Women, Catholicism, and Impending Architectural Catastrophe

It’s all one struggle! Anyway,

  • Here’s a piece I did for Crisis on feminism, in which I try to suggest why the idea’s hard to stabilize and always ends in something pretty inhuman. The topic presses people’s buttons, so the comments go off in all sorts of directions. (Ditto at Front Porch Republic, where  the piece got linked.)
  • And here’s an account written by a friend of how the (starchitectural) space aliens are about to eat Paris. The pix alone are worth the price of admission.

31 thoughts on “Women, Catholicism, and Impending Architectural Catastrophe

  1. Jim – over at Crisis, you write:

    Sex is at least as meaningful as rocks, ostriches, and planetary nebulae. So if human sexuality has no intrinsic meaning, but only the meanings particular persons happen to give it, nothing in the natural world has intrinsic meaning. But if the natural world means nothing, and it’s all just a blank tablet for us to fill in with our own meanings and use for our own purposes, what becomes of the Incarnation? How could God express who He is through a natural order that—it now appears—means nothing whatever?

    Which is a very good set of questions. But it goes deeper, no? To wit: is it correct to talk of a meaningless congeries of events as an “order”? I don’t see how it can be, for the relations by which events are related to each other in ordered ways are meanings. It is by such meanings that we can understand things as just the sorts of things that they are. E.g., the oak implicit in the acorn as its final end is part of what the acorn means, not just to us, but to the world at large. An acorn is categorically different than a divot of oak wood carved into the shape of an acorn, in that in itself, and as an aspect of what it constitutively is, the acorn can produce a tree.

    Ultimately, then, if human sexuality has no intrinsic meaning, there are no such things either as things, or as worlds constituted of things. In which case, neither are there any such things as persons.

  2. The article at Crisis is thought provoking, thank you for the link.

    Catholicism has had a difficult relationship with feminism. There are certainly many statements to be found in the modern Magisterium upholding the dignity of women as human persons (such as John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem) and numerous condemnations of unjust discrimination. In the Church’s defense of the all male priesthood, the tensions are raised to perhaps their greatest height, at least as far as I can tell. Take, for example, this interview with Archbishop Muller: http://www.zenit.org/article-3431?l=english

    His Grace says, “The Church does not ordain women, not because they are lacking some spiritual gift or natural talent, but because — as in the sacrament of marriage — the sexual difference and of the relation between man and woman contains in itself a symbolism that presents and represents in itself a prior condition to express the salvific dimension of the relation of Christ and the Church.”

    So men better represent Christ as he relates to the Church, namely the active and governing principle in the order of grace. But if we accept this then haven’t we laid the foundation for saying that a basic difference in nature accounts for refusing women ordination? And wasn’t that what His Grace’s first line is generally meant to reject?

    In other words, how can we go about maintaining the absolute equality of persons but subordinate some persons to others based upon criteria that is external to personhood? Would we not need other principles aside from personhood to make such differences in role intelligible and justifiable?

  3. I don’t see that there’s such a big problem, although the tension regarding sexual issues makes everything infinitely touchy.

    Symbolic aptness isn’t the same as a specific concrete gift or talent. I agree it shows a different nature, but his Grace didn’t say men and women are the same by nature in all respects. Indeed, he says the opposite: “womankind has in the order of grace — because of the internal reference of nature and grace — an unmistakable, fundamental, and in no way merely accidental importance.”

    Also, every hierarchy subordinates some people to others based upon criteria external to personhood. I’m every bit as much a person as the Pope is, but I’m subordinate to him.

    • @JK – wrt ordination of women as priestesses – the tradition of the holiest Christians throughout history is decisive; and in our humility as (by comparison) very low-level Christians in a vastly less devout world, we should not be willing to overturn so many centuries of consensus among people of vastly greater spiritual advancement.

      Of course this argument, which – as I say – is decisive and renders debate not only unneccessary but actively misleading, has no traction with non-Christians outside the church, with pseudo-Christians withn the Church, and those who believe that such matters can be settled by simple logic or unambiguous scriptural instruction.

      Modern intellectuals are, if nothing else, masters at muddying or failing to follow logic and subverting the unambiguous; and of using secular historical scholarship to perpetuate cycles of increasing confusion, when confusion is helpful to modernity.

      By engaging with those who do not share the premises necessary to undertand a decisive argument, apologists for traditional orthodoxy are forced to present weak and easily-refuted arguments of a kind with atheists and anti-Christians might be expected to understand; but then, because these ‘acceptable’ arguments are weak and easily refuted, and do not even honestly represent the true Christian reasons for prohibiting priestesses, the modernizers are emboldened and have greater confidence in their rightness.

