I found myself wondering, in fact, just how much abuse women were supposed to put up with. When was the pain supposed to stop? When the Church changed? I don’t see that happening any time soon, especially considering the Church’s current appalling clerical record. From ignoring and abetting pedophilia by priests, to treating the ordination of women as a sin on a par with that same pedophilia, the Roman Catholic Church seems today to be deliberately doing its best to drive away women. In such a situation, Weber’s insistence on women calling the Christian community to judgment and repentance, from their place in exile, sounds disturbingly like pouring salt on an open wound.
I understand Weber has a slightly different view on judgment, defining it as “a sorting out, a differentiating, a setting apart of that which fits the pattern of creative wisdom from that which does not” (125). However, I do not find that sufficient palliative or redemption for the pain and anguish which Weber seems to be eagerly wishing on those who choose to follow her advice regarding women in the Church.
In psychology, staying with a violent abuser is considered an illness, something to be treated and cured. How is Weber’s suggested response, for women, to the spiritual damage heaped on them by the Catholic Church any different from emotional enslavement to an equally abusively violent institution instead of an individual? I found myself appalled as I read her writing there, murmuring to myself, “No, that’s not right! Walk away!”
Weber later explores, through mythic archetypes, some of the various stages of a woman’s life which were personally experienced by her on her quest for personal knowing. She dedicates an entire chapter, in fact, to what she states are “images contained in the feminine and needing to be woven together by the power of Wisdom” (153), presenting them as four images on two axes. The first axis consists of the Virgin, or She who is whole in herself; and the Mother, or She who lives for another – crossed by the axis of the Bride, or She who is united to another; and the Widow, or She who is bereft of all. I found this a curious choice of presentation of the imagery – isn’t this a form of dualism? Perhaps I am not completely understanding her metaphors.
I did rather like Weber’s assessment of the Virgin: “We do not, contrary to general opinion, cease to be a virgin when we become sexually active, for sex is but a symbol (a magnificent one) for what transpires in the soul” (155). I was even more in agreement with her later comment, “Surely, by reducing this mystery to the physical we have deprived ourselves of an archetypal image that could provide the modern woman with a wealth of energy to engage in the tasks set before us by these times” (156). Virginity is a concept which has been rather unpleasantly twisted through the millennia, from a simple statement of current childlessness to an often brutal double standard which assessed the supposed socio-financial value of a woman. I am quite pleased to see that version of the concept losing validity in modern US culture; now if only we could dispense with it in the rest of the world as well.
I was surprised later in the chapter, however, to read Weber’s historically incorrect assertion that the Virgin and Mother were placed on opposite ends of an axis because the only Virgin-Mother goddess in history was Mary. While I find Mary an interesting example of Weber’s theoretically Wisdom-joined archetypes of Virgin and Mother, there are (in my not-so-humble opinion) far more dramatic and clearly expressed forms of this type of goddess-hood all throughout early non-patriarchal cultures. For more on this fascinating and no-longer-well-known type of divinity, I would suggest Marguerite Rigoglioso’s thoroughly researched The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece.