Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Theology of the Body, Ratzinger Style

In a break from my usual style of blogging (quote the Pope, discuss the quote), it occurs to me that I’ve been touching upon some pretty deep and difficult subjects these past two days, with the constraints of space on a blog making it a challenge to do them justice.

So today I have a short section of my book She is Our Response, on the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger, which treats precisely this question of gender and freedom. It is such an important question, and so here are some additional, if a bit heavy and academic, thoughts on the matter.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the usual nonsense…


Ratzinger, writing of Mary as the ‘answer’ of creation to God, stresses that the mode by which she represents creation, and hence humanity, is that of her physical conception of the child by the Holy Spirit, that is, by her virginal motherhood. Therefore, she “represents saved and liberated man… precisely as a woman, that is, in the bodily determinateness that is inseparable from man [i.e. human nature].” (Mary, the Church at the Source, 31).

This determinateness of gender, which in Mary is the very matrix of her free answer to God then becomes in her, and consequently in humanity as such, the irreducible sign of the received quality of being, of life, and of human freedom and dignity itself. Gender, as a received quality, is the imminent presence to each person of his or her own personal determinateness. It signifies as nothing else does the relativity of personal freedom within an already existing order of meaning and being which encompasses our entire human reality.

In this order of being we are participants and recipients before being agents and makers. Humanity does not create itself, and bodily determination in gender is the great sign that communicates this reality to every human being at every moment of their existence.

Mary, then, by entering into the very heart of the divine-human drama at the very point of her womanhood in its most biological facticity shows forth that this biological determinateness, far from being a bondage or an affront to freedom and dignity, actually is the place whereby both freedom and dignity encounter the divine sphere of reality and are caught up into transcendence.  Ratzinger writes of this precisely in light of the current anthropological theories of gender deconstruction, showing how this ideology which operates in the name of freedom and autonomy in fact reduces man to a ‘thing’ to be manipulated. The body and its sexual identity is an inescapable fact of human life, and a dis-embodied anthropology inevitably leads to a functional and technical view of the body, and hence, of man:

While today’s anthropological program hinges more radically than ever before on ‘emancipation’, it seeks a freedom whose goal is to ‘be like God’. But the idea that we can be like God implies a detachment of man from his biological conditionality… something that man, as a biological being, can never get rid of, something that marks man in the deepest center of his being. Yet it is regarded as a totally irrelevant triviality… and is therefore consigned to the ‘purely biological realm’ which has nothing to do with man as such. Accordingly, this ‘purely biological’ dimension is treated as a thing that man can manipulate at will because it lies beyond the scope of what counts as human and spiritual (so much so that man can freely manipulate the coming into being of life itself)… man thereby strikes a blow against his deepest being. He holds himself in contempt, because the truth is that he is human only insofar as he is bodily, only insofar as he is man or woman. When man reduces this fundamental determination of his being to a despicable trifle that can be treated as a thing, he himself becomes a trifle and a thing, and his ‘liberation’ turns out to be his degradation to an object of production. Whenever biology is subtracted from humanity, humanity itself is negated. (Mary, the Church at the Source,  32-33).

Mary, on the other hand, whose motherhood is obviously bound to her gender and body, and thus “in whom the ‘biological’ is ‘theological’that is, motherhood of God,” (ibid.) stands at the very heart of the Church’s response to modern dualistic or instrumental anthropology.

As mother, she shows forth the theological implications of embodiment: it is in our very enfleshment that human beings bear the Logos in the world. As virgin, she shows forth that this same embodied integrated human person stands alone before God in a primary and essential way, receiving life and fulfillment from Him not only in the mode of time and history, but in its eschatological reference in the mode of eternity and heaven:

Mary’s virginity, no less than her maternity, confirms that the ‘biological’ is human, that the whole man stands before God, and that the fact of being human only as male and female is included in faith’s eschatological demand and its eschatological hope. It is no accident that virginityalthough as a form of life it is also possible, and intended for, the manis first patterned on the woman, the true keeper of the seal of creation, and has it normative, plenary form—which the man can, so to say, only imitate—in her. (ibid)

Freedom, then, emerges from embodiedness, not as a capacity for unbounded action or unfettered self-determination, but rather as a creative principle whereby the human person can become a sharer in the divine action in the world. Freedom, in its Marian revelation, is freedom to enter into the divine sphere, to leave behind the purely natural, self-directed, or self-organized level so as to become a participant in the perichoresis of the Trinity extending forth from its imminent principle into the world of created beings.
Whew… this is Fr. Denis, 2013 edition, writing again. Well, all that is a mouthful. Please feel free to discuss, question, argue, demand clarifications… in the comment section. God bless you.


  1. Father Denis,

    Respectfully, very tenderly... Two questions: when the Holy Father speaks of dialogue what exactly does he mean?

    And the second is for you- when you speak of church- what is the image you hold in your mind and heart...and are they always the same?

    Bless you .

    1. I hope I answered your first question in my succeeding post, at least as best I can.
      Well, the Church is what it is (if I can be a bit cheeky). Not so much my images, as what the cathechism says about it. At least that's what I try to reflect in the blog.
      Essentially, we are a bunch of crazy foolish sinners, but God in his mysterious fashion has gathered us up into a body and given us a great gift of the Spirit and of the Truth to bear to the world.
      Some of the crazy foolish sinners have been given particular authority and a particular task of leadership in this task; others have been given simply a more general responsibility for it... what else can I say?


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