Male and Female He Created Them

Male and Female He Created Them April 28, 2012

I’ve been thinking about gender differences recently.  The genesis of this was a discussion in my diaconate class about women’s ordination.  This led me (eventually) to an on-line essay by Peter Kreeft on women’s ordination and sexual symbolism.  The heart of his argument, as best as I can discern, is that

To understand this second proposition, we must distinguish “male” from “masculine.” Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit….Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine.

I found parts of this argument dubious, but it did get me thinking about the differences between men and women.  On one level, they are obvious.  As the song “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” from Annie Get Your Gun puts it:

My tiny baby brother, who’s never read a book,
Knows one sex from the other,
All he had to do was look!
On the other hand it is not clear how far these differences extend and what they entail on an existential or ontological level for men and women.  In Genesis 1:27 we are told that
God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
This passage can be read as suggesting that God created men and women in “his image” but imbued them with intrinsic differences.  But do these differences extend beyond the biological differences required for pregnancy and childbirth?  Spiritually, St. Paul seems to assert an essential unity between men and women as a consequence of baptism:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
The meaning of these passages are contested, with interpretations being advanced that both support and minimize the differences between men and women.   Many arguments about the intrinsic differences between men and women have been advanced that are based on natural reasoning and metaphysics (cf. Kreeft’s article cited above).  I have discussed some of these arguments in the commboxes several times in the past.   But I have always approached them with a hermeneutic of suspicion, if only because of the cultural constraints which cause many of these arguments to do little more than enshrine existing prejudices.  One oft quoted example is the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Women, which includes such gems as
It should be emphasized here that man owes his authoritative pre-eminence in society not to personal achievements but to the appointment of the Creator
The sexes can never be on an equality as regards studies pursued at a university.
[T]he political activity of man is and remains different from that of woman, as has been shown above. It is difficult to unite the direct participation of woman in the political and parliamentary life of the present time with her predominate duty as a mother.
I think it is fair to say that no one gives too much credence to these particular arguments.  Beyond these, however, I also recently stumbled upon passages in both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas in which they argue for the natural superiority of men over women.    Augustine argued that
Because the one [man] rules, the other [woman] is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. (On John, Tractate 2.14)
Similarly, Aquinas stated that
There is another kind of subjection which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin. For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. (Summa Theologica I, qu. 92, art. 1, ad 2)
Catholic teaching on marriage has decisively moved away from “man is the head of the woman” arguments, to a view based on equal partnership and mutual service, albeit grounded in a notion of complementarity.   I bring these older arguments up primarily because they are grounded in natural reasoning that no longer carries much  weight.
However, it seems to me that Aquinas is on the right right track when he attempts to draw a distinction between what existed before and after sin entered into the world.   In light of this, the question becomes:  to what extent are the differences we see between men and women part of the order of creation—and so to be celebrated and respected—and what part of them are due to the Fall—and so to resisted and ameliorated as best as possible given our sinful natures?   The Catechism makes this point explicitly when discussing the sacrament of marriage:
Every man experiences evil around him and within himself.This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.
According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman.Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust… (CCC 1606-7)
I find this passage persuasive, but its consequences are not well explored.  Certainly, the discussion of women’s ordination (which is only pages away) completely ignores the arguments in favor of it which attempt to ground opposition to women’s ordination in this “relationship of domination and lust.”  Moving away from women’s ordination (which I do not particularly want to talk about) what are the consequences of this passage?  What are the differences between men and women that matter, which are cultural epiphenomena, and which are tragic consequences of our sinful natures?

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  • Ronald King

    David, This is quite a complicated discussion you present here. First, I believe that the premise of that first relationship with God needs to be re-examined. The Church’s interpretation appears to me to be a product of the effect of sin which has resulted in the creation of a distorted understanding of human development beginning with the male’s domination in the role of theological and philosophical systems of thought being influenced by the foundation of shame upon which is built the male’s identity. I cannot write more at this time, hypoglycemic. Sorry.

  • I think, honestly, almost all constructs of “gender” are merely constructs, and that there is nothing in Faith or Morals that deals with living up to “gender”. Physical SEX, of course, is another matter. An ordinand doesn’t have to be masculine, he has to be male.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t a sort of universally applicable symbolism of the masculine and feminine. There is, and in the broadest sense it seems to revolve around the active/receptive distinction (the soul is “feminine” relative to the outpouring of God’s grace, etc). But this doesn’t impose any particular moral standards on how men or women should act. Virtue is virtue for men and for women.

    There may be a few things that, contextually, depend on sex differences. For example, it seems more “correct” for men to die for women…just because men are less “essential” in terms of the reproductive investment. A society with one man and many women could re-start. A society of many man and one woman could not. But, in the same way, it seems fitting for parents to die for children instead of the other way around. And I do think babies have more need of their mother’s constant presence (assuming a general rule of breastfeeding) than of the father’s. However, extrapolating this too far (to the point of saying, say, only men should be in the military or even in the workforce, etc) starts to get slavish. Obviously, many situations in the world are dependent on the specific details of the case involved; sometimes arranging things differently may just make sense.

    The man is the head of the woman, but only in the sense that the Queen is Head of State. In other words, it doesn’t have to mean anything practically in terms of the balance of power. The buck may officially stop with him in terms of being the public “face” or voice of the family, but that doesn’t mean the wife (or, for that matter, the children) can’t exert their own power of personality over him to, effectively, make the decisions they want. Or, as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” put it, “Man is the head, but the woman is the neck; she turns the head wherever she wants!”

    Generally speaking, though, outside questions of marriage and the marital act (and ordination, which is also nuptial for priests, both the celibate and the married)…there is no particular moral norm “Men must act ‘masculine’ and women must act ‘feminine'” exactly because of how contingent and constructed those things are.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      A very interesting and somewhat unexpected response. However, at the risk of setting off a firestorm, I have to ask: though you have a very broad notion of gender roles, you have carefully built a fence around ordination. Why? What is it about maleness that is so essential?

      • The priest says “This is my body.” In this moment, at least, he speaks in persona Christi, and maleness is not merely an accidental feature of that (or any) body. The nuptial meaning of that body is, in fact, especially relevant when we are discussing Christ (and thus the priest’s) body, because Christ died for the Church in a manner likened to a husband dying for his wife, and the Mass is the “wedding supper of the lamb” with the priest acting (in that moment, at least) as Christ the Head and Bridegroom of His Body the Church. There is a whole system of symbolism here related to a body, and to a male body specifically, that falls apart if the priest is female. A female saying “this is my body” creates an entirely different sacramental and theological dynamic.

        • Although I do not agree with this, I am perfectly willing to accept it, out of respect for the Incarnation in the body of a man. It does not, however, address the issue of the sharing of ecclesiastical power, responsibility and dignity. The sacerdotal role has not, historically, been the only role of influence in the Christian Church. Many cardinals have been lay people and many heads of Congregations have been people who never took holy orders. Women were of enormously greater influence in the “Jesus Movement” than the Church has ever been willing to acknowledge, and they could come back, even as cardinal-electors (not bishops or priests) if the Church were not so sexist. Hearing confessions and sanctifying the Eucharist are hardly the only “Christ-like” acts a human can perform.

        • I’m not really sure what you mean by “don’t agree with.”

          Lay influence in “hierarchal” roles is tricky. Traditionally it has been associated with bad things; lay investiture, lay benefices and “lay abbots”, etc…usually signaled undue influence of the State over the Church.

          Indeed, talk of “laity” in roles wherein they’d publicly represent the Church…makes little sense given that all “cleric” traditionally meant was a someone deputized as a public minister of the Church. This is why, as a canonical state, it didn’t just cover those in Orders, major or minor, but even just the first-tonsured. If you research the term “lay cardinal” you will see that they were all, in fact, given at least first tonsure, and so were not strictly speaking laity canonically, though they were not priests or even deacons.

