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Learning from Mary: The Feminine Vocation and American Law

24 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2009  

Elizabeth Rose Rose Schiltz

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2009


This article is based on a presentation given at the Conference Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatum: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, co-sponsored by The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law and Ave Maria Law School, Washington, DC on October 3, 2008.

One of the most significant features of Catholic feminism, setting it apart from more conventional secular feminism, is its conviction that there are fundamental differences between men and women that are not simply biological and that are not simply socially constructed. This conviction finds expression in a theory of gender identity known as "complementarity." Complementarity is a theory of gender identity that embraces both significant differentiation and fundamental equality among men and women. Despite its sound theological and philosophical pedigree, the concept of complementarity is not unproblematic for a Catholic feminist. This challenge of giving enough substantive content to the meaning of the term the "genius of women" to prevent complementarity from being used either as an instrument of inequality between the genders or as a stumbling block to acceptance of Church doctrine on issues such as male priesthood is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the charge that John Paul II imposed upon women in 99 of Evangelium Vitae - the challenge of articulating a "new feminism."

This article explores some of the lessons that the life of the most important woman in Jesus' life, Mary, might offer for women looking for guidance on the "feminine genius." This article does not argue that any aspect of the feminine genius may not be also shared by many men. Nor does it argue that any aspect of the feminine genius is something that all women share. Rather, this article is an exploratory attempt to identify particular aptitudes that may be displayed by more women than men, that may have been historically undervalued by society due to the prevailing social roles of women and men, and that John Paul II has suggested must be revaluated and promoted, in order to transform our culture. The development of these attributes is not something that should be limited to women, but it may be part of a particularly feminine vocation to foster and promote the display of these attributes by all.

The article explores four particular features of the uniquely feminine vocation arguably could be illustrated by the life of Jesus' mother, Mary. Two of these are illuminated by focusing on the Christological question of the significance of Mary's role in the Incarnation, and two are illuminated by focusing on the ecclesiological question of the significance of Mary in the establishment and ongoing life of the Catholic Church. These four are capacities for: (1) teaching and guiding; (2) service to and speaking for the vulnerable; (3) mothering - as opposed to fathering - which entails a unique capacity to foster trust; and (4) prophesy. The article concludes with some preliminary thoughts about how these particular capacities could, if consciously recognized, promoted, and protected, effect changes in our laws that would bring us closer to realizing the "civilization of love" towards which the Catholic Church asks us to strive.

Keywords: women and the law, feminisim, Catholic feminism, Mulieris Dignitatum, Marian theology, complementarity

Suggested Citation

Schiltz, Elizabeth Rose mname, Learning from Mary: The Feminine Vocation and American Law (2009). Ave Maria Law Review, Vol. 8, 2009; U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-04. Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Rose Schiltz (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4922 (Phone)
651-962-4971 (Fax)

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