Time for a Revolution in the Convent Religious Notes
Newman, Jenny, The Independent (London, England)
DO NUNS have a place in the modern church? Many women would answer yes, because the end of the millennium is marked by an upsurge in vocations. Women are entering the convent, if not in droves, then in steadily increasing numbers. In some previously dwindling communities, vocations have reached a 10-year high.
Educated and articulate, the nuns of this new generation are keen to explain their choice. Few of them see their lives as a cosy retreat, the "heaven-haven" described by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Almost all were dissatisfied with late 20th-century materialism, and have a sense of being called by a personal God. Many, having worked in therapy or counselling, have rejected these and other forms of new age soul massage.
Can the convent be seen as a good new career move, as at the end of the last millennium? In 10th-century Europe the education of girls was at worst non-existent and at best haphazard, and women were legally obliged to obey their husbands or fathers. By becoming a nun, the musician and mystic Hildegard of Bingen did indeed choose the better part. By the time she had reached her thirties she was the administrative head of a large community, and recognised by both sexes as a theological authority. She healed the sick, wrote many songs and medical textbooks, finding far more scope for her talents than she ever could have as a laywoman. Though most modern nuns have careers before entering the convent, paradoxically their role in religion is reduced. Unlike Hildegard, they seldom get the chance to intervene in theological disputes, or go on preaching tours of monasteries and cathedrals; nor is their advice sought by bishops or heads of monastic houses. When the American theologian Madonna Kolbenschlag described today's women as "spiritual dwarves" she angered some of her readers; but arguably her description suits those modern women in religion who are denied the intellectual liberties of their medieval and renaissance predecessors. …