Masculine Initiative In the Order of Creation
However, this has all changed in modern culture:
I wander thro' each charter'd street
Fatherhood reveals a truth about God that is essential to understanding the order of redemption. Monica Migliorino Miller, in her excellent study entitled Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church, discusses the meaning of God's Fatherhood. Most fundamentally, she explains that in the Old Testament God is "Father" because He is the cause of His people and cannot be identified with them. As Father, God is the source of creation while being differentiated from it. He always remains the totally Other. Creation is from God and stands in relation to Him. He stands outside of it and declares it to be "very good."  God gives life, which is received by creation, by Israel.  His creative power is seen not only in His creation of the world ex nihilo, but in His creative power as it relates to the women in scripture. When Eve conceives Cain, she exclaims the child is a result of God's power: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord."  God's procreative power triumphs when the barren women such as Sarah, Hannah - or in Luke's gospel, Elizabeth - are finally blessed with children. "The liberating paternity of God reaches its apex with the birth of Jesus who is God's own Son." 
In the New Testament we see that the Fatherhood of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Fatherhood and the shepherding of God's people are intimately linked in Christ. Christ's authority is that of a shepherd over His flock. In the Gospel of John, Christ speaks of his headship as that of a Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."  This exercise of authority is in stark contrast to the shepherds of Israel who would misuse their authority to exploit the sheep.  Miller states that "God's shepherding is not a despotism. His authority is not mere quantitative power. Authority is measured by life-giving power and care for others."  The meaning of authority is thus put in the context of the sacrifice. As we will see, this authority ultimately comes from the sacrifice of the Bridegroom who espouses the Church in the shedding of His blood. This life-giving authority is fundamentally masculine:
Christ, the Good Shepherd, reveals the creative love of the Father in the order of redemption. We now arrive at the question of how masculinity, particularly the male sexuality, serves as symbol of God in the order of creation. We have seen that God exercises his creative power as the transcendent Other. As Creator, he stands apart from all that he has made. Male sexuality is a symbol of this type of creative action. To be male means to stand apart, to be differentiated from creation.
Miller postulates that the world is pervasively feminine, not masculine. In order for a man to claim his identity, to come into his own, he needs to separate himself from this feminine matrix. She points to human chromosomal make-up to illustrate her point: there is a predominance of three to one female sex chromosomes between a woman (XX) and a man (XY). The female is the foundational makeup, the fundamental sex of humankind, "for in order to make a male, you simply add a Y to the female configuration. Observed another way, a male is simply a differentiated female…" 
These differences manifest themselves on a psychological level as well. Women tend to respond
to situations more immediately and have difficult distancing themselves from their emotions. In contrast, men will
often instinctively distance themselves from their emotions and immediate relations. On a cognitive level, women
tend to become one with the objects to which they relate. Men, however, tend to distance themselves from the object
in order to understand it better.  They know how they feel about something by "abstracting" and viewing it from the outside.
John Paul II recognizes this life-giving interior dimension to women. In Mulieris Dignitatem, he remarks that motherhood involves women in a special communion with the mystery of life. A mother "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. The man, on the other hand, "always remains 'outside' the process of pregnancy and the baby's birth; in many ways he has to learn his own 'fatherhood' from the mother."  Even the most caring of fathers will always remain separate and apart. He will never know his children with the same intimate bond that profoundly characterizes motherhood. This is constitutive of his nature as a man:
Because a man is outside the process of child-bearing, he must, like St. Joseph, become a father through adoption. This is yet another way in which a man is called upon to image God the Father, who takes mankind to Himself through our adoption as sons in Christ. Divine Fatherhood is the source and origin of human fatherhood. 
While a man is certainly set apart from his children in a way that a mother is not, he is, nonetheless, the sole initiator of the procreative act and of conception. In this way, male sexuality also images God, who, as we have seen, alone actively initiates all of creation and stands outside it. Miller observes that a man is the more active principle of conception on a number of levels. On the external level, the conjugal act requires that the woman yield herself to the man and receive him. This surrender of herself is her form of giving as she allows herself to be penetrated by him. The man is taking the initiative, but only in response to her freely giving herself.  Nonetheless, the male must take action in a way that the woman cannot. The accomplishment of the conjugal act ultimately depends on the male's action. 
