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FEATURE: Cardinal Ouellet on ‘Woman in the Light of the Trinity and of Mary-Church’

Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Gives Lecture at Institute of Higher Studies on Woman at Rome’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

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Following is the full text of the lecture presented in February by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to the Institute of Higher Studies on Woman at Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.



Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops


 Institute of Higher Studies on Woman

 Monday, February 10, 2020

 Lectio Magistralis


 Acknowledged today without difficulty is the need for a more concrete theological and practical recognition of woman in the Church and in society.[1] In line with his predecessors, Pope Francis has confirmed several times that the implementation of more open ecclesial practices to the feminine[2] presence and influence is slow in being realized, for reasons that are not only of historical and cultural order.

I leave to others the sociological and historical analysis of the problem, to concentrate on the theological research that has to do its part in this argument, in order to remove obstacles to the promotion of woman and make the most of her dignity from the resources of Christian revelation. Following the opening in our days of biblical exegesis and the intuitions of the holy Pontiff John Paul II, in fact, there can be further reflection on the “mystery and ministries of woman”[3] in God’s plan, moving from the Person of the Holy Spirit as reciprocal Love of the Father and of the Son in the Trinity, and better foundation given to the dignity of woman and to her role in the Church and in society.

The disputata quaestio of Priestly Ordination reserved to men has caused much ink to flow and continues to raise criticisms by the supporters of an absolutely equal concept of equality between man and woman, from the point of view of the roles assigned to them in the different cultural realms. I will not discuss here the precise question of the Ordained Ministry for woman, in order to limit myself to the theological foundation of the “mystery” of woman in the light of the Trinity and of the nuptial relationship of Christ and the Church.

Therefore, from the beginning I make the choice of a theological method that moves from the revelation of the Trinity in Jesus Christ, to understand woman, created in the image and likeness of God, with the help of contemporary exegesis of the Imago Dei, which recovers the legitimacy and the value of the analogy between the Trinity and the family,[4] notwithstanding a strong contrary tradition. Moreover, I give to this analogy a relative importance in regard to knowledge of God, which comes to us fundamentally from the Person of Jesus Christ in His mystery of redemptive Incarnation. The family analogy contributes a not negligible complement to the understanding of the Trinitarian mystery, but its value has greater importance for its anthropological meaning. Pope Francis makes reference to it many times in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: “The God Trinity is communion of love, and the family is His living reflection.” The words of Saint John Paul II illuminate us: “In His most profound mystery, our God is not solitude, rather a family, given that He has in Himself paternity, filiation and the essence of the family, which is love. In the divine family, this love is the Holy Spirit.”[5] Therefore, the family is not something alien to the divine essence itself. This Trinitarian aspect of the couple has a new representation in Pauline theology when the Apostle puts it in relation to the “mystery” of the union between Christ and the Church (Cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). [6]

I add a last premise, which seems to me important, to point out the center and heart of our reflection, namely, the archetypal foundation of woman in the Trinity, impossible to determine without a theology of the Covenant that embraces God’s whole plan for humanity and the cosmos. This global framing is often lacking in theological reflection. Hans Urs von Balthasar insists on this point in his theological aesthetics, which describes God’s manifestation to man in Jesus Christ as nuptial mystery: “There is a supreme Covenant and spousal relationship between God and the world in general (Cf. the Covenant with Noah). This relationship has always existed by the mediation of the Logos in creation and by the Spirit that hovers over the abysses, and has made of humanity in the man-woman relationship an image and likeness of God: of the God that in His eternal Trinitarian mystery is already interiorly in a nuptial relationship with Himself.”[7]

This last affirmation, quite daring and innovative in regard to Tradition, remains a challenge for theological thought in general, and for the theology of woman in particular because it now poses in an indirect way the theological question of the Trinitarian foundation of the sexual difference. So, what does this internal nuptial relationship mean to the Trinity? Is there an archetype of woman in the profound mystery of God? Can one lean on the theology of the Imago Dei to affirm it? Then how can one not fall into the coarse anthropomorphism frequent in certain religions, consisting in projecting human sexuality on God? These questions are today more than ever pertinent and charged with implications in regard to the meaning of sexuality, of the value of love, of openness to fecundity, of respect of life, of education and of life in society. The domain of sexuality notwithstanding, the progress of scientific knowledge appears in fact more than ever confused and remains more or less silent, the taboo of putting it in relation with God if it’s not treated from the moral point of view. One more reason to get back on site to the burning topical questions: woman, sexual difference, family, fecundity, and future of Christianity, in an ever more secularized and anthropologically uncertain and confused world. The Catholic Church has been addressing it intensely since Vatican Council II, aware of having gaps to fill, but also to serve a prophetic Gospel destined for the world.

