A Road to the World
The Richness of the Love Between Man and Woman
On 17-19 November , in the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith held an interreligious meeting entitled: “The Complementarity of Man and Woman”. Many experts of different faiths from all over the world gave addresses .... Cardinal Müller, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith welcomed the participants and gave the opening address....
Each of us, reflecting on his or her human condition, perceives how one’s own humanity cannot be exhausted in oneself. One’s own male or female being is not sufficient to oneself. Each one of us feels needy and lacking in completion. This fact, indelible in human nature, reveals our radical dependence: we do not complete ourselves from our own selves, we are not totally self-sufficient. This simple consideration, clear to all, would suffice to demonstrate the inadequacy of the markedly individualistic trait so characteristic of the modem mentality.
Our meeting takes as its point of departure this elementary consideration, opening it to the mystery of God. It gives rise to the question: what import does the complementarity between man and woman have for the relationship between the human person and God? It is this question that each of our cultural and religious traditions is invited to engage. In the Judeo- Christian perspective, this theme is quite relevant and emerges immediately in the reading and interpretation found in Tradition on the basis of some basic and essential biblical texts. The myth of the man Androgyny, which Plato speaks about in his Symposium, is well known. By divine punishment, original man — a spherical being, and, at the same time, male and female, was divided in two in a way that each part remains in constant search of the other, in continuous movement, thus blocking any representation of a threat to the gods.
The myth of Androgyny teaches us — just like the Bible in its account of Genesis — that sexual difference is not only diversity, in the same way that peoples and their customs are diverse, and does not merely signify a variegated plurality. Indeed, in itself plurality does not include the need of the other to understand itself, even if diversity may nevertheless be enriching. Rather, in sexual difference — and this is essential — each of the two can only understand him- or herself in light of the other: the male needs the female to be understood, and the same is true for the female. For this reason, the Bible puts Adam and Eve one before the other (cf. Gen 2:18). Difference thereby imbues in man and woman the knowledge that something is lacking in them, that they cannot find their fulfilment in themselves: each “only in communion with the opposite sex can become ‘complete’”, as Benedict XVI wrote in the Encyclical Deus CaritasEst (n. 11). Hence, a different interpretation of this lack may be noted in the myth of Androgyny and in the Bible.
Whereas in the first case, sexual difference is viewed as a punishment that weakens man in order that he cannot draw near to the gods, thus becoming a fall of man from the almost divine level to impotent slavery, in the Bible difference is the place of blessing, the exact place where God will make present His action and His image. In this way, we can comprehend that, while in the myth of Androgyny, man and woman are two halves of a human being, in Scripture, each of the two, Adam and Eve, are measured not only according to their mutual relation but above all from the starting point of their relationship with God.
It is important to underline also another dissimilarity between the Platonic account and that of Scripture: whereas in the former, man and woman, when they unite, become a full and self-satisfied being, in the book of Genesis the union of man and woman does not lead to fulfilment, does not close them within themselves, for it is precisely in uniting with each other that they open themselves to the greater presence of God.
It is precisely the presence of God within the union between man and woman that helps us consider the meaning of their complementarity. This cannot be understood in a polar fashion, as if male and female were opposing realities who complete each other perfectly (active and passive, exterior and interior, etc.) so as to become a closed unity; rather, it is a matter of different ways of situating themselves in the world so that, when they come together, far from closing themselves in, these open the path towards the world and others, a path that leads above all to the encounter with God.
The union of male and female is complementary, not in the sense that from it ensues one complete in him- or herself, but in the sense that their union demonstrates how both are a mutual help to journey towards the Creator. The way in which this union refers to itself always beyond itself becomcs evident in the birth of a child. The union of the two, making themselves “one flesh,” is proven precisely in the one flesh of those generated by that union. Hence, we see confirmed how complementarity also means overabundance, an insurgence of novelty.
From the presence of the child comes a light that can help us describe the complementarity of man and woman. The relationship of the parents with the baby, where both open outward beyond themselves, is a privileged way to understand the difference between the man and the woman in their role as father and mother. Complementarity is not understood, therefore, when we consider man and woman in an isolated form, but when we consider them in the perspective of the mystery to which their union opens outward, and when we look in a concrete way at male and female in light of the relationship with the child.
One might add that the female aspect is characterized by a constant presence, which always accompanies the child. Indeed, in German, when a woman is pregnant, we say that she “carries a baby beneath her heart” (“dass sie ein Kind unter dem Herzen trägt"). Contemporary philosophy has spoken of the feminine as a dwelling place, as a presence that envelops man from the beginning and accompanies him along the way, as a singular sensitivity for the person as a gift and for his affirmation. On the other hand, the male is characterized, in terms of the child, as the presence of someone “in the distance”, in a distance that attracts, and, therefore, helps in walking the journey of life. Both male and female are necessary to transmit to the child the prescnce of the Creator, both as love that envelops and confirms the goodness of existence despite all else, and as a call that from afar invites one to grow.
The first place where sexual difference appears in the life of the person is exactly in the experience of the offspring. Our origin, our first place of contact with the mystery, is revealed in the union of our parents from which comes life. Male and female make visible for each child who comes into the world, in a sacramental way, the presence of the Creator. The good of this difference, the perception of male and female, is the essential grammar to educate the child as a person open to the mystery of God.
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21 November 2014, page 7
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