Why men need women in ministry
From your studies, it would appear to me that the future of Catholic ministry would embrace married couples, ordained together, and doing ministry together. This is what I have known in my marriage as a mutual priesthood for each other and for the world. . . . What would you make of this?
By chance, I just picked up the book of Cardinal Suenens, THE HIDDEN HAND OF GOD: THE LIFE OF VERONICA O’BRIEN AND OUR COMMON APOSTOLATE. In this book, Suenens details the life of “Sister Veronica” who left her religious order in order to pursue a “full-time apostolate” in the Church. At first she worked with Frank Duff in creating and expanding the Legion of Mary. Then, during and after Vatican II, she worked with orders of nuns who were wrestling with the issues surrounding the renewal of their orders. Finally, she worked alongside Cardinal Suenens in fashioning the design and approval for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (1972+). Suenens, in the preface, speaks of “our joint apostolic initiatives for evangelical renewal” over a period of fifty years. More importantly, however, Suenens says, without his usual reserve, “Our collaboration . . . has been the great spiritual grace of my life.”
In the Middle Ages, we have the well-documented cases of Francis and Clair and Abelard and Heloise. In such cases, however, a man was energized by the love and devotion and intelligence of a woman; yet, the woman, in these instances, was confined to a cloister and had no active engagement with the world for the greater part of her life.
Then I discovered this book which describes how men become enchanted with women saints:
Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators
John W. Coakley
In Women, Men, and Spiritual Power, John Coakley explores male-authored narratives of the lives of Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Angela of Foligno, and six other female prophets or mystics of the late Middle Ages. His readings reveal the complex personal and literary relationships between these women and the clerics who wrote about them. Coakley’s work also undermines simplistic characterizations of male control over women, offering an important contribution to medieval religious history.
Coakley shows that these male-female relationships were marked by a fundamental tension between power and fascination: the priests and monks were supposed to hold authority over the women entrusted to their care, but they often switched roles, as the men became captivated with the women’s spiritual gifts. In narratives of such women, the male authors reflect directly on the relationship between the women’s powers and their own. Coakley argues that they viewed these relationships as gendered partnerships that brought together female mystical power and male ecclesiastical authority without placing one above the other.
Women, Men, and Spiritual Power chronicles a wide-ranging experiment in the balance of formal and informal powers, in which it was assumed to be thoroughly imaginable for both sorts of authority, in their distinctly gendered terms, to coexist and build on each other. The men’s writings reflect an extended moment in western Christianity when clerics had enough confidence in their authority to actually question its limits. After about 1400, however, clerics underwent a crisis of confidence, and such a questioning of institutional power was no longer considered safe. Instead of seeing women as partners, their revelatory powers began to be viewed as evidence of witchcraft.
About the Author
John W. Coakley is the L. Russell Feakes Professor of Church History, New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He is the coeditor (with Andrea Sterk) of Readings in World Christian History.