Document 7: Excerpt from Rosemary Radford Ruether, "The Becoming of Women in Church and Society," Cross Currents, 17 (1967): 422-26.

Document 7: Excerpt from Rosemary Radford Ruether, "The Becoming of Women in Church and Society," Cross Currents, 17 (1967): 422-26.


   Rosemary Radford Ruether was one of the first and most influential feminist theologians in the United States from the 1960s onward. In this article, one of her first on women in the church, she discussed feminism in the context of church renewal. For Ruether, as for most Catholic feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, the two issues were closely linked. "The Becoming of Women" showcased Ruether's broad vision of a reformed society that transcended sexism, but also hierarchies that by their very nature privileged one group over another. If this new society came into being, Ruether argued, there would be no need to fight for women's ordination, because the priesthood as it was then understood would cease to exist. Like Mary Daly and Sidney Callahan at this time, Ruether criticized the church for not living up to its potential for radical justice, while affirming that the church was still the best means for seeking that justice.

[p. 422]

   We are today at a new threshhold of human evolution. We feel we may be on the brink of a brave new world, or, on the other hand, on the brink of disaster. We are coming of age, or we are regressing to primordial chaos. In any case we are out beyond all classical civilizations. We are post-classical, post-Christian (in the sense of Christendom). All the structures and orders of past traditional societies are breaking down and we are moving on either to some higher integration or to some regressive disintegration. Let us assume that this is a good thing, that this is the crisis of maturity for the human race as a whole, and

[p. 423]

that, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we are witnessing mankind come of age. This implies that we are moving out of the dualistic, fantasy-making stage of human consciousness into the cultural historical counterpart of what Jung called "individuation."[A] Individuation is the stage of the emergence of the mature self when the ego integrates itself with its subconscious and out of that integration rises the mature whole self which no longer lives on antagonisms and projections. The rise of socialism in our times, the striving for a new communal, cooperative state of man, stands as the beginning of the effort to overcome the psychic split of society, and to reintegrate society into a mature whole. It is then no accident that this period is marked by precisely the rise of the masses, the rise of all depressed minorities, as well as by the rise of woman. The groups which were forced into the roles of the lower psychic self for the sake of the establishment of the rational ego are now rising and demanding their share of full personhood. The Negro refuses anymore be the smiling, shuffling projection of the white plantation owner's beast in the belly. He insists on being a full person. He insists on the right to have his own ego and his own self-image. Likewise the woman refuses any longer to play the role of the male anima projection. She insists that she has a "head" as well as a "heart," and she has the right to exercise both of them. If this is to be a true maturation and not just an antagonism of competing egos, then the male ego too must recover its lost psychic self from those groups which have become its shadow side. The Western man must discover that the beast in the belly that he projected on the Negro is none other than the beast in his own belly. He must discover that the emotive, affective nature he projected on the woman is none other than his own emotive nature which he needs to integrate with the rational logos in order to arrive at integrated personhood. The fragmented parts revolt from the myth of fixed natures and states of being and come into a new encounter with each other. From encounter they must rise to real dialogue and then, hopefully, to a new integrated communal humanity.

   The image which I would project for this new communal society of the future is basically the image of the church; not the historical church as it has been, but the reality to which it is directed; that is to say the Kingdom of God, the new society, the community of the New Creation. In this community of the New Creation there will be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, not in the sense that natural ethnic and sexual differences will cease to exist, but that their pejorative projections and dehumanizing schisms will be overcome. Each person, whether Jew or Greek, male or female, will be able to use his concrete, historical, cultural and biological identities as standpoints from which to achieve a full and integrated personhood. This means that, in the new society, social roles must lose their caste-oriented, fixed characters, and become functional and contextual. All hereditary ruling elites must be deposed

[p. 424]

whether this heredity resides in class, race or sex. A new society based on cooperation and functional roles which no longer prejudice one's native character must rise in the place of the hierarchicalisms and dualisms of the past. Roles, therefore, will no longer be ontologized into fixed characters and states of life but will be allowed to remain temporary and contextual. This means that in the new church as well as in the new society aristocracies and priesthoods must disappear, and all roles must be cast in the form of ministries. Dualisms and hierarchicalisms are to be overcome and mutually transformed into the truly communal state of life in which all persons have their ministries and charisms for the edification of the whole body.

*   *   *

[p. 425]

   Ironically enough, the last arena to be shaken by this revolution of human consciousness is the historical church. The historical church still represents the caste-oriented, state-of-life mode of leadership. In both its exclusive maleness and in its clericalness, it exhibits what has now become an archaic form of social relationships. Thus the historical church stands for the old humanity, and it is worldly society which is being shaped into the image of the new society of the future, dragging the church reluctantly behind it towards this future community. The churchly world has become the bearer of the Holy Spirit and acts to transform the worldly church into a fuller presentation of the community of the New Creation. When the historical church, which stands now as the last bastion of the old humanity and the dying social order, finally makes this leap forward, then we will see-and in fact we are already witnessing-the total transformation of its social character.

   When this occurs, we will no longer have to argue whether women may be priests because the condition which made for an incongruity between them will be surpassed. We will then realize that the priesthood itself, as a segregated clerical caste above the community, is foreign to the nature of the eschatological community. Priesthood, in this clerical sense, nowhere exists in the New Testament, but the New Testament uses the term "priest" either for Christ or for the whole community, never for a special caste in the church. This is because the New Testament is informed by the character, not of the historical church, which has fallen back into the caste structure of classical society, but by the vision of the New Humanity. Therefore the New Testament still remains ahead of us, leading the historical church out beyond itself. When the church sloughs off the skin of the old humanity and takes on the image of the eschatological community, this must manifest itself in the deposing of sacerdotal caste and the transformation of society into community based on charismatic ministry.

   Thus the question of woman, the question of the laity, and the question of the sacerdotal caste structure of the clergy are not inseparable questions, but interdependent. It will be impossible to realize the ministry of the laity so long as the clerical caste pre-empts the nature and function of ministry. It will be impossible to integrate women into the present celibate, clerical structure of the priesthood because that structure was set up to express the dominating, female-rejecting logos and cannot survive in its present state except through the maintenance of that presupposition. Just as you cannot integrate the Negro into a white supremacist

[p. 426]

society which has been formed and ordered upon the premise of his subjugation and dehumanization, so you cannot bring either women or the laity into full being in the church without breaking apart the clerical hierarchy. Hence what is here in view is not a "role" for the laity or a "place" for women in the church. This presupposes the maintenance of the traditional hierarchy and is a contradiction in terms which is only a form of tokenism, giving one layman or one woman some representative position, calling this the "realization of the rights of women" or the "rights of the laity" in the church. No, rather the whole structure must be radically transformed. Both the "clergy" and the "laity" will be abolished, and a new society will be created in which all have their ministries for the edification of the whole community. Those who are endowed particularly with the ministries of teaching, leading or celebrating the reality of the new community will then do so in a contextual way as members of the people, as a role exercised out of the mandate and for the sake of the community. Thus the celebrant of the community comes to the head of the assembly, not by descending from heaven, but by emerging out of the assembly in procession, facing it and celebrating its reality as its representative. When he or she is finished the celebration and sends the community out in mission, then the celebrant too processes back into the community and there takes up other ministries, as mother or father of a family, as citizen and as job-holder.



A. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Protestant theologian, executed for his work in the German resistance. Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a pioneer in the field of psychology.

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