Rev.  Donald J. Keefe, S.J. [1974]
[Father Keefe was an Associate Professor of Doqmatic and Systematic
Theology in the Divinity School of Saint Louis University. Father
Keefe  is a graduate of Colgate University and the Georgetown
School of Law. He received his licentiate in theology at
Woodstock College and his doctorate at the Gregorian University
in Rome. Father Keefe is a member of the Bars of the District of
Columbia, State of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court. He taught
theology at Canisius College in Buffalo before coming to Saint
Louis University in 1970. He is the author of a book, “Thomism
and the Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich: A Comparison of
Systems” (1971).]
During the past few years a number of developments in widely
separated fields have raised the problem of the human norm to a
level of urgency which Catholic theology cannot ignore. Some of
these developments are technical, particularly in the biomedical
area; some are dogmatic, touching particularly the requirement of
masculinity for the Catholic priesthood; some are more properly
cultural and put in question the conventional norms of sexual
morality. Any attempt to propose the fundamental structure of
properly human existence will inevitably reflect upon these
concerns, and doubtless upon many other’s. It is evident that a
brief article on this topic will be open to objections arising
from interests which have been inadequately considered, if at
all, and very few of which can be given a brief response. In
consequence, some limitations must be placed upon any given
discussion, limits which are in no sense a disavowal of the
implications which the norm proposed may entail. For our
purposes, the discussion must be limited to a single issue: the
bearing of the norm upon the morality of “in vitro” conception of
human life. This is in itself a limitation upon the broader topic
of the morality of what has come to be called genetic
manipulation or genetic engineering.
The most adequate treatment of the more general topic by a
Catholic theologian is undoubtedly that of Karl Rahner;(1) his
approach is also endorsed by James Gustafson.(2) As might be
expected, Rahner’s treatment of the topic is not without
subtlety. In the first place, he rejects the possibility of a
deductive approach to moral theology, an approach which would
proceed by inference from some adequate definition of human
nature. The objection to such an approach is its static quality,
and its consequent ignorance of the creative and historical
dynamism of human morality, of human freedom. He then proposes as
his own moral norm what he calls the faith-instinct. This he
regards as universally given to all human beings as the origin of
their moral understanding. The actual process of moral
understanding is one of historical self-determination; otherwise
put, it is the noetic aspect of our con-creation of ourselves in
history. The faith-instinct is directed to a goal, which is
already given: the predetermined nature of man. This
predetermined nature is the object of an existential intuition.
This intuition is simply the direct self-awareness each of us has
of his humanity: it is immediate knowledge, preconceptual, prior
to and the a priori of all reflex thought and utterance. It must
be remembered that Rahner accepts no dichotomy between our
self-awareness and our existence; to exist as human is to exist
as self-aware, and this self-awareness is historical, a
being-toward, an awareness-toward, a final goal which is already
given us as the meaning and the norm of historical existence. It
is this final goal which is the truth of our humanity. Our
immediacy to, our intuition of this truth is also that by which
we are free: to live humanly, historically, morally is therefore
a matter of choice, of decision. We can express our
self-awareness by affirming the human structure which is the
meaning of history, and by so affirming enter into the
con-creation of ourselves, or we can refuse: so to refuse is to
refuse history, the “absolute future” of our humanity. Thus, our
faith-instinct is expressed in moral existence. It cannot be
reduced to objective statement, for its content is the “prius” of
any conceivable conceptual elaboration and is always available
for further expression into history than has been given it. For
Rahner, morality has therefore the structure of self-creativity;
it is a dynamism oriented to a goal which is pre-determined,
toward the production of a self whose ontological truth is not
negotiable, to a destiny uniquely individual which must be
individually accepted as the gift of God, not feared as an alien
trespass upon one’s proper autonomy. For Rahner, it is this fear
of one’s destiny which is expressed in genetic manipulation.
     Now man is in a certain respect most free when he is not
     dealing with a “thing” but calling into being another,
     freely responsible person. If he is not to conceal or fall
     short of his nature, man must be presented clearly with the
     dialectically opposite position of his freedom as a man. And
     in concrete terms that means that the freedom to determine
     another person must remain a clear-cut and radical destiny,
     which one has not chosen but accepted. Procreation in
     particular must not become an act of neurotic anxiety in the
     face of fate. The other person must remain the one who is
     both made and accepted; both an elevating influence, because
     he has been chosen, and a burden to be accepted and carried.
     If man, when confronted with his child, saw only what he had
     himself planned, he would not be looking at his own nature,
     nor would he experience his true self which is both free and
     the object of external determination. Genetic manipulation
     is the embodiment of the fear of oneself, the fear of
     accepting one’s self as the unknown quantity it is.
     . . . . What in actual fact is the driving force behind
     genetic manipulation? What sort of person is driven to it?
     And the answer would be, in the first place, the hate of
     one’s destiny; and secondly, it is the man who, at his
     innermost level, is in despair because he cannot dispose of
This argument Rahner supplements with others: for example, a
sphere of intimacy is necessary to personal freedom, and must be
safeguarded; for another, the fundamental Christian conviction
that history is irreversible should urge our cultivation of “a
sober and critical resistance to the fascination of novel
possibilities.” However, these arguments are not thought to be
conclusive; it is not upon their cogency that the moral decision
is to be based; Rahner considers such reasoning to constitute no
more than
     an appeal to, and the inadequate objectifying of, a human
     and Christian “instinct” which can be discovered in the
     moral field. A moral awareness of this kind (which both is
     and does more than we have mentioned here) forms the context
     in which man has the courage to make decisions; thus a
     decision is also more than its rationale, because the act is
     always more than its theoretical foundation. . . . This will
     is meaningful in spite of the fact that it neither claims
     nor is obliged to be exhaustively analysable by theoretical
     reason; measured against the opposite will, this will is
     more deeply meaningful and more genuinely human.(4)
Rahner is certainly correct in his analysis of the place of
discursive reason in moral decision. The theological rationale
can never be more than an appeal to freedom. It is calculated to
enhance, not displace, free choice and for this to be possible
there must be some co-naturality between the truth which the
rationale proposes, and that presumed to be in the inchoate
possession of the person to whom the appeal is directed.
Consequently, the instinct of faith, understood as the direct
awareness of an as yet unuttered knowledge of the self, is seen
without much difficulty to be the condition of possibility of
moral choice, and so the norm of moral choice, the human norm.
Rahner has also provided it with a certain content, which may be
summed up as historicity: those familiar with his anthropology
will recognize the weight of this word, and acknowledge as well
the power of the transcendental method which has elaborated its
meaning. But in this elaboration we verge upon scholasticism; the
appeal begins to be again to logic, rather than to the instinct
of faith, and this seems to be forced by the need to give the
instinct a public content. Rahner is well aware of the
difficulty; his notion of the anonymous Christian underlies his
attempts to meet it.(5) Unfortunately, this anonymity accorded
the expression of the instinct of faith is in some tension with
its historicity: it should make some identifiable difference to
be a Christian. Given that the anonymity is not complete, and
that the anonymous Christian is urged by his faith-instinct
toward a more adequate, and therefore less anonymous, expression
of his self-awareness, it remains difficult to locate the public
content of the faith-instinct.
In what follows, we will suggest that this human norm which is
given us in the faith-instinct has achieved a privileged public
expression in Judaeo-Christian history. Before doing this, it
will be necessary to look somewhat more closely at the instinct
of faith itself: to many, it will have an unfamiliar sound.
The intuition which is designated the instinct of faith in the
Thomist theological tradition is not a private possession of
Rahnerian Thomism, although the term itself is identifiably
Thomist. Anyone wishing to familiarize himself with its fortunes
in that school may well begin by reading E. Schillebeeckx’s (6)
discussion in the second volume of his Revelation and Theology,
where an ample further bibliography is available. Those standing
outside the Thomist tradition can turn to Tillich’s analysis of
ultimate concern for an understanding of the some reality. More
remotely, we are dealing with Augustinian illumination; still
more remotely, with Platonic anamnesis, given a Christian
conversion. In the medieval period, Bonaventure provided it with
its classic account in the Itinerarium mentis in Deo. Its
importance to the Thomist synthesis is a rediscovery of the
present century, after some centuries of scholastic rationalism.
Schleiermacher revived the interest of Protestant theologians in
it in his equation of faith with a sense of total dependence. The
most important development of it in the modern period is
undoubtedly that of Kierkegaard, whose identification of truth
and subjectivity underlies much of the theological development of
the present century, although the contributions of Newman and
Blondel are also significant. The instinct of faith can thus
claim to be as ancient and as recent as anything in Christian
theology. In the simplest terms, it is intellectual intuition,
the complex datum of immediate awareness. Our problem is to
identify the object of this intuition: precisely what is it that
is intuited, in the concrete? It cannot be simply the triune God,
for the intuition is also an awareness of oneself; further, it is
difficult to understand how an intuition of the Godhead could be
referred to faith in the historical Jesus who is the Christ. On
the other hand, if it is an intuition of the Christ, then the
ontological possibility of such an intuition as a universal datum
of consciousness must be established, and that in such a manner
that the experience permit the anonymity of which we have spoken,
as well as the historical mediation of its content. This is of
course the task of systematic theology: we cannot undertake it
here. Suffice it to say that during the past quarter century or
thereabouts the conviction has been growing that the root datum
of everyone’s direct, preconceptual awareness is a God-given,
gratuitous intuition of one’s relatedness to God in Christ
through the pleroma of his creation, of which we are all
participations. More succintly stated, the instinct of faith,
however labelled, is the intellectual aspect of our creation in
Christ. Rahner has himself been hesitant to go so far,(7) yet
there is some reason to believe that he also is coming to share
this view of the matter. It is in any case the view upon which we
shall now proceed.
If we grant that the object of the immediate intuition which we
have been referring to as the instinct of faith is the Christ, we
must at the same time remember that we have to do with
self-awareness, with the global experience of ourself in relation
to Christ and to his creation which is the condition precedent,
the ontological ground, of our articulated experience. We are
self-aware precisely as radicated in the fundamental relatedness
of Christ to his creation. This correlation of Christ to his
creation constitutes what is usually called the “whole Christ”:
this “whole Christ,” constituted in its entirety by the Father’s
sending of the Son to give the Spirit, is that by which we exist,
for our creation is but our participation in this fullness.
Because our immediate dependence upon it is constitutive of our
whole reality, it is constitutive of our self-awareness, and is
therefore the object, the immediate datum, of the intuition which
we have called the instinct of faith.
This instinct is universal, the subject matter of all religious
experience and of all religious expression. It is a “lumen,” a
continuing illumination, prior to all concepts, which we can no
more escape than we can escape our creation. We can refuse it by
turning away from it, so to speak, but it is inseparable from our
constitution as human in this world. Because it is prior to any
distinction in us between will and intellect, it is immediacy in
the order of goodness as well as in the order of truth: it is
inspiration as well as illumination. It is an invitation, a
continual temptation, to enter freely into the
creative-redemptive work of Christ, to con-create ourselves and
our world in Christ. The appropriate response to this invitation
is simply to live in Christ. Such a life may well be anonymous in
its Christianity, but it is not automatic, for it demands a
decision for the good and the true, for the human, which is not
imposed upon us. This decision is the fundamental moral option,
continually before all human beings throughout history and the
world. Its universal availability is the universal grace of
participation in the Christ, the light of the world.
Because we are immersed in a fallen humanity and in a fallen
history, we have the mysterious ability to refuse to be creative,
to refuse to be free, to refuse to exist in the only order of
history which is real, the history of salvation in Christ. There
is within us a counter dynamism, an inclination contradictory to
that of the instinct of faith. This concupiscence, which
according to the Catholic tradition is rather the effect of sin
and the temptation to sin than sin itself, is oriented to the
nullification rather than the creation of humanity, to the
disintegration of those correlations between Creator and creation
which are the truth and the reality of man, which are intuited in
the instinct of faith.
The most devastating disintegration worked by the concupiscent
instinct is the isolation of the divine from history and so from
the world of men; the cosmos then becomes a place of servitude
and death. This is the commonplace of the pagan religions, whose
salvation schemes, as those of the philosophical systems which
are their heir, require the removal of man from matter and from
One elected people were delivered, by their worship of the God of
history, from this trap; their history is their liturgy, for
Yahweh is present to them in the now, this day, forcing their
exodus from cosmic servitude into the freedom of the desert, into
the responsibilities of freedom. We are today the inheritors of
their history; we stand in continuity with it by our worship of
their God, the God of history. We are then members of a
worshipping community, a community whose history is the history
of the discovery of the structure of truly human existence, which
is the structure of the worship of the God of history. It must be
stressed that we have no other ultimately reliable criteria for
free, moral, historical existence than those which this worship
has discovered, for this worship is the only proper response to
the normative presence of the Lord of history in the midst of his
people. All other criteria can be no more than possibilities of
thought: those of historical worship are the actuality of
This worship is then crucial; it is a struggle, sustained by the
creative presence of God in history. It is a struggle for
significant, sacramental existence. For this worship and for this
significant existence, the bipolarity of human sexuality has been
discovered to be of fundamental importance, of an absolutely
radical liturgical value.(8)
For Judaism, as for the fertility religions which menaced her
faith, woman is the symbol of immanence, of nature, but within
Judaism this feminine symbolism is not of alienation, but of
reciprocity or bipolarity with the masculine, as in the Jahwist
creation account, where she is the helpmate of man, or in
Proverbs 8, where she is the cooperator with God in the creation
of the world. The bi-sexuality of the creation is simultaneous
with its goodness: this is a consistent theme from the Jahwist
creation account to the late Wisdom literature of the post-exilic
period. In particular, the positive value accorded femininity in
the Old Testament is equivalent to the rejection of the
pessimistic dualism which characterizes the cosmic religions of
the pagan world. This was by no means an instant insight; the Old
Testament has many traces of the primitive deprecation of
woman,(9) but the history of the Hebrew people from the tenth to
the first century before Christ is a history of the purification
of Judaism from the primitive tendency to see in woman the
ancient and ambivalent adversary of the masculine divinity. The
value accorded the feminine by the cosmic religions is the
expression of their experience of the natural world, ambivalent
in its simultaneous threat and promise. The value given woman by
the Jahwist religion corresponds to the instinct of faith which
is expressed in the affirmation that the world is created good,
that it has in it no immanent principle of evil, and therefore,
no ambivalence.(10)
The Wisdom tradition is explicit. Created Wisdom, described by
von Rad(11) as “the mystery inherent in the creation of the
world,” as “a voice which came from creation, the voice of the
primeval order,” is also “the darling, the pet,” who, present at
the creation of the world, is personified as feminine: “she was
the dearest child of God, and played with Creation and with men.”
Contrasted in Proverbs 1-8 with the seductive harlot, the
temptress whose lineaments are clearly drawn from the temple
prostitute of Canaanite worship, this created Wisdom is herself a
seductress: her voice is addressed to the individual, not to the
covenant community. She summons those who would possess her,
offering them life; entirely benevolent, evoking and even
provoking the acceptance of her gift of salvation, she is Eve to
those who seek her, a testimony emanating from creation, the good
creation whose primordial order is such that it must be
symbolized and personified as woman. This quasi-personal Wisdom
speaks with the undifferentiated voice of the primordially
feminine: as companion, sister, lover, bride, wife and mother to
men, and as the created cooperator with Jahweh in the creation of
the world. She speaks not to Israel but to the individual who
seeks her, and who is masculine in the seeking.
What is sought is life, the summary salvation benefit which is
the gift of God alone, mediated by motherhood. To see in this
Wisdom the face of Eve, “the mother of all the living,” is no
great step, one all but explicit in the Wisdom hymns. The
antithesis of this Wisdom is not the male, but the harlot whose
temptation is to destruction, to foolishness and death. It is the
harlot who repeats the cosmic symbol of the antagonist of the
masculine, the demonic feminine, the principle of disorder, of
chaos, old ocean and dark night. To follow her is to abandon
Yahweh, to enter upon a pagan worship of the principle of death.
For the harlot is either sterile or the destroyer of her
children: false to Yahweh, she has no life to mediate, for she
serves idols who are not God. The Yahwist worship simply
transposes the pagan religion into demonolatry, at the some time
introducing the true feminine symbolism, the truth which summons
one to leave the foolish servitude of cosmic demons, to enter the
service of the God of history, the God of the living, not of the
dead, who does not enslave but proclaims the year of jubilee.
The application of the feminine symbol to the covenant community
is equally striking. While feminine Wisdom is primarily oriented
toward the individual Hebrew, the feminine symbol which is Israel
is primarily oriented to Jahweh, as bride to bridegroom. This
relation between the God of the covenant and his covenanted
people is too well known to require much illustration here. Some
of its most vivid expressions are to be found in the Prophets, in
Hosea, Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel.(12) The theme is
again insistent: Israel’s infidelity to the covenant is
assimilated to the betrayal of a marriage bond; it is adultery,
fornication with false lovers, harlotry. The prophets continually
summon Israel to return to her first love, to cease her barren
prostitution to false gods. There is then a noticeable tension
between the feminine imagery of the Wisdom literature and that of
the prophets; the latter stress the historical fallenness and
degradation of the bridal community of the covenant, while the
emphasis or tonality of the Wisdom symbol is eschatological or
primordial, with little reference to fallenness. The
eschatologically good creation beckons to each man, enticing him
to an achievement never wholly realized, the achievement which is
his own con-creation of himself,(13) his own integration into the
primeval order of creation. The historical symbol of the fallen
woman who is the unfaithful Israel does not however bear the same
unrelieved condemnation which is visited upon the “alien woman”
and the “seductress” of Proverbs 1 and 5; the pessimism of Amos
and Hosea gives way in the later prophets to the conviction that
Jahweh is intent upon the restoration of his covenanted bride to
the innocence and purity of her primordial fidelity. In one of
the latest of the Wisdom books we find this bridal Israel theme
of the prophetic books resumed; in the Song of Songs the feminine
imagery of the good creation and of the redeemed Israel merge in
the single vision of the eschatological nuptials of Jahweh and
his people, a vision which is also that of Deutero-Isaiah. The
historical creation of the Jahwist tradition finally identifies
with the cosmic interest of the post-Exilic writers, and the
theme of the good creation is given its universal application:
creation is salvific, as history is.(14) The feminine symbols
combine to express this experience which is Israel’s: the
experience of order in history under Jahweh,(15) the Lord of
history and of the world.
The New Testament further develops this coalescence of the
feminine symbols; they now converge upon Mary and the Church.(16)
In Colossians, Paul develops the cosmic role of the Christ; by
him, Christians are set free of their cosmic servitude to the
“principalities and powers,” simply because these, no less than
humanity and the universe itself, are created in Christ and so
are subordinate to him. The entire created order is assimilated
to the Body of which Christ is the head, and in the letter to the
Ephesians Paul has come to realize that this relation is marital,
for the Christ’s relation of headship to his Body is that of
husband to wife. By this life-giving union — for all life
belongs to God — the Church is fecundated by the life-giving
Spirit, as was Mary, the archetype of the Church. This parallel
is brought out first by Luke, then John, and has been the subject
of an ecclesial meditation from that time forward: from it has
been developed all that the Church has taught of Mary, and
necessarily of the Church as well: they are the single locus of
the divine presence in the world, of creation and redemption in
Christ, and of freedom from the ancient enslavement to cosmic
futility. Since the second century, the Fathers have seen in
Mary’s virginal relation to God, as bride and as mother, the
reality of the created Wisdom of which Sirach and the Psalmist
sang; in her “Fiat” they have seen the eschatalogical fidelity of
the covenanted bride, the Church, to the New Covenant by which
she is “one flesh” with her head, the Christ.
Over the centuries the reflex of this meditation, whose ground is
already given in Ephesians, has seen that the meaning of the
sexual relation is realized only in its lived symbolism of Christ
as the head of his Body which is the Church.(17) There has been
more than logic at work here: Paul does not reason from the
nature the marriage to the nature of the Christ-Church relation.
Rather, it is the meaning, the truth, the liturgical significance
of sexuality which is given to him concomitantly with the
revelation of the unity of Christ with his Church. Paul’s
condemnation of extramarital sexual expression is that it is
idolatrous, inseparable from false worship. He insists upon this,
not as a child of his time, immersed in the idiosyncracies of
Judaism despite himself, but as the recipient of a revelation of
the order of God to man so vast as to defeat explanation: it must
be lived, by a life which is in Christ, a life which shares the
experience of order given to Paul in such surpassing measure.
For it is an experience of order with which we have to deal, an
experience which lives out the instinct of faith to call creation
good precisely by symbolizing it as feminine, possessing an
intrinsic truth and beauty which is that of daughter, sister,
bride and mother: the face of Eve, the mother of the living, as
of Mary, the mother of God. It is an experience which has found
abominable all sexual expression which is not liturgical, which
does not celebrate the saving presence of God to his people. It
is an experience which sees, beyond all the long recital of our
betrayal of each other and of God, a steadfast love of God for
his people which is properly that of Father, Son, Brother and
Bridegroom, a relation of love which gives meaning to these human
roles, rendering them holy, liturgical, so that to be a man is to
worship God by imaging his relation to his creation, as to be a
woman is to worship God by imaging the relation to him of his
pleroma, the spiendour by which He is present to us, and we to
This experience is an experience of conversion, an experience
given to faith, in and to the community of the faith, through
some three millennia of historical discovery, a discovery which
has been called by one of the greatest Christian minds of the
century an unveiling of the mystery of the etemal feminine,(18)
whose ultimate realization is Mary, the Mother of God. It is
obvious that any argument for the normative value of this
Judaeo-Christian experience of God in history can do no more than
describe it: the appeal is to faith, as Rahner has said.
Even from such a hasty survey as this, some indication of the
profundity of this sexual symbolism can be obtained, and some
appreciation of its inseparability from the experience of order
which is salvation history, which is the worship of the Lord of
History, and whose only adequate articulation is liturgical. This
liturgical tradition has found in the masculine-feminine polarity
a significance transcending all other signs by which reality may
be communicated. The faith-instinct of the Jewish and the
Christian people has found no more profound symbol of God’s love
for humanity than that which a man should have for his wife, no
more profound symbol of the splendour of the good creation than
that of feminine beauty, and no more profound symbol of betrayal,
the betrayal of the covenant, than marital infidelity. In sum,
neither the Old Covenant nor the New can dispense with the
holiness of the marriage relation, and from the liturgical
significance of masculine and feminine existence. Karl Barth was
not wrong to find sexuality to be at the root of our imaging of
God;(19) if the creation of man is the apt means by which God
expresses himself in the finite, as the Trinitarian theology (20)
of Rahner maintains, the conclusion is inescapable. The mystery
of God’s relation to humanity in history and in the world is not
communicated to us as information: it cannot be conveyed except
as an experience of order, the experience whose initial moment is
that of a conversion, a conversion which is a transvaluation of
the relation between ourselves and the world. This conversion is
simultaneous with the exaltation of the feminine, as the symbol
of the good creation: we refuse both, if we refuse either.
Very simply put, the alternative to the sacramentality of
femininity and masculinity is a relapse to a dualistic pessimism,
the pessimism which finds the individual human being to have no
more than a pragmatic value, to be only a thing whose worth is
precisely measured by its fulfillment of a function. If we do not
approach our sexuality as revelatory, and therefore as
mysterious, bearing a meaning and value which only worship can
unveil, we will again be trapped by an ancient dialectic which
can give no value to masculinity which is not a suppression of
women, and none to femininity which does not conclude to the
emasculation of the male.  Eliade (21) has illustrated the
universal use of the masculine-feminine polarity to depict the
radical dichotomies which are instinct to the experience which
the ancient pagan liturgies express. These antagonisms are the
very structure of a mimetic experience of order which puts no
value in the individual or in personal freedom. Private
initiative and personal responsibility become thus a defiance of
the timeless order established “in illo tempore” by the divinity,
an order which, as Gilgamesh learns, has reserved death to men
and life to the Gods, or as the creation story in the Enuma elish
tells us, an order which charges man with servitude, that the
gods might be free. The absolute tensions placed by this
experience between the free individual and the society, between
experienced reality and discursive reason, between time and
eternity, between man and god, are all epitomized in the
dichotomy between the masculine (understood as the symbol of
order, rationality, divine transcendence) and the feminine (the
symbol of chaos, mystery, nature, immanence). Plato’s rationalist
attack upon the mimetic understanding of the poets is only an
objectification of the instinct of pagan wisdom to defeminize the
world: the stifling of history is its goal, Sparta has been its
inspiration, and a homosexual sterility its destiny. (23)
The correlatives of the secularization of humanity and of human
sexuality do not wait to be discovered: the discovery is part of
every culture unformed by the Judaeo-Christian experience of
order in history. If we do not experience salvation by the Lord
of history within our history, we shall surely seek it outside of
history, as has every primitive religion apart from Judaism, and
as has every rationalist objectification of the pagan experience
of disorder in history, of creation as evil.