On the interior level, the very conception itself teaches us about the nature of masculine initiative. The male sperm must actively seek out the female ovum. During the woman's fertile period, her physiology is receptive to sperm. The production of estrogen at this time causes the cervical os to widen and become soft. Estrogen also stimulates mucus-producing cells in the cervix. The presence of cervical mucus serves to neutralize the acidic nature of the vagina, providing sperm with the nourishment and motility they need.  The ovum is released into the fallopian tubes where it awaits penetration. The sperm compete for entrance, and a number may cluster around a single ovum. The ovum, for its part, preferentially allows access to only one. At that moment of access, the sex of the zygote is "sealed by the addition of a Y or an X [chromosome] to what is already and always will be a firm female substratum." 
Thus we see that male sexuality as active and initiating stands as an image of God who generates all of creation. Masculinity also frames our proper understanding of Christ, who fully reveals the Father. Christ's death is an initiatory act for his bridal Church. He gives to her something she could not give to herself. He dies for her in what is essentially a masculine death. Because of this initiatory act, Christ and the Church become one flesh. In the sacrament of marriage, Christ calls upon a husband to imitate this same initiatory act of self-sacrifice for his wife. The initiative belongs to the husband, while the response belongs to the wife. We now turn to the thought of Pope John Paul II for his insight on the meaning of masculine initiative.
The notion of the man as initiator is intrinsically bound up with the original unity of the man and woman. In the second chapter of Genesis we read that God creates the woman and brings her to the man in the same way a father of the bride would bring his daughter to the bridegroom. Upon seeing the woman, the man expresses his hymn of delight: "This one, at last is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman, for from man was this one taken."  We see in this act of recognition that it is the man who speaks and describes the woman as of his very bone and flesh. He thus establishes himself as the initiator and, to a certain degree, the principle member of the relationship. In another sense, however, the woman is a divinely given aid without whom the man is in a solitude that is "not good." She is taken from his side, and given to him as a gift to be at his side, so that together they may realize what they cannot realize alone. 
We see that the man is called from the beginning to be the initiator. But what does exercising this initiative power entail? Initiation is not domination. Rather, it is exercising life-giving power and care for others. It is acting as a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for those under his charge. For the man it often amounts to decision-making power for the well-being of the family. John Paul II comments that "from the beginning" the man is called upon to be the one who receives and cares for the gift that is the woman. From the beginning, the woman is "entrusted to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart." The man is also charged with ensuring that there is a mutual interpenetration of giving and receiving, the reciprocal sharing that creates a real communio personarum. The man's giving of himself, and the woman's acceptance of the gift of his masculinity, enriches him as a man. His gift of self
The woman's acceptance of the gift allows the man to discover himself through his sincere gift of self, which becomes the source of a new and deeper enrichment of the woman.
In the mutual exchange of this communio personarum, the masculine initiatory act takes the form of acceptance of the woman as a gift. John Paul II remarks that the acceptance of the woman by the man is the man's "first donation." Just as the man discovers himself through a sincere gift of self, so the woman "rediscovers herself." This rediscovery comes directly from her being fully accepted and welcomed by the man. Drawing on a theme of Gaudium et Spes, John Paul II tells us that she is accepted in the way the Creator wished for her to be accepted, that is, "for her own sake." She is accepted in both her humanity and her femininity. Anything less than full acceptance of her in her humanity and femininity is the reduction of her to an object and a denial of her essential character as gift. This denial, John Paul II asserts, would be the beginning of the experience of shame. The full acceptance and affirmation of the other helps the man and woman to bring about a true communio personarum, and to recapture, as it were, a time when they were "both naked and were not ashamed." 
John Paul II asserts that the absence of shame is closely connected with the experience of freedom. The man's welcoming acceptance of the woman in her humanity and her femininity is an act of freedom. For him it is an experience of freedom to deliberately choose to accept her just as she is. For her it is an experience of freedom to know interiorly that she is fully accepted. In this experience of freedom there is a mutual affirmation of the other person as a unique and unrepeatable child of God. 
The experience of freedom is also closely linked with the notion of self-mastery or self-control. Man is free only insofar as he has control over his desires. John Paul II calls this self-discipline a
Self-mastery has the effect of enabling husband and wife to develop their full personalities. From the perspective of masculine initiative, we can see that it is precisely by exercising self-mastery over his sexual appetite that a man is able to make a sincere gift of himself to a woman. In this expression of love the man paradoxically dies to self while fully discovering his true self. 
