Our Mother Who Art in Heaven

Monday, May 19, 2003



Due to child abuse, some people have a difficult time relating to the fatherly images of God in the Bible and Tradition. Furthermore, feminist theologians speculate that exclusive male images of God create a distorted and even idolatrous image of the divine. Conservative Catholics are often very uncomfortable with female images of God. We should not fear female images of the divine, since they are found in Scripture, expressed by the saints, and even approved by the magisterium.

Genesis 1:26-27 indicates that we image God as male and as female. Women image the divine, as women!

Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28 that we are no longer male and female due to our baptism in Christ. We are one people and each person is completely equal in dignity to others.

Can God be imaged as a female?

Scripture itself uses female images or feminine words to describe God.

- Psalm 131 says that the soul at rest in God is like a child in its mother's arms.

- Isaiah 49:14-15 compares God's love to motherly love that never forsakes her child.

- Is 66:13 also speaks of God's people nursing at the breast of the holy city Jerusalem, which could be interpreted as a motherly image for God.

- In Proverbs chapter 1, starting at verse 20, divine Sophia (Wisdom) is portrayed as a woman crying in the streets. This feminine divine image continues throughout Proverbs, especially in chapter 8. The original Hebrew Hokmah was also a female metaphor.

- Paul uses the female image of divine Sophia (Wisdom) to describe Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:24.

- In Luke 13:34, Jesus compares God the Father to a mother hen.

- The Hebrew word most typically associated God’s love, mercy, or compassion in the Old Testament is rahamin, which is rooted in the notion of a woman in labor pains.

- On Saturday of every third week of the Liturgy of the Hours, priests around the world pray during Lauds from the Book of Wisdom:
God of my fathers,..., Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men, if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him, he shall be held in no esteem. Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure. (NAB Wis 9: 1,6,9-10 )
Note that Wisdom is female, and with God at creation. She is coeternal with the Father. Sophia is either identical to the Logos (as Paul seems to indicate), or Sophia is the Holy Spirit!

The Tome of Pope Leo read at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD preserves the ambiguity of God's gender found above in Biblical imagery:
It was the holy Spirit that made the virgin pregnant, but the reality of the body derived from body. As Wisdom built a house for herself, the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us: that is, in that flesh which he derived from human kind and which he animated with the spirit of a rational life. So the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person.
Likewise, there is traditional piety that applies motherly images to God and even to Christ, such as the writings of Julian of Norwich in the fourteenth century. Saint John of the Cross also refers to God as mothering us and nurturing us at her breast until we ready to walk in The Dark Night of the Soul.

The image of Mary in the Church is also interpreted by many to be a representation of our Catholic intuitive sense of the divine nature being revealed through a woman, even though we do not admit that Mary herself is divine.

Conservatives and traditionalists sometimes argue that God must be Father in order to impregnate Mary. However, this line of reasoning is not supported by theology. God can create ex nihilo and does not need to be either male or female to conceive a child in Mary's womb. Jesus entered the womb of Mary as an entering into the fullness of the human condition, since we are all born of woman.

God the Father did not have sexual relations with Mary. The notion of gods having sex with women is only found in pagan myth.

Finally, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God can legitimately be called Mother:
Paragraph 239..., God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. ,..., We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.
Jesus was male, and Jesus called God, "Our Father" in a way that conveyed an intimate relationship to the God of Israel. The Catholic tradition must never lose this by throwing out the fatherly image of God.

Yet, it seems pretty clear that Catholic theology permits the use of motherly and female images to convey the concept of the divine. Doing this reminds us of the transcendence of the divine and the incomparable value of women as human person. The motherly image often conveys an intimate and nurturing and protective God. Furthermore, we are reminded that the significance of the incarnation is in Christ's humanity, rather than exclusively in his maleness.

Therefore, it is appropriate to call God "Our Mother" on occasion, just as we call God, "Our Father" in imitation of Jesus in his humanity.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 2:07 PM

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