Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 10, No. 10, October 2014
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Common Ground for Solidarity and Sustainability

Credit: Mickey McGrath

The current series of reflections on the nuclear family, and sustainable development of the human family, continues this month by focusing on the family as the common ground for human development with social and ecological justice. This series started by posing the need for gender balance in post-patriarchal societies. This working hypothesis was then critically examined by way of considering anticipated resistance to change from secular and religious quarters. Then the concept of integral human development was introduced, followed by surveys of the anthropological, social, and ecological evidence about the impossibility of infinite material growth (population x consumption) in a finite planet. The hypothesis was then clarified by recognizing that a sustainable humanity requires a sustainable nature, and vice versa; and attaining gender balance is the only way to responsibly take care of ourselves and the entire community of creation. This in turn entails the need for a significant cultural evolution, from patriarchy to solidarity and sustainability, that must be consciously fostered by individuals, and collectively supported by institutions, in nuclear families and in the entire human family. St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body has been introduced as a guide to understand the process from an ethical perspective, and this month the focus is on the "spousal meaning of the human body."


  • Editorial Essay: Common Ground for Solidarity and Sustainability and Spousal Meaning of the Human Body
  • The Economy of Communion Model: A Spirituality-Based View of Global Sustainability and its Application to Management Education, by Katherine J. Lopez, Zaida L. Martinez, and Linda B. Specht
  • Three Limits to Growth, by Herman Daly
  • Social and Solidarity Economy: A Pathway to Socially Sustainable Development?, by Peter Utting
  • Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data, by Graham Turner
  • A Great Transition? Where We Stand, by Paul Raskin
  • China’s energy transition: effects on global climate and sustainable development, by Ross Garnaut
  • We Are Not Not Evolved to Respond to Climate Change, by Jennifer Jacquet
  • Making a Living on a Living Planet, by Joe Uehlein


    Common Ground for Solidarity and Sustainability


    During the month of October, a synod of Catholic bishops will be convening in Rome to discuss "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization." Since the family is the basic cell of society, and the "domestic school" of human behavior, this event is significant not only for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics but for all Christians who are currently seeking ways to improve social and ecological relations as we enter the Anthropocene.

    Since gender relations influence all human relations, and since the ecological integrity of the planet is no longer insensitive to human actions, it is hard to imagine that any such improvement can happen without better teamwork between men and women. The sacramentality of marriage may be understood in different ways by different people, but the quality of human relations between the two halves of the human race is a key factor for quality of life everywhere.

    There is a saying, "all roads lead to Rome." It is not insignificant that the voting members of this synod will all be men; some women may be present as auditors or in some other capacities, but only men can vote because there are (as yet) no women bishops in the Catholic Church. If all roads within the largest religious body on earth lead to this kind of male-only teamwork, and male-only decision making, it seems reasonable to ask whether all those roads are leading in the right direction. This is the central issue to be explored in this essay, as it pertains to establishing some common ground for solidarity and sustainability.

    Family and Integral Human Development

    The nuclear family is the fundamental building block of human society. It is the "domestic school" where children learn, by word and example, the modes of thinking and norms of conduct that will guide them through life. Integral human development -- development of the whole person, objectively and subjectively -- happens in the family. If it doesn't happen in the family, chances are that one or more dimensions of personal development will not be attained.

    Since the beginning of human history, the nuclear family is composed of father, mother, and children. Biology dictates that this be so. Psychology confirms that when either the father or the mother is missing, or when either one fails to act responsibly, the physical and emotional health of the children is compromised. Harmonious balancing of authority and responsibilities by mother and father is an indispensable ingredient for a nuclear family to be functional and to be a good "domestic school" for the children as they grow to become adults.

    The patriarchal age is passing away, and the transition to a post-patriarchal age is creating new and formidable challenges for young families. The so-called "sexual revolution" is a sign of progress to the extent that it helps to break the chains of patriarchal oppression and makes possible the integral human development of women, but is also creating anomalies that are exacerbated by consumerist pressures: single parents, neglected children, abortions, lonely seniors, domestic violence, dysfunctional families. People try to escape by finding refuge in incessant stimulation via cellular phones and all manner of electronic widgets, but nothing can replace the support of a happy family.

    Nuclear Family & Human Family

    What is happening in nuclear families is symptomatic of what is happening in today's world, where large conventional wars have been replaced by chronic abuse of power in institutions, gun violence in the streets, and widely distributed terrorism. There is no way in the world that sustainable development, let alone integral human development, can happen under current conditions of social and ecological injustice. The Millennium Development Goals, agreed upon by all nations in 2000 with 2015 targets, will not be fully met. Looking ahead, the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, currently in the formulation phase, will be another exercise in futility unless a climate of "peace with justice" replaces current trends of exploitation by any means.

    Families are in transition, and often struggling to remain stable. Many democracies are facing serious difficulties due to social inequalities and weak economies. Communism is utterly discredited as a social system, and capitalism may also be headed for extinction as it fails to everyone except the very rich. Global population growth seems to be slowing down a bit, but ten billion people may inhabit the planet by the end of this century. Pollution accumulation and ecological degradation is reaching the point in which climate and other planetary systems may be disrupted. A new synthesis of capitalism and socialism may emerge to better balance profit incentives and the common good, but experience confirms that any system can be corrupted by irresponsible human behavior, and it would be naive to expect that any "breakthrough technologies" will appear to get us off the hook.

    What is then the future for the human family? Ethics. It seems that a new ethos of solidarity and sustainability will be required for future generations to enjoy a decent quality of life. But where will this new ethos come from? How could it be universally relevant, and how could it be internalized by all people of good will? A new ethos of gender relations that could supersede the patriarchal mindset of male domination would be universally relevant, and could become acceptable everywhere, just as patriarchy has been taken for granted as a "natural order of things" for the last few thousand years. But on what basis would such an ethical system be developed? The following is one possibility based on biblical tradition.


    What is the "spousal meaning of the body"? It is the central concept of John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB). It means that the human body is a sacrament (a visible sign) of the loving relationship between God and humanity, a love that becomes real in concrete actions of reciprocal solidarity (even mutual submission) between persons who care for each other. It is based on the entire biblical tradition, where God is portrayed as "husband" and humanity as "wife" in a cosmic marriage that is consummated in the nuptial union between Christ and the Christian Church (as in Ephesians 5:21-33). It is a monumental work of biblical exegesis that spans human history from "the beginning" (per the creation stories of Genesis 1-2) to "the end" (as symbolized by the eschatological marriage that leads to the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 19-22).

    In examining the biblical notion of a nuptial covenant between God and humanity, which is imaged by the nuptial covenant between man and woman, the TOB is a radical departure from the literalist patriarchal interpretation of male domination and female submission. According to the TOB analysis of biblical texts, the proper relationship between husband and wife is one of unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community; and this triple framework is extensible not only to all human relations but to human relations with the entire community of creation. Thus the theology of the body is not a patriarchal theology. It is a theological anthropology that transcends man-made ideologies and discerns, on the basis of biblical revelation and millennia of human experience, a post-patriarchal ethos of human relations.

    The TOB is built on two pillars of theological anthropology:

    1. People are not just bodies but "body-persons" in perfect unity of objective and subjective being, body and soul, flesh and spirit.

    2. Integral development of the human person is attained not in isolation but in communion with other human persons.

    These two pillars have been discussed in previous essays. In summary, the first pillar is that we are created in God's image (imago Dei), and the body is the visible sacrament of an invisible reality. The second pillar is that the invisible (divine) reality is made visible to the extent that persons think and act in communion with others, thereby enhancing the image and making divine communion more clearly visible. This communion of persons becomes operative via body language, and in this sense human bodies have a meaning that is "spousal" not only in gender relations but in all dimensions of human life. The following diagram attempts to summarize this concept:

    "From the beginning, man is also a body among bodies and in the unity of the two, he comes to be as male and female, discovering the 'spousal' meaning of his body in the measure of his being a personal subject." John Paul II (TOB 69:4)

    NOTE: In this sentence, and throughout the book, the author consistently uses the generic term "man" when referring to all human beings, male and female.

    According to the TOB, the nuclear family may be a patriarchy but not necessarily so. What is essential is that the family be a "communion of persons" (communio personarum). Cultural and practical factors can lead to roles of authority and responsibility structured in various ways. But what is always essential is that family members, especially the parents in a nuclear family, be a community of persons who care for each other. This applies to every nuclear family, and by extension to extended families and the entire human family. It applies to any human community that wants to be fully functional, including churches. The only factor that is not negotiable is the common good of all family members. It follows that roles of authority and responsibility can and must be worked out so as to support the common good rather that following any set of artificial rules or conventions. Common sense? Absolutely, but as we all know, common sense is the least common of the senses, and cultural conditioning often prevails in structuring family relations. Old habits die hard, and many families presently struggle as they try to work things out by following patriarchal norms in an increasingly post-patriarchal world.