Much has been written and said over the past seven years
concerning the problem of what is called “civil religion.”
Insofar as every society, every culture, is in search of a remedy
for the evils at hand, there is a certain kind of quest for
salvation at work in all peoples, at all times. More than most
people, the citizens of this nation seek such salvation: from the
burdens of poverty, of ignorance, of disease and even of death.
But every such quest must decide, if only implicitly, whether the
problems which we encounter are those which yield to logic, to
technology, to the application of the machine. This decision is
one about man, about the source of the evil in his world, about
the value of freedom and of history. When the salvation sought is
equivalent to a foreclosure of freedom, a moratorium upon human
unpredictability and spontaneity, those who seek salvation in
this guise are converted to a new experience of order, one
incompatible to and fundamentally at war with that which has
formed the Western world for some three thousand years. With
every such conversion, a new adherent to a new civil religion is
gained, and the tensions endemic in a free society are increased.
We should not be deceived. If there is no perception of the
indecency of reducing human mating to a laboratory event, it is
because we are involved in a different experience of order than
were the founders of our religious and cultural institutions.
This difference is simply a loss of faith: we are no longer able
to affirm the revelation, for the symbols by which its truth may
be uttered are no longer alive to speak for us and to us. We have
turned away from the light, and no longer recognize the splendour
of our humanity, we no longer see in ourselves the image of God.
Having rejected the symbolic and sacramental significance of the
sexuality whose truth is luminous of Jahweh’s relation to his
people, we have rejected the fundamental mystery by which we live
in history, by which we worship God.
For the Christian symbols are true because they are
participations in the reality of which they speak: their truth is
inescapable in history. It is possible to ignore that truth, but
it is not possible to escape the consequences of that ignorance,
of that refusal of the Wisdom which the good creation utters. The
truth of these symbols is not a matter of information; it cannot
be summed up in however prolonged a statement. Their mystery is
revealed only to worship; it is given to faith and not otherwise.
When that faith is historical, when it is not the mere ritual
re-enactment of a cosmic legend or of a cosmic, because equally
timeless, philosophy of man, but is rather the participation of
the worshiping community in the creative deed of God in history,
then the history of the community is the history of its
participation in the good creation, and in the Wisdom which is
its voice, a voice heard in the streets, not of the faithless and
whoring Babylon, but of that Jerusalem which is the Church. It is
with that wisdom that we are now concerned: it utters at once the
meaning of history, the structure of freedom, and the uniquely
valid norm of the human and the moral.
This norm, as we have seen, safeguards and is safeguarded by the
instinct of faith. By means of this faith instinct, it has become
explicit in the Judaeo-Christian salvation history that human
sexuality is holy, that it is the profoundly meaningful human
structure by which the historical revelation of Jahweh as present
to his people is mediated, not as information, but in reality, as
reality: the meaning of the feminine is Mary’s mediation, as the
meaning of the masculine is Christ’s. Their relation is the
revelation of a single mystery, the truth of God and man. Thus
the relation between human sexuality and salvation history is
reciprocal: only within this relation is sexuality known to be
holy, to be significant, and only when it is so valued, can its
symbolic power be creative, salvific rather than destructive.
Again, there is no matter of logical inference here; we do not
deduce the sanctity of the masculine-feminine relation from the
revelation, or vice versa. These are given simultaneously and
inseparably in what von Rad and Voegelin have referred to as an
experience of order in history: we have made that language our
own. This experience is an ongoing intuition of the structure of
significant existence, of the moral norm. Radically, this is an
experience of living in a salvation history, in a benevolent
world, the good creation. Its ontological prerequisite is our
creation in Christ. Its finality is the building up of the full
membership of the Body which is the Church. The Church is then
encountered as the truth of that eternal feminine which the pagan
seers experienced as the animating principle of nature, which the
Old Testament authors found at once in the figure of created
Wisdom and in the fallen and redeemed Israel whose paradigm is
Eve, and which in the New Testament and the patristic tradition
focuses finally upon the Church, and upon Mary as the archetype
of the Church. This feminine principle is the created medium of
salvation, bridging the abyss between God and man precisely as
feminine: to be feminine has no other meaning than to be the
pleroma,(24) the splendour, the beauty, the fullness of God’s
presence among men, enticing men to their salvation by the
bearing of His gifts.
In this experience, the value of masculinity pivots upon that
assigned the feminine, as the cautionary verses in Proverbs may
remind us. The feminine mediation of Jahweh is also the mediation
of the revelation of the masculine, which can no longer be self-
enclosed, fearful of mutuality, alienated from woman whether by
isolation or nullification. The Jahwist has said goodbye to all
that, and the record of the Old Testament history is a record of
the purification of these symbols from their circumambient pagan
context, a purification worked not by reason but by the worship
which is also the experience of order. In this experience, the
sexual relation is marital, the great sacrament of Christ and his
Of all this, enough has been said to point out the basis for
believing that such technological rationalizations,
secularizations, of human sexuality as in vitro fertilization are
simply blasphemous. They convert the value of the feminine to
that of a producer of egg cells, a functional definition as
inhuman and as suppressive as any known to the ancient idolatries
(which at least respected her mystery even in fearing it). They
are consequently dismissive of any value in masculinity
irrelevant to the process of fertilization. That this will
provide even a technological solution to a human problem is open
to question: that it will introduce a destructive degradation of
the symbols by which we live in history is quite certain.
