Friday, May 28, 2010

Equality, Distinction and TOB

In community, we've been talking about ways to present the Theology of the Body to Church people whose passions are especially focused around justice issues, and who many times just don't seem to "get" Theology of the Body. I came across an interesting passage from Thomas Merton (from his
last journals; I think this passage is from 1963) that I think expresses exactly the issue. In Merton's day, he was watching the rapid changes in his Trappist community, changes presumably inspired by Vatican II (which had only begun the year before). He wrote about the integration of the brothers with the "choir" monks, giving them white habits in place of their distinctive brown ones in the name of unity:

"I think the difference in habit, as the difference in schedule and matter of life between the two groups, had a profound importance for unity. Psychologically and spiritually the effect of 'complementarity' one --of two groups need one another, completing one another by definite and useful functions, had and has a great deal of meeting both for brothers and choir. It made possible a sense of relationship, of mutual interdependence, which had great significance for unity. It produced an organic unity, living.Which  is being replaced by juridical unity, a unity on paper. At a certain seems that the whole thing will go further and that the two lives will be reduced to uniform observance, with the brothers more and more involved in choir and withdrawn from work....  The impression I get is that the serious and very earnest desires of those who have genuine brothers' vocations are being ignored, and that a very beautiful way of life--a with that the very monastic way, perhaps a more authentic monastic life to that of the 'choir monk'--is quietly being done away with."
Alexander Schmemann, the Russian Orthodox liturgy scholar, also wrote in his personal journals about the connection between complementarity and unity; Schmemann is the one who really makes the connection between Merton's insight and the Theology of the Body (although John Paul II had  not even been elected Pope, and the world had not heard the expression "Theology of the Body" when Schmemann penned this in 1976 (emphasis in original):
"Equality is based on the denial of any distinctions, but since they exist, the wish for equality calls to fight them, to force equalization on people, and, what is even worse, to refuse these distinctions, which are the essence of life. ....  Nothing--and we know it--kills love, replaces it with hate, as much as equality forced upon the world as a goal and a value.
"And it is precisely in love, and nothing else, that the duality of man as male and female is rooted. It is not a mistake that humanity must rectify by 'equality,' not a flaw, not accident--it is the first and most ontological expression of the very essence of life. Here personal fulfillment is accomplished in some sacrifice.... It all means that there is no equality but an ontological distinction making love possible, i.e., unity, not equality. Equality presupposes many evils, never turning into unity because the essence of equality consists of its careful safeguarding. In unity, distinctions do not disappear but become unity, life, creativity. The male and female are part of the nature of the world, but only a human being transforms them into the unity of the family. The aversion of our culture to family is based on the fact that the family is the last bastion to oppose the evil of equality."

What I think happens in some justice circles is that "equality" begins to assume a kind of mathematical character, making anything but juridical "identicalness" an injustice. But the complementarity built into our nature for all to see is really the greatest hope of a truly human justice rooted not in individualism, but in unity.  And I love that the Gethsemane Trappist and the Russian emigre give us the language with which to begin to assess the language and goals we use in the pursuit of justice.

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