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God and the Feminine

God and the Feminine

by Eric Doyle
from The Clergy ReviewVol. LVI November 1971.

Republished on our website with the necessary permission

0ver the last fifty years women have taken an ever greater and more active part in public life and administration at both the national and the international levels. A few years ago it was calculated that some fifty per cent of the women of this country had accepted and espoused what is called “the feminine revolution”. The anniversary of the emancipation of women celebrated in 1968 saw the cause of women’s equality much advanced since Mrs Pankhurst’s days and indeed so much so, that the movement for the equality of women is counted among the signs of the times. As a result of the movement it was to be expected that sooner or later speculation would begin about the possibility of women priests. During the past few years the question of women and holy orders has received close attention and quite an amount of publicity.

This is an important question which cannot be brushed aside as no more than an esoteric pursuit of a few cranks. Its merits consideration not only because of the seriousness with which it has been discussed and presented,(1) but also, so it seems to us, because of a theological issue which is intimately connected with it that, namely, of the source of the feminine in God. Arguments and evidence arising from sociological, psychological, anthropological and historical studies are, of course, of profound significance here because of the theological implications they may carry. However, the theological question of the source of the feminine in God is also relevant to the question of women and holy orders, insofar as it constitutes the starting point for a theology of womanhood. In the following pages we shall examine whether there are reasons for asserting that the feminine has its source in God, the Primal Origin of all things. If there are reasons, then these will serve to remind us of the essential equality of the sexes before God and, above all, will safeguard us from rhapsodizing woman away under those lovely but often doubtfully applied attributes: receptivity and passivity.

Jung and the Assumption

It is well known that Jung considered the definition of the dogma of the Assumption to be the most important religious event since the Reformation.(2) In a most interesting and now famous argument based on his lifelong investigations into the psychology of religion, he demonstrated how congenial the definition was to the psychological mind. The following quotation may be taken as a fair summary of his argument:

The method which the Pope uses in order to demonstrate the truth of the dogma makes sense to the psychological mind, because it bases itself firstly on the necessary prefigurations, and secondly on a tradition of religious assertions reaching back for more than a thousand years.(3)

There is much in the argument that is very welcome from a Roman Catholic’s point of view, especially that it serves to illustrate how revelation dovetails with our natural aspirations. Moreover, the theological significance of Jung’s reasoning cannot be ignored in ecumenical dialogue on the place of Mary in the Church. There are, however, two passages in the chapter which leave one with a feeling of uneasiness. The first appears early in the chapter:

One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the “Queen of Heaven and Bride at the heavenly court”.(4)

The second is one of the many passages in which Jung expresses, severe criticism of Protestantism:

The logic of the papal declaration cannot be surpassed, and it leaves Protestantism with the odium of being nothing more but a man’s religion which allows no metaphysical representation woman. In this respect it is similar to Mithraism, and Mithraisim found this prejudice very much to its detriment. Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of "divine" woman, the bride of Christ. Just as the person of Christ cannot be replaced by an organization, so the bride cannot, be replaced by the Church. The feminine, like the masculine demands an equally personal representation. (5)

The feeling of uneasiness arises most of all at the words in first quotation: “who would at last take her place alongside Holy Trinity” and, in the second quotation, at the reference to “the figure of a ‘divine’ woman” and at the statement: “The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal presentation”, which makes Mary the personalized feminine just as Christ is the personalized masculine. Jung does point out, of course, that the doctrine of the Assumption according to the dogmatic view does not mean that Mary has attained A status of a goddess. Nevertheless, he adds: “as mistress, heaven . . . and mediatrix, she is functionally on a par Christ, the king and mediator (6) One concludes here that Mary is being exalted to the position of “divine” woman and Mary personalized feminine alongside the Trinity, by way of compensation. for an over-masculinized Godhead. It would seem, however, that the equality of women is not radically enhanced in the present context by being metaphysically anchored in the figure of a "divine" woman in the person of Mary. To be taken really seriously from the religious point of view, the equality of women requires to be anchored in God. However intelligible it may be on the psychological side to assert that Mary is functionally on a par with Christ, it appears to be theologically unacceptable and ultimately psychologically unsatisfactory, precisely because Mary is not divine: “For no creature could ever be classed with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer.”(7) Furthermore, the titles “Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. . . are to be so understood that they neither take away from nor add anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator”.(8) What has been said here of Jung’s statements about the Assumption applies also to the remarks of Teilhard de Chardin to Père Leroy in 1950: “I am too conscious of the biopsychological necessity of the ‘Marian’ (to counterbalance the ‘masculinity’ of Yahweh) not to feel the profound need of this gesture.”(9) He Was speaking here of the definition of the Assumption.