          As for giving women roles such as papal electress or head of curial departments, this position obviously assumes that women “add” something that men don’t already have. That they do in fact have a special and different perspective. This may or may not be true, in fact it seems to be what David is asking in this post.

          However, I would point out, obviously any government is only going to be a hand-full of people compared to the whole population (unless we had some sort of unworkable direct democracy). So I’m not entirely convinced that (for example) if we have a congress of only 535 running a country of 300 million….whether that congress is “diverse” or not really matters.

          At the level of the “aristocracy” of an institution, this “diversity” is always token at best, and it is naive to think that it means the ruling class embodies some sort of “representative sample” of the population in that way except in a very nominal sense of external appearances.

          The college of cardinals is supposed to be 120 electors. Let’s say you even make that half women to be “representative” of the whole Church. The truth is, with a number that small…this wouldn’t matter or effect anything. Surely the men currently in charge could find just 60 women who would effectively just share their perspective and so be equivalent to 60 men. The gender-diversity would be a token keeping-up-appearances, and wouldn’t represent anything like a random sampling of the Catholic population. It basically just wouldn’t matter in the way you’re imagining.

        • Excuse me, Sinner, but it WOULD “matter” to the women of the Church; it’d be a significant token of respect for them.

        • But especially with the priesthood dogmatically limited to males, a token is all it would be.

          Here’s the thing: the women who would be appointed, as I said, would be nothing like a “representative sample” of all Catholic women. Rather, almost certainly, they would be drawn from women of the conservative stripe who ALREADY DON’T CARE whether women are in those positions or not.

          As such, they would no more represent the women who would like to see such a a thing than the men who already hold those positions.

    • Kurt

      An ordinand doesn’t have to be masculine, he has to be male.

      Yes, no trouble finding examples of this truth.

  • tausign

    In light of this, the question becomes: to what extent are the differences we see between men and women part of the order of creation—and so to be celebrated and respected—and what part of them are due to the Fall—and so to resisted and ameliorated as best as possible given our sinful natures?

    The above quote and your citation of CCC 1606-7 are at the heart of the matter. The tension or error that emerges flow from both directions: (1) those who insist there are no differences or that they are accidental/minimal and (2) those who dwell on differences that emerge as ‘a result of the tragic consequences of sin’.

    Differences that are understood to be ‘part of the order of creation and to be celebrated’ bear fruit in that they are mutually beneficial, enlarging of perspective, and bring harmony and peace. On the other hand, any male/female differences that cause discord, alienation, dominance or violence should be readily recognized as misguided or sinful and seen as suitable substance for conversion.

    As far as examples of differences that are based on gender and that matter, I can see this quickly falling into sterotypical classifications (which I am not immune from). But my main sense is that women and men have differing perspectives and worldviews that are in themselves incomplete though complimentary. Culturally we have been blindsighted into believing that all valid human perspectives were either (1) universal and therefore adequately found within the male mind or (2) exist only in the unique and superior male side of the world.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “Culturally we have been blindsighted into believing that all valid human perspectives were either (1) universal and therefore adequately found within the male mind or (2) exist only in the unique and superior male side of the world.”

      Interesting. A colleague of mine in the philosophy department has a long term project in which she is challenging the universality of philosophy on gender grounds. She is (at the risk of over-simplifying) accusing much of philosophy of doing (2) while claiming to do (1).

      “women and men have differing perspectives and worldviews that are in themselves incomplete though complimentary”

      I agree with this completely. This really captures what I was trying to say in my post a while ago, “What is She Trying to Say”. There I raised a question which bears repeating here: if women do indeed have differing perspectives and worldviews, then what should we as a Church do to insure that they are listened to and respected? The American bishops tried to listen and were excoriated for doing so; at the other extreme, we had a Pope who wrote a powerful encyclical on women but which seems to view them strictly from the “outside”: it is unclear whether any women had any constructive input on it.

    • tausign

      …if women do indeed have differing perspectives and worldviews, then what should we as a Church do to insure that they (women) are listened to and respected?

      There are two aspects to this. To the extent that we are trying to experience the intent God had for male/female relationship prior to the Fall, then we are turning toward God in spiritual anticipation. But we can’t attempt this unless we are mindful of an existing ruptured male/female relationship that is in need of healing through repentance/metanoia. This lack of conversion (both sides) is what’s clogging the tubes.

      If Kreeft’s symbolism of feminine/bride/human to masculine/bridegroom/God is to have any meaning (which I think it does) then it would seem obvious that ‘the feminine of the feminine’ (females) should have something that is very formational for the ‘masculine of the femine’ (males). The tragedy is that the symbolism gets carried to a extreme (for some) in that females are not allowed to do any sort of ‘impregnating of males’ if you will, even when it comes to sharing the feminine perspective into masculine/feminine reality. Leaving aside the priesthood issue, it still is important to incorporate the entire human perspective into the life of the Church.

      The rub is mainly in the distorted sinful reality of these relationships which are clueless as to how dimly the vision of God’s plan is seen. Nothing has been said of love, self-sacrifice, giving and kenosis; instead we are besieged with fear, dominance, violence and backbiting.

  • Melody

    “Catholic teaching on marriage has decisively moved away from “man is the head of the woman” arguments, to a view based on equal partnership and mutual service, albeit grounded in a notion of complementarity. I bring these older arguments up primarily because they are grounded in natural reasoning that no longer carries much weight.”

    Official Catholic teaching may have moved away from these ideas; but they are still alive and kicking and moving around in some Catholic circles. If you do a little surfing of the more traditional/conservative blog sites you will see what I mean. I think it is even more true than a few years ago on account of some cross-pollination from the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian community. I came across one discussion recently where the topic was some of the less-than-fun aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. One lady made reference to Genesis 3:16 (“I will make great your distress in childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children; for your husband shall be your longing, thougth he have dominion over you.”) and said something like, well, it’s how we have to work out our salvation. I didn’t enter into the discussion, I was just thinking, “Whatever, speak for yourself!” It’s not against Catholic teaching to go for a literal interpretation of Genesis, but I don’t think it’s a very helpful world view in terms of working out the role of gender in the Church.

  • I’m sure Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel would completely agree with the Catholic Encyclopedia entry. Safeguarding the Falklands and controlling a 17 country international reserve currency bloc is just not part of female ontology according to the primeval history. [/sarcasm]

    Ronald [April 28, 2012 10:45 am]: The Church’s interpretation appears to me to be a product of the effect of sin which has resulted in the creation of a distorted understanding of human development beginning with the male’s domination in the role of theological and philosophical systems of thought being influenced by the foundation of shame upon which is built the male’s identity.

    I know you meant to write more Ronald. Still: is it possible that “shame” is a purely cultural construct. As a Catholic I must believe that male and female concupiscence is different. This is the basis of Theology of the Body, to mention a discrete example. The tendency to sin and the commission of sin, particularly sexual sin, is different for men and for women. Indeed per Catholicism this difference is an absolute theological precondition for matrimony.

    Shame or guilt could vary in proportion within subcultures. For example, murder is certainly haram. However, a small number of Muslims self-justify murder if shame is brought upon the family. In this case, perhaps overwhelming cultural pressures over-ride the sin of murder. Persons of good will regardless of religion who are not part of this cultural subset recoil in viceral disgust at honor killing.

    Why, then, would the men impart an “intrinsic shame” into philosophical thought? Does this “intrinsic shame” rest in sexuality or in cognition?

    • “As a Catholic I must believe that male and female concupiscence is different. This is the basis of Theology of the Body, to mention a discrete example. The tendency to sin and the commission of sin, particularly sexual sin, is different for men and for women. Indeed per Catholicism this difference is an absolute theological precondition for matrimony.”

      I think I know what you are saying here, but in fact I would argue it isn’t true.

      I think here you are referencing, obliquely, the official Vatican pastoral stance, since 1986, of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.”

      Although never explicated officially, there are (I think, incorrect) larger philosophical assumptions behind this labeling which you have, I think, correctly extrapolated.

      Specifically, there seems to be an idea that the male and female sexual appetites are, in fact, different in object. Meaning: the object of the male sex drive is a female, the object of a female sex drive is a male.

      This notion of what the object of the appetite in question is…would of course lead to a notion that males and females are different even on the level of the will and so essentially have two different natures in a way; what constitutes a good and desirable object for a man and what constitutes a good and desirable object for a woman…would be totally different. It assumes that the human sexual appetite is not unitary but really is two separate appetites for two separate objects, and that homosexuality is thus “objectively disordered” inasmuch as the homosexual has an appetite that is incorrect for his or her male or female nature.

      This idea, however, is rather new. Or, at least, it is far from being dogmatic. I would also argue it is simply wrong. Instead, I would argue, there is ONE human sexual appetite, whose object (in men or women) is “the marital act” considered as a whole. Human nature is not really two natures with two separate ends (and thus two separate sets of objects constituting the good). Rather, it’s object is not the body of a partner, but is the act of both considered from a sex-neutral perspective. In fact, I would argue this is true for all appetites. The object of hunger is not “food” but rather “eating,” etc.

      Of course, on the level of the lower appetite, we are not drawn by the holistic object of an appetite, but merely by this or that sensory “fragment” of the appetite. Only Reason can make sense of these fragments by uniting them into the proper “whole picture” of the correct object.

      The Vatican’s seeming recent view of, as you described it, “different male and female concupiscence” (ie, two different appetites with two different objects; a female-appetite for males and a male-appetite for females) would then, naturally, lead to a conclusion that homosexuality is “intrinsically or objective disordered” because it cannot, under that understanding, merely be considered a case of “the right pieces being assembled the wrong way” but of wrong pieces (on the level of the sensitive appetite) period.

      If we assume the natural proper object of a “male sex drive” is a female, male-related “fragments” appealing to the lower/sensitive appetite could never make sense, could never be rightly ordered, could never be assembled into the correct “whole picture” even by reason. They would simply be “objectively disordered” and the will of the homosexual would simply need to be entirely abnegated, crucified, disowned, etc. Indeed, this seems to be the advice given to the homosexual: either change or, if you can’t, embrace “the cross.”

      In other words, homosexuality isn’t considered just a case of fallen concupiscence like any other (ie, a mis-assembling of good fragments, of “pieces” that can, by Reason, be assembled into the holistic good “whole picture”)…but rather something utterly disordered.

      This is theologically problematic, to say the least, because the idea that the Fall could have caused any sort of total depravity is not in the Catholic notion. The lower appetite now acts independently of Reason, but the things it is attracted to are still ultimately “good pieces” even if they can be assembled incorrectly. To posit a species of creature attracted to pieces that are not even part of the good for its nature…is to posit a monster.

      I would argue, however, that positing homosexuality as different than any other sort of concupiscence due to the idea that the male and female sexual appetites have different objects (ie, as if “male attractiveness” is only part of a good for women, and “female attractiveness” is only part of a good for men) is simply wildly misguided.

      Indeed, I think if we consider that the “whole picture” is the marital act as a whole…then both male and female sensory “pieces” are part of the whole good. It might be somewhat more confusing for homosexuals who have been dealt a hand of all male-related fragments to figure out the “whole picture”…but not impossible.

      To put it more bluntly: plenty of straight men watch lesbian porn. Obviously, their female-related “fragments” appealing to the lower appetite…do not constitute some sort of intrinsic drive towards the marital act, nor even towards a heterosexual act. Likewise, I know plenty of gay men watch heterosexual porn. They’re watching it “for the man” and focusing on him, but there is an appeal, for some, in the “masculinity” demonstrated in the act of straight sex.

      My point in bringing up this example is just that to act as if males and females are two separate natures with two separate sexual appetites with two separate objects (in other words, to act as if “a male partner” or “a female partner” are the objects) is naive and misguided. The holistic good is the act as a whole which includes both male and female, and thus whatever fragments appeal to a person’s appetite are, in fact, fragments of the good. They can indeed be disassembled (by both homosexuals and heterosexuals), but in both cases this is merely fallen concupiscence, NOT an intrinsic attraction of the will to a wrong type of object.

      • And I would argue (see my comment below, if it gets posted) that even the “good pieces” properly “assembled” into “holy matrimony” fall far short of the type of love that Christ preached as being the ideal.

        • Well, yeah, the New Testament makes it pretty clear that celibate communal life is the IDEAL.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Peter Kreeft has used a specialty in a rigid Thomism to avert eyes from his many facile errors in general judgment. To wit, if he is going to invoke Chines metaphysics as he does by mentioning Yang and Yin, and thus remove a bit of the taint of being such an incredible fuddy-duddy when it comes to metaphysics, then at least he should use it in a remotely consistent way with that thought. Not as decoration. He would only have to have seriously considered a now vast filed of books on the subject, or just pop by the office of t any of he numbers of acupuncturists in Boston to get his “Yin Valley” site stimulated behind the knee, to know why his entire argument, obliquely based on the misunderstanding, is fault. It is NOT the case that spirit is male and female or masculine or feminine or whatever. The two forces represent complex interactions between the material and spiritual at all points, and thus can never be spirit per se in either gender. Many highly spiritualized aspects in life are over-filled with yang, and when detached from the more material sense that Yin is connected to in important ways, is quite deadly while still being very “spiritual”. As, the Chinese medical proverb goes, and is quite relevant for this discussion: “Men tend naturally towards excess; women toward lack.”

  • re: A Sinner [April 28, 2012 6:00 pm]

    Actually, I was thinking about the theological aspect that human procreation does not take place within a prelapsarian state but rather within the human tendency to sin. In the Pauline nuptial Mass, the priest or deacon asks: “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” The bride and groom’s affirmations are vows, not oaths. Concupiscence distorts the affective and sexual aspects of the marital bond, but the inevitable presence of that distortion does not hinder the grace of the sacrament.

    Back on topic: a short while ago on VN I remarked that Theology of the Body might not be readily understood by non-heterosexuals. The TOB Weltanschauung just doesn’t have a place for gay people save for an equation with bestiality should I remember correctly. (No I don’t hate Decessor Noster for that, even if it’s still a cold stab in the back.) Even so, as you correctly write,

    Human nature is not really two natures with two separate ends (and thus two separate sets of objects constituting the good). Rather, it’s object is not the body of a partner, but is the act of both considered from a sex-neutral perspective.

    So indeed both a procreation-centric view of marriage, as well as a permanent bifurcation of male and female into separate, never-combined libidos, are theological suspect. Your statement is well in keeping with both the recent theological re-emphasis on the unitive nature of marriage, as well as TOB. What if I, and about 300 million other human beings, have little or no native understanding of marital sexual unity? Here enters “intrinsically disordered” and all of the philosophical and pastoral heartache trawled along in its wake.

    • The point of my post, though, was that I think it is naive to imagine that heterosexuality constitutes some sort of “native understanding of marital sexual unity.” Heterosexuality is not some sort of “instinct to have vaginal sex”…in a man, for example, it can just as easily lead to watching lesbian porn.

      Indeed, I’d agree with you that this idea is wrong and theologically incorrect that the heterosexual who participates in disordered heterosexual sex acts is “merely concupiscent”, in other words is “seeking a good object, just in the wrong way”, whereas the homosexual is “objectively disordered” (technically, the documents in question use “intrinsically” to describe acts and “objectively” to describe inclinations; ie, as relative to their objects) out of some notion that “he’s not even seeking a good object”

      In truth, both are merely concupiscence, both are just “seeking a good thing in the wrong way.”

