Mary as model of the church: The liberationist perspective of Leonardo Boff and the feminist perspective of Rosemary Radford Ruether

Mary McGovern Treyz, Fordham University


In a world in which patriarchal ordering is recognized as an oppressive and corrosive system, liberating theologies are in search of hermeneutic insights and theological methods which allow the voice of the poor and the dispossessed to be heard. Moreover, there is an effort to retrieve from patriarchal influences scriptural characters and recast them in light of liberating precepts. Mary the mother of Jesus is a primary example of this type of figure. It is the contention of this work that liberation and feminist theology of Mary as prophetic disciple, when applied to the idea of Mary as model of the church, is highly relevant and adequate for people today. Leonardo Boff in chapter 12 of his work The Maternal Face of God, presents Mary as a liberating model of faith by associating her with the poor and dispossessed. He achieves this by focusing upon Mary's prophetic discipleship as the speaker of the Magnificat. In this short chapter, Boff manages to remove the gender stereo-typing that pervades most traditional presentations of Mary. In the rest of the work, however, Boff presents Mary as the archetype of the feminine. Because Boff relies on a Jungian analysis of Mary in particular, and women in general--a perspective which feminists argue is overlaid with androcentric biases--Boff does not acknowledge that he has ignored one of his own methodological principles: namely, listening to those who are the systemically marginalized and oppressed. In order to correct this oversight a feminist perspective of Mary is needed. Rosemary Radford Ruether in many of her works, but primarily Sexism and God-Talk, offers that much needed feminist perspective. She also presents Mary as a prophetic disciple using the Magnificat as the scriptural foundation for her study. Her work, however, is marked by a critical feminist appraisal of the history of marian theology and its impact on women. Radford Ruether brings to the discussion of Mary the universal nature of Mary's discipleship, as well as the prophetic call to reflection and renewal. In regard to Mary, the prophetic assessment entails an acknowledgement of the limiting and dehumanizing effects of sexism. Mary as prophetic disciple is applied to the ancient idea of model of the church by both Boff and Ruether. These theologians use this concept to extend Mary's role beyond the personal and strictly spiritual dimension. Through this association with the church Mary's words and actions take on an exemplary quality that requires the church to embrace the characteristics of prophetic discipleship. As a prophetic community that means hearing the word of God and speaking it, and as a community of disciples the church must hear the word of God and do it. These actions cannot be interpreted in a triumphalistic manner nor can they be associated with a private spirituality, but they call upon the community to commit itself to the indigent and forgotten in a manner that is tangible and immediate. Mary as prophetic disciple, therefore, is not the passive, humble handmaiden of traditional Catholicism, but a revolutionary prophetic voice calling out for the liberation of all who suffer the indignity of poverty and the inhumanity of oppression. As model of the church, moreover, she serves as a paradigm for a community in struggling to hear and act upon God's will for creation.

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Recommended Citation

McGovern Treyz, Mary, "Mary as model of the church: The liberationist perspective of Leonardo Boff and the feminist perspective of Rosemary Radford Ruether" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825868.