Collect for Candlemas

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only-Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Spear and the Distaff, Part One: The Heavenly Archetypes

One issue that questions of sexuality tends to raise, sooner or later, is that of the nature of gender. What are masculine and feminine? Where do the true masculine and feminine archetypes end and mere social stereotypes of them begin? What distinguishes homosexuality from transgender -- or are they different forms of the same thing? Most importantly, with respect to every question: who cares?

Before sharing my reflections on the subject, I ought to note that I am not a professional psychologist. This may stand me in good stead in some ways -- at any rate to the extent that I am not captive to the fads that afflict that profession (for every profession, and especially academic ones, is afflicted by fads to some degree), though I am subject doubtless to others -- but it does mean that what thoughts I have are entirely amateur; they are based on my own life, conversations with friends, reading the works of those who discuss their own experiences, and doing my best to apply imagination and common sense to all my sources. Nor, though I am an amateur enthusiast, am I a trained theologian, or even a trained philosopher. I have confidence in my ideas, but they are in development. Any authority I have on this subject is the authority of a veteran, as it were, which may be valuable but should not be confused with the authority of a general.

Now. Physical sex is a reality -- this I take for granted. There are such things as male and female. Masculine and feminine are not simply the same as male and female; the sexes are specifically biological, whereas the genders are psychological, social, and (I believe) spiritual, and apply to realities with respect to which male and female are merely meaningless. I take gender to be the fundamental reality, and physical sex its expression; sex is a simpler and more symbolic rendering, in terms of matter, of the higher fact of gender.* However, the nature of masculine and feminine have been and are so culturally conditioned, sometimes in incompatible ways within the same society, that it may afford us a greater clarity to begin with what we can tell about gender from the body itself.

The most obvious distinction between the sexes is found in, well, sex. The male enters, acts, infuses from without; the female receives, absorbs, transforms from within. The male contribution to the act of procreation has the character of initiation: the female contribution, that of completion. The male body is built more to protect than to nurture, and the female, more to nurture than to protect. The physical contrast of the sex organs thus suggests something of the contrasted archetypes of gender. Yet at the same time, each sex coinheres with the other. Every woman and man has come into being from a previous union of the sexes, and each sex needs the other in this fashion even if the person in question is a lifelong celibate after being born. Both sexes are equally human, and yet humanity is a double: as the King James has it, God created man male and female.

From all this, before going on to each gender considered in itself, we can induce that the masculine and the feminine are defined by relationship to one another. The slogan 'It's all relative' is frequently set forth with sneers by Christians, yet there is a sense in which it can contain a profound truth -- provided that we answer the contextualizing question, 'Relative to what?' Once we know what things are relative to, and how they relate, then understanding those relations gives us a good -- if incomplete -- grasp of the things themselves.

Gender therefore contains a suggestion of the Trinity, which is Itself a substance, an essence, that subsists in unity with Itself, yet whose unity precisely consists in the coinherence of contrasted relations. The relationship between the Father and the Son is asymmetrical; likewise that between the Father and the Spirit; likewise that between the Son and the Spirit. 'Yet there are not three gods, but one God.'

This itself is repatterned in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Once again, the relationship is asymmetrical; once again, the two coinhere in one another -- so much so that on the one hand, when Saul of Tarsus was confronted by the vision of Christ resurrected, the rebuke he received for his hostility to the Church was expressed by the words, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?'; while on the other hand, the priest in the confessional, exercising an authority that is not his own, nevertheless pronounces the formula, 'I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.' And that image of Christ's coinherence with the Church, as the rechristened Paul says, has its own icon in the sacrament of Marriage -- that is, the divinization of sexuality. Male and female are made one ('neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance'); and that union is made into an image that is what it signifies: Christ's union with the Church; which is what it signifies: God's union with Himself. The great coinherence, of which Charles Williams wrote, runs up and down, not only the whole ladder of creation, but even the whole hierarchy of being.

So, we can start with everything that there is; we'll narrow it down from there.

*When I say higher here, I do not mean better. That has Gnostic implications. But spiritual things are higher than material things, in the sense that the soul is the natural lord of the body (St. Augustine taught that the disobedience of our bodies to our souls, notably with respect to sex, is a consequence of the Fall and not a natural state) and can comprehend both the body and itself, whereas any material thing, since matter is not intelligent, cannot understand itself or spiritual things.

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