Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Father William Most Collection

Does the Church Hate Women?

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven according to the New York Times "accuses the Roman Catholic Church of degrading women". This is one part of a feminist chorus charging sexist bias against women.

 Kirkus Reviews says the book "brings formidable scholarship." Kirkus seems to have forgotten that there are two phases in research work: first, gather all possible data; second, use balanced and careful judgment in interpreting the data. The Observer of London spoke of it as "savagely witty polemic". Quite right. There is little if any attempt to sort things out. She does gather a mass of data, all right, as the first required step. But then in what amounts to rash judgment, she imputes motives. The Catholic Church is just following Gnosticism, for example, is a claim, even though the Church has always fought hard against Gnosticism.

But if one examines all the evidence, and does it without bias, a very different picture emerges. For example, Tertullian, a rigorist in morality, wrote a beautiful work To His Wife in which he practically idealized marriage: "How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow... they are in very truth two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh, there is also but one spirit... Where there are two together, there also He [Christ] is present, and where He is, there evil is not" (2. 8). Clement of Alexandria, in The Pedagogue 2. 10 wrote: "Marriage in itself merits esteem and the highest approval, for the Lord wished men 'to be fruitful and multiply." Even more importantly, in comparing marriage and abstention from it, St. Paul (1 Cor 7:7) wrote: "Each one has his own grace [charisma] from God: one this way, the other another way." So marriage is a grace. And of course Jesus Himself worked His first miracle to provide wine for the wedding at Cana. Pope Paul VI even said (To 13th National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center) "It [marriage] is a long path towards sanctification."

What of statements in the other direction, e.g., St. Gregory of Nyssa , in his book On Virginity said in the introduction that virginity was "a necessary door to enter the holier life' And in chapter 20: No more do our emotional powers have a nature which can at one pursue the pleasures of sense and cultivate the spiritual union.... continence, mortification of the passions, neglect of fleshy needs are the means of the one union-but everything the reverse of these are the means of bodily cohabitation."

The solution is found in a distinction, which the feminists seem never to have seen: both ways of life are good, both provide means of spiritual growth - but celibacy/virginity provides a special kind of help not found in marriage. This need not mean that one who marries is lacking in generosity to God--no, if God designs one for marriage, another to abstain, to follow what He plans is not wrong, is not a deficiency. As St. Paul said: "Each one has his own grace from God." Let us see how each way can be spiritually helpful.

We turn first to marriage: Our Father's plans are marvelous if only we follow them. We all begin life as babies, and babies are enclosed in a shell of self. They know nothing of generosity or working for others. That is not to be expected at the start. But yet we need to grow to the point of maturity where we can be sincerely desiring the well-being of another for the other's sake- that is the very definition of love, for love is not a feeling, but an attitude of will. Feelings tend to go along with it, but to mistake them for love is to court disaster in the form of a failed marriage.

Baby soon begins to play with other little ones, and soon makes a discovery he does not like: "That other little guy thinks he has some rights!. He does not. I am the only one." They are quarreling over a toy. Many such experiences help baby to make a start at maturing. Some years pass, and around age 9 for boys, little boys have no time for little girls, they positively dislike them. But the girls similarly have no time for boys. This is all part of our Father's plans-- the two sexes run apart, to develop their own special characteristics, to prepare for the next phase. That phase comes automatically, when hormones develop, and cast a rosy light over some particular person of the opposite sex. Now since, as we said, to love is to will good to another for the other's sake, that attitude is sparked by seeing something fine in another:"Sos fine a person, I hope he/she is well-off, gets what they need to be happy." But suppose instead of seeing the other as merely fine, the others seems wonderful, marvelous- the hormones cause that perception. That is a powerful stimulus towards forming love in the will, where it really resides. There is another process that runs parallel, at the same time: feelings are the bodily counterpart or parallel to that attitude of willing good to another: psychologists call such a parallel somatic resonance. Since the feelings start of themselves, they too powerfully tend to generate love on the spiritual side of a person.


But these two processes only tend to provide real love: the tendency can be frustrated if a person acts outside of our Father's plans, by using sex for private enjoyment, masturbation, or by premarital sex. Masturbation turns one back into the shell of self from which he should emerge and develop maturity. Premarital sex does not really mean concern for the well-being of another- rather, for the sake of mere sensory stimulation they are putting each other into a state such that if death overtook them, they would never be happy forever. That is not love - it is closer to hate. It is obvious, real love can hardly develop in such a framework. Yet it will feel like love, and tragically, many marry thinking they have love, when really all they have is chemistry.

But if they play the game the way our Father has designed it, then really love will develop, and lead to splendid generosity, especially if children come- for babies are very cute at times, at other times not so. They can erupt in the middle of the night and demand attention. If the parents treat this as part or the way God has designed humans, they can really call it a holy hour to spend whatever time maybe needed with baby in the small hours. When the children begin to grow, as one insurance commercial put it,"Their goals become your goals." And since male and female psychology - ask any married person but a feminist-- are tremendously different, each one will be able to say, even with a fine pairing, that he/she must give in most of the time to make it work. This again is a beautiful part of our Father's plan for spiritual development, for becoming unselfish. So Paul VI was right: Marriage, if lived with the intention of carrying out our Father's plans, is a long path toward sanctification. The celibate/virgin lacks the helps we have just described, and so must take care to work to develop in other ways.

But the unmarried have other means, which, considered objectively in themselves, are more powerful. We begin with the words of Our Lord in Mt 6:21: "where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In the narrow sense that would mean a box of coins a man might bury under the floor for safekeeping. If he has such a stash, he loves to think of it, it tends to pull thoughts and heart to itself. But it is clear one can put his treasure in all sorts of things - in large meals, in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, even in the study of Scripture. All these are, of course, lower than God Himself, some farther down than others. This fact is one factor. There is a second: how strongly does one allow himself to be caught by these outside pulls?: some go only so far as imperfection, less than a venial sin. Others will be pulled into occasional venial sin - or habitual venial sin - or occasional mortal sin - or habitual mortal sin.

In proportion to these two factors - how much lower than God a thing is, and how strongly it pulls at one - it becomes that much less easy for thoughts and hearts to rise to God.

We supplement this thought with a modern comparison: a galvanometer is a compass needle on its pivot, with a coil of wire around it. If we send a current into the coil, the needle swings the right direction and the right amount - unless there are outside pulls on it, such as a 33, 000 volt power line or a lot of magnetic steel. Then the outside pull also affect the needle. If the outside pulls are very powerful, and the current in the coil is mild, the coil current may have no effect: the outside pulls have taken over. This is an image of my mind: when God sends an actual grace to lead me and enable me to do a particular good thing here and now, the first thing it should do is to put the good thought into my mind, that is, cause the needle to swing to the right position. The current in the coil is grace: it is mild, in that it respects my freedom; the outside pulls, if one lets himself become too deeply caught, take away freedom in varied degrees.

If the outside pulls take over, the person is spiritually blind. But even short of that, the pulls may make it less easy for grace to register. It is evident, the more free from all outside pulls a person is, the more sensitive he will be to the stirrings of grace.

This points in the direction of reducing the pulls of creatures, even legitimate ones. The use of sex in marriage is not only lawful, if done within the plans of the Father, but can even be meritorious. Yet a thing may have two sides like the thorns in the parable of the sower, which stand for riches and pleasures of this life - they may be good in themselves, yet at the same time may cause a difficulty. That is the way it is with creatures. The stronger their pull, the greater the difficulty. Hence even the lawful use of sex, which as said, can even be meritorious, has also the effect of making it less easy to perceive the more delicate stirrings of grace.

So St. Paul and the Church do have a point, which has nothing to do with the inherent merit or value of women.



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