Cosmic masculinity and femininity??!!!“>

Last Wednesday we watched the first of the Humanum video series which was produced by the Vatican after a three day inter-faith conference on marriage and the family. After we watched the video Conal asked us to reflect on Peter Kreeft’s statement that ‘male and female are biological, masculine and feminine are cosmological…The God who invented sexuality invented the universe, the two fit…It’s a happy philosophy, we fit the nature of things’

This caused a lot of head scratching (my own included!) In fact I kept scratching my head and thinking about what it all meant! I hope this can help…!

I think the key word to focus in on to understand this is ‘cosmos’ which is the Greek word for ‘order’. What Kreeft was getting at is that the whole universe (sun, moon, land and sea) is ordered in a way that reflects the complementarity which is present between a man and a woman.

We can see this in the first Genesis account of creation in which God creates order (cosmos) over the ‘formless and empty’ earth (Genesis 1:1) by diving land from sea (Gen 1:9) the day from the night (Gen 1:18) and animals that fly in the air and those that crawl on the ground (Gen 1:20) and so on. Throughout the account this sense of opposite but complementary things working in harmony is bolstered by the constant refrain ‘and there was evening and there was morning- the first/second/third etc…day’

The grand finale to all of this is the creation of humanity.

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them

It is not by accident that the author of Genesis specifically mentions that God made humans as male and female, reflecting what has gone before in the creation of the world. Humanity is the crown of creation (i.e. the creation goes from the most basic -plants- to the most complex organisms-humans) so we could say that humans are the best expressions of this complementary principle which is running through the universe. Therefore we can legitimately identify this cosmic principle as masculine and feminine. However there is something even deeper going on here since the author of Genesis says that humans are made ‘male and female’ in the image of God. In other words there is something about humans as male and female that reflects God. This makes sense since, as Kreeft points out, the God who made sexuality also made the universe. The creation bears the marks of its Creator.

This is not to say that God is a strange mixture of a man and woman, but that when men and women come together in love as free persons they reflect the fruitful love of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son and the bond of love between them is the Holy Spirit. When a man loves a woman a third person is created, the child, the fruit of their love.

The family therefore is an icon of the Holy Trinity. N T Wright expresses this beautifully in the video when he points out that many scholars read the first Genesis account as God constructing a temple of heaven and earth. When a temple was built in the ancient world the final thing that would be placed inside it was an image of the god that was to be worshipped there. Therefore man and women together are a living image of God.


Misreading St Paul on women…

‘women will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness and self-control.’ 1 Timothy 2:15 

photo credit: duane_j

I remember studying that passage in my theology undergraduate class at university and prickling with anger. So, I thought to myself, men are saved by the cross and women are saved by having babies?!  I remarked wisely to my lecturer after the class that it was clear that the misogynistic attitudes of the age in which St Paul’s lived had not been purged away by his new faith. This was surely biological determinism painted onto the canvas of Christianity? She heartily agreed, however as soon as I had made the remarks I felt a voice somewhere in my heart protest. I knew I was missing something that would flip the whole passage around.

The truth is I was reading the passage with secular eyes. I was seeing child-bearing and motherhood, because of its obvious challenges and sacrifices, as something to be despised. Being a mother is hard because it demands the totality of the person, body and soul. The sacrifice a mother makes for a child goes beyond that of the father as she literally gives her body for the life of the child. She says to her unborn child ‘this is my body given for you’. After the child is born she says to the baby ‘take eat, this is my body’.

Motherhood is a radical way in which woman can imitate the total gift of self that Christ made of Himself. Through child-bearing women’s bodies become eucharistic. Is it any wonder then that St Paul says that motherhood, lived in union with Christ, can be redemptive? For St Paul imitating Christ is key to being His faithful disciples. He writes in Philippians “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself.” (Phil. 2:5-7)

Self-emptying in order to serve others is what we are all called to in our various situations and walks of life. Women, by virtue of their amazing capacity to bear another human person within their bodies, are able to live this in a very radical way through their parenthood. Of course St Paul was by no means saying that women can only live this self-giving love through motherhood. If he believed that would he write a paean of praise to men and women who devote themselves to the celibate life? ‘Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do… An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.’ (1 Cor.  8 , 1 Cor 32)

Saint Paul is not, as I thought, restricting women to their biology. He is in fact doing the opposite by showing how the female body can be the means by which women claim the salvation Christ has won for them. We must never forget that Christianity is a religion of the flesh. The great Church Father Tertullian wrote, “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”.  We are redeemed through the flesh of Christ and one day hope to be resurrected in our flesh. Saint Paul knew this profound truth and he meditated upon what this meant for women. This is not biological determinism, this is theological destiny.