The body is a sacrament of the entire person but is not the entire person. From the begining, the human person, man and woman, was created as an integral "body-soul" reality that subsumes the "body-gender" reality, which in turn subsumes the "biophysical body" reality, which in turn subsumes many other realities such as biological sex, the five senses, the color of the skin, etc. All men and women are made of the same created dust, the same created flesh, animated by the same kind of created soul. All men and women are naturally consubstantial, with unity in diversity in the image of the Trinity. That the second person of the Trinity became incarnate as a male means that God assumed all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin") without in any way ceasing to be a divine person.
Consubstantial Complementarity in the Theology of the Body
A comprehensive exegesis of biblical texts on man and woman, and their unity in one and the same human nature, was developed by Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body (TOB). It provides a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity ("original unity of man and woman"), individuality in community ("communion of persons") and equality in mutuality ("spousal meaning of the body"). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.
It is noteworthy that, in the TOB, the "male or female" descriptor is always used in reference to the human being as a body, while "male and female" is always used in reference to the human being as a person. The human person is a body, but is more than a body (Genesis 2:7). The body is a sacrament of the entire person, but is not the entire person. Furthermore, being a body is more fundamental to the structure of the personal subject than being somatically male or female (TOB 3:2, 8:1, 21:6). In other words, bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical:
HUMAN BODILINESS & SEXUAL DIFFERENTIATION
"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. Therefore, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. The latter is based on masculinity and femininity, as if on two different "incarnations," that is, on two ways of "being a body" of the same human being created "in the image of God" (Gn 1:27)."
HUMAN NATURE & SOMATIC HOMOGENEITY
"The woman is made "with the rib" that God-Yahweh had taken from the man. Considering the archaic, metaphorical and figurative way of expressing the thought, we can establish that it is a question here of homogeneity of the whole being of both. This homogeneity concerns above all the body, the somatic structure. It is also confirmed by the man's first words to the woman who has been created: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23).(15) Yet the words quoted refer also to the humanity of the male. They must be read in the context of the affirmations made before the creation of the woman, in which, although the "incarnation" of the man does not yet exist, she is defined as "a helper fit for him" (cf. Gn 2:18 and 2:20). In this way, therefore, the woman is created, in a sense, on the basis of the same humanity."
Source: Original Unity of Man and Woman, Pope John Paul II, General Audience, 7 November 1979. The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Pauline Books, 1997, pages 43-44; and EWTN. See also pages 157 (section 8:1) and 160 (section 8:4) in the 2006 edition, translation by Michael Waldstein.
According to this translation, there was a human being in "original solitude" before sexual differentiation. This is the first human being created from the dust (Genesis 2:7) before sexual differentiation provides a "helper" of the other sex (Genesis 2:18-23). This key text is translated a bit differently in the 2006 edition, but includes the original emphasis in italics for a key phrase, and the same key point is made that embodied human nature (in complete body-soul integrity) precedes humans embodied as male or female:
"Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a "body" belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. For this reason, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity; the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different "incarnations," that is, two ways in which the same human being, created "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27), "is a body."" The Meaning of Original Unity, Pope John Paul II, 7 November 1979 (Source: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Pauline Books, 2006, page 157. See also note 12 in page 158.
