|Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome|
Posted April 15, 2005 at 6:24 a.m. CDT
Antigone or Ismene: The new choice
By Joan Chittister, OSB
Antigone, Sophocles’s 5th century B.C.E. play about one woman’s willingness to sacrifice herself in order to bury her outcast brother, lives on from era to era, a struggle between the powerful and the powerless. A classic tribute to one woman’s commitment to those she loves, to her ideals and her religion, it cuts a bit too close to the bone these days.
Despite the fact that King Creon has decreed that the brother be denied the funeral rituals essential to his salvation, Antigone refuses to accept the decision and does what no man will do. She claims her right to think differently than the king, to act differently than those around her, to expose the spiritual inadequacy of the system.
Today I think I saw a scene or two out of the same play, only this time it was recast for the 21st century.
Today I watched an Italian woman, Adriano Valerio, a professor of Church History at the University of Naples and President of the European Society of Women in Theological Research, face a press conference. The gathering was designed to open the conversation everyone else has either been avoiding these weeks or cannot find a platform from which to launch it. She called her presentation, “Toward a New Pontificate: The Gender Question.”
Sponsored by the International board of “We Are Church,” the series of conferences is intended to bring attention to major issues in the church before the Conclave begins in order to give the cardinal-electors an opportunity to hear Catholic concerns from around the world that are beyond the traditional clerical issues. Speakers are invited to raise issues they consider either to have been unfinished in the papacy of John Paul II or simply ignored.
Professor Valerio, representing 600 women theologians of Europe, minced no words about their concerns. She cited five major issues requiring papal attention if the equality claimed to be characteristic of male-female relationships in the Catholic church is to become real.
The church, the women say, must abandon its anthropology of complementarity–the notion that men do certain prescribed things and that women must do others–in favor of an anthropology of partnership, the notion that men and women do the same things in life but in masculine and feminine ways.
The very identity of God, who is said to be pure spirit but always identified as male, must be rethought for this to happen and women’s understanding and interpretation of scripture must be absorbed into Christian thought and teaching alongside that of their male counterparts.
Women must be admitted to theology departments and included in the process of theological reflection. Textbooks must be revised to include their insights and men must study the ideas and history of women as well as men in the church.
Ministries must be broadened to include women because Jesus became flesh, took on our entire humanity, not simply its male form. “We do not claim space,” she said, (we claim) “communion and participation beyond every hierarchic structure.”
Leadership positions in the church must be open to women, she argued. Otherwise, “to deny women such roles means to throw them into the shadows again as a sort of minority whose existence needs a controlling, approving, judging, leading male mediation.”
Then the reporters present asked her questions. I’ll tell you more about the questions and her answers tomorrow.
In the meantime, however, we may need to remember, in case we’ve forgotten, that in Sophocles’ “Antigone,” Ismene, her sister to whom she turns for support and help, cannot bring herself to contradict the King–even though she knows it should be done. As a result, Antigone decides that what must be done as a sign of love for her brother, a demonstration of her ideals and her commitment to the higher principles of her religion, she will have to do alone.
Every one of us, perhaps, is in a situation where we ourselves must choose to be either Antigone or Ismene. Today I saw one woman stand in the place of many–whatever the cost to herself. We are all better off because of it. “Antigone” lives on.
© 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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