    The TOB, by clarifying what is essential versus what is accidental in family life, provides crucial guidance for navigating the transition to a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability. It deconstructs old artificial ideologies in human institutions (religious institutions in particular), thereby liberating people from mental habits that, while not intrinsically evil, no longer serve the common good of families, which is attained to the extent that family members care for each other and help each other in seeking the integral (objective and subjective) development of each and every person in the family. As we enter the Anthropocene, rigid adherence to old religious habits, male domination in particular, is actually becoming an obstacle to integral human development. The TOB diagnoses the problem and prescribes a solution, which is to replace the patriarchal ethos by a biblical ethos of unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community. The following are some excerpts from John Paul II's Theology of the Body, with italics as in the original. Each excerpt is followed by a question that suggests the fallacy of assuming that patriarchy is the only way to go in structuring family relations:

    "Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within it 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." TOB 8:1, page 157

    • Does it follow that female personhood is not the same kind of human personhood as male personhood?

    "The human body, with its sex -- its masculinity and femininity -- seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole natural order, but contains 'from the beginning' the 'spousal' attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and -- through this gift, fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence." TOB 15:1, page 185

    • Does it follow that such 'spousal' communion of persons requires mutually exclusive male and female roles in any dimension of human relations other than conjugal love?

    "The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine." TOB 19:4

    • Does it follow that the human body, male or female, is the full human person, man or woman?

    "The discernment of good and evil inscribed in human conscience can turn out to be deeper and more correct that the content of a legal norm." TOB 35:5, page 270

    • Does it follow that patriarchal practices, such as reserving roles of religious authority (headship, priesthood) for men alone, are intrinsically good?

    ""From the beginning, man is also a body among bodies and in the unity of the two, he comes to be as male and female, discovering the 'spousal' meaning of his body in the measure of his being a personal subject."" TOB 69:4, page 399

    • Does it follow that humans become integrally developed personal subjects just in the conjugal act? Does it mean that feminine receptivity excludes giving in return? Does it mean that masculine giving excludes receiving in return?

    "Spousal love that finds its expression in continence 'for the kingdom of heaven' must lead in its normal development to 'fatherhood' and 'motherhood' in the spiritual sense..." TOB 78:5, page 432

    • Does it follow that religious communities/churches must have male pastors (or priests) as spiritual fathers but not female pastors (or priests) as spiritual mothers?

    "The 'body' signifies (according to Genesis) the visible aspect of man and his belonging to the visible world." TOB 86:4, page 461

    • Does it follow that the body, as a sacrament of the whole person, is actually the whole person? Does it follow that, at the incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity became just a visible body? Does it follow that only male human bodies can signify Jesus Christ as a divine Person?

    "The reciprocal relationship between the spouses, husband and wife, should be understood by Christians according to the image of the relationship between Christ and the Church." TOB 89:8, page 475

    • Does it follow that a purely patriarchal interpretation of the Bridegroom-Bride analogy in Ephesians 5:21-33 exhausts the Christ-Church mystery?

    "By the term 'sign' we mean here simply the 'visibility of the Invisible'. The mystery hidden from ages in God, that is, the Invisible, became visible first of all in the historical event itself of Christ. The relationship of Christ with the Church, which is defined in Ephesians as 'mysterium magnum, the great mystery,' constitutes the fulfillment and concretization of the visibility of the same mystery." TOB 95:7, page 502

    • Does it follow that the allegorical image of marriage as sacramentum magnum exhausts the mysterium magnum? Does it follow that continence 'for the kingdom of heaven' has no spousal meaning?

    "The natural regulation of fertility is morally right; contraception is not morally right." TOB 122:2, page 629

    • Does it follow that, even in a post-patriarchal age, rules that prevent the conception of female vocations to ordained ministry are to be perpetuated as morally right?

    It would seem that the answer to all the above questions is "no." If so, it would seem that objections to women in roles of religious authority, such as community headship and the sacramental priesthood, have no rational basis. Since faith transcends reason, but should not be irrational, it would seem that the age of religious patriarchy is destined to follow the age of patriarchy into oblivion. God will survive. Faith will survive. Families, and the human family, will survive. All the major world religions can become better instruments of human development as they are liberated from the patriarchal mindset of male supremacy.

    Given the innate need we all have to belong to something bigger than ourselves, religious faith plays a pivotal role in all dimensions of human life. When organized religion is inspired by the golden rule, good things happen. When it is contaminated by ideological extremes, bad things happen. The TOB, as an "ethics of reciprocity" that pertains to all human relations, liberates the Christian tradition (potentially, all religious traditions) from the patriarchal ideology of male supremacy. That this liberation from patriarchy is a "sign of the times" is evident from the daily news, both the good news and the bad news. The "spousal meaning of the human body," which until rather recently was generally perceived through a patriarchal lens, becomes more fully significant when understood, as in the TOB, in terms of unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, and individuality in community.

    Common Ground for Solidarity and Sustainability

    The human body makes visible realities that are invisible in many different ways. The language of the body is spousal, as it conveys the inner motivations of the acting person. The body is not the whole person, but is a sacrament of the whole person. In the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is God incarnated to bring about a new creation. Body language becomes liturgical when it makes visible the ways God serves and works. Human persons and communities constitute the common ground where solidarity and sustainability must be worked out.

    Just as there are several layers of vegetation and soil, there are also several layers of reality in each body-person. To use the ecosystem analogy, human persons exhibit superficial physical traits and personality (vegetation, humus), ethnicity (topsoil), and sexuality (subsoil) based on the body (bedrock). The analogy readily extends from trees to forests and from persons to communities. For both individuals and communities, existence is precarious when the layers are thin and/or lack organic content. For body-persons, sustainable development is shallow when restricted to skin-deep personal, ethnic, and gender traits. The bedrock of the human person is the body, not skin pigment, or race, or sexual anatomy, even though sexual differentiation sits directly on the body and induces significant differences that propagate upwards to more superficial psychosomatic layers. Needless to say, the spiritual soul permeates all layers of the body-person.

    The invisible realities that human bodies make visible include all the layers and the fuzzy interfaces between layers. For instance, with regard to sexual differentiation, the somatic homogeneity of male and female bodies makes visible the original unity of man and woman (TOB 8:4). At the same time, male and female human bodies visibly signify the differences that emerge in the psychological dimension without thereby cancelling the unity of human nature. Modern analytical psychology has shown that human persons are not exclusively male or exclusively female. Every human being is fundamentally androgynous (from andros and gynos, the Greek words for "man" and "woman" respectively). There is man in woman, and there is woman in man (the Jungian animus and anima, respectively). Thus the female polarity in men, and the male polarity in women, are like "invisible partners" that influence all human relations in a visibly significant manner.

    This multi-layered soil is the common ground for sustainable development in both the social and ecological dimensions. It is the common ground where integral human development can happen as each family becomes a communion of persons. It is the common ground where every secular and religious institution, and the entire human family, can become, at least to some extent, a communion of persons that cares for each other and acts in harmony with nature. Now that ethnic and racial inequalities are recognized, at least in principle, as social evils, it is time to go one step further to overcome all manner of gender inequalities that are unnatural and driven by ideologies such as male supremacy. That this should be a priority for both secular and religious institutions worldwide is amply demonstrated in recent reports by Christian Aid on gender justice, ecological justice, and the theology of gender.

    Given the criticality of gender relations for sustainable development, and specifically for integral human development, it is becoming increasingly urgent for Christian churches and other patriarchal religions to overcome the ideology of male supremacy. As is well known, Jesus of Nazareth never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family of Nazareth was not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal (sacramental) love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal; in fact, we know (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) that Christ submits to the church, which contradicts a literalist interpretation of the Pauline allegory about the Christ-Church mystery (Ephesians 5:21-33). Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is God and our Redeemer, not because he is male.

    In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CIC 1024, CCC 1598). The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as she decides it would be for the glory of God and the good of souls. At a time when the influence of religion on the collective conscience of people is sorely needed to foster solidarity and sustainability (see Ramanathan and McNutt) can the churches really contribute morally as long as they remain patriarchal? It is anticipated that Pope Francis will publish an encyclical letter about issues of social and ecological justice in the near future. The patriarchal age is passing away. Let us pray that all Christian churches, as well as all the other religious traditions, are able to discern the difference between patriarchal ideology and revealed truth, and act accordingly.

    Credit: Catholic Climate Covenant


    This essay is one more step in the journey to discern the signs of the times with regard to the role of the family in the transition from patriarchy to a civilization of social and ecological justice. The nuclear family is the "domestic school" of responsible citizenship. It is the fundamental building block of human society and the most fertile ground for integral human development. The patriarchal age is passing away, and the transition to a post-patriarchal age is creating new and formidable challenges for young families.

