Weakness in Women (The Pros) ~ The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand


Painting by John William Waterhouse

by Alice von Hildebrand, The Privilege of Being a Woman

Cons of Weakness in Women is here.


If faults occur because of woman’s weakness, in so many cases, far from being a negative characteristic, the weak, the fragile, the breakable, the vulnerable, the sensitive refers to objects or persons who have something particularly fine about them, and which, for this reason, are more easily wounded or destroyed.

A set of Sevres porcelain is to be delicately handled, whereas a pot of iron can be rudely treated without harm. Even though Saint Peter does not elaborate, we can assume that this was one of the meanings he had in mind when he wrote of women’s weakness (i.e., women should be honored because of their frailty).

In Medieval Europe, it was the glory of the troubadours to protect women, and to challenge anyone who failed to respect them. To kill defenseless women and children in the course of hostilities was traditionally considered ignoble. Don Quixote’s mission was to respect, honor, and defend the “weak,” and particularly women.

Moreover, the very frailty of women can turn out to be their strength. Their weakness appeals to pity; it can touch men’s hearts and appeal to what is best in them, namely their chivalrous instinct to help those weaker than themselves.

As mentioned above, there is an unwritten law that was respected (at least officially) until modern warfare took over: In emergencies, women and children were saved first. They were the first to go into lifeboats; they were the first to receive medical help.

In daily life, it is rare indeed that a man turns down a woman’s cry for help. Men appreciate being called upon, being given a chance to show their manliness, to play the role of a medieval knight whose glory was to protect the weak and even to engage in daring deeds to dazzle and conquer the beautiful lady of his love.

It is true indeed that women can shed “alligator tears,” the silly tears of self-pity, of self-centeredness, tears that respond to imaginary offenses, to wounded vanity. (Some men too can fall into this weakness!) But the fact that some tears are silly and illegitimate should not blind us to the fact that tears can be expressions of what is best and noblest in man.

When Augustine, conquered by grace, decided to respond to God’s call to change his life, he was not ashamed to sob. “The floods burst from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to you.” Not only did he cry, but he made a point of informing us that his “defeat” found its expression in tears of repentance.

The Church in her motherly wisdom offers her children a prayer for every need; she has one special one for the gift of tears: educ de cordis nostri duri-tia lacrymad compunctionis (draw from our hardened heart tears of compunction). A deep conversion is usually “baptized” in tears.

Granted that women cry easily, the question is “why do they cry?” This whole question edges on whether tears are legitimate or illegitimate.

We live in a world in which tears are called for daily. King David wrote, “My eyes shed tears, because men do not keep thy law.”

One of the beatitudes is “Blessed are those that mourn.” Woe to those who do not cry when God is blasphemed, where odious paintings are exhibited and praised as “works of art,” when some priests say sacrilegious masses, when children are daily abused, when people are tortured, when millions are starving.

Tears are the proper response to brutality, injustice, cruelty, blasphemy, hatred. Christ wept when He saw Jerusalem, and when He came to Lazarus’s tomb. Saint Francis of Assisi shed tears because “love was too little loved.”

As Virgil put it: “Sunt lacrinzae rerum” (“these are tearful things,” that is, situations that call for tears).

Christ promises that in heaven all tears will be dried, and Kierkegaard comments about the sad condition of those who have never shed a tear. We should cry over the daily offenses to God, cry over our sins, cry over the ingratitude of man.

The most holy of all women, Mary, is called the materdolorosa (sorrowful mother). Her immense sorrow has been admirably expressed by Giacopone da Todi, in his sublime poem dedicated to the sorrows of Christ’s mother.

“Is there one who would not weep, whelm’d in miseries so deep Christ’s dear mother behold.”

A woman’s way to holiness is clearly to purify her God-given sensitivity and to direct it into the proper channels. She should fight against maudlin tears and pray for holy tears—tears of love, of gratitude, of contrition.

We have said that women are more attuned to their emotions than men, and that this can lead to serious faults. There are cases in which the heart is wrong (hypertrophy of the heart). A woman’s heart can degenerate into a virgin forest which calls for pruning.

Nevertheless, there are situations when the heart is right and “reason” has become derailed, fallen into cheap rationalism characterized by the stubborn refusal to admit that many great truths transcend reason.

