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 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.
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.
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.