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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Feminism
Tag Archives: Feminism

How to Eat an Elephant

How do you reconcile feminism with Catholicism?

First you reconcile John Paul II with Catholicism.

You start with the assumption that John Paul II was indeed a real pope (not an anti-pope) and that Benedict XVI (also a real pope) is in the process of declaring him to be a Saint, not merely a saintly person. This will lead to the recognition that John Paul II was not a heretic, and thus you will know that you can reconcile him with the rest of Catholicism, though it may take some time.

Then you take that time.

And when you are done, you will look to the side and see that–by the Great Saint Anne!–you’ve reconciled feminism with Catholicism!

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Edith Stein and Feminism

It just seems strange that a celibate, cloistered nun would care about normal women of the world. Stephen

Stein was shaped in her formative years by women who fought with their husbands (if they had them), and were disconnected from their children.

From Edith’s autobiographical account of Life in a Jewish Family it is clear that she did not see domestic life alone as sufficiently fulfilling for a woman. She describes her mother as perhaps outdoing the Proverbs 31 woman as the most demanding of housekeepers and mothers.  And this is when describing a woman who genuinely loved business and chose to continue her husband’s business after his death rather than depending upon friends and family for financial support. So the ideal homemaker was one who was away from the home for most of the time after Stein’s second year of life.

Not only was marriage not always (usually) happy, but the women around her did not thrive in typical feminine ways.  Her one sister, Rosa, who is portrayed as a competent housekeeper only remains such because she “lacked sufficient initiative and energy to implement her plans for a career” (112).

Stein pursued philosophy and deeply wanted to become a professor. But solely due to her sex she was relegated to sorting through Husserl’s notes rather than being allowed to teach at a university. Thus feminism was not some abstract concern for Stein, she personally felt the profound sting of patriarchy in the denial of her life’s greatest desire.

After converting to Catholicism, Stein wanted to enter the Carmelite Order. Her spiritual directors urged her to wait, and so she bided her time while working for a Dominican school for girls. During these years she gave most of the lectures on women (particularly the education of girls) which are compiled together as her Essays on Woman. In Stein’s Letters we learn that Stein became so captivated by the spiritual world that she lost her former interest in women’s issues. But she still saw it as her duty to help those who remained behind in the unjust secular world. Stein described herself as one who had been a radical feminist, then lost interest entirely in “the women’s question” and subsequently working on “purely objective solutions” because she was “obliged to do so.” Upon entering Carmel, Stein wrote to a feminist asking for a copy of her book because she knew that she had “a holy duty toward those who must remain outside.”

It is difficult for me to properly explain the feeling that one gets from reading Stein’s writing. It is clear how much she was stifled by sexism, and how strongly she saw that things needed to change. But eventually it is also clear that she was swept up into something more removed from this world. It is not that she no longer saw sexism as a problem, but rather that she began to care about something, someone who transcends all worldly issues. And so one can almost sense the tiredness with which Stein addresses women’s issues once she was caught up in longing for something more. She knew that others did not yet have what she had, but I read her as putting forth significant effort to work for something which no longer consumed her. She renounced the world, and in doing so renounced the ties that once held her back because of her sex.

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Why I Love Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas is one of my favorite Saints. This was not always the case. At first I struggled with the fact that Thomas devalued women, was a bit boring, and was over-cited by the sort of Catholics who disliked Pope John Paul II for being too progressive.

It did not help matters that my first real introduction consisted of Kreeft’s A Shorter Summa. I found the book significantly less than engaging and did not take further interest in the Summa Theologica until I found myself exploring it online after searching various topics. Suddenly Thomas was nothing if not interesting. A few years later I read more of Thomas in another class and was finally able to appreciate a bit of his genius for bringing together the Christian faith and classical reason. Turns out that Saint Augustine had not really covered everything.

Suddenly Saint Thomas was my hero. While he had his share of odd views, Thomas was a master at working out competing claims to truth. It also helped me to remember that, by the time of his death, Thomas was quite aware of the inadequacy of his work compared to the overwhelming beauty of mystical Truth. It seems likely that Thomas would be happy to look over my shoulder as I struggled with a part of the Summa and remind me that this was meant to be an introductory work for beginners with the best knowledge of his time. He did not offer it as the final word on anything.

And so Thomas became one of my models for working to learn from both Christian Tradition and the emerging philosophy of my time. I do not need to worry much about Aristotle, that has been worked out for me and bishops have long ago given up on condemning Thomas. But I do have to deal with feminist philosophy and the contemporary secular wisdom which forces me to wrap my mind around new truths in an attempt to understand how best to re-understand Truth.

And then, of course, there are Thomas’ prayers. I kept a copy of Thomas’ prayer before study over my desk:

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
has established three hierarchies of angels,
has arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens,
and has marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You
guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end.

And it was only natural for me to love “O Salutaris Hostia”

O saving Victim, open wide
The gate of heaven to us below,
Our foes press on from every side;
Your aid supply, your strength bestow.

To your great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three;
O grant us endless length of days
In our true native land with thee. Amen.

In fact, it is one of the few things that I will say seems far better to me in Latin. Too bad Thomas is not around to translate for himself!

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