      My statement isn’t meant to be “well in keeping with TOTB” actually, as I think TOTB suggests exactly what you say: that heterosexuality (a description of the responsiveness of the lower appetite to a certain class of stimuli) actually constitutes some sort of mystical gnosis, some sort of “native understanding of marital union.”

      I’d argue that it does not, and that attraction to heterosexual stimuli obviously are “misassembled” very often as well (I’d also argue that attraction to homosexual stimuli doesn’t necessarily intrinsically indicate a homosexual act either, if gay men watching straight porn is any example). The concupiscence can only be, then, different in degree, then, not nature, and it must be assumed that both varieties of the sexual appetite are ultimately just as ordered toward the marital act when Reason DOES “assemble the picture correctly.”

      • Thank you, A Sinner. This is a quite excellent criticism. I will, in the future, not try to play a scholastic and go back to philology.

        I am, as you see, on quite shaky ground due to my lack of training. It appears that at times TOTB shifts alternately from discussions of concupiscence and right-ordered sexuality, and then to what you call “gnosticism”. This is quite confusing for someone like me who is not a philosopher.

        If even people with a rudimentary higher education in philosophy cannot sift apart TOTB, then I suppose it is quite a pastoral nightmare for the clergy to explain the finer points of the teaching when preaching and in the confessional.

        • I’m not even sure what the teaching of TOTB is supposed to be except a sort of flowery phenomenological dressing-up of sexual morality with stuff about “total self-giving” and the “nuptial meaning” of the body which may be true, but needn’t be nearly so complicated. And in the process of trying to appeal to a sentimental/romantic narrative about sexuality, it winds up both conceding that this subjective aspect is the most important (very dangerous if you ask me) and also apotheosizing “heterosexuality” as some sort of mystical gateway to Trinitarian revelation or something like that, thus throwing homosexuals under the bus pretty much (not merely in the sense of saying “be chaste like anyone else,” but in the sense of saying “you’re very feelings are wrong!”)

  • Perhaps I should finally reveal my hand here, at Vox Nova, in writing so much about “same-sex love” and “gay marriage”: I believe that deep, passionate love, in the agape AND the “romantic” sense, and being NON-monagamous and not “clinging,” in the sense of both Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion AND St. Aelred’s endorsement of “particular friendships,” would drive sin and lustful sex OUT of the world, to paraphrase Augustine. I also believe that, now that “Christendom” is dead, and “Christians” are a minority sect in the West once again, “Christians” may have the fortuitious opportunity to re-discover what being a “eunuch” for the “Kingdom’s” sake actually meant, in the mouth of Christ.You see, I don’t believe that Christ endorsed “marriage” of ANY sort, because “marriage” is necessarily exclusionary. And, as for “gay” folks, I don’t feel that they’d desire “gay marriage” at all, if they didn’t feel some sort of permanent ostracism from families, from churches, from communion with their brothers and sisters of ANY “male” or “female nature.” I feel that the origin of THEIR desire for something called “gay marriag” lie in the loneliness that you “straight” people have afflicted them with.

    [Okay, I approved a bunch of comments without reading them all carefully. Comments are moving well away from what the original post is about. I am leaving anything I posted here, but I am killing a couple comments waiting for approval. Further discussion about homosexuality can wait for a post to which it is germane. I would appreciate folks actually speaking to the point I was raising about gender differences.]

    • I’m not sure a post about gender-differences in a modern Catholic context CAN avoid the question of homosexuality, David, as the whole “complementarity” idea is wrapped up in that whole debate.

      [True, but the discussion was veering away from the original post. I will let homosexuality pass if it is connected to the the main line of discussion.]

    • grega

      This does not come as such a big surprise -really – at various times you eluded to this position – I take it it is a very personal one – to each his own.
      🙂 I doubt that this is the ‘Weisheits letzter Schluss’.

  • Ronald King

    This is a quick note to “This is my body. This is my blood.” This body and blood were formed from Mary’s body and blood. There is a direct connection and cannot be isolated from the celebration of the Mass. Also the dna of mitochondria, which are the source of life within each cell in the body, are passed down through generations only from the female. What would be the implications of this info on theology and then consider that there are significant differences in female and male brains in terms of processing info and bonding.

    • Right; the (feminine) Church ordains the priest. That same community also supplies the matter (the bread and wine) and then this is returned to them in communion; the reception of Christ’s body constitutes the Church as the mystical body, His bride.

      These complex layers of symbolism of the male/female, mother-son/bride-bridegroom, head/body, etc that layer back around onto each other…are already present in the symbolic system. But that system still does need the Christ and the priest himself to male at the point of consecration. The other layers (that do include the feminine element of the bride and mother Ecclesia) are dependent on that.

      • grega

        For me these – as you express it ‘complex layers of symbolism’ are strictly artifacts of human cultural norms. It would be a piece of cake to add another ‘complex’ layer – a layer of full equality to it all. It would fit so much better into our current understanding of our world and universe.
        The creator of the Universe seriously concerned that the lifegiving part of his creation ought not to lead beleivers in prayers and sacrament ? I do not think so.
        I am pretty confident that in not too long this sort of verbose artificial complexity will be seen as pretty dated and even absurd.
        Yes it might well be that the mighty Catholic Church will be dragged kicking into the future – whats new- 2000 years ago Christ certainly had to battle the verbose experts in stillborn complexity (Matt 12).
        History repeats itself over and over which is really not all that surprising since human nature really does not change all that fast.

        • Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. “The bridegroom is the head, and his bride is his body” is in canonical scripture, and as such is part of our tradition, part of the symbolic system of the community which one enters into as a Catholic. What corresponds to “the World” really doesn’t matter; when one becomes a Catholic, one adopts a Catholic “language” of symbol going back to the Scriptures. We’re not going to change the matter of wheat bread and grape wine to a Big Mac and a Diet Coke either. The matter may be culturally contingent, but that’s what the Incarnation was; it was an entering of God into history, into a specific age and locality. All liturgy is in a strange tension, then. It does get inculturated into each time and place (just look at the various Rites in the Church), but at the same time it is all, also, First Century Palestine. We can’t use Beatles songs instead of the Psalms either, even though the Psalms are “artifacts” of the B.C. Davidic Israelites.

        • Ronald King

          My point is that women are the mysterious gift of the expression love and life to this material world from God. But in the garden story the woman only has her identity determined by the man. It is only when the man gains knowledge that he gives her the name Eve. “She” is the mother of all living creatures and the source of life and nurturing life here on earth in every cell of our bodies as is revealed through the dna of the mytochondrea. The female then suffers due to the dominant nature of the male and this is revealed to her in the beginning after the “fall”. The female’s brain is created to nurture, bond and create safe inclusive communities. However, she suffers because she does not have the support of the male to do this. Wisdom is referred to in the feminine. God directly reveals the spiritual power of the feminine and her place in our spiritual and physical life. She brings Christ to us. She is the one who asks Christ to perform His first miracle at a wedding ceremony. She is the first priest. Yet, she is still unknown for who she is and what she represents. She represents all women and their rightful place in the Body of Christ. Women are to be united in the priesthood with the male priests as co-celebrants who bring Christ to us and thus they bring us life.
          The female brain is structured differently from the male brain in that their corpus callosum is larger than the male’s. This structure is responsible for the coordination of communication between left and right and upper and lower brain regions. In other words they have an ability to process more info from the enviornment than we do. Their pre-frontal cortex is also thicker than the male’s and this is an area which modulates emotions, is involved in decision-making and is critical for the development of empathy.
          There is more, but what would the above info imply for present and future theological development and church functioning?

        • I think these “scientific” constructions of gender are just as biased as social ones. Because we know that you are only talking about general trends, not anything that applies to each and every individual. It’s not “the female brain”, it’s “the AVERAGE female brain” to which these studies refer; there are men who farther towards the “feminine” side of the neurological spectrum than most women, and women who fall farther towards the “masculine” side of the neurological spectrum than most men. As such, what you’re saying amounts to something like “Stereotyped differences are rooted in a biological demographic reality.” This is true, but it’s only ultimately statistical. At the level of Church leadership however, again, the numbers are so small it means nothing. Plenty of the men leading the Church, me-suspects, are already men who are more neurologically “feminine”…and the women you’d find to fill up the ranks if they were opened to them may well be women whose brains are farther towards the “masculine” end of the spectrum. So there is absolute no guarantee that by opening the ranks to women you will get anything more like a representative bell-curve of perspectives.

          • Ronald King

            Sinner, it is the female and male brain which will then exhibit different gene expressions related to male or female behavior depending on known and unknown factors. What is biased about this? I would want someone in an influential position in the hierarchy who tends to be more open to discussion of spiritual matters of faith than someone who tends to be more rigid and linear thinking with a mind that is dominated by the logic and language ability of the left-brain hierachy which we have in place now. What we appear to have is the elevation of the intellect(logic) above the mystery(unknown) of faith. We seem to have a myopic rather than a holistic view of God’s influence throughout the world. We are subjected to a faith of fear of the unknown rather than a faith of passionate exploration of the unknown. We have a faith that is pressured to stay within the known. We have a faith built on stereotypes.

        • Yes, well, the Church is a firm proponent of the “phallologocentric” principle in the cosmos, there’s no doubt of that. That’s because its “feminine” counterpart is Chaos, and while the Serpent may convince some that we need some Chaos at the heart of Order to keep things dynamic or alive, Christians know this isn’t true. God is pure Act.

          Christianity is all about Reason subjugating the passions. We are unapologetically Apollonian. If you’re looking for something more Dionysian…you’re looking in the wrong religion.

  • After having read this a number of times, I am kind of stuck on this… with due respect, you want to explore gender, but not ordination? I have to ask, is your parenthetical notation about not wanting to discuss ordination accurate? I am not pushing for one side or the other here, just noting what has hit me in this piece. Perhaps it is just difficult to decouple gender and ordination, I don’t know. Well, that is what hit me the most – you have certainly offered us a lot to consider here.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Fran, your point is well taken. Perhaps what I should have said is that I do not want to only discuss women’s ordination. That discussion can quickly turn into a sterile shouting match. Rather, I wanted to explore a deeper underlying question: how, as Catholics, should we understand and conceptualize the reality of gender difference? I think that this will say something about women’s ordination, and as A Sinner pointed out, about homosexuality. I think it will also tell us about contraception, altar girls and a number of other issues in the Church which revolve around this axis. My goal is to talk about this axis, because I think that is foundational to all the other questions.

      • Thank you for that clarification David. I am not agitating for women’s ordination – nor am I against it. I am perpetually frustrated that we are prevented from discussing, thus discerning such a thing, particularly in regard to the diaconate. Also, I agree, the conversation rapidly devolves and it is always regrettably ugly. That is something that I do not want to start or be a part of! Thank you. I look forward to hearing more from you.

    • I would also point out, again, the difference between “gender” and sex.

      Ordination and marriage and sexual morality in the Catholic system depend on sex. They don’t depend on “gender.” As said above: priests must be male, not necessarily masculine (nor even, necessarily, identify as men in terms of internal self-image; anatomically male transsexuals have almost certainly been validly ordained in the history of the Church).

      One can question whether “gender” differences are just a construct without denying that there are two sexes on the level of visible external signifiers.

      Of course, physical sex is a “construction” of bodies too, and we all know there is a small class of ambiguous cases in between. But it’s a construction that the Church views as “God’s construction” in a way that mere gender roles or script I do not think can be claimed. God made them “male and female” and that’s how the species reproduces, etc. The nuptial reality is essential to a Christian understanding of the human person and human body and human society.

      But I doubt God really has much opinion on women voting or men playing rough-and-tumble sports or what length anyone’s hair is or whether they’re wearing skirts or pants or who is earning wages in what jobs or whether you dress in pink or blue or play with dolls or GI Joes, etc.

      • Apologies to David. This post should be back on course.

        re: A Sinner [April 30, 2012 11:22 am]

        A Sinner: But I doubt God really has much opinion on women voting or men playing rough-and-tumble sports or what length anyone’s hair is or whether they’re wearing skirts or pants or who is earning wages in what jobs or whether you dress in pink or blue or play with dolls or GI Joes, etc.

        More than agreed. Still, as Cynthia [May 1, 2012 4:07 am] contends, a separation of ‘sex’ from ‘gender’ might be disconcerting to some Christians. While you, I, and many others find parenting manuals which suggest that certain children’s toys are “male” and others “female” to be contrived and even humorous, for still many others who believe in the unity of gender and sex, culture must reinforce behavorial boundaries between the sexes in order to prevent the development of gender theory.

        The battle between those who encourage children to express themselves as social individuals and those who maintain rigid behavorial boundaries often results from the broad (and often cariactured) division between “belief” and “empiricism” in the public square. A roughly analogous example would be the row over creationism and evolution in education. Education is also socialization.

  • re: A Sinner [April 29, 2012 8:34 pm]

    While I agree that TOTB’s “flowery phenomenological dressing-up of sexual morality” greatly impairs its clarity, the lecture series throws not only homosexuals under the bus. TOTB throws its very audience, married couples, under a bus — just a different bus.

    TOTB merely couches gay people within the Mosaic prohibition, as if dynamic lives are mere static foils for the balance between law and grace in the context of adultery. [c.f. John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, forward John S. Grabowski (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1997) 136] One wonders if JP II would have given a much more thorough investigation of homosexuality if his lectures continued through 1986 and the CDF letter which seared the intrinsically/objectively disordered contrast onto the Catholic consciousness.

    TOTB’s betrayal of married couples is much more complex. Grega [April 30, 2012 8:30 am] succinctly notes that “I am pretty confident that in not too long this sort of verbose artificial complexity will be seen as pretty dated and even absurd.” A Sinner’s observation that “[…] the process of trying to appeal to a sentimental/romantic narrative about sexuality, it winds up both conceding that this subjective aspect is the most important.” (my ellipsis) dovetails nicely with Grega’s thought. The bus headed for heterosexuals couches an almost impossible and quite subjective standard for marital satisfaction within verbosity. Marital satisfaction does not have a place within the scholastic universe, and rightfully so. Pre-TOTB theological-philosophical language of procreation and unification does not speak of “emotional satisfaction” as if that can be quantified. JP II’s development of previous doctrine could be considered harmful. TOTB’s quantification of satisfaction could harm marriages, especially if a couple does not live up what they perceive as the ideals of the lecture series. The latter could happen even if a couple remains faithful to the vows and doctrine of the matrimonial sacrament.

  • tausign

    As I consider the distinction between gender and sex I see a place where confusion creeps into our discussion. At the beginning I was paying particular attention to what David later described as ‘an axis of gender differences’ from which we could discuss a variety of tense issues that plague the unity of the Church. What I’m beginning to realize is that the tension is not residing in the differences of gender, but in the differences between gender as distinct perspectives/worldviews and the symbolic role of sex (i.e. nuptual relation of God and man).

    For me the male only clergy has never been a moving issue and ironically I always found the document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis rather underwhelming. But its precisely because the argument for a male priesthood is so completely based on this sexual symbolism and unmoved by true gender differences that it creates the whirlwind in the modern world. What makes it even more dispicable to some is that it is seen as ‘unjust’.

