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Box of Books for Francis?

Pope Francis has suggested that "we" need a deeper "theology of women," (itself a problematic phrase, emblematic of the usual us-them in which women are "them.") But he seems like a genuinely nice guy who's sincere about wanting to explore new territory. So, here's my idea...

Of course there are any number of books that could help Francis begin to sort out his ideas in this regard. Let's send him a starter set. 

What are, say, 10 books that could help Francis in his revision of the Church with regard to women?


1. as any good feminist knows, a "theology of women," if it's adequate, is simultaneously a theology of men--men are damaged by patriarchy and sexism, too. So suggestions need not be books specifically about women or even by women, but should contribute importantly to Francis' task. 

2. They need to be available in paperback. I'll spring for them and ship them, but I'm a theologian, not a venture capitalist--I can't sink my life savings (if I had any,) into this. But 10 books to send to Francis to help him think these things through? Sure. (Or perhaps Commonweal would like to underwrite? Or help underwrite? Just asking...) 

3. Books can be singly authored or edited collections. For example, someone might recommend Catherine Mowry LaCugna's Freeing Theology. The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, or some such collection that covers a lot of ground in one volume and features some of the giants of feminist theology. 

4. Francis said that the Church needs a more adequate theology of women, so we can safely assume that apologetics for the status quo aren't what he's looking for. Let's aim for faithful engagements with the tradition that break new ground. For example...

My vote is for Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's But She Said, in which she takes feminist biblical hermeneutics for a spin, resulting in chapters that are scholarly and reflective. It's a classic, both challenging and exhilarating. I hope it'll encourage Francis to read the Bible in new ways. (Of course, like many of you, I can think of dozens of books that'd be great. But this is a good, basic place to start--reading scripture.) 


1. Make your suggetions here, with a brief explanation why you suggest the book you name. One book at a time, please.

2. If you like someone's suggestion, second it. Lets play Facebook--write, e.g., "Schussler Fiorenza: Like." Also like Facebook, one cannot "unlike." Just vote for what's good, and we can trust that the dotCommonweal community will sort wheat from chaff. 

3. In, say, 2 weeks time, I'll add up the results. If there's a hopeless deadlock, I'll turn to some other voting methodology for the final list. I'll order them and ship them with a letter of good wishes, explaining the origin of the list, and that it's intended to be representative, not determinative of the possibilities for his project, and reflects the discernment of a community, not any individual.

4. I have no actual clue who to send them to. Perhaps the papal secretary? Is there anyone out there who knows how to actually get them to the Pope? Please let me know, either here or off-line.

Ready? Go!


Commenting Guidelines

I second Mary Douglas.  Her work advanced the scientific understanding of what is common among varied cultures.  And she stayed Catholic to the end.

I got it!!!

As an undergrad, I had the chance to read Jo Croissant's The Priesthood of the Heart. It is an excellent book and it talks about the two-fold vocation we, as women, were given:  to be priests (by our openness and therefore by teaching, evangelizing, preparing our loved one's hearts in faith), and to be lovers (to God, to our husbands, to our children -if any- and to our loved ones). The book talks about women and our priestly love, and the attitudes needed to carry out the mission that God gave us, following in the example of Our Blessed Mother Mary.

I love the book and I think it does a great job in explaining the role women play in humanity.


I second the nominations of both Theresa and Luis.

I vote for a collection of essays written by a diverse group of women scholars who attended the New Voices Seminar at Saint Mary's College, inspired by the annual Madeleva Lecture Series.  "Women, Wisdom, and Witness: Engaging Contexts in Conversation" takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the significant contexts of the contemporary experiences of women.  The book considers the socio-political, interdisciplinary, and dialogical complexities of women's intellectual and social praxis at the intersection of theology and ethics. A wide array of topics are addressed: poverty, sexual norms, trauma and slavery, health care, immigration, and the roles of women in academia and the church.

