The pope is talking about strawberries on cakes!
A few days ago, Pope Francis addressed the International Theological Commission, a group of theologians who advise the Holy See. He said,
I would like to note the increased presence of women — still not too many … they are the strawberries on the cake, but we need more — a presence that becomes an invitation to reflect on the role that women can and should play in the field of theology.
(For the purposes of my own amusement, this post will be decorated with pictures of strawberries on cakes.)
He went on to say that women make an indispensable contribution to theology, particularly through our sensitivity and intuition. “By virtue of their feminine genius, women theologians can detect, to the benefit of all, certain unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ.”
All theologians have as their model Mary, the Mother of God.
A woman of listening, a woman of contemplation, a woman close to the problems of the Church and people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with all the resources of her feminine genius, she unceasingly entered ever more deeply into “all the truth” (cf. Jn 16:13). Mary is thus the icon of the Church who, eagerly awaiting her Lord, progresses day after day in her understanding of the faith, thanks also to the patient work of men and women theologians.
This raises the question of how we see women in theology today. To me, it seems that female theologians are valued in terms of their femininity but male theologians in terms of their individuality. No one stops to wonder what distinctive gifts men bring to theology or how their masculine genius helps them to uncover other unexplored aspects of the mystery of the Faith. (Don’t try to tell me there aren’t any either. I know there are.)
When we see women’s contributions as primarily gendered and men’s as not, we inevitably tokenise women. We make them into a few strawberries on an otherwise unaltered cake.
That’s not cool.
I love strawberries and I love cake. And they go really well together.
So how do we avoid this tokenisation?
I think we need to be more aware of the what we can only call the masculine genius. We need to emphasise and explore more fully the distinctive gifts of men as men, and not merely as the normative human beings. I am convinced that without a rigorous theology of masculinity, we will not be truly appreciate the distinctive gifts of either men or women.
At the same time, we cannot let these approaches dominate our discussion of theological methodology. Back in July, Sr. Mary Melone was appointed as the first female rector of a pontifical university in Rome, the Antonianum. In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, she said,
The reference to female theology does not really fit with my vision of things: all that exists is theology. Theology as research, as a focus on mystery, as a reflection on this mystery. But precisely because this requires different sensitivities. A woman’s approach to mystery, the way in which she reflects on this mystery which offers itself and reveals itself, is certainly different from that of a man. But they do not contrast.
I believe in theology and I believe that theology created by a woman is typical of a woman. It is different but without the element of laying claim to it. Otherwise it almost seems as though I am manipulating theology, when it is instead a field that requires honesty from the person who places him/herself before the mystery.1
Neither female nor male theologians can be ciphers, or even representatives, of their respective gender. In this sense, there is no masculine or feminine theology. That would be, in Sr. Melone’s words, “manipulating” theology. All theology is women’s theology, just as all theology is men’s theology.
Rather, theologians are called to submit their entire being — mind, soul and body — to the mystery of Christ. When this happens, the Holy Spirit works within us. He takes the disparate ingredients of our humanity and cooks them up in the fire of His love.
As thrilled as I am at the increasing recognition of women in theology, I will be far more excited when the most newsworthy thing about these women isn’t that they are women — but that they are thoughtful, insightful and faithful theologians.
Because then we will truly know that the Holy Spirit has cooking up a storm.