Sat 1st Nov 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 16:19pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

In Mulieris Dignitatem (as I had my own reasons to realise at the time) Pope John Paul gave the definitive Catholic answer to modern secular feminism

It’s when you take Mary out of the equation—as first Protestantism and then modern secularism did—that the secular feminism of our own day inevitably emerges in the end

By on Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Polish woman greets Blessed John Paul II (CNS)

Polish woman greets Blessed John Paul II (CNS)

“When the time had fully come, God sent forth his son, born of woman”, wrote St Paul in the Letter to the Galatians (4:4);“Only by the power of the Holy Spirit”, added Pope John Paul II in the apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem, (one of his very greatest teaching documents, the twenty-fifth anniversary of which Pope Francis marked on Saturday) … was Mary able to accept what is “impossible with men, but not with God” … Thus the “fullness of time” manifests the extraordinary dignity of the “woman”.

Mary, he wrote, “is the representative and the archetype of the whole human race: she represents the humanity which belongs to all human beings, both men and women…the event at Nazareth highlights a form of union with the living God which can only belong to the “woman”, Mary: the union between mother and son. The Virgin of Nazareth truly becomes the Mother of God.” [Mulieris dignitatem §§ 3 -4]

Reading that again reminded me that when, a long time ago, I published my book on feminist theology – What Will Happen to God? – I chose as its official publication date the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Thus, I shall be marking the thirtieth anniversary of my book on New Year’s day, 2014. So I hope my readers will forgive me if, for two reasons, I remember that book here before returning finally to Mulieris dignitatem: firstly because in it I attempted an examination of questions on which Pope John Paul was to speak with such definitive authority a year or two later.

Secondly, because my book (which turned out to be at the time, so Fr Fessio told me later, the only one by an Anglican ever published by the Ignatius Press) was also of all my books the one which had the most effect on the course of my own life: in the short term, it led over the next year or so to speaking engagements in which I spoke in many cities in more than half the states of the American Union, from Boston, New York, Washington and Detroit in the East to Los Angeles and San Francisco in the West, From Huston on the Bay of Mexico to Anchorage, Alaska in the far, far North. More importantly for me, the process of writing the book led me in the end to one of the most important days of my life—the day on which I was received into the Catholic Church.

Finding out about feminist theology — a theology which was and still is intended, as one of its most famous book titles, Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father, indicates, to change the message of Christianity itself — was for me at the time all part of an Anglican struggle, of the great battle between those like we Anglo-Catholics who wanted to prevent, and those who wanted to bring about, the ordination of women to that Church’s “priesthood” (I put the word in quotes because one of the things I discovered was that the Anglican and Catholic understandings of its meaning are simply not the same, though I had always assumed they were). My book led me to ask questions to which, I found, only the Catholic Church had the answers.

C S Lewis had already asked part of the book’s fundamental question, in an essay entitled “Priestesses in the Church” explaining why the Church of England would never ordain women (he was right about many things, but not about that). “Suppose”, he asked, “the reformer…begins saying that we might just as well pray to ‘Our Mother which art in heaven’ as to ‘Our Father’. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the second person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son…. Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped; many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity”.

But why? That is one fundamental question I asked, which so far as I could see had never really been asked before. Why, for Christians, was God “Father” RATHER THAN “Mother”? It was clear to me that this was no mere metaphor as in “God is LIKE a Father”. “Father” was Jesus’s NAME for God: only once (in the words of dereliction from the cross—a quotation, of course—is he ever recorded as calling him anything else (he uses it in the gospels over 170 times: it only occurs 11 times in the whole of the Old Testament). If I may quote from myself, “we can almost go so far as to say that if we only understand the Fatherhood of God metaphorically, our understanding is less than a fully Christian one: the new element, of course, is Jesus’s own use of the term. For at no point does Jesus imply that God is merel like a father to him: his message is that in very truth God actually is his father”. He is begotten not made.” And He becomes Son rather than daughter, briefly, because the relationship of father and son was seen as fundamentally different from that of father and daughter: the son could represent and continue the identity of the father in a way no daughter could (I don’t have space here to elaborate on this; if you are really interested, my book — available on Amazon — discusses it at some length).

The essential thing to note is that from the very earliest days of the Church, despite what the feminists say, calling God “Father” was understood to include women as his children in the same way that it included men: the word “Father” was, to employ a loaded word, literally “inclusive”. Mulieris dignitatem (with which I end) goes out of its way, both to emphasise the representative nature of sacraments mediated by a uniquely male priesthood (representative precisely because God was Son and not daughter), and to insist at the same time on the role of the greatest of all women as the archetypal representative of the whole of the human race. (It’s worth interjecting here that religions based on the worship of Goddesses are all reflected by a much lower social status for women than Christianity, and particularly than Catholicism; that’s in my book too). Here’s Pope John Paul:

§2 Since “the Church is in Christ as a sacrament… of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”, the special presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Church makes us think of the exceptional link between this “woman” and the whole human family. It is a question here of every man and woman, all the sons and daughters of the human race, in whom from generation to generation a fundamental inheritance is realised, the inheritance that belongs to all humanity and that is linked with the mystery of the biblical “beginning”: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”(Gen 1: 27).

§26 In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behaviour, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.… Here one also finds an explanation for the calling of the “Twelve”. They are with Christ at the Last Supper. They alone receive the sacramental charge, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), which is joined to the institution of the Eucharist. On Easter Sunday night they receive the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).

§4 The particular union of the “Theotókos” with God—which fulfils in the most eminent manner the supernatural predestination to union with the Father which is granted to every human being (filii in Filio) –is a pure grace and, as such, a gift of the Spirit.… With her “fiat”, Mary becomes the authentic subject of that union with God which was realised in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, who is of one substance with the Father.

What Pope John Paul showed in Mulieris Dignitatem was that we have nothing to learn from the feminism of our own day; we’ve always had an authentic feminism at the heart of the Catholic faith. It’s when you take Mary out of the equation—as first Protestantism and then modern secularism did—that the debased secular feminism of our own day inevitably arose. John Paul didn’t say that of course. He didn’t need to.

  • Cestius

    Having read C.S. Lewis’s essay on women priests, and many of his other writings I cannot help wondering whether he would have become a Catholic if he had lived in our time.

  • William Oddie

    I am convinced that he would.

  • Banmeagain

    I still have not gotten over your last blog post Mr Oddie. I can’t focus on this one until you right the wrong. Oh, you know the one i mean, the one where you reached a new low in ably assisting in the ongoing demonisation of Traditionalist minded Catholics, morphing them this time into BNP thug caricatures. Come on, you know, the blog where you blocked all further comments and responses so you would not have man up and respond to the natural gag reflex of the great unwashed (otherwise known as your fellow Catholics).
    Yes, i know there are a number of naive fellow Catholics that never tire of your conservative greeting kisses in the garden, or the feel of cold steel in the back, who will run to your aid with all manner of excuses for your campaign. I am also well aware that you will most likely deploy your usual tactic and have me completely banned from this website for questioning your actions once more, but alas such is the call to justice that if i do not speak up the stones will cry out…..

  • Guest


  • Gary Yates

    Agreed. His block, I believe, was a fundamental misunderstanding of Dogmatic Papal Infallibility; he seemed to think that a pope could just wake up one morning and proclaim some novelty that bound all Catholics. mmmmm!
    Gary Yates

  • johnhenry

    For what’s it’s worth, I quite disagree with Banmeagain and your good self. You have no reason to conclude that it was W.O. who closed the comments section on his earlier thread. There are editors and moderators who may have done without his say so. Even if it was he who closed down his own comments section, I found that earlier thread getting out of hand (not all the fault being on one side) by the time it was closed. It was departing from the ethos of the Catholic Herald, which is not quite the Wild West of some purely secular sites. It was best to end it and move on.

  • johnhenry

    Try playing the ball, not the man.
    Signed, a “naive fellow Catholic”

  • johnhenry

    This link is slightly off topic, but I heartily recommend a 2001 essay by the late Kenneth Minogue who died a few months ago: How Civilizations Fall: The Role of Radical Feminism in the Decline of Civilization.

    One of the wittiest comments in it was not something he wrote, but a quote from the feminist Camille Paglia: “…if we had waited for women to invent civilization we should still be living in grass huts.”

  • Banmeagain

    “Try playing the ball, not the man”
    Chance would be a fine thing…..he is too busy dropping bombs on peasant Catholics from his privileged position in the Ivory tower.

    Speaking of playing the man, interesting you felt compelled to criticize me for RESPONDING to a leg breaking two footed tackle but make no comment on the tackle itself. What does that say about you? Think about it………before you return to the power teat.

  • johnhenry

    I think you do C.S.L. a disservice suggesting his knowledge of the doctrine of Infallibility was that sophomoric, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

  • Guest


  • Banmeagain

    “You have no reason to conclude that it was W.O. who closed the comments”

    Yes, i do actually, it’s called experience. Stick around a while, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut and you might actually be able to discern how thing really work around here.

    ” I found that earlier thread to be getting out of hand (with not all the fault being on one side)”

    A truly ‘special’ quote. So the writer parallels some well intentioned Catholics with BNP’s finest, and that is OK. But any kind of response to such a gross caricature is “departing from the ethos of the Catholic Herald”.

    Have you considered a job with the moderation staff, you would fit right in…..

  • johnhenry

    Most people here have heard of Scott Hahn, a popular Catholic convert and apologist. One thing that used to rub me the wrong way about him (I say ‘used to’ because I don’t read him anymore) was his stated belief that the Holy Spirit was the feminine manifestation of God, which of course would mean that Jesus had two mommies. That’s why some of us other converts refer to his sort as “Hahn-verts”.

  • johnhenry

    “…before [I] return to the power teat” ?
    Look pal, I’ve been banned from far more permissive blogs than this one, and I always speak my mind, as my other pal, Ben Carter, and some others here can attest, and will. Telling me to avoid the “power teat” and to keep my “mouth shut” are the types of things I might have said years ago when I first started commenting on blogs; but just like in real life, so too in cyber life – best to leave childhood vulgarity behind. It is to be hoped you will mature in due course.

  • Benedict Carter

    Superb post.

  • Benedict Carter

    Johnhenry is the right stuff. His heart is definitely in the right place. And a sharp mind too.

  • guestguy

    Why the heck have you brought this up? Take you fellow trads and lick your wounds elsewhere; I’d rather stick to the topic at hand.

    I’ve read many books regarding feminism. Plenty against, some for. And very few books I’ve read ticked me off as much as this one book by a feminist about “women religious”. It was about women’s suppression in Judaism, Islam, and, of course, Christianity. In large part Catholicism. In it, the author and the women interviewed talk about how bad patriarchy is, etc etc. The part that annoyed me the most, was the part with “Catholic” ladies.
    They of course whined they couldn’t be priests. And naturally the author accepted their insane views without hesitation
    Boy… did my blood boil! Not sure how many swear words I used, or how many times I called them all heretics. But it gave me something to rant about for an hour or so, going over all the reasons why women can’t be priests.

  • guestguy

    Please tell me when and whers exactly be said this. I’ve read some of his books and listened to the occasional tape of his.
    He still remains a great apologist even if he said that – though I truly want to verify if he actually did say that and what he meant.

  • Banmeagain

    ” keep my “mouth shut” are the types of things I might have said years ago”

    NEWSFLASH!!! Your still at it. Your just doing it in a more sophisticated way. It is what you are NOT saying that is my main point. Perhaps i should have compared you to the BNP, as that apparently is acceptable in your sophisticated and mature world.

    “It is to be hoped that you too will mature in due course”

    I am a mere peasant Catholic so it is highly unlikely i will reach your heights of modesty. I can only hope to follow your sterling example of putting the boot into the powerless while giving those with power and influence a free pass. Oh, hang on….

