“By delving deeply into the mines and chasms of self, man discovers his deficiencies and his incessant longing for the coefficient, his emptiness and his desire to be full, and his hope to love another and be loved by another,” writes Devin Schadt in The Meaning and Mystery of Man. Rather than a self-help book, this work is an “attempt to mine the riches of Sacred Scripture” and Catholic tradition to help discover what the “masculine” genius is, and what it means to be a “man who is husband, father, and head of his home.” Among Schadt’s many insights is the fact that man’s desire for relation to woman is indicative of his vocation to fatherhood. This book is one of several in a new wave of publications over the past few years which aim at deepening our understanding of masculinity, patriarchy, and the family; and in my opinion this one is edifying, encouraging, and easy to read.
For Schadt, fatherhood is a vocation to spiritual combat as much as anything else. The head of the house is the “strong man” of Christ’s parable, whom the devil tries to bind. “The devil is bent on driving you from your vocational post as guardian of your garden that he may have his way with your wife and children.” Indeed, “if your wife and children are to be preserved from evil and remain secure in their journey towards Heaven, it is imperative that you, as the strong man of your house, stand your ground and resist the devil.”
Being ordered to fatherhood—both spiritually and physically—is a fundamental element in man’s nature and his destiny. The man’s desire to be in relation with a woman as father, protector, and lover are indicators of a “divine calling”: “Far more than a biological, instinctual, automated response to woman’s beauty, the summons to enter the garden of woman is a divine calling and must be respected as such.” Even though Schadt concentrates on marriage, he does not forget that the Christian tradition of celibacy does not deny men the fatherhood, but incorporates and supports it in a different way.
The father’s vocation is to “stand on the horizon between the hostile world and the interior garden of the domestic life.” “Man is never completely at home in the garden” since Adam was created outside Eden. Only after his creation is placed in the Garden, which is symbolic of woman and the whole complexus of domestic fruitfulness. Like the first man, all men have “one foot in the external, uncharted, and perhaps hostile world, while the other foot is planted in the mystery, richness, and fruitfulness of domestic love.” This being “outside” gives men a Christ-like ability to combat evil “while also standing your ground, and cherishing and defending the mystery of the Trinity in [his] family.” Such straddling of the interior and exterior creates a tension “willed by God” which grants “the man a certain edge” necessary when violence is called for in defending the sacred garden. If a man neglects either the domestic and interior or the external, imbalance ensues, making a man either brutal or overly “soft” and inward looking.
This book also demonstrates that God’s entrustment of woman to man “does not deny the woman’s dignity or her personal responsibility to God, but rather elevates the dignity of the woman through the man’s self denial.” Without trying to be exhaustive in his definition, Schadt says that the “masculine genius” is one of “hierarchal sacrificial responsibility.” “According to the holy Apostle love is synonymous with sacrifice, and headship is synonymous with being a savior; and a savior delivers himself up in sacrifice for his wife.” A man’s responsibility is to sacrifice his ambitions and self-importance “for the purpose of protecting and perfecting [his] wife who is a life-bearer, a figure of the pinnacle of the created order.”
“The family is a natural institution,” Joseph Shaw reminded us in his most recent book. This means (he said), “that the family can never be erased. The other things I mentioned—magazines, associations, parishes and so on—can be, and from time to time are, destroyed.” For Schadt, like Shaw, the “key to renewing the ecclesia universalis” is to be found in a restoration of the domestic church. Schadt’s helpful contribution is to re-state and orient man’s different desires in the perspective that “man’s need for woman is essential to the divine plan.” Schadt’s book is authoritative simply because he is meditating on scripture and reiterating the tradition of the Church. It is easy to forget that we sometimes need to hear better “what we already know”. He does not write academically, but addresses the reader as “my brother,” giving the book the tone more of a spiritual retreat than theological tract.
Ultimately, Schadt wants to help us understand how “how a husband’s headship is at the service of completing his bride” and how marriage can help us “become heroic, valiant, sacrificial men of God.” Devin Schadt’s book compliments Joseph Shaw’s comment that monogamous marriage is built upon a “foundation which is not learned, but arises from the depths of human nature.” If God created us to be (in Schadt’s words) “warrior[s] of self-giving love”, The Meaning and Mystery of Man certainly helps to clarify that vocation. “All men suffer, but few men sacrifice,” he writes. “The sacred summons to be a guardian of the garden demands that you embrace suffering for the sake of your marriage. By doing so, you and your wife will not only complement one another, but help to complete one another, and ultimately attain the fulfillment that God can only offer.”
Image: The Holy Family by Hans Zatzka