Toward a Listening and Empathetic Church? A Synodal Hermeneutic for Theology in Three Historical Vignettes

Pope Francis recently described synodality, which St. John Paul II introduced into the vocabulary of the Church,[1] as a “challenge” and as a “journey.”[2] In what follows I will first determine what could be understood by these terms, then outline what synodality could mean for the study of Church history, and then suggest through three case studies for a hermeneutic of synodality in historical theology.

1. Synodality as Challenge

The word “challenge” has its origin in the vocabulary of conflict and combat. In the mid-fourteenth century, it meant being accused of wrongdoing (calmuniare) or it indicated a claim to property or a right; moreover, to challenge someone meant confronting them in a duel or provoking a fight. The latter meaning has survived until today, while the first has died out. It was only in the twentieth century, particularly since the 1950s, that the word challenge has become a synonym for “difficult work.” This curiously coincides with the timeline of the collapse of the churches and rapid secularization in the West. If we therefore understand challenge not merely as difficult work, but rather as an accusation and a confrontation, then it is important to remember who is accusing and why, but also for what purpose the challenge of confrontation takes place.

First, the accusation of wrongdoing. St. Ignatius of Loyola advises to accuse oneself before going to sleep of the failings of the day.[3] If one takes “Church” seriously, one must remember that all members build up the Church, and that each member first has to accuse herself or himself of failing to be the healing presence of Christ in the world. Doing this exercise regularly prevents the faithful from falling into a defensive mode when listening to the voice of more outspoken Church critics. Becoming defensive is understandable when one is confronted with the painful news of shepherds abandoning their flock for the sake of protecting the Church’s reputation, finances, or private secrets; but such pain can be as helpful a “sting” for human conscience as daily self-accusation, if it does not lead to apologetic endeavors that are untruthful or belittling.

The pain of self-accusation can wake from a slumber of complacency, from a romanticized view of Church authorities, from sleeping instead keeping watch with the Lord (see Matt 26: 36–46). After all, before assuming that challenges are wrong or deceptive or part of some intrigue, the practice of self-accusation teaches that similar pain is experienced by “others.” This prepares the way to a more thoughtful empathy within the Church, which could positively shape the desires and emotions of the faithful toward what Methodist theologian Theodore Runyon called “Orthopathy.”[4]

Second, challenge can mean a call to “confrontation.” If one understands challenge as confrontative, it divides people into attackers and defenders. Quite frankly, this appears to be a toxic view that only deepens division and alienates the Church from being the sacrament of salvation to the whole world.[5] By viewing the Church like a building that one can put under siege or defend in battle, one turns it into a mundane object that creates disharmony instead of unity. Both attackers and defenders often forget that they are supposed to be on the way with and to Christ, faithfully living his message so that everybody can encounter the redemption that God has offered, and not owing strife and confusion. Overcoming this polarizing understanding of “challenge” will most likely be a crucial task of the synodal Church of the future.[6]

2. Synodality as Journey

Already from the first moments of his pontificate, Pope Francis has invoked the image of the Church as on a journey, “Inasmuch as the Church is nothing other than the ‘journeying together’ of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord.”[7] Within such a Church “no one can be ‘raised up’ higher than others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person ‘lower’ himself or herself, so as to serve our brothers and sisters along the way.”[8] The imagery the pontiff focuses on a charitable humility, and, despite its rootedness in the metaphors of Vatican II, his remarks remind one of the preface to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which emphasized such humility too, by underscoring that Catholics do not believe “in” the Church in the same way they believe in God, because the Church is a created being for the sake of the world. Everything she does must be done out of love for the community[9] of the faithful:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope, or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.[10]

The journeying together that Pope Francis mentions invokes the metaphor of the people of God, which Vatican II put at the center of its ecclesiology (see Lumen Gentium).[11] Like a group of pilgrims, the Church is walking toward her eschatological fulfillment, at times through lush forests, at other times through dangerous deserts and wastelands. Such a group has no place for some of their own to be raised up and idolized, although she certainly needs leaders who keep her united, feed her with the “Word,” the Sacraments, and guide her on her path to salvation.[12]

