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A Feminist theology through experienced reflection.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

“And one spoke with authority. Mt. 7:29”

For several weeks I have been reflecting on the idea of authority and how that word impacts us. I am always struck by the use of the word in Mark’s Gospel passage because I find it offensive and counterintuitive as a term used for Jesus, yes, especially when my favorite image of him is holding a lamb, a person of deep compassion, of stalwart forgiveness and of an understanding of the cosmos about how we are all interdependent, not lorded over by a hierarchical word such as ‘authority.’  I cringe when I hear it, and when I see it in print; my physical reaction mirrors my interior twisting and turning as anxiety builds against the myriad meanings and interpretations of this word and what it represents in its broadest oppressive, dominant context. Questions arise as the physicality of it enters my brain and the sound permeates me, such as, – ‘He spoke with authority’, or ‘Listen as I am the authority’, or   I have the authority to make that decision’.  How do we respond to those who presumably ‘have authority’? What does it mean to ‘have authority’ to those who have it and those who do not?  What is our own sense of authority? DO we have it or do we not?  If not, how do we get it?  DO we want it, even? What does it really mean to have it anyway? Is it given to us by others or do we grasp at it for ourselves?

Often we have presuppositions about concepts surrounding words that are taken in or out of context.  We presume meanings that may not even have relevance to the word itself, but these meanings have built a myth around the word, often distorting significance as certain of these meanings are used in ways that build a concrete wall around the word seemingly never to be dismantled.  New meanings are ‘not allowed’ to be constructed. New meanings that might bring the words forward to renewal or retrieval of the original true meaning, or graft innovative, transformative or evolved meanings on them as society’s needs fluctuate progressing to ever nuanced interpretations or hermeneutics over tried and true anciently rooted meanings suffering from stagnation.

Authority is such a word. Its etymology comes from the Latin word auctoritas.[i] According to Cicero, it was the power of the Roman Senate to make decisions and assert their voice over another’s arguments. Its meaning was fluid in a certain respect and could not be pinned down definitively. It appears also that it was a word that the Greeks had no equivalent for and in the end even the Roman Senate found it to be an ineffectual solution. So the concept of auctoritas was either replaced or paired with consilium [ii]  

What are the meanings of the word ‘authority’ today?  There are many and as fluid as they were back in Roman times.  The dictionary states, of course, a variety of meanings along with synonyms for a variety of situations. First, there are the various contexts in which the word is used, such as:

·         Power based on right

·         Appearance of having power, knowledge or ability

·         Vested with ability or knowledge

·         One who knows

Then under these subheadings are several synonyms that apply to each:

Ø  Right, authorization, righteousness, justification, power

Ø  Prestige, influence, self-assurance, gravitas

Ø  Officialdom, judges, police, ecclesiastics, powers that be

Ø  Scholar, expert, critic, specialist, judge

 From the defining words above, authority denotes control, of a position of hierarchical influence of someone who believes to have answers because of predetermined circumstances that they have an ability, knowledge, or power that someone does not have, cannot have or that excludes them from having.  Sometimes this is true and authentic; sometimes it is imagined or simply bestowed without foundation, understanding or practical experience of what it means.

Authority presupposes possession of knowledge, experience or a truth, but also a taking on of responsibility for the concept which one represents to the other.  Sometimes, however, authority is not connected to experience, as expressed above, such that one comes not from a position of practical, and right knowledge about a concept, but from a pure position of power that one can self-name.  One can sound authoritarian, can appear to have the experience or be in possession of a truth claim because they are capable of overriding the opinion of one who may have more practical ability, but senses a certain inability to articulate, or explain or even be allowed to explain that experience or alternative truth claim that is valid.

Is authority, as the definitions state, what is given, bestowed or graced upon us by others?  Often I see those who claim they have it, but without any other entity having paved the way for them or handing it over to another as seemingly a baton or a mantle of justification for making pronouncements except for those elected into a particular office or position that has a list of prerequisites that the electee seems to possess, but may not yet possess the title.  Here is where the meaning distorts as depth of experience conflates with another’s ability to misuse power or ambition to override a less astute, yet able ‘authority’ to reign. I believe that this idea was realized by the Roman Senate and, therefore, they knew that authority is a fleeting concept and that all that one can hope to do is consilium –deliberation, consultation, advice, suggestion, wisdom, plan, purpose, judgment.

Fr. Joe Pellegrino rightly states, “All authority is by nature transitional except that authority which comes from [God] and which has [as] its goal to return to him. Jesus held people spellbound because God gave him the authority to teach the truth. This authority would never be removed from Jesus because Jesus was intimately united to [God], the source of the authority. We share in the authority of [God] to the extent that we are united to the source of this authority.”[iii]  Therefore, we are empowered by our deities, our symbols, of who and what God is to us.  We are empowered to be all that we can be in the truth and trust of that authority bestowed because it has a divine source.  We must not abuse it because it can be taken away or it can fade away in ways of which we might not even be aware.

Authority is fleeting, ultimately, and transitional.  Today we know and are experts, but new knowledge and learning comes after and then we are left as before – without authority, or at best, a changed authority.  I think that this is what my mother meant when she told me that ‘rules were meant to be broken.’  She knew that authority was not monolithic, even that of God, can and does change and is handed to others, such as a change in Popes or the empowerment of women who heretofore have not had authority, but are now acquiring it, finding it, or retrieving it in new ways to explain the truth of what God/Goddess, Christ/Christa mean to us.  We have learned the lessons of how to ‘act with authority’ and many are now listening to our ‘authority’.


“Women are sources of love, carriers of love and sustainers of love.”[iv]   


I ask us to think about replacing this dire word, authority, with a different one that places a graced way of envisioning Scripture, Christ/Christa and God/Goddess in a new light that brings a creative view of how religion and faith work in our lives bringing us closer to our divinity and our spirituality in a fairer, more tender and more compassionate inclusivity.  I invite us to begin to replace authority with arbiter, a person empowered with issues of judgment as an umpire would weigh alternatives and arrive at an answer.  Arbiter presupposes experience in certain matters, an ability to be equitable in judging and discerning on important matters that involve righteousness and benefit for all. A mediator who gathers information before passing judgment or exercising authority in its harsher sense.

Authority, for me, always has the ring of a power-over structure, a hier---yes, but in the sense of ‘holier-than-thou’ --archical meaning that diminishes one’s own sense of trust in their truth as they understand and see it in light of a healthy sense of self that ‘gives permission’ to the other as having a valid answer with a varying interpretation that resonates in one’s life with a more appropriate meaning.  For many, especially women and those on the margins, authority, in many ways, can breed fear as one distrusts their truth and attempts to replace it with the reigning authority. Properly used authority is there for empowered arbitration and consilium, not disempowerment and diminishment of the other.

     “Eldad and Medad were not in the tent. They weren’t present with the 70 who received the Spirit back in the days of Moses. Yet, Eldad and Medad still received the Spirit. “Stop them,” Joshua said. “Why?” asked Moses. “Would that all the people shared in the Spirit.”[v]

The only way to keep authority or be an arbiter is to know how to give it away, to share the Spirit.  When we do that we do it without ego and we do it selflessly, our motives are pure and full of divine truth.

God/Goddess and Christ/Christa, as arbiters, would not, I am sure, want us to ‘fear’ our existence and experience, but find a way to trust our abilities and gifts in order to discern what is just, righteous and beneficial to all in how we express that to others and to ourselves. Let us speak as arbiters.

[i] http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Auctoritas  “An essential concept of Roman political life and not the same as English "authority", auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, their clout, influence, and ability to rally support around one's will. Auctoritas is the ability to make people do what you want, just by being who you are. The auctoritas is more than advice and less than command, an advice which one may not safely ignore.”
[ii] Balsdon, J.T.V.D., The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (May, 1960), Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association, http://www.jstor.org/stable/637589 Auctoritas, Dignitas, Otium , 'Auctoritas' was naturally one of Cicero's favourite concepts. In the ideal republic power lay with the people, auctoritas was with the Senate ('Cum potestas in populo, auctoritas in senatu sit', De leg. 3. 28). Alternatively, in a balanced state, potestas would lie with the magistrates, libertas with the people, but still auctoritas would be the property of the Senate, 'in principum consilio' (De rep. 2. 57).This auctoritas which was the Senate's function in government, was, as Mommsen said, 'an indefinite word, evading strict definition'. Instructions went out to priests and others 'auctoritate senatus' (Mommsen, Staatsr. iii. 2.3 I033, n. 2), and Livy frequently wrote of laws whose initiation lay in a senatorial decree as introduced ‘ex auctoritate patrum'. By the end of the Republic, however, an effective resolution of the Senate was a senatus consultum, while senatus auctoritais in the strict technical sense-which, Dio tells us (55- 3- 5), could not be expressed in Greek-was an ineffective resolution of the Senate. It reflected the will and intention of a majority of the senators present and voting on a specific resolution, and was indeed recorded as such in the Journal of the Senate, but it was a resolution to which effect could not constitutionally be given, either because one of the tribunes had vetoed it after it was passed (Adfam. I. 7. 4; 8. 8. 6-8) or because of some procedural irregularity. Apart from Dio's statement, the only evidence for senatus auctoritais in the sense of 'a resolution made ineffective through tribunician veto' is supplied by Cicero's correspondence and is both late and sparse-a vetoed decree on the restoration of Ptolemy Auletes in 56 (Adfam. I. 7. 4), the three auctoritates reported by Caelius in October 51 (Adfam. 8. 8. 4 ff.), and a letter of Cicero in the same year (Ad Att. 5. 2. 3)-' The Senate gave the sanction of its auctoritate so the decisions of the people, and was the consilium of the magistrates, who were themselves 'in auctoritate senatus'. ('Huius ordinis auctoritate uti magistratus et quasi ministros gravissimi
consilii esse voluerunt (maiores nostri)', Pro Sest. 137.) But the Senate was no more than the sum of its members; so that the exercise of auctoritas and consilium was the function of the individual senator, in particular of the senior senators who spoke first and whose opinions could be expected to sway the House. Anyone who spoke in the Senate gave consilium A. senior senator who spoke early in the debate spoke with auctoritas and, if things went properly, made the side on which he spoke the winning side. ”,pp. 43-50,
[iii]Pellegrino, Fr. Joseph, January 29, 2012 Fourth Sunday of the Year: Teaching With Authority, http://www.st.ignatius.net/pastor.html
[iv] Ibid., August 15, 2012 The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary: Mary, the Greatest of Us, “With the exception of Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal Word, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary is the greatest person to ever exist. She is the greatest person to be conceived through a human mother and a human father. She is greater than Buddha, or Mohammed, or Moses, or David, or George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, any of the great people of history. She is the one who gave her life so we can have a Savior. She is the greatest of us all. Women are sources of love, carriers of love and sustainers of love.”               
[v] Ibid., September 30, 2012 Twenty-sixth Sunday: The Grace of Our Eldads and Medads

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Although I do not have any concrete thoughts about who may be the next pontifical leader, it stands to reason that more transparency is needed.  I agree that from what I know and sense about it much more will be coming out about the scandals that needs purging.  My hope is that status quo will be tossed out even if the most likely choice will be someone hyper-conservative.  My hope also is that the Spirit will be fully active as she was during Vat II and surprise us all. 
Yes, asking for forgiveness and admitting that chidren have been abused by priests still needs to be clearly stated.  Well, and another thing that needs transparency is for the Vatican to have a few gay cardinals 'come out' publicly.  We know they are in there and most people would embrace that wholeheartedly--how would that be a super healing moment!!
 Talking about sexuality in an open manner would also be a huge shift and one that could be paradigmatic without knocking down any huge walls, but clear the way for dialogue on the other issues.
Benedict is a brilliant theologian and I am sure he's been thinking about this resignation thing for a long time -- his 'school-buddy' Hans Kung (Vatican III: The Work that Still needs to be Done) has been calling for term limits for popes since 1974, so perhaps this is an act in that direction.
The marginalized--absolutely need to have a voice and all the lashing out at those who love the church and have been 'abused' in other ways for standing up for righteousness and their consciences in prophetic disobedience must be reconciled!!  I think the fact that you were on Tavis' show is prophetic and standing in another kind of solidarity.
This is historic and certainly needs documenting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Again the Nuns lead us where we may dare not tread, but we are with them as women, friends, sisters and in love grace and Spirit because She is with us and we know it in hearts, our minds and our souls, forever, Amen

