· Vatican City ·



The Christian paradox
and feminist theologies

03 February 2024

Elizabeth Green is a lively theologian and pastor emeritus of the Evangelical Baptist Christian Union of Italy. With her most recent and irrepressible book, the lines in which Emily Dickinson observes the summer surrendering to a season of color tough me. “Lest, I should be old-fashioned, I’ll put a trinket on”. I can find no better words to collect this book, valuable and contained while never yielding to superficiality, because every passage is documented, nor to self-referentiality, because it weaves a constant dialogue with theologians, because questions hypotheses and attestations are skillfully interwoven, and not lost to triviality.

It is a comprehensive view of the Christian faith that benefits from feminist theologies and is realized through the commentary on the Hymn contained in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 2:5-11, which also accompanies us with the First Vespers prayer each Sunday.

There have been so many occasions when we have meditated on that text which contains a “dangerous” passage: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, […] emptied himself”. The text then concludes with an affirmation of life, of resurrection. But herein lies the paradox: how can emptying oneself (which is also referred to as kenosis) lead to life, how can emptiness generate fullness? Does this singular movement say something important about God and about being women and men? Here, then, is the unfolding but also the title of the book, Dio, il vuoto, il genere (ed. Claudiana).

The beginning is also autobiographical, as Elizabeth confides that for her first homily she was entrusted with that very text, which has continued to challenge her ever since. So, does the book have a homiletical slant, perhaps a bit sweet? Absolutely not! The study is divided into three parts that refer back and forth, creating an overall design. An introduction and conclusion enclose eight chapters, each of which is devoted to a theologian who unfolds the empty/full theme according to a prevailing point of view. Thus we have an annotated introduction by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Daphne Hampson, Anna Mercedes, Sallie Mc Fague, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Sarah Coakley, Masao Albe with Paul Knitter (these are two men, the former of whom is a Buddhist) and Dorothee Sölle.

Many of the books mentioned have never been translated in Italy, and there are still those who can afford to teach theology by ignoring them and not sensing the seriousness of this gap, a void it erases. Instead, Green creates an important bridge, allowing us to have initial access to their writings and further suggested titles, including in the in-depth tabs. This opens up a first form of different void, which is rather energy-dense space: showing alliances and not forgetting proper names circulates and empowers the strength of all and sundry. This practice is called empowerment: sharing energy is not just an addition, but a multiplication that creates life.

Here, then, is the main thesis of the book: there is good news in the Gospel-and in the Hymn that summarizes it -as long as we read it without superimposing on it the iniquitous structures that want to annihilate women and the poor. It is precisely this iniquity that needs to be emptied, in order to liberate not only the victims, but also God, who is a prisoner of our bad imaginings.  Through the women theologians invited in the pages we therefore find both critical reliefs and paths of solution capable of reversing the terms: the paradox of emptying, if interpreted and transformed by women's resistance, is a possibility of liberation. Not, therefore, a void of erased lives, but an emptying operation that clears away the trappings to delineate a space dense with shared and vital energy, for all and all, human and non-human. Here, then, is a parade of different declinations of kenosis/emptying: as an abandonment of patriarchy, as “power for”, as a resource for the climate crisis, and then in relation to queer desire, prayer and contemplation, and finally to the test of dialogue with Buddhism and mysticism.

In the conclusion, which is even more personal, three important images appear. These are known to tradition, but transformed into a path that has left nothing as it was before: the living water well, the gap that opens gaps, and the empty tomb at Easter. All this is seasoned with the quite rare and definitely enviable merit of a flat language, which treads carefully to make itself understood even when it goes through a theological production that is not easy and always too little known, in a beautiful Italian language touched here and there by some Anglism that makes it really irresistible. it really seems as if we are listening to the author live, which is a priceless experience.

by Cristina Simonelli
Theologian, professor of Ancient Church History, Theological Faculty of Northern Italy, Milan

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2,5-11