The greatest created person

The role of 'Our Lady', educating women and the liberating role of faith

Jesus Christ, God the Son, came on earth as a man in order to overturn ‘the aboriginal calamity’, humankind’s assertion of equality with the Creator, and to give us the freedom to love outside ourselves. He achieved this through the generosity of a WOMAN.

Her name was Mary and her love of God was such that she did not hesitate when asked by God to become the mother of his Son on earth, surely the most unlikely of all requests! It left her vulnerable to the threat of stoning (as a pregnant unmarried girl at that time) and she could not have been certain that Joseph, her betrothed, would marry her in these unforeseen circumstances.

We are told that he did, and became protector to her and to her child. She remains both virgin and mother; she is the benchmark of womanhood, because of the quality of her loving.

Christians have, from very early times, always claimed her as their own – in many languages she is ‘Our Lady.’ No wonder that the image of Mary, with her Divine Son is one of the most familiar of all, wherever Christianity has touched the culture.

She reflects the existential nature of woman undamaged by sin – her loving, giving and understanding enabling her to identify herself with her son’s mission with such intensity of love that we see her as the loving mother of the whole world and the Queen of Heaven. She is the most powerful of women; that is why we ask her to pray for us.

WOMEN ASSERTING THEIR PERSONHOOD

Women’s understanding of themselves changed too, with the coming of Christianity. The laws of Rome, for the most part, gave, as we have seen, power of life and death over women to fathers and husbands. But by the end of the second century A.D., we find young girls defying their pagan fathers and refusing to marry the pagan husbands chosen for them, which would have meant giving up their Christian faith.

They asserted their autonomy as individuals. It was a time of great persecution and a number of young Roman women chose to be faithful to their love of Christ, rather than deny him, a choice that led to death - a choice that may well shock the people of our time.

But these young women believed in the thing that they professed, rather like anti-Nazis during World War II or dissidents in Stalin’s gulags. Note that they did not kill themselves. No doubt, they longed for a time when such choices were not presented to them. With tremendous courage, they determined not to reject Christ’s life and death in order to save themselves.

EDUCATING WOMEN

The formal education of women began in a surprising way under the auspices of an irascible scholar called Jerome in the fourth century. He was the first to translate the Bible into Latin. He was acquainted with a number of wealthy Roman women, who were Christians and he gave them lectures on the Christian faith.

They were remarkable women. One of them, Fabiola, set up the first known hospital, in order to care for pilgrims travelling to Rome. Her enterprise started off a tradition of medical care and hospitality which continues in the Catholic Church to this day, in many parts of the world.

Another of Jerome’s female pupils, Melania the Younger, by name, had inherited as many as a thousand slaves. She decided to free them because she was a Christian and she divided immense tracts of land in the Roman province of Africa between them – in a practical and personal way anticipating the work of William Wilberforce by a millennium and a half. .

These women were educated, they studied in many fields and revealed remarkable organisational talents. Their circle of women formed the proto-type of the convent and led to the life of the nun – a woman who dedicated herself entirely to God, living with like-minded women in community. Such women continue to this day. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is probably the best known religious sister of the last century, and she devoted her life to the care of the abandoned and dying, so that they would know love. Her sisters carry on her work all over the world.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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Want an independent-minded MP? Vote for a career politician

The brutally ambitious are not content to fall in with the crowd. 

“Never having had a ‘real’ job outside of politics”: this is what the majority of respondents told a YouGov poll in 2014 when asked the most undesirable characteristic of the British politician. The result is hardly surprising. Type the words “career politician” into your search engine or raise the topic at a dinner party, and quickly you will be presented with a familiar list of grievances.

One of the fundamental criticisms is that career politicians in parliament are elitists concerned only with furthering their own interests. Their pronounced and self-serving ambition for climbing the ministerial ladder is said to turn them into submissive party-machines, sycophants or yes men and women, leading them to vote loyally with their party in every parliamentary division. But do we actually have evidence for this?

A new in-depth analysis, to be published later this month in the academic journal, Legislative Studies Quarterly, presents a forceful challenge to this conventional wisdom. In fact, I find that career politician MPs in the UK are more likely to rebel against their party than their non-career politician peers. Why?

My study was motivated by the observation that the existing impression of the party loyalty of career politicians is based mostly on anecdotal evidence and speculation. Moreover, a look through the relevant journalistic work, as well as the sparse extant academic literature, reveals that the two main hypotheses on the topic make starkly contradictory claims. By far the most popular — but largely unverified — view is that their exclusively professional reliance on politics renders career politicians more brutally ambitious for frontbench office, which in turn makes them especially subservient to the party leadership.

The opposing, but lesser known expectation is that while career politicians may be particularly eager to reach the frontbenches, “many of them are also much too proud and wilful to be content to serve as mere lobby fodder”, as the late Anthony King, one of the shrewdest analysts of British politics, observed nearly thirty years ago on the basis of more qualitative evidence.

Faced with these opposing but equally plausible prognoses, I assembled biographical data for all the MPs of the three big parties between 2005-15 (more than 850) and analysed all parliamentary votes during this period. I followed the debate’s prevalent view that an exclusive focus on politics (e.g. as a special adviser or an MP’s assistant) or a closely-related field (e.g. full-time trade union official or interest group worker) marks an MP as a careerist. In line with previous estimations, just under 20 per cent of MPs were identified as career politicians. The extensive statistical analysis accounted for additional factors that may influence party loyalty, and largely ruled out systematic differences in ideology between career and non-career politicians, as well as party or term-specific differences as drivers of the effects.

As noted above, I find strong evidence that career politician backbenchers are more likely to rebel. The strength of this effect is considerable. For example, amongst government backbenchers who have never held a ministerial post, a non-career politician is estimated to rebel in only about 20 votes per parliament. By contrast, a career politician dissents more than twice as often — a substantial difference considering the high party unity in Westminster.

This finding reveals a striking paradox between the predominantly negative opinion of career politicians on the one hand, and the electorate's growing demand for more independent-minded MPs on the other. In fact career politicians are the ones who perform best in delivering on this demand. Similarly, the results imply that the oft-cited career-related dependency of career politicians on the party can be overridden (or, at the very least, complemented) by their self-image as active and independent-minded participants in the legislative process. This should attenuate the prevalent concern that a rise in career politicians leads to a weakening of parliament’s role as a scrutinizing body.

Finally, the findings challenge the pervasive argument that a lack of experience in the real world disqualifies an MP from contributing meaningfully to the legislative process. Instead, it appears that a pre-parliamentary focus on politics can, under certain circumstances, boost an MP's normatively desirable willingness to challenge the party and the executive.

Raphael Heuwieser is researching political party loyalty at the University of Oxford.