      Until we Christians stop arguing with our intractable critics and simply dig in their heels and insist on doing what has been passed onto us by those Saints and Holy Fathers who were vastly greater than ourselves, we will give ground, and give ground, until there is none left to give.

      What can possibly be gained by debating with the devil? Do we suppose he will be convinced and admit he was mistaken?

      • It’s tradition, and it also seems obviously right. To my mind though it’s worthwhile trying to articulate the obvious when questioned. You probably won’t convince the guy doing the questioning, and whatever you say will be less obvious than the issue was to begin with, but you’ll end up with a better understanding of the intellectual world you’re living in and you might be helpful to some onlookers who have no interest in redefining reality but would like to think that something can be said in its favor.

      • There’s a third benefit to engaging our enemies, which is that doing so prevents them from scandalizing onlookers who might still be swayed to our way of thinking, or at least makes it much more difficult to do so.

      • This reminds me of something that John Gerstner taught in a video course of Christian apologetics. (Gerstner was the teacher and mentor of the noted Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul.)

        Gerstner said that the Bible commands us to engage in apologetics, and it also tells us that the vast majority of people will not respond positively to our words. But by our words we will be faithful to our Lord, and by the Word of God that we speak, some will be saved.

      • We were commanded to proclaim the gospel, but that isn’t the same thing as engaging in apologetics. Proclaiming the gospel can be done in other ways: testimony, telling the gospel story etc.

  4. Upon what grounding do we build symbolic aptness if not upon some concrete gift or talent? Certainly the differences in the sexes is a concrete one. What attributes, whether concrete or otherwise, make men better at representing Christ as head of the Church?

    There is tension, for one schooled in modernity, in understanding how one can have a hierarchy of equals.

    • The question you raise is what his Grace had in mind in using the terms gift and talent. I agree that if he meant to use those terms broadly, to include something like the ability to become a priest, then what he said makes no sense. But we should interpret what’s said in a way that means it makes sense. So I believe he had in mind a gift or talent immediately relevant to the specific activities of a priest–e.g., the ability to preach, to pray, to counsel, and so on. He was saying the issue isn’t the type of issue somebody might have in deciding who to hire as an insurance claims adjuster or whatever.

      I agree that in modernity there’s difficulty justifying authority and hierarchy. That’s an obvious problem with modernity. It gives rise to various dodges none of which work.

      • Okay, so if we have agreed then that the difference is not of the order of professional competence, as it would be in deciding to employ someone as an insurance adjuster, then I am still unsure as to what is involved in the symbolic difference that disqualifies women from the priesthood.

        If we were to base the symbolism upon sexual differences, which is what His Grace appears to do, then we would probably encounter objections such as the following: sexual differences are real but no more significant than differences in skin color, height, or beauty. Thus, one might say, Christ is infinitely higher than all things, so we ought to ordain only tall people, because they better embody the symbolism of God’s transcendence. Or we ought to ordain only fair skinned people, because Christ has no darkness in Him. Or we ought to ordain only beautiful people because Christ has no ugliness in Him.

        Someone might reply that sexual differences are more fundamental to human nature than height, skin color, or beauty, but are not all of those things accidents rather than substances? If the substance of human nature is that of an embodied person, why privilege some accidents over others rather than empower that which is the source of dignity, namely personhood?

      • Sex is essential to human being, not accidental. There are short men and tall, but there are no men who are not male. There are fat women and slim, but none who are not female.

      • Surely it is true that men are either short or tall, and regardless are still men- that is what they have in common. Likewise, a slim woman and a corpulent woman are both nonetheless women.

        But the response to that argument would seem to be this: there are male humans and there are female humans, but both are nonetheless human. So, if sex is not the most basic thing about human, since male and female as categories can participate in it, how is it essential?

        Furthermore, I am unsure if sex is more fundamental than something like size. Nothing material can exist without size, human bodies are made of material, and so one cannot be human without size. Things like sex differentiate human beings from other kinds of things, but so do things like hair color, skin color, beauty, and so forth. What makes sex so distinct that it can enable one group, in this case males, to be able to have access to specific roles such as the priesthood?

      • But sex is indeed basic to human existence. You can’t be a human unless you are either male, or female, or (as with hermaphrodites) both. A being that was like a human in every other way, but that had no sex, would not be human. It wouldn’t even be a mammal.

        Human bodies have to be extended, and be of a certain size. But human bodies are not human beings. A corpse is no longer a human being. It is rather the relic and artifact of a human being, that has and is a life. Human beings needn’t be material, or therefore extended, or therefore be of a certain size. I.e., humans can be actual without being physical, just as angels are. Extension is not essential to human substantial existence. And the sex of a human is not in the first instance an aspect of its physical body, but of its immaterial spirit. It is the immaterial spiritual life of a man that, as a result of his acts, generates an instance of his physical body *that is the body of a male.* It is not the body that produces or houses the spirit, but vice versa. Thus the sex of the body is a derivate of the sex of the spirit.

        Admittedly, the Thomist argument of that last paragraph will cut no ice with a modern feminist. But, presumably, it could cut some ice with you.

      • Aegis is right of course that our humanity is more basic than our sex, but that doesn’t put our sex on a level with everything else that is less basic than our humanity, like our height or the length of our hair or our distance from the South Pole.

        If these issues actually do trouble him, or he wants to develop a snappier response to feminists, he might consider the comparative role of size and sex in human life. He also might consider Pascal’s distinction between the geometrical mind and the intuitive mind, or Newman’s illative sense, for the necessity and rationality of drawing conclusions that Cartesian and Lockean philosophy can’t justify. And then there are various things people have written on the feminine. If that’s what he’s looking for maybe people can make suggestions. (The most recent recommendation I’ve seen is The Eternal Woman by Gertrud von le Fort.)

    • Kristor, sex assuredly belongs only to the physical and not to the spiritual, for the soul only has two faculties, an intellect and a will, whereas the body has genital faculties.

      Nonetheless, the argument you raise about soul and sex reminds me of some interesting developments in Catholic spirituality. The Catholic tradition states that the soul is the bride of Christ, and ought to take a feminine passivity towards Him. So, if sex belonged to the order of spirit, we would only have femininity, at least according to the tradition of Catholicism. This also cannot but raise the question of why physical maleness ought to be placed over physical femaleness when both are spiritually feminine.

      Jim Kalb, there are surely plenty of scriptural arguments and arguments from tradition in support of the all male priesthood, all of which I entirely accept. So, we may reference St Paul and say that man is the image and glory of God, and woman is the glory of man, and that man was not made for woman but woman for man (1 Corinthians 11:7-9), or, more usefully, “Let the woman learn in silence and with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over a man: but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first and then Eve” (1 Timothy 2: 11-12). If we desire to take the approach of divine right establishing the male over the female, then let us do so. But I do not think it possible to arrive there from mere observation of sexual complementarity. Only if looked upon through divine revelation do the differences in the sexes take on a significance that offer further justification.

      • Again, I urge you to read Pascal on the geometric and intuitive mind, and Newman on the illative sense. (The discussions are in the Pensees and the Grammar of Assent.) You seem to be looking for something like a formal deductive argument when it’s more a question of how to interpret patterns of feeling, behavior, and experience in the ways that make the most sense. There’s very little in life that can be understood the former way.

        Also, symbolic aptness is not an issue of sexual superiority but enduring patterns of natural functioning and human experience and response. You might compare the situation to how we make aesthetic judgments. If someone wants to say a Thomas Kinkade painting is better than Velazquez’s Las Meninas it won’t be possible to refute him if he really doesn’t want to be refuted. And arguments against his position won’t take the form “well, Las Meninas is about the Spanish royal court and the Kinkade is about a cottage, and everybody knows the king is superior to a guy in a cottage.”

        You seem to admit sexual complementarity. That complementarity goes rather deep, and it affects human life at all levels. How could it not affect symbolic aptness? Don’t plays distinguish male and female parts?

      • It has been a long time since I read Pascal- probably more than seven years. My recollection is that he took a dim view of human reason and instead made an appeal to the human heart, which is exactly what atheists think of the psychology of religious people: they are irrational and believe in things like God out of the sentiment of their hearts.

        As for Newman’s Grammar of Assent, I have never read it. I have heard of the illative sense, but have not grappled with Newman’s exposition of it.

      • Pascal was one of the great mathematicians, so his attitude toward reason was more complicated than taking a dim view.

        The basic idea was that demonstrative reason can’t do that much for us, and we have to make decisions, so we have to go beyond it in various ways. His invention of probability theory was part of that. Another is his distinction between the geometrical and intuitive mind. Still another is his idea of making the commitment that seems most reasonable all things considered and seeing how things settle. He did situate belief within human life as a whole but certainly didn’t consider it arbitrary. “To deny, to believe, and to doubt well, are to a man what the race is to a horse.”

        Newman develops an account of how reality comes into focus from myriad converging considerations none of which is anything like demonstrative. It’s a sort of explication of Pascal’s intuitive mind. I found them both extremely helpful in understanding how people avoid radical skepticism and make sense of the world around them.

      • Aegis, you write:

        Kristor, sex assuredly belongs only to the physical and not to the spiritual, for the soul only has two faculties, an intellect and a will, whereas the body has genital faculties.

