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A woman represents Christ better in his feminine traits and the feminine symbolism of his life giving mission

Image of Christ

Women too bear Christ's image Women reflect Christ's feminine traits Women too can act as another Christ Women too represent Christ's love Women are equal 'in Christ'

A woman represents Christ better in his feminine traits and the feminine symbolism of his life giving mission

Jesus was in touch with his anima

Jung has rightly pointed out that every woman has a ‘male side’ to her personality, which he called the animus, and every man a ‘female side’, his anima. This is an important fact to remember when we discuss Christ’s personality as a male.

Some men are more conscious of, and sensitive to, their anima. From a study of the Gospel it is clear that Jesus Christ possessed a great sensitivity to women and to the feminine traits in his own personality.

When we try to reconstruct Jesus’ attitude to women, we detect an awareness of their presence among his audience. Jesus draws his examples from the life of women, no less than from the life of men. He knows that women keep their treasures in boxes, and that they light a lamp at dusk (Matthew 6,19-21 and 5,15-16). He speaks of children playing in the market place and of girls waiting for the bridegroom at a wedding (Matthew 11,16-19 and 25,1-13). He often tells his parables in pairs, with a story about a woman running parallel to a story about a man:

  • the housewife who mixes leaven in the dough/ the farmer who plants a mustard seed (Luke 13,18-21);
  • the woman who lost a coin/ the shepherd who lost a sheep (Luke 15,3-10);
  • the widow pestering the judge/ the friend waking up his neighbour at night (Luke 11,5-13 and 18,1-8).

We can be sure that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had a great influence on him. Jesus learned many of his ideals from her. She must have encouraged him when he began his public ministry. A trace of this has been recorded in the Gospel of John. During the wedding at Cana it was Mary who urged him to perform his first miracle. ‘My hour has not yet come’, Jesus protested. But when she quietly insisted, he changed his mind and ushered in the messianic era by turning water into wine (John 2,1-12).

At various crucial stages in his own development Jesus gained insights and was prompted to action through encounters with women.

  • When the woman who suffered of a flow of blood touched Jesus from behind, ‘he perceived in himself that power had gone forth from him’. Perhaps, Jesus’ healing ministry took its beginning from such encounters (Mark 5,21-43).
  • The Syro-Phoenician woman pleaded with Jesus to drive the demon from her daughter. Jesus refused because he felt his mission was restricted to his own people. However, the woman argues with him; and Jesus gives in, thus making a first step on the way to his universal mission (Mark 7,24-30).
  • In the house of Mary and Martha Jesus meets, perhaps for the first time, a woman who, like the men who sit at his feet, wants to be a disciple. Jesus is impressed by this and encourages her ‘discipleship’ even if it runs counter to conventional expectations of a woman’s role (Luke 10,38-42; see also 8,1-3).

Jesus also responded to the silent gestures of women: the repentant prostitute who poured ointment on his feet, the widow of Nain who walked behind the bier of her dead son, the woman who was bent double with arthritis, the widow in the Temple who put two small coins in the offering box, and the women of Jerusalem who wept as they saw Jesus carrying his cross (Luke 7,36-50; 7,11-17; 13,10-17; 21,1-4 and 23,27-31).

From all these and other texts we can be sure that the historical Jesus was very much in touch with his own anima. He was aware of the concerns of women. He cared about them. He learned from them. He recognised in their needs, and their suggestions, promptings by the Spirit. The forgiveness and reconciliation he brought from his Father, were as much for women as for men.

It is true, Jesus could not, during the short span of his public ministry, overturn all the social prejudices of the time. He did not take a stand for feminist emancipation, as little as he campaigned to abolish slavery. But, in his attitude he established principles that would revolutionise all human relationships.

See also Elisabeth MOLTMANN-WENDEL, The Women around Jesus, London 1982; A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, London 1986, pp. 137-148; Mary GREY, Redeeeming the Dream: feminism, redemption and Christian tradition, London 1989, esp. pp. 95-103.

