The Church, Feminist Theology, and The Future

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 3, 2008 — 10 Comments

In a move that should surprise no one, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the organization formerly known as the Inquisition) has ruled that baptisms using gender-neutral formulas for the Trinity are invalid.

“The Vatican declared Friday that baptisms must be performed under a traditional formula – referring to the Trinity as the ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ – to be valid. Any baptisms conducted under new formulas that use inclusive nonmale language are not legitimate … The rejected formulas are: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier’ or ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator and of the Sustainer.'”

The CDF further opined that “these variations arise from so-called feminist theology”, a movement much at odds with the current Pope’s thinking, who sees “radical” manifestations of feminist theology as entirely un-Christian.

“The Pope, who wrote the latest ruling, has been a strong opponent of feminism in the Catholic Church. In his book, The Ratzinger Report, he wrote: ‘I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion.'”

If Pope Benedict thinks that mere gender neutrality is too far, you can be sure that referring to the Christian God as “God/ess” or “Primal Matrix” (or “Mother”) is right out. Feminist theologians like Rosemary Radford Ruether may claim that the Pope “is not our Pope”, but the truth is that reformist-minded Catholics on the left have found themselves ever-more isolated and minimized within a Church turned towards maintaining and strengthening its boundaries.

For Benedict, the salvation of the Church isn’t in the reforms that have led to the near (and perhaps impending) break-up of the Anglican Communion, but in returning to a “purer” Church by rolling back what this Pope sees as the excesses that have followed in the wake of Vatican II. The truth of the matter may be that feminist reforms will never be allowed to make significant headway into the Catholic Church.

Perhaps it is time for feminist theologians like Ruether to give up trying to change Catholicism from within. It may be that feminist author Germaine Greer has the right idea. When asked about the baptism issue, Greer pointedly said that “if the Pope succeeds in turning Catholic women against the church, so much the better.” Perhaps all these scholars, theologians, and authors would be better served by leaving Christianity behind, and embracing those traditions unafraid of feminine power and authority. Certainly modern Paganism could always use more theologians, creative thinkers, and ritualists. Better still, we don’t have an Inquisition snooping about for heresy.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Maritzia

    Yes, the election of Ratzinger, who had hurt so many people in the Catholic Church, was the final straw for me being able to consider myself even marginally Catholic. I cannot in good conscience be part of a Church that would so vilify women and homosexuals. I just couldn’t swallow it anymore.While I miss the community of the Church, I don’t miss the Old Men’s Club one bit.

  • Sravana

    Wow. Pope Ratzi is right out there. Of course, gender-neutral language *is* a strong step against tradition – as a 50-year-old sometime Episcopagan, I have trouble singing gender-neutral Xmas carols, because they aren’t the ones I grew up with… and I’m all for gender-neutral liturgy! Feminist theology has had a profound effect on all the traditional ‘mainline’ Protestant churches, and I think that the backlash from the Pope is the dying gasp of the old age (see 2012 etc). We’re going somewhere new now, thank heavens.I heartily agree with Germaine Greer – anything that turns women against the damnable Catholic church has to be a positive thing.BTW, Jason – thanks so much for blogging about the Episcopalian struggles several years back. I found Father Jake’s blog through yours, and I still read it all the time. 🙂

  • heather

    It always amazes me that they think that they have so much power over their god that they can dictate what language he will or won’t accept.

  • Ragnell

    Heather, I’m going to quote you on that.

  • Paul

    Interesting that Jesus never baptised anyone, spoke out against religious authority and said that the criteria for following him were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, free prisoners and give all your wealth to the poor.

  • Andrew

    Interesting that Jesus never baptised anyone…He did get baptised himself though.As for the rest of your comment, I agree, as I’ve always been puzzled by the lack of resemblance of much of Christianity to what I was taught was important in school.

  • Deep Thought

    Heather, You have it backwards. The Trinitarian formula for baptism is, well, very, very old and direct for Jesus – the Great Commission in Matthew states specifically the (masculine) language to be used. The end. It is the reformers that are attempting to change what has been said, not His Holiness.

  • Zion Mystic

    “Deep thought”, the Bible does not indicate Jesus said that those were the *exact words* needed to be said. I’m a Christian who has studied the Bible, and i know that there is biblical basis for believing in the divine feminine.

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