Thursday, August 9, 2012
Where are all the women philosophers?
When I was just a little girl, my father and I would discuss religion and philosophy a lot. It was my favorite thing to do with him. I was so happy when he had a free minute to delve into the secrets of the universe. One particular summer afternoon, my father became unusually excited with something I said. He went and grabbed a compilation of the works of various philosophers. He showed me the table of contents. He said, “Do you see this? Do you know what all these philosophers have in common? They're all men. There is no major, well known female philosopher of the same caliber as these. You can be the first one.”
Of course, this is a moment I could not possibly have forgotten. My father's love, how much he believed in me, even his admiration of my childish attempts to articulate difficult things, all of this has affected me to the core. Because of his encouragement, I've continually been an avid writer who loves to write about the meaning of God and life.
Today, during mass, a flash of realization came to me. The reason for the “lack” of women philosophers is because they are mostly Catholic saints. Authors with a primarily Catholic focus are often avoided like the plague by protestant readers. I have never known a protestant who would be “caught dead” reading the writings of a pope, although so many of them have doctorates in philosophy as well as theology and many are philosophical geniuses. I have a 700 page copy of “The Theology of the Body” by Blessed Pope Paul II at home to attest to that. I read it sometimes to refresh my mind of concepts long forgotten and not well understood.
Regardless of what I have come to consider bias, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, and St. Hildegard of Bingen (my father's current favorite) are all theological and philosophical geniuses. They have earned the title “Doctor of the Church.” Those who bemoan the “sad fate of women” who are unable to become priests in the Catholic tradition may not have considered the tens of thousands of priests for the past 2000 years of church history who did NOT earn the title of “Doctor of the Church.”
Certainly, this is an example of the equal value the Church gives to the sexes. The Church is female by her very nature. Therefore, having males as protectors and spouses to her makes sense. In today's world, sexes (now almost exclusively called genders) are becoming more and more blurred every day. Many people think this is a wonderful thing and there are lots of churches in the world that they may want to be a part of, but the Catholic Church does seek to preserve the original “man and woman created He them” condition of the humans he originally created. I love the sense of preserving an increasingly lost integrity of the concept of men and women.
I am proud to be a female and a philosopher in the sense of a “lover of knowledge.” I was inspired to write about this topic because this is the saint day of St. Teresa Benedicta (also known as Edith Stein), whose great heart in providing comfort and spiritual help for many starving to death in concentration camps is better known than her amazing philosophical mind. Today's homily reminded me of my father's words to me, back when I was a wide-eyed child in elementary school. Of course, I doubt I will become a “great” woman philosopher, but I will never stop seeking to know and live the truth. And I am proud to be a member of a Church that values what I most love to do above all else.