Skip to main content

Stuck in the Middle Ages? Women in the Catholic Church

How did women, whom Jesus treated as equals, become second class Christians? Why have they retained this inferior status until today, especially in the Roman Catholic church? When will it change?

A book I recently read, Women in Christianity by the Swiss born theologian and Roman Catholic priest Hans Küng, an emeritus professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany, gives some answers — and leaves one big question open.

In earliest Christianity gender differences didn't affect life in the church, which back then was nothing but a community of free and equal people. But with the institutionalization of the church hierarchical structures replaced egalitarian relationships. Add to that a devaluation of education especially for women in late antiquity, and we have a perfect storm that reduced women to their biology. Going forth, men dominated in all areas of public life and usually in the home, too.

In the Middle Ages, the sexuality-averse teachings of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas only solidified things. Like Aristotle before them, these two men saw women as deficient relative to men. Though the Protestant churches developed in more fortunate ways, the Roman Catholic church has been stuck in that paradigm created hundreds of years ago. Küng speaks of a mediaeval Roman Catholic hierarchy "which has remained mediaeval down to the twentieth century." True to the ideals of Augustine and Thomas, it "propagates celibacy for the clergy even in the face of thousands of parishes without pastors, and wants to tie sexual  pleasure in the sphere of marriage to the procreation of children."

Küng writes precisely and clearly, yet I found Women in Christianity hard to read. The book packs 2,000 years of gender relations in the church into 100 pages, and it's an emotional challenge. At the end of his book, Küng, whom the Vatican barred from teaching at Roman Catholic universities in the 1970s, urges Rome to rethink its stance on a number of issues. Not surprisingly, his proposals include to end the requirement of celibacy for priests and to admit women to the priesthood. The renowned theologian points out that he first suggested these amendments in 1976. In the almost forty years since then, Rome hasn't even blinked.

The question is: What will it take to make the change happen?

- - -

Women in Christianity
By Hans Küng. 140 pp. Bloomsbury Academic

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Back to Basics: Dry Summers, Figs, and a Chunk of Cheese

What do we know about simplicity? Figs from our tree. Figs. The taste of summer, the taste of home; my immigrant home. Our backyard tree is heavy with fruit. In the mornings I go out to pick what is ripe; figs for breakfast, a treat straight from the tree; flesh and seeds, refreshing and sweet, grainy resistance and softness at the same time. Figs, the color of their skin, purple with blotches of green or white stripes where they have cracked. The reds and browns inside bring up memories: a summer spent in Normandy, France, with my parents, my brother, and my maternal grandmother. Life was about food in its basic, original form, about mussels and figs and cheese; it was about the ocean and its tides, gigantic but predictable, and about history. We visited Bayeux to see  the tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings;  we spent a day or a half at  Arromanches,  saw a documentary on D-Day and the landing of the allied forces on the b

Another Word for Fast Food? Trzesniewski (Pile On 1)

The other day I passed by a new Subway sandwich place which had opened a few blocks from our house. As I was reflecting its green and yellow sign images of foot long chunks of white bread came to mind, mayo smeared on one half, mustard on the other; ham, provolone, pickles, jalapenos, onions, peppers, olives, tomatoes in between and a bag of chips for sides... People in America like to pile on. I also thought of my favorite fast food place in Vienna, which goes by the unspeakable name of Trzesniewski. The original Trzesniewski opened in the first district more than one hundred years ago. Its oldest location is tucked into a narrow street off of Graben. Other outlets are scattered around town. Trzesniewski sells open face sandwiches, slivers of rye bread (white or wheat? no, you do not get to choose!), topped with spreads made from either egg or tomatoes or cucumber, pickle, salmon, herring...  The more elaborate creations come with two or three spreads, applied next to each other

Passionate Nerd, Dull Date: Encounter With a Stamp Collector

"Their album - it's an excuse." Stamps from Austria Last week I received a packet from Austria. It came with two old fashioned looking petit point stamps. I do not collect stamps and would not recognize a Blue Mauritius if you sent me one but the stamps from Austria caught my interest. As my fingers were running over the stitching I couldn't help but wonder: does anyone still do petit point? Are young people here in L.A. or even back in Europe still acquiring the craft? I learned to stitch, sew, and knit in elementary school in Austria but handiwork was not my forte. On the contrary. Crafts used to be the one subject I loathed - though I believe that my mother still keeps the red and blue pot holder I crocheted in second grade. (It was supposed to be a square but ended up an irregular trapeze.) The other thing I was wondering about when the packet arrived is whether young people still collect stamps. When I was in high school I knew a guy my age with a collec