In such a group the Church is imagined as a boat. St. Peter may be at the rudder, but the sails make the ship totally dependent on the wind, the Holy Spirit. The rowers might be strong and effective, but they waste their energy if they are not working together as a team under the guidance of the ship’s more experienced sailors. The ship’s navigator might be skillful, but he is guided by the stars, by an outside force. All people on this ship want to arrive at the same shores; they all have the same desire. Crammed onto the ship’s decks, they might not enjoy their voyage, but realize that theirs is a penitential journey.[13]

Sometimes, however, the traveling companions seem to have forgotten how to talk with each other, listen to each other, and even see each other. If they instead learned to communicate attentively and empathetically, then they might gain insight into the surprising manifestations of God in people’s lives, find consolation, and grow in charity. Perhaps they would adjust and correct their own perspectives and allow others to have a “home” in the Church too.[14] Maybe some would realize that they stayed on the ship merely because it was comfortable but forgot the destination of the journey. Others might begin to understand that they disliked the direction of the ship because they did not comprehend that they needed wind for their sails from the Holy Spirit.

Being on this journey together means consequently also realizing that the Church is in the world but not of the world; but this reality has, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, a “dark side.” All too often, he says, “the grace of God has but partial possession even of religious” people, so that the world only sees their outermost “dark side,”[15] stained with sin:

Now, the true account of this is, that the Church so far from being literally, and in fact, separate from the wicked world, is within it. The Church is a body, gathered together in the world, and in a process of separation from it . . . . Thus, we form part of the world to each other, though we be “not of the world.”[16]

Newman furthermore explains that one can more readily find the bad in the Church because there is more of it than good, but also because it echoes the evil in every human heart.[17] Becoming aware of this dynamic can be a tool for honestly assessing when Church members are the “face of the world” instead of that of Christ to each other. Remembering it can help the faithful to gain a balanced view of the Church’s holiness in and through Christ alone.[18]

3. Doing Historical Theology with a Synodal Hermeneutic

Can synodality, however, be an innovative hermeneutic lens to study the tradition and life of the Church? What would this look like? Perhaps such an approach could break up established reading and listening patterns within the Church and make us aware of the marginalized voices of the past. Perhaps it could encourage theologians not only to study dogmatic treatises but also the social and cultural history of the faithful.[19]

A hermeneutic of synodality entails—for me—abandoning the theological tunnel vision focused on doctrine, the papacy, and bishops, and taking the Church as the people of God seriously. Such an understanding of the “Church” must go beyond the intellectual discussion of theological metaphors and include the social and cultural history of the faithful. The history of dogma must be paired with Church history so that scholars understand better what earlier generations of Catholics loved, believed, hoped for, wrestled with, and what questions they asked—especially the kinds of questions they found answered by engagement in the Sacraments of the Church, in prayer and spiritual direction. Otherwise, one keeps repeating the answers to questions nobody asks any longer—which seems to be a significant problem in catechesis today.

A hermeneutic of synodality, however, demands not only listening to present voices but also to the long-dead voices in the Church. Consequently, it demands that we suspend our judgment until we have viewed and felt the world through the perspective of our fellow travelers on the “synodal way.” Rash ahistorical judgments and blanket condemnations must therefore be avoided. Rather, a hermeneutic of synodality invites the whole Church to be on the way, with all those in the Church Militant, but also those in the Church Suffering and Triumphant.

Moreover, such an empathetic study of history and doctrine prevents the Church from falling into the error of ostentatious self-glorification and triumphalism. After all, by taking the Church as the communion of saints in history seriously, theologians will not sugarcoat the suffering of past generations and will not brush aside their doubts and fears. Such an approach recognizes that it is Christ who keeps his Church alive, and that the Church is not traveling through space like an uninhabited, lifeless asteroid. The Church has flesh and bones and is rejuvenated by Christ and the gifts the Holy Spirit infused into her members through the Sacraments. With such a view in mind, a historian begins to ask new questions and consult new “witnesses,” new sources. By widening the scope of voices that are heard, the Church will better understand herself because she will more clearly recognize the beauty of Christ’s divine presence in her members, but also the ugliness of humanity within her fold.

I will now present three “moments” in the Church’s life, vignettes from the years 1519, 1620, and 1721, which exemplify how such an empathetic consultation of the past could be achieved.

4. Salzburg, 1519: Remembering the Church as a Burden for the Church

At sunrise, a clergyman stands at the shore of Lake Chiemsee. He hears the bells of the old monastery calling the monks to lauds and wonders how many of them will actually show up. After all, quite a few have begun to consider their vows a burden to be thrown off. While his gaze wanders to the nearby church, a vision captures his mind. It is more terrifying than anything he has ever dreamed. “A pig-faced devil with clawed feet plunders the church of God. He wields a sword in his right hand and a club in his left. Behind him flies a banner proclaiming that Satan is released from prison (Rev 9:3). Beside the church on a blank wall hangs the chain that once shackled” him, and “just above the wall, an angel empties a bowl of locusts over the church.”[20]

Although this scene describes the frontispiece of his book, Berthold Pürstinger, the author, quite possibly imagined a similar occurrence. As bishop of Chiemsee, a suffragan see of Salzburg, he was convinced that the end of the world was near, when he penned his little book Onus Ecclesiae in 1519 (printed in 1524, 1531, 1620, 1621)[21].

Before the second coming of Christ, however, the Church had to undergo renewal; but who was there to bring it about?[22] Only God himself, Pürstinger thought: “The reformation will not be the business of one man, like the pope, nor of many cardinals, but of all Christendom, or rather of God almighty, who alone has the wisdom and power to reform his church.”[23] After all, the Church had become a burden (onus) for the kingdom of God, with popes, cardinals, and even mendicant friars weighing her down.[24] Bishops, he wrote, care more for tables with delicious foods than altars, “dress their bodies in gold but their souls with dirt,”[25] while nunneries and monasteries indulge in all kinds of “perversities.”[26] Neither did he expect much from the laity.[27] Therefore the Church had to be purged by “fire and sword,” had to be struck down to rubble.[28] If good Christians remained in these end times in the Church, they seemed to do so not because of the Church, but despite her.

The Church appeared to most as a “great whore” (meretrix magna) or a “church of the flesh, in which sin prevailed over grace.”[29] This shocking assessment mirrors the sentiment of countless twenty-first-century Catholics.[30] Although Berthold’s demands seem to echo those of Luther, the author stayed in the ruins of his Church. He remained because “faith has to be proved and confirmed with perseverance and constancy,”[31] holding out patiently in the face of tribulation together with other Catholics.[32]

Pürstinger was not a man who offered quick solutions to a Church in crisis. He knew that the Church was Christ’s and that every true reform would be divinely initiated. This, however, did not impede his apostolic outreach but strengthened it. Tirelessly preaching and administering the Sacraments, he even found time to pen another book a mere ten years later. His Tewtsche Theologey became one of the clearest vernacular expositions of the Catholic faith of the century. It refuted with rare humility Luther’s ideas in “schlechten worten vnnd ainfaltiger weis”.[33]

5. Seville, 1620: Rediscovering Lost Voices

The Reconquista of Spain had ended 130 years earlier, but the country was still seeking unity. The Spanish Inquisition surveilled whether Muslim and Jewish families who had converted to Catholicism actually practiced the faith or had fallen back into their traditional beliefs; moreover, to climb the social ladder and assume lucrative state positions was reserved for those of “pure blood,” which meant families without converts among their forefathers. Even enrollment in a university could be difficult if one’s genealogy did not meet such standards. The Jesuits of Seville were just as unhappy about this legislation as the Dominicans. The most unexpected criticism of the “purity of blood” laws, though, came from someone else—Our Lady herself.

Both the Council of Constance and the Council of Trent had avoided deciding whether the Immaculate Conception was dogma, and that remained so until 1854.[34] That is why in the 1620s the Dominicans of Seville felt entitled to polemicize against the Immaculata, insisting publicly that Mary had been born in sin like everybody else. One wonders where this sudden fervor stemmed from. Perhaps the friars reacted to a newly formed confraternity that celebrated the Marian doctrine. The Jesuits rose to the defense of Our Lady and were immediately identified with the mystical enthusiasts, who had founded the confraternity.[35]

The Dominicans and their supporters, however, now began accusing the supporters of the Immaculata of being Jews, Muslims, or people of “mixed blood.”[36] Such accusations were commonplace in the colonies and continental Europe but show how deeply divided this Christian society really was.[37] For some, Catholics with Jewish forefathers would never lose the “stain” of their ancestors. Quinones de Benavente († ca. 1646) had even argued that God had punished all Jewish men with menstrual bleedings, ugliness, and bad smell.[38]

The confraternity that promoted belief in the Immaculate Conception, however, emphasized a much more universal ideal of Catholicism. It sponsored several paintings, from which our iconography of the Immaculata stems: They depict the apocalyptic woman (see Rev 12), however, she was shown as the mother of all Christians of all colors.[39] In one of the paintings, one can therefore find the allegorical depiction of the Church in a corner, breastfeeding children with different skin colors. The message was clear: Through the milk of Our Lady, all people receive a new identity as members of the Church, regardless of their social, economic, or ethnic background. This image was especially bold, because many Catholics at the time had deep-seated prejudices against Jewish midwives feeding Christian children. In many countries, the practice of hiring a non-Christian wet nurse was even outlawed. Thus, the painting transforms the antisemitic prejudice by pointing to the Church as a mother for all of her children (see Gal 3: 28).[40]

The founders of the confraternity, regardless of the questionable private revelations they claimed to have received, had realized that Mary’s immaculate purity did not stem from her racially “pure” bloodline of “Old Christians”[41] but from her divinely granted sinlessness and faith.[42] She could have become the symbol of a Church that could overcome racial differences, but the forces against such inclusivity were too strong.

Nevertheless, a synodal hermeneutic cannot pass over such episodes and must take them seriously theologically. It must rediscover the marginalized voices such as those of the Jewish conversos and analyze what forces led to ongoing discrimination and failed integration, but at the same time see this past as a potential wake-up call for the present. How can the Theotokos inspire reforms in the Church, and shape Catholic identities that transcend national boundaries and prejudices?[43] How can the image of Mary be a sign of hope in this world?[44]

6. Rome, 1721: Remembering the Ambiguities of Life

The six ecclesiastical judges of the Sacra Rota Romana, the highest court of the Church, are sweating over a case. On the table in front of them are several open tomes, all bound in precious vellum. Tensely the jurists are pouring over the printed columns, trying to find the right sentences, the proper opinion for the case. The discussion among them is heated. The case in question is delicate: a professed nun turned out to be not a woman at all. In fact, she was identified as a “hermaphrodite,” a person with a sexually ambiguous or intersexual body.

Alessandra Becchelli was the daughter of a rich noble Italian family and had entered as a seventeen-year-old the Augustinian convent of Spoleto. She had undergone the novitiate and taken her vows, but now, after thirteen years, her physiology began to change. Her voice dropped, hair began to sprout on her chest and face, and the shape of her body changed substantially, making her appear more and more like a man. Not only did the mother superior of the convent become uncomfortable with Alessandra being in her monastery, but Alessandra herself also felt the incongruity. Knowing that she could not stay, she asked the Church authorities to officially nullify her vows, restitute the dowry her family had given the convent, and allow her to live as a man from now on.[45]

The existence of intersex persons had never been doubted in canon law. It therefore allowed intersex people, who were not identifiable as being predominantly male or female to choose their sex (electio sexi) and declare before a judge that they wanted to be considered male or female. If a physician, however, could determine that one or the other sex was stronger developed, then one should follow the recommendation.[46] Canon law had even established a clause for people like Alessandra: if a predominantly female “hermaphrodite” changed into a predominantly male one, the vows taken as a woman were null and void. Since Alessandra really turned out to be a “hermaphrodite,” she was dismissed from her monastic duties and allowed to live as a man and enter marriage.

The possibility of a predominantly male hermaphrodite who could have been ordained a priest and later became predominantly female was excluded by anatomists, who assured the Church that such a change could only occur from female to male but not vice versa. Moreover, canonists argued that since the “indelible character” of ordination could only “subsist” in a male human nature, in principle an intersex person, who was predominantly male, could be validly ordained because he possessed such a nature.[47]

Even more interesting are, however, the cases of married intersex persons. They could enter a marriage (however not with another intersex person) if they declared their sex before an ecclesiastical judge and promised in writing to live out only the announced sexual role for the course of their marriage. Violating this promise was punishable by death. But what if the spouse died and one’s body underwent hormonal changes like those of Alessandra? If that happened and the person’s male sexual organs were now predominant, she—or better now: he—was indeed permitted to enter a new marriage as a man.[48]

Whenever Church officials dealt with such cases, they did so in a surprisingly calm way,[49] debating whether dispensations could be granted and permissions given, unless they involved homosexual acts, adultery, and clergy.[50] The judges relied often on medieval precedents which had considered sexual ambiguity problematic only if it threatened established societal roles and values. After all, in the Hippocratic model of the sexes there existed the possibility of a third sex until the Aristotelian binary model replaced it.[51] Even then, the right of a baptized Christian to enter marriage if he or she met the minimum requirements of a valid marriage almost always topped fears about scandal in the community.

Even transgender persons like Charlotte Geneviève d’Éon de Beaumont, better known as the Chevalier d’Eon, could be practicing members of their Catholic community, if they vowed like her, a chaste life. Many believed her to be a hermaphrodite, but after her death any doubt was ruled out that the Chevalier had been a biological male. A former spy and diplomat, d’Eon had felt not at home in her male body and come to view the male sexism of the eighteenth century as apostasy. When he finally adopted a new identity as a woman, he saw in it the triumph of his inherent female virtue.[52] A hobby theologian herself, d’Eon later wrote: “Sexual difference is irrelevant for salvation. Thus it is written, ‘God has no regard whatsoever for the appearance of persons.’”[53]

Until today it is largely forgotten that biological intersex people were a reality within parishes, monasteries, and rectories over the past two millennia. Given the pressing concerns of contemporary gender debates, a look to Church history can help us discover official ecclesial actions that dealt with biologically rooted sexual ambiguity in a calm fashion since personal “identity” was derived in a pre-modern “social imaginary” from the place society ascribed.[54] A hermeneutic of synodality would therefore have to consult sources that embrace theological ambiguities just as much as those that value conceptual and doctrinal clarity. Moreover, if traditional ways of addressing problems have not furthered pastoral, doctrinal, and ecumenical progress, it is perhaps time to emphasize other ways. The minority opinions of countless early modern theologians provide ample material for alternatives.


A synodal hermeneutic uncovers at what times and under what circumstances Church officials and members were able to listen attentively to those who felt abandoned within the Church, were persecuted by her, discriminated against, or ignored, and what patterns and structures impeded empathy. It, therefore, unearths a truly human side of the Church through the ages, one focused not on popes and bishops, theologians, and emperors, but rather on people who suffered, strove to be Catholic, and tried not to fall off the “bark of St. Peter” in the storms of their lives.

A synodal hermeneutic in historical theology avoids seeing the Church as a sterile asteroid floating in space but rather embraces her as a community of believers of flesh and bones, yet also with immortal souls. It reminds us that the wounds on Christ’s body are most often those inflicted by her own members. A synodal Church listens during her journey to her traveling companions, rejoices together but also suffers together.

[1] Pope John Paul II and Vittorio Messori, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 163.

[3] Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, The Way of Humility: Corruption and Sin & On Self-Accusation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014).

[4] Theodore Runyon, The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998).

[5] Jan-Heiner Tück, “Sakrament des Heils für die Welt. Annäherungen an einen Ekklesiologischen Leitbegriff des Konzils,” in Die Großen Metaphern des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils. Ihre Bedeutung für Heute, ed. Mariano Delgado (Freiburg i. Breisgau: Herder, 2013), 141–67.

[6] Mary Ellen Konieczny, Charles C. Camosy, and Tricia C. Bruce, Polarization in the US Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016).

[7] Santiago Madrigal SJ, “What is the Synodal Journey? The thought of Pope Francis,” La Civilta Cattolica 21 October 2021.

[9] Hans Küng rightly notes that the aspect of Church as “assembled community” has been largely marginalized before 1962, “however, never quite forgotten.” Hans Küng, Structures of the Church, trans. Salvator Attanasio (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1964), 12–13.

[10] Cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church §25.

[11] Peter Hünermann, “Theologischer Kommentar zur dogmatischen Konstitution über die Kirche, Lumen gentium,” in Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil, ed. Peter Hünermann and Bernd-Jochen Hilberath, 2 (Freiburg Basel Wien: Herder, 2004), 263–582; Gerhard Lohfink, Does God Need the Church?: Toward a Theology of the People of God (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999); Joseph Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 13–35.

[12] On the dialectic of church metaphors and the self-understanding of the church throughout history see now Christian Mazenik, Katholisches Kirchenverständnis auf dem Weg: Kirche als Familie Gottes in der Pluralität der Kirchenmetaphern (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2016), 1–148.

[13] Dietrich Schmidtke, “Geistliche Schiffahrt. Zum Thema Des Schiffes Der Buße Im Spätmittelalter,” Beiträge Zur Geschichte Der Deutschen Sprache Und Literatur 91 (1969): 357–85; Antonio Rosmini, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church (Rivingtons, 1883).

[14] On the philosophical problem of “home,” see Ulrich L. Lehner, Think Better: Unlocking the Power of Reason (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 157–64. On empathy, see ibid., 135–143.

[15] John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 7 (London: Rivingtons, 1878), 36.

[16] The italics in this excerpt of Newman’s homily “The World our Enemy” are mine. Newman, 7:36. Cf. the discussion of this paragraph in Küng, Structures of the Church, 28–29.

[17] Newman, 7:36–37.

[18] Cf. Robert Bellarmine, De Controversiis Tomus III On the Church, Containing on Councils, on the Church Militant, and on the Marks of the Church, trans. Ryan Grant (Post Falls, ID: Mediatrix Press, 2021), bk. 4, chap. 11, 427.

[19] For a Catholic approach see Ulrich L. Lehner, The Inner Life of Catholic Reform. From the Council of Trent to the Enlightenment (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).

[20] Michael Dean Smith Milway, “The burden and the beast: An oracle of apocalyptic reform in early sixteenth-century Salzburg“ (Phoenix, AZ, The University of Arizona, 1997), 204–205. Although Pürstinger showed sympathy to some aspects of Martin Luther’s critique of indulgences (Berthold Pürstinger, Onus ecclesiae: temporibus hisce deplorandis apocalypseos (sl.: s.p., 1620), c. 15, nn. 1, 59.), he already distanced himself from him in the first edition of his work. He emphasized his rejection of the Protestant Reformation in the following editions of his work, see Josef Schmuck, Die Prophetie “Onus Ecclesiae” Des Bischofs Berthold Puerstinger: Religiöse Kritik Der Zustände in Kirche Und Welt Aus Den Ersten Jahren Der Reformationszeit (Wien: Verband der wiss. Gesellschaften Österreichs, 1973), 250–57.

[21] Berthold Pürstinger, Onus Ecclesiae (Landshut: Johann Weißenburger, 1524). See the convincing attribution of the text to the bishop of Chiemsee in Milway, “The Burden and the Beast,” 194–225. Unsurprisingly, the book was already in the sixteenth century proscribed by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, see Heinrich Reusch, Die Indices librorum prohibitorum des sechzehnten Jahrhundert (Stuttgart: Literarischer Verein, 1886), 38; 63; 76; 140; 167; 199; 228; 275; Heinrich Reusch, Der Index der verbotenen Bücher: 1883, vol. 1 (Bonn: Max Cohen & Sohn, 1883), 124; 208; 467.

[22] Manfred Schulze, “Onus Ecclesiae: Last Der Kirche—Reformation Der Kirche,” in Anticlericalism in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 1993), 335; Milway, “The Burden and the Beast,” 64–66. See also Heinrich Werner, Die Flugschrift “onus ecclesiae” (1519) mit einem Anhang über sozial- und kirchenpolitische Prophetien: Ein Beitrag zur Sitten- und Kulturgeschichte des ausgehenden Mittelalters (Giessen: J. Ricker’sche Verlagsbuchh. (Alfred Töpelmann), 1901).

