LEX ORANDI, LEX CREDENDI:
THE OUTRAGE OF INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE
Monsignor Richard J. Schuler
(This article was given as an address at the conference marking the twenty-
anniversary of the founding of the Saint Paul, Minnesota, chapter of
Catholics United for
the Faith (CUF), April 16,1994.)
"God created man to His own image: to the image of God He created him, male
and female He created him." (Genesis 1:27)
The characteristic of sex is the first-mentioned quality describing the
first human beings created by God, as recorded in the very first chapter
of the first book of the Bible. He created them in His own image, and He
created them male and female. Before they are distinguished as tall or
short, young or old, fat or lean, white or black, blond or brunette, they
are divided as males and females, so essential and basic is that
distinction. We continue to think the same way today. Look at the usual
birth certificate and the information it provides. Often it says only "Male
Child" or "Female Child," sometimes even omitting the Christian name. The
weight, height or health of the child is not important. But its sex is.
God created them "male and female." And there is no changing that, despite
all the obscene efforts at sex changes that the press so loves to exploit.
It is important that the differentiation of sex is based in the very
person, not just in the obvious external or internal organs of
reproduction, or other physical manifestations of sex. The very person is
male or female, created to be such by God in whose image we are made. The
person is made up of body and soul, and the characteristics of sex are
rooted not just in the body, but in the soul as well. The characteristics
of sex are expressed in the functions of the soul, in the intellect and the
will. How one thinks and how one chooses manifest the sex of the person.
The various and differing qualities of the two sexes have been observed and
studied from earliest times. Each sex has characteristics distinguishing
it. How they complement each other has long been observed. Neither is
superior in all things. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses
with respect to the other; each is the victim of original sin and it
suffers the consequences. Each is made in God's image, and each is called
to eternity in God's presence. For the continuation of the race we must
have two sexes, which attract each other and complement each other. Sex is
of the utmost importance in God's plan for the human race. Sex is
essential in the formation of the person, his character and his entire
life. There is little argument over these points. If you will, these are
"the facts of life."
But there is argument when one transfers to the area of verbal expression
of these facts. The expression of sex through language is causing in our
times a controversy involving the selection of words used to describe God
Himself. There is disagreement about the use of certain words in the
scriptures and in liturgical texts.
Language is the most fundamental and at the same time the most complex
means of expression for the person. The gift of speech is exclusively
human; God did not give it to the animals; the angels do not need words to
communicate. Words are symbols of human ideas. Developed and used over the
years words carry meanings and concepts that express the activities and
ideas of persons, both bodily and spiritual, persons of both sexes. Words
when studied and organized into a grammar, fit into categories that
reflect the very nature of the human person who uses them. Thus, some
words express qualities of the female sex and others those of the male
sex. Grammarians in time recognized these qualities and distinguished words
by their gender, which was based both in the external form of the word and
in its basic meaning. Words must express truth.
Grammatical qualities are different as various cultures differ, but the
basic facts of sex and number are much the same through the various
language groups spread over a large area of peoples. Rules of expression,
based on usage, were created, and the discipline of grammar was born. Some
changes in language occur over long periods of time, but the basic elements
remain unchangeable, even after concentrated efforts have been made to
effect change. (Interestingly, the language boundaries of Europe remain
today at the same lines that existed in Caesar's time--in the Low
Countries, in the Alpine districts between Italy and Germany, along the
eastern European frontiers.) Within our English language, changed as it has
in many ways through the passage of time and its exportation to every
continent, certain elements remain the same over centuries of usage.
Many words are capable of a variety of meanings. Consult the dictionary and
see how one word can have many uses. Note how the context is so important
to the meaning. Words are able to be used in a "marked" or "unmarked"
manner. The distinction between marked and unmarked is often found in all
manner of contrasts. The generic, unmarked word usually includes the
specific, marked word. The unmarked words occur entirely independent of sex
or social status or even the grammatical forms, while the marked words have
some restricting or specifying quality attached to them. Let me explain
what is meant by "marked" and "unmarked." For example, we have the word,
"poetess," which is marked for gender, next to "poet" which is unmarked.
The word "poet" can include both male and female poets, but "poetess" is
exclusively feminine. The marked word is thus a specification or
restriction of the unmarked word.
Or we have the use of the word "men" to indicate not sex, but a distinction
used in the military between the "officers" and those who are not
commissioned and are without rank. Used in an unmarked sense, "men" can
refer to all persons who possess the male sex, but in a marked military
sense, "men" is distinguished from "officers," who in one sense are men
(possessing the male sex) and in another they are not called men, since
they are called "officers." (Can you imagine the problems in translating
the Credo to say "for us men and officers, he came down from heaven?")
Another example. If we talk about "cat" and "kitten," cat is an unmarked
form including kitten, which is a word marked or specified for age or size.
