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Man-Woman Relationship, a Good Thing in Need of Healing

Interview With Biblical Exegete Anne-Marie Pelletier

PARIS, MARCH 9, 2005 (Zenit) - For International Women's Day, one of Europe's best-known biblical exegetes recommends the rediscovery of the complementary relationship between man and woman.

Anne-Marie Pelletier, in this interview with us, particularly suggests the reading of the 2004 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Man and Woman in the Church and the World," published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A professor of biblical hermeneutics at the Cathedral School of Paris and the Sorbonne's Practical School of Higher Studies, Pelletier has published books such as "Christianity and Women," published by Cerf, and numerous articles on women in the Bible.

Q: Accusations of misogyny against Christianity have again become very topical as a result of some very successful publications. How do you think one should respond?

Pelletier: Without running away, but also not allowing oneself to become overly affected by everything that the media says.

Yes, it's true, the question is very sensitive, and that is right, even if on occasions it undertakes rather doubtful avenues. For example, Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" is not the best help to reflect intelligently and calmly on the question.

In any case, it seems to me that it is essential to keep attention focused on this problem. How is it possible for Christians to be indifferent to women's lives, which are often a history of injustice and violence?

How is it possible that the vision of woman, which is found at the beginning of our humanity, has nothing to do with our relationship with God? How can one think that reflection on the feminine condition, on the way that the man-woman relationship is lived, which is at the beginning of our humanity, has nothing to do with our relationship with God?

In a recent publication, I read amazing words: "The way one treats a woman corresponds to the way one lives with God." It was a man, a young Dominican exegete, who wrote those words in a volume in which he scrutinizes wisely the Book of Samuel [see Philippe Lefebvre, "Les livres de Samuel et les récits de résurrection," Paris, Cerf].

That we Christians can express or hear such an affirmation seems capital to me. And it is fortuitous that in our time such a thing can be done.

Q: You have taught the Bible, at the University of Nanterre, as "cultural memory" to Christian and non-Christians students and those of other religions. Is the Bible -- Old and New Testament -- misogynist?

Pelletier: It seems impossible to me to restrict to a few phrases the answer to such a question.

Whoever wishes to demonstrate that the Bible is misogynist will find quite a lot to justify his project, simply because God reveals himself in the very depth of our history, namely, in human realities that are heavy with misogyny.

Conversely and simultaneously, biblical history does not cease to evoke the presence of women in decisive points of history. It does not cease to show how women are in immediate proximity to God's thoughts and plans. Of course, one can read the text without seeing or wishing to see it.

But the way in which our time has made the question of women topical should stimulate Christians to read the text better, to discover this feminine dimension of biblical history.

To return to the question posed, and without entering into details of what would entail enormous research, I would say that the first great merit of the biblical tradition in this domain concerns the diagnosis it offers on the man-woman relationship. Two affirmations are formulated, which are essential and must be endlessly held.

The first is that the relationship of man and woman is fundamental -- foundational in our humanity. And, from the very beginning of Genesis, this reality of creation is designated as being "very good." Therefore, there is a resolute confidence and optimism expressed which must never be forgotten.

The second affirmation is that, in the present scheme of our life, this very good reality is suffused with obscurity and exposed to tragedy. Hence, it is in need of healing.

And it is precisely part of the proclamation of the Gospel's good news that Christ gives man and woman the capacity to address trials that alter their relationship. In him, the power of the Resurrection comes to touch and remake this relationship.

To accept this double truth allows us to consider the history of our societies with both realism and confidence. It also enables us to understand that, throughout our past 20 centuries of Christianity, Christians have not ceased to battle with this reality, in the same measure that we do not cease to accept the Word of God ...

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