The Spirit of Christian Humanism 1 February, 2008

Here at Second Spring, which is the adopted journal of Thomas More College and its Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, we are trying to encourage and develop new expressions of the Christian Humanist tradition that lies behind the foundation of the College thirty years ago this year. The latest issue of the journal, issue 9, is devoted to the ‘Genius of Woman‘ and features all women authors. The phrase we used as a title was a favourite of Pope John Paul II, and his ‘new feminism’ is the inspiration of the issue, which started with a conference we ran in Oxford a few years ago as part of a series unpacking the Pope’s legacy.

As Carol Zaleski writes in the Introduction to the issue, ‘What woman wants, according to JPII, is to be truly herself: to live out her specific genius for loving and being loved, to find herself by giving herself to others [as all of us do]. In this issue a group of Catholic women meditate on what this mystery, this genius, this vocation of being woman is all about. As they make clear, the “genius of woman” is not a mere gallantry on John Paul’s part, nor a self-eulogism on our own, but a concrete and practical idea full of implications for the way individual women negotiate the demands of daily life.’

The issue is more tightly focused than we usually have been on one specific theme, but it explores that theme as usual in the spirit of creative fidelity to the Catholic and Christian humanist tradition, of which the philosopher-pope was an eminent representative. We hope you enjoy it, and we would encourage you to engage with us in a discussion of the theme elsewhere on our web site. There are many divisions within the Church, and that between feminists and anti-feminists is one of them. Our approach is to try to avoid polemic and division, not by compromise on any significant issue, since we do have our own editorial line, but by looking for the truth that transcends and the friendship that unites people who may, at the level of ideas, be quite opposed.

In a very different context, in his Moto Propriu relaxing restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed this spirit most succinctly as follows:

‘I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.’