In those words that are "unmarked" we include the entire concept; thus
"man" (unmarked) includes all those who possess human nature: it includes
men (marked), women, children, the unborn. To understand which form--marked
or unmarked--is being used is easily and clearly determined by those who
are speaking and those who are listening. Words must not be taken out of
The great campaign underway today for the use of so-called inclusive
language has made all of us conscious of certain words that the advocates
of this effort insist be avoided. Without wanting to, the use of male-
oriented words in even the reading of the scriptures can cause concern and
sometimes annoyance for some, depending on their position in this
controversy. Some words have almost assumed a kind of "taboo." This
phenomenon is, of course, above any linguistic position. A "taboo" is
rather the stigmatizing of certain words for religious, superstitious,
political or social reasons, and restricting their use in certain company
where they are unacceptable and not to be employed. In some societies,
words referring to hell or certain bodily functions and parts are not to be
spoken. They are under taboo. This is one technique that is being employed
today in an effort to remove so-called exclusive language from our liturgy.
There are other words that contain a message beyond their basic meaning,
indicating that by merely using a certain word a person indicates that he
has a particular political position or a philosophical or even theological
point of view. Society has tacked on an additional meaning to an ordinary
word. Thus, in Mussolini's Italy, the Italian form for "you" was altered
from lei to voi as part of the Fascist plan. According to whether one used
the former or the new expression, one indicated one's acceptance or
rejection of il Duce. Today, much the same kind of self-revelation can be
found with respect to the reading of the scriptures and the avoidance of
words that are thought to exclude the female sex. The Italian who said voi
was giving the equivalent of a fascist salute; the bishop who uses
inclusive language is making a little genuflection in the direction of
Truly, there is no such thing as exclusive language. It is undeniably true
that one can use speech to urge the consideration that women should be
excluded from this or that enterprise, just as one can use speech to demean
others and their activities, but the language in and through which these
injustices are advanced cannot of itself be "gender exclusive." The concept
of inclusivity (as its partisans would have us understand it) is a
phantasm, a category mistake, a chimaera buzzing in a vacuum. As Father
Paul V. Mankowski writes in an article in Faith (Vol. 26, No. 1):
"Exclusion and inclusion have a political valence, but not a linguistic
one, and the attempt to pretend otherwise is itself a politically motivated
Sex and language are two separate things. Gender and sex are not the same.
Sex refers to a human quality, found both in body and in soul; gender is a
quality of words, found in their form and in their meaning. While gender
often coincides with sex in the meaning of a word, sex does not always
determine the gender of a word. Latin, for example, has many words in the
feminine gender that are without sex significance in themselves: for
example, navis (ship), rosa (rose), camera (room), domus (house), etc.
French and Italian have no neuter gender, and so words without any sexual
association in those languages fall into either the masculine or feminine
genders. In German, diminutives are neuter; thus the word for maiden in
German is a neuter noun, das Madchen. Only English has made the shift to an
almost total co-incidence of sex and gender. But even in English, remnants
remain of former days. We often refer to ships as feminine; we call the
Mississippi the "father" of waters; a trumpeter, even when the instrument
is played by a woman, is designated as a masculine noun, certainly in form
and probably in an understanding that goes back to days when only men
played a trumpet.
God is a masculine noun in English and most other languages. Jesus,
Himself, taught us to call God, our Father. Our ideas about God, in whose
image we are made, come from our knowledge of ourselves. We know from our
knowledge of human nature what the concept of father means to us. From that
we conclude to the concept of God and the qualities He possesses. God sent
us His Son to tell us about the Father, and He described the Father to us
in our own human concepts and language. We must live and be as Christ has
taught us, so that we might know God in knowing ourselves. Thus many of the
characteristics of God are expressed in our concepts of human fatherhood.
All fatherhood comes from God, and the human fatherhood that we know from
experience gives us a notion of God, albeit a very inferior one.
It goes without saying, that God is without sex, even though He has
revealed to us that within the Holy Trinity the Three Persons have a
relationship in which One is spoken of as Father and Another as Son. But
there are those who object to using the terms "Father" and "Son" with
respect to God. Sex, in the human understanding of that quality, is not
found in God; the concept of fatherhood in God expresses many qualities
beyond the physical actions of sex. Indeed, the use of the term "Father"
makes it possible for us to have some kind of idea about some of the basic
qualities of God, a weak reflection of which can be found in human beings,
made in His likeness. The use of "Son" expresses the relationship of the
Divine Persons to each other in their generation, not in any meaning that
refers to sexual action.
While God has no sex, we cannot say the same of Jesus Christ, who became
incarnate and perfectly human, and therefore possessed of human sexuality.
Et homo factus est. He was made man. Man in this case is an unmarked word,
indicating human nature which he shared with the entire human race. He
became a member of the human race. But it is also a marked word, since it
also means that He assumed male sexuality, in body and in soul. Jesus
Christ is a male person, born so and possessing all the characteristics of
the male sex in body and in soul.
This fact does not exclude the female sex from participation in the
Incarnation or the Redemption. Both sexes had a role to play, and both
have a continuing part in the Divine Plan. The woman, Mary, was absolutely
essential to the Incarnation of the Son of God. Without her, God could not
become man. She had to conceive and bear Him. In this mystery no human male
person was involved. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit;
He was born of a virgin, who remained such before, during and after the
miraculous birth. Without Mary the Incarnation and the Redemption would
never have occurred. She is essential. The male sex was not needed and was
excluded in the mystery of the Incarnation.
But the Divine Child born of Mary was a male person, possessed of both
divine and human nature. He came into this world as priest, prophet and
king to achieve the Redemption by bringing the entire human race back to
God's order by living and teaching us about the Father, His Father who
dwells in heaven. Thus the male sex has its role in the Redemption by Jesus
Christ, and the female sex its role in the Incarnation effected by Mary.
Language must express reality. It must declare the truth and only the
truth. The Credo states the facts of faith about the Incarnation and
Redemption. Its expressions were hammered out through centuries of
councils and the work of theologians, refining and correcting the
expressions that carried the truths of revelation. In Latin, the words of
that creed are clear: Patrem omnipotentem; genitum non factum;
consubstantialem Patri; et Homo factus est. Only in the English
translations does the problem of "inclusive" and "exclusive" language
occur. Spanish, Italian, French and even German-speaking people cannot
comprehend the difficulty in our country over these linguistic matters,
and many are totally in amazement of the great delay in the promulgation of
the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
We must face the question of "why?" Why is there this controversy, this
attack on our language, this outrage against what has stood for centuries
as an expression of Catholic truth and ordinary common sense? Where does
this upheaval come from? Who is responsible?
It cannot be that women today are unable to read a text within its context
to grasp its true meaning. It cannot be that the distinction between
"marked" and "unmarked" words escapes them. It cannot be that the various
meanings of key words cannot be grasped by women. It cannot be that they do
not understand that sexuality has no reference to God, and with reference
to human nature its functions are complementary in the two sexes.
Ignorance of the language or its usage is not the question. Women as well
as men know clearly what our English language says and does not say.
What then is the problem? I submit that we have here an organized and
vicious attack on the Priesthood, and through the Priesthood on God, the
Incarnation and Redemption. In a word, this is a planned, anti-Christian
effort to destroy the Church and all that it teaches.
The Catholic Priesthood is possessed and exercised in this world solely by
members of the male sex, because priests are not priests in their own
right but only in the person of Jesus Christ. He is a male Person,
possessing both divine and human nature. He is the Priest. Others merely
share in that office by being ordained to act in His Person. They say "I"
and "Me" and "My." They speak in His Name. They are, indeed, "other
Christs." Their sacramental actions as priests are directed toward the
entire race, just as the Redemption applies to all members of the race,
excluding no one. But Jesus, who acts in His priests, is a male Person, the
One who was crucified and who arose from the dead. He cannot possess two
sexes simultaneously. Therefore, priests who are acting in His Person are
male and the Priesthood will remain exclusively male.
We need not consider the role of Mary in the Incarnation, a prerogative she
cannot share with any male. She alone is the Mother of God. The female sex
rejoices in the role of one of its own, and the world needs no greater or
more beautiful model than Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ.
The feminists wish to destroy the Priesthood since they cannot possess it.
They are attempting to do this through the destruction of our language,
changing the meaning of words and the grammatical structure of its usage.
If one changes the words, the reality beneath is changed. If one removes
the masculine nouns and pronouns, then one changes the reality about God
Himself, about the Incarnation and the Redemption, about the Priesthood,
about the whole of Christian doctrine. Destroy what you cannot have!
What is the motive of the feminists? It is always difficult, and sometimes
unjust, to judge a person's motives. But the evidence so apparent to the
observer that continuously surfaces in feminist publications and actions is
the hatred of the male sex for reasons known only to the woman who adopts a
feminist position. They are very personal and often lie rooted in harm done
to them in childhood or youth. They may be found in a disappointment or in
abuse. They often demonstrate hatred that is transferred from an individual
to the entire male sex. There is no question that many women have suffered
at the hands of male persons; it is true that men have dominated women and
used them wrongly; it is true that many men continue to treat women in a
patronizing and selfish manner. These must be brought to light and
corrected. But the method that will be successful (as far as our fallen
race can hope) will not be the present campaign to promote inclusive
language. To abuse our English language (as the feminists are doing); to
change the traditional language of our faith (as feminists are demanding);
to attack the Priesthood as a solely male institution (as feminists
continue to do); these methods will achieve nothing. In fact, if such
efforts continue to be employed, then the role of women in society will
diminish and be in danger of returning to the conditions of pagan Rome,
before the Catholic Church, through the model of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
exalted womanhood to its present high estate that, God willing, it will
continue to exercise in spite of the radical feminists.