Following are excerpts from ”Mulieris Dignitatem” (”On the Dignity of Women”), an apostolic letter issued yesterday by Pope John Paul II, as issued in English by the Vatican:
Let us enter into the setting of the biblical ”beginning.” In it the revealed truth concerning man as ”the image and likeness” of God constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology. ”God ceated man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) This concise passage contains the fundamental anthropological truths: Man is the high point of the whole order of creation in the visible world; the human race, which takes its origin from the calling into existence of man and woman, crowns the whole work of creation; both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image.
. . . In different passages of Sacred Scripture (especially in the Old Testament), we find comparisons that attribute to God ”masculine” or ”feminine” qualities. We find in these passages an indirect confirmation of the truth that both man and woman were created in the image of God. If there is a likeness between Creator and creatures, it is understandable that the Bible would refer to God using expressions that attribute to him both ”masculine” and ”feminine” qualities.
. . . The biblical description of original sin in the third chapter of Genesis in a certain way ”distinguishes the roles” which the woman and the man had in it. This is also refered to later in certain passages of the Bible, for example, Paul’s Letter to Timothy: ”For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (I Timothy 2:13-14) But there is no doubt that, independent of this ”distinction of roles” in the biblical description, that first sin is the sin of man, created by God as male and female.
. . . The biblical description in the Book of Genesis outlines the truth about the consequence of man’s sin, as it is shown by the disturbance of that original relationship between man and woman which corresponds to their individual dignity as persons.
. . . When we read in the biblical description the words addressed to the woman: ”Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16), we discover a break and a constant threat precisely in regard to this ”unity of the two” which corresponds to the dignity of the image and likeness of God in both of them. Equality, Not Domination
. . . This ”domination” indicates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and woman possess in the ”unity of the two”: and this is especially to the disadvantage of the woman.
. . . The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot become the ”object’ of ”domination” and male ”possession.”
. . . Even the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words ”He shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the ”masculinization of women.” In the name of liberation from male ”domination,” women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine ”originality.” There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not ”reach fulfillment,” but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness.
. . . The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity; they are merely different. Hence, a woman, as well as a man, must understand her ”fulfillment” as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the ”image and likeness of God” that is specifically hers.
. . . It is universally admitted – even by people with a critical attitude toward the Christian message – that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity.
. . . In all of Jesus’ teaching, as well as in his behavior, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honor due to women.
. . . This becomes even more explicit in regard to women whom popular opinion contemptuously labeled sinners, public sinners and adulteresses. She Often Pays All Alone
. . . How often in a similar way the woman pays for her own sin (maybe it is she, in some cases, who is guilty of the ”other’s sin” – the sin of the man) but she alone pays and she pays all alone! How often is she abandoned with her pregnancy, when the man, the child’s father, is unwilling to accept responsibility for it? And besides the many ”unwed mothers” in our society, we also must consider all those who, as a result of various pressures, even on the part of the guilty man, very often ”get rid of” the child before it is born.
. . . Parenthood – even though it belongs to both – is realized much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who ”pays” directly for this shared generation (of a child), which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul. It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No program of ”equal rights” between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account.
. . . This unique contact (of a mother) with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings – not only toward her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man – even with all his sharing in parenthood – always remains ”outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own ”fatherhood” from the mother. One can say that this is a part of the normal human dimension of parenthood, including the stages that follow the birth of the baby, especially the initial period. The child’s upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother’s contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality.
. . . The Gospel puts forward the ideal of the consecration of the person, that is, the person’s exclusive dedication to God by virtue of the evangelical counsels: in particular, chastity, poverty and obedience. . . . In this wider context, virginity has to be considered also as a path for women, a path on which they realize their womanhood in a way different from marriage.
. . . In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time. Consequently, the assumption that he called men to be apostles in order to conform with the widespread mentality of his times does not at all correspond to Christ’s way of acting.
. . . Since Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, linked it in such an explicit way to the priestly service of the Apostles, it is legitimate to conclude that he thereby wished to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is ”feminine” and what is ”masculine.” A Mutual Trust
. . . The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way – precisely by reason of their femininity – and this in a particular way determines their vocation.
. . . A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting. . . . This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them ”strong” and strengthens their vocation. Thus the ”perfect woman” becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.
. . . In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man. . . . In this sense our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that ”genius” which belongs to women, and which can insure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance.