The Texas Inkling


The Theological Importance of a Pronoun by JC Sanders

I've long since noticed an aversion to the use of the pronouns "He," "His," and "Him" within feminist circles when making references to God. The more militant (and heretical) groups attempt to inject "she," "her," and "hers" whenever possible and must corresponding replace "Father" with "mother" and "Son" with "daughter" (the last of which becomes especially strange given that Jesus was, in fact, a man). While this practice is thankfully rare (I've only ever heard it loudly and boldly proclaimed by a few shrill voices at the chapel at St Edwards' University), there is a second practice which is more subtle and yet possibly equally as dangerous; it is certainly far more widespread.

This practice is to drop the use of pronouns altogether. How many times has the traditional (and correct) phrasing of (responsoral) prayers during the Mass get changed: for example, I can't tell you how often I have heard "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of God's name, for our good, and the good of all God's Church" [emphasis not necessarily mine]. The correct translation according to the Latin Rite Missal, is May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church" [emphasis mine]." Often, there is also a corresponding shift in phrasing from "Father" and "Son" to "Creator" and "Redeemer;" for good measure, "Holy Spirit" becomes "Sanctifier." This may at first seem a reasonable compromise with the language--we step on no body's toes, and are not interjecting a falsely feminine character to God. We are not at a glance changing God's character to better suits ours. Or are we?

I find that, in fact, we are doing so in several ways. First and foremost, while we are not foisting the terms "mother" and "daughter" into our religious language (and thus into our faith), we are still managing to lose a number of things which are genuine articles of faith. First and foremost, by replacing "Son" with "Redeemer" in every usage, we very quickly forget just Who the Son was. Was the Redeemer someone other that Jesus Christ, our Lord? Catholics (and indeed all true Christians) must answer this in the negative, or be guilty of perpetrating a lie. But Jesus Christ is, as I mentioned, a man. Thus, the term "Son" (and the masculine pronouns) are all accurate*.

Similarly, this Man-who-was-also-God, the Son, referred to the One Who sent Him as "Father." Never once did He refer to the Creator as "mother," "mommy" (Abba literally means "Daddy"), or "generic parent of unspecified type." In Catholic theology, we have a different term for the "Mother of God:" Theotokos. This title has its proper application to a woman, St Mary, whose honor we have proudly and joyfully defended from Nestorians, Protestants, and modernists alike. We hold her in plenty high esteem (the titles "Queen of Heaven," "Queen of the Angels," "Mother of the Church/Faithful," and even simply "Our Lady" all apply). However, she is not God, nor even a goddess.

In actual references to the First Person of the Trinity, the term "Father" is the one which has been handed to us first by the prophets and then by the Son, and so "Father" is indeed the correct term. Within the the Trinity, the Son is "begotten," not "born." Begotten is, again, an action of fathers and not of mothers, whom instead have the unenviable task of birthing. Moreover, the definitions for "beget" ("to generate; to produce as an effect")** as opposed to "birth" ("an act or instance of being born") have to interesting theological implications; whereas as birthing implies a particular time, begetting alone makes sense as an eternal action. Hence, it is not even proper to suggest that "birth" is a better word for the situation that "beget."

Finally, there is something else which lurks behind the total exclusion of the use of pronouns, masculine or feminine. We as Catholic Christians believe in a personal God. This means that, among other things, we believe in a God to Whom the personal pronouns can, and ought, to be applied. He of course applies the pronouns "I," "My(self)," and "Mine" to himself; His very name, Yahweh, means "I am (Who am)." Similarly, we might apply the second person (personal) pronouns to Him in prayer: "You," "Your(self)," "Yours." Why, then, is there such aversion to applying the third person (personal) pronouns to Him?

Such aversion may spring, on the one hand, from a disdain for imputing any masculine characteristics to God. This is heretical, because at best it rejects revealed truths about God (Who is the Source of all Truth), even if only privately, and at worst implies a private substitution of one's own doctrines. One the other hand, the rejection of masculine personal pronouns may only be because a person has rejected all personal pronouns, which is just as bad: because here, the personal nature of God is rejected. If that personal nature of God has been rejected, then God Himself has been rejected for He is a person. With that rejection of God and His nature comes also a rejection of His grace, His salvation--for a non-personal God cannot love, let alone redeem, the world or anyone in it.

*Hence also the reason for a male-only priesthood. The priest represents Christ, the Son, Who was also a man.

**Note that neither the Son's existence nor his Godhood is contingent upon the Father's, but His existence as Son is in relationship to the Father, hence Sonship is produced as an effect of Fatherhood.

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