‘Male and Female He Created Them’

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Previous columns have reviewed the teaching of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the creation of the world and the human family. I hope those reflections provided not only solid teaching about creation, but also helped to engender a sense of wonder and awe of God the Creator. This column will build on what was already said about the creation of the human person in the image of God. Let us turn our attention to a seemingly simple statement found in the opening pages of Scripture: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27).

Being created “male and female” has something to do with being made in God’s image. One’s sexual identity is not merely a matter of psychology, physiology or appearance. It is not a “style” of being human, nor a feeling prompted by sexual attraction or inclination. On the contrary, “maleness” and “femaleness” are part of God’s creative design and go to the depth of one’s very being. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that: “Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. ‘Being man’ and ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator” (369).

Equal and Complementary Back to Top

Let us be clear: The human person was made in God’s image but “in no way is God in man’s image” (Catechism, 370). Sexual differences do not exist in God, who is “pure spirit.” However, the differences among the three Persons of the one God help us understand that “being man” and “being woman” are two equal and complementary ways of being human. In other words, God’s plan calls for man and woman to help and support each other and thus form a communion or bond of love. According to the Catechism, “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” (371).

In his design for creation, God united man and woman and ordained they bring new life into the world through their love for one another. He commanded them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:48). In forming a communion of love, the couple cooperates with God in the procreation of new human life. This truth, etched into the design of creation, is at the heart of the Church’s teaching against contraception expressed in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life).

Now we are prepared to return to the question of how “maleness” and “femaleness” reflect the inner life of the Trinity. How does our being created male and female have something to do with our being made in God’s image? A quote from Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) will help us see this connection:

“The fact that man ‘created as man and woman’ is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a ‘unity of the two’ in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of one divine life. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God through the unity of the divinity, exist as persons through the inscrutable divine relationship. Only in this way can we understand the truth that God in himself is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).”

Infinite, Immense and Never-Ending Back to Top

Reflecting on that passage, we see the depth and beauty of the communion of love that is at the heart of the vocation of marriage. John Paul II makes clear that the love of husband and wife is an image of the love of the divine Persons. This can be seen in several ways. For instance, we may observe that the love of the divine Persons is characterized by absolute self-gift and reception of the other. In other words, their love is not something they give, as if a product or commodity; rather, they give themselves, their very being. The love they share is not something that can be traded or calculated — and the gift of love is not payment for having received love. When love is truly a gift of self, there is no calculation, just the full, free gift of one’s being. This love that the Father and the Son give and receive is the Holy Spirit, who can be called their gift, their bond, even their communion. The Holy Spirit is not being exchanged between the Father and the Son; he is not traded, calculated or measured. Like the Father and the Son, he is holy, eternal, infinite, immense and never-ending.

If human love is to imitate divine love, it too should not be calculated, measured or exchanged as a commodity. In a creaturely and therefore limited way, this love should be holy, moving toward the eternal.

Furthermore, in the Father and Son’s love for one another, there is perfect unity in difference, which is inherently and infinitely fruitful. Each of the divine Persons is fully divine, but in a way the other is not. Similarly, as John Paul II points out, male and female are two distinct ways of being fully human. God ordained their union in married love and mutual self-donation to welcome new life as a fruit and sign of their love for one another.

This truth — a truth that is deeply countercultural — demands not only our assent but our active attention. It is at the heart of our efforts as Knights to support family life and to defend the institution of marriage for the common good of society, for the sake of the Church and for the salvation of the human family.

Discussion Reflection Questions for Council Use Back to Top

1. What does it mean to say that man and woman are created with equal dignity and that each fully possess a human nature? Does this necessarily imply sameness?

2. In what way does the mystery of the Holy Trinity shed light on the difference between the sexes? How do unity, difference and fruitfulness relate both to God and male and female, made in God’s image?

3.How does the contemporary appeal to promote or tolerate homosexual acts,“gay marriage” and other issues related to gender identity compare with the Catholic understanding of being created male and female?

4.What is the difference between saying male and female are complementary ways of being fully human and saying that male and female each possess half of human nature?

5.Why is the use of natural family planning (NFP) fundamentally different than contraception when married couples decide to space or limit how many children they conceive? What does contraception do that NFP does not?