By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 January, 2014
A young Irish theologian has published a new book of theology which looks at Joseph Ratzinger’s/Benedict XVI’s thoughts on the place and role of the women of the Bible in Christian faith and theology.
‘The Female Line in the Bible: Mary and the Recovery of the Women of Scripture in Ratzinger’s/Benedict XVI’s Theological Journey’ has just been published by Dr Mary Frances McKenna.
In it, she explores Ratzinger’s idea of a female line in the Bible which he argues runs from Eve to Mary and is in parallel to the male line, from Adam to Jesus.
The book shows Ratzinger to be “a surprisingly innovative theologian” who works within the Tradition of the Church.
It is “a practical example of his specific approach to and method of biblical interpretation.”
According to Dr McKenna, “The female line idea offers a basis for new insights into salvation history and anthropology as well as a new angle for dialogue with feminist theology.”
She suggested that it also offers an approach to address old theological issues anew such as Wisdom’s role in the New Testament and provides a fresh starting point for an inter-denominational understanding of Mary.
All these topics are discussed in relation to the approach of other leading theologians including Hans Küng, Mary Daly, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, Elizabeth Johnson, Sandra M. Schneider, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Janet M. Soskice, JP Meier, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Kasper, Raymond E. Brown, Henri de Lubac among many others.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Dr McKenna explained how Ratzinger’s approach to the female differs from that of Pope Francis.
“Pope Francis’ style is radically different from Pope Benedict, a style that could be described as pastoral in contrast to that of the theologian Pope,” she said.
However, she emphasised that where they are at one in their concern to ensure that Mary plays an essential role in the Church and every Christian’s life, she added.
“The Church has struggled to comprehend the role of Mary in Christian faith and theology for 2,000 years, and Mary remains a touch point of great controversy not just between the Christian denominations but also within the Catholic Church itself.”
“So while Benedict main concern is to contribute to the evolution of the Church’s understanding of the essential, indispensable role of Mary for Christian faith and theology, and Francis seeks Christians to reach out to and venerate Mary, their aim is one and the same, to bring Mary to Christians and Christians to Mary,” Dr McKenna suggested.
She stated that Ratzinger/Benedict insists that the women of the Bible are not extras in Christian faith.
“Where feminist theology seeks to reconstruct Scripture to highlight the feminine, Ratzinger/Benedict returns to Scripture and to the many strong women of Israel.”
She also offered another insight into the pope emeritus, observing that “Ratzinger/Benedict is a theologian who, although firmly anchored in the river of Tradition, has the ability to draw out from that Tradition new insights on Christian faith which gives it new life.
An example of this is his resignation as pope which opened the way for the wave of enthusiasm for Pope Francis who is now sowing the seeds of faith in hearts that had been closed to the Church.
The All Hallows graduate added that she hoped his “important contribution to post Vatican II theology would spark new energy in theology “opening up fruitful pathways in modern research as well as in the Church’s dialogue with secular society.”
The front cover of the book is illustrated with an icon of the mother of God from Kazan in Russia, which depicts Mary as the Hodegetria, or the one who shows the way.
“For me, it illuminates the reality and meaning of the female line in the Bible,” she said and expressed her thank to Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman and the Benedictine community at Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick for allowing her to use it for the cover of the book.