The Equivocal Sense of 'Complementarity'

The term “complementarity” has been referenced frequently this week on social media and in traditional media as the Vatican hosts an international, interreligious conference bearing the title: “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium.” The aim of the gathering, according to the conference’s website is “to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.” And the response has been predictably mixed.

Initial reactions have tended toward one extreme or the other, either extraordinarily enthusiastic or unapologetically critical. My reaction, so far, falls somewhere in between.

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I’m curious to see what arises from this gathering, interested to know what has been and will continue to be said by this group of invited speakers, all of whom represent diversity in culture and religious tradition, but nevertheless all appear to represent a hegemonic view of the meaning of marriage, the identity of the human person, and the role of biological sex and gender in both of those subjects.

The Social & Vocational Sense of 'Complementarity'

Yesterday I Tweeted an open question about whether or not a true diversity of scholarly and spiritual views would be represented at this gathering, to which one of my colleagues here at America responded with a reference to a line from Pope Francis’s address to the assembly in which the Pontiff cautioned against thinking of complementarity in terms of a “fixed and static pattern.” To understand the full context of that remark, we must appreciate that in the preceding paragraph Pope Francis quotes St. Paul’s writing on the diversity of charisms in the Church (1 Corinthians 12) and then says: “To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.” 

Pope Francis then ties this general sense of complementarity as a vocational or social reality to the aim of the conference; namely, the complementarity of ‘man and woman’ within the context of marriage:

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

Why am I quoting this at length? The reason is that “complementarity” is being used in very different ways at different points this week, yet treated as if it was a univocal term.

In the case of Pope Francis’s address to the assembly quoted above, his use of “complementarity” arises from the Pauline charismatic or “spiritual gifts” language that, in context, pertains to the harmony and unity of the ecclesia, which is the Body of Christ. Insofar as every woman and man has been gifted with a particular vocation to be used at the service of church and world, then all people do indeed have “complementary” gifts—each different, but nevertheless important—and should therefore view such bestowals as deserving of equal respect and dignity, regardless of who is a teacher and who speaks in tongues.

The way that Pope Francis appears to be using the term “complementarity” here is in a social or communal setting, one that highlights the call we have from God to use our gifts for the service of others and to seek to work together to build up the harmony that God has intended for all creation from the beginning. Concerning the dynamics of marriage, Pope Francis then applies this to the social implications of work, home life, and individual dignity and respect that relates to husband and wife. Drawing on the social or vocational use of “complementarity,” Pope Francis appears to be suggesting that just because one spouse is a “man” and one spouse is a “woman” doesn’t mean that either should be restricted to some preconceived social or vocational role, a static view illustrated by “women stay at home,” for instance, and “men go to the office.”

In this sense, the social or vocational use of “complementarity” by Pope Francis should signal a positive step forward. Culturally and, in some parts of the world, civilly, women are not recognized as having comparable standing in the eyes of the law, their spouses, or perhaps even God. Pope Francis is calling for a more-capacious sense of the social setting and valuation of individual gifts and responsibilities of all women and men, and this is something about which to rejoice for sure.

However, this is not the only way that “complementarity” is being used this week at the conference. Insofar as the title of the gathering, “complementarity of man and woman,” means this social parity that Pope Francis is alluding to – then I suppose this is perfectly fine. But this is simply not the case.

The Ontological Sense of 'Complementarity'

The other way that “complementarity” is being used – or, perhaps better put, being presupposed – is ontologically as the foundation for the operative theological anthropology undergirding much, if not all, of the discussion.

As I sought to show in a scholarly article published in the journal Theological Studies last March (“Beyond Essentialism and Complementarity: Toward a Theological Anthropology Rooted in Haecceitas), the traditional theological categories of essentialism and complementarity, which are often presented as intended by God as illustrated in the Book of Genesis, are deeply problematic. Theologians, philosophers, and critical theorists have shown over the years that the ontological presupposition of complementarity – which basically amounts to a metaphysical “separate but equal” stance – is actually a paradigm that necessarily subordinates one biological sex or gender to the other according to a framework of hierarchical dualism. In this sense, there is no true egalitarian view of the human person, but instead a reinscribed ordering of persons.

