Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Legend of Pope Joan, Part 2

File:La Papessa.jpg

In 1996, the novel Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was first published and as of this writing has sold millions of copies. Modern people are as fascinated by the story of Pope Joan as were those in the middle ages and, like their medieval counterparts, do not really care if the story is true. In my view this would be, for the most part, utterly harmless. Unfortunately, those who crusade for the ordination of women use the story of the Popess Joan to demonstrate the supposed backwardness of the Roman Church in this regard. Women are regarded as being bold, courageous and self-actualized only when they are assuming the roles traditionally given to men.

Such an attitude nullifies and denigrates the quiet fortitude of women who bring several children into the world in situations of economic desperation, of women who struggle to be patient wives, mothers and teachers, of consecrated virgins who sacrifice every worldly pleasure to glorify the divine Bridegroom. “Yes, it is precisely woman who is paying the greatest price,” says the future Pope Benedict XVI in The Ratzinger Report (1985). “Motherhood and virginity (the two loftiest values in which she realizes her profoundest vocation) have become values that are in opposition to the dominant ones.”(p.98) The dominant values, of course, are money, power, and pleasure. As long as worldly power and glory are our main goal, the crown of true glory, the royal honors of heaven, will elude us here and hereafter.

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars….” (Apocalypse 12:1) In the era of radical feminism, it is interesting that we Catholics hail as our Queen a woman who, from a modern, rational, utilitarian point of view, did none of the things which people now consider to be of value and which characterize “strong” women. Rather, the Blessed Virgin Mary was a housewife and a mother, modest and reserved, of few words; humble and obedient, her main public appearance being when she stayed with her Son during His hideous execution as a condemned criminal. No earthly glory there, but the glory which is now hers far surpasses our limited ideas of happiness and personal fulfillment. As Mary continues to succor the Church as she did from the beginning, so do women sustain their families and communities. In the words of St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in her Essays on Woman (ICS Publications, 1985): “This is expressed by the mysterious prophecy, become legendary, that woman would be engaged in battle against the serpent, and this prophecy is fulfilled by the victory over evil for all humanity through Mary, queen of all women….”(p.77)

Modern women are forced to subjugate their femininity in order to compete with men. It is not freedom or reality if a woman cannot be herself. According to The Ratzinger Report: “Woman, who is creative in the truest sense of the word by giving life….is being convinced that the aim is to ‘emancipate’ her to masculinize herself….” (p.98) The Catholic Church, like a loving mother, has always dealt with the realities of human nature both in her doctrine and traditional liturgical practice.

Ours is a cosmic struggle; the challenge lies not in masquerading as men in order to rule the church as did the Popess of legend, but in imitating Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth and the Mother of Jesus, to a heroic degree. To be a faithful Catholic woman may mean facing poverty, humiliation, ostracism and public ridicule, but in doing so we are, with the Woman clothed with the sun, a sign of the ultimate triumph of Church. Share


Jack Bennett said...

I find the whole present day "Pope Joan" cult ironic, considering the "Pope Joan" myth is beloved by people like Cross and her readers who are by and large non-Catholics who would be flabbergsted at the medieval Catholic theology believed by any Pope of that period (even a mythic female one).
I think I remember reading an interview with Cross once and she liked the idea of a woman with all that power and hoodwinking all those men - the "Catholicism" of her main character was beside the point.

Doubly ironic as well in that anyone who really reads and understand the Pope Joan myth knows it to be incredibly misogynist and a story about women needing to know their place. It is not about female empowerment in any way. Yet feminists and "progessives" keep on it as if they don't get that fact.

elena maria vidal said...

Great points, Jack! Thanks for writing in!

Reader Elisa wrote to me the following:
I thought I'd pass this on to your blog readers. The first modern novel about Pope Joan was written by Greek author Emmanouel Rhoides in 1954 and translated into English by Lawrence Durrell. A second edition of the novel appeared in the early 1960s. Yes, there was a movie about Pope Joan in 1972.