        While it is to be sure common in the vernacular to talk of the soul as spiritual, technically the soul is the form of the living human person, while the spirit is the very life of a living human person. The soul does indeed have those two faculties, but it has lots of other properties as well, including sex. Whatever is essential to a man is a property of his soul. If a man is nowhere actual, his soul is not instantiated in a substantial being, and exists only eminently in the mind of God. If a man is actual, his soul is inspirited – it is the form of an actual life, with substantial being (whether that concrete substance is physical or not is separate question; ditto for the subtly different matter whether a concrete substance is material).

        If a man lives, his life is his spirit, and his soul is the form of his spirit.

      • Jim Kalb, I will re-examine Pascal and read Newman’s Grammar of Assent; both are on my bookshelf.

        Kristor, if sex is a property of the soul how does one harmonize maleness with the idea of the soul as bride of Christ?

      • Good question, Aegis. It’s not soul = bride. It’s soul:Christ::bride:groom. There’s nothing in maleness that rules out submission to a higher authority.

      • Is submission all that is involved in the bridal metaphor?

        Still, if the souls of men are meant to be like brides, namely passive and submissive, but that is not what their role is supposed to be in the material realm, then haven’t we discovered that sex is only really important as it regards the physical? And if it only has force as regards the physical, and the priesthood has to do with the spiritual, then why not get rid of distinctions based on sex?

      • Is submission all that is involved in the bridal metaphor?

        No; it’s a *metaphor.* One doesn’t *want* to pin down every bit of it. But submission is in there, for sure. I mentioned it because that seems to be what’s bugging you.

        Still, if the souls of men are meant to be like brides, namely passive and submissive, but that is not what their role is supposed to be in the material realm, then haven’t we discovered that sex is only really important as it regards the physical?

        No. From “men are not meant to be passive or submissive in the material realm,” it would not follow straightforwardly that “sex is only important in the physical realm.” But then, I didn’t say, and don’t think, that men are not meant to be passive or submissive, in any realm. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Whether it is proper for a man to be passive or submissive depends, not on the realm, but on the other terminus of his relation. E.g., it would be totally proper for the Lord Mayor of London or the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Chairman of Lloyd’s to submit to the Queen (notwithstanding the fact that the Queen might be at the same time subject to the Lord Mayor as a citizen of London, to the Archbishop as a penitent, and to the Chairman as a Name). It would be improper for any of these men to submit to their assistants.

      • Submission is not what bothers about the metaphor of the soul as the bride of Christ, although all of my questions about it are probably not pertinent to our conversation.

        Anyway, we at least have a precedent with this relation, as well as others, that men need not be the heads of all things, and that submission can be appropriate for them in certain relations. So if maleness need not always be in the head role, why does the human male better manifest headship than the female? Why are is maleness more apt to represent Christ in the priesthood, for example?

      • Let’s substitute some terms into your questions, and perhaps that will serve to answer them:

        … if a blade need not always be in the cutting role, why does the knife better manifest sharpness than the fork? Why are knives more apt to separation in the act of cutting, for example?

        You can use a fork to cut almost anything, but the knife works better, as dedicated to cutting.

        Men are more fitted to the priestly role than women because they are more fitted to fighting. They are designed to fight, and are the first to die in the defense of the family (if the family is properly ordered, that is). Thus the role of the husband in marriage is to be the first sacrificial victim for the sake of the wife (and the children, of course). This is why in Ephesians Paul is explicit about the analogy between husband and wife, Christ and Church.

        What does priesthood have to do with fatherhood? Whether we realize it or not, we are engaged at every moment in spiritual warfare with the forces of Darkness. Priests are our sergeants in that spiritual combat. As fathers are first in the defense of their families, so priests put themselves in the van of our company. They must be mighty warriors.

        I explore these ideas in much greater depth in an essay, (and then some very long comments) about Kingship , patriarchy, priesthood, and so forth, that Laura Wood reposted at Thinking Housewife from comments I made (here, here and here) to a thread at What’s Wrong with the World.

      • Kristor,

        I have thought about your arguments, and I think you are correct.

        I haven’t done the reading suggested by Jim Kalb. but I’ll get to it.

        Thank you for engaging in this debate with me. It has been very helpful.

  5. I think it is a major error to engage in rational argument trying to convince people who have no right to an opinion – especially when that includes ourselves.

    Some issues are way beyond us – we have no right to change things about which we know little, have thought little, and lack the necessary spiritual depth to understand.

    What we get is bar room chatter about profound and sacred subjects. How does that help?

    That – incidentally – was the view of CS Lewis with respect to many questions – that most people, including himself, were not entitled to an opinion, and should not discuss them.

    • At what point does one become entitled to an opinion on such matters?

      And if some of us can never get to the point of truly understanding certain matters, then how can we assent to them as true let alone defend or bear witness to them as true?

  6. Pingback: “At What Point Does One Become Entitled to an Opinion?” « The Orthosphere


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