The operative theological anthropology that grounds the theme of this week’s conference is one that is deeply committed to an ontological view of both gender essentialism and complementarity that goes deeper than Pope Francis’s admirable call for social equality in recognition of our complementary gifts and vocations.

As Joshua McElwee reports in the National Catholic Reporter, the other speakers that followed Pope Francis were defending this ontological sense of “complementarity.”

German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke after the pontiff and focused his remarks on the male and female imagery found in the creation stories of Genesis.

Tying the imagery of the Adam and Eve in the Genesis story to mankind's relationship with God, Müller stated: "When we forget sexual difference, then it becomes difficult to understand the marriage bond between God and his people."

Here the discussion is fundamentally one focused on “sexual” and “gender” differences, which concretize certain supposed immutable roles. Like Müller, Sr. M. Prudence Allen, another speaker, criticized the questioning of these ontological presuppositions of complementarity. McElwee reports:

In her remarks, Allen warned against gender and sex ideology, which she said were founded on "deceptive methods."

Those ideologies, she said, "distort the true equal dignity and difference of women and men."

"Like a cancerous cell these ideologies grow, often obliterating the true meaning of marriage," Allen said.

In brief, one of the most pressing problems with this worldview is the equating of an individual’s dignity, value, and human identity with his or her biological sex or gender. Yes, there are differences between men and women, but in what is our human dignity grounded?

There are other theological resources in the Christian tradition that do not rely so heavily on the Aristotelian teleology of, for example, Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth-century scientific and philosophical worldview. It is this sort of framework that continues to govern so much of our theological anthropology and subsequent ethics. In the article mentioned above, I propose at least one possible orthodoxy alternative to this grounded in the insights of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher. But there are also others to consider, including ones more compatible with our increasing knowledge of humanity and the world from natural and social sciences, psychology, and other fields. Many of today’s most pressing theological and pastoral questions are tied to a theological anthropology desperately in need of renewal in light of our Christian theological tradition and the advances in human knowledge of the last several centuries. Some of these questions include the role of women in the church, the meaning of human sexuality, our relationship to the rest of creation, and so on.

While Pope Francis’s call for more social parity in terms of recognizing the complementarity of every person’s vocation, there is still a need to address the deeper ontological subject of complementarity in our theological understanding of the human person. And I don’t think that’s going to happen in Rome this week.

Daniel P. Horan, OFM is a columnist for America and the author of several books including, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing (Ave Maria Press, 2014). His website is: www.DanHoran.com

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Harry Childers
3 years 5 months ago
I simply don't understand why the Church is so obsessed with sex and gender difference. Yes, a male's sperm and a female's egg is necessary for reproduction. Why does the difference between the sexes necessarily apply to anything else in life? Once the child is born, every function of the family can be handled by either a man or a woman. To say otherwise implies that a family does not exist unless there are two parents of different sexes. This is simply untrue - there are many, many successful single-parent families headed by either a man or a woman. Having two parents only eases the parental burden by sharing parental (and family) tasks. And, for that matter, are childless couples not considered a family by the Church? I hope the colloquium honestly and openly discusses these issues. If not, I will doubt the validity of whatever conclusions they reach.
Anne Chapman
3 years 5 months ago
Another excellent article. Daniel Horan, OFM, your contributions to this journal are a breath of fresh air.
Jeanne Follman
3 years 5 months ago
The Church has always taught that the human person is first and foremost a child of God—not a worker, not a cog, not a consumer, not any other way that he or she may be defined. Such definitions look at people only in a utilitarian way, and the Church has always objected to that. Yet this is exactly what complementarity does. It trumps basic humanity with gender. And it's as much a bunch of baloney as looking at people primarily as "workers" or whatever.
Robert Lewis
3 years 5 months ago
I strongly agree with Jeanne and also with what Mr. Childers has written below. The question of "complementary" human natures is right now far too much informed by John Paul II's overly romantic "Theology of the Body," which posits a "natural law" based ONLY on Revelation as well as archaic ancient Greek and Medieval teachings, and almost completely divorced from modern scientific research other than what supports patriarchal family arrangements. I think it's about time that folks began to realize that what Christ ACTUALLY taught as the most ideal sexual posture (forgive the pun) was "Eunuchdom" for "the Kingdom's sake," and I think that Catholic theologians and popes might do well to ponder more on WHY he taught that, rather than just dismissing it as an archaic chiliast manifestation.
Thomas Iraneaus
3 years 5 months ago
I'm sorry Daniel, but your essay makes no distinguishing difference between phenomenology, ontology, and epistemology, although you mix these ideas all over the place, confusing The Church's position by not explaining where its deficiency lies by using big words and masking your biggest presupposition which is the politics of equality and not the study of essence nor a deeper reflection of what makes us children of God. By ignoring these differences, you set your perspective on questionable philosophical ground and allow folks to imbue their perspective by distorting the reality of all these things. You've done a disservice to your readers by conflating all these issues together without clearly explaining anything.
Daniel Horan
3 years 5 months ago

