Holloway on: The Theology of Gender
The theology and the very life of the Catholic Church is built upon nature, and the concept of a nature is one of ministry and function. The very idea of a nature means that something is integrated into an environment, that through the laws of this environment it is subject, i.e., cannot do whatever it likes. The being or creature that does as it likes first breaks up the life of other things around, and then dies out itself. The idea of the nature means that we are interrelated, and inter-defined, in all that we do and are. Nothing can do as it likes. Pleasure, greed, and hedonism dominate the rich West. Nothing in our way of life is of its nature integrated into nature, into the concept of related meaningful function and ministry. In philosophy this would be called Nominalism: the denial of mutual inter-definition both to be at all, and to be fulfilled rightly and beautifully, and in true order, in one’s being.
Feminism as a repudiation of nature
For the purposes of this article, Feminism is a case in point. Every heresy builds upon an unperceived or ignored truth. The discrimination against the woman not as the result of nature as such, but as the consequence of sin, is beautifully underlined in Genesis 3:16.
“I will multiply thy conceptions, but also thy sorrowing.
Thy love shall turn to thy husband, and he will lord it over thee”.
This is the damage done to the nature of man and woman, and to the nature of marriage. The nature itself is good, and as nature, the law of fulfilment in both male and female. The work of God lies in the purification and restoration of nature, i.e. of the right ordering of human life and being. To deny the order of nature is an utter destruction, greater than the damage of coarseness and concupiscence caused by sin. The essence of the Feminist Movement is the denial of nature, and the denial, with contempt, of the family and its proper integration between man and woman. The modern argument goes: women from their function as childbearers have to lose the personal freedom and career mobility of males, of men. Not fair! So we will destroy womanhood as defined unto the male, the womb as defined unto the male genital, the family as the priority of sexual activity and meaning. They would prefer to be second class men rather than be first class women. There should not be females; not fair! In so far as women have to bear the children for life to continue, they should be compensated for the inconvenience and injustice as all workers are compensated for “unsocial working conditions”. The culture of humankind must become unisex. The fact that it is not so in any other form of advanced life is irrelevant.
The definition of Feminism as a philosophy lies in the refusal to recognise the “nature”. That is to say the essential relationship of life to the environment within which it finds its law, and therefore the true joy and fulfilment of its being. The concept of their “nature” inter-defines both man and woman in terms of a mutual subjection to each other in the parental role: such is not servility but the core of all ministry. The recognition of role, of ministry, of function, ordered from the within of things, defines the cosmos from the first explosion of ordered energies with which all things began. If existence had been based on “I will do as I like”, then nothing could have emerged from the “Kingdom of Chaos and Old Night”. The very laws of physics, let alone the evolution of complex living creatures, are built upon the basis of natural order, of pre-definition of one form of life to another.
Such a “law” is obvious from the very fact that neither the male nor the female body is intelligible alone and in isolation. This inter-definition of “ministry” goes beyond biology; it includes every psychological and physical relationship of male and female, but most fully in the covenant of marriage and family life. The fruits of the breakdown of the acceptance of a human “nature” is manifest: the condom mentality, sexual union as a passing pleasure, the broken home, abortion, the unhappy, disturbed, and often criminal child, - for to be loved as primary, is part of the nature of childhood expectation. Then, homosexual “marriage”, lesbianism, the infidelity which follows from the division of sexual union from spiritual and life-long love, etc. etc. The list is endless. It is written God forgives always, men forgive sometimes, but Nature never forgives. The state of Western society is the nemesis of Nature, which cannot forgive, because consequences follow automatically from obedience or disobedience to the nature of things.
The Church must build on natural order
The Church has always followed “the nature of things”. She cannot build on “I will do as I like”. She cannot build either on a “democratic process” which in effect means human opinion at its best, and the indoctrination of the masses by the media power of money, sex, commercial interests at its more usual. She must build on the nature, the environment which gives the law of life. This is the meaning of natural law, the way God has defined things one to another in the environment of Nature, and in Himself as the Environer of mankind: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). In the realm of the soul and brain, because of the equality of both brain and spirit in the sexes, there will always be women who can rule and manage magnificently. But the natural order will dominate, and within that framework the woman has time, power. loving attention, the attention of psychological priority, of care for and physically love for the children of the marriage. In the career priority of modern women in the modern world, time and again this does not happen. The home and housework are a dreary, impoverishing bore. We know there are true reasons why so many women have to go out to work. We know there are so many self-deceiving reasons why they “must”. Money and immediate acquisitions top the list. An “interesting” life is a close second. So you get the bitter remark made to me by a teenage boy sent to a psychologist for treatment: “She’s out at work most of the day, and when she comes back, music groups and badminton come next. I just don’t matter”. The mother would doubtless protest with bitter tears “But darling you know that I love you.” But she doesn’t; actions speak louder than words. This is the modern West.
The analogy of “Father” in anthropology and theology
In at least the vast majority of cultures, maybe all, the final God figure is male: God is a father-figure. There are also many and powerful female god-figures. We know there is neither matter nor sexuality in God. Why then this preference? Because a mother-figure of her nature and the defining element of the womb, the vessel of life, bespeaks a determination, and a prompting from another, from one outside. The womb is by very primordial recognition, the vessel which while not merely passive, as the ancients thought, is the vessel of response to a determiner of its life. It is summed up most perfectly in the ultimate meaning of all human sexual mutual ministry in St. Luke (1:35): “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall cover thee with its shadow”. One has remarked elsewhere on the significance of the shekinah, the overshadowing of God, and also on the almost embarrassingly physical meaning of the Greek for “come upon thee”. One could fairly call it a male-female relationship in the conception of Christ as Son of Man, who is already in his Eternity, Son of God. When one adds this to the role of “father” as protector, guardian, and provider of the family and the life of the womb, it is easy to see the preference for father as the proper anthropomorphism for the role of God to mankind in care and love, rather than for a mother figure.
We need to develop the theology of gender. First, it is much easier and much more coherent to do so on the Scotist, and one would say Greek, intuition of the reason for the Incarnation. If we see the Incarnation as the predestined final crowning of all creation in Christ, Son of God and of Man, whose kingly destiny is changed, by the divine mercy, into a painful Redemption of his fallen inheritance, then we have a much more majestic vision of Christ, one much more in conformity with the vision of John and Paul, and one much more capable of development in the theology of gender. The clue is then in the vision of St. John, in the Book of Revelation, the “Woman clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars, the moon under her feet, in the travail of birth” (Rev. 12:1-2). For the “Woman” on our interpretation is first planet Earth, which is literally clothed with the sun, principle of life and fertility, crowned with the galaxies in the consummation of evolution unto Man, with the moon under her feet, “for times, for seasons, for days and for years” until the fullness of the times, the Incarnation of God; always Eternal Son of God, and now made Son of Man. It is a breath-taking perspective of which the fuller sense is of Mary, as “The Woman clothed with the sun”, the fullness of grace, Mediatrix indeed of all graces, whose womb is the vessel of life, offered to God “to come upon thee” for the crowning of the Earth and mankind with the Universal King, Heir of the Age all things visible and invisible.
Therefore we dare to state that the ultimate meaning of gender, i.e. sexual differentiation, is to be found in theology, and is specific for the Incarnation of Christ. It means that the material creation must and ought to offer what is of its own for the body of Christ: He is the Universal King, the Crown of his own creation. That is why the sexes are divided in “the deep sleep” of Adam. The Earth, in Mary, offers the active seed of her womb from its prompting into life, and life more abundant, of God the Word, now phrased for us as God the Son. Through Mary, God is made also Son, or Prince, Source, and Origin, of Mankind. Christ could not be born of the seed of man and wife, nor even of a unisexual human nature. Procreation is the active, and causal co-operation of human persons with God. Their seed of its nature calls for the response of God to create through the soul another, a created person, under God’s own law of mutual causality between God and mankind. To become Incarnate, God needs only, but must have, the vessel and seed of human life, but without that total personal operation which is the law of the being of “another”. God needs the vessel by which He can say of human nature, not human personality, mine and not “another”, for the Eternal Word is already “Me”, a Person. The womb, and the female body indeed, is so obviously a vessel of reception not of prompting or “lordship”. If the husband, in St. Paul’s teaching (Eph. 5:23-33) is the head of the “one flesh” of man and wife, it is only because of the lordship of God over the flesh’s vessel of reception unto 1ife for the Incarnation. It is also in the physical order only as a ministry; for in personality “there is no distinction of Jew or Greek, slave or free citizen; nor is there male or female. For you all are one in Christ Jesus”. (Gal. 3:28)
The re-evangelisation of sex and marriage
If we could teach a theology of gender, we could, and would, be teaching again, and vindicating anew the theology of gender within marriage. This subject seemed too vast to cover well in this article. Yet, the role of the man and the woman in marriage is not that of boss and underling “in all things”, but again the role of meaning and of service, of chivalry and sacrifice, as St. Paul teaches’’’. In the modern world, the man is basically “redundant”, just a sperm bank. Even in marriage, a woman “has a right to do what she likes with her body” and obtain an abortion, however much her husband disagrees. This is of course a lie against the unity of marriage, and the meaning of “two in the one body”. We have to teach again the headship of a husband in the family as akin to the headship of Christ. It is a headship of love, and therefore contains also a certain subjection of role. It is not the arrogance of power that derives from Original Sin. Such a headship, being in the likeness of Christ to the Church, requires a submission to honest truth in the representations and arguments of one’s wife. There is no discord between Christ and the Church, for the truth begets charity, and charity, as pure love, bows to truth. We end an inadequate article with the primary perspective of our beginning. We come back to nature and the meaning of nature fulfilled in grace.
Gender in the theology of mankind
The whole teaching of the Church on marriage, its unity and indissolubility, the teaching of chivalry and purity to our boys and girls, rests on this theme of nature, finding its full meaning in Christ and for Christ. We see, and we proclaim, in our flesh as male and female, the glory of the Incarnation of God. We teach the necessity of two genders that, at the end of the ages, God may set aside the man as begetter of first instance. This God must do for his own personal relationship to the womb of Mary, for the necessity of His own “coming upon thee”. There shines out from this in the sacrament of marriage the beauty of sexual love and its ministry. In this ministry, physical pleasure is quite natural, but secondary to the spiritual and familial vocation. We do not define sex through the orgasm, but through the child.
Because we define sexuality through human dignity and ministry, we see beyond the family, the sign also of a yet fuller ministry of a fatherhood and a motherhood, and a motherhood defined in chastity for Kingdom of God’s sake. It follows from the meaning of sexuality, not in biology, but in Christ, the vision of a nature made for ministry, integrated and made anew in the likeness of the Son of Man, by the grace of God. This is the theology of gender which lies behind the majesty of the Enfleshing of God. This vision and this way is the meaning, the glory, and sheer happiness of the Midnight Mass: a child is born for us, and his name shall be Emmanuel: God with us.
Abridged from the Editorial in the November/December 1994 issue of Faith magazine