Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem defines a feminine genius as four innate qualities of the dignity and nature of woman: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. Though self-reflection is a powerful tool for growing in intimacy with God, self, and others, reflecting on the origin of man may also yield a stronger union between the masculine and feminine in a spousal relationship.
Saint John Paul II did not write an apostolic letter defining a masculine genius; however, Scripture and science help us understand what it means to be a man and identifies qualities which are undeniably masculine.
Recognizing the innate qualities of man may help us see, know and love our spouses as they live with courage according to God’s call for their lives.
Creation in the Garden of Eden
On the sixth day of the creation story, God created man and told him: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” Eventually we hear, “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” This story depicts the vocation of man, as a man.
Man is expected to live in harmony with God and his creation while having dominion over the Earth. After the fall to sin and throughout human history, this original good can be twisted into an ego-driven dominion and self-seeking control. Yet we must recall man in his origin: created as good, in the image of God, with an inborn yearning for holy authority.
Man is also told to cultivate and care for creation. Man is equipped with the responsibility of managing and protecting all of God’s creation. After woman joins him in the garden, Adam maintains his role as leader and protector in their relationship and their environment, their home.
Adam falls to the temptation of sin and the same will be true for the men in our lives. Our responsibility, as women, is to see and love the essence of their goodness in an effort to inspire him towards sanctification.
Man’s Body Tells a Story
The physical, anatomical structure of man’s body in relation to his responsibility to “be fertile and multiply” reveals even more about the masculine genius.
In regards to physical intimacy and procreation, man’s body is created to initiate and offer a gift of himself. Where woman is created ready to receive, man is created ready to give.
This physical reality is not only relevant to the physical intimacy, however. Man is designed to initiate and to be the head of the household—the domestic church of the family.
Man’s means for physical union is outside of his body. From the beginning and throughout time, he is naturally more attuned to external reality than internal emotions. In a group of men and women, how often do men congregate and discuss work, sports or hobbies—the external world—while women come together and discuss matters related to personal relationships and the heart?
Men and women are invited to experience perfect complementarity in their union of external and internal, head and heart, realistic and emotional.
Several secular-looking traditions may have deeper roots in this spiritual reality. Consider how “old-fashioned” it is for a man to ask for a woman’s number, to pay for dinner on a date, to go one one knee and propose marriage. These gender norms are not meant to stifle women in an inferior way; rather, these practices echo the desires of the hearts of men and women in the most appropriate and empowering way.
Marriage between man and woman mirrors the union between Christ and the Church. In these spousal unions, we recognize the parallel call for man, Christ, to become a total self-offering and for woman, the Church, to be wholly receptive to the gift.
Science and the Brain
Brain development and scientific fact supports the reasoning behind the masculine genius. Dr. Greg Bottaro, founder and director of the CatholicPsych Institute, writes, “There is less connectivity between the right and left hemispheres in the male brain. This allows for greater compartmentalization. At the same time, there is actually more connection between the front and back of each hemisphere in the male brain… Men are better at spatial organization and abstract thinking… These qualities dispose a man to make decisions and solve problems that are related to the external environment.”
The scientific evidence related to brain development, hormones, physical development, procreation and child-bearing radically support the traits of the masculine genius discussed above.
In his origin, man is very good. By original sin, man falls from his goodness and into temptation. We, women, have a beautiful opportunity in our call to see the heart of a man, love him for who God created him to be, and empower him to fulfill his vocation as man on the journey toward sanctification.