Body and Gender

Introduction: Body and Gender

The Summer 2016 issue of Communio pursues the theme of “Body and Gender.” The meaning of human sexuality continues to be brought into question and reimagined in our day. The authors featured here seek to uncover the root principles of the gender difference, and to show how the Church’s vision of the relation between man and woman illuminates human nature and, thereby, the order of personal freedom. This vision offers a path through our contemporary confusions and uncertainties regarding the body.

José Granados, in “‘The Flesh Is of No Avail’: Theology of the Body as Necessary to Understanding Life in the Spirit,” attests that “the openness of the human spirit toward the divine” is inseparable from man’s corporeal life. The life of the spirit in fact “inserts us more deeply among things and events so as to disclose the transcendence that they contain. . . . [T]he more spiritual an experience is, the more it leads us to live the body fully.” This means, in turn, that the body is itself an order of love, a truth that is confirmed in sexual difference and fully manifest in the encounter with the divine Spirit in the Body of Christ.

In “Perfect Difference: Gender and the Analogy of Being,” D. C. Schindler observes that our postmodern society, for all its celebration of diversity, is unable, in the end, to sustain an affirmation of difference as good. In response to this impoverishment, Schindler seeks to articulate the metaphysical principles that ground the original and abiding goodness of difference. He argues further that human gender is the most perfect creaturely expression of difference, and thus, of the meaning of being as love. “Interpreted metaphysically, gender shows that difference is radical; it reaches down to the very foundations of existence, and is not merely a derivative category.”

Nicholas J. Healy Jr.’s “The Spirit of Christian Doctrine” elucidates the unity of doctrine and love, focusing on the expression of this unity in sacramental marriage. The newness of Christian existence, Healy contends, is rooted in the incarnate life of Christ, who witnesses to the truth of God in all his human acts, culminating in the gift of his flesh and blood on the Cross and in the Eucharist. Through the Holy Spirit’s distribution of Christ’s humanity, the Church lives the doctrine revealed in Christ through “an embodied confession of faith.” Healy goes on to show that Christian marriage allows spouses to enact this confession through the form of life it establishes, the indissoluble bond that reflects the truth that “God’s merciful and faithful love gathers up and encompasses the entirety of human life.”

In “Public Reason and the Anthropology of Orientation: How the Debate Over ‘Gay Marriage’ Has Been Shaped by Some Ubiquitous but Unexamined Presuppositions,” David S. Crawford engages arguments in support of “gay marriage,” assessing why public discourse on this issue has proven so resistant to invocations of natural law. Drawing from recent US court cases such as Obergefell v. Hodges and Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Crawford shows how the courts have adopted a view of freedom as solely a self-constructing power. In this light, man’s nature and given gender cannot be recognized as sources of identity, and “sexual desire and love are left without a real home. They must oscillate between the functionally sexual—an order that has been treated as one of mechanistic determinism—and the spiritually androgynous—an order of bodiless freedom and love.”

Margaret H. McCarthy’s “Gender Ideology and the Humanum” challenges the view of gender as a “social construct,” tracing the origins of this idea to the modern ideology that gender roles, and even the idea of a gendered body, are violent fictions that impede self-determination. In this ideology, it is “the body in particular that proves especially fatal for freedom” for “we are really at bottom nonspeaking, apolitical, not-born, and androgynous, individuals for whom ‘it is good to be alone.’” The extreme result of this position, McCarthy makes clear, is the rejection of those relations—to our parents, to other human persons, to God—that define us from our very beginning, relations inscribed in our sexuality.

In “Sexuality and the Forgetfulness of God: Unseasonal Thoughts about a Biblical Connection,” Stefan Oster confronts prevalent objections to the Church’s teaching on sexuality by returning to the source and heart of her doctrine: God’s intimate communion with his creature in Christ. Oster proposes that what is needed now is a renewed faith in Christ’s life-giving presence to his Church, and recalls that this presence liberates us to love God with our whole being. “That is why human sexuality is taken up into this movement of healing and sanctification and precisely does not remain untouched by it.” Since the gift of holiness comprehends the entirety of human life, “Christ also intends to allow the power and beauty of sexuality to ripen therein and likewise desires to make it deeper and more whole.”

Written on the thirtieth anniversary of the 1968 societal upheavals in France, Tony Anatrella’s “Forbidden Difference” examines the denial of difference that pervades our society, inclined as it is to affirm otherness only as a form of equality. “The tendency today is to entrap the other in our own self-representation, to make the other an extension of our own self-image.” Anatrella reads the upheavals as a rebellion against paternity and origin, and a subsequent idolization of adolescence. He sees this condition still operative in current revisions of the family, where sexual difference is no longer recognized as self-evident. Anatrella warns that “in the last stage of this crisis of the paternal function, the breakdown in relationships leads to violence, a violence of the most basic kind, which manifests itself all the more, the less there is that binds the individual to life and to society.”

Notes & Comments features Daniel Mattson’s “Claiming our Belovedness: Our Bodies Reveal the Truth to Us,” in which the author offers a testimony on his own experience of same-sex attraction. “‘Being gay,’” he says, “is ultimately an unreal condition—it paints a false image of the human person, and traps people into identities that are disconnected with reality.” Mattson shows how the human person can know peace and freedom only in the humility of embracing the natural order of his body as given by God, even in the midst of the severe mercy of suffering.

—The Editors