In brief, according to the Theology of the Body, the integral anthropological reality is that man and woman are both ontologically complementary and ontologically consubstantial. Sexual differentiation, while enabling man and woman to share the gift of love and the gift of life, also becomes a limitation of embodied human nature in the sense that a man cannot be a mother and a woman cannot be a father. This means that, in this sense, man is incomplete without woman, and woman is incomplete without man; and they are meant to mutually complete each other in all dimensions of human life. However, even though man is limited to bodily be a man, and woman is limited to bodily be a woman, their somatic homogeneity reveals that they are both equivalent in human personhood; they are both personal subjects, "body-persons," "body-souls," of the same flesh. The entire TOB is a deconstruction of the simplistic, culturally biased patriarchal binary:
- Being a body is more fundamental than being male or female (TOB 8:1)
- Man and Woman are fully homogeneous in their "whole being" (TOB 8:4)
- Bodiliness, not sex, is the foundation of the primordial sacrament (TOB 19:5)
- Imbalance of male domination/female submission must be corrected (TOB 31:2)
- The spousal meaning of the body is not limited to patriarchal analogies (TOB 33:3)
- The integral order of the person includes subjectivity and objectivity (TOB 68:2)
- The spousal bond of Christ-Head and Church-Body transcends patriarchy (TOB 91:1)
- Being a person means both being a subject and being in relation (TOB 109:4)
- The language of the body, male and female, is the language of the liturgy (TOB 117:5)
Rediscovering Complementarity and Consubstantiality
From the beginning, the male and female human beings are both naturally complementary and naturally consubstantial. In other words, man and woman are both ontologically complementary and ontologically consubstantial. The following diagram attempts to convey the difference between patriarchal gender ideology and a more adequate anthropology based on the Theology of the Body:
The colors represent layers in the structure of each and every human person:
Grey = Biblical "Flesh" (body-soul, or spirited body), Beige = Body, Pink = Female, Blue = Male, Purple = Intersex. The simplistic patriarchal "binary" assumes that body, sex, and gender are simply identical. The Theology of the Body recognizes that the human body is normally male or female, but "bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical." Being a body is more fundamental than being male or female. Furthermore, being in relation (communio personarum) is integral to human personhood. It follows that gender is even deeper than body in the structure of the personal subject, with a unique combination of masculine and feminine polarities abiding in each human person. The grey (biblical "flesh," i.e., human nature, body and spirit) subsists under the other colors for all humans. Each personal subject is unique, but all human beings are fully homogeneous in one and the same human nature. All human beings (male, female, intersex, heterosexual, homosexual) are made of the same "flesh."
Source: Meditations on Man and Woman
This diagram, like all models, is a simplification of reality, but attempts to deconstruct the oversimplistic sex/gender binary of the patriarchal culture. Basically, it means that each human being is a body animated by a soul (gray circle). All men and women are fully homogeneous, made of the same dust, of the same substance, of the same flesh; and share one and the same somatic nature in a body (brown circle). After conception, the body of each person is sexually differentiated, and is male *or* female *or* intersex (pink, blue, and purple circles), but the human person is a subject, not just a sexual object. Sex and gender cannot be separated but can be distinguished, and gender is crucial for human relations. Since it is in relation to others that the human person becomes fully human, it follows that subjective gender is as constitutive of the human person as objective sex. So, again, the body is a sacrament of the entire person, but is not the entire person. The physical body makes visible the invisible metaphysical person, but is not the entire person.
Sex is biophysical. Gender (gradient pink-blue circle) is psychosomatic, a personal synthesis of somatic constitution and cultural conditioning. Sex and gender are constitutive of the human person more deeply that other, more superficial attributes such as skin color, height, and weight; but all men and women are homogeneously constituted of the same flesh in one and the same human nature. The sexual complementarity of man and woman does not limit them to mutually exclusive roles except when they come together to share the gift of love and the gift of life. Modern science (biology, psychology, neurology) has shown some ancient cultural stereotypes to be unnatural. In contrast to the patriarchal mindset of male domination and female subordination, a healthy complementarity of man and woman actually requires their joint participation in most human activities and the reconstruction of their interpersonal communion as fully equal partners in the nuclear family, and in the Church as the family of God, including apostolic succession.
The body is a sacrament of the entire person but is not the entire person. Other than genitally, the complementarity of man and woman does not mean mutually exclusive roles. Such mutual exclusion of gender roles is a heritage from radical patriarchy, not divine revelation. All humans are consubstantial in one and the same human nature. Our Lord Jesus Christ is consubstantial with all humans in his humanity. The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Christ. Metaphysical "transubstantiation" happens when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, but is really consummated in the flesh when the person who receives the Eucharist becomes "eucharist" in sacrificial service to others.
Patriarchal gender ideology (the infamous gender "binary") is no longer credible, socially and scientifically. But it is not necessary to invent any new set of artificially separate gender classifications; rather, it is a matter of rediscovering what we already know, i.e., that all human beings, male or female or intersex, share one and the same human nature. There is no such thing as two separate human natures, one exclusively masculine and the other exclusively feminine. Sex and gender can be distinguished but cannot be separated, and bodily sexual complementarity does not cancel natural human consubstantiality. For all men and women of good will to effectively contribute to integral human development it is indispensable to sanitize human relations, as much as possible, from the hierarchical mentality that is generally manifested as male hegemony and female subservience, and extends to human hegemony over the human habitat.