At a pivotal point in the history of God’s dealings with mankind stands the woman Mary and she is a Mother. When we turn to contemplate her place in the mystery of divine economy, we must be clear in our minds that we turn our gaze on her in faith, which is God’s gracious gift to us. Without faith guiding all the while, Mary becomes just another woman on whom we hardly need look twice. But in faith we realize precisely what she is: just a woman. In the Christian faith that is fundamental about Mary. Faith protects us from the blasphemous absurdity of ranking her with the Godhead. Her place, in the mystery of God’s plan is precisely and formally as a woman-the holiest, the most feminine, the most womanly woman, but only a woman and creature of God. To grasp this through the light of faith prepares the ground for a more thorough understanding of her role in God’s designs as Type and Image of the Church. The Council’s emphasis on Mary as Type of the Church, crysatallizing modern mariological insights, has had the result of bringing our Lady closer to us than ever before. Her womanhood, her being-a-woman-in-the-world, has to be stressed in order to avoid the danger of transforming her into a “divine” woman to counterbalance the exclusively masculine Trinity: If there is a lack of balance in our imagery, conceptualizations and categorizing of God, it is surely most unsatisfactory to seek to redress the balance by mariology, precisely because this evades the point at issue.

That a woman stood at the most crucial point in salvation history, that her fiat belongs to official, public, saving history in the economy of God, that she is depicted by the most venerable and ancient Christian writers as Archetype of the Church - all all this provides weighty grounds for inquiring into the question of whether Mary, as a woman who is a mother, reveals an aspect of God’s life and nature; that is to say, whether womanhood and motherhood have their source in God.

On the occasion of the definition of the Assumption, Fr Victor White, O.P., wrote: “Perhaps it [the definition] will lead the Church to closer consideration and ultimate formulation of the deep mystery of the ‘Motherhood of God’. For by the Assumption Mary returns to her own eternal source, and not she, but God himself is the ultimate prototype of Motherhood, womanhood-even materiality . . . . As Christ, ascending to heaven leads the way to God our Eternal Father, perhaps Mary, assumed into heaven, will lead us to a deeper knowledge and love of God, our Eternal Mother.”(10) Mary’s significance is therefore, that she makes us look beyond herself for the source of what she is by nature and grace.

The Mystery of God and the Image of God

In the Scriptures God is referred to as “He” and not “She”. The heart of the Christian mystery is that God became a man, not that God became a woman. The Eternal Logos became a member of our race in the male sex. Jesus Christ revealed to us that God is Father, his Father and our Father, not that God is Mother. It is from God the Father that all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. Moreover, it is the Son who proceeds from the Father from all eternity, so that we must profess God the Son, not God the Daughter. When Christ promised the Advocate, “the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father”, it is He, we say, not She, who will be Christ’s witness; it is He who will show the world how wrong it was about sin and about who was in the right and about judgement.(11)

The Scriptures tell us that God dwells in light inaccessible. As the invisible, indescribable, ineffable and incomprehensible Mystery, God is beyond every category, every word and every thought. He is, in fact, above all we can affirm or deny of him. .To God belongs super-essential existence, and he is of superdivine divinity.(12) Yet in our obviously necessary “God-talk” we ässert that God is Pure Spirit. This must be understood as differentiating God not only from matter but also from all finite spirit, angelic or human. In reality God is no “closer” to finite, limited spirit than he is to matter.(13) Whatever definition we would ultimately give to “Pure Spirit”, it would be agreed that it is intended to exclude sex from God. God is neither male nor female. Consequently, the terms “Father” and “Son” indicate that the perfections of fatherhood and sonship are to be found ‘pre-eminently in God. Fr McKenzie draws attention to the fact that for the Jews God is masculine: “We have already noticed that in the Mesopotamian myths sex was as primeval as nature itself. The Hebrews could not accept this view for there was no sex in the God they worshipped. God is, of course, masculine, but not in the sense of sexual distinction.”(14) While we can readily understand the reasons why the Hebrews considered God masculine, nevertheless, given the understanding of Pure Spirit in theology, can God be said to be masculine any more than feminine? If we may rightly refer to the Primordial Mystery as “He”, is it so unthinkable to say “She”? Would it not be as true to say: “God is, of course, feminine, but not in the sense of sexual distinction”? Such a designation of God may well be emotionally unacceptable,but but this does not necessarily render it theologically unsound.

