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Religion Christianity


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Religion Christianity


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Queer Theology

Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body edited by Gerard Loughlin (Wiley-Blackwell) (Paperback) Queer Theology makes an important contribution to public debate about Christianity and sex. This remarkable collection of essays reconceptualizes the body and its desires, enlarging the meaning of sexuality for the good of the churches.
Written by some of the most able and insightful of Anglo-American scholars, established and up-coming, and from a variety of academic and religious backgrounds, the book shows how western bodies are queerer than often thought, and that the same is true of the God who elicits and tutors their desires.  

Excerpt: Theology is a queer thing. It is has always been a queer thing. It is a very strange thing indeed, especially for anyone living in the modern West of the twenty-first century. For the­ology runs counter to a world given over to material consumption, that understands itself as "accidental," without any meaning other than that which it gives to itself, and so without any fundamental meaning at all. Against this, theology relativizes all earthly projects, insist­ing that to understand ourselves we must understand our orientation to the unknown from which all things come and to which they return, that which — as Christian theology ven­tures — is known and received in the life of Jesus. But even when theology was culturally dominant it was strange, for it sought the strange; it sought to know the unknowable in Christ, the mystery it was called to seek through following Jesus. And of course it has always been in danger of losing this strangeness by pretending that it has comprehended the mystery, that it can name that which is beyond all names. Indeed — and despite its own best schooling — it has often succumbed to this danger, which it names "idolatry."

To name theology as queer in this sense is to invoke "queer" as the strange or odd, the thing that doesn't fit in. Theology doesn't fit into the modern world; and if it did fit in too snugly it would be forgetting`the strangeness of its undertaking: to think "existence" in relation to the story of a first century rabbi. But "queer" has other meanings, other uses. As well as strange, it is also insult; hurled at the one who doesn't fit in. "The insult lets me know that I am not like others, not normal. I am queer: strange, bizarre, sick, abnormal" (Eribon 2004: 16). And "queer" is the insult thrown at gay men and lesbian women, the sign of their "social and psychological vulnerability."

All of the studies done in homosexual populations (of either sex) show that the experience of insult (not to mention of physical violence) is one of the most widely shared elements of their existence — to different degrees, of course, according to which country, and, within any country, according to where they live and in what environment they grow up. But it is a reality experienced by almost everyone. . . It is not hard to understand why one of the structuring principles of gay and lesbian subjectivities consists in seeking out means to flee insult and violence, whether it be by way of dissimulation or by way of emigration to more hospitable locations.


Given this use of "queer" it is perhaps perverse to describe theology as queer, for theology serves the very churches where such insults are thrown, where those who love their own sex were once named as "sodomites" (to be burned) and are now described as "objectively disor­dered" (to be reordered). The churches are places where queers are harassed. But language, like life, is never tidy "Queer" can have more than one use, and the churches are ambivalent places, as much harbingers (hosts) as harassers of gay people (see Jordan 2000). And then there is another, more recent use of "queer" — one that we have already been using and from which this book takes its title.

Queer is also the insult turned. No longer a mark of shame it becomes a sign for pride, like "gay" But unlike gay, it names more than erotic interests — a sexual orientation — and it names more than marginal, minority interests. It finds itself curiously central to culture at large, disavowed but necessary for a heterosexual normalcy that defines itself in terms of what it rejects. This is already to speak in terms of the "queer theory" first propounded by Teresa de Lauretis (1991), who argued for queer as the name of an emergent force within the cultural field.

[Mather than marking the limits of the social space by designating a place at the edge of culture, gay sexuality in its specific female and male cultural (or subcul­tural) forms acts as an agency of social process whose mode of functioning is both interactive and yet`resistant, both participatory and yet distinct, claiming at once equality and difference, demanding political representation while insisting on its material and historical specificity.

And later queer studies have gone on to find queer interests to have been always already at play in the dominant, supposedly straight culture. As Henry Abelove's queer students say: ."[dl]on't focus on histories that require the trope of marginalization for their telling. . . . Focus on the musical comedies of the 1950s. What could be queerer? . . . Or go back some years further and focus on the songs of Cole Porter. All these cultural productions were central rather than marginal. By ignoring or neglecting them, we misconceive the past and unwillingly reduce our presence in and claim to the present, they say" (Abelove 2003: 47). Queer studies will take us back to some of the most established authorships in Anglo-American literature, which also turn out to be some of the queerest; to the likes of Henry James (Sedgwick 1990; Moon 1998) and Henry David Thoreau (Abelove 2003: 29-41). —I am that queer monster the artist, an obstinate finality, an inexhaustible sensibility,' James famously wrote in a late manifesto-letter to Henry Adams (March 21, 1914), and if we give that word 'queer' any less force and range than he does, it is our failure of nerve and imagi­nation, not his" (Moon 1998: 4).

Queer theology aspires to just such "nerve and imagination" in its reading of the past and its address to the present. It is queer because — like all theology — it answers to the queer­ness of God, who is not other than strange and at odds with our "fallen" world. God's "kingdom" is not ours. When God appeared amongst us he was marginalized and destroyed; and yet he was the one who let his killers be. They would have had no power — no life — if it had not been given to them. It is only natural to love one's friends and family; to love one's enemies is perverse.

But queer theology is also queer because it finds — like queer theory — that gay sexuality is not marginal to Christian thought and culture, but oddly central. It finds it to be the dis­avowed but necessary condition for the Christian symbolic; and not simply as that which is rejected in order to sustain its opposite, but upfront on the surface of that opposite, playing in the movement of stories and images that constitutes the Christian imaginary. The most orthodox turns out to be the queerest of all. Moreover, queer theology — like queer theory — reprises the tradition of the church in order to discover the queer interests that were always already at play in the Spirit's movement, in the lives and devotions of saints and sinners, theologians and ecclesiastics. What could be queerer than the thought of Gregory of Nyssa, St John of the Cross or Hans Urs von Balthasar? (See chapters 9, 12 and 13 below)

Finally, there is another and more important sense in which queer is more than a name for "gay" or "lesbian" interests. Those latter terms betoken identities built around erotic inter­ests, and liberatory movements that sought to form new social spaces. They turned the pathological homosexual into the political gay. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LLCM) is still battling on this front within the churches (see further Gill 1998b). But "queer" betokens something other than political and sexual identity, it includes more than just gay or lesbian identified people. As David Halperin puts it, queer is "an identity without an essence. . . . [I]t describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance" (Halperin 1995: 62).

Queer seeks to outwit identity. It serves those who find themselves and others to be other than the characters prescribed by an identity. It marks not by defining, but by taking up a distance from what is perceived as the normative. The term is deployed in order to mark, and to make, a difference, a divergence.

"Queer," then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the norma­tive — a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of his or her sexual practices: it could include some married couples without children, for example, or even (who knows?) some married couples with children — with, perhaps, very naughty children. (Halperin 1995: 62)

Halperin might also have mentioned the sexual practice of celibacy, which was once and is now again a strange deviancy. But queer is used in this book with the kind of inclusive­ness that Halperin suggests. And yet at the same time we must acknowledge the dangers of this inclusivity. It can, as Halperin notes, occlude the differences between queers, the ten­sions of taste and politics that drive them apart, while also admitting those who have not experienced the insult or fear of insult that marks out the deviant. It lets in "the trendy and glamorously unspecified sexual outlaws who . . . [don't have] to do anything icky with their bodies in order to earn" the name of queer (Halperin 1995: 65). And it can turn all too quickly from a positionality into another positivity, another identity. It was for this reason that Teresa de Lauretis, having coined the term "queer theory," abandoned it within a few years. For her it had become a commonplace of the trendy and glamorous, with no power to subvert the dominant codes of heteronormativity. But the term — and its deployment —is less well known in theology, and so it is still possible that this positionality, this distanc­ing or divergence from what is held as normative, will serve to destabilize and undo that normativity: the surety of heteropatriarchal Christianity. But in the case of theology there is something more.

Halperin describes the aim in deploying queer as ultimately to open a "social space for the construction of different identities [from the heteronormative], for the elaboration of various types of relationships, for the development of new cultural forms" (Halperin 1995: 67). But this might be as well said of the church, which is called in and by Christ to open up ways of living that will enable us to live in the "Kingdom of God" when it arrives in its fullness. With the Kingdom arriving already in Christ, but not yet fully with the return of Christ, Christians are called to live — like Christ — as the sign of the Kingdom's arrival. That heteropatriarchy is not such a sign is affirmed by queer theology on the basis of that "iden­tity without an essence" which it sees in the radical practices of Jesus, in the new social spaces that Christ opens up through his self-gift at the altar, and in the "nerve and imagi­nation" with which queer Christians persist in their loving of God and neighbor. Thus queer theology is a call to return to a more fully realized anticipation of the Kingdom, which is not a return to the previous or the same, but to the new and the future, since the church is to be the sign of what is to come. In this way queer is also an undertaking. As with becom­ing Christian or woman, one is not born but becomes queer; one learns to live as a promise of the future.

There is one other congruity between queer theory and theology that should be noted. As an "identity without an essence," queer might be offered as a name for God. For God's being is indubitable but radically unknowable, and any theology that forgets this is undeni­ably straight, not queer.' One of the first things that Thomas Aquinas tells us about God —about our speaking about God — is that we do not know what God is, only what God is not (Summa Theologiae [ST] 1.3). Instead of a definition we have to make do with God's effects —i.e. everything (ST I.1.7 ad 1). God in Godself is an identity without an essence, or, as Thomas puts it, God's essence — which is identical with God (ST I.3.3) — is God's existence (ST I.3.4). This makes God pure actuality (without potentiality). The most that we can say about God is that God is, which is not a description but a point of theological grammar. In an analogous way we can say that queer is, even if we cannot say in what queer consists other than by point­ing to the effects of its deployment.

