The synod’s final recommendation to Pope Francis is mainly bland and inoffensive. It is also an exercise in unreality. That’s what happens when your mode of thought and expression is neither philosophical and theological, nor earthy and poetic: It does not aspire to reveal the essences of things, and it does not confront the sweat and mire of the created world. The bishops write in sociological patois, abstract and banal at once. Reality escapes them.
Let me illustrate. The document insists on the complementarity of man and woman, and quotes Pope Francis as suggesting that each sex does not know itself except in relationship with the other. But in what does that complementarity consist? The bishops won’t say. Pope Leo XIII, who spent his long pontificate writing about the Christian family, said that the father’s authority in the family, which is a gift to its members, proceeds from the fatherhood of God Himself. The bishops do not cite Leo, nor do they note that fatherhood has been under assault in every Western nation for the last 60 years. Boys spend their school years having their natural energies smothered with drugs, and having their natural bent toward what I call hierarchical adventures frustrated or belittled. The bishops turn aside.
Men are to be like Saint Joseph, they say, the protector of Mary and Jesus, and that is well enough, but some men must be providers for and protectors of women and children even if they do not have Joseph’s meek character. How do we raise all boys, whatever their dispositions, to be strong and faithful fathers? Obviously, we must work with the masculine nature, acknowledging its reality and training it up to maturity. But the bishops ignore the problem. All they do for men is to wag the finger and repeat that tired bit of feminist nagging, that women’s entry into the workplace—often to the detriment of the family—has not been answered by men doing more of the household chores. Real men wear aprons.
The bishops repeat a common reading of Ephesians 5:21, “Submit yourselves to one another,” as if it applied only to men and women in marriage, and not to the whole of the Christian life. Yet almost in the same breath they say there must be no “subordination,” and again the patois gets the better of them. There can be no submission without subordination. If a man submits his energies and his fatherly authority to the welfare of his wife and children, he has established a hierarchy or taxonomy of goods, whereby one good—say, his delight in risk—will be subordinated to another (say, the security of the family). Besides, subordination is what Saint Paul is talking about. His Greek hypotassomenoi is exactly equivalent to Latin subordinati. The Christian life is to be characterized by subordination, as the lower obeys and honors the higher, and the higher submits to the good of the lower. That, after all, is how the body works, as Paul is at pains to remind the egalitarians of Corinth. There is such a thing as a body without a head. It is called a corpse.
And what if it is characteristic of that God-ordained masculine nature to form hierarchies? For nothing dangerous or difficult in this world is ever done without them. They are at the heart of every great cultural institution in the history of man, from the Greek gymnasion to the medieval university to the Renaissance art studio to Bell Laboratories in its heyday. Without hierarchy you cannot dig a canal or build a city wall or fight a battle. Or, for that matter, bring a heathen people to Christ. But the bishops will not consider it.
So, too, do they turn their eyes from passion. It seems strange, in a document on sexuality, that the bishops seem unaware of what moves men and women to make the beast with two backs. By their account, young men and women shack up because they are insecure in their finances, or because they are beholden to the philosophical errors of individualism or of a certain kind of feminism, or because they have witnessed the pain of divorce. Let me correct you on this point, your excellencies. If a boy and girl are playing house and doing the child-making thing, there is nothing, financial or otherwise, to prevent them from getting married. If they are committed to each other for life, they should make that promise public before man and God. If they are not, they are lying and are willing that their children should pay later for their hedonism now. They are not afraid of divorce so much as they take it for granted, as a way of life. It is the exit sign above the bedroom door.
the final report in English