Dangerous Women Creed
by Lynne Hybels

Dear God, please make us
dangerous women.
May we be women who acknowledge our power
to change, and grow,
and be radically alive for God.
May we be healers of wounds
and righters of wrongs.
May we weep with those who weep and speak for those who cannot
speak for themselves.
May we cherish children, embrace the elderly, and empower the poor.
May we pray deeply and teach wisely.
May we be strong and gentle leaders.
May we sing songs of joy
and talk down fear.
May we never hesitate to let passion push us, conviction compel us,
and righteous anger energize us.
May we strike fear into all that is unjust and evil in the world.
May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.
May we shine like stars in a darkened generation.
May we overflow with goodness in the name of God and by the power of Jesus.
And in that name and by that power, may we change the world.
Dear God, please make us dangerous women. Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

 Nuns on the Bus--

Let us pray for them as they travel to raise their graced voices in unison doing the work they have always been called to do.  If this is radical feminism, then so be it.  Women obeying their conscience as they are called to do.

Power is in service to God, to Christ and to the other; that is true power.

Again, I quote:
“Feminism does not seek to replace men’s exclusive privilege with women’s but seeks a vision giving advantage to both." Dyckman, Katherine; Garvin, Mary; Liebert, Elizabeth, The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed, Paulist Press, Mahwah/NY, 2001, p. 13, 18

Come along as we follow these brave women standing in solidarity together.

Treasuries: Jewish/Interfaith Community Earth Justice Peace
The Shalom Report
Nuns on the Bus: Their Schedule.
Serving the Poor, Facing the Power

The activist nuns of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and the NETWORK Education Program have announced the schedule for NUNS ON THE BUS – a cross-country tour to serve the poor and face the powerful. I hope many of us around the country will check out the specific events in our own cities (look at the NETWORK website for details) and join in support of the nuns.
The Shalom Center is honored to encourage their work and to stand among their allies, since they hear the Voice calling them both into direct service to the poor and into direct challenge to the powerful.  All the more so because American nuns have been condemned by the Vatican for putting so much energy into healing the poor and so little in opposing contraception.As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "No religion is an island."
NETWORK writes:
Every hour of each day, Catholic Sisters stand in solidarity with all who live in poverty, and we confront injustice and systems that cause suffering.
We cannot stand by silently when the U.S. Congress considers further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families.
As part of our campaign for budget fairness we are taking a bus trip. Our bus will travel to places in many states where Sisters actively serve people in need. For they are our best witnesses to the suffering our federal government must not ignore.
Below we have listed all the cities, but specific events in only a few cases. The NETWORK sisters invite all to visit their website here, (where the details of events in each city are listed.
They also invite everyone to join them in prayer, and to support their work to defeat government actions that would add to the suffering of already struggling families.

June 17, 2012- July 2, 2012

 Please remember that this information is subject to change. Check back here  for more details on where we are going, what we’ll do and how you can join us!

Sunday, June 17. Des Moines, IA
Monday, June 18, Ames, IA to Cedar Rapids, IA to Dubuque, IA
Tuesday, June 19, Dubuque, IA to Sinsinawa, WI to
Janesville, WI to Milwaukee, WI
2:00 PM — Rep. Paul Ryan Office: 20 South Main Street, Suite 10, Janesville, WI 53545
Wednesday, June 20, Milwaukee, WI to Fox Lake, IL
Thursday, June 21, Chicago, IL to South Bend, IN
Friday, June 22, Elkhart, IN to Grand Rapids, MI
Saturday, June 23, Jackson, MI to Detroit, MI
Sunday, June 24, Toledo, OH to Cincinnati, OH
Monday, June 25
 : West Chester, OH to Columbus, OH
10:00 AM — Rep. Speaker John Boehner Office: 7969 Cincinnati-Dayton Road Suite B, West Chester, OH 45069
Tuesday, June 26, Cleveland, OH
Wednesday, June 27,  Youngstown, OH to Pittsburgh,
Thursday, June 28, Altoona, PA to Harrisburg, PA
Friday, June 29, Langhorne, PA to Philadelphia, PA Saturday, June 30
   Philadelphia, PA to Frederick, MD to Baltimore, MD
 Sunday, July 1,   Richmond, VA
1:00 PM — Rep. Eric Cantor’s Office: Richmond, VA
 Monday, July 2, Richmond, VA to Virginia Beach, VA to Washington, DC

Please remember that this information is subject to change. Click here for more details on where we are going, what we’ll do and how you can join us!

Please strengthen our transformative work by donating here.
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The Shalom Center
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web: theshalomcenter.org/ email: office@theshalomcenter.org tel: (215) 844-8494

Monday, May 21, 2012






New York

Thursday, 1 July 2010

This year’s substantive session is particularly pertinent leading up to

the long expected World Summit on the Millennium Development Goals. All women and girls who are affected by the MDGs look forward towards an increased recognition of

their value and equality as well as their dignified role in development.

Any deliberation on the matter will be incomplete without ensuring the

advancement of women, who are dynamic agents of development in the family,

society and the world.

Ever since world leaders committed their governments to the ambitious

objective of attaining the MDGs, some remarkable progress has been

achieved in mainstreaming women’s perspectives in development both in

multilateral and national policies. Even those countries lagging behind in

many aspects of development are giving more prominence to the role of

women in public life, especially in the political arena.

The empowerment of women presupposes universal human dignity and, thus,

the dignity of each and every individual.

