Towards a Christian anthropology
“Gender theology - questions, problems and perspectives”
It is with a certain hesitation that I write on the subject “Gender theology - questions, problems and perspectives”. Not in the first instance because it means sticking one´s hand voluntarily into a theological and ideological hornets´s nest, thereby risking to be stung badly – I think I can live with that –, but because this subject is not only urgent, vast and complicated; it is also of great importance as it touches the fundamentals of a Christian anthropology. Dealing with this question is certainly not the task for one person alone. The questions and problems posed by Gender theology need to be addressed by the whole Christian community, the Church as the communio sanctorum consisting both of “the quick and the dead”. In the Church, also the deceased have a living voice to be listened to.
Even if there are good grounds for being critical of perspectivism, i.e. the idea that a person´s views and values can be understood, explained and thus, relativized, from the position he or she occupies, I would like to introduce you to my room or perspective.
I am speaking as a Swedish middle-aged male, married for the last twenty-five years to a full time practising physician, and as a father of five children, the youngest being eight and the oldest twenty-four years of age. Both I and my wife have had periods of parental leave when our children were small. In 1969 I was ordained a priest in the Church of Sweden by bishop Sven Danell in Skara Cathedral. Since the mid seventies I am working as an ordinary parish priest outside Uppsala. As a docent I also hold a licentia docendi in Theological and Ideological Studies at Uppsala University. Together with my parishioners I have in the Creeds confessed my faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Creator, the Savoiur and the Sanctifier, the Triune God. Together with the members of my congrerations I have celebrated the Lord´s Supper almost every sunday in the last quarter of a century. I am also a docent of ideological and theological studies at Uppsala University. Thus, my “living-room” is that of marriage, family, work and church, and my perspective is that of a husband, a father, a priest.
These are my only qualifications to write on the subject of Gender theology. However, I am not writing about personal or private views and values, as I believe that my experiences belong to our common human experience, humanum. I also believe that the personal and even the private for a Christian always belong to something larger: the life and the experience of the Church. Any talk about Gender theology inevitably touches the subject of Christian anthropolgy, or is a part thereof, and involves the Church as a living and life-forming community.
Some critical remarks on the concept of Christian antropology
Any talk of “Christian anthropology” in a detached way means an objectifying of the personal existenstial and spiritual drama, which every individual human life entails. The question which needs to be posed is: “Is it, at all, possible to make such an objectifying?”
God is whether man believes it or not. Man stands in a relation to God whether he believes it or not; whether it is a relation of faith, hope and love, or a “non-relation” of outright denial or indifference. Talking about “Christian anthropology” means an objectifying of something which will not let itself be treated as a mere object. When one is talking about “Christian anthropology” or “the Christian understanding of man, what it means to be a man or a woman”, it is done at the risk of one´s own neck, as Martin Luther says. It is not a trivial pursuit of a merely academic interest; it is something in which man´s eternal fate is at stake. You are the protagonist of this drama whether you like or not.
If someone, however, persists in wanting to talk about Christian anthropology, which, of course, is quite possible as it is possible to describe the anthropologies of other religions and ideologies, I would, taking into account what has just been said about the hazardous character of this enterprise, point out four pillars, by which a Christian understanding of man–male and female–in my view is borne.
The four pillars which support a Christian anthropology
The first pillar is that a Christian anthropology is traditional. It does not mean that it is backward or conserving everything that is old at all costs always. Traditional has to do with traditum, i.e. that which is handed over. The Church has a tradition, a traditum, something which she has received in order to pass it on (cf. 1 Cor. xi.23). This is the divine revelation in Holy Scripture and the Church´s reflexion in the widest sense through the centuries on this tradition: in reading, in hearing, in praying, in meditation, in practice. The Church is the room in which the Christian understanding of man–male and female–is formulated and practiced before it reaches the world; it means that the Church, Christian congregations, Christians, have knowledge of what means to be human–male and female–not only in the sense of a common created humanum, but in the sense of a redeeemed and sanctified humanity “under construction”–being male and female–which is to be found nowhere else. The Church is, of course, obliged to listen to the understanding of what means to be human - male and female–in every new time, in all spheres of culture and in contemporary ideologies, but it does not have to bustle about picking up the latest news. trends and fads. The Church has a unique knowledge and understanding of man– male and female–through revelation and through life in the Church.
The second pillar of a Christian understanding of man–male and female–is trinitarian. When the Church is speaking about God she means the One who has revealed himself as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, as Father, Son and Spirit. The Church knows no other God than the Holy Trinity. When the Church in her Holy Book reads in Genesis 1:26 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, she does not understand this statement as the Elohim of the Priest Codex speaking to the assembly of gods at the heavenly court; the Church believes that she is overhearing a counsel within the Holy Trinity. How dare we and how can we as Christians say something like that? We can and dare, indeed, because we have learnt that it belongs to tradition, This is the way the Church has interpreted the Word of God in the Bible in her teaching and preaching. From this revelation, as it has been transmitted, we know that the God in whom we believe and whom we confess, is a unity in communion, who wants to enter into loving communion with someone outside himself and therefore creates man in his image to attain to his likeness. Already from the beginning we know that man is created to be like God in unity and communion with another person, in love and in creativity.
