Sunday, March 15, 2009

Complimentarity Is Not About Gender

Benedict's Address to Participants in Congress on Women

"Recall the Design of God That Created the Human Being Male and Female"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2008 (
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

With true pleasure I welcome all of you who are taking part in the international conference on the theme "Man and Woman: The ‘Humanum' in Its Entirety," which has been organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem." I greet Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and I am grateful to him for being the interpreter of shared sentiments. I greet the council's secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens, and the members and the collaborators of this dicastery. In particular I greet the women, who are the great majority of those present, and who have enriched the conference's proceedings with their experience and competence.

The question on which you are reflecting has great contemporary relevance: From the second half of the 20th century until today, the movement for women's rights in the various settings of social life has generated countless reflections and debates, and it has seen the multiplication of many initiatives that the Catholic Church has followed and often accompanied with attentive interest. The male-female relationship, in its respective specificity, reciprocity and complementarity, without a doubt constitutes a central point of the "anthropological question" that is so decisive in contemporary culture. The papal interventions and documents that have touched on the emerging reality of the question of women are numerous.
(None of which were written by women.)

I limit myself to recall those of my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, who, in June 1995 wrote a "Letter to Women," and in Aug. 15, 1988, exactly 20 years ago, published the apostolic letter "Mulieris dignitatem." This text on the vocation and the dignity of women, of great theological, spiritual and cultural richness, in its turn inspired the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In "Mulieris Dignitatem," John Paul II wanted to delve into the fundamental anthropological truths of men and women, the equality in dignity and their unity, the rooted and profound difference between the masculine and the feminine and their vocation to reciprocity and complementarity, collaboration and communion (cf. "Mulieris Dignitatem," No. 6). This dual-unity of man and woman is based on the foundation of the dignity of every person, created in the image and likeness of God, who "created them male and female" (Genesis 1:27), as much avoiding an indistinct uniformity and flattened-out and impoverished equality as an abysmal and conflictive difference (cf. "Letter to Women," No. 8). This dual-unity carries with it, inscribed in bodies and souls, the relation with the other, love for the other, interpersonal communion that shows that "the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion" ("Mulieris Dignitatem," No. 7). (While sexual differences are an innate pro creative characteristic of earth's biological reality, I'm not so sure these same differences apply across the entire spectrum of human relationships.)

When, therefore, men or women pretend to be autonomous or totally self-sufficient, they risk being closed up in a self-realization that considers the overcoming of every natural, social or religious bond as a conquest of freedom, but which in fact reduces them to an oppressive solitude. To foster and support the true promotion of women and men one cannot fail to take this reality into account. (Then why do you foster and enshrine this same self sufficiency in a celibate religious caste, which "in fact frequently reduces them to an oppressive solitude".)

Certainly a renewed anthropological research is necessary that, on the basis of the great Christian tradition, incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities, contributing in this way to the deepened understanding not only of feminine identity but also masculine identity, which is frequently the object of partial and ideological reflections. (I wonder why he limits this to anthropological research. Perhaps it's because he doesn't like what's being discovered in biological and psychological research precisely because they don't necessarily reflect the "great Christian tradition" and he sees them as "the object of partial and ideological reflections".)

In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions -- the feminine and the masculine -- correspond to and complete each other.

Opening the work of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate last May in Brazil, I recalled how there still persists a macho mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men. There are certain places and cultures where women are discriminated against and undervalued just for the fact that they are women, where recourse is even had to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressures to support the disparity between the sexes, where there is consumption of acts of violence against women, making them into objects of abuse and exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industries. In the face of such grave and persistent phenomena the commitment of Christians appears all the more urgent, so that they become everywhere the promoters of a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women in law and in reality. (You mean religious arguments like JP II used in Ordinatio Sarcedotalis when he said the church did not have the authority to ordain women as priests.)

God entrusts to women and to men, according to the characteristics that are proper to each, a specific vocation in the mission of the Church and in the world. I think here of the family, community of love, open to life, fundamental cell of society. In it, woman and man, thanks to the gift of maternity and paternity, together play an irreplaceable role in regard to life. From the moment of their conception, children have a right to count on a father and a mother who care for them and accompany them in their growth. The state, for its part, must sustain with adequate social policies all that which promotes the stability of matrimony, the dignity and the responsibility of the husband and wife, their rights and irreplaceable duty to educate their children. Moreover, it is necessary that it be made possible for the woman to cooperate in the building-up of society, appreciating her typical "feminine genius."

