Saturday, 24 September 2011

Male and female he created them...

This post is a continued reflection on a comment I made when discussing the inappropriateness of women on the sanctuary during Catholic liturgy with Part time Pilgrim (see here and here for the discussion).

I mentioned that I did not know why women should not be on the sanctuary: in these rationalist days, a damaging admission to make in any argument; however, it is the truth.

I could also add that I don’t know why women can’t be priests.

But Ben, you are completely undermining your own positions! you gasp in horror.

Not so.

For though I do not know the reasons, I know the second as a simple fact, guaranteed by the teaching authority of the Church, following the example of Our Lord Himself. And the first I am pretty sure of due to the constant practice of the Church through the centuries (and see the previous discussion for further reasons).

So are we called to blind obedience?

No. But there are times when we are called to obedience first, and to seek understanding second; and I think this area may be one of those.

Let’s take the issue of women’s inability to be Catholic priests. If we are Catholics in the traditional sense of that word, we accept the teaching of the Church (by constant practice, Papal teaching, successive Catechisms etc) that women cannot be priests.

We may then seek to understand why that may be the case. In the first instance, it is clearly because of the example of Christ, and the constant tradition of the Church. But that only gives us the reason for the teaching and the obedience. We may legitimately wonder why Christ instituted a male priesthood. And then we are in the realm of speculation.

But if we read the Bible with a Catholic intellect, we will notice right at the start: male and female he created them. There is a difference there. And this difference is clearly of sacramental importance: matrimony is the way by which the race is to be propagated.

Anna and I have been discussing the male-only and wondering if there is any link with the damage due to Original Sin. Immediately after the Fall, Eve is told that she must submit to Adam, and Adam that he must work.

Is there a sense in which the damage to women and the damage to men is different? Is it that women need to learn obedience and men to learn to be industrious? I notice that Our Lady is particularly honoured for her unquestioning fiat: obedience. And that until political correctness put the boot in, women were required to obey their husband in marriage.

Of course, one can easily think of men who are extremely industrious - workaholics, even - and women who are so obedient as to be too passive: but maybe both of those are simply the other end of the same damaged stick.

And I love the idea that woman is the higher in the order of creation, and that Christ became Man so as to enter the race in its lowest condition...

As I say, that is all speculation: I am thinking out loud and have reached no conclusions.

But that man and woman are different - and not merely biologically as some would have us believe, seems to me to be a clear and observable fact.


Part-time Pilgrim said...

I think there is a danger when considering what the Church teaches of reading things into that teaching which are not there.
Having years of experience of teaching boys and girls there is some truth in your implication that girls tend to work harder and boys are more comfortable with hierarchy and authority. Perhaps these differences continue into adulthood (but seem less noticeable to me with colleagues than with students). Whether these differences are innate or socialised I don’t know. In any case, as you acknowledge, there are plenty of exceptions to this general rule (and calling it a “rule” is probably giving it too much respect). Given this, your suggestion that these gender differences are as a result of the fall is seductive and if so seduced you might infer that this lies, at least in part, behind the Christ’s choice of men as his Apostles.
However I think your reading of Genesis 3 is wrong (and hence, not Catholic). For a start, Eve is not told she must, much less that she ought, to submit to Adam but that Adam will dominate or rule over her. The difference is subtle but important. Note neither Mary (at the Annunciation) nor Jesus (at Gethsemane) is dominated by God. Both freely submit to his will and so are obedient. We see a contrast to Adam and Eve who freely broke it and were disobedient. Secondly, whilst some of the curses are clearly sex-specific – men do not suffer in childbirth – some clearly apply to both sexes – for example, women and men both die but this curse is laid on Adam alone. I believe the Catholic reading of the second part of the Eve’s curse is that following the first sin, which both Adam and Eve shared since they sinned together, as well as their relationship with God being damaged, so is their relationship with each other. From now on relationships between men and women, as well as being characterised by mutual love and support will now have elements of lust and a struggle for power. Just as women die as a result of the first sin, men are also lustful and women can be domineering. This part of the curse, like death, applies to both sexes.
Whilst lots of Catholics may have believed that men and women have different lay roles because they are fundamentally different, and many still do. I do not think it is what the Church herself teaches. Thus men can be nurses and women can be engineers and fathers can be homemakers without offending the teaching of the Church.

Ben Trovato said...

I agree that there is a danger of reading things into teaching that are not there, but speculation is I think allowed, until it contradicts teaching. We are meant to think about our Faith, and seek understanding.