"Thomas Irenaeus" (I'm assuming that is a pseudonymn), you're correct about one thing -- I don't adequately distinguish among "phenomenology, ontology, and epistemology" in this brief piece. The required brevity of this post permitted only an opportunity to make a key distinction between the way in which Pope Francis was talking about "complementarity" in the Pauline sense and then applying it to marriage in his address AND the more foundational sense of complementarity that, admittedly, is much more complicated than space allows here to illustrate. This is precisely why I make mention of my Theological Studies article in which you'll get a fuller sense of my point with greater detail as well as an abundance of resources in the footnotes for pursuing this elsewhere. Critique what is written for what it written if you'd like, but critiques about what is not written are not helpful.

Thomas Iraneaus
3 years 5 months ago
I've read your article and I was referring to the more detailed article. You're right that I need to detail the criticism, but, unfortunately, in a comment box, it is not possible since it would be unwieldy. Nevertheless, my criticism stands in as much as your brief piece here in America stands, which makes the article you've written here all the more unfortunate.
Tim Reidy
3 years 5 months ago

Sir, please use your full and correct name in the future. 

Thomas Iraneaus
3 years 5 months ago
Please stop deleting/nullifying people's account and censoring them. Tim you couldn't more childish and immature. This is my real name.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
I was glad to see the Holy Father reiterate by his attendance and opening speech at this conference the well-established Catholic understanding of the complementarity of the sexes. Despite Fr. Horan's protests, I think it does not make sense to see complementarity other than as ontologic or existential. It is the only way to make sense of the heterosexual imperative in marriage, of the unique role of Adam, of Jesus, of Mary (who all could have not been the other sex, given the natural law God imbedded into human creation), of the confinement of the priestly role to men and of the moral prohibition against homosexual relationships. In other words, it goes way further than a kind of culturally bound role playing. Failure to see it as part of our anthropology is what underlies so much gender confusion today in theological and social circles. I recognize that something like complementarity has been used by some traditional elements of society in the past to support subjugation of women, and I reject attempts to conflate its truth with fixed societal roles. It of course does not mean that the positions of women and men in society, in professions or in leadership are fixed. And, it does not mean there is an inequality of human dignity. But, the biological and maternal roles and paternal roles are intrinsic when it comes to a child's needs from their mother and father, and to a healthy relationship between a man and a women, or in certain theological roles. As Pope Francis said in the same speech, "Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Gino Dalpiaz
3 years 5 months ago
MISSING THE FOREST FOR THE TREE With three or four measly lines, Daniel P. Horan gives short shrift to the long, masterful intervention by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the complementarity of man and woman. It’s probably the most important submission of this entire International Colloquium and will surely become the main point of reference. It is a brilliant and clear analysis of the man-woman complementarity, an analysis that deserves serious study. Alas, Daniel Horan went off on his own tangent and pursued his own prefixed agenda. He missed the forest for the tree.
Abigail Woods-Ferreira
3 years 5 months ago
First, I read Dan Horan's article in Theological Studies a few months back while doing research for my MA thesis and found it very illuminating and refreshing. Kudos, Dan. Second, Mueller's comments on how the differences between men and women show up particularly in parenting would be amusing if they were not so tragic when taken too seriously as absolutes in real life. Mothers are characterized by "constant presence" and Fathers by "distance?" No. No No No No No. As a wife and a mother, a hundred thousand times NO. It is stifling cultural attitudes like this, hardened into capital T Truth, that are responsible for so much therapy, misery, and divorce, for so many people being truncated and unable to grow into their fullness as persons. Christianity has a beautiful mystery contained in the paradox that "God created them male and female" and "In Christ there is no male and female." All people are called to be Christ, and all are called to be Christ-bearers like Mary. There is distinct masculinity and femininity for sure - but all Christians are called to grow in the fullness of BOTH. The great icon of the Father who begets the Word in eternity, giving him all his nature in its fullness, is the Virgin Mother who bears Christ in time, giving him all her nature. The Word