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you once more for your visit and, while I wish you complete success in the work of the conference, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer, invoking the maternal intercession of Mary, that she help the women of our time to realize their vocation and their mission in the ecclesial and civil community. With such vows, I impart to you here present and to your loved ones a special apostolic blessing. (Why just the maternal intercession of Mary. She has a whole lot of other attributes, such as the vanquisher of Satan Queen of the Angels, and Queen of Heaven and Earth. Those are pretty powerful Spiritual roles not limited to receiving male love and passing it on to others.)


A lot of things have been going through my mind lately and they seemed to have begun focusing with the story of the nine year old Brazilian girl. That story has really gotten under my skin, and it's not just because of it's inherent lack of compassion, but because it called up questions in my mind about just how the Church sees the constantly referred to 'feminine genius.' So I have spent the better part of the last 24 hours researching the Church's concept of 'feminine genius' so I could get some understanding concerning the Vatican's view of pregnant nine year old girls and the feminine liberating qualities of washing machines.

After all my research I've decided JP II's understanding of male and female complementarity is about as close as I'm going to get to the core foundational understanding of the 'feminine genius'. He sets out most of it in Mulieris Dignitatem. JP II spent a lot of words to get to his one core truth: men give love and women receive love and spread it to others. Men are givers and women are receptors which is mirrored in the Church's relationship as the Bride of Christ to the spousal action of Christ Himself. Of course this very concept is also played out in pro creative heterosexuality. No wonder Genesis is the primary scriptural source of Mulieris Dignitatem.

It's pretty simple notion and somewhat elegant in it's simplicity. If only things actually worked that way. The reality is men are notorious for taking, not giving, and women are notorious for enabling men to take. As such it's a system which has seemingly worked far better for men than women, and really lousy for a lot of children. See Brazilian nine year old.

When I read the Gospel's I have the sense that Jesus was actually teaching both sexes it is better to give than to receive, to serve rather than be served, and that nobody had the right to take from or exploit others.

JP II goes on for quite some length citing Gospel interactions in which Jesus does not treat women any differently from men, and in some cases even seems to think they will get His teachings better than men. JP II's conclusion is that Jesus does this because He recognizes women are better 'receptors' of Jesus's teachings.

I read the same passages and wonder if it's not about reception but about comprehension. Comprehension is a product of both reception and understanding. It's holistic. The women of the Gospels are not prone to have Jesus parse everything down to the last nuance, unlike certain male Apostles who seem to be figuring out just how much they can take from the teachings or how much of the teachings pertain to them personally. The women just seem to get it and to put the teachings into practice--fearlessly. They comprehend what Jesus is teaching.

It's not the men who are the principle witnesses to Jesus's Crucifixion and Resurrection. The men are the great betrayers. The men don't begin to start giving until after Pentecost, after they have been infused with the Holy Spirit, and then Acts records that it was both men and women who went out to preach the Good News and do works of wonder. In this case the men had to become receivers before they could become givers.

The real truth though, is that the men accepted the gift offered by the Holy Spirit. I prefer the word consentor rather than receiver. Mary accepted the calling to be the Mother of Jesus, she did not passively receive a gift she did not choose. She gave consent. I firmly believe that if JPII had used the concept of women as consentors and men as requestors we might have a completely different understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the genders towards each other. Especially in sexual ethics. The Church might find itself far more in sinc with secular notions of sexuality and gender and sexual accountability.

But as long as men are seen as active agents and women as passive recipients there will be serious dysfunction between secular society and the Church when it comes to sexuality and gender. The notions of consent and request are innate to both genders and give dignity to both genders. This mutual understanding is what makes good relationships lasting relationships.

Extended to the Church itself, the hierarchy seems to have forgotten they have their ordained power with the consent of the laity at the request of the Ordinand. Marriage is a Sacrament because of the consent of the two parties to their mutual request and the consent of the witnesses to that obligation. None of this needs to pertain to particular gender roles which are based in notions of action and passive reception. Both request and consent are active verbs.

In this sense even Genesis makes the case for request and consent. Adam bemoans his single fate and makes a request of God and voila God consents and Adam has Eve. God requests Adam and Eve refrain from eating from a particular tree and they don't consent and voila we have separation from bliss and all the delightful things which have followed. The Jews subsequently make request after request of God to save us from our folly and He consents by sending His son. There's no bigger answer to any request than that. That's love in action and that's what request and consent are ultimately about, relational love in action, and both sexes are perfectly capable of that. After all both sexes were born in the image and likeness of God. They should be equally capable of love in action, and that's where the Kingdom is found-----not in a Maytag.