I – Contemporary Exegesis of the Imago Dei and its Implications for Understanding the Trinitarian Mystery, and the Dignity of Woman.

 We begin by making the point on the doctrine of the Imago Dei renewed in our time thanks to the progress of exegesis. The status quaestionis is well summarized by Blanca Castilla de Cortazar, in relation to the liberating thought of Pope John Paul II, in face of the historical and cultural interpretations of the image of God in man: “Haciendo un poco de historia, en la tradicion judia se considero que solo el varon era imagen de Dios, mientras que la mujer era derivada. Esto ha justificado la situacion subordinada de la mujer en el mundo judio y musulman en los que (sobre todo en este ultimo) aun hoy se encuentra encerrada.”[8]

Christianity has brought about a liberation of principle to this subordination of woman, thanks to Jesus’ innovative attitude in dealings with women and to His impact on their active role in the Church of the origins, as witnessed in the New Testament.[9] Suffice it to mention the scene of the Samaritan <woman>, that of the adulterous woman, of the prostitute in tears at His feet, the anointing of Bethany, the first apparition to Magdalene, etc., to symbolize the opening of a new era for the recognition of the dignity of woman and of her equality with man.

The subsequent centuries assimilated slowly, and not without considerable cultural resistances, Jesus’ revolution in regard to woman. On the specific point of the interpretation of the image of God, the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, for instance, is conditioned by the culture of the time about woman’s submission to man: “Man [. . . ] is image and glory of God; woman, instead, is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). Hence Paul’s dispositions that women be veiled and silent in the assembly . . .

Little by little these cultural influences were overcome and the recognition came of the equality of man and woman, in the development of the idea that the image of God is only in the soul, which was considered asexual, because of the spiritual faculties of knowledge and love, intelligence and will, common to the two. This made the affirmation progress that man and woman, in as much as members of the human species, are both in the same way images of God, but separately and independently of their sex. It will be necessary to wait for the 20th century for the human couple, with the man-woman difference, to be included in the image of God. John Paul II gave this aspect a decisive magisterial development in his catecheses on the “Theology of the Body” and in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, speaking of the image of God in man as Imago Trinitatis, “the unity of the two being contemplated in the light of the “unity of the Three” of the Trinitarian communion.[10] He thus set a fundamental stage for a theology of the family.

At the end of her status quaestionis, Castilla de Cortazar raises some pertinent questions for further refection on the theology of woman in the light of the Trinity. She wonders how one can identify the Trinitarian archetype not only of woman but, more specifically, of her quality of wife and mother. By specifying the analogy between the family and the Trinity in terms of communio personarum, John Paul II took a great step forward without however specifying the relationship between the divine Persons and the man-woman distinction. However, he indicated a profound relationship between the Holy Spirit as Love that gives life, and woman who brings life into the world. Therefore, the site remains open for new developments, but the enterprise isn’t easy, given the weight of Tradition and the tendency still strong, also in Louis Bouyer,[11] to exclude every nuptial dimension in the Trinity out of fear of anthropomorphism and out of respect for God’s absolute transcendence. The overcoming of this fear imposes a rigorous exegesis of the text of Genesis, accompanied by a theology of God’s plan as Covenant mystery, involving the communion of the Trinitarian Persons in the nuptial relationship of Christ and of the Church. On this basis, yet to be developed positively and speculatively, I anticipate a YES without reservation to the question of the archetype of the sexual difference in God Himself and, with that, to the question of the Trinitarian foundation of the dignity of woman. Prolonged in this way is the vision of the saintly Pope of the family that, recovering with new developments the Trinitarian analogy of the family, interprets the Imago Dei as Imago Trinitatis and so completes in a happy and fruitful way, the traditional doctrine of the image of God. In fact, the latter was limited up to now to the likeness between man’s rational nature with his spiritual faculties and the eminently spiritual divine nature on one hand, the Trinitarian processions on the other, the Son proceeding from the Father as Word and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son as Love. Who says “analogy” evidently doesn’t say “univocity,” consequently the likeness evoked is nuanced with the greatest dissimilarity, which always imposes itself on every comparison between the Creator and His creatures (DS 806).[12] Hence, the question is complex and delicate and invites to integrate the complementary approaches rather than to oppose them.[13] We believe it holds fruitful and open prospects to rethink the person, the man-woman relationship and the mystery of God from Love as Gift.[14]

 Some Exegetical Pointers

 Beyond the classic interpretations of Genesis 1:26-27,[15] the majority of exegetes see the likeness in the fact “that Adam is the royal representative of God Himself, who incarnates and exercises His authority on earth and over all that lives in it.”[16]With Claude Westermann, another group holds that “the image of God must be found in the capacity of relationship with God, which man receives from Him.”[17] Understood correctly in its context, the account of man’s creation would express God’s Will to give Himself a partner capable of dialogue with Him. What is most interesting, for what we have proposed, is to see that the exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27, according to the priestly tradition, marks points in favor in the sense of an integration of the man-woman relationship within the image-likeness.

In fact, if instead of separating the two accounts of creation, light is cast on the first with the second, Genesis 2:18-24,[18] and with Genesis 5:3, it looks like the male-female reciprocity, in the image-likeness of God, allows man to represent Him on earth and to imitate Him, participating in His creative power. The insistence of the priestly tradition on the corporal difference of the sexes is thus geared to express the fundamental relational character of the human being, on the horizontal plane of the relationship between man and woman, as well as on the vertical plane of the relationship with God. Regine Hinschberger adds, by way of conclusion, that Genesis 1:26 suggests “a relationship of likeness between God who creates man, male and female, that, blessed by Him, procreates.”[19] The expression “God made man in His likeness” would thus mean that He made him “so that he would be fecund like Him.”[20]

It’s clear how Genesis doesn’t explicit this analogy in regard to the correspondence of family members in relationship to the Persons of the Trinity. The image-likeness exegesis only puts in dialogue relationship a fecund couple and an indeterminate divine “us” (“Let us make man . . . “), which manifests the creative power itself in the procreative union. This dynamic perspective of the image, which actualizes the likeness itself through the procreative union, on the other hand, squares quite well with the idea of Covenant, of which the history of Israel is the privileged expression. Hence, Genesis’ message is that this Covenant structure is already inscribed in the man-woman complementarity, whose fecund reciprocity is like, and corresponds to, the Creator’s gift. When Eve gives birth to her first son, she exclaims: “I have gotten a man with <the help of> the Lord!” (Genesis 4:1), stressing God’s creative intervention in the gift of life. Taken in all its fullness, this Covenant history, already inscribed in the creation of Adam and Eve, culminates in Christ, the new Adam, of which the first is the figure. It is He, in fact, who is par excellence the “image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Hence it is in Him that the family analogy of the Trinity reaches its culmination, and at the same time finds its passing towards a more profound analogy, founded no longer only on God’s creative action but on the gift of Grace.

Outline of Theological Reflection

 On the speculative plane, if one takes as the point of departure Love as God’s supreme revelation in Jesus Christ, one can try to understand this Love from persons as “subsistent relationships” (Thomas Aquinas), because it coincides with them, and has no other reality outside their absolute and asymmetric reciprocity. According to tradition, the divine Persons are understood as being distinguished with the order of the processions and with the opposition of reciprocal relationships in Love, according to three totally distinct modalities in God. God is Love in as much as Father generating the consubstantial Son; He is also Love generated that responds to the Father according to his own filial manner, recognizing in Him His own source and His own end; He is finally the Love that proceeds from the consubstantial reciprocity of the Father and of the Son, as Third that is Love-communion, the hypostasis distinct from reciprocity as such, not another son or daughter in the manner of the other two, but an “us” that includes the two, although being distinguished in an absolute way. Hence the three ways of loving in the Trinity that express three Persons absolutely distinct and correlative: paternal Love, filial Love, and I dare qualify the Third as nuptial Love because it’s not only a two-way but a three-way reciprocity, the Spirit being a distinct Third that proceeds in the modality of fecundity from reciprocity, something that gives it essentially and personally the right of citizenship in the triple and divine correlation of Love.

In the human experience the child, as hypostasis of the reciprocity of love, is the fruit of conjugal love that is also a three-way reciprocity because, if one abstracts from the fortuitous character of the generation and of the temporal factor of its development, the child belongs intrinsically to the nature itself of the mutual gift of the spouses (Balthasar). He is a third in the exchange of nuptial-conjugal love within the same nature, something that doesn’t happen in any other affective relationship. Not in the paternal-filial, not in the filial-maternal, not in fraternal or friendly relationships is birth given to a carnal third of the same nature. The child is in some way co-principle of the love of the spouses in as much as the intrinsic end of their mutual gift, also if subjectively these can unite themselves without the explicit intention of fecundity.

We mentioned above the Holy Spirit as the archetype of the nuptial love in God, in as much as He is the “Us” distinct from the reciprocal love of the Father and of the Son. An Us in Which the Father and the Son love one another in a paternal and filial Love in accordance with their personal property, but They love one another also with a “surplus” of Love that comes from the Third, which consequently enriches their relationship and allows qualifying their fecundity in Him as nuptial Love. The nuptial dimension, at first sight, foreign to the Father-Son relationship, is exclusively debtor of the Spirit and cannot proceed but from Him in as much as proper hypostasis of the reciprocity. Beyond the hypostasis of the generating gift and the hypostasis of the fecund reception, there is the hypostasis of the reciprocity-communion. See why it can be said that the Person of the Spirit produces (generates) in some way a surplus of love in God, which over-qualifies the Father-Son relationships with another new fecundity that is intrinsic to them but irreducible to them in as much as debtor of the personal property of the Spirit.

