The Apostolic Letter “Dignity of Womanhood” Part II
The Apostolic Letter “Dignity of Womanhood” Part II

The Apostolic Letter “Dignity of Womanhood” Part II

In Part 1 of this article, published in our previous issue, Fr Holloway analysed and admired Pope St. John Paul’s landmark document on women Mulieris Dignitatem but identified the need for a fully developed theology of the sexes which he now presents in Part II.

The mystery of Christ and the Church will always remain “unfathomable” in any ultimate sense. The Church however grows and develops in the understanding of the mysteries of God, according to the promise of Christ (John 16: 7-28). During the debates on the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood before and during the [1988] Lambeth Conference, one remarked the comment of an Anglican lady deacon who aspired to being a priest. Her point was noted, but unfortunately not her name. She said, “At the end of the day all the objections to the ordination of women are placed in the order of symbolism, not of the real. This is not good enough to debar us. If we are equal as persons, and equal in the priesthood of baptism, then we are equally able to be his representative at the altar. The fact that we don’t possess his maleness is only a detail.” Her comment goes to the heart of the matter. She presumes that being male or female is only a biological incident that has nothing to do with the theology of God’s making a creature that is a synthesis of spirit and of matter: nothing to do therefore in any essential way with the Incarnation of God in the material order, in the flesh of human nature.

Divinization of the Fleshthrough Sexuality

Can we give a reason from the very nature of material life in mankind for the Maleness of Jesus Christ in the Incarnation? If we can, then powerful things follow.

Our being men and women is not just an accident of biology or of evolution – the biological best way.

It is a necessity of the ‘divinization’ of human nature into the co-sharing with God in his Divine nature, through the Person of the Eternal Word through whom all things visible and invisible were made. It is a necessity of the giving to our nature, and its order the same dignity of communion with God, as the angels of God possess. If we can show this intrinsic reason for human sexuality we can understand much more richly whatwe already acknowledge as fact, (the presentation of which John Paul II does so well, for he is a poet) the nuptial nature of the Economy of Salvation from the beginning. There will follow the primary importance within revelation and liturgy of the symbolism, based on a fact not on a mere metaphor, of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. Do let us face it — the request of the Fathers of the 1987 Synod of Rome for a delineation of the “anthropological and theological bases” of our theology of human sexuality, cannot be met without a development of doctrine, and God always provides in his Church for the needs of times and seasons.

God’s Self-giving Requires the Incarnation

We return to the suggestion made two paragraphs back [in Part 1]. The majestic symbolism of the Judaeo-Christian economy of Salvation history makes so much more real sense if it is recognised that this complete “self-giving” of God to our race (of which the Pope speaks) in the supernatural order, for that divine Communion of being in the divine nature by which we are made co-sharers with God, requires in humankind, because we are a synthesis of matter and of spirit, the gift of the Incarnation of God. At once this perception fulfils the vision of the Fathers of the Church concerning the manner in which, through Christ human nature is as fully`divinized’ in its own full order as the angelic nature is in its own. Christ is the principle of the creation and divinization of both orders, the visible and the invisible: all things were made by and through Him (Col. 1: 16-17). This decree is independent of the Fall and original sin. It gives us the ontological not the incidental reason for the separation of the sexes in the human species. In the analysis of this decree of the Incarnation we will find the ontological reason for the necessity of woman and of The Woman. In that finding, we find also the necessity of the male and can develop a theology of sexuality. If philosophy is the ‘handmaid of theology’, since God ordered all creation from God as Alpha, back to God as Omega (Rev. 21: 6), biology too is the handmaid of theology! Space here will not allow a seminal deployment of this theology to the sacrament of Order; one would wish to refer the reader to Sexual Order and Holy Order (Faith Pamphlets). Some who have not seen the point in the argumentation of that essay, may well see it now, against the background of Mulieris Dignitatem.

