Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Trinity, Otherness, and Supplementation

I was reading a student paper this week and the student was discussing Aristotle's biology. For Aristotle and as well as other ancient biologists (if we can call them that!), the male and female sexual organs are actually different versions of the same thing. Since women are malformed men, Aristotle thinks of the female reproductive organs as ill-formed male reproductive organs. The student missed the point of this and quoted a modern Feminist author who was trying to claim that Aristotle as a pre-Christian pagan (the author blamed Christianity for sexism), understood that men and women are really simply the same and of equal value. Actually as I pointed out to the student, his point is the opposite.

The irony of this is that if a person wants to find a text where the goodness of the otherness of the sexes is explained, one should look away from the Greek philosophers and go to Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 1-2, there is no concept of male and female as somehow superior or inferior versions of one another. Rather both are indeed the same thing ("bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!"), but not in terms of grads of human. Rather the otherness of the male and female exist as complementary. There are obviously different roles, but this does not make for ontological inferiority and superiority. For the female to be derived from the male does not mean inferiority, but rather a kind of unity and harmony in difference.

This is what makes the metaphysical assumptions of the biblical worldview inherently different than the Greek. As Peter Leithart points out the Bible, all reality is grounded in the unity in difference of the Trinity. Since the other is already present in God (i.e., the Trinity), the other can existing in a complementary relationship to its source. Just as the woman is other than the man, yet not in the sense of a falling away into inferiority, so too the Son is other than the Father yet not inferior. Creation is itself different than God, but is good in its finitude. Finitude is good in itself. It is not in itself a falling away from the perfection of the God's fullness.

For the Greeks by contrast, the "other" necessarily becomes a falling away from a perfect original. For Plato, the "Good" is the archetype and the created order is an inferior copy. For Hesiod, all subsequent history is a falling away from the original "Golden Age." There cannot be, as in the Bible, a sense that the eschaton is better than the protological situation in Eden (See Rev. 20-22). Rather, for Hesiod, the only possibility for improvement would be for subsequent history to reverse itself and return to the original perfection. Tying this all back to Aristotle's biology, we can see how this effects the male and the female. If female is derivative and different, then she must be an inferior copy. And in later Christian appropriations of Greek metaphysics, we can of course see how Arianism picks up on all of this as well. The Arian concept of the Son is essentially that because the Son is different than the Father he must necessarily be inferior and cannot really be God.

What I think we see in all of this is the fallen human hatred of creatureliness. Fallen humanity finds creaturely life to be hateful because it is less than God. Nevertheless, God as the good creator wishes us to enjoy our status as different from him and live a life of gratitude for the gift of created difference. Much of contemporary American culture could benefit from recognizing this fact.

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