When we reflect on the image of God in man and woman there is no intention here of playing down the psychic and, social importance of sexual difference. Man and woman are different both physically (much wider than reproductive organs: blood, skeletal structure, etc.) and psychologically. Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that there is a real complementarity between them based on equality.

The creation of mankind in the book of Genesis is introduced with great solemnity: “Let us make man.” Man appears as the crown and purpose of the whole created order:

God created man (‘ãdãm) in the image of himself, in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. (I:27).

In his commentary on this text G. von Rad writes:

Sexual distinction is also created. The plural in V. 27 (“he created them”) is intentionally contrasted with the singular, (“him”) and prevents one from assuming the creation of an originally androgynous man .... The idea of man according to. P, finds its full meaning not in the male alone but in man and woman. (15)

Mankind is created in the image of God and mankind is male, and female. The image of God cannot be restricted to man’s spiritual nature exclusively because “soul” does not define what we mean when we say “man”. It would be much nearer, the truth to describe man as “spatter” or “mirit”, “spody” or"boul". G. von Rad notes that “the marvel of man’s bodily appearance is not at all to be excepted from the realm of God’s image’.(16) Man is not a spirit-in-a-body, nor a soul-encaged-in-flesh, but a unity, a real unity, that is at once material and spiritual. God created mankind in the divine image. The masculine and the feminine only together express fully what is human, what is mankind. Consequently, both trace back their origin to the image of God. Man as masculine is created in God’s image and God is the source of what is precisely masculine; woman as feminine is created in God’s image and God is the source of what is precisely feminine. Sexuality is an essential part of what it is to be human, whether man or woman; thus, the two sexes contain the image of God, since man and woman constitute what is human in its complete sense.

Jung assures us that in every man there is a complementary feminine element and in every woman a complementary masculine element. These he calls anima and animus respectively In man animus predominates, but there is also anima; in woman anima predominates, but there is also animus. (17). Each of the sexes, there; fore, possesses qualities and elements which are characteristic of the other. Mankind as realized in man and woman, created in the image of God, allows us again to trace back to God the source of what is masculine and the source of what is feminine.

It is no disrespect, but an honour surely, to insist that there was and remains this complementary feminine element in Jesus Christ. Jung tells us that “a collective image of woman exists in a man’s unconsciousness with the help of which he apprehends the nature of woman”.(18) It is, however, only woman in general that man apprehends in this way, because the collective image is an archetype. This image only becomes conscious and tangible through actual contacts with woman that a man makes during his life. The first and most important experience comes to him through his mother and is the most powerful in shaping him.(19) This provides food for thought on the vital role our Lady played in this respect in the life and formation of Jesus Christ. It was through his relationship with Mary his Mother that our Lord was able to have such mature friendships with Martha and Mary and with the other women mentioned in the Gospel of St Luke.

When we begin to contemplate the Word of Revelation we put ourselves in the presence of the God of our faith. That is to say, we unite ourselves with the God of undiscoverable majesty ,’ who has willed in infinite wisdom and love to reveal his inner life to mankind through Jesus Christ. We are not therefore concerned with the arguments which philosophy furnishes to establish the existence of a Supreme Being or First Cause of the universe. Admiration and gratitude are surely born in us when we consider the achievements, for example, of the Greek philosophers who have demonstrated to us the powers and the openeness of the human mind. Perhaps the longings and strivings of Plato and Aristotle are in us all when we meditate on the holy mystery of the Gospel. Nevertheless, the God of philosophy is an impersonal-personal God. We do not wish to undermine the importance of reason’s search for meaning in creation. Man is compelled by the very laws of his mind to seek out an explanation of being-in-space-and-time and thus to discover the Ground and Reason of all that is. However, the knowledge of God which reason discovers does not satisfy because the mind and heart cannot rest in what has been discovered. The knowledge which human reason arrives at in virtue of its own powers does not bring beatitude.

