From Hungary - Kornélia Buday: The Question of Women's Ordination

The question of women's ordination in Hungary
by Kornélia Buday


Features of the ground 

Kornélia Buday from Hungary

Kornélia Buday from Hungary

Whenever you gaze at Hungarian folk dance you are able to recognize some particular habitual roles of men and women in history. Men have a wide variety of improvisations in their dance while the option for a style is much narrower for female dancers. Often women look at men - dancing in the middle - only from the background while men watch themselves being looked at and adored by women on the edge. Male dancers are playing the leading part in the dance, their movement seems to have greater importance in the performance than that of the bodily and spiritual involvement of women. This patriarchally built up hierarchy is quite evident in group dances. Part of the music brings people together into pair dances in which men as moving central points give dynamic impulses to their female counterparts who are actually determined to go round "their male centre". Music can initiate a solo dance for men (but never for a woman!) when one or more male dancers separated from the group of all come together to the middle of the dance floor to show their expertise and their responsible creativity in regard to their own bodies. They are dancing together but without any touch - this expresses a great autonomy  within the male dancing community. At the same time the female task is to be withdrawn into the background from where women are to fix their eyes on their male companions but sometimes they are also allowed to do some very simple movements - usually very few steps - in a circle, closed with handshakes into their own separate but never single-handed world.

The outcasts of this male-dominant society happened to be gathered into their own female communities where they are able to share their dreams and wounds. The female workshops of handicrafts offered a good atmosphere for women to leave their ancient female spiritual knowledge to the next coming generations of daughters. The heritage of typical female jobs as weaving and needlework suggests a greater equality and mutuality of women and men in the many miraculous symbols of hand-weaving made by Hungarian women.

In the background of the sacred sphere of life Hungarian female yearnings are expressed in even more characteristic features. In the 1970's - in the last minute before being silenced and dead for ever - thousands of ancient folk prayers - coming from the Hungarian pagan-early Christian era - had been explored and collected by ethnographers among dominantly Catholic rural Hungarian people (both women and men, but mainly women). These prayers have an enormous evidence of ancient matriarchal tribal belief in the so-called Happy Woman (Boldogasszony) - later, in Christianity identified with Mary, the mother of God - who "creates, heals, leads to eternal life, is the merciful - in contradiction to the dreadful Judge -, the good shepherd. She is the earth who had given birth to the sky." The manipulating identification of the Goddess with Mary, directed by Christian missionaries, led to interesting combinations of the two female images, although they remained always forbidden and claimed as pagan in the Catholic church - not accidentally. Mary has a much more active role in these prayers than would normally be expected from a woman and therefore she is an encouraging example for all women. Moreover there is an exchange between the roles of the apostles and Mary (Mary proclaims the good news, baptizes, brings the ointment and the Eucharist, says the mass) and even between the roles of Jesus and Mary (She is the one who sends the apostles to the world or who says: "Amen, amen, I tell you ..."; and both the blood of Christ and the tears of Mary can be found together and have great importance in the one cup offered at the altar). However in these ancient texts Mary is a real, embodied woman who has the monthly period, who gives suck, who is weaving for survival, who is sensible and therefore also political when she visits the wife of Pilate in the last minute before the crucifixion so that through this encounter of female worlds in the background of male-dominant hierarchies she will be able to save her son. This re-visioning and re-writing of the gospel of Matthew (see: Mt 27:19) shows a truly realistic devotion to human life in the simplicity of the countryside - far away from the official church teaching but very close to the experiences of all women.

Political requirements

a. The tradition of institutional Hungarian Christianity

By the way - church teaching. This year has been a special one for Hungary. All over the country there have been celebrations and remembrances of the millennium of the foundation of the Hungarian state. As it is said: our conversion to Western Christianity saved our country from annihilation. However at the commemoration service no one said a bad word or made any criticism about the inhuman methods and the aggressive approach of the first so-called "Christian builders" of the country. Therefore the rehabilitation of the very past and of the female power is left out of consideration.

b. The tradition of the communist era

The more recent past of Hungary seems to be more evident and easy to examine. As is well known, Hungary happened to belong to the communist block after the second world war. The flowery language of the communist regime promised equality for all. For women practically it meant a kind of liberation for getting jobs outside of their homes - equally to their husbands - but at the same time they had not been emancipated in their families and households. This manifold burden and oppression of women - instead of the promised paradise of liberation - might be a very reasonable motive why the question of emancipation even now does not rise at all or only in a very low voice in Hungarian female communities and this is why for example the words feminism or feminist research have only pejorative associations in the society.

3.     Women in the present Hungarian Catholic church

a.  Personal experiences

I had already been a teacher when I decided to study theology. My previously naïve images of the church had been slowly destroyed by confronting a very painful reality. Hearing the lifeless preaching and at the same time facing the suffering of the many outcasts of the church, which is supposed to be acting in the name of Jesus made me confused. The many divorced and re-married people forbidden to receive Eucharist, the married priests and their families full of guilt, the humble and devoted women who are doing their best basically allowed only as sacristan, as cleaner in the church or as teacher of religion in several schools but who are humiliated so often by priests behaving like kings, the molested victims of paedophilic religious people in single-sex-schools and the harmful mysteriousness around homosexuality, the laity seen as an infantile lower stage of human nature in the eyes of some clerics, women violated in many ways in their own families by their own husbands, motivated me to be more aware of what is going on around and within me. My mixed feelings of disappointment, anger, questions, criticism and readiness to fight led me to the theological faculty.

b.  Theology closed within an ivory tower

I recognized very soon after the first lectures that theological studies separated from the reality of everyday life would not solve my problems and would not answer my questions properly. I also understood that many of the students were not interested at all in their studies but only wanted to get their degrees. Often there had been a gap between the candidates for priesthood and the lay students. The seminarists pass their exams often without any big efforts - the very low number of priestly vocations made it necessary to welcome and keep in the seminary all the male applicants even if they are lacking any serious intention. After the final exam many of them, both lay and cleric simply leave the church. It is not difficult to lose your faith in an atmosphere of burnt out, cynical, pessimistic, sceptical professors. Till I got to Dublin to complete my theological studies, I had heard very little about liberation theology or about feminist theological research but rather more about women as the biggest temptation in lectures on the Old Testament given by a biblical scholar who was actually preoccupied unconsciously most of the time with stories of the bible regarding sexuality; or about wives as for instance Mrs. Elisabeth Cow or Mrs. Judy Hen and about their husbands as Mr. John Bull or Mr. Howard Cock from a lecturer giving examples during lectures on the canon law of marriage taught from 30-year-old notes surely with a massive lack of information of recent theological research.

3.     The ordination of women in Hungary

a.  The actuality of the question and the unripe condition of Hungary

I think it is no wonder that all those who are naturally disgusted by this ridiculous way of doing theology and - what is worse - by the sarcastic attitude to life as consequence, are simply not interested in priesthood, not even attracted to the church. Although most of the theological students are not against women's ordination, they show rather indifference to the whole topic and many of them simply want to be free from the system altogether. The past had taught us to view our destiny with resignation or passive resistance. It takes time to learn to take responsibility for and being involved actively in shaping our own realities both in society and in the church.

2.   The strategy of the future

Avoiding the feeling of being satisfied with humble female Catholic movements obedient to a male-dominant world that has often nothing progressive and life-giving to offer women, and avoiding a kind of female priesthood imitating the hierarchical structures of male clerics we need first of all courage to believe in creative power of the Spirit and to believe in a divine dream that is to be realized in our female selves.

With some of my colleagues we find it important to see the connections among the many taboos of the church and to recover our lost consciousness to deal with these issues also in the areas of liturgy and of the whole sacramental process. This plan is to be put into practice in the framework of an educational and spiritual centre - with your spiritual and intellectual support in the background - where the question of women's ordination - maybe in new forms - can come to the front but not separated from other hot topics of the church and theology. Therefore we need to work out new theological approaches through translating contemporary theological books, through re-visioning our female history as the story of our salvation, and through informing training sessions, research and open-minded (open-hearted) magazines treating real questions of the here and now. In these ways we will be able to offer new sources of support to searching believers and to show alternatives of new identities to women - and men - as opening up all the ministries for them, for us - so that both the blood of Christ and the tears of Mary can be found together and have great importance in the one cup offered at the altar by both women and men.

Kornélia Buday - doctoral student, Innsbrück/Budapest

About Dr. Kornélia Buday :

Sadly, Dr. Kornélia Buday died just a few short years after the Dublin Conference.  This tribute by  Dr. Angela Berlis of European Society of Women in Research tells us about Kornélia's life.

Obituary of Dr. Kornélia Buday
European Society of Women in Theological Research

On 21 July 2008 Dr. Kornélia Buday (b. 1971) died following a haemorrhage in the brain. Only a couple of weeks before, on 5 July, she had given birth to her son Buday Soma Vendel. Kornélia Buday’s death put an abrupt end to the life of a promising theologian and scholar of religion who promoted Feminist Theology in her own country and did much to improve links between East and West.

In 2003 Kornélia Buday, Ela Adamiak and Rebeka Anic jointly published the Journal “Theologische Frauenforschung in Mittel-Ost-Europa / Theological Women’s Studies in Central/Eastern Europe / Recherche théologique des femmes en Europe orientale et centrale.” In the same year, she completed her doctorate in Vienna, entitled “‘The Earth Has Given Birth to The Sky’ – Female Spirituality in the Hungarian Folk Religion“ (pub. 2004), for which she was awarded the “Marga Bührig Prize” in Switzerland in 2005. After this she was a guest lecturer in Budapest, Szeged and Bangalore. From 2006 to 2007 she worked at the Shamanism Archive of the Institute for Ethnology at the Károli Gáspár University, Budapest. From September 2007 onwards she had a full-time post as a university lecturer (ass. professor) in the Faculty of Humanities at the same university. In the winter semester 2007/2008 she held the Aigner Rollett Guest Professorship for Women’s and Gender Studies at the Karl-Franzens University Graz. She was an energetic and committed teacher at the Institute für Religious Studies in her current research area of gender and anthropology, shamanism and alternative healing methods and images of god and women in the religiously plural folk culture of Hungary. Kornélia Buday was working on her Habilitation  [lecturer’s thesis] entitled “Genderspezifische Zugänge zu alternativen Heilverfahren am Beispiel schamanastischer Heilungswege” (“Gender-specific access to alternative healing methods –shamanic healing as an example”).

Rita Perintfalvi sent the following message from Hungary: 

Kornélia Buday discovered the feminist way of thinking in Innsbruck when she started her doctorate there. During her time in Austria she brought together a group of Hungarian women theologians, thus starting the first Hungarian ESWTR group, which she led at that time. At the international ESWTR conference in Salzburg the young theologian offered to organise the first international ESWTR conference in Eastern Europe. In 2003 in the Netherlands the small Hungarian Section then decided to organise the next conference in Budapest. I first met Nelli in the year 2004, and at that time I joined the preparatory group. It was an incredible amount of work, and for two years we had meetings practically every weekend. Gender issues were something completely new in Hungarian theology. We did not receive any support from the Hungarian churches or society, just a lot of rejection and criticism. We were trailblazers with a difficult prophetic destiny.

I saw Nelli’s great enthusiasm and her commitment, which always remained unbroken despite the many organisational and financial difficulties. In my eyes she was a genuine heroine. It was thanks to her staying power and her energy that the first international ESWTR conference was able to take place in Budapest in 2005 with around one hundred and ten participants. Many of them will remember it. At this conference Nelli really wrote history, and not only the history of Hungarian feminist theology, but of the whole European Feminist Movement, which received a special Eastern European and Hungarian aspect through our conference.”

We are mourning Kornélia Buday. Many of us knew her, and experienced her and her commitment. May she rest in peace. We are mourning with her daughter Soma Vendel, who lost her mother so soon after her birth. We are mourning with all those who were close to Kornélia.

Utrecht, 15 August 2008

Prof. Dr. Angela Berlis

The European Society of Women in Theological Research (ESWTR) is a network of women involved in academic research in the areas of theology and religious studies. The Society hosts a European conference every two years to discuss relevant themes in feminist theology. Between conferences women meet at national or regional levels and continue to work together in subject groups. The ESWTR is the editing body of the annual Journal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research.

Publications of Kornélia Buday in Collections:

  • Szatmár street 26. - Temporary Home for Roma Families in Hungary. Budapest: Magyar Máltai Szeretetszolgálat, 2007 (in print).
  • Shamanhood Today. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Mihály Hoppál. Budapest: MTA NKI, 2007.
  • Building Bridges in a Multifaceted Europe. Religious Origins, Traditions, Contexts and Identities. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Sabine Bieberstein und Ursula Rapp. Leuven: Peeters, 2006.
  • 'The Earth Has Given Birth to The Sky' - Female Spirituality in the Hungarian Folk Religion. Bibliotheca Traditionis Europae 4. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004.
  • Theologische Frauenforschung in Mittel- und Osteuropa. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Ela Adamiac und Rebeka Anic. Leuven: Peeters, 2003.