Man-Woman Relationship Is Not a Rivalry

Archbishop Amato on New Document of Doctrinal Congregation

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 19, 2004 ( The differences between men and women are not to be reasons for rivalry, but rather are the foundation of a collaborative relationship, says a recent Church document.

This is the central proposal of the «Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration Between Man and Woman in the Church and the World,» published July 31 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the doctrinal congregation, explains the reasons for the document.

Q: After John Paul II’s «Mulieris Dignitatem,» 1988, and the «Letter to Women,» 1995, what is new about woman in this intervention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Archbishop Amato: The novelty is in the response to two tendencies that are well delineated in contemporary culture.

The first tendency strongly underlines woman’s condition of subordination, who, in order to be herself, should present herself as antagonistic to man. What is envisioned, therefore, is a radical rivalry between the sexes, according to which, the identity and role of one party constitutes a disadvantage for the other.

To avoid this opposition, a second current tends to eliminate the differences between the two sexes. The physical difference, called «sex,» is minimized and considered as a simple effect of sociocultural conditionings. What is emphasized to the maximum, therefore, is the strictly cultural dimension, called «gender.»

This is the origin of the controversy over the natural character of the family, made up of a father and mother, of equating homosexuality and heterosexuality, of proposing a multiform sexuality.

Q: What is the origin of this last tendency?

Archbishop Amato: This point of view stems from the presupposition that human nature does not have in itself characteristics that determine it in an absolute way as man or woman. Because of this, every person, free from all biological predetermination, could become whatever he or she pleases.

In the face of these erroneous conceptions, the Church confirms some essential aspects of Christian anthropology based on revelation in sacred Scripture.

Q: And what does the Bible say about this?

Archbishop Amato: The lengthiest part of the document is dedicated precisely to offering a biblical mediation on texts regarding the creation of man and woman.

The first text, Genesis 1:1-2:4, describes the creative power of God who fashions the distinctions in the original chaos — light, darkness, sea, earth, plants, animals — finally creating the human being «in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.»

Also the second account of creation, Genesis 2:4-25, confirms the essential importance of the sexual difference. God puts woman by the side of Adam, the first man, created from his very flesh and enveloped in the same mystery.

Q: What does this mean?

Archbishop Amato: The biblical text gives important indications. The human being is a person, in the same measure man and woman. They are in a reciprocal relationship.

In the second place, the human body, marked by the stamp of masculinity and of femininity, is called to exist in communion and in reciprocal gift. Because of this, marriage is the first and fundamental dimension of this vocation.

In the third place, although changed and obscured by sin, these original dispositions of the Creator can never be annulled.

Biblical anthropology suggests, therefore, that one must address with an attitude of relationship and not of competition, the problems that at the public or private level affect the differences of sex.

Q: Does the document give other indications?

Archbishop Amato: The letter also offers theological considerations on the spousal dimension of salvation.

In the Old Testament, for example, a history of salvation is configured that brings into play the participation of the masculine and the feminine, through the metaphors of bridegroom-bride and of covenant. It is a nuptial vocabulary that orients the reader both to the masculine figure of the suffering servant and the feminine figure of Zion.

In the New Testament these representations find their fulfillment: on one hand, in Mary, chosen daughter of Zion, who recapitulates the condition of Israel-bride in expectation of the day of salvation; on the other hand, in Jesus, who recapitulates in his person the love of God for his people, as the love of a bridegroom for his bride.

St. Paul develops this nuptial sense of redemption, conceiving Christian life as a nuptial mystery between Christ and the Church, his bride. Integrated in this mystery of grace, Christian spouses, despite sin and its consequences, can live their union in love and in reciprocal fidelity.

The consequence is that man and woman no longer experience their difference in terms of rivalry or opposition, but in terms of harmony and collaboration.

Q: What is woman’s contribution to the life of society?

Archbishop Amato: Woman, as opposed to man, has her own charism, called «capacity to accept the other.» It is an intuition, linked to her physical faculty to give life, which orients her to the growth and protection of the other.

The «genius of woman» enables her to reach maturity and gives her a sense of responsibility, as well as endurance in adversity. These virtues lead women to be actively present in the family and society with the proposal of solutions, at times innovative, to economic and social problems.

Q: How can woman reconcile work with her role in the family?

Archbishop Amato: This is an important problem. Society should properly evaluate the work exercised by women in the family and in the education of the children, recognizing its value both at the social and economic level.

Q: How is the contribution of woman to the life of the Church articulated today?

Archbishop Amato: In the Church the role of woman is particularly central and fruitful. From the beginning, the Church has considered herself as a community bound to Christ by a relationship of love.

In this, the Church, Bride of Christ, has always seen in Mary her mother and model. From her she learns some fundamental behaviors, such as the acceptance in faith of the Word of God and profound knowledge of intimacy with Jesus and his merciful love.

The reference to Mary, with her disposition to listening, to acceptance, to humility, to fidelity, to praise and to expectation, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. These attitudes are common to all the baptized. In fact, however, it is proper to women to live them with particular intensity and naturalness.

In this way, woman has a role of maximum importance in the Church, becoming a witness and model for all Christians in the way that the bride must correspond to the love of the bridegroom. Thus, she contributes in a unique way to manifest the face of the Church as mother of believers.

Q: What is the conclusion?

Archbishop Amato: In fact, two conclusions may be drawn: rediscovery and conversion. Rediscovery of the common dignity of man and woman, in reciprocal recognition and collaboration; conversion of man and woman to their own original identity, «image of God,» each according to the grace he or she has received.

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