Thursday, 10 April 2014

Christological Musings into the Fatherhood of God

I've spend a few hours today arguing about the fact that God transcends the human limitations of sex (gender) and is neither male nor female, not that many Christians wander about under the impression that the Divinity is female. Naturally the Second Person of the Trinity is male insofar as He has chosen to live His humanity as a male human.

The Second Person of the Trinity, during His earthly mission, told us to call the First Person of the Trinity Father, and stated that God was His Father. And so, of course, we do as He said, and the Roman Catholic Church and the churches united to her do not believe anyone is validly baptized unless baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit/Ghost.

However, as God as God is not male, which is attested to by Saint Gregory Nazianzus, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, why did Christ call God His Father? And why did Christ choose to live His humanity as male?

I can only speculate. And I am speculating wildly, without being surrounded by the works of the Fathers, so kindly keep this in mind and your reason at a critical distance from what follows. I offer the follow thoughts just as ideas, as if in a seminar. Don't accept any of this as the teaching of the Church because it isn't; it is speculative theology.

First, one of the analogies in the Scriptures, in both the Old Testament and the New, is the analogy of the bridegroom. In this analogy God is the bridegroom, and His people is the bride. It's not a perfect analogy--bridegrooms are not to brides what God is to His people--but then you can't have perfect analogies when talking about God: God is infinite and thus beyond our linguistic and mental capacities. However, given the Scriptural analogy of bridegroom, it was probably easier for the first Christians to understand the male +Jesus+ as the bridegroom than it would have been for them to understand a female +Jesus+ (if you can get your mind around that for a second) as Wisdom. (The Wisdom figure of the Old Testament is understood in light of the Incarnation as a metaphor for the Second Person of the Trinity.)

Now, as God decided that the Second Person of the Trinity would indeed live His humanity as a male human--being human necessitates having a sex (gender)--this may (MAY) have influenced the way the Second Person described the First. "He who has seen me has seen the Father", said Our Lord (John 14:9). Christ revealed to us who God is, or what God is like: a healer, a saviour, the giver of life, a forgiver of sins, a friend, even a servant (!) . And a son more clearly mirrors a father than he does a mother, and a father more clearly mirrors a son than he does a daughter. So as Christ as human was male, perhaps it made more sense for Him to call the First Person of the Trinity His Father. It helps, too, of course, that as human He had a human mother, who was very much in evidence. He had no human father; as with his begetting from Eternity, God was His only begetter. And so--Father.

Also, the Hebrew traditions around God were in stark contrast to Mother-Goddess worship. The Middle East was full of worship of the personifications of human reproduction, particularly female ones. The human temptation to worship sex-and-reproduction seems endemic. Thus, by calling the First Person His Father, the Son was affirming that God is not the personification of human reproduction, the Mother Goddess. God is a Creator, an intelligence at work, not a Cosmic Womb.

The only risk is that humans, not being very bright, and generally obsessed with sex, might confuse the First Person of the Trinity with Jupiter or Zeus or Wotan or any one of a number of Sky Fathers. However, this did not seem to be a problem for the Christian Church, as St. Gregory, St. Jerome, et alia, were rather harsh with people who went around saying the Godhead was male. Again, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that God is beyond human notions of sex (gender). He is neither male nor female; He is God. We use the pronoun "He" because it is used generally for any reasonable being, as in "everyone must read for himself". It is used of angels, and angels are also neither male nor female, each angel being A) incorporeal and B) his own species.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, and I invite any Readers with graduate theological training to wade in and tell me if I am out to lunch entirely, or where I am out to lunch, or if I have something here.

Naturally it is important that the Second Person of the Trinity chose to live His humanity as male, but I am interested to know why this was most fitting, as it most assuredly must have been. Also, it is important that the Second Person told us to call the First Person "Father" but as God is not male, it is interesting to speculate why it is that the Second Person chose a term associated with male humans. (By the way, was it ever "Father" or was it always "Abba", Daddy? Because there is a big difference between father and daddy.) How many times does "Abba" appear in the Christian Scriptures, and how many times "Pateras"?

