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For a profound theology of woman

Lucetta Scaraffia: In the first of our theological sections Pierangelo Sequeri used a very significant expression, “epochal junction”, to mean that, at this time, society requires the Church to totally rethink and to reflect on herself, remembering that women exist, that not only are they numerically the majority of religious and faithful, but that they have been a specific and constitutive part of the Christian tradition from the beginning. In this regard, the Swiss theologian Barbara Hallensleben wrote: “The lack of attention to the soteriological significance of the Spirit seems to go hand in hand with the lack of a theology of woman.” This echoes the words written many years ago by Yves Congar: “A certain forgetfulness of the Holy Spirit and of pneumatology have caused the onset of a patriarchal model and a prevalence of the masculine.”It is very clearly, at this point, that deeper reflection is needed. 

Also because, as Hallensleben writes, “the difference between men and women has to do with the image that God reveals himself.” Equality of women is recorded in the Gospels, and Christianity has offered this seed to the historical development of Christian societies. Now society returns to the Church what it had received from Christianity, posing profound questions. In the texts we have published two directions of research have been identified: one, that many of you have taken, is to reflect both on important women there have been in the history of the Church, and more generally, on the relationship between Jesus and the women. The other is the issue of complementarity. You are well aware that the only theoretical work there has been in the Church on the issue of women, the only response to the challenge that has come from secular society, is Mulieris dignitatem. A very important text, a great recognition to women and a great intellectual impetus to think a Christian feminism. But Mulieris dignitatems theme of complementarity left two open questions: one, that the Church has acted as if it had never been written, that is has not followed up with any concrete recognition. And we're not talking about power, we are talking about something else: listening. The fundamental problem is that women are not listened to in ecclesial meetings where the life of the Church, its future, and its problems are discussed. The other issue that Mulieris dignitatem left open is that, if one speaks of complementarity, it is not clear what the role of men should be. It is a question Sara Butler raises: “What is the masculine genius?”. Complementarity remains a fascinating and important hypothesis that, today, we see being rediscovered in the field of feminist studies: for example, Claude Habib, a French feminist literary scholar, wrote that the spring of complementarity is not oppression but rather the common good. And so we open the discussion, remembering that our goal is to create redeemed relationships between the sexes.

Maurizio Gronchi: From a theological point of view, I have found still present in theologies of woman a strongly ideological approach, that demands reforms and is much characterized by liberation theology, understood as the liberation of women from all patriarchal systems. In short, an old discussion. However, what made me think was the publication of the book Pope Francis and Women by Giulia Galeotti and Lucetta Scaraffia (2014), because I saw in it a distancing from an ideological approach, and the taking on of a very balanced historical perspective; indeed, one that was not ideological. I think it is a matter of returning to Jesus’gaze on men and women, as seen in the Gospels, in order to reach the criterion by which we can be guided towards relational conversion. InEvangelii gaudiumthe Pope speaks about all possible manner of conversion and I believe that the possibility of a relational conversion also exists. Damiano Marzotto's book Pietro e Maddalena. Il Vangelo corre a due voci [Peter and Magdalene. The Gospel runs in two voices](2010) made me think: his central thesis recognizes this participation in the original mission of Jesus, we are seeing a collaboration of asymmetric character in which the two actors, he writes, offer “a differentiated and complementary contribution”. I think this is a good idea: the retrieval of texts. So the first approach is a reading of the texts is not remote controlled. Another statement was this: “The point is not the priesthood, the point is everything else," writes Giulia Galeotti, and everything else is relationship. I was truck by the synod's final message, where it said that meeting is a gift, a grace that is expressed when two faces stand face to face. This seems to me to be today’s challenge: no longer being able to look at each other, stand face to face with one other. Mine is a phenomenological discussion, the first point is the question of gazes (the second point, the question of the relationship; the third point, a matter of perspective). So, the question is one regarding gazes, not being able to look at each: side glances that are dishonest, marked by distrust, fear, conflict, this is a broader anthropological horizon, which then in the Church is characterized by fear of difference, anxiety over the recognition of oneself, and a propelling toward a widespread and growing narcissism. While we need to be recognized, at the same time we feel distrust of those who look at us and recognizes us. The second point: the question of relationship. I believe that relationships play between power and empathy. The first instance in play in relations between men and women is that of power, seen as a chance to be recognized and accepted for whoone is and who we are yet unable to becomeonly thanks to the other to his permission, to her welcome, his or her refusal. This need for recognition, this is where power lies. I believe that a viable way forward in the maturation of the relationship is the orientation of empathy. Empathy is feeling with the other, not feeling like the other. This is impossible, absurd, to feel like the other: empathizing in this way is not possible. Feeling with the other, which is in the experience of friendship, for example, it is was happens in that fusive, embryonic, even childish dimension that often extends on, the need to be two, the question of the couple. The problem is remaining themselves next to each other, but far from measuring its qualities in terms of competition or rivalry. This is a fact: the difficulty of the relationship is played between power and empathy.