is masculine, but Wisdom is feminine. Yet both are references to the same Second Person of the Trinity. The male medieval mystics saw their souls as the Bride, as feminine. Julian of Norwich called Jesus "mother." Perpetua envisioned herself a male warrior going into battle before martyrdom. Masculine and femininity are central to the Christian mystery, but they are exactly that - a MYSTERY. A fluid, dynamic mystery. There are lessons in this fluidity for married couples. I see it in how fatherhood brought out all of my husband's "feminine" and maternal traits - presence, tenderness, and nurturing, and I see it in how motherhood brought out my paternal and "masculine" traits - strength, leadership, the urge to provide. I am glad we don't see each other as "Man" and "Woman" who need to adapt static roles, but as persons complimenting each other, teaching each other, and through each other growing - both of us - into the fullness of both masculinity and femininity within our individual persons. We are both Christ, and we are both Christ-bearers; we are both masculine, and we are both feminine, and this is a Great Mystery. I feel like the fetishizing of static cultural roles for men and women, as Mueller does, does a great injustice to the Christian mystery of maleness and femaleness. It makes it too small. It manipulates it for ideological ends. And worst of all, it boxes men and women in and prevents them from expanding themselves to develop as fully human and fully Christian.
Anne Chapman
3 years 5 months ago
Christianity has a beautiful mystery contained in the paradox that "God created them male and female" and "In Christ there is no male and female."All people are called to be Christ, and all are called to be Christ-bearers like Mary. There is distinct masculinity and femininity for sure - but all Christians are called to grow in the fullness of BOTH. Thank you, Abigail, for your insightful comments. To complete the sentence - God made them male and female in GOD's image. GOD is neither male nor female. To image God the church must reflect this truth - it must reflect equally both the masculine and the feminine, rather than divide, according to a cultural stereotypes Muller and others are misusing in the name of "complementarity". As you note, and it bears repeating I feel like the fetishizing of static cultural roles for men and women, as Mueller does, does a great injustice to the Christian mystery of maleness and femaleness. It makes it too small. It manipulates it for ideological ends. And worst of all, it boxes men and women in and prevents them from expanding themselves to develop as fully human and fully Christian.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
Anne - keep in mind that it is the feminist fetish that first began to drive a wedge between the settled doctrine on male and female in the teaching of the Church. It was the feminists who decided to take umbrage on the language of male and female (e.g. the phrases "all men" or "mankind" suddenly became to exclude women, when that was never intended, or the idea that calling God the Father was somehow an insult on women, or the change of women, to womyn). Same with the gay crusade. The Church is only defending what it always taught. If there is any obsession, it is with the revolutionaries. Complementarity goes in two directions. What Cardinal Muller and Pope Francis mean about complementarity could only be considered insulting if one has an inferiority complex.
Anne Chapman
3 years 5 months ago
I responded. but the response has apparently disappeared into the ether. As to 'inferiority complexes", one might note that it seems to be the men, especially many in roman collars, who exhibit this trait as they attempt to hide from a world where women are becoming "equal" in almost every sphere of the educated world. This fear of having to work with women as full equals points to a sense of inferiority by those men, insulated from normal interactions with women throughout their adult entire lives, who are threatened. The church will not be healthy - in a holistic sense - until it reflects true complementarity,until it reflects the truth that God is not a man, God is not a woman. The image of God given in Genesis requires both, as both male and female are made in God's image. The church reflects only the male. Sadly, this has caused a lot of distortions, a lot problems. I did not read your other comments. Perhaps my earlier, longer response will reappear. Tim, I have learned that there is no possibility for real discussion between us. However, since you addressed this to me, I thought I should tell you that there is really no point in addressing comments to me. I no longer read your comments - I just skip to the next comment so of course, I also skip exchanges between you and Michael and others. I'm sorry, but I lack Michael's patience and can use my time more productively. As could you.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
My response is above.I am for true complementarity, as defined, not by me, but by the Holy Spirit.
Tim Reidy
3 years 5 months ago

Full names please!

