Friday, February 29, 2008

Feminist, Baptism, and 'Mother'-god

This has been making its rounds on the web. It is the news that baptism done "In the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" is invalid. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith also included that this invalid formula stems from the "so-called feminist" theology that feels the use of masculine terms in relation to God is chauvinistic.

One of the reason not mentioned in detail is that the formula is invalid as it unknowingly seeks to undermine the Trinity by 1. changing divine revelation and 2. not realizing that creation, redemption and sanctification are all Trinitarian acts.

As far as the use of masculine terms for God, certain terms are used for certain reasons. It is true that God does transcend gender. It is also true that Christ revealed God as Father. It is further true that in the Old Testament that God is never directly referred to in any other way than masculine; though, it is true that feminine similes and analogies have been used to describe a certain feeling God is trying to express through a prophet, but similes and analogies are not the same as saying that God is something. In other words, to say God is like something or suffers something as something else is not to say that God is the exact thing to which He is likened.

Tough the reasons above are good reasons, it hardly goes into the meanings of the use Father and Mother. One must first understand that some of the language used in the church is old. In fact it is older than the church herself. In brief, and according to Dr. Brant Pitre (one of the posters over at Singing in the Reign) whom I happened to have a conversation about the use of masculine and feminine terms in theology a couple of days ago, in all ancient religions the masculine term is used to describe the creator and causer as well as to describe the god(s) that are transcendent (something or one that is not bound to or by space, time and matter). This is similar to the Father of a natural family who is the cause of the offspring; the offspring does not come from the father. Whereas the feminine was used to describe that which something comes from as well as to describe that which is immanent (a person or thing who is bound by and to space, time, and matter and is unable to go beyond the ordinary limits of nature without the aid of someone who is transcendent). This is similar to the mother and how her offspring, tough caused by the Father comes from her. (No doubt, this probably seems strange to modern ears as we know that to bring forth off spring it requires the part on two parties.)

The first example of this is found in language. Though hardly present in English, it is seen in many of the romance languages. The word "bird" in Spanish (pájaro) has a masculine gender (its gender will likely be the same in other romance languages). This is because the bird, for all purposes, seems to be a transcendent animal (or being really) because it can fly -- this is why birds in some cultures were though to be messengers to and from the gods, and in some cases even gods themselves. Yet the word "mountain" in Spanish (montaña) has a feminine gender. This is because the mountain comes from the earth (also a feminine word) and has never been seen as a transcendent being or things. To my knowledge, no one has ever worshiped a mountain -- though people have worshiped atop of mountains.

A second example comes from a person's nation or motherland to be specific. That is, the nation is mother to her citizens because her citizens come from her, the motherland.

To bring it back to God. This is important because God is the creator. He is the first cause. Creation did not come from God in the sense that creation is an extension or a boiling over of God nor did creation come from God in the sense of a child coming from a mother: this belief is actually found in a number of other (usually eastern) faiths. In other words, creation is not the same substance as God is. If Creation were the same substance as God we would all be God, which would bring us to a kind of pantheism. So it is only right to use the term that is mostly closely related to and universally held to what a person is trying to say about a transcendent being.

To give another example, one ever hears of 'father earth'. One only ever hears of 'mother earth'. I have never heard anyone ever question this. It seems to be the case that 'father earth' would just not fit. This is because the earth cannot be Father. The Earth can only be Mother because it is we who come from it, and it is also to say that the Earth is immanent. Because the earth is mother it is true that we are of the same stuff (so to speak) as the Earth ( space and matter) as it is the case that we as humans come from the earth. To call the earth father is so say that the earth in transcendent, the earth causes creation, and it is to say that we do not come from the earth. Instead the earth becomes some kind of neo-pagan-Adam who continually pops creation out from his side.

Another example comes from the church herself (specifically the earthly church). The church has always been referred to as mother-church and never as father-church. This is to say that the church is immanent, it is a mother to us, and it is of the same stuff as us. Wait a second, the church is of the same substance as us because we, all baptized people, are the church. To call the church father is to say that we are not and cannot be church as the church would then not be immanent.

I am sure ,if someone wanted, a theology could be worked out involving baptism and the imagery surrounding it as being born again into Christ and the baptismal font as the womb of the church. Though, I do not believe the Catholic church has ever made a statement on whether or not it is the church or God doing the birthing. Then again, going in this direction might just be taking the understanding too far and in the wrong direction -- I'll have to ask some smart people about this point.

In brief (the 30 second version):
Masculine term for God means he is transcendent.
Feminine term for God means he is not-transcendent (God is only nature and is bound and limited to space, time, and matter).

*Note: Just because the masculine term applies to God does not mean He can't or won't be motherly to His people.


Tay Moss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tay Moss said...

You might find She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, interesting. It's a pretty detailed analysis of gender language in relation to God. (Especially in regards to the Trinity.) One of the really cool aspects of her work is that she uses a close reading of Aquinas and other Doctors of the church to make her argument. She's a professor at Fordham. Highly recommended. -t

Anonymous said...

I posted the following:
and then thought I'd look what else there is on this.

liturgy said...

Here's a suggestion about baptism in the name of a gender-neutral Trinity:

liturgy said...

The saga continues as the chancellor in the Brisbane RC archdiocese confuses the many many there whom the Vatican has now declared are not baptism:

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