Ok, So I have more than10 books, actually more--hey, we're talking 1500 years of silence here, so more than 10 books is fair game in my feminist hermeneutic.  We are here to give him the best of ourselves and our love in the Spirit to him. 1. Women in the Early Church: Message of the Fathers of the Church Series (Message of the Fathers of the Church, V. 13.) by Elizabeth Ann Clark (Author) , Thomas Halton (Editor)  2. Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities, Rosaemary Radford Ruether,   Women have specific ideas about how to eliven dead liturgy and make it count agian!! #. Beyond God the Father, Mary Daly--yes, we need to bring in the LBGTQ communities to this conversation  as well., 4. When Women were Priests by Karen Jo Trojesen--my advisor at Claremont Grad U.-yes, they may not have had the title, but they led, 5.  & 6 The Revelatory Text and Written that You May Believe by Sandra Schneiders, 7. Sister Of Wisdom, St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine by Barbara Newman, 8. Women in Christianity by Hans Kung, 9. Vatican III, The work that needs to be done, Editd by Hans Kung, David Tracy & Johanne Metz, 10. Catholic does not equal the Vatican by Rosemary Radford Ruether, 11. Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary Radford Ruether, 12. Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson, 13. Feminst Philosophy of Religion Edtd. by Pamela Sue Anderson and Beverley Clack, 14. Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology edtd. by Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Sheila Briggs, 16. A Journey of Courage: The amazing story of Sr. Dorothy Stang, 17. & 18.Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality and Womanspirit Rising by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow.  Women have been telling our story in academia for over 4 decades now and we desire to be listened to, to end patriarchal imbalance and take our place beside our brothers in Christ and not reform our Church, but transform it into a new and better model of what it means for all of us to be Imago Dei, not less, not more, but equal.  As I have said in many blogs before--our Church and all of the children of God have been cheated because half of humanity has been missing from the table in concelebration of our tradition.  We will no longer, can no longer, will no longer be silent, learn who we are--not as distorted ideas, concepts, romantisizations of who and what women are and telling us what and how our spirituality should be -- we already know it and now it is up to us to teach it to all.



Someone listed "Women and the Word:  The Gender of God in the New Testament and the Spirituality of Women (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality)" by Sandra, and I second this vote!  It is short, yet powerful, clear, concise, very well written.  



I would also like to add Ivone Gebara's "Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (Biblical Reflections on Ministry)."  Again, a great read and informative about feminist theology.  Also, Gebara is from Brazil and writes about her experience with women there, so Francis might find it particularly interesting.  

A soft note to fellow commentors: There is a problem with most of the above recommendations and accompanying commentary.  The idea that this Pope, or any Pope for that matter, needs to be schooled by paperback-writer theologians is somewhere between questionable and absurd.

The Popes with whom I am (historically) familiar--Pius XII>,  appear to have spent the better part of their respective post-adolescent lives studying, writing on, and implementing the planet's most refined and complex theological system. 

It is my impression that many of the writers mentioned can best be described as narrow and resentful -- even snappish, regarding their Church. The exact opposite of what Catholicism is supposed to be and is at its heart.

It might be more helpful to expose Francis, a Jesuit priest, to the notion of "woman" away from the niggling, limited constraints of "feminist theology."  Rather, aim that he consider women qua women within the broader and genuinely Catholic context of the human condition.

Thank you.


What a great idea!  I think we need to remind Pope Francis that  feminist theologies of women are now in at least their 3rd generation.   I'll second the choices for Beth Johnson's She who is and add Quest for the Living God.  Consider asking for a papal read of Just Love by Margaret Farley.  Add Shawn Copeland's Enfleshing Freedom. I would also recommend a tiny Italian volume by Luce Irigaray, Il Mistero de Maria published om 2010 by the Figlie de San Paolo <>. It offers a spiritual philosophical perspective on Mary that show difference that is not derived from a masculine subject.

May the project succeed and you let us know the Top Ten.


p.s.  I'd send them directly to Pope Francis at his residence (not the Vatican).  Who knows, he may call you to say Grazie.


@ Kenneth Ray: I'm glad that's identified in advance as a "soft note," and very glad we were not treated to any sterner stuff.  The soft lobs "questionable," "absurd," "narrow," "resentful," "snappish," and "niggling" should do nicely.  I do like the new category "paperback-writer theologians," though it is presumably not to be taken literally.  Otherwise it would need to include not only Avery Dulles, Yves Congar, Dietrich von Hildebrand and Karl Rahner, but also John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

As for the need of Pope Francis for schooling, that may be less important than his need to have what he says taken seriously.  He has been pretty clear about listening to the faithful --in the broadest sense --and learning from them.  He does not seem to regard the ecclesia docens as confined to the hierarchy, with everyone else only part of the ecclesia discens.

The box-of-books project may seem quixotic, but it can claim honorable precedents, not least that of the tireless correspondent Catherine of Siena, who affctionately addressed the pope in Avignon as "Babbo," or "Daddy," and helpfully suggested that if he couldn't do what was needed he should resign.  The commenters here, and the authors they suggest, have a long way to go to match that.

As for quixotism, I'm reminded of GKC's "Lepanto."  Despite the triumphalism and the intolerant distortions, there's no getting around it, it's magnificent right to the end:

"Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath/ (Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)/ And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,/ Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,/ And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade..."


@ Mr. Irias:  Thank you for the thoughtful, engaging reply. In particular your statement "...his need to be taken seriously."

Although Catholic, I am not an expert on the Papacy.  But I am very encouraged by what I see in Pope Francis, as there is obviously much work to be done, inside and outside of our church and he appears especially well suited to the tasks before him.

I myself do not think the Box-of-Books idea to be at all quixotic -- it serves as a good kick-start to one's own thinking on the subject.  However I do apply the same healthy skepticism to commentators like the above as I do to the Church they are targeting.  Most of the works cited are insignificant (at best) books by forgettable authors.

In other words, I think that THIS particular Box-of-Books is, so far, lacking in depth, breadth, and strength. And I do not expect that this will improve over the two-week window of opportunity, The readership of this magazine is not much more than the PC subset of American Catholicism, and in the PC world conformity is valued above all else.

Again, your comments are MUCH appreciated.





Hey, who you callin' PC?

A late add:  The Bell Jar.   Sylvia Plath. (Should have included it above.)

@Mark Proska: Couple of possibilities.  There's reference to "PC world" and to a magazine.  Textual critics might discern a scribal error and some kind of beef with PC World magazine (on the part of a Mac user?).  But I think Mr. Ray means you, me, all others identified here as subscribers to Commonweal, and many more.  His field of fire keeps widening...

@Kenneth Ray: You thanked me twice, the second time with capital letters.  You're welcome, I think.   I'm still trying to harmonize "thoughtful" and "engaging" with "PC" and "conformity...above all else."

I can't say I've read all the books recommended so far, but I've read some, and they hardly deserve being dismissed collectively as "insignificant."  As for "forgettable" authors, only you can decide which ones you'd like to forget (Julian of Norwich and Alice von Hildebrand? Really?).  But using the term more broadly involves prediction, always very risky.  Of course I may be "overthinking," as Miley Cyrus claims her critics have done.  Maybe "insignificant" and "forgettable," like "PC," are just more miscellaneous "soft" missiles.

Flinging pejoratives is clearly less labor-intensive than dialogue, and it's certainly a time-honored tactic (the fault-finders in Siena used to call St. Catherine's friends "caterinati," or "catherined," those somehow bewitched by Catherine).  But overuse blunts once-sharp edges.

To sustain your belief that Commonweal readers are devoted to PC conformism, you will need to avoid reading the magazine very often.  It contains too much vigorous debate on a wide variety of topics, among readers as well as contributors and editors.            

Again, a soft reply:

Time permitting, I will cite, one per day, a work/author from the above collection. And a brief note re. "the problem."

Tuesday:  Gene Robinson.  His deep, unyielding commitment to his own selfishness is literally destroying his own church.  In ten years there may not be an Anglican Church as we know it today.

His is a Faustian bargain:  Recreational gay sex in exchange for the destruction of a venerable and venerated Church.  Not much here for Francis.

However, it does remind me that Goethe's Faust is deep, worthwhile reading.  As is Marlowe's Dr. Faustus.

I vote for something non-theological, even though I 'm a total theology geek:

Men's Work by Paul Kivel

"Sexual harassment, child abuse, incest, rape, murder, war--it's impossible today to hear a news report and not be informed of violent acts perpetrated by men. Acknowledging that there are no easy answers to the problem of male violence--particularly in a world that seems to thrive on aggression and physical force--Men's Work reaches straight to its root causes. In his ground-breaking work, author Paul Kivel helps men confront the political, social, and personal forces that generate and reward misogyny, hatred, anger, and violent behavior.

Combining years of personal study and reflection with his work with men in the Oakland Men's Project, Men's Work presents an innovative and workable approach to stopping male violence. Kivel shows men how to reclaim the power and responsibility needed to unlearn the lessons of control and aggression.

Paul Kivel is a nationally known expert on men's issues. Through his work at the Oakland Men's Project, he helps men confront and change violent behaviors and teaches alternatives to violence in their relationships. He also trains teachers, therapists, probation officers, and agency staff who work with men, exploring such topics as male/female relationships, alternatives to violence, family violence, and sexual assault. Kivel resides in Oakland, California."


Wednesday's problem suggestion:  Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water:  Ecofeminism and Liberation.

The author seems to believe that we (the big "we", everyone) are inalienable components of a vast, integrated and fully interdependent Biomass, aka Earth, along with, say, rabbits, soybeans, and limestone. And that our need to set ourselves apart from and above animals, vegetables, and minerals is simply an extension of the human need to control, in turn an extension of the male need to control women.

Now ALL of God's creations have intrinsic value, simply because they are what they are. But only Man/Woman is created in God's image, and only he/she has a soul.  We,  Humans, are IN the world but not wholly OF it.  We know this because (among other reasons) we are Catholic.

To contest this is to contradict one of the very basic tenets of Catholicism -- and Christianity at large.

The precepts of Gaiaism, in any form, will never fly in Rome.  Not even close.

The notion is best suited for entry-level thinkers in an undergraduate seminar.

On the other hand, I am guessing that there are a number of readable works out there on Christian Stewardship.  There is no stronger image in Scripture than that of The Good Shepherd.



Greetings from Seattle to my former JSTB advisor!

How about bravely going right to the subject of women's ordination? My vote is for two articles that appeared in the very pages of Commonweal.  Apr. 11, 2008 and a reply to a reply Jul 18, 2008 by my friend Robert J. Egan, SJ.  His arguments are erudite, concise, and totally worth a read.     BTW, if you need info on him, check with Margaret O'Brien Steinfels.  She and her husband Peter have known Egan since undergrad days at Loyola Chicago. 

 @ Lisa Fullam:  I believe this closes the 2-week window of opportunity.  I for one have gained mightily from introspection and personal reflection on the scope and depth of women's issues vis-a-vis the Church.  The "Box of Books" challenge strikes me as an excellent heuristic device for laying out challenges facing present-day Catholicism. Throughout its 2000 year history the one thing the Papacy has never lacked is challenges. 

It appears that I have a slightly different perspective on things, compared to your, say, typical respondents. I hope you see this as "good" thing  -- injecting a sense of balance, or proportion, or (if I may say) common sense into the discussion.

I look forward to your next Box-of-Books project.

Thank you.  KR





Dr. Fullam: Got here too late to suggest, but what did you send?