Therefore, I believe that it is altogether justifiable to designate the Holy Spirit as the nuptial Love in God, taking up and deepening Augustine’s intuition on the Spirit as mutual Love. The Holy Spirit is in fact Love in a way that is unique to Him, personal, in God who is nothing other than Love. His role as “bond” of love between the Father and the Son, intimate but distinct, enriches them in a way that is recognized, qualifying the fecundity in their regard as “nuptial” and “maternal.” In brief, to conclude, this way of distinguishing the three hypostases in God from love seems to me in harmony with His own Name of “Spirit of Truth,” because Truth is the consubstantial Love of the Three Divine Persons that He confirms in Himself in as much as seal of the divine unity as Love.

II – The Economy of the Trinitarian Nuptial Mystery as Nuptial Mystery of Christ and of the Church

We have said that the hypothesis of departure of an archetype of the sexual difference in God implies a theology of the Covenant in which God predestines humanity in Christ to become “participant in the divine nature, which is the eternal Love of the Trinitarian Persons. The divine plan is perfectly fulfilled in Christ as “nuptial mystery” because His whole earthly itinerary of Incarnation is a marriage between the divinity and humanity. His redemptive mission up to the supreme sacrifice reveals, in fact, the Love of the Father for humanity, and His Resurrection from the dead confirms the Love of the Father for His Son raised to His right hand and for reconciled and sanctified humanity with the effusion of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s Resurrection and the gift of the Spirit are the proof of the success of God’s plan as mystery of the Covenant, but the question remains, namely how can we deduce from there the existence of a nuptial mystery internal to the Trinity.

We can reach it by rereading in the most explicit nuptial terms the intra-Trinitarian relationships, which are displayed in the economy of salvation. The mystery of the Incarnation consists, in fact, in the generation of the Son in the flesh with the mediation of the Holy Spirit, generation that is expressed on the part of the Son as obedience of love to the Father to death on the Cross, from which Christ rises from the underworld in virtue of the Kiss of Resurrection that He receives from the Spirit of the Father, as nuptial love that confirms His divine Filiation in His resurrected flesh and renders Him capable of pouring out the Spirit of life on all flesh. The moment of the procession of the Spirit in the immanent Trinity corresponds to the moment of the Resurrection in the economy of salvation because it is there that the generation of the Son in the flesh reaches its end, in the reciprocal fecundity of the Father and of the Son that co-radiates the Spirit of Love, first in the resurrected flesh of Christ and, through Him, in the whole of ransomed humanity, become in Him and for Him fruitful partner of the Covenant mystery. In other words, the event of the Incarnation as Covenant mystery is the perfect translation, in the economy of salvation, of the nuptial mystery of the immanent Trinity. The order of the Trinitarian processions is respected in the sense that the generation of the Son precedes and renders possible the procession of the Spirit, which is realized precisely as the nuptial seal on the historical and eschatological connubium of Christ’s two natures in His life-death-resurrection. This intimate and fecund effusion of the Trinitarian Love in the Son’s Incarnation culminates in the Eucharist, nuptial mystery par excellence of Christ and of the Church.

After this overview of the divine plan, it is necessary to pause on the figure of the Spirit, who becomes the great protagonist of the Incarnation of the Trinitarian Love, according, however, to His own way that is of communion.[21] That’s why He is the great architect of the response of the Church, Body and Bride of Christ, to the gift of the Trinitarian communion. As in the immanent Trinity, His action in the economy is nuptial and maternal. He gives divine Life, beginning with the divine maternity of the Virgin Mary and prolonged in Her spiritual maternity at the cross and at Pentecost.[22] The Spirit also gives the hierarchical structure of the Church as representation of Christ Head at the service of the communion of the People of God, which He, on the other hand, enriches again with multiple gifts and charisms. In doing so the Spirit is manifested as He who gives divine life, who unites in the distinction, always safeguarding the differences so that the union is of communion and not of uniformity; as in the Most Holy Trinity in which the Person of the Spirit crowns the divine unity, the Tri-Unity, consecrating the absolute difference of the Three Trinitarian Persons. Each one is Person in his own way, but always consubstantial to the Others in absolute Love. In the Most Holy Trinity there are not three identical and uniform Persons but three Persons whose personal property realizes a way of being Love in God completely different but in the unity of a same nature: the paternal Love, the filial Love and the nuptial Love.

Let us pause now on the archetype of maternity in God, which Tradition tends to situate also in the Holy Spirit. In fact, He is confessed in the Creed as He that “gives life,” and is described in Sacred Scripture as close to the Woman, be it the Virgin Mary in all her mystery, from the Annunciation to Pentecost and the Assumption, be it in the Bride of the Apocalypse in which He aspires to the return of the Lord Jesus (Apocalypse 22:17). This closeness of the Spirit and of the Woman is not that of a Groom but is again more profound as the “Us” in Which the nuptial mystery is fulfilled, whatever the inadequate Medieval opinion of the Spirit says as Spouse of the Virgin. The Spirit is not He who marries, it is He in Whom and by Whom the espousals of the Word of God and of humanity are realized in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The Spirit is Mediator of these espousals in as much as nuptial and maternal love that transports the seed of the Father and joins the two natures of the Incarnate Word in Mary’s virginal womb, gratifying Her at the same time in her immaculate YES and without reservation to the divine Word. Hence the Spirit fulfils actively the mystery of the Incarnation in as much as Person-communion that acts at the service of the Father and of the Son and that pursue this nuptial mediation in the course of the Incarnation of the Word up to His Paschal Mystery.

It is wonderful to contemplate this nuptial mediation of the Spirit that inspires and accompanies in asymmetric parallelism, Jesus’ obedience to His Father and the unlimited availability of Mary to the Word of God. This perfect communion in the obedience of love is consummated at the foot of the Cross, when the Son and the Mother suffer in unison the Passion of love of the redemptive sacrifice. In gathering the last breath of Her crucified Son — prelude to the effusion of the Spirit — the Immaculate Virgin is raised by the Spirit to the dignity of Bride of the immolated Lamb and Mother of the Church. Thus her new ecclesial maternity in the Spirit transcends the Mother-Son relationship according to the flesh, precisely as in God the nuptial fecundity of the Spirit transcends the Father-Son relationship and confers on it a new dimension. The Spirit fecundates in permanence this maternity of Mary-Church through the sacramental economy, in particular with the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, where it proceeds to the Eucharistic effusion of the Incarnate Word, which constitutes the Church as His Body and His Bride; hence the name of Ecclesia Mater, which is linked to her intimate participation in the nuptial-maternal property of the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

We turn, however, to the Spirit in the immanent Trinity to observe more closely this maternal dimension of His person and His action ad intra and ad extra. Being the “Us” constituted by the asymmetric reciprocity but perfectly consubstantial of the Father and of the Son, the Spirit lets one glimpse his maternal dimension through the flowing again of the nuptial Love that enriches actively the other two Persons (active-passive Aspiration) but in a subordinate way, in dependence of the primacy of the Other two (the order of the procession), something that in no way touches the perfect equality of the Three founded on their triple consubstantiality. Hence, at the level of language, the preposition “in” or “in the,” which usually accompanies the citation of the Holy Spirit, happens in the liturgical prayer of the Church or in the theological expression of her mystery. In fact, the One and Triune God is Love that in this way declines His own mystery: tri-personal Love that proceeds from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, an eternal Life in perpetual exchange whose flux and reflux constitute His infinite mystery as Deus semper maior. This event of paternal, filial and nuptial Love, which is the immanent Trinity, can be glimpsed in the economy of salvation in which the divine Persons reveal their own intimate mystery in their Covenant relationships with every human person and with humanity as a whole in Christ.

This is so because the Holy Spirit possesses in Himself the life that proceeds from the Father through the Son. He possesses it in as much as passively-actively received from the other Two and adding to it, through His personal property, a new nuptial and maternal fecundity that is of communion, of new life, of ever greater liberty in Love. That’s why the role of the Spirit ad intra and His activity ad extra in the Church and in the world bear the sign of harmony, of unity in diversity, of liberty and of gratuitousness, of fecundity that rightly merits Him the title of Glory as nuptial and maternal Love. Saint Irenaeus writes: “There where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and there where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace.”[23] That is also why the work of sanctification and glorification that He carries out in the economy of salvation seems in perfect conformity with His Trinitarian personality. Hence the beauty of the Church-Communion, which proceeds from the kenosis of the Incarnate Word as feminine personality animated by the Spirit, and of his figure as Bride and Mother, without, however, the Holy Spirit being the exclusive hypostasis, because He is the “Us,” which contains in Himself the Love of the Father and of the Son constitutive of the Church as Sacramentum Trinitatis. The Trinitarian Holy Spirit, kenotic as the other two Persons of whom He proceeds, annuls Himself personally to the heart of the nuptial mystery of Christ and of the Church, and guarantees that the unity of the Church is constituted by the Trinitarian unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as is happily expressed by Vatican Council II.[24]

III – The Trinitarian Figure of Woman and Its Implications in Regard to Her Dignity and Her Role in the Church and in Society.

 The preceding reflections sought to integrate the legacy of Augustine on the Spirit as mutual Love and that of Richard of Saint Victor on the condilectus, leveraging on the nuptial and family analogy that can be deduced from Gregory Nazianzus and Bonaventure, as well as from the contemporary exegesis of the Imago Trinitatis. The originality of our position is focused on this nuptial specification, which at the same time enables the safeguarding of the divine unity as Love and of valuing the image of God in man and in woman as a reciprocal gift of fruitful love in the family and in society.

In this perspective, woman’s dignity and role are notably reinforced, in the light of her relational foundation in the Most Holy Trinity. It seems to me that this foundation is well established in the procession of the Holy Spirit  (active-passive spiration), which is manifested as irreducible nuptial Love to the fecundity proper of paternal and filial Love. The novelty of the Spirit of Love flows back on the paternal and filial fecundity and confers on them a new dimension that justifies the recourse to the nuptial and family symbol to account for the incommensurable riches of the Trinitarian relationships and, consequently, to affirm the truth of the archetypical foundation of woman in the Holy Spirit in His play of relationships with the Father and the Son. If the proper of woman is to give herself receiving (bride) to be actively fecund (mother) in the same measure in which she receives, is she not image and, in a certain way, participation, and of the Son that exhales the Spirit in the reception of what He is from the Father and in the gift of return that He does to Him, and of the Holy Spirit who also “lives and enriches“ this triple receiving motion, gift, fecundity? The Virgin Mary’s way of loving, so intimately bound to the Spirit, is manifested in Her immaculate availability toward the Father (bride) and in the unconditional service towards the Son (mother) that the Holy Spirit conceives in Her virginal womb and accompanies in the entire course of Incarnation.[25] The archetype of woman as bride and mother in the Holy Spirit is founded therefore on these reciprocal Trinitarian relationships that we know with the mystery of the Incarnation. This conclusion leans, as we have seen, on the contemporary exegesis of the image of God as Imago Trinitatis and on God’s plan as Covenant mystery interpreted with the nuptial symbol, which is the most evident and consonant of the Bible.


 What is the importance of these acquisitions for woman’s dignity and for the concrete ecclesial and social consequences that should be legitimately deduced?

In the first place, the identification of the relational archetype of woman in the Trinity confirms immediately her dignity as image of God in a much as person, woman, wife, and mother. This confirms at the same time the values of love, of marriage and the family, as well as the supernatural virginal vocations, which receive a strong theological and spiritual support.

In the second place, her privileged bond with the Holy Spirit, and in the Spirit to the eternal and Incarnate Son, configures her relational originality and her way of loving as woman who receives, consents, responds and surprises with her doubly fecund reply, natural and supernatural, asymmetric, original, procreative, irreducible to any other model other than her personal modality of loving as God loves.

In the third place, woman turns out to be powerfully confirmed in her role of wife and mother <and>, what is more, without being confined to these roles, because her open femininity reaches different levels and registers, which go beyond the family ambit, towards all domains of activity and influence, particularly in the framework of consecrated life. Hence her unique and irreplaceable contribution in the realm of work; of health; in social, charitable and political activity; in science, the arts and philosophy, theology, prophecy, and mysticism, etc., where her personality and her many natural and supernatural charisms can spread and contribute to the Kingdom of God and to the common good of society and of the Church.

In the fourth place, it’s obvious how — beginning from this theological base and noting the deficit of woman’s integration according to her vocation and her potentialities, on the social and ecclesial plane, as well as on the pastoral and missionary plane –, a vigorous promotion of woman must be imposed at all levels (including the confirmation of her vocation of wife and mother!) and a patient and perseverant struggle is requested, to foster her freedom to act and to live in keeping with her charisms, her vocation and her mission, which are irreducible to patriarchal or matriarchal scheme conveyed in the different societies.

In the fifth place, theology in general, and the theology of woman in particular, calls for attentive listening, without prejudices, of the theology of women, a disregarded contribution but already available in the Tradition, which the Church recognizes symbolically declaring some among them “Doctors of the Church,”[26] in the hope that these symbolic gestures encourage the involvement of women at all levels of philosophical and theological production.

For a Civilization of Love

 Finally, woman’s way of being and loving entails indispensable qualities for the progress of the Church and of society. Her person unfolds, in fact, in an exemplary and fruitful way through her native availability to the Will of the Father and at the service of the Word of God in the Spirit. Woman is placed willingly on the side of the Word that is second, preferred, generated and fruitful in turn through His consubstantial love to the Father, which is “more” than filial in virtue of the Spirit that He breathes in dependence of the Father. Hence, consequently, woman’s participation in the nuptial and maternal dimension of the Word and of the Spirit, which is manifested in her way of loving received and second but equal in dignity and doubly fecund.

Her way of loving, tender, compassionate, enveloping and fruitful is irreducible to the masculine model of love, more invasive and punctual, sporadic and planned, as well as to the more univocal masculine psychology, especially in the way of managing social relationships and the cultural, political or spiritual influence. The feminine diversity must not be canceled by the masculine model, which needs to be completed by the indispensable qualities of femininity, of maternity and of multiple fecundity and variously modulated by the woman, under pain of falling into an unjust domination that arouses the antagonism of man and woman, whereas they are called to communion.

Finally, in the light of the Holy Family, image par excellence of the mystery of the Trinity and of the Church, the figure of woman reaches in Mary a peerless human and supernatural perfection, in virtue of her true marriage, lived in genuine and virginal human relationships, but not asexual, with Jesus and Joseph. This overcoming of natural conjugal sexuality does not imply any contempt for its value, but only its prolongation to the higher level of supernatural fecundity of the sexes within virginal relationships.[27] Joseph was not diminished in his sexuality by the fact of not having generated Jesus. On the contrary, he was enriched and fortified in his natural-supernatural putative paternity with an incomparable quality of virginal relationships, in humble correspondence to the mystery of Jesus and of His Mother.

In this light, who doesn’t see the importance of these developments for the promotion in the Church of consecrated life in all its forms? The priestly and religious vocations express, in fact, the Church’s response to the Gift of the Holy Spirit that endows her with different charisms at the service of the mission and communion that gravitates around the Eucharistic Groom. These free and virginal vocations, lived in the joy of the faith, witness, in fact, with their fidelity and their virginal fecundity, in concert with the family, domestic church, that the Gospel of the God Love responds in fullness to all the aspirations of the human heart in the nuptial mystery of Christ and of the Church. In this further theological reflection, wouldn’t it be a precious resource to overcome the controversy regarding the Ordained Ministry reserved to man? And to revive the flame in the heart of so many women in search of a vocation, where the answer is not only a social or professional service or any career, were it also a selfless service to the poorest, but simply the attraction of Love, a filial, nuptial and maternal Love, which fills the heart, the soul and the spirit with joy and passion for the evangelization of the world?


 What else can we add to conclude these theological reflections to stress the importance of the “mystery” of woman and of her indispensable contribution to social and ecclesial life? Given the closeness of the Spirit and of woman in the divine plan of creation and of the incarnation of grace, given the profound and insuperable participation of the Virgin Mary in the reciprocal Trinitarian relationships of the Word and of the Spirit, shouldn’t one recognize this “mystery” of woman — qualifying as “sacred ministries” without clerical connotation of any sort –, her multiple feminine functions and roles in society and in the Church: wife and mother, inspirer and mediator, redeemer and reconciler, help and indispensable companion for man in every task and social and ecclesial responsibility? How much listening, openness, reparation of injustices and utilization of feminine charisms should be given her on the part of all and, in particular, on the part of the civil and religious authorities, which can have the feminine difference recognized and integrated better!

Understood then is how the Catholic Church, from the immense grace of Vatican Council II, has waged a decisive and incessant battle for respect of the difference of the sexes everywhere and at every level, be it in the field of work, of marriage and of the family, or in that of the Ordained Ministry, and continues to do so, even alone, against every “ideological colonization” (Pope Francis) that wants to annul the sexual difference in the culture and, therefore, the original figure of woman, in the name of an anthropology free from any transcendent bond. The question of woman is of such importance in our days, as to exact, on the part of the Church and of society, an enormous investment in thought and in action, in order to illuminate correctly the social choices and to allow the image of God in man and in woman, destined to communion, to access the divine likeness of Love without which there is no happiness possible for humanity or society worthy of this name.


[1] Cf. Role of Women in the Church. Proceedings of the Symposium organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Rome, September 26-28, 2016, LEV.

[2] Pope Francis: “I am convinced of the urgency to offer areas to women in the life of the Church and to welcome them, taking into account the specific and changing cultural and social sensibilities. Therefore, a more capillary and incisive feminine presence is desirable in the Communities, so that they can see many women involved in pastoral responsibilities, in the accompaniment of persons, families and groups, as well as in theological reflection” (Address to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, February 7, 2015).

[3] Cf. Louis Bouyer, Mystery and Ministries of Woman, Aubier Montaigne, Paris, 1976. Essay on the theological justification of the position of the Church on this argument, before the Inter Insigniores Declaration, October 15, 1976.

[4] Cf. My book Divine Similarity: Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family, Lateran University Press, Vatican City, 2004, 33-55.

