Why the Spanish Civil War is Still Important

The history of the Twentieth Century is one written in blood.  Between two world wars, the procession of genocides from Armenia to Stalin to the Holocaust, China and the Killing Fields, millions seemed to vanish for causes that are better hated than understood.  Is there one conflict that we can look at than encapsulates the century better than others?  Although it’s forgotten outside its home country today, I think it’s fair to say that the Spanish Civil War should top the list.  Just about every ideology that dominated the century was represented there, either by Spanish adherents, foreign ones, or both.  And the combination of the conflict’s intensity and the tendency of the participants to romanticise their own cause and demonise their opponents’ certainly has lessons for our own polarised society today.

Probably the best single volume work on the subject in English is Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War.  He later acted as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher.  Most of what follows is derived from this work.

The existence of Spanish Latin America, from the Rio Bravo del Norte to the Tierra del Fuego–and beyond–is a testament to Spain as a world power for three centuries.  Napoleon’s invasion, with the loss of most of the American colonies, put it into more than a century of instability, ranging from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to succession disputes (the Carlists) to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and finally to the Spanish Republic, which was established in 1931.

Through all of this, like France and Italy, Spain was a country with a wide variety of political parties, a system which tended towards fragmentation.  On the left were the Socialists, Anarchists, Communists (whose role increased as the war progressed) and other parties supporting the Republic.  On the right were Catholic parties (CEDA,) Monarchists and Carlists, Falangists and Agrarians.  There were some parties in the centre.  Complicating the scene (then and now) were the regional parties, primarily the Catalan and Basque parties, which themselves had an ideological range.  The one thing that Spanish parties had in common was a intensity of commitment to their cause that was extremely bore-sighted, first figuratively and soon literally in the war.

Most Americans will be surprised that Anarchism was a serious political movement, associating it as a fringe terrorist group involved with the assassination of President William McKinley.  In Spain it certainly was serious; the idea that we didn’t have to have a government had traction.  As Thomas explains:

To these a great new truth seem to have been proclaimed.  The State, being based upon ideas of obedience and authority, was morally evil.  In its place, there should be self-governing bodies–municipalities, professions, or other societies–which would make voluntary pacts with each other.  Criminals would be punished by the censure of public opinion.

The last point indicates that they were waiting for the advent of social media…the Anarchists on the one hand and the Socialists and Communists on the other had a great deal of bad blood between them going back to Marx and Bakunin, and this conflict bedeviled the Republic’s war effort when crunch time came.

With a Republic came a constitution, and at this point the Republican-Socialist majority made a strategic error: they decided to make the document a political one, embodying their own idea rather than creating a document acceptable to a broad range of Spaniards.  No where was that more evident than in its anticlerical clauses regarding the Catholic Church: religious education was ended, the Jesuits were banished, no more payment of salaries to priests (which were compensation for the seizure of the Church’s lands in the last century,) etc.   Overplaying one’s hand is a hallmark of religious conflicts; that was certainly the case in France, but in Spain the shoe was on the other foot.  One tireless advocate of these measures–even in face of opposition in his own coalition–was Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, who would play such a large role in the coming civil war.

Some of Azaña’s confidence that he would succeed in his quest–a quest whose genesis came from his own bad experiences in the Catholic educational system–came from the desultory way in which Spaniards related to the Church.  In 1931 only about a third of Spaniards were practicing Catholics, this in the home country of the Inquisition.  But under that low level, Spaniards wrapped their identity as such with the Church, and same Church was an instrument of social justice in many instances.  In their hard-line anti-clerical policies Azaña and his allies made unnecessary enemies which would come back to haunt them on the battlefield.

The next four years were times of conflict and instability that rivalled France’s Fourth Republic (to say nothing of postwar Italy.)  The elections of February 1936 brought a strong majority to the Republican Popular Front.  The right felt it had been cornered.  In July, part of the military rose at two ends of the Republic: in Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands, under Francisco Franco, and in the North, under Emilio Mola.  The Spanish Civil War had begun.

From a military standpoint, as was the case with its American counterpart, the war was the steady advance of one side (in this case the Nationalists, eventually under Franco) and the steady retreat of the other (the Republicans, with Azaña as its president at the start.  As also with that war, the details in between were complicated, and only a cursory summary can be done here.

The basic reason why the Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War was that their military organisation was superior and coherent.  The Nationalists had a real army; in the early stages, the Republicans had a collection of political militias.  Only as the war progressed did Soviet and Communist influence help to weld the Republican military together, and by then it was too late.  This was also reflected politically; the Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Catalan and Basque nationalists and other made for a fragmented scene that consistently undermined the Republic’s attempts at a united front.  They spent a great deal of energy fighting each other, and this contributed to the Republic’s defeat.  That result is always the great “Antifa” fear, one that dominates their thinking to this day.

The Spanish Civil War became a proxy war for the various powers in Europe, themselves preparing for the much greater war that was coming.  It wasn’t a straightforward or uniform process.  Starting with the Nationalists, the one power that was “all in” for Franco was Italy, who contributed more support than just about anyone else.  Much of this support left something to be desired of; Franco, for example, wished that he could sent the Italian ground troops back, finding them as useless as Hitler shortly did.  Hitler and the Germans used the Condor Legion as a military experiment for their equipment and strategy, which they put to use in Poland and France.  Their support of the Nationalists was not entirely enthusiastic; at one point Hitler wished that the Republicans would win to crush the Catholic Church, for him a desired result.

The Republic’s foreign aid was, if anything, more desultory than the Nationalists.  The power that corresponded to Italy for the Republic was the Soviet Union, although their aid was sidetracked from time to time by events at home, namely Stalin’s purges and then the pact with Germany.  They also used that aid to forward the Communist’s status in the Republic, usually at the expense of the Anarchists.  As far as Britain and France were concerned, the 1930’s were the “decade of indecision.”  As one right-wing French paper observed, how was France (then under Leon Blum) supposed to help the Spanish Republic if they couldn’t keep the Germans from reoccupying the Rhineland?  Ultimately these two lead the Non-Intervention movement, which included Germany and Italy, and this amounted to having two foxes guard two chicken coops.  In any case their lack of support for the Republic was one cause of its defeat.

But the Spanish Civil War was the golden age of “volunteers,” from all over Europe and the US.  Not even World War II excited intellectuals and writers from these places like this conflict did, and many of them fought–and died–for the Republic.  The International Brigades were the stuff of legend, a phenomenon recently replicated in Syria (which is a good recent analogy for the brutality of the Spanish conflict, at the opposite end of the Mediterranean.)

Mentioning brutality brings up the subject of the atrocities, and there were plenty.  Most people think of Guernica, whose bombing was a complete waste in every sense of the word.  (Guernica is the sacred city of the Basques, with its tree, the way the Basques look at it echoes something out of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  The majority of the brutality, however, was more direct and personal.  The rule on both sides was to shoot first, no questions later.  The difference between the two sides was the context of the brutality.  The Republicans kicked off things with a massacre of Catholic religious and the destruction of churches.  Later the Communists would import techniques of torture and execution from the Soviet Union.   In executing most of the pre-war right-wing leadership, the Republicans did Franco a favour by clearing the field of most of his potential political rivals when the war was done.  The Nationalists did their dirty work, as with the fighting, in a more methodical manner.  The brutality of each side sickened their respective intellectuals, which is more than one could say for their foreign counterparts.

Although the Nationalists became the champions of Catholic religion in Spain, that process was not instantaneous.  Franco was indifferent to the faith (his wife, however, was not.)  The Falange was largely secular; the existence of a secular right was certainly a reality in those days and is becoming one again with the alt-right movement.  The use of Catholicism to bind the Nationalists together was a process encouraged by the conflict, another by-product of the Republic’s overreach in that regard.

Franco’s ultimate victory–just before the outbreak of World War II–was followed by his neutrality.  For all of his faults, Franco had no territorial ambitions beyond Spain and its existing colonies (Morocco had furnished him some of his toughest fighters) and was a profoundly cautious man.  Hitler tried to get him to join the Axis, but his was one of the few people who stiffed Hitler and got away with it.

After Franco’s death, Spain finally got a constitutional monarchy with a Republican political bent.  Franco got what the Romans called damnatio memoriae, he cannot be mentioned.   For the most part the social issues that helped push Spain leftward have been resolved in the modern welfare state, with the good and bad that goes with that.  But issues such as Basque and Catalan separatism–and of course the perennial issue of the Catholic Church–still remind us that the issues for which 600,000 people died are still very much with it.

And not just for Spain either.  It is hard to convey the relevance of the Spanish Civil War in a piece this short.  The polarisation, the heated rhetoric, the refusal for anyone to see the broader picture–all of these things are very much with us, and if we do not take some lessons from Spain’s experience–the most riveting single story of the Twentieth Century–than we risk having our own nation go down the same road.

Scourged and Crucified: A Good Friday Reflection

In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today.   To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it.  But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things.  They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.

One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton.  When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations.  To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.

In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean.  This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia.  It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage.  The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.

The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy.  His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope.  Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on.  Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.

The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:

He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies.  His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was.  The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction.  He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)

The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain.  Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:

Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town.  Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified.  (Livy, XXVIII, 37)

The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae.  But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority.  Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:

When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)

The Romans lived up to his expectations:

Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.

But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)

Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.

But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:

He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)

In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.

And that’s good news for everyone.

 

Bossuet: Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man

This series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day, is complete.  The table of contents for this is below.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

  1. The snake.
  2. The temptation. Eve is attacked before Adam.
  3. The tempter proceeds by underhanded questioning to first produce a doubt.
  4. Answer of Eve and reply of Satan who reveals himself.
  5. The temptation and the fall of Adam. Reflections of Saint Paul.
  6. Adam and Eve perceived their nudity.
  7. Enormity of Adam’s sin.
  8. The presence of God is fearful for sinners: our first parents increase their crime by seeking excuses.
  9. The order of God’s Justice.
  10. More excuses.
  11. Eve’s torment and how it is changed into a cure.
  12. Adam’s torture, and first the work.
  13. The clothes and the injuries of the air.
  14. Following the torture of Adam, the derision of God.
  15. Death, true punishment of sin.
  16. Eternal death.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 16, Eternal death.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

But the great penalty of sin, which alone is proportionate, is eternal death, and this punishment of sin is locked up in sin itself; for sin being nothing other than the voluntary separation of man from God, it follows from this that God also withdraws from man, and forever withdraws from him, a man having nothing by which he can reunite himself; so that by this single blow which the sinner gives himself, he remains eternally separated from God, and God is therefore forced to withdraw from him; until, by a return of his pure mercy, he is pleased to return to his unfaithful creature; that which arrives only by a pure goodness which God does not owe to the sinner, it follows that he owes him nothing but eternal separation and subtraction of his goodness, grace, and presence; but from that moment his misfortune is as immense as it is eternal.

For what can happen to the creature deprived of God, that is, of all good? What can happen to him, if not all wrong? Go, cursed, to eternal fire; and where will they go, these wretched ones, driven away from the light, if not into eternal darkness? Where will they go, far from peace, except to trouble, despair, the grinding of teeth? Where will they go, in a word, far from God, if not in all the horror that will be caused by the absence and deprivation of all the good that is in him, as in the source? I will show you all the good, he said to Moses, showing myself. What, then, may happen to those to whom he will refuse his face and his desirable presence, except that he will show them all evil, and that he will show them not only to see it, which is frightful; but, what is much more terrible, to feel it by a sad experience. And this is the just punishment of the sinner who withdraws from God, that God also gets rid of him, and by this subtraction deprives him of all good, and invests him irretrievably and inexorably will all evil. God! O God! I tremble, I am seized with fear at this sight. Console me with the hope of your goodness; refresh my bowels, and comfort my broken bones, by Jesus Christ, your Son, who bore death to deliver me from these terrors, and from all these terrible consequences, the most inevitable of which is hell.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 15, Death, true punishment of sin.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

In the day that you eat the forbidden fruit, you will die of death. In the very end you will die of the death of the soul, which will be immediately separated from God, who is our life, and the soul of the soul itself. But even though your soul is not currently separated from even body at the very moment of sin, nevertheless, at this moment, it deserves to be so; it is thus separated from it, because of the debt, though not yet by the effect. We become mortal; we are worthy of death; death dominates us, our body from there becomes a yoke to our soul and overwhelms us with all the weight of mortality and infirmity that accompanies it. Rightly, Lord, justly, because the soul that has willingly lost God, which was its soul, is punished for its defection by its inevitable separation from the body which is united to it; and the loss which the body experiences, by necessity, of the soul which governs and perfects it, is just torment of that which the soul voluntarily made of God, who gave it life by his union.

God’s justice, I adore you! It was only right that, composed of two parts of which you had made the union unchangeable, so long as I remained united to you by the submission I owed you, after I rose against your inviolable orders, I saw the dissolution of the two parts of myself so well matched beforehand, and that I see my body in a state to go rot in the earth, and return to its original dust. O God I submit to the sentence! And each time sickness attacks me, small as it is, I will only think that I am mortal, I will remember this saying: You will die of death, and of this just condemnation you have pronounced against all human nature. The horror I naturally have of death will be a proof of my abandonment to sin; for, Lord, if I had remained innocent, there would be nothing that could horrify me. But now I see death chasing after me, and I can not avoid his hideous hands. O God! give me the grace that the horror that I feel, and that your holy son Jesus did not disdain to feel, inspires me the horror of the sin that introduced it on earth. Without sin, we would have seen death perhaps only in animals; still a great and saintly doctor seems to say that she would not have entered them in Paradise, lest the innocent eyes of men should have been struck by this sad object. Whatever it is, O Jesus! I hate sin more than death, since it is through sin that death has reigned over all mankind from Adam, our first father, until those who will see you arrive in your glory.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 14, Following the torture of Adam, the derision of God.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

And God said, Give in to Adam, who has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Let us take care, then, that one may put his hand on the fruit of life, and not live forever. This divine derision was due to his presumption. God says in Himself and to the Divine Persons, and if you will, to the holy Angels: see this new God, who was not satisfied with the divine likeness that God had impressed in the depths of his soul, he made himself God in his own way; see how wise he is, and how well he has learned good and evil at his expense. Let us take care that after having stolen knowledge so well, he still does not rob us of immortality. Note that God adds derision to punishment. The torture is due to the revolt; but pride attracted derision. I called you, and you refused to hear my voice; I stretched my arm, and no one looked at me; you have despised all my counsels, you have neglected my opinions and reproaches; and I, too, will laugh in your loss; I will mock your misfortunes and your death. It is, you will say, to push vengeance to cruelty; I admit it, but God too will become cruel and pitiless. After his kindness has been despised, he will push the rigor to soak and wash his hands in the sinner’s blood. All the righteous will join into this mocking by God: And they will laugh at the ungodly, and they will cry out: Behold the man who did not put his help in God, but who hoped in the abundance of his riches; and he prevailed by his vanity. This senseless vanity offered him a flattering resemblance of Divinity itself. Adam has become like one of us; he wanted to be rich with his own goods; see that he has become powerful. Thus these dreadful and holy derisions of divine justice, followed by those of the righteous, have their origin in those where God insults Adam in his torment. Jesus Christ, who put us under cover of the righteousness of God, when he bore the burden, suffered this derision in his torment: If he is the Son of God, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him; May God, whom he boasts of having as his father, deliver him. Thus he insulted the impious in his torture, mingling with cruelty the bitterness of mockery; so he expiated the derision that had fallen on Adam and all men.

It is in the midst of this bitter and insulting derision that God chases him from the paradise of delights to work the land from which he was taken. And here, at the door of this delightful paradise, is a cherub who rolls in his hand a sword of fire; so that this same place, once so full of attractions, becomes an object of horror and terror.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 13, The clothes and the injuries of the air.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

And the Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Man becomes not only mortal, but exposed, by his mortality, to all the injuries of the air from which a thousand kinds of diseases are born. This is the source of the clothes that luxury makes so beautiful; the shame of nakedness has begun. Infirmity spread them all over the body; luxury wants to enrich them and mixes softness and pride. O man! come back to your origin! Why do you puff yourself up in your clothes? God first gives you nothing but skins for you to wear; poorer than the animals whose furs are natural to them, infirm and naked that you are, you find yourself having to borrow first; your lack is infinite; you borrow from everywhere to adorn yourself. But let us go to the beginning, and see the principle of luxury; after all, it is based on need: one tries in vain to disguise this weakness by accumulating the superfluity for the necessity.

Man has used the same in all the other of his needs, which he has tried to forget and cover by adorning them. Houses which are decorated by architecture, in their depths, are only a shelter against the snow and the storms, and the other injuries of the air; the furniture is, at their root, only a cover against the cold; these beds made so beautiful are, after all, only a retreat to support weakness and relieve work by sleep: it is necessary every day to go to die, and to pass so much of our life in this nothingness.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 12, Adam’s torture, and first the work.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

God said to Adam: Because you have listened to the word of your wife. This is where the accusation begins: the man is convinced at first of going along too much with the woman; it is the source of our loss, and this evil is renewed only too often. Let us continue: Because you have eaten fruit that I have forbidden you, the earth is cursed in your work; you will only eat your bread with the sweat of your face; and the rest. It is where the torture begins; but it is expressed by terrible words: The earth is cursed in your work; the earth had not sinned, and if it is cursed, it is because of the work of the accursed man who cultivates it: fruit is not torn from it, and especially the most necessary fruit, except by force and endless work.

Every day of your life, the cultivation of the earth is a perpetual care which leaves us at rest neither day nor night nor in any season: at every moment the hope of the harvest and the unique fruit of all our labors can escape us. We are at the mercy of the inconstant sky, which rains upon the tender shoot, not only the nourishing waters of the rain, but also the rust of the blight.

The earth will produce thorns and bushes. Fertile in its nature and producing the best plants by itself, now if it is left to its natural state. It is fertile only in weeds; it bristles with thorns: menacing and heartbreaking on all sides, it seems to even want to refuse us the freedom of the passage, and we can not walk on it without a fight.

You will eat the grass of the earth. It seems that, in the innocence of the beginning, the trees must of themselves offer and furnish to man a pleasant food in their fruits; but since the envy of the forbidden fruit had made us sin, we are subject to eating the grass that the earth produces only by force; and the wheat, of which the bread is our ordinary food, must be watered with our sweat. This is what these words insinuate: You will eat the grass, and your bread will be given to you by the sweat of your face. This is the beginning of our misfortunes; it is a continual work that alone can conquer our needs and the hunger that persecutes us.

Until you return to the land of which you were formed, and you become dust. There is no other end of our labors or rest for us, except death and the return to the dust, which is the last annihilation of our bodies. This object is always present to our eyes; death presents itself on all sides, the very earth which we cultivate puts it incessantly before the sight; it is the spirit of this word: Man will not cease to work the earth from which he is taken, and where he returns.

Man, behold your life, eternally torment the earth, or rather torment yourself by cultivating it, until it receives you yourself, and you rot in its bosom. Awful rest! Oh, sad end of continual work!

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 11, Eve’s torment and how it is changed into a cure.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

The Lord said to this woman: I will multiply your calamities and your births; you will give birth in pain. Fertility is the glory of women; it is there that God puts his torment: it is only at the risk of her life that she is fertile. This torture is not peculiar to women; the human race is completely cursed from conception and birth, confusion and pain, and on all sides surrounded by torment and death. The child can not be born without putting his mother in danger; neither can the husband become a father without risking the most precious half of his life. Eve is unhappy and cursed of all her sex whose children are so often murderers; she was made to be to man a sweet companion, his consolation, and to make the sweetness of his life; she was proud of this goal, but God mixed in subjection, and it changed this sweet superiority he had first given to man into a bitter domination. He was superior by reason, he becomes a severe master by temper; his jealousy makes him a tyrant: the woman is subject to this fury, and in more than half the earth, women are in a kind of slavery. This hard empire of husbands and this yoke to which the woman is subjected is an effect of sin. Weddings are as often a torture as a sweet liaison; and one is a hard cross to the other, and a torment of which they cannot be delivered from: united and separated, we torment each other. In the spiritual sense, they are born only with difficulty; all the productions of the spirit cost him; worries shorten our days: everything that is desirable is laborious.

By the redemption of the human race Eve’s torment changes into grace. His first punishment made his fertility perilous; but grace, as says St. Paul, makes that she is saved by the production of children. If her life is there exposed, her salvation is assured, provided that she is faithful to what she is asked to be, that is to say that she remains in the conjugal faith, in a chaste love of her husband, in sanctification and piety, as natural to her sex; banning the vanities of adornment and all softness, by sobriety, moderation and temperance, as the same Saint Paul adds.

Elevations On The Temptation And Fall Of Man: 10, More Excuses.

This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day.  There is more here on the Bossuet Project.

And God said to Eve, Why did you do that? She replied: The serpent deceived me. But why did you let yourself be fooled? Did you not have all your free will and grace at the same time? Why did you listen? Conviction was easy; but God leaves the effect to the conscience of Eve; and turning towards the snake, whose pride and stubbornness did not allow him to apologize without asking why, as he had done to Adam and Eve, he told him decisively and simply: because you you did it, you will be cursed among all the animals: you will walk on your stomach, and the earth will be your food. Here are three characters of the serpent; to be in execration and horror more than all other animals; it is also the character of Satan, whom everyone curses, to walk on his stomach, to have only low thoughts, and, what amounts to the same thing, to feed on the ground, it is to say, of earthly and corporeal thoughts, since his entire task is to be our tempter, and to plunge us into flesh and blood. What follows further illustrates the character of the devil, who is forced to bear wounds behind and below. This is what God explains with these words: You will trap him with snares and bite his heel. As, therefore, the characteristics of the devil were to be represented by those of the serpent, God, who foresaw it, determined him to use this animal to speak to Eve, so that being in the image of the devil by his snares, he then represented the punishment; so that these characters, which we have just designated, are associated in parable with the serpent and in truth with the devil.

Consider for a moment how God brings down this proud spirit, swollen with his victory over mankind. Which other has won so completely? By a single stroke, the whole human race becomes the captive of this proud winner. Praise yourself for your conquests, mortal conquerors: God who has humbled the Serpent in the midst of his triumph will beat you down.