Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Masculine and The Feminine

I recently read an article putting the case against women priests in Christianity. It took the position that the sexes have their proper roles, not totally unique but not arbitrary or interchangeable either, and that sex itself is not an accident of nature but something that reaches right to the core of our being, notwithstanding certain apparent exceptions, and reflects eternal realities. Thus a church that ordains women is one that confuses the roles of the sexes, denies archetypal truths and, ultimately, misunderstands the nature of God himself to whom the whole of creation is feminine because it is receptive to his life and gives form to his being. In essence, such a church is rejecting the order that God has established in the cosmos. It is forsaking quality in the name of an equality that actually only exists at the supra-formal level of pure oneness not at the level of phenomenal things and the world of multiplicity where it will only introduce, if imposed, disharmony and imbalance. The article concluded that when the sexes are mixed up in this way (and other ones, of course, but this is important because it relates to our approach to God), then the natural coherence of the social order will start to unravel, and any connection we might have to the true God will be lost because we have replaced that with an image of our own making and fantasy.

It may surprise some readers of this blog but I completely agree with these sentiments. I do think that the priest in Christianity is a male function  because he stands in the place of Christ who was male, and not by chance but because he represented the active masculine divine principle (the Father) in contrast to the receptive feminine one embodied by Mary. A true priest is not just a minister, counsellor, teacher or even spiritual adviser, all of which a woman can be just as well as a man. He is a symbol (a symbol being an outer sign of an inner reality), and he is a symbol firstly of Jesus and then, through Jesus, of God. Only a masculine priest can truly symbolise a masculine God. And God the Father and Lord of Creation is masculine.

Once this would have been an uncontroversial statement to make but times have changed and now it must be explained. Before I do so though I should point out, in the context of women priests, that to any person claiming Christian belief it should not be controversial since it is a fundamental part of the Christian faith, one that derives from revelation. If you wish to justify the ordination of women you are challenging that revelation, and if you want to do that then why be a Christian? You cannot just appeal to a theoretical logic (male and female exist in the world so they must also do so, and equally so, in God), or, worse, the changing mores of fashion, since revelation by virtue of what it is goes far beyond either of these. If you reject the revelation why subscribe to the religion which is founded on that revelation? But this simple fact appears to be ignored and so we see the greater truth sacrificed in the name of the lesser. That is to say, human concerns and desires are placed ahead of divine principles, and eternal verities are subordinated to worldly priorities, ideologies, opinions and agendas. It should go without saying that people who do this can have no real understanding of what God is. Theirs is a God of convenience who is just a projection of their own ideals and objectives.

Therefore it can be said that women who want to become Christian priests may be well intentioned but they don't properly understand their own religion, and, as I hope to show, they don't understand inner spiritual realities, facts that pertain to the metaphysical order, either. The same applies to their male supporters. Of course, some few may actually be using this as a means to rebel against divine authority and the natural order of things but they, presumably, would be a small minority.

So why do I say that God is masculine? First of all, this does not mean he is male in the sense a man is or that men are closer to God than women. One's spiritual status has nothing to do with one's sex. Indeed, a woman's greater natural receptivity potentially makes her more open to the spiritual in many ways than is a man. However male and female are the biological versions of much deeper, indeed archetypal, principles of cosmic masculine and feminine that go right down to the roots of existence. They are a fundamental part of the divine order and necessarily exist even from before Creation since Creation, as an outward and real thing at least, results from their interaction. Unmanifest being or the Supreme Principle is beyond all duality and includes all things in itself but when God or Pure Spirit manifests or expresses itself there is a polarisation into spirit and matter which are the active and receptive (masculine and feminine) aspects of the one reality. These can be thought of as God and Nature, the Absolute and the Infinite, Essence and Substance and they are qualitatively different from one another even if ultimately one. These polarities exist as complements and all creation results from their union, but there is also a hierarchical dimension to their relationship because one comes before the other. Spirit precedes matter which is its dualistic opposite or reflection in manifestation. This is why we say (if we say correctly) spirit and matter rather than matter and spirit or Heaven and Earth instead of Earth and Heaven and so on. We even say man and woman and this is an intuitive recognition of reality not just a convention of language. You can rebel against this if you want to but a rebellion against reality is what it will be.

Thus the feminine or substantial aspect of reality is the result of the One becoming two in order to manifest. So is the masculine but that is the primary or subject principle, the feminine being the substance by means of which essence is expressed, the object to its subject and the way in which the subject, God, may know himself or, better put, reveal himself to himself. The two aspects of reality always exist together as one implies the other but matter is the consequence of pure transcendent spirit becoming dual in order to see itself in a world of subject and object, a world of becoming, growing, changing, multiplying. This does not imply male superiority in human terms* but the reality is that, while the sexes are complementary one to another, it is also the case that, cosmically speaking, the feminine principle in manifestation is or should be passive to the masculine as matter is or should be passive to spirit. This gives us a relationship in which there is complementarity and hierarchical difference at the same time with both of equal importance.  Previous generations understood this intuitively (albeit often imperfectly which is why the hierarchical difference was taken out of context and misinterpreted to mean male all round superiority which led to the present day reaction and then, as usually happens with pendulum swings, over-reaction), but for intellectually focused people such as ourselves the outwardly paradoxical nature of such an idea is difficult to grasp.

What this comes down to is that, although God in terms of non-manifest being may be beyond all distinctions of quality (as we understand it anyway), in his aspect of the Creator he can properly be conceived of as the masculine polarity of being with Nature, the form in and through which life comes to know itself, object as opposed to subject, the feminine polarity.  God, therefore, God the Creator, is legitimately thought of as Father. That is true as far as the macrocosm goes and it is also true microcosmically since, as is often said, all souls are feminine to God, meaning souls can only become spiritually alive through receiving spiritual impregnation, otherwise known as grace, from God.

So this is why God as Creator and Transcendent Reality can reasonably be thought of in masculine terms.  At the same time, as part of that or projected from it, and because the primal duality is reflected at every level of the unfolding universe, a divine feminine principle also exists within Creation and is revealed in such qualities as Beauty and Compassion. But to move from acknowledging the reality that some of the divine qualities are accurately described as feminine to conceiving of God as “She” is a metaphysical mistake caused by the failure to distinguish between divine essence and its energies or to see that the world of Creation in its entirety is the substantial pole of existence which must be receptive to (or impregnated by) active Spirit in order to blossom. This does not mean that divine energies and beings (which, cosmically speaking, are the same thing) cannot be envisaged in the form of goddesses or angels or that we should not acknowledge the Queen of Heaven or Divine Mother, but these are still part of Creation and not to be confused with the Creator. Traditionally goddesses have nearly always been associated with the natural worlds and energies, and the soul or psyche of things rather than the life or spirit which is masculine in terms of the duality necessary for manifested existence. Or else as wisdom (Sophia), regarded as the first created of beings but still a created being not the Creator. To confuse male and female in spiritual terms is to confuse essence with substance, what fertilises with what is fertilised, the ground of Creation with the Creator. For Christians to do this is to risk returning to the pantheistic attitudes of paganism in which divine immanence is celebrated but the sense of transcendence is lost while Nature is quasi-deified and God as Creator given a back seat if one at all. Those who fear that the introduction of women priests (apart from being symbolically wrong) will lead to the introduction of the idea of God as equally 'she' as 'he' are right; and a belief in the deity as female practically always leads to a form of paganism or pantheism in which nature is venerated for itself, and the transcendent Creator God, the One who is the source of all and of whom creation is the expression not a thing in its own right to be worshipped or treated as divine or sacred in any independent way, is neglected. If nature is to be regarded as sacred it must not be for itself but because it is the expression of the One who made it. Any other approach will keep us identified with form and the outer sheaths of being.

So it is very likely that women priests will introduce or re-introduce the idea of God as 'she', and this will result in a gradual loss of the sense of transcendence, a disconnect from the absolute and the eventual idea that nature in some sense is God on her own. There will be much talk of an all purpose love, compassion and equality but hierarchical distinctions will be dissolved and egalitarian relativism installed in their place. Truth will be replaced by truths, yours and mine, each one of which will be more or less as valid as any other. The resulting religious emphasis will be very 'this worldly'. Obviously none of this will happen immediately but there will be tendencies towards it, and these, in fact, can already be clearly seen as egalitarian and liberal (i.e. worldly) values gradually take precedence over spiritual ones in churches which accept women as priests.

Don't misinterpret this to mean that men are somehow intrinsically more spiritual than women. I have already dismissed this notion but, just to leave no room for misunderstanding, let me state quite categorically that one's spiritual state is a purely individual thing, totally independent of any outer quality such as sex, race or the shape of one's nose. Here we are talking purely in the context of priests. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the more spiritually aware woman would not want to be a priest as she will intuitively recognise that the nature of such an office is inherently masculine so her form of service will lie elsewhere.

