But Christian materialism - our emphasis on the reality of an Incarnate God and the goodness of his created universe - is not the materialism of secular society. S Joseph was the foster-father of God, not his begetter; the chaste Guardian, not the bedfellow, of the Mother of God. This unambiguously masculine figure, whose calling was continent love, is God's witness against the sexual trophyism and appetite of the culture we live in. Dogmatically, S Joseph's witness is encapsulated in another title of our Lady, Aeiparthenos, Ever-Virgin; a title which features so much more largely in the authentic tradfition of both East andWest than it does in modern Anglican and Roman Eucharistic Prayers. I think we have lost just a bit of our nerve when it comes to talking about virginity and purity. There is a demon I blame here: the Zeitgeist. He - or is it she - has engaged us in a sort of Socratic dialogue.
Now: you Christians really do believe in the goodness of Marriage?
er ... yess ... er ...
You believe in the sanctity of married sexuality?
we ... um ... do ... er ...yes ...
But all this talk about Virginity ... it gives the impression that you regard Marriage as some sort of second-best; and what is second-best is not rerally terribly good at all. Is it?
um ... er ... well ...
And we Christians have, to a degree, fallen for this peculiar piece of logic. At least subconsciously. How often, Fathers, do you preach on Chastity? How often, brothers and sisters, do you hear your clergy teaching about Purity?How often, ecclesiastical synod-and-committee-people, have you processed Reports and Statements and paperwork on Virginity? The Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age, has used our own arguments to undermine the whole concept of Continence; and what have we ended up with? A society which respects, enhances, and protects Marriage as never before? You know that we haven't. We find ourselves with a culture in which fornication and adultery have become norms, and wedlock is treated as endlessly terminable and repeatable, and Marriage is redefined in terms of fluid Gender. (There's such skilled and calculated cynicism here that it almost makes you believe in a personal Devil.) Only now do we see, 42 years after Humanae Vitae, that it is solely in the context of a society which exalts Continence and Virginity that Marriage itself has a chance of surviving.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX issued an dogmatic decree, over the small print of which Christians do make differing judgements. What is indisputable about it is that it did put the adjective Immaculata right at the centre of Western devotional culture. By doing so, it brought the Occident into line with the Orient; taught us timorous Westerners the importance of that great word-bag of alpha-privatives with which Byzantine hymnody adorns the Mother of God: amomos, akhrantos, apsilos, aphthartos. I put it to you that Mary's perpetual Virginity, an immaculate purity of heart and mind, is not so much a title, a mere honorific, as it is a dogma. And not so much even a dogma as God's conquering and triumphant Truth, which alone can win the victory over the disorders of our culture.
The Immaculate and Ever-Virgin Lady of Victories, born aloft by the sculptors on billowing draperies, her bulgy baroque crown precariously perched upon her head, is the Woman of Triumph whom God is giving to this world. She treads down all the serpents of heresy; she crushes all the serpents of vice and corruption with her virgin and immaculate heel.