The effeminate West?

My colleague, Joyful Papist, has an intensely interesting post on her blog, which poses the question: is Eastern Christianity more attractive to us chaps than Latin Christianity.

The reason posited in her post is that the difficulty and robustness of Orthodoxy appeals to the can-do warrior spirit of us men. (This is a gross oversimplification of the argument presented by the author Frederica Mathewes-Green, who Joyful quotes. Don’t rely on my version, go over and read her post in full.)

The obvious objection is that some of us chaps aren’t exactly warrior material.

Joyful’s post has, however, set me thinking.

In recent months I have started to become interested in devotions to His Divine Mercy and the revelations vouched to St Faustina Kowalska, finding nourishment in recitation of prayers to Our Lord as an uplifting supplement to my usual round of rosaries and Marian devotions.

One thing has troubled me. I find the image of the Divine Mercy a bit too …. saccharine. Sorry.

Christos Pantocrator from Sinai c.550 AD

Looking elsewhere, for an image of Our Lord, I looked East and found Him portrayed as a man, not a matinee idol.

I’m not entirely sure that I buy the idea that the East has managed to retain a sense of Christian masculinity that the West has forgotten or abandoned: like many other ideas about Orthodoxy, my experience is that these views are entertained by new converts and people with little previous contact with Orthodoxy (for myself, I have found that Orthodoxy is capable of the same sort of mawkish sentimentality that the West CAN be guilty of). But I do think that Latin Christianity, in its combat with the liberals’ perceptions of “paternalism” and “authoritarianism” (and all those other “-isms” that upset people who came of age in the middle of the last century) has, at times, veered into forms of expression that almost seem calculated to put us men off (and many women, for that matter).

This may have fed through into the crisis in vocations (what young fellow aspires to an “unmanly” role?) and the comparative absence of young men at Mass (worth noting that the gender imbalance is much less marked at Extraordinary Form Masses).

I don’t think that there is any need for the Church to “man up” (or any similar, equally ghastly expression meaning “play the man”), but I do think that the Church needs to get behind the Holy Father and re-inject a bit of seriousness into our worship and stop worrying about frightening people with a sense of manly purpose.

And for those in any doubt about Latin Christianity, we can do machismo too!

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25 Responses to The effeminate West?

  1. frabb says:

    This is a good post. I don’t think the word “effeminate” really describes the problem. I gave a paper on this East-West question recently. The title was, “The Corruption of Western Spirituality? Learning from the East”. I began with the enlightenment and spoke about rationalism. The “East” was not immune from these things, but Orthodox spirituality has somehow managed to keep hold of an attitude that should be common to all Christians. To my mind this can be described by the following contrast;
    A western retreat house which has a prayer corner in the chapel where there is soft lighting, a large cushion, an icon propped up on a stand – nice and comfortable with central heating, quiet – an “atmosphere” of prayer (?) and a room in a block of flats in Moscow with an icon in the corner of the room with a small votive light where the members of the family often bow their heads in prayer. The icon in the western retreat house may be a genuine icon – the one in the Russian flat is likely to be a print on a piece of wood. There is something wonderfully strong and down-to-earth about the Russian scene where there has been much suffering and persecution. In the western scene there is a tendency to focus on “feelings” and “atmosphere” – and then to mix these things up with spirituality. On the whole, this is not the case in the East. For one person the icon is a testament of faith tried in the fire, for another it encourages a nice experience – a “warm glow” or a sense of well-being. I hope you can see what I am getting at. There is a strength in the spirituality of the East – call it manliness if you will – which the west has largely lost. There are exceptions – Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II (and though she is often misunderstood, Mother Angelica). One way to regain something we seem to have lost is to look again at th idea of voluntary penance and to return to a more serious form of fasting. Certainly we need such things as a rule of life and we need good, sound guides in the spiritual life. Personally I have returned to the pre-Vatican II spiritual writers like Garriou-Lagrange and Columba Marmion.


  2. toadspittle says:

    In Spain, they still maintain this tradition of thinking of suffering and death.says Teresa, correctly.

    Although, for the moment, happily, the Spaniards are not actually inflicting it on their enemies.


  3. toadspittle says:

    It all smacks a bit of Nietzsche to Toad – the idea of Western Christianity being a grovelling, slave mentality religion which is injurious for the human race.
    Toad is not a great fan of Nietzsche.

    …we remember the Jesuits in their early days and also the Cistercians of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, they must spend time in a cold stone sarcophagus to remind themselves of the death…says Teresa.

    Toad thinks all we need to do to remind ourselves of suffering and the death, is to live long enough. No sense in going looking for trouble. It will come unbidden.
    (He said this recently, somewhere else.)


  4. toadspittle says:

    “Looking elsewhere, for an image of Our Lord, I looked East and found Him portrayed as a man, not a matinee idol.”

    Quothes Raven.
    Well, matinee idols are actually men. Unless they are like Lady Gaga, female matinee idols. And the accompanying picture, to which he supposes Raven refers, is very much a ‘matinee idol’ as far as Toad can see.
    Although the portrait does not resemble very closely a certain Australian ‘matinee idol’ who shall be nameless evermore.

    More like a rough-hewn, hirstute, Tom Cruise, the noted ‘Scientologist’, Toad opines. (With, perhaps, a hint of Al Pacino and a teeny dash of De Nero.)


  5. toadspittle says:

    “This may have fed through into the crisis in vocations (what young fellow aspires to an “unmanly” role?) ” asks Raven.

    Well, just now, Toad was teasing a bit about ‘matinee idols’ but , to be serious here – we have a problem.
    To be a priest is to be celibate – to literally opt to ‘unman’ one’s self.

    In view of Raven’s very reasonable comments, is it surprising that few choose this path in the West?


  6. Brother Burrito says:


    And I cannot speak a word of French!


  7. Brother Burrito says:

    Taking a vow of celibacy is surely not opting to unman oneself.

    It is opting to advance oneself to the status of grandfather/elder statesman, a person above the merely reproductive, surely?


  8. Brother Burrito says:


    old age leads through the taming and conquest of the ego, but it is the slow boat to that destination, and can be interrupted by bodily death with annoying frequency.

    The spiritual masters propose that the conquering be achieved sooner and more reliably by their recommended practices.

    The end result is an ego, not extinguished, but trained and contained, and available for display.

    Keep ones ego as a pet. It is much more useful there-so.


  9. savvysrdc says:

    “Although, for the moment, happily, the Spaniards are not actually inflicting it on their enemies.”

    Neither do we plan on doing that. Grow up Toad. You are being like Bosco on Damian’s blog. This fear and hysteria of people becoming Catholic.


  10. savvysrdc says:

    Interesting Article. Would this mean Eastern Catholic churches are also more masculine than the West? I am a woman, but this impresses me. I have always been drawn to Eastern Spirituality.


  11. toadspittle says:

    Savvysdrc – chides Toad over:

    “Although, for the moment, happily, the Spaniards are not actually inflicting it on their enemies.”
    …and she is right to do so.
    In fact what Toad had in mind, and did not at all make clear – was what the Spaniards did to each other during their Civil War and thereafter, not the Inquisition.

    Toad also agrees Burro was right and Toad was wrong to describe celibacy as literally unmanning oneself. Figuratively, possibly. Very possibly neither.

    Teresa’s Cardinal Eherle certainly looks ‘very manly.’ He appears to be considering whether or not to punch the hapless photographer in the nose, or simply kick him down the stairs of the Episcopal palace.


  12. manus2 says:

    … But then the hapless photographer (from the Tablet) did ask Eherle whether he was going to take that unsightly crucifix off the altar, so that he could look the people of God in the eye during Mass.


  13. Mimi says:

    Gee, this is a tough question. I love the martial aspect of Eastern Christianity — the spiritual warrior stuff (very Jedi knight, ¿no?) — but I’m really NOT in favour of standing through long liturgies. Could we have a bit of the Eastern spirit with pews, please?


  14. kathleen says:

    This is a great post Raven, and really makes one think. Is it true that we have become wimpish and effeminate in the West, or (as you point out) is it that liberalism and modernism have made inroads into the staunch spirit of sacrifice, long-sufferance and courage of “yon olden days”?

    I think most of us who comment here did not know the world prior to Vatican II, but we are all aware of having lost something very precious of these values in the aftermath of the Council. At the same time there are indeed plenty of “real men” active in the Catholic Church in the West today, but these seem to be far more concentrated in those that favour the Latin Mass in either form, and in those orders (eg. Opus Dei) or groups that could be referred to as “Traditionalist”……. As I have said before, I prefer to call these groups simply loyal Catholics, faithful to the Pope and Magisterium. The other groups are dissenters from the fullness of Catholic teaching.

    I am optimistic; I believe that this “effeminate” approach to Faith is not attractive to either men or women. (Yes, frabb, Mother Angelica is a wonderful example!) In time these who try oh-so-hard to make things easy for believers will peter out, whilst the others are on the increase.


  15. kathleen says:

    I completely agree with your views on the pictures of Our Blessed Lord as the Divine Mercy. I cannot believe He looked like that. I seem to remember hearing that St Faustina herself was bitterly disappointed with the artist’s impressions, painted according to her description, but as no human artist could possibly portray the true image, she had to resign herself to the final paintings we see today.
    That doesn’t take anything away from this all-important devotion, so necessary today more than ever before after all the horrors that took place in the twentieth century.


  16. kathleen says:

    The Holy Face of Jesus as portrayed on the Shroud of Turin – in spite of, or perhaps because of, this being the ‘Man of Sorrows’ – is a face of strong features, very manly, serene in his suffering, and regal.

    Nothing soppy or effeminate about this face.


  17. Brother Burrito says:

    Jesus had the physique of a man who trained and worked as a carpenter. Very strong and lean, not pumped up like some gymnasium masochist.

    He had a face neither ugly nor pretty–very ordinary, and workaday, in fact.

    He was a quiet man, ever ready to listen, and only speaking well.

    His voice was as the waters, and the winds, and as the thunder.

    He was lovable by nearly everyone he met. Only the hardened of heart could not love Him.

    From Him radiated the sternness of justice, but more, much more, the warmth and sweetness of mercy.

    Sternness the preventative, mercy the cure of all.

    He had piercing eyes, of infinite clairvoyance and compassion.


  18. toadspittle says:

    There is a whole nother can of worms to be opened regarding the ‘effeminacy,’ or not, of certain aspects of religion. We are heading towards it here on this ‘post.’
    Toad is not sure how to proceed. He suspects that a good many homosexual men are drawn to the ‘theatrical’ side of religions like Catholicism and ‘High Anglicanism.’ This is common knowlege, is it not? And it is where the perception of Western ‘effeminacy’ arises, he thinks.
    Nothing at all wrong with this, in theory. The problem seems to be often reconciling these ‘tendencies’ with the notion of sexual sin.
    Maybe this ‘problem’ does not arise in the Eastern Church where priests can be married (to women.) If such ‘gay’ clergy don’t follow their inclinations, no scandal. But some do. Such people can be very valuable to any community – hardworking, dedicated, undistracted by family issues.
    Does the Church want to tell them to shove off, or not?

    Toad has no answer on this. Not even sure he has made his point clearly.

    [Edited by the Raven to remove grossly offensive grocers’ apostrophe]


  19. The Raven says:


    Not sure that holds true: among the Orthodox they do admit married clergy, but the Bishops and other higher clergy are all celibate – they even have a separate “order” of unmarried priests, the Archimandrites.

    I suppose that it’s also worth pointing out that not every homosexual man is at all camp or effeminate.


  20. golden chersonnese says:

    Suggests Toad: . . . a good many homosexual men are drawn to the ‘theatrical’ side of religions like Catholicism and ‘High Anglicanism.’ . . . . And it is where the perception of Western ‘effeminacy’ arises . . .

    I am not convinced that is where the perception may issue from, Toad. After all, it is quite clear that Eastern Christianity, Orthodox Christianity in particular, has even a higher degree of ‘theatrics’ than the Western forms. I also think that Orthodox men are not particularly devout either, as manus pointed out earlier, and the majority of the congregation are always women and younger children.

