Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bridal-Motherhood of the Holy Spirit

I feel like I am almost back to square one on the issue of the feminine divine and the Holy Spirit. As I was researching this topic online, I came across some references to Scott Hahn's book, First Comes Love. There was evidently some controversial material in chapter 10 regarding the the "bridal-maternal" imaging of the Holy Spirit, and in a later addition it was relegated to an Appendix at the back of the book, which is where I found it today in my copy from the library. Hahn is attempting to characterize who the Holy Spirit is by what He does. The idea is that we have a difficult time relating to the Holy Spirit, because unlike the Father and the Son, this aspect of the Trinity is without a face. In the Bible we have the name of the Spirit meaning breath and fire, and He is also called living water, the power of God, and love.

Hahn sums up how the Spirit functions this way: "What a mother does in the natural order, the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the supernatural order, in Mary, and through the Church. What earthly mothers do finitely and inchoately, the Spirit accomplishes infinitely and perfectly.  In sum, as our mothers gave us birth, so the Spirit feeds the children of God with spiritual milk. As a mother groans in labor, so the Spirit groans to give us life." Then he goes on to say that this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is somehow engendered as feminine, quoting the Catechism, as I have done, concerning God as neither man nor woman, but pure spirit, etc...

There is a little problem with that logic, to my mind. The Father and Son are clearly engendered as masculine. Though, as George S. Montague pointed out in Our Father, Our Mother, the metaphor "Father" was never meant to exclude the motherhood of God, the language itself gives us a heavily masculine image of God, despite all of the motherly references made in the Bible, even by Jesus himself. Yes, Mary reveals the feminine face and maternal love of God, but she is not herself divine. Which gets some folks all up in arms who misunderstand the Church's extreme veneration of her.

Everything Hahn says seems to indicate an understanding of a particularly feminine Holy Spirit. He points out that in Syriac and Hebrew, the word for Spirit, Ruah, is feminine and so ordinarily calls for a feminine pronoun. In fact, he asserts that St. Aphrahat, the most ancient of the Fathers of east Syria and his contemporaries, as well as later Fathers, such as St. Ephrem, regularly observed this grammatical consistency. This practice dropped off after A.D. 400, but Hahn can only speculate as to why that was, noting that there must have been good reasons for it. But were the reasons really good?

Hahn associates God's Wisdom, who is always referred to in the feminine, with the Holy Spirit. In chapters 7-9 of the Book of Wisdom, Wisdom (Sophia) is referred to as "holy spirit" and is described in divine terms, such as "all powerful", "all-knowing", "overseeing all", and "more mobile than any motion."  I have noted previously that Sophia is described in the Bible as a created being. But in Proverbs, Wisdom says that she was "brought forth" by God, which seems to imply either an emanation or a birthing, not a creation.

Another curious thing I discovered is that yet another of my "original" ideas was not original after all. I discussed how the Holy Spirit could be the "Mother" person of the Trinity, even though He proceeds from the Father and the Son (see "Mary as Spouse"). My reasoning was that Eve was made from Adam's rib, so she proceeded from her Father God from the side of the first human son of God. The woman was created after the man, but as the pinnacle of creation, she is also first among creation and is known as the mother of all the living. Evidently St. Methodius of Olympus, an ancient Church Father, said the same thing! He called the Holy Spirit the "rib of the Word"--the uncreated principle of maternity.

Hahn quotes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) regarding Holy Wisdom: " 'Sophia', a feminine noun, stands on that side of reality which is represented by the woman, by what is purely and simply feminine," and he goes on to note that "Spirit", too, is feminine in Hebrew, concluding, "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself."  Like I have been saying, there is this hidden quality of Mary, Sophia, and the Divine Motherhood of God!

God the Father and Jesus are sometimes depicted in maternal terms, and so is the Holy Spirit (and what the Holy Spirit does powerfully evokes motherhood). Wisdom/Sophia is also understood not just as a mother, but as a co-creator and bride. King Solomon was rapturous in his Book of Wisdom: "The Spirit of wisdom came to me...I loved her...and I chose to have her...because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her...because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother" (7:7, 10-12).

Dominican theologian Father Benedict Ashley points out that while the Scriptures sometimes apply the word "Wisdom" to God's Law (Sir 24) and to Jesus (1 Cor. 1:24), "Yet more properly, it is to the Third Person of the Trinity...who is Love, wise Love, that the Old Testament descriptions of a feminine Wisdom are applied." And Scott Hahn finds this conclusion very reasonable. He also notes that Shekinah, the presence, or "glory cloud", of God is a feminine word, too, and the Shekinah seems to be related to the Holy Spirit as well. Are the Holy Spirit, Wisdom/Sophia, and Shekinah one and the same divine person? Hahn makes the associations but never comes to the point of overtly expressing that this could very well be the case. He all but ties the three together as the same being. Why?

Over and over again, despite what the Catechism teaches about God's divine nature as having both masculine and feminine aspects, there is this insistence on only using male pronouns and avoiding asserting any part of God as mother/bride by name (leaving this revelation in feminine language only in relation to Mother Mary and Mother Church). So here we are, still up in the air. So close, but no cigar. I'm going to keep trying to work this out, because if we can use masculine terms to discuss God, despite his being pure spirit, then there seems to be no theological reason not to use feminine terms as well. I will imitate Jesus in calling God, "Abba, Father" and the Holy Spirit "Lord", as the Church teaches. However, if Sophia is the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit is also called "Lady Wisdom."

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