Memorial Moments – Image of God in Woman
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We often only know what things are in relation. I am father in relation to my children. I am pastor in relation to children of my parish. That means that I could be “father” in two different ways, because of the different relationships implied by those different ways of relating.
One of the sets of relationships that brings us the most trouble, and maybe always will, is the relationship between men and women, especially husband and wife. Modern people are deeply disturbed by the male headship language used by the Bible generally and St. Paul in particular. Paul is thought to be a “woman hater” because he relates husband and wife in a head and body relationship; husband head, wife body. The pattern is set by Christ and His bride the church.
Man and woman are related to each other in this way by the order of God’s creation. But in relation to God they are not. Before God they are equally responsible humans that stand before God for judgment and the vindication of divine righteousness. But as they relate to each other they are head and body. This is why St. Augustine argued that woman has the full image of God in the same way that man does. So when Scripture points out that men and women find themselves under differing levels of order to others, it does not call into question their equal standing in the presence of God.
“‘A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man’ (1Co 11:7). What shall we say to this? If the woman fills up the image of the trinity after the measure of her own person, why is the man still called that image after she has been taken out of his side? Or if even one person of a human being out of three can be called the image of God, as each person also is God in the supreme Trinity itself, why is the woman also not the image of God? For she is instructed for this very reason to cover her head, which the man is forbidden to do because he is the image of God (1Co 11:7, 5).
“But we must notice how that which the apostle says, that not the woman but the man is the image of God, is not contrary to that which is written in Genesis, ‘God created man: in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them: and He blessed them.’ For this text says that human nature itself, which is complete [only] in both sexes, was made in the image of God; and it does not separate the woman from the image of God which it signifies. For after saying that God made man in the image of God, ‘He created him,’ it says, ‘male and female:’ or at any rate, punctuating the words otherwise, ‘male and female created He them.’
“How then did the apostle tell us that the man is the image of God, and therefore he is forbidden to cover his head; but that the woman is not so, and therefore is commanded to cover hers? Unless, truly,…that the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God. But as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.”
Augustine, On the Trinity, 12.7
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