(Aristotle 1943, 716a, pp. 9–17
). Arguably one should not reject Aristotle’s entire achievement as a result of this error, any more than throw out his legacy because he argued that the earth was at the center of the universe. Clearly, later generations of scholars stand on his shoulders in terms of his larger anthropological framework, as well as his ground-breaking advances in science and biology, in metaphysics, political theory, and ethics.
(Aristotle 1943, 765a, 20
); Cited also by (Allen 1985, pp. 87–99, 193
). See also (Philo 1929–1962, Bk I, chp. 27, 16
). Philo’s theory reflects the same conclusion, viz., that woman is not equal to man. However, Philo was also an important first century theologian who interpreted the creation of woman in Genesis 2 through the lens of his philosophical conclusions. Philo’s account merged with Aristotle’s theory, adding a theological thrust to his influence on the development of the concept of woman in Christian thought.
(Allen 1985, p. 75
). The author is aware that there is debate about the connection between gender and sexual identity and the body. In this paper, gender and sex are generally used interchangeably to refer to the sex “assigned at birth,” the usage currently advocated in some circles. The former is the usage accepted by Allen in her trilogy.
Her investigation shows that for any theory to be complete, it will have to treat each of them in some way—and that every historical theory has done so. Each has had implications for the development of the concept of woman.
The reflections here have been limited to these two principles. Sr. Allen further distinguishes “traditional” gender polarity from “reverse” gender polarity. The first is the theory that man is superior to woman; founded by Aristotle, it has a longer history. The latter is the theory that woman is superior to man. This idea has surfaced from time to time throughout history; some contemporary feminists and others appear to be advocates for it now. See (Melvin Konner 2015
). Sr. Allen also points to two other possibilities: “fractional complementarity,” a view in which men and women are both incomplete and constitute one human being only when taken together; this is often found in Protestant interpretations of the biblical text. Last, there is “integral complementarity”, which militates against all of these other positions. Sr. Allen argues that this is the properly Catholic position: In integral complementarity, both men and women are equally and fully human and their union is only possible because of their differences. It results in a free, mutual exchange and often a new creation.
Indeed, he himself makes the connection for us in the Metaphysics
as he unfolds his theory of contrariety. At the end of his basic explication of contrariety, he states: “This is why the same seed becomes female or male by being acted on in a certain way.” (Aristotle 1941, Bk X, 9, 22–23: 1058–59
). We will come to understand his meaning in what follows.
In a 2015 study, Dutch scientists found that women are more comfortable at a room temperature of 75–76 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas men prefer the temperature be around 72 degrees. See (Kingma and van Marken Lichtenbelt 2015
Though its validity has been questioned by some, it provides a very reasonable and coherent account of both living and non-living substances as well as a point of departure for many other important metaphysical conclusions. It is not under dispute here. It is his application of this theory to the nature of woman in relation to man, informed as it is by his account of contrariety as well as of generation, that is problematic.
The notion that matter is pure receptivity or passivity was introduced by Plato. One of Aristotle’s most important contributions to the history of philosophy was to argue that matter was not merely passive as in inert; he argued that it possesses a potency in relation to act.
Origen’s system of interpretation had three levels. It began with the literal (plain) meaning of the text, proceeded to its moral meaning, and finally to the spiritual or allegorical. This system was taken up by medieval theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas, who added a fourth level, that of the analogical.
). Sr. Allen tells us that there are two possible explanations for Philo’s insistence on a theory of gender polarity: he may have decided to leverage aspects of gender polarity discernible in the accounts of Pythagoras and Plato; or he may have found traces of Aristotle’s account in the teachings of the early Stoics, another important influence on his work. See (Allen 1985, pp. 188–90
(Ibid., p. 190).
This is not to say that the Gospels, or the writings of St. Paul, or the authors of the other books of the New Testament were influenced by Philo’s understanding of woman as secondary and therefore inferior. There is no evidence to support that and it would be incorrect to suggest it. To offer a general interpretation of the passages in the New Testament where women are mentioned would be beyond our purposes here. Much more research needs to be done to offer an interpretation of such passages, especially those found in the letters of St. Paul, in light of the theory under consideration in this paper. Certainly, it is legitimate to speculate, perhaps even assume, that St. Paul would have been aware of the prevailing theory of woman’s role in the reproductive act and would have considered it to be valid; that was the science of his times and he would have been familiar with the Greek and early Jewish thinking on this score. However, the hermeneutical key to St. Paul on such questions will be found, not in Greek categories, but in Hebraic anthropology and its understanding of the person as per se communal. We will come to this later in the paper.
