Silvia Cano. A Christian, theologian, and artist

My four frontiers

 Le mie quattro  frontiere  DCM-008
02 September 2023

Silvia Martínez Cano is a theologian and an artist. “I cannot disregard either of them. These two languages influence each other, they are very close because of their symbolic character and interpretation of the world, and their combination gives answers to our time”, she tells me.

As a lecturer at the Complutense University of Madrid and the Higher Institute of Pastoral Ministry at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, she directs the series on biblical women at the San Paolo publishing house and is the author of numerous books (Caminar por lo sagrado, Teología Feminista para Principiantes, De Evas, Marías y otras mujeres: arte, cristianismo y género [Walking through the Sacred, Feminist Theology for Beginners, Of Evas, Marias and Other Women: Art, Christianity and Gender], among others).

“Woman!” this is exactly how the risen Jesus calls Magdalene. “It is something truly subversive for the time. Which religion at that time calls women to salvation?” asks Martínez Cano. In her theology, frontiers have a special prominence and, by extension, women too. “Jesus calls the person, whether that be a man or a woman. The problem is how our social and ecclesial structures have reinterpreted Him. We know that in the first and second generation of Christianity, men and women’s activity was equal. However, when the Church became an institution, it tried to survive in a very patriarchal society and it was women who lost out. It is a limit that has been set. We stand on the fringe of the Church. We fill churches, we support charity, but women are at a level that owe obedience to a very small group of men.  And this structure does not correspond to what Jesus wanted”.

The theologian argues that “we would overcome this limitation if today (which I see as a time of opportunity), we addressed the problem seriously and really tried to make the Church a model for society.  In a place like the Church, in a space of liberation for all, it is unacceptable that women cannot express themselves”. Silvia Martínez welcomes the steps that are being taken, such as the presence and vote of women in the next synod of bishops, but is convinced that “faster steps are needed. Real synodality passes through elements that still remain outside the debate. There is no talk about the hierarchical structure of the Church. If the difference between the People of God and the hierarchy is maintained and no women enter the hierarchy, there will be no real transformation of the Church, because it is excluding 80 per cent of the committed members, who are women. I would like all this to come out in the Synod. We women do not want to lead, we want to share responsibility, it is a summation, nobody loses out”, she says.

Silvia Martinez Cano straddles the frontiers. She has chosen this path, which is a concrete way of life from a Christian experience. “Much in Christianity is borderline, and dialogues take place on the frontiers. They open up unexpected paths and that is always interesting”. One of these led her to art. She has been curious ever since she was a child and began to develop her expressiveness at the age of eight, and today she nurtures her capacity for wonder every day. She has her own workshop, devotes herself to painting, sculpture, photography and murals. “Art is fundamental to life, its democratization is very important. It is the absolute mode of communication; without it we are animals, culture dies”. She sees it as a vital need, and as a mode of expression and research. Bringing theology and art together is, for this theologian, a way of bringing faith and culture into dialogue. Her art is expressed between space, with art installations, and action, with performances. Performance means community action, which includes several people and in which time becomes a process, a ritual, with greater participation.  “It can also be applied to the Church, to ask ourselves how to be a large community in which all members are active”. Indeed, Silva Martínez Cano aims to “recover creativity to solve many of the problems we have as a Christian community too”.

Influenced by female theologians such as Dorothee Sölle, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Ivone Gebara, she considers herself a second-generation feminist theologian (“it’s a very recent fact”, she observes), and in a world almost entirely reserved for men. “We know few female figures who have been able to make this journey. The theology that is known has a very ‘masculine’ way of thinking, linear, logical, and abstract, for example. Women’s theology brings diversity and enriches points of view. Nevertheless, there are not many people who do that. I feel very alone in this world, but I also believe I bring something new and necessary, which is part of the sensus fidei”.

However, she sees a sign of hope. “The fact that we can talk about theology and feminism and end up in the newspapers is in itself incredible”.

By Ana Medina
A Journalist of the diocese of Malaga, a writer and a poet