Saturday, February 26, 2011

Catholic Feminism: A Stubborn Oxymoron

All texts from the Douay-Rheims Bible, with verse numbers in brackets.

Eph. 5, 22-33: [22] Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: [23] Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. [24] Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. [25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: [26] That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: [27] That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. [28] So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. [29] For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: [30] Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.[31] For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. [32] This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. [33] Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself: and let the wife fear her husband.

Tim. 2, 9-15: [9] In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire, [10] But as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works. [11] Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. [12] But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence. [13] For Adam was first formed; then Eve. [14] And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression. [15] Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.

I Cor. 14, 34-35: [34] Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. [35] But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.

I Cor. 11, 3-15: [3] But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. [4] Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraceth his head. [5] But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven.[6] For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head. [7] The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. [8] For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. [9] For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. [10] Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels. [11] But yet neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. [12] For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God. [13] You yourselves judge: doth it become a woman, to pray unto God uncovered? [14] Doth not even nature itself teach you, that a man indeed, if he nourish his hair, it is a shame unto him? [15] But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.


RAnn said...

Hello and welcome to the Catholic Blog directory. I host a weekly gathering of Catholic bloggers and invite you to join us. This week's host post is at

MaestroJMC said...

"[10] Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels."

I've wondered, what does the reference to the angels here possibly mean?

Don Paco said...

Here's what Aquinas has to say in his Lectura on 1st Corinthians:

"613. – Then when he says, because of the angels, he gives a third reason, which is taken on the part of the angels, saying: A woman ought to have a veil on her head because of the angels. This can beunderstood in two ways: in one way about the heavenly angels who are believed to visit congregations ofthe faithful, especially when the sacred mysteries are celebrated. And therefore at that time women aswell as men ought to present themselves honorably and ordinately as reverence to them according to Ps 138 (v. 1): “Before the angels I sing thy praise.” In another way it can be understood in the sense that priests are called angels, inasmuch as proclaim divine things to the people according to Mal (2:7): “For the lips of a priest should guardknowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.”Therefore, the woman should always have a covering over her head because of the angels, i.e., the priests, for two reasons: first, as reverence toward them, to which it pertains that women should behave honorably before them. Hence it says in Sir (7:30): “With all your might love your maker and do not forsake his priests.” Secondly, for their safety, lest the sight of a woman not veiled excite their concupiscence. Hence it says in Ecclesiasticus (9:5): “Do not look intently at a virgin, lest you stumble and incurpenalties for her.”

614. – Augustine explains the above in another way. For he shows that both man and woman are madeto the image of God, according to what is said in Eph (4:23): “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new man created after the likeness of God according to the image of him who created him,” where considered according to the spirit, in which there is no difference between male and female;consequently, the woman is the image of God, just as the male. For it is expressly stated in Gen (1:27) that “God created man to his own image, male and female he created them.” Therefore, Augustine says that this must be understood in a spiritual union, which is in our soul, in which the sensibility or even the lower reason has itself after the manner of the woman, but the superior reason after the manner of the man, in whom the image of God is considered to be. And according to this the woman is from the man and for the sake of the man, because the administration of temporal or sensible things, in which the lower reason or even the sensibility is adept, ought to be deduced from the contemplation of eternal things, which pertain to the higher reason and is ordained to it. Therefore, the woman is said to have a veil or power over her own head, in order to signify that in regard to dispensing temporal things man should apply a certain restraint, lest he transgress the limits in loving them. This restraint should not be applied to the love of God, since it is commanded in Dt (6:5):“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.” For no limit is placed in regard to loving theend, although one is placed in regard to the means to the end. For a doctor produces as much health as he can, but he does not give as much medicine as he can, but in a definite amount. Thus a man should not have a covering on his head. And this on account of the angels, because, as is said in a Gloss: “Sacred and pious signification is pleasing to the holy angels.” Hence Augustine also says in The City of God, that the demons are attracted by certain sensible things, not as animals to food but as spirits to signs."

Download the whole Lectura on 1st Corinthians here:

Much more here:

Capreolus said...

Carissime Don Paco,

I have no quibble with your article on so-called Catholic feminism; it is excellent work, as always with your blog.

I'm hoping to enlist your help in the on-going struggle to return "oxymoron" to its proper use. Of course, what is meant here in the title (as so often nowadays) is "contradiction in terms." An oxymoron, as I'm sure you no doubt realize, is only a seeming contradiction to convey a single, striking idea or image, v.g. "O felix culpa!"
--Fr. Capreolus

Don Paco said...

Thank you, Fr. Capreolus. That is really a very interesting idea. Do you have an authoritative source that verifies that such is the true meaning of 'oxymoron'?

I love your nickname, by the way.

Capreolus said...

Dear Don Paco,
(I'm glad you share my esteem for the great Capreolus!) This connotation of oxymoron was standard in all classical works on rhetoric and was commonly explained as such in grammatical manuals, such as Allen and Greenough's famous Latin Grammar; "Festina lente!" as attributed to Augustus is the classic example.

I've read that Wm. F. Buckley, Jr., was primarily responsible for bending it to its current connotation of "contradiction in terms." I've even seen examples lately of "oxymoron" being equated with "irony."

What magnificent tedium it is!

Anonymous said...

Can someone tell me how should one read Mulieris Dignitatem especially the 24. paragraph in the light of the tradition?

Geremia said...

You all would like Dr. Pia de Solenni's A hermeneutic of Aquinas's Mens through a sexually differentiated epistemology: towards an understanding of woman as imago Dei thesis. She graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, and she defends St. Thomas's understanding of women; her thesis won the 2001 Pontifical Academies Award.

@Anonymous: ¿Is this the part of Mulieris Dignitatem you don't understand:

«"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife" (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual.»

Anonymous said...

I now understand that that paragraph must be read in light of the tradition, and that it does not negate the primacy of the husband in regard to the wife.

Could someone also tell me if and what aspects of "Theology of the body" can a catholic reject?