Constructing Masculinity: De Utero Patris (from the Womb of the Father)

By Collins, Paul M. | Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Constructing Masculinity: De Utero Patris (from the Womb of the Father)


Collins, Paul M., Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality


Feminist critique of the male language and patriarchal implications of the classic formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in terms of a father--son relationship has elicited a variety of responses. This paper is framed within an analysis of the workings of the metaphorical and analogical ascription of language to the divine. What does the metaphorical and analogical description of the divine in terms of Fatherhood-Sonship mean? And how do metaphor and analogy work in this context?

I have chosen the phrase de utero Patris (from the womb of the father) as a point of departure to investigate possible constructions of masculinity in relation to a present-day reception of the Father--Son relationship found in the classic formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. In undertaking this investigation I use a cross-disciplinary method in which the disciplines of theology, philosophy, psychology and social, cultural and media studies will be brought together in an analytical critique to address instances of the construction of masculinity in four contemporary representations. Such a method is particularly required for this enquiry, but I also want to defend this kind of method for all forms of contextual theological discourse. I will test an hypothesis which emerges from within the discourse of feminist critique of the doctrine of the Trinity through an analysis of the reception of four contemporary examples of the construction of masculinity. The hypothesis emerges from Luce Irigaray's (1985, 1984) understanding that symbolic changes follow on from psychological changes, and is rooted in Lacan's schema of: the real, the imaginary and the symbolic (Miller, 1988, pp. 73-159), which is often used in the theorization of the media. I will assess the impact and reception of four examples of the construction of masculinity in an attempt to discern if the changes they may instantiate indicate the kind of psychological change which assist a new understanding of the Trinitarian Father--Son relationship. From the outset I want to suggest that reception of understandings of masculinity and the theorization of the intra-divine relations is a "two-way street." That is to say there is a reciprocity in the reception of the theorization of the intra-divine Father--Son relationship and the impact of the construction of representations of masculinity.

The four examples are contemporary representations in the media and arts, and the evidence for the reception of them is taken from within the media (with particular reference to the UK newspaper The Guardian), and as such the evidence base for the analysis may be said to be "populist." In undertaking this analysis of the reception of these representations, there needs to be an explicit recognition on the part of those receiving and interpreting the representations--as well as of myself--that in conducting the analysis there are overlapping gender constructs and stereotypes in use. There needs also to be a recognition that the categories used in the analysis of the representations are themselves constructs which are in constant need of re-evaluation and/or deconstruction: masculine, feminine; divine, material; gay, straight; heteronormative, homoerotic; being, having.

In addition to the above constructs and categories, I will appeal to the concepts of vulnerability and pathos. In making this appeal I am not wishing to suggest that vulnerability is a characteristic to be applied to one gender more than another. Rather I am suggesting that while each of the four constructions present masculinity in terms of physical strength and beauty they also suggest a susceptibility to the physical and emotional power of others. It is this combination of strength and susceptibility which intentionally evokes a complex emotional response from the audience. This I have understood in terms of pathos.

Finally there needs to be recognition of the particular limitations of this study. …

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