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Anna: as a precursor of feminist theology.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke. 2, 36-38


1. Anna had something to tell.

We can imagine her clearly: She was like that old woman from next door. The wrinkles on her face told of the long way she had come. They told of her loss and pain, hardship and suffering. They told about a life in a society that didn't appreciate women a lot--and as a widow it was even worse. Anna's daily life must have been one of loneliness, poverty and disrespect. But Anna never gave up. There was something within her that kept her going; something that made her strong. Her vivid, beautiful eyes mirrored the power within. One gets the impression that, in spite of all the hardship she had to face, she experienced a certain "fullness of life" that had the power to touch one immensely.

She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

The temple--the domain where men played the leading role and women were supposed to be quiet and only to be seen in the back--that realm became her home. Anna claimed her space. She worshipped there. Alone, under no "protection" and "rule" of a husband who watched over her relationship to God, she met her God in the temple, daily. She praised God, she talked, cried and moaned to God. The temple was the place where she felt God's presence, where she felt safe, secure, loved, accepted and empowered. This relationship kept her going. It relieved her burdened soul, calmed her troubled spirit and lifted up her heart. It filled her with love and gave her a new passion--a passion to welcome life daily and to spend it in the presence of her God. In this relationship she found her dignity and knew her worth, because she experienced God's love and God's acceptance of her, without any condition.

At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Anna had something to tell; that the one she was relating to--the unreachable, the inconceivable, inexplicable, all of a sudden has become reachable, conceivable--even touchable. The distant God had come close. The unspeakable, indescribable had become a human being. Her joy, her amazement was so great, that she did something very courageous, something unusual. Anna stood up and spoke. A woman in the temple dared to open her mouth and preach! Her preaching was authentic because she had lived and experienced the miracle she talked about. She did not care whether this was wrong or right, allowed or permitted; she had something to tell and claimed her right. She did not ask, she just spoke. Anna was among the first female preachers in New Testament history and apparently people listened.

2. A personal sacred text

"Feminist hermeneutics challenges the notion of biblical canonization as a finished process. It shifts the authority from the text onto the readers, who decide whether or not to ascribe authority to the scriptures. Thus, canonization is an ongoing process, a fluid as well as stabilizing concept, subject to the continuing authority of believing communities. (1)

Anna, driven by the Holy Spirit to speak aloud in presence of the people, became a personal sacred text. Every child, woman and man embodies a sacred text and so did she. The very moment she opened her mouth to talk about her joy, feelings, thoughts, her aspirations and love, she opened her sacred inner text for others to read. She has her own story to tell, her own experience with God. She embodied a sacred life because it was written especially for her, co-authored by God.

Canonization becomes an ongoing process by trying to think about the women in the bible, like Anna, and to fill their stories with life and imagination. Canonization becomes a fluid concept, open for innumerable actual stories, open for a lot more sacred texts in trying to connect our own sacred texts to theirs.
 "Feminist biblical interpretation focuses on restoring the canonicity of
 the Bible by Insisting that what is normative, what is the authoritative
 Word of God, is only that which embraces the liberation of women and,
 indeed, all the marginalized people of God. In short, authority is no
 longer within texts; rather, canonicity is measured by the liberation of
 women and all God's oppressed people of the world. Canonicity is God's
 justice or righteousness actualized and realized by God's creation at
 large." (2)

Women such as Anna need to be reread and regained. Their sacred texts need voices today, telling their stories in an unlimited and liberating way that supports and strengthens those who hear. Too often these stories were (and still are) used to suppress and keep women quiet. They were and are distorted and misinterpreted. For women, to find a religious identification in the Bible, in the church, and even in liturgical speech is rather difficult, because forms and content of the Bible and theology, images of God and language are predominantly male. Not only men are "bearers of salvation", but women are as well. Women are personalities who embody the hope for the world in themselves as much as men do. The God who only knows male mediators and bearers of salvation does not exist anymore for feminist theologians. The task then is to write women back into the Bible, theology and history and to reinterpret traditional theological terms and biblical interpretations from the perspective and the experiences of women.

