A Definition of Manhood

The following is a reply I posted on Tripp’s blog, but I wanted a larger group to read and critique it. It is given in the context of a discussion on Ephesians 5.

The essence of manhood, is, personhood, which highlights the always already communal nature of what it means to be a man. Thus, men, being essentially persons, have an essential equality with women, whose essence is also personhood.

But manhood cannot simply be reduced to its mere essence, because manhood is also always already embodied. There is no such thing as manhood in the abstract, but only men. And here biology and personhood are united, two natures, as it were, in one person. Men, as persons, share an essence with women, but are also different and distinct, because as embodied, they have different traits and characteristics which arise from their biological embodiedness.

Thus, in conception, men play a biological role that is distinct from that of women, and therefore, they embody conception in a different way than do women. Similarly, the nuture that men give their children are distinct and different from women. But yet at the same time, their nurturing shares an essential similarity in that both men and women are always already in community, and so also the children they conceive and bear.

Now beyond the obvious biological traits are the more controversial ones. Clearly Scripture embodies distinctive roles in the family. There is an essentially similar submission, but because of the embodied personhood which men and women possess, their roles are distinctive.

Why I think my definition commends itself over yours is that it has obvious symmetry between the definitions for manhood and womanhood, it is clearly modelled on conciliar Trinitarianism, as well as on the Chalcedonian definition of Christ as the new Adam.

What think ye all?

9 thoughts on “A Definition of Manhood

  1. Is “personhood” an “essence”? If so, do we share an “essence” with the Persons of the Trinity? Of course, you may be conceptualizing a different meaning for the category, but it raises interesting issues. I would think the essence men and women share is humanity. This raises a whole bunch of other questions, I guess.

  2. I’m not sure whether I think personhood an essence, per se, but it is certainly an essential nature in terms of being human. (I’m not sure what you mean by “humanity” nor how it would differ from “personhood.”)

    I do not think men and woman share God’s essence. Rather, what I was getting at is that since the Trinity is inherently relational, humans being created in God’s image are inherently relational. In this way, men and women share a similar inherent trait; a trait that is essential to what it means for them to be human, yet also coincides with humans being men and women.

    I think what I am advocating is not so much personhood as essence, as personhood as nature, similar to the way Christ’s Person exists in two nature. But I’m not drawing a direct parallel or connection between the nature of personhood in humans and Christ’s natures of humanity and divinity.

    As I said, I’m trying to find an understanding that resonates with the Trinity and Christ’s Person as models, without drawing one-to-one correspondence between essences and natures.

  3. The essense question is a good one.

    Why do we need the corolation between two genders and a Trinity? Or the two (yet one?) natures of Christ? I mean, it is an interesting theological experiment, but why is it necessary? Because we are created in the image of God?

    Does the prologue of John play into this?

  4. “I mean, it is an interesting theological experiment, but why is it necessary? Because we are created in the image of God?”

    It isn’t an epistemological experiment (as in a Richard Rorty-ian sense of playing with words to see what drivel we can produce)–rather, it is a way of accurately conveying the truth about our being.

  5. Karl, I get that. But does it? In Genesis and in Paul, we have either flesh bcoming one or “no male or female.” I get that there is something going on here.

    Now, if there is a necessary corolation between the two natures of Christ, I am not so sure. I am sold on the relational piece with the Trinitarian thinking, but not so much with the two natures thing. To me that runs the risk of one gender being divine and one being human. That could lead to all sorts of trouble…and has.

  6. i have waited to get in on this to let the boys just pulverize the beauty i see in the trinity, but i must throw in a few cents (do women have a voice in this blog?). i must begin with the tendency i see in this methodology. what i mean is the universalizing tendency that fundamentally skips over particulars. for example, one must define man, manhood and men. does the category “man” even exist? futhermore, does “woman” exist? another example is personhood and essence are relative categories and must also be defined. these are not merely symbols, which one can appropriate. they are only intelligible within a particular context. the third issue that deeply troubles me is that by attempting to show a “necessary” or “foundational” element of the relationship between men and women, the trinity is now conflated into a hierarchy of gender. furthermore, this fundamentally devalues women and men in their human roles. one must remember that there is a fundamental distinction between creator and created. the holy trinity cannot be adequately expressed completely in the relationships between creation (particularly women and men) due to the mutual exchange of properties or perichoresis. i don’t think this furthers the conversation of equality when the men stay on top.

  7. Nomad:

    Huh? Where did you get hierarchy from my clearly stated essential equality?

    I’ll grant you that a definition such as the one I’ve given can run the risk of conflating and confusing the essential distinctions between humanity and God, but by the same token, if we’re made in God’s image, our humanity will look like God. Thus, just as God is a Trinity of Persons, and part of what it means to be God is relationship of Persons, then it makes sense to me that part of what it means to be human means to be in relationship, which can only be the case if we are persons. Thus personhood is the essential quality that all human beings share.

    However, human beings are not the same. And in particular, the embodied existences of men share similarities with one another that the embodied existences of women do not; and vice versa. So there is another dimension to our being human that neither negates our relational essence, yet at the same time does speak of distinction. It seems to me that this is somewhat similar–though hardly the same–as the Church has been given to understand the Person of Christ. That there was a unity in his Personhood, yet there were two natures in Him. One nature shared an essence of Godhead with the Trinity, the other nature shared an essence of flesh with humanity.

    The models aren’t perfect, of course, especially in relation to the Person of Christ, because there is nothing about humans that make them essentially part of the Godhead. And in sharing our humanity, the analogies with Christ run in the vein of personhood/manhood–which has to do only with one of his essential qualities (at least insofar as I have described humans).

    Now, it is true that I am speaking of human beings in the abstract–but this is the very nature of definition itself. On the other hand, I very clearly have insisted that all human existence is embodied, that humans cannot be reduced to mere essences, no matter what we take those essences to be. We are always already more than a single definition can provide.

    But we are so precisely because of the personhood which gives rise to our particularities. If we were not able to be in relation/community, then we would be abstractable. But it is the permutations of our relations that give us the unique qualities that make us who we are–not excluding our embodied selves and experiences, of course. But we get those very embodied selves from relation/community.

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