Let’s talk about sex…

20 04 2021

While Pradyumna Miśra remained seated there, Rāmānanda Rāya took the two girls to a solitary place. With his own hand, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya massaged their bodies with oil and bathed them with water. Indeed, Rāmānanda Rāya cleansed their entire bodies with his own hand. Although he dressed the two young girls and decorated their bodies with his own hand, he remained unchanged. Such is the mind of Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya. While touching the young girls, he was like a person touching wood or stone, for his body and mind were unaffected. Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya used to act in that way because he thought of himself in his original position as a maidservant of the gopīs. Thus although externally he appeared to be a man, internally, in his original spiritual position, he considered himself a maidservant and considered the two girls gopīs. The greatness of the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is exceedingly difficult to understand. Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is unique among them all, for he showed how one can extend his ecstatic love to the extreme limit. (CC Antya 5: 16-21)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of things, read a lot of stories, and heard a lot of anecdotes, but the one above takes the cake for the weirdest one where carnal matters are concerned. The context is that Srila Ramananda Raya was teaching these girls how to perform a drama that he composed for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath. He didn’t just pick any girls, but the most beautiful ones he could find, talented devis dasis with the greatest amount of charm and natural beauty. The modern dirty mind, like mine honestly, would assume that maybe he simply didn’t like women in that way. But that’s not the implication here. Modern gender theorists would have a field day with the history of early Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Ramananda Raya didn’t just think himself a gopi, some state that he WAS a gopi in human male drag, specifically, the gopi Lalita, the chief assistant to Srimati Radharani in the celestial Vrindavan. And he wasn’t the only one: many of the Six Goswamis were really sakhis, or assistants to the gopis in the spiritual world who are themselves young girls. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a seventeenth century Gaudiya Vaishnava saint, is said to have transformed back into a nine year old girl in order to escape government troops who were chasing him, only to transform again into an adult male once the danger had passed.

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Sacred vulgarity

23 09 2010

Why the Catholic Church feels it needs to be all up in your bedroom

One of the most formative moments in my theological life came when I asked a well-educated friend of mine what the Fathers of the Church would think if you handed them a little pill and told them that if a woman took this pill, she would not get pregnant no matter how much intercourse she had. Expecting either an answer of “well, they would think it’s okay” or “they would think it an abomination”, I was rather surprised by the answer that he did give. He said, “They wouldn’t think anything, because they thought that sex was disgusting”. From my readings in the subject, I had to concur. Any talk about sexual practices was probably considered off the table in any civilized discourse concerning religion. It would have been akin to discussing the theological value of one toilet habit over another.

This is what came to mind when I was reading a couple of articles by Sandro Magister (via the Western Confucian blog) regarding the use of artificial contraception in early 20th century Italy, and the employment of pastoral attitudes towards these practices. In general, prior to the publication of the encyclical, Casti Connubii, priests in northern Italy often took what would be considered a lax approach to the subject. If someone was suspected in the confessional of having committed such a sin, the confessor in the old manuals was expected not to ask prying questions. As Magister writes:

So then, one constant guideline emerges from the solutions given by the diocese of Padua to cases of morality regarding contraception: that of employing the “theory of good faith” taught by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. According to this theory, in the presence of a penitent who is suspected of committing contraceptive actions but appears unaware of the gravity of the sin and in practice incapable of correcting his behavior, it is best to respect his silence and take his good faith into account, absolving him without posing any further questions.

The Liguorian theory was dominant for many decades, not only in the seminaries and in the care of souls, but also in the guidelines given by the Holy See in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It even appeared in the code of canon law of 1917, in force until 1983, which said at canon 888: “The priest who hears confessions should be very careful not to pose curious and useless questions, especially concerning the sixth commandment, to anyone with whom he deals, and particularly not to ask younger persons about things of which they are unaware.”
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Two posts on sex (since people like reading about that stuff)

10 01 2010

The first is from Dawn Eden (“oh no! I thought you hated converts!”):

I was just astounded that someone who is not a traditionalist could actually quote the Oath Against Modernism. Most people who cite that in the Church nowadays do so in order to state how it is essentially a dead letter, that we have moved passed stuff like that, that it has to be interpreted in the light of “living tradition” etc. To have someone use it as something of doctrinal weight… maybe there’s something in the water.

In like manner, the assertion that John Paul II’s teachings are “revolutionary” implies the Church’s sacred deposit of faith is not fully contained in Scripture and Tradition, but, rather, progresses with the passage of time—like a child growing through puberty and into adulthood. That is not only an error officially condemned by the Church; it also prevents the faithful from appreciating the real significance of the theology of the body.

That being said, people still haven’t really pointed out to me any new content or spin of Wojtyla’s theories that would augment Catholic teaching on this subject in a positive way. Seems like the same old Vatican II “please sign on the dotted line… yes, I know the paper’s blank” tactics of those who want to make allegiance to Vatican II the ultimate litmus test of orthodoxy. But if you want to re-visit that debate, see the archives of this blog.

The second quote I found on Wufila’s blog comes from a radically different point of view from the Dawn Eden quote:

I began to tell reporters what I fully believe: no present church position on sexuality would be recognizable to Christian writers of two hundred years ago—much less two millennia ago. Part of the reason is that the basic terms and psychological models have changed astonishingly in the last century. All Christian writers, even the most “traditional,” assume the existence of things (like “sexuality”) and mechanisms (like the unconscious) that are neither scriptural nor traditional. But the more striking difference is the scope contemporary “traditionalists” give to sexual pleasure in marriage. Evangelical writers famous for attacking homosexuality write pillow books for Christian newlyweds advocating sexual techniques that church traditions classify as unchaste and unnatural—indeed, as acts of sodomy.

What Steinfels and many other journalists label “traditional Christianity” is, when it comes to sex, actually an all too modern selection and rearrangement of a few old elements detached from the contexts and practices that gave them meaning. The claim for tradition amounts to repeating a few old formulas of condemnation, while the other teaching drops away. This isn’t a tradition. This is violently selective repetition—an ongoing revenge on tradition.

That doesn’t convince me of the “liberal” position, but the person still has a point. On these issues, we can’t really pretend to “stand on tradition” since, scratch the surface, and tradition simply isn’t what we think it is. Dogmatically (i.e. on the books), little has changed, but the general idea of the relationship between sex, monogamy, and romantic love has changed radically in the past few generations in Western society. To pretend we are addressing these issues in St. Paul’s world is playing at the Potempkin village. While I don’t share the essayist’s desire to contextualize out of existence the traditional prohibitions against such things as homosexuality, I would neither want to apotheosize heterosexual romantic love as it exists in our society. I am perfectly prepared to say, and I think I have backing on tradition on this, that when it comes to sex and love in fallen human nature, there is no real “normal”.