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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Cardinal Ratzinger on real and false "feminism"

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see the mainstream (secular) media's portrayal of the latest document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "Vatican says feminism 'lethal' to families", screams Shasta Darlington (Reuters); "Pope hits out at feminist radicals" proclaims AFP; ""Vatican Assails Feminism" bemoans the Canada Globe & Mail . . . and so on.

One wonders if they actually bothered to read the document, or merely skimmed it for a "controversial" sentence or two about which they could rant.

On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World immediately struck me as being profoundly feminist -- howbeit not the kind that is envisioned in the manifestos of NOW or. It is a feminism rooted in love and the embrace of woman's inherent differences, opposed to a feminist ideology motivated by antagonism and the struggle for power, or that which obscure or suppress sexual distinctions.

Here are just a few passages that impressed me:

. . . Formed by God and placed in the garden which he was to cultivate, the man, who is still referred to with the generic expression Adam, experienced a loneliness which the presence of the animals is not able to overcome. He needs a helpmate who will be his partner. The term here does not refer to an inferior, but to a vital helper. This is so that Adam's life does not sink into a sterile and, in the end, baneful encounter with himself. It is necessary that he enter into relationship with another being on his own level. Only the woman, created from the same "flesh" and cloaked in the same mystery, can give a future to the life of the man. It is therefore above all on the ontological level that this takes place, in the sense that God's creation of woman characterizes humanity as a relational reality. In this encounter, the man speaks words for the first time, expressive of his wonderment: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23).

* * *
In this perspective, one understands the irreplaceable role of women in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others. Here what John Paul II has termed the genius of women becomes very clear. It implies first of all that women be significantly and actively present in the family, "the primordial and, in a certain sense sovereign society", since it is here above all that the features of a people take shape; it is here that its members acquire basic teachings. They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved, they learn respect for others inasmuch as they are respected, they learn to know the face of God inasmuch as they receive a first revelation of it from a father and a mother full of attention in their regard. Whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence. It means also that women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.

* * *

Therefore, the promotion of women within society must be understood and desired as a humanization accomplished through those values, rediscovered thanks to women. Every outlook which presents itself as a conflict between the sexes is only an illusion and a danger: it would end in segregation and competition between men and women, and would promote a solipsism nourished by a false conception of freedom.

Without prejudice to the advancement of women's rights in society and the family, these observations seek to correct the perspective which views men as enemies to be overcome. The proper condition of the male-female relationship cannot be a kind of mistrustful and defensive opposition. Their relationship needs to be lived in peace and in the happiness of shared love.

Although released to the public in July 2004, as it has so often done in the past the Congregation dated the document on a special occasion in the life of the Church: "May 31, 2004, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary." And it is Mary to which the Congregation directs the reader's attention, as a model of faith, trust, courage and conduct.

. . . It is from Mary that the Church always learns the intimacy of Christ. Mary, who carried the small child of Bethlehem in her arms, teaches us to recognize the infinite humility of God. She who received the broken body of Jesus from the Cross shows the Church how to receive all those in this world whose lives have been wounded by violence and sin. From Mary, the Church learns the meaning of the power of love, as revealed by God in the life of his beloved Son: "he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their heart... he has lifted up the lowly" (Lk 1:51-52). From Mary, the disciples of Christ continually receive the sense and the delight of praise for the work of God's hands: "The Almighty has done great things for me" (Lk1:49). They learn that they are in the world to preserve the memory of those "great things", and to keep vigil in expectation of the day of the Lord.

To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity. Nor does it condemn the Church to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what count above all are domination and power. In reality, the way of Christ is neither one of domination (cf. Phil 2:6) nor of power as understood by the world (cf. Jn18:36). From the Son of God one learns that this "passivity" is in reality the way of love; it is a royal power which vanquishes all violence; it is "passion" which saves the world from sin and death and recreates humanity. In entrusting his mother to the Apostle John, Jesus on the Cross invites his Church to learn from Mary the secret of the love that is victorious.

Far from giving the Church an identity based on an historically conditioned model of femininity, the reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the vocation of every baptized Christian. Regardless of conditions, states of life, different vocations with or without public responsibilities, they are an essential aspect of Christian life. While these traits should be characteristic of every baptized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness. In this way, women play a role of maximum importance in the Church's life by recalling these dispositions to all the baptized and contributing in a unique way to showing the true face of the Church, spouse of Christ and mother of believers.

Responses from fellow bloggers and the web is, well, mixed:

  • Jimmy Akin engages in some humorous "pre-analysis grousing" ("The document, as usual, has a ponderously long title that badly needs to go on a diet before it develops vascular disease") and with moderation calls it a step in the right direction.
  • Oswald Sobrino, Catholic Analysis: "n my reading, the crux of the document consists of two points: the unchangeable nature of marriage as requiring male and female, and the central theological image of Bridegroom and Bride. . . . As usual, we have from Rome a prophetic document aptly timed to influence the decisions we must make."
  • Mary Ann Glendon (interviewed by National Catholic Reporter's John Allen Jr.): "“essentially a critique of certain aspects of old-line ‘70s feminism' that have long since faded."
  • Amy Welborn: "such a cursory, unknowing introductory explanation of 'feminism' drains credibility from the rest of the document. Which is too bad, because the rest is generally better than this introductory material"


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