The dignity of women and their dignification

By: Father José Miguel González Martín

Temas de la mujer

A current theme

The validity and importance of the subject, the subject of the presentation in the following dossier, does not need much explanation or justification. It is well known how one of the continuous thematic blocs in the media around the world, at least in the Western, is the issue of women. The defense of their rights, their genuine and own values, motherhood, virginity, family, fundamental equality with men, their incursion into the different areas of the world of work until recently reserved for men, the revulsion of execrable violence against some of them, feminist movements, gender ideology, the vindication of femininity against rampant egalitarianism sought by some , and a long etcetera, flood pages and news everywhere.

It is evident to all, little that we read, the frequent ideology of the subject and politicization by some who consider themselves the true defenders of women, calling as retrograde machismo, even fascist, everything that is not in their ideology or reductive proposal. The exclusive appropriation of the issue of women and their advocacy at the expense of the same woman and their fundamental principles and rights, has been the constant attitude in those who manipulate and use the subject in their favor, disqualifying those who do not think or say the same as them. A contemporary author says: “If the feminine is the hermeneutic key to the human, those who are forcing women to choose between the feminine and the ideological feminism force consciences. Third- and fourth-wave feminism, if rushed, subverts the condition of nature, turns against women because it turns against the human.”

In an age like ours, when for many “everything goes” and the authentic search for truth shines through its absence, it is not surprising to encounter positions that absolutize his vision of the subject or others, at the opposite end, that relativize everything. And both on both sides, they disqualify with astonishing and superficial ease the Church, which they accuse of being medieval and immobile. However, we do not intend in these lines to enter into sterile controversies, nor to defend ourselves from anything or anyone else.

The very and specific of our contribution will be to expose, from what Christian revelation and doctrine offer us, the foundation of what we understand as the true understanding of the theme of women, from which all other issues derive. We wonder what Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church tells us with her Magisterium on the dignity of women, where her foundation lies, to cement on it all the effort necessary for her greater and better dignification.

And as it is said in popular slang that “it is good to put the patch before the wound is done”, we recognize that everything our Christian faith tells us about women has not always been fully lived in the historical practice of our dear mother Church and that we still have a good way to go to continue implementing and developing her role in the Church , in society and in today’s world; at the same time we also recognize the steps that have already been taken or are being taken, and the enormous relevance of the female presence in the church’s evangelizing work. Without the woman, her presence and her work, the Church would not be what she is today. It is enough to remember the countless holy women, virgins, martyrs, founders, mothers of families, whom we venerate in the liturgy of the Church. Today too, the witness of so many women committed to Christ and to the Church, the incarnation of the feminine ideal and models of follow-up to the Master, are an immense wealth for all.

Biblical and theological foundations

St John Paul II recalled in 1988 that “the dignity of women and their vocation, the constant object of human and Christian reflection, has in recent years assumed a very particular importance”.1 By the term “dignity” applied to women or men, we understand their excellence, their enhancement, their own and specific value, their wealth, their honor. St Paul VI, also, in 1976 said: “In Christianity, more than in any other religion, women have from the beginning a special status of dignity”.2 We must therefore go back to the origins of humanity and to the will of the Creator to delve into the anthropological and theological foundations concerning the meaning of the specific dignity of women. Only from there can we better understand their essential equality with regard to the male, his own values and his active presence in the Church and in society.

It says the first book of the Bible, in its first chapter: “God therefore created the human being in his image, in the image of God created him, man and woman created them” (Genesis 1.27). The Holy Fathers of the Church3 said that, in this text, we find the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology. The human being, male or female, is the culmination of all that is created by God; and both male and female are human beings to the same degree and both were created in the image of God. Thus, the dignity of the human person, male or female, lies in that common principle that identifies them as an image of God, called by Him to grow, multiply, and to fill and dominate the earth. To be an image of God means to represent Him, to be his collaborator, to prolong his presence and his lordship. Being a creature in the midst of creation, the classification of “image of God” puts the human person closer to the Creator than to the rest of the creatures. We read it in Psalm 8: “You made it little less than the angels, you crowned him with glory and dignity.” That is why we understand that the dignity of the human person, male or female, of any human being from conception to natural death, lies in that he is and will always be “image of God”. Hence respect because of all, men and women, as human people, intelligent, free and able to love, created by the personal God who has been fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ, God made man, image of God invisible, firstborn of all creation (Col 1.15), from where the mystery of every human being is clarified (cf. Gs 22).

Also in the book of Genesis we find another description of the creation of the human being, male and female (Gen 2.18-25) that completes the above. This text, older and anthropomorphic, presents the woman created “from the rib” of the man and staged as the other “I”, on an equal footing and as a valid interlocutor, next to the male. It is immediately recognized by him as “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones”. And it is called “woman” (‘issah) because it has been taken from the male (‘is). The biblical term ‘issah indicates the essential identity with the male (‘is). Supported by this text, several Fathers of the Church4 affirm the fundamental equality of men and women before God. The woman is the other self of the male in common humanity. Both from the beginning are people versus other created beings. That is why the man can join her, as a wife, becomes with her “one flesh” and therefore abandoning her father and mother (cf. Gen 2:24). From the beginning, male and female appear as “unity of the two” that overcomes the original loneliness. The male could not exist “alone”, he needed adequate and proportionate help.