Queer Lives

Much early feminist theology made its way by appealing to the experience of women; an "experience" that — previously excluded by male hegemony — now spoke with an undeniable power of lives lived (by women) rather than projected or theorized (by men). But with time this category of critique and reproach was weakened by its fragmentation into multiple expe­riences and by the rise of discourse as the productive — constructive — context for any and all experience. Experience is no longer an innocent, prelapsarian value. And yet an appeal to experience remains important for any queer theory or theology, since it is precisely an expe­rience of dissonance between desire and discourse which for many gives rise to the realization that socially entrenched discourses of desire are not truthful but ideological; normalizing the particular as universal. The queer body answers to different discourses. It is for this reason, if no other, that Queer Theology begins with two chapters on experienced dissonance between desire and discourse, life and ecclesial community. In a sense they are essays of "coming out."

In a deeply personal, pain-filled essay, Kathy Rudy relates how she came out — was turned out — of the Methodist Church where she worshipped, and the Methodist divinity school where she taught, and all because she had come out as who she was and was becoming. All this happened before she published her profoundly humane and lucid study of Sex and the Church (1997), a work of queer theology that would grace any school of divinity. Rudy's expe­rience of finding herself estranged through speaking her life is repeated in any number of other lives that bear witness to the loves by which they have been rejected and encountered, changed and made to grow. It is a venerable Christian motif and experience. But Rudy's con­version is a story of falling out of love, and what it is to remember the love that has now passed but still haunts new relationships. This leads Rudy to reflect on the difficulty of under­standing belief from inside and outside the believing community; understanding from outside the inside that was once herself, inside herself. Rudy finds guidance in memoirs and subaltern studies, but they fail to adequately measure her own experience of living in or between worlds, of having different worlds within. It is as if Rudy still lives within the faith she has "lost," and out of this she looks for an account of subjectivity that will express her fragmentation, her sense of a self that is moving, becoming.

Rudy draws on the work of Elspeth Probyn and Vivian Gornick in order to offer an account of the self — herself — as one who is haunted by "ghosts," by multiple, often con­tradictory affiliations and relationships, by hurts and happinesses that together make for what many will recognize as a postmodern self; the condition of living between. This will resonate with the experience of many queer Christians, who have both lost and not lost their faith, finding themselves in Christ but rejected by his church. When they find them­selves talked at, but never with — made the subjects of confused and incoherent condemnations — many queer Christians give up on the practices of the church; for who wants to remain in an abusive relationship? But where should they go? Rudy seeks a place where such people can live with their ghosts, somewhere like the culture of black African-Americans, who, she believes, have an ability to live between worlds. But she is not sanguine that this is a real possibility for white queers, let alone Christian ones. For the most part, the other contributors to Queer Theology are more hopeful than this; hopeful of finding in the church not ghostly affections, but the presage of a future wanting to be born. But queer theology cannot be written except out of something like the experience Rudy describes with such clarity and wisdom, for it grows from the experience of dissonance; from learning that bodies are not as they are said to be — as the church has taught them to be — but that they are something more.

James Alison also knows about dissonance and inhospitality. But in his chapter — which Alison first gave as a lecture by a Catholic to Catholics — he points to what he sees as the recent experience of many if not all Catholics in Western societies, the experience of finding a more or less general acceptance of gay people and their relationships. Alison argues that Catholics as a whole now more or less accept what the wider society accepts, that there are such people, and good luck to them — for finding love and nurturing relationships is diffi­cult for everyone. This is the "gay thing" which has befallen the Catholic Church, that is befalling the church and making its official teaching on "homosexual persons" increasingly incomprehensible, as somehow not quite Catholic. Thus the experience of dissonance which interests Alison is that between the acceptance of gay people in the church and Vatican teaching against them; and it leads him to find a much more serious disjunction between that teaching and the Catholic doctrines of creation and original sin.

Vatican teaching on homosexuality is notoriously incoherent, so much so that it is most plausibly read as an attempt to foil thinking about homosexuality and so silence its discus­sion in the church. So it is a measure of the clarity and charity of Alison's thought that he is able to offer an irenic reading of that teaching, and of its yet fatal flaws: the abandonment of a properly Catholic view of desire as always perfectible through grace, and the refusal to wait upon the experience of lesbian and gay Catholics — the testimony of grace in their lives. The latter is where ordinary Catholics — following the church's ordinary teaching about grace and sin — will start their thinking about human loving. They will start by following the "still small voice." For queer bodies answer to more traditional, orthodox discourses than those proffered by ecclesial authorities at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Queer Church

The chapters in the second part of the book remain with the church, and consider how Christian thought queers accepted notions of sexual desire, difference, and fecundity. For as the authors show, Christianity's eschatological orientation changes the way these things are thought. The point is not to queer the tradition, but to let its orientation queer us.

In many ways, Elizabeth Stuart's chapter is programmatic for this book; certainly for the argument of this introduction. For Stuart highlights two ways in which queer theology ends sex: in the sense of overcoming sex as an untruthful, oppressive regime, and in showing the telos of sex to be other than reproduction. The first of these has been accomplished by queer theory, but the second is the gift of theology, and it shows how we can evade the melancholy that Judith Butler finds in sexual desire and identity. For Butler, our (sexual) identities are hard won through the repudiation of other possible identities, and these repu­diations have to be tirelessly repeated if our identity is not to slip. We must constantly repudiate what we are not in order to maintain who we are.' But this means that we are forever in mourning for the selves we have rejected, and this is as true for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. Against this, Christian theology offers an identity constituted not through exclusion, but through a radical inclusion.

Queer theory has shown the instability and malleability of sexual identities, as these are variously constructed and reconstructed in different times and places. But this insight is in one sense belated, because Christian theology has always already found the body of Christ to be fungible flesh, a transitioning corporeality; never stable but always changing, becom­ing other. Christ's body is transfigured, resurrected, ascended, consumed. Born a male, he yet gives birth to the church; dead, he yet returns to life; flesh, he becomes food. As Stuart says, the "the body of Christ is queer."

And it is in becoming part of this queer body that our own bodies — and their identities —are set upon a path of transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension: a baptismal path of eternal transformation. It is also a way of desire, of movement toward an end that is itself always moving, leading us on. Baptism is the gift of wanting "the endlessness of God" (Rowan Williams 2000: 211). This process of endless becoming eludes melancholia because the identity it gives is not constructed through disavowal, but received through grace; it is not achieved but bestowed, and in bestowal we participate in the movement of desire that is always leading us on, to an end that always eludes our grasp. Baptismal identity is not something we make, but is being made in us.

Stuart is aware that the identities by which we are socially built — of race and class, sex and gender — are not such that they can be remade easily. Indeed, such identities and their remaking can be a means of grace to us; as when, in "coming out" — as "gay" or "straight" — we discover the freedom of owning our desires, a sense of homecoming. But finally, all these identities are (to be) washed away in the baptismal waters. They have no ultimacy in Christ. And this is shown in the way that Christians — in the past and still today — are called upon to parody all existing, potentially idolatrous, identities. As Stuart argues, parody —"extended repetition with critical difference" (Linda Hutcheon) — is a way of taking what is given and "playing it out in such a way as to expose the other world breaking through it."

The church was once much better at parody than it is today — infected by modern sobri­ety. When it more fully parodied heterosexual marriage in vowed celibacy — the polygamous marriage of all celibates, male and female, with Christ — it knew that carnal intimacies were not ultimate, and ultimately served to teach desire for God, to whom all desires are (to be) ultimately ordered. But now even the churches seem to think heterosexual marriage of ulti­mate significance, to be constantly lauded and safeguarded at all costs (for strangely, it seems that heterosexual marriage, despite its natural ubiquity, is a very fragile achievement, easily destroyed — and civilization along with it — by a few gay marriages)."

If baptism is the sacrament by which bodies are liberated for participation in the life Df Christ, then it is in the Eucharist that they more fully receive — and learn to receive — that life. Stuart notes how a single-sexed priesthood distorts the sign enacted by the priest: for the priest represents the multi-gendered Christ who does not destroy, but passes beyond gender. When only men are priests, the priesthood fails to signify the "eschatological horizon" to which the church is called by Christ. (This argument is further addressed by Gavin D'Costa.)

Christianity queers sex by making it a means by which we may be sanctified, and so only secondarily a means of reproduction, which itself becomes a means of grace when taken up into the gift of sanctified and sanctifying bodily desire. Heterosexual marriage is sancti­fied through its likeness to the queer marriage of Christ and church, when even the supreme pontiff becomes a bride yearning for his/her lover. In this sense queer theology becomes an utterly conservative endeavor, recalling the church to Christ's call to transgress the boundaries of men.

But when queer theology recalls the church to its queer origins, gay and lesbian people should not assume that their desires more perfectly figure the divine, for all sexual identi­ties are finally brought to naught in Christ. And in Christ this is figured through the death to which baptism gives birth. As Stuart notes, it is through participation in Christ's death and resurrection — dying to death — that Christian faith refuses melancholy, and in dying to death the Christian in life and death passes beyond all identities constructed through exclusion. As Stuart shows this is nowhere better figured than in the liturgy of the Christian funeral: All bonds, associations and worldly achievements pale into insignificance beside the status of the deceased as a baptized member of the body of Christ." None of our humanly made divisions and distinctions survive the grave. All that is left is God's creation, made for love — as the Catechism teaches.

