Friday, April 29, 2011

A Feminist Warning from Chaucer

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire,” wrote Catherine of Siena.

Bishop Richard Chartres spoke her words as the first line of his homily at the royal wedding today of Prince William Arthur Phillip etc. and Katherine Elizabeth Middleton.

Later he quoted Chaucer:

Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye.
Whan maistrye comth, the God of Love anon
Beteth his wynges, and farewel, he is gon!

Chaucer's Franklin speaks these words at the beginning of his tale in The Canterbury Tales (FT 764-66).

I accidentally stayed up late trying to untangle a huge mess of yarn caused by our puppy running around the house with a ball of yarn unsupervised. It looked like a massive spider web around the chairs and tables.

Talking and untangling at almost 3 am, my daughter and I realized the wedding was about to begin and decided to watch it.

How exciting that Catherine of Siena's words began the homily, and what a priceless admonition! I had just been telling my students about her earlier in the day (I teach Women & Religion).

She was born the 25th of 26 children in 1347. She died at age 33 from illness contracted by caring for the sick and needy.

In between she had visions, experienced a mystical wedding to Jesus, became a Third Order Dominican, traveled, preached, and wielded tremendous influence in church politics. It was the century of the papal schism, and she convinced Pope Gregory IX to move back to Rome from the luxury of Avignon, France.

An uppity young woman, for sure!

The bishop's next genius move was to speak against male domination in marriage, using the humorous words of Chaucer (buried nearby in Westminster Abbey).

Of course, the sad marriage of Prince Charles and Diana hovered in the background of this wedding day thirty years later.

There was "maistrye" (domination, oppression) in that marriage for sure.

Did Cupid beat his wings and fly away? Yes, indeed.

Given that history, does William need to be reminded not to lord it over Kate?

Yes, it is well for that warning from the 14th century to hover over this day.

After all, kings have nearly always exercised the unspoken royal right of sexual access to whomever they might choose--though their wives have to remain chaste in order to insure proper paternity of continuing royal line.

If William can manage faithfulness in marriage and also strive for relative equality in the relationship, as in Paul's words "submit yourselves one to another" (Eph. 5:21), the story that begins today may have a happier ending than that of his parents.

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