(Allen 2002, p. 65
). Her chapter on Aristotle’s influence on the academy, “Aristotelian Roots of Gender Identity,” is worth reading in its entirety. So is all four volumes of The Concept of Woman
Several works of Aristotle’s contain his account of these methods. See (Aristotle 1941
Lombard was referred to as “Doctor Scholasticus” and is responsible for the development of what came to be known as the scholastic method. (Allen 1985, p. 272
(Ibid., pp. 66–67).
Since St. Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace in the fourth century, Catholic teaching has held to the doctrine that grace is not opposed to nature but is that which liberates and controls nature.
(Allen 1985, p. 411
). This is true to the extent that Aristotle’s gender theory influenced Christian thinking on woman. However, this is not to imply that the authors of the New Testament were necessarily influenced by Aristotle’s theory. Sr. Allen is speaking more on a sociological or cultural level. She is not making a claim about the meaning of Scripture.
Including Martin Luther’s Reformation in the mid-16th century, and the entire modern period, from Descartes (d. 1650) to Kant (d. 1804). See (Allen 2002
) Part One and Part Two, and (Allen 2016
Ibid., p. 340. It would not be until John Stuart Mill’s famous essay The Subjection of Women
published in 1869, that anyone spoke out formally and publicly against the generally accepted idea that woman should be subject to the dictates of her husband or father since, according to the social norms of the time, it was understood that women were both physically and mentally less able than men, and therefore needed to be “taken care of.” See (Mill 1997
). In England, it was not until 1870 that married women were allowed to own property. See (Combs 2005, pp. 1028–57
). In the U.S., it was not until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 that women had the right to vote.
The suffragist movement is considered the first wave of feminism. The second wave of feminism is said to have begun with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique
, written in 1963. Friedan’s account differs from that of the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex.
However, Friedan dedicated her own book to de Beauvoir and considered herself to be in debt to Simone as her political and historical predecessor. de Beauvoir’s existentialist argument that “woman is not born, she is made” provides the hidden philosophical underpinnings of current “gender” theory and its convictions that the existence of human nature is a myth and that “gender” is merely a social construct (Friedan 1963
Illustrative of this thought is the work of Judith Butler. See, for example, her well-known book (Butler 1990
) or (Butler 1993
See in particular the 2018 report from the American Psychological Association on Boys and Men. Intended to establish new guidelines for psychologists when working with boys and men in therapeutic encounters, it stipulated that “traditional masculinity” was, by definition, “toxic.” These guidelines were recognized immediately as an “ideology being substituted for a clinical diagnosis.” See (Siglioto 2019
. The authors of the report were forced to retract or soften many of their claims within days of its publication though their assumptions live on in the culture. Here is a link to the revised report: https://www.apa.org/about/policy/boys-men-practice-guidelines.pdf
. Perhaps predictably, these developments have led to additional claims about the existence of “toxic femininity” as well. Though accounts of this phenomenon are less substantive and varied, psychologists seem to be drawing similar conclusions. Toxic femininity appears when women display stereotypical, “traditional” feminine behaviors such as “passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity,” behaviors also assumed to be the result of social conditioning alone. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sex-sexuality-and-romance/201908/toxic-femininity
The following analysis is based in part on previous research published in (Savage 2014
). Significant refinements to the theory have been made since then. The version offered here represents a major refinement of the theory since it now reflects the insights from Hebraic anthropology, not included in earlier iterations.
(John 2006, pp. 138–39
). These two categories, “being and existence” and “personal subjectivity,” are foundational to the thought of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II. Throughout his writings, this philosopher pope frequently contrasts the philosophy of being (metaphysics) and the philosophy of consciousness (phenomenology) and seeks ways to reconcile and synthesize their claims. His own anthropology is a creative completion of the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of man in which he synthesizes the metaphysical anthropology of the Thomist tradition with a more phenomenological analysis of human experience. He is concerned to correct what he perceives to be an inadequacy in the received tradition on the meaning of the person. The tradition has relied on the Boethian definition of the person as an “individual substance of a rational nature” which, he argues, though it provides the necessary “metaphysical terrain” in the dimension of being and paves the way for the realization of personal human subjectivity, leaves out an adequate investigation of lived human experience and thus lacks an essential component of what it means to be an actual living person. The thrust of his effort is to capture the meaning of human personhood in light of both the objective nature of the person and his lived experience as the subject of his own acts. See “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” (Wojtyla 1993, pp. 209–17
The author is indebted to several scholars in translating and interpreting these passages. First, Monsignor Michael Magee, chair of the Systematic Theology Department and professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, who helped with the meaning of the original Hebrew texts and was the first to affirm the merits of the hypothesis. Dr. Joseph C. Atkinson, Associate Professor of Scripture at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., has provided enormous assistance in arriving at this interpretation. Dr. Michael Waldstein, editor of the definitive text of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Professor of Theology at the University of Steubenville, has been extremely helpful in assisting in the refinement of that interpretation.