Scaraffia In the relationship between women and priests, what role do power and empathy play?

Gronchi: I see two critical issues in the relationship between women and ordained ministers, meaning religious, bishops, cardinals, and so on. First regarding the mother of priests: this is a critical point because it is the model exemplified in Marian spirituality. The role of the mother generally has a decisive weight, since she seems to be the only woman capable of loving them adequately to their vocation. Consequently every other woman he meets in life must assume the profile of the mother or sister, rarely daughter, since the generation is difficult to understand if not in a symbolic sense. This relational model — I would say unique — very often generates distrust, fear of attack on his own sexual integrity, if not a genuine threat to the promise of chastity and commitment to celibacy. The tendency to configure the role of women to that of servants in relation to priests probably also stems from this. So I would say: keeping a woman close to him and at the same time, keep her at a distance. This seems to be the challenge that ministers must endure regarding women, rather than together with them. Alongside this standsanother critical issue I might call an attitude of substitution, through which the traditionally female roles - giving life, nourishing, accepting, protecting, forgiving - are taken on liturgically by the priest: as he baptizes, celebrates the Eucharist, administers reconciliation, while expressing the maternal face of the Church sometimes there is a risk of also configuring the relational attitude of the priest to that of women. So it’s as if you produce a list of what are maternal functions of the Church are — those that I mentioned — that almost becomes a relational model. Let me explain: wearing long, colorful vestments, decorating the altar with flowers and candles, behaving with ostentatious formality and politeness, correspond to feminized behaviors, which relegates women to the margin of the relationship even more. And so I would say that an interpretative hypothesis for this phenomenon could be to attempt, on the part of ordained ministers, to transform the distrust into alliance, at the cost of the substitution. There isn’t misogyny there, but substitution: it isn’t that there are problems women, we simply replace them. The thesis is a bit forceful; however, I think it’s useful for the discussion. So you avoid conflict or misogyny simply by taking on the imitation of the style, or at least what is considered to be such.

Scaraffia: But how then do we direct male-female relationships, specifically those between ordained ministers and women? How do we pass from fear of dispossession of one’s role to empathy, which allows the parties to stand side by side in peace and promotes integration?

Gronchi:I would use these three expressions: looking in the other’s eyes, without lowering them, either to seduce or to challenge; listening to the words of the other without thinking that one already knows what the other will say; understandingthe other’s prolonged silences.These are some experiences to be undertaken with courage, by struggling with one’s own fears, the fear of opening up to a relationship. This way of establishing contact is challenging, especially when one has received— I am still speakingabout ordained ministers — from an formation aimed at pastoral care and leadership. What does this mean? That the responsibility to lead, teach, counsel, provide for, from a protocol rarely is transformed into the ability to receive, learn, let someone take care of us.