The fact that such technological procedures are now sufficiently
commonplace to be matters of public and academic discussion is
witness to the presence among us of a new mentality, perhaps not
yet dominant, but certainly interested in domination. Its newness
is however only with relation to the experience of order which
has formed the western world; it is actually the ancient
alternative to the worship of the God of history. Its
re-emergence has not gone unremarked. Eric Voegelin (25) gave an
account of its progressive impact upon our legal and political
institutions some twenty years ago; more recently Karl Stern (26)
has pointed out its association with the decline of trust in our
cultural institutions, as manifested in the writings of half a
dozen salient authors since Descartes. For our own inquiry, Leon
Kass has spoken to the some effect:
     We are witnessing the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of
     the idea of man as something splendid or divine, and its
     replacement with a view that sees man, no less than nature,
     as simply more raw material for manipulation and
     homogenization. Hence our peculiar moral crisis. We are in
     turbulent seas without a landmark precisely because we
     adhere more and more to a view of nature and of man which
     gives us enormous power and, at the same time, denies all
     possibility of standards to guide its use. (27)
Later in the some article, Kass urges some reliance upon caution
and education for protection against the evident danger of the
new mentality. Education is sufficiently broad a term as to need
some specification. It is axiomatic to decry the equation of
education and morality as a mistake of Socrates; yet, as I have
read somewhere, we may suppose that Socrates, and Kass, know what
any schoolboy knows. For it is true that it is our educational
institutions which must bear the blame for the resurgence of the
new gnosticism. By institutions I do not especially designate the
schools, though it is in their purlieus that most of the more
optimistic estimates of technological salvation are heard. For
all our cultural institutions have failed notably to make their
symbols live and speak. And underlying that failure is a more
sombre and personal one. Many of us have lost all experience of
our own historical significance, and it is perhaps not too much
to say that for all of us that experience is highly dilute; in
these circumstances, it is not remarkable that we are unable to
communicate effectively our own experience of order. It is usual
to refer this loss of conviction to the weight of technological
manipulation, but this is simplistic; even such enormous tools as
the new generation of computers remain without autonomy; they
possess no intrinsic dynamism inimical to man, however enormous
their potential. The primary educational institution remains the
voice of Wisdom, and the worship which responds to that voice.
Our failure is a failure to worship the God of history, to enter
effectively into the con-creation of the world. For that worship
is the only guarantee we have of being more than meets the eye,
more than a rabble of phenomena ripe for rearrangement in the
image, and according to the likeness, of that sullen god of a
timeless utopia, the philosopher king whose transcendence is our
diminution. It is to his foolishness that we must listen, if we
will not hear the voice of Wisdom, if we will not heed the
instinct of faith.
If our technology is not assimilated to the worship of the God of
history,(28) it will be because we ourselves have decided, like
many before us, to be less than we are, and in the service of
that decision, have undertaken our own domestication, which is
also our disintegration, our reduction to the integers of which
Dr. B. F. Skinner has spoken so well. The human truth is then
rendered entirely manageable. The one symbol which resists this
dehumanization utterly is that of the human community, the sexual
community. When we tamper with this, when we treat the stuff of
life as though we were mixing reagents in a bottle, we are in the
sanctuary of a false god, whose image is not man, but a cypher.
And we shall find in that bottle not a man, but a demon.
1.   Karl Rahner, “Experiment with Man,” Theological
Investigations ix, 244-245.
2.   James Gustafson, “Genetic Engineering and the Normative View
of the Human,” Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed.
Preston Williams, Schenkman Publishing Co., Cambridge, Mass.,
1973, 57.
3.   Rahner, op. cit., 244-245.
4.   Ibid., 251.
5.   Karl Rahner, “Christian Humanism,” Theological
Investigations ix, 187-243; x, Part Four, “The Church and the
World,” 293-388.
6.   Edouard Schillebeeckx, Revelation and Theology, ii, Sheed
and Ward, 1968, 30-72.
7.   Karl Rahner, “Questions of Controversial Theology on
Justification,” Theological Investigations iv, 210-218. Rahner’s
more recent work, The Trinity, Herder and Herder, New York, 1968,
seems to be more amenable to, and even to require, a doctrine of
creation in Christ.
8.   Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, i, tr.  D.G.M.
Stalker, Harper and Row, New York, 1963, 150.
9.   Thierry Maertens, La promotion de la femme dans la bible,
Casterman, Tournai, 1967, esp. 49 ff. Edouard Schillebeeckx,
Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, Part  1, tr. N.D.
Smith, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1965.
10.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, Abingdon Press, Nashville and New
York, 1972, p. 305.
11.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 163-175; Old Testament Theology,
12.  E.g., Hos 1-3; Jer 2:1-2, 3:1-13, 4:30-31, 5:7-11, 13:20-27,
18:13, 23: 10-11; Is 47, 50:  1-3, 54: 1-17, 62: 1-12, 66: 7-13,
Ezk 16, 23.
13.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 308-311.
14.  von Rad, Old Testament Theology i, 137-139, observes that in
Deutero-Isaiah and in the Wisdom tradition in particular,
creation is understood to be soteriological; the creation of the
cosmos and of Israel are seen almost as coinciding in Is 51:9.
15.  Eric Voegelin has established the meaning of this
expression, whose contrast is with the experience of order in the
cosmos. Each type of order has its peculiar symbolic expression.
Voegelin remarks, relative to the Judaeo-Christion experience,
     For mankind is not constituted through a survey of phenomena
     by even the most erudite historian, but through the
     experience of order in the present under God.
     When finite speculation possesses itself of the meaning of
     history, philosophy and Christianity are destroyed and
     existence in the historical form has ceased.
Order in History, ii, The World of the Polis, Louisiana State
University Press, Baton Rouge, La., 1957, 16, 19.
16.  Ren‚ Laurentin, Courte trait‚ de th‚ologie mariale, 4e
edition, P. Lethielieux, Paris, 1959, provides an indispensable
starting point for the study of the Marian theology which is the
prime locus for the Church’s meditation upon feminine symbolism.
See also Otto Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, tr.
Maria von Eroes and John Devlin, with an Introduction by Jaroslav
Pelikan, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1963; Hugo Rahner, Our Lady
and the Church, tr. Sebastian Bullough, O.P., Darton, Longman,
Todd, London, 1961; Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1963, as well as the numerous Marian
articles dispersed in the Theological Investigations; Louis
Bouyer, The Seat of Wisdom, tr. A.V. Littledale, Pantheon Books,
Random House, New York, 1962, and Max Thurian, Mary, Mother of
All Christians, Herder and Herder, New York, 1963, for a review
of contemporary Marian theology. The most comprehensive dogmatic
study is H.U. von Balthasar’s Sponsa Verbi: Skizzen zr Theologie
II, Einsiedeln, Johannes Verlag, 1960.