[23] Milway, “The Burden and the Beast,” 38. Cf. Pürstinger, Onus ecclesiae, c. 19, nn. 15, 104.

[24] Pürstinger, Onus ecclesiae, c. 20, nn. 2, 107. The metaphor of the burden seems to stem from St. Brigid of Sweden.

[25] “Ornant corpora sua auro, animus autem luto.” Pürstinger, Onus ecclesiae, c. 20, nn. 3, 107.

[26] Pürstinger, c. 22, 119–125.

[27] Pürstinger, c. 28, nn.1, 157–158.

[28] “In longa tempora non erit qui consuletur eam . . . . ” Pürstinger, c. 20, nn. 14, 113; Schulze, “Onus Ecclesiae: Last Der Kirche—Reformation Der Kirche,” 339. P. relies here on a vision of St. Brigid of Sweden. For a discussion of medieval apocalyptic traditions Pürstinger engages with, see Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End (Columbia University Press, 1998).

[29] Schmuck, Die Prophetie, 22:212–20.

[30] “Today, in contrast with the time of Augustine for instance, it would be truer to say that men believe not because of but in spite of the Church . . . . The Church is often simply accepted along with the faith they have in God and him whom he sent, if not simply tolerated as part of the bargain.” Hans Küng, Church, trans. Rosaleen Ockenden and Ray Ockenden (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 33–34.

[31] Berthold Pürstinger, Tewtsche Theologey, c. 3, 19.

[32] Pürstinger, Onus ecclesiae, c. 56, N. 3, 313.

[33] Berthold Pürstinger, Tewtsche Theologey, Vorrede, 6. Cf. Milway translated “schlecht” with “unsightly,” see Milway, “The Burden and the Beast,” 41.

[34] Thomas M. Izbicki, “The Immaculate Conception and Ecclesiastical Politics from the Council of Basel to the Council of Trent: The Dominicans and Their Foes,” Archiv Für Reformationsgeschichte 96 (2005): 145–70.

[35] Felipe Pereda, “Vox Populi: Carnal Blood, Spiritual Milk, and the Debate Surrounding the Immaculate Conception, ca. 1600,” Medieval Encounters 24 (2018): 286–334.

[36] Pereda, 292.

[37] Stuart B. Schwartz, Blood & Boundaries: The Limits of Religious and Racial Exclusion in Early Modern Latin America (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2020), 18.

[38] Julia Gebke, (Fremd)Körper: Die Stigmatisierung Der Neuchristen Im Spanien Der Frühen Neuzeit (Vienna; Cologne: Böhlau, 2020), 38; 165–234.

[39] Pereda, “Vox Populi: Carnal Blood, Spiritual Milk, and the Debate Surrounding the Immaculate Conception, ca. 1600.”

[40] Nevertheless, even Juan de Pineda SJ, who was among those who had been attacked as “Jewish,” defended the laws against Jewish midwives and warned that the child’s faith would thereby be contaminated. Juan de Pineda, Dialogos Familiares de La Agricultura Cristiana Vol. 3 (Madrid: Biblioteca de autores españoles; Ediciones Atlas, 1963), 103; Gebke, (Fremd)Körper, 118.

[41] Rosalie Hernandez, Immaculate Conceptions: The Power of the Religious Imagination in Early Modern Spain (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 1–43.

[42] This does not mean that the defenders of the Immaculata were free from antisemitic prejudice or that they accepted Mary’s place in Judaism. Instead, “this interpretation extricates Mary from her Jewish context, eternalizing her being and freeing her from any typological relationship with her Old Testament earthly mothers and precursors,” see Hernandez, 29. Nevertheless, the above findings somewhat relativize the claim that the Immaculata “perpetuated Jewish demonization,” as portrayed by Denise L. Despres, “Immaculate Flesh and the Social Body: Mary and the Jews,” Jewish History 12, no. 1 (1998): 47–69. For the connection between anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism and Mariology see Johannes Heil and Rainer Kampling, eds., Maria, Tochter Sion? Mariologie, Marienfrömmigkeit, und Judenfeindschaft (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2001).