And if you are wondering, this all arose out of a Facebook dispute around the use of the word "Godself" as a replacement for "Himself." I don't think this is the biggest heresy out there, or even heretical at all, but Hilary White seemed incensed. I think it sounds like Gerard Manley Hopkins coined it.

P.S. By the way, there is one poor man on the Facebook thread who keeps bargling on about how God is male, and seems to think the idea that God is beyond male-or-female some kind of body-hating yet feminist plot. No matter how many times I list off the Church Fathers, he keeps fighting on for the maleness of God. I think he is really confused at this point because St. Augustine quite famously came to realize that God doesn't HAVE a body (Confessions, Book 7). I think, though, the problem is that he can't mentally distinguish between the humanity of Christ, the divinity of Christ, the three Persons of the Trinity, or analogy from reality. I rather rudely suggested my interlocutor thinks the Holy Spirit is a bird.

As a matter of fact, I love the depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove. I really do. I used to doodle it all the time when I was taking breaks from writing theological essays.


Sarah said...

I really, really liked this article from TIME about God-as-the-feminine.

It's a unique perspective that we don't normally hear much about, but I think it's quite beautiful and it's a shame how we've emphasized God as definitively male, as "He" is so much more than

Seraphic said...

Yes, but God is NEITHER male NOR female. We can't ascribe masculinity or femininity to God except by way of analogy. This is why I think there is a point to saying "Godself" instead of "He" and "Himself" all the time, or EVER using "She" and "Herself". I am happy to use "He" and "Himself" (tho' not "he" and "himself") because of custom and because I understand God is not a man, but we really can't fall into saying God has a masculine or feminine side. We can say that feminine analogies can be helpful in our search to understand who God is.

Sarah said...

Neither the article nor I said that God IS feminine. It just points out the feminine analogies present in the bible which we rarely associate with a God we usually visualize as male.

And I don't think it's even wrong to say God has a "feminine" side, nor a "masculine" side as both femininity and masculinity are part of us as creatures made in God's image and likeness.

God is something we have a hard time understanding as purely, uh, "Himself," so we have analogies. The problem is that they are always male and paternal analogies, ignoring His qualities that are more typically female or maternal.

Heather in Toronto said...

Interesting your point about Wisdom as referring to the Incarnation - I had always been under the impression that many of the references to Wisdom were better understood as referring to the Holy Spirit. (For the record, I have always had a problem using "he" for the Holy Spirit. If any member of the Trinity warranted a feminine pronoun it would be that One.)

One of the other points in favour of the "maleness-by-analogy" of God the Father is that God does not bring forth creation from His own substance. Rather, He enters into creation to bring new creation forth. When you consider how humans themselves participate in the divine creative process, the analogy is much closer to the male participation in the act than the female.

One of the other things that has struck me, coming from a denomination that over the course of my childhood and adolescence moved more and more away from gendered language is that it doesn't come on its own. Extending "gender neutrality" to God seems to be inevitably part of a package deal that comes with all the rest of the "progressive" agenda. My childhood denomination now has entire congregations that describe themselves as "post-theistic."

Sheila said...

Thanks so much for writing this! I have been puzzling so long over male and female analogies to everything -- inspired I guess by those writers who say that sex is a metaphor for ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING and call that Theology of the Body (which I don't think it is).

It just seems that if God has all male qualities, then anything that could be described as feminine must be not as good, you know? Because God is infinite goodness, and what the analogies are saying is that those parts of me that are feminine (as if I could sort out which those are) are NOT in the image of God. I don't like that. But maybe it's more correct to say that God chose aspects of his nature for each of us to reflect -- that every good thing about each of us is something that God also has as part of his own nature.

Hm. Lots to think about! But I appreciate your input, because this has been a real stumbling-block for me lately and it's nice to hear a for-real M. Div. say what you have.

Belfry Bat said...

The only qualm that comes to mind about a putative "Godself" reflexive pronoun is that it would emphasize God's distinctness to the point of presenting Him altogether alien. Part of the old Good News, the part revealed through the prophets, was that Man (male and female) were created in God's image; and this was ... er, I don't know the egyptian word, but blasphemy to the ancient Egyptians who kept a whole zoo of gods (among whom the only humans were the pharaohs, and they still had a hard time), and it was hubris to the ancient Greeks, and it is still blasphemy today to Islam; but God revealed to His people that they were made as images of Him.

Thinking of the alien vs. the familiar, there are jokes of course about men and women secretly being different species, but, Aunty, do you think (mis)­understanding between the sexes is reasonably symmetrical?

c'est la vie said...

Although not very PC, this quote is germane to Sheila's remark about whether what is essentially feminine is also in the image of God. This author holds that the feminine is in the image of a different aspect of God.

"He [the man] dominates the political and cultural life of peoples and nations by accomplishing here and now his work: it is the individual deed, his specific work to which the man devotes his talent, becoming completely absorbed and exhausted by it. Thus he has a personal and specific effect on the concrete historical situation; at every turn he has the present moment in view, the specific work, the building up of the culture, the civilization, the kingdom of God.

[...]Exceptions aside, [the woman] represents instead the calm waters of the divine ocean, the nameless ALL of God. She represents what is general, what transcends the personal throughout history. Her essential task is not to present what is personal, like the man, but rather to receive noble values and to carry them along from generation to generation like a subterranean stream. She is the silent bearer of human values, talents, and abilities.

Stehlin, Fr. Karl (2013-05-31). The Nature, Dignity, and Mission of Woman (Kindle Locations 200-207). Angelus Press. Kindle Edition.

Seraphic said...

Man and woman are in God's image not because we have a sex (gender) but because we have reason.

Masculinity makes no sense without femininity. Femininity makes no sense without masculinity. How do you measure either without its opposite?

The funny thing, though, is that not only are masculine and feminine language analogical for God, they are analogical for men and women. After all, some women are bigger than some men, some men weaker than some women, etc., etc.

Well, I don't think men and women are almost different species though I have muttered such things in my time! I think men and women tend to think in different ways, or according to different patterns, and are surprised to fin this out.

Heather in Toronto said...

I agree that there are problems with trying to ascribe "masculine" or "feminine" properties to God, in that not only does God transcend such categorization but so do human beings. Very few of us if any fit exactly into gender stereotypes at all times. For any possible quality virtuous or otherwise that is thought of as masculine you can find it in women as well, though sometimes it might tend to be expressed differently. To say that because women are not men they cannot fully image God is nonsense. No fallen human can FULLY image God anyway.

I think the problem with neutering God the Father is that it takes away from the fatherhood of God. Jesus told us to call God "Father" and not just "Father" but "Abba" - Daddy.
There is some kind of deep reason for that. I think it is important that God is not just Divine Parent but Daddy.

God is not "masculine" or "male" but God is Father, because it says something very important about God's relationship with us, His people and adopted children. Fatherhood is something that has to be agreed to and chosen. It is a social relationship. Mothers have the relationship built in biologically. Even a mother who gives up a child at birth has nurtured it for months. But human males, like other animals, can choose to simply mate and move on long before the child makes an appearance. To actually be Daddy and not just a gamete it takes a loving choice (or among us fallen beings, at least a sense of duty or obligation).

We are not deists or fertility cult devotees. We do not have a remote God who engendered us and then moved on, nor an Earth Mother who cares for us no more than for the crops and livestock. We have a God who gave us life and continues to choose to stay with us and be our Daddy. Even if we do not have a good relationship with our earthly fathers, even if we have no relationship at all with him, we still have a Heavenly Father who knows the very number of hairs on our heads and chooses forever and ever to be our Father.