Michael Barberi
3 years 5 months ago
Daniel Horan, A good article on a highly complex subject. I did read your article in Theological Studies and agree with some of your arguments. I particularly liked your reference to Scotus's haecceitas and I quote you: "The value of human personhood is located within the context of the principles of individualization, which is really identical with, yet formally distinct from, a person's actual existence or being. Value and dignity, then, are not located within a given person's status as male and female, just as they do not reside within the structures of the "human". Individuals are what God primarily intends, not the biological gender or the socialized and constructed gender shared among a certain population. Fundamentally, all people share, on some level, their status as contingently existent, and, on another level, their nature communes as something we might call "human", but any further demarcation is an a posteriori material distinction that falls outside the traditionally essentialist and a priori ontological foundation that is the ground for theological anthropologies that engender complementarity." I think such an statement, while being a small quote from your article, does not fully account for "complementarity" as in an ontological, philosophical and theological anthropology, especially when one is attempting to understand more fully why members of the same sex cannot enter into a permanent, faithful and loving relationship, while still striving to grow, individually and as a couple, into human well-being and human flourishing. The hierarchy's argument involves many issues and principles, not just complementarity, to condemn homosexual sex or same-sex unions/marriages. This may not have been the intention of your article regarding a definition of complementarity, or in its application to contemporary problems such as same-gender unions/marriages. Nevertheless, I find the Holistic Complementarity, Truly Human Sexual Acts, and Sexual Norms, as explicated by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, a more compelling and understandable reflection on the issue of complementarity in the discussion of sexual morality. I am not certain that the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis will change the doctrine on marriage as between a male and female, but I hope that Pope Francis's much anticipated Apostolic Exhortation will spring forth a more welcoming Church for those with a same-gender orientation/inclination and a more realistic path to their salvation other than a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Such a discussion is far to complex and lengthly for a blog comment here. It would only repeat what I have said regarding other more related articles in America Magazine. I wish you well in your studies and works. The Catholic Church needs many scholarly perspectives on this most important issue.
John Schuh
3 years 5 months ago
None the less, there is no more essential difference physically between a man and a woman than their sex. Adam’s Rib is not inferior to Adam and in fact refers to the specific power of the woman. Men and women are different sides of the same coin, but more than that, different sides of the generative power.
Michael Barberi
3 years 5 months ago
I am not certain exactly what you mean. If you mean that the generative power, as in a man and woman, is some type of required complementarity for a marriage, this is controversial. The hierarchy does not require children in a marriage for it to be valid. Nor does the hierarchy require a specific number of children. Pius XII said that couples can be exempted from their procreative obligation for "good reasons" and practice NFP for a long time "or a lifetime". While the overwhelming majority of Catholic marriages have children, some couples are infertile, and others don't want children for good reasons. If this is not what you meant, or even if it does, I think we should leave such discussions for another time because it will require a lengthly analysis. The point of my comments was that complementarity is a complex issue and there are good arguments on both sides of this issue, both for and against the Church's teaching and interpretation of complementarity in the context of sexual morality.
Terence Weldon
3 years 5 months ago
I am grateful for Pope Francis' observation that "When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. " I go further: complementarity is not found only between man and woman. As a gay man who was once married to a woman, I know this from my own experience. I found far greater true complementarity, in many diverse respects, including parenting, in a twenty year relationship with a man than I ever did in an ill-advised, tragic marriage that I went into in a youthful misguided attempt to stay obedient to Vatican sexual ideology.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
Possibly the greatest theologian of the 20th century was Hans Urs von Balthasar. On this subject of the Christian meaning of male and female, he described the book by Manfred Hauke as "Undoubtedly the definitive work available on this important topic." The book’s title is “Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption” and is available here: http://www.ignatius.com/Products/WITP-P/women-in-the-priesthood.aspx. It had a huge influence on my thinking when I read it many years ago, as it deals comprehensively with the modern gender controversy in terms of anthropology, biology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. It is important to recognize what the Catholic Church teaches on the meaning of man and woman. Only then can one decide to accept or reject it. Here are some key excerpts: Under the subtitle “Equality and difference willed by God.” - 369 Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. "Being man" or "being woman" is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity "in the image of God". In their "being-man" and "being-woman", they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness. - 370 In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband. And under the next subtitle “"Each for the other" - "A unity in two" - 371 God created man and woman together and willed each for the other… - 372 Man and woman were made "for each other" - not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the other, for they are equal as persons ("bone of my bones. . .") and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming "one flesh", they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator's work. The Humanum conference has some brilliant videos that meditate on the meaning of man and woman. See here. http://brandonvogt.com/humanum-videos-extraordinary-display-marriage-family/. The videos are very beautiful, ecumenical and international. I think this conference, with its ecumenical participation and deep reflection on the fundamentals of humanity, will have considerable influence on the 2015 synod. Note that these videos are in no way superficial and there are interviews with adopted child reflecting on his idea of a family tree and and even a homosexual man in a relationship (3rd video) considering his duties.
Abigail Woods-Ferreira
3 years 5 months ago
I read through the lists of participants in the Humanum conference, and there didn't seem to be any eastern Christians or Orthodox, which would be a terrible oversight for something billed as "ecumenical." Metropolitain Kallistos Ware has a lovely reflection on gender and its deeper Christian meaning titled Theotokos: Icon of Human Freedom at St. Nina Quarterly, that is well worth a read and reflection, especially on this Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. What I particularly like about the Eastern perspective on Men and Women in the Church is that it does not bypass the mystery but engages its full complexity, keeping it centered on what everything should be centered on; that all are called to grow in likeness to and relationship with Christ, and that is what primarily defines our humanity. I think Pope Francis, in his comments, also maintains this balance. Both Metropolitan Ware and the Holy Father give views of complementarity that are rich and liberating. That said, I am starting to feel like the constant discussion in the Church over family and "pelvic" issues has started to get out of balance. Not that family is not very important. But Christianity is not primarily the religion of Traditional Family Values (even when some of those values are harmonious with it). Christianity is the way of ascesis, of justice, of theosis, of sanctification, of union with God. Healthy Christian families are made up of healthy Christians, and healthy families are nurtured by a healthy society that embraces Christian principles of justice and charity. I love talking about all this as much as any grad student, but I think the Gospel for today's feast has an insight for all of us, amid all of our talking and worrying and discussing and politicizing and theologizing about family life: "Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things; one thing is needful."
Anne Chapman
3 years 5 months ago
Tim, I see you have commented. I did not read your earlier comment (nor have I yet), as I have realized that true discussion is not possible between us, so there is no point in spending the time. However, you addressed this to me, so I will respond. You have your opinions; I have mine. The creation of metaphors for the Divine reflects the cultures of the communities that created them. As we know from Genesis, God is not a man, nor a woman - God made them male and female in God's image. God is not a human being. Jesus was a human being. Jesus lived in an ancient patriarchal culture, one that would not have accepted a woman (not equal to men) as their "messiah" - not even as a teacher. To do his work in that culture at that time of history, Jesus had to be a man. In ancient Israel, the father - the patriarch - had all power. He had life and death power, actually. It was logical that the ancient Israelis would "see" God in the context of their own culture - the all-powerful patriarch/father. In the church, the refusal to use inclusive language is simply one indicator of the patriarachal mindset. Why force a literal translation when the words "came for us and our salvation" conveniently includes all? Us "men" does not have the same sense. At least the Turkish PM is more honest about his beliefs than are the men in Rome - he openly admits that he believes that women are not "equal" to men. The men in roman collars attempt to disguise their true beliefs, but they are clear to anyone who hasn't closed their minds to the truth. The Prime Minister of Turkey is in your column it seems, along with Mueller. Note the comments about motherhood etc, and also those of observers about how this form of "complementarity" justifies violence against women in some minds. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has [declared] that women are not equal to men and [is] accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers....., Mr Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach. “You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” he said. “It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different.”....Mr Erdogan added: “Motherhood is the highest position ... Lawyer ...Hulya Gulbahar said Mr Erdogan’s comments were in violation of Turkey’s constitution, Turkish laws and international conventions on gender equality and didn’t help efforts to stem high incidences of violence against women in Turkey. “Such comments by state officials which disregard equality between men and women play an important role in the rise of violence against women,” Ms Gulbahar said......Mr Erdogan, a devout Muslim, ... has previously angered women’s groups by stating that women should bear at least three children ..... http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/world/women-are-not-equal-to-men-turkish-pm-tells-womens-conference-652235.html