  • johnhenry

    For my own purposes, I’ve identified 11 distinctive Catholic dogmas (there are more):

    1. Transubstantiation
    2. Immaculate Conception of Mary
    3. Perpetual Virginity of Mary
    4. Assumption of Mary
    5. Mary, Mother of God
    6. Mary, Queen of Heaven
    7. Intercession of Angels and Saints
    8. Apostolic Succession
    9. Purgatory
    10 . Indulgences
    11. Papal Supremacy

    Seeing as 5 of these doctrines deal with Holy Mary alone and raise her above all other creatures, what more does feminism, as a theological concept, have to offer womanhood? Mary is the archetype all women should seek to emulate, and which men never can. Why are people (in general) closer to their mothers than to their fathers? Why do men dying on the battlefield call out for their mothers and not for their fathers? Why do young children in trouble cry – “I want my mommy”? Talk about exclusivity. Each sex has its assigned role in the unfolding of creation.

  • Banmeagain

    Sorry Ben, but it is not the first time i have been very disappointed in the calibre of people you have around you…..

  • johnhenry

    Fair enough question, guestguy. The specific article (a series of them actually) that I refer to appeared in an orthodox American monthly called the New Oxford Review, which I’ve subscribed to for about 10 years. The Scott Hahn piece was a few years ago, not just a few months ago. Now, before posting my comment about Scott Hahn, I did try searching their archives for a link to the article(s), but couldn’t find it – not because it doesn’t exist, I assure you – but because their archival search engine is pretty rudimentary. So, the upshot is – keep an open mind without doubting my honesty or powers of recollection. That’s all I can ask.

  • Banmeagain

    “Why the heck have you brought this up? Take you fellow trads and lick
    your wounds elsewhere; I’d rather stick to the topic at hand.”

    I bought this up here because in case you didn’t notice the comments section got shut down on the actual original attack piece blog. Seems the natives started getting a little bit fed up at being compared to violent far right extremists (can’t think why?) so instead of editing the blog or apologising or heck, just letting people defend themselves, Mr Oddie just shut down all right of reply. Naturally i felt compelled to comment on it even if others like johnhenry believe such dictatorial smearing is unremarkable. I am a mere peasant Catholic that clearly has not learnt my place yet……fortunately there are always people around who will help put me in my place. Thank you again johnhenry, such a hero…..

  • johnhenry

    I appreciate you stepping up to the plate, BC. Mr. Banmeagain (who seems to think he’s the only one who’s tough enough to survive being banned) wouldn’t know about the several times you and I have locked horns over the past 4+ years, but still have always managed to treat each other with respect and goodwill. Remember the time I posted a picture of a rusting hulk on the banks of the Aral Sea and told people that was your summer dacha? No? Well, never mind :)

  • guestguy

    I didn’t call you a peasant Catholic, nor did I imply I am higher than you, but it seems immature to hijack this blog.

  • Annie

    “Be it done unto me according to Thy will.”

    I think men can emulate that too.

  • johnhenry

    I can’t speak for you, guestguy, but Banmeagain, the “mere peasant Catholic” (his words) really ought to defer to those of us who are indeed his betters. IMHO :)

  • Micha_Elyi

    I performed a rudimentary Bing search of the New Oxford Review site and your phrase “Jesus had two mommies” popped right up. A bit more rudimentary rummaging around Bing’s results revealed this

    from their September 2002 issue. This appears to be what ignited the hot words against Dr. Hahn. Unfortunately, what is available outside the NOR paywall neither fully quotes Dr. Hahn’s remarks that offended the NOR poohbahs nor honestly puts them in context. (I will charitably suppose the reason is the paywall rather than any malicious intent of the authors.) But what is available seems sufficient for one to judge the whole controversy to be a tempest in a teapot – to the shame of the NOR.

  • Henri

    The Catholic Herald should cease all comments. Look at the rubbish posted so far. It’s typical, it’s ridiculous, and it detracts from a fine essay.