You understand, then, that the model here is the Jesus’ attitude with women in the Gospels. Probably the difficulty of listening to women not only affects women who speak, because in these cases ordained ministers are likely not to listen to men, children, the elderly, the sick ... The problem is not in identifying their role, however misunderstood, which often closes the priest in the scope of his function: the risk is to pretend to lead others and then not being able to direct themselves in balanced and mature relationships. I agree with your proposal to give more space to women in formation in seminaries; I would say not only as teachers but also as a psychological counselor, as a point of reference for family ministry. For a young man on his way to the priesthood, to have the opportunity to meet women other than his mother is an opportunity to find balance, an experience of plurality that frees one from stereotypes one has internalized. Learning the difference without fear, establishing daily relationships without having to protect, gaining confidence in someone whocares for his own vocation without threatening it, can be a real source of humanity, which he may then continuously and peacefully draw upon. I think there is a fundamental Christological criterion in this discussion: in Advent we read the antiphon: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open that salvation may sprout forth”. The principle is this: that what God gives from above, arises from the earth. The eternal Son of God was born in time of Mary.

Antonella Lumini: The moment we are living through undoubtedly marks a passage. The point is how to live it. I agree with Father Gianpaolo Salvini when he says it isn’t a matter of clericalizing women, but of allowing their charisms to blossom. Women do not increase their valueby seeking to take on the power and roles of men. However, this does not mean that they ought to be excluded from positions of authority and decision-making in the Church. As Scaraffia rightly said, the central problem is that women are not heard. The emergence of women in the Church, as in society, can only happen if women know themselves better, become aware of their profound reality, and manage to make their voices heard. So it is not a matter of limiting ourselves to asking for more space. The feminine needs to emerge on the world stage, to arise in dignity and nobility. It is true that sometimes women are capable of takingon male roles, but in so doing they betray themselves. The question must therefore be reversed. Women, almost through a kind of natural motion, at a certain point were called to awaken, to become active subjects of liberation. After centuries of subordination, the world of women began to become aware of their immense potential,which is causing the imbalance that we are going through today. The explosion of an out of control male aggression is before the eyes of all. The previous arrangement, once questioned, no longer being proposed, there is no going back. There is a passage to be made that requires everyone. Women must come to know themselves, to bring to light the essential aspects of the feminine, in order to accomplish their work for human development. For the Church, too, it cannot be otherwise, and I believe that only in this way we can try to understand complementarity. I greatly appreciated what Gronchi said about the importance of transforming relations between priests and women, based mainly on power or fear, into relations based on empathy. Mulieris dignitatem places the focus on the feminine genius of Christianity, whose essential features are recognized in Mary. Pope Francis, stating the need for a more profound theology of woman, fits well within this line. In the Church, however, a parallel need arises to configure the masculine genius, particularly with respect being a vicar Christ, to a following to be observed. It seems to me that this touches the very heart of the problem Butler posed when he stated that Jesus empties every power into obedience, subverting all the patterns of patriarchal domination, and thus brings to light a positive male principle. In fact, Jesus does not place himself in opposition to power but utterly surpasses it by the witness of his life. Moreover, in his humanity, he makes converge the male principle and specific feminine traits such as tenderness and mercy. Complementarity, from the point of view of the Gospel, means a harmonious integration of the two principles first within the human person, and consequently in the dynamics between women and men. Only in this perspective can one see the possibility of living in redeemed relationships, as Butler goes on to state. The problem must therefore be framed within the universal plan of salvation, which requires constant spiritual work. The thrust of transformation, no doubt, today is embodied in women, but they must be aware of being part of a driving force for the whole of humanity. It was not by chance that civil emancipation occurred in the West, in cultures with Christian origins. We need to interpret the phenomenon in a broader, more spiritual way. We need to see the signs of the times. Christianity should be perceived as a whole, in lay and ecclesiastical, theological aspects. Christianity is disruptive force of liberation from all points of view. What happened in the civil, secular world regarding women, now waits to pour its dynamism into the Church. The more that women are heard, the more intense the action of transformation will be. The more the feminine genius emerges, the more the positive masculine genius, one embodied by Jesus, will be reflected. I refer back to what was stated by Scaraffia, citing Hallensleben, on the soteriological value of the Holy Spirit: I fully agree that the lack of a theology of woman goes hand in hand with the lack of attention to the Holy Spirit, to the spiritual plane. Taking Mary as the model embodying the feminine genius requires looking at the third person of the Trinity, though perhaps still in a shadowed, veiled way; women might otherwise cede to a sense of discouragement. In the secular world, too,many people are turning to spirituality, for example by studying the mystics, to engage themselves deeply in and to draw near to those essentially feminine — though perhaps countercultural values — such receptivity, silence, hiddenness, which are necessary to preserve and protect a motherhood that is not only biological but also spiritual. The ability to listen, intuition and contemplation emerge from contact with what is profound. The female embodies the contemplative soul, the possibility of a different outlook. The more women adhere to the body, the more capable they are of embodying and making visible spiritual traits. The more contemplative a woman is, the more she becomes an instrument of creative action. The feminine opens to the eternal, as Chiara Lubich says. In the Gospel context the maternal refers to a welcoming of life that must grow and develop at all levels, it leads to contact with the invisible, it evokes that beauty that can only contemplated, not possessed. Thus the nobility of femininity undermines the mechanisms of power. Male and female principles are not interchangeable nor simply derived from cultural aspects: they are ontological, one might say archetypal values.

God created man in his image, but he has no image. In the Jewish tradition there is a total transcendence, God cannot be represented. He slowly reveals his invisible attributes in the the human being. The precision with which the text of Genesis states that “male and female he created them” can only allude to the fact that the male and female principles are present in God himself. If they assume an image in the human being, it means that they first reside in God. There is an ontological foundation. Moreover, they exist in God in perfect unity, so that in the human being they cannot but tend toward harmony.

Scaraffia What do you mean by the spiritual work necessary to redeem relationships between man and woman?

Lumini: Woman is particularly receptive to the action of God in her soul, she is more sensitive to the deep layers of love. By spiritual work I mean the greater availability of women to open themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit. This alone can make possible relationships of communion between men and women. Silence is needed, that pause that allows inner life to blossom. The feminine genius in Mary finds its culmination in the extraordinary potential to pass on spiritual life, the life that sees the Holy Spirit. The baptism of fire of Jesus alludes to the new life conceived by the Spirit. If Jesus named God as Father, provoking a scandal immense, it seems to me that now the time is ripe for another key naming, that of God as Mother. Everything still remains anchored in a theology of the Father, but I believe it is not possible to develop a profound theology of woman without the theology of the Mother first being developed and sharpened. And only women can do it. If we turn to the Trinity, the mysterious feminine person of the deity can only be the Holy Spirit. God’s motherhood can be found in the Holy Spirit, in the early centuries associated with Sophia. In the Jewish tradition also Ruah is also feminine. Moreover, even in John, the Holy Spirit is the called the Comforter. In this time when the Church invites us to love and mercy, the divine maternity has to come out of the shadows and come to light. There is a great spiritual work in progress. Behind what moved in history we need to begin to see the visible signs of an invisible director.

Marinella Perroni:I feel that I represent here a large proportion of women who teach or study theology, also in Italy, and who are travelling roads somewhat different from those mentioned so far. The psalm quoted by Gronchibrought to mind another psalm that I feel is particularly in line with our theological work: “Truth shall spring out of the earth and the heavens will rain down justice” (85). I am convinced that the truth is not predetermined, none of us have it, but rather that it springs from the earth as the earth is tilled: this is the meaning of theological work. When Pope Francis said that the Church needs a theology of woman, many were left bewildered: from the days of the Church Fathers to Mulieris dignitatem, the history of theological thought has also been a theology of woman. Done by whom, however? Done to to what end? To what purpose? Today, several factors have changed, and this means that we cannot think simply of change the order of the factors so that the results do not change. It is the factors that need to be changed. Which ones? First of all, women — and not woman, which is an abstraction and lives in the imagination — have become individuals capable of doing theology, and they are seeking different paths capable of rendering them greater justice. Therefore, the first thing to do would be to listen to them. Women have developed thought in all areas of theology. And so the problem is to try to re-think together — and today it should be possible to do so at last, even with those who are considered to be furthest away —the whole theology of woman. Gronchigave a phenomenological reading of the relationship between priests and their motherswhich was is very true. However, we also need to rethink in depth the twin name Eva-Maria, an alternative that has weighty symbolic repercussions that help define stereotypes that are transmitted from generation to generation. The second element we need to reconsider is the marian-petrine pairing to portray the participation of women in the life of the Church. Even the Pope seems to prefer this path already trodden by his predecessors.Even if, by virtue of this principle as it has been formulated by Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Marian, i.e., loving welcome, is a charism that is primary in relation to the Petrine, that is, the exercise of the power of jurisdiction, no one realizes we are playing on two levels and that many of the forms of discrimination based on sexual difference take their. Again: it is necessary to rethink some of the categories that were before tranquilly accepted because, both in terms of symbolic, and in terms of social and ecclesial implications, the way we think about the male and the female is no longer the same. When von Balthasar develops the category of Marian-Petrine principle, he does so in absolute accord with his spirituality and his relationship with the mystic Adrienne von Speyr, but this should now be re-discussed both in relation to the New Testament, and based on a new relationship between anthropology and ecclesiology.

Lumini:Do you mean that the fact that the Petrine regards the institution, while the Marian regards relationship needs to be rethought?

Perroni: Exactly. I mean that both male and female, or even both paternal than maternal, may cover both areas, both that of relationship and that regarding institution. By now it’s clear that the clear distinction of roles, on the basis of which patriarchies ruled, is giving way to other possible models.

Luisa Muraro:My main interest in this undertaking is that the feminist movement be faithful to its original inspiration, and its original inspiration — as recalled here by Lumini — is not the conquest of power but the undoing of power from within, in order to replace with the symbolic power of the word and relationships, that is,what is called authority. In my judgment the Catholic Church, more than the Reformed Churches, has retained something of the importance of the symbolic. In the formidable machine of power built by men, the issue of sexuality is not of little importance: female sexuality is almost Christian naturaliter, being sensitive to the spiritual aspect. Women, if there were no money in the mix, would not have sex without love. Men, on the other hand, often engage in violent sex, one of robbery (we should also include here what’s paid for, in my opinion). This is why, I wonder, in ancient societieswomen handled the relationship with the divine and the sacred? We grew up in a strongly patriarchal civilization which overturned this hierarchy. But there are men who feel this female superiority and say,“my soul is feminine”, and there are historians, as Kurt Ruh, a scholar of Western mysticism, who say only a woman can speak with great confidence to God. If women were to desert the parishes, it would be a problem for the Catholic Church: to make them return you’d have to promise them positions, careers, and money. For now, they come for free, they are there, but they transform and become like men and claim benefits. I also thin, that the issue of complementarity is crucial and should be taken up again, not cobbled together. In my opinion, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, has said important things about sexual difference; for example, that it is not between men and women, it is in her, in him: there would not be a man and a woman if the sign of sexual difference were not intimately present in them. Complementarity can be understood only after careful, in depth study of sexual difference, which the Church is extremely ready to acknowledge, but in dogmatic terms. Where does the difference come from? Gronchi says: from the Bible, Perrone notes, however, that one needs to know how to read and interpret the Bible. Science and philosophy teach that sexual difference is an invention of life at it’s most basic levels, and that humanity has assumed and translated it into culture and society, but often in a heirarchical form that expresses domination of one sex over the other. They then seek to come to an agreement, in mutual independence symbolic. The conflict between the sexes arises and needs to be addressed from time to time, it is a historical fact.Complementarity is phenomenologically evident only on the procreative level. In short, all the positions need to be rethought. In this regard, I would point out the contribution of the Swiss theologian Hallensleben, cited above: there is imbalance in the Church, there is imbalance between laity and clergy and there is an imbalance especially in the relationship between man and woman, he says.