It is imperative that the man not be passive in the presence of the gift of the woman. When the man abdicates his role as initiator, a vacuum is created which the woman normally fills. The man is then placed in the position of being obedient to his wife, rather than giving himself up for her. Passivity of this sort led directly to Eve's solicitation of evil from the serpent. After the Fall, God punished Adam for his passivity with the following words:
When the woman reaches for what is specifically masculine, she denies her own feminine originality. John Paul II warns that if women take this masculine path they
John Paul II devotes considerable attention to an analysis of Ephesians 5:21-33 and its meaning for the marital relationship in his Wednesday audiences and encyclicals. This passage has been called the summa of church teaching on marriage. It presents marriage as an analogy reflecting the "great mystery" of the union of Christ and the Church. It joins the redemptive and spousal dimensions of love and calls upon the husband to give up his life for his wife.  The passage contains numerous themes relating to masculine initiative. We now turn to John Paul's exegesis, as well as that of St. John Chrysostom, St. Edith Stein and Sheldon Vanauken.
John Paul II speaks of the love of Christ for the Church as an image of the love a husband should show to his wife. The husband and wife are subject to one another "out of reverence for Christ." While this subjection is considered to be mutual, the Pope insists that there is a special obligation of the husband to be solicitous of the welfare of his wife. The love between them commits the husband to
Notice that the Pope calls the husband's attention "creative." The attention is other-directed: the object of the husband's desire is not that which is good for him, but that which is good for her. He is called to sacrifice his own desires for her. John Paul directly speaks of this creative power of the masculine, self-sacrificial love which is akin to Christ's love: "That good which he who loves creates, through his love, in the one that is loved, is like a test of that same love and its measure."  In reading the Pope's words, one cannot help but to recall the Gospel of Luke: "For the measure that you give will be the measure you get back." 
In another instance, John Paul II speaks of the masculine initiatory act of love. He states that "the husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand, is she who is loved." The wife's submission to her husband "signifies above all the 'experiencing of love.'" The wife's "experiencing of love" is all the more powerful if her submission is akin to the submission of the Church to Christ, which certainly consists in experiencing his love. 
It is in the wife's "experiencing of love" that brings about her fulfillment. In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II returns to the theme of the duty of the man to affirm the woman. He comments that Ephesians 5:25 makes the exhortation: "Husbands, love your wives." Husbands should love their wives because of the unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become "one flesh." The Pope states that through this love
He urges husbands to imitate Christ's creative "style" as Bridegroom of the Church. Just as Christ desires the Church to be "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle," so husbands should desire - and take action - to see that their wives develop and reach fulfillment.
In his insightful homily on Ephesians 5, St. John Chrysostom maintains that the headship of the husband only makes sense if he is exhibiting a Christ-like love for her. The husband's sanctification will come through loving and honoring his wife. A husband's love must be unconditional, for, as Chrysostom says,
Through masculine initiative the husband can create an atmosphere of love and patience. There is no place for intimidation in the relationship.
Chrysostom presents the brilliant insight that regardless of who you marry, it is not possible to marry anyone more estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Christ sacrificed himself for the Church in her corrupted state, as if she were "in the bloom of youth … a wonderful beauty." Christ washes away the impurities and has presented her to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle. In commenting on this passage, Chrysostom implores husbands not to expect of their wives things that are not within their power. He asks husbands to focus on the inner beauty of their wives, for physical beauty is fleeting and can change with age or disease. Familiarity lessens the intensity of outward beauty, so husbands should "look for affection, gentleness, and humility in a wife; these are the tokens of beauty."  Through a Christ-like headship and honoring of his wife, the husband has the power to wipe off the spot and smooth the wrinkle.
A Christ-like headship also means that a husband has a duty to be a good steward of his wife's - and his children's - talents. He must shepherd this domestic church in such a way that allows the members to develop their special gifts and talents. He has the power to create an atmosphere where the family can flourish. Edith Stein speaks to this:
Edith Stein also states that it is the husband's duty to strengthen the spirituality of his wife, "not permitting her to lapse into a life of mere sensuality."  His headship requires that he encourage her to participate in creative activity of her own. He is responsible for the consequences that could manifest in her should he try to confine her to a sphere too narrow for her talents. 
