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|Women have played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church and the Church has affected societal attitudes to women.|
|Women have played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church and the Church has affected societal attitudes to women.|
In the history of the Catholic Church, laywomen and women in religious institutes have played a variety of roles and the church has affected societal attitudes to women throughout the world in significant ways. While Catholic women cannot become priests, prominent women in the life of the church have included everything from Old Testament figures, to the Virgin Mary and female disciples of Jesus in the New Testament, and to theologians, abbesses, monarchs, missionaries, mystics, martyrs, nurses, teachers and religious sisters.
A special role and devotion is accorded to Jesus' mother, Mary and Marian devotion has been a central theme of Catholic art. Motherhood and family are given a sacred status in church teachings. Conversely, the role of Eve in the Garden of Eden and other biblical stories affected the development of a Western notion of woman as "temptress".
The Gospels suggest Jesus himself broke with convention to provide religious instruction to both men and women. While the Twelve Apostles were all male, and there is much debate about the beliefs of early church leaders like St Paul, women were very active in the early spread of Christianity. Though only men can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, there have been many female Catholic saints and many devotions started by women. Women have played an important role in Catholicism through convents and abbeys, particularly in the establishment of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and monastic settlements, through religious institutes of nuns or sisters like the Benedictines, Dominicans, Loreto Sisters, Sisters of Mercy, Little Sisters of the Poor, Josephites, and Missionaries of Charity.
There are three women commemorated as Doctors of the Church: Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Ávila; Italian mystic St. Catherine of Siena and the French nun St. Thérèse de Lisieux. Other Catholic women have risen to international prominence through charitable mission works and social justice campaigns—as with Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa, and anti-death penalty campaigner Sister Helen Prejean.
The Church has influenced the status of women in various ways: condemning infanticide, divorce, incest, polygamy and counting the marital infidelity of men as equally sinful to that of women. The Church holds abortion and contraception to be sinful, thus affecting the reproductive practices of women. The role of women in the Church has become a controversial topic in Catholic social thought. Christianity's overall effect on women is a matter of historical debate - it rose out of patriarchal societies but in relative terms offered a lessening of the gulf between men and women. The institution of the convent offered a rare space for female self-government, power and influence in Western society through many centuries. Nevertheless, according to some modern critiques, the Church's largely male hierarchy and refusal to ordain women implies "inferiority" of women. New feminism and Feminist theology deal extensively with Catholic attitudes to women.
The Catholic Church holds that it was founded by Jesus Christ in the First Century AD. The New Testament of the Bible which deals with this era refers to a number of women in Jesus' inner circle - notably his Mother Mary (for whom the Catholic Church holds a special place of adoration) and St. Mary Magdalene who discovered the empty tomb of Christ. But the Church says that Christ appointed only male Apostles (from the Greek apostello "to send forth").
As the bedrock text of Catholicism, the New Testament is instructive in terms of the attitudes espoused by the church towards women. Among the most famous accounts of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women is provided by the story Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, from verses 7:53-8:11 of the Gospel of John. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the famous words: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her". According to the passage, "they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last", leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say "go, and sin no more". This passage has been immensely influential in Christian philosophy.
A revealing story contained in the Gospels as to Jesus' own attitude to women is found in the story of Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary. In this story the woman Mary sits at Jesus' feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, "Mary has chosen what is better" (Luke 10:38-42, New International Version). The scene has inspired much Christian art.
According to historian Geoffrey Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. The First Century Apostle Paul emphasised a faith open to all in his Letter to the Galatians:
|“||There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.||”|
Other writings ascribed to Paul appear to both recognise women leadership in the early Church (Romans 16) and to put limits upon it (1 Timothy 2:12).
According to the Book of Acts, the early church attracted significant numbers of women; many of these were prominent in cultures that afforded women more substantial roles than Judaism did. According to Alister McGrath, Christianity had the effect of undermining traditional roles of both women and slaves in two ways:
McGrath describes Paul's egalitarian approach as "profoundly liberating" in that it implied new freedoms for women.
McGrath comments that, although Christianity did not effect an immediate change in cultural attitudes towards women, the effect of Paul's egalitarianism was to "place a theoretical time bomb under them." He asserts that, ultimately, "the foundations of these traditional distinctions would be eroded to the point where they could no longer be maintained." Similarly, Suzanne Wemple notes that, although Christianity did not eliminate sexual discrimination in the late Roman Empire, it did offer women "the opportunity to regard themselves as independent personalities rather than as someone else's daughter, wife, or mother".
