Confronting the non-binary fallacy


Above is a depressing little advisory from the current edition of The Week. It reads like something from a fantastically dystopian novel about the future from the 1950s or 60s. It is the sort of thing at which we would have cackled in derision on reading. Now it is reality; or rather, what passes for reality. Dystopian it most certainly is; self-destructive, indubitably.

The first reaction on reading of a man referring to himself as “they” was the memory of Mark 5:9. Yet it is disturbing on levels not quite so immediate to the mind.

Last week we celebrated the memorial of St Gertrude the Great, a Saxon nun of 13th-century of Helfta—a monastery which was a nursery of saints at the time. Thinking on things with a view to a homilette, what came to the fore was the nuptial mysticism of this great saint. Her intense devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whatever else it might be, should be seen as the logical development of her nuptial mysticism.

St Gertrude the Great, by Maicon Dandi Souza

In its origins, nuptial mysticism refers to the mystical experiences of these great female saints in which they experience a ceremony of marriage to Christ. The concept of being a bride of Christ was taken to its mystical conclusion, and in this these saints represented in their persons the union of Christ with his Bride and Body, the Church. This imaging is effected on the physical plane in the sacramental marriage of a man and a woman. Human sexual nature and identity is intimately related to the relationship of utmost intimacy between the divine and the human in each person, and most excellently and surpassingly in Jesus Christ, in whom was the perfection of both the divine and human natures. The teaching of Genesis remains vital and essential even in the new Covenant. It remains true that God created us male and female, not non-binarily self-determinate.

St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is at heart an extrapolation of nuptial mysticism in our modern context, relating it to the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the human person, not least in its sexual identity. At its heart is the concept of communion as something that informs every level of the economy of salvation. The Trinity is the perfection of communion; the person of Jesus Christ is the perfection of communion between the divine and the human manifest in the material world; the Church is the communion of humanity among itself by virtue of its communion with Christ as his Bride and Body; sacramental marriage is the door by which human beings experience the reality of communion on all these levels, and in so doing the married couple becomes an icon of the rich and manifold textures of communion between God and man.

This, by the way, is why I do not consider marriage a vocation as the moderns are wont to do. A vocation is a call away from the normative. Since marriage of a man and a woman is normative for humanity, hard-wired into human nature as Genesis reveals, then it constitutes the ground from which an individual is called away by God for a specific purpose and mission. To marry is not to answer a call, but to obey God’s commandment as enfleshed in human nature. Anything else—priesthood, religious life, consecrated single life, the lay celibacy required of the same-sex attracted, et al— is an individual’s call away from the norm for the sake of the Church. But I digress…

What is clear in nuptial theology as expanded and enriched by St John Paul II is that the human body is essential to human nature, and so to the human relationship with God. To put it bluntly, the human body is the mode and means by which even now the human person can taste a little of the perfect fire of love that is the union with God in heaven. Human sexuality exists because of the body, precisely in its maleness or femaleness. Human sexuality allows, through the nuptial mystery, an experience of the heavenly communion with God for which we are made. That experience can be physically expressed or mystically/spiritually, which means everyone has the capacity to experience it.

This offers the background to understanding something of why “gender theory” is so self-destructive of humanity. The ever-emerging tendrils of gender theory—transgenderism, non-binary concepts of human “gender” etc—strip away from human identity its essential reality manifest in its objective physicality—the sexual complementarity of the male and the female. In so doing human identity becomes the subjective, arbitrary and artificial construct of fallen and flawed human will; not the beautiful expression of the creative and salvific divine will.

Gender theory in all its forms is dehumanizing in that it tears the human person away from what is essential to human identity. The further we go from the truly human, the further we go from God. It leads the human person down the path of the fantasy of self-creation to the precipice of self-negation. Indeed, gender theory’s name is legion.

This is why the Church is so unyielding in its opposition to the modern fads of transgenderism, non-binary gender and the like. Mankind throughout history has revealed a consistent tendency to choose what makes for its own destruction. So the Church resists to the end the suicidal phenomenon of gender theory—it loves humanity too much to allow it to destroy itself. It is a love that has been commanded by Christ himself.

We can only pray that the Church’s teaching of truth, of objective reality rather than subjective fantasy, will prevail; not so much for God’s sake as for our own.


PS For an excellent Catholic response to the recent non-binding referendum on “gay marriage” in Australia, read this parish notice by Fr Glen Tattersall of Melbourne.

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  1. An excellent post Father. I particularly like the incidental (to the article) clarification regarding marriage, so often wrongly described as a Vocation.

    1. Marriage is far more fundamental to humanity. It is a consent to share in God’s creative fecundity, and an icon to the world of the divine-human relationship. Thus it is, to put it mildly, rather important.

  2. This is indeed an excellent post Father. It was though reading the writings of John Paul, who I don’t think you’d be surprised to hear has been a sort of hero of mine since I was a senior in high school and a then Karol Wojtyla walked out onto that balcony in Rome and was introduced to the world as John Paul II, that I could actually understand and verbalize years later to my high school students the true intention of “sex” between a man and a woman—the importance of celibacy until marriage….that sex, as they saw it, was not merely a physical act…there was a much deeper, mystical transaction taking place….
    And now we see a secular world doing it’s best to destroy the “mystical” on so many different levels.
    Thank you for your post Father—and as today here in the states is Thanksgiving, I would like to say how grateful I am for having found your blog a few years back. That I am thankful for your faithfulness to the Word of God and for always being brave enough and grounded enough to speak Truth—when many others would dare not….
    so thank you Father….