Like Stuart, Graham Ward also understands Christian life as a way of undoing those identities by which we seek security against others — including Christ. And one of those identities is named "sexual difference": the idea that we are either man or woman, and that sexual relationship arises out of this irreducible difference. "[S]exual difference is orig­inal, nonderived, nondeducible (incapable of representation), because it presents itself as an immediate dimension of fundamental human experience" (Scola 2005: 221). Against this biological fundamentalism — which is of course discursive and historically contingent —Ward argues that sexual relationship does not so much arise out of (hetero)sexual difference, as that bodily difference arises out of relationship, sexuality out of eros. Ward sets his arguments about sexual difference against those of Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, but like them, he articulates his arguments through a close reading of Scripture; in Ward's case the Johannine stories of the resurrection encounters between Christ and Mary Magdalene, and Christ and Thomas. These paralleled meetings are both powerfully erotic and subversive of any attempt to read them as simply heterosexual or homosexual. Ward moves deftly between the original texts and their highly sexualized reading in later Christian cultures, and not least in the Western tradition of painting; in — say — Caravaggio's seductive chiaroscuros. Ward also moves deftly between phenomenological and ontologi­cal modes of discourse in order to find an ordering of human flesh and desire as diastasis, one which is more properly theological than the disguised biologism of a Barth or Balthasar.

Queer theology thus has an interest in reminding the church of its remarkable early antipathy to sexual congress, which was, of course, an antipathy to sexual reproduction. The interest is not to advocate a return to such extreme sexual abstinence, but to relativize modern obsessions with heterosexual marriage. In the light of the tradition this obsession is aberrant, and very strange when the concern of celibate men, who have themselves abjured sexual fecundity. But of course, sexual abstinence was mainly honored in the breach, and tradition changes, and today the church recognizes that marital sex is graced, and that children — the fruit of sex — are gifts of grace. So what can queer theology offer to the the­ology of family and parenting?

David Matzko McCarthy reflects on fecundity, and on what should be the church's understanding of family in the modern world, a concept and practice which are now so res­olutely compromised by the interests of consumer capitalism. McCarthy is more wary than some contributors to this book of thinking sex and sexuality "constructed." But this does not mean that he advocates a "nature" which operates independently of our social selves. Rather he wants an account of the self and its desires which attends to their constitution as natural and social. Society and nature are not agents which stand over against the self, and which the self must either accept or reject. Rather they are the domains in which the self acts and is acted upon; and McCarthy is concerned to argue that within these inter­woven domains, sexual activity is reproductive, both naturally and socially: "sex is social reproduction." Sex not only produces children but reproduces patterns of desire that are as much social as they are natural. And McCarthy fears that the dominant patterns in Western societies follow from viewing the self as the source of natural consumerist desires, which society must satisfy through selling what is wanted. But these desires are themselves pro­duced through society, and their satisfaction is met by an array of social products, which include sex and children. "If sex is socially reproductive, then a grammar of desire, market capitalism and contractual individualism fit together as a dominant network of social reproduction."

It is against this economy of social reproduction that McCarthy sketches his vision of the Christian household, which is not one thing but many, within a confederacy of house­holds. McCarthy argues that sex should be understood within the practices of the home. Sex has an intrinsic worth, but it is not an end in itself, since that worth — as Stuart argues — is the nurturing of our desire for God, and the nurturing of such desire is the telos of the Christian household. But sex will not deliver this in and of itself, as in various versions of Christian romanticism. Rather it must be set — practiced — within a larger array of house­hold practices — mundane hospitalities — that constitute the body of Christ at home. "The household, set within the formative practices of the church, is an economy that is directed toward reproducing the social body and shaping the self in imitation of Christ." Sex is thus part of the household's social reproduction, and in many households — and not only het­erosexual ones — this will happily result in the production of children, who arrive, not as the satisfaction of needs, but as forms of that divine desire which is ever burgeoning in char­itable life.

Queer Origins

Having encountered the lives of queer Christians within and without the contemporary church, we now turn to consider the Western tradition, beginning with two of its "para­digm" texts: Plato and the Bible. For it is through the reading — interpreting — of these textual bodies that later Christians and Jews developed their theological understanding of the body and its desires. Not only these texts, of course. But these two are fundamental for thinking about eros, and then agape; for thinking about human and divine love — an erotic agape or agapeistic eros. The Bible is the word of God and so interpretative of all other words; but by that very movement, susceptible to their reverse elucidation. For the Jewish or Christian reader, Plato's truth (platonic and neoplatonic) will be found in the Bible, or, as we might say, in the movement between the texts. Today, nearly all serious thinking of eros will return to Plato, and not least to the Symposium and Diotima's encomium to eros; all Jewish and Christian debates about gender and sex will return to the Bible, to certain "proof" texts, and to what will turn out to be some very queer views about the bodies of men, women, and God.

Catherine Pickstock is well known for her part in "radical orthodoxy" (Milbank, Pickstock and Ward 1999), and more particularly for her reading of Plato against Derrida in After Writing (Pickstock 1998). Here she returns to Plato's wily, aporetic thought in the Meno, Ion and Symposium, in order to tease out his connections between knowledge, desire, and inspiration. She begins with Meno's puzzles about knowledge: how do we know that we are ignorant of that of which we are ignorant, and being ignorant, how will we know that we have found knowledge, if and when we find it? Socrates answers with "a mythical presentation of a doctrine of a priori understanding"; his story of a prior life and knowl­edge, now forgotten but waiting to be recalled. Augustine similarly worried about how he could seek the God he did not know unless God was already present to him, and so in some sense known? It is not inappropriate to link these aporias, Pickstock argues, because both philosopher and theologian appeal to a preceding knowledge — gained through recollection or illumination — which is at the same time elicited through interlocutors — through teach­ing or revelation. Moreover, Socrates performs his answer by claiming to have learned it from those who are wise in divine things, from the priests and priestesses recalled by the poets, from those who sought to give a "rational account" of the mysteries they practiced, mythos and logos combined. Both Socrates and Augustine appeal to a divine tradition. And for both, recollection/illumination is triggered through education.

But Socrates offers not only to show that the ignorant can recall what they have "forgotten," but that in so doing they learn their ignorance and come to desire its undoing. It is this "desiring ignorance," as Pickstock calls it, which both enacts and transmutes the aporia of knowledge, since it shows us that we learn through a desire for that which we do not know The learning of his own ignorance — which incites the desire to know — is the one thing that Socrates claims to know with certainty; everything else is at best but true opinion, orthos doxa. This is why — Pickstock argues — Plato's philosophy needs mythology in order to show that we can never really know what it is to know and want to know, other than by thinking it a desire that comes from elsewhere, and that has to be triggered in us by the learn­ing of our ignorance. And here we are not so far from Augustine's reflections on the God whose unknowability he has to learn.

We learn because we desire, and we learn desire through the attractions of beautiful others — most obviously for Plato the beauty of young men — which then leads us on to the beautiful itself. (But human beauty is not merely instrumental, since all loves are gathered into love.) For some, desire comes to an end when it is fulfilled, when it attains what it seeks. But this is not Plato's view, which imagines a desire into the unknown, in which "the vision of truth replenishes our desire." Desire (to know) emerges in our desiring (learning). We do not regain what we have lost but instead learn to repeat what is yet to come — and is coming ever more intensely in our wanting. The Symposium offers various eulogies on the nature of eros, and from and against which Socrates takes the view that love is not a goddess, but the daimon metaxu, the demonic "between," which binds the cosmos, and which we should follow, as it leads us from human to divine beauty. Socrates has learned of love from the prophetess and magician, Diotima, from whom he has also learned the magic of dialec­tics. From her Socrates has learned that eros is not a lack, but — as Pickstock has it — "a kind of pregnancy which brings to birth." Desire is a becoming or emerging, a wanting which leads us on, which leads itself on, "generating itself." And in generating itself, it comes as the third between lovers. "What any two desire in desiring a union is not merely this union, but always also the fruit of this union in whatever sense, something that is both them and neither of them: a baby, a work of practice or understanding, a new ethos that others may also inhabit." Thus sex is always a kind of birthing: an emergence of desire's fecundity.

In the second part of her chapter, Pickstock seeks to understand emergence after Kierkegaard, as "forwards repetition." She finds it more fundamental than causation, since a cause "emerges" as such in the appearing of its effect. The emergent is aporetic because it "comes from" or "out of" and is yet a new thing; it is both connected and disconnected from what has gone before. Like presence, emergence is something we "live and inhabit," but cannot quite think. But then what we think also escapes our thinking, since thoughts also emerge from we know not where. "In all our activity, ethical and political, as well as artistic, we seem almost to be spectators of emergent processes." And yet we can recognize what emerges as such, and desire its emerging. For Pickstock, the phenomenology of emer­gence bespeaks an arrival that is neither from space nor time, past or future, but an elsewhere that theology names the eternal. In a move that will be familiar to anyone who has read in "radical orthodoxy" more generally, Pickstock suggests that only theology allows us to think the "new" Building on Thomas Aquinas's idea of God as "pure act," she is able to suggest that "God is the eternally emergent action which rescues finite emerging from arbitrariness or predictability, and therefore saves the phenomenology of the emergent.- And this then leads to the Trinity.

For Christian theology, eros is not daimonic but divine, purely emergent in the mutualities of the divine perichoresis. What we know in time as successively want and fulfillment, anticipation and arrival, is eternally coincident in God; and thus what we know in time as desire and emergence is the divine movement in our lives, which we inhabit but can barely think, and which we know — desire to know — through the incitement of revelation. Moreover, this revelation was born from the unique`coincidence of desire and emergence in Mary. She "desired the bridegroom, the Logos, and from this desire the Logos emerged from the enclosure of her womb." From Mary's desire to see the Father in her son, emerges the new Adam, who will also be her lover, as was Eve to Adam, born from his side. (These queer themes are further explored by Tina Beattie in chapter 20). And as in Mary, so in us, the Logos is born in our soul when we also participate in the eros that comes to us in the "between" of our desiring, opening for us the elsewhere of its movement and our jour­neying: the eternal in our loving.

