Pope John Paul II and Mary's Womanhood

Abstract from the original German talks given at the German Mariological Consortium on Influece of Mary on Pope John Paul II, provided by Sister M. Danielle Peters.

Mary as Paradigm of the Woman According to John Paul II

– Simone Twents

The Blessed Virgin Mary took a prominent place in the pontificate of John Paul II and also influenced his sensibility for the dignity and role of women. Twents examines first John Paul II’s anthropological notion and then makes applications to the pope’s concept of womanhood.

In Mulieris Dignitatem (MD) and in his discourse on the Theology of the Body (TB) John Paul II analyzed the two narratives of creation in Genesis in order to highlight the principles of human existence. Vital for the anthropological concept of John Paul II is that the human being as man and woman is a person (MD 6). Fundamental for personhood created in the image and likeness of God is his capacity to love and to be loved (MD 29). John Paul II examined these truths in the light of GS 24 which states that the human person “who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” This Vatican II text states in the first place that the human being may not be used as a means and secondly that in order to find self-fulfillment, a person has to make a self-gift of sincere love (MD 7).

Man and woman realize their self-fulfillment equally yet in a complementary manner. Neither man nor woman alone can represent the perfection of humanity. This is so not only in regards to sexuality but also in regard to being a fundamental premise. In his Letter to Women of June 29, 1995 John Paul II highlighted this fact:

When the Book of Genesis speaks of "help," it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the "masculine" and the "feminine" that the "human" finds full realization .

Regarding the vocation of women, John Paul II emphasized the spousal being of a woman as a helper to man not only in their earthly existence but also ultimately in their relationship to God (cf. TB 1.9.1980). Woman’s ability to bear new life is a fruit of a gift she has received. In view of her special relationship to the mystery of life John Paul II attributes to women a keen receptivity for the concrete person (MD 18f. CL 51); he called this receptivity the genius of woman (MD 30; Letter to Women 9-12).

Due to the Fall, human beings have lost their innocence in relating to each other. “This is especially to the disadvantage of the woman … at the same time it also diminishes the true dignity of the man."(MD 10) The Proto-Evangelium announces the promise of redemption through woman as human instrument. In this pericope woman receives a third vocation, namely her cooperation “in the Redeemer's salvific struggle against the author of evil in human history." (MD 11)

Next Twents examines woman’s position in the order of salvation. She highlights first the bridal character of womanhood in view of God’s spousal relationship to humanity, which is a prominent theme in the Old and the New Testaments. Considering the biblical women from Eve to the Woman in the Book of Revelation, Twents observes that they all focus on Mary, the archetype of woman and bride. The role of the bridegroom who seeks loving union with the bride culminates in Jesus Christ, the New Adam. In terms of humanity’s relationship to Christ woman is real symbol of all of humanity since men and women approach Christ as bride. Mary is the archetype of the bride and exemplifies humanity’s relationship to God as well as God’s love for each human person. In Mary all women share in this mission which John Paul II called “a special kind of prophetism that belongs to women in their femininity.” (MD 29; Letter to Women of June 29, 1995, 11) To this mission belongs above all the need to introduce man to this spousal attitude and thus teach him the right approach to God. Significant in this context is Mary’s receptive presence in the Upper Room in anticipation of Pentecost. Woman as bride symbolizes redeemed humanity, and thus it is fitting that the first redeemed person assumed into heaven, is a woman.

Another element of the dignity of womanhood is motherhood. In the Old Testament motherhood indicated hope in particular in view of the coming Messiah. The longing of the people and the promise of the Proto-Evangelium are fulfilled in the New Testament with Mary’s fiat. In Mary, woman’s receptivity and motherhood transcend so to receive the divine Word through the Holy Spirit. While in the Old Testament, God usually sealed his covenant with men, the new covenant is ratified with a woman. To that John Paul II wrote: “The biblical exemplar of the ‘woman’ finds its culmination in the motherhood of the Mother of God. … Through her maternal ‘fiat,’ (Let it be done to me) - God begins a New Covenant with humanity…. Precisely because this Covenant is to be fulfilled ‘in flesh and blood’ its beginning is in the Mother.” (MD 19)

In her fiat Mary placed not only her body but also her whole person at the disposal of God’s plan. “She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine I.” (RM 13) Mary’s sinlessness was essential in order to make a new beginning possible.

At the climax of redemption John Paul II includes especially woman in the mystery of Christ’s open heart. Mary’s presence was decisive as she participates as Woman and Bride in His suffering and confirms her gift to Him. In His testament from the Cross he addresses her as Woman and therewith clarifies the vocation of the redeemed woman: to be a helper to Christ, to bleed with Him for the salvation of humanity and to be at His disposal. Twent points out that the Hebrew term for mercy (rachmin) is the plural of the Hebrew term used for womb or uterus (rächäm). Christ’s open wound is in fact a sign for birth (MD 19. cf. Jn 16:21). In this light the invocation for Mary as Mother of Mercy receives new impetus (cf. Dives in Misericordia 9). Beneath the cross Mary takes her place as prototype of redeemed woman (DM 11). Woman’s vocation to practice motherly mercy to a concrete person is what John Paul II called the genius of woman (MD 30).

Twents concludes with a consideration to the obedience of redeemed woman. The attitude of obedience is included in the gift which wants to be totally at the disposal the Creator and Redeemer.

More Information

International Marian Research Institute

300 College Park 
Dayton, Ohio 45469 

Connect