A lecture given for “Catholics United for the Faith”
New York, 1978
Nature, Sex, and Person in Thomistic Thought
WILLIAM H. MARSHNER
Certain Catholic feminists of philosophical bent have criticized a strand of Catholic thought as positing in effect two natures of human beings. Sr. Mary Aquin O’Neill, for example, says the Catholic view of complementarity between the sexes has invented a male nature and a female nature. Mary J. Buckley repeats this charge. Both accuse the tradition of arriving at this error by “extrapolating meanings from the male and female bodies” and thus mistakenly attributing culturally-based gender differentiations to human nature itself. Sr. O’Neill seems to prefer an androgynous view of human capability and a biological view of what is “natural” to us. Mary Buckley demands that all talk of “constant” or “fixed” human nature be replaced by a “transformative model,” as she calls it, in which the core of humanity is sheer freedom. The aim of this paper is to show that the Thomistic account of human nature does not commit the mistake the feminist philosophers allege and avoids both of the disastrous (and conflicting) reductionisms into which they fall. Man qua man is one nature, for St. Thomas, not two; yet this one nature is neither pure biology nor pure freedom.
The Twenty four Thomistic Theses
Newly translated and annotated by
W. H. Marshner
Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Studies
July 27, 1914
1. Act and potency divide the set of beings in such a way that anything which “is” has to be either (1) pure act or else (2) a combination of potency and act, having these as the primordial factors within it.
2. Since anything’s “act” is a completion it has, act is limited only by a potency which is the thing’s capacity for being completed. Hence, in any order of being where there is a “pure act,” the pure act is unlimited and unique; but wherever an act is limited and has more than one instance, it is occurring in a genuine composition with potency.
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