The God of light inaccessible has been revealed to us in the blinding light of faith. Jesus Christ reveals to us new knowledge of God and new knowledge of man. What is made known to us, in revelation about God brings us knowledge of man and what is revealed about man gives us knowledge of God. This is the, reason why every authentic anthropology must, in fact, be Christology and why theology must always take Christ as its starting point. Had we been left to ourselves, we should have known only the “impersonal” God of Nature and the cold Prime Mover of philosophy. We should never have known that “begetting and birth, fatherhood and sonship are realities existing in him”.(20) Through God’s gracious mercy we profess in the Creed our belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before time began". This formula of the Creed brings to mind the texts of Proverbs 8:24 and Psalm 109:3, which are interpreted by the Fathers of the Church and theologians as applying to the Eternal Logos. We profess, therefore, that the only-begotten Son is born of the Father. The Athanasian Creed warns us that we may not say of the Son factus or creates; the Son is genitus of the Father. Our knowledge and experience in this world, however, know only, of birth from woman. Yet the Creed is emphatic: the Son is born of the Father. This is, of course, an analogy and analogy is proportion, similarity, a process of reasoning from parallel cases; it is based on like and unlike in the comparison. Now since God is the pre-eminent source of all perfections in the created order, he must be the source of motherhood, the supreme feminine perfection. One might feel a little reluctant in stating this, were it not for a very instructive reflexion on the Motherhood of God by Clement of Alexandria in the Quis dives salvetur. die actually says God became a woman in the divine life itself through the eternal generation of the Son:

God is himself Love, and it is because of love that we pursue him. In his ineffable majesty he is our Father, but in the comfort ‘ he extends to us he has become our mother. Yes, the Father in his love became a woman, and the Son whom he brought forth from himself is strong proof of this.(21)

The eternal birth of the Son from the Father makes God the the Eternal Mother. According to Donald Nicholl St Ephraem the Syrian (c. 306-373) refers to the Holy Spirit as “Mother in God”, the “eternal woman in God”.(22)

The Motherhood of God is a theme familiar in Western spirituality. St Anselm, for example, addresses Jesus as mother: “Sed et to lesu, bone domine, nonne et to mater? An non est mater, qui tamguam gallina congregat sub alas pullos suos? Vere, domine, et tu mater.”(23) But, beyond doubt, this theme has its best known and most beautiful expression in the Revelations of Julian of Norwich: Speaking of the divine operations in every soul, she writes:

And thus in our making, God, Almighty, is our kindly Father; and God, All-Wisdom, is our kindly Mother; with the Love and the Goodness of the Holy Ghost: which is all one God, one Lord. (24)

The Trinity possesses three properties: Fatherhood, Motherhood and Lordhood.(25) Motherhood is attributed specifically to the Second Person who is our Mother in nature and grace:

and the second Person of the Trinity is our Mother in kind, in making of our Substance, in whom we are grounded and rooted And he is our Mother in Mercy, in our Sensuality taking. Arid thus our Mother is to us in diverse manners working: in whom our parts are kept undisparted.(26)

What is most attractive in these pages of the Lady Julians Revelations is the unaffected way in which she attributes feminine qualities to God. It is surely to God our Mother that we trace back that loving concern of the All-Merciful Lord for each one of us, as we strive in this world to reach the holiness to which we have been called from all eternity.

Concluding Remarks

Any attempt to establish a theology of femininity must take its origin from God. Womanhood and motherhood, it would seem, do have their eternal source in the Triune God. Our Lady, .. therefore, in her Assumption, must be said to return to the Primal Origin of her own womanhood and motherhood in God. Now, if we can take seriously that God is the source of femininity, then it is legitimate to ask what is the theological reason behind,:. the assertion of Canon 968, par. I of the Code of Canon Law:

Sacram ordinationem valide recipit solus vir baptizatus? Fr Francis Sola, S.J., holds that the proposition: Femina est incapax sacrantenti ordinis seems to be doctrina de fide catholica. (27) A. Tanquerey maintains it is iure divino that only men can validly receive orders.(28) We cannot, of course, ignore that St Irenaeus, St Epiphauius and St Augustine considered the Pepuzians, the Marcosians and the Collyridians as heretics for having women bishops and priests. However, is this reaction not to be explained by the somewhat over-literal and too restrictive exegesis of certain texts in Scripture, especially Genesis 2-3 and some passages in the Pauline corpus: I Cor. I I :3-76, 14:34-5, I Tim. 2: 12? In any case it is clear that the question cannot be decided merely by the repetition of texts from Scripture. Given the present state of exegesis, there would seem to be no textual argument from Scripture against the ordination of women. It is at least open to discussion that only men by divine law can receive sacred orders.

Finally, since there are some grounds for tracing back womanhood and motherhood to God, it would seem desirable and fitting that these aspects of the divine life be manifested in the priestly ministry of the Church. As a preparation for this and by way of experiment, subject to the approval of the Church, serious consideration should be given to introducing altar girls without distinction and to ordaining nuns so willing, to the diaconate, especially in boarding schools, who could preach, give spiritual direction and distribute holy communion.

St Mary’s Friary
East Bergholt


1 See for example: Sister Vincent Emmanuel Hannon, The Question of Women and the Priesthood. Can Women be admitted to Holy Orders? Chapman, London, 1967. Women in Holy Orders. Being the Report of a Commission appointed by tlu Archbishop Canterbury and York (Church Information Office, London, 1966)

2 C. G. Jung, Answer to Job (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1954), pp.165-78, especially pp. 169 ff.

3 Ibid. p. 170.

4 Ibid. p. 166.

5 Ibid. pp. 170-1.

6. Ibid. p. 171.

7 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council inThe Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (Chapman, Dublin 1966), par. 62, p. 92.

8 Ibid. par. 62, pp. 91-2.

9 Quoted in Henri de Lubac, S.J., The Eternal Feminine (Collins, London, 1971) p.125. Cf. also p. 235. Teilhard speaks of “the need to correct ‘a dreadfully masculinized conception of the Godhead’ ”, cf. ibid. p. 126.

10 “The Scandal of the Assumption”, in Life of the Spirit, vol. V, 1950, nn. 53-54, pp. 211-12.

11 John 16: 8-9.

12 Pseudo-Dionysius De divinis nominibus, c. ii, 4, PG 3, col. 641; cf. also c. I, Ibid. col. 588, c. i, 6, ibid. col. 596

13 See Karl Rahner, Hominisation. The Evolutionary Origin of Man as a Theological Problem (Herder Freiburg, Burns & Oates, London 1965), pp. 50-2.

14 The Two-Edged Sword. An Interpretation of the Old Testament (Chapman, London, 1955) pp. 93-4

15 Genesis-A Commentary. Translated by J. H. Marks (S.C.M Press Ltd., 1961), p. 58.

16 Ibid. p. 56.

17 See Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology (Penguin Books, 1964), pp.52-8.

18 Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. Translated by R. F. G. Hull (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1953) P. 188.

19 Fordham, An Introduction, 52-3.

20 Yves Congar, The Revelation of God (London and New York, 1968), p. 84.

21 PG g, col. 641-44, quoted and translated in The Way, April 1964, vol. 4, no 2, p..146.

22 Recent Thought in Focus (Sheed and Ward 1952), p. 90.

23 S Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia vol. I I I . Ad fidem Codicum recensuit Franciscus Salesius Schmitt, Monachus Grissoviensis o.s.b. (Apud Thomam Nelson et Filios Edinburgi MDCCCCXLVI), Oratio10, pp. 40-1; PL 158, Oratio LXV, col. 982.

24 Revelations of Divine Love. Edited from the MSS. by Dom Roger Hudleston, monk of Downside Abbey (Burns Oates, London, 1952), chap. 58, p. 119.

25 Ibid. p. 119

26 Ibid. p. 120

27 Sacrae Theologiae Summa IV, De Sacramentis. De Novissiinis (Bibliotheca de Autores Cristianos, Matriti, MCMLVI), p. 701

28 Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae. Tomus Tertius, editio vigesima sexta (Desclee et Socii, 1950), pp. 735-6.

Other Important Readings by and about Eric Doyle OFM

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