I recently read an article in the New York Times about a club at Princeton University that promotes chastity. The group originated when students, who were fed-up with the onslaught of sexual innuendo on campus, wanted to alert fellow undergrads that not everyone at this Ivy League was engaging in premarital sex.
As I continued to read, I saw that the organization, entitled Anscombe, was named after the 20th century English philosopher and staunch Roman Catholic, Elizabeth Anscombe, who defended the church’s teachings on sex. Immediately, this peaked my interest…who was Elizabeth Anscombe and why had I never heard about her?
After some research, I was impressed when I found the following…
Born in Ireland in 1919, Anscombe and her family returned to their original home in England where she graduated from London’s Sydenham High School in 1937. She then entered Oxford and, during her first year, converted to Catholicism. As a convert, her faith and devotion to the Church were profound, as evidenced by many of her philosophical writings on the Eucharist and other Catholic teachings.
One of her most renowned commentaries, “Contraception and Chastity,” was an articulate argumentation on matters of sexual ethics. It is documented that “Anscombe was never afraid to voice unpopular views, [oftentimes] scandalizing liberal colleagues…[as seen] with her paper against contraception and condemnation of homosexuality.”
Her influence in Catholic intellectual circles was matched by her impact on academic philosophy. Anscombe wrote that “it ought not to surprise anyone that a seriously believing Catholic Christian should also be an analytical philosopher.” She firmly believed that modern philosophy was polluted by misunderstood ethics. As a mother of seven and outspoken pro-life activist (who underwent arrest twice for her dramatic protests at abortion mills), Anscombe embodied what she preached.
In addition, she was known for her various eccentricities. Some of her trademarks included wearing trousers, smoking pipes and cigars, and sporting a monocle. Amidst these descriptions, Anscombe was described as faithful, courageous, determined and loyal.
In my estimation, Ms. Elizabeth Anscombe would have made Pope John Paul II very proud! Proud because she uniquely personified the New Feminism that he readily preached during his pontificate. The late Holy Father recognized the need for women to engage in social, economic, cultural and political life. In fact, he thanked women throughout the centuries who made “an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling.” As a philosopher and activist, Anscombe did just that!
She wasn’t afraid to bring her professionalism and intellectualism to the world around her. And, with a Catholic worldview, she presented her thoughts and arguments without abandoning her authentic femininity. In fact, her academic and political activism accentuated her “feminine genius,” as witnessed when her honesty challenged contemporary thought and her intuitive sensitivity helped to defend the weakest among her.
Before his death, Pope John Paul II said “I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic…rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, [and even] the sign of a lack of femininity.”
Yes, Catholic women should be encouraged and proud of this “new feminist!” Today, at Princeton University, we see the legacy of Ms. Elizabeth Anscombe, who wasn’t afraid to stand by her principles and promote truth, even in the face of opposition and judgment.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.