Is God a Sexist Part III: How Men and Woman are Different
Preface: Don’t Blame Me, Blame St. Edith!
I have waited to write this part because I wanted to get it correct. I am going to
be making statements that will lead many of you to knee-jerk reactions that I am sexist. I
will say things like “Women are like X, therefore God didn’t choose them to be priests.”
The reaction will probably be: “How dare you say women are like X? I’m a woman and I am
not like X!” I must ask you to be patient. It will all become clear if you keep reading.
To insulate me from criticism, I am not going to use my own private theories of the
differences between men and women, but am going to draw from the writings of Edith Stein,
AKA St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce. (All quotations will be taken from Woman, by Edith
Stein, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington 1996.)
Are Male and Female Souls Different? Yes they are. It is quite simple.Stein says
that only those who are blinded by controversy would deny that women are different from
men, and that they are fitted by nature for a particular vocation: “The clear and
irrevocable word of Scripture declares what daily experience teaches from the beginning of
the world: woman is destined to be wife and mother.” (45) Woman is both spiritually and
physically determined for this job. More on this later.
Ok. If women are physically and spiritually different, and we agree with St. Thomas
Aquinas that the soul is the form of the body, giving rise to all physical and spiritual
differences, then it is clear that women have different souls than men. Stop and think
about this, because it is important. Yes, men and women are both human, but we are
fundamentally different, and it is not just a difference of upbringing. We are different
in our inner core, in our souls. Furthermore, this intrinsic difference is willed by God
from the beginning, since we are created male and female.
So what are male and female souls like? Stein gives more detail on feminine souls,
but there is enough to sketch out the souls of man and woman.
The soul of the man:Man is to master the world: “Hence his body and soul are
equipped to fight and conquer it, to understand it and by knowledge to make it his own, to
possess and enjoy it, and, finally, to make it in a sense his own creation through
purposeful activity.” (71) Men are designed to take on projects outside of them and by
hard work and sacrifice are to conquer things that need conquering, understand things that
need understanding, and to preserve and defend where necessary. They are fitted to
abstract thinking and in concentrating every ounce of power on one goal.
Evidence of the particular nature of man can be seen in the way men tend to go
wrong. Rather than being masters of the world for God’s purposes, men tend to seek mastery
for its own sake. Rather than subduing the world for the sake of the development of God’s
people, “man seeks to exploit it greedily to the point of destruction or to senseless
acquisition without understanding how to profit from it or how to enjoy it.” (71) Further,
in marriage, the normal headship of the man becomes violent subjugation.
Here is how Stein describes the ideal man: “To be a finite image of divine wisdom,
goodness, and power would mean that man would seek to know within the form and the limits
ordained by God, to enjoy gratefully the glory of God as manifested in God’s creatures, to
help perfect creation in a free human act as God intended.” (73)
The soul of woman: In contrast to man, “her body and soul are fashioned less to
fight and to conquer than to cherish, guard, and preserve.” Women are directed toward the
living-personal whole. They are directed to cherish growth and advance the life of the
creatures around them. Facts, abstract work, total dedication to some task are not ends in
themselves for women. They seek the whole person, and so don’t subjugate any part of the
total person to any particular aspect.
These natural characteristics of woman are directed towards her role as mother. The
complete development of the family requires that women be sensitive to the total range of
personal development, and to nurture and cherish each aspect of the other members.
Evidence for this particular nature of woman can be seen in the way women tend to go
wrong, says Stein, getting lost in sensuality, in meddling in others’ lives, in gossip,
and in attempting to force growth to go in certain ways, rather than allowing the family
to flourish as it will. Consider as an example the almost inevitable clash between mother
and daughter over planning the wedding: all too often the mother has difficulty in
stepping aside and allowing the daughter to shine, but rather wishes to dictate the
wedding preparations herself.
Ordination of Men or Women?
At this point I am going to apply what Stein says to the problem of women’s
ordination. Is there anything in these sketches of masculine and feminine souls that would
be a reason for God to choose only men for the priesthood? I think there could be.
Consider one aspect of the job of the priest/bishop: the preservation of the deposit of
faith given to us by Christ. This magisterium or teaching office is not just teaching, but
defense, a constant fight against those who challenge and attempt to destroy or distort
How does having men be the bishops help? Part of the nature of man is his obsessive
interest in getting the facts right, and defending to the death even the most apparently
trivial things. Some examples: imagine a couple of guys sitting around discussing
baseball. One says to the other, “Stan Musial is third all-time in hits.” The second guy
disagrees, saying “You won’t believe this, but it is Hank Aaron!” “It can’t be,” replies
the first, “Aaron was just a home-run hitter.” They continue this discussion, with the
words getting more and more heated. Before they can come to blows, their wives come back
to the table, and say “Why are you fighting about that? It doesn’t matter!” The women
cannot see why it would be important that Aaron is third (3771) and Musial is fourth
(3630) in hits. It is a truly trivial fact, something that has nothing to do with daily
life. So why bother? The women’s concern is with the concrete, the here and now, what will
help us to enjoy life at this moment. The men’s concern is with truth in the abstract,
with getting the facts right, and they are even prepared to fight to defend the truth.
Ok. Transpose this discussion to Nicea in the fourth century. The question is
whether Christ is truly God or whether he is a creature. One guy (Arius) says that Jesus
is a creature, begotten of the Father before the dawn of time, but a creature nonetheless.
Another guy, Athanasius, says that Jesus is God, begotten of the Father before all ages.
There is a terrible fight over this abstract point, and even wars. St. Nicholas even
punches Arius in the nose! Finally they decide that Jesus is in fact “God from God, light
from light, true God from true God. . . of one substance with the Father.” Now imagine if
the wives walked into the council of Nicea: can you imagine them saying “What’s all the
fuss about? Why is this important? Most people won’t even understand what you are talking
about. How will this affect concrete day to day life?”
The feminine genius for seeking the good of the whole person is wonderful in family
life: it prevents people from becoming overly one-sided, or seeking one human good to the
detriment of all the others. But this tendency to seek conciliation and balance is only
good in situations where conciliation and balance is important. In the defense of the
faith what is needed is a fighting spirit and a commitment to one particular human good,
the truth. I suggest that God may pick men alone for the priesthood partly because of the
need to defend, define, and develop the fine points of the faith.
(Here is another example: if any of you watched the recent show, American Idol, you
may have seen the three judges they have deciding if the kids have any talent. Simon and
Randy tell the often brutal truth to the contestants without concern for their feelings.
(That is part of the appeal of the show.) Paula Abdul, on the other hand, always tries to
console those without talent, telling them that if they work harder or get lessons they
might succeed. She is telling little encouraging white-lies to safeguard the self-esteem
of the young performers. Simon and Randy have no such scruples. Thought experiment: If you
have seen the show, would you rather have Pope Simon or Pope Paula?)