In the women of
, the mothers and the saviors, in their fruitful infertility is expressed most purely and most profoundly what creation is and what election is. Israel
, 23-4 Zion
Reflection – Daughter Zion is one of my favorite books by Ratzinger and was one of the principal sources for my thesis. Oddly, I hardly ever quote from it on this blog – not sure why that is.
I have recommended this book far and wide, and am happy to do so again here—in particular, Ratzinger develops here a biblical theology of ‘woman’ that has really been helpful to women struggling with what the Church teaches about women and its perceived anti-feminist stance.
This brief passage is from a long and detailed and very beautiful analysis of the feminine line in the Old Testament. As the masculine line passes from Adam to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and down through the kings and prophets of Israel, so there is a feminine line, less prominent perhaps, but of deep significance scripturally and theologically.
These women, like the men, fall into basic categories. There are the barren women made fruitful by God’s grace and kindness—Sarah, Rachel, Hannah. There are the warrior women who, against any reasonable possibility of success, deliver
from its enemies (Deborah, Judith, and in a different manner, Esther). Both the barren woman who conceives and the ‘weak’ woman who triumphs in battle manifest the power of God to save and redeem his people, and the fundamental truth all of us, male and female, live in as His creatures. Israel
Namely, creation and redemption (which in the Old Testament is one with the election of God’s people) are essentially received. God acts; we receive. God is the one who gives life, who makes us fruitful, who chooses us for Himself, and who brings us to victory in the battle of life. The feminine line in the Old Testament reveals the basic structure of created reality before God.
Ratzinger goes on to develop the final revelation of the feminine in the Old Testament in the personification of Sophia as created wisdom, working alongside the Uncreated Wisdom of God to create and delight in all that He has made. And of course the second half of the book applies this all magnificently to the Virgin Mary as the real historical figure who shows us the path of receptive creativity and joyful participation in love with the creative and saving work of God.
This is so crucial. We are conditioned in the modern world to associate strength, power, dignity, freedom, status with being the one in charge, being on top, being the boss. To be a fully human, fully adult, fully alive person entails an ever-expanding control of one’s world. This has many implications extending into areas of human sexuality, economic activity, intellectual inquiry—a whole anthropology of dominance and mastery that flows from a certain concept of freedom.
I maintain, Ratzinger maintains, and the Bible maintains that there is an entirely different model of freedom, dignity, power, and life that God reveals to us and beckons us to live by. Mary shows us this, and the women of the Bible show us this. Joyful receptivity, active participation, the surrender of love, the abandonment of self into the loving plans and providential dispensations of God, obedience coming out of the free disposition of one’s own person and being—this is what it means to be a human creature.
We are all ‘brides of Christ’, male or female. The soul is feminine in relation to God. This has nothing to do with ‘sex’ in the common understanding of the word; it is a matter of the fundamental terms of our relationship with reality, and with Reality. First comes receiving, then comes responding. God initiates; Christ leads. God is the author; we are under His authority. We are His. And the women of the Bible show us that this is the path to a fruitful, triumphant, and joyous life; Mary shows us that this is the path to glory, honor and power beyond our wildest imaginings.