Rationalism is allergic to “mysteries.” Pascal must have had this in mind when he wrote, “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know of,” and “The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it.” Finally, “There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason.”

Women, too, have a mission toward the other sex: the one of awakening and refining man’s affectivity, often atrophied by abstractionism. They are definitely called upon to “humanize him.” In his matchless, humorous way, Chesterton speaks about “feminine dignity against masculine rowdiness.”

A man’s heart can be a desert desperately in need of water. We all know men who are “thinking machines” and are dehumanized. The humorous and, at times, merciless Kierkegaard never missed a chance of making a thrust at his deadly enemy, Hegel. He hints at the fact that Hegel’s “marriage must therefore have been as impersonal as his thought. He clearly wishes us to feel sorry for Mrs. Hegel!

How beautiful is the complementariness of men and women according to the Divine Plan. It is not by accident that Saint Francis of Assisi was best understood by Saint Clare; Saint Francis of Sales by Saint Jeanne Francoise de Chantal; Saint Vincent of Paul by Louise de Marillac. In our own times, Marie Pila was co-foundress with Father Eugene Marie of Notre Dame de Vie in the Provence.

Man is made for communion and the most perfect form of communion calls for persons who complement each other. This is why God said: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Female interests are centered on the human side of their lives: their family life, their relationships to those they love, their concern about their health, their welfare and, if they are Christians, the spiritual welfare of their children’s souls; in other words, about human concerns.

Most men speak about the stock market, politics, and sports; some speak about intellectual and artistic questions. Chesterton was right when he wrote, “Women speak to each other; men speak to the subject they are speaking about.”

A woman’s mission is much aided by the very beauty which, as we have seen, she can use for her own downfall. A woman’s loveliness (with all its delicacy) can exercise such a charm upon her male counterpart that her very frailty brings him to his knees.

This truth is poignantly highlighted in the Old Testament when the lovely Queen Esther, in order to save her people who were threatened by the viciousness of the king’s minister, daringly broke the rule prohibiting anyone from coming to King Ahasuerus without permission.

Upon seeing her entering into his apartment, “He (the king) looked on her, blazing with anger.” The queen sank down. She grew faint, and the color drained from her face, and she leaned her head against the maid who accompanied her.

“But God changed the king’s heart, inducing a milder spirit. He sprang from his throne in alarm and took her in his arms until she recovered, comforting her with soothing words …’What is the matter, Esther?’

“He said, ‘I am your brother. Take heart; you will not die; our order only applies to ordinary people. Come to me.’ And raising his golden scepter he laid it on her neck, embraced her and said, ‘Speak to me.’ ”

Thanks to God’s help, her weakness conquered. Her very frailty was the trump which made her victorious. She invited the king to a feast in the course of which she begged him to save her life and the lives of her people. She disclosed to her husband the plans that his minister Haman had devised to exterminate the Jews. We all know the end of the story: The wicked Haman died on the very gallows he had set up for them.

Though different, a moving parallel—emphasizing beauty, frailty, and the power of tears all at once—is to be found in the life of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, the Father of Western monasticism.

Let us recall the touching episode of the last visit that Saint Benedict had with his holy sister. According to the rule, they could see each other only once a year. Their joy was to talk about God and sing His praise together. She begged her brother to prolong this holy colloquy, but he sternly refused: the rule ordered him to spend the night in his monastery.

His gentle sister started praying, shielding with her hands the flood of tears streaming from her eyes. The sky which had been radiantly serene, suddenly became dark and threatening, and a fierce downpour accompanied by lightning and thunder forced Saint Benedict to remain for the night.

This episode is related by Saint Gregory, and the Liturgy concludes this moving scene by stating, “plus potuit, quia plus arnavit” (“Having the stronger love, she had the stronger power”).

This gentle virgin wept: but these tears were blessed tears, tears of tenderness, tears of love, tears that moved the heart of Christ —fond ardens caritatis —to order the heavens to produce a storm of such violence that Saint Benedict was forced to concede defeat. The strong one had to yield because God was on the side of the frail one.

God has indeed created women to be beautiful (“The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair… “). Their charm, lovableness, and beauty exercise a powerful attraction on the male sex, and it should be so.

It is noteworthy that feminine loveliness contradicts the biological norm: Usually the male animal is more beautiful than the female one. The lion is more beautiful than the lioness; the rooster is more beautiful than the hen; the male duck has brilliant colors which are denied its female partner.

This is one feature, among many, which points to the fact that sexuality in animals and human beings is radically different. For no one (except Schopenhauer) would deny that women are or can be beautiful. It is not by accident that they are called “the fair sex.”

Innocent little girls can have a sweetness and charm that most fathers cannot resist. I know some who can be very stern toward their sons, but cannot bring themselves to deny the requests of their little girls who do not know as yet how lovely they are.

With age (especially after puberty) most girls become conscious of the power they can exercise over men. Those whose hearts are noble or have been purified by grace will never use their charm to play with the strong sex, or worse to “seduce” it to gain their own subjective ends. They will put their gift at the service of the good and not at the service of evil.

This was the case with Esther. She was not seeking any personal advantage. She wanted to save her people, and she accepted the risk of being sacrificed in order to achieve this noble end. She did not intend the death of Haman (even though he was, in fact, executed); she wanted to liberate her people.

We all know that there are women who, conscious of the power that the female sex has over men, do not hesitate to use it in order to achieve their own selfish ends. When a man commits fornication or adultery, we say “He went to his mistress.” Clearly the word “mistress” indicates who is in command.

The power that women can wield over men is great indeed. If they pursue their own selfish aims, women are Satan’s slaves. If they put their charm at God’s service, they are God’s great allies.

How often have I heard men say, “It is my wife who brought me back to God.”

It is, above all, by means of woman that piety is first awakened and spreads its mysterious influence over society…. woman is one of the grand instruments of which Providence makes use to prepare the way for civilization …should she prove false to her high mission, society would perish.

“In the whole evangelical history,” says M. De Maistre, “women play a very remarkable part; and in all the celebrated conquests made by Christianity, either over individuals or over nations, there has always been some woman’s influence.”


Undertake all of your duties with a calm mind and try to do them one at a time. If you try to do them all at once, or without order, your spirits will be so overcharged and depressed that they will likely sink under the burden and nothing will be done. In all of your affairs, rely on the Providence of God through which alone you much look for success. Strive quietly to cooperate with its designs. – Saint Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Devout Life

A perfect Devotion for the Month of June…The Chaplet of the Sacred Heart!

The Chaplet of the Sacred Heart and Prayer Card. Beautiful and Durable, Wire-Wrapped Sacred Heart Chaplet!
The small beads represent the thirty-three years of the mortal life of our Lord. The first thirty recall to mind the years of His private life, and are divided into five groups of six; the three on the pendant recall the public life of the Savior. Available here.

Salvation and spiritual perfection should not be sought haphazardly; a strategy is needed to win the battle for our souls.

The Spiritual Combat, first published in 1589, provides timeless guidance in spiritual discipline. St. Francis de Sales (1576-1622) read from it himself every day and recommended it to everyone under his direction.

Vigorous, realistic and full of keen insight into human nature, The Spiritual Combat consists of short chapters based on the maxim that in the spiritual life one must either “fight or die”. Fr. Scupoli shows the Christian how to combat his passions and vices, especially impurity and sloth, in order to arrive at victory.

The Way of Trust and Love A Retreat Guided By St. Thérèse of Lisieux Jacques Philippe St. Thérèse of Lisieux sought a new way to Heaven: “a little way that is quite straight, quite short: a completely new little way.” Blessed with personal limitations that might have discouraged another, Thérèse believed God would not have given her a desire for holiness if He did not intend for her to achieve it. She learned to humbly accept herself as she was and trust completely in God’s love. First given as a retreat by renowned author Father Jacques Philippe, The Way of Trust and Love navigates excerpts of St. Thérèse’s writings phrase by phrase, extracting powerful, resonating insights. To Thérèse, the journey seemed “little” as she traveled it. A hundred and fifteen years after her death, the message of the young saint and Doctor of the Church has traveled around the world inspiring millions. With this newly translated study of her spirituality, many today will rediscover—or find for the first time—the relevance of “the little way,” in all seasons of life. Fr. Jacques Philippe is well-known for his books on prayer and spirituality. A member of the Community of the Beatitudes, he regularly preaches retreats in France and abroad. He also spends much of his time giving spiritual direction and working for the development of the Community in Asia and Oceania where he travels frequently.

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