Ivy Helman has provided an excellent resource that traces the 100 year evolution of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings about women beginning in the 1880’s with Rerum Novarum, through the cultural and sociological expanse of the 1960’s and the Second Vatican Council, and culminating in the 1980’s with the separation of women into their own theological category.
This wonderful book not only highlights the contents of Church documents regarding women throughout the last 100 years, it also provides a thorough and impartial analysis of each of the major Church documents from the 1960’s to the first decade of the present century. Therein Helman provides definitions the Church has espoused with regard to womanhood, women’s roles in the family and the church, women’s interactions with the world, and how women are to find fulfillment in the world. Furthermore, Helman examines the issue of the reception of these documents by the community of the faithful as well as providing some of the positive and negative critiques these definitions have received from respected theologians, allowing the reader a broad spectrum of interpretation with regard to the issues presented.
Helman concludes this book with a discussion of the recent evolutions in Catholic teaching, and uses the example of condom use, which went from inherently evil to moral, when the intended use is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and thus save lives. She also shows, by use of examples, how much church teachings have been opened by theological discussion particularly as it pertains to women. Helman says, “church teachings on women are also part of a theological discussion, in fact it is easy to see how much a part of a discussion they are since women’s ordination is specifically declared a topic not up for discussion, this means that the rest of the church’s teachings on women are all theological matters open to discussion.”
This wonderful book is an excellent theological resource, as well as a wonderful text for personal theological enrichment. Helman’s writing is clear, and well organized; her thinking is astute and historically relevant. As a theology professor, I enthusiastically recommend this book for a wide variety of audiences.