Have you ever trekked the expanse of an infinity?
In my last post, we discussed the mystery that it is to be a human person. Our infinite interiority, unrepeatability, utter uniqueness, and individual wholeness all combined is enough to leave one breathless with awe if you really stop to think about it. In a culture that is constantly seeking to numb us to our own capacities for greatness through mindless forms of leisure and a decreased quality in modern educational systems, it is so easy to forget about the magnanimity and mystery of one single human person walking into a room.
We are really, very marvelous. Have you forgotten?
Let us begin at the beginning:
“God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Adam wakes up. Eve opens her eyes.
Her senses are instantly flooded with golden light swirling around her – the sparkling rays of dawn overwhelm her as birds sing and a gentle breeze tickles her face.
Light. Color. Sound.
She sees him, the man, Adam, looking at her. Their eyes lock.
There is instantaneous recognition of sameness, of similarity, of likeness. Adam pronounces, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Genesis 2:23).
I wonder, though, how long it took them to become acutely aware of their differences in embodiment, too. Isn’t it curious that the first impression Adam has of Eve is one of similarity rather than difference? It is only after he makes this pronouncement of their likeness that he acknowledges that she should be called woman, since she was taken from man (an acknowledgement of difference).
Integral to my understanding of what it means to be a human person is a school of thought that can be called incarnational personalism. This marks the first major division under the branch of “personalism,” and this deviation amongst personalists is over the question of embodiment, or, more specifically, the reality of being made male and female (1).
As I mentioned in my last post, while I think analyzing the differences between male and female embodiment is very important philosophically, I want to avoid two extremes: the first extreme would be any sort of notion that male and female are so different that they lack a common humanity, and the other extreme being complete disinterest in the differences of embodiment by holding to a kind of dualism (positing that the real self and the body are two separate things). Incarnational personalism holds that we live in and through our embodiment. Our bodies are not simply vehicles by which we manipulate matter, but an integral part of our personhood itself. Our bodies cannot be separated from our personhood. I am taking this as a given premise (perhaps, if I have time later in the semester, we can revisit why I truly hold to this even in a culture that is rampant with dualism).
After several years as a philosophy student, however, I am starting to learn that there are even serious debates going on within the smaller community of incarnational personalism as well. Novak, in this essay, goes on to state that since mankind is made in the image of God, it must be something about maleness and femaleness together that mirrors God. On this point, I agree. The aspects of being a man must mirror God in a way that are different from the ways in which a woman mirrors God. Thus it is only logical to claim that it is the mystery of man and woman together that most closely imitates what it is to be the Imago Dei, for it is “something in our male-and-femaleness-together that pulls back the veil on what God is like” (3).
However, it would seem to me that taking this concept too far could be problematic. Novak goes on to say that since our communion as persons together is what makes us resemble God, “each gender alone is incompletely human. We are made for the communion of male and female” (4). Respectfully, this statement rang some alarm bells for me.
My struggle with this line from Novak’s essay lies in the fact that it seems to contradict basic elements of personalism that we have been asserting all along, namely, that each unique and unrepeatable human being is in-and-of-themselves a human person in the full sense of the term. The very thought of a woman being an “incomplete human” because she does not contain male-ness in any way does not, to me, seem to be consistent with the personalist approach. Doesn’t this contradict what Crosby and Maritain said when they describe humanity as being a “whole composed of wholes?” (5). For me, this is one of those stumbling blocks that leaves me with more questions than answers, and I cannot wait to continue reading Novak in the hopes of uncovering his meaning.
So, according to Novak then, can we really say that each human person has an infinite interiority to them, or contains the fullness of human nature? What about the fact that this human nature is a shared nature, common to both men and women? Is he attempting to be consistent with a theory of split gender complementary, reminiscent of Edith Stein’s approach? Is he simply being poetic in an attempt to persuade the reader of the importance of communion between men and women?
Check out my next post as I attempt to start scratching the surface of some of these questions.
Until then, thank you for journeying with me so far.
(1) Crosby, What We Mean by Personalism, 2.
(3) Ibid, 3.