Table of Contents
Women are created in God’s image and likeness (Imago Dei) and, as such, must be respected and affirmed. Unfortunately, there exist many cultural, social, and even ecclesial perspectives that fail to recognize the fullness of their humanity. In this essay, I engage in conversation with contemporary theologians who propose a healthy and comprehensive theological anthropology that aims at confronting such perspectives. My reflection will focus in particular on women’s theological, anthropological equality with men. I will offer an analysis of Galatians 3:28, which points to the fact that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. I will conclude by exploring the implications of affirming the inalienable dignity of women in the context of spousal relationships.
For centuries, the relationship between men and women has been treated in a manner that promotes dichotomy. This has led to a situation where women are treated as subordinate in the context of sexism and patriarchy in both private and societal dimensions of life. Egalitarians mention the disparity between doctrine and women’s experiences in the Church. Women are capable of functioning with similar gifts and experiences to men in Church without equal authority, employment opportunities, or payment. Vorster believes that historic church doctrines and their practices are often reexamined to determine if cultural patterns have inordinately limited the role of women in society and the Church1.
The African theology emphasizes that women are created in the likeness of God, affirms the self-differentiation of men and women as a way through which God calls humanity in general. Similarly, African anthropology resonates with the Second Vatican Council, when it envisions each one of us in varied relationships with one another, with other creations, and with the Divine, as articulated in the claim: “I am because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.2 ” Based on the doctrine of the image of God, the Council teaches humans to reflect the divine creativity of their model and must be focused on human fellowship and justice to promote a single-family unite where we are all brothers and sisters. Thus, the dissolution of both sexes into the image forced upon us by culture, community, and society is theologically flawed.
Meanwhile, the Old Testament interpretation of women is difficult due to the opposing nature of its biblical genres. The New Testament, however, demonstrates in the revelation that women are equal to men amidst a dubious society and affirms women’s role in Ministry. Feminist theology emphasizes that God creates women and men as equals in the imago Dei. From this standpoint, women are created by God as equals in His image while also acknowledging that men and women are different. The view of woman as the image of God (imago Dei) has traditionally been observed as a highlight factor of individuality. As a way to invoke imago Dei in Gaudium et Spes, the Council affirmed the dignity of humans through imago Dei which is the basis of human dignity.
From an egalitarian perspective, ‘man’ encompasses both male and female in fellowship. Therefore, the distinction in gender and complementariness between sexes are usually reinforced in the imago Dei. Historically, imago Dei indicates that God is the antecedent that human image corresponds. Accordingly, catholic reformists consider the female image and establish corresponding concepts of divinity. As a result, women realize their “full measure of human equality and their Christian identity as imago Dei 3 ”. Elizabeth Johnson emphasizes women’s full humanity and women’s equal participation in Ministry. She employs religious symbols of the imago Dei as a justification for women, and her fundamental premise is that women are created in the imago Dei 4 .
Johnson’s arguments are grounded on two biblical texts: Genesis 1:26-28 and Galatians 3: 27-28. In Genesis 1, Johnson looks at the narrative referencing the creation of humankind and takes note of the fact that both men and women are declared to be created in God’s image. While she does not precisely define the content of imago Dei, she is undoubtedly clear in her inference. Referencing particularly to Genesis 1: 26-28, she argues, “this text makes a major claim: women and men together, equally rationally, as human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Not one more than the other, not one over the other, but together has the human race5.” In depending on the symbol of imago Dei to debate women’s human dignity, Johnson considers a theological approach, which emphasizes that its religious symbol depends on God as the Creator6.
In referring to Galatians 3, Johnson notes that the New Testament borrows the concept of imago Dei and hints it through Christian activities of water baptism. In Galatians 3, we are taught that men and women identify with the death and resurrection of Christ through water baptism. Hence, there is “no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all” (Col 3:11); or as the apostle Paul rephrases in another epistle: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Gal 3: 28). Accordingly, it is only through Christ that humans can live within and beyond their perceived inequalities and differences, which sets them apart. Therefore, distinctions on the basis of gender are of no significance because we are equally transformed into a new creation.
In Catholic theological anthropology, sexual differences are mostly a matter of indifference, and women are to be treated the same as ‘men’ with the exception that they have different compositions, such as instances of reproduction. This perspective is praiseworthy because it is based on the belief that women and men are both in God’s image. Johnson argues that women are inherently rational, and they bear the image of God. From an essentialist perspective, Johnson believes that imago Dei is an important definition that befits every humankind. Meanwhile, the interpretations of Genesis creation story underscores the relation among human beings, and thus it portrays the men and women to be created in the divine image and likeness, each as individuals and together, “intended the compliment for women and men equally” (Gen 1:26-27).
In reflecting the Genesis text, Augustine argues that men and women share in the divine image. Augustine believed that women and men are equal in the ‘image of God’ and that this reflection of the Divine is based primarily on their rational soul7. Therefore, it can be argued that in both woman and man, the soul plays an important role in receiving the form it takes, the order, as well as proportion of its parts, and hence truly becomes itself but a less perfect reflection of God. In Augustine’s opinion, the inequality that results from physical characteristics of man and women are inconsequential when compared to their spiritual equality. Consequently, he maintains that there is no difference between a woman and a man’s soul and in their ability to reflect God’s perfection.
Catholic tradition for human life is rooted in the creation of humanity in God’s image. Cho argues that the creation of human beings in the image of God calls to attention what is distinguishing within them, especially their spiritual characteristics, their ability to understand, make choices, and love one another8. In this regard, imago Dei refers to God’s self-actualization and care through human beings. Therefore, saying that humans are in the image of God is similar to acknowledging the special qualities of human nature, through which God manifests. Where the imago Dei is not acknowledged or honored, people begin determining their value through various criteria. Consequently, those who do not meet such criteria are often marginalized.
