Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Outrage of Inclusive Language

Author: Msgr. Richard J. Schuler


by Msgr. Richard J. Schuler

(This article was given as an address at the conference marking the twenty-fifth 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 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 context.

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 to 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 . 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 feminism.

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 buzzing in a vacuum. As Father Paul V. Mankowski writes in an article in (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 fraud!"

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, (ship), (rose), (room), (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, . 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. . 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 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: . 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 .

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.

This article was taken from the Summer issue of "Sacred Music."