Father Robert Barron comes down on Caitlyn Jenner and a private meeting of bishops here. I’m a deep skeptic on the first topic. Fr Barron, quoting Jenner:
“Deep down, I always knew that I was a woman, but I felt trapped in the body of a man. Therefore, I have the right to change my body to bring it in line with my true identity.”
Notice how the mind or the will—the inner self—is casually identified as the “real me” whereas the body is presented as an antagonist which can and should be manipulated by the authentic self. The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter.
Is it gnosticism? I don’t see it. A paralyzed person struggles with a body that cannot function as it was designed. How does the person know? Perhaps the experience prior to illness or injury. Perhaps the constant reminders that other people walk, climb stairs, engage in athletic activities.
If a friend of mine in a wheelchair were to complain, I might suggest the real person I regard and respect need not “do” all of those things to be the valued and regarded friend. But not being in my friend’s state, would my utterances just seem like pious condescension? I might be inclined to agree with my friend if she or he were to suggest a conflict with inert limbs and organs.
A good friend of mine once battled a serious leg infection for a number of months. He returned to Mass one weekend looking healthy and happy from the knee up. I was a bit shocked to see a lower leg missing, but he reassured me he was on the path to healing. Gnostic? Hardly.
Caitlyn Jenner may be tragically misguided. In which case, she would be ill. Not a gnostic. And if her brain chemistry and interior sense is female, a male body would indeed present itself as something of a conflict. It’s not theological. It might be biology and genetics. And if she has been totally deceived in some way, it is psychological and social. But not theological.
On the private meeting of bishops, Fr Barron is cautious, but bothered:
But what particularly bothered me—in fact, it caused every single anti-gnostic sensor in me to vibrate—was the claim that the secret council was calling for a “theology of love” that would supplant the theology of the body proposed by John Paul II.
I don’t know how this interpretation reached Fr Barron’s desk, but I recall a portion of John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordiae (We’ll get to it Sunday) that reads:
(M)ercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in (people), and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. (DiM 4)
Love played an important role in John Paul II’s theology. Perhaps we have yet to hear the whole story on bishops’ meetings, or even love and mercy.
The Church has changed its tune often on serious sin. In the time of Irenaeus, one was often ejected from the community for murder, adultery, and apostasy. There was no forgiveness, no confession, only tossing the sinner to God for mercy. It was centuries before the institutional Church even recognized that serious sins might indeed be forgiven through a sacramental confession.
By Father Barron’s take, there are a lot of practices that look gnostic. Physical whipping, serious fasting, sleepless nights in vigil–lots of traditional stuff.
I used to find gnosticism in the traditional Latin Mass, but I learned it was better to stop looking. It’s more healthy to look to one’s own sins and heresies than others. It’s more healthy to seek goodness rather than attempt to read wrong into too many things.
I respected Robert Barron as a spiritual author long before he became a filmmaker and internet presence. But I think the tendency to comment on too many things is a danger. Sometimes, we are better served to note things in the news, and maybe say a prayer, keeping the conversation with the Master–someone who actually knows us, and knows the situation far better than we.
And maybe a group of bishops gathering in Rome is no more gnostic than a seminary governing committee or a Word on Fire staff meeting.