I think the impulse to downplay the Fatherhood of God is a dangerous very one. In a culture where there is an epidemic of fatherlessness, where sex and family are no longer considered to be necessarily linked, we need to remember the Fatherhood of God more than ever, because it's NOT about masculinity, it's about family.

(Sorry. Wall of text crits for 532597 points of word damage.)

Laika said...

I don't have much to add besides what has already been said, but perhaps the image of God as our Father relates to the fact that good fathers are loving, but typically more disciplinary and less indulgent than mothers? Of course that is not true in all cases, but it is the image that comes to mind. It might be that calling God "Father" serves to remind that He can be stern as well as nurturing.

Sheila said...

Laika, I actually think that a lot of people imagine God to be more stern, and less loving, than he really is simply because they are imagining he is like *their* fathers.

In our family, Daddy lets the kids get away with murder and I hold the line, so I wonder what that will teach our kids about God! Well, I hope anyway they have other people to show and tell them about God besides *just* the two of us.

Bat, it's my belief that women understand men better than men understand women. It's hard to be sure. In any event, I have a theory that it's because girls grow up reading at least half "boy books" written by men and about males, and it's practice for getting in their heads. Whereas boys hardly ever can be induced to read "girl books." I've always said my husband gets women so well because he has all those sisters, but maybe it also has to do with the books he grew up reading -- Pride and Prejudice was a particular favorite.

thepinkeminence said...

I learned a lot from Heather's comment. I like the idea that God is Father and that this further emphasizes that God has WILLED that He loves us, that it emphasizes the activeness and the voluntariness of His love! I am not sure this idea is theologically perfect, but I think it is a useful point of departure for me and my contemplation of God's relationship to us.

Sophie Miriam said...

In the first Jesus of Nazareth book, BXVI talks about referring to God with masculine pronouns and calling Him Father. BXVI basically says that yes, there are lots of feminine qualities attributed to God ("Could a mother forsake her child?") but given that Jesus saw fit to refer to God using masculine terminology, so should we.

Amused said...

I don't know why the question of why the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was incarnate as a man is always approached from the "well, it had to be one or the other..." angle. Because it's perfectly obvious that from all eternity God knew He would be coming to earth, I'm kind of the opinion that He created us male and female with this in mind. St. Paul, in speaking of marriage, refers to it as a kind of allegory, or modelling of Christ and the Church. Also, throughout the Old Testament there are many instances where God is the bridegroom, and His people are the bride. Is it too fantastic to suppose that in creating the human race God willed to establish within it a reflection of His relationship with mankind, or specifically with the Church? If this is the case, then we might say that "the world's a stage": that men play God, as it were (just bear with me for a second!*)and are thus the head of the home, are supposed to seek the beloved, lay down their lives for their wives, can be priests, etc., while women play the Church and thus are sought after and sacrificed for as the beloved, obey their husbands, nurture their children, can be consecrated virgins but not priests....
*I know people might be upset because it sounds like I'm saying that men have a greater dignity than women, or that women are inferior in some way. Not at all! The dignity of their role gives them (I theorize) a certain authority as priests and husbands, but after all, it is only a role. They are just as human as we are, and every bit as fallible (if not more so, when blinded by male pride). I would add, with an eye to the feminists, that one does not win an Oscar by playing the most important person in the movie. One earns an Oscar by playing the role you have been given to perfection. ...

Amused said...

Oh, and I forgot to add in my last comment, that I think that according to this theory it would make perfect sense that Christ would come as a man, and call God His Father. The analogy would not work, otherwise.

Cojuanco said...

Am reluctant to accept this clear cut sort of thing, given the history of Catholic queens, and even in our own day with people like Corazon Aquino. Especially as it's likely that the writer is likely condemned by the Holy Office.