17.  Karl Rahner, “Marriage as a Sacrament,” Theological
Investigations x, 199-221, esp. 218.
18.  Teilhard’s development of this theme is the subject of Henri
de Lubac’s L’ternel Feminin, Aubier-Montaigne, Paris, 1967, esp.
179-215, in which the Teilhardian  symbol, the “veiled Virgin” is
seen as the sign of creation itself, precisely as saivific, and
as finally unveiled in Mary. There is far more than metaphor
19.  Some little digression may be useful here. When Karl Barth
asserted, (Church Dogmatics 3/1, 183-206) some twenty years ago,
with a good deal of vehemence and some contemporary support, that
the creation of man to the image and likeness of God should be
referred to the interpersonality of man and woman, he ran counter
to the received exegetical opinion, which considers that man’s
imaging of God is rather to be found in the dominion given him
over the created world. Cf, von Rad, Old Testament Theology I,
136-153, and The Interpreter’s Bible, i, 484-485. More recently,
Leo Scheffczyk, Creation and Providence, tr. R. Strachan, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1970, 10, has been at pains to point out
Barth’s supposed error. The chief argument against Barth’s
reading of Gen 1:27 would seem to be that supplied by von Rad:
that contemporary paganism understood the image notion, which was
a common one, in terms of man’s imitation of divine despotism,
and further that the Priestly tradition had a horror of the
intrusion of sexuality into Jahweh’s creative deed: this in sharp
reaction to the Canaanite mythology. This argumentation seems
quite inconclusive. If, as is the case, the cosmic Babylonian
creation myths are rejected by the Priestly creation account,
which nonetheless has a cosmic rather than a historical emphasis
(in contrast to the Jahwist creation story), is not the
conversion from dualism which controls the reworking of the pagan
understanding of creation also that which accounts for a
reworking of the negative valuation of sexuality operative in the
Canaanite creation myth? The despotic god of the Babylonian
culture necessarily had an antagonistic relation to the
recalcitrant — and feminine — principle of immanence; does it
really make sense to suppose that the notion of despotic dominion
as the specific attribute of Jahweh remains a part of the
Priestly tradition? If on the contrary this notion is given a
transvaluation appropriate to the Lord of history, of the good
creation, so that lordship is no longer despotic, antagonistic to
creation, then the idea that the sexual mutuality of man and
woman is an imaging of God in his soteriological relation to his
creation is hardly inconsistent with the Priestly tradition,
particularly inasmuch as its final redaction is had at a time
when the Canaanite religion is no longer a vital alternative to
Jahwism. In brief. the good creation theme of the Priestly
account is simultaneously the abandonment of divine despotism,
and of the objectionable content of the sexual symbolism
associated with that despotism; this occurs in the conversion
process which is equivalent to faith in Jahweh, the lord of
history whose relation to his creation, to humanity, to Israel,
is seen as marital at an early period: he is a jealous, not a
despotic God. The “heiros gamos” of the cosmic mythology has not
been abandoned, but transvalued. In consequence, there seems to
be a scriptural base for Barth’s assertion.
20.  Karl Rahner, The Trinity.
21.  Mircia Eliade, Mephistopheles and The Androgyne, Sheed and
Ward, New York, 1966. To assert, as Eliade does, the nexus
between the flight from history is of course to reject the
occasional embarrassment over the sexuality of mankind which we
find even in such eminent authorities as Gregory of Nyssa; v. In
Cantica Canticorum, homilia vii, P.G. 44, 916b, cited in Gregoire
de Nysse, La cr‚ation de l’homme, intro. et trad. de Jean
Laplace, S.J.; notes de Jean Danielou, S.J., Editions du Cerf,
Paris, Editions de L’Abeille, Lyon, 1943, 56. Gregory reads Gal
3:28 to mean that the eschatologically redeemed creation is
sexless. H.U. von Balthasar points out the gnostic roots of this
mentality in Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur, tr. L.
Haumet et H.-A. Prentout, Aubier Editions, Montaigne, Paris,
1947, 127-150. It nonetheless has had a certain vogue of late:
e.g., Wayne Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a
Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions xii, 3,
(Feb. 1974) 165-208.
22.  Eric Havelock, Preface to Plato, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Mass. 1963.
23.  Henri Marrou, The History of Education in Antiquity, Sheed
and Ward, New York, 1956, has detailed the close association in
classic culture between the devaluation of the feminine, whether
in the militarist culture of Sparta or in the philosophy schools
of Athens, and the perversion of the male. See esp. ch. 2 and 3.
24.  Henri de Lubac. Corpus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et L’‚glise
au Moyen Age. Etude Historique. Deuxieme Edition, Revue et
Augmentie. Aubier, Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1949, 139. The
author observes of the Pauline notion of the Church, “`Corps,’
c’est aussi organisme, c’est ‚change entre des membres aux
fonctions variees et conspirants, et c’est aussi plenitude.”
25.  Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, The Univ. of
Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1952, describes a continual
degradation of the historical experience of order as written into
the constitutive law of the American and European republics over
the past two and a half centuries.
26.  Karl Stern, The Flight from Woman, Farrar Strauss and
Giroux, New York, 1965, finds a comparable decline in Western
literature since Descartes, linking it to a decline of the
mutuality of the masculine and the feminine in our culture, and
to a consequent homosexual emphasis. In this connection, the
celebrated vision of Aidous Huxley, as manifest in Brave New
World, may be a bit myopic. The possibility that there may be no
particular demand for the pneumatic ladies of his utopia is quite
real. The anti-utopias envisioned by Orwell and C.S. Lewis are
more realistic.
27.  Leon R. Kass, “The New Biology: What Price Relieving Man’s
Estate?”, Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed. Preston
Williams, 164.
28.  Philippe Roqueplo, O.P., “La cr‚ation g‚mit en travail
d’enfantement,” La nature: problŠme politique, Desclee de
Brouwer, Paris, 1971, 162 ff, suggests the need for such an
SATTLER:  Don, what do you mean when in the early part of the
paper you refer to the predetermined nature of man?
KEEFE:    It’s difficult to point to an eschatological reality
without treating it in a language that makes it sound
uneschatological, and therefore, unmysterious. Predetermined
means fixed, in the sense that God has created man. Therefore… 
SATTLER:  To be a certain kind of being?
KEEFE:    Therefore, man is what God has made him to be, and this
is determined. It is not open to indefinite change. Man has a
structure. It is one which is to be discovered, certainly. It is
one which is to be discovered in worship.
SATTLER:  In other words, his concreation is not open to his
KEEFE:    No. He is created in the image of God. That image is a
matter of discovery, but it’s also a matter of fact. Does that…
SATTLER:  It’s a start, I’m sure. But we’re going to have to work
at it.
KINDSCHI: Don, in your description of human sexuality as the key
paradigm for a relationship between God and his people, or
between Christ and his Church, how do you explain or how do you
fit into that the fact that two of the key developments in the
biblical imagery are asexual? Both Eve out of the rib of Adam and
Christ from the Virgin Mary, either are asexual. How does that
fit into this picture?
KEEFE:    Let me take the latter one first. Creation is, as
understood theologically, as the Father sending the Son to give
the Spirit, to give the lifegiving Spirit. Consequently, Mary’s
generation of the Christ is virginal insofar as it is a total
dedication of her life-giving function to God. This is the
ordinary patristic explanation of this.
You were saying that, if sexuality is the key symbol, then it
should be operative at the moment of creation. Then it would be a
symbol of itself. Sexuality is a symbol of creation. It’s a
symbol of something other than itself. The incarnation, if we
take the creation in Christ seriously, is the radical moment of
creation. The focal energy of God’s relation to man is released
at the incarnation. If we take creation in Christ seriously, this
is what it means. Therefore, the sexual relation is symbolic of
that reality which precisely involves femininity as that to which
Christ’s humanity is responsive, and that into which his humanity
is sent by God. In consequence, then, her femininity is a
mediation between God and man. Man precisely is Christ.
Now, to answer your question simply would be to go through a
whole theory of symbol. What we mean by symbol, in relation to
that which is symbolized. But ultimately it would seem that the
pagan temptation to use sexuality in its various accounts of the
cosmogenesis are rejected because this is in some fashion a
violation of the good creation. As soon as you have the various
accounts of the sacred marriage in paganism, or more primitively
of some divine masturbatory act by which the first pair of gods
come into being, you are already supposing a web of relationships
which say something about the interrelation to the sexes.
The fundamental mystery is the good creation. The symbol points
to this, but it is not identified with it.
Now, that is about as close as I can get to an answer to a very
difficult question, a difficulty I’m sure you’re aware of.
THOMAS:   If I follow the logic of your argument in terms of the
development, the historical development of the man-woman
relationship, the meaning that that has in the history, etc., the
reflective nature of the divine covenant, it would seem that the
logic would lead to a conclusion that there should be no man-made
technological interference with the basic natural creative
dynamics of this relationship. Now, you can see it, I think,
something like “in vitro” embryology where the technology is
perhaps more apparent. But if you pulled it back a little bit and
think of the issues relating to birth control, say, that you have
a technological intervention there as well. Does your argument
stand, you might say, as the biblical dogmatic basis against that
kind of thing, as well as against other technologiztion?
KEEFE:    It’s certainly relevant to it. It isn’t dispositive of
it. The reason that I restricted this just to the “in vitro”
situation is because there you have the sharpest and the clearest
case that I know of reducing human sexuality to a function and
nothing more. It is, I think, true that a laboratory is an
unhistorical environment in that it attempts to make the
intrusion of the unpredictable as slight as possible. When one
does this there is immediately a refusal of the symbolic truth
insofar as that is not reduced to the univocal symbols of
mathematics. The notion that sexuality then has a value which is
not available to the apparatus in the laboratory is ignored. Now
it seems to me that when you suppose that human sexuality can be
turned over to such a use that you are treating it in an overall
sense as something that is of no more significance, say, than the
processes of digestion. It keeps occurring to me that there have
been many programs for improving the race. These are almost as
old as human history. Attempts to improve the breed by referring
its blood lines to divinity, attempts to keep noble blood pure
and so on. These are commonplace. And all of them failed. The
most recent failure I suppose being that of the Third Reich. They
failed because history finally defeated them. They’re
inconsistent with the realities of history. And almost always
they involve some sort of an attempt to isolate that which is to
be controlled from historical reality. A laboratory is about as
unhistorical as you can get because its isolation from the
contingent is the most complete. And it seems to me when there is
a real attempt to produce human life in a laboratory you have
already admitted that the contingencies of the human reality of
which one deals — and I take it that the fertilized ova of which
we are dealing — are human beings. There could be only one
reason for putting a human being in an unhistorical environment.
That is to subject him or her to total control. That is to deny
his transcendence.
Now, can this be applied to the question of contraception? I
think the question of contraception is a classic instance of an
attempt to solve a human historical, liturgical problem without
reference to worship. It was thought for reasons of natural law,
upon a basis which upon examination seems to be rationalist, that
contraception violates the decencies of sexual symbolism. And
well it may. But this has not been a matter of discovery. This
has been a matter of law. At least we seem to be in a position
where it is practically impossible to find a consensus within
Catholicism on this point. And the failure of consensus on a
point of this importance seems to me to indicate that it has not
been permitted to become a matter of discovery by worship. It
would seem that if there is an indecency in the sort of
contraceptive usages which you refer to, that it would be
discovered by decent Christian people who are truly involved in
Christian worship and would discover in this worship the same
sort of inconsistency between that worship and contraception that
Paul discovered between that worship and the deeds of which he is
concerned with in the first chapter of Romans. But it isn’t
something that is going to be a matter of inference or of
The only possible discovery process for the structures of the
human norm is historical worship which is an educational process
among other things. At least that’s the way it seems to me your
question must be answered.
McLEOD:   When you were talking about sexuality as the symbol of
creation, isn’t it, more fundamentally than that, a symbol of
KEEFE:    Well, it’s a good creation. Presumably it’s a creation
which is an act of love.
McLEOD:   And Christianity is really saying what love is, being
self-giving, free-giving, creation?
KEEFE:    The Father sending the Son to give the Spirit,
precisely. And this immediately involves a sexual expression of
that sending. That is, the incarnation. That is what I mean. I
haven’t said this very well, I recognize.

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