Women’s Moral Nobility
Pope John Paul II
April 10, 1996
In these figures of
woman, in whom the marvels of divine grace are manifest, we glimpse the one
who will be the greatest: Mary, Mother of the Lord.
1. The Old Testament
and the Judaic tradition are full of acknowledgments of woman's moral
nobility, which is expressed above all in an attitude of trust in the Lord,
in prayer to obtain the gift of motherhood and in imploring God for Israel's
salvation from the assaults of its enemies. Sometimes, as in Judith's case,
this quality is celebrated by the entire community, becoming the object of
Beside the shining
examples of the biblical heroines, the negative witnesses of some women are
not lacking: such as Delilah who destroys Samson's prophetic ability (Judges
16:4-21), the foreign women who in Solomon's old age turn the king's heart
away from the Lord and make him worship other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8), Jezebel
who kills all "the prophets of the Lord" (1 Kings 18:13) and has Naboth
killed, to give his vineyard to Ahab (1 Kings 21), and Job's wife who
insults him in his misfortune and spurs him to rebel (Job 2:9). In these
cases, the woman's conduct is reminiscent of Eve's. However, the prevailing
outlook in the Bible is that inspired by the Proto-Gospel, which sees in
woman an ally of God.
The feminine figure is a precious gift
of the Lord
2. In fact, if
foreign women were accused of turning Solomon away from his devotion to the
true God the Book of Ruth presents us instead with the noblest figure of a
foreign woman: Ruth, the Moabite, an example of piety to her relatives and
of sincere and generous humility. Sharing
life and faith, she was to become David's great-grandmother and an ancestor
of the Messiah. Matthew, inserting her in Jesus' genealogy (Matthew 1:5),
makes her a sign of universality and a proclamation of God's mercy which
extends to all humanity.
forebears, the first Evangelist also mentions Tamar, Rahab and Uriah's wife,
three sinful but not wicked women who are listed among the female ancestors
of the Messiah, in order to proclaim that divine goodness is greater than
sin. Through his grace, God causes their irregular matrimonial situations to
contribute to his plans of salvation, thereby also preparing for the future.
Another example of
humble dedication, different from Ruth's, is represented by Jephthah's
daughter, who agrees to pay for her father's victory over the Ammonites with
her own death (Judges 11:34-40). Lamenting her cruel destiny, she does not
rebel but gives herself up to death in fulfillment of the thoughtless vow
made by her parent in the context of primitive customs that were still
prevalent (cf. Jeremiah 7:31, Micah 6:6-8).
3. Although sapiential literature frequently alludes to woman's defects, it perceives in
her a hidden treasure: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains
favor from the Lord" (Proverbs 18:22), says the Book of Proverbs, expressing
convinced appreciation of the feminine figure, a precious gift of the Lord.
At the end of the same book the portrait of the ideal woman is sketched. Far
from representing an unattainable model, she is a concrete image born from
the experience of women of great value: "A good wife who can find? She is
far more precious than jewels...."
literature sees in woman's fidelity to the divine covenant the culmination
of her abilities and the greatest source of admiration. Indeed, although she
can sometimes disappoint, woman transcends all expectations when her heart
is faithful to God: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who
fears the Lord is to be praised." (Proverbs 31:30)
Mother was worthy of honorable memory
4. In this context,
the Book of the Maccabees, in the story of the mother of the seven brothers
martyred during Antiochus Epiphanes' persecution, holds up to us the most
admirable example of nobility in trial.
After describing the
death of the seven brothers, the sacred author adds: "The mother was
especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her
seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because
of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of
their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman's reasoning
with a man's courage", thus expressing her hope in a future resurrection:
"Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and
devised the origin of all things will in his mercy give life and breath back
to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws."
Urging her seventh
son to submit to death rather than disobey the divine law, the mother
expresses her faith in the work of God who creates all things from nothing:
"I beseech you, my child to look at the heaven and the earth and see
everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of
things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this
butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in the
time of mercy I may get you back again with your brothers."
She then gives
herself up to a bloody death, after suffering torture of the heart seven
times, witnessing to steadfast faith, boundless hope and heroic courage. In
these figures of woman, in whom the marvels of divine grace are manifest, we
glimpse the one who will be the greatest: Mary, Mother of the Lord.
Weekly Edition in English
April 17 1996.
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