  1. Colleen, just this morning i posted these ten points from; The Secret of Mary. . .by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. . . .

    "My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God.
    Let me explain:

    (1) Mary alone found grace with God for herself and for every individual person. No patriarch or prophet or any other holy person of the Old Law could manage to find this grace.

    (2) It was Mary who gave existence and life to the author of all grace, and because of this she is called the “Mother of Grace”.

    (3) God the Father, from whom, as from its essential source, every perfect gift and every grace come down to us, gave her every grace when He gave her His Son. Thus, as St Bernard says, the will of God is manifested to her in Christ Jesus and with Christ Jesus.

    (4) God chose her to be the treasurer, the administrator and the dispenser of all His graces, so that all His graces and gifts pass through her hands. Such is the power that she has received from Him that, according to St Bernardine, she gives the graces of the eternal Father, the virtues of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to whom she wills, as and when she wills, and as much as she wills.

    (5) As in the natural life a child must have a father and a mother, so in the supernatural life of grace a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his mother. If he prides himself on having God for his Father but does not give to Mary the tender affection of a true child, he is an impostor and his father is the devil.

    (6) Since Mary produced the head of the elect, Christ, she must also produce the members of that head, that is, all true Christians. A mother does not conceive a head without members, nor members without a head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth , he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Christ, her true children.

    (7) The Holy Spirit espoused Mary and produced His greatest work, the incarnate Word, in her, by her and through her. He has never disowned her and so he continues to produce every day, in a mysterious but very real manner, the souls of the elect in her and through her.

    (8) Mary received from God a unique dominion over souls enabling her to nourish them and make them more and more godlike. St Augustine went so far as to say that even in this world all the elect are enclosed in the womb of Mary, and that their real birthday is when this good mother brings them forth to eternal life. Consequently, just as an infant draws all its nourishment from its mother, who gives according to its needs, so the elect draw their spiritual nourishment and all their strength from Mary.

    (9) It was to Mary that God the Father said, “Dwell in Jacob”, that is, dwell in my elect who are typified by Jacob. It was to Mary that God the Son said, “My dear Mother, your inheritance is in Israel”, that is, in the elect. It was to Mary that the Holy Spirit said,”Place your roots in my elect”. Whoever, then, is of the chosen and predestination will have the Blessed Virgin living within him, and he will let her plant in his very soul the roots of every virtue, but especially deep humility and ardent charity.

    (10) Mary is called by St. Augustine, and is indeed, the “living mold of God”. In her alone the God-man was formed in his human nature without losing any feature of the Godhead. In her alone, by the grace of Christ, man is made godlike as far as human nature is capable of it."

    Another quote; "We are all of us together carried in the one world -womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity, and shades that are incommunicable. . .I have been brought to the point where I can no longer see anything, nor any longer breathe, outside that 'milieu' in which all is made one. . . radiant bliss: to have found the Word and so be able to achieve the mastery of matter". . .

    Teilhard de Chardin

  2. Sparrow, I can't believe you posted de Montfort's take on Mary because I had it up on my computer this morning when I was doing some research on the Church's various teachings on Mary. I actually thought I might use some of it in this post, but it took a different direction.

    I'm now beginning to think I was supposed to use it because her it is. This is pretty wild.

    Here is my favorite passage from de Montfort: "according to St Bernardine, she gives the graces of the eternal Father, the virtues of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to whom she wills, as and when she wills, and as much as she wills."

    This is not a description of a passive receptor, this is action personified in the feminine creative and nurturing drive, and it's all about choice.

    I really also like the quote from Chardin.

  3. I really shouldnt read your posts at 3am right before I start work. They gnaw at me all day sometimes.

    This one did. One sentence your wrote sums it all up:

    (None of which were written by women.)

    Bigoted Sexually Frustrated Geriatric Power Hungry Men making assessments and judgements about what women are and about what women should be.

    Something about that just doesnt ring true. I could understand if they were talking about having sex with little boys; some of them no doubt have expertise in that matter.

    Some things however, they really would be better off leaving alone. This is one of them.

    In case anyone is interested - the ticks made their first appearance of the year today. Since I brought it up:

    What do ticks and the Magisterial Authority have in common?

    Well, for one, both can be really annoying when they stick their heads in the wrong place.