“Great Sign” of the Woman

Pope John Paul does refer to the ‘great sign’ of The Woman from St. John (Rev. 12:1 et seq). He does see it as “the revelation of a woman of cosmic scale, on a scale with the whole work of creation” (DM Briefing p.464). He places The Woman within the eschatological, i.e. final destiny, perspective of creation and of mankind. He does not, however, relate the cosmic meaning of the vision to God’s decree “before the foundation of the world” to make, beside the Angel, a creature in His Likeness, which shall be the synthesis of matter and of spirit, and to bring the totality of this creation and its galactic universe into the supernatural order by means of the decree of the Incarnation of God and the human nativity of the Word enfleshed. Only this perspective makes a worthy sense of Christ as “king of the Universe”, and would so magnificently fill out the Pope’s meditation on the proto- evangelium, the summary of “the Good News” in the first three chapters of Genesis. If the Church is looking for a sign to why God made us male and female, are we not being a little obtuse? We have it in St. John: “a great sign appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the sun, the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. It is a cosmic sign indeed; it is the sign of the predestination of the Incarnation of the Son of God, from the ordered explosion of the universe out of nothingness. Under the Law of Control and Direction the Womb of the Woman and the vocation of Mary is there, in the primal energies of creation.

Significance of Sacred Headof Christ

Under the One Unity Law that ‘holds all things together in unity’ through Christ, the ordered communion of the Universe rises to that peak where, from the very nature of matter, the soul must be created unto a brain unintelligible without it. This is the moment of Man. If it is the moment of Man, then it is the moment of Adam-Eve, Christ- Mary, of the majestic prophecy implicit in Genesis. The One Law of the ordering of all things to the Christ works its way through revelation, and the evocation of the word, which is the Bible. It manifests its credentials through a unique hope and promise, that Messianism which is unique to the Judaeo-Christian tradition among the religions of mankind. It climaxes in the birth of the Son of God, and the Son of all mankind, in the womb of Mary, the cosmic sign given to St. John to declare. He is our Saviour from the decree of our divinisation, and our supernatural destiny in Him. He is our Redeemer, principle of the great Reconciliation, for us since the enmity of Sin. King of kings, Lord of history, all things, Angels and the created universe with its Men, are centred around Him. If we adore his sacred heart as the symbol of eternal and merciful love, we must also adore his sacred head, as seat of the Unity of All Wisdoms. In his Incarnation all sciences and all wisdoms are crowned; here is the ultimate meaning of all disciplines within creation.

Literally, “theology” means “word of God”. In his being Jesus is Theology: The Word of God. The Most Sincere Gift: The Womb of Mary

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that within the very personality of the human being, there is “a natural desire of seeing God”, but that nature is impotent to achieve it, unless God stoop down to give the means and to determine nature beyond the possibility of nature. The created Universe has its own exact equivalent. Within the power and the desire of the material universe, there is its own ‘sincere gift of self’ (expression beloved of Pope John Paul!) for the determining of God, ‘in a unity of the Two’ within the order of created nature, to an end beyond the powers of nature. For Nature gave to God of its own, its most sincere gift, the vehicle of human life, the womb of Mary, and her personality beyond all peer. Apart from any other consideration, is it any wonder that she is Immaculate, who is the spotless gift of sinless nature (the whole of the cosmic order) to God, for the grand finale of His creation? In passing, as a small thought, it has always seemed to the writer that in the Litany of Loreto, the English translation is wrong and inadequate: “Singular Vessel of devotion” should be “Vessel of Singular Consecration” from her office and her destiny.

The Virgin Birth a Necessity

God is to come as Heir of the Ages, “into his own dominion” (John. 1: 11), and He must come under, but not determined in his being by, the Unity Law of the Creation he has made. Christ, eternal Person, “of One Being with the Father” cannot be born as human person of the full reproductive power of the human stock, out of the decree of the human will. For this is the law of human personality. The Pope in Mulieris Dignitatem does actually state that man and woman in marriage do share in the generative power of God himself, as true causes of human personality. This will not do for the birth of Christ, for the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the Son of God. He is God, and He will be Man, but he will be only one Person, the Uncreated Person, from whom, responding to the Father, proceeds the Holy Spirit, their mutual Love, final term of the definition of God. For Jesus the transcendent there can be only a Virgin Birth – utterly unique, utterly singular in history, and utterly necessary. At the climax of history God must set aside the male, whom He had made the determiner of the womb as initiator of life, that He might himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, determine that vehicle of the human body for His own purposes. There would be initiated, in the cooperation of Mary’s seed, the prompting of the soul and body to Jesus — Son of God and, as Son of Man, the reason for the existence of all mankind, male or female. To achieve this without the determining of Jesus Christ to a human personality, God had to divide the full power of human sexual reproduction, to ‘take Eve out of Adam’. One suggests to the Fathers of the Synod of Rome that this is the reason why “God decreed that mankind should be male and female, and only either male or female.” That it is the best way, psychologically, in anthropology, and as biology is no surprise. When at Cana of Galilee God incarnate turned water into wine, it was the best wine. God does not leave loose ends.

An Undeveloped Text of St. Paul

There is one very important, doctrinal text of St. Paul which Pope John Paul did not use, and one wonders why? It is: “I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3). This is the sexual order through which human nature and human society is structured. The nature of mankind is divided ministerially for the coming of Christ. The male exists because God, already existent as Person, must determine the vessel of life (without the male), so before the coming of Christ, the male physically is the determiner of the womb, and shows in his sexuality the promise of Christ to come, “the seed that will crush the serpent’s head”. He shows also, in the gifts given to him by nature for the well¬being of the woman and the family, strength to provide, to give bread, to be the ‘head’ of the woman ‘taken out from him’; because in the intimate cares, anxieties, and chores of family love she needs that provision and that ‘headship’ from him. In his flesh, (but not more than her in his soul,) he is a Christ-figure, in as much as the womb is made to be prompted to life by him. He foretells Christ, who through the womb is the prompter of Life, and life more abundantly, in time and unto eternity. But the womb of woman exists primarily for God in Christ. This is the meaning of Mary and the unique vocation in all creation of Mary. Male and female, we are ministerially equal and equally necessary. The womb of woman shows that the means of Nature’s cooperation with God, that He may come “into his own things” (John. 1:11) exists within the universal order, and its laws. The woman, personalised in Mary, is the vessel of the material creations “self-giving, in a most sincere gift” that there may be a “unity of the Two” of God and his material creation, in the Person of Christ.

The Meaning of Sexualityand the Eucharistic Sacrifice

This mystery of the meaning of sexuality, the division of very life for the Incarnation of Christ, does and must exist in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the New Covenant of God’s communion and reconciliation of Life with humankind. Christ is necessarily the “Bridegroom”, because in the Holy Spirit He is the determiner of the womb of Mary as the root cause and stock of mankind. He is that “Son of Man” in whom all men, male and female, are decreed, willed, and loved in communion. The male, as ministerially the expression of his promise and Coming, must manifest Him in his flesh as He is. The woman must manifest that Nature, all creation, expects Him, makes Him welcome, and gives of its own order for His Body. We are male and female because that is the only way in which, with perfection of wisdom and truth, God can take matter, in a communion of love and being, into the Godhead to be with the soul, in Christ and through Christ, a “co-sharer in the divine nature”. Our flesh and its order witnesses the beatific vision, and the supernatural order into which all creation was made. That is why even from youth, this writer could never gaze upon the naked body of man or woman with any lust: for it manifests the vocation in Christ of our flesh, and its division for a greater unity to Him and in Him. At the altar the male must be Jesus the priest, to express the very meaning of Christ’s sexuality. The woman must be the Church; even in her body she represents Mary-Church more fully and naturally. Let the woman bring up the offertory gifts to present to the Holy Spirit, to be prompted into the body and blood of Christ, as in the beginning. Only Mary gave first ‘bread and wine’ the seed of her life, to become the Flesh which unites heaven and earth in the Body of Jesus, our Lord and our Saviour.


Fr Edward Holloway (1917-99), a parish priest in the South of England, was the author of Catholicism: A New Synthesis and other theological and philosophical works. He was the founder of the Faith Movement and the editor of this magazine for 22 years.


Faith Magazine

November / December 2020