Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-qj5tk Total loading time: 0.172 Render date: 2022-07-03T13:09:01.814Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Women and Martyrdom: Feminist Liberation Theology in Dialogue with a Latin American Paradigm

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

Abstract

In recent decades, Latin American liberation theologians have sought to find meaning in the deaths of women and men throughout their continent who have been killed for their pursuit of God's kingdom by naming these individuals “martyrs” and correlating their lives and deaths to the life and death of Jesus. The concept of martyrdom presents special difficulties when viewed from a feminist perspective, especially since the subjugation of women has been perpetuated by Christianity's tendency to idealize women who embody “martyr-like” qualities. However, the use of this concept as a way to find meaning in the deaths of those who lose their lives in the struggle for liberation is not beyond retrieval. Feminist theologies should take into account the reality of martyrdom, which, especially in the so-called “Third World,” is a part of women's experiences in which God is present in liberating, female form.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The College Theology Society 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

1 While this paper treats “women and martyrdom” as a general topic, the lens through which I will be approaching the subject focuses on the Salvadoran experience of martyrdom. I have compiled this list of women martyrs of El Salvador—their names, biographical data, and how they are remembered—from various sources: Servicios Koi-nonia, Martyrology Project, www.servicioskoinonia.org/martirologia, accessed April 8, 2005; Marins, José et al. , eds, Memoria Peligrosa: Héroes y Mártires en la Iglesia Latinoamericana (Mexico City, Mexico: Centro de Reflexión Teologica, 1989)Google Scholar; La Sangre por el Pueblo: Memoria de Martirio en America Latina (Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer, 1983); Tomamos la Palabra: Testimonios de Mujeres en Morazán (San Salvador: CEBES, 2001); Mejía, René Mauricio, ed., Derechos Humanos 5/16(April 2005).Google Scholar Throughout this paper, translations of direct quotations from sources with Spanish titles are mine.

2 An estimated 75,000 civilians died during the twelve years of El Salvador's civil war (1980–1992). The United Nations Truth Commission received complaints of over 22,000 serious acts of violence, 60 per cent of which included extrajudicial executions, over 25 percent of which concerned enforced disappearances, and over 20 per cent of which involved torture. Responsibility for 85 percent of cases was attributed to agents of the state, including paramilitary groups and death squads. See “From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador,” Report of the U.N. Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993. The report can be found at the following website: http://www.usip.org/library/tc/doc/reports/el_salvador/tc_es_03151993_toc.htm. Prime targets for acts of violence against opponents by agents of the state were individuals who were involved in activities aimed at the defense of the poor and the promotion of human rights and social justice. These women and men were viewed by the government as “subversives” and were in constant danger of being arrested, tortured, disappeared, and/or executed. In her book-length study of martyrdom and progressive Catholicism during El Salvador's civil war, Anna L. Peterson indicates that, by March 1980, government-sponsored forces were committing five to eight hundred political murders per month; see her Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion: Progressive Catholicism in El Salvador's Civil War (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), 35. The exact number of women who died precisely because of their work for peace and justice in El Salvador is unknown, but it is undoubtedly in the thousands.

3 See Sobrino, Jon, “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” Revista Latinoamericana de Teología 16/48 (San Salvador: Centro de Reflexión Teológica, 1999): 246–48.Google Scholar

4 Many people in the Salvadoran popular church also regard revolutionaries who fell in combat as martyrs. Others regard these women and men as “heroes,” reserving the term “martyr” for those who died without recourse to violence. Thomas Aquinas affirms that soldiers can be considered martyrs in certain cases (see In IV Sent., d. 49, q. 5, a. 3, qc. 2, arg. 11, cited in Sobrino, “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” 253). Karl Rahner argues for the broadening of the concept of martyrdom to include those who engage in justified battle (see his “Dimensions of Martyrdom: A Plea for the Broadening of a Classical Concept,” in Martyrdom Today [Concilium 1983/3], ed. Metz, Johannes Baptist and Schillebeeckx, Edward [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1983], 11Google Scholar). Other theologians, however, especially strict pacifists, would argue that non-violence is a requirement of Christian martyrdom. The full implications of this controversy exceed the scope of this paper. For the sake of clarity, I will remain within the bounds of a concept of martyrdom that precludes the use of violence.

5 A fuller treatment of this topic in Latin American liberation theology would require both tracing the history of the concept of martyrdom as it has been understood throughout the Christian tradition and exploring whether or not the liberationist concept of martyrdom is a legitimate one in light of that tradition. These tasks lie beyond the scope of the current paper, the focus of which is limited to a critical reflection on the concept of martyrdom in question through the lens of certain feminist concerns. A valuable point of departure with regard to these two related tasks is an article by Thomas L. Schubeck that provides a helpful overview of the evolution of the concept of martyrdom from the New Testament to contemporary times. Drawing on Aquinas, the Second Vatican Council, Karl Rahner, and Pope John Paul II, he also sets forth a compelling case for naming as martyrs Archbishop Romero and the six Jesuits who were assassinated at the University of Central America in El Salvador. His argument rests on these individuals' exemplary love of God and neighbor, their courage in the face of death, their witness to the truth of the faith, their witness to justice, and their adversaries' hatred of the moral principles integral to the Christian faith. While the lives of each of the women listed in the martyrology above would need to be evaluated individually according to these same criteria, we will proceed under the assumption that these women, and many more, can legitimately be called martyrs according to Schubeck's “expanded” criteria. See Schubeck, , “Salvadoran Martyrs: A Love that Does Justice,” Horizons 28/1 (Spring 2001): 729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Boff, Leonardo, “Martyrdom: An Attempt at Systematic Reflection,” in Martyrdom Today, ed. Metz, and Schillebeeckx, , 15.Google Scholar

7 See Sobrino, , “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” 253.Google Scholar

8 For a detailed account of the identity of the oppressed masses as the “Crucified People” and the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh,” see the following: Pedro Casaldáliga, “The ‘Crucified Indians’: A Case of Anonymous Collective Martyrdom” in Martyrdom Today, ed. Metz, and Schillebeeckx, , 911Google Scholar; Ellacuría, Ignacio, “The Crucified People,” in Mysterium Liberationis: Fundamental Concepts of Liberation Theology, ed. Ellacuria, Ignacio and Sobrino, Jon (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 580603Google Scholar; Sobrino, Jon, Jesus the Liberator (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 254–71Google Scholar; Sobrino, Jon, “Our World: Cruelty and Compassion,” in Rethinking Martyrdom (Concilium 2003/1), ed. Okure, Teresa et al. , (London: SCM Press, 2003), 1523.Google ScholarSobrino, Jon, Witnesses to the Kingdom: The Martyrs of El Salvador and the Crucified Peoples (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003), 155–66Google Scholar; and Burke, Kevin, “The Crucified People as ‘Light for the Nations’: A Reflection on Ignacio Ellacuría,” in Rethinking Martyrdom, ed. Okure, , 120–30.Google Scholar

9 Sobrino, , “The Kingdom of God and the Theological Dimension of the Poor: The Jesuanic Principle,” in Who Do You Say that I Am? Confessing the Mystery of Christ, ed. Cavadini, John and Holt, Laura (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 145.Google Scholar Note that the translator, J. Matthew Ashley, prefers the neologism “Jesuanic” as a more accurate translation of Sobrino's “jesuánico.” I prefer simply to modify “martyr(s)” or “martyrdom” with the noun “Jesus.”

10 Sobrino, , Witnesses to the Kingdom, 122.Google Scholar

11 Boff, 13.

12 Sobrino, Jon, “Holy Week in El Salvador: The Cross of a Crucified People,” in We Make the Road by Walking: Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean in the New Millennium, ed. Butwell, Ann et al. , (Washington, DC: EPICA, 1998), 194.Google Scholar

13 Sobrino, , Witnesses to the Kingdom, 124.Google Scholar

14 Sobrino, , “Our World: Cruelty and Compassion,” 19.Google Scholar

15 Sobrino, Jon, Liberación con Espíritu (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1985), 112.Google Scholar See also Mt 10:24; Jn 15:20; 1 Thes 2:14; 3:2.

16 Ibid., 111.

17 Pico, Juan Hernández, “The Hope Born of the Martyrs' Love,” in Rethinking Martyrdom, ed. Okure, , 130.Google Scholar

18 Sobrino, Jon, La Fe en Jesucristo: Ensayo desde las víctimas (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1999), 494.Google Scholar

19 Ibid., 495–96.

20 Ibid., 497.

21 Sobrino, , Witnesses to the Kingdom, 114.Google Scholar

22 Sobrino, Jon, “Martyrs: An Appeal to the Church,” in Rethinking Martyrdom, ed. Okure, , 141–44.Google Scholar

23 Ibid., 148.

24 Sobrino, Jon, El Principio Misericordia (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1992), 263.Google Scholar

25 Sobrino, , “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” 248.Google Scholar Emphasis in the original.

26 Sobrino, , “Our World: Cruelty and Compassion,” 20.Google Scholar

27 Sobrino, , “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” 250–52.Google Scholar

28 Ibid., 251–52.

29 Sobrino, , “Our World: Cruelty and Compassion,” 20.Google Scholar

30 Sobrino, , “Los mártires jesuánicos en el tercer mundo,” 248.Google Scholar

31 Ibid., 247.

32 Ibid., 252.

33 Johnson, Elizabeth A., She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 158.Google Scholar

34 Cid, Nelly del in Life Out of Death: The Feminine Spirit in El Salvador, ed. Best, Marigold and Hussey, Pamela (London: Catholic Institute for International Relations, 1996), 2526Google Scholar, quoted in Taylder, Sian, “The Hour is Coming, the Hour is Come: Church and Feminist Theology in Post-Revolutionary El Salvador,” Feminist Theology 11/1 (2002): 52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35 Johnson, , She Who Is, 70.Google Scholar

36 See ibid., 36.

37 Ibid., 73.

38 Ibid., 74.

39 Sobrino, Jon, “The Martyrdom of Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean,” in his Spirituality of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 153–56.Google Scholar Also cited in Johnson, , She Who Is, 74.Google Scholar

40 Daly, Mary, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1973), 77.Google Scholar

41 Hampson, Daphne, Theology and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 155.Google Scholar

42 Coakley, Sarah, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

43 In feminist theology, the focus on this distinction between male and female sin-fulness can be traced back to the groundbreaking article by Saiving, Valerie, “The Human Situation: A Feminine ViewJournal of Religion 40/2 (1960): 100–12.Google Scholar

44 Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler, Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet (New York: Continuum, 1994), 102.Google Scholar

45 Ibid., 101.

46 Ibid., 102.

47 Copeland, M. Shawn O.P., “Wading Through Many Sorrows,” in A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering, ed. Townes, Emily M. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 124.Google Scholar

48 Grovijahn, Jane M., “Grabbing Life Away From Death: Women and Martyrdom in El Salvador,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7 (1991): 27.Google Scholar

49 Arellano, Luz Beatriz, “Women's Experience of God in Emerging Spirituality,” in Feminist Theology from the Third World, ed. King, Ursula (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 332.Google Scholar

50 Schüssler Fiorenza, 101.

51 Mananzan, Mary John O.S.B., “Theological Perspectives of a Religious Woman Today,” in Feminist Theology from the Third World, ed. King, , 344–45.Google Scholar

52 “Final Document: Intercontinental Women's Conference,” in With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology, ed. Fabella, Virginia and Oduyoye, Mercy Amba (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 188.Google Scholar See also Peterson's, research findings concerning the risk of romanticizing or idealizing the suffering and death of the martyrs in her, Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion, 132–34, 176–77.Google Scholar

53 Coakley, 22.

54 Ibid., 32.

55 Ibid., 34.

56 Ibid., 35.

57 Rodríguez, Raquel, “Defending Life: Feminist Perspectives from the Americas,” in The Globalization of Hope: Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean in the New Millennium, ed. Butwell, Ann et al. , (Washington, DC: EPICA, 1998), 131.Google Scholar

58 Jean Donovan, the fourth woman killed, was a nonreligious, lay missioner from the Cleveland Diocese. She is always remembered along with her three companions; however, in some martyrologies, she is mistakenly listed as a religious woman.

59 Grovijahn, 20.

60 McFarlane, Beverly, “Women's Martyrdom: Death, gender and witness in Rome and El Salvador,” The Way 41 (2001): 266.Google Scholar The murders of the North American church women resulted in heightened focus and outrage in the U.S. regarding the human rights violations being perpetrated by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government at the time. While this increased attention on the Salvadoran situation may have resulted in some positive advances with regards to respect for human rights there, one must ask the question: why is it that the deaths of these women received more press and produced more outrage than the deaths of thousands of poor, uneducated Salvadoran women (and children and men)? Are some human lives (white, educated, North American lives) more valuable than others (non-white, non-educated, poor lives)?

61 Johnson, Elizabeth, Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 1998), 7879.Google Scholar

63 Ibid., 88, 91.

64 Ibid., 245.

65 See Peterson, , Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion, 138–46Google Scholar, for some compelling testimonies of Salvadoran women and men who are committed to continuing the work of the martyrs and thus participating with God in the act of resurrecting the martyrs from the dead.

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Women and Martyrdom: Feminist Liberation Theology in Dialogue with a Latin American Paradigm
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Women and Martyrdom: Feminist Liberation Theology in Dialogue with a Latin American Paradigm
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Women and Martyrdom: Feminist Liberation Theology in Dialogue with a Latin American Paradigm
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *