· Vatican City ·

Exousia and feminist Christology at the CTI seminar

The relaunching of women theologians

 Il rilancio delle teologhe  DCM-006
04 June 2022

But she answered him

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid.  But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet.  Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni′cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  And he said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”  And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Mark 7, 24-30

They are there among the signatories of the articulate reflection proposed to the “brother bishops” as a contribution to the synod path too. Regarding the document But she answered him, which refers to “Jesus’ conversion after the extraordinary dialogue with the Syro-Phoenician woman”, the Coordinamento delle teologhe italiane (CTI) spoke during the seminar on 7 May at the Antonianum in Rome too. As participation and authority, discerning and deciding (the points on which the reflection proposed by the synodal network of women is focused) are terms that were widely echoed at the meeting on L’autorità teologica della donne. Pratiche di exousia, [The Theological Authority of Women. Practices of Exousia], which was attended by the founders of the CTI, and very young female theology enthusiasts too.

“Women’s authority is a theme that comes from historical feminism, which asked what it means to have an authoritative voice and how to pass on the power to speak”, explains CTI president Lucia Vantini. “The word exousia expresses the fact that the existence of things and living beings comes from outside. For feminisms, this recognition of dependence on something else is not a subtraction at all, but a force that enables freedom. It is bonds, in fact, that give consistency and expressiveness to a person. In this perspective, power is reconfigured as the power to authorize others and others in a web of words, symbols, gestures and practices that aims at sharing even when conflicts inevitably arise”. Moreover, adds Vantini, “in the term authority there is the idea of raising, of pushing, of sustaining between generations. The presence of young women theologians at the seminar was a sign of the great fruitfulness of women’s theological life. The future passes through this”.

“To our brother bishops we write that authorizing must mean defending and not abusing power. This is because in the Churches there is a movement of exclusion, of closures of spaces, cases of purges and dismissals”, says Cristina Simonelli, who gave the opening lecture of the seminar La teologia delle donne come pratica di autorità [The Theology of Women as a Practice of Authority], citing the document of the synodal network.  “We women have a memory, a present and an authoritative delivery that when exercised creates esteem, empowerment”. The CTI was founded in 2003 from an intuition of Marinella Perroni to make an association from a gender, ecumenical, multi and multidisciplinary perspective. Since then, the CTI’s passage has followed paths that have led to numerous publications and, in recent years, to the Exousia series, with San Paolo. Cristina Simonelli tells us that “each volume re-visits theological fields from a gender perspective and proposes to attest possible hermeneutical circularities. These include disciplines and themes, amongst confessional affiliations, between interests and positioning”. The series, Simonelli explains, quoting the introduction that accompanies each volume, responds to a need, which “Theology should not simply be updated but completely rewritten. Women’s access to theology has not entailed a straightforward updating of files; instead, it has made the urgency of a general rethinking of models evident”. An indispensable condition for this turnaround “is to welcome difference, critically examining acquired perspectives, introducing the exploration of new fields of enquiry, formulating new categories and paradigms”. At the core of the seminar, therefore, is the latest volume in the series, Pathways of Feminist Christology, written by Milena Mariani and Mercedes Navarro Puerto. Milena Mariani explained in her presentation, “The almost fifty years of feminist deconstructions and reconstructions show how the change of point of view in Christological discourse, thanks to the introduction of the gender and feminist perspective, allows for critical rethinking and new approaches; it illuminates aspects of Jesus’ identity that have been removed or previously ignored, and helps to ward off not only sexist and misogynist drifts, but also anti-Jewish, racist, imperialist, and colonialist, which do not only belong to the past of Christological tradition. In particular, feminist criticism focused on “the instrumental use of Jesus’ masculinity to reaffirm male superiority and to reinforce the exclusively masculine imagery of God”. From the outset, a second crux was indicated in the theologies of the cross, accused not only of “conveying the image of a sadistic and indifferent God, but also of exalting the ideas of salvific suffering, vicarious sacrifice, and passive obedience to the divine will, which have had historically ruinous repercussions on the condition of women and the humblest on the social scale and on the relations woven by western countries, of Christian history, with the rest of the world”.

Mariani’s conclusions bring out the centrality of women’s testimony and experience of faith, which “would require the recognition of an authority that is legitimized from the beginning by the paschal trace at the foundation of the Gospel narratives, [which are] unthinkable without their witness”. An experience that, as it was then as it is today, “is expressed in their own words, ideas, sensibilities and gestures, whose full fruitfulness and novelty in the language and life of the Christian Churches would require a “discipleship of equals” that is still waiting to be truly realized”.

by Vittoria Prisciandaro