Dr. Atkinson argues that the idea of the “corporate personality” is the most promising principle for grasping the anthropology at work in the Old Testament. See (Atkinson 2014, p. 163
). I am immeasurably indebted to Dr. Atkinson for both his work and his guidance in this area. For a thorough treatment of the meaning of the Hebraic principle of corporate personality and a comprehensive review of the literature on the topic, see Chapter 6, pp. 161–92. The definitive text on this topic is a manuscript by (Robinson 1967
(Ibid., pp. 166–67). Dr. Atkinson is citing Jean (de Fraine 1965, pp. 14–15
). The original quote is from A.M. Dubarle in Melange Lebreton,
RSR 39 (1951/53), I, 59.
It is important to note that, though we have always thought of the main characters in these first two chapters of Genesis as Adam and Eve, only Eve is ever actually named—and even then, not until after the fall. The reference here is most certainly NOT to “Adam,” the husband of Eve.
Though “’adam” can be used to designate the individual man so called, and also another individual man, what is meant in a particular passage would be clear either from the context or from the use of the definite article with it: viz., if the reference is to hâ’adam, it would refer back to some man already indicated from the context. In Gen 1:27, the “man” already indicated from the context is precisely the individual man who also stands for the collective: The word “‘adam” mentioned in v. 26 is without the definite article and therefore can be said to indicate man as such. Thus, ‘adam is a reference to man per se, not to an individual or particular human being. A different word—either hâ’adam or ’îsh—would have been used (both these terms are used in both the first and second creation accounts) if the intention was to refer to the individual man or that particular man the tradition has come to refer to as Adam, the husband of Eve. So, it is really not going too far to say that if there were a reference to the notion of man qua man in Hebrew it would be ’adam.
Otho is a contraction of the untranslatable object marker (oth) and the masculine pronoun (o). Otham is the object marker contracted with the masculine plural pronoun (am). The grammatical gender is masculine, which is the “default” gender for a mixed group of males and females.
The word ’îsh, on the other hand, designates specifically the male, the concrete individual man, because the word zâchâr is the one used in an adjectival sense for “male” (it is related to the word for “remember,” perhaps because of the computation of genealogy through the male line). Sometimes ’îsh is also used in the sense of “each one, each man.” The word ’îsh is not used at all until Gn 2: 23, right after the woman is created and Adam is naming her ishshâh—while saying this is because she is taken from the ’îsh. To avoid any illegitimate leaps in interpretation, the best way to maximize care and precision would be to say that, of all the terms available in Hebrew, the one that would have to be adopted to designate what later philosophy would refer to as man in the abstract would have to be ’adam. It is this word that stands for “man” as the English language has traditionally and collectively used the word; it corresponds to the Greek anthrôpos, the Latin homo, the German mensch, or the Polish człowiek.
This is a somewhat different interpretation of this passage from that of other scholars, in particular that of (John 2006
). There he argues that the reference to man at 2: 7 is a reference to man in the abstract or collective sense. However, my reading of the text and its use of ha-adam
to refer to “man” in that passage leads to the conclusion that it is a reference to a specific “human being,” in this case a man. As stated previously, in the Hebrew, adam
without the definitive article ha,
can refer to man in the collective sense (see Gen 1: 26). However, when the definitive article is used, it is a reference to a specific “human being,” and, in this case, according to the narrative that follows, one who is male. Indeed, the narrative goes on to reveal that it is from the man’s (ha’adam
) rib that the woman (ishshah
) is created. It seems clear from the passage that the reference is to the man,
that is, the concrete person of the ha-adam
, while a specific individual, is at the same time representative and as it were ‘contains’ the whole of humanity, an interpretation that is very much in accord with Semitic thinking. However, it is essential to affirm as well that John Paul II is absolutely correct to point out that it is only with the creation of isshah
(the concretely existing woman we have come to refer to as Eve) that ’îsh
(the concretely existing man we have come to refer to as Adam) appears. There is no ’îsh
Some scripture scholars want to argue that Genesis 2 must be interpreted in light of Genesis 1’s reference to adam
and that woman and man are created simultaneously from adam
in both accounts. Along with Brevard Childs, I dispute this interpretation. The Hebrew text is clear and direct in this instance. Gen 2:22-23 states that the matter from which the woman (ishshah
) is formed is from the ha-adam
and that the woman (ishshah
) was taken out of the ’îsh
. See (Childs 1985, pp. 189–194
). A careful reading of both the text and the narrative reveals the clear meaning of Genesis 2. The author is indebted to her colleague, Dr. Mary Lemmons, for suggesting that this point be clarified and to both Monsignor Michael Magee and Dr. Joseph Atkinson for their expertise in helping to confirm this interpretation.
