Tome collects St. John Paul II's remarks on women
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Pope John Paul II Speaks on Women
Edited by Brooke Williams Deely, Ph.D.
Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2014
One of the major achievements of the papacy of Pope St. John Paul II was his remarkable way of speaking about women and of what he called “the feminine genius.” But until now, there has never been a comprehensive collection of all the Pope Saint’s speeches and writings on women made available in one handy volume.
Therefore, with this book, Brooke Williams Deely, the editor of Pope John Paul II Speaks on Women, published by Catholic University of America Press late last year, has performed an invaluable service. At long last, we have documented in one scholarly book a complete edition of John Paul’s teaching on women.
All of the primary source documents are here, including major works like Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World ), Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer ), Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women ), Christifideles Laici (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People ), Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On Ordination to the Priesthood ), Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life ), and John Paul II’s Letter to Women .
There are also pertinent excerpts from the Pope’s Theology of the Body catecheses, such as his discussion of Adam and Eve in Genesis, in which he avoids the fundamentalist error of reading the text in an inappropriately literal way.
Of the opening chapters of Genesis, he notably said (November 7, 1979), "the language in question is a mythical one. In this case, the term ‘myth’ does not designate a fabulous content but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content."
Too bad the Biblical literalists and evolution-deniers have yet to heed this lesson in how to read the Bible, despite the Pope’s clear teaching on how to embrace evolutionary science from a Catholic standpoint. Interestingly, the Pope himself seems clear on the point here in 1979, well before his Message on Evolution of October 22, 1996.
In a nice touch, the volume concludes with a discussion of the Pope’s proclamation of St. Therese of Lisieux as a Doctor of the Church, and with his Apostolic Letter to that effect, as well as a complete list of all women canonized and beatified by him. In total, gathered from John Paul II’s legacy, there are forty-four readings on women here, in an attractive volume of almost four hundred pages in length.
Besides the handy all-in-one nature of this beautifully crafted collection, which alone would make it worth owning (since a single, handheld volume is superior to browsing the documents on the Vatican web site), there are also the scholarly introductions written to help the reader better appreciate the various documents.
Brooke’s work with the Women, Culture, and Society Program at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, Texas, led her to see the need for a book such as this. Hence, Brooke herself writes an introduction to the entire volume, emphasizing the truly revolutionary nature, from an historical point of view, of John Paul II’s teaching on women.
Six other scholars also contribute helpful introductory discussions at different points in the volume, which is subdivided according to a chronological arrangement, in order to render a synoptic grasp of the full magnitude and historical significance of John Paul II’s teaching.
Our own Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, offers his endorsement for the book: "Pope John Paul II Speaks on Women offers an insightful overview of his profound respect for fundamental human values, including those specific to women, as well as his perceptive grasp of their historical and present-day denigration and cultural disenfranchisement.
"Rooted in the contemplative tradition, he is indebted to both Mary, Mother of God, and St. John of the Cross for the development of his thought on women. Brooke Williams Deely lovingly presents the Saint’s affirmation of the irreplaceable role of women in the Church and society. With freshness and originality she opens the reader to the radical body of work that comprises Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of women."
This book deserves pride of place on any Catholic bookshelf. It is a testament to the riches of Catholic teaching on women. It is also a standing invitation to immerse oneself in the contemplations of a major figure of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
C.S. Morrissey is an associate professor of philosophy at Catholic Pacific College.