The culture of life and the new maternity
The culture of life and the new maternity.
Religions, 11 (11).
Within the divergent streams of late-modern and largely Western feminism, the experience and ethos (and ethics) of motherhood and the significance of the “maternal body” have been hotly contested and problematic. What might be called “the maternal problematic” is also evident in the highly flammable touchpoints between Catholic magisterial teaching and secular feminism—especially in relation to women’s work, vocation and perhaps most contentiously, in relation to women’s fertility and pregnancy. This article mines Pope Saint John Paul II’s major encyclical letter of 1995, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and his intervention into this charged milieu. The Encyclical is rightly viewed as an important exegesis and expansion on the traditional Catholic magisterial teaching upon the ethics of the “sanctity of life”. This article aims to demonstrate that the Encyclical also attempts a fresh line of departure, by weaving into the ethical discussion the importance of “the maternal” as a distinctive interpersonal experience and awareness. This enriches the pastoral and ethical voice of the Church’s witness to human dignity and human life. The Encyclical contains the seeds of what this article will call “a new maternity”, a type of meta-ethos, integral to the development of a “new feminism” which is also aligned and pivotal to the formation of “a culture of life The article will suggest that far from presenting a reductive, oppressive or constructivist view of women and maternity, Evangelium Vitae, when read in synthesis with the Polish Pope’s wider ressourcement of “theological anthropology,” explores three original themes: (a) the importance of maternal “creational contemplation” in women as a force for a humane societal ethos; (b) the invitational dramatics of the maternal in understanding the Catholic ethos surrounding procreation; (c) the personal solidarity and iconic role of the Virgin Mary’s maternity in all expressions of women’s maternal vocation whether physical, existential and/or mystical.
culture of life, maternity, mariology, theological anthropology, John Paul II