[43] See Mariano Barbato and Emöke Péter, “Marian Pilgrimages between European and National Identity Formation,” Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai. Studia Europaea 59, no. 4 (2014): 161–78.

[44] See for example Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, “The Flight to Egypt: Toward a Protestant Mariology in Migration,” in Latinxs, the Bible, and Migration, ed. Efraín Agosto and Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, The Bible and Cultural Studies (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018), 109–31.

[45] See Röder, Der Körper Des Priesters Gebrechen Im Katholizismus Der Frühen Neuzeit, 276–79; Anne Jacobson Schutte and Silvana Seidel Menchi, “‘Perfetta Donna o Ermafrodita?’ Fisiologia e" Gender" in Un Monastero Settecentesco,” Studi Storici 43, no. 1 (2002): 235–46.

[46] Brendan Röder, Der Körper des Priesters Gebrechen im Katholizismus der Frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt: Campus, 2021), 272–73.

[47] “Nam latente sexu foeminum semper fuit vero foemina, & incapax ordinis,” Angelus Maria Verricelli, Quæstiones Morales . . .  Seu Tractatus de Apostolicis Missionibus (Venice, 1656), p. tit. 14, dub. 8, 699. Silvio a S. Severino Tinto, De Ordinatione Clericorum Tractatus (Rome, 1601), q. 4, a. 2, 21.

[48] Thomas Sanchez, Disputationum de sancto Matrimonio sacramento . . . (Antwerpen, 1614), lib. 7, disp. 106; Ambroise Paré, Opera Chirurgica Ambrosii Paraei, Galliarum Regis Primarji et Parisiensis (Frankfurt, 1612), 550. Cf. also Christof Rolker, “The two laws and the three sexes: ambiguous bodies in canon law and Roman law (12th to 16th centuries),” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: Kanonistische Abteilung 100, no. 1 (August 1, 2014): 181. The medieval precedent and authoritative opinion on which Sanchez relies is found in Henricus de Segusia, Henrici Cardinalis Hostiensis Summa Aurea (Venice, 1570), Segusia 1570, li. 2, de testibus, 459e. For a well-known pragmatic medieval decision in favor of a hermaphrodite as legitimate male heir, see Julius Kirshner and Osvaldo Cavallar, “Da Pudenda a Prudentia: Il Consilium Di Baldo Degli Ubaldi Sul Caso di Giovanni Malaspina,” Diritto e Processo 6 (2010): 97–112.

[49] Röder, Der Körper des Priesters, 279.

[50] See the groundbreaking study of François Soyer, Ambiguous Gender in Early Modern Spain and Portugal. Inquisitors, Doctors and the Transgression of Gender Norms (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012).

[51] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, “The Hermaphrodite and the Orders of Nature: Sexual Ambiguity in Early Modern France,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1, no. 4 (1995): 419–38. On the judicial praxis see Christof Rolker, “Genitalien vor Gericht. Uneindeutiges Geschlecht in der gerichtlichen Praxis des 14. Jahrhunderts,” in Ambiguität und die Ordnungen des Sozialen im Mittelalter, ed. Benjamin Scheller and Christian Hoffarth (Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018), 151–74; Christof Rolker, “Der Hermaphrodit und seine Frau. Körper, Sexualität und Geschlecht im Spätmittelalter,” Historische Zeitschrift 297, no. 3 (December 16, 2013): 593–620.

[52] Gary Kates, “The Transgendered World of the Chevalier/Chevalière d’Eon,” The Journal of Modern History 67, no. 3 (1995): 593; Gary Kates, Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade (New York: Basic Books, 1995).

[53] Kates, “The Transgendered World of the Chevalier/Chevalière d’Eon,” 586.

[54] Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991), 43–55; Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 23–30.

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Ulrich L. Lehner

Ulrich L. Lehner is William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author and editor of thirty books, most notably: The Catholic Enlightenment, the bestseller God Is Not Nice (translated into five languages), and Think Better: Rediscovering the Power of Reason.

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