a cultic prostitute. Tamar makes Judah give him three pledges until she receives from him the promised kid from the flock. She becomes pregnant. Judah's friend comes with the kid, but nothing is known in the district of any cultic prostitute. Three months later it is reported to Judah that his daughter-in-law has played the harlot and is pregnant. Judah orders her to be burnt. She is led off, but Judah recognizes her by the three pledges and calls out: "She is more in the right than I am, because I did not give her to my son, Shelah" (whose wife she should have become by leviration). The twins brought into the world by Tamar are the ancestors of David.
The striking thing about this story is that, though in different ways the subject of prostitution is touched on or alluded to, there is no actual prostitution. In the literal sense, according to the law and custom of the time, what we have here is a lawful choice of mate under the appearance of harlotry. The Fathers understood this perfectly well, even though they were probably ignorant of the details of the legal convention, and applied it to the Church.
To begin with, we have three fragments from St. Hippolytus' commentary on Genesis (in Bonwetsch's literal translation):
Tamar is the type of the holy community, and Judah is the type of Christ. The name "Judah" means "the tearing down of the enclosures", so Judah represents the King. And when it says, "They reported to Tamar and said, 'Behold, your father-in-law is going to Timnah for the sheep shearing' ", the people who do the reporting are a type of the prophets and apostles, who inform the community of the coming of the Messiah. And just as Tamar adorned herself and went off to meet Judah and changed out of her widow's weeds, so the holy community changes out of her old ways, puts on the garments of piety and faith, of lovely hope and trust, sets off to meet Christ, who came from the stock of Judah, and adorns herself with the garments of the New Covenant to make glad the heart of the King, who came to redeem the world [Fragm. in Gen. 38, 14; Bonw. 1/2, 95].
Judah did not desire Tamar with animal lust, but all took place by Divine Providence, to ensure the propagation and survival of the line. Likewise, Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, did not sit down by the busy thoroughfare to earn a harlot's fee. She cherished the hope of getting progeny for the line and race of Abraham, for she, as a descendant of Esau, was of the race of Abraham, and Judah thought she had caused the death of his sons, Er and Onan, and was cursed with infertility. After sleeping with her, Judah gave three pledges—a seal, a cord, and the stick he held in his hand. These were the pledge that he had slept with her. Likewise Christ has given his Church three things: his Body, his Blood, and baptism. And if Tamar was saved by three things—the ring, the cord, and the stick—Holy Church was delivered from idolatry by three things: the confession of faith, the Body and the Blood, and for her children she chose deliverance from worldliness through Christ. And we receive his Body and his Blood, because he is the pledge of eternal life for all who approach Him in humility [ibid., pp. 95f.].
The third fragment describes Tamar's pregnancy and how, on the way to being burnt, she shows Judah the three pledges: "Tamar is now the type of the holy community, and Judah the type of Christ. And just as Tamar, to be free of shame, hoped for progeny for the race of Abraham, so the holy community hoped to keep the commandments of Christ and obey the words of his holy apostles in order to be freed from the shame of the old life and the stench of idolatrous sacrifice" (ibid., pp. 96f.).
Hippolytus is well aware of the sinful appearance of the episode, but he places no emphasis on it in his exposition. The motif comes out more strongly in St. Augustine, probably not without the influence of St. Ambrose. We shall postpone our consideration of the vitally important texts of the latter, because he develops his ideas in terms of Mary Magdalen's example rather than Tamar's. Augustine is concerned to show against the Manichees that the dubious appearance of many episodes in the Old Testament is either just a matter of appearances or can be justified by its prophetic significance.
In Tamar we must see the people of the kingdom of the Jews, to whom, from the tribe of Judah, the kings came, as it were, as spouses. Her name is rightly translated as "bitterness", for it was she who gave the Lord gall to drink…Tamar changes her clothes, so her name is also translated as "changing". The name "bitterness" can still be kept, but it is now not the bitterness of giving the Lord gall but the bitterness of Peter's tears. For Judah is translated into Latin as confessio, "confession". Bitterness can be mixed with confession to indicate true repentance. Through this repentance the Church, seated amidst all the Gentiles, becomes fruitful… And the whorish habit [habitus meretricius] of Tamar is the confession of sins. For Tamar is already the type of the Church called from out of the Gentiles [C. Faust. Man. 22, 83-86; PL 42, 454-258].
Augustine adds the further detail that the harlot Israel is transformed by her confessio into the Church. The transformation and marriage first take place in the hidden depths of the heart; the pledges for it are produced openly only later.
St. Jerome's interpretation of the "prophetic whore" (scortum propheticum) is directed at the Jews. For him, Tamar is the symbol of either the Church of the Gentiles or, as seems more appropriate here, the synagogue. She was first rescued from idolatry by Abraham and Moses (Judah's first two sons); then, after committing adultery and disowning the Redeemer, she spent a very long time without altar, priest, and prophets (in other words, she did not marry the third son); finally, she longs once more for contact with her original husband. Thus, when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, all Israel will be saved (Ep. 123, 13; PL 22, 1055AB).
St. Zeno of Verona constructs a subtle allegory out of the Tamar story (Lib II, Tr. 15; PL 11, 434-39). The essential features of his interpretation are as follows. Judah is ancient prophecy. Er is the Gentiles. Onan is the Jews, who spill the seed of God's word. Shelah is Christ, still a minor and not yet ready for marriage. Judah's dead wife is the faith of the synagogue. Judah's union with the veiled Tamar ("rightly taken for a whore") is the union of revelation with the still unrecognizable Gentile Church (who "had greater faith in prophecy than the Jews did"). She receives the pledges and is then no more to be found, because she has meanwhile been washed clean in baptism. When she becomes pregnant, the Jews accuse her of adultery: she has violated the Sabbath and broken the traditions. But she can produce the pledges of revelation and prove she is the lawful heiress.
St. Bede the Venerable simply reproduces the ideas he receives from the Tradition (In Gen.; PL 91, 266-67). In his commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel, St. Paschasius Radbertus takes over, word for word, the main ideas of St. Augustine. However, in his opinion, Judah and Tamar—symbols of Christ and the Gentile Church—cannot be entirely excused (In Mt. 1, 1; PL 120, 55A-58). He emphasizes strongly that all the women named in Christ's genealogy are harlots.
For Rupert, as for Augustine, Tamar represents bitter penance, which takes place publicly on the crossroads (between the law and grace) and is unafraid of the appearance of harlotry (817B). But Judah is Christ, who unites himself to the penitent Church and, through the one conjugal union of the Cross, begets two peoples. The salvation of both Jews and Gentiles is assured (De Trin. in Gen. 8,29-30; PL 167, 515-18). Pseudo-Hugh of St. Victor (Alleg. in Vet. Test.) also follows Augustine (PL 175, 652), as does St. Peter Damian (Opusc. 60; PL 145, 858A).
Anselm of Laon sees in Tamar "the ancient people, to whom two husbands had already been given", but they were bad shepherds and spilled the seed of God's word on the ground. Shelah, who is not given to the people, represents (as in the earlier interpretations) the interruption of the postexilic succession of the kings of Judah. So at last comes Christ/Judah, announced by John the Baptist/Hirah. "Tamar, the Church, wanted to marry him but in a changed form, no longer as the Jewish Church but as the Church of the Gentiles and in appearance a whore, for in former times she had often played the harlot with false gods, and for Judah she had been a woman, as it were, unknown." But Hirah does not find her, "because the Church has meanwhile accepted the faith and ceased to be a harlot" (In Mt. 1; PL 162, 1239).
St. Isidore of Seville takes over Augustine's interpretation almost word for word. "Tamar changed her clothes. She also changes her name. From synagogue, she becomes Church. But she really does have to keep the name 'bitterness'… Through penance the Church dwelling among all the Gentiles will be made fruitful… The behavior of the harlot is the confession of sins. For Tamar is the type of the Church that comes from the Gentiles" (Quaest. in V. T., in Gen. c. 39; PL 83, 270). Rabanus Maurus takes his exposition from Isidore (Comm. in Ruth 14; PL 108, 1220; In Paralip. 1, 2; PL 109, 289-90). Rupert of Deutz explains the "harlot" motif by relating Tamar to the other harlots in the genealogy of Christ. The appearance of public prostitution that Tamar gives is the Church's public penance, through which she confesses she has been a sinner (In Gen. 8,28-30; PL 167, 516-17). "Tamar veils her face, and the Church blushes at the errors of her former ways, and sits by the roadside, where Christ meets her in baptism" (De div. offic. 1, 9, 2; PL 170, 241).
St. Ambrose emphasizes the habitus meretricius of the Church in truly memorable words. The "house of Simon", which Christ entered as a guest, is the world. "This woman heard that Christ had come, and so she went off to Simon's house. Now the woman could never have been healed, if Christ had not come down to earth. We might say of her that she entered the house of Simon because she had within her something of a higher soul [one that had come down from above], or something of the Church, who came down to earth to gather up one people in her fragrance." We have already seen that Ambrose believed the sinful woman to be Mary Magdalen and contrasted her with Mary of Bethany: both symbolize the Church, both anoint the Lord, but the former anoints the feet, the latter the head. "The first is the one closest to us, as a person but also as representing a certain stage of progress. For we too have not yet renounced our sins. But where are our tears?… Perhaps Christ did not wash his own feet, so that we could wash them with our tears… And perhaps that ointment could be provided by no one but the Church, who possesses countless blooms of the most varied fragrance; yes, no one but the Church, who rightly took on the appearance of a sinner, because Christ too took upon himself the form of the sinner [Ecclesia…quae merito speciem peccatricis, quia Christus quoque formam peccatoris accepit]" (In Luc. 6, 21; PL 15, 1672-74A).
St. Paulinus of Nola follows Ambrose so closely that he reproduces the crucial sentence word for word.
Since Mary Magdalen is the symbol of the Church to be called out of the Gentiles, she was given the privilege of handling all the signs of the mystery of salvation. With the ointment she poured out, she herself was anointed. Her penitent tears became for her a cleansing bath, her heartfelt love of sacrifice. Yes, her hands and mouth were allowed a foretaste of the living and life-giving Bread, and her sucking kisses a first draught of the Blood of the Chalice before it became Blood in the Chalice! Blessed are they who were able to taste the Lord in the flesh and with their own bodies to welcome the Body of Christ…Blessed is she who was given the privilege of being the type of the Church! At the Pharisee’s house and meal it was not he but the sinful woman who was justified and absolved… The Church was to correspond to her head, even in type, and so she appropriately assumed the form of a sinful woman, because Christ himself assumed the form of the sinner [Ep. 23, 32-33; CSEL 29, 1, 188-89].
From now on, we see a deep transformation and relativization of the earlier themes. There is something about the essential form of the Church (and this is not her most inconspicuous feature) that is reminiscent of sin, conditioned by sin, something that in the present context always means infidelity and fornication. And yet it is not guilt but assimilation to the form of the sinner assumed by her Head. A profound explanation of this from the patristic age can be found in the texts assembled and interpreted by Hugo Rahner under the title Mysterium Lunae.21 The relationship of sun and moon is seen as an unceasing marriage and is applied to Christ and the Church. The central mystery is this: at the very moment of her greatest proximity to the sun, in the synodus of the wedding, the moon becomes the new moon, in other words, dark and black; she seems to have disappeared, to have been, as it were, annihilated. But in this Selene is only imitating the setting sun, which symbolizes Christ's kenosis and Cross. She is closest to Christ when she assumes the same kenotic form. The sun has to go down before the moon can shine brightly, and so the moon's brightness, lent her by the sun, bears witness in earthly night to the night of the Cross, the return to the "superbright darkness" of the Father. But it can also be interpreted to mean that "while Christ shone in the flesh on earth, Christ's Church could not yet gleam, for she still lay in the west, that is, in sin" (St. Anastasius of Sinai, In Hexaem. 4; PG 89, 902A). However, for St. Ambrose, the changes of the moon are clear evidence for St. Paul's doctrine of the subjection of the cosmic elements to vanity for the sake of sin: "It is for you that Luna suffers. By the will of God she has been subjugated. It is not by her free will that Luna changes. She sighs; she is in labor on account of her changeability. She never ceases to yearn for your redemption" (Exaem. 4, 8, 31; CSEL 32, 1; 137). These observations are then transferred to the Church. She is subjected to change, yet in her essence she does not wax or wane: obumbrari potest, deficere non potest (4, 2, 7; p. 115). The Cross overshadows her, and the coming light of the Resurrection falls upon her (4, 5, 22; p. 129f.). For St. Augustine, too, the changeableness of the moon/Church is connected with Adam's fall from divine constancy (Rahner, 436f). Especially in Letter 55 to Januarius and in the Enarrationes, Augustine loves to use the moon symbol to describe the changes and chances of the Church's destiny in this world. It is the destiny of being in transition (transitus), something completely provisional, a fate conditioned both by the fall and by the form of the redemption. As Luna, constantly having to change, the Church is ordered toward a double end, as Origen so magnificently explains (Hom. in Num. 23): she makes herself superfluous and disappears into the unique light of the sun that is Christ, and yet in the very act of disappearing she becomes a partaker of eternal light.
To return to our theme, we must say that the forma meretricis adheres so closely to the Church that, having been, so to speak, in its final aspect transfigured and rendered harmless, it becomes one of the marks of the Church of the New Covenant in all the beauty of her salvific mystery. The synagogue's departure from the Holy Land to go to the Gentiles was the infidelity of Jerusalem, "the opening of her legs at every street corner in the world". And yet it is that very movement outward to all the nations that is the mission of the Church. She must mix and unite herself with all nations and not shy away from this new apostolic form of intercourse. Once again it is St. Ambrose, the boldest adventurer in this theology, who gives us the most striking formulation:
This Rahab—in type a harlot, in mystery the Church…did not refuse intercourse to the many men who came her way. The more lovers she has, the chaster she is: a spotless virgin without wrinkle, untouched by feelings of shame, public [plebeia] in love, a chaste prostitute [casta meretrix], an unfruitful widow, a fruitful virgin. Harlot, because thronged by many lovers, with all the enticements of love, but without the stain of transgression, for "he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her" (1 Cor 6,16). Unfruitful widow, because, if the husband is absent, she cannot bear children, but if the husband is there, she gives birth to this people, this great crowd. Fruitful virgin, who bore this multitude with the blessing of love and without the use of lust [In Luc 3, 23; PL 15, 1598].
And again, when speaking of the roof under which Rahab sheltered the spies: "I know a roof where Rahab hid the spies sent her by Jesus. In type Rahab was a harlot, but in mystery the Church, coupled with the Gentiles by the consort of the sacraments" (In Luc 8, 40; PL 15, 1776). Clearly, when seen in the context of this passage, the Samaritan woman's apostolic preaching and Mary Magdalen's bearing of the Easter message to the apostles come to have special symbolic force. One text out of many must suffice, in this case about the Samaritan woman: "O apostolic harlot! The harlot proves to be mightier than the apostles. She preaches Christ even before the Passion and the mystery of his suffering and Resurrection: 'Come and see the man who told me all the things I have done!' (Jn 4:29). I spread my sins abroad to guide you on the way. 'Is he perhaps the Messiah?' See the woman's intelligence. See the sincerity of the harlot!" (Pseudo-Chrysostom, In Samaritanam; PG 59, 541).
8. The Babylon motif: the spirit of confusion
All the motifs and symbols discussed so far, even that of the archwhore Jerusalem, could be applied to the Church, because it was always possible to see her at the same time, in her essential core, as the immaculate bride. For the prophets, even Jerusalem's rejection was one episode between her first and final eschatological election. But the picture is very different when we pass from the "archwhore Jerusalem" to the "archwhore Babylon", an image that makes its first appearance in the Old Testament (Jer 50-51) and is then broadly unfolded in the New (Rev 17-19). Now, of course, the features of the two archwhores merge with one another in order to describe the character, crimes, and downfall of the terrible powers opposed to the Church. These not only play the whore, like Jerusalem, with all the mighty ones of this world but also intoxicate themselves with the blood of the martyrs, the children of the Church. In the Apocalypse, confusion between Babylon and the "beloved city" is not even thinkable.
This ultimate irreconcilability of the spirit of Christ's true Church with the spirit of Babylon constantly led the heretics of the Middle Ages to identify the Roman Church with the great Babylon. The contrast expressed in this appellation, with its implication of an absolute reform of the Church that would alter her very essence, reduces all the different sects to their common denominator. "One basic piece of evidence can be adduced…to support the view that medieval heresy originated in the widespread movement for Church reform and not primarily in a late resurgence of Gnosticism: the central importance that all the sects attribute to the question of the Church, and the arrogant, unbending opposition of all the heretics, from the eleventh century onward, to the Roman Church. All agree in recognizing her in the image of the great whore in the Apocalypse, in the Babylon of 1 Peter, in the Ecclesia malignantium or diaboli, who has falsified the pure evangelical Tradition. She is contrasted with the Ecclesia Dei, the only legitimate continuation of the apostolic Tradition through all persecution, all poverty, and all suffering" (Rafael Morghen).22 According to Stefano di Borbone, the Waldensians say, "The Roman Church is the whore of Babylon, and those who obey her are damned" (Romanam Ecclesiam esse meretricem Babylon, et omnes ei oboedientes damnari ).23 The apostolic brethren confess that "there is a double Church, the spiritual and the carnal, the spiritual composed of those people who live in total poverty, the carnal of those who live in wealth and privilege… It is this Church of which St. John speaks in the Apocalypse and which he calls Babylon.24 Peter Dominicus, a Beghard, adds that "in the sixth phase of the Church, in which we now live, the Roman Church, under the name of 'Babylon', has been cursed by Christ, rejected and destroyed, just as the old synagogue of the Jews was rejected by Christ."25 There is abundant proof of the Cathars and Albigensians describing the Church in this way.26 And there is no need here to list all the examples from the late Middle Ages, from Hus, Wycliffe, and Luther, from the whole world of the sects right up to the present day.
We are concerned only with Catholic theology, with the question of whether the application of this Biblical symbol to the Catholic Church is in any way defensible or at least understandable. We gave two examples at the beginning: William of Auvergne and Dante. We could also cite Savonarola, but he can be regarded even less than these two as a witness sine ira et studio. The same is true of the spiritual Franciscans, for whom, as earlier for Joachim, the clash between the Ecclesia spiritualis and the Ecclesia carnalis within Catholicism becomes the crucial question in Christendom,27 But over these too lies the half shadow of condemnation.
What we need to know is the theological way in which an orthodox use of the Babylon symbol became a possibility to be considered. The question can be answered quickly and unequivocally by looking at St. Augustine's City of God and at his general doctrine of the Church, which is characterized by two fundamental tendencies. First, there is a vigorous, spiritual, and dynamic concept of the two opposed kingdoms: where the spirit of caritas reigns, there is the Kingdom of God, Jerusalem; where the spirit of cupiditas reigns, there is Satan's kingdom, Babylon. Secondly, dependent on the first point, there is a sharp division between the Church's sacramental form and her spiritual, grace-given content. The form can validly exist outside the Catholic Church (so, against the Donatists, there is no rebaptizing of converted heretics) but without the grace-given content, which opens up only on entry to the Church. These two elements together produce the typically Augustinian Church ethic, the idea that much of the spirit of Babylon can hold sway within the Church-Jerusalem, that it is only on the Last Day that corn and chaff in the Church are separated, that meanwhile wheat and weed have to grow together entwined. A third point, concerning the theology of history, emerges in the City of God. In the Old Testament, Babylon/Assyria (alongside Egypt) was the embodiment of the great power opposed to God. However, by the time of the New Testament, its historical power was at an end, so, for the Mediterranean world, Rome took over the role of the new, second Babylon. Augustine argued that in the spirit of Rome we find the spirit of that worldly mentality that is hostile to God. It is well known that the Roman Emperor's "conversion" to Christianity aroused little enthusiasm in him. In contrast to Eusebius and his own disciple Orosius, he continued, and gave a new spiritual application to, the old Christian theology of opposition to the world.28
St. Augustine's City of God had a most powerful influence on the Middle Ages' theology of history; indeed, one might say it was almost the only influence—though admittedly the medievals underestimated its anti-Roman and antiimperial tendency. No wonder, then, that where it was studied and understood in depth, it set off on the track that we are now following. An example will explain what we are saying and provide the "missing link" in our chain of proof. It comes from the writings of Gerhoh of Reichersberg, who was, if not the greatest, then certainly the most powerful and—in terms of his knowledge and mastery of the theological Tradition—the most accomplished of the German theologians. Ardently involved in the struggle for reform within the Church, passionately devoted to the purification of the Church in theory and theology as well as in practice, he was predestined to develop ecclesiology in this direction.
Outside the Church there is no salvation, and so sacraments outside the Church are valid in form but contain no life (sacramenta mortua, Tr. adv. Sim. 19; PL 194, 1353, with reference to Augustine). The Church is formed by the love of Christ and Christians. She is above all a spirit, the spirit of the city of God from Abel onward as opposed to the spirit of the world from Cain onward (194, 14-15): the spirit of Babylon, of "confusion", of "muddle", which is at its most dangerous for the Church when it is a spirit of deviously inconspicuous confusion between the sacred and the secular (194, 27, 40). This is the spirit of Babylon, and it can break out in the Church at any time. For Rome is "the second Babylon, and we rejoice to see it transformed into the city of Zion" (194, 16). Gerhoh loves and admires this Christian Rome. He even admires "the Church structures daily growing on the ruins of Jericho, gleaming with golden images…clearly showing how the house of Rahab has been saved, that is to say, Holy Church built on the faith and name of Peter" (41C). But the "second Babel" (66C), in its very splendor, has the tendency to accommodate the spirit of the old Babel, and "it is a tragic spectacle to see an almost entirely Babylonian people dwelling in your midst, Jerusalem" (40A), a people dedicated to "the rebuilding of Jericho" (41B). The Babylonian takeover, the new Babylonian captivity of God's people, has four stages, according to Gerhoh, which more or less coincide with the stages outlined by Dante by which the abuse of the religiosa judiciaria potestas goes deeper and deeper. First, the Jews abused it, by condemning Christ; then the pagan emperors, by persecuting Christians from without; then, after Constantine, the heretical emperors by threatening the true Faith from within; finally, false Christians, the fornicators in body and spirit, the corrupt clergy above all, but also the Christian emperors who lead the Church into simony (193, 689-90). Things have gone so far that nowadays the best people in the Church are like Elijah, having to flee from the modern Jezebel into the wilderness, where they hardly have the wherewithal to live (781f.). Elsewhere the stages are identified with the horses of the Apocalypse. Red represents the emperors from Nero to Diocletian, black the Arian emperors, gray (a mixture of black and white) the false Christians, whose lives no longer correspond in any way to the Faith they profess. "Elijah is persecuted by Jezebel, the rich and godless woman, yes, by the great mass of the godless. Like a real prostitute, she goes whoring with the devil, and in the Apocalypse she is called the 'mother of all harlotry'" (Comm. in Ps. 17, 5; 19, 3). The cathedra Moysis has imperceptibly become the cathedra pestilentiae (789; 946-48). The radiant moon/Church has become the luna obscura: "Mere dignity of office without dignity of merit" (sola dignitas officiorum sine dignitate meritorum) (795-96). The Antichrist has not yet arrived, but "he is coming with all power to sit in my temple, the Church, boasting that he is God…so that, were it possible, even the elect would be led astray, those who are the apple of my eye, chosen not only so that they themselves should not go astray but also to protect the whole body of the Church from the darkness of error" (850CD). This is the very same spirit against which the prophets railed
when the Jewish priests in the glorious and sumptuous temple were boasting and saying, "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" (Jer 7:4). But "the voice of the Lord shatters the cedars"; that is to say, he humbles the false boasters, giving the lie to their lies. They commit robbery in the temple, which should no longer be called the temple but a den of thieves. And by the righteous judgment of God, the King of Babylon will come down and lay waste all the temple's treasures… Thus it came to pass, first through the first Babylon, then through the second Babylon, Rome. The Jews were taken prisoner and all their treasures plundered [194, 113AB].
In the Old Testament, the spirit of Babel was first a living reality in Jerusalem herself: her captivity in Babel was just the consequence and punishment of that. The same thing happens again to the Church in the New Testament, because she has "abandoned her first love". Gerhoh stays close to the ancient prophets (he is totally silent about the gospel). At the same time he takes the wind out of the sails of contemporary heresy by constantly praising poverty, humility, and self-abnegation as the spirit of Christ and thus the true spirit of the Church and by making this lament: "The words of the rich, the mighty, the proud, the perverse overpowered us who are poor, weak, lowly, who have been converted to you, O God, and are ready to return to Jerusalem from the midst of Babylon" (194, 57D). In a subtle allegory he proves that the Euphrates, on whose banks the Jews sat and wept, is really one of the rivers of paradise, which flows through the middle of Babylon, but has meanwhile been poisoned by many foreign waters, so that it "is fit for drinking not so much by the captive citizens of Jerusalem as by those of Babylon" (194, 93AB). For Gerhoh, the warrant for this image of the poisoning of the pure gospel is not just heresy but also the worldly additives of philosophy and poetry and the new dialectical spirit made fashionable by Abelard.
His love and enthusiasm for the Church are genuine. He has no difficulty at all in singing her praises as the pure and immaculate bride. But like Hippolytus, Origen, and Augustine, he sees that she is only true to the spirit of her Head and Bridegroom when she clings to him in unceasing prayer. "The soul of the whole Church…becomes a partaker of the divine nature when she clings to what is above her and thus receives the power to govern what is beneath her, namely, the whole body of the Church" (PL 193, 1135). His idea of the Church is as concrete as that of the Fathers: he does not distinguish between the Church's form and the people who make her up. That is why he can go further than Augustine does in his Enarrationes and makes the psalms (when it is not expressly Christ who is praying) the prayers of a humiliated, contrite, weeping, penitent Church. "The whole Church training herself in penance" (Tota Ecclesia semetipsam exercens in poenitentia, 712A); "I the penitent Church, or I any penitent in the Church" (ego poenitens Ecclesia vel ego quilibet poenitens in Ecclesia, 1102B); "I the penitent Church, or I any penitent in the Church, long to be like the penitent Peter" (huic Petro poenitenti ego poenitens Ecclesia vel ego quilibet poenitens in Ecclesia cupio assimilari, 1104A); "I the penitent Church, or I the penitent ecclesial person" (ego poenitens Ecclesia vel ego poenitens ecclesiastica persona, 1114B; 194, 169); "All the tears of the whole totality of the Church" (totius universitatis Ecclesiae universales lacrimae, 109A); "I, the Church, do not consider myself to be pure, as the Novatianists and Cathars do. I know how many sinners I have within me, and I do not refuse to do penance but say, 'Forgive us our trespasses'" (1135AD).
Gerhoh prays with the Church and her great Tradition of prayer. For him, the Church prays together with all sinners, and all sinners pray in her. In his prayers all the arrogant negations and refusals of the sects are deflated. Gerhoh's spirit lives on in William of Auvergne and Dante, in those in the Church who inherit the Franciscan spirit, in German mysticism and the Devotio moderna, in Savonarola,29 in John Fisher, Erasmus, and Thomas More. It also lives on in Luther as the heir not just of sectarian ranting about the Church as the "great Babylon" but also of the old Biblical and patristic theology of the "bride" as a "little whore" (meretricula), who in Christ is redeemed from her harlotry through the admirabile conubium et commercium—the wonderful nuptial exchange, which Hosea foreshadowed:
This is how the "nuptials of Christ" are seen as the final resolution of the mystery of the "nuptials of Israel". Ezekiel provides the theological prophecy… Augustine completes the nuptial theology of Origen: "Great and unique is the Bridegroom's condescension: when he found her, she was a whore; he made her a virgin. She must not deny she was a whore, lest she forget the mercy of him who set her free… Yes, he came and made her a virgin" (Serm. 213, 7, 7). So it is not just a question, as it is in the Old Testament, of an "eternal marriage" with the murderous, adulterous archwhore, who lies slain in her own blood. No, that "shadow", that "type", is elevated into the "physical reality" of a whore who lusts after false gods and then becomes a "virgin" again. For the nuptials of Christ in the New Testament, this transformation is a unique, constitutive experience, and yet it is ever new, something that is always "here and now" and "today" in the sense of the memoria and the hodie of the liturgy. Each Good Friday, in the Reproaches, the bride-Church, speaking as the converted Jerusalem, confesses to the murder of the Lord. Then, having gone through the mortal silence of Holy Saturday, she receives from Christ the Bridegroom the Exsultet, the "exultation" of the ever new Easter nuptials. He only fully celebrates his "Resurrection in death", for his bride/Church, because of the mortal nothingness of her guilt, is constantly being resurrected [E. Przywara, Alter und Neuer Bund (1956), pp. 281f.].
9 The Shulamite motif: "I am black but beautiful"
The self-portrait of the bride in the Song of Songs, with its blithely confessed dialectic, will form our conclusion. Her blackness indicates either her lowly rural origins (she is "sunburnt"; Cant 1:6), which the King humbly accepts, or perhaps it is the sign of some great trial (cf. Job 30:30; Lam 4:8). But her blackness takes nothing from her beauty, which the Bridegroom in his rapture constantly praises. For the Fathers, all the "spots and wrinkles" observed and bewailed in the Church do not for one moment compromise her immaculateness. This is true even of such a severe critic of the concrete condition of the Church as Origen. What makes this position all the more remarkable is that the Fathers never dream of dissecting the Church, à la Journet, into her "formal" and "material" elements, with the formal element (in the sense of the indwelling of God's Spirit through Christ in the sacramental/institutional dimensions of the Church) being essentially invulnerable, while the material element, the people of the Church, belongs to the Church in the sense of being contained and informed by her. For the Fathers, the two elements are absolutely intertwined; the aspects of "grace" and "merit" are not separable even in thought. Unity and holiness are both given and preserved and exercised in faith. The unity of Christians is essentially love, that is to say, responsive bridal fidelity and consent to and under the Bridegroom. And so—here patristic ecclesiology does agree with Journet—the question of membership of the Church really does involve analogy. At the lower limit the man in a state of mortal sin is a member supported, through God's grace, by those who have faith and love, and the ones who really love are, of course, all members in fellowship with one another, supported by Christ but also supporting one another, actively living out the Church's unity of love. For the Fathers, the foundational rock of Peter's faith, secured by Christ's Passion and prayer (cf. Lk 22:32), is inseparable from the eternally assured truth (of doctrine) and love (of life). To the patristic mind, an "infallibility" bestowed only from above without a simultaneous responsive love from below, from the heart of the bride, is quite unthinkable.
At this stage the Church has not yet fully realized that the great symbol and embodiment of this responsive bridal love is the all-sustaining love of Mary. And so other groups of Christians representing sanctity stand alongside her. First and foremost, there are the apostles, whose subjective holiness, for the reason we have just given, is greatly exalted by the Fathers (for example, Origen). Then there are the martyrs, who, through their conformity to the Son of God, who "gave his life for his brethren", participate directly in his holiness. Finally, we have the Doctors, who in their own way are martyrs and confessors: as successors of the prophets, they bear witness to and expound, in the Holy Spirit, the infallible truth. All these form the radiant heart of the "immaculate bride", the Church. Here every anima ecclesiastica must abide and adhere.
But the "bride" is always in motion, distant from Christ in sinners, close to Christ in those who have charity, and so, as Origen explicitly says (Hom. 2 in Cant. 4; Baehr 8, 47), she is always both black and beautiful. The speculations about Rahab and Tamar are relevant to this. The Gentile Church (which, for the Fathers, is the whole Church, because they regard the synagogue as totally rejected) is always moving from blackness to beauty in baptism. She, one and the same subject, is (in her temporal origins) black, but (henceforth) beautiful. And however much for this reason she has to "forget" (cf. Ps 45:11) her former cast of mind, she must remain "mindful" of the fact that she has been redeemed by pure grace and raised up from being a whore to being a bride. One cannot imagine patristic ecclesiology without this double tension between "black" and "beautiful" in time as in space.
Both the blackness and the beauty, as both dogmatic and existential notes of the Church, are stressed in some well-known words of St. Ambrose. Here is the light that makes the mystery clear: "How can the Church, made up of defiled people, be undefiled? First, by God's grace, insofar as she has been cleansed of her trespasses; secondly, by ceasing to commit misdeeds, through the quality of not sinning. She is not immaculate from the very beginning, because that is impossible for human nature. It is by God's grace and her own quality, by henceforth sinning no more, that she appears to be immaculate [or rather seems to be one who has always been immaculate, ut immaculata videatur]" (In Luc. 1, 17; CSEL 32, 21). Confirmation in grace is chiefly an attribute of the Church as a whole, as "the company of all the saints" (coetus omnium sanctorum), "as if all were one person" (quasi omnium una persona, Origen, Comm. in Cant. 1; Baehr 8, 90), whereas the constant struggle out of sin's remoteness from God to love's closeness to God is chiefly an attribute of the individual, of us who are still always "stinking in sins and vices" (in peccatis vitiisque foetemus, Origen, Hom. 1 in Cant. 3; ibid., 34): we have to be educated by Ecclesia, taken by her into herself (ibid., 35, 55). So the Fathers have no difficulty in calling the Church "defiled" with reference to the sinners who belong to her. For Origen, the Church, in her members, is respectively either speciosa or turpis (Cant. 1, 6; ibid., 36). St. John Chrysostom can speak of a "leprous Church" (Hom. 44 in 1 Cor. 4; PG 33, 379), St. Augustine of a "limping Church" (Serm. 5, 8; PL 38, 59A). Sinners are glad to be called the dirty feet in the body of Christ (St. Jerome, Adv. Jov. 2,29; PL 23,326; St. Caesarius, Serm. 83,3; PL 39,1907; St. Ambrose, Ep. 41, 26; PL 16, 1120).
St. Augustine is the only one to introduce a new aspect into this doctrine of the Church. As his reactions to Pelagius grow in strength, the immaculate sanctity of a human person of earth becomes increasingly dubious to him, or rather it becomes an eschatological ideal. With this shift—from an early Christian idealism to a disillusioned realism—two new possibilities come into play. First, one can reduce the Church's immaculateness to that part of her institutional life that is outside the human sphere (in particular, the sacraments); the absolute purity of the bride, composed as she is of human beings, is then explained as an eschatological grandeur, toward which the Church strives. Alternatively, one can preserve the old ideal with subtractions and concessions and treat the immaculateness of the bride as a relative grandeur.
St. Augustine's last word on the subject is this: "The saints themselves are not free of daily sins. The Church as a whole says, 'Forgive us our trespasses!' She thus possesses spots and wrinkles. But through confession the wrinkles are smoothed out, the spots washed away. The Church stands in prayer in order, through confession, to be purified, and as long as men live on earth, that is how she stands" (Serm. 181, 5, 7; PL 38, 982). Again in the Rectractions:
Just as the "washing of regeneration" (cf. Titus 3:5) cleanses from the guilt of all sins that human birth has inherited and wickedness has incurred, this perfection cleanses us from the stain of all vices without which human weakness cannot exist in this world. It is in this way, too, that we must understand the words of the Apostle: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph 5:25-27). For here there is "the washing of water with the word", by which the Church is cleansed. But since the whole Church, as long as she is here, says, "Forgive us our debts", she is certainly not "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" here. However, it is from what she receives here that she is led to the glory which is not here, and to perfection [Retr. 1,7; PL 32, 593].
He reinforces the point again at 1, 19; col. 617; 2, 17, 637-38). Similar words can be found in St. Jerome (cf. In Eph. 5,27 [PL 26, 564D-65A] with In Jer. 6, 29 [Reiter, p. 413]).
In this Augustinian perspective, toward the end of the patristic age, St. Peter Chrysologus once more sees Magdalen/Church resting at the feet of the Lord, just as St. Hippolytus, at the beginning, immortalized her in a perpetual gesture of supplication. The latter's great fear is lest the purified Church should fall again from her sinlessness, while the former is motivated by an acute contrition that strives toward the final eschatological purification:
"And behold", it says, "a woman in the town who was a sinner"… It was in this town [of perfidy, perfidia] that this woman, that is, the Church, was bearing up under the depressing guilt that sprang from the heavy silt of so many past sins… Therefore, with welling love she sheds her tears upon the feet of the Lord… She…kisses them with praising lips and pours out the whole ointment of mercy…until [donec] he will come back to her and say,…"Your sins, many as they are, are forgiven you, because you have loved much." For the remission of sins will take place then [tunc], when all occasion of sin will be taken away, when all the matters conducive to sin will be gone…when the "flesh of sin" will become flesh altogether holy, earthly slavery will be exchanged for heavenly domination, and the human army will be raised aloft into the Divine Kingdom [Serm. 95, de Magd.; PL 52, 468-69; ET, George E. Ganss, SJ., The Fathers of the Church, vol. 17 (New York, 1953), pp. 149-51].
Then there is St. Isidore of Seville: "At the end of time, death, the last enemy, will be destroyed, and the one and only house of Rahab, the one and only Church, will be delivered from the destruction of the ungodly, at last pure and free of the shame of fornication through the window of confession in the blood of the remission of sins. Until this happens, as long as the world lasts, she remains as a whore in Jericho" (Qu. in Vet. Test.; PL 83, 371B).
Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas: "To be a 'glorious Church not having spot or wrinkle' is the ultimate end to which we are brought by the Passion of Christ. Hence this will be in heaven and not on earth, in which, 'if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves', as is written [1 Jn 1:8]" (S Th 3a, q 8, a 3, ad 2; ET, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, vol. 15 [London, 1924], pp. 141f.).
The other solution (for which Riedlinger supplies numerous texts), which contents itself with a relative immaculateness of the Church, is really just a temporary solution, a meager compromise between the old idealistic ecclesiology and St. Augustine's realistic ecclesiology. The etymology of pulchra is given as gravi ca-rens pul-vere (Honorius of Autun, Cant. tr. 1, 1; PL 172, 372D). The absence of grave sin in the better members of the Church is sufficient justification for the statement. This opinion is superseded, absolutely and dogmatically, from the moment that St. Bernard brings Mariology into the foreground and when the bride emerges, in the commentaries on the canticle, as the link and central point between the Ecclesia and the persona ecclesiastica. A place has now been found where a relative immaculateness depends upon an absolute immaculateness and beauty; this is particularly true when, through late medieval Franciscan theology, the Immaculate Conception becomes widespread. From this point on, the early Christian, pre-Augustinian ecclesiology can be reconciled with Augustine's without compromise.' We have three motifs: a bride who is even now absolutely holy (existentially and not just institutionally); a Church that is blemished both now and to the end of time; a bride who is eschatologically pure. These three can exist simultaneously and interdependently. Indeed, they are mutually and fruitfully complementary. It is even possible for Rahab to meet Mary (Gottfried of Admont, Hom. festiv. 77; PL 174, 1025):
Our redemption in Christ was not accomplished until he had died. The same is true of the continuation of the redemption that takes place in the Mystical Body: it will not be finished for the whole body until that body has ceased to live here below, that is, at the end of time; it will not be completed for each member except at the death of each member. Sin will not be suppressed until that comes to pass. As long as this world endures, there is time for sin, since we are in a time of trial. All this goes together… Sin caused the redeeming death of the Savior; sin will also cause the passion and death of the Mystical Body, in which redemption is at work. In the Savior's death, however, the sin belonged exclusively to others; in the death of the Mystical Body, in the death whereby mankind redeems itself, the sin belongs not to others but to men themselves. Accordingly the two passions must differ. The Passion of the Head was spotless… The passion of the human race lacks this purity; it conquers… The law of sin rages malignantly in all men. And the "body" of Christ is designed for men, for all of them such as they are, to make them better than they are. This objective it accomplishes, in great part, by the quarrels and sorrows men cause one another and themselves, whether unconsciously or voluntarily or, as often happens, in a mixture of unawareness, malice, and good intentions… Mankind is sinful. It bears the burden of its former crimes and adds to it by its present crimes… Consequently an intense desire for justice and love, a longing for a better mankind in a better world, is formed and quickened in it, not without the aid of grace. But the longing is so vague in the obscure and incommunicable depths of conscience, and its manifestations are so incoherent…[that] we have the tragedy of a blind and raging giant, who turns his own weapons against himself and rends himself to pieces in the night. Such is the humanity that makes up the Church. We are dealing here with a delicate subject that is a source of dismay and scandal. We can readily understand that the Church should have its martyrs and that the innocent may be persecuted or succumb to illness. But that Christ's spouse, whom he has taken to make her holy and spotless, without defilement or blemish of any sort, that Christ's body, which God has chosen from eternity to adorn with the grace of adoption in purity and sanctity, should be a body of sin, that it should be demeaned by pettiness and malice and that its moral miseries should figure so largely, even in its most characteristic activity, seems impossible to concede. But it is so. The holy Mystical Body is a body in which redemption is accomplished and yet not accomplished; in which sin is ever present and active; in which each generation as it rises imparts renewed vigor to sin; in which, finally, sin has its necessary place, a place from which it has to be dislodged, a place in which occur most of the trials that will cast it out, a place in which redemption is at work.
Undoubtedly baptism, which applies the redemption to each individual, completely eliminates from the soul all the sin that was actually in it. But baptism does not dry up the source of sin, as the Council of Trent clearly teaches (D 802-6). The baptized person will have to struggle against the forces enticing him to sin and also against himself, for he will often be his own chief tempter. He simply cannot avoid all sin (D 833), and a terrible possibility will always hover over his life: the possibility of losing his eternity. Similarly, the source of sin remains in the Church militant in general, for what baptism does in the individual, the death of Christ has done for the whole Mystical Body. The Church is made up of sinners; hence her great prayers are the prayers of sinners, "Forgive us our trespasses"; "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners." Sin is in the Church, contagious and ineradicable, like the weeds in the field that are forever obstinately encroaching, and it will not be exterminated until the Church militant herself is no more, on the Last Day, the day of the harvest.
The holiness of the Church is not less real for all that, but it is realistic holiness, the sanctity of the Church militant. The Church is holy by reason of what God has placed and wrought in it, but it is not holy because of what men contribute of their own resources or because of the activity they perform in it so far as that activity proceeds from them alone. Woe to those men who proclaim that they are just and better than their fellows!… A profound similarity links the members of the Mystical Body to the most depraved of nonmembers, and those who try to be sincere are quite aware of this fact. But then, if the members of the Mystical Body are sinners, they will have to act as sinners, and, even when they wish to rid themselves of their sins, they will give many an indication, by the very way they rid themselves of their sins, that they are still laden with them. Exception must evidently be made for the actions of the Church that are the actions of Christ, for example, in the administration of the sacraments and the solemn proclamation of dogmas; there we find nothing but holiness. But everywhere else, wherever man acts as man, in all the deeds of even the best of Christians and the most exalted heads of the Church, human frailty and human malice and human traces of human sins frequently and inevitably betray themselves. The very saints do not wholly escape these miseries except at the instant of their full spiritual maturity, when they come to die. We have to believe that grace tends to safeguard the pastors of the Church in proportion to the importance of their acts; but it does not suppress them; that would be to suppress man [Emile Mersch, S.J., The Theology of the Mystical Body, ET, Cyril Vollert, S.J. (St. Louis and London, 1951), pp. 305ff.].
1 Savonarola, in his poem on the corruption of the Church (1475), may have been directly inspired by Dante. He too mourns "the chaste maid" and "noble mother", who, through the pressure of imperial power, wealth, and secularization in Rome, has gradually been transformed into the whore of Babylon:Then I spoke up: "Lady, tell me, I pray,
Who wounded thee so deeply in this way?"
"The whore of Babylon", said she, "by shameless lies
Has trapped me, made me her chosen prize."
"But can't we", I asked, "fight the hag by war?"
"In vain", came the answer, "is the battle's roar.
Silence is the wisest course of all.
Weep without words and keep thy counsel."
2 H. Riedlinger, Hoheliedkommentare des MA (1958), p. 241, We give the text in Riedlinger's transcription.
3 Riedlinger, pp. 255f.
4 W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol. I, ET (London, 1961), p. 255.
5 For the whole chapter, cf. Jean Daniélou, "Rahab, Figure de l'Église", Irénikon 22 (1949): 26-45, reprinted in Sacramentum Futuri (1950), pp. 217-32. I have used and partly expanded the texts cited by Daniélou.
6 Daniélou, op. cit., p. 43.
7 On this whole theme, see Casel, "Die Taufe als Brautbad der Kirche" JLW 5 (1925); Hieron Frank, "Hodie etc. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Epiphaniefestes", in Vom christlichen Mysterium (Patmos, 1951), pp. 192-226.
8 In Frank, pp. 202-7.
9 On the subject of Mary Magdalen, we can cite here only a few illustrative texts. A comprehensive collection of texts, which shows the different roles played by the many women mentioned in the Gospels, can be found in Urban Holzmeister, "Die Magdalenenfrage in der kirchlichen Oberlieferung", ZfkTH 46 (1922): 402f. 556f.
10 Following one version of the Latin text, a good many of the Fathers find both a harlot and an adulteress in Hosea.
11 The name in fact is Jezreel, where Jehu slaughtered the descendants of Omri.
12 Texts in M. J. Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, ET (St. Louis, 1946), pp. 372ff. Dogmatik III, p. 141; J. Schaid, "Heilige Brautschaft", RAC I, 557 ("The marriage of the Logos with human nature"). Cf. St. Ephrem, The Hymns on Faith (ed. Beck), Hymn XIV: Christ weds his flesh and, through the flesh, the Church, while his once beloved synagogue "woos the calf" (p. 47). However, in several hymns Ephrem celebrates the holy harlots who are images of the Church (Hymni de Ecclesia et Virginitate, nn. 17, 18, 22, 27, etc.; Lamy IV, 546f. 558, 584).
13 Methodius argues on exactly the same lines. Because the soul bears within her the glorious image of God, "evil spirits lust after her, plotting and striving to defile her godlike and lovely image, as the prophet Jeremiah shows, reproaching Jerusalem, 'You have a harlot's brow" (3:3)…they desire to commit adultery with every soul betrothed to the Lord." And Pseudo-Macarius (Hom. 15,28; PG 34, 593D): "It is like when a young woman finds herself in a house with a young man. Flattered by him, she gives in to him, commits adultery, and is thrown out. That is how the terrible serpent of sin treats the soul. He entices and urges. And if she consents, the bodiless soul partakes of the bodiless evil of the spirit; spirit partakes of spirit. Yes, the person who gives in to and accepts the thinking of the evil one commits adultery in his heart." For St. Gregory of Nyssa (De virgo 15; PG 46, 384B), every sin involves fornication.
14 Cf. Lieske, Theologie der Logosmystik bei Origenes (1938), 149; Methodius, Symp. 6,1.
15 Further texts: Clement of Alexandria, Strom. III, 12, 80, 2; Origen, Comm. in Jo., ad 3: 20 (Pr. 520); Theodoret and Ambrosiaster on 2 Cor 11:2 etc. (J. Schmid, "Heilige Brautschaft", RAC II, 556).
16 On this see G. Sohngen, "Die Theologie im 'Streit der Fakultäten' ", in Einheit der Theologie (1952), p. 14.
17 Cf. J. Ratzinger, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, ET (Chicago, 1971), pp. 154f.
18 Origen clearly wrote "mother" here, but Jerome has altered it.
19 Prediche de Pra Hieronymo sopra Ezechiel ven. 1520 fol verso.
20 Ibid., fol 92 verso.
21 Zeitschrift far katholische Theologie (1939): 311-49, 428-42; (1940), 61-80, 121-31.
22 Osservazioni critiche su alcune questioni fondamentali riguardanti le origini e i caratteri delle eresie medioevali (Archivio 67 , 98-151, p. 146).
23 Tract. de haeresi (in Bibl. max. vet. patr. or Thesaurus of Martène), col. 1779.
24 Limborch, Hist. inquisitionis (Amsterdam, 1692), pp. 99f. (R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm, p.111).
26 More examples in Arno Borst, Die Katharer. Schriften der Monum. Germ. 12 (1953).
27 Ernst Benz, Ecclesia Spiritualis (Stuttgart, 1934). Grundmann: Religiöse Bewegungen des MA Hist. Stud., vol. 267 (Berlin, 1935).
28 W. Kamlah, Christentum und Geschichtlichkeit, Untersuchungen zur Entstehung des Christentums und zu Augustins "Bürgerschaft Gottes", 2d ed. (1951).
29 A few weeks before he died, he gave a lecture to priests and religious on the corruption of the Church… 'Rome', he exclaimed, 'is a second Babel, the seat and center of all vice… Rome is more godless than all other cities and nations, more godless even than the Turks and the heathen; it is polluting the whole Church' " (J. Schnitzer, Savonarola II , pp. 708f.).