In this she detects the voice of the Holy Spirit in history, laying the foundation of a theology done not to get along at any cost, but to enter into conflict without hate, without war. And then there is the position of Christian Dobner, who denies complementarity. Re-read it, she says:the womanstands on her own, the man stands on his own. Then there is instead an American theologian, Sara Butler, who invokes complementarity and then says to men: And your genius? Your difference? This is another path to open: to explore the masculine difference. And not only in negative way as I've done here, citing a fundamentally disordered sexuality in men.

Damiano Marzotto: What is symbolic independence?

Muraro: For the sake of brevity, I’ll say that symbolic independence, in its most radical form, and the one most difficult to understand, is found in theLetter to the Romans, in the passage wherein Paul seems to be teaching submission. In the things of this world, he says, obey out of necessity; for the rest, we have our law which is that of love.

Marzotto I listened with great interest and I will respond about several of the things that impressed me the most. About the relationship between man and woman, I loved the expression that Fr. Piersandro Vanzan used: asymmetrical reciprocity. I don’t know if it lines up closely with complementarity, in my opinion is somewhat different and somewhat deeper, because doesn’t oblige one to a rigid schedule, in which the two must still fit. He says, however, much about the need for reciprocity and maintains a great deal of freedom in asymmetry. Perhaps it coincides with the sexuality of difference mentioned by Muraro, but I am not enough of an expert in this.

It seems to me that there is a richness in the reality of being a woman, which should be valued, and in the itineraries of the Gospels I followedI seemed to see, as I say in my book Peter and Magdalene, thatwomen “go before, deepen and broaden” evangelization.

They go before because they are more intuitive and anticipate more thanmen, so much so that God addresses her first, sure to be understood, but women especially look deeply. Lumini’s discussion on going in-depth seems essential to me, otherwise we menget scattered in action but we do not enter deeply into the mystery, and this would be a dramatic loss for the Church. Women also broaden the horizons of the mission: we have very specific plans, women go beyond themand carry things further. I don’t think that this asymmetrical reciprocity stops at procreation, because it seems to me that God is richer in the way he allows all to unfold. But beyond this I see that there is a capacity in women and a capacity in men, which is not always replaceable, although you have to be very careful to not always consider definitive what is sometimes a cultural effect. It seems to me that precisely because we are a unity of body and spirit, what is in the body is transfused into the spirit and vice versa. The problem is how to define what is distinctive; of course, we often live in stereotypes. Today, I would say there is a richness in this dialogue between men and women that should not be lost, but perhaps it could be rethought somewhat. In this rethinking, I believe that the Bible is very important. But I have the impression that sometimes people take up the Bible to look for confirmations to what corresponds to the current sensibilities. But this is not the way to treat the Bible

Scaraffia: How should you deal with the biblical reading?

Marzotto: In this I somewhat see the difficulty: it is true that we must always rethink the current beliefs, contemporary culture seeks to rethink them by questioning the Bible, but the Bible should also be studied and followed in its original proposals, by trying to understand the situations in which people were living at that time. We should avoid projecting onto the Bible need theological and cultural today. When I wanted to read about the theme of women in the Gospels, I tried to see if there was a theology of the evangelist, and how, within this theology, the evangelist places the female figure. Then, I think, a contribution emerges that seems interesting to me: if the evangelist, who after all was in the school of Jesus, was concerned to describe a certain type of relationship between man and woman, it will surely be of value!It has to be discussed, to be rethought, but I think this is a useful basis for any further inquiries, searching for earlier levels of the Gospel tradition.

The issue raised by Gronchi also seems important: in the Church there are the priests who are not married - and I think that priestly celibacy is an extremely important value - but people think that the fact that they are not married means that the issue of “women” is closed, or they resolve it, as he said, through the issue of the mother: my mother is the only woman in my life, with all the consequences that he highlighted. I think an important theme for this discussion is the formation of priests, beginning with seminary, in positive and constructive relationships with the women, and not just as a soul to guide. That is, a priest has to learn to dialogue and enter into a dynamic collaboration with women; moreover, if the issue is not taken into account critically and consciously it can lead to regressive attitudes, rather than helping to deepen and strengthen evangelization and the witness of the Church.




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 14, 2019