In the Spring of 1827 Karl Ernst von Baer discovered the mammalian egg in the ovary, ending a search that had begun in the 17th century. The first human ovum was found in 1828 by Edgar Allen. The importance of such a discovery can not be understated and has particular consequences on the current issues facing the Church, indeed General Synod 2016.
It would seem that much of our Church structure and vision is based on sex; in particular, the biology of sex. The anthropology out of which the three monotheistic faiths are rooted is the biology of Aristotle (385-322 B.C.) For more than 2000 years, this anthropological view has not remained as the property of scientists and academics or theologians, but has shaped society and human relationships, even the structures of law, the church, and all familial relationships. It has told us what is “natural” and what is not.
In a nutshell, the reproductive process attributed to this biological world view suggests that the male sperm carried the seed of the father (a little “mini-me”) and the woman provided the fertile ground for this seed to grow. If all things went well, the woman would give birth to a male. A female was considered an unfavoured consequence—an ‘ocassioned male.’
Thomas Aquinas (+1274), following this line of thinking in the Suma Theologica would explain that the male semen intends to recreate itself, a complete human being—which is a male. The production of a woman is a defect in the seed, or the parents or some other condition such as a “strong south wind” at the time of conception. The woman is a failed male, mas occasionatus.
But before we lose all hope in this unfortunate accursed half of humanity—Thomas is quick to explain that God does not create accidents—there is a purpose for women in creation—one purpose: to make babies.
Consider for a moment what the implications of this worldview might have had for at least 2000 years.
Is it by accident that women did not participate in the workforce to any notable degree until the end of the 19th century as factory workers? Is it curious that all the main characters of scripture tend to be men, women often delegated as property like cattle? Do we ask why a father “gives away” his daughter at a wedding? Is it any wonder that women did not have the right to vote in provincial elections as late as 1942 in Canada? Is it shocking that women are paid less than men? Is it baffling to see extreme violence towards women across the world? Is it strange that we have pipelines of violent pornography pouring through every household in North America via the internet? Is it a wonder that we have a system that seems to permit, even encourage, abuse towards women as publicly revealed in the recent case against a former CBC radio host? Is it any wonder that the first woman was ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1976?
It has always been about sex. Well, all about sex and men. Women are the cheerleaders, the supporters, the baby makers. According to Aristotle, Aquinas and their lineage, sex has one purpose: procreation. The little “mini-mes” are sacred and to be preserved at all costs. The implications are obvious. Masturbation, “Coitus Interuptus”, and of course homosexuality are absolute no-nos.
With an Aristotelian point of view—marriage, like women, really has only one purpose: to make more complete human beings: men. It’s a man’s world, after all.
That is, until 1827 and the discovery of the HOLY OVUM. Thank you Karl Ernst von Baer, and pray for us.