Listers, the Catholic Church has often been accused by her opponents as a misogynistic institution; however, this false accusation can be easily refuted by a careful look at what the Church actually teaches on the dignity of women. I believe that the reason for this misguided accusation streams from a faulty view of service and vocation, and the perpetuated ideal that man and woman are in competition for God’s love.
For some reason, since the Fall man and woman have been fighting this ridiculous and fruitless “battle of the sexes;” however, “in the beginning it was not so.” God created man and woman not for competition for His love, but as a service to one another as they grow in relationship with God. The song “Anything You Can Do” has become a mantra of the secular feminist movement, and it also shows that once again the secular feminist movement has completely missed the point. In this age after the Cross, there is no competition between man and woman. There is only love expressed through true vocation and the selfless act of service. Perhaps that is why they cannot understand the Catholic Church’s stance on the dignity of women. What we see as the beautiful and freeing defense of women’s exclusive and honored place in the Church as “mother” and “virgin”, the world sees only as another doctrine that limits and atrophies the abilities of women.
I personally believe that it is the secular feminist movement that is prevalent in today’s society that has enslaved modern women to be female eunuchs serving the false idol of “sexual freedom.” For me it does not make sense that to be sexually free we must deny what makes us women by prohibiting our fertility, regretting our children, and demeaning our men. To be free, women must deny what makes them inherently women? Women must begrudge themselves their distinctiveness in order to be truly free? It just does not follow. This issue, of course, cannot be completely refuted in matter of two paragraphs. For a more thorough and theological look at the Church’s teaching of the dignity of women, I ask you all take a gander at Blessed John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem. Now on to the quotes:
1. Women of Grace, Brave and Invincible
I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the Acts of the Martyrs; but when the Martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the great is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts? – John Chrysostom, Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis, quoted in Alice von Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, 61.
2. Women Are the Reflection of Loftiest Goals of All Human Hearts
This Marian dimension of Christian life takes on special importance in relation to women and their status. In fact, femininity has a unique relationship with the Mother of the Redeemer, a subject which can be studied in greater depth elsewhere. Here I simply wish to note that the figure of Mary of Nazareth sheds light on womanhood as such by the very fact that God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his Son, entrusted himself to the ministry, the free and active ministry of a woman. It can thus be said that women, by looking to Mary, find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement. In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement. — Blessed John Paul II Redemptoris Mater (46)
3. The Church Is Primarily Feminine
The Church is primarily feminine because her primary, all-encompassing truth is her ontological gratitude, which both receives the gift and passes it on. And the masculine office, which has to represent the true giver, the Lord of the Church (albeit within the Church’s feminine receptivity), is instituted in her only to prevent her from forgetting this primary reality, to ensure that she will always remain a receiver and never become self-assertive possessor and user. From a certain point of view, the Church’s structure is primarily matriarchal and only secondarily patriarchal, although these sociological categories can be applied only in a very loose sense to the Church. We use them here because there can be a demand for ecclesiastical office only when there is a failure to appreciate the real dignity of women in the Church (as the Church). — Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mary: The Church at the Source, page 140)
4.The Exclusive Male Role of Priesthood in No Way Detracts from the Value of Woman but Underscores it
In this perspective of “service”-which, when it is carried out with freedom, reciprocity and love, expresses the truly “royal” nature of mankind-one can also appreciate that the presence of a certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity is not the result of an arbitrary imposition, but is rather an expression of what is specific to being male and female. This issue also has a particular application within the Church. If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism. These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of “signs” which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.
Furthermore, precisely in line with this economy of signs, even if apart from the sacramental sphere, there is great significance to that “womanhood” which was lived in such a sublime way by Mary. In fact, there is present in the “womanhood” of a woman who believes, and especially in a woman who is “consecrated”, a kind of inherent “prophecy” (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29), a powerfully evocative symbolism, a highly significant “iconic character”, which finds its full realization in Mary and which also aptly expresses the very essence of the Church as a community consecrated with the integrity of a “virgin” heart to become the “bride” of Christ and “mother” of believers. When we consider the “iconic” complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church’s essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the “Marian” principle and the Apostolic- Petrine principle. — John Paul II “Letter from John Paul II to Women.” (11)
5. The Gateway to Redemption
The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (70)
6. All Women Are Called to the Religious State at All Times
Women just as men have been called to the religious state at all times. And when we consider the manifold ramifications of contemporary religious life, when we acknowledge that the extremely diverse works of charity in our times are practiced by the feminine Orders and congregations, we can see only one essential difference which still exists in reality: The actual priestly work is reserved for men. This introduces us now to the difficult and much debated question of priesthood of women.
If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free loving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet He did not grant them the priesthood, not even to His mother, Queen of the Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (83)
7. All Women are Called to Be Mothers
Finally, woman’s intrinsic value can work in every place and thereby institute grace, completely independent of the profession which she practices and whether it concurs with her singularity or not. Everywhere she meets with a human being, she will find opportunity to sustain, to counsel, to help. If the factory worker or the office employee would only pay attention to the spirits of the person who work with her in the same room, she would prevail upon trouble-laden hearts to be opened to her through a friendly word, a sympathetic questions; she will find out where the shoe is pinching and will be able to provide relief. Everywhere the need exists for maternal sympathy and help, and thus we are able to recapitulate in the one word motherliness that which we have developed as the characteristic value of woman. Only, the motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy, it must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened. — Edit Stein (aka Teresa Bendecita of the Cross) “Woman’s Value in National Life” Essays on Woman (264)
8. The Level of Woman = The Level of Civilization
The level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. In as much as woman is loved, it follows that the nobler a woman is, the nobler man will have to be to be deserving of that love. That is why the level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail.”
9. Women Were Made to be Mothers
Every woman in the world was made to be a mother either physically or spiritually. Here we are not talking of physical motherhood, we are speaking of spiritual motherhood. A women in professional life is happy when she has the occasion to be feminine. The man is the guardian of nature, but the woman is the custodian of life. Therefore in whatever she does, she must have some occasion to be kind and merciful to others [...] The women who does not fail in the professional life, is the woman, therefore, who manifests this feminine quality that we call equity. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail”