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She Who Is Part 2: Inequality of the Sexes

October 29, 2013

It’s no secret that the impetus of She Who Is stems from the feminist movement. Sister Elizabeth Johnson seeks to raise the status and profile of women within the Catholic Church, and more generally Christianity.

Many conservative and traditional Catholics believe that women and men are both equally important to the Church, but that they are complimentary. For conservative and traditional Catholics, this means that women and men have different roles within the Church; equal roles, but different roles.

However, I do not agree that men and women are equally necessary to Christianity, or at least, to traditional, sacerdotal Christianity. (By this I mean Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians who have a sacramental, sacrificial priesthood and also restrict that priesthood to men.) It is clear to me that women in these churches have a far less essential role than men. We could remove women from Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the churches would continue much as they had before. However, if we were to remove all men from Catholic and Orthodox churches, then the churches as we know them to cease to exist.

Imagine, for just a moment, that we live in an apocalyptic society where all the women have died, including baby girls. The human race will soon be extinct. What would Catholic and Orthodox churches look like during these last years?

Well, it would look somewhat like a monastery. There would be Mass everyday, as well as confessions. Since the men would all be unmarried, there would be plenty of priests to go around. Indeed, it might be possible to ordain all the surviving men to the priesthood or even to the rank of bishop. The men would die with the Anointing of the Sick. The men would still have access to the sacraments.

True, they would not have the sacrament of matrimony, since there would be no women. But would that truly be a great loss for the Church? The Early Church Fathers wouldn’t think so. St. Augustine said that it would be a wonderful thing if everyone embraced celibacy since it would bring about the end of the world and the return of Christ. The Church has never taught that matrimony was essential to salvation, and most saints and theologians felt that matrimony was not even conducive to salvation (or at least perfection.) In short, the loss of women would not drastically change the Church. Because women cannot perform the sacraments, women are not essential for salvation.

However, consider the opposite. Imagine a world in which all men have died, including baby boys. What would the Catholic and Orthodox Churches look like during these last years?

In a world with no men, there would be no sacraments except baptism. Masses would cease to exist, as would confession. No doubt the women would encourage each other to pray the act of contrition regularly. Since Mass would cease to exist, the remaining hosts would likely be especially treasured, since each host lost could never be replaced. Communion would stop. When the women died, they would die without the Anointing of the Sick. The leadership in the Church would also have to change completely, since there would be no priests or bishops. In a sense, the Church would be pretty much indistinguishable from Evangelical churches, with a great emphasis on reading the Bible, praying, preaching, and caring for the poor, as well as fellowship. Perhaps praying before tabernacles would carry an even greater significance, because that would be the only access to the Eucharist.

Of course, the usual answer to this would be that women are essential to the Church, since the Church would not exist without the Blessed Virgin. The Blessed Virgin, a woman, gave birth to Christ, and plays a crucial role in the salvation of each Christian. True, but at the same time, so what? It is true that the Blessed Virgin, a woman, is essential to the Church. However, this significance does not transfer to the everyday woman of today.

The Early Church Fathers argued that marriage was the superior state of life before Christ because the Jewish patriarchs needed to produce the Messianic line. The birth of Christ did away with that need. In a sense, as far as women are concerned, the Virgin Mary’s divine maternity is like the snake that eats itself. Her motherhood eliminates the need for all other mothers.

In addition, while the Blessed Virgin does have an incredibly privileged role within the Church, this role does not transfer to ordinary women in the Church. Where Mary is concerned, Catholics and Orthodox Christians tend to have a Protestant attitude; anyone and everyone can have a personal relationship with Mary. Every Catholic and Orthodox can pray directly to Mary. It is true that Mary is seen as being, in traditional understandings, the Mediatrix of all graces. But do men in the Catholic and Orthodox churches believe that this role is somehow held in a special way by women? Do men seek out women as powerful advocates with Christ? Do men believe that women, because they are physically conformed to Mary, share in her intercessory power in a way that men do not? The answer is no. Christ’s divine priesthood empowers a small group of men to be priests, but Mary’s role as advocate does not empower women to intercede on behalf of others.

Some will argue, “But men do seek out women to pray for them!” True. Why do they ask those women to pray for them? What is the criteria? In most cases, it is the personal (perceived) holiness of the woman in question. It is not simply because she is a woman. Her being a woman is irrelevant. It is only on account of her holiness that he asks for her prayers, and since a man can be just as holy as a woman, there is no reason to specifically seek out a woman.

Of course, all of this assumes a utilitarian attitude towards people and things. Stephen Fry (no friend of Christianity) once stated that “The best things in life are useless.” I have a lot of affection for this quote.

Yes, ecclesiastically speaking, women are useless.

So is this.

And this.

And this.

10281733-grand-canyon-sunrise

The best things in life are useless. 🙂

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One Comment
  1. relenemiller permalink

    God has not, does not and never will place either gender of less importance, contrary to some theological avenues. He loves men and women equally as He made us from His image. Women have designated roles differing from men within the operational duties of the “local Church” and none of them are in authority over men. Not, I did not say they are not in authority. I said they are not to usurp authority over men – quite a misspeak often from well meaning Christians.

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