Women Together

It may seem curious to claim that Balthasar's scheme has no room for differentiation between, and therefore for relationships among, feminine persons. After all, his understanding of mission and holiness is decisively shaped by particular women - by his study of the Carmelites Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of Dijon, and by his collaboration with Adrienne von Speyr. The Carmelites are explicitly said to have different, if complementary, missions to the Church; Elizabeth learns from and develops Thérèse's work, both Thérèse and Elizabeth learn from their Carmelite sisters. Why choose women as examples of the plurality of divine missions if femininity as such is undifferentiated, "indifferent"?

The answer becomes clear if we refer back to the discussion of personal mission, above. The indifference of the contemplative is - in every case but that of Mary - not the mission itself but the basis of it. In Balthasar's descriptions of Thérèse and Elizabeth, both are termed "womanly" for the same reason - their unquestioning obedience to the God who forms them in their distinctive roles and offices (Balthasar 1992: 67, 488). This basic obedience leads to two very different missions "in the Spirit." The missions are inseparable from the historical, social, and bodily specificity of the women who receive them. A man could not have "been" Thérèse of Lisieux. But nor could a married woman; Thérèse's mission is defined not by "femininity" but by Thérèse as she lives out her transformed life in Christ. Moreover, the missions of both Thérèse and Elizabeth seem to involve taking on functions that have elsewhere been described as "masculine." They are teachers of the church whose missions are specifically theological. They inform, inspire, shape, "impregnate" their communities and the wider church. In this they do not point to a disembodied androgyny; but they certainly indicate the maior dissimilitudo between the ontological difference and crea-turely sexual difference, with the infinite priority of the one over the other. Balthasar's decision not to consider at such length the "mission" of any man after the apostles (despite his great interest in the individual theological styles of particular thinkers) perhaps indicates a difficulty in recognizing the implications of his own location of "femininity" within the ontological difference.5

Even this consideration of the missions of Thérèse and Elizabeth, however, leaves the question of the invisibility of erotic relations between women, and the fear of erotic relations between men, unanswered. If we accept the analogy of femininity and creaturely receptivity, even with the complications introduced above, are we not still relying on an assumed "naturalness" of heterosexual relations initiated by the male?

Balthasar has been criticized for his lack of attention to politics, and to the social character of all human, and specifically Christian, life (see Dalzell 1999). His primary focus is, as may already have become clear, most often on the individual person in her relation to God, which secondarily and derivatively becomes an existence with and for others. Clearly, existence "in Christ" must be social existence, mission is given "for the church" and is only comprehensible from within the church, and the call of each person is socially mediated. Nonetheless, it does seem that the focus on the virtue of indifference, and on the primacy of finding oneself "alone with the Alone" encourages us, as Dalzell puts it, to regard the theodrama as taking place within the individual soul. The discontinuity between the old and the new covenant, for Balthasar, lies to a considerable extent in the rejection of collective relationship between God and a people. The calling of Israel is replaced by individual calling - Mary, the apostles, Mary Magdalene.

Balthasar's interest in the "femininity" of the creature has obvious links to this relative neglect of the social. It is clear that the focus on bridal imagery, especially after the Hebrew image of Israel as the bride of YHWH is transferred to Mary as archetype, reinforces the prioritization of the interpersonal over the social. Even "maternal" imagery, oddly enough, is not permitted to broaden the interpersonal perspective towards social relations. As we saw, woman is defined in her relation to man as a "dyad" - bride and mother; so we see her either as "mother of a (male) child" or as "wife of a man"; the threefoldness of man-woman-child is rarely allowed to appear.6

Dalzell notes this with regard to Balthasar's trinitarian theology, suggesting that the per-sonhood of the Spirit (for whose generation the analogy of the birth of a child to a man and a woman is occasionally used) is insufficiently developed, and that this leads in turn to an insufficiently social understanding of human personhood. Queer theology may give more consideration to the second "face" of the Janus-analogy discussed above. If the emphasis on creaturely femininity, understood in terms of the "dyad," makes it hard to understand the social aspects of human existence, this is seen symbolically in the invisibility of women's same-sex relationships. "Women" (all creatures in Christ) can only relate to one another through their relations to a "man" (Christ).

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