Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Many Things in Christ

All are sons of God because of faith in Christ Jesus. Whoever has been baptized has put on Christ. There neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. For all are one in Christ Jesus. Galatian 3:26–28

Paul preached the Gospel to a world in which Jews considered contact with gentiles a kind of pollution, slaves had no standing before the law, women were not allowed to own property or drive carriages in the streets of the Capital, and men were prohibited under severe penalty from attending the Bona Dea, the annual celebration of femininity. Of these distinctions, except for the first, Paul has nothing to say. Slaves are to obey their masters, wives their husbands, and about the customs of those outside he was silent. For it was not the order of this world that Christ undid but the chains of sin, with the result that every human relationship was to be touched by grace and conformed to the image of the cross. Jews and Greeks are brothers; husbands are to give their lives for their wives, women are to honor and obey, men and women were subjects of God’s provident love. The order of this world Paul ever supports—honor is due those who are honorable; authorities exist to do God’s work—but that order is subject to a higher order in which everyman stands before God in His majesty, subjects of God’s justice and mercy and providential love.

Equality in the sense in which it is found in the Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution, in which sense it at least tinges the founding documents, does not occur in the New Testament. Paul asked the Corinthians to share their wealth with the impoverished churches in Judea, “not that the burden of some should be eased and others burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance should supply their want, that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13–14). But the great pattern is given by Paul in Philippians when he wrote that Christ although in the form of God did not grasp at equality but humbled himself even to death on the cross.

To the question “Did God create equality?” Saint Thomas answers a resounding “No;” equality in the modern sense God does not know. He created a world of many different things; He is above all a lover of richness and variety. His government of men is His providential will in which He gives His gifts and knows our hearts and our circumstances. In Galatians Saint Paul is not saying that man and woman are the same. He is saying that in neither their differences with respect to their religious histories, their maleness and femaleness, their different situations in Roman society, constitute any bar to their lives in Christ, in which are many different sorts and condition, and everything is beloved.

This said, it is predictable that on this Sunday there will be another reading of Galatians, which will interpret Paul to have meant that in Christ men and women are the same, and that the least distinction, vocational, psychological, natural or otherwise, is rank injustice, witness the unfortunate president of Harvard, now former, who was heard to say that women were not as good at mathematics as men. Gnosticism, too little understood but a dominant theme in contemporary culture, is the scholarly name given to a movement in thought that seemed capable about 150 of destroying the Church. Its principle was that reality is not thing of time and place and space but of idea. Creation, matter, that corruptible sphere of human existence, these were evil. Jesus was an apparition. His resurrection was a psychic experience. The embodied person and creation and history have no future. It is a system in which the world is idea. It can be fathered upon Kant or Descartes, who located reality in the mind, but these Enlightenment philosophes are late and derivative disciples of that winning, intellectually competent master of illusion Valentinus, author of the best-selling Gospel of Truth, who in the second century ran the Church ragged with enlightenment not rebirth and Christ the ‘spiritual’ phenomenon.

Gnosticism was to have a great future. In its modern manifestation, driven by equality, the world itself is the construct of the individual will. Its exponents have moved quickly to the conclusion that men and women are the same, to the idea that there is nothing distinctively male or female, to the eminently Gnostic idea that maleness and femaleness are ideas, subjective constructs detached from biology and history. The Church however is left with such embarrassing relics as Paul’s instruction that women are not to instruct men in Church (2Tim 2:12), that nature itself teaches that it is degrading for a man to wear long hair, while for a woman her hair is her glory, that effeminacy, when men behave like women, denies those who practice it entrance into the Kingdom of God.

If on this Sunday you should hear that Christ has made men and women the same, that women should be priests or fathers as well as warriors, that effeminacy in men is as good as anything else, and that denial of these fevers of the imagination is oppression encouraged by a mindless patriarchy, heed it not. It may not be the case that Christianity requires men to look like skinheads and women with hair down to their heels, but there is something important in what Saint Paul says, the denial of which leads to the destruction of souls. The order Paul celebrated and the order the Church teaches is not the order of equality but the order of love.

And there is this. As Paul knew well, regnant confusion is not only the result of bad ideas; it is the result of bad ideas promoted by the powers of darkness. When one considers the forty-nine who died in the Pulse Bar, one is encountering demonic confusion on many levels. Ranting at Isis, homosexuals, and the government is pointless. Prayer that God will lighten our darkness and amend our neglect and ignorance and give us abundant courage is more apposite.

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