Although the Bible does give examples of women who led others astray,
the predominant image is one of strong individuals who work with and for
"In these figures of woman, in whom the marvels of divine grace
are manifest, we glimpse the one who will be the greatest: Mary, Mother
of the Lord", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of
Wednesday, 10 April, as he returned to his catechesis on the Blessed
Virgin Mary. Here is a translation of his talk, which was the 16th in
the series and was given in Italian.
1. The Old Testament and the Judaic tradition are full of
acknowledgements of woman's moral nobility, which is expressed above all
in an attitude of trust in the Lord, in prayer to obtain the gift of
motherhood and in imploring God for Israel's salvation from the assaults
of its enemies. Sometimes, as in Judith's case, this quality is
celebrated by the entire community, becoming the object of common
Beside the shining examples of the biblical heroines, the negative
witnesses of some women are not lacking: such as Delilah who destroys
Samson's prophetic ability (Jgs 16:4-21), the foreign women who in
Solomon's old age turn the king's heart away from the Lord and make him
worship other gods (1 Kgs 11:1-8), Jezebel who kills all "the
prophets of the Lord" (I Kgs 18:13) and has Naboth killed, to give
his vineyard to Ahab (I Kgs 21), and Job's wife who insults him in his
misfortune and spurs him to rebel (Jb 2:9).
In these cases, the woman's conduct is reminiscent of Eve's. However,
the prevailing outlook in the Bible is that inspired by the
Proto-Gospel, which sees in woman an ally of God.
The feminine figure is a precious gift of the Lord
2. In fact, if foreign women were accused of turning Solomon away
from his devotion to the true God, the Book of Ruth presents us instead
with the most noble figure of a foreign woman: Ruth, the Moabite, an
example of piety to her relatives and of sincere and generous humility.
Sharing Israel's life and faith, she was to become David's
great-grandmother and an ancestor of the Messiah. Matthew, inserting her
in Jesus' genealogy (Mt 1:5), makes her a sign of universality and a
proclamation of God's mercy which extends to all humanity.
Among Jesus' forebears, the first Evangelist also mentions Tamar,
Rahab and Uriah's wife, three sinful but not wicked women who are listed
among the female ancestors of the Messiah, in order to proclaim that
divine goodness is greater than sin. Through his grace, God causes their
irregular matrimonial situations to contribute to his plans of
salvation, thereby also preparing for the future.
Another example of humble dedication, different from Ruth's, is
represented by Jephthah's daughter, who agrees to pay for her father's
victory over the Ammonites with her own death (Jgs 11:34-40). Lamenting
her cruel destiny, she does not rebel but gives herself up to death in
fulfilment of the thoughtless vow made by her parent in the context of
primitive customs that were still prevalent (cf. Jer 7:31; Mi 6:6-8).
3. Although sapiential literature frequently alludes to woman's
defects, it perceives in her a hidden treasure: "He who finds a
wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord" (Prov
18:22), says the Book of Proverbs, expressing convinced appreciation of
the feminine figure, a precious gift of the Lord.
At the end of the same book the portrait of the ideal woman is
sketched. Far from representing an unattainable model, she is a concrete
image born from the experience of women of great value: "A good
wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels..." (Prov
Sapiential literature sees in woman's fidelity to the divine covenant
the culmination of her abilities and the greatest source of admiration.
Indeed, although she can sometimes disappoint, woman transcends all
expectations when her heart is faithful to God: "Charm is
deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be
praised" (Prov 31:30).
Mother was worthy of honourable memory
4. In this context, the Book of the Maccabees, in the story of the
mother of the seven brothers martyred during Antiochus Epiphanes'
persecution, holds up to us the most admirable example of nobility in
After describing the death of the seven brothers, the sacred author
adds: "The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable
memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she
bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She
encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a
noble spirit, she fired her woman's reasoning with a man's
courage", thus expressing her hope in a future resurrection:
"Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of
man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life
and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the
sake of his laws" (2 Me 7:20-23).
Urging her seventh son to submit to death rather than disobey the
divine law, the mother expresses her faith in the work of God who
creates all things from nothing: "I beseech you, my child, to look
at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and
recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus
also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove
worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in the time of mercy I
may get you back again with your brothers" (2 Mc 7:28-29).
She then gives herself up to a bloody death, after suffering torture
of the heart seven times, witnessing to steadfast faith, boundless hope
and heroic courage.
In these figures of woman, in whom the marvels of divine grace are
manifest, we glimpse the one who will be the greatest: Mary, Mother of