Virtuous Woman: Reflections on Christian Feminist Ethics // Review

By Carmody, Denise L. | Resources for Feminist Research, Spring/Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Virtuous Woman: Reflections on Christian Feminist Ethics // Review


Carmody, Denise L., Resources for Feminist Research


Reviewed by Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Interdisciplinary Studies in Systematic Theology & Feminist Theory Emmanuel College Toronto School of Theology Toronto, Ontario

Denise Carmody has written a provocative critique of Christian feminist ethics. She explores commitment and discernment, social ethics, sexual morality and ecclesiology thro ugh the work of various feminist novelists, theologians and ethicists. She presents excerpts from these works and then gives a feminist analysis followed by a traditional Christian analysis from a Roman Catholic perspective. As she reflects upon these various topics, Carmody works out the emphases, values and goals of an ideal Christian feminist ethic.

Carmody's primary tool of critique is the Christian tradition, including th e scriptures, based upon a high Christology, which acknowledges the full divinity of Jesus. A femin ist critique, while important in its liberation of women from the sins of patriarchy, is, for her, secondary to the Christian faith. She believes that the basic intent of the Christian tradit ion is not patriarchal but salvific for all women and men. However, she does acknowledge that patriarc hal biases can be found within the tradition. Christian feminist critique can uncover these bi ases while retaining the basic elements essential to Christianity, especially the Trinity, the Incarnation and Grace.

Rather than develop a canon within a canon, Carmody seeks through contempla tive prayer the voice of Christ to discern the truth in the scriptures and tradition of the Church. This inner voice in her conscience and the New Testament ethic of love become her critical norms. Her goal is to combine these ethical norms of orthodox Christian faith with feminism to provide a critique within both the religious and secular domains.

Carmody's greatest concern with most Christian feminist ethics is that they have departed from Christian tradition, and are therefore not "fully Christian" (p. 118). She cites Mary Hunt's feminist theology of friendship and Rita Nakashima Brock's Christa/community as examples of this departure from the belief in Jesus Christ as absolute, unparalleled saviour and Lord. She is concerned about the "unchristian" feminist tendency to adopt women's experien ce as an unqualified criterion.

The feminist concept of mutuality is central to Carmody's methodology. It is here where she herself admits that she is unlikely to be well received by "minority camps." She questions the epistemological privilege which most feminist and liberation theologies give to the oppressed. In any area of discrimination, especially sexism and racism, she believes that b oth the oppressor and the oppressed must be self - critical and admit to one another their own con tributions to oppression. …

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