Thursday, November 29, 2012

27 Nov BB Response: Women and Catholicism Through the Ages

Tuesday's brown bag was facilitated by a panel of self-identified or formerly-self-identified Catholic women: Candace Bemont, Maura Tumulty, Sylvia Roe, Margaret Wehrer, and Caroline Williams '13.  They discussed the place of women in Catholicism from the 30s through today, how women's roles and voices have been constrained or expanded from the world wars through Vatican II to the present.  The presentation brought up several streams of discourse from identity to the perception of closedmindedness and illogic as Catholic, and how that contrasts with vibrant feminist communities within Catholic thought.

I identify as an atheist, but through my Colgate career, specifically as a Music major, I have learned a great deal about Catholicism and various ideological streams within it.  I was then not surprised by their assertion that there was vibrant feminist thought in Catholicism, because I've seen that first hand in the works of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century nun whom I've done research on for music history classes.  Hildegard was a composer, writer, dramaturg, theologian, lecturer, and alleged prophetess.  Her works valourize the feminine and the place of women in the church.  It is argued that her Ordo Virtutum is the first opera.  She interpreted the scriptures very differently from how they were commonly interpreted in her era, and she made her ideas known.  Her creation story does not blame Eve, but emphasizes her being tricked by the serpent, who contrary to common assumption was the most beautiful and beloved, indeed feminine of the animals in the garden, and this guise of trusted animal is what makes the Devil's trick all the more horrible.  She had a concept of viriditas, "greenness", that was a feminine creative force enveloping all things natural and living.  Her convent was sanctioned by higher up orders of men for their venture into political affairs, and she challenged them and their prohibition of song in her convent.

What this shows is what the panel was talking about: Catholicism is a tradition, like any other, and in any tradition there are those inside of it preserving things as they've always been and policing its standard narrative, and there are those inside of it working for reform.  It is dangerous to assume that any tradition is opposed to progress; progress is often most poignant when coming from within a tradition.  The rich subtradition of feminist movement in Catholicism from Hildegard to the present is a fascinating and helpful one that I'm delighted to have encountered in my time here.

Xavia Publius

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