If you follow philosophy or run in philosophical circles, you may have heard of Hypatia of Alexandria who, for whatever reason, was martyred by a crowd. This is often used as an argument against the Church for suppressing ideas, especially those of women. The truth is probably much more complex than that, but it certainly serves as fodder for refutation of the Faith.
I do not want to be seen as callous or patronizing here about Hypatia's death, which for whatever reason was wrong and unnecessary. What I do want to point out is that she and Catherine were two people who lived at approximately the same time (Catherine was born about 50 years earlier and died about 30 years before Hypatia was born).
The story seems similar for both. Brilliant, they both appear to challenge the intellectual authority around them and paid the ultimate price for it. Catherine, it is said, went to challenge the emperor Maxentius about his persecution of Christians and he was so impressed with her abilities that he set her to debate with a cadre of philosophers. She apparently not only stumped them but, it is reported, caused soldiers, philosophers, and even members of the emperor's family to convert - all of whom were eventually killed for it.
Thus unable to defeat her rhetorically or to intimidate her into giving up her belief, the emperor ordered her to be tortured and imprisoned, eventually beheading her.
I think that the lesson today is not that the patriarchy kills uppity-women, but that, whether for secular or religious reasons, those who challenge authority often end up on the short end of the stick. No one deserves to die for their intelligence but we know that despotic rulers go for the intelligentsia first. Those of conscience, of conviction, of deep belief often go against the status quo, doing so in honesty and well within their rights, both intellectually and spiritually. Only those who do not know the truth are challenged by it or fear it and consequentially seek to destroy it. Jesus certainly teaches us that.
So the Church recognizes and honors women of virtue, intelligence, and deep spirituality - not every time, but with the understanding that women and men both stand well before God for using the gifts they are given. We are not "male or female" as Paul reminds us, and must each use the gifts God has endowed us with to further the Kingdom, speaking truth to power whenever necessary, unafraid of the consequences.
The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain, to bring in some of the children of Israel of royal blood and of the nobility, young men without any defect, handsome, intelligent and wise, quick to learn, and prudent in judgment, such as could take their place in the king's palace; they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans; after three years' training they were to enter the king's service. The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine from the royal table. Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself with the king's food or wine; so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement. Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; it is he who allotted your food and drink. If he sees that you look wretched by comparison with the other young men of your age, you will endanger my life with the king." Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days. Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see." He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days; after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table. So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and wisdom, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams. At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation, the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar. When the king had spoken with all of them, none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and so they entered the king’s service. In any question of wisdom or understanding which the king put to them, he found them ten times better than any of the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom. Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
-- Daniel 1:1-6. 8-21
(This is the First Reading that can fall on today. The story continues for several chapters, contains the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship anything or god other than God, and the jealousy that got Daniel thrown into the lions' den; I thought it fitting but decided not to copy several chapters into the blog, so look up and read the stories!)
Things to Think About