We also learn that Man is an abstraction. We know that there are no “man” in general - only individual males and females. God created man male and female. The sex difference is something which belongs to the original and basic design of creation standing under its original divine blessing. The sex difference does not come after the Fall of man. It belongs to God´s good creation. Even if the consequences of the Fall are clearly to be seen in man–being male and female–and mar the relations between the two sexes, the God-given orders of creation are still discernible. There is not only original sin; there is also a lasting original blessing. Trust the basic design!
“Man” is only realized in the communion and community between male and female in the conjunction of a male and a female. In the second story of Creation this is brought out in a striking way. Man, the creature of dust, adam, is not “complete” until there is literally a “partner” outside himself, yet taken from his own side–not head, not hip–but from his side, where his heart is. The completeness of man is realized, when man and woman are united in the union of love in marriage. Male and female, man and woman together, represent in the most intimate way possible one flesh standing vis-à-vis God as a partner: man, meaning male and female, in a complementary loving union.
Perhaps one would dare to say, that the unity and community between man and wife in the marital union and the family which arises from this communion, under the conditions of creation in a figurative but real sense, reflects the unity and communion of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. This gives a depth dimension of the Christian understanding of man as male and female. This is the way God created man in his image to attain to his likeness. Doubting and deconstructing the basic design–man being created as male and female to be united in love–is a destruction of man´s deepest identity and ultimate goal. It is atheism in practice.
The third pillar of a Christian understanding of man–male and female–is theandric. This term is not as strange at it may at first sound. It is taken from the Greek words theos aner meaning divine man. One cannot speak about a Christian understanding of man–male and female–without talking about the divine man, whom is Christ. It does not mean an apotheosis of man as male per se in disregard of man as female. It is just a detached description of who Jesus is. He is male. He is a circumcised Jew. He is God. Jesus is true man and true God united in one person being male. As man–male-he represents humankind–males and females. As man, being a male, he also represents God. Jesus is not androgynous. If someone would suggest that Jesus Christ as man being male could not represent humankind in general, one would in practice reject the universality of God´s action in Christ and ask for the incarnation of a “saviouress”: “Jesa Christa”.
But can something so particular really be universal? There is a permanent offence in the particularity of the incarnation, which must not be removed. God actually choose to let his eternal Word, the unbegotten Son, be incarnated in time and space in Mary´s son, the carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus, a male. If anyone has problems with that, it should be remembered, that there is also the lasting offence of particularity in the saving action of God at Golgotha: in and through the blood and death of this particular crucified Jewish male, Jesus–true man and true God, hypostatically united–is the eternal and perfect sacrifice, cosmic and universal, brought about, which eventually will lead creation redeemed back to its Creator.
That the Christian view of man is theandric, is another way of saying that it is incarnatorial. God, who has created all things, visible and invisible, enters himself into his creation in a sovereign act of total solidarity. In happens in time and space, in human history. I happens through a male Jewish carpenter, executed by the political and religious authorities of his time. This was chocking when it took place. It is in its particularity equally chocking today.
Equally offensive to modern sensibility is the Christian claim that the life and work of Jesus Christ, his teaching, his actions, his death and resurrection, mean the centre and turning-point not only of human history but of all creation. God´s acting in Jesus Christ is as decisive as the Fall of Man, but this time in reverse. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, the crucial battle against evil is fought and won on all levels of creation. Therefore, the future is not bleak but bright. The consequences of Christ´s sacrifice will one day be obvious to all creation. One day the radiant light of the resurrection will encompass a transfigured and perfected creation.
Thus, the Church is able to proclaim clearly and uncompromisingly: only when man–male and female–enter in to a communion of life with the Triune God, with the Father through the Son in the Spirit, will man–men and women–find his or her true identity as created, as redeemed, as sanctified. Only then will man–male and female–realize what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. The Church is not only a herald of this message; it is also the milieu and matrix of this process. Hence, it would be a a catastrophy of cosmic dimensions, if the Church would forget how the original and basic design of creation–man and woman–is redeemed in Christ and in the process of being realized in the communio sanctorum, communion of saints, in the new life of the Spirit.
In the Church, en Christo, certain parts of the Christian tradition are seen in a new light, parts which otherwise easily could, and indeed have been misunderstood. The biblical statements about a man being the head of a woman, kefale, and the subordination of a wife under her husband are heavily attacked today by champions of equality between men and women. What these egalitarian critics overlook in their criticism, however, are the trinitarian and kenotic patterns, which turn all established hierarchies upside down. In the Holy Trinity there is both equality and submission in unity and diversity. Christ who was equal to God “emptied” himself and was obedient to death on the cross, before he was glorified. Both patterns reflect and affirm the basic code of being: self-giving love. Christians–male and female–are called to live according to these patterns and this basic code “submitting themselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. v.21). What this mutual submission means in practice is an urgent and important task of prophetic dimensions for the Church to attend to and make visible.
The Christian tradition, handing over the revelation of God from one generation to another, talks about a Son “born of the Father before all times”, and if there is an eternal Son, there is also an eternal Father. But the Mother, where is the Mother. God the Mother?
The fourth pillar of a Christian understanding of man–male and female–is not the Mother God or any female aspect of God. Even if God transcends any distintion of sex, which belongs to creation, Jesus always addressed God as his Father. The relation between Jesus and God is encompassed in the word Abba, Father. He never talked about or prayed to Mum, the Mother. There are good reasons for the Church to follow Jesus in this respect and remain in his relation to the Father. This is an integral part of the divine revelation and, thus, belongs to the permanent and unalterable tradition of the Church: “For through him [Jesus Christ] we…have access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. ii.18).” To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit! This is the highway to God.
Yet, there is a Mother in the Christian understanding of man. Therefore, the fourth pillar of a Christian anthropology is theotokical. It means that an understanding of man, which wants to be traditional, trinitarian, theandric, also must include the Theotokos - the Godbearer - the Blessed Virgin Mary - The Mother of God. The word theotokos was the catchword of the council in Ephesus 431, which declared that Mary was not only the Mother of Christ, but the Mother of God. The Son she bore was true man and true God in one person. Jesus is not only the Eternal Son, begotten of the Father before all worlds. He is also the son of Mary, born in time. Thus, there is a motherhood that will not cease to exist. Mary is forever the Mother - the Theotokos.
In the divine symmetry displayed in the encounter between the human and the divine, between God and Mary, there is a singular beauty. In this encounter the human is the female, the virginal and motherly, in a paradoxical unity. When God answers man´s prayers to descend from heaven, this answer comes through a conception without male semen, in a pregnancy, in a birth, in motherhood, in a Son. Mary is the Mother of God. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Mary.
In the chosen people, the daughter Sion, God has prepared a human being, a young woman, who in herself in a representative way carries the longing for God of all humankind. On behalf of all men–male and female–she says yes to giving body, soul and life to Him, who in every instant is sustaining her giving her life. God is not using Mary solely in an instrumental way as a mere channel for the divine grace. She is there totally present and totally involved as a person, saying yes to God on our behalf for our good. As the embodiment of mankind´s longing for God, Mary´s example shows that humankind–men and women–does not only consist of crucifiers and God-murderers. Mary, the Mother of God, reveals something of the original highness of man.
In Mary´s yes to God–“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to thy word”–human freedom is revealed i depth. She could have said no to God. Mary could have referred to her own life-project, saying: “I do not want to be the object of somebody else´s project. I myself want to be and to remain the master and commander of my own life and fate”. But she did not. Instead, with every fibre of her body, with all her soul and heart, she says yes to Him, who in every instant of her existence gives her the freedom to say no, if she had wanted to. In her yes to God and her obedience to him, she reveals the ultimate dimension of human freedom: serving God according to his will. In her whole-hearted yes to God and in her unconditional service to God, she stands out as the most beautiful rose of mankind. Her glory is the glory of Man–male and female. But Mary herself gives the glory to God: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour!” Her yes to God is encompassed in God´s great things done to her: God´s yes to her and through her to all men and women.
In her yes to God Mary the Mother of God serves as a model and an icon for all mankind. In her yes to God she definitely says no to man´s attempt to be like God, but without God. She trusts the word of God. In her yes to God she abstains from the human project of defining what it means to be man–male and female–on man´s own God-less terms, instead of obeying the will and word of God. In her yes to God she finds her true identity and ultimate goal of life: created in the image of God, she is growing closer to the likeness of God; subjected to the will and word of God in obedience and service, Mary enters into eternal communion in love with the Triune God.
In this essay, little has been said directly about Gender theology. I hope, however, that it indirectly has provided the attentive reader with some useful theological tools and a theological perspective, from which he or she, in a constructive and critical way, can deal with questions and problems, posed by contemporary Gender theology.
Mary the Mother of God represents together with her Son an image and a model of a true humanity i relation to God. As the Ascended, Christ is “sitting at the right hand of the Father”. May we think that Mary, as a kind of first fruit of the saved, already beyond dust and ashes has reached what the redeemed humanity in Christ once will attain to? The picture of the Mother holding her Son to her bosom, his face supporting hers as she is carrying him on his arm and he is hugging her while she points at him, portrays the deepest mystery of the Christian faith. In this icon the Christian understanding of man–male and female–becomes visible.