Queer Orthodoxy

Bump To Birth

Natural Childbirth Options

Get Instant Access

In the sixth part of the book we turn to consider some key doctrinal topoi: the doctrines of Trinity, Christ, Mary, and the saints. Here the point is not to queer an ostensibly straight tradition, but to show that the tradition's doctrinal heart is already queer, and that as a named undertaking "queer theology" is itself belated.

Angelo Scola, in a study of the "nuptial mystery" which largely draws on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, notes the "great perplexity" caused by those who have gone so far "as to try to 'sex' the Trinity, in an effort to find an argument in favour of homosexuality" (Scola 2005: 394).19 But such writers (Loughlin 1998b, 1999b; D'Costa 2000) are merely following after Balthasar, who has already sexed the Trinity, and in a very queer way. If there is a problem, it is not that Balthasar has sexed or queered the Trinity, but that he has not done so enough. The Trinity is always queerer than we think. This, at any rate, is the argument put forward by Gavin D'Costa.

Like Rachel Muers, Gavin D'Costa applauds Balthasar's insight that the "trinitarian love is the only ultimate form of love - both the love between God and men, and that between human persons" (Balthasar 1982-91: VII, 484). D'Costa argues that all Christian thought should start from and return to the trinitarian mystery, as the source from which all things come and to which they return, as their perfecting and fulfillment. Thus if we are to argue for women priests - as D'Costa does - it will be on the basis of the Trinity rather than human rights; and in this we will be following after - if reversing - Balthasar, who argued from the Trinity to an all-male priesthood. Like Balthasar, D'Costa engages in some very "high" trinitarian theology, but he does so in order to address a very concrete issue: the forgetting of women in the modern church. And like Balthasar he argues on the basis of Balthasar's doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that Balthasar forgets one of the most important insights of his own theology when he argues against women priests: the insight that God is radically queer.

Of course this is not how Balthasar puts the matter. He does not describe the Trinity as "queer." But he does say that the revelation of God in Jesus requires us to use sexuate language of God, though analogically. As we have seen already, Balthasar ascribes supram-asculinity and suprafemininity to God, indeed to each of the persons of the Trinity, including the Father. Balthasar understands (supra)masculinity and (supra)femininity in highly patriarchal terms, above all as activity and passivity respectively These are also highly Aristotelian terms. But unlike Aristotle, Balthasar affords them equal value: God is both active and passive, giving and receiving - donation and reception. And so God is radically fluid in his/her "gender," and both men and women can represent the divine life. (Indeed, perhaps transgendered people will most perfectly figure this fluidity for us.) This is a queer God indeed.

But then at certain points, which D'Costa discusses in detail, Balthasar goes back on his radical revaluing of Aristotle's values, and ascribes a primordial supramasculinity - née masculinity - to the Father, and so argues for the necessity of not only masculinity but the male sex for representing Christ's representation of the Father. D'Costa argues that this is an entirely arbitrary move within Balthasar's understanding of the Trinity, rendering his doctrine not only incoherent but idolatrous, since it returns us to a pre-Christian, prescriptural privileging of masculinity over femininity, activity over passivity.20 (One might say that it turns God into a man and men into gods - as Mary Daly always alleged against Christianity)

D'Costa also questions Balthasar's willingness to ascribe a female biology to God - for both Son and Father are said to have a "womb" - while denying an absolute value to receptivity conceived as "woman." The female body disappears into the manliness of God. Moreover, in transgendering the Son as feminine in relation to the Father - as capable of "fertilization" by the Father (Balthasar 1990b: 78) - D'Costa detects in Balthasar a (male) same-sexing of God, which works against the queer theology Balthasar otherwise espouses: a God whose gender is not one. This is not to disparage same-sex relations, but to argue that all people find their fulfillment in a queer, rather than a "heterosexual" or "homosexual" God. But Balthasar can hardly avoid the idolatry of the latter when he locates suprasexuality in the Trinity, and privileges supramasculinity over suprafemininity. A more fully queer theology will be more analogical and less univocal in its deployment of these terms, and so more open to the indeterminate dynamics of God's desiring. It will think that women can represent God in Christ at the altar because it will not think Son and Father two "male" principles playing at being "man" and "woman" in bed. Indeed, it will think -as a number of authors have taught us to think (most notably Beattie 2006) - that the priesthood fails to fully represent the multi-gendered plenitude of Christ when it is reserved (by men) to men alone.

We may think it queer enough that the Christian God should be three "persons" in one "substance" - as it were a threefold dynamic of desire - but how much queerer that this God should love the world so much that s/he comes to us in the body of Jesus. This, Paul thought, was a stumbling block for the Jew and foolishness to the Greek (1 Corinthians 1.23). It is an absurdity for everyone, including most Christians. If we should think ourselves immune to the comforts of docetism, Mark D. Jordan reminds us just how queer it is to think God a body, how reluctant Christians have been to think the body of Jesus beyond a certain point - below the waist.

Jordan meditates on the parts of Jesus' body the tradition has been less than willing to think, and on why this should be so. After all, the Christian tradition, and in particular the Catholic tradition, has not been unwilling to show and meditate upon the body of Jesus, as child and adult - at birth and in death - cradled in his mother's arms, and naked, or nearly naked, in both instances. The body of Christ is strikingly displayed on countless crucifixes, except for the genitals that are nearly always covered with a loincloth. And why is this? Jordan wonders if it might not be as much to cover our eyes as Christ's sex. For it cannot be that God's genitals are shameful but that our gaze is shamed. We look with fallen eyes, mistaking the shame of our looking with what we look upon. For how shameful it is that we so easily view tortured flesh but flinch from its sex.21

There is of course no one gaze, everyone sees differently: men from women, straights from gays, and each from all other points of perception in and around these abstractions. As Jordan's meditation proceeds we realize that there are no straight answers to the questions he poses - that Christ's body poses for us; for in thinking about Christ's body we are thinking about our own. But as Jordan reminds us, the incarnation does not condemn but vindicates the body, including its desiring, so that we can learn to see the glory of God in all bodies, beautiful or ugly Perhaps only the saints will see with this clarity, but it is a vision to which all are called.

Jordan also reminds us that while Christ's sex has been hidden, his gender has not. Indeed, it has been made the means for hiding another sex, that of woman, excluded from the symbolic representation of Christ. Covering up Christ's penis has allowed it to return as phallus, as the symbol of Christ's (masculine) power over all things, including death (see Steinberg 1996 and Loughlin's chapter in this volume - chapter 7). And yet how easily this power is deflated. For Christ's masculinity is always being subverted by the femininity it is used to rule and conceal, for he is a passive man who turns the other cheek to his enemy. (And do we not already want to describe this as an active passivity, to inject some manly vigor into the debased term?) Christ's solicitude for the sinner and his abjection on the cross can seem too wimpish to be followed by other than women and weakling men. In 1999, the Churches Advertising Network - a UK independent advertising agency - produced an Easter poster depicting Christ in the style of Alberto Korda's famous photograph of Che Guevara, with the tag line: "Meek and mild. As if!" It was not without its critics, but it neatly indicates how uncomfortable Christians can be with Christ's masculinity - or lack thereof. For them, Christ's peaceableness (passivity) is too queer, and they have to imagine him as a man of violence. Learning to look upon God's body is difficult for all, as it confronts us with the truth of our own bodies and their looking. It speaks to us of our desires and fears, of fleshly longings and repulsions. In Christ we see ourselves. But as Jordan concludes, there is "no other place to start Christian truth telling than face to face with Jesus."

