The Fatherhood Chronicles XCVIII

Domesticating Male Faith

In classical psychology, one of the differentiating male psychological characteristics was the predominance, as compared to the female, of thumos in the soul. All humans, men and women, had souls with appetitive (or desiderative), rational and thumic aspects, but in men the thumos was stronger. Indeed, on such authorities as Plato and Aristotle, it was the thumos that was both responsible for war and for the building of civilization. The thumos, of course, is that aspect of the soul that is the “spirited aspect,” much like a spirited horse. In older English, it often gets translated as “irascible.” True the thumos is often expressed in anger and angression, but if driven and directed by reason, such energy is focused and productive. It can even be turned inward, against either the appetitive aspect of the soul (and thus be used to energetically propel the soul toward virtue and justice) or the rational aspect of the soul (and thus be used as a force for unreasoning aggression and the competitive pursuit of appetite).

In Christian understanding, this thumos can be directed toward what may be seen as heroic feats such as extreme asceticism or martyrdom. It is the striving aspect of the soul, and its energies can be directed by women to the same “manly” feats of courage that men express. And Christian hagiography and martyrologies are filled with such talk. Not by any means to disparage women and their unique gifts, but rather to elevate them even above the cultures of the time to the same priesthood of all believers that men enjoyed as well.

This same dynamic was seen in the Christian home as well. The Christian view of male headship was meant, it seems to me, to precisely counter the prevalent paterfamilias of the Roman culture. In the latter, the male head of the household could even leave his own children exposed to die. But in the Christian home, fathers were not to provoke their children to anger, nor discourage them, but to be respsonsible for their training and instruction in the Lord. In the Roman world, while women could also divorce their husbands, nonetheless, the husband had far greater power and authority, and could demand his spousal rights. But in the Christian home, the husband was to sacrifice his life for his wife, just as Christ did for the Church, for her own spiritual health and well-being.

None of this equalizing dynamic, of course, was meant to eliminate the real and essential differences between men and women. Men have their unique gifts, not the least among them are a greater proportion of thumos, as do women theirs. The difference, however, was the domestication of faith. If in the pagan world the men went to the temple prostitute, while the women invoked the goddesses of the hearth, in the Christian home, the male thumos was directed and focused on a specific end: the sustenance of the life of the Church among all the members of his household, both kin and servant.

In the Christian home, the male’s soulish energy was turned toward the hearth and the cradle. It was uniquely the responsibility of the head of the Christian home to direct his energies toward making his castle heaven on earth and to sustain the ecclesiola, the little Church.

As my own understanding of this has increased, so, too, has my own faith and its practice changed. Whereas all of my life faith was a private and individual thing, I have more and more come to see, since my turn toward the Orthodox Church, that a male’s faith is meant to be familial, domestic. His faith is not soley an individual thing, but is meant for his home as well. When he prays, he prays as the head of a home. His prayers are instructive for his children, his struggles against the passions as teaching for his sons and daugthers.

More and more the way I live my faith is familial. I’ve shared this before, but the Lord’s Prayer for me is not about me praying the Pater Noster, but is always and essentially wrapped up in praying the Our Father with and over my daughters. When I sit down alone to a meal, I do not pray “Lord Jesus Christ bless the food and drink of thy servants . . .” as a single individual, but do so as father and husband. When I sign the cross over my bed at night I do not sanctify my own presently lone pallet, but that of my wife and daugthers, with whom I am present in spirit. When I worship, it is my own family I serve and not my own needs.

Let me be clear: I have not disappeared into an amorphous entity called the Healy household. I very much remain the unique individual I am. Nor do I mean to speak of some sort of bizarre relinquishing of my own personal obligations as a unique human being responsbile to my Lord and Savior, whatever the faith and practice of my wife and daughters. But that is to say, as head of my home, my own personal obligations and needs are wrapped up and intertwined with that of my wife and daughters. I serve my own needs and sustain my own obligations when I serve them and intercede for them. This does not render me some sort of heroic or demigod status, for I am of the flesh as are they, and I need their prayers as much as they need mine. We do indeed serve one another.

But it is to say that the life of my household is meant to reflect the life of the Church and, in deed, the life of heaven. My own unique male contribution to that is to direct the soulish energies of my thumos to that end. I am to ensure that my unique faith is domesticated.

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