    Now the matter of justice is always compelling to the Christian mind and so it should never be ignored. It doesn’t even take half a brain to recognize that woman have been treated as inferiors and with great injustice throughout all of time. The challenge is going to be in how to do away with the injustice and honor and integrate ‘the feminine perspective’ without rupturing or even distorting what is the central image of how Christ relates to his people the Church; which is the spousal relationship. I think its fair to say that what’s at stake is whether this charecterization of divine spousal relationship is something that we’ve outgrown, is superflouous, etc. or whether its indispensible to the life of the Church?

    • tausign

      Correction: In the first paragraph (i.e. nuptual relationship of God to man) should be changed to (nuptual relationship of Christ to the Church). Also, while I was refering to the underwhelming force of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in fact the argument for the ‘nuptual relationship’ is contained in Inter Insigniores.

  • Cynthia

    First-timer here.

    (nor even, necessarily, identify as men in terms of internal self-image; anatomically male transsexuals have almost certainly been validly ordained in the history of the Church).

    That is incorrect and beyond heretical. This is Liberalism 101. I’m here curious about the liberal worldview of A Sinner. He’s doing the typical liberal differentation of gender from sex and that sex has no bearing on gender. His comments are dangerous and I would advise for the author of the blog to research more into the ills that feminism has brought upon society. Liberalism is essentially a rebellious movement and we all know how man rebelling against God brought about: sin and death.

    And yes, I am a young woman. A Sinner is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He uses Christian language but deep down is subverting the faith from within.

    • Ronald King

      Cynthia, Which man rebelled against God? Christ was/is certainly a liberator and liberal in His teaching.

    • You seem rather unfamiliar with the millieu at this blog, Cynthia.

      As for “incorrect” and “beyond heretical”…I’m not sure you even understand what I was saying in the quote you chose.

      Priests must be anatomically male. I’m supporting the traditional/conservative/orthodox teaching here!

      However, that teaching implies (in contradiction of some liberal ideas) that the “reality” of a person’s sex is indeed found in the visible signifier of their body. Transgenderism, neurological or psychological, would not effect the validity of Holy Orders (nor even, necessarily, marriage if there was no anatomical impotence; though it would probably usually be judged a psychological defect to consent).

      I won’t speak with any sort of definitive judgment about the trans phenomenon; I have friends in that community, surgical or hormonal transitioning is a complicated question of medical ethics, and the Church knows this too. But, when it comes to the question of the valid reception of sacraments, it doesn’t matter. For sacramental purposes, a male who identifies as a woman…is still a male.

      I don’t know what is “liberalism” in this at all. This the Church’s official position inasmuch as it has one (ala the document referenced in this article: Transsexualism does not theologically actually change a person’s sex (for the purposes of, say, marriage or ordination), but treating a person gender-wise (pronouns, dress, etc) as they want to be treated, and even physical transitioning, may be acceptable if necessary to alleviate the psychological distress GID causes.

      As for the validity of separating gender from sex, I’m not even sure what you’re talking about. You may be assuming I’m saying ones mental sex-identification and ones body are unrelated. I do not believe this is true, and in small set of cases where it is, it is certainly a disorder (though, very possibly, one that is only treatable through basically “going along with” it, since it is currently easier to change the body than to change the brain at that level).

      Gender as I understand it is a social construction OF sex. This is simply widely recognized by anthropologists and psychologists now. Sex is physical, gender is psychological and behavioural. It is a “script” one enacts and a “schema” one holds in a given social context of self-image. It won’t be entirely arbitrary; the differences constructed will often have some sort of origin in physical or neurological differences typical to males or to females. However, they are historically contingent extrapolations that by no means follow from anything like logical necessity.

      And, certainly, there is no MORAL requirement for a male to “act like a man” or a female to “act like a woman” as if either of those is absolute. The only absolute way to “act like a man” is simply to have a male body. The Church is not in the business of telling men to “act manly” and women to “be feminine.”

    • Nes

      Hi Cynthia – I think you’re grossly misunderstanding A Sinner here. If anything he represents a very ‘conservative’ perspective: He’s just saying that there is a spectrum when it comes to gender… some guys are more effeminate than others, and some women are more masculine than others. There’s nothing heretical about this – he’s just pointing out that despite how ‘masculine’ an individual is, if one is not anatomically male, one cannot be a priest. Moreover, even if one is anatomically a male, one can be a very ‘girly’ kind of male and still be ordained. The emphasis is on sex not gender. Get it?

  • Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit….Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine.

    It seems to me it’s quite possible (even probably) that the universe is teeming with life, and our notion of male/female (which is really more about men and women in human culture than male and female in the entire animal kingdom) is nowhere near universal.

    • Nes

      Well, the concept of dialectic is universal – and the “male/female” paradigm is just a reflection of that. Black/white, male/female, hot/cold – there is a antithesis to every thesis etc – this is a kind of universal principle. I mean, even on the material level we have matter and anti matter in the universe.

      • Why would you say male and female are opposites? Catholicism makes a great deal of the complementarity of the sexes. I don’t think that complementary and opposite are at all the same thing. As I recall, Isaac Asimov has a novel about aliens who have six genders. Even here on Earth, we have species that change genders naturally:

        Some species exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. In these species, such as many species of coral reef fishes, sex change is a normal anatomical process. Clownfish, wrasses, moray eels and other fish species are known to change sex including reproductive functions. A school of clownfish is always built into a hierarchy with a Female fish at the top. When she dies, the most dominant male changes sex and takes her place. In the wrasses (Family Labridae), sex change is from female to male, with the largest female of the harem changing into a male and taking over the harem upon his disappearance.

        If clownfish were intelligent creatures, would they really say, “Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit”?

        • Clownfish, however, do not define how human beings construct reality or what is intrinsic to the structure of human consciousness and meaning.

      • Right. But, again, this is a construct of human categories (which we as humans can’t escape). There is no reason to believe that the thinking of extraterrestrial brains (if they even have “brains” as we understand that concept, or at least in some analogical sense) would have the same dialectic structure or work with the same categories that human meaning does in our construction of reality. As such, they’d probably be mutually unintelligible to us, and so not even recognizable as Subjects.

    • That really doesn’t/wouldn’t matter. WE’RE humans, and as such the meaning we construct can only possibly be human.

      I question, actually, whether any extraterrestrials, however “intelligent” in terms of their accomplishments…could ever be Subjects or Persons as we understand it, as Meaning-Making beings, exactly because the Meaning we’re talking about their is human meaning, and there is NO reason to believe the “programming language” of our brains would be compatible in any sort of mutually intelligible way.

      I’m pretty sure that the extraterrestrial intelligent life, then, would turn out like Solaris or 2001: A Space Odyssey…simply wholly other, without any sort of ability to communicate meaning because Meaning is a human thing.

      • WE’RE humans, and as such the meaning we construct can only possibly be human.

        A Sinner,

        Then it is certainly grandiose to say, “Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit….Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine.” What in the world can be meant by “cosmic masculine and feminine” if the meanings we can construct only apply to humans?

        It seems to me “cosmic masculine and feminine” is not only blatantly anthropocentric, but anthropocentric from a patriarchal point of view.

        Regarding aliens, if we are supposed to love and understand God, I don’t see why intelligent alien life forms should be “wholly other.” Certainly the assumption of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is that humans and extraterrestrials could share enough in common to communicate.

        If human beings are “made in the image and likeness of God,” then why would other intelligent life be different? We don’t think of angels as “wholly other,” do we? Are there male angels and female angels? If so, what are there characteristics? If not, why doesn’t the “cosmic” principle of male and female apply to them?

        • Christianity is anthropocentric though, too.

          And humans can’t be otherwise. The universe can only be meaningfully said to “exist” even, reality can only be meaningfully constructed…in human terms (which we also believe are God’s terms).

          Other constructs of reality would be, essentially, other realities, and as such would be entirely meaningless to us as humans.

