Can we really speak of incarnation if we castrate the Christ? 'What Christ did not take, he did not redeem', Gregory of Nazianzus (among other early
52 London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 97-116.
Church Fathers) reminds us.53 By an evasion of his sexuality are we not already setting our feet, if not on some docetic trajectory, then on a path leading towards Apollonian enhypostasis (the heresy Gregory is countering)? There is a need to explore what it is to be sexuate, a person experiencing all the passions that other human beings have experienced (and yet without sin) — as Hebrews 4.15 puts it — and God. As we have seen, Irigaray does not reduce being sexuate to the categories of physiological sex or gender. Sex is already gendered as gender is already sex. As such, those feminists who opt out of Christianity because of the maleness of its Saviour can be seen as locking themselves into an essentialism her work renders irreducible. Michel Foucault takes this further by pointing out the historical dimensions of the mediation of sex, sexuality and gender.54 While not then wishing to deny that Jesus has the genitalia of a male, the social construction and representation of his sexual identity (what normally constitutes gender) and the operations of his sexual desire are not so easily determined. We have no access to this Jew from Nazareth outside of discursive accounts of his life and teaching (in the Gospels). We have no way of calculating the extent to which, in the translation from one context (Aramaic-speaking Palestine) to another (the Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian diaspora or Latin-speaking Gentile Rome), his sexuate nature was refigured. The particularity of bodies, including his — their identification, representation and the values assigned to both — is embedded in complex socio-sexual economies or 'force-relations'.55 What is certain, as Irigaray points out in portraying Christ in terms of both the phallus and the two lips, is that there is no stable atemporal identity available.
In both the Johannine passages we examined in the last essay an erotic economy is evident. The eros is inseparable from the way the author dramatically isolates both figures with respect to the Christ. This is most pronounced in the garden encounter with Mary, since the Thomas pericope has no synoptic tradition behind it, while the visitation to the tomb by women is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. In Mark three women approach the empty tomb, in Matthew there are two and in Luke the number is uncertain. But in John's account the male company of Peter and
53 Epistle, ci: to Cledonius, the priest against Apollinarius.
54 The attempt to define 'the regime of power—knowledge—pleasure that sustains the discourse on human sexuality,' what he later terms 'bio-history' and examines as technologies of 'bio-power' is the burden of Foucault's History of Sexuality. See volume one, An Introduction, tr. Robert Hurley (London: Allen Lane, 1979), p. 11.
55 The term is Foucault's. It is used to describe the multifaceted power mechanisms within which any object is situated and discursively represented. See History of Sexuality: An Introduction, pp. 92-102.
John exit stage left and Mary encounters Jesus alone, who enters stage right. The eros of this encounter would be more emphatic if, as has been argued, the resurrected Jesus is naked.56
We noted in the last essay how both Mary's and Thomas's encounter with the Christ involves embodiment and (if we take touch as implied in both events) a crossing over from one body to the other. Mary and Jesus embrace in a garden; the pupil—teacher relation is conflated with the relation between a man and a woman that is suggestively mythologised as a return to the Garden of Eden and a reworking of the Canticum Canticorum. And stories of Mary's sexual intimacy with Jesus that have issued from readings of this Scriptural text (among others) testify to the awareness of the eroticism — from the Gnostic Gospels to Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ.57 Thomas touches the raw flesh ofJesus, placing his hand into the very wound that in John is symbolic of the vaginal opening through which the community of Christ's body is born [John 19.34]. The disciples only see, they only behold. A far greater intimacy is granted to Thomas, a more corporeal intimacy than the head of the beloved disciple resting on Jesus's breast [John 13.23]. It is again a suggestively mythologised intimacy — thrusting into the side of the second Adam from which the new Eve issues. Caravaggio captures the eroticism of that action, its carnality, its penetration, in his famous painting of the scene.
In the first passage, to employ an entirely anachronistic word, the eroticism is heterosexual. In the second passage, to employ a similarly anachronistic word, the eroticism is homosexual. In both there is difference, a difference between self and other remaining even in the epiphany of recognition that overcomes, to some extent, that difference. In both accounts what is sex — being male and female, being male and male — is highly ambivalent. It is ambivalent partly because of the suggestive mythologising — Mary as Eve, Jesus as Adam; Jesus as a hermaphrodite and Thomas as opening up the womb of Christ. But then sex is always a mythopoetic affair, riding on fantasy.58
The difference, the affinity, the eroticism and the sex of those involved in the actions are inseparable from speaking, words and the translation of words
56 See K. Kästner, 'Noli me tangere', Biblische Zeitschrift (1915), pp. 344-53.
57 For a detailed account of the figure of Mary Magdalene as it developed in the Middle Ages see Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalene: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 2001). For a survey of the tradition see David Brown, Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 31-61.
58 See Slavoj ZiZek, Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997).
from one language to another. We observed in the last chapter the forms of discursive exchange in both these passages. What is constituted is the economy of these responses is relation; relation called forth by, and subordinated to, the presence of Christ. And the telos of relation is ultimately salvation. We do not see the redemption of either Mary or Thomas — but then what would such a redemption look like? What we see is a healing, like the woman with the haemorrhage is healed and told her faith has saved her.59 But this telos is inseparable from the learning of difference and affinity, distance and proximity through the establishment of a relation that is erotic beyond being simply sexual.60
Was this article helpful?