Women power: A proper estimation of the woman

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Saturday, December 21, 2013


IN THE history of the Church, women have routinely been presumed inferior, less rational, and naturally subordinate.

Pope Francis has given some hints that there is a need in the Church to change this outlook on women. What must be the proper outlook on women? The story of the Garden of Eden suggests that it was Eve who is responsible for the Fall. She was weak in the face of temptation and posed a danger to Adam, her husband. The woman is a temptress.

In the recent history of the Church a reversal of this earlier pattern has taken place. Women are presented as having superior virtue. Pope John Paul II wrote in 1995 his Letter to Women in which he thanked “every woman: through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” He frequently refers to the ‘feminine genius’ which he associates with service, self-gift, helping others, the capacity to attend to other people. Elsewhere he speaks of women’s special sensitivity.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the theologians who actively participated in the Second Vatican Council, is said to be the favorite theologian of John Paul II. His thought was that masculinity is associated with activity and femininity with receptivity.

Mary was basically receptive toward God: “Your will be done.” Men and women have to be Marian. Women have, in that sense, the advantage in Christian life. But Christ did not just happen to be a male – insofar as he was to represent God (the active party) to the world (the receptive party), he had to be a man. And so a priest, to represent Christ to the (essentially female) Church, also has to be male. A woman cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Another question is whether she can be ordained a deaconess. I believe she can be officially installed as a deaconess without ordination.

The basic question remains: what is it to be a woman? I cannot answer that question because I have never been a woman. Only women can answer that. They have to be guided here by some basic principles.

First I think, we must suppose that the differences within each of the sexes, and not only the difference between them, play a role in the glorification of God. It is very clear, we must acknowledge that, as women and men, we remain a mystery to ourselves.

Another thing is that we must presume that Original Sin is equally distributed across the sexes. I think Pope Francis does not want to change this principle. Finally, there is the question of motherhood. Women have often been confined and defined by the role of mother: bearing children and working in the kitchen. Feminist thought has the tendency to avoid or minimize this topic. In recent Church teaching, by contrast, the role of mothers often seems the beginning and the center of all thoughts on women. A theology of women would need to find some way to do justice to the powerful experience of being a mother without thereby reducing all women to successful or failed – or even spiritual – mothers. That is not an easy task. We must continue to seek what is the proper estimation of women in the Church and in society

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 22, 2013.

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