Forming Christ-Centered Females
WOMEN IN CHRIST: TOWARD A NEW FEMINISM
Michele M. Schumacher, ed.
Eerdmans, 2003 342 pages, $38
In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II called for the establishment and development of a “new feminism.” In so doing, he challenged women to assist in transforming culture in the direction of supporting life. He appealed to “the true genius of women” to turn the tide against all discrimination, violence and exploitation” while rejecting the temptation of “imitating models of ‘male domination.’”
The 10 contributors to Women in Christ (one man and nine women) have answered this challenge admirably, putting together a balanced and scholarly discussion about women and their distinctive Christian vocation in the modern world. This means that they outline how the woman's authentic self-realization must be understood horizontally — involving the proper balance between nature and nurture — as well as vertically, which is to say harmonizing nature and grace.
Hailing from an array of international locations — Canada, Venezuela, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States — the contributors' diverse backgrounds and complementary views attest to the universality of the Church and testify to the unity of truth.
“That we are in sore need of a new feminism can hardly be doubted,” writes Elizabeth FoxGenovese, “and the answer to why we need one could hardly be more disconcertingly simple: The old one failed.”
Meanwhile Beatriz Vollmer Coles asserts, “Lacking a rigorous methodology supporting their ideology, many feminists have seen their goals come to nothing.”
Women in Christ, then, is a palimpsest overlying “women in crisis.”
All the contributors are on the same page, so to speak. Their allegiance is directed toward Karol Wojtyla, Thomas Aquinas, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jacques Maritain, Gabriel Marcel and Edith Stein — thinkers who have played an integral role in providing a balanced humanism that is not estranged from the body, nature or the Church.
The essayists write calmly and intelligently in the face of utter nonsense such as Monique Wittig's insistence that women and men, “as classes and categories of thought or language … have to disappear, politically, economically, ideologically.”
Several themes are essential to this well-organized collection: personalist humanism (Prudence Allen, Michele Schumacher); the Holy Father's theology of the body (Father Robert Martin); combat-i n g the culture of death (Margaret Léna); the contributions of St. Edith Stein to the new feminism (Elizabeth FoxGenovese, Sibylle Von Streng, Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz).
Overall, a marvelous consistency and depth of thought characterize this volume. There is perhaps more philosophical than theological discussion (largely because the antagonists who formed radical feminism were mainly philosophers), and the reader might be disappointed that its Christology is not nearly as well-developed as its title might suggest.
Nonetheless, this collection does deliver what it promises: an excellent articulation of the new feminism that John Paul has challenged us to develop.
Donald DeMarco teaches philosophy at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.
- May 9-15, 2004