Saturday, November 06, 2010

Marguerite d'Oingt and the New Feminism

Anton Woensam von Worms (before 1500 - 1541)
Christ on the Cross with Carthusian Saints
Oil on Oak,
67 x 86,5 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

It is said that Feminist Theology "represents one of the most significant movements within the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council."

In 1995 Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae called for "a new Feminism". He said:

"In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination,” in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation." (Paragraph 99)

Other contributions to this new Feminism by Pope John Paul II include:

John Paul II, A Catechesis on the Book of Genesis: The Original Unity of Man and Women >(General Audience, November 7,1979),

John Paul II,
Letter to Women (Letter, June 29, 1995),

John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Apostolic Letter, August 15, 1988),

John Paul II, Ordinatio sacerdotalis, On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone (Apostolic Letter, May 22, 1994),

Scholars who have contributed to the discussion regarding new Catholic feminism include Fr. Francis Martin, Janet Smith, Sr. Sara Butler, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Michele M. Schumacher, Sr. Prudence Allen, Pia de Solenni, Mary Ann Glendon, Mary Shivanandan, Alice von Hildebrand, and Monica Migliorino Miller

One of the most important and influential of these is Mary Ann Glendon who was the United States Ambassador to the Holy See from 2004 until 2009 and is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She teaches and writes on bioethics, comparative constitutional law, property, and human rights in international law. Glendon is currently the first female President of the Roman Catholic Church's official Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

She is a prolific writer. Here are links to some of her articles written for First Things and to one of her many articles on the new Catholic feminism: The Pope`s New Feminism >(Catholic Education Resource Center)

Wednesday past (3rd November 2010) the Pope continued his catechesis on medieval women theologians and mystics. It is part of his contribution to the Catholic response to Secular Feminism (or the Old Feminism, as some might say)

This time the subject was Marguerite d'Oingt (c.1240 - 11th February 1310). This year was the 700th anniversary of her death.

A member of the Carthusian order, she was the fourth Prioress of the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins, in the Parish of Mionnay (Ain), near Lyon from 1288 until her death

The charterhouse where she resided was founded in 1238 by Marguerite de Bâgé. The monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was set up by Marguerite to obtain God`s protection for her husband while he fought in Royal wars for the King

It was richly endowed by Marguerite with natural resources: lands, a lake, woodlands, vineyards and the like.

The lake was large and plentiful with fish

It was an unusual convent in that it was one of the few Carthusian institutions set up solely for women. It was the only one in the Region of the Ain. There were only two in France. Indeed outside the Grande Chartreuse, there were only six such establishments.

In the first few centuries the Convent was successful in its vocation : the contemplative life marked by solitude. In 1245 Pope Innocent V placed it under his special protection

Later by the middle of the 15th century, the discipline relaxed. By 1603, there was only one nun. In 1605 the Convent was dissolved and its personnel and assets were transferred to other Carthusian convents and monasteries.

In the Revolution its lands were sold and it became a farm.

The chapel of the Charterhouse was demolished in 1873 and replaced by a modern and large chateau which is still there

Why is Marguerite d'Oingt a significant figure ? The important point made by the Pope is:
" At first glance this figure of a Medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life, we see that it also affects us and that it would also be the essential aspect of our own existence."

We have a very little of her writings. What we have is derived from a strange manuscript now conserved in the Bibliothèque de Grenoble.

The manuscrpt consists of 38 leaves of parchment dating from the 14th century of which the last two leaves are blank. Each page written in ink consists of 25 lines in a fine hand. It is thought that the manuscript may have been penned by Marguerite herself.

She wrote in Latin and in Franco-Provençal.

Some writers have seized on her taking about Christ as "mother". This is only a tiny part of her work. In his talk the Pope has tried to restore balance to the evaluation and consideration of Marguerite and her writings:
"Marguerite's writings ... were inspired by the evangelical spirituality of Saint Bruno; they reveal her fine sensibility and her deep desire for God. Marguerite viewed life as a path of perfection leading to complete configuration to Christ, above all in the contemplation of his saving passion.

She imagined the Lord's life, his words and his actions, as a Book which he hold out to us, a Book to be studied and imprinted on our hearts and lives, until the day we read it from within, in the contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.

Marguerite's writings, filled with imagery drawn from family life, radiate a warm love of God and deep gratitude for his grace which purifies our affections and draws us more closely to him.

The life and writings of Marguerite d'Oingt invite us to meditate daily on the mystery of God's infinite love, revealed above all in the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, and to find in it the strength and joy to place our lives at his service and that of our brothers and sisters."

To use Marguerite and her writings as weapons in an ideological and partisan dispute would be a great pity. Much light, truth and wisdom running counter to the culture of her day and of today would be overlooked.

As a Carthusian, the life of Marguerite d'Oingt would have been very austere. Devoted wholly and essentially to a life of prayer, manual and intellectual work, she and her fellow nuns would not accept external help. The rule prescribed silence and they could only speak on few certain prescribed occasions. Their number was limited. Each nun occupied a cell which had a small garden. In their hermitage, there were few occasions in the day for meeting other nuns as they made their way from their cells by way of the common cloister to the chapel.

She said of her vocation that it was piety which made her become a Carthusian:
« C'est pour vous seul mon doux Seigneur, que j'ai quitté mon père, ma mère, mes frères et tous les biens de ce monde »
("It was for you alone, my sweet Saviour, that I left my father, my mother, my brothers and all my property of this world")

In her Meditations (written in Latin) she wrote:
"Sweet Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of you; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more they are possessed the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but you know, sweet Lord, that if I possessed thousands of worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for your love; and even if you gave me everything that you possess in heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had you, because you are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of you" (Marguerite d'Oingt, "Scritti Spirituali," Meditazione II, 32, p. 59 Cinisello Balsamo, 1997).

Of interest to philologists are two remarkable sacred texts of hers in her native Lyonnais dialect. The first, entitled "Speculum" ("The Mirror")", describes three miraculous visions and their meanings.

The other work, "Li Via seiti Biatrix, virgina de Ornaciu" ("The Life of the Blessed Virgin Beatrix d'Ornacieux")", is a long biography of a nun and mystic consecrated to the Passion whose faith led to a devout cult. This text contributed to the beatification of the nun more than 250 years later by Pope Pius IX in 1869. See Catholic Encyclopedia, at Beatrix: VI. Blessed Beatrix of Ornacieux

For those who would wish to pursue their interest in studying her work might wish to consult

this website
Marguerite d`Oyngt. Oeuvres. Publiées d'après le manuscrit unique de la Bibliothèque de Grenoble (1877)

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate (1997). "The Writings of Margaret of Oingt, Medieval Prioress and Mystic". (From series: Library of Medieval Women). Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85-991442-9