Voices Online Edition
Volume XVII, No. 3
Letters to the Editor
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Letter to the Editor
The best compliment to be paid to Elizabeth Cheffers's wonderfully Thomistic essay, "Whether Christ Changed the Role of Woman", is to raise objections in a similar spirit.
Miss Cheffers argues that woman was created to complete man, and thus man and woman, as a communion of persons, "mirror the way in which the three persons of the Trinity complete one another".
But one might object: first, it seems that each person of the Trinity is perfect and not in need of completion; so it cannot be by completing each other that husband and wife "mirror" the Trinity. Second, husband and wife are only two; so presumably it is not until they have a child that they mirror the Trinity; yet the child does not complete either the father or the mother, in the way that each parent completes the other. Or, if one grants that two persons can mirror the Trinity, why not allow that a solitary person can do so, in his reason and reflexive consciousness? Yet in that case he would not need to be "completed". Third, it seems wrong to deny that the many siblings of a parent, in their love for one another, mirror the communion of the Divine persons; yet the siblings, who may in fact be all brothers or all sisters, do not complete one another the way husband and wife do.
Cheffers also argues that if woman were created solely to help man propagate, she would not have been created for her own sake, but rather as a kind of servant or even slave of the man; yet because she was created to complete man and thus to mirror the Divine communion of persons, woman has equal dignity with man. But here too one might object that, even if woman was created to remedy man's loneliness, still, she was created for his sake - man wasn't created to remedy woman's loneliness. Thus it would seem that woman is after all the servant of man.
May we look forward to another essay by Cheffers to explore these and similar difficulties further?
Miss Cheffers bases her argument on Pope John Paul II's theological anthropology. In Mulieris Dignitatem §7, the pope describes the way in which man and woman exist "in relationship", in the "unity of the two", and how our creation "in the image of God" mirrors the Trinity, as the following excerpts reveal:
"[Man] cannot exist 'alone' (Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a 'unity of the two', and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'. This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit....
"The fact that man 'created as man and woman' is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a 'unity of the two' in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way, to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. The Father, Son and Holy spirit, one God through the unity of the divinity, exist as persons through the inscrutable divine relationship. Only in this way can we understand that God in Himself is love....
"The image and likeness of God in man, created as man and woman ... thus also expresses the 'unity of the two' in a common humanity. This unity of the two, which is a sign of interpersonal communion, shows that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion (communio)"....
"In the 'unity of the two', man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist 'side by side' or 'together', but they are also called to exist mutually 'one for the other'". (Original emphasis.)
We strongly recommend reading this Apostolic Letter "on the dignity and vocation of women" in its entirety. It was issued August 15, 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year.
The Letter's nine chapters would be an excellent subject for a Day of Recollection, or for chapter-by-chapter study in small groups.
Mulieris Dignitatem is accessible on the WFF web site.
Letter was in response to our Young Writer Award winner's essay, Whether Christ Changed the Role of Women, by Elizabeth Ruth Cheffers.
[Details on Young Writer's Award]
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