Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to make use of his Christmas message to do a bit of theology concerning human nature. In doing so he reveals a fundamental failure to grasp the meaning of the Incarnation.
...People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.... They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.... The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned...This rather misses the mark, as the whole point of the Incarnation taking place in the manner it did — via the work of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, without any participation of a human male — was to reveal the secondary quality of maleness and femaleness: Jesus derived his entire human nature from the Virgin Mary (or so says the Definition of Chalcedon). Although Jesus is male, his humanity derives entirely from a female. So the "human nature" is in itself genderless, although each particular human being has, by virtue of genetics and epigenetic factors, a sexual or gender reality expressed anatomically, psychologically, emotionally, and socially. But as with all qualities of a person, sex is not essential to the nature: it is a characteristic particular to the individual, like height, or eye or hair color, or any of the other variable factors that individual human beings have. We even have a very clear sense of the genetic factors that produce this particular characteristic quality of the person. The quality does not make them human; their humanity gives expression to the quality.
The Pope takes what can only be described as a hard-line determinist position, pure sexism in its most precise form: anatomy fixes identity. In addition to the discontinuity of this position with the doctrine of the Incarnation, this also tends, like its cousin racism (also based on "given" characteristics), to dehumanize the human person, and reduce the concept of the person to the level of the animal nature; it puts all the weight of identity on the very aspect which the doctrine of the Incarnation shows us should not be given any weight at all, for as St. Paul so famously observed, "in Christ there is no more male and female."
Which brings me to Genesis. One of the ongoing problems with the traditional Christian view of sex and sexuality lies in the reading of Genesis 1:27 ("male and female he created them") as referring to categories of people; that is, reading the words male and female as adjectives. However, in Hebrew, they are nouns — and would likely be better translated as "a male and a female, he created them." Although the Greek translation (LXX) elides them into adjective form, the Aramaic retains the noun form, and in one of the Aramaic versions adds specific details about the couple.
It appears from the contemporary evidence that Jesus and other Jews of the Second Temple era read and understood the text in this way, as referring to a couple. The Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Geniza A Col. 4:19-21), for example, uses the verse from Genesis in support of its argument in favor of monogamy. The same is true of a section of a Zadokite Document (7:1-7) that is usually classed with the Old Testament pseudepigrapha or apocrypha. (It seems to me to be from the same source as the Qumran text.)
And Jesus himself, when he cites this text in his critique of divorce and remarriage (Matt 19:4-6) is also clearly referencing not some alleged complementarity that makes male and female fit together, but rather the simpler and more obvious notion that a couple join together to form a unity: he even quotes (paraphrasing the Hebrew, as do the LXX and Targumim, by adding "two") another portion of Genesis (2:24). He then nails the matter home by his own gloss, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."
So this isn't about categories, but about the mystery of how two become one — which is, of course exactly how St. Paul deals with it in Ephesians, which is also about how two become one — the two of Jew and Gentile (2:15) in one body as well as the two of husband and wife in one flesh.
So could we please have no more of this nonsense about categorical qualities being determinative about who and what people are, at their most basic level as human beings? People are fully dimensioned with many qualities and characteristics, and indeed free — with the freedom given by their Creator — to become all that God intends for them. The Scripture may begin with Genesis, but it ends with the Revelation of the new humanity, which transcends the merely earthly categories and qualities that each of us possess. It is not our substance or our genes that matter: but our actions of love and service to one another.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
ps: Let's try a mental exercise. Surely a part of the imperative of bodily identity as male and female should be "ordered" towards what male and female exist for: sexual reproduction. So any person who fails to live out this aspect of his or her natural identity is in some way "constructing" an identity at odds with their biological destiny. So the "celibate lifestyle" is contrary to human nature.
UPDATE: You can read the full text of the address courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia. As I suspected, Benedict reads Gen 1:27 as referring to categories, not people. He's done it before, and will do it again...