The Texas Inkling


Abba Father and the Mother of God by Nathan Anthony Augustine Kennedy

Among other theological "debates" of our age, attributing gender to God has become one of the most hot-button topics. Over half a century of theological feminism, regardless of its merits if any, has effectually stripped our understanding of the person of God to a postmodern, minimalistic, vaguely benevolent "blob" that serves as a Rorschach for our own spiritual fantasies and self-determined concepts of right and wrong. To refer to God as "Father"—or even to ascribe to Him personal pronouns such as "He"—says more about us than who God is, so we are told. The remedy for this perceived problem is to stop using personal pronouns in reference to God (i.e., "It", or to redefine the Trinity from "Father, Son, Holy Spirit" to "Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier"), or to begin using feminine pronouns in reference to God ("She", or "Mother, Daughter, Holy Spirit"). Both of these proposed solutions are deeply problematic, but I will not address either of them. I will instead focus on the alleged problem—the notion that to speak of gender in reference to God is to speak more about ourselves than to speak of God.

I'm willing to meet this argument half-way. I will say yes, this does speak volumes about who we are. But human beings are not the source of this information—God Himself is.

In revealing Himself as male—as a Father and then as the Son—our Lord knew what He was doing. Think first of the many years the Israelites wandered through the desert being purified of their pagan inclinations: God would not let them enter into the promised land until they were purged of the desire for a pagan mother-earth goddess (who were usually associated with fertility; think of that and the role of theological feminism in relation to the sexual revolution) and looked to God as their transcendent, loving, and disciplinary Father. To the ancient Israelites, a female goddess posed a great threat to their understanding of God—such a cult usually involved some form of sacrificial bloodletting. For example, the Pentateuch as well as in other books, the cult of the god Ba'al (also called Moloch) is forcefully denounced. Worshipers of this god would offer infants in bowls of fire in exchange for material abundance (sound familiar?). When the Israelites finally do give into the worship of Ba'al/Moloch, God punishes them by sending them into exile. The Babylonians invade, destroy the temple, and enslave the Israelites.

What does this have to do with God's gender? First, it shows that even if such appellations arise more from man's identity than God's, that hardly trivializes the matter. God, after all, is a teacher—he knows exactly what the needs of the human heart are and how best to fill those needs. His revelation is made to fit those needs. God knows exactly how He is to reveal Himself in order to effect the salvation of human souls. God knows that all human beings—regardless of postmodern appeals to "individualism" or of the "each person is different" variety—have a deep, spiritual and emotional need for a heavenly Father. The ancient Israelites were taught this lesson in a very bitter and grueling way; it seems that us moderns would do well to follow.

It is here that I would like to step back from a criticism and to begin to generate more light than heat. If we look at the very structure of revelation, we can see how God has provided for every gender-affective (could I use a more postmodern term for it?) need of the human heart. God first revealed Himself as a Father and purged from the hearts of His people all longing and desire for a heavenly mother. Yet, when God's supreme act of revelation occurred—the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, God did provide a mother: The Blessed Virgin Mary. Who Mary is stands leaps and bounds apart from the early pagan goddesses. First of all, she is fully, totally, undeniably human. Her virtues and her merits derive only from the grace and contingency bestowed upon her by God. She is a creature—always was, is now, and always will be. No other created being in all of history ever has nor ever will give more glory to God, simply because of her free, unqualified consent to God's will. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: May it be done unto me according to thy word. Indeed, critics of mariology would do well to contemplate her true difference apart from pagan goddesses. While to the ancient world goddess worship was something that stood in complete antithesis to the true worship of God (and still is today), to honor Mary (which is not the same as worship) is to come closer to God the Father, for it is through her that we have the safest, surest route to God the Son. In order to elucidate this point, all one has to do is to contemplate the last recorded words of Mary in her earthly life: "Do whatever he tells you."

Mary also serves a type for the Church. In the lives of all Catholics, the Church should play the role of Mater et Maestra—mother and teacher. Note that this is precisely the role that the Church claims Mary served in the life of Jesus: while God provided His divinity, His Immaculate Bride would provide His humanity. She would teach Him how to walk and how to speak; He would grow up with her dialect and speak in her accent. In Jewish culture, the mother was responsible for instructing children in the faith and in passing down all of the traditions. God vouchsafed Mary from all sin and kept her perfect that she may teach God how to be human. God created her Immaculate Heart for the sake of His Sacred Heart; so unified would these two hearts be that they will forever beat as one heart.

As the child Jesus looked to Mary, so we too are to look to the Church. We may not have the promise of an immaculate teacher as far as sins and personal failures go, but we do have the promise of an immaculate teaching vouchsafed from all stain of earthly errors or the teachings of the world. It is the Church who is to teach us how to walk in Christ, how to speak in Christ, and who teaches us how to be authentically human. The Church, like Mary, bears the incarnated God-Man in her very heart: The Holy Eucharist. Our human hearts were created for the very heart of the Church; so unified are these hearts to be that they are to beat forever as one heart.

It is here that we encounter the very reason why we cannot refer to God as "Mother" or in feminine terms: the very nature of femininity, while not precluding God's transcendental nature, is such that God uses it the most to mediate His own love into the world. In the mysterious nature of God, we find that those entities He chooses to mediate the most between Himself and the world are those things He exalts more highly than others. Mary is the most supreme example of God's choosing to mediate His love into the world; while we do well to remember the words of 1 Timothy 2:5—"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus"—we must not loose sight of the fact that God's ultimate will is to exalt all human beings into eternal life, and in doing so gives them a share in His eternal life. To be infused with God's eternal life is to become an alter Christus, another Christ. That Christ is the mediator between God and the world is obvious; where Christ shows His glory in such is that all who live in Him share in His role as mediator. Christ is the ultimate mediator, though we are allowed a share in it. Femininity is the greatest means of mediating Christ's love into the world; in the words of Pope John Paul II's encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, women are "the first ambassadors in the order of love."

It is not small point of irony that to speak of God as a woman for the sake of women actually does harm to women. It robs them of their profound dignity as mediators of God the Father's love; it separates the Church the bride from Christ the bridegroom. If God is a woman, then the Church is a man—this can hardly be the intended argument of theological feminists.

In the end, such arguments against God's Fatherhood arising from the "it's us, not Him" category are useless. God is so great that even statements about us have to say something about Him, for we are His creatures and He knows exactly what He is doing. And what God's Fatherhood says about us is that the profound mystery of male and female finds its source in God's revelation to the Church. God created the human heart for Holy Mother Church that Holy Mother Church may bring the human heart to the Father. "For thou hast created us for Thyself, O Lord" rings the sparkling prose of St. Augustine's Confessions, and likewise did he create us for the Church. For the Church, like Mary, finds in its own heart the highest, most sublime union of intellect, heart, and will with Christ that exists that we may find our place in that union. To be in the Church is to be in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Heart of Mary is the same as the Sacred Heart of Christ. Therefore let us proclaim with Christ "Abba, Father!" and proclaim with the Church, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners!"

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