Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Empowering Catholic women

Here is a strange fact. The Catholic church was upholding the dignity of women long before the secular realm. Since its foundation women could achieve a great deal as Christians and be celebrated for it. They founded schools, hospitals and religious houses, some even became doctors of the church long before they could study in a university! Yet it is frequently suggested that the Catholic church is misogynistic? Why is this?

I suspect it is because the Church departs from secular consensus not in its belief regarding equality, as people imagine, but rather in how it chooses to celebrate that equality. Allow me to explain…

The church celebrates equality whilst also delighting in divinely intended differences between men and women. It views such differences as healthy, normative and positive. Man and woman are as two parts of an intended whole; called to work together, in mutual love and charity, for the good of each other. At home and in the world. They may have different callings, as monk or nun or mother and father, but stand together in worth and dignity before God. A belief that leads to a philosophy of the family.

Meanwhile strident secular feminism views these differences between men and women as negative, often denying them altogether. It leads to a philosophy of the androgynous individual. Not mutual flourishing but the infamous battle of the sexes. Men and women pitted against each other. Worst still women often pitted against their own maternal and feminine nature and calling. Many are the guilt ridden women of today who feel they must simultaneously succeed at work and in the home, despite the near impossibility of that task.

I prefer the church vision. Within it wonderful women are celebrated whether at home or in the work place. Both vocations are viewed as precious, as are those who combine a little of each. For those still doubting that the Catholic church has ever celebrated women – look at the picture above. The women are listed below. What a wonderful group of amazing women whom the church delights in!

Helena (248-329) – Roman Empress; instrumental in the conversion of her son Constantine and the Romans to Christianity; revered as one of the most important women in the history of Western Civilization.

Pulcheria (399-453) – Roman Empress; a major force in Roman politics and ecclesiastical history.

Clotilde (475-545) – Queen of the Franks; instrumental in the conversion of her husband Clovis and the Franks to Christianity.

Theodora (500-548) – Byzantine Empress; one of the most influential and powerful empresses of Byzantium.

Olga of Kiev (890-969) – Princess and Regent of Kievan Rus’; instrumental in the conversion of her grandson Vladimir the Great and Old Rus’ to Christianity.

Margaret of Scotland (1045-1093) – Queen of Scotland; founded churches, monasteries, hostels and towns; called “The Pearl of Scotland”.

Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115) – Imperial Vicar and Queen of Italy; countess, duchess, and marquise; noted for her military accomplishments; called the “Honor and Glory of Italy”.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) – German nun, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath; mother of German botany; founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

Maud of England (1102-1167) – Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Germany and Italy; called the “She-Wolf of England”.

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) – Queen of France and England, Duchess of Aquitaine; the most powerful woman in western Europe during the High Middle Ages.

Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) – Italian nun and founder of the Poor Clares; first woman to write a monastic rule.

Trota of Salerno (12th century) – Italian physician and medical writer; wrote the Trotula texts on women’s medicine.

Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) – German nun and mystic; the only female saint to be called “the Great”.

Isabella of France (1295-1358) – Queen of England; called the “She-Wolf of France”.

Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374) – Duchess of Brittany; noted for her military accomplishments.

Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) – Swedish nun and mystic; one of the most popular saints in history.

Alessandra Giliani (1307-1326) – Italian anatomist and prosector; first woman to practice pathology.

Elizabeth of Bosnia ( 1339-1387) – Queen of Hungary and Poland; one of the most powerful monarchs of her time.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) – English anchoress and mystic; first woman to write a book in the English language.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) – Italian nun, mystic, writer, and patron saint of Europe; one of the most influential women of the 14th century.

Christine de Pisan (1364-1430) – Italian poet, essayist and biographer; court writer for the Royal court in France; wrote 41 works.

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) – English mystic and writer; wrote the first autobiography in the English language.

Jadwiga of Poland (1373-1399) – Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania; first female monarch of Poland; instrumental in the conversion of Lithuania to Christianity and the union of Poland and Lithuania.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) – French heroine and national symbol of France; defended France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) – Queen of England; personally led the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses.

Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) – Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Sicily; completed the Reconquista of Spain and financed Christopher Columbus.

Caterina Sforza (1463-1509) – Countess of Forlì and Lady of Imola; noted for her military accomplishments; called the “Tigress of Forlì”.

Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) – Marchesa of Mantua; one of the leading women of the Renaissance; called “The First Lady of the world”.

Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) – Queen of England and Princess of Wales; instrumental in the English victory at the Battle of Flodden.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) – Spanish nun, mystic and writer; one of the most popular saints in history.

Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589) – Queen of France and Duchess of Brittany; patron of the arts; the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) – Queen of Scotland and France; one of the most famous figures in Scottish and English history.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) – Italian Baroque painter and first woman accepted into the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684) – Italian mathematician and first woman to receive a doctoral degree from a university.

Laura Bassi (1711-1778) – Italian scientist and first woman professor to be appointed at a European university; called the “Walking Polyglot”.

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) – Italian mathematician and philosopher; first woman to write a mathematics textbook; first woman appointed as a Mathematics Professor at a Catholic University.

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2 Comments

  1. MV

    It couldn’t be a comprehensive list, but two surprising omissions are St Genevieve of Paris and Hrotsvitha of Gandesheim who was the founder of modern theatre. And from our own soil we can hardly disregard St Hilda of Whitby!

    • Pat

      Some risk of generating an enormous list here but, I’d suggest adding some more recent women (e.g. Saint Teresa of Calcutta).

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