A consistent theme of John Paul II, John Chrysostom and Edith Stein is that the husband's creative action - his headship - brings about a fulfillment and a self-discovery that enriches the woman. Ephesians teaches that the husband is called upon to imitate the masculine and life-giving sacrifice of Christ. With Christ as his model, a husband should be able to act for the good of his wife and family. Often, if the husband is unaware of this unique privilege which he has inherited, the wife is compelled to help him realize it. The noted Christian author Sheldon Vanauken relates a story of four women in their thirties who were meeting once a week to study the Bible. One evening they were reading St. Paul's writings on the headship of the husband. There was silence around the table. One woman muttered:
Vanauken eloquently writes:
It is in the man's nature to lay down his life in an initiatory act of self-sacrifice that protects a woman. Similarly, it is in a woman's nature to recognize that act of self-sacrifice and to be moved by it. Sheldon Vanauken relates another story about the sinking of the Titanic that illustrates this natural complementarity:
VI. Masculine Initiative and Natural Family Planning
John Paul II developed his theology of the body in response to the challenge of modern contraception, which rejects natural methods for spacing childbirth. For this reason his thought places special emphasis on the communio personarum that emerges from the husband's self-sacrifice and the wife's voluntary submission. We now turn to a discussion of the role masculine initiative plays in the process of natural family planning (NFP).
John Paul II's exegesis of Genesis teaches us that masculine initiative involves an acceptance and affirmation of the woman that draws her towards fulfillment and a realization of her essential feminine character as gift. Ephesians 5 teaches us that masculine initiative takes the form of dying to self in a masculine death that is a creative act of love that enriches the wife's whole being. In natural family planning, masculine initiative takes the form of the husband's welcoming acceptance of his wife's bodily integrity. His acceptance of her cycle and his practice of self-mastery confers upon the couple a freedom through which they both rediscover themselves as gift.
1. George F. Gilder, Sexual Suicide (New
York: Quadrangle/New York Times Books, 1973)
3. Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men,
(New York: Vintage Books, 1990) pp. 62.
5. Ibid., p. 61.
6. Ibid., p. 97.
7. Ibid., p. 23.
9. Ibid., p. 3
10. Gen. 1:31.
11. Monica Migliorino Miller, Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church, (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1995) p. 81.
12. Gen. 4:1
13. Miller, Ibid., p. 81.
14. John 10:14-15.
15. See Ezekiel 34:1-10.
16. Miller, Ibid., p. 83.
17. Ibid., p. 88
18. Ibid., p. 108, quoting James C. Neely, M.D., Gender: The Myth of Equality (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1981) pp. 26-27.
22. Ibid., p. 109
23. Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 18 (emphasis in original).
24. Miller, p. 110.
25. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2214.
26. The woman's receptivity is the basis for understanding feminine authority.
27. Ibid., p. 111.
28. Richard Fehring, Stella Kitchen and Mary Shivanandan, An Introduction to Natural Family Planning, ed. Mary Notare (Washington, D.C.: Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning , 1999), p. 4
29. Miller, p. 111, quoting Paul Quay, S.J., The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), p.27.
30. These addresses have been compiled in The Theology of the Body According to John Paul II: Human Love in the Divine Plan, (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997).
31. Ibid., pp. 35-37.
32. Ibid., pp. 43-45
33. Gen. 2:23.
34. Francis Martin, The Biblical Theology of Marriage and Family Part I: The Old Testament, Compendium, p. 89.
35. Theology of the Body, pp. 71-72.
36. Ibid., p. 72.
37. Ibid., p. 71.
38. Ibid., p. 71 (quoting Gaudium et Spes 24.)
39. Gen. 2:24.
40. Theology of the Body, p. 65.
41. Ibid., p. 399, quoting Humanae Vitae, no. 21.
42. Ibid., p. 64.
43. Gen 3:17 (emphasis added).
44. Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 10
45. Mary Shivanandan, "Feminism and Marriage: a Reflection on Ephesians 5:21:33," Diakonia (1996): pp. 15-16.
46. Theology of the Body, p. 319.
48. Luke 6:38.
49. Theology of the Body, p. 320.
51. Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 24.
52. St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family life, trans. by Catherine P. Roth and David Anderson. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), p. 46.
53. Ibid., p. 15.
54. Ibid. p. 49.
55. Edith Stein, Essays on Women, (2nd edition, revised. Vol. 2 of her collected works, trans. by Freda Mary Oben. Washington, D.C.: ILS Publications, 1996), p. 68.
56. Ibid., p. 77
58. Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy. (SanFrancisco: Ignatius Press, 1985) p. 195.
59. Ibid., p. 203.
60. Shivanandan, p. 18.
61. Theology of the Body, pp. 71-72.
62. Shivanandan, p. 19.
Version: 11th February 2003