The Spiritual Empowerment of All Presupposes a Christ Led Life: The Refutation of Aristotelian Anthropology

When I first began my art training in the early 1960’s, one of the first slides --  PowerPoint did not exist back then -- we were shown in the required art history class was the famous ‘fertility’ figure, Venus of Willendorf from 25,000 BCE.[i]  The professor told us that art history began with this figure, yes, that art history began with a small statue of a woman not a man. If all of art history began with the tiny effigy of a woman, who was she?  Even with recent archeological information, this eternal muse remains a mystery. We do not know if she was a queen, a fertility figure as was once believed or simply a funerary object.  All we know is that she is female. I never reflected on it from a gendered or theological perspective back then, but love of this small four and a half inch form has stayed with me.  I somehow knew she was significant, but as an eighteen year old, I was too young then to fully grasp her meaning.  The tradition of art history in its reverence for the past in the present, aligns beautifully with the traditions of all religions – looking at the past in order to draw lessons for the present and future and create a foundation and continuity of human ‘being’. Surprisingly, she has recently resurfaced in many of the theological books written today exploring our religious history as an important example of our supposed goddess tradition that pre-dates all other known religious traditions.  The unknown mystery of her actual history is much like the subject of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church; there is much discussion on both sides, many unknowns and many ways to interpret the data that argues for or against it.

In searching for answers to the questions of whether women can or are called to priestly leadership roles in the Church, we can continue the dialogue and pull a sense of the human voyage to God through them that can only enrich our Catholic tradition, and establish a better sense of what it means to be Catholic today as a woman, but also as a man.  Theological studies today that are responsible will be able to look back behind our tradition to retrieve a pre-historic spiritual tradition that has been missing from the picture.  Doing this can reconnect us through a new continuity that is a part of human history.  It can answer questions as to where we have been and how we have arrived at where we are now in the debate about women’s roles in the Church going forward.  From the earliest times in our Church, the anthropology of women has been defined by men, from Aristotle to Augustine to Chrysostom to Aquinas and more, as being deficient and below that of the male sex.  These constructs have pervaded our thinking up to modern times.  What we retrieve from ancient pre-history can inform and reflect a truth that has been ignored because it was not thought to be relevant.  What I want to explore here through a retrieval of the Goddess, as a correction as to how women have been burdened by a distorted world view about being ‘less-than’, or subordinate to the male half of humanity because of a selected agenda to do so whether intentional or not.

            I want to present a short evolution about how humanity went from a matricentric, or egalitarian culture as explained by the modern Lithuanian archeologist, Marija Gimbutas, who taught at Harvard and UCLA, to the rise of patriarchy that has been fueled by the Church from the earliest days through to a retrieval, refutation, and correction by feminist theologians, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Johnson, and male theologians, John Foley SJ and Bishop Kenneth Untener, among others, to a new paradigm of equal anthropology to the understanding of who we are as Church now in a contemporary context.  The texts that are relevant to this argument are: Genesis 2:21-22, Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage and Commentary on Genesis from Elizabeth Clark’s book, Women in the Early Church, Gary Macy’s book, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination and that of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, Jean Markale, Courtly Love, John Foley’s Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy and Bishop Untener’s essay in The Practical Prophet.  I will trace various anthropological ideas about women that are still unclear as we uncover a history that has primarily been written by males from an androcentric worldview.  We are still writing and exposing the historical archeological and anthropological record. What I write addresses where we are today in our reflection and research.  I want to present an examination of the question, not of whether women are capable of being priests, but a reply to the question as to what that role of ordained women or a married priesthood might look like if the Church found a way and a means to bring these into reality. What would that look like based on the ancient evidence with hope that change can and must happen if our Church is to survive. Eva Figes so aptly comments, ‘The church may be dying on its feet, but it will cling to the last to the male exclusiveness which was [is] its raison d’être in the first place.’[ii] 

When more people understand the dynamics of male domination, then change can happen.  Continually writing and reading about what is going on in our church can perhaps instrument change in small ways from both the outside and the inside.  Those fearful of any change will fight to maintain the status quo, but the more a status of equals is modeled, then the old ways will drop away replaced out of practical necessity of how men and women understand each other. 

Our Goddess Tradition

As I stated at the beginning of this paper, there was an apparent reverence for the female as evidenced by the number of artifacts that remain of female figures from pre-history.  We have an archeological record about many of these cultures in Central Europe through the meticulous and ground-breaking work of Marija Gimbutas, who made this her life’s work to study and collect the artifacts, many of which are female.  Many of her suppositions about a peace-loving egalitarian society that existed for thousands of years before Christianity and was eventually overrun by a violent male society of invaders from the Russian steppes are suspect, but what she has given us is the existence of a culture that revered the female in some way and had female leaders.

In Ruether’s book, she “seeks to sort out that piece of history that connects ancient Near Eastern societies, as they arose from their Neolithic roots, with the contemporary Western feminists’ efforts to reevaluate how they are linked to those roots today.”[iii]  Examining the current existing record of women’s ancient past can create a firm foundation on which to empower women about their own part in history and its importance.  Ruether asks us to be careful in making any biased feminist assumptions about the ancient historical record and cites the many problematic conclusions in the work of Marija Gimbutas.  She states, “Several archeologists who have worked in some of the same areas as Gimbutas question her interpretation …Ruth Tringham, for example believes that Gimbutas has ignored evidence of fortification, inequality [between male and female roles], and human sacrifice in earlier sites in order to fit her thesis. Gimbutas’ thesis that peaceful goddess-worshipping, matriarchal societies experienced waves of invasion from one area by patriarchal militarists with a completely different culture is not history.”[iv]  Ruether points out here that there was not just a monolithic invasion from one people spreading over a wide area of Central Europe, but more of intermittent periods of peace and growth and, then invasions by those who would wish to take over the wealthier, more prosperous communities by force or eventual forced assimilation.  If indeed these more prosperous and peaceful communities were led by women, then for a nomad-like tribe or group who were not settled might find them alluring to conquer for many reasons  -- food, housing, and rape or concubinage of women.  These invading forces might see these prosperous communities as a means to a wealthier or more stable life that might have been easy for them to conquer and then assimilate into.  These prosperous communities if led by women are an attestation to their ability to organize and develop a community that enriched itself under female tutelage and grew.

However, I would argue that if Gimbutas had not strongly presented her assumptions in a plethora of books on the subject and brought these often one-sided assumptions to the surface, as many men have done, then, perhaps the work would have been marginalized and never looked at in a more serious way.  Ruether in her critiques obviously feels strongly about these assumptions right or wrong and by refuting them pushes the envelope further for continued archeological research by women that is necessary to find a more plausible answer to the existing record of artifacts, both female and male.  She does admit in her conclusion, however, “There once was a culture, possibly worldwide, for most of human history, until the last few thousand years—in which a matricentric, not matriarchal, society flourished.  Humans were in harmony with one another and nature, thus a female-personified deity [Venus of Willendorf?] expressed the immanent life energy that cycled through the earth as one community.”[v]  She does not deny that a Goddess cult existed; however, it was perhaps structured differently, and not as monolithically as Gimbutas states.  It appears that the existence of a matricentric community that Gimbutas insists existed were female led where females and males worked in blissful harmony, but the invasions were more in intermittent, successive waves rather than all at one time from the Russian steppes and other northern climes.[vi] 

Adele Getty explains in Goddess, Mother of Living Nature, that the de-throning of the goddess was somewhat more complicated and these invasions took place over thousands of years by Indo-Europeans, Aryans and Kurgans, some of whom came from Russia, the Caucasus region and from northern Denmark.  They brought a father god of light who flamed on a mountaintop and probably evolved out of volcanic eruptions that destroyed all in his path.  He began to depose the goddess who then became transformed ‘from the bountiful source of life into the enemy of the new God carrying with it a perfidious implication: if the Goddess and her domain of moist darkness [seen as the womb] were evil, then all womankind was also evil and guilty of transgression by birth.  The logical conclusion of such thinking is most clearly revealed in the word of Yahweh’s patriarchs.  The role of the mother is devalued and in its place the male’s reproductive power viewed as fertile ‘seed’, is blessed by God as if it were self-generating. The purity of the male seed must be guaranteed through the virginity of the bride, so marriage as an institution becomes the will of God, absolute submission to God’s will, and the consequent acceptance of woman’s position as subservient to that of her husband are obligations that come with the Lord’s covenant.’[vii]  From this transgression of the female, we move to further diminution of them in the Bible.

Genesis and Augustine

“So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said, ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, This one shall be called ‘woman’ for out of ‘her man‘this one has been taken.”Gen. 2:21-23   The belief that the entire human race came out of man has been perpetuated here in the Bible.  The idea that woman was ‘born’ from man is the great reversal of the truth that the Goddess culture by the invaders from the steppes and the north knew that life was nurtured in the body of women and came out of women, not men.

Augustine in On the Good of Marriage believed this to be a good thing because he saw us as relational, but the underlying meaning was that the reason men and women walk alongside each other is because women came out of the side of man.  He saw ‘genuine relationship’ between a man and woman as ‘one of them ruling and the other subject – even without sexual intercourse.’[viii]  He elaborates even more in Literal Commentary on Genesis, “If it is necessary for one of two people living together to rule and the other to obey so that an opposition of wills does not disturb their peaceful cohabitation, then nothing is missing from the order we see in Genesis directed to this restraint, for one person was created before, and the other afterwards, and most significantly, the latter was created from the former, the woman from the man.”[ix]  Adele Getty claims this reversal of natural birth to be womb-envy of the male.[x]  Although I am in no way saying that this idea is the same for all men, I wonder, if some males envied the life-producing force in women in some way over the millennia of our existence and know full well that although they have their part, they will never be able to give birth in a true sense and this counter transference of their envy triggered the reversal we see in the creation narrative of Genesis?

Medieval Aristotelian Anthropology

We fast forward several centuries now and take a look at the medieval church and how it dealt with women because there was a monumental shift of power at this time from commonality in ministry as a way of life to differentiation of a core group of privileged males to own the ordos.  In a general sense, the point of Gary Macy’s writing is to explain in great detail and careful analysis the huge shift the Church went through in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that stripped the laity and women, as collateral damage, of all power of ecclesial ministry.[xi]  Exclusion became the modus operandi at this time in history.  Perhaps this happened as a necessary shift of structure so more growth of the Church could be maintained and managed, but it is this shift of power and organization that has made the Church what it is today – more legalistic, hierarchical and exclusionary on a global scale.   It is at this point in history that the ‘maleness’ of Christ took hold, as Elizabeth Johnson says, and became the focal point of the Church tossing aside justice.  She says, “If the equal human dignity of women is ever recognized in ecclesial theory and praxis, this discussion about the maleness of Christ [and God, I add] will fade away.  In a more just church it would never have become such an issue.”[xii]

Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used Aristotle’s anthropology, especially as used by Thomas Aquinas to subjugate especially women and laity in the name of Christ. Aquinas saw women as having a deficit of reasoning ability needed to preside at Mass.  This deficiency was the reason why women were ‘subject’ and ‘not in command’.  Then Aristotle goes on to say, “that corruption of government exists when government falls to women.”[xiii]  Women were not understood as complete human beings by these men.  These ideas about women which began with Genesis 2, continued in the medieval ages and seems amplified in its vitriol and analysis of women as human beings less than human.  It would seem that these writings were ways for the men to distance themselves from women and denigrate them to convince themselves that women were bad so they could escape and deny their own primal urges so that they would not be tempted to break their vow of celibacy.  Oftentimes what is most desired is that which we criticize and debase in order to assuage the feelings that accompany the desire.

Macy expounds on this in his conclusion, “Women were considered as children or servants in canon law, subject to the protection and correction of males.  The reception of Aristotle’s concept of women by medieval scholars was a conscious effort of selection… The separation of men and women into separate spheres as a well as the relegation of women to the laity, resulted in women being shunted to the margins of the intellectual life of Western Europe. Women were in effect considered to be monsters.  Unnatural in birth, incomplete in mind, and disgusting in their bodily functions, they were clearly inferior to men.”[xiv]  Because of their inherent authority that they deemed came from God, it is apparent that they felt compelled to carry on the continued description of women as the person who came out of Adam, made from his rib – only a small part of his body and because of this thinking felt justified in furthering the stance of ultimate authority that they felt entitled to have and that was their birthright as males.

Notwithstanding the good that has come out of the Church for so many that has been superbly healing. The idea of this exposé; is an attempt to foster change in order to improve on the good already extant.  Retrieving some of the lost values in the pre-twelfth and pre-thirteenth centuries is best explained by a quote in Macy’s book taken from Edward Shillebeeckx’s book, Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ:

“In comparison with the ancient church, circumstances here have taken a fundamentally different direction: a priest is ordained in order to be able to celebrate the eucharist; in the ancient church it is said that he is ‘appointed’ as minister in order to be able to appear as leader to build up the community, and for this reason he was also the obvious person to preside at the Eucharist.  This shift is of the utmost importance: at all events, it is a narrower legalistic version of what the early church believed.”[xv]

In addition, “Shillebeeckx work confirmed the conclusion of earlier scholars that there was a fundamental and significant change in the understanding of what constituted Christian ministry in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  He suggested that the cause…was the introduction of Roman law and hence a more legalistic approach to ministry that caused …a change [that] occurred at the conclusion of and partly as a result of the eleventh century reform movement [Gregorian Reform].”[xvi]  The Gregorian Reform solidified the position of male power within the clergy ordo and completely excluded women.  This reform started with an idea to clarify the roles of ministers in the church as it grew, but over time has become a gross distortion that has caused a male privileged sense of enormous psychological and spiritual abuse of women and laity that was never intended at the outset.   The Church’s separation from the laity and retreat into a male-only world that has not kept up with the times is evident from the changes implemented to reverse many of the edicts passed in Vatican I by Vatican II.  Today the Church is desperately trying to catch up, but with the return to the medieval Roman Missal this year, how can we not say that it now is once again retrenching itself in an historical, nostalgic past that really does not exist? Does the Church have a right to be anachronistic in this way?

Retrieving the past can be good

As Macy’s book says, there are two overlapping stories emerging here; the historical and the theological.[xvii]  Although the historical record is clear that women were in leadership roles in some fashion in the Church before the shift in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we need to look at this information much more closely and determine if a redefinition of ordination is possible.  I reason here that if a redefinition of the roles of ordained ministry could be changed and redefined during the Middle Ages away from the simpler and more fluid roles before the Gregorian Reform; then can they be changed again to re-include women and married clergy in a new age and understanding of our Church and its roles of called ministry.  We all know that systems evolve and adapt as new information is presented and our Church is no exception.  The growth in the Church could not have happened it if was not flexible enough to adapt to societal and technological changes that are also part of God’s plan for humanity.   The bottom line here is that women were leaders in the Church in communities in some way, shape and form, albeit not in the complex detail as ratified during the reform that instituted a separation of male, female and lay roles in the Church, but as those individuals who most fit in line with the call from Jesus to inspire their communities in faith.  It also has been demonstrated in this paper that women were leaders once in the ancient, per-historical Goddess cultures.  Women had power then and they will continue to demonstrate leadership qualities now.  We can reshape the ideas of what has been going in the last two thousand years that needs both a new historical and theological lens in which to redefine and correct the errors of the past both in society and in faith.  When we retrieve our equality we can contribute a better quality to everything we do because mutual respect will be the refound grace that will carry us into the future.

With the implementation of the Gregorian Reform in the High Middle Ages, women who had heretofore had leadership roles in the Church were now sidelined as the reform sought to clarify and separate lay from the clergy.[xviii]  The idea of celibacy and continence existed during this time among even the married clergy and could have been an impetus to once and for all create a clean break away from the lay world.  Jean Markale, however, suggests that the implementation of the Gregorian Reform was not as absolute as one might think. He says, in Courtly Love, “Finally in 1073, Gregory VII, solemnly declared that any sexual activity was incompatible with the religious life.  This scarcely prevented the clergy from practicing concubinage over a long period of time, including the bishops and the princes of the Church as well as the more modest religious servants of the parishes.  It even reached a point where parishioners preferred their priest to have a concubine than to be living alone: the thinking was that the priest would thus not seek to seduce the women of others.  This is a good indication of a certain kind of mentality, as well as a great deal of license in social custom.” [xix]  The role played by social custom is frequently glossed over in many theological books that express that once the edicts were written and passed everyone stopped what they had previously been doing and started to immediately obey the new ruling.  We must keep this in mind when we read as changes dictated in 1073 were not communicated swiftly, nor implemented uniformly, if not entirely ignored.  There was great local diversity in how the decrees were implemented.  Some, obviously, took more licenses with bending the rules or interpreted them in a different ways than others.  Life is messy and because a papal decree has been enacted it would stand to reason that its implementation would not always be a smooth transition from previous actions to new ones.  Forty-five years later, we are still experiencing the implementation of what was set out in Vatican II which ended in 1965.  Perhaps the idea of celibacy is better lived out by some, but then the abuse scandals have nullified much of one’s belief in a celibate clergy.  From this viewpoint, it just does not seem to be working.  Repressed sexuality, whether hetero- or homosexual, will find expression, indeed, needs to find expression somewhere and somehow.  Therefore, I propose that this needs to be examined more closely with councils which include both female and lay input.  If sexual expression is suppressed then emotions are suppressed and sometimes a darker side will manifest.  The medieval misogyny based on the Biblical anthropology of the time can be an outward expression of the frustration of dealing with no outlet for sexual connection and affection.


Feminist theologians can make a stand by pulling out from the histories of our traditions the constant appropriation of feminine and female images to be utilized to express the various aspects of maleness.  In fact, I would begin to examine how we might explore and research where the idea of maleness might emerge within the female story as a counterbalance to this utilization and maleization of the female in our religious history.  We must begin to pinpoint where the male appropriation of the female has taken place and deconstruct the male construct, reappropriating it for the female or at least in a more balanced egalitarian respect for both genders.  How do we interpret this for ourselves?  How would we, for instance, see our Church as the early medieval female mystics, such as Hildegard von Bingen and Judith of Norwich, saw themselves in a Christocentric light? Their stories barely make mention of Mary. Indeed, Elizabeth Johnson in her article, The Maleness of Christ, reclaims Imago Christi in the sense that it was meant precisely for our baptismal [we-are-a-priestly-people] heritage and tradition from Paul as we are all ‘clothed in Christ’(Gal. 3:27-28).[xx] If we are the embodiment of Christ at our baptism without regard to gender and are called to be priests by the very nature of it, then how can the contradiction exist that women are said to be something other than the same image as men?  She goes on to conclude that we need to do away with a ‘dualistic anthropology’ for one that is inclusive,[xxi] indeed Christo-inclusive.  I ask which seems to me a fairly obvious question, when the Vatican talks in its encyclicals, they often make reference to ‘the people’ of God; i.e. -- “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa.”[xxii] – who is included in this collective noun ‘people’?  Are not all women and men included equally in God’s love without differentiation?   When the Vatican refers to humankind or human being are they not referring equally to men and women with no gender bias?

John Foley states, in Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy that “even though the journey and implantation of a sperm is dramatic and interesting, it is not the most significant fact about conception.  The union is.  Everything about [conception] leads to the union.  When chromosomes combine, they are not doer and receiver—the popular stereotype of man and woman – but complete equals. Each has a full half of what is needed.  In combination, they now become a whole…when sperm and egg unite two different and differentiated beings unite as one to become three.[xxiii] Could this not be more Trinitarian in concept? Could this be said any more beautifully?  I think not.  All of us are, biologically, a product of an equal amount of maleness and femaleness; twenty-six male and twenty-six female chromosomes.  It’s all there in the DNA.  It exists in nature and, therefore, how could it be otherwise theologically as God made us this way.  Christ himself was humanly and divinely half and half, if we must give God a male gender.  So for women to be ‘less’ than what they are, is a lie and for men to think that they are ‘more’ than what they are, is the second lie.  So, in essence, we all need to begin to believe and admit the truth about equality, but more than that we need to start acting and living that truth for anything to change.  Who is a man to say that my sense and feeling, of acting Christlike is different than his own sense?  How can he know my sense; for that matter, how can I know his?  Mutual respect is allowing the other to have their image of Christ, to be their own imago Christi.  If we are all imago Dei; how can we all not be imago Christi?  We all deserve and are fully both.

In personae aequum-broader horizons

The argument of imago Christi leads to another argument about the meaning of in persona Christi. A little-known article explains the idea of in persona Christi.  It was written in 1991 by Bishop Kenneth E. Untener and appears in The Practical Prophet: Pastoral Writings.  It demonstrates how an idea can be manipulated even in a theological sense.  Take the word persona: the Latin Oxford dictionary defines it as personage, mask, character, or part.  It does not say the meaning is ‘person’, but facsimiles of a person; which I understand to mean ‘as in the image of’ not ‘in the person of’; therefore, the priest, according to this definition in not in the ‘person’ of Christ, but a sort of facsimile, an imitative copy.  Theologically speaking, if the meaning is said to be in the ‘person’ of Christ, then that meaning is stretched from the dictionary one.  Bishop Untener goes on further to explain, however, that the meaning itself from the Greek, en pro opo Chris tou—in the presence of Christ -- is a mistake made by St. Jerome in translating 2 Corinthians 2:10.  If this is true, then is this a valid construct to use today as an excuse for a reason not to ordain women?  If this is a non-infallible definition, which it appears to be; then it cannot be used as an argument against women’s own ability to also be in persona Christi.  I would hope that what counts in this deep idea of Christ and God is not the surface, outside appearance or resemblance based on gender; but a holy, contemplative inner spirituality of who is serving at the table of the Eucharist and the entire Mass.  Bishop Untener calls this instrumental causality. The meaning is stretched by the Magisterium to say that their authority on this is the only one that counts.  So they can twist and manipulate the meaning to their own ends, but no one else can.  Within the article discussing this topic by Bishop Untener, who was part of the large congregation of Saginaw, Michigan, was his discussion of how ideas, even in the Church can and have reversed themselves, such as, the idea expressed at the Council of Florence in 1441 that anyone who was not Catholic would not be saved to the reversal of that idea at the Vatican II Council in 1965 that reversed that idea to include that any human person may be saved.  He attributes this to all of us expanding our horizons and our sense of the awesome expansiveness of God and how our narrow human horizons must stretch to broaden and widen in a way that can align us even more with our Creator who is the most expansive of all.[xxiv]