The patriarchal culture, ancient as it is (10,000 years or so) was manufactured by human hands and is, therefore, artificial; it is not natural. Many families are already evolving from male headship to joint father-mother headship. This egalitarian complementarity of man and woman in family and society, rooted in their natural consubstantiality, is bound to gradually propagate to all human communities worldwide. Fostering this cultural evolution may be the best way to ensure the survivability of human civilization.
Internalizing the complementarity of man and woman is relatively easy, because it is visible and can be experienced in the nuptial act. It is a tangible sharing in the gift of love and the gift of life. There is no denying that a man cannot be a mother and a woman cannot be a father. There is no denying that sexual attraction for the opposite sex is a common human experience. Even though it is now recognized that some persons experience sexual attraction to other persons of the same sex, it still requires two persons to complement each other and form a communion of persons. Complementarity is about persons, not just bodies. It is about interpersonal relations, not just sexual relations.
Internalizing the consubstantiality of man and woman is not so easy, because it is not visible to the naked eye and requires an inner disposition to see another person as an integral person, as a body-soul, not just as a body. As persons mature, rigid modes of behavior driven by biology are often softened by lessons learned from experience. A man cannot be a biological mother but can act in a maternal way. A woman cannot be a biological father but can act in a paternal way. Even more so than complementary, consubstantiality is about persons, not just bodies. It is about interpersonal relations, not just sexual relations. Interpersonal communion is about unity in diversity, solidarity, reciprocity, mutual enrichment, readiness to be there for each other, feel for each other, act for each other. Consubstantiality, when fully internalized, is what makes complementarity possible at the level of human personhood.
Internalizing Consubstantial Complementarity
Internalizing complementarity is not enough. It is consubstantial complementarity that must be internalized. Else, the natural and fully consubstantial complementarity of man and woman is easily reduced to a simplistic complementarianism of gender stereotypes whereby man is "assertive," woman is "receptive," and we are back to patriarchal gender ideology.
The internalization of consubstantial complementarity is a requirement for integral human development, because the body is a sacrament of the entire person but is not the entire person objectively and subjectively. How can a man develop integrally if the woman within is repressed? How can a woman develop integrally if the man within is repressed?
Internalizing consubstantial complementarity is also required for an integral human ecology, because human life cannot fluorish in isolation from our common home. How can humanity attain communion with the human habitat as long as nature is regarded as an object to be exploited? How can humanity flourish in isolation from the entire community of creation?
In brief, human bodies are male or female or intersex, but human persons are engendered. This is a fundamental anthropological reality: "Human development, if not engendered, is endangered" (United Nations, Human Development Report, 1995). A man is a man and a woman is a woman; but there is man in woman, and there is woman in man. All human beings share one and the same human nature, in the flesh. As long as the patriarchal binary prevails, subjective human development remains defective, with pervasive repercussions in human relations as well as human-nature relations. There can be no fully integral human development as long as both the objective and subjective dimensions of the body-person are not taken into account. There can be no fully integral ecology as long as humanity behaves as the dominant male and treats nature as a submissive female. There can be no lasting social justice, and there can be no lasting ecological justice, as long as human behavior is driven by the patriarchal mindset. Gender justice is the most crucial "sign of the times." It is time for all the Christian churches to resolve the conflation of patriarchal gender ideology and the truth revealed in Christ Jesus:
This article is based on the author's Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature, specifically the following:
Natural Unity of Man and Woman
Natural Consubstantiality of Man and Woman
Unitive Complementarity of Man and Woman
Integral Complementarity of Man and Woman
Patriarchal Disunity of Man and Woman
Natural Complementarity of Man and Woman
Reconstructing the Original Unity of Man and Woman
Reconstructing the Original Harmony of Humanity and Nature
Here and Now: Laudato Si' and the Year of Mercy
Here and Now: Integral Humanism and Evangelization
An Adequate Anthropology for an Integral Ecology
The Twilight of Patriarchy and the Dawn of an Integral Ecology
Consubstantial Complementarity of Man and Woman
Rediscovering the Natural Consubstantiality of Man and Woman