Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Theology done by women from femininity
November 2, 2013
Pope Francis has said that we need a deeper theology on women and their mission in the world and in the Church. It's true, but he can't ignore the fact that today there exists ample theological literature of the highest quality done by women from the perspective of women, which has enormously enriched our experience of God. I have devoted myself intensely to the subject and ended up writing two books, The Maternal Face of God: The Feminine and Its Religious Expressions (1989) and Feminino e Masculino. Uma nova consciencia para o encontro da diferencas (2010), the latter co-authored with feminist Rose Marie Muraro. Among so many current ones, I've decided to bring into the present two great and truly innovative women theologians of the past: Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Saint Julian of Norwich (1342-1416).
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), considered perhaps the first feminist in the Church, was a brilliant and extraordinary woman, not only for her time but for all time. She was a Benedictine nun and teacher (abbess) of her convent, Rupertsberg in Bingen on the Rhine, a German prophetess (profetessa germanica), mystic, theologian, an ardent preacher, a composer, poet, naturalist, an informal doctor, playwright and writer.
It's a mystery to her biographers and scholars how this woman could be all that in the narrow and sexist medieval world. In all the areas in which she acted, she showed excellence and immense creativity. Many are her works, mystical, poetic, on natural science and on music. The most important and the one most read to date is Scivias ("Know the ways [of the Lord]").
Hildegard was above all a woman blessed with divine visions. In an autobiographical account, she says, "When I was forty two years and seven months old, the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming.... And suddenly I understood the meaning of the expositions of the books, that is to say of the Psalter, the evangelists and other catholic books of the Old and New Testaments." (see the document in Wikipedia, Hildegard of Bingen, with excellent text and bibliography).
It's surprising how much she knew about cosmology, medicinal plants, the physics of bodies, and the history of humankind. Theology speaks of "infused knowledge" as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard was honored with this gift.
She developed a surprisingly wholistic view, always intertwining man with nature and the cosmos. In this context, she talks about the Holy Spirit as the energy that gives viriditas to all things. Viriditas comes from viride, "green". It means the greenness and the freshness that characterize all things penetrated by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes she talks about the "immeasurable sweetness of the Holy Spirit which with its grace surrounds all creatures" (Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen, 1998, 53). She developed a humanizing image of God as He rules the universe "with power and gentleness" (mit Macht und Milde) accompanying all beings with His careful hand and loving gaze (see Fierro, N., Hildegard of Bingen and Her Vision of the Feminine, 1994, 187).
She was especially known for the medicinal methods she developed, still followed by some doctors in Austria and Germany today. She reveals a surprising knowledge of the human body and which active ingredients of medicinal herbs are appropriate for different diseases. Her canonization was ratified by Benedict XVI in 2012.
Another notable woman was Julian of Norwich in England (1342-1416). Little is known about her life, whether she was a woman religious or a lay widow. What is true is that she lived secluded in a walled-in enclosure in the church of Saint Julian. At 30, she had a serious illness that almost led to her death. At a given point, she had visions of Christ for five hours. She immediately wrote a summary of her visions. And twenty years later, after having thought a lot about the meaning of those visions, she wrote a long and definitive version, Revelations of Divine Love (London, 1952). It was the first book written by a woman in English.
Her revelations are surprising because they are filled with an unwavering optimism, born of love of God. She speaks of love as joy and compassion. She doesn't view -- as was the popular belief at the time and even today among some groups -- disease as punishment from God. For her, diseases and pests are opportunities to know God.
She sees sin as a kind of pedagogy through which God requires us to know ourselves and seek His mercy. She says more: behind what we call hell there is a greater reality, always victorious, which is the love of God. Because Jesus is merciful and compassionate, She is our dear mother. God Himself is merciful Father and Mother of infinite kindness (Revelations).
Only a woman can use this language of lovingness and compassion and call God Mother of infinite kindness. So once again we see how important the female voice is to having a non-patriarchal and therefore more complete conception of God and the Spirit that runs through life and the universe.
Many other women could be mentioned here such as Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Simone Weil (1909-1943), Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964), Mother Teresa, and among us, Ivone Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer, who thought and think about faith from their female being. And enrich us still.