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To what extent are the differences between man and woman rooted in the soul, rather than just the body? If the soul is the “form” of the body, one might assume that masculinity and femininity are characteristics of the soul before they are of the body. Yet the tradition of patristic and medieval commentary on Scripture suggests otherwise. The difficulty was partly how to reconcile the teaching of Genesis that man and woman together were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and that of St Paul that man is the “image and glory of God”, whereas woman is (only?) “the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7), having been made from man. Most agreed that woman, being taken from the side of man rather than his foot or his head, was intended to be his equal and rather than his slave or his master. Furthermore it was accepted that women were at least as capable as men of receiving grace and becoming saints. But some concluded that “woman” and “man” are sometimes used in Scripture as symbolic terms representing the lower and higher intellect respectively–woman being the lower, more engaged with the physical world. Man, however, has a certain superiority in ruling, according to these writers. To a modern person, such arguments are less than persuasive.

It seems to me that not enough attention was given to the fact that in Genesis 3:16 man’s ruling over woman is identified as a consequence of the Fall, rather than as part of the original order of things. As for the allegorical identification with the higher and lower intellect, this is interesting in that it suggests a complexity within the soul itself, but a more sophisticated interpretation is called for. The soul clearly has different levels and faculties, including the spirit (where we come most closely into contact with God), the will, mind, memory, imagination, and so forth. The soul is capable of receiving input from the senses, and thus being extremely closely involved with the body. But it also seems able to be absorbed entirely into contemplation, and through ecstasy to transcend its physical limitations. Woman may indeed be more, rather than less, susceptible to these “higher” activities of the soul/spirit.

Medieval writers tended to say that the part of man that images God is not the body, nor the lower parts of the soul, but the higher part–the spirit or higher intellect. This is because God is not a body, of course, but purely spiritual. This too needs some re-examination. Perhaps even gender is part of the image of God. That certainly is the implication of John Paul II’s theology of the body. When Genesis talks of man (male and female) being made in the image of God it does not refer merely to the most spiritual part of man. It is easy enough to abstract “feminine” and “masculine” qualities that could applied analogously at the spiritual level, and even to God (to whom Scripture certainly attributes maternal qualities at times). These abstractions should not be applied crudely, but handled with care I think they reveal something interesting.

Thus Pope John Paul II writes,

man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. The function of the image is to reflect the one who is the model, to reproduce its own prototype. Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.

It is not that God the Father is “masculine”, while the Son or Spirit is “feminine”. Rather one would say that the relationship of giving and receiving between the divine persons, and the delight they take in each other, are the archetype or model of the communion that exists between human beings, and in a particular way between man and woman, whose very biology indicates that they are made for fruitful union with each other. If God is love, and to love is to give and receive one’s very being, images of this relationship must abound throughout the cosmos, and in man especially, both in his body and in his soul, both in the psychological and in the more spiritual realm. Thus to be man or woman–a fact that marks our bodies right down to the cellular level–is no mere accidental property. Of course, to be human, to be an animal, to be alive, and even in a sense to be an image of God, pertains more to our “substance” than to be a man or woman. Nevertheless, gender is almost as deeply rooted in what we are, and if we follow Gregory of Nyssa and others in interpreting the “coats of skins” with which God clothes fallen mankind as representing the fleshy bodies we now possess, this may even be an implication of the Genesis account itself, for man at that point has already been divided into the two sexes. It is as men and woman, made for each other, but made first of all for God, that we are called to minister to the cosmos.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Interesting subject. I cannot remember if it was Anselm Grunn or Anthony deMello who wrote also about women having a greater predisposition towards faith precisely on account of their souls being less hindered by reason (you see, the pretense to consider it negative that women are less rational is the real problem – for reason can cloud God, and that is not good). The author of these thoughts went on to point out that the resurrected Christ showed Himself first to women, and the men did not believe them. God thus confounded human reason and humbled manly rational pride, exhaulting the capacity for loving faith in women.

    By this account, women are superior to men because they are capable of a loving relation with God unhindered by petty manly prideful reason.

    I suspect this praise of women would not appeal to “feminists” whose goal is to actually transform women into men, leaving the world with no real femininity and in the end, making homosexuals out of men, since the eradication of sexual distinctions (thus homogenous sexuality) leads to homosexual eroticism.

  2. Interesting, Mr. Caldecott. Your ideas here make thought provoking reading. If I understand, the Man and Woman were beings of spirit until the Fall? At their expulsion from the Garden of Eden they took on physical bodies? With this idea the troubles, or the consequences, that man will henceforth have to suffer make perfect sense. What a wonderful thought. And that leads to the different genders existing in The Garden prior to their being as physical body.

    Peter Strzelecki Rieth, you comment that women relate to God and religion differently. Your contrast makes so much sense. And I agree with your conclusion about women who would like to transform women into men, obliterating the marvelous contrast between the masculine and the feminine.

    As a woman, and in defense of the masculine way, however, I have a wee quibble when it comes to this: “By this account, women are superior to men because they are capable of a loving relationship with God unhindered by petty manful prideful reason.”

    I would almost hold that God must have a tiny preference towards the masculine way. And, therefore, the women’s way is not then superior. This is because man, the masculine, was created by God first. It just does not sit well with me to think of woman as having any superiority, when it comes to the worship of our God, to the masculine man. i believe, when God wanted to create mankind, he poured his love into His creation, man. But, equally as important, God would have poured the attributes that he loved well into His masculine creation. It was upon seeing that man was alone, then God created woman. And I just think it is unfair to the masculine way to think that God would find the woman’s way of worship superior in any way.

    So, I do agree with your profile of the contrast between their worship styles, I just cannot think that God would not at least have equal preference for both styles, if not feel closer to the masculine man, His original creation.

  3. Jaynie, It seems that you believe that woman was created as an “after thought” or as one theologian puts it, an “also ran” and that the male is God’s preference. I am sorry that you have apparently heard teachings that bring you to this conclusion. The Godhead said in Genesis, Let us make man in our image. . . male and female made He them. Jesus said that “from the beginning” God made male and female. The female was made from the beginning – and was present in the first human being who was male/female. Because Adam was in the process of falling, it became necessary for God to separate the female out from the male.

    The word translated Rib really means the whole side. It was not simply a rib that God used to fashion a female. Also, the word “help meet” is Ezer Kenegdo – and is used of God Himself in Ps. 121 “My “help” comes from the LORD which made heaven and earth. Indeed, it was no inferior type of help that God made when He created Eve.

    Also, the idea that God put Adam as a ruler over Eve as a result of the fall is completely false. God was warning Eve that if she turned to Adam (away from God) he would rule over her. The word translated “desire” is teshegua, and means turning. The New Testament clearly tells us that Adam was not deceived but outright rebelled against God, while Eve was tricked. Now, if you are a parent, do you take a child who purposely rebels against you and put them authority over the others? Neither did God.

    Adam hid his sin, even accusing God of being the cause of it (. . . the woman YOU gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree. . . ). Eve confesses but also exposes the work of the devil – which Adam should have done. Adam was there when Eve took of the fruit of the tree, yet he did nothing to stop her. The Hebrew tells us that he was in once accord with her when she ate (.. . and gave some to her husband WITH her). The word translated “with” there means in “one accord”. Not only that, but when Adam said in verse 12 “And I did eat” the Hebrew word is in a continuous tense – meaning that he said, I did eat and I will eat again!

    There is just so much evidence to show that God does not “prefer” males. It is written that God is no respecter of persons!~ In His sight there is “no male or female, Jew or Greek, bond or free, for we are all one in Christ.”

  4. Hello. I love your posts, they are all so thought provoking. Considering that God created man both male and female…it seems male could refer to his spiritual being and female could relate to flesh or carnal being…it would sure solve alot of other questions.

  5. I believe that, in Genesis 1, God created man (spirit) and woman(soul) in His image. In Genesis 2, God united both spirit and soul within the flesh. God is no respect of persons, so I always thought it odd that Paul said that a woman is not to speak or teach in the church, among other gender biased things. However, if one sees “man/male/husband” as spirit (that which seeks after God and His holiness), and “woman/female/wife” as the soul (easily deceived and carnally minded) then it makes sense that a person behind the pulpit should speak from his/her spirit, rather than from his/her soul. Both spirit and soul need to come together and balance each other out in order to live a righteous and fruitful life. If one rules over the other, it causes one to be barren and unholy.

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