Women commemorated as saints from these early centuries include several martyrs who suffered under the Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, such as Agnes of Rome, Saint Cecilia, Agatha of Sicily and Blandina. In late Antiquity, Saint Helena was a Christian and consort of Emperor Constantius, and the mother of Emperor Constantine I. As such her role in history is of great significance as her son Constantine legalised Christianity across the Roman Empire, and became a convert himself - ending centuries of mistreatment of Christians and altering the course of world history. Similarly, Saint Monica was a pious Christian and mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who after a wayward youth, converted to Christianity and became one of the most influential Christian Theologians of all history.
As Western Europe transitioned from the Classical to Medieval Age, the male hierarchy with the Pope as its summit became a central player in European politics, however many women leaders also emerged at various levels within the Church. Mysticism flourished and monastic convents and communities of Catholic women became powerful institutions within Europe. Marian devotion blossomed, setting a model of maternal virtue at the heart of Western civilization.
Petra Munro contrasts the early Christian Church as being inclusive of women as opposed to the medieval Church which she describes as being "based on a gender hierarchy".
The historian Geoffrey Blainey, however, writes that women were in fact more prominent in the life of the Church during the Middle Ages than at any previous time in its history, with a number of church reforms initiated by women. The Belgian nun, St Juliana of Liège (1193–1252), proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrating the body of Christ in the Eucharist, which became a major feast throughout the Church. In the 13th Century, authors began to write of a mythical female pope - Pope Joan - who managed to disguise her gender until giving birth during a procession in Rome. Blainey cites the ever growing veneration of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene as evidence of a high standing for female Christians at that time. The Virgin Mary, was conferred such titles as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven and, in 863, her feast day, the "Feast of Our Lady", was declared equal in importance to those of Easter and Christmas. Mary Magdalene's Feast Day was celebrated in earnest from the 8th century on and composite portraits of her were built up from Gospel references to other women Jesus met.
According to historian Shulamith Shahar, "[s]ome historians hold that the Church played a considerable part in fostering the inferior status of women in medieval society in general" by providing a "moral justification" for male superiority and by accepting practices such as wife-beating. Despite these laws, some women, particularly abbesses, gained powers that were never available to women in previous Roman or Germanic societies.
Although these teachings emboldened secular authorities to give women fewer rights than men, they also helped form the concept of chivalry. Chivalry was influenced by a new Church attitude towards Mary, the mother of Jesus. This "ambivalence about women's very nature" was shared by most major religions in the Western world. The development of Marian devotions and the image of the Virgin Mary as the "second Eve" also influenced the status of women during the Middle Ages. The increasing popularity of devotion to the Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus) secured maternal virtue as a central cultural theme of Catholic Europe. Art historian Kenneth Clarke wrote that the 'Cult of the Virgin' in the early 12th century "had taught a race of tough and ruthless barbarians the virtues of tenderness and compassion".
Women who had been looked down upon as daughters of Eve, came to be looked upon as objects of veneration and inspiration. The medieval development of chivalry, with the concept of the honor of a lady and the ensuing knightly devotion to it, was not only derived from Mariological thinking, but also contributed to it. The medieval veneration of the Virgin Mary was contrasted by the fact that ordinary women, specially those outside aristocratic circles were looked down upon, and at a time when women could be viewed as the source of evil, the concept of the Virgin Mary as mediator to God positioned her as a source of refuge for man, affecting the changing attitudes towards women.
While non-aristocratic women were in many respects excluded from political and mercantile life in the Middle Ages, leading churchwomen were an exception. Medieval abbesses and female superiors of monastic houses were powerful figures whose influence could rival that of male bishops and abbots: "They treated with kings, bishops, and the greatest lords on terms of perfect equality;. . . they were present at all great religious and national solemnities, at the dedication of churches, and even, like the queens, took part in the deliberation of the national assemblies...".
Irish hagiography holds that, as Europe was entering the Medieval Age, the abbess St. Brigit of Kildare was founding monasteries across Ireland. The Celtic Church played an important role in restoring Christianity to Western Europe following the Fall of Rome, thus the work of nuns like Brigid is significant in Christian history.
In the important Franciscan movement of the thirteenth century, a significant part was played by religious women. St. Clare of Assisi was one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a contemplative monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life—the first monastic rule known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.
St. Catherine of Sienna (1347–1380) was a Dominican tertiary and mystic of considerable influence who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970. Considered by her contemporaries to have high levels of spiritual insight, she worked with the sick and poor, experienced "visions", gathered disciples and participated in the highest levels of public life through letters to the princes of Italy, consultations with papal legates and by acting as a diplomat negotiating between the city states of Italy. She counseled for reform of the clergy and was influential in convincing Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon and restore the Holy See to Rome.
According to Bynum, there was an unprecedented flowering of mysticism among female members of religious orders in the Catholic Church during the 12th through 15th centuries. Petra Munro describes these women as "trangressing gender norms" by violating the dictates of the Apostle Paul that "women should not speak, teach or have authority" (1 Timothy 2:12). Munro notes that, although the number of female mystics was "significant", we tend to be more familiar with male figures such as Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Acquinas or Meister Eckhart than with Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Antwerp or Teresa of Avila.
An example is provided by the 12th century Speculum Virginum (Mirror of Virgins in Latin) document which provides one of the earliest comprehensive theologies of cloistered religious life. The growth of the various manuscript of the Speculum Virginum in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance for women who sought a dedicated religious life. Yet, it not only impacted the development of female monastic life, but in turn influenced the proliferation of male monastic orders. These monastic orders came to include key Catholic figures such as Doctor of the Church Teresa of Ávila, whose influence on practices such as Christian meditation continues to date.
Arguably the most famous female Catholic Saint of the period is St. Joan of Arc. Considered a national heroine of France, she began life as a pious peasant girl. As with other saints of the period, Joan is said to have experienced supernatural dialogues which gave her spiritual insight and directed her actions - but unlike typical heroins of the period, she donned male attire and, claiming divine guidance, sought out the King Charles VII of France to offer help in a military campaign against the English. Taking up a sword, she achieved military victories, before being captured. Her English captors and their Burgundian allies then arranged for her to be tried as a "witch and heretic", after which she was burned at the stake. A papal inquiry later declared the trial illegal. A hero to the French, sympathy grew for Joan even in England and in 1909 she was canonised a saint. She remains an important figure in Western culture.
Through history there have been many notable female Catholic monarchs and nobles. Among the most notable of all Christian noblewomen must be Helena of Constantinople, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Constantine's Edict of Milan of AD 303 ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and his own conversion to Christianity was a significant turning point in history. A network of European monarchies established power throughout Western Europe through the Medieval period. Men were generally given precedence to reign as monarch, however aristocratic women could achieve influence.
The first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity was Olga of Kiev around AD 950. She is an important figure in the spread of Christianity to Russia and remembered as a saint by the Catholic and Orthodox churches alike. Italian noblewoman Matilda of Tuscany (1046–1115) is remembered for her military accomplishments and for being the principal Italian supporter of Pope Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy. Saint Hedwig of Silesia (1174–1243) supported the poor and the church in Eastern Europe and Jadwiga of Poland reigned as monarch of Poland and is the patron saint of queens and of a "united Europe". Saint Elisabeth of Hungary (1207–1231) was a symbol of Christian charity who used her wealth to establish hospitals and care for the poor. Each of these women were singled out as model Christians by Pope John Paul II in his Mulieris Dignitatem letter on the dignity and vocation of women.
As sponsor of Christopher Columbus' 1492 mission to cross the Atlantic, the Spanish Queen Isabella I of Castille (known as Isabella the Catholic), was an important figure in the growth of Catholicism as a global religion, for Spain and Portugal followed Columbus' route to establish vast Empires in the Americas. Her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon had ensured the unity of the Spanish Kingdom and the royal couple agreed to hold equal authority. Spanish Pope Alexander VI conferred on them the title "Catholic". As part of legal reforms to consolidate their authority, Isablla and Ferdinand instigated the Spanish Inquisition. The Catholic Monarchs then conquered the last Moorish bastion in Spain at Granada in January 1492 and seven months later, Columbus sailed for the Americas. The Catholic encyclopedia, credits Isabella as an extremely able ruler and one who "fostered learning not only in the universities and among the nobles, but also among women". Of Isabella and Ferdinand, it says: "The good government of the Catholic sovereigns brought the prosperity of Spain to its apogee, and inaugurated that country's Golden Age."
The Reformation swept through Europe during the 16th Century, ending centuries of unity among Western Christendom and bringing Protestantism into being as both a political and religious opponent of Catholicism. For the first time in centuries, the religion of an heir to the throne became an intensely important political issue. The refusal of Pope Clement VI to grant an annulment in the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon saw Henry establish himself as supreme governor of the church in England. Rivalry between Catholic and Protestant heirs ensued. Mary I of England, was his eldest daughter and succeeded the throne after the death of her Protestant younger half brother Edward VI. Later nicknamed "Bloody Mary" for her actions against Protestants, she was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and thus remained loyal to Rome and sought to restore the Roman Church in England. Her re-establishment of Roman Catholicism was reversed after her death in 1558 by her successor and younger half-sister, Elizabeth I. Rivalry emerged between Elizabeth and the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, finally settled with the execution of Mary in 1587. The religion of an heir or monarch's spouse complicated intermarriage between royal houses through coming centuries.
Consorts of the Holy Roman Emperors were given the title of Holy Roman Empress. The throne was reserved for males, thus there was never a Holy Roman Empress regnant, though women such as Theophanu and Maria Theresa of Austria, controlled the power of rule and served as de facto Empresses regnant. The powerful Maria Theresa acquired her right to the throne of the Hapsburg dominions by means of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, allowing for female succession - but had to fight the War of the Austrian Succession to secure her right to reign. Following victories, her husband, Francis Stephen, was chosen as Holy Roman Emperor in 1745, confirming Maria Theresa's status as a European leader. A liberal-minded autocrat, she was a patron of sciences and education and sought to alleviate the suffering of the serfs. On religion she pursued a policy of cujus regio, ejus religio, keeping Catholic observance at court and frowning on Judaism and Protestantism - but the ascent of her son as co-regnant Emperor saw restrictions placed on the power of the Church in the Empire. She reigned for 40 years, and mothered 16 children including Marie-Antoinette, the ill-fated Queen of France. With her husband she founded the Catholic Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty who remained central players in European politics into the 20th century.
Of the remaining European monarchies, all are now constitutional monarchies, with some still ruled by Catholic dynasties, including the Spanish and Belgian Royal Families and the House of Grimaldi. Many non-aristocratic Catholic women have served in public office in the modern era.
Amidst the backdrop of Industrial Revolution and expanding European Empires, a number of notable educational and nursing religious institutes were established by or for Catholic women during the 17th-19th centuries, and catholic women played a central role in the developing or running of many the modern world's education and health care systems.
With Catholicism spreading to the New World, Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint of the Americas was born in Peru in 1586, and became known for her piety. In 1774, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York. She would become the first saint born in the newly declared United States of America. A Catholic convert, she was attratced to the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul and founded a religious community dedicated to the care of the children of the poor - the first congregation of religious sisters founded in the USA.
The Sisters of Mercy was founded by Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland in 1831, and her nuns went on to establish hospitals and schools across the world. The Little Sisters of the Poor was founded in the mid-19th century by Saint Jeanne Jugan near Rennes, France, to care for the many impoverished elderly who lined the streets of French towns and cities. In Britain's Australian colonies, Australia's first canonised Saint, Mary MacKillop, co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart as an educative religious institute for the poor in 1866. Tension with the local male hierarchy culminated in the local archbishop attempting to excommunicate her but Pope Pius IX's personal approval permitted her to continue her work and by the time of her death her institute had established a 117 schools and had opened orphanages and refuges for the needy.
The spread of a number of key Roman Catholic devotions are due to women in religious institutes. A well known example is the impact of Margaret Marie Alacoque on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although various devotions to the Sacred heart had been practiced as early as the second century, and Saint John Eudes had written about it shortly before Saint Margaret, her reported 1673 visions of Jesus were instrumental in establishing the modern devotion.
Moreover, Saint Margaret established the devotion for receiving Holy Communion as the First Friday Devotions for each month, and Eucharistic adoration during the Holy Hour on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. She stated that in her vision she was instructed to spend an hour every Thursday night to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Holy Hour practice later became widespread among Catholics.
The Sacred Heart devotion was later influenced by another Catholic nun, Mary of the Divine Heart who initiated the first act of consecration for non-Christians. In 1898, through her superiors, she wrote to Pope Leo XIII that she had received a message from Christ, requesting the pope to consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart. The pope did not comply, but in a second letter she referred to the recent illness of the pope in a way that the pope was convinced, despite the theological issues concerning the consecration of non-Christians. Leo XIII referred to the issue in the 1899 encyclical Annum Sacrum in which he included the Prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart he composed as a result.: Leo XIII called the consecration which Sister Mary had requested "the greatest act of my pontificate".
Sister Marie of St. Peter, a Carmelite nun in Tours France started the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus in 1843. She also wrote of the Golden Arrow Prayer. The devotion was further promoted by Blessed Maria Pierina and the Holy Face Medal was approved by pope Pius XII who based on the devotions started by the two nuns formally declared the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus as Shrove Tuesday.
Not all women who have impacted Catholic devotional practices have been nuns at the time of the establishment of the devotion. When in 1858 Saint Bernadette Soubirous reported the Lourdes apparitions she was a 14 year old shepherd girl. She asked the local priest to build a local chapel in Lourdes because the Lady with the Rosary beads had requested it. Eventually, a number of chapels and churches were built at Lourdes as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes - which is now a major Catholic pilgrimage site with about five million pilgrims a year.
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For much of the early Twentieth century, Catholic women continued to join religious institutes in large numbers, where their influence and control was particularly strong in the running of primary education for children, high schooling for girls, and in nursing, hospitals, orphanages and aged care facilities. The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s liberalised the strictures of Catholic religious life, particularly for women religious; however, in the latter half of the 20th century, vocations for women in the West entered a steep decline.