[5] Homily in the Mass at Puebla de los Angeles (January 28, 1979), 2: AAS 71 (1979), 184.

[6] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia , n. 11; see also n. 71.

[7] H.U. von Balthasar, La Gloire et la Croix. I. Apparition, Aubier, 1965, 488 (ns. Tr. It. ?) See also: Adrienne von Speyer, Theologie der Geschlechter (Theology of the Sexes), Johannes Verlag, 1969.

[8] Blanca Castilla de Cortazar, Woman and Theology: The Question of the Image of God, (2016) Arbor, 192 (778). “Making a bit of history, in the Jewish tradition it was considered that only man was image of God, whereas woman was derived. This has justified the subordinate situation of woman in the Jewish and Muslim world in which (especially in the latter) she is still locked today.”

[9] Cf. Mary Healy, Women in Sacred Scripture: New Insights from Exegesis, in Role of Women in the Church, op. cit. 43-54: “The New Testament thus provides abundant evidence that both in the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church women were present, not only as disciples but also as initiators and leaders that participated actively in the ministry of the Gospel in a variety of ways” (p. 53).

[10] H. H.  John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 6-8: “To be a person means: to tend to the fulfillment of oneself […], which cannot be accomplished except ‘through a sincere gift of self.” Model of such an interpretation of the person is God Himself as Trinity, as communion of Persons. To say that man is created in the image and likeness of this God also means that man is called to exist “for” others, to become a gift” (n. 7).

[11] L. Bouyer, Mystere et Ministeres de la Femme, Op. Cit., 41-41.

[12] The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it in terms that strongly stress the limits of the analogy: “In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective ‘perfections’ of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfections of God: those of mother (Cf. Is 49:14-15; 66:13; Ps 131:2-3) and those of father and husband (Cf. Ho 11:1-40; Jer 3:4-19)” (CCCn.370).

[13] See the excursus “Image and Likeness of God,” in H.U. von Balthasar, Teodrammatica. II. Le Persone del Dramma: L’Uomo in Dio, Jaca Book, Milan, 2012, 298-316; 344-360; 381-385.

[14] Cf. M. Ouellet, Divine Likeness, op. cit., 54-55.

[15] “Then God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (TOB)

[16] F. Martin, “A Summary of the Teaching of Genesis Chapter One,” in Communio International Review, Summer, 1993, 247.

[17] Ivi, 258. See C. Westerann, Genesis I-II, A Commentary, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1984, 147-161, and especially 157-158.

[18] “And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:22-24) (TOB).

[19] R. Hinschberger, “Image and Resemblance in the Priestly Tradition,” in RSR 59 (1985), 192.

[20] For a fuller development, I refer to my book Divine Likeness, op. cit., 41-46.

[21] Here it’s about the “economic” or historical-sacramental figure of the Holy Spirit in history.

[22] Hence the superiority of the “Marian Principle” over the “Petrine Principle” in the communion of the Church, which Balthasar develops in The Anti-Roman Complex, Apostolate of editions, 191-235. The ministerial structure, in as much as it is important, is founded on the institution by Christ and on the enveloping Love of the Mother that constitutes, in the Holy Spirit, the fundamental identity of the Church as Bride, in which the ministerial-Petrine representation of the Groom is inscribed, in dependence and at the service of the of the most fundamental “ministry” of love, which the Virgin Mary and every woman incarnates in her own person.

[23] Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 24. 1.

[24] The elusive and kenotic aspect should be noted of the Spirit, which Scripture expresses with the universal symbols of water, of fire and of wind, as well as with the sacramental symbols of the unction and of the transubstantiation of the bread and of the wine in the Body and Blood of Christ (epiclesis). This “fluid” character of His Person seems to contrast with the character of the clearest and precise contours of the paternal and filial Love, but in fact it leads the expression of the Trinitarian Love to its fullness, common to the Three Persons as dis-appropriation of self, happy effusion of self as Love whose beatitude is not to be for self.

[25] Let us remember here what was said above of the mystery of Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, which the Holy Spirit fecundates from inside and accompanies to raising Her to the dignity of Bride of the immolated Lamb, thus becoming by Him and with Him, in her total dependence, co-spirator of the Spirit on all the ecclesial posterity, hence Mother of the Church. What popular piety expresses here with Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces, is founded precisely on this Trinitarian-nuptial mystery given in participation.

[26] Paul VI took the first step declaring Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila Doctors of the Church in 1970. Therese of the Child Jesus (1997) and Hildegard of Bingen (2012) followed them.

[27] Cf. H. U. von Balthasar, Teodrammatica. II. The Persons of the Drama: Man in God, Jaca Book, Milan, 2012,387-388.


Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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