  • johnhenry

    Thank you, Micha_Elyi, for confirming that I do not suffer from “Old-Timer’s Disease”, since according to your research it seems I was recalling a piece about Hahn that I read more than 10 years ago (johnhenry, you rule!), although I didn’t think it was quite that old.

    Still, for you to say: “…what is available outside the NOR paywall neither fully quotes Dr. Hahn’s remarks that offended the NOR poohbahs nor honestly puts them in context ?…

    …excuse me, isn’t that the whole purpose of a paywall – to entice you to spend $1.50 to read the entire article? I could have read it for free, because I’m both a print and online subscriber to NOR (which is a very militant Catholic organ) if I’d known about it and could’ve remembered my NOR password without taking a couple of intermediate steps to resurrect it, which I didn’t; but in any case, I’m not positive that’s the article about Hahn I was referring to, and I’m not prepared to spend time right now following up on your interesting lead. I suggest you do so.

    In short, I suggest that it’s unjust for you to accuse NOR of creating a “tempest in a teapot” without you having actually read the article to which you found a very truncated reference.
    Addendum: I will say this – if you give us a link to the full article about Hahn that you refer to, and if I decide it’s not the article I had in mind in which I remember him being quoted as endorsing the feminine mystique of the Holy Spirit, I promise to extend to you and to guestguy the courtesy of looking through all of my back issues (80 or so) of NOR to find that article and to acknowledge my mistake if I fail to find it and either link it (copyright) or quote it. Fair enough?

  • Gary Yates

    JH. If my (failing) memory serves me, Lewis said so himself (not that he was mistaken but that what a pope may proclaim put him off conversion RC.) – but in which of his books I cannot recall. Somebody smarter than me with the internet could probably find the quote.
    Regards, GY

  • johnhenry

    I accept that your recollection is an honest one, GY.

  • Gary Yates

    PJG. Thank you for this and God Bless you. I cannot understand how some Catholics celebrate Cranmer’s works entering The Church, given his part in the murder of hundreds of our innocent Pilgrimage of Grace Ancestors. And went to his death screaming the Pope is an AntiChrist, the Faith is false!
    Gary Yates

  • guestguy

    There is the occasional good comment.

  • Julian Lord

    Oh dear, not this again …

    “some” traditionalists, b.m.a ; “some” — likely such as those having attempted the public catholic funeral of a convicted Nazi war criminal and Holocaust denier during the Italian Holocaust commemoration ceremonies.

  • Julian Lord

    By so doing, he condemned all Catholics who remain loyal to the True Faith as it was taught for two thousand years

    This is just paranoid rubbish, sorry.

    The contents of Dr. Oddie’s past postings simply do not correspond with this extremist picture that you are trying to paint of them.

  • Julian Lord

    hmmmmm – just one quibble, apart from the fact that the list is too short ; Papal supremacy is a consequence of Catholicism, not a cause — despite its having been instituted by Christ.

    The theology of it states clearly, no matter how often the 19th century mistranslation of Quo Primum is circulated, that obedience of the Pope is an inevitable consequence of cleaving to the Faith — which technically means that it is doctrinal in nature, rather than dogmatic, because imperfections in this obedience are not directly incompatible with the Deposit of Faith, which cannot be said of the other items on your list.

  • Guest

    This is, I hope, but a minor point, a most minor point. I quote from the article: “It was clear to me that this was no mere metaphor as in “God is LIKE a Father” Ought it not to read ? “……was no mere simile……?”

    Every intelligent schoolchild ought to be able to distinguish between a simile and a metaphor (I hope!!!!!)….and perhaps leave it to the adults to sort out the philosophical ramifications of that. ‘Metaphor’? ‘Simile’? They are not the same. Americans, lamentably so, often succumb to the notion that they are. To say ‘My love is a red, red rose’ is not the same as saying ‘My love is like a red, red rose’. A metaphor is not a sort of stronger kind of simile….or for that matter, simile a weaker sort of metaphor. They are two distinct categories of speech.

    I suggest a quick read of that small book “When the Golden Bough Breaks” by Peter Munz or the understanding of metaphor that Collingwood, Cassirer and Oakeshott entertain (page 93 in Munz’s book). Thereafter there will be no confusion between the two figures of speech. However the choice that one makes – either for simile or for metaphor – has ramifications which are somewhat profound – certainly if the choice is for ‘metaphor’, though I do not explore these here.

  • William Oddie

    I have never had anyone banned. You or anyone else.

  • Hermit Crab

    C.S. Lewis repels me, I’m not sure why. I doubt he would ever have converted: too much of an Ulsterman.

  • Benedict Carter

    LOL! I missed that one!

  • An onlooker

    ‘Calling God ‘Father’ was understood to include women as his children in the same way as it included men’
    ‘The relationship between a father and a son was seen as fundamentally different from that of father and daughter: the son could represent and continue the identity of the father in a way that no daughter could’.

    If these two statements are true, then it must also be true that the daughter could represent and continue the identity of the father in a way that no son could. It is failing to take this logical step that has led the Church to miss a wonderful opportunity to draw upon the fullness of humanity in its quest to fully understand Christ’s message.

  • whytheworldisending

    “…then it must also be true that the daughter could represent and continue the identity of the father in a way that no son could.”
    No, that doesn’t follow at all.

  • Julian Lord

    That’s not a “logical step” — it’s outright paganism.

  • londonscot

    Well as a woman, born in the late 60s to a large traditional catholic family – oh dear God.

    My feelings: this is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.
    The butchers think it’s a great idea…
    John, here’s my reality, from the other half of the human race – I’m a woman:

    I can vote, continue to own my own property even if married, choose to divorce my husband if he treats me appallingly; if I do, then I have rights over any children I have. I can work and use my God-given talents, even if married, and I can (as I did and do), earn more than the traditional bread-winner.

    Secular feminism got me this. The suffragette heroines got me this. The Catholic Church did not get me this – in fact quite a lot of primary sources show it was clearly against female suffrage.

    I thank God – and the secular heroines of the past – for these rights.

    I am so grateful I was born when I was – as a woman – and that is due to the secular feminism. Not the Catholic Church or the Virgin Mary.

    One last thought on women’s inability to represent their fathers: my father said his daughters had all the sense, rather than his sons. And I know, I benefited from his wisdom and advice fully. I am no less because I carry a Y chromosome. You mistake the strong bond between an excellent father and daughter.

    And if the Church wants my continued support it better remember that.
    Daughters will not be educated to be second class citizens; wrapped-up in spin of ‘special mission’ to be treated like doormats.

    Time the holy fathers thought which gender the majority of their congregation is. We’re pissed-off and frankly on recent evidence – women could run rings around the shambolic efforts of the male clergy – globally.

  • Julian Lord

    The Roman Law provided that the rights of any man to the vote were derived simultaneously from his military ability, or history — and from his marriage to his wife. He was expected to represent in his voting his martial and marital duties over and above his own personal desires. Meanwhile, the ruler of his household was his wife ; the ruler of his military capability was his overall military commander. Only the needs of his wife and of his household could legally overcome his duties to the army.

    This situation continued, with various changes of various sorts, roughly til the end of the Middle Ages ; when first the Protestant Reformation and its warped readings of Scripture, then the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution (that turned household management from being a leadership position into a sequence of menial chores) all combined to deprive women of their rightful place and dignity in society ; under I might add a Masonic influence that sees women as being inherently inferior.

    So who gets the blame ? Naturally — the Church.

  • c gray

    Well done Mr Oddie… what you say is profound and correct

    Let us never forget the femininity of a woman and the role that God created her for.

  • Mr Grumpy

    He downplayed ecclesiology in the confidence that “mere” Christianity was secure in Anglicanism and mainstream Protestantism. Hard indeed to imagine that that confidence would have survived the last half-century undented.

  • Pingback: john paul ii’s answer to secular feminism | the Anglo-Sinkie scribbles