Woman in Ancient Society and the Early Church
From the shift in opinion about woman and her role in the framework of the Christian community, which was determined by the general social situation, it is necessary to infer that the social role of woman underwent definite changes in Christianity from the very start precisely in dependence on cultural historical conditions. This is so, for that matter, even today. An overview of the embryonic form of church communities reveals the dynamics of this process. It shows that the role of woman changed dramatically not just because of surrounding society but also as a result of the inner needs of early Christian communities. Above all the Pauline and Johannine communities meant a large step in the process of women’s emancipation and in “public” service in the framework of church community. In its way, this step was so large that it was historically impossible to maintain in its radical form in subsequent development.
Aelia Pulcheria Augusta (January 19, 399, to July 453) was born in Constantinople as the daughter of Emperor Arcadius and Empress Eudochia. She and her sisters Arcadia and Marina made vows of virginity and donated considerable wealth to social purposes. Pulcheria was a highly educated, energetic, and self-confident woman. She influenced the church policies of her brother Emperor Theodosius II. After his death she entered the married state and became empress. She collaborated with Cyril of Alexandria in the Christological struggles over the Marian title theotokos and in obtaining the condemnation of Nestorius. Together with Pope Leo the Great she prepared the Council of Chalcedon, which condemned the heresy of Eutyches.
Catherine of Siena
Two Letters to Pope Gregory XI
(Introduction by Dominik Duka, OP)
Two letters of St. Catherine to Pope Gregory XI (published here for the first time in Czech, in a translation by Dagmar Halasová and František Halas) not only bring us closer to the era of the 14th century, but also show what kind of role women played in the history of the church and Christianity. The letters make it clear that the greatness of a person is not rooted in the difference of the sexes, but in the greatness of the individual man or the individual woman. We do not find the root of this greatness in the fulfillment of men’s or women’s roles. However, we may search for an answer in the first pages of the bible, which speak of the person as an image of God. And in this way the actual greatness of St. Catherine leads to mystery, because it touches God’s greatness.
Pavel Vojtĕch Kohut, OCD
“Feminine Genius” in the Carmel of Teresa
The Carmel of Teresa of Ávila is an order in which the second branch has always without doubt played a more significant role. The feminine genius of the order comes from the personal charism of St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582), who was acknowledged as a mystic, a foundress, and a spiritual teacher in an era that was decidedly not inclined to granting roles of leadership to women. The saint laid claim to this triple aspect of her calling in a typically feminine way, so that following generations of Discalced Carmelite women (and Discalced Carmelite men, as well), who inherit her spirit, show a femininely realized genius of the mystical life (such as St. Teresa Margaret Redi, Blessed Miriam Baourdy, and St. Teresa of Los Andes), founding (Anne of Jesus, Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew, and St. Maravillas of Jesus), and spiritual teaching (St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, and St. Edith Stein). The feminine genius of the Carmel of Teresa is, furthermore, also given by its contemplative aim, which relates a person with God in a “feminine” attitude of receiving and responding.
Letter to Pope Pius XI
(Introduction by Maria Amata Neyer, OCD)
When the Vatican secret archives containing the diplomatic transactions of the nunciatures in Munich and Berlin and the archives of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State (formerly Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari) at the end of the pontificate of Pius XI (February 1939) were opened, a letter of Edith Stein to Pius XI from the year 1933 was made accessible to the public. This letter, which had long been considered lost, treats the growing persecution of Jews in Germany in these terms:
“…responsibility in great part lies with those who drove them to go so far. It also lies with those who remain silent about it.
“Everything that has happened and that is still going on comes from a government that calls itself “Christian.” For weeks already we have been waiting and hoping – not just Jews, but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany and, I presume, in the whole world – that the church of Christ will raise its voice to end this abuse of the name of Christ. Is not this deification of race and state violence, which the radio is daily pounding into the heads of the masses, clearly an open heresy? Is it not this extermination campaign against Jewish blood clearly a degradation of the holiest people of our Redeemer, the most blessed Virgin, and the apostles?”
Letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations
(Introduction by Tomáš Halík and Adéla Gjuričová)
Růzena Vacková, the second woman professor in the history of Prague’s Charles University, was 76 when the Charter 77 citizens’ initiative was launched. She had behind her investigation by the Gestapo, a stay in the death cell of the Nazi prison of Pankrác, a 22-year sentence from a communist court, and 15 years in a Stalinist prison. Nevertheless, she joined in this seemingly futile effort to prove the guilt of the communist regime. This was not the first time Vacková had tried to show that the lying communist system was illegal. In the 1950s, during the period of the harshest persecution of the Czech church and intelligentsia by the communists, she wrote a letter on her knees in prison – a letter that is legendary even today. The letter was addressed to Dag Hammarskjöld, the General Secretary of the United Nations. He was visiting, and she had found out about the visit in the official communist newspaper Rudé Právo. The main theme of the letter is the revelation of the contradictions between the letter of the law and actual legal practice in communist Czechoslovakia. Thus it was that even after many years of imprisonment she never stopped believing that systematically presented argumentation laid out with clear values would help her preserve her own integrity – and surely also disrupt the procedures and practice of the regime. To date, this rediscovered letter has never been published. In presenting it here, Salve is documenting both the Stalinist era and the admirable courage of a woman, about whom Josef Zvĕřina wrote, “I became most aware of her profound depth when Karl Rahner visited her during his stay in Prague. It was a meeting of two unpretentious but great persons. All the world knows about the theologian; only God knows about the theologian’s feminine partner in that meeting.”
Atheistic Surroundings, a Natural Milieu for Our Own Conversion
By her work and writings Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964) anticipated the situation of Christians in a secularized world. Although she was academically educated, she freely decided to spend her life living in workers’ surroundings shaped by ideological communism. She showed that we can take the world seriously and engage in the struggle for social justice – even for changes in the church – without losing any part of the gospel message. On the contrary, for her an atheistic milieu did not present a temptation of faith. It is rather a test and a great challenge, in which we can not only pass muster with the help of God’s grace but also become missionaries in surroundings that are ordinarily considered to be a danger to Christian faith.
Deaconesses in the Church
This article deals with the fact that deaconesses exist in the present-day church in the form of a non-sacramental and an ecumenically sacramental diaconate. The article discusses deaconesses in the early church, in the Middle Ages, and in the modern era. It investigates their rights and duties. It devotes special attention to deaconesses in Carthusian monasteries and deaconesses in Protestant churches. It also weighs the probability of expanding the sacramental diaconate in the Catholic Church to other women’s religious orders and possibly to other women as well.