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>Woman in Creation and Salvation

Woman in Creation and Salvation

Chapter III
from Woman in the Church
by Louis Bouyer, translated by Marilyn Teichert,
published by the Ignatius Press, San Francisco
1979 and reproduced here with the usual permissions.

It is equally remarkable to note that the greatest Hebrew prophets reject the idea of attributing sexuality to God—an idea which appears to be taken for granted among all the neighboring religions of their time—as the worst kind of blasphemy, the grossest kind of idolatry. Yet they do make use of it, though transfiguring it, where it is not a question of the life, the existence, the being of God, as he is in himself, but rather of the relation he desires to establish with his creature and which he desires the creature to establish in return with him.

The great message of the prophet Hosea is that Israel, the people of God, viewed then evidently as a feminine entity, is called finally to invoke God not as “my Baal,” that is to say “my Lord” in the manner the Canaanite or Babylonian gods were addressed, but rather “my Spouse.”(1) No one will underline with more emphasis than Hosea’s from the very outset the completely gratuitous character of the unparalleled and almost inconceivable grace of this calling. But it is nonetheless clear for all that—in fact it is the more manifest for it—that the prophet insists on his affirmation being taken absolutely seriously.

From this there follows, already in the Old Testament, an unmistakeable transfiguration of human marriage and human sexuality, whose necessary ethical implications are fully developed only in the Gospel.(2) But this transfiguration, far from dissipating the realism of the analogy, consecrates it. This is manifestly clear in the great Biblical epithalamiums: Psalm 45 and the Song of Songs. There will always be a certain naivete in the perplexity of the critics who have never ceased since the rabbinical era to ask whether those passages deal with an actual espousal between a man and a woman or rather with the union of the Lord with his people. Most certainly they deal with both: with the one within the other. Such a high idea of love and sexual union proceeds from the fundamental idea that it is worthy to represent the union of a God, even as transcendent as the Biblical God, with his creation—though the union of the sexes, in all its indissolubly carnal and spiritual reality, appears conversely not only as a possible image but as the only sufficient image of a union which is itself so transcendent.

We need not be surprised that Jeremiah, the prophet par excellence of the intimacy of God with his people, should have taken up this theme in his turn.(3) Even more than Hosea, he emphasizes in it the agonizing, even crucifying aspects. Reading him, we find ourselves on a developing line of thought which culminates in the declaration of St. Paul: “Christ loved the Church, and sacrificed himself for her.”(4)

Ezekiel, in turn, took up the theme again even more boldly.(5) He emphasizes not only the infidelity, but the original unworthiness of the spouse, and, conversely, the limitless munificence of such a betrothal. He does this by revealing behind the spousal theme the even more radical theme of the fatherhood, uniquely God’s, which is extended to man in the unimaginable and truly unbelievable grace of his supernatural adoption.

However, already in the Old Testament we find this theme of the marriage of God to his people twice re-echoed and expanded, which demonstrates to what point God is affected by it even though the envisaged relation has no place in God considered in his transcendence, but only on the level of his creative work.

In the first place, the Wisdom Books apply the theme to Wisdom herself, in her relation to the wise man in general, but especially to the Wise Man par excellence, indeed, the only Wise Man worthy of the name: God. Wisdom is a feminine figure already in Proverbs 8; the final object of love for the wise man according to the Wisdom of Solomon;(6) Wisdom in Sirach (7) is undeniably the divine spouse. But what is this Wisdom, more and more concretely personified as the realism of the relationship with God becomes more intense? One might say that, seen in relation to the transcendent God, indeed in himself, it is his plan for all of creation. But if it appears in such a relation to him, it is because this plan is a plan of love, and very definitely of spousal love, where mutual knowledge demands the conformity of creation with the plan of its Creator, in a conformity to him which could only be the effect as well as the necessary condition of a true union of him who is everything with her who is nothing.

The rabbis, in their turn, go one step further with their theology of the Shekinah—the presence of God among his people in this world, which was already oriented by Ezekiel toward a presence in them.(8) Yet this was already implicit, at least, in the great text of Sirach where Wisdom appears as being one with this Presence under the luminous cloud which filled the Tabernacle and later the Temple.

In other words, the Wisdom Books assure us that this spousal relationship is not simply an accommodation to humanity, to its own modes of relational existence, which God makes in approaching us, but that it embraces in man, in humanity inseparable from the whole cosmos and revealing in its own history all the virtualities of this cosmos, the total and ultimate relation of God to all his works. Before God, finally, the whole creature is called to realize fully what we may call its femininity in a spousal vocation, which in turn brings out in God himself the character of supernatural Spouse.

The rabbis, however, we repeat, did nothing but bring into broad daylight all the implications of what was already latent in the wisdom writings. In fact, if it is truly real, this final relationship of the Creator to the creature supposes a reciprocal immanence. As we have been, we are and shall always be eternally in God, the unique object of an eternal love, all together and all things with us: God the Father, the invisible, as inaccessible as he is in his transcendent virginity, makes himself in us—in this other Self which is the spouse—immanence itself. He will remain in her at the end of time, as before time she remained in him. Therefore— and the rabbis, again, discerned this as the final implication of the divine Word—the Word itself, the Memra, is also feminine insofar as it projects creation outside of God, and at the same time calls it back to him in an ineffable intercession, but freely, as the final object of his love.(9) And this is to be seen already in Ecclesiastes again, where Wisdom and the presence of God are seen as one only when they are finally identified with this Word emanating from his eternal silence.

Insofar as it expresses the Name of God, however, the Word is one with the mysterious “Angel of the Lord” of the ancient Biblical accounts, which is really not separate from him, though it is distinct from him.(10) It is this which the Greek Bible was to express by applying to the Word the masculine noun, “Logos.” Beginning with Philo there arises the first affirmation that this Logos is the first-born of God, in a sense his only Beloved. (11)Yet insofar as it expresses ad extra the love which is the life of God itself, the eternally fruitful life in the eternal virginity of his heavenly fatherhood, the Word is indeed feminine. For it expresses the will of God to call forth being from nothingness in order to espouse it in his eternal Son. Thus the cosmic city, where the elect shall be gathered together in the fullness of time, (12) where all things shall be united around risen humanity, regenerated at the divine source, shall be revealed on the last day as the Unica Sponsa, consecrating in herself, in the reunion of Wisdom with the Word, the adoption with him and in him of all things by the Only Father from which all fatherhood, in heaven and on earth, receives its name. (13)


1. Hosea 1 to 3.

2. Matthew 19:3 ff., and parallels.

3. Jeremiah 2 and 3.

4. Ephesians 5:25.

5. Ezekiel 16.

6. Wisdom of Solomon 7 ff.

7. Sirach 24.

8. Ezekiel 11:16

9. See the Targums on the Song of Songs, 1:3 and 6:3.

10. See, for example, Judges 13:3 ff.

11. Philo, De posteritate Caini, 63; Vita Mosis, v. 2, 134; De Confusione Linguarum, 63.

12. Revelation 21.

13. Ephesians 3:15.

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