To conclude, it is undoubtedly the case that any idea we might have of God is an image and a symbol which cannot approach reality, but that does not mean that anything goes. After all a rose is a symbol of beauty in a way a thistle is not. It conveys to us something of that of which it is the symbol. Thus to think of the transcendent creator God as masculine is symbolically accurate in a way that to think of him as feminine is not. At the same time, Divine Reality most certainly has a feminine aspect which has been neglected in the past and this is most perfectly represented by the image of the Mother of God (the Mother of God as incarnate Son not unmanifest Father), the embodiment of wisdom, mercy, purity and compassion, and the first being in Creation.

*Note:  Just to be clear on this point. The masculine and feminine principles exist in both men and women but in men they are, or should be, in the overall context of masculinity and in women they are, or should be, in the overall context of femininity. That this is not always the case is evidence that we live in a fallen world which has deviated from the truth. That it is less the case today than ever is evidence that we live in the Kali Yuga or end times or whatever one wishes to call that period at the end of an age when the material pole and everything associated with it dominates the spiritual.


Bruce Charlton said...



This is one of the 'litmus tests' for Christians in our time - and almost all real Christians recognize that the priesthood is male; however the reasons given vary according to denomination.

I think your explanation is broadly 'Catholic' - in that it recognizes a special role for priests and that this role is allocated to men.

Another explanation, perhaps commoner in Britain, is that of Protestants who argue that the scriptural instruction is for men to take leadership roles in the church (however, such Protestants seldom acknowledge a distinctive role for Priests and do not use the word Priest - usually calling the church leaders Pastor, Presbyter or suchlike).

The Mormon rationale is different again - as I have tried to explain here: - it is based on a fundamental metaphysical belief in the human being as ultimately either man or woman, as the basis for a variety of earthly, mortal sexual differences.

Another approach to this matter, now that there are many decades of experience in ordaining women in some churches - is to look at the 'fruits' of this change in such churches compared with similar churches (e.g. in the same general denominations) that have not ordained women.

The results are - to my mind - absolutely appalling! The churches that have ordained women are collapsing with extreme rapidity - the earliest adopters having collapsed the most: for example Methodists, and the Episcopalians in the USA and Canada and the mainstream/ liberals in the Church of England. These churches have also become extremely secularized and very Left wing - including embracing the agenda of the sexual revolution even when this is directly contradicting Christian tradition, scripture, and coherent theology. To my mind this is consistent with the rationale of ordaining women being a political 'stalking horse', rather than Christianly-motivated.

(On the other side, the only Christian churches which have grown in size over recent decades are those with a 'patriarchal' structure - evangelical Protestants, traditionalist Roman Catholics such as SSPX, Eastern Orthodoxy in the former Soviet Bloc, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Amish - to name a few.)

The individual women who have been ordained are also, as a strong generalization, extremely left wing and focus very strongly on secular issues such as global warming, African aid, poverty etc and only seldom mention Christianity, God or Christ except in support of such campaigns (a considerable number are apparently also sexually active outwith traditional marriage).

Also, the role of priest is increasingly treated in women-ordaining churches - quite explicitly, without much attempt to hide the fact - as a job-like-any-other, rather than a vocation.

So, those who are unable to navigate the complexities of theological argument, and who are unwilling to be guided by tradition or scripture, can now look at the 'empirical evidence' of what happens when women are ordained to the priesthood - and this seems very clearly to confirm the wrongness of the change.

The ordination of women is - it turns out - a powerful and reliable way to destroy a church. This, indeed, may (covertly) explain its popularity in our society.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for adding to this post, Bruce. It came about from a basic instinct about how things should be but is presented in a way that may give a rather simple truth a more complicated air than it should have. Because to me the question of women priests in Christianity shouldn't even arise. It's obvious that it goes against the grain of how things should be. There is nothing in tradition or revelation that remotely supports it. But you have to address people who have been bamboozled by notions of equality (rather than complementarity) and brainwashed by modernity. Really that means all of us in some way. (And people who don't realise that the fact there are two sexes actually means something beyond mere biological difference.)

Your remarks about the results of women priests are spot on. I sum it up in my mind as replacing the vertical sense of transcendence with a horizontal 'this worldly' approach. A proper spiritual focus is lost.

But really this is something one cannot argue about it because proponents of women priests will always have a come back. However that will be based on false premises deriving from liberal prejudices rather than true spiritual insight. I do wonder about the motivation behind such changes though. It may indeed be,as you say, a means to destroy a church ultimately deriving from a non-material source. Like much else nowadays for that matter.