In 1988, Pope John Paul II published the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem, which means in Latin “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”
Read it from the Vatican here.
Or get this book version, which includes commentary.
Some key points and thought-provoking quotes:
- A woman, Mary, is at the center of human salvation because it was through her that Jesus came into the world
- In her “fullness of grace” Mary signifies the fullness and perfection of what is feminine
both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image.”
- The unity of man and woman reflect that humans exist in relationship; in this way we image the Triune God (Father – Son – Holy Spirit)
- Both man and woman are called to be helpers, existing mutually for the other
- Humanity is the integration of what is “masculine” and what is “feminine”; men and women are called to make a sincere gift of self “in accordance with the special qualities proper to each”
- Sin creates a constant threat to the fundamental equality of man and woman in their unity
even the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words “He shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the “masculinization” of women. In the name of liberation from male “domination”, women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine “originality”. There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not “reach fulfillment”, but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness.
The inheritance of sin suggested by the words of the Bible – “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” – can be conquered only by following this path. The overcoming of this evil inheritance is, generation after generation, the task of every human being, whether woman or man. For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman’s personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation.
- Mary is the “new Eve” – woman as she was intended to be before the Fall
- Jesus encounters many different women during his life and consistently treats them with a kind of “innovative” respect indicative of their equal dignity to men
- Jesus enters into our fallen world, but when presented with women who have sinned (i.e. adulterous woman), He calls forth the men who have contributed to the sin and appeals to the man’s responsibility as well; Christ consistently protests anything and anyone who offends woman’s dignity
- Jesus entrusts women with many of the profound mysteries of God
He teaches, therefore, taking as his starting-point this feminine response of mind and heart.”
- The gospels highlight that “women were in the forefront at the foot of the Cross, at the decisive moment in Jesus of Nazareth’s whole messianic mission. “
As we see, in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles.”
- The two dimensions of woman’s vocation are motherhood and virginity
- Motherhood implies a special openness to a new person, and is an essential way women find themselves through gift of self
- Men owe to women a “special debt” for carrying the more demanding part of bearing children
- Virginity is a gift of grace and reveals that the woman was created for her own sake (not merely for man, to bear children, etc).
- In renouncing physical motherhood, virginity takes on “Motherhood according to the Spirit;” in the same way that physical mothers receive children from their spouse, spiritual mothers receive all people as children from Christ their spouse
A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God “entrusts the human being to her”, always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them “strong” and strengthens their vocation. Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.”
The document closes by thanking women:
the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women – for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity”