Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Can You Be Both Fully Human and Fully Male?

[revised]

Last week the Catholic News Service published an interview with Father Wojciech Giertych, who serves as the pope's personal theologian, on the topic of the male priesthood. For whatever reason, this article got deeply under the skin of a number of liberal Catholics, and I've seen a certain amount of chatter about it on Facebook. One of these posted a link to a response to the interview written from the point of view of Eastern Orthodoxy, which bears the provocative title: Is Jesus human, or male? The article argues as follows:
Father Giertych states: “The son of God became flesh, but became flesh not as sexless humanity but as a male," the implication of which is summarized by his interviewer: since a priest is supposed to serve as an image of Christ, his maleness is essential to that role.

This is the classic argument put forward by Catholics, that the priest stands ‘in persona Christi,’ translated by Orthodox into the ‘iconic argument.’... Here, I am more interested in the salvific implications of emphasizing Jesus’ maleness, implications which unlike priestly liturgical symbolism, are shared by Catholics and Orthodox.

A fellow Orthodox theologian recenlty summarized this position: ‘the ecumenical formulation of Chalcedon, that Jesus Christ was perfect God and perfect human being, reaffirms this position, i.e. the male character of priesthood.’ This a very dangerous theological argument. If ‘dangerous’ seems strong language, consider the implications of this line of thinking.

Taking seriously the Incarnation is to declare that Christ is fully human. What he has not assumed is not healed. This is a consistent belief of Orthodoxy, and a ‘first principle’ of our entire soteriology: we are able to participate in theosis because Christ has taken on our humanity, all of it. It is also a principle that underlies the legitimacy of Orthodox icons: because Christ took on matter, we can depict in matter Christ as well as all those women and men who exhibit the holiness which the Incarnation makes possible (this is addressed in Chapter 3 of my dissertation, ‘The Glory of Embodied Diversity: Icon, Virtue, Gender).

In the Incarnation, Christ’s humanity includes all that makes both men and women human. If we say that his full humanity leads to the ‘male character’ of any human role or relationship such as priesthood, then we are implying one of two things: either he is not fully human as he did not assume whatever it is that constitutes female humanity, or we declare that only maleness contains full humanity, and that females may not actually be fully human. The former denies the ecumenical formulation of Chalcedon, it constitutes heresy. Orthodox would never agree to such a thing. At least not intentionally.

The second option however, subtly permeates Orthodox and Catholic theology, and, I believe, underlies many of our liturgical practices.
This is one of those examples where I read an argument and was fairly sure right off that it's wrong, but it took me a while to try to express exactly how. I'll give it a shot, and hopefully those readers who are more philosophicaly inclined than I can correct and clarify.

We believe that humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and that this applies to both men and women. (In his image he created them. Male and female he created them.) We also believe that Jesus became fully human in the Incarnation.

However, the author seems to assume that "fully human" is some sort of discrete set of characteristics to which some other non-essential ones are bolted on in order to make a given "fully human" individual a male or a female. Thus, Jesus may have been a male, but there are by this formulation no important differences between men and women -- otherwise we'd have to conclude either that Jesus was not fully human (because he was male) or that women are not fully human because only men are.

[update]Okay, now I'm wondering if I have this backwards. Is the author implying that "fully human" is some sort of combination of both male and female characteristics? Thus, being male or being female is being only part of humanity, and if Jesus were fully human, we have to believe that in some sense he was both male and female? In that case, we'd have to say that Jesus was the only fully human person in history, whereas all other actual humans have been only male or female, but not human. Which is, so say the least, a bit odd. [/update]

I think this lets a wrong assumption in through the back door. It is, it seems to me, one of the essential characteristics of being fully human that one be either a male or a female. If you weren't male or female, you wouldn't actually be fully human because one of the characteristics of humans is that we are creatures who have a sex. Thus, while both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God (and thus, by implication, God encompasses both what we think of as male and female) you can't actually be human without being either a man or a woman.

Thus, it seems wrong to say that Jesus was either fully human or fully male, but not both. In order to be human one needs to be either male or female.

9 comments:

mandamum said...

I think your title by itself points out the ridiculousness of trying to put full humanity in competition with being specifically male. And can you imagine anyone suggesting such things if we replaced "male" with "female"? Thanks for teasing out the assumption.

Brandon said...

I think you are exactly right. The argument states:

In the Incarnation, Christ’s humanity includes all that makes both men and women human. If we say that his full humanity leads to the ‘male character’ of any human role or relationship such as priesthood, then we are implying one of two things: either he is not fully human as he did not assume whatever it is that constitutes female humanity, or we declare that only maleness contains full humanity, and that females may not actually be fully human.

But becoming any kind of human (male, female, or anything else anyone might want to add) is becoming fully human. If we deny this, then we are committed to claiming that nobody is fully human: nobody could be fully human unless they were every kind of human, which nobody can be. Clearly we have to start with the claim that both men and women are each fully human. Thus Christ, being man, is ipso facto fully human, and he has assumed and healed the fully human nature shared by men and women alike. But it wouldn't follow from this that there aren't other conclusions one could draw from Christ's being male in particular (regardless of whether these arguments themselves are good or bad for other reasons).

The strictly technical explanation, I think, would be that the argument handles reduplication improperly. From the claim, "Ordained priests are to be male because Christ became fully human as male," it assumes we can get "Females are not to be ordained priests because to be female is not to be fully human." But this is all wrong; the original claim is logically consistent with saying that someone can be fully human as female but that being female is not relevant to ordained priesthood, for whatever reason.

Darwin said...

Ah, I see that Brandon already arrived at, via his comment, what I was stumbling towards with my update.

Literacy-chic said...

The academic in me wants to point out that people who were born hermaphrodites are not either male or female, but both. Now, I think the best point to be made is that having biological characteristics of one or the other gender, and even of both, does not make anyone more or less human. I didn't really want to go there, but you had two moments that sort of begged for it:

Thus, being male or being female is being only part of humanity, and if Jesus were fully human, we have to believe that in some sense he was both male and female? In that case, we'd have to say that Jesus was the only fully human person in history, whereas all other actual humans have been only male or female, but not human.

The above scenario is absurd, but I'm sure there is some liberal theologian who would go there.

And then your conclusion:

Thus, it seems wrong to say that Jesus was either fully human or fully male, but not both. In order to be human one needs to be either male or female.

Because there are biological anomalies, and people who do legitimately have male and female biological features--okay, organs. And they are no less human. I know that is not at all what you were arguing, and I don't want anyone to think that I am grossly misreading.

If anything, I want to agree (I think) that this gender-based thread of theology is a very difficult tangle to write about, much less to comprehend. I believe that whether male or female, we all partake of a common humanity, and that Jesus also possessed that common humanity, but that his humanity was deliberately manifest in the male gender. And I'm not sure whether I'm agreeing or disagreeing with Father Giertych. I think I agree, based on this: "In the Incarnation, Christ’s humanity includes all that makes both men and women human." But he seems to be using this as a jumping-off point to show a thread of thought that considers women less fully human. And I actually think that historically, those threads exist.

Darwin said...

Actually, the hermaphrodite point did occur to me -- mostly because I grew up arguing with Episcopalians for whom hermaphrodites seemed to come up in ever dang argument -- but I didn't include a discussion of it because I figure it's a bit of a side issue.

My most basic response would be that hermaphrodism is a sort of birth defect -- essentially that humans are meant to have a sex, and when they come out with parts of both that's akin to having some other physical abnormality. It doesn't make someone less human, it just means that they've experienced a handicap.

However, one doesn't necessarily have to get into that, since the point would hold either way if one expanded to: It is not necessary to have every possible human characteristic to be fully human, because all humans are human despite having only those characteristics specific to their persons.

Paul C. said...

That Jesus saved all human nature when he took on human nature is certainly true. However, merely stating that fact, or agreeing with it, does not enable us to see how each aspect of human nature was saved.

(1) What was not assumed was not saved.
(2) Christ, in his own body, assumed only what is male, and not any part of what is female.

Both of these are true. What is not correct is to deduce that there is somehow a problem (whether logical or otherwise) in explaining why females are saved. What is missing is finding a way in which Christ actually did, in some way, completely assume what is female. "Assume" does not necessarily refer to to a physical assumption in one's own natural body, but might refer to an assuming of a different kind.

As John of Damsacus pointed out: "It is to be observed that there are two appropriations: one that is natural and essential, and one that is personal and relative. The natural and essential one is that by which our Lord in His love for man took on Himself our nature and all our natural attributes, becoming in nature and truth man, and making trial of that which is natural: but the personal and relative appropriation is when any one assumes the person of another relatively, for instance, out of pity or love ..."

Now, if only there were some female figure that Christ was continually involved with in a salvific way, intimately involved in her whole life, right from the very first moment of her existence ...

Banshee said...

Paul C. -- And that would make perfect sense. In a certain sense, a male baby does share his mother's female body, yet without them being the same body or the same sex.

But also, I think the argument being advanced (that we're both arguing against) is being incredibly sexist in the name of not being sexist. We're once again in the Leftist Looking-glass Land, where Eve either has to be Adam or Not-Adam, but never Adam's Rib.

Not a wine critic said...

Another thing about hermaphrodites: most hermaphrodites actually, socially manifest themselves as either male or female. So even they are consistent with the contention that to be human is to be either male or female.

Baron Korf said...

Would it be reasonable then to go to Genesis 2:22-23? If woman is formed of man's side, then she would be included in the formula of the Hypostatic union?

Also we could look to the mystery of the Incarnation. Our Blessed Lord took his flesh from Our Lady, correct? So we have the mirrored typology of Genesis and the Gospels both showing the sexes (hah, palindrome!) as distinct yet unified.

I don't really know where to go with it from there, that's just what went through my mind.