3. The maleness of Christ

Anna was telling the story which is at the center of our Christian faith. "But that good news is stifled when Jesus' maleness, which belongs to his historical identity, is interpreted as being essential to his redeeming christic function and identity. Then the Christ functions as a religious tool for marginalizing and excluding women." (3) This is not to question the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a male human being. The difficulty arises from the way Jesus' maleness is construed in official androcentric theology and ecclesial praxis.

Since the man Jesus is confessed to be the revelation of God, the Christ symbol was and still is interpreted in a way that maleness becomes an essential characteristic of the divine being. The man Jesus is the incarnation of the male Logos and revealer of a male Father-God, "despite the evidence in scripture and tradition that the mystery of God transcends all naming and creates female reality in the divine image and likeness". (4) We are burdened with this interpretation from the very beginning of church history and the development of theology. This way of thinking has led and still leads to the assumption that men enjoy a closer identification with Christ than women do, because of men's natural bodily resemblance with the male Christ. Therefore the maleness of Christ puts the salvation of women in jeopardy. This teaching is simply a misuse of the maleness of Christ. If Christ's maleness is stressed in such a way and apparently of such an importance there is just one question left: Can a male savior save women? In spite of the Christian belief in the universality of God's saving intent, the answer would be simply "NO".

Rosmary Radford Ruether points out this deformity in discussing the position of the 1976 Vatican Declaration against the ordination of women, which declared that women are ontologically incapable of being ordained because they cannot image Christ. (5) She refers to the implications of the teaching of Thomas Aquinas who emphasized that women were fundamentally unequal in nature. In borrowing the false biology of Aristotle, he declared that women were defective or `misbegotten' humans who lacked full normative human nature. For this reason they could not represent human nature in any leadership position in society. Only men could represent full or normative human nature. This patriarchal anthropology claims that only men possessed full, normative human nature and therefore Christ had to be male to possess the fullness of humanity. The consequence is evidently that only men could represent Christ in priesthood.

Ruether asks consequently: "If women's inability to image Christ lies in the realm of grace, rather than nature, does this mean that the grace won by Christ no longer equally includes women? If women cannot represent Christ, how does Christ represent women? Or, to put it another way, if women cannot be ordained, then they cannot be baptized either." (6)

Anna didn't see the male God when she was looking at the child. Christ's maleness was of no importance when praising God for becoming incarnate in a little being that could not even speak. All she could see was a helpless little baby dependent on the caring and shelter his parents could give him; a human being longing for the love and touch of his mother and who did not presume to full or normative human nature at all. Jesus resisted being used to justify patriarchal dominance in any form. His preaching and acting were a challenge, which caused the wrath of religious and civil authorities. He was crucified. "In the light of this history Jesus' maleness can be seen to have a definite social significance." (7)

The cross is a symbol of the self-emptying of male dominating power in favor of the new humanity of compassionate service and mutual empowerment. God's power becomes visible in suffering. God does not hoard power, God pours it out. Christ empties himself and becomes human. By pouring out God's power, God empowers us. And this power manifests itself as a gift (charism) within US.

Anna was endowed with this power. She could not stop herself, she had to preach. This power was creative and dynamic--it lifted her up to open her mouth and give witness.

In the spirit of Galations 3: 28, it becomes obvious that women and men are christomorphic, as are enslaved or free, old and young, Jew and Greek. "Ideally, if the equal human dignity of women is ever recognized in ecclesial theory and praxis, this discussion about the maleness of Christ will fade away. In a more just church it would never have become such an issue." (8)

(1) Wanda Deifelt, Power, Authority and the Bible, in: In search of a Round Table. Gender, Theology and Church Leadership, WCC Geneva 1997

(2) Musa W. Dube Shomanah, Scripture, Feminism and Post-Colonial Contexts, in: Women's Sacred Scriptures, Concilium 1998/3

(3) Elizabeth A. Johnson, The Maleness of Christ, in: The Special Nature of women?, Concilium 1991/6, p. 108

(4) Elizabeth A. Johnson, p. 109

(5) Rosemary Radford Ruether, Women's Difference and Equal Rights in the Church, in: The Special Nature of Women, Concilium 1991/ 6, p. 13

(6) Rosemary Radford Ruether, p.15

(7) Elizabeth A. Johnson, p. 112

(8) Elizabeth A. Johnson, p. 115
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Author:Kruger, Sabine
Publication:Women Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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