Neutered and Feminized Language

Originally published in The Catholic Faith magazine, July-August 1996
Originally published in The Catholic Faith magazine, Jan-Feb 1998

Satan got kicked out of heaven for disobeying the Father because the Son would become man. The Evil One has retaliated by seducing feminists to eliminate Father, Son, and man from the Bible.

Before the Councils of Hippo and Carthage approved the canon of Sacred Scripture, the English language had already begun to emerge on a remote North Atlantic island called Angleland by its dominant tribe. From its earliest days, English used the word man to designate any or all of the human race and wer to describe a masculine person, as in the Latin vir and the English virile. The transition from Old English to Middle English replaced wer with the homonym man. The Old English words for a feminine person, wyf and wyfman, were retained; wyfman became woman. Over the next 800 years every English speaker easily distinguished the two homonyms, man (all humans) and man (masculine person), as all homonyms are distinguished, by context.

Everyone knows run as what a clock does, run as what a river does, run as what a horse does, run as what a ferry does, run as what a lease does, run as what a child’s nose does, and run as what a stocking does. Everyone knows fast as something we do on Good Friday, fast as a rate of speed, fast as tending toward immoral behavior, and fast as in colors that stay true. Yet some feminists say they cannot distinguish man from man. It is so inconsistent with their understanding of other homonyms that we are called to measure the results by Rabbi Yeshua’s yardstick, “You will know them by their fruits” Mt 7:16.

English is extraordinary among languages for its natural energy. When new words arise from the natural experience of a people, such as aquaculture or webmaster, they invigorate our expression. But artificial manipulation distorts reality. Neutered language removes all sex-specific references: “God made humankind in God’s own image.” Feminized language images God in female terms: “God forgives us because she loves us.”

For three thousand years the Torah has been atz chaim, a tree of life, the inspired word of Almighty God. Jews for thousands of years have prayed to Avinu Malkenu, (our Father, our King). Yet today Jewish law and tradition are a thorn in the side of those distressed that God is our heavenly Father. Rabbi Yeshua’s historical particularity too is a thorn in the side of some who would have preferred that he visit the earth as pabulum that they could mold into any convenient shape. But truth exists. The Incarnation happened. Christ visited earth in masculine form and spoke always of Aba, His heavenly Father. He addressed only the Blessed Virgin Mary as Ima, mother. God reveals himself as Father to his covenant family to teach us who and what we are.

Neutered language attenuates our personal relationship with God. “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle” Ps 24:8, invites us to a robust personal relationship. God is vividly personal, bargaining with Abraham Gen 18:23, revealing Himself to Moses Ex 33:19, and becoming incarnate to redeem his covenant family. Rabbi Yeshua’s Last Supper talk to his apostles Jn 14:16 and prayer to the Father Jn 17 reveal his awesome personal love for us. Using only terms such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer hides his magnificent personality under a catalog of functions. Jesus called himself the “Son of Man,” reminding us through Daniel’s prophecy Dan 7:13 that he was the foretold Messiah. Substituting “the Human One” destroys the link to Daniel that he used to remind us of his messianic mission. Substituting “God of Abraham and Sarah” for “God of Abraham” obscures the trial of faith Gen 22 that bound Abraham to God and prefigured Christ’s sacrifice. Many of the psalms recounted David’s personal experiences; translating man and he as “they,” “those,” or “we” mutilates the reflections of Israel’s king.

Feminized language attacks Christian theology. God created us outside himself, as a father starts his family. Women procreate particularly through birth. In the creation myths of feminine deities everything emerges from the deity’s womb, suggesting that the world is an extension of the divine. If we were made of “godstuff” there would be no distinction between man, animals, and trees. There could be no evil, no redemptive sacrifice on the cross, no reconciliation between God and man, no opening of heaven to man. These myths are Satan’s ancient lie, “You will be like God” Gen 3:5. From the beginning, God told us, “A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” Gen 2:24. The one flesh, the consummation of marriage, is naturally possible only between male and female. Rabbi Yeshua’s marriage in heaven is supernaturally possible only between Rabbi Yeshua as King and his bride, Holy Mother Church, clothed in the righteous deeds of the saints Rev 19:7-8.

Neutered and feminized language is not even inclusive. “All men are brothers” includes all humanity. “All men and women are brothers and sisters,” excludes children, who are boys or girls. “Our Father-Mother in heaven” excludes the Blessed Virgin Mary, our true mother in heaven. Neutered and feminized language excludes even our Father in heaven, replacing him with idols of our own invention.

Traditional language is inclusive. Scripture says so: “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” Gen 5:2. Catholic liturgy also uses traditional language to include. “For us men and for our salvation” refers to all humanity. The Latin is propter nos homines, from the root that names our human species: homo sapiens. Not the masculine vir but the all encompassing homo.

Many orthodox Catholics have accepted the term “inclusive language” while rejecting the style itself. That moves the debate away from whether the language does include everyone and toward whether it should include everyone. Since Holy Mother Church welcomes all who come in faith, certainly her language should include everyone. Calling the style “inclusive language” concedes the argument. Calling it “neutered” and “feminized” casts it in an objective context so that all concerned can see what it is, an artifice carefully designed to make truth appear false.

Only if devout Catholics insist firmly and consistently on classic English will we be able to uphold the Faith. It is that important. A generation of children raised on neutered and feminized language will eventually regard it as normal and inevitably arrive at the conclusions to which it leads. Maintaining classic English is not passive resistance to change, but a heroic effort of maintenance. The Jews kept Hebrew alive for thousands of years and restored it as a spoken language in Israel. Holy Mother Church preserves the Greek and Latin languages today. Traditional language is the path to our roots. During the long dark centuries when the world treated woman as chattel, the Magisterium in the traditional language proclaimed men and women equal in dignity. We custodians of a received mysterium fidei handed down unchanged for two thousand years depend for precision on words whose exact meaning has been honed over the passing centuries. We cannot dilute the message. It does not belong to us. It belongs to God.