The 20th century saw a large number of beatifications and canonisations of Catholic women. Their places of origin reveal something of the global nature of Catholicism in the 20th century: St. Josephine Bakhita was a Sudanese slave girl who became a Canossian nun; St. Mary MacKillop's Josephite sisters established their network of schools across Australasia; St. Katharine Drexel (1858–1955) worked for Native and African Americans; Polish mystic St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938) wrote her influential spiritual diary; and German nun Edith Stein was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
While the Vatican made plain its disapproval of Nazism with its 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (written in German, meaning With burning concern), by 1941, Nazi armies and their allies occupied all Europe. Many Catholic women died as martyrs or faced persecution or imprisonment across Europe. Catholic Poland suffered miserably under Nazi occupation, and a number of women are recognised for their heroism and martyrdom during the period: including 8 religious sisters and several laywomen of Poland's 108 Martyrs of World War II and the 11 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth murdered by the Gestapo in 1943 and known as the Blessed Martyrs of Nowogródek. Swedish born Elisabeth Hesselblad was listed among the “righteous among the nations” by Yad Vashem for her religious institute's work assisting Jews escape The Holocaust. She and two British women, Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough and Sister Katherine Flanagan have been beatified for reviving the Swedish Bridgettine Order of nuns and hiding scores of Jewish families in their convent during Rome's period of occupation under the Nazis.
In the latter 20th Century and following the Second Vatican Council, three Catholic women were declared Doctors of the Church: the 16th Century Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Ávila; the 14th Century Italian mystic St. Catherine of Siena and the 19th century French nun St. Thérèse de Lisieux (called Doctor Amoris or Doctor of Love).
In the developing world, people continued to convert to Catholicism in large numbers. Among the most famous women missionaries of the period was Mother Teresa of calcutta, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work in "bringing help to suffering humanity". Much admired by Pope John Paul II, she was beatified in 2003, just six years after her death.
In Western nations like America, Catholic women continued to be heavily involved in areas like health and education, but a decline of religious institutes accompanied the 20th century's women’s movement, sexual revolution, ethnic assimilation and the Second Vatican Council’s opening of the church to lay leadership.
Social attitudes to sex and marriage in the West moved away from traditional Catholic teachings and Western governments also liberalized laws relating to abortion. In the face of the HIV AIDS epidemic that emerged in the 1980s, the Church maintained its traditional stance that pre-marital abstinence, rather than contraception was the best preventative action. Catholic women became heavily involved in establishing hospices to care for AIDS patients, as with the Sisters of Charity who established Australia's first AIDS clinic at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney. The impact of the disease had been largely controlled in the Developed World by the turn of the century, but continued to spread in the Developing World, where the church remains active in patient care.
While a modern feminist theology developed, the long reigning Pope John Paul II emphasized traditional roles for women within the church and in his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of 1994, declared that the Church "has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
Many Catholic women and religious have been prominent advocates in social policy debates - as with American nun Helen Prejean, a Sister of Saint Joseph of Medaille, who is a prominent campaigner against the Death Penalty and was the inspiration for the Hollywood film Dead Man Walking.
According to Catherine Wessinger, Catholic lay women have been increasingly called to play important roles in the Catholic Church; this trend is particularly strong in the United States.
Cynthia Stewart asserts that, although the hierarchy of the Church is entirely male as a result of the restriction against ordination of women, the vast majority of Catholics that participate in lay ministry are women. According to Stewart, approximately 85 percent of all Church roles that do not require ordination are performed by women. Catherine Stewart identifies several reasons for the increased role that lay women play in the Catholic Church:
The importance of women to the "life and mission of the Church" was emphasized by Pope John Paul II who wrote:
"The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, 'The Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church' " ( No. 10).
New feminism is a Catholic philosophy which emphasizes a belief in an integralcomplementarity of men and women, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men. New feminism, as a form of difference feminism, supports the idea that men and women have different strengths, perspectives, and roles, while advocating for the equal worth and dignity of both sexes. Among its basic concepts are that the most important differences are those that are biological rather than cultural. New Feminism holds that women should be valued as child bearers, home makers but also as individuals with equal worth to men.
Mary was the mother of Jesus, and as such is highly venerated within the Catholic Church as the "Mother of God". The Church holds that she herself was Immaculately Conceived. Whilst betrothed to the carpenter Saint Joseph, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced that though she was a virgin she would give birth to a son - Jesus. The Gospels give several other accounts of Mary, including that she was present at the feet of Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. These verses have inspired vast quantities of Catholic art - notably images of the Madonna and Child - and various Catholic prayers (notably Hail Mary/Ave Maria):
The prominence of Mary in the life of the Church grew gradually. In AD 431, the Council of Ephesus granted Mary the title of "Mother of God". In 553, the Council of Constantinople, proclaimed that she was perpetually a virgin. By 863, the Feast of Our Lady was declared by the Pope to be equal in importance to Christmas and Easter and by the 12th Century, the Hail Mary prayer had become popular, which in turn led to the widespread use of the rosary. According to historian Geoffrey Blainey, Mary had become the "favoured intermediary through whom the ear of God could be reached". She had become an important subject for theologians and artists alike and churches were named after her throughout Christendom. She became known as "Queen of Heaven".
