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  • Mary Shivanandan

Holy Family - The Earthly Trinity

Updated: Jun 18, 2019



In the penultimate chapter of her scholarly, three-volume work on The Concept of Woman, Sr. Prudence Allen highlights “integral gender complimentary” founded by St. Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, as the Christian response to feminist demands for recognition of the dignity and gifts of women. 

Basing his anthropology on the hylo-morphic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, who built on the natural law philosophy of the ancient Greek, Aristotle, Karol Wojtyla was also influenced by Carmelite spirituality, the personalism of Edouard Mounier, phenomenology, and his warm relations with women.  He developed the notion of person as gift; that it was never appropriate to treat another person simply as an object to use but always as a “disinterested gift” and relations between men and women as mutual self-gift.  While men tend to use women for pleasure and sensuality, women use men in a different feminine way, being a prey to sentimentality or giving into feelings over objective truth.  Integral complementarity overcomes both tendencies by integrating them into the whole within and between them.  This can be seen most clearly in sacramental marriage.

When both move together towards God, they, in fact, come closer together

Traditionally from the Middle Ages in Europe, the Holy Family was called the Earthly Trinity. Each human family can be seen as two trinities or triangles joined to each other.  At the apex of the first triangle is God the Father, while at the base of the second triangle is the child.  Husband and wife are placed in tension holding the two triangles together.  When I spoke at a conference many years ago in Seattle, a marital psychologist pointed out that the cross of Christ could be drawn down the middle.

This was a profound comment as it showed that when the husband moves away from the wife towards another woman outside the marriage, the triangle is distorted.  When a couple block out procreation through technical means, not only do they block out God’s part in the marriage and the possible child, but they seek to eliminate the space between them, again distorting the triangles.  What they imagined would bring them together actually distorts their relationship and suffering results.  The rising incidence of divorce in Western culture, not to mention the prevalence of the “me-too” movement can be considered the consequence. When both move together towards God, they, in fact, come closer together.  Similarly, when they move toward the child together in their unique masculine and feminine ways they increase their own intimate relation.

The marriage of Mary and St Joseph was perfectly balanced.  St. Joseph gave his attention in a masculine way to the Christ Child.  He saved him from the murderous action of King Herod, taking the family to safety in Egypt and back to Nazareth.  He led them in prayer and on religious pilgrimages; he  apprenticed Jesus, teaching him carpentry in his home.  All of this was done in profound union with God’s will and with perfect love.  Mary, on the other hand, after conceiving and bearing Jesus in her womb for nine months, fed him at the breast as was the Israelite custom.  She was present throughout his earthly life, finally standing at the foot of the cross to witness his apparent failure and intense suffering and later the joy of his resurrection.  The Holy Family was truly an earthly Trinity.

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