Complementarity: a timeless truth

| Deborah Savage | September 7, 2016 | 0 Comments

St. John Paul II’s teaching on the theology of the body has been the subject of countless publications and widely discussed in Catholic media. Institutes have been formed to train and certify those interested in disseminating the teaching further. It is a beautiful teaching, a gift to the world at a time when human sexuality and human relationships have undergone a truly dramatic upheaval, leaving many of us confused and uncertain about what to think.

St. John Paul II’s primary intention in offering this teaching was to help us understand the sacred meaning of our own bodies. But it was also intended to lead to a deeper appreciation of the natural “complementarity” that characterizes the relationship of men and women — an old, if mostly undeclared truth, but clearly one in need of renewal and an unambiguous affirmation.

For we all know that since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, both men and women have often struggled to understand and respect each other — even as they have worked tirelessly together throughout history to create human families and culture. It hasn’t been easy, but the Holy Father shows that, by returning to the creation accounts found in the first chapters of Genesis, we can uncover the beauty of God’s purpose in creating us male and female.


Woman & Man: Complementarity as Mission: What do both science and Scripture have to say about the battle of the sexes?
Sponsored by the Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture, and the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis

7-9 p.m. Oct. 5 at Woulfe Auditorium on the University of St. Thomas campus in St. Paul

More information

It may be relatively easy to see the complementarity that exists at the heart of the marital union, though, as St. John Paul II states repeatedly, the love that binds women and men together is expressed not only through their bodies. This complementarity, something that has served as the bedrock of romantic love and characterized marriage for centuries, is not merely biological or physical. It is a feature of our very being, something reflected in the two distinct ways men and women have of being in the world. He teaches that man and woman are equally human and at the same time different: complementary creatures meant to make of themselves a total gift to each other. And though it remains a mystery that defies any attempt to reduce it to rigid roles or functions, the relationship of husband and wife is truly a manifestation of complementarity that, when given room to breathe, will find universal expression in every home and family.

However, and equally important, the Holy Father also argues that the complementarity expressed in the relationship of woman and man is found not only in the marital act or in the sustaining of families, but it is also a feature of that relationship in every context — whether social, political or economic.

Both man and woman were given dominion over the earth and both are called to share generously of their gifts and charisms in the tasks of human living. And it seems clear that only by a mutual collaboration, intentionally and intelligently directed toward that task, will our mission — to return all things to Christ — be fulfilled.

Savage is the director of the Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and a faculty member at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul. She is a member of St. Mark in St. Paul.

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Category: The Local Church