Anna Maria Gruenfelder: Feminist theology grew on knowledge of being second-class

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    Anna Maria Gruenfelder was born in the Austrian province of Carinthia, right on the triple border of Austria, Slovenia, and Italy, and as a child, she was interested in the world beyond the Karawanks and the Carnic Alps. At the high school in Klagenfurt, she attended Slovenian language classes, although irregularly, as she states, due to the lack of Slovenian teaching staff. At the University of Innsbruck, she studied history, art history, and Catholic theology. Her doctoral dissertation analyzed the impact of the Uskoks of Senj on the Habsburg dynasty, with special reference to Paolo Sarpi and Minuccio Minucci’s evaluations of the Uskoks. In 1974, she moved to Zagreb, where she has lived for fifty years. For four years, she was a foreign trade correspondent at the Zagreb company Unikomerc, where I ‘honestly learned’ the Croatian language and acquired a minimum of commercial and economic knowledge, and most importantly – I got to know the Yugoslav communist order ‘from within’, Gruenfelder says. From 1978, she worked in the Austrian diplomatic missions in Zagreb, until her retirement in 2010. In Zagreb, I ‘buried’ one country, and helped in the creation of a new one, the Republic of Croatia. I wouldn’t give all those precious experiences for anything. Our conversation begins with her own family, which influenced the understanding of her place in society, as well as her theological voice. My father was ‘political’, who almost ‘burned himself out’ in politics, he was a political prisoner during Nazism. In the family, we also had a priest who refused to serve in Hitler’s army and paid with his life, but also a relative who helped the Bishop of Ljubljana, Dr. Gregori Rožman, who, leaving the city and Yugoslavia, fled through Austria until he caught a connection to the USA, Gruenfelder begins and continues: As mayor, Dad cooperated with Slovenian associations and often visited Ljubljana. I inherited my interest and love for the South Slavic, but also for the East Friuli world, from my ancestors, and when I first came to Rijeka, I got on a bus to Senj, seeing the magical coastal area – the white rocks of Krk, the blue sea, and the bright sun over the sparse vegetation – it was love at first sight.

    Gruenfelder saw her role in society in research and in thinking about the duties of lay theologians in the Church, which, after the Second Vatican Council in 1965, opened itself to the world.

    Your article Feministička teologija ili “smrt patrijarhalnoga Boga”? (op. prev. Feminist Theology orThe Death of the Patriarchal God”?) was published in 1988. Your thesis that “feminist consciousness” is not against (and contrary to) “theological reflections” and that it does not call for an “exodus” from Christianity and the existing society, seems to be relevant even today, especially in the context of the syntagm feminist theology. What prompted you to write that paper and deal with that topic? Why was that important to you?

    When faculties of theology became open to female students, i.e. women, they could not remain indifferent to the obvious and “sensible” contradictions and discriminatory double standards for male and female “qualities”. Feminist theology grew on the knowledge of the second-class nature of women, and on the fact that academic theology was, on the one hand, completely insensitive to them, and on the other hand, it tried to theologize them: “He created them, male and female”. For academic theology, this meant: that there are two sexes, God “equipped” them with specific abilities and gave them different, equally valuable, but still distinctive gifts, and assigned them separate missions. The fact that today’s theologians harshly reveal – “that the gender perspective is in the basis of Christian teaching”, and are appalled by “gender ideology”, was emphasized fifty years ago as the basis and justification for second-ratedness. It is difficult to imagine God as a person if you do not assign him a gender – and God is always an anthropomorphic male figure, a father or an old man, a judge or a friend of his children, but still a man. Is God imaginable as a woman, i.e. a “God-woman”, not a “goddess “, but the Christian God (who in the roots of Christianity appears as a man, i.e. as a male)? Feminist theology branched out at this point, in many directions, some of which moved toward post-Christian “goddess feminisms.” Those who maintained biblical and Christian roots gave birth to a “maternal figure of God” (eg. Leonard Boff, El rostro materno de Dios, 1985).

    The key is the knowledge that the God of the Christian tradition is imagined as a father as he appeared to Moses and the prophets, and as a father according to the understanding of the surroundings that worshiped him. Leonardo Boff (and his brother Clodovis) discovered the “maternal face” (which does not mean the “female” face) and indicated a new model of paternity. Catholic theologians, including Pope John Paul II, accepted the idea (without mentioning the author, because Leonardo Boff was anathematized as a liberation theologian) that God can be both father and mother, i.e. man and woman in one, as is The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit “one in the trinity” (as the church song for the feast of the Holy Trinity says). There are also attempts by other theologians to reconcile patriarchal with divine attributes that are positively “charged” as feminine i.e. introduced into theology through positive feminine metaphors: the Holy Spirit, which is only in the Greek and Latin versions marked as masculine (pneuma, being neuter, and spiritus). In the Old Testament manifestation “Ruah” i.e. God’s Spirit is feminine – but the epithets that accompany it are again masculine: consoler, teacher, and friend. All these attempts turned out to be fruitless, unsuccessful, far-fetched, and unconvincing.

    We know that the patriarchal model turned out to be tougher than we expected. Man as a partner is the model of our modern times, and far from the fact that this model has replaced the patriarchal one – and now men (“kneelers”) are begging together with their wives for the authoritarian father to rule again. And God, who is omnipresent and a traditional “way of thinking” are still more valuable than women’s values. Gender differences and their interpretation in Christian churches have survived all the changes of time in the last 50 years and there are no indications that they will be defeated anytime soon. I believe that we simply have to live and come to terms with the fact that our religious heritage is of patriarchal origin and that it is up to every one of us to overcome it and discover its essence and content. All the same, debate against them with arguments is still important to me today.

    Then you stated that “women’s science” sometimes isolates itself and that the decision to escape to the “world of women” is only further magnified by the aura of science. How, with time, do you look at the issues of autonomy, subjective evaluation of experiences, and critical reflection?

    In my work, I have consistently focused on the fight against this tendency of feminism, which instead of defeating gender antagonisms, glorifies them, and exalts the so-called “female values” (by which women supposedly differ from men). I thought and still think that with this we propel ourselves into a corner, in which women traditionally had their own “world”, their “little empire”, which, allegedly, is no less valuable than the male world, i.e. the public sphere, the area where key decisions are made. In industrialized and developed countries, women conquered the public, and infiltrated into the “men’s world”, thank God – and the world did not collapse because of it. However, there are social niches in all societies, where women have to be slaves to traditionally female occupations – either because economic and family conditions force them to, or because, forgive me for being too merciless, they are slaves to the idea of “true femininity”. The so-called “paid parenting” is exactly such a model for me. Dad supports mom and the kids, mom gets a few more euros from the state if she raises the kids herself and doesn’t send them to kindergarten. And a few more euros if the mother is willing to give birth to another child, to improve the demographic picture. The only bad thing is that this income, parental, maternal, family, or however you call it, does not last for life, but until a child reaches a certain age. When new governments abolish such legally unfounded “gifts” – then families, children, and mostly women, who sacrificed their financial independence for the state’s “alms”, pardon me, recognition of the value of motherhood, are deprived, which will reflect on their financial security in retirement. “Women’s science” is “soft science”, if at all.

    You discuss the Marian devotion that pervades national conscience in your text Marija – Kraljica Hrvata: kritički ženski osvrt na oblike štovanja Marijina u crkvenoj i pučkoj pobožnosti  (op. prev. Mary – Queen of Croats: a critical female review of forms of veneration of Mary in church and folk tradition). To what extent did this aspect of veneration influence the construction of a part of Croatian identity, but also the adaptation of the image of Mary for the needs of what you called “folk piety” at the time?

    The late professor of biblical sciences, Adalbert Rebić, explained the tendency of Croats to worship the Mother of God by the strong influence of the cult of Protestant and ancient “Mother Goddesses”, such as Cybele and Isis. It is indisputable that Greek antiquity deeply marked the life, mentality, and even the beliefs and tendencies of the peoples in the Mediterranean, of which many traces are visible in Dalmatia. But also in the northern parts of Central Europe, Christians longed for a kinder face and a counter-ideal to the strict Christian (male) God. The mother, who has a strong influence on her son, is the archetype of male-female relations and is therefore mirrored in Mary, Mother of God, who begs her Son to help the oppressed children. In the difficult life struggles of the past, in poverty, destitution, and subjugation, children in need run into their mother’s arms, or under their mother’s cloak – and she helps, even defeats the oppressors, the Turkish forces. From Marija Bistrica through Aljmaš to Our Lady of Trsat and Sinj, Mary provides protection, and that is what she is mostly prayed for. This is not necessarily an aspect of Croatian identity (not all Croats are Catholic, nor do all Catholic Croats worship Mary), but a specific character of Croatian folk piety. Croats are not the only example. Both Austrian and Bavarian Catholics cherish that specific form of Catholic spirituality, which they shaped throughout history – in Austria, Bavaria, and southern Germany, as a typical distinguishing model due to the confrontation with Protestantism.