Mary Reichardt comments that the Blessed Virgin Mary is "paradoxically, both virgin and mother, both submissive and the preeminent mulier fortis".
As the mother of Jesus, Mary has a central role in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. Within the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary is seen, not only as the Mother of God but also as the Mother of the Church. By the early Middle Ages, Marian devotion had become an integral part of Church life. The Roman Catholic veneration of her as the Blessed Virgin Mary has grown over time both in importance and manifestation, not only in prayer but in art, poetry and music. Popes have encouraged this veneration but from time to time have also taken steps to reform it.[note 1] Overall, there are significantly more titles, feasts and venerative Marian practices among Roman Catholics than any other Christians traditions. The important Catholic feast day Feast of the Assumption marks the "assumption" of Mary's body into Heaven.
Since the end of the 19th century, a number of progressive and liberal perspectives of Mariology have been presented, ranging from feminist criticisms to interpretations based on modern psychology and liberal Catholic viewpoints. These views are generally critical of the Roman Catholic approach to Mariology as well as the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches which have even more Marian emphasis within their official liturgies.
Some feminists contend that as with other women saints such as Joan of Arc the image of Mary is a construct of the patriarchal mind. They argue that Marian dogmas and doctrines and the typical forms of Marian devotion reinforce patriarchy by offering women temporary comfort from the ongoing opperession inflicted on them by male dominated churches and societies. In the feminist view, old gender stereotypes persist within traditional Marian teachings and theological doctrines. To that end books on "feminist Mariology" have been published to present opposing interpretations and perspectives.
Since the Reformation many Christians have opposed Marian venerations and that trend has continued into the 21st century among progressive and liberal Christians who see the high level of attention paid to the Virgin Mary both as being without sufficient grounding in Scripture and as distraction from the worship due to Christ.
Groups of liberal Catholics view the traditional image of the Virgin Mary as presented by the Catholic Church as an obstacle towards realization of the goal of womanhood, and as a symbol of the systemic patriarchal oppression of women within the Church. Moreover, some liberal Catholics view the cultivation of the traditional image of Mary as a method of manipulation of Catholics at large by the Church hierarchy. Other liberal Christians argue that the modern concepts of equal opportunity for men and women does not resonate well with the humble image of Mary, obediently and subserviently kneeling before Christ.
Christian orthodoxy accepts the New Testament claim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin at the time Jesus was conceived, based on the accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox denominations, additionally hold to the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "There are two elements in virginity: the material element, that is to say, the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure." And, "Virginity is irreparably lost by sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced." However, for the purposes of consecrated virginsit is canonically enough that they have never been married or lived in open violation of chastity.
Thomas Aquinas, emphasizing that acts other than copulation destroy virginity, but also clarifying that involuntary sexual pleasure or pollution does not destroy virginity says in his Summa Theologica, "Pleasure resulting from resolution of semen may arise in two ways. If this be the result of the mind's purpose, it destroys virginity, whether copulation takes place or not. Augustine, however, mentions copulation, because such like resolution is the ordinary and natural result thereof. On another way this may happen beside the purpose of the mind, either during sleep, or through violence and without the mind's consent, although the flesh derives pleasure from it, or again through weakness of nature, as in the case of those who are subject to a flow of semen. On such cases virginity is not forfeit, because such like pollution is not the result of impurity which excludes virginity."
Some female saints and blesseds are indicated by the church as Virgin. These were consecrated virgins, nuns or unmarried women known for a life in chastity. Being referred to as Virgin can especially mean being a member of the Ordo Virginum (Order of virgins), which applies to the consecrated virgins living in the world or in monastic orders.
Catholic Marriage is a "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. [It] has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised." In the Roman Rite, it is ordinarily celebrated in a Nuptial Mass.
The nature of the covenant requires that the two participants be one man and one woman, that they be free to marry, that they willingly and knowingly enter into a valid marriage contract, and that they validly execute the performance of the contract.
Divorce in the ancient world left many women in dire economic and social straits. In the Roman Empire, husbands were allowed to leave their wife, but wives were denied a reciprocal right. Early Church Fathers pointed to the Gospel of Mark, which describes Jesus labelling men or women who divorced and remarried as adulterers. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote vehemently against the practice of punishing women who committed adultery while overlooking the same acts by men.
Married women were attracted to the Christian ideal that men and women shared the same obligatory moral code. Women often converted first and introduced the religion to their social network; it was in this way that the religion often spread to the upper classes of society.
