Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Vocations of Man and Woman by St. Edith Stein, Part One

St. Edith Stein wrote often about the natures of men and women, including their vocations. This is a rather controversial topic today, but might be less so if more people understood what a vocation actually is and why men and women have separate ones. I will therefore write a bit about that in this first part of a short series on the topic.

In her essay, Vocations of Man and Woman, St. Stein begins by clarifying what a vocation actually is. She states that it is not simply “gainful employment,” as many people view it today, but that the word vocation entails a call from someone. She says that the calling comes through a person’s ability and education, or their human nature and place in life. These are, as St. Stein writes, the work of God—and, therefore, it is God who calls us to a vocation specific to our gifts and abilities.

Next, St. Stein wades through the reasons why men and women have different vocations (the controversy begins!). First, it is clear that men and women, though equally God’s children, are DIFFERENT, and that this difference is immediately shown in the first creation story in Genesis. Though they are different, however, they are initially given the same vocation when they are “created in the image of God” and told to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it, and be masters over the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all the creatures which move upon the earth.” Therefore, the threefold vocation of men and women at the time of their creation was to: a) be the image of God, b) bring forth prosperity and c) be masters of the earth.
The second creation account includes more detail about the creation of man. In this story, Adam has been made steward of paradise, but has no suitable companion. St. Stein writes that the Hebrew used to describe Adam’s lack of a partner is very difficult to translate, and that the phrase “a helper as if vis-à-vis to him” would be the closest English equivalent. This describes someone complementary to Adam, but not identical. Noticing this lack of companionship, the Lord, in His INFINITE wisdom, created woman. So both sexes have been created, and are described as “helpmates” and “companions,” and it is written that man will cling to woman and both will be one flesh. Therefore, we should think of the first human pair as “the most intimate community of love.” They were in perfect harmony and loved each other chastely. Before the fall, there is no indication of a sovereign relationship between the two; however, pre-eminence is suggested in that man was created first.

St. Stein then explores why it would not have been good for man to have been alone. She uses the Trinity as an analogy, writing, “God created man in His own image. But God is three in one; and just as the Son issues from the Father, and the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son, so, too, the woman emanated from man and posterity from them both. And moreover, God is love. But there must be at least two persons for love to exist” (60).

After the Fall, however, the dynamic between man and woman was changed irrevocably. My next post will go into St. Stein’s writings on this in more detail.

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