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
Anne - you can't seem to help yourself, but thanks for the response anyway. My point is that God the Father is Master of all times and cultures and not subordinate to them. He designed the Jewish culture to prepare a fitting place for His Son, so it is not so easy or theologically correct to throw that away, as Marcion tried to do. The Church has to deal with the heresy it encounters, and does not address all theoretical possibilities a priori. So, if someone comes up with the claim that the Church is unfairly favoring humanity over the rest of created beings, the Church will have to defend that, even though someone will no doubt say they have an exclusionary fetish about humans. As you would know (if you actually read my comments, as you claim not to), I reject all arguments against the full and equal dignity of men and women, even if they have different charisms, callings or duties. I never consider it a sign of inferiority that I do not have a priestly vocation. I am confident in my own vocation.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Anne, Thanks for your comments. In my opinion, Tim will always argue against anyone, who in any way, criticizes the Church and any of its teachings regardless of the reasons offered. If you offer a good argument that he cannot answer, with anything that is remotely persuasive, he will change the subject or start arguing about another issue. It is difficult to debate Tim for many reasons. I, like you, choose when and how to do it, and the frequency of my debating Tim is decreasing for good reasons. I would add that JP II had similar views about women. To him, women were equal to men but were better suited for certain roles, such as motherhood and caregivers. He believed that Western feminism made motherhood subsidiary to business careers. It split the personality where exterior emancipation and equality were replacing the ideal of motherhood. He never understood Western women, including women religious, and they never understood his philosophy either. The argument that Christ chose only men for his apostles cannot be translated into a divine teaching that only men can be ordained priests or bishops. During ancient times, no one would believe a women. They had limited status. The Church will likely never ordain women as priests. However, we can pray for that day.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Michael and Anne - I only respond to your comments when you misrepresent the faith. I do not expect to convince you (although I do believe in miracles), but I do not reply with that intention. I write mainly for others who read our back-and-forth. You are important, just not that important. In particular, I want to make sure non-Catholics with an open heart and mind do not have to see all the carping and false representation of the One True Church on this Jesuit site without at least somebody pointing the flaws out. I am amazed how frequently Michael prays for the Church to have a different doctrine, on so many things. Religion means to bind oneself to a set of beliefs and a way of living. Michael seems to have bound himself to a future imaginary church.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Tim, This will be my last comment to you on this blog regardless of any erroneous assertions you posit including misrepresenting what I write and my intentions. I never misrepresent the Catholic faith as in the deposit of faith. I argue for a development and a change in certain moral teachings for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. You are entitled to your opinion Tim, but your opinion is not the absolute moral truth even when you claim you are merely repeating a teaching of magisterium. You can never allow any room for disagreement regardless of the reasons offered because you are blind to the truth in any argument that is in tension with a magisterium teaching. To you, the magisterium has never reformed a teaching taught as truth in the past, and can never err in the present or in the future on the many moral teachings facing families today. Examples are Humanae Vitae and any pastoral change such as Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain conditions. I can hope, pray and respectfully argue for change in the Church regarding some moral teachings. This does not make me any less faithful to Christ as your words imply. Nor is Religion ask us to bind ourselves uncritically to every moral teaching. There is a doctrine on the informed conscience that does bind us, and I do not choose this as a scape goat for my disagreements. I bind myself to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I respect the Church, the pope, bishops, priests, theologians and other Catholics. You can disagree for good reasons Tim and remain a faithful Catholic. You simply cannot accept that. All you see are people, like myself, who are merely misleading good Catholics, defaming a pope, denigrating the magisterium, professing a distorted reasoning and bringing scandal perhaps unintentionally. You are the self-appointed savior that must do anything to defend the Church. You can never truly see how negative you come across to other people, when you choose words and construct replies to others. I don't object to your belief in every teaching of the magisterium Tim. Nor do I question your faith. I object to your style of argument, pure and simple. God bless.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
I consider the Catechism (CCC) to be the Deposit of faith. That is essentially what I defend. It is really true, if you would only listen to it.

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