    I suspect if you want an example of a religion that is ‘masculine’ then that would no doubt be Islam. Islam at the moment is something that men are very eager to identify with (and women no less so).

    Why the difference? How did we get to this not terribly butch summary of Christian virtue in St Paul? :

    1 Corinthians 13:4-5
    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

    I would suggest one reason must be that Christianity first developed in the Hellenised world of the eastern Mediterranean. Hellenism was of course not notably concerned with cultivating an aggressive spirit, but rather was something that aimed at the cultivation of wisdom, beauty and virtue. These, most would agree, are not generally known as masculine pursuits. Indeed, wisdom (Sophia) and the arts (the Muses) are nearly always represented (by men!) as women.

    We see also even in the Scriptures that Wisdom is a woman:

    Proverbs 9:1
    Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.

    I think the Greek emphasis on self-restraint and pursuit of understanding only confirmed what the Scriptures had also taught about the importance for men of gaining wisdom. Hellenism and the Scriptures were a ready-made providential match.

    Christianity, I am convinced, ‘feminised’ men to a large degree, or at least ‘feminised’ culture. At the very least it taught men that setting aside pride and aggressiveness in favour of patience and understanding was what they should aim for. It may be going a bit far to call this ‘feminine’, but if it is at all masculine it is the masculinity of gentler men in their old age, when their strength and fight have largely left them.

    Proverbs 19:11
    A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

    Matthew 11:19
    The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.

    James 3:17
    But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

    So for the Christians (which is not to say anything about followers of other particular religions) the more ‘cultured’ and sincerely religious a man was the less overtly ‘masculine’ he was also, in my humble submission.

    And I am not sure that even now this is what most men are interested in.

    (Case closed ?)


  21. manus2 says:

    Hi Golden,

    Slight correction. My comments on Orthodoxy, including their men, wer made on Joyful’s blog; they aren’t so marvellous to be worth repeating here in full. The relevent point I made was that the original piece seemed a little gushing on the manliness of Orthodoxy, and that I’ve met plenty of blokes whiling away their time outside the Church – like Catholic men used to do before they left entirely. But of course, I know many profoundly devout Orthodox men, and I wouldn’t want to cast any shadow of doubt upon their devotion. But nor would I suggest the Orthodox Liturgy is an irresistable man magnet. In my experience it isn’t.


  22. golden chersonnese says:

    Hello manus, I wan’t suggesting at all that you said Orthodox men are all not that devout. Very obviously many are.

    teresa, what do you think of this icon of St Peter Canisius? He was the Dutch-born Jesuit who more than anyone helped establish the Jesuits in the German lands, wasn’t he?

    Do you see Holy Wisdom giving her counsel to the saint?

    And the saint’s own prayer?

    May we be sober, simple, prudent, peaceable, and studious of solid virtue.

    Not real butch, is it?


  23. The Raven says:

    Hold on ladies! Let’s not confuse “manly” with “machismo” (I have always considered the latter to be synonymous with “trying too hard” or “trying to paper over definciencies”); it’s manly to be a tender father or a loving husband too!


  24. kathleen says:

    Earlier on in the comment section of this thread priestly celibacy, a glorious trait of the Latin Church, was attacked, and much to my surprise no one as yet has come to its defense. In no way whatsoever can celibacy be called “unmanly”, and by its very demands of continual chastity, self-control and sacrifice, it takes a real man to measure up to it.

    Here are some of the many arguments against priestly celibacy, and the Catholic Church’s response. Plus some good reasons for this holy virtue:


  25. toadspittle says:

    “I suppose that it’s also worth pointing out that not every homosexual man is at all camp or effeminate. says – Raven and Toad agrees. Well worth pointing out.

    Toad values, amongst his many friends, a ‘discreet’ practising ‘gay’ Catholic priest, and an openly ‘gay’ Episcopalian minister.

    Neither are at all ‘effeminate’. Toad knows full well there is no way of telling if there are a higher percentage of ‘gays’ among Christian clergy than among lay people, but he suspects that this might be so, from his limited knowlege thereof.
    The more, the merrier, he suggests.


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