Women Uniquely Understand 'Truth of Man,' Philosopher Says

by Elise Harris

-- In light of Pope Francis’ call for a deeper theology of women, a leading Italian philosopher spoke of the importance of Edith Stein’s writings on gender, saying that she extracts the essence of human sexuality.

“For women it is easier because they are taught through this experience of pregnancy something about man, about the truth of man that is more difficult for us males to understand and to enter,” Rocco Buttiglione told CNA during an Oct. 31 interview.

 “The abstract subject is a man who has no sex. While the real human being is either male or female.”

Buttiglione, who is currently a professor of political science at St. Pius V University in Rome and who has spent the majority of his career teaching various topics of philosophy, has recently returned from the Franciscan University of Stuebenville, Ohio, where he delivered the Philosophy Department’s annual “Edith Stein Lecture.”

Upon returning from his Oct. 23 talk, entitled “Beyond Descartes: Intersubjectivity as Ground of Knowledge of the Self,” the philosopher spoke with CNA, stressing that Stein’s writings are pertinent to the ongoing dialogue surrounding women in the Church.

St Edith Stein sex, sexuality gender

Edith Stein – also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – “has already had a part in the inspiration of the documents of John Paul II ‘Mulieris Dignitatem’ and ‘Familiaris Consortio,’” he noted, adding that the saint gives us “very important” insights about women, specifically in the context of pregnancy, which can aid in the development of a deeper theology of women.

“What is the difference between men and women: women can become pregnant, men cannot, and pregnancy is the experience of carrying another person bodily, physically in yourself.”

However, Buttiglione highlighted how “there is an archetypical experience for what it means to be a person,” stressing that “a person is a being who can carry in himself, in his heart another human being in order to help him to reach the fullness of life, in order him to be born in eternal life.”

An important concept of Stein’s which we are able to continue learning from today, specifically in regard to gender, Buttiglione reflected, is that of the essence and true being of man.

“A large part of the discussion in the last centuries in the Church has been the Church and modernity,” he noted, stating that “classical philosophy begins with being,” while “modern philosophy begins with the subject, the ego, man.”

...the real human being has parents, has children.

“Now Edith Stein teaches us to begin with man, but not with the abstract subject of a large part of modern philosophy, but with the real existing man,” he stressed.

“The abstract subject is a man who has no sex. While the real human being is either male or female.”

“The transcendental ego,” Buttiglione emphasized, has no connections, while “the real human being has parents, has children. Since the beginning, he is himself, is free, I am myself, I am free, but I am also bound, bound to others, bound to my parents, bound to my wife, bound to my children.

“The richness, the real richness of the life of human being is exactly the fact that he is member of communities, that he united himself, communities, that he is a creator of communities.”

“Edith Stein,” stressed Buttiglione, “gives us a pillar for this new vision of a Christianity in the modern age that tells also modernity not to lose her values, because modernity seems to be going to die.”

Noting how many believe “that the modern age is exhausted,” the philosopher states that “now we can revive the values of modernity…if we accept to ground them on the really existing human being, that man who is the glory of God, the image of God on earth.”

Rocco Buttiglione is also a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies as well as the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and was a close friend of Bl. John Paul II.

Having originally met John Paul II when he was still a cardinal after publishing a book on the pontiff’s personal philosophy, Buttliglione reflected that the late Holy Father “was really a friend of everybody,” and that those who were close to him “all felt deeply united.”

When asked how it feels to have a friend who will be canonized, Buttiglione jested that “I hope that when the time comes he will say a good word on my behalf.”

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