Gerard Loughlin turns to the primary Christian site — after the Eucharist — for revela­tion's incitement of our desire to know the whence from which it arrives and to which it would return us. The telling of the Bible — Jewish and Christian, but here more particularly Christian — opens a space in which the God who came to Moses and Mary can come again, arriving for those who listen in holy anticipation. God always arrives in the distance between teller and listener, who are sometimes the same person. But Loughlin's chief concern is with the arrival of another, darker undertaking, an imaginary that has troubled Western thought and culture as much as the metaphysics of desire narrated in Pickstock's chapter. This is a concern with the Bible's bodies, with the flesh of its men and women, and of its God.

The Bible is like a body. It is a whole composed of many parts, in the pages of which we find other bodies, identities that even now haunt the Western imagination. Pre-eminently these are the bodies of Adam and Eve, who have been read into all following bodies, as those bodies into them. But they are also the bodies of those ancient men who slept with men as if they were women (Leviticus 18.20), and the much later bodies of gay men who have been read back into those earlier practices. And then there is the strange, rarely glimpsed body of God and its sex, which is both seen and unseen; and the queer relationship that is set up between this terrifying body and the men of Israel (and later the church), who are made to play the woman to their oftentimes jealous husband-God. They are to be his glory, clinging to him like the cloth around his loins (Jeremiah 13.11).

It is sometimes said that God's sex is merely metaphorical. But if so, it is far from being a dead metaphor. God's sex still orders human lives. But it does so from behind a veil; from behind the homophobia and misogyny of Western culture and religion. Loughlin's chapter is concerned with the Bible's mythopoeic ordering of these cultural constructions, and the violence against queer people — which is finally against women — that is used to conceal the fact that in relation to God all men are queer. (Something of this will return in Rachel Muers' chapter on Hans Urs von Balthasar) There are several dismem­bered bodies in the Bible, but most especially God's, the parts of which are scattered throughout the pages of Scripture. Loughlin takes a similarly disjointed approach to his subject — discussing bones, mouths, and phalluses — but also finding the ligaments that bind them all back to the Bible's opening myth: the story of a man without a mother, who gives birth to his wife (as later, matrimonial readings would have it). It is this utterly queer body that disturbs all later attempts to find a stable, heterosexual flesh in the Bible.

Queering Tradition

The first two chapters on queering the Western tradition are concerned with two sets of men -- "fathers" — who have dominated later Western thought and practice, Jewish and Christian, and that more nebulous — doubtful — Western site, the Judeo-Christian. We may think we have got it straight about these fathers, but as so often, matters turn out to be queerer than at first appears.

Daniel Boyarin starts with a celebrated biblical text — Leviticus 18.22 — and asks what it prohibited and why. The first question is easily answered — male-male anal intercourse — but the second is more difficult and interesting. Boyarin is concerned with the meaning of this text (and others) for rabbinic interpreters in late antiquity, and while it cannot be certain that they reflect the readings of "biblical" people themselves, they may as likely as not do so, and either way no text has meaning except as it is read. So why — according to the rabbis — does Leviticus abhor male-male anal intercourse?

First, it was not because it abhorred homosexuality. The rabbis — as Boyarin argues —knew nothing of homosexuality, and had no concept of "sexual orientation" such as is now taken for granted. What concerned the framers of the levitical law, as understood in later rabbinical reading, was that a man should take the part of a woman and allow himself to be penetrated. As Boyarin shows, it was penetration rather than same-sex affections and other practices that Leviticus condemned. The rabbis classed other same-sex practices as masturbation, and treated them less seriously. Female same-sex practices were also dis­cussed, but not treated as analogous to the activity proscribed in Leviticus. Leviticus is no more concerned with homosexuality than is the story of Sodom (Genesis 19.1-12), or its parallel, the story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). Rather Leviticus is concerned with the violation of categories.

David Halperin and others have shown that in the Greco-Roman world, contemporaneous with the rabbis, male-male anal intercourse was considered reprehensible when the penetrated did not belong to the category of the penetrable, when he was not a woman, slave or boy, but a free man. Such intercourse was a violation of status, of proper social order. Boyarin argues for something similar but also significantly different in regard to Leviticus. A man lying with a man as with a woman violates not status but the proper dis­tinction of kinds. It is condemned along with cross-dressing (and both are condemned in similar formulas) because both are mixings of kind, which is to say, abominations (from tebhel, a mixing or confusion). As Boyarin admits, this is at first perplexing, because two men are surely of the same kind. But when one man uses another man as a woman (and "uses" is used advisedly), he uses one kind (male) as if it was another kind (female), and so crosses the border between them. It is strictly analogous to transvestism — condemned as abhorrent in Deuteronomy (22.5) — when clothing is synecdochic and one kind (fe/male attire) is con­fused with another (fe/male body). As Boyarin puts it, Leviticus condemns male-male anal intercourse because it "is an instance of cross-dressing!" It is not condemned because it is an instance of homosexuality.

Boyarin concludes by noting that Jewish theology is narrative theology. It is the reading of biblical texts, and any Jewish discussion of "homosexuality" has to begin by recognizing that neither the Bible nor the rabbis have anything to say about it. Much the same could be said for Christian theology — or at least Christian narrative theology — and its reading of the Christian Bible, since the New Testament also fails to mention homosexuality, and discusses same-sex activity in terms broadly similar to those addressed by Boyarin (see further Loughlin 2007). It may seem a small point, but one of the achievements of queer theology is to have found the Bible — Jewish and Christian — empty of homosexuality but full of queer intimacies.

A similar disregard for our modern sexual categories is evidenced by the Christian fathers, and not least in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330—c. 395). In a provocative reading of this Greek father, Virginia Burrus offers an essay in patristic thought that is both pow­erful and playful. Burrus finds David Halperin's definition of queerness as an "identity without an essence" useful for thinking about asceticism in Gregory, for so many of his terms — such as "virginity" — turn out to have a less than stable meaning. Even to describe Gregory as a father is querulous, because he may have been one of the "fathers" to have really been a father, or at least really married; or then again, perhaps not. Terms like "mar­riage" and "virginity" are often used metaphorically by Gregory, but it is not always clear when they are so used, which makes their nonmetaphorical meaning also shifty.

But more importantly for queer theology, Gregory makes desire central to his theology, so that when our desires are rightly ordered they come to participate in the desire of the Trinity, the longing of God for God. This is not desire as want, but as active pursuit of the good. It is desire as donation. Burrus pursues this and other themes through a consid­eration of "virginity" in Gregory, which for him is a practice for the weak, for those who are not strong enough to order their marital relations in pursuit of God, but fear the way­wardness of bodily desires. Moreover, the virginal life seeks a return to the original — and final — sameness of a life without sexual difference, which is the life of the angels in heaven. At the same time this virginal life is marital, since the soul desires the embrace of the bride­groom, and yet this eschatological embrace passes beyond sexual difference, so that as the feminine disappears, homosexuality is established in heaven. But what is masculinity without femininity?

Burrus also pursues Gregory's Moses, who — as exemplary of the mystical man — pursued God on Mount Sinai, in the darkness of the cloud. And here again, words shift in meaning and significance, and Gregory proves to be a fascinating but perilous guide for queer theology. Fascinating in that he so resolutely unsettles any complacency regarding the primacy of the heterosexual. Gender is not a stable category for Gregory, and like Elizabeth Stuart after him, he holds that it is destined to pass away. But that passing is where peril lies, for on one reading it passes to leave a regnant masculinism: a genderless subject who is really a man; a man who has assumed the feminine. But nothing is ever certain when reading Gregory; or in reading Gregory's readers.

In recent years Gregory has become important for a number of prominent theologians, such as Sarah Coakley and John Milbank, and Burrus offers some thoughts on their appro­priations of Gregory in relation to queer theory and subjectivity. In relation to Coakley, Burrus raises important questions about the appropriation of queer theory by theology, a supersessionist tendency — not entirely avoided in this introduction — to find theology in advance of a theory that only that theory has made possible. And in relation to Milbank, Burrus finds a certain drawing back from Gregory's "radical orthodoxy," which proves to be a bit too queer. There is a sense of grasping after a masculine essence. Burrus seems to suggest that if we really want to learn from Gregory, we really must learn how to let go.

Until the fourteenth century, theology and what we now refer to as mysticism were one; or at least sufficiently related for prayer to be the setting for intellectual inquiry, for theol­ogy to be itself spirituality: seeking to know the mind of God through living in God's Spirit, nourished by God's Word in word and sacrament. Up to the fourteenth century, mystical theology developed an approach to God that was both affective and apophatic, and queer: the "mystical queer." And this is nowhere more evident than in the tradition of the Rhineland mystics, which for many culminates in the writings of Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1329). But his thought, as Amy Hollywood notes, grew out of the "highly experiential mysticism of women monastics, mendicants, and beguines ... among whom he lived and worked" (Hollywood 2002: 320 n. 1). And it is with three such women — Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207-82), Hadewijch of Anvers (thirteenth century) and Marguerite Porete (d. 1310) — that Hollywood's chapter in Queer Theology is concerned.  Many — but most notably Caroline Walker Bynum — have shown how these medieval women developed, out of the Song of Songs and other vernacular writings, a highly erotic language for the soul's journey into the divine; for the soul's union with Christ. Such sacred eroticism, however, remains resolutely "heterosexual," until one begins to notice how the medieval feminization of Christ queers the devotions of these female mystics. For Christ's body is not only maternal but erotic, and so a desired female flesh, eliciting "lesbian-like" devotions in those women who long for its embrace; to drink from the slit in Christ's side, the wound in his/her flesh (like Katharina Tucher mentioned above). But here Hollywood finds not only a female same-sex eroticism to match that already available to men (in desiring the male Christ), but also the difficulties in reading any straight/ queer, gay /lesbian dichotomy out of and into these medieval, mystical bodies.

