The “Developing Theology” of Women

One of my best friends from college, Molly O’Connor, has begun a series of posts at Catholic News Agency on the Church’s theology of women. She is responding to Pope Francis’ call: “We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.”

Check it out here: A Developing Theology by Molly O’Connor – CNA


Since investigating Edith Stein’s spirituality of women recently, I too have been thinking about Pope Francis’ emphatic call. I remember reading John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem several years ago in Rome. I stayed up for hours one night in a chapel during the silent retreat for women, because I could not put this beautiful text down. In particular I was struck by the pope’s emphasis on the “special sensitivity” of women to Christ, as reported by the Gospels. And I thought to myself – yes, this is what I am called to be as well – I have seen it in the other young women I am blessed to call my friends – I am called to be especially attentive to Christ – as His Mother was, as Mary Magdalene was, as Veronica was, as the weeping women of Jerusalem were, and the women who came with spices on Easter morning, little knowing what they would find.

And yet for all of the encyclical’s beauty, several other girlfriends of mine have expressed dissatisfaction with it. From what I understand, part of this dissatisfaction comes from a sense that “we have heard this before” – and that “yes, Mary is certainly honored in the Catholic Church — but to what cost? To the cost of more ‘practical’ and visible roles for women?”

I have three specific thoughts to share:

1) Although I am overjoyed at Pope Francis’ call for a deepening theology of women in particular, there is part of me that wants to caution everybody. This deepening of a theology of women must not be separated – in any way – from our theology of the human person. To be honest, I think this is where “feminism” (even in its more Christian manifestations) is ultimately lacking. In an effort to honor woman by devoting more study, research and attention to her, we may end up impoverishing our view further if we consider her separately from man. We can see this in certain distortions of Marian devotion that are separated from Christology. As Orthodox priest Father James Rooney puts it, “Mariology is Christology.” You separate Christ from Mary, you get certain versions of Protestantism – if you separate Mary from Christ, you get idolatry (which is ultimately a disservice to her as well). I think that as long as we continuously pursue a “developing theology of women” while contemplating the dignity of the human person “male and female He created them,” created in God’s image and likeness, we will not so easily go astray.

2) As such, it may be also appropriate to call for a deepening theology of men. This may sound strange at first, but  we cannot fully understand our “feminine genius” apart from our relationship with the other sex; likewise, men cannot fully understand their own roles without a deeper understanding of us. Jesus Christ is the source of all of our theologizing – because He shows us how to be human, whether we are men or women.

3) We must also be careful not to pursue a deepening theology of women as if we were trying to “make up for” the Church’s emphatic “no” to women priests. A “deepening theology of women” does not mean throwing the proverbial bone at disgruntled modern egalitarians who wish the Church were a democracy. Our task here is not to help all of us women feel better even though we cannot have certain “leadership roles.” If we approach it in such a way, as a sort of “well yes, we’ve been ignoring women too long, so let’s at least devote more books on theology just for them!” – then I think we will be making a false albeit unconscious concession – that theology (and everything else) is really about power after all, just as feminist critics of the Church claim. And ultimately, that would be a great disservice to those very people within the Church and outside of her who feel so deeply about women’s roles. They deserve better than just another theology of power, even if it’s dressed up in more “orthodox” garments.

A last thought, from our Mother herself – indeed, the last words she speaks in the Gospel:

“Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).