As the Church gained greater influence in European society, its teachings were occasionally codified into law. Church teaching heavily influenced the legal concept of marriage. During the Gregorian Reform of the 11th century, the Church developed and codified a view of marriage as a sacrament. In a departure from societal norms, Church law required the consent of both parties before a marriage could be performed and established a minimum age for marriage. The elevation of marriage to a sacrament also made the union a binding contract, with dissolutions overseen by Church authorities. Under canon law, spouses could be granted a "divorce a mensa et thoro" ("divorce from bed-and-board"). The husband and wife physically separated and were forbidden to live or cohabit together; but their marital relationship did not fully terminate. Alternatively, Church laws permitted spouses to petition for an annulment with proof that essential conditions for contracting a valid marriage were absent. Ecclesiastical courts would grant a "divorce a vinculo matrimonii", or "divorce from all the bonds of marriage",–essentially ruling that the marriage had never taken place–when presented evidence that the marriage had been invalid from its start. Although the Church abandoned tradition to allow women the same rights as men to dissolve a marriage, in practice, at least throughout the Middle Ages, when an accusation of infidelity was made, men were granted dissolutions more frequently than women.
Over time, Church interpretation of a woman's role in marriage has changed. Church teachings have always affirmed that wives should be "subordinate" to their husbands. This is rooted in several Biblical passages, such as "Let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands" (Eph. 5:24). In modern times, this teaching has been the subject of much controversy, with many scholars decrying the perceived discrimination against women. In <year>, Pope John Paul II clarified that "subordinate" should be defined as a " "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" and asserted that "the matrimonial union requires respect for and perfection of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot be made the object of dominion and male possession (MD 10)."
The Roman Catholic Church is morally opposed to contraception and orgasmic acts outside of the context of marital intercourse. This belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Such acts are considered illicit mortal sins, with the belief that all licit sexual acts must be open to procreation.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s precipitated Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) which rejected the use of contraception, including sterilization, claiming these work against the intimate relationship and moral order of husband and wife by directly opposing God's will. It approved Natural Family Planning as a legitimate means to limit family size.
The only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. Modern scientific methods of "periodic abstinence" such as Natural Family Planning (NFP) were counted as a form of abstinence by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The following is the condemnation of contraception:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
The Church's rejection of the use of condoms has provoked criticism, especially with respect to countries where the incidence of AIDS and HIV has reached epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that in countries like Kenya and Uganda, where behavioral changes are encouraged alongside condom use, greater progress in controlling the disease has been made than in those countries solely promoting condoms.
A number of other documents provide more insight into the Church's position on contraception. The commission appointed to study the question in the years leading up to Humanae Vitae issued two reports, a majority report explaining why the Church could change its teaching on contraception, and a minority report which explains the reasons for upholding the traditional Christian view on contraception. In 1997, the Vatican released a document entitled "Vademecum for Confessors" (2:4) which states "[t]he Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception." Furthermore, many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception.
The 1987 document Donum Vitae opposes in-vitro fertilization on grounds that it is harmful to embryos. Later on, the 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae denounces embryonic manipulations and new methods of contraception.
Some Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception. The Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian Bishops was widely seen as a dissenting document for recognizing that many Catholics find it "either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine" and reasserting the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience, a position that they said should be properly interpreted, since they insisted that "a Catholic Christian is not free to form his conscience without consideration of the teaching of the magisterium, in the particular instance exercised by the Holy Father in an encyclical letter". Theologians such as Charles Curran have also criticized the stance of Humanae Vitae on artificial birth control. According to the American Enterprise Institute, 78% of Catholics say they believe the church should allow Catholics to use birth control.
In 2010, in "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times", a book-length interview by German journalist Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI said that while the church did not consider condoms as a "real or moral solution", there were times where the "intention of reducing the risk of infection" made condom use "a first step" towards a better way.
The Roman Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose intended and primary purpose is to destroy an embryo, blastocyst, zygote or fetus. Catholics who support this position say that it is based on a belief in the equality of all human life, and that human life begins at conception. 'Indirect abortion,' by which Catholic jurists mean a particular procedure in the case of ectopic pregnancy where the death of the fetus is said to be a secondary effect of the procedure, may be permissible. Catholics who procure abortion are considered to be automatically excommunicated, as per Canon 1398 of the Latin Rite Code of Canon Law or Canon 1450 §2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
The Catholic Church regards abortion as a 'moral evil'. Abortion was condemned by the Church as early as the first century, again in the fourteenth century and again in 1995 with Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life). This encyclical condemned the "culture of death" which the pope often used to describe the societal embrace of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, capital punishment, and genocide.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, there are many different women's religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, each with its own charism or special character. In religious institutes for women that are called orders (those in which solemn vows are taken), the members are called nuns; if they are devoted completely to contemplation, they adopt the strict form of cloister or enclosure known as papal cloister, while other nuns perform apostolic work outside their monasteries and are cloistered or enclosed only to the degree established by their rule, a form known as constitutional cloister. Women members of religious institutes that are not called orders but congregations are not required by canon law to be cloistered are referred to, strictly speaking, as sisters, not nuns, although in common discourse the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Some religious institutes have ancient origins, as with Benedictine nuns, whose monastic way of life developed from the 6th-century Rule of Saint Benedict. Benedict of Nursia is considered the father of western monasticism and his sister, Scholastica is the patron saint of nuns. During the Middle Ages, monastic settlements were established throughout western Europe and convents and abbeys for women could become powerful institutions. Saint Dominic founded the Dominican movement in France in the 12th century and Dominican nuns have gathered in contemplative religious communities ever since. Looking to Saint Catherine of Siena for inspiration, they also live in religious communities that work in ministries such as education and care of the sick.
In keeping with the emphasis of Catholic social teaching, many religious institutes for women have devoted themselves to service of the sick, homeless, disabled, orphaned, aged or mentally ill, as well as refugees, prisoners and others facing misfortune. Education of the young has also been a major ministry for Catholic women in religious institutes. The Englishwoman Mary Ward founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) in 1609, which has established schools throughout the world. Irishwoman Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831, at a time where access to education had been the preserve of Ireland's Protestant Ascendency. Her congregation went on to found schools and hospitals across the globe. Saint Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor on the Rule of Saint Augustine to assist the impoverished elderly of the streets of France in the mid-nineteenth century. It too spread around the world. In the United States, Saint Katharine Drexel inherited a fortune and established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People(now known as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament), which founded schools across America and started Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans in 1925 for the education of African Americans. In Britain's Australian colonies in 1866, Saint Mary MacKillop co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart who began educating the rural poor and grew to establish schools and hospices throughout Oceania. In the United States again, the Sisters of St. Mary was founded in 1872 by Mother Mary Odilia Berger. These sisters went on to establish a large network of hospitals across America. Many other religious institutes for women have been established down through the centuries, right up to modern times - though in the West, their work in education and medical care is increasingly being taken up by laypeople.
While religious vocations have generally been in decline in the West since the 1970s, vocations remain strong in the developing world. The famous Mother Teresa of Calcutta established the Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Calcutta in 1948 to work among "the poorest of the poor". Initially founding a school, she then gathered other sisters who "rescued new-born babies abandoned on rubbish heaps; they sought out the sick; they took in lepers, the unemployed, and the mentally ill". Teresa achieved fame in the 1960s and began to establish convents around the world. By the time of her death in 1997, the religious institute she founded had more than 450 centres in over 100 countries.
Feminists have disagreed with Church teachings on the ordination of women and have worked together with a coalition of American nuns to lead the Church to reconsider its position. They stated that many of the major Church documents were supposedly full of anti-female prejudice and a number of studies were conducted to discover how this alleged prejudice developed when it was deemed contrary to the openness of Jesus. These events led Pope John Paul II to issue the 1988 encyclicalMulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women), which declared that women had a different, yet equally important role in the Church.
The Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women, as expressed in the current canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that: "Only a baptized man (In Latin, vir) validly receives sacred ordination." Insofar as priestly and episcopal ordination are concerned, the Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law, and thus doctrinal. The requirement that only males can receive ordination to the diaconate has not been promulgated as doctrinal by the Church's magisterium, though it is clearly at least a requirement according to canon law.
The reservation of priestly ordination to men is perhaps the sorest spot among contemporary critics of the Catholic Church’s treatment of women. Several Protestant religious traditions have authorized women ministers and preachers. Many churches in the Anglican Communion already permit women to serve at the altar. The 23 sui iuris Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox are committed to an exclusively male priesthood, and these churches comprise three-fourths of all Christians in the world.
In 1976, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith discussed the issue of the ordination of women and issued a Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood which concluded that for various doctrinal, theological, and historical reasons, the Church "... does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination". The most important reasons stated were first, the Church's determination to remain faithful to its constant tradition, second, its fidelity to Christ's will, and third, the idea of male representation due to the "sacramental nature" of the priesthood. The Biblical Commission, an advisory commission that was to study the exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood from a biblical perspective, had three opposing findings. They were, "that the New Testament does not settle in a clear way... whether women can be ordained as priests, [that] scriptural grounds alone are not enough to exclude the possibility of ordaining women, [and that] Christ's plan would not be transgressed by permitting the ordination of women." In recent years, responding to questions about the matter, the Church has issued a number of documents repeating the same position. In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared the question closed in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, stating: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance…I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."
Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) too has reiterated that the church teaching regarding women’s ordination is “founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” In 1994 the encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On Ordination to the Priesthood) further explained that the Church follows the example of Jesus, who chose only men for the specific priestly duty.
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