Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mulieris Dignitatem

Well, poppets, I cannot stick around and chat for I have to finish my lecture on Mulieris Dignitatem this morning. Next up is "How I Became a Completely Seraphic Single Something Like Six Months Before I Met B.A." How will that sound in Polish, I wonder.

Mulieris Dignitatem is an apostolic letter promulgated by John Paul II on the Feast of the Assumption, 1988. In English, it is 42 single-spaced pages long. It is all about the dignity of women, as you might have guessed from the title, which stems from being made (like men) in the image and likeness of God and (like men) being called to service although (being uniquely women) we tend to be a bit more naturally enthusiastic about this service stuff.

As does Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce (Edith Stein), John Paul holds up Mary as the great model for all humanity but also women in particular. He has a lot of cool things to say about this, especially the part about Mary's active dialogue during the Annunciation.

The striking thing about Mulieris Dignitatem is how repetitive it is. If you read it out loud to an audience, they would all fall asleep. Zzzz. And believe me I am thinking about this because I am terrified of boring the beautiful women of Poland (and Polonia) who are coming to my Majówka. Since I am to have a translator, there is of necessity going to be a lot of repetition.

Seraphic: John Paul asserts yet again that women are equal to men.

Women: Ah!

Translator: Jan Pawel powtarza, że kobiety są równe mężczyznom.

Kobiety: Zzzz.

But actually it is quite interesting that John Paul bangs on about how men and women are equal (and different) because he seems even more convinced of this than Saint Edith Stein and how come people told me my whole life that John Paul didn't like women? In the context of Mulieris Dignitatem, it is so BIZARRE that even Catholic women in the 1980s moped and complained and groused that the pope didn't like women and what did he know, he grew up without a mother, and blah blah blah. This attitude is so obviously unfair, I don't know where to begin except, obviously, with Mulieris Dignitatem.

I have three eeny weeny little niggling thoughts about Mulieris Dignitatem, which should not take away from the excellence of that document. The first is the dividing up of all women into Mothers and Virgins, by which John Paul means, specifically, wives and female religious. This leaves long-term Single women out in the cold, not to mention all females too young to make marriage or religious life commitments, which can mean females up to 25 in these immature days, up to 32 or so if they're me.

He mentions that remaining Single is not the same as consecrated virginity, for being unmarried, he believes, is a "No" whereas consecrated virginity is a "Yes." Now I agree that embracing consecrated virginity is a "Yes" but being Single might not be a "No." If no man is knocking on your door, you're not saying "No." You're just not saying anything. And meanwhile, there exist all kinds of women who cannot marry or take religious vows for all kinds of reasons, some which are our fault, okay, but others which simply are not. And then there is the "Yes" implicit in living as a Single person in a community like "L'Arche." One thinks of long-term Single Jean Vanier.

One also thinks, incidentally, of John Paul's great bachelor layman mentor, Jan Tyranowski.

My second niggle is about the definition of virginity. John Paul writes that Mary wanted to preserve her virginity. So do the women who choose consecrated life. Great! He doesn't explain, however, why Mary was betrothed to Joseph in that case. I am sure there is a good explanation, but he doesn't give it. Meanwhile, is virginity a physical thing (and, if so, in what way), or a spiritual thing, or both, or an orientation towards God-as-one-and-only-Husband? Mulieris Dignitatem does not sort this out although it does talk about motherhood in detail.

My third niggle is about Mary as a model for wives. Most wives do not spend our marriages as consecrated virgins. And since ordinary traditional married women feel a bit protective of virginity and innocence, there is a part of our lives that we might not want to share with Our Lady or believe she would understand. Since lack-of-virginity entails certain knowledge, I would tentatively posit that there is something the Blessed Virgin Mary doesn't and by definition can't know.

I can feel the perspiration breaking out on my forehead with that one. Oh well, maybe it's all in "Love and Responsibility." And I suppose one could always have a conversation with Saint Anne on topics that one feels are not suitable for Our Lady.

But I realize that I am in dangerous theological waters so I will now rush off and wash the dishes. And then it's back to Mulieris Dignitatem.


healthily sanguine said...

You don't have to have first-hand experience to be able to advise or understand--this is why we Catholics go to priests for spiritual/practical advice about marriage, even though most priests have not been married nor experienced the same challenges married people do (they might even be virgins too). I think Mary understands.

sciencegirl said...

I feel the same way about that encyclical. I read it and thought "Meh." I mean, it's nice, and it's aimed at bishops anyway, but I don't particularly recognize myself in JPII's description of women. Possibly because I am neither a wife nor a consecrated virgin?

sciencegirl said...

ps thanks for the SPotD

some guy on the street said...

Hmmm... and, really, I mean hmmmm....

There's a huge collection of pious legend around Joseph and Mary, which includes the idea that Joseph also wished to preserve Mary's virginity; that his taking her into his home was out of a simple (but extraordinary) charity. And there's a tiny echo of this in St. Luke's Gospel, that while they were still betrothed she was "found to be with child by the Holy Ghost" --- there are heretics that like to wink at this phrase, but we believe the finding was correct and sincere and inspired --- "and Joseph, being a righteous man, sought to put her away quietly". In some way, Joseph's righteousness and humility suggested to him that he really wasn't the right man for the job, which is when the Angel visited him...

Our reigning Supreme Pontif has said (probably more than once) that the Gospel can only be understood by the lives of the saints. Lucky us to be preceded by so many saints! But of course, we've had the Life of Mary from the very beginning of the Church, so that helps a great deal. The best thing I can eek out of bl.JPII's proposition that Mary is a model for women is that, what we actually see Mary do, all women should do --- carefully understood, of course. The received and inspired tradition of her perpetual virginity aside, it isn't (thank goodness!) something we see her doing. St. Joseph was better than that! We see her receiving and taking up within herself God's will for her; we see her seeking of God the Son "why have you done this?"; we see her bringing prayers to Him ("they have no wine"); we see her following her Son on the via dolorosa, etc.

Generally, all your "niggles" are fine observations along the lines that, when bl.JPII writes to his bishops, we don't toss all logic aside anymore than when reading Genesis 1,2,3. Of course you can say "now, when John Paul says X, it doesn't mean Y"! He himself would very much prefer you studied his ideas with the mind of the Church, which includes the thought of Augustine and Aquinas and Ignatius of Loyola and more.

And finally, if he's terribly repetetive, then there's little need to read through it in order.

I'm sure you'll do fine! And I've just asked St. Mary Faustina Kowalska to help you, too.

Seraphic said...

You know, I can totally see how a lot of women would read Mulieris Dignitatem and say "Meh." When I was reading it, I was thinking, St. Edith Stein's translator put this so much better.

However! It's the current go-to document on women, and I feel it is my job to point to a big bunch of women next week how helpful it is, considering how sucky life can be for women, or would be if every last man on earth read it and thought, "Oh, shoot. What? Women are equal to men? I have a duty towards women's dignity? Mary proves that all women have dignity? Mary is a model for me and not just the wimmenfolk? Headship means service and---whaaaaa?--laying down my life for my wife?"

Honestly, it's a good thing, if we can look beyond the mother/consecrated virgin binary.

Johannes Faber said...

The comment from some guy is spot on - though it could be said more forcefully, seeing as it's the understanding of the fathers and the mystics and the theologians (Try Mary Agreda's 'Mystical City of God' or simply here:

Eastern Icons and art such as Giotto's depict all this stuff, it's pretty much the tradition of the Church.

The other thing would be that our Lady had infused knowledge of all created things. I don't know how that works out in practicality, seeing as I don't have infused knowledge (unfortunately lol), but I think that covers even the things that she hadn't experienced. However I think the infused knowledge of the natural order (I don't know what teaching is about supernatural knowledge but certainly she would have known/now knows more than any other creature) - not to mention the beatific vision which she now enjoys must contribute to your penultimate paragraph in some way?

That audiosancto sermon is very good anyway!

Johannes Faber said...

*spot on about the espousals of the Blessed Virgin I mean

some guy on the street said...

Dear Johannes,

Very kind of you not to niggle over my spelling (or not) of "eke".

sciencegirl said...

I think the reason I am "Meh" is partly the thought that a man who does not already consider his wife to have equal dignity in Christ is not likely to realize it when shown the document. "What does an old, dead celibate know about living with a stupid wife??? LOLZ I need to go rest my beating arm." JPII wrote a lovely letter, and it's all true, but it makes me sad that he would have to spell out that women are actually worth something. I appreciate it, but (just like the parts in his "Love and Responsibility" that say a man should actually care about whether his wife has pleasure in bed with him), I can't help but think it shows just how messed up the situation already is.

Come to think of it, so do most other encyclicals.