The Bishop of Rome is condemning the tyranny of capitalism and the idolatry of money. The bishops of Poland are condemning the tyranny of gender theory.
Over the Christmas holidays, a strongly-worded pastoral letter, issued by the bishops of Poland, was read in parishes across their country. The bishops have branded gender theory a mortal danger to families, child sexual orientation, and humanity. Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in late 2012 about the “falseness” of gender theory, the Polish bishops are campaigning about a host of contemporary evils created by and falling under the umbrella of gender theory: homosexuality, pedophilia, feminism, marital breakdown, and sex ed programs for children and youth that promote masturbation, pornography, eroticism, birth control, and abortion.
Posters have appeared in Polish schools proclaiming: “Protect Your Child Against Gender.”
The Polish bishops cite Marxism, feminist movements, and the sexual revolution as having inspired the theory, which they say is “contrary to the traditional view of man.” That means against natural law.
Last summer one of Poland’s best-known bishops, Tadeusz Pieronek, gave an indication of Polish episcopal thought when he argued during a cultural festival on the Baltic coast that “the ideology of gender presents a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.” He is really heated up about this.
Perhaps the bishops and others in the church need a refresher course and some updating about natural law. They will have to study and scratch their heads because it obviously doesn’t come to them naturally.
When thinking about natural law, I suspect many people would say that is a God-given body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct. As a general perspective it is helpful and makes sense. Good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. The issue becomes more complex, however, when we get down to concrete specifics.
If, for instance, the natural purpose of sex is procreation, any use of or enjoyment of sex that is not procreative is unnatural. All those things problematic for the Polish bishops are unnatural: masturbation, birth control, and homosexuality. But what if procreation is not the primary purpose of sex? What if human sexuality is also about intimacy, affection, bonding and pleasure?
What then is natural or unnatural?
Thomas Aquinas (1224 – 1274 CE) was convinced that a pyramid social structure was the natural order for human societies: on top emperors, kings, and the pope, then dukes and bishops, then knights, priests, and religious men and women. Down at the bottom: the serfs. If every person would respect and adhere to his or her natural rung in society, there would be peace and tranquility. In varying degrees I suspect many churchmen and some church women still believe that. Although, with the current pope they have to put some of their colorful threads and golden trinkets back in the closet.
Aquinas also taught that women are, by nature, incomplete human beings and inferior to men. For Thomas it was a matter of natural law and natural “heat” or, as far as women were concerned, insufficient male heat.
A fetus Thomas asserted, develops its full potential (meaning its maleness) if it collects sufficient “heat” or “vital spirit” in the early stages of development. Femaleness results from insufficient heat being absorbed by the fetus. Thomas himself says: “A female is deficient and unintentionally caused. For the active power of the semen always seeks to produce a thing completely like itself, something male. So if a female is produced, this must be because the semen is weak or because the material [provided by the mother] is unsuitable, or because of the action of some external factor such as the winds from the south which make the atmosphere humid.” Thomas saw a woman’s deficiency confirmed by her inferior intellectual powers; and therefore a woman could not fully be an image of God. Only males could do that.
Thomas believed, therefore, that a woman could not represent Christ because women are incomplete males. He therefore was convinced women could never be priests, because the priest in the Eucharist is a sign of Christ: “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”
Shades of the old Thomistic viewpoint still cloud the minds of more than a few higher-placed ecclesiastics. Many, like the Bishop of Rome, are fine and pastoral people but still theologically time-bound in an old anthropology.
Any understanding of natural law must take into account the fact that we are all progressing and evolving: in who we are and in our understanding of who we are.
Truth is not relative, but our truth statements and doctrines cannot be forever chiseled in stone. Maybe on an iPad with a continually updating screen….