In persona Christi is a human male construct.  I would suggest a more expansive construction to include and unify the genders and our Church closer to Christ by using in persona Christi ed Ecclesiae, especially if we consider Christ as the Bridegroom and the Bride as Church.  In exploring this idea, I believe there is something deeper going on, a deeper calling.  When one has been shut out of something one focuses on the object that is verboten, instead of the deeper level of why does one want this thing to begin with.  We must ask, why do women want to be priests?  Are women called to this vocation as men are, or are they called differently?  If we expand our thinking, we can ask, what would women bring to the Eucharistic table if they were allowed to concelebrate? For one, they would bring the other half of humanity to the table in a real, representational sense.  In consecrating the Eucharist, they would actively be bringing the other half of the gene pool to Christ in transubstantiation.  There is experience in the doing, not in sitting and watching.  Women want to actively partake in the Mass.  They need, for their own fulfillment of their deepest desires to partake in the celebration of the Mass.  Women have been deprived for too long from the table of plenty.  If we believe that Mary was Christ’s humanity, then women presiders would consecrate Christ’s humanity to the Eucharist, in homage to the Theotokas.  For the first time it would be whole.  If we think of the male priest as the divine representation of Christ during the Eucharist; then all these centuries only half of the entire picture has been brought to the people of God.  We all have been cheated.   What, indeed, would a married couple bring also to the table if allowed to do the same? Their unity can result in a third person, so then their action of union completes the consecration of the Trinity.  Human love is brought directly to the table, and therefore, the divine and the human meet in a representationally symbolic form that has no equal.  Our humanity meets the divine in a more direct sense before the eyes of the community. For now, we do not know the answer of how to make this complete, but the question is there to be discerned at some time in the future.  Instead of trying to fit the new paradigm into an old box, I propose that we really begin to think in new ways and break a bit with this box of traditions – both Goddess and male-centric religions. We need to question what is most relevant and authentic to our humanity in view of God now and for the future, not a past that has already been.  Is it not to glorify God in ways that expand our own meanings of what, who and how God acts in our midst?


            We can continue the discussion by putting in conversation the secular and the spiritual, the flesh and the soul, the human and the divine.  One where we can retrieve long ago hidden aspects of our earlier Church that made it attractive for many to convert; reinterpret them to reincorporate them into a renewed church that better includes all and allows those hidden truths to enrich us all in new ways in a revitalized and more ecumenical institution.  All these aspects create a complex background that has sent mixed messages throughout the ages of freedom for some who knew how to respond and not allow the contradictions to stop them from realizing their true mission and authentic calling, but how many countless others who were harmed, wounded or even killed by them of which we do not know the story. 

Our future holds another sort of reconciliation, a joining of polar opposites on a collaborative basis and eradicates one gender’s supremacy over the other.  The struggle here is not about control or power over, but one of mutual understanding and communication on common desires, needs and wants in the face of a God that is so beyond our human idea of gender that limits our own individual connection to the divine and our ground of being.  The sacred cannot be reserved for men only as half of our humanity is women and that needs to be addressed on an equal basis.  Our own deepest desires as Ignatius would say, need to be heeded on our own ground of being that is expressed from a woman’s point of view that is as valuable as that of the male.  Contradictions arise when words are invented to tell us how to interpret our experience by something outside the sphere of that experience. Listening with patience and understanding is the key to healing the wounds that unbalanced power structures make on the human person without a sense of dignity.

This is not an argument of either/or, but of both/and.  It is about reconciling pre-history to patristic and medieval Church history; correcting the misconceptions latent in Church tradition and moving forward in a clearer and brighter future as only God would want from humanity.  “Circles of women and some men gathered around the worship of the ‘Goddess’, presumed to be the original deity of human history.”[xxv]  We come full circle in asking, could she have been the four and a half inch image of the Venus of Willendorf?

[i] Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History, University of California Press, Berkeley/LA/London, 2005, p. 4, illus.
[ii] Figes, Eva, Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society, Persea Books, 1987
[iii] Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A  Western Religious History, University of California Press, Berkeley/LA/London, 2005, p. 7
[iv] Ibid., pps. 27-28
[v] Ibid., p. 10
[vi] Ibid., p. 21-28, 314
[vii] Getty, Adele, Goddess, Mother of Living Nature, Thames & Hudson, London, UK 1990, p. 19-20
[viii] Clark, Elizabeth A. Women in the Early Church, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1983, p. 28
[ix] Ibid., p. 29
[x] Getty, Adele, Goddess, Mother of Living Nature, Thames & Hudson, London, UK 1990, p.23
[xi] Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 112-125
[xii] Johnson, Elizabeth A., The Maleness of Christ in The Power of Naming, Schϋssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Orbis Books, NY, p. 314
[xiii] Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008,  p. 120
[xiv] Ibid, pps. 119-121
[xv] Shillebeeckx, Edward, Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ, Crossroads, New York, 1981, pp. 56-58
[xvi] Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 32
[xvii]Ibid, pps. 4-10
[xviii] Ibid., p.121
[xix] Markale, Jean, Courtly Love, The path of Sexual Initiation, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2000 (from Editions Imago, 1987) p.62
[xx] Johnson, Elizabeth A., The Maleness of Christ in The Power of Naming, Schϋssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Orbis Books, NY, p. 312
[xxi] Ibid., p. 314
[xxii] Benedict XVI, Pope, Deus Caritas Est, Libreria Editrice Vaticana,Va 2005 para. 11
[xxiii] Foley SJ, John, Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy, Pastoral Press, Portland, OR, 1994, p. 21
[xxiv] Untener, Kenneth E., The Practical Prophet: Pastoral Writings, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 2007
[xxv] Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A  Western Religious History, University of California Press, Berkeley/LA/London, 2005, p. 274


Benedict XVI, Pope, Deus Caritas Est, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Va 2005
Clark, Elizabeth A. Women in the Early Church, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1983
Figes, Eva, Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society, Persea Books, 1987
Foley SJ, John, Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy, Pastoral Press, Portland, OR, 1994
Getty, Adele, Goddess, Mother of Living Nature, Thames & Hudson, London, UK 1990
Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008
Markale, Jean, Courtly Love, The path of Sexual Initiation, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2000 (from Editions Imago, 1987)
Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A  Western Religious History, University of California Press, Berkeley/LA/London, 2005
Shillebeeckx, Edward, Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ, Crossroads, New York, 1981


 Benedict XVI, Pope, Deus Caritas Est, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Va 2005

Clark, Elizabeth A. Women in the Early Church, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1983

Figes, Eva, Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society, Persea Books, 1987

Foley SJ, John, Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy, Pastoral Press, Portland, OR, 1994

Getty, Adele, Goddess, Mother of Living Nature, Thames & Hudson, London, UK 1990

Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008

Markale, Jean, Courtly Love, The path of Sexual Initiation, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2000 (from Editions Imago, 1987)

Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A  Western Religious History, University of California Press, Berkeley/LA/London, 2005
Shillebeeckx, Edward, Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ, Crossroads, New York, 1981