Various historic church doctrines, as well as activities, often determine whether cultural patterns have limited the role of women in society. The ancient, as well as the long-standing perception of man as superior to a woman, has since been eradicated in the Catholic Church. As a result, Vatican II brought about significant changes in the approach of Catholic theology towards women in Church. Central to the Second Vatican Council is the theological anthropology of humankind, affirming the sacredness of human life and dignity in every aspect of humanity. The goal of life is the well-being of humanity. Human dignity “lies in man’s call to communion with God,” which reveals that an individual is a spiritual being “created by the love of God and continuously preserved by it9.” Humans are created in God’s image, for their relationship with God and acceptance is in itself redemption. Such dignity cannot be earned by humans and is rather a gift shared equally amongst themselves.
On the basis of creation narrative (Gen 1: 26-27), the Council declared: “Women and men were created ‘in the image of God’ and are capable of knowing and loving their creator and set by him over earthly creatures that they might rule them, and make use of them while glorifying God.10 ” Correspondence to human dignity is important because it is a freedom that follows a person’s conscience without any influences from the outside world, and the choice to do good and avoid evil: “Deep within their consciences, men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey11.” Therefore, our dignity as humans rests on acknowledging that we have been created as rational beings and are called to communion with one another and God.
Patriarchy mainly involves the headship and authority invoked by men over women. Patriarchy is not justifiable, but it is usually developed as a result of sin. Egalitarians argue that too often, the traditional interpretations, as well as a definition that impacts the role of women, is often misunderstood. Therefore, speaking of God in male terms often dehumanizes women and, as such as to be moved beyond scriptural terms. In this regard, domestic abuse violates the primordial imago Dei because it is about an individual exerting authority over another. This domination over women is often dehumanizing and creates a deep sense of oppression.
The Catholic Church has done a lot in an attempt to promote dignity and equality for women worldwide. Equality, however, is does not mean same. Different sexuality does not imply that one person becomes superior over the other. Pope John Paul II has identified in several occasions the abuse that women suffer worldwide and spoke authentically about the need to ‘cultivate everywhere a culture of equality’ between men and women12. Most of his statements in fact emphasize on equality of men and women. In one text. Pope John Paul II argues,
“It is important to stress the quality of women’s dignity and a man’s responsibility. This equality is inimitably implemented through self-gifting to one another and to one’s children, which is common in marriages and family…By creating ‘male and female’ humankind, God gave man and woman equal human dignity by gifting them with inalienable rights and responsibilities.13 ”
In supporting this same argument, Skinkaitis believes “women and men are equally created according to the image of God. Both are persons gifted with mind and will, capable of orienting their lives by implementing freedom. Both are doing it in their own may, specific to their sexual identity14.” Women’s hopes and joy are often celebrated in Gaudium et Spes but this often overshadows their anguish and oppression in the society. Pope Francis would agree with this sentiment because in Evangelii Gaudium he argues, “the joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live, and often to live with precious little dignity15.”
The African woman often confront several challenges and struggles. She is subjected to subordination, family care, hard work, little economic opportunities, and resources. She often obtains very little joy and her hopes are often dim because she is usually forced to depend on men. There are several empirical evidences that confirm the wretched situation of most women. Based on a United Nations Development Programmed report “ Women are disproportionally underprivileged and too often disempowered and burdened by the strains of productive work, the birth and care of children and other household and community responsibilities.16 ” Further, in most places, women have little to no property and often very few assets that could give them a base for conducting businesses.
1 Vorster, Nico. "John Calvin on the status and role of women in church and society."The Journal of Theological Studies 68, no. 1 (2017): 178-211.
2 Mbiti, John S. African religions & philosophy. Heinemann, 1990. (p.106)
3 Johnson, Elizabeth A. Friends of God and prophets: A feminist theological reading of the communion of saints. Continuum, 2000(p.8).
4 Johnson, Elizabeth A. She who is: The mystery of God in feminist theological discourse. Crossroad Publishing Company, 2017.
5 Johnson, Elizabeth A. Imaging God, embodying Christ: Women as a sign of the times. 2002 (48)
6 Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. A&C Black, 2007.
7 Gonzalez, Michelle A. Created in God's image: An introduction to feminist theological anthropology. Orbis Books, 2014.
8 Cho, Eunil David. "Prayer as a Religious Narrative: The Spiritual Self and the Image of God."Pastoral psychology 68, no. 6 (2019): 639-649.
9 Vatican Council, I. I. "Lumen gentium [Dogmatic constitution on the church]."Conciliar Post Conciliar Doc. Austin Flannery, OP, ed., rev. Ed.(bost. St. Paul Ed. 1988), Par 32 (1964). (Par. 32)
10 Ibid (Par. 32)
11 Ibid(Par. 32)
12 Catholic Church. Pope (1978-2005: John Paul II), and Pope John Paul II. "Evangelium vitae." (1995).
13 Catholic Church. Pope (1978-2005: John Paul II), and Pope John Paul II. Letter to families. St. Paul Publications, 1994.(p.22)
14 Skinkaitis, Rimas. "Žmogaus, sukurto pagal Dievo paveikslą ir panašumą, teologinė perspektyva." (2016). (p.141)
15 Francis, Pope. Evangelii Gaudium-the Joy of the Gospel. Word Among Us Press, 2014 https://www.viiconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf. (p.45)
16 UNDP - United Nations Development Programme. Human development report 1997. Oxford University. (1997). (p.173)
- Quote paper
- Anne Olympia (Author), 2021, A Pastoral Response to Family Violence, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1064772