    A new ethos of solidarity and sustainability will be required for future generations to enjoy a decent quality of life. This new ethos must be engendered in the nuclear family, from which it can propagate to the entire human family. A new ethos for the post-patriarchal age must include a radical renewal of gender relations that can be internalized by people of good will across all cultures worldwide. It must be an ethos rooted in the most fundamental realities of human nature.

    John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) is proposed as a theological anthropology that could be relevant across all cultures and religious traditions. It is based on the two most fundamental pillars of human nature: (1) humans are body-persons endowed with physical bodies and spiritual souls integrated in perfect unity, and (2) integral human development happens in caring communities, not in individualistic isolation. A unique concept in the TOB is "the spousal character of the human body," meaning that the body makes visible the inner person acting in relationships with others and nature.

    The working hypothesis that motivates this exploration is that human body-persons, male and female, working together in solidarity, can build a tripod of unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, and individuality in community, as a platform on which integral -- and sustainable -- human development can happen. The human body is thus the common ground for sustainable development. All human institutions, both secular and religious, now face the splendid challenge of overcoming the patriarchal mindset of male domination that engenders disunity, inequality, and many kinds of individualistic (and often violent) zero-sum games.

    The patriarchal age is passing away. It is anticipated that Pope Francis will publish a document on human ecology in the near future. Let us pray that all Christian churches -- indeed, all religious traditions -- are able to discern the difference between patriarchal ideology and revealed truth, and act accordingly.


  • The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in Each of Us Affects Our Relationships, John A. Sanford, Paulist Press, 1979.
  • Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Brundtland Commission, United Nations, 1987.
  • The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Pope John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997. See also Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II, translation by Michael Waldstein, Pauline Books, 2006. For more on the TOB, including tutorials and recent updates, visit The TOB Net and The Cor Project.
  • Ethics for a New Millennium, Dalai Lama, Riverhead Trade, 2001.
  • Conceptualization of the Person in Social Sciences, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Vatican City, 2005.
  • A User's Guide to Integral Human Development (IHD), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Baltimore, 2009.
  • Caritas in Veritate, Encyclical Letter on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 29 June 2009.
  • Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, Dalai Lama, Mariner Books, 2011.
  • As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission, Alan G. Padgett, Baker Academic, 2011.
  • Theology of the Body for Every Body, Leah Perrault, Novalis Publishing, 2012.
  • Following St. Francis: John Paul II's Call for Ecological Action, Marybeth Lorbiecki, Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2014.
  • Ideas Have Consequences: Faith, Gender, and Social Ethics, Mimi Haddad, Priscilla Papers, Winter 2014 (reprinted here). See also Male and Female: One Image, One Purpose, Mimi Haddad, Red Letter Christians, 26 March 2014, and Mutuality, Spring 2014.
  • Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility, Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Vatican City, 2-6 May 2014.
  • Of the Same Flesh: Exploring a Theology of Gender, Susan Durber, Christian Aid, July 2014. See also Gender Justice for All: Achieving just and equitable power relations between women and men, Christian Aid, July 2014.
  • Human Development Report 2014: "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience", UNDP, United Nations, 24 July 2014.
  • Marriage and the Family Within the Sacramentality of the Church, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Communio, Summer 2014.
  • Scientists turn to Pope Francis and world’s religions to save the planet, John Bingham, The Telegraph, 18 September 2014.
  • The Pope tackles sustainability, Marcia McNutt, Science, 19 September 2014.
  • Pursuit of the common good, Partha Dasgupta and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Science, 19 September 2014.
  • Religions for Climate Justice: International Interfaith Statements 2008-2014, Christoph Stückelberger, Global Ethics, 23 September 2014.
  • Current series on family issues and sustainable development:

  • Gender Balance in the Post-Patriarchal Age, November 2013.
  • On Gender Groupthink, Solidarity, and Sustainability, December 2013.
  • On Gender, Family, and Integral Human Development, January 2014.
  • On Families and the Human Family, February 2014.
  • Sustainable Development of the Human Family, March 2014.
  • Sustainable Development of Body-Persons, April 2014.
  • On Sustainable Humanity & Sustainable Nature, May 2014.
  • Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility, June 2014.
  • Cultural Evolution for Solidarity and Sustainability, July 2014.
  • Conscious Evolution for Solidarity and Sustainability, August 2014.
  • Collective Evolution for Solidarity and Sustainability, September 2014.
  • Common Ground for Solidarity and Sustainability, October 2014.

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