    The figure of the “Queen of the Croats” also has parallels: Mary is also the “Regina Hungariae”, the “Magna Mater Austriae”, and artists also represented her as such (especially in Baroque paintings). Pannonhalma Archabbey is dedicated to her, as well as the Trsat shrine, while in Austria Mariazell Basilica is the national shrine of the “Queen of Austria-Hungary”. To interpret the origins of the belief in Mary the “Queen”, the “Queen of Heaven” (remember the beautiful antiphon “Regina coeli laetare Alleluia”), we must speculate – but the speculation is probably not far from the truth. “Regina coeli” is a real queen, a ruler, but also the ideal of a real, just, protective queen and protector of the people who put their trust in her and seek her help, protection, mediation, and intercession with her son, just like the queens of fairy tales, who asked for grace and help. “Mary the Queen” is a lawyer of subjugated nations, a woman who manages to appease the anger, arrogance, and revenge of kings. The metaphor “Queen of the Croats” (Hungariae, Austriae et Hungariae, etc.) is an anachronism today, but it is dear to pious believers, just as the tradition itself is dear and valuable to them. If we are looking for more contemporary expressions of Marian devotion today – here they are! This is exactly the biblical Mary, the common girl who sings the hymn “Glorify my soul…” because God has exalted her, a simple woman, and she represents a contrast to the spiritual emptiness of the proud and pretentious. The contemporary figure is also the character of Mary in the theology of liberation, the theology of subjugated, exploited, and humiliated nations and individuals, who can rely on themselves to ensure dignity and dignified living conditions. Grown, self-aware, and independent women do not call on their mother, but see Mary as an archetype, a role model, and a fulfilled promise that a woman’s life and work are the source of her dignity and freedom. Mary was a woman who understood and felt that she was exalted because she had faith and made herself available for God’s plan, out of free will… Such a woman is a “timeless” role model for women today.

    Next, you introduce the theological interpretations and the image of a woman who publicly reigns, which ultimately affects how the Church views her role and significance. What does the Catholic Church say today to women, about women, for women?

    I can answer that very briefly – nothing new nor important. The Church insists on its thousand-year-old “catechism truths”, rarely asking itself whether these “eternal truths” are comprehensible today and in accordance with modern times. In 1987, Pope John Paul II (today one would have to say “Holy Pope John Paul II”, but I don’t do that, because I find his canonization extremely problematic) published his apostolic letter on the dignity and mission of women “Mulieris dignitatem”. In summary, it can be said that the dignity and special mission of a woman lies in motherhood. From this “divine gift,” a woman derives her specific dignity, and motherhood is her mission and destiny (from her physical appearance to the individual outlines of her psychology), and the world should, for its salvation, promote motherhood before all other values. It follows that the employment of a woman outside the home and in other occupations, except those associated with maternal care, is a great loss. In 1990, the theological-pastoral week at the Catholic Faculty of Theology was dedicated to this text. I also participated, along with the then sociologist and professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana, Maca Jogan, and the texts were published in ”Bogoslovna smotra” in 1990. Maca and I emphasized almost identically that motherhood is important to modern women, but also important to women is the broadness of spirit, knowledge, and abilities, which cannot be narrowed down to maternal and feminine qualities. A man is not denied the right to personal development that is not related to fatherhood – and what can we say about the countless women who do not even have the material prerequisites to focus on motherhood, because they are forced to do the “unfeminine work” to ensure the existence for themselves, their children, family and elder. The predominantly male audience (priests, of course) scolded us in unison, the journalists, and those from the church media, were stunned, and wavered between admiration for our courage and disgust at our “unfeminineness”. Maca Jogan was also a communist. During her presentation, she repeatedly struggled to emphasize “I’m happy to be a mother”, and “I enjoy motherhood, but…”. She didn’t succeed. The ancient saying “Roma locuta-causa finita” came into play – and Pope John Paul II decreed that the Church had said everything regarding the ordination of women, so this is no longer discussed. But every ban, including this one, only inflames polemics – that woman possesses a “special value” (because of motherhood, biological or spiritual, it doesn’t matter), that she is essentially different from a man (the fact that men are fathers, church “teachers” do not recognize, because in men biology plays a less important role), that both man and woman form a complete human, each individually forever marked in their characteristics, and that no one should strive to change their gender.

    A woman is equally valuable to God as is man, although she is “different” (subconsciously there is a belief that “different” equals “second-rate”) This was taught by the Apostle Paul  (“Mulier taceat in ecclesia” – “I do not allow women to teach”), then St. Augustine, but also St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, who used Aristotle’s “nature” incorrectly and out of context – “femina est mas occasionatus”, i.e. “a woman is a flawed, crippled man”. Aristotle applied this statement to the natural world, not to human beings, while St. Augustine and then St. Thomas Aquinas replaced “femina” with the term “mulier” (human female being). Today it is taught that church fathers and teachers were “children of their time”, and that they failed to discover and overcome the errors of the past. This is being taught and is then forgotten. Probably in Rome it is still believed that “mulieres” are fundamentally different from men, i.e. unfit for priestly service, even for reading the Gospel during service. Even the much-loved and praised Pope Francis fails to overcome the shadows of his traditionalist priestly upbringing – the fact that women are employed in the Vatican services is commendable, but not the solution to the “women’s issue in the Church” – female gender (female sexuality, physicality, predestination for physical motherhood) is unworthy of holy service.

    What do you think are the most effective strategies for dealing with religious hierarchies, as well as influencing them and creating allies among them?

    No one has seriously faced this question yet, because why fight against religious hierarchies? „throughout history. I don’t see the purpose in this type of task, because I see “religion” as a construct that gives every person who studies it incentives and helps in building their religiousness. The church, even Catholic, is not an end in itself but is only as valuable as it helps people who ask it for help in developing their religiousness.

    Female biblical characters do not cease to be a source of artistic creations. For example, Mary Magdalene herself is very popular in Western art, her “image” changed over the centuries and she became one of perhaps the most adaptable figures mentioned in the Gospels.

    Mary of Magdala, i.e. Mary Magdalene, is appealing because Jesus treated her as his “most beloved disciple”. According to the apocryphal (canonically unrecognized) Gospels, she was a sinner (a concubine at Herod’s court, also characterized by schizophrenia, then a recluse, then a hermit ). As such, a woman in many crises, she is attractive, although there are also other, “attractive” biblical women – Delilah who dared to use her feminine charms to seduce Samson, the tyrant, and kill him, deliver her people from tyranny, which is a central theme of Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera“Samson et Dalila”, the prophetess Hannah/Anna, Deborah, the judge, who defeated the strong Canaanite army with wise and cunning tactics. The Croatian writer Ljiljana Matković Vlasić summarized a number of female examples in her book ”Velike žene Staroga zavjeta“ (op. prev. “Great Women of the Old Testament”), but also in the book ”Žena i Crkva” (op. prev. “Woman and Church”). The great women of the Bible are at the center of her preoccupation.

    How do you see the connection between (feminist) theology in Croatia and the region with other fields of activity in the context of environmental activism, innovation, peace movements, and emerging technologies?

    Feminist thought proved to be fruitful, primarily for interconfessional contacts and conversation, not only for ecumenical meetings. The basis of theological thinking is common to representatives of Christian denominations and non-Christian beliefs – sometimes communication is public, and sometimes such contacts take place more discreetly, outside of official religious teaching. It helps everyone build their personalities, and enrich their spiritual life. The engagement of feminism goes even further – a branch of ecological and peace thinking grew out of inter-confessional encounters. It especially encouraged the Lutheran women behind the Iron Curtain, so that in 1989, at the great Spiritual Meeting in Basel, for the first time the women of the former German Democratic Republic could, although cautiously, still, declare their opinions about the democratic currents in Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, about prayers for the future and resistance to the still powerful oppressors. We must not forget the American female theologians of the Reformation churches, and women of color, who fought in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. I don’t think we can emphasize all these accomplishments of feminism enough because Catholic theologians still identify feminism with “gender ideology”, abortion, contraception, and divorce.

    The publication of this text was supported by the Electronic Media Agency as part of the program to encourage journalistic excellence