Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu


by Rita Nakashima Brock

From Journeys by Heart, pp. 50-70
Published by The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1988

The pervasive, profoundly patriarchal elements of Christianity have forced those of us who consider ourselves feminist and Christian to struggle intensely with our faith and our commitments to justice and wholeness. Our decisions to leave or to stay within Christianity are less important than what our struggles have revealed about the oppressive, patriarchal character of so much of Christian history and theology. The feminist vision of healing, wholeness, and spirituality must save Christianity from its patriarchy—if Christian theology is to remain true to its claims that all human beings are created in the divine image, that divine power is love in its fullness, and that the community of divine power is one of justice and peace.

Feminist theological critiques of Christianity make the maintenance of its patriarchal family structures in christology unacceptable. Feminists such as Rosemary Ruether and Mary Daly stand in a long line of iconoclasts such as Freud, Nietzsche, Fromm, and Hartshorne who have attacked the negative impact of denying persons their full humanity through authoritarian and punitive images of divine power.

Alice Miller explains how an abused child needs to respect and protect a nostalgic image of the punitive control-oriented parent, an image that is reflected in theology. Our oppressive, patriarchal doctrines are a result of the abusive treatment of children in a patriarchal culture. To free ourselves of cycles of abuse, we need theologies that reveal the Heart of the Universe

In looking for christological clues about the presence and work of erotic power, I will be occupied with a theological task. However, my interpretations are indebted to historical research in biblical studies, which has also come increasingly to understand the biblical texts as theological statements. Within the texts I believe we find hints of life-transforming realities based in erotic power, in images both of broken heartedness and of the healing of heart. The focus of redemption has been traditionally lodged in Jesus as the Christ, reflecting, I believe, an androcentric preoccupation with heroes. Life-giving relational realities were nonetheless present, and they can be discerned in biblical images that lead us toward the reclaiming of heart. Before moving to a discussion of biblical images of erotic power, I will discuss why I do not find christologies that base themselves in Jesus adequate for transforming patriarchy and healing suffering.

Several assumptions guide my search for christological images of erotic power. First, while christology, broadly defined, is the logical explanation of Christian faith claims about divine presence and salvific activity in human life, theological explanations emerge from particular social, historical contexts. Hence abstract, philosophical concepts have political and psychological roots. The convincing quality of any idea lies first in what Whitehead, in Modes of Thought, called interest, in the feelings that lie behind a commitment to the search for truth and in the intuitive sense of connectedness that gives particular ideas a compelling quality of importance.(1)In the following examination of traditional christology, I will focus on what I believe are some of the underlying connections of christological concepts to the larger social and psychological structures of the patriarchal family, especially its power orientations and its damage to self. I believe the patriarchal grounding of many classical christological ideas gives believers a feeling of the vast importance and sense of internal coherence of those ideas. In their time and context, the ideas may have had a transforming impact, but they do little now to demystify patriarchy or redeem humanity in its fullness.

I believe the images of the patriarchal family embedded in Christian theology are part of the emotional appeal of certain doctrines and of theology's patriarchal assumptions. As feminist theology seeks to draw us toward a nonpatriarchal future, analysis of the social, political, and psychological roots of doctrinal claims is crucial to demystifying nonliberating theological concepts and modern defenses of those concepts. The patriarchal underpinnings of many theological doctrines are, of course, not especially covert. The patriarchal structures manifest themselves especially clearly in the family analogies used to explain doctrinal statements.

The compelling power of many ideas lies in the images associated with them and in their unconscious association with unexamined but emotionally powerful experiences. The philosophical systems used to explain images often hide or, flatten their psychological ability to invoke interest. The power of images is prior to and larger than their intellectual explanations, just as the intellectual development of a child is contingent upon the concrete world of objects it internalizes as resources for its self development. While theology cannot be reduced to sociology or psychology, new feminist insights in these areas need to inform our examination of the ultimate claims made by Christian theology so that we can develop more liberating theologies.

Beyond Jesus as the Christ

In moving beyond a unilateral understanding of power, I will be developing a christology not centered in Jesus, but in relationship and community as the whole-making, healing center of Christianity. In that sense, Christ is what I am calling Christa/Community. (2) Jesus participates centrally in this Christa/Community, but he neither brings erotic power into being nor controls it. He is brought into being through it and participates in the cocreation of it. Christa/Community is a lived reality expressed in relational images. Hence Christa/Community is described in the images of events in which erotic power is made manifest. The reality of erotic power within connectedness means it cannot be located in a single individual. Hence what is truly christological, that is, truly revealing of divine incarnation and salvific power in human life, must reside in connectedness and not in single individuals. The relational nature of erotic power is as true during Jesus' life as it is after his death. He neither reveals it nor embodies it, but he participates in its revelation and embodiment. And through its myriad embodiments and playful manifestations, we are led to take heart.

Heart—the self in original grace—is our guide into the territories of erotic power. Through that power we come to touch and be touched by, to transform and be transformed by all that is "the whole and compassionate being." But to come to that wisdom involves understanding the depth of the broken heart of patriarchy and its symbols. Christ, as the center of Christianity, will share in the patriarchal broken heart as long as it supports unilateral views of power. Feminism and Christianity can converge in love and justice if Christ can come to reveal erotic power. This feminist Christology, in being guided by heart, develops another way to understand Christ that will lead us away from the territories of patriarchy and into a world in which incarnation will refer to the whole of human life.

If Christa/Community can be presented as images of erotic power, divine power cannot be described in images of the patriarchal family, which crush heart, nor in the life of one heroic historical person who is singly identified as Christ. I will explore images that open us to the whole and compassionate being of divine incarnation and that illuminate the presence and work of erotic power, even in the brokenheartedness and crushed selves of the patriarchal family structures of Christianity. Erotic power exists as the vast process of human life itself, constantly flowing and growing in relationships; as the heart of Christianity, so, too, does Christ as Christa/Community.

The Abuse of the Son of God

While I do not advocate the continued exclusive or primary use of the image of God/dess as father, it has been a powerful and complex metaphor. The image contains nostalgic longing. A nurturing, intimate father is made virtually absent in patriarchal society. Yet persons need such love. A punitive or distant father in the face of such needs, combined with the inability of mothers to meet all the needs of a child and the tendency of mothers to use children for adult needs, can produce identification with the powerful father as a move toward self-protection. This process leaves the needs of children unmet. In a patriarchal culture, the theology of an abused child who needs love would, I think, be couched in terms of blame, guilt, and freedom from punishment through love from the parent perceived as most powerful. The damaged and defensive psyche requires the projection of the self 's ambivalence onto an outside force or group and the rejection of those who might call such a system into question. This projection manifests itself strongly in Christianity in its hunt for and destruction of heretics and in its condemnation of pagans.

Alternatively, the longing for an intimate relationship with the father might be articulated in the image of a perfectly loving divine father who is not at all punitive and loves all creation unconditionally. But that father's affection, because it is largely unreal, would be distant, abstract, and impersonal. Such lack of real affection can be seen in doctrines of divine apatheia and in the assertion that the highest love is agape, a love based in objective dispassion.

In addition to the longing for a nonthreatening image of protection present in God/dess as father, the image can, in its best forms, produce a kind of community solidarity. The parental image can compel unity and tribal ethical obligation within a believing community, a concept of community which, in some more liberal theologies, is extended to all creation. Hence God/dess as father in liberal theology may have had the transforming impact of a metaphor that helps believers see their relationships in a new light. If one understands all other human beings as children of one father, one can assert that humanity is united as a family, even when reality contradicts such an assertion. However, the image seldom functions thus for women. It has led to the claim that all men are brothers under one father, leaving women outside the ecumenical brotherhood. In addition, the image of relationship via a parent places an intermediary as an outside authority that compels love by command.

Theological systems that carry a longing for an unreal past tend to prohibit our honest grounding in and real acceptance of our life experiences. Such systems of longing are based in nostalgia, the nostalgia of abused children, an abuse epidemic in patriarchal culture. Instead of grounding themselves in the experiences of touching heart to heart in erotic power and of profound love given us by others that we have internalized, such systems focus love on outside authority and obedience to another's will for us. Through being subject to unilateral power, we are supposed to realize mutuality and interdependence. In seeking to orient us to a transcendent, external power, such systems encourage faint- heartedness and make self-awareness and personal power difficult. They foster dependence upon paternalism and engender the idea that divine power is unilateral. Those who seek to be honest about their experiences in patriarchal society will be most alienated from and most likely to reject the destructive and nostalgic elements of such theological systems. If we pay attention to the nostalgia, however, and read it for clues, rather than reject it outright, we can see what is missing here, which is interdependence—the intimacy, respect, and love necessary to loving the whole and compassionate being that comes from connectedness.

In theological analogies of father-son relationships, the parent and child are so fused that the parent is immersed in the child who, ideally, has no independent will. This parent-child fusion serves to maintain the independence of the parent and the dependence of the child. Classical trinitarian theology follows this model of paternalism. The father is independent of creation and the son issues from and is dependent on the father, even as the son coexists with the father at the beginning of creation. The aspect which coexists with the father, the logos, is that nature most fused with the father. Causality through divine will flows unilaterally from the father through his word to the son.

The fusion of parent and child is not the same as the empathy one person experiences when another suffers. Empathetic attunement prevents one person from inflicting suffering on another because the dignity and value of the other as a unique and distinct self is affirmed. Our ability to suffer with another empowers us, where possible, to stop suffering. The function of empathy is to prevent or stop suffering and self-sacrifice, not to inflict or to allow it.

The patriarchal father-god fosters dependence and, in his latent, punitive aspects, haunts many atonement doctrines. New Testament atonement images generally fall into four categories, according to J. F. Bethune-Baker in An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine : (1) through Jesus' death the enemies of God are reconciled to each other; (2) humanity is under bondage to sin, requiring Jesus' death as ransom; (3) sin causes humanity to be at a deficit so Jesus' death pays the debt; or (4) Jesus Christ is a propitiation, a pure sacrifice, who cleanses humanity of sin.(3) Trinitarian formulations connected to atonement stress the sacrifice of the father-god in taking on mortal life, so that he also suffers through the crucifixion. (This formula sounds like a variation of what parents say to children they punish, "This hurts me more than it hurts you.") The above understandings, begun "from above," from the divine aspect of Jesus as Christ, accept the need to protect authority.

Atonement christologies contain some notion of original sin, in which humanity is believed to be born with a tragic flaw. Therefore we must be dependent upon the perfect father to show us the way to a restored relationship with him and each other. The punishment of one perfect child has to occur before the father can forgive the rest of his children and love them. In more benign atonement forms, the father does not punish the son. Instead the father allows the son to suffer the consequences of the evil created by his wayward creation. Hence the father stands by in passive anguish as his most beloved son is killed, because the father refuses to interfere with human freedom. The sacrifice of this perfect son is the way to new life with the father for all those, who in their freedom, choose to believe someone else's suffering can atone for our flawed nature. The death and resurrection of this child are celebrated as salvific.

Trinitarian formulations of atonement absolve god the father of his punitive aspect by asserting that the consequences for human sin are actually taken into the divine existence, such that divine suffering takes away human suffering. This removal of suffering through the son's work reveals the truly loving divine nature. The human person who suffers the penalty for sin in this cosmic transaction is the one least deserving of punishment because he is the sinless son. In sacrificing his most beloved and only son, god the father demonstrates his love for all others. In believing that this transaction reveals the loving grace of god the father, the faithful are absolved of the need to suffer the consequences of sin. Rather than being cocreators and corevealers of grace, human beings are the dependent recipients of the fruits of an event working within a transcendent god. We are encouraged to believe our own suffering has been taken away by someone else's suffering and by a cosmic transaction within the divine life. If we are willing to remain dependent upon this power, we live in grace. The refusal to live in such dependence is sin, hubris, miring us in the consequences of a false sense of independence. What is missing in this scheme is interdependence and mutuality. We are not called to embrace our own suffering, to touch the deepest pain we feel about not having been loved and respected, and to discover the gifts of grace in our connectedness to ourselves and others. Instead we are enjoined to look to a suffering and power outside us, both greater than ours.

The shadow of omnipotence haunts atonement. The ghost of the punitive father lurks in the corners. He never disappears even as he is transformed into an image of forgiving grace. Hence the experience of grace is lodged, I believe, not so much in a clear sense of personal worth gained from an awareness of interdependence and the unconditional nature of love, but in a sense of relief from escaping punishment for one's failings. Paternalistic grace functions by allowing a select group to be in a favored relationship with the powerful father, but the overall destructiveness of the oppressive systems of the patriarchal family is not challenged by such benevolence. Hence judgment on the unsaved is a necessary component of atonement.

Such doctrines of salvation reflect by analogy, I believe, images of the neglect of children or, even worse, child abuse, making it acceptable as divine behavior—cosmic child abuse, as it were. The father allows, or even inflicts, the death of his only perfect son. The emphasis is on the goodness and power of the father and the unworthiness and powerlessness of his children, so that the father's punishment is just, and children are to blame. While atonement doctrines emphasize the father's grace and forgiveness, making it seem as if he accepts all persons whole without the demand that they be good and free of sin, such acceptance is contingent upon the suffering of the one perfect child.

The tendency to accept blame for being wrong is characteristic of an abused child, as Miller points out. The child projects the image of an ideal parent onto an outside figure who is always right and who is the source of both love and righteous punishment. Such projection helps the child manage a sense of rage about being denied love, being hurt, and being made wrong. In addition, the child comes to associate hurt with love. Such an association also leads to a need to avoid the hurt by splitting off frightening or negative aspects from the self and projecting them onto others, as Christian theology has tended to do to women, pagans, Jews, and all "unsaved" others who are ready scapegoats.

Classical trinitarian formulas reflect patriarchal family relationships between parent and child and husband and wife. In the patriarchal family, all members are regarded as possessions and extensions of the reigning authority figure. The father and son become one person. The father is seen to live some aspect of his own life in his son. This fusion is repeated in the bridegroom-bride images of Jesus Christ and church. Hence humanity is fused to the son through our common human nature and to the son and the father through the spirit. The very abstractness and incoherence of the doctrines, with the continual need in the tradition for reexplanation and rationalization, indicate to me that they tend to reinforce mystifying images and a sense of fusion, which is part of human experience. But fusion cannot satisfy our deepest spiritual needs for images of intimacy. Real intimacy is grounded in the contextual, unique, and particular, and in interdependence.

Believing that we have already been forgiven for our sin by a previous act of divine grace through the suffering of the son can lead to self-acceptance and forgiveness of others. Being liberated from the fear of punishment produces an open graciousness toward others as happened in Luther's awakening to grace. However, traditional doctrinal formulations do nothing to transform dualistic and punitive patriarchal family structures, as can be seen in Luther's virulent anti-Semitism. Traditional theologies remain focused on the dependent relation of individual believers to a transcendent father. There is little in traditional doctrines to lead us to a concrete analysis of the social dimensions of sin or to a social sense of incarnation. We fail to see the suffering that is built into the social structures in which we all participate and our responsibility for the transformation of such structures, a critique of individualism in Christianity well articulated in liberation theologies.

Other nontrinitarian christological positions, those often labeled heretical such as Arianism, are not free from the tendency to move toward a fusion, though Arius held more of a distinction between father and son, such that the son only knew, in a creaturely way, what the father let him know. Nonetheless, the son lives his life in the father. Nontrinitarian formulas such as Apollinarianism or monotheletism carry the fusion of Jesus with humanity by removing him too far toward the divine. (4)

The Modern Liberation of Jesus

The term "historical Jesus", identifies the Jesus of the Gospels and what can be known historically about him through biblical scholarship. The quest of the historical Jesus, in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is extremely important in modern christologies. The quest emphasizes the humanity of Jesus in an unprecedented way and challenges christologies that proclaimed Jesus as the agent of universal divine action through rejection of his physical existence. His historical life and actual world have become important. In addition, research on the historical Jesus has provided invaluable information about the origins of Christianity. It is no longer possible to write about Jesus without mentioning his humanity and the eschatological character of his message. The quest has also helped make clear the limits of what can be known about Jesus as a historical person.

Modern incarnarional christologies emphasize the life of the historical Jesus as revelatory of divine will. Liberation ideas stress his work for the poor and dispossessed and his vision of the basileia, the community of divine presence. Jesus is depicted as a heroic savior figure who defies established authority and reveals, through his work and the events of his life, the liberating will of the deity he worships. Hence he is actualizing his father's will. Modern atonement doctrines proclaim the life and death of Jesus as uniquely revealing our knowledge of God/dess. They emphasize what was accomplished in Jesus Christ for all human beings. Jesus becomes the spiritual heroic warrior, the single conqueror who defeats death, injustice, or evil. Most liberation christologies base themselves in some version of the sin/salvation paradigm of atonement, although the definition of sin has moved beyond individual blame to a more Marxist-based social understanding of sin. Liberation christologies emphasize Jesus' heroic aspect and obedience to his father. In addition, they affirm Jesus as the human vehicle of a saving and liberating knowledge of God/dess.

Feminist christologies, in various forms, also focus on Jesus as Christ, though they are careful not to make Jesus an exclusive revelation of God/dess. Patricia Wilson-Kastner equates feminist wholeness with the christological theme of reconciliation. She translates wholeness into an inclusive model of humanity and asserts that in the specific human being, Jesus, divine love was revealed.

Jesus became flesh so as to show forth the Jove of God among us, a love which is not merely an expression of good will, but the power of an energy which is the heart, core, and cohesive force of the universe. {p- 90}

Wilson-Kastner acknowledges that an exalted view of Jesus' maleness has led to rampant misogyny in the church and criticizes attempts to absolutize any particular concrete aspect of an individual's personality. In developing an inclusive christology she asserts that Christ as Jesus reveals the nature of love as it continues to exist into the present.

Christ is the human expression of God to us, and thus we must try to understand what God meant in Christ. . . . Christ is not simply the new male person, but one who shows all persons how to live. As a human he shows us what human self-possession and self-giving are. Thereby Christ shows us the link between divine and human, the cosmos and its conscious inhabitants. . . . The Christ whom we are considering is, after all, the living Christ, not simply a Palestinian rabbi of the first century. {p. 91}

On the one hand, Wilson-Kastner claims that Jesus is a human who reveals divine love. On the other, she asserts that, at his crucifixion, he becomes the new human being, the perfect priest who, as Christ, gathers into himself all alienating dualisms that fragment the human condition. In this shift of meaning, Wilson-Kastner retreats from an earlier assertion that the full inclusion of the concrete particulars of any individual life or of any distinctive group of people is essential to understanding wholeness and developing an adequate theology. An adequate theology must include those particulars by basing itself in the whole human community.

To gain new insights today, one needs to take into account a variety of perspectives, and find a firmer, more plausible base for theology. That base must involve both the whole human community, not just a part of that community, and the God who is the source of the whole. . . . If our fundamental relationship lies in human unity, then all values and decisions which are made by humans must take account of the whole. Such decision-making involves not only a balancing and weighing of many factors respecting individual diversity but also the complexity of out interrelationships, {p- 65}

I believe Wilson-Kastner retreats from the full implications of her position when she begins to talk about Christ. Her retreat involves several shifts. First, she takes what I have identified as the feminist sense of the whole and compassionate being—the necessity of our connection to the largest possible actual existence and the profound positive affirmation of the diversity of life—and shifts to the more monolithic and abstract Christian concept of unity that makes concrete particularity secondary. In doing so, she claims one human person embodies unity, rather than the whole set of interconnections in any person's community. This shift involves, I think, Wilson-Kastner's implicit assumption that human differences, which emerge from the reality of our concrete particularity, are the causes of alienation and destruction in human relationships. Her solution to this tendency toward alienation is unity. The positive reality of every person's distinctive differences from others, the ebb and flow of relationships, and our profound cocreation of each other is subsumed under the negative aspects of differences. She then asserts the human race as a unifying principle. Consequently, one person can fuse the complexity of the human condition into his one being as a representative of the human race.

In assuming the divisive nature of particularity, she asserts that the concrete particulars of Jesus' life are examples of God/dess's humility and self-emptying. She makes the actuality of Jesus, as an embodied human person, secondary to the universal, abstract principle of overcoming dualism. On the one hand, she states that the crucified Christ does not catch all up into an undifferentiated whole in which multiplicity is erased. On the other, she says:

Because of the unity of divinity and humanity in the crucified Christ, the God who is self-giving and receiving accepts the fragmented human condition into the divine life for healing, and the humanity of Christ gathers into himself all the forces of alienation and destruction active in his own death. All the dualisms which divide, separate, cause pain, and support oppression and lack of communion with the others are all gathered together at the crucifixion, and Christ receives them. . . . Everything converges in him, and in his person and activity everything finds wholeness and meaning, {p. 100}

Thus Jesus becomes an exception to the concrete nature of human beings, rather than an example of it. No single human person except Jesus represents wholeness. For after his death, Wilson-Kastner claims, the entire church becomes the Christ.

Another shift occurs when Wilson-Kastner expands logos to include Wisdom, which, for her, makes the incarnation both masculine and feminine and affirms interdependence. She also intends with this shift to affirm the infinite variety of concrete interrelationships and shifting activities. This inclusion of feminine and masculine in the divine incarnation moves her toward an androgynous christology, which is consistent with her need to make Jesus as inclusive an image as possible.

Rosemary Ruether points out in To Change the World that androgynous christologies are not inclusive, even while claiming that Jesus as the Christ represents an inclusive concept of humanity. The symbol of Jesus is not fully egalitarian because no woman is allowed to represent full human potential.

The very concept of androgyny presupposes a psychic dualism that identifies maleness with one-half of human capacities and femaleness with the other. . . Men gain their "feminine" side, but women contribute to the whole by specializing in the representation of the "feminine," which means exclusion from the exercise of the roles of power and leadership associated with masculinity, {pp. 49-53}

In any case, androgyny is not as egalitarian as it sounds. The male Yahweh has a long history of androgynous qualities, as king, father, and lover, with both controlling and loving characteristics. In a patriarchal social structure women are understood to be extensions of the male self and his needs, such that the nutering, loving aspects of feminity can be sub- sumed under and within the masculine self. That Yahweh as father can have feminine qualities does not challenge or even demystify patriarchal structures. An androgynous Jesus Christ also repeats a patriarchal pattern. Wisdom, of Sophia, is not currently a feminine equivalent of Yahweh or logos, though we might work to make her so.

It may seem a solution to the church's tendency to deify Jesus' maleness to make human concreteness secondary to an abstract notion of his human-ness, which symbolizes unity. But such a view of unity produces another problem. Wilson-Kastner asserts that Jesus' revelation of divine love and his death reveal unity. If one individual comes to reveal unity, then I believe the concept of unity becomes detached from unity as interconnectedness, which can only be embodied in it fullness in the actuality of relationships.

At this point, I think Wilson-Kastner is using two notions of unity as one. The struggle that each of us encounters to make a coherent unity or whole of our lives, through all the complex relational elements that are our identity, is always limited and culturally bound, no matter how inclusive our actual world. That achievement of integrity, that depth of heart, is distinct, though not opposite, from the achievement of community, in which everyone must be present for unity to exist. In fact, I would argue that the second kind of unity is prior to and crucial to the formation of the first. Our real experiences of each other are crucial to our understanding of existence and of God/dess, as well as to a wholeness that moves toward the acceptance of cultural relativity and a capacity to connect to all that exists. Wilson-Kastner makes the first kind of unity prior to the second.

She also confuses wholeness with the first kind of uniting by uncritically mixing concrete feminist political analyses of oppression and liberation with the more abstract philosophical notions of unity and reconciliation drawn from Christian theology. When feminists use the term wholeness, it carries concrete physical, psychological, political, economic, and sociological connotations. When Christians speak of unity, they are usually referring to doctrinal unanimity, which carries philosophical connotations. Wilson-Kastner jumps from one to the other without demonstrating how they are similar. In doing so, I think she attenuates the importance of real experience and concrete reality in feminist thought, thereby confusing unity with connectedness.

Wilson-Kastner deems inessential the very ways human beings are in the world. Concrete particulars are the evidence and channels of erotic power. The gift of the world to us and God/dess in the world come to us through embodiment. We do not experience ourselves or other persons as abstract principles or as general human beings, but as concretely present—as black tall man, Latin old woman, Korean small newborn, blond fat man, and so on. We come to love each other not through abstractions, but through the complex, ambiguous realities of our own unique existences. Our abstractions emerge from the concrete, fluid realities of our rich inner object world. Our ideas and images well up from there. That inner world is a mirror of the concrete outer world, even as it creatively appropriates that world.

The use of a notion like "the human race" as the key to understanding Jesus' significance sustains an inadequate feminist understanding of wholeness. To say that concrete particulars are examples of God/dess's humility in incarnation reduces to secondary status all the rich, complex, relational elements that make us human persons. Concreteness is taken as incidental to or transcended by Jesus' incarnation of the divine Logos. Yet Jesus' world and divine power in that world are incarnate in him in the distinctive complexity of his own life. And that life was as limited and culturally bound as any human life. The concreteness of our own lives comes from interconnection in particular contexts and reveals erotic power. Hence others are essential for wholeness to occur. Wholeness as community cannot be summed up in one life.

We are uniquely constituted by a complexity of characteristics that are the fullness of our being. The whole-hearted inclusion of the concrete particulars of life affirms the interactions of erotic power in the world. The fullness of humanity is the presence of erotic power in each individual-in-community and in the constant change and growth of each moment of existence. We continue to become the fullest incarnation of erotic power when our bodies, feelings, needs, and awarenesses are affirmed as an integral aspect of our ongoing existence and as the route of our connection to and cocreation of others. Christian idealism and its dualistic mind-body split has consistently subordinated the physical, or matter and earth, to the spiritual, or soul and heaven.

When in our definition of human perfection we make evidence of erotic power secondary to the soul or spirit, the complex elements that uniquely constitute each of us are subordinated to our abstract inclusion in Jesus as the Christ. That which we have denied as central to another becomes difficult to affirm within ourselves. Affirming Jesus' particularity in its diverse forms as an aspect of God/dess and the world in him allows us to acknowledge how he differs from us and to affirm that we ourselves and our world incarnate God/dess. Hence particularity is not the self-emptying of divine power, but an aspect of its fullness. Jesus was cocreated by his world, as we are by ours.

Rosemary Ruether, in constructing her position on christology, criticizes androgynous christologies (discussed above) and spirit christologies. Spirit christologies disembody the spiritual dimension from the concrete, historical Jesus, calling the former aspect Christ. Through such spiritualizing of Christ, various groups, such as the Shakers, have claimed a reincarnation of Christ in new form. Though such spirit Christologies allow for the claim that Christ can take female form, they do so at the expense of the body. According to Ruether, nothing in spirit christologies allows us the positive reclamation of female bodies or profound relationships to nature. I believe she is on the right track in refuting attempts to spiritualize Christ. The disembodiment of Christ from Jesus and reembodimcnt of Christ in a new single savior allows the claim that one human form, male or female, is Christ, locating power unilaterally in one place. However, I believe Ruether's own position raises other difficulties because she operates partially from an underlying unilateral view of power.

Jesus' criticisms of religious and social hierarchy, according to Ruether, parallel feminist criticisms of patriarchy. She uses the model of the prophetic tradition to demonstrate the validity of his redemptive role in human life. As prophet, Jesus proclaims a new vision of relationship to God/dess and the world, a vision that is nonhierarchical and iconoclastic.

Jesus as liberator calls for a renunciation, a dissolution, of the web of status relationships by which societies have defined privilege and deprivation. He protests against the identification of this system with the favor or disfavor of God. His ability to speak as liberator does not reside in his maleness but in the fact that he has renounced this system of domination and seeks to embody in his person the new humanity of service and mutual empowerment. He speaks to and is responded to by low-caste women because they represent the bottom of this status network and have the least stake in its perpetuation. {1983, p. 137}

Jesus reveals a new divine call to liberation that transcends all status and privilege. The prophetic behavior of Jesus is evidence for the compatibility of feminism with Christianity. Ruether believes Jesus' maleness reveals the

kenosis of patriarchy, the announcement of the new humanity through a lifestyle that discards hierarchical caste privilege and speaks on behalf of the lowly. [1983, p. 137]

Jesus is the one who morally transcends patriarchy. Hence Jesus is the authority and evidence of feminist Christianity.

The historical Jesus starts a process. Ruether, like Wilson-Kastner, does not want to limit Christ to Jesus. She urges that the relationship between redeemer and redeemed be seen as a fluid interaction, so that the redeemer is one who has been redeemed. "Those who have been liberated can, in turn, become paradigmatic, liberating persons for others" (1984, p. 138). Reuther disavows the "once-for-all" redemption of Jesus and speaks of Christic personhood continuing in all liberated humanity.

Christ, the liberated humanity, is not confined to a static perfection of one person two thousand years ago. Rather, redemptive humanity goes ahead of us, calling us to yet uncompleted dimensions of human liberation. [1983, p. 138]

While Jesus is the first prophetic Christ, the coming reign of God/dess will be the second coming.

The difficulty I find with Ruether's position is her move from a nonrelational paradigm to a relational one. The biblical prophet is the heroic individual, someone who receives a private revelation of God/dess and then proclaims it against all odds. The prophet, isolated and persecuted, preaches a message about proper worship of the one true God/dess. Few prophetic images connote receptivity toward, listening to, or interaction with a community of support. The prophet seeks to protect the sovereignty of divine will against any who threaten it.

In placing Jesus' fullest relationship to God/dess within a prophetic context, the world to which Jesus subsequently preaches and ministers becomes the objective proof of his private relationship with God/dess. For the prophet characteristically has a private experience of God/dess and obeys by protecting divine rule. Jesus' iconoclastic and serving relationship to the world is evidence of his right to be called Christ. The world becomes the proving ground of his personal relationship to God/dess and of his unilateral power. As liberated man, he liberates and empowers others. The oppressed function, in Ruether's scheme, as victims to be acted upon. The world is not described as constitutive of Jesus' personal awareness of God/dess or as a source of his power. Jesus is the hero and liberator. While Ruether claims the redeemer is also redeemed, she gives no evidence for how, since only the liberated can liberate. The relationship of liberator to oppressed is unilateral. Hence the hero must speak for victims. The brokenhearted do not speak to the strong. I believe Ruether maintains a unilateral, heroic model.

The iconoclastic function of the Gospels has been much examined for its capacity to affirm justice and shatter patriarchy. The clean fury of prophetic iconoclasm is essential to the shattering of complacency and entrenched power structures. This shattering is crucial to the powers of the weak—to the capacity of those on the underside of hierarchies to be skeptical of dominant forms of thought and to think in new ways. At the political level, iconoclasm works to demystify the dominant power of the ruling elite. At the personal level, the orientation of the broken heart toward controlling power and defensive rigidity is challenged. However, the shattering is only half the story.

Ruether maintains a concrete and historical understanding of Jesus as Christ the liberator and does not want to limit Christ to Jesus. However, while Jesus is alive, he is the Christ. Jesus challenges social structures. Reuther's emphasis on the need to change social structures is essential to any feminist understanding of Christianity. Anger is an essential step toward liberation, but liberation is one element in relationships. Iconoclasm remains too polarizing to sustain.

The rebellion against paternalism and oppression is an important step of anger, but being stuck in anger can lead to a rigid self-righteousness that is not self-critical or to an unconscious reenactment of power over others. The shattering of dominant power must be accompanied by a move toward self-awareness and self-affirmation. The continual focus on political structures outside the self—on positional power—cuts us off from important and potentially liberating insights through the self. The skepticism that challenges hierarchy comes from a community that supports and empowers de-mystification. Missing from Ruether's position is the crucial presence of members of Jesus' community as embodying God/dess and having a transforming impact on him. Without alternative relationships, the iconoclastic shattering of power-over is also the fragmentation of self. We require relationships that support us to develop the play space that can see through destructive powers, even our own.

The Jesus of Erotic Power and the Feminist Christa/Community

The interactive process of erotic power makes essential the give and take quality of intimacy among selves. Decisions and actions are not made by one person, but result from historical circumstances and from our deep relatedness to other persons. I believe the above views of Christ tend to rely on unilateral views of power and a too limited understanding of the power of community. They present a heroic Jesus who alone is able to achieve an empowering self-consciousness through a solitary, private relationship with God/dess. If Jesus is reported to have been capable of profound love and concern for others, he was first loved and respected by the concrete persons of his life. If he was liberated, he was involved in a community of mutual liberation, which Ruether states but does not demonstrate in her model of Jesus. The Gospel narratives give us glimpses of the mutuality of Jesus' relationships in their pictures of Capernaum, a place to which Jesus repeatedly returns for support and nurturing, and in the settings of the stories in which Jesus is visiting the houses of his friends for conversation and physical comfort. Even during his most active ministry, he rarely goes anywhere alone; one of the first acts of that ministry was to call others to participate in creating the basileia, the community of God/dess.

Jesus' vision of basileia grew to include the dispossessed, women, and non-Jews, a group Schüssler Fiorenza calls "the marginal," because of his encounter and intetaction with the real presence of such people. They cocreate liberation and healing from brokenheartedness. They reveal heart. Relationships create the possibility of a new vision, for in the power of real presence, erotic power—divine incarnate power—works. Direct, firsthand, deeply felt contact produces shared understandings and transforming insights. The visions that empower the actions of a community are not possible before the actual relationships. The feminist term "woman-identified" means the capacity to feel and envision justice for women on the basis of concrete relationships with real women, rather than on the predefined concepts of androcentric world views.

If feminism can be reconciled with Christianity, such reconciliation is not possible because Jesus, as the heroic figure, reveals a nonpatriarchal vision of community in which women may participate. The reconciliation is possible because of the work of women and because feminist insights about erotic power intersect with the Christian confession that divine reality and redemptive power are love in its fullness. Using feminist experiences and analyses of male dominance and a feminist hermeneutic of erotic power on the biblical texts, it is possible to catch glimpses, within androcentric texts, of the important presence and influence of erotic power within the Christa/Community. Erotic power in the texts sustains and cocreates the whole and compassionate being.

This feminist reformulation of christology depends upon the works of those feminists cited above. My position moves in a different direction in feminist territories, but it could not have been developed without the dislocation from androcentric realms that feminist theology has encouraged. I believe that feminist theological visions of new territories are well on their way to charting a clearer, truer route to justice, love, and peace. I will explore christology constructed on the assumption that divine erotic power liberates, heals, and makes whole through our willingness to participate in mutuality. What follows is a christology of interconnection and action for justice, love, and peace, not of authority, heroism, and proclamation. I find glimpses of this christology of erotic power in the Markan miracle stories, in exorcism and the healing of brokenheartedness—in the Christa/Community of erotic power. I also find it in the Markan passion narrative as the community confronts one of the most serious threats to its existence.

The Redemption of Christa/Community

Christa/Community emerges from, reveals, and recreates erotic power as it moves to include the whole and compassionate being. Even in Jesus' life-time, Christa/ Community is not simply the figure of Jesus combined with an abstract ideal, but the members of his whole community who generate erotic power. Christa/Community involves his community's experience of him, but Christa/Community is not limited to the historical Jesus, even in his lifetime.

To base a christology largely on the historical Jesus, as Schubert Ogden in The Point of Christologyclaims, is to commit the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," a term coined by Whitehead in Science and the Modern World. (5) We confuse some concept with the larger context and events from which it is drawn, mistaking the concept for the entire phenomenon. This fallacy dooms a civilization to sterility when its abstractions cannot burst through to the larger context of reality from which abstractions are taken. Tom Driver in Christ in a Changing World argues on ethical grounds that Christ understood as Jesus must be removed as the center of Christianity because keeping Jesus Christ in the center gives priority to individual existence instead of the larger sanctity of community.(6) For Driver, even when Christ is decentralized, Christ refers to individuals within specific communities, to many Christs. I believe the individualizing of Christ misplaces the locus of incarnation and redemption. We must find the revelatory and saving events of Christianity in a larger reality than Jesus and his relationship to God/dess or any subsequent individual Christ.

Both the old and new quests of the historical Jesus presuppose the primary importance of the individual. However, individuals only make sense in the larger context of events embedded in particular historical structures. The tendency to focus on heroes may divert our attention from the factors most important in understanding an event. Events emerge from enormous social-cultural factors as well as from unique individuals who participate in the making of events. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's In Memory of Her illustrates the shift in perspective that can grow from a look at larger historical and cultural factors in the formation of Christianity. The historical information gained by feminist biblical scholars is crucial to a new understanding of the origins of Christianity.

This new understanding does not come simply from better history. Many feminist theologians are also calling for a change in standards of truth and authority. The shift in standards to women's experiences under patriarchy and the call for liberating theories and action is creating a new vision of Christian faith. In House for Hope; a Study in Process and Biblical ThoughtWilliam Beardslee states:

One who proclaims the Christian faith is a poet, creating a convincing world of vision with the figure of Christ at its center. ... the poet is actually creating a world in which the response can be meaningful; he calls for a shift of change in. ... standards.(7).

The feminist shift in standards creates new visions that are moving toward a different center for Christian faith.

The shift in perspective suggested here relocates Christ in the community of which Jesus is one historical part. Jesus is used by the Gospel writers, who shape oral and written traditions for their own distinctive theological purposes, to focus faith, but he is not the locus of the redemptive event, even during his life. Christ—the revelatory and redemptive witness of God/dess's work in history—is Christa/Community. The Christa/Community in the biblical texts, in the stories of Jesus and other figures, is the church's imaginative witness to its experiences of brokenness and sacredness of erotic power in human existence.

The Gospel writers use Jesus, his community, a past faith heritage, and their own life contexts to create distinctive images of faith and hope. Some of the images support male dominance and unilateral power, reinforcing brokenheartedness; others do not. Images such as king, lord, shepherd, and warrior used to describe Jesus' power focus on dominance, images not surprising in a patriarchal tradition. Although power as dominance relies on a relational matrix for its existence, it weakens, rather than strengthens, that matrix and creates brokenheartedness. The life-giving tension in the biblical texts is the continual movement away from patriarchal values, even within images of patriarchy.

Images of dominance are often linked to images such as servant that undercut dominance, reflecting an ambivalence about hierarchical powers. Few of the Gospel accounts of the followers of Jesus indicate anyone high up in hierarchical structures. The formation of the early community involved the powers of the weak—a skepticism about the ideology of ruling hierarchies of power and the creation of support communities oriented around action for the weak. All of the sayings about the coming basileia announce the defeat of oppressive powers. The miracle stories proclaim the defeat even more vehemently through the activity of the community and demonstrate the healing power of the human heart.

Many of the images used in the past to speak of the relationships within the Christian community focus on Jesus' self-sacrificial death and on the true nature of the highest form of love as agape, as selfless giving, reflecting a healthy skepticism about the destructiveness of egocentric greed and power. But the opposite pole of egocentricity, egoless self-sacrifice, does not lead to love or intimacy, for love and intimacy require self-awareness, self-affirmation, and concrete presence. Erotic power and heart are the basis of love. Once the open, interactive spaces of erotic power and heartfelt relationships in society are opened, what kind of christology will lead us to the territories of erotic power?

The Christa/Community of erotic power is the connectedness among the members of the community who live with heart. Christa/Community evidences heart, which is the conduit in human existence of erotic power. The hermeneutic tool that guides the following investigation of the miracle and passion stories in the Gospel of Mark is the search for Christa/Community in images of heart.


1. Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Macmilian, 1938).

2. As I recall, the first use of the term Christa was in reference to the crucifix in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. The Christ on the crucifix, labeled Christa, was female. In using Christa instead of Christ, I am using a term that points away from a sole identification of Christ with Jesus. In combining it with community, I want to shift the focus of salvation away from heroic individuals, male or female. I agree with Nelle Morton, in The Journey Is Home (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), pp. 194-98, that new realities must be accompanied by metaphors that shatter old, conventional ways of thinking and usher in new images. Using the term Christa/Community affirms my conviction about the sacredness of community.

3. J. F. Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine: To the Time of the Council of Chalcedon , 8th ed. (London, Methuen, 1949).

4. Aloys Grillmeier, in Christ in Christian Tradition (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1975), pp. 3—105, summarizes the diversity of biblical christologies: "Within the limits marked out on the one hand by the synoptists and on the other by John and Paul, the christology of the New Testament itself already displays considerable diversity. We have, for example, the contrast between a messianic christology (the Acts speeches, the synoptic gospels) and the Johannine idea of the Logos; the factors which determine a portrayal of Christ may be salvation history (synoptics; Rom.; Gal.), cosmology (Eph.; Col. I, 15ff), liturgy (Heb.) or apocalyptic (Rev.). The picture of Christ given by the New Testament already shows sometimes predominantly Judaistic, elsewhere predominantly Hellenistic features" (p. 33). Bar a discussion of the formation of the Chalcedonian creed, including the varieties of earlier heresies, see Grillmeier and Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine.

5. Schubert Ogden, The Point of Christology (New York: Harper & Row, 1982); Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern Mind (New York: Macmillan, 1925).

6. Tom Driver, Christ in a Changing World: Toward an Ethical Christology (New York: Crossroad, 1981).

7. William Beardslee, A House for Hope: A Study in Process andBiblical Thought (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), p. 100.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.