By dying and rising for us, Jesus liberated women as well as men

We could now proceed to a deeper level and ask: What use has Jesus’ concern been to women? Has it actually resulted in facts of liberation? Has the Risen Christ proved as effective for women as the promise held out by Jesus of Nazareth?

The answer is: yes! The position of women in religion changed dramatically with the coming of Christ. Whereas she had only belonged indirectly to the covenant of Moses, woman was now made a child of God on an equal footing with man.

In the Old Testament, it was only the men who were the immediate bearers of the covenant.

  • It was the male children who were circumcised when they were eight days old. The covenant, therefore, was concluded directly with the men. Women belonged to it only through men - first as daughters of their fathers, then as wives of their husbands.
  • It was the men who were expected to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Three times a year, at the three major feasts, all the menfolk were to appear before Yahweh’s face. The women could come along and take part in the sacrificial meal, as did children, slaves and guests. But it was not really their own sacrifice.
  • In the Temple at Jerusalem, Jewish women could enter inside the wall of separation into the court of women. They were not allowed to proceed further. The men, on the other hand, could enter the court of Israel. It was this court that faced the altar of holocausts and it was there that the priests accepted the gifts for the sacrifice.
  • When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, Mary had to stay back in the court of women, while Joseph carried the child Jesus and the turtle doves into the court of Israel. It was there, in the women’s enclosure, that they met Simeon and Anna (Luke 2,22-38).

Also in traditional Judaism the same distinction persisted. It was the men who were required to recite the regular prayers. Men had the principal seats in the synagogues. Men could read from the Torah. Only ten males could form the quorum, minyan, required for public prayers. At the age of 13, boys were initiated into their adult religious duties by the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. No such thing existed for girls.

It is with this background in mind that we can appreciate the revolutionary change brought by Christ. For both men and women are initiated into the new covenant by one and the same rite, namely baptism. We have already seen above that in baptism we die with Jesus and rise with Jesus. Both men and women undergo this transformation and come out as ‘a new creation’.

On account of this, both men and women share equally in the eucharistic meal and have equal religious duties. These are factual changes with enormous consequences.

Paul expressed the principle in these words:

All of you are children of God
through faith in Christ Jesus.
All of you who have been baptized in Christ,
have clothed yourselves in Christ.
Thus there is no longer Jew nor Greek,
free nor slave,
male nor female.
For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3,27-28

Notice the revolutionary changes Christ has brought about in the factuality of human relationships to God. But this religious factuality still needed, and needs, translation into social and ecclesial factuality.

The Catholic Church is still discussing all the consequences. It took the Church more than 19 centuries to publicly accept that slavery is incompatible with God's design and against the mind of Christ (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes no 29). Now Rome is still resisting the admission of women to the sacramental priesthood. We can be sure that ultimately this question will be resolved on the basis of the fundamental equality established by Christ.

The maleness of the Father-God image and the maleness of the historical Jesus can pose real problems of understanding. These problems can be overcome if we put the gender in its right perspective. The ‘fatherhood’ of God is no more than a metaphor. God is as much a mother as a father. And the Risen Christ is not a male figure hovering about, but the Spirit in us, the giver of life, who has both feminine and masculine traits.

Since we are all one in Christ, every single person can rightly see himself/herself reflected in Christ. Whatever our social status or colour of skin, Christ has become a new creation in us. Everything that is part of us belongs to him. Nothing human in us is rejected by him. In Christ we transcend all the limitations put on us by others.

Representing Christ’s full personality requires representing also his feminine traits

Jesus did not hesitate to use feminine and maternal images to describe his work. The love he shows in eating and drinking with sinners is that of the male shepherd foolishly off in search of the one lost sheep; it is that of the father indecorously running down the road to welcome his penitent son; but it is also that of the woman who turns the house upside-down in search of an insignificant coin (Luke 15). Christ has come to gather Jerusalem’s children to himself as a mother-bird’s wings surround, protect and warm her brood (Matthew 23,37). And his death and resurrection are the birth-pangs of the Messiah (John 16,21; see Revelation 12; Mark 13,8).

The use of feminine images is continued in the description of Jesus’ ministers. Paul called himself a father, but he also did not hesitate to call himself a “nurse taking care of her children” ( 1 Thessalonians 2,7) or to compare himself to a woman suffering birth-pangs until Christ be formed in his people (Galatians 4,19).

“The point of these references is not to pretend that male images do not predominate, but to suggest that there are dimensions of God’s love for man, of Christ’s redemptive role, and of official Christian ministry which only feminine images can communicate. Christ represented these to the world, although he was a male; Paul represented them to the church, although he was a male. If a male could represent such feminine dimensions of the divine love, it is difficult to see why a woman cannot, in turn, represent to the Church dimensions of God’s love in Christ for which masculine images are used. Reasonably intelligent people understand how all these symbols function and do not press them beyond their intent. The argument against a woman’s representing Christ often works with rather rigid norms of symbolization which do not always escape the “prose fallacy . . . ”

“It is the assumptions of Rome’s argument that most need clarification. Is it assumed that, while a man can represent both the masculine and the feminine, a woman can represent only the feminine? Are God’s initiative and free grace more masculine than feminine? Is a wife’s subordination to her husband the only reason why Christ may be considered the Church’s Bridegroom? What assumptions and predispositions—theological, cultural, psychological, and otherwise—lie behind the description of certain attitudes and ministries as “masculine” and others as “feminine”?" May women have a say in the matter, or is this already a violation of ‘the eternal feminine’? ”

Joseph A. Komonchak, ‘Theological Questions on the Ordination of Women’, in Women and the Catholic Priesthood, pp. 241-259; here pp. 251-252.

As a giver of life, Christ is more feminine than masculine

Paul Lakeland draws implications from the spiritual function of Christ, as the one who gives us life.

“Christ’s saving act for humankind is accomplished by the grace of God, and through this grace new life is brought to the followers of Christ, the Church. The Church is then sustained by the grace of God flowing through the head of the Church, which is Christ. Christ is at once the source and the mediator of the life of the Church; in cooperation with the Father the Church is born. There is matter here for a crudely biological parallel which would make the Son the mother and the Father the father of the Church, but such is not our intention. Rather, it is to highlight the fact that Christ comes to bring new life to the Church, but the new life he brings (the life of the Spirit) is not something which comes from him alone. It comes from him and the Father. He is then the agent of handing on life which, in his humanity, he has received from another (God), and in his divinity he has received from all eternity in the Father. He is the cooperator who is involved in the creation of new life for the Church, he is the source and the carrier of the life of grace. He is, in other words, acting under a feminine symbol.”

“If the priest is the representative of Christ, then he is so in the theological significance rather than the bodily presence of Christ. The priest in his function at the Eucharist, at baptism, in penance, is in the place of Christ as the bringer of new life through himself. He stands in the place of Christ in a physical sense, but in a theological sense Christ acts through him in the gift of grace in the sacraments. Similarly, the whole Church can be seen as the mediator of grace to the world, a mediation in which the free gift of God and the concern of the Church to live up to her vocation as ‘leaven’ are intermingled. As she gives herself, so she gives God in Christ. This is a further aspect of being Christ in the world; it may also confuse the reader. But the confusion itself is instructive, since it is precisely what happens when we move into the realm of metaphor and symbol.”

“ The truth which they contain is universal truth, and so many aspects of existence can be considered under the light of the truth which they express. The Church, the priest, Christ, are inextricably masculine and feminine to the depths of their religious significance. If the arguments are only saying that there is a way of looking at the priest’s activity in which it has parallels with some specifically masculine acts, then that is quite true. What has to be recognised is that if a man can be a priest and yet exercise those functions which can be seen in the light of feminine symbolism, then it is no argument against women priests to say that they would have to perform certain symbolically masculine acts. In fact, their suitability for priesthood as mediation and cooperation in the life of grace is far clearer than it is for men. ”

Paul Lakeland, Can Women be Priests?, Mercier Press, Dublin 1975, pp. 67-68. see also his Theology and Critical Theory: The Discourse of the Church, : Abingdon, Nashville 1990.

John Wijngaards

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