Fail

“Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.” Psalm 145:2-3 (Douay-Rheims; your version might say this is Psalm 146)

One of the things you have to get used to as a Catholic is how even seemingly very solid Catholic leaders sometimes fail. They fall flat. They say or write something erroneous, or even heretical. They scandalize us. They botch answers to obvious questions. They flee in cowardice when confronted by a hostile argument or an uncomfortable truth.

When I say “seemingly very solid Catholic leaders,” I don’t just mean, “Oh, you know people that *other* people trust, but I know better than to trust.” I mean people you likely trust, and people I would trust, if I still placed all that much trust in other mortals. I’m including myself here, as I have fallen flat myself, in truly embarrassing and avoidable ways.

I’ll give an example (of someone else falling flat, not myself). There is an expanding Catholic radio network, of an orthodox/conservative stripe, not traditionalist by any means. One of their “personalities” is a priest whom most people would regard as “very solid.” I myself have been impressed by some things he’s said, and I’m not all that easily impressed. But I have an anecdote that shows this reputable priest describing one of the most well-known events in the Old Testament in a way that I can’t imagine anyone describing it before Vatican II. I submit that his description reveals a pernicious, extraordinarily widespread, and revolutionary (=mistaken, subversive, and bad) understanding of the relation between the sexes.

The priest was on a radio show, and he was describing the creation of Eve. I hope most of you are familiar with the wording of the creation of Eve in Genesis. To paraphrase, God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. So He put Adam into a deep sleep and created Eve from his rib. Eve was to be Adam’s helpmate, bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of Adam’s flesh. I repeat: Adam needed company, and God gave him Eve as a helpmate.

The priest referenced this narrative, I forget in what context, and he said the following (this is close to his actual wording):

“God created Eve so Adam would have an equal, someone to serve.”

Do you see what’s wrong here? Nowhere in Genesis does it say that Eve was Adam’s equal, or that she was created for him to serve her. Eve was created so that *she* would be *his* helpmate, so he could cleave to her as belonging to one flesh as himself. If you think that’s just the barebones of the Genesis account, and the priest is fleshing it out (so to speak), then I refer you to the *New* Testament account of the creation of Eve in St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians 11:8-9:

“For the man is not of the woman, but the  woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.”

In coming posts, I plan to explore similar New Testament passages that say the wife is to be subject to her husband and the husband is supposed to cherish his wife. For now, let me observe that none of these Scriptural passages refer to Adam as needing an equal, or finding that equal in Eve, or to Adam needing to serve somebody, or that person being Eve. If you think I’m mistaken, or that the priest’s interpretation above is the traditional Catholic understanding of these Scriptural passages, by all means do correct me. I also intend to trace the priest’s peculiar reading of Eve’s creation to Pope St. John Paul II and to his phenomenological philosophy. I propose that this reading (Eve as Adam’s equal, whom Adam serves) is *not* well rooted in either Scripture or Tradition. Lastly, I plan to show that this reading detracts from a proper understanding of the sexes and how man and woman can live together happily.

6 thoughts on “Fail

  1. I hope you intend to flesh out what you mean by “equality” and “servitude”, because I think both of these can be easily misinterpreted to create offense. Also, I’d be interested to hear your perspective on what the end result of your theological interpretation would look like in the real world.

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    • Definitely. Thank you for your comment. One of the biggest issues here is that “equality” has several different meanings, some of which are appropriate when describing the relationship of man and wife, some of which are inappropriate, and some of which are irrelevant. I do plan to define terms.

      I also think the words “subjection” and “servitude” need to be delineated. They don’t mean the same thing.

      For the purpose of this post, though, my concern is less in rejecting what I take the priest’s meaning to have been. Rather, I wanted to highlight that no one who wasn’t already committed to the principles of male-female equality and male service to the female would use those principles to describe what’s going on in Genesis. Certainly not if the reader took St. Paul’s interpretation of Genesis as canonical. They might approach the notion of equality (Adam needed a helper like unto himself, not unlike himself, as the animals were), but the word isn’t present anywhere in the text, nor does the notion of equality provide the best lens through which to read what’s going on. But I’ll address that next time.

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  2. Generally, it is Protestants who get all fastidious about sticking strictly to what is in the text. Catholics normally feel that it is appropriate to interpret Scripture in light of our tradition, which would include 20th century thinkers like JPII.

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    • I don’t think this criticism applies. Prior to the 20th century, I don’t think anyone would have looked at Genesis and said, “Yep, Adam needs someone to serve.” Find any indication that this is the purpose for which Eve was created — any indication from prior to the 20th century.

      The actual genesis (hah) goes like this:

      1.) The Old and New Testaments clearly say that Eve was made for Adam, not Adam for Eve. St. Paul explicitly says this.

      2.) The Old and New Testaments say that the woman is to be subject to the man.

      3.) Feminine subjection (I prefer the word subordination) offends modern, enlightened man.

      4.) Pope John Paul II thinks he finds an “out” by introducing the notion of “mutual subjection,” which flies in the face of Scripture and Tradition and liturgy (“love, honor, and obey” vs. “love, honor, and cherish”).

      5.) Non-critical thinkers simply take this teaching at face value. Popes can’t be wrong, can they?

      6.) This teaching becomes the *very first thing* that pops into a priest’s head when thinking about Adam and Eve. Not, “Adam needed a helpmate like himself, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.” No, “Adam needed an equal, someone to serve.”

      Like I said, one *could* arrive at the “needed an equal” part if one started from the obvious inferiority of the animals to man. Then “Adam needed someone of the same nature/species” as himself gets us at equality of nature. But tack on “someone to serve,” and that places “needed an equal” more in the context of, “Adam and Eve related to one another on a level; neither had to be subject to the other in a way that was asymmetrical. All subjection is symmetrical, mutual, and reciprocal.” Which is foreign to Scripture and Tradition.

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      • It’s as though the priest has internalized the zeitgeist. Lest someone think he’s supporting the obvious sense of Scripture and Tradition, his first concern is to shut down crimethink. “Adam . . . Eve . . . Equality! Man serves woman!” From what I heard, he was *not* concerned with shutting down the apparent contradiction by asserting that Eve also had to serve Adam. So Adam is left serving his equal, and she is left doing nothing, on her pedestal. All completely avoidable, if he’d just stuck to the actual emphases of the narrative. Which are on likeness, fundamental unity, and immediate, natural bonding and identification. If what Adam *really* needed was an equal, God could have created another Adam, from a different patch of slime. Then Adam 1.0 could have served Adam 2.0. But that’s not what God did, because the narrative isn’t about equality, it’s about unity and union.

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  3. Pingback: Truth Trumps All | Driftless Catholic

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