That God should come to us as flesh means that s/he is also born of a body, made by a woman, and for Christian faith, this woman gives him her flesh so that he can give us his. Christ has no father other than the Father we see in him; his body is entirely his mother's, a womanly body from the first. And how strange that this woman should give birth to God, and not because she is "taken" by a divine or human lover but because she welcomes the Spirit - who is not manly but womanly in the Syriac Christian tradition - when s/he comes upon her. Moreover, this woman, who is the first to receive God in her child, will be to him the church he makes out of and into his own body, the bride to his bridegroom. And thus graced, she will become the mother of all, the queen of heaven. This doctrinal unfolding of Mary's story is rigorously orthodox and utterly queer. And in this story Tina Beattie finds healing for a world torn between "identity and otherness, love and abjection, desire and loss."

Like so many other contributors to this volume, Beattie thinks that the modern church has lost sight of the queerness of Christ's story in Scripture and tradition, and in this story the meaning of Mary's life, of her conceiving, motherhood and womanliness. By the end of the nineteenth century Mary had been both torn from her son - having become the encherubed but childless "immaculate conception," who appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in confirmation of Pope Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus of 1854 - and placed under the watchful eye of Joseph, the somewhat feeble patriarch of the "holy family" of Nazareth, which was honored with a feast day in 1892 by Pope Pius XIII. Thus by the end of the century Mary had been both domesticated and heterosexualized. She was no longer the woman whose fiat brought God into her, and from her into the world; the woman whose relations with God and men were decidedly queer. In order to retrieve this earlier, more orthodox woman, Beattie returns to the Greek Fathers of the ancient church, to such mystics as Ephrem of Syria, who had a sure insight into the strangeness and complexity of Mary's life in God and God's life in her.

Beattie shows how writers like Ephrem and other "fathers" understood the queerness of Mary's virginity, maternity, and womanhood. Her virginity is a sign of the "divine mystery" that takes place in her and as her. But it also shows that the life that grows in and from her is not contained by the "cycle of sex, procreation and death." It is instead the life we know as Jesus - risen and ascended. Christians do not seek immortality through children, but eternity in Christ. But while Jesus is a "new creation," his mothering by Mary shows his humanity, his dependency on others. Like the rest of us he is formed through relationships. Even if, as judge, Christ stands over against us, he first stands with us, as a fellow human being and friend. And the conjunction of virginity with maternity opens the "space of wonder" where we can begin to see the Other in the same; in a body like our own. Finally, in Mary's womanhood we see the new Eve, who is not Eve's replacement, but redemption

- our redemption. Mary is Eve's healing, the sign to us - the children of Eve - that Christ's life is fulfilled, will be fulfilled, in all.

In the final parts of her chapter, Beattie relates mariology to psychoanalysis, for in the first she finds hope for what the second seeks, for what it has already half-seen. Julia Kristeva sees psychoanalysis succeeding religion, as articulating the diremption of human life that was expressed - but unknown - in Christianity. And fundamentally this is the tear between the maternal - the semiotic - within which we once lived, and the paternal - the symbolic

- in which we come to ourselves as ourselves: but a self that is torn from the mother, and that always has this otherness (chora) within. We need to be able to speak the semiotic within the symbolic, a language of motherhood that will heal, though not undo, the trauma of our birth into language. Kristeva thinks that modern society lacks this language of an original maternity, but Beattie argues that it still thrives in the Christian cultures where Mary is known, where life is lived - prayed - in hers, in her birthing of God's body in ours. There the stranger we are to ourselves is taken up into the ever stranger life of God, who comes to us in Mary and Jesus, woman and man, in the mystery of the incarnation. And there we will discover that this difference of strangers is not threat but promise: the joy of creature in creator, the ever queerer life of God.

The Mary of Beattie's reflections is the Mary of Christian faith. We have access to no other, and she is the Mary of faith throughout the centuries, whose story has grown in the telling. The faithfulness of the story to the one of whom it is told is tested in and through its telling, through a sense of its fittingness - of its fitting with other stories - which will be known fully in the fullness of time, when the telling of stories runs out into the eternity of their consummation. But how do we think the stories of those other saints who are otherwise located in historical time, of whom biographies as well as hagiographies can be told? This is the question with which David Matzko McCarthy opens the closing chapter of Queer Theology on the desire of saints.

McCarthy takes for his argument two women who chose virginity rather than matrimony, and he considers how their choice has been narrated in subsequent tellings of their stories. One is Queen Elizabeth I (1503-1603), as told in Shekhar Kapur's film, Elizabeth (1998), and the other is St Rose of Lima (1586-1617) as narrated by Sr Mary Alphonsus OSSP (1968). Both women are thus told within hagiographies - life stories which seek to convince their readers of their heroines' virtues. Elizabeth desires love but chooses a single life in order to preserve her freedom and that of her country In Kapur's telling she is a kind of martyr, who sacrifices her sexuality for the independence of her throne. Elizabeth is contrasted with Mary Tudor (1516-58), who lacks the sexual spontaneity that Elizabeth enjoys but must relinquish. Elizabeth finds herself through sexual desire, even as she learns that she must forgo its fulfillment. She is thus a very modern tragic heroine.

St Rose - a near contemporary of the historical queen - also chooses virginity over marriage, and in order to find a certain freedom, a certain "route to power." But Rose does so in order to be free for her divine lover, Jesus. She does not so much give up her sexuality, as mortify it through strenuous chastisements of the flesh, so that freed from all earthly attachments she is perfectly free for the man - or rather the child - who wants her for his own. Rose's life is dominated by visions of the infant Jesus, reaching out from his mother's arms, to caress Rose with his own. And yet even as she abandons herself for God's embrace, she finds herself abandoned by God, her spiritual life delivering but rare intimacies of its desired consummation. Rose's strange pedophiliac desires render her "nuptial moments with the infant Jesus" unerotic. Hers is a very sexless sexuality.

But it is not that Rose sought to deny the body in favor of a purely spiritual rapture, as that in the mortification of her flesh she sought to find the God whose own body suffered on the cross. It was an attempt to make that body present in her own. "She acts out the burning of God's own anguished passion." McCarthy does not ask us to approve what many will see as a pathology - a dangerous identification with a child phantasm - but he does yet ask us to consider how Rose's passionate attachment to her savior disrupts our expectations of seemly spirituality. Rose's love causes us to wonder. "We see a dangerous, undomesti-cated love of God." We see - McCarthy seems to suggest - a God whose passion for us burns so brightly that it consumes the bodies it touches. In the saints we see a very queer, extreme desire that fascinates and appalls, moving us to pity and terror.

The medieval saint evoked not so much imitation (imitatio) as wonder (admiratio). Indeed the saint was not to be imitated but marveled at: non imitandum sed admirandum. "When we read what certain saints did ... we should wonder at rather than imitate their deeds" (James of Vitry quoted in Bynum 2001: 51). To imitate was to stigmatize, to inscribe or incorporate the other into oneself, as Christ in the body of St Francis of Assisi. But to wonder at was to be faced with the inimitable, the nonconsumable, the altogether other; that which one might admire but not become. Elizabeth and Rose, but especially Rose, astonish in just this way. They unsettle our comforts. And to some extent all saints are so queer. But to wonder at these lives is in some way to share in their strangeness, to exceed ourselves - if only for a moment - and so to become wonderful in our wonderment. And this, after all, is the undertaking of queer theology: to make the same different, the familiar strange, the odd wonderful; and to do so not out of perversity but in faithfulness to the different, strange, and wonderful by which we are encountered in the story of Jesus and the body of Christ.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Secrets Of Becoming A Meditating Expert

Secrets Of Becoming A Meditating Expert

Discover the Secrets of Meditating Like an Expert In Just 7 Days Or Less And, Start Enjoying More Happiness, Peace, and Better Health, Right Now. Now, you too can learn to go deeper, and enjoy all the benefits of meditation, even if you have never tried to meditate ever before.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment