Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Nature of Women and the Method of Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Nature of Women and the Method of Theology

Article excerpt

This reading of the state of the question regarding theological anthropology and method in the work of feminist theologians(1) will challenge the traditional, objectivist canons that have come to define scholarly writing. The research undertaken in its preparation convinced me anew that truth is approached only when each one admits having a personal perspective, and works conscious of the limitations and the openness afforded by that perspective. Wanting practice to embody convictions, I renounce "the desire to establish myself as an authoritative impersonal consciousness capable of generally valid insights drawn with the humanistic equivalent of scientific objectivity," as Nancy Mairs puts it so perfectly.(2)

To my mind, the questions of theological anthropology and the question of theological method are intricately connected. I will advance that point of view, but not in the expected order. Feminist theologians did not begin with method, but with theological anthropology. I suspect it was because the androcentric bias is much easier to espy in the statements made about one's own sex and about a humanity so obviously modeled on "man" than in either the exercise of or the reflection on method in theology. In one of the many ironies that abound in this field, however, secular feminists of the most radical order are now writing with a clarity born of passion about the ways in which method (read discourse) is the field in which the deformation of women is more fundamental and thus more dangerous.(3)


Women in theology have wrestled with Christian anthropology at least since Mary Daly wrote The Church and the Second Sex in 1968.(4) Heirs to a theological tradition that includes debates about whether or not women have a soul, can exercise authority, and may represent Christ at the altar, women undertook the arduous task of analyzing arguments over our own being conducted by men whose lives were led, for the most part, in crippling isolation from women.(5)

It is difficult to convey the shock women felt when confronted by the mysogyny that informs the theological tradition of Christianity. Women were blamed for the incursion of evil into the world, taught that we were created by God subordinate in the order of authority because inferior in the order of creation, shaped by rituals and regulations that held the most natural functions of our bodies to be unclean and defiling. Moreover, there was nothing we could do about it as women. No woman could redeem, forgive, or purify another; for that she needs the ministrations of a man - first the male savior and then the male priests.(6) Since the order of creation is immutable, the woman remains under the authority of the other even when she has been forgiven and purified. The woman who was held responsible for the advent of evil would always be confined to a "subordinate role" in the drama of redemption, for the Christian story as it came to be told casts men in the leading role.(7)

Still, this is not the whole picture. There is a double tradition with regard to women in Christianity. The conflicting truth is that women are baptized into Christ in the same way as men, initiated into the saving mystery of life in the Body of Christ, taught that we are to live as "other Christs," and inspired to live lives of heroic sanctity - even martyrdom - in imitation of him. Moreover, one woman, Mary, is believed to have been preserved from original sin, invited to conceive, bear, and raise the Son of God, and taken bodily up into heaven to reign.(8)

It is no wonder that women have gone to work with a vengeance on this question of Christian anthropology. Some have read and reread the creation story, until the notion of the inferiority of women in the created order could be driven from it.(9) Others have studied the interactions of Jesus with women, searching for ways to argue that the defilement traditions inherited from Judaism and from the pagan world have been overturned by his teaching. …

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