Again, the philosophical principle at work here is that what is found in the effect must first be in the cause.
In the creation account found in Genesis 2, we are no longer speaking of man in the abstract (adam
) but individual persons. The Hebrew text includes reference to both ha-adam
(“the human being” which, in Genesis 2, is a reference to a male at the level of the species, and ish
which refer to a concretely existing man and woman). At this point, matter (dust, man’s rib) enters the picture. Also, as Aquinas states, we thus enter the realm of accident. Aquinas explains gender as a type of (inseparable) accident. See (Aquinas 1968, 6, 5, p. 68
). However, since this type of accident is said to be something attributable to the species, the categories of male and female, while certainly inseparable from the essence of the person, cannot be attributed to the species per se. To be “male” and “female” is a special kind of inseparable accident, perhaps even in a category all its own. See (Finley 2015, pp. 585–614
(Aquinas 2014, II, 81, 8
). The author is indebted to Sister Prudence Allen and Monsignor John Wippel for pointing out this passage. Though it does not deal directly with the distinction between genders but with the individuation of the human soul and its continuing individuation after it is separated from the body at death. It is here that Aquinas introduces the notion of the commensuration of each soul to each body. Commensuration is a term that means literally to have the same measure. Aquinas means here that each body is adapted or accommodated, even interpenetrated in an equal measure by the soul intended for it. See also (Aquinas 1952, Q 5, 10
) where Aquinas states: “the soul when joined to a body imitates the composition of that body.”
Though it will not be possible to include it here, it should also be noted at the outset that scientific research regarding what distinguishes men and women supports many of the conclusions found in the work of John Paul II as well as in this paper. See (Rhoades 2004, pp. 22–26
); (Jessel and Moir 1991, pp. 68–112
). For additional sources and a critique of brain organization theory as a whole, see (Rebecca Jordan-Young 2010
). The author’s general argument is that there are risks associated with attributing sex differences to hormones and that brain organization theory (found in these other sources) cannot account for all of them.
The word ezer is translated in many different ways: A “suitable helper,” “suitable partner.” Perhaps the best is found in the Jewish Tanakh—a “fitting helper.”
Though the word tsela
is traditionally translated as “rib,” it is not at all clear that this is correct. The basic meaning of the word in Hebrew is ambiguous and there are quite a few possibilities, including “plank,” “side,” and references to geographical and architectural terms. There have been many hypotheses concerning the word but the only thing that is really clear is that, if it does mean “rib,” it does so only in this one passage. Several possible interpretations have particular appeal: If it is taken to mean “side” or “plank,” it could be thought to be the source of the expression that woman is man’s “better half”; or, given its proximity to the heart, it has been taken to stand for human interiority. Perhaps the most satisfying possibility is that it is a reference to sacral architecture since in some contexts tsela
refers to the side portions of the sanctuary that are necessary for its stability and function. The conclusion can be drawn that the Yawhist author of the passage used terminology “designed to evoke associations with the construction of the sanctuary” to suggest that human beings “come to fulfillment for which they are destined by creation only as man and wife and as God’s temple.” See (Botterweck et al. 2003
This interpretation is supported by Brevard Childs who states that “the creation of the woman, which is sequential in time, foreshadows a climax to the creation which resounds with joy at the close of the chapter.” See (Childs 1985, p. 191
As St. Thomas himself argues, woman is as necessary to creation as the male of the species (Aquinas 1947, I, 92, sed contra
). Thus, woman cannot be thought of as a creature whose place in that order is subservient or somehow less in stature than that of man.
This point is also made by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his 2004 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” when he points out that “the term here does not refer to an inferior, but to a vital helper.” See in particular Footnote #5. I am using the word “servant” here as it is usually meant—as someone who occupies a lower rung on the ladder in any particular context. A different interpretation of the word servant is associated with being a follower of Christ, which, at this point in salvation history, cannot be invoked. However, I do not mean to imply that woman is not to serve man. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 5, both men and women are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The question of the headship of the man in the family is not under scrutiny here and is a topic for further research.
Excellent examples can be found in the Psalms: e.g., Psalm 30: 11b, “The LORD will be a helper (‘ezer) to me”, or Psalm 121: 1, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, whence comes my help (‘ezrî).” The name of the great scribe “Ezra” of the restoration of Israel under the Persians, namesake of the biblical book, seems to be the Aramaic masculine form of the same word.
In his very fine translation of these texts, Robert Alter translates ezer negdo as “sustainer” rather than helper, a word with a much closer meaning to that intended by the sacred author in my opinion. The author refers here to “helper” since that is the more traditional term used in most translations and makes my dispute with the usual interpretation more precise.