The personal character of the human being (intelligent, free and capable of loving) is expressed in a unique way in the reciprocal and complementary relationship between male and female. And that complementarity and reciprocity extends to all mankind in that we have all been created in the image of God. The human “ethos”, whose apex is the commandment of love, finds its foundation in the common and original reality that every human being, male or female, has been created in the image of God. God, who is love, calls us to dynamically reproduce His image, loving us as He loves us. The sponsal union between men and women, based on the unique and exclusive love that is lived in Christian marriage, open to the procreation of children, uniquely expresses God’s project on whole humanity.

Genesis 3 describes the sin of origins and their consequences. One of them will be the dominance of the male in a pejorative sense and the submission of the woman to the male. “He will dominate thee” (Gen 3:16). This text explains the breakdown of God’s original project, of the “unity of the two”, male and female, of his essential equality before God that corresponds to the dignity of God’s image in both. This “male dominance” causes the alteration of fundamental equality between male and female and, therefore, the imbalance in the interpersonal relationship at a clear disadvantage for women. With sin is violated the fundamental equality between the two, gift and right that derives from the Creator God himself; women are disadvantaged while also diminishing the true dignity of man.5 We could put it in the reverse direction, that is, we inferred from the text that it does not correspond to the original will of God or to the dignity of the human being, male and female, that women be subjected inferior to the male; their submission is a violation of God’s original project, it is sin. Women cannot become the object of male dominance and possession. Similarly, it is not God’s will to the contrary either.

Certainly, one of the dangers of women, in her legitimate desire to free herself from the domination of the male, has always been to appropriate masculine characteristics, even her flaws, against her feminine originality. Along this path, women are not fully done and could even deform and lose what constitutes their essential wealth, enormous wealth. The woman’s personal resources are no less than those of the male, they are simply different. We could also say, complementary. Women must be made as a person, like the man, on the basis of these own resources, an expression of her dignity and the image of God in her. It is the main way, perhaps not the only one, to overcome the sin of subjugation, humiliation, contempt, and so many vexations that many women still suffer in our day.

Even in the Old Testament, we find something that is curious and very important to the subject at hand. God, whose image has been created by the human being, male and female, is credited with “male” and also “female” qualities. “Even if a mother forgot her son, I will never forget you” (Is 49.15). “Like a mother, so I will comfort you” (Is 66:13). In several passages God’s love for her people is presented as the feminine love of a mother, a mother who begets, carries in her bosom, gives birth in pain, nourishes and comforts her children (cf. Is 42.14; 46.3-4). Also in other passages, his love is presented as male love of husband and father (cf. Os 11.1-4; Jer 34.19).6 It is clear that God is not a sexed-up being and that sexed differentiation belongs only to his creatures. Perhaps the most commonly used expressions, from the biblical texts, about his paternity lead us subliminally to “masculinize” in excess the image of God that we make ourselves. In his thirty-three-day pontificate ephemeral, Pope John Paul I, back in 1978, dared to say that God is Father and also Mother.

Already in the New Testament we meet Jesus, humanized God. God, to enter into the history of mankind, in the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, chose to incarnate himself “in a man”. There is no way we can find in it a contempt for femininity. Jesus surprised everyone, in his public life, with the simple and direct dealings with several women who participated in one way or another in his saving mission, something extraordinary in his time. Jesus’ attitude towards them was always of special transparency and depth. With this behavior he provoked surprise, stupor, even outrage or scandal (cf. Jn 4.27; Lk 7.39; Mt 21.31). There are many women, of different age and condition, who reflect the pages of the gospels; some of them accompanied him in the group of the disciples. They also appear as figures in the parables of Jesus. In her teachings and behavior we find nothing that reflects the usual discrimination of women in her time, rather quite the opposite; his words and works always express respect and honor because of women. She understands that women cannot be considered an “object” of pleasure or subjugation but “subject” equal to the male in dignity and vocation.

It is admitted, even by those who do not accept or oppose his message, that Jesus was before his contemporaries a true promoter of the dignity of women and their vocation. Jesus confirms that dignity, remembers it, renews it, and makes it a content of the gospel and redemption. He integrates many of them as guardians of the Gospel message into his daily life and in his saving mission. Some are the first to bear witness to the Resurrection.7 Having chosen twelve men like their apostles, and not including any woman in the group, does not give up anything stated so far. The reasons for this must be sought and based on the theological study of Jesus’ divine and mesianic consciousness and his saving will; in no way, in a kind of concession in weakness to the masculinizing environment of his time. Certainly, if Jesus had wanted it, he could have included, in the group of the Twelve, women who were already part of his discipleship. And no doubt the best “candidate” was her own mother, Maria.

She is the most important woman in the life of Jesus, to which she dearly loved, who occupied a preferred place in her heart. God, from all eternity, designed to incarnate himself, to become a man, and he wanted to be born of a woman, to be born under the law to rescue those subjected by sin (cf. Gal 4.4), to be born as we all are born, from a woman, from our mother. It is god’s gesture that best recognizes the dignity of women and further dignifies it.8 The Fathers of the Church call Mary the new Eve, that is, the new Woman, from whom the new humanity saved by Christ is born.

In Mary, conceived without sin, immaculate, we are presented with God’s original project on all humanity and on each of us. She is the authentic Eve, in her we see reflected, better than anyone else, the image and likeness with God and, therefore, the dignity of the human being, male or female. We could say that, through Mary, God has given us “in woman” the original and model project that is called to reflect every human being, male or female being. Some come to affirm that in Mary’s feminine and immaculate face we can find, metaphorically speaking, the factions of God’s paternal and maternal face. St John Paul II says: “In Mary, Eve again discovers what is the true dignity of women, of their feminine humanity. And this discovery must constantly reach every woman’s heart, to shape her own vocation and her life.”9

Inescapable task for all

From here it is up to all of us, especially Christians, to work for the dignification of women in all aspects and areas of ecclesial and social life. It would be appropriate to continue to reflect on the genuine values of femininity such as motherhood, virginity, sponsality, and then pass on to others as their irreplaceable value in the family and in the education of children, their projection in the world of work, their participation in public or political life or the prevention of any form of exclusion , subjugation, abuse or violence against you.

The Magisterium of the Church has recently invited us to recognize the indispensable contribution of women to the building up of the Church and to the development of society, and at the same time, to specifically analyze their participation in the life and mission of the Church.10 And the Second Vatican Council had echoed it.11 It is the case, for it is a matter. , to delve into the contribution of Christian thought to the dignification of women. And on women in the Church, we must draw the question of the dynamics of spheres and power struggles, “the machismo in skirts” that some say, and take it to the sacrament of baptism, not to another.

Pope Francis is resolutely promoting a greater presence of women in church institutions and greater participation in his government. We cannot remain oblivious to this dynamic. It is time to dilute unfounded prejudices and outdated preventions when sharing responsibilities, while being faithful to what the Church herself asks of us. The presence of women in the Church is necessary and irreplaceable. It has always been and will continue to be. The witness of faith and life of many Christians over the centuries in the history of the Church enlightens and impels us in the effort to dignify the presence of women.

In conclusion, I also consider it necessary to thank all women for their being and exist in the midst of the world and of the Church, as St John Paul II did: “The Church gives thanks for all women and for each one: for mothers, sisters, wives; by women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to so many human beings who expect someone else’s free love; for women who watch over the human being in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, women sometimes burdened with great social responsibility; for ‘perfect’ women and ‘weak’ women. For all of them, as they came out of God’s heart in all the beauty and richness of their femininity, as they have been embraced by their eternal love.”


1 John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 1 (August 15, 1988).
2 Paul VI: Address to the participants in the ICF National Convention (December 6, 1976).
3 Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, Saint Gregory Niseno or St Augustine, among others.
4 Origins, Clement of Alexandria, St Augustine, among others.
5 Cf. John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 10.
6 Cf. John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 8.
7 Cf. John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 12-16.
8 The commentary on this text by Pope Francis in the Homily of the 1st is precious. January 2020: “Born of a woman. The rebirth of humanity began with women. Women are a source of life. However, they are continually offended, beaten, raped, induced to prostitute thee and eliminate the life they lead in their womb. Every violence inflicted on women is a desecration of God, born of a woman. Salvation for humanity came from a woman’s body: how we treat women’s bodies understand our level of humanity. How many times the woman’s body is sacrificed on the profane altars of publicity, profit, pornography, exploited as a land to use. He must be freed from consumerism, he must be respected and honored. It is the noblest flesh in the world, for he conceived and gave birth to the Love that has saved us. Today, motherhood is also humiliated, because the only growth that interests it is economic growth. There are mothers who risk making painful journeys to desperately try to give a better future to the fruit of their entrails, and who are regarded as numbers that overxcete the quota by people who have a full stomach, but things, and an empty heart of love.”
9 John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 11. Cf. also Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater 46: “In the light of Mary, the Church perceives in the face of women the reflections of a beauty that is a mirror of the highest feelings that the human heart is capable of: the total offering of love; the strength that can withstand the greatest pains; boundless fidelity and tireless laboriousness; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with the word of support and encouragement.”
10 Cf. John Paul II: Apostolic Exhortation Chistifideles laici, 49-52 (December 30, 1988).
11 Cf. Conc. Ecum. Vatican II: Decree Apostolicam actuositatem, 9.
12 John Paul II: Pastoral Letter Mulieris dignitatem, 31.

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