Divinity And Sexual Difference

Why is the work of Luce Irigaray potentially a rich resource for rethinking Christology?1 Fundamentally, because as one of the most profound contemporary feminist philosophers, she recognises the importance for incarna-tional theology of eros and embodiment. More particularly, living as a woman in the historical context of the European religious tradition and French and Flemish Catholicism, her work — in An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Sexes and Genealogies, Marine Lover and I Love to You — has explored something of the relation between divinity and sexual difference.

In Christian theology of the twentieth century Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar each attempted to situate the creation and vocation of man and woman within their wider systematic concerns.2 For Barth, sexual difference was a repetition on a horizontal and social level of the vertical covenant between God and human beings. Sexual difference rehearses the

1 This essay first appeared in Modern Theology 12 (2), April (1996). Much work has since been done on the writings of Luce Irigaray by feminists concerned with religion. Furthermore, Irigaray herself has written more, some with respect to Christianity. Among the feminist scholars whose work is important for the ways it critiques and develops Irigaray's religious sensibilities I would particularly draw attention to Grace Jantzen's Becoming Divine (Manchester University Press, 1998), particularly pp. 88—107; Pamela Sue Anderson, A Feminist Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), particularly pp. 98-118, 234-40; and Morny Joy, Kathleen O'Grady and Judith L. Poxon eds., Religion in French Feminist Thought: Critical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2003), particularly pp. 1-82. When editing this essay for the present collection I decided not to update the Irigaray analysis but instead to focus it more clearly on the question of sexual difference.

2 For Barth on sexual difference see Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, III.1 (Zurich/Zollikon: Evangelischer Verlag, 1953), #41.3; Church Dogmatics, III.1, trs. J.W. Edwards et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), #41.3; Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, III.2, #45.2 and 3; Church Dogmatics, III.2, trs. Harold Knight et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), #45.2 and 3; Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, III.4, #54.1; Church Dogmatics, III.4, trs. A.T. Mackay et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961). For Balthasar on sexual difference see The Office of St. Peter and the Structure of the Church, tr. Andrée Emery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).

dialectic of the self and the other; the dialectic itself is constitutive of being human. That is, a human being is such only in relation to other human beings. Man and woman together constitute what it is to be human, making marriage fundamental anthropologically as well as theologically.3 Marriage is the fulfilment of sexual difference; the fulfilment also of a certain analogia Christi insofar as it imitates the old covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel and the new covenantal relationship between Christ and the Church. In Balthasar, sexual difference is related to the operation of specific offices within the Church — the Marian and the Petrine — which in turn rehearses the difference and hierarchy between Christ and his Church. The male and female perform the twofold character of the Christian life: service and obedience. These are the distinct vocations of men and women, in which women are the answer or response to Mensch. Each theologian, as has been remarked by several commentators,4 struggles with but cannot avoid the hierarchy in which the male has priority. Each theologian also cannot avoid a biological essentialism that structures and determines the difference that is subsequently enquired into theologically. The sexual in sexual difference is fundamentally physiological — it is that which can be read off from bodies, although these bodily signs have first of all to be recognised as significant or determinative in a major way. And, as those historians of medicine and those genealogists of corporeality inform us, we have only been taught to identify and read certain bodily signs as sexually different over the last 150 years or so.5 Barth and Balthasar's biological essentialism, their beginning with the determining physiological factors of distinct gonads, is itself histor

3 There is an interesting question in Barth's theology of sexual difference concerning 'marriage' as a social, contractual institution and 'marriage' as a covenantal relation. Barth allows for divorce on the grounds that the relation may not have been and was subsequently misunderstood as being covenantal. The 'marriage' seems, then, to be the relation issuing from the consummation of sexual difference; a relation that is ontologically prior to any ceremonial procedure.

4 See Tina Beattie, 'One Man and Three Women — Hans, Adrienne, Mary and Luce', New Black-friars 79 (294), February (1998), pp. 95—103; Gerard Loughlin, 'The Erotics of Sex'in John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward eds., Radical Orthodoxy (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 143—62; Graham Ward, 'Kenosis, Death, Discourse and Resurrection' in L. Gardner, D. Moss and B. Quash eds., Balthasar at the End of Modernity (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999), pp. 15—68, and Cities of God (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 182—202; David Moss and Lucy Gardner, 'Difference — The Immaculate Concept? The Laws of Sexual Difference in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar', Modern Theology 14 (3), July (1998), pp. 377—401, and 'Something Like Time; Something Like the Sexes — An Essay on Reception' in Balthasar at the End of Modernity, pp. 69—137; and Rachel Muers, 'A Question of Two Answers: Difference and Determinations in Barth and von Balthasar', Heythrop Journal 40 (1999), pp. 265-79.

5 There are a large number of books available in the area now, but one of the earliest and most influential was Thomas Lacqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

ically and culturally determined. As such their starting point is relative; relative to other future possibilities and other conceptions of the body's determinative signs in the past.

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