Just to be quite clear, I was not suggesting that gender differences are a result of the Fall; quite the contrary: as I hope the title of the post indicated, I believe they are part of the order of creation.

My musings were about whether the damage of original sin was different for men and women.

I think you are too quick to condemn my reading of Genesis, though I agree that personal interpretation of the Bible is hazardous; and were I merely extrapolating from that, (and perhaps from Anna’s desire that I should be more industrious, and mine that she should be more obedient...) then you would be right. However, on the basis that a Catholic approach to the reading of the Bible is that we interpret any part in ways that are harmonious with the rest, I think I have some grounds for my tentative (and that’s all I ever claimed it to be) reading.

To start with the text, my Bible (Knox, my preferred translation) has: ‘and thou shalt be subject to thy husband, and he shall be thy lord.’ But in the light of your comments, I pulled my Vulgate off the shelf and find: ‘et sub viri potestae eris, et ipse dominabitur te.’

Is this descriptive or prescriptive? It’s hard to tell - so on the principle I mentioned earlier, let’s see what else the Bible has to say about the relationship of man and women in marriage, and with regard to obedience. Oh yes, here it is: Colossians 3:18 ‘Wives must be submissive to their husbands, as the service of the Lord demands,’ Knox again; in the Vulgate: ‘Mulieres, subditae estote viis, sicut oportet, in Domino.’

Of course we have to consider Galatians 3.28 (‘no more male and female’) too, but that is clearly not relevant to marriage, if we are to interpret in accordance with the other Catholic criterion: consistency with the teaching of the Church .

Do you not think that man and woman are fundamentally different? If you do not, how do you account for the male-only priesthood? Or is that, in your view, another area where we are stuck with old ways because we are so unteachable? I am genuinely curious.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

To answer the first question first – I think men and women are fundamentally the same. Check out Galatians 3:28. However it would be idle to ignore that fact that there are gender differences. The problem is that I am not quite sure what they are and I am sure that if they are incorrectly identified they become a form of tyranny. Being proper men (or women) is important to human beings and false gender distinctions can, I believe, prevent people from making full use of all their talents as we are called to do.

I don’t know why Jesus chose only men as Apostles. It may be to do with differences between the sexes but I can’t see why. It may be a practical choice for both then and now – in a patriarchal society a male priesthood makes sense and today a mainly celibate priesthood might be difficult if ordained men and women had to work closely together.

You won’t like my “preferred* translation” (The New Jerusalem Bible) which renders Gen 3:16 as: “I will give you intense pain in childbearing and you will give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning will be for your husband and he will dominate you.” Whether or not women should obey their husbands is a separate question. However since all the other curses are descriptive rather than proscriptive I think Gen 3:16b is prescriptive too. This interpretation matches what the Catechism says (400). (I think you will be happier with the authority of the Catechism rather than the NJB). I know next to no Latin so I can’t try my own interpretation of the Vulgate.

I also think that Col 3:18 (and Ep 5:21 which makes very tough demands on how husbands should love their wives) are calls for married couples to strive to return to the pre-fall harmony between men and women. I don’t believe that this requires the husband to lead and the wife to follow (although it doesn’t preclude that either). I know that the text is clear in both cases, but in Col 3 and Ep 6 Paul goes on to talk about the correct treatment and behaviour of slaves. I don’t think you could use this to say that slave-owning is a morally acceptable choice today so we need to be careful about applying what goes before uncritically in today’s society too. Again, looking in the Catechism I find nothing that says a wife should obey her husband. Also the fact that the word “obey” has been removed from the Catholic Rite of Marriage indicates to me that wifely obedience is not one of God’s requirements.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

*Calling it a preferred translation suggests I have done lots of research and chosen the one I like best. This is not the case, it just happens to be the translation I own.

Ben Trovato said...


I love the honesty of your post script! I couldn't claim to have compared loads of translations either.

I know the Jerusalem as we used it at school. I don't dislike it but treat it more as a companion to the Bible - ie I think it often casts interesting light or raises good questions, but I don't find the language inspiring or uplifting for devotional reading (or liturgical use come to that).

Knox I like for four reasons: the recommendations of those whose views I value, the fact I love his other writing and know it to be thoroughly scholarly and orthodox, the fact that it was probably the last time an individual scholar rather than a team translated the whole Bible successfully, and finally its readability: both sufficiently modern and sufficiently hieratic (thees and thous etc).