  3. I cannot agree with your digression about marriage not being a vocation.

    His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote the following in Familiaris Consortio (66) : “Also necessary, especially for Christians, is solid spiritual and catechetical formation that will show that marriage is a true vocation and mission, without excluding the possibility of the total gift of self to God in the vocation to the priestly or religious life.”

    Later, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI also explicitly described marriage as a vocation: ” Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord’s call, for Christian matrimony is truly and wholly a vocation in the Church. Likewise, dear young men and women, be ready to say “yes” if God should call you to follow the path of ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life.” (

    More recently, His Holiness Pope Francis wrote : “Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment (AL, no. 72).

    Perhaps you could develop what you mean in a subsequent post.

    1. I think I made my point clearly enough: marriage is hardwired into human nature, so to call it a vocation is a misnomer. It is the norm; any vocation is a call away from the norm. It is of note that it is only the last three popes who paired vocation with matrimony. It reflects their just concern with the decline in numbers embracing marriage and then staying faithful to it.

      It also reflects the modern neurosis that religious and priestly vocations must not be seen as “higher” than marriage, so rather superficially they have equated them. Notice how in your quotations BXVI and JPII pair mention of marriage as vocation with the priestly and religious vocations. Francis is not saying anything new beyond his immediate predecessors.

      And, if we are to be honest, the magisterial tradition for many centuries has been that priestly and religious life are in fact “higher” in ecclesial terms, and not least because they are calls away from the norm. Of course, their function is, in many respects, to allow the flourishing of the normative life in the Church, and in a real sense they serve it.


  4. I think the issue of priestly and religious life being higher vocations is a separate issue. It is not hard to make a case for this since it has been taught since at least the Council of Trent. I would, however, suggest that the English notion of ‘higher’ does not fully capture the idea of ‘objective superiority’ of the priesthood and religious life. A helpful discussion of this can be found in Sr Mary David’s CTS pamphlet on the consecrated life.

    Returning to my main point, I cannot follow your logic in arguing that any vocation is a call away from the norm. Logically, this means that were we ever to reach a situation in which most men and women were priests and/or consecrated religious (unlikely but not logically impossible), this would be the new norm. Would they then cease to be responding to a vocation?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (article 1603) manages to square the fact that marriage is both ‘hardwired into human nature’ and a vocation:

    “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”87 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity,88 some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”89

    The notion of vocation can in fact be understood in very broad terms indeed. As Pope St John Paul II reminds us:

    “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation and thus the capacity
    and responsibility of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (FC 11) He then goes on to say: “Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.” (Ibid.)

    1. Just adding some material, which may be of interest. It was not the last three popes who paired the idea of vocation with matrimony. It was in fact the Second Vatican Council. We can read this clearly in ‘Gaudium et Spes’ : “Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of marriage will radiate from the equal personal dignity of wife and husband, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love. The constant fulfillment of the duties of this Christian vocation demands notable virtue. For this reason, strengthened by grace for holiness of life, the couple will painstakingly cultivate and pray for steadiness of love, large heartedness and the spirit of sacrifice.” (49)

      “Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of marriage will radiate from the equal personal dignity of wife and husband, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love. The constant fulfillment of the duties of this Christian vocation demands notable virtue. For this reason, strengthened by grace for holiness of life, the couple will painstakingly cultivate and pray for steadiness of love, large heartedness and the spirit of sacrifice.” (52)

      What is interesting is that ‘Gaudium et Spes’ seems to be the first significant church document to broaden the concept of vocation in this way. Subsequent pope’s have taken on and developed this teaching, but they were not its origin. Compare this to Pope XI’s encyclical ‘Casti Connubi’ (1930), which describes marriage in eloquent terms without ever mentioning the word ‘vocation’. This word is similarly absent from Leo XIII’s encyclical on marriage (‘Arcanum’, 1880). It seems that recent discussion on marriage as a vocation is part of a broader attempt to widen the sense in which the term ‘vocation’ can be understood.

      This is a different matter from the question of the ‘objective superiority’ of one vocation compared to another. Even within religious life, such hierarchy exists. The contemplative life is a higher form of life than the active apostolate. Within the contemplative life, some orders have received special praise while others have not. Pope Pius XI recognized the solitary life as the ‘most holy form of life’ (‘sanctissimum vitae genus’). And he said of the Carthusians:

      It is hardly necessary to say what great hope and expectation the Carthusian monks inspire in us, seeing that since they keep the Rule of their Order not only accurately but also with generous ardor, and since that Rule easily carries those that observe it to the higher degree of sanctity, it is impossible that those religious should not become and remain most powerful pleaders with our most merciful God for all Christendom. (Apostolic Constitution ‘Umbratilem’, July 8, 1924).

  5. I see I posted the same quote twice by mistake. No matter. Anyone interested can read ‘Gaudium et Spes’ (readily available online) to find the second quote.

  6. Excellent post, Father, and very timely. I often wonder what ‘progressive’ society is progressing towards. Has it even been thought through? I believe I know the answer, and destruction is the logical outcome with issues such as the article being one symptom of that.


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