It is not only that the mystics did not think in our terms, but that they sought to move beyond their own gender categories, making fluid what was otherwise stable. Their Christ is both male and female; their soul both female and male; and their self seeks dissolution through union with that which is both utterly far and near.' This condition of the between subverts any attempt to retrieve stable identities, whether of desire or practice. Nevertheless, Hollywood argues that we can look for past experiences in the medieval texts when we take them as the discourses in which their authors sought to think — and so experience — their lives in relation to Christ and church. If we resist the temptation to reduce the erotic to the religious — for which Hollywood chides Bynum — and the corresponding temptation to reduce the religious to the erotic (as in a crude Freudianism), then we can find an erotic-mystical language which challenges both theological and gender categories, of both the thirteenth and twenty-first centuries. In subverting — as in Hadewijch (according to Hollywood) — any simple association of divinity with masculinity and femininity with humanity, the mystics recall Gregory of Nyssa's fluid bodies and pose an ongoing challenge to heterosexual stabilizations of divine and human genders, as in Hans Urs von Balthasar. And this is what Karma Lochrie calls the "mystical queer."

We might hesitate to describe Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) in similar terms, but he also stands in the Christian mystical tradition, being deeply informed by the neoplatonism of Augustine and the Pseudo-Dionysius. Indeed — as Eugene E Rogers Jr shows — Thomas's undertaking of the via negativa after Denys, led him closer to queer theory than away from it, because — as already indicated — he sought an identity whose essence cannot be known, but only undertaken. Rogers' own way into this unknowing is to consider the relationship between body and discourse (already broached by Kathy Rudy and James Alison in relation to queer experience) through an examination of Thomas's approach to the "natural law," with which he is often associated, but of which he has remarkably little to say (only one question — I-11.94 — in the Summa Theologiae).

For Thomas, the natural law allows us to participate by reason in the eternal law, which is the "prudence" of God. Thus Thomas's natural law has very little to do with the natural laws of modern science. It does not govern the behavior of animals, which have no pru­dential reasoning, and above all it does not offer a universally available, non-religious guide to the good life. Rather it is known under guidance from Scripture. (Thomas learns that homosexual behavior is unnatural from Paul, not nature — which of course now tells the opposite, see Bagemihl 1999.) In itself, natural law tells us little beyond the injunction to do good and avoid evil (I-11.94.2 responsio). Thomas's account of the good life is relentlessly pursued through his account of the virtues and their corresponding vices. But there are two occasions when Thomas does appeal to "nature" for substantive ethical content, and these concern the vices of "lying and lying with a member of the same sex." It is this little noted conjunction of vices to which Rogers attends.

Rogers suggests that homosexuality and lying may have come together for Thomas because of his reading of Romans 1, in which — for Thomas — same-sex practices are pre­sented as God's punishment for Gentile idolatry, and idolatry is a form of injustice; and where there is no justice there is no true understanding of nature. Lying goes against the truth and also against nature, because it goes against the nature of mind, which naturally wants to express itself truthfully. "For since spoken words are naturally signs of things understood, it is unnatural and undue that someone signify by voice that which she does not have in mind" (ST II-11.110.3 responsio). In this way lying parallels homosexuality, which goes against the truth of the body. As Rogers puts it, "actions of tongue or genitals can both make the whole person a liar." (But note that the vice of the genitals is against our nature as animals, while the vice of the tongue is against our nature as humans — since animals cannot lie.)

Thomas thought that humans should tell the truth of their bodies as well as their minds, and so avoid homosexual behavior, which is a lie of the body, as Thomas believed. But it is the demand that bodies tell their truth that leads Rogers to connect Thomas's apparent "essentialism" with Judith Butler's apparent "anti-essentialism." For when Butler offers  something like a definition of the body, she describes it as that which demands to come into language, and that — Rogers argues — is remarkably like Thomas's Aristotelian idea that "form gives existence to matter" (forma dat esse materiae). By "form" Thomas understands that principle of change that is known through the performance of the body to which it gives existence. Thus Thomas's essentialism is rather constructivist, for like Butler he holds that "words bring bodies into the street, and bodies in the street call for new words." And that leads Rogers to offer his Thomistic argument for "coming out."

For if bodies demand to be spoken truthfully, then gay bodies should be spoken as such, and not described, say, as "objectively disordered" heterosexual bodies. It is the failure to speak the truth of such bodies that leads to a state of injustice in which it is not possible to know the truth of nature. Thus in a rather surprising way, Eugene Rogers not only finds that Thomas's understanding of natural law has rather little to tell us about the good life, and that what it now has to say about the "vice against nature" (ST II-11.154.11) is almost the exact opposite of what it has been taken to say, for that vice turns out to be a virtue now that we know that gay bodies are not lying when they want to lie with bodies of the same sex. Thomas teaches that gay bodies must not lie but tell their truth.

Christopher Hinkle traces the queer erotics of the Christian mystical tradition into the early modern period with a consideration of St John of the Cross (1542-91). John's rework­ing of the Song of Songs in his poetry and commentaries is an example of how the language of carnal desire provides a language for spiritual ascent. But at the same time Hinkle is also concerned with the dangers in eliding the erotic with the spiritual. For while queer theol­ogy is always more celebratory than condemnatory of sexual desire, one cannot ignore the cunning of the latter to disorder spiritual longing. Jacobus de Voragine witnesses to the inti­macy of these desires since in the stories he rejects that name Mary Magdalene as the betrothed of John the Beloved, she is said to have turned to "voluptuousness" when John ran off with Jesus, and when she repented of that and "had to forgo the heights of carnal enjoyment", Jesus filled her with the "most intense spiritual delight, which consists in the love of God" (Jacobus de Voragine 1993: I, 382). John also is given "special evidences" of Jesus' affection, because he had to forgo the "aforesaid pleasures" with Mary. It may be that Jacobus objected to these stories because they offer "spiritual delight" as a compensation for "carnal enjoyment," but the link between the two is clear: union with the divine is presented as a more intense form — a transfiguration — of sexual pleasure. And it is thus always possi­ble that the would-be ascetic will mistake the latter for the former, pursuing the flesh rather than God.

To find St John of the Cross teaching the due ordering of sexual to spiritual desire, and not least for gay men, is not to find John a gay saint, even if there are aspects of his life and character that tempt this identification. But such naming would be anachronistic, and our concern has to be with the queerness of his writings, with John's written desire for the embrace of his divine lover, though of course — and most obviously in the original Spanish — he adopts the persona of the feminine soul. Nevertheless, Hinkle does borrow a number of historical queer identities — the effeminate man, the pederastic sodomite, the intimate friend and the sexual invert — in order to analyze John's account of the spiritual ascent. John's biography suggests the "effeminate man," but in his texts Hinkle finds John adopting a ped­erastic passivity in relation to God, deriving from an "appropriate submission and humility, as well as hope concerning whatever benefits may follow the divine pleasure." And this ancient model of sexual relationships between men answers well to the traditional Christian view of humanity married to God; of a soul that wants to submit. The soul does not merely permit penetration, but desires it; the soul burns with want of God's love. Hinkle reads this as a shift from "pederasty" to "inversion," and then, as the ascent proceeds, the difference between the lovers seems to disappear, the soul growing ever closer to God, until "the soul appears to be God more than a soul" (John of the Cross 1991: 165). Needless to say, the homoeroticism of John's mystical ascent is "shaped by a picture of God as male."

But while John enables us to affirm the appropriateness of male homosexual desire for articulating, and indeed experiencing, spiritual growth, he also — Hinkle argues — cautions against any easy identification of sexual and spiritual experience, for John, like his great friend Teresa of Avila, feared the misdirection of desire and the experiences to which it gives rise. Sexual experience can distract from the spiritual, while seeming its instantiation, just as spiritual experience can distract from true knowledge of the unknowable God. The danger is that one becomes fixated "on some particular pleasure, image of the divine, or means of religious sensation, and thus loss of God."

But to warn against the delusions of spiritual experiences — as did both John and Teresa — is not to deny their joy and significance, and the same is true for sexual experiences. But both need to be ordered, disciplined, stripped of their distractions and practiced within a prayerful ascesis that teaches discernment and self-dispossession. As Hinkle notes, this strip­ping of desire is not unlike its deconstruction, when queer theory dissects its social affiliations and constructions. But Hinkle — after John and against much secular queer theory — insists that these constructions belie a more primordial desire, the origin of which is that which gives all to be. One might say — with Thomas Aquinas — that insofar as we desire we desire the good (no matter how mistaken we may be in identifying the good), and the desired good is that by which we desire, for to desire is to participate in the desiring of the Good. And it is for this reason — that our desires are participative in God's desire — that the discernment and ordering of our desires is such a necessary and perilous undertaking, and we need the guidance of the saints, like St John.

The last chapter on queer / ing tradition takes us from the sixteenth to the twentieth century and to the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88), whose theology brings the fourth part of the book to an appropriate close. Balthasar's work not only seeks to encom­pass the entire Western tradition — and not least the via negativa of the mystics — but it also stands at the beginning of the twenty-first century as an invitation and warning to the

project of thinking a radically queer orthodoxy. Near the end of her chapter, Rachel Muers quotes a simple but immensely profound sentence from the final pages of Balthasar's Herrlichkeit, The Glory of the Lord:

The Trinitarian love is the only ultimate form of love — both the love between God and men, and that between human persons. (Balthasar 1982-91: VII, 484)

Balthasar's theology stands as a challenge to think queer love in relation to love of the Trinity; to think our human loves in relation to our love for God and God's love for God, which is also God's love for us, whom God makes for/to love. But Balthasar's work also stands as a warning on how not to queer these relationships, for his own reflections on the Trinity reveal an undoubtedly queer but baleful reading of the trinitarian relationships (on which Gavin D'Costa also comments in his chapter). Balthasar makes sexual difference central to his thinking of God and humanity — with God's "supramasculinity" and "suprafemininity" analogous to human femininity and masculinity — and it is this privileg­ing of sexuality which makes his work so important and stimulating for any sexual, let alone queer theology. But what turns out to be most stimulating about Balthasar's work is the way in which it identifies "masculinity" and "femininity" in terms drawn from a certain ecclesial culture, that then cause Balthasar to get into endless tangles as he tries to hang onto his misogynistic sentiments within a symbolic system that has become too labile to serve his regressive interests.

Muers takes us into Balthasar's thinking of sexual difference by way of one of the rare passages in which he directly mentions homosexuality — a brief reference to the men of Sodom, whom he likens to those (in non-Christian religions) who pray in a masculine fashion, seeking to take rather than be taken by God. Such prayer is a kind of "religious homosexuality" (Balthasar 1986a: 188), an attempt to be male with a male God. One might say — going a little further than Muers herself — that on the part of men such prayer is insuf­ficiently perverse; it is not queer enoughn The men of Sodom should have waited on God's messengers — and so on God — as women, in a posture of feminine passivity, waiting to be "taken" (i.e. raped), as Balthasar has it.

As Muers pursues Balthasar's masculinity and femininity, she discovers how he identifies femininity with Mary's mission, which is not so much a mission as the condition of any and all mission, the condition of waiting; and how — strangely — Balthasar's masculinity begins to disappear, since in the church all men are to become women in relation to the male God, who, while he contains suprafemininity, is always pre-eminently supramasculine: always first and last Father. (Beattie 2006 identifies the disappearance of masculinity in Balthasar — its near sole identification with the divine — as the cause of his theological angst; and D'Costa's chapter in this volume questions the privileging of the supramasculine over the suprafemi­nine in God)." And yet, despite the dark and vertiginous places into which Balthasar has led Christian thought, Muers finds that at the last, Balthasar — like Elizabeth Stuart — envisions an eschatological state in which it is not our sexual identities, however these are constructed and deconstructed, but our creatureliness which determines our joy and freedom.

Queering Modernity

Hans Urs von Balthasar can be placed as easily under the heading of modernity as that of tradition. For while he stands in a line of queer Christian thinkers — of those who thought within the queer symbolics of Christianity — he is also exemplary of modernity's straight­ening of that tradition: of its heterosexualization. Jane Shaw's chapter on the Reformed and Enlightened Church, on the effects of Reformation and Enlightenment on Christian thinking about the sexes and their relationships, ably shows how new concerns with mar­riage and sexual difference (and complementarity) broke with earlier tradition and led to a peculiarly modern obsession with heterosexual monogamy.

Both Margery Kempe, in the fourteenth century, and Mary Astell, in the seventeenth century, argued for the right of women to reject marriage and embrace celibacy. But for Astell this set her at odds with the Christian Church as she knew it, the Reformed — though not entirely Protestant — Church of England. Whereas for Kempe it merely set her at odds with her husband; celibacy being an entirely acceptable, indeed laudable, undertaking within the Catholic Church (of England) of her day. In between these two lives came the Protestant Reformation, and, in particular, Martin Luther's championing of marriage over celibacy. As Shaw shows, the impact of the latter was to lead the Protestant traditions — and later the Catholic — away from Paul's preference for celibacy in favor of his allowing mar­riage for the sake of decency (1 Corinthians 7). As a result, woman's identity — and worth — was increasingly seen in relation to the husband she did or did not have.

A different revolution was to occur in the eighteenth century and then, more fully, in the nineteenth. This revolution was as much social as scientific, but passed itself off as the latter. It was the (scientific) discovery of sexual difference, of an apparently absolute dichotomy between the sexes, such that woman was no longer viewed as an imperfect version of man, but as a body in her own right, though still — of course — weaker than the male. Shaw rehearses this discovery after Thomas Laqueur (1990), who has described it as a transition from a "one-sex" to a "two-sex" model of the human body. This changed understanding of the nature and relationship of the sexes came most fully into its own at the end of the nine­teenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries — even as developments in embryology were beginning to show the almost genetic indifference of male to female, and the priority of the latter over the former (the fantasy that women depend upon and are entirely different from men is everywhere in modern culture, including Balthasar)."

If nothing else, Shaw's history of the church in the modern period shows that the so-called "traditional" values of heterosexual complementarity and marriage are modern aberrations when viewed against earlier Christian traditions. And these ideas were being developed at the same time as ideas about homosexuality and heterosexuality were also being constructed, and with them an understanding of sexuality as determined solely by the sex of a desired person. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick remarks, "[i]t is a rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another . . . precisely one, the gender of object choice, emerged from the turn of the [nineteenth into the twentieth] century, and has remained, as the dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of 'sexual orientation— (Sedgwick 1990: 8). The Christian churches have too easily bought into this modern heterosexualizing of the body and its desires, and so not only opened themselves to acrimonious and seem­ingly endless debates about who can sleep with whom, but more grievously led them to lose sight of the learning of God that sexual desire can open for us.

As Shaw notes, the church's privileging of heterosexual marriage in modernity, along with the strange idea of complementarity — which imagines an equality-in-difference between the sexes which is actually an inequality, since the difference is "woman as com­plement to man" — constitutes a history of "female sexuality" as narrated by men. For it is not only that "woman" as symbol has remained mobile in Christian thought — so that men can be womanly in a way that women cannot be manly — but that actual women have been fantasized in differing ways, first as "cooler," weaker versions of men, and then as men's opposites and complements. And these changing identities have been biological and social and thus political. But modern men have paid so much attention to what makes for a woman, that what makes for a man has become increasingly doubtful. This is evident in theologians like Balthasar, but also more generally in Western culture. It has led to a so-called "crisis of masculinity," or series of such, the retorts to which are ever more absurd displays of hypermasculinity — by both straight and gay men, and some women (see chapter 19 by Mark Jordan for more on the problem of securing Jesus' masculinity).

Linda Woodhead also argues that the history of sex and the modern church is ultimately a history of women and their changing desires. Though she sees less of a break between the pre-Reformation and modern church than Shaw — arguing that the church has always promoted some form of family values, even when idealizing celibacy — she nevertheless _ agrees with Shaw that the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century saw the rise of a new concern with the family as the only legitimate place for women. And this was only intensified in the nineteenth century, when the church, increasingly without influence in the political sphere, focused its power on the domestic, becoming in turn an increasingly feminized institution. Woodhead argues that at first this served the church well, aligning it with a newly dominant middle class, which used sexual sobriety to differentiate itself from both aristocratic debauchery and proletarian incontinence. But it did not fit the church well for the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s, and the emancipation of women from the thrall of domesticity. The church's identification with the "angel in the home" could not survive her flight into a new world of personal autonomy and self-realization.

While it remains the case that many of the most vigorous and voluble Christian churches are those which maintain an allegiance to "family values" and "conservative" sexual mores, Christianity has declined throughout most Western societies — including the United States of America — just insofar as women no longer find their lives recognized, valued, and enhanced through its ministries, which are often closed to them. As Woodhead notes, more women than men have always participated in church life, but since the late 1960s, women have been leaving the churches at the same rate as men, which — if nothing else — is proving disastrous for the transmission of faithful practices from one generation to the next. And this despite the feminization of the churches, for this gendering only celebrates "woman" and her supposed qualities at a symbolic level, while occluding real women from the life of the church. As with Balthasar, the church in general forgets women when it fantasizes "woman." But it is not only the church which does this; even (male) queer theorists can forget that human being is not only one.

Michel Foucault would be prominent in any genealogy of "queer theory," for his own practice of genealogy is exemplary for the interrogation of those discourses which serve to establish and maintain an essentialized view of sex and gender, of body and sexuality. But like any great master, Foucault must be subject to his own insights and interrogations, and it is just such a questioning that Grace M. Jantzen undertakes with regard to Foucault's own gender blindness — the moments when he lost sight of the fact that human being is not one but at least two. Jantzen acknowledges her own debt to Foucault's work, his disinterring of various medical, legal, and ecclesiastical discourses, of madness and sexuality, of crime and punishment. But she cannot let pass Foucault's (sometime) denial of women's subjectivity, nor his association of their degradation with death, both human and divine. On Jantzen's reading, Foucault queers the (male) subject — unsettles its givenness — at the expense of woman, whose subjectivity goes unrecognized, let alone undone, for she is always already undone by the ministrations of a (masculine) power that looks for death, forgetting birth. For Jantzen, Foucault too easily succumbs to what she sees as the West's fascination with death, a beguilement that runs from Plato to Heidegger, and from which Christianity, despite its dis­courses on new life, also suffers. For the trope of second birth — being "born again" of the Spirit — only occludes our first birth or natality.

Not everyone will agree that Jantzen has the full measure of the Christian tradition in this regard, but it cannot be denied that Christians have done as much to serve cultures of death as resist them. Reflection on human mortality — on the mortality of all life — need not, and should not, lead us to forget our natality, our coming to be from another. That after all is the Christian doctrine of creation: that we are "born" in every moment of our lives. Thus even as Jantzen finds Foucault too enamored of death, insufficiently queering its gender and dominion, she yet learns from him how to listen to the silences in his own texts as well as those of others, and hear there the voices of the silenced. It is because she is such a faithful disciple that she can so question the master, and find in his work — in his practice of genealogy — "promising ashes" that may be made to glow and burn again with new life. In one way or another all the chapters in this volume query past discourses. They practice Foucauldian genealogy, seeking to disinter forgotten possibilities and unsettle`present complacencies.