          “Certainly the assumption of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is that humans and extraterrestrials could share enough in common to communicate.”

          An assumption, I think, is entirely unwarranted!

          There is no reason to believe that alien brains (or the equivalent, assuming we can even identify a meaningful equivalent) would work with any of the same categories human minds do, including space, time, number, same/different, more/less, cause/effect, or any of these constructions read into reality by minds.

          Extraterrestrial “thought” would likely be more foreign to us than animal thought, and meaningless to us in human terms (the only kind that can be meaningful real to humans anyway).

        • Angels are an interesting case. It is important to note that they are pure spirits.

          A good argument can be made that Christianity is essentially humanistic, and that angels are conceptually intrinsically bound up with human meaning in God’s creative schema; after all, God intended to incarnate as a human being, not an angel.

  • Ronald King

    Sinner, you stated, “Christianity is all about Reason subjugating the passions.” Or, could it be said that Christianity is about the use of the defense mechanism of intellectualization to suppress the passions and thus preventing the passions to mature in a human and spiritual sense? When there is a lack of maturity of the passions symptoms of chaos appear randomly throughout one’s life and the system one inherits. The true feminine counterpart is not chaos but community.

    • “Community” is not the opposite of “Order” or “Reason” so claiming it is their feminine counterpart doesn’t really make any sense.

      Your Dionysian view is one that has its advocates. Usually they wind up eventually running off and worshiping the Earth Mother, often at night so that the big bad patriarchal Sky Father can’t see them.

      But Christianity, obviously, does not believe in your psychologizing caricature of it, so your narrative in this regard is simply mutually exclusive from it.

      The pagans will always see Christianity as Puritanical and repressed, and Christianity will always see the pagans as hedonistic and rapturous. And each won’t understand what’s so bad about the others accusation.

      • Ronald King

        Sinner, Christianity as it exists is a “psychologizing caricature” of human beings. I agree that community is not the opposite of order or reason. Community can be something which appears orderly and reasonable but in fact it may be a source of chaos and disorder if the reason for its existence is constructed on misinformation and a disordered or fragmented psyche. It is not the Christian faith that I am questioning. I am in disagreement with the understanding or misunderstanding of the psychology of human beings in particular the understanding of gender and its role in the Catholic church as interpreted from scripture by male authorities. I am probably unable to make my point clear due to the difficulty of verbalizing what I know. Your label of me holding a Dionysian view is evidence of my inability to clearly state my perspective.

        • No, I think your perspective is quite clear. It’s just that it’s a perspective based on values external to the Faith (Freudian ones, basically). But the Faith is a totalizing system and admits of no “external” interrogation, as if there are values higher than it by which it can be judged (nor as if it falls short of its own values by some sort of alleged internal contradiction; that itself implies applying rules of logic regarding what constitutes a contradiction…that are themselves foreign to the system itself and imposed from the outside). The rightness or wrongness of your view of what constitutes psychological health should be judged through the Church, not the other way around.

  • I know I’m coming to this very late, but a couple of things:

    One, I agree with Peter Paul Fuchs regarding Kreeft. As a bit of a dilettante in Chinese philosophy, and while not claiming to be more than that, I have read quite a bit of it and I don’t think Kreeft knows what he’s talking about in that regard.

    Two, I’d recommend the fascinating Women and the Priesthood, an anthology of essays from an Orthodox perspective on the title subject. I don’t recommend it in this context because of the discussion of ordination per se (as a matter of actual fact, I don’t have a problem with the all-male priesthood; although if women were to be ordained, I wouldn’t have a problem with that, either) but because of some interesting discussions of gender as a concept.

    Both Kallistos Ware and Nonna Verna Harrison in their essays, in particular, make a point of noting that the Orthodox Church Fathers had very little interest in gender as a concept. Ware in particular is worth quoting, my emphasis:

    If we turn now to our second question–What is the theological significance of Christ’s maleness–we discover a second weak link in the “iconic” argument. For the fathers, while repeatedly emphasizing Christ’s humanity, have very little to say about his masculinity. Of course the particularity of the Incarnation required that Christ should be born at a specific time and place, from a specific mother, as a specific human being with a real human body and a real human soul. He did not become human in merely an abstract or generalized sense, but in such a way that he could be “seen with our eyes” and “touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). From this specificity it follows that he could not be both a male and a female at once; he had to be either the one or the other, and he was in fact a male. But this is not the matter on which the Fathers chose to concentrate. What matters for them is not the fact that he became male (aner, vir), but the fact that he became human (anthropos, homo).

    I’ve come across this in other areas as well. The Orthodox don’t generally see the “iconic” argument for the male priesthood as relevant or even correct, since for them gender seems to be more a matter of accident (in the philosophical sense) than essence. That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement–I’m not saying they don’t think that gender or sex is irrelevant or insignificant to us as embodied humans. They just don’t see it as deeply foundational to our whole humanity (as the Theology of the Body tends to do) or as a transcendent category (as Kreeft intimates). I even read a contemporary Greek theologian a few years ago (can’t remember his name) who even seriously put forth the theory of Adam as originally androgyne who was later separated into male and female. I doubt most Orthodox would go that far! Still, that he even said it, and that such a statement would never appear in a Western Christian theologian’s book shows that the cultural attitudes towards gender of the East and West are vastly different, much more, I think, that we tend to suppose.

    Jordan: TOTB’s quantification of satisfaction could harm marriages, especially if a couple does not live up what they perceive as the ideals of the lecture series. The latter could happen even if a couple remains faithful to the vows and doctrine of the matrimonial sacrament.

    I knew a couple whose marriage was greatly damaged by exactly this, and who ultimately divorced (one left the Catholic Church altogether). There were other problems, but this was a big part of the mix; so what Jordan says here is not just an abstraction. It happens.

    • “The Orthodox don’t generally see the ‘iconic’ argument for the male priesthood as relevant or even correct, since for them gender seems to be more a matter of accident (in the philosophical sense) than essence.”

      Those who constantly judge Catholicism by the standards of Eastern Orthodoxy (especially in terms of deciding what doctrine is essential and which isn’t)…should probably go become Eastern Orthodox!! (Usually, though, I suspect that such people don’t really want to buy into all of Orthodoxy; rather, they want to crib this or that element from it, often out of context, simply as a foil to deconstruct Catholic teaching in the direction of less strictness.)

      Seriously, though, I would make two points:

      A) the “iconic” idea is lifted directly from Paul, so if some (or one) Orthodox you read dismiss it, they are dismissing a symbolic dimension that is made extremely explicit in Scripture.

      B) while arguments can be put forward as for why the all male priesthood is eminently fitting, ultimately the only “argument” that is definitive is, as John Paul said, because Jesus only appointed male apostles, and a female priesthood was never part of the orthodox Catholic Church.

      Christianity is, as I said above in this thread already, an entry into a historically contingent community and the traditions of that community. In a certain sense, a practice needs no more justification other than that it has always been a marker of belonging to Christ.

      This can be said about many things including our morality. Say, our sexual morality. I have no doubt there is an inner logic to it, and so in that sense it is not arbitrary but relates to a certain conception of what constitutes a proper moral construction of the Good.

      But ultimately, it basically boils down to, “This is good because this sort of behavior is a defining marker of a person as a member of that community started by Christ and going back to the Apostles,” and in some ways is thus little different than the Jewish law’s purpose. It doesn’t matter why they didn’t eat pork; what mattered was that not eating porked marked them as a member of Israel and not of the surrounding pagan nations. It made them “sacred” by setting them apart through boundaries.

      Christian practice can be argued to work the same way. This is why it is perhaps artificial to draw a boundary between something like attending Mass on Sunday and not fornicating, or receiving baptism vs. not murdering. Really, all these things are ultimately obligatory as markers of identification with the Christian community.

      Now we do have our “natural law” concept which we expect as a sort of minimum for non-Christians (just like the Jews have their Noahide Laws). But ultimately, even this is ultimately seen as necessary only inasmuch as it identifies these people in a basic way (specifically, a way not requiring acceptance of supernatural revealed premises) with the Christian God/conception of the Good (which, unlike the Jewish one, now makes universalizing claims as the only valid one for all humanity; the Church and humanity are SUPPOSED TO BE co-extensive, even if they aren’t in practice).

      In some ways, then, the “discipline/doctrine” distinction is artificial. Or, rather, is a difference in degree rather than nature. The only difference between the Catholic “marker” of not eating meat on Friday and the Catholic “marker” of not contracepting…is that the former is one that applies to a specific time and place in the Church (but has not always and everywhere marked Christians) whereas the latter has been a marker “since day one” and therefore can’t be changed without, in the process, redefining the parameters of what it means to be a Christian (and thus breaking a continuity of identity with the original community and Christ event).

      The Sunday Obligation is a good example of this. The Third Commandment is often seen as, essentially, a “ceremonial” precept mixed in with the “moral” precepts of the rest of the Ten Commandments…but in reality there is little difference. Both, for the Jews, were markers of distinction, were part of the “boundaries” defining the Jewish community. For Christians, the Sunday Obligation might ultimately seem like a “discipline,” like an “ecclesiastical precept” rather than a “moral” precept…and yet it’s generally admitted that, while the Church has always had a little leeway when it comes to the specifics (does Saturday night count? granting dispensations. Additional Holy Days of Obligation, etc)…even the Pope could never change the Sunday Obligation to, say, Wednesday. Because Sunday goes back to the Apostles as one of the basic “markers” of the Christian Church (whereas other things, like clerical celibacy, can’t be called essential because they have not been something that has applied at all times to all Christians going back to the start).

      There are few questions raised for this viewpoint by the Apostolic prohibition on eating blood (generally recognized as “just a discipline”) and on the question of women veiling or not taking a public role in church. Generally, I’d say, we just have to accept that, while very early and instituted even under the Apostles, they were understood as being adaptations imposed on the Church due to a specific situation in a specific subset of Christian communities (ie, they may go back to “day 2,” but they don’t go back to “day 1″…this distinction, I think, is really the only difference between Tradition with a capital T, and tradition with a lower case t) and as such do not constitute part of the essential “boundary lines.” However, the fact that they are so early (and in the case of women’s liturgical behavior, remained for so long, albeit modified for nuns, etc)…SHOULD give one pause before suggesting tampering with it, and should explain (for those who are all for innovation) why these questions are so emotionally charged for traditionalists (even if they will recognize they are not “day one essential”).

      In the case of the male priesthood, then, no “theoretical” justification is ultimately needed other than that this practice is traceable back to “day one” of Christ establishing His community and establishing its boundaries and “markers.”

      We would full admit that day one is historically contingent. The Incarnation took place in history. Saying that the all male priesthood just represents the social milieu of first century Palestine, or that our sexual morality just represent the taboos required by a certain economic or patriarch order…is not argument against them. From day one, the Christian community organized around perpetuating the Christ event…made some innovations, yes, but also accepted some of the restrictions of its time and saw them as essential markers of being a Christian or of being Christ’s Church. This is Tradition with a capital T, and it is its own justification given that the Christian community (and its delineated boundaries) is, ultimately, an end in itself, and belonging to it, being in communion with it (by living up to its standards/markers) defines (for Christians) the good life. So its practices need no “absolute” justification, even. They are relative to community membership and the defined boundaries and markers of that community.

      • I wasn’t opposing the all-male priesthood, as you see if you re-read the post. I should have pointed out that neither Ware nor Harrison favors ordination of women (though Ware opines that it could hypothetically happen in the future if the Holy Spirit moves in such a way). The point was that they (and many other Orthodox I’ve read) reject the iconic argument for the all male priesthood. Generally when Orthodox give a reason, it’s on the grounds of Tradition–essentially the same idea you’re putting forth here.

        My main point was that neither gender nor sex seem to be very important in the Greek fathers. I think that there is a stronger tendency towards neo-Platonism in the East (since they never had a Scholastic movement–though some were influenced by Western Scholastics in the Renaissance), and from that perspective the Form of humanity would tend to trump any differences in physical sex or culturally constructed gender.

        All human forms of communication are contingent and imperfect; so to the extent that Church dogma must be expressed in such forms, it is never going to reflect Ultimate Reality perfectly. I think this is the point Kyle was making in a different way on the other thread. That’s not the same as saying that doctrine is relative or that no doctrine is irreformable or normative; it does say that we have to be very, very careful in talking about what is “infallible” or “definitive”. Thus, I’d say that in one sense neither the Catholic or Orthodox Church has a perfect fullness of understanding of the faith; and that to the extent that understandings are contingent and conditioned, in some cases they may alter over time with the effect that doctrine “develops” or even (from a human perspective) “changes”.

        I think the greater circumspectness of the Orthodox in defining dogma outside of Ecumenical Councils and reluctance to think in terms of infallibility–at least as understood in the West–is a better and healthier idea than what we have in the West. Certainly the East doesn’t put itself in the position of having to strain to show why doctrines that demonstrably have changed haven’t really done so. A good example–the Catholic Church has declared that the Monophysite and Nestorian Churches are not to be considered heretical even though their creeds and the language they use hasn’t changed an iota on the grounds that what they mean by the words isn’t reeealy what those churches believe. It’s either the original heresiarchs who believed that Christ had only one nature or that Mary was only Christotokos; or that the language used just wasn’t properly understood. Too bad about the waste of time on all those anathemas back in the day and all those councils like Chalcedon….

        Anyway, by your rationale here and in terms of the “totalizing system” (something you’ve said was a bad thing in seminaries!), why have theology, councils, explanations, and so on? Why not say, “This is our belief, take it or get out”?

        • The point of theology, councils, explanations, etc…isn’t to try to persuade people who will not be persuaded. We can say “This is our belief, take it or get out” AND have theology, councils, explanations, etc. But those explanations are for those who ALREADY believe (hence the old aphorism, “For those with faith no proof is needed, for those without no proof is enough”)

          There is nothing difficulty about orthopraxy. Orthodoxy does have some more of the epistemological and semantic problems (though really not so) that you point out, but orthopraxy is quite simple.

          Everyone knows what it means, concretely and in practice, to ordain males only, and that it would be a change to ordain females. No amount of semantic obfuscating by those attempting to stir up confusion can get around this. The same thing with moral norms, etc etc.

  • Ronald King

    Sinner, my perspective is quite clear according to your perspective of what I am attempting to describe. “Faith is a totalizing system and admits of no external interrogation…”–I absolutely agree. It is not the Faith I am judging. It is the materialistic expression of the Faith I am judging whose construction is based on the conscious and unconscious cognitions of finite human beings. And since we are not fully self-aware, internal investigation must always be open for exploration. You may call it Freudian if you want. Christ even told us that we don’t know what we are doing. Interrogation, psychoanalysis, mindfullness, meditation, prayer, etc. are all means available to us to help free us from the history of human suffering which we have all inherited.

    • You say you’re merely judging “the materialistic expression of the Faith”…but what you are calling the material construction of the Faith…I call the Faith. From the perspective of my Faith then, at least, what you’re doing is inadmissable. I must conclude we have two separate faiths, and your faith has values separate from and indeed extremely divergent from those of my faith.

      • Ronald King

        I believe we have differing beliefs within the faith and different interpretations of how the faith is to be expressed. I know how I came to this point in my faith since 2005 when I accepted everything that you have stated thus far about the faith that you believe. Since that time I have been moved to a different perspective within the Faith.
        This perspective is more inclusive even though you state it is inadmissable in your Faith.