Femininity and Mission

Any discussion of sexual difference in Balthasar's work must quickly move to a discussion of his concept of femininity. This is partly because, following the logic of Genesis 2, he regards the creation of woman and the emergence of sexual difference as the same moment. Linked with this is the fact that femininity, within Balthasar's work, emerges as a clearly defined set of characteristics and ways of relating. In a familiar pattern, the existence and nature of woman (or "the feminine principle") requires explanation, while the existence and nature of man does not. The very fact that it is possible to set out the characteristics of femininity in Balthasar - characteristics that apply equally in his discussions of creaturely relations, of the relation of creature to Creator, and with appropriate reservations to inner-trinitarian relations - raises questions about the relation of sexual difference to analogy in his theology.

What is the feminine for Balthasar? His most comprehensive discussion is found in his prolegomena to Mariology (Balthasar 1988-98: III, 283-300). Here, woman is described as a double principle, a dyad, in contrast to the masculine monad. Woman's duality lies in the dual answer she gives to man - as bride and counterpart, and as bearer of the child that both results from and transcends their union. The principle of femininity is first and foremost the principle of receptivity and response. It is the principle of the Other in relationship - difference that does not oppose or exclude, that is ordered towards encounter, and that renders that encounter fruitful.

The question then arises: What is the relation of this principle of femininity to particular women and men? It is clear from Balthasar's early work that the "feminine" principle within the church is not restricted to women or to the laity The attitude of active and fruitful reception is fundamental both to the community as a whole and to each individual. "Indifference," of which Mary as the perfection of femininity vis-à-vis God becomes the ultimate exemplar (Balthasar 1961: 24; for an extended discussion of "indifference" in Balthasar see Gawronski 1995: 113), is in fact the condition of Christian personhood as such. The mission that each person is granted by God in Christ, and that defines her role in the theo-drama, is received by each insofar as she becomes receptive to it. To be perfectly conformed to one's mission, and thus perfectly conformed to Christ, requires a perfection of indifference.

The unquestioned masculinity of God in God's relation to the created order, placed alongside the characterization of "femininity" described above, has the effect of rendering same-sex relations among women invisible in this passage and elsewhere. The pattern is familiar; male same-sex relations are a very visible threat, female same-sex relations are by definition unthinkable. If femininity is essentially receptive, responsive, an "answer," there is no way of thinking the relation of "feminine" beings one to another, save by the rela-tivization of their femininity. Thus, relationships within the church are structured by the introduction of the office that represents the "masculine" principle; the femininity of the church, meanwhile, is unified in a single person, Mary, who makes her single response to the word of God.2

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