Anyone who reads the Christian Scriptures and the church "fathers" cannot but be struck by the difference between their views of marriage and that of the Christian churches today. For the latter find marriage and the family to which it gives rise to be the key building blocks — the bulwarks — of society, while the former find them to be at best but passing practices, distractions from Christian discipleship. Needless to say, the practices of marriage and family extolled by the churches are rather modern, bourgeois productions, developments of eigh­teenth- and nineteenth-century romanticism. They are units of consumption that do indeed sustain modern, consumer capitalism; the very modernity that the churches elsewhere seek to resist. It is this irony that occasions Paul Fletcher's trenchant critique of marriage and his advocacy of divine eros over against the micro-fascism of the churches.

In a startling analysis, Fletcher argues that the church's advocacy of sexual moralism against the commodification of sex merely repeats, if in a different mode, the extreme expe­rience (of violence) offered by the fight clubs of David Fincher's 1999 film, Fight Club. Whereas the fight clubs of the film offer (men) an escape from the stasis of a life of inter­minable consumption through the experience of controlled brutality, the church offers an equally deathly discipline — "a modern sarcophagus" — of exclusive and exclusively hetero­sexual eros. It is deathly not only because it denies rather than transforms desire, but the very command to desist from pleasure "engenders the desire to transgress and so consti­tutes the ground of capitalistic enjoyment." At the very point where the church seeks to challenge contemporary society it merely colludes with its economy, since it has forgotten that God's desire is not capitalistic but utterly unconstrained and plenitudinous.

In Paul, Fletcher finds an entirely different economy — a noneconomy — from that of either capitalism or the modern church. Paul's orientation to the future of the resurrected Christ leads him to suspect all civil and religious institutions, including marriage. Paul lives in and for — waits upon — the return of the Messiah, and so refuses anything like the realized escha­tology embraced by modernity and the church in modernity. Capitalism — which oscillates between desire's fulfillment (immediate gratification) and its infinite delay — knows nothing of an eros that exceeds death, that wants more than life's interminable extension, that looks for genuine joy in the passing moment. It is this desire which the church must want, a delec­tatio that — like pleasure — comes in the moments of present life, as the ground of their gratuity; drawing bodies together, and together to God.

Queer Orthodoxy

In the sixth part of the book we turn to consider some key doctrinal topoi: the doctrines of Trinity Christ, Mary, and the saints. Here the point is not to queer an ostensibly straight tradition, but to show that the tradition's doctrinal heart is already queer, and that as a named undertaking "queer theology" is itself belated.

Angelo Scola, in a study of the "nuptial mystery" which largely draws on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, notes the "great perplexity" caused by those who have gone so far "as to try to 'sex' the Trinity, in an effort to find an argument in favour of homosexuality" (Scola 2005: 394).19 But such writers (Loughlin 1998b, 1999b; D'Costa 2000) are merely fol­lowing after Balthasar, who has already sexed the Trinity, and in a very queer way. If there is a problem, it is not that Balthasar has sexed or queered the Trinity, but that he has not done so enough. The Trinity is always queerer than we think. This, at any rate, is the argu­ment put forward by Gavin D'Costa.

Like Rachel Muers, Gavin D'Costa applauds Balthasar's insight that the "trinitarian love is the only ultimate form of love — both the love between God and men, and that between human persons" (Balthasar 1982-91: VII, 484). D'Costa argues that all Christian thought should start from and return to the trinitarian mystery, as the source from which all things come and to which they return, as their perfecting and fulfillment. Thus if we are to argue for women priests — as D'Costa does — it will be on the basis of the Trinity rather than human rights; and in this we will be following after — if reversing — Balthasar, who argued from the Trinity to an all-male priesthood. Like Balthasar, D'Costa engages in some very "high" trinitarian theology, but he does so in order to address a very concrete issue: the for­getting of women in the modern church. And like Balthasar he argues on the basis of Balthasar's doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that Balthasar forgets one of the most important insights of his own theology when he argues against women priests: the insight that God is radically queer.

Of course this is not how Balthasar puts the matter. He does not describe the Trinity as "queer." But he does say that the revelation of God in Jesus requires us to use sexuate language of God, though analogically. As we have seen already, Balthasar ascribes supram­asculinity and suprafemininity to God, indeed to each of the persons of the Trinity, including the Father. Balthasar understands (supra)masculinity and (supra)femininity in highly patri­archal terms, above all as activity and passivity respectively. These are also highly Aristotelian terms. But unlike Aristotle, Balthasar affords them equal value: God is both active and passive, giving and receiving — donation and reception. And so God is radically fluid in his/her "gender," and both men and women can represent the divine life. (Indeed, perhaps transgendered people will most perfectly figure this fluidity for us.) This is a queer God indeed.

But then at certain points, which D'Costa discusses in detail, Balthasar goes back on his radical revaluing of Aristotle's values, and ascribes a primordial supramasculinity — née mas­culinity — to the Father, and so argues for the necessity of not only masculinity but the male sex for representing Christ's representation of the Father. D'Costa argues that this is an entirely arbitrary move within Balthasar's understanding of the Trinity, rendering his doc­trine not only incoherent but idolatrous, since it returns us to a pre-Christian, prescriptural privileging of masculinity over femininity, activity over passivity.' (One might say that it turns God into a man and men into gods — as Mary Daly always alleged against Christianity)

D'Costa also questions Balthasar's willingness to ascribe a female biology to God — for both Son and Father are said to have a "womb" — while denying an absolute value to recep­tivity conceived as "woman." The female body disappears into the manliness of God. Moreover, in transgendering the Son as feminine in relation to the Father — as capable of "fertilization" by the Father (Balthasar 1990b: 78) — D'Costa detects in Balthasar a (male) same-sexing of God, which works against the queer theology Balthasar otherwise espouses: a God whose gender is not one. This is not to disparage same-sex relations, but to argue that all people find their fulfillment in a queer, rather than a "heterosexual" or "homosex­ual" God. But Balthasar can hardly avoid the idolatry of the latter when he locates suprasexuality in the Trinity, and privileges supramasculinity over suprafemininity. A more fully queer theology will be more analogical and less univocal in its deployment of these terms, and so more open to the indeterminate dynamics of God's desiring. It will think that women can represent God in Christ at the altar because it will not think Son and Father two "male" principles playing at being "man" and "woman" in bed. Indeed, it will think —as a number of authors have taught us to think (most notably Beattie 2006) — that the priesthood fails to fully represent the multi-gendered plenitude of Christ when it is reserved (by men) to men alone.

We may think it queer enough that the Christian God should be three "persons" in one "substance" — as it were a threefold dynamic of desire — but how much queerer that this God should love the world so much that s/he comes to us in the body of Jesus. This, Paul thought, was a stumbling block for the Jew and foolishness to the Greek (1 Corinthians 1.23). It is an absurdity for everyone, including most Christians. If we should think ourselves immune to the comforts of docetism, Mark D. Jordan reminds us just how queer it is to think God a body, how reluctant Christians have been to think the body of Jesus beyond a certain point — below the waist.

Jordan meditates on the parts of Jesus' body the tradition has been less than willing to think, and on why this should be so. After all, the Christian tradition, and in particular the Catholic tradition, has not been unwilling to show and meditate upon the body of Jesus, as child and adult — at birth and in death — cradled in his mother's arms, and naked, or nearly naked, in both instances. The body of Christ is strikingly displayed on countless crucifixes, except for the genitals that are nearly always covered with a loincloth. And why is this? Jordan wonders if it might not be as much to cover our eyes as Christ's sex. For it cannot be that God's genitals are shameful but that our gaze is shamed. We look with fallen eyes, mistaking the shame of our looking with what we look upon. For how shameful it is that we so easily view tortured flesh but flinch from its sex.'

There is of course no one gaze, everyone sees differently: men from women, straights from gays, and each from all other points of perception in and around these abstractions. As Jordan's meditation proceeds we realize that there are no straight answers to the ques­tions he poses — that Christ's body poses for us; for in thinking about Christ's body we are thinking about our own. But as Jordan reminds us, the incarnation does not condemn but vindicates the body, including its desiring, so that we can learn to see the glory of God in all bodies, beautiful or ugly. Perhaps only the saints will see with this clarity, but it is a vision to which all are called.

Jordan also reminds us that while Christ's sex has been hidden, his gender has not. Indeed, it has been made the means for hiding another sex, that of woman, excluded from the sym­bolic representation of Christ. Covering up Christ's penis has allowed it to return as phallus, as the symbol of Christ's (masculine) power over all things, including death (see Loughlin's chapter in this volume — chapter 7). And yet how easily this power is deflated. For Christ's masculinity is always being subverted by the femininity it is used to rule and conceal, for he is a passive man who turns the other cheek to his enemy. (And do we not already want to describe this as an active passivity, to inject some manly vigor into the debased term?) Christ's solicitude for the sinner and his abjection on the cross can seem too wimpish to be followed by other than women and weakling men. In 1999, the Churches Advertising Network — a UK independent advertising agency — produced an Easter poster depicting Christ in the style of Alberto Korda's famous photograph of Che Guevara, with the tag line: "Meek and mild. As if!" It was not without its critics, but it neatly indicates how uncomfortable Christians can be with Christ's masculinity — or lack thereof. For them, Christ's peaceableness (passivity) is too queer, and they have to imagine him as a man of violence. Learning to look upon God's body is difficult for all, as it confronts us with the truth of our own bodies and their looking. It speaks to us of our desires and fears, of fleshly longings and repulsions. In Christ we see ourselves. But as Jordan concludes, there is "no other place to start Christian truth telling than face to face with Jesus."

That God should come to us as flesh means that s/he is also born of a body, made by a woman, and for Christian faith, this woman gives him her flesh so that he can give us his. Christ has no father other than the Father we see in him; his body is entirely his mother's, a womanly body from the first. And how strange that this woman should give birth to God, and not because she is "taken" by a divine or human lover but because she welcomes the Spirit — who is not manly but womanly in the Syriac Christian tradition — when s/he comes upon her. Moreover, this woman, who is the first to receive God in her child, will be to him the church he makes out of and into his own body, the bride to his bridegroom. And thus graced, she will become the mother of all, the queen of heaven. This doctrinal unfolding of Mary's story is rigorously orthodox and utterly queer. And in this story Tina Beattie finds healing for a world torn between "identity and otherness, love and abjection, desire and loss."

Like so many other contributors to this volume, Beattie thinks that the modern church has lost sight of the queerness of Christ's story in Scripture and tradition, and in this story the meaning of Mary's life, of her conceiving, motherhood and womanliness. By the end of the nineteenth century Mary had been both torn from her son — having become the encherubed but childless "immaculate conception," who appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in confirmation of Pope Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus of 1854 — and placed under the watchful eye of Joseph, the somewhat feeble patriarch of the "holy family" of Nazareth, which was honored with a feast day in 1892 by Pope Pius XIII. Thus by the end of the century Mary had been both domesticated and heterosexualized. She was no longer the woman whose fiat brought God into her, and from her into the world; the woman whose relations with God and men were decidedly queer. In order to retrieve this earlier, more orthodox woman, Beattie returns to the Greek Fathers of the ancient church, to such mystics as Ephrem of Syria, who had a sure insight into the strangeness and complexity of Mary's life in God and God's life in her.

Beattie shows how writers like Ephrem and other "fathers" understood the queerness of Mary's virginity, maternity, and womanhood. Her virginity is a sign of the "divine mystery" that takes place in her and as her. But it also shows that the life that grows in and from her is not contained by the "cycle of sex, procreation and death." It is instead the life we know as Jesus — risen and ascended. Christians do not seek immortality through children, but eter­nity in Christ. But while Jesus is a "new creation," his mothering by Mary shows his humanity, his dependency on others. Like the rest of us he is formed through relationships. Even if, as judge, Christ stands over against us, he first stands with us, as a fellow human being and friend. And the conjunction of virginity with maternity opens the "space of wonder" where we can begin to see the Other in the same; in a body like our own. Finally, in Mary's womanhood we see the new Eve, who is not Eve's replacement, but redemption — our redemption. Mary is Eve's healing, the sign to us — the children of Eve — that Christ's life is fulfilled, will be fulfilled, in all.

In the final parts of her chapter, Beattie relates mariology to psychoanalysis, for in the first she finds hope for what the second seeks, for what it has already half-seen. Julia Kristeva sees psychoanalysis succeeding religion, as articulating the diremption of human life that was expressed — but unknown — in Christianity. And fundamentally this is the tear between the maternal — the semiotic — within which we once lived, and the paternal — the symbolic — in which we come to ourselves as ourselves: but a self that is torn from the mother, and that always has this otherness (chora) within. We need to be able to speak the semiotic within the symbolic, a language of motherhood that will heal, though not undo, the trauma of our birth into language. Kristeva thinks that modern society lacks this language of an orig­inal maternity, but Beattie argues that it still thrives in the Christian cultures where Mary is known, where life is lived — prayed — in hers, in her birthing of God's body in ours. There the stranger we are to ourselves is taken up into the ever stranger life of God, who comes to us in Mary and Jesus, woman and man, in the mystery of the incarnation. And there we will discover that this difference of strangers is not threat but promise: the joy of creature in creator, the ever queerer life of God.

The Mary of Beattie's reflections is the Mary of Christian faith. We have access to no other, and she is the Mary of faith throughout the centuries, whose story has grown in the telling. The faithfulness of the story to the one of whom it is told is tested in and through its telling, through a sense of its fittingness — of its fitting with other stories — which will be known fully in the fullness of time, when the telling of stories runs out into the eternity of their consummation. But how do we think the stories of those other saints who are other­wise located in historical time, of whom biographies as well as hagiographies can be told? This is the question with which David Matzko McCarthy opens the closing chapter of Queer Theology on the desire of saints.

McCarthy takes for his argument two women who chose virginity rather than matrimony, and he considers how their choice has been narrated in subsequent tellings of their stories. One is Queen Elizabeth I (1503-1603), as told in Shekhar Kapur's film, Elizabeth (1998), and the other is St Rose of Lima (1586-1617) as narrated by Sr Mary Alphonsus OSSP (1968). Both women are thus told within hagiographies — life stories which seek to convince their readers of their heroines' virtues. Elizabeth desires love but chooses a single life in order to preserve her freedom and that of her country. In Kapur's telling she is a kind of martyr, who sacrifices her sexuality for the independence of her throne. Elizabeth is con­trasted with Mary Tudor (1516-58), who lacks the sexual spontaneity that Elizabeth enjoys but must relinquish. Elizabeth finds herself through sexual desire, even as she learns that she must forgo its fulfillment. She is thus a very modern tragic heroine.

St Rose — a near contemporary of the historical queen — also chooses virginity over mar­riage, and in order to find a certain freedom, a certain "route to power." But Rose does so in order to be free for her divine lover, Jesus. She does not so much give up her sexuality, as mortify it through strenuous chastisements of the flesh, so that freed from all earthly attachments she is perfectly free for the man — or rather the child — who wants her for his own. Rose's life is dominated by visions of the infant Jesus, reaching out from his mother's arms, to caress Rose with his own. And yet even as she abandons herself for God's embrace, she finds herself abandoned by God, her spiritual life delivering but rare intimacies of its desired consummation. Rose's strange pedophiliac desires render her "nuptial moments with the infant Jesus" unerotic. Hers is a very sexless sexuality.

But it is not that Rose sought to deny the body in favor of a purely spiritual rapture, as that in the mortification of her flesh she sought to find the God whose own body suffered on the cross. It was an attempt to make that body present in her own. "She acts out the burning of God's own anguished passion." McCarthy does not ask us to approve what many will see as a pathology — a dangerous identification with a child phantasm — but he does yet ask us to consider how Rose's passionate attachment to her savior disrupts our expectations of seemly spirituality. Rose's love causes us to wonder. "We see a dangerous, undomesti­cated love of God." We see — McCarthy seems to suggest — a God whose passion for us burns so brightly that it consumes the bodies it touches. In the saints we I see a very queer, extreme desire that fascinates and appalls, moving us to pity and terror.

The medieval saint evoked not so much imitation (imitatio) as wonder (admiratio). Indeed the saint was not to be imitated but marveled at: non imitandum sed admirandum. "When we read what certain saints did . . . we should wonder at rather than imitate their deeds" ( James of Vitry quoted in Bynum 2001: 51). To imitate was to stigmatize, to inscribe or incorporate the other into oneself, as Christ in the body of St Francis of Assisi. But to wonder at was to be faced with the inimitable, the nonconsumable, the altogether other; that which one might admire but not become. Elizabeth and Rose, but especially Rose, astonish in just this way. They unsettle our comforts. And to some extent all saints are so queer. But to wonder at these lives is in some way to share in their strangeness, to exceed ourselves — if only for a moment — and so to become wonderful in our wonderment. And this, after all, is the undertaking of queer theology: to make the same different, the familiar strange, the odd wonderful; and to do so not out of perversity but in faithfulness to the different, strange, and wonderful by which we are encountered in the story of Jesus and the body of Christ.

Queer Mixtio

For Bernard of Clairvaux, Mary the mother of Jesus was a cause of astonishment, for in herself she was an impossible mixture of virginity and maternity, and so a marvel like the child to whom she gave birth: the supreme mixtio of humanity and divinity. With "faith and the human heart" mixed we can only wonder at her and her child.

For it is marvellous what the human heart can accomplish in yielding to faith, how it can believe God became man and Mary gave birth and remained a virgin. Just as iron and clay cannot be joined so these two cannot be mixed if the glue of the Holy Spirit does not mix them. Who can believe that he was laid in a manger, wept in a cradle, . . . died between thieves, is also God, majestic and immense? . . . And the first mixture [of divinity and humanity] is a poultice to cure infirmities. The two species are mixed in the Virgin's womb as in a mortar, with the Holy Spirit the pestle sweetly mixing them. . . . The first union is the remedy but only in the second [mixture of virginity and maternity] does the help truly come, for God wills that we gain nothing unless it passes through the hands of Mary. (Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Bynum 2001: 122-3)

Mary with her crying infant is a perfect figure for queer theology. She is a virgin who yet gives birth; a mother for whom there is no father other than the one she comes to see in her son. And her son, when grown into the Christ of faith and heart, in turn gives birth to her, to the ecciesia he feeds with his blood as once he was fed with her milk. And then this son takes her — his mother and child — as his bride and queen, so that we can hardly say who comes from whom, who lives in whom, or how we have come to find our own bodies remade in Christ's: fed with his flesh which is also Mary's. 

When the time had come for him to be born,
He went forth like the bridegroom from his bridal chamber,
Embracing his bride, holding her in his arms,
Whom the gracious Mother laid in a manger
Among some animals that were there at that time.
Men sang songs and angels melodies
Celebrating the marriage of two such as these.
But God there in the manger cried and moaned;
And these tears were jewels the bride brought to the wedding.
The mother gazed in sheer wonder on such an exchange:
In God, man's weeping, and in man, gladness,
To the one and the other things usually so strange.

(St John of the Cross, Romances)


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