Friday, March 24, 2006

"Are you my Mother?"

Something I will blog on more in the future is the question of the orthodoxy (or not) of:

  1. Naming God “Mother” as well as “Father”;

  2. Saying that God is our Mother as well as our Father; and

  3. Describing God as “maternal”, or “mothering”

The three are slightly different, involving issues (respectively) of naming, essence and attributes. I acknowledge that there are places in the scriptures where maternal images of God are used. They are much rarer than many would have you think, but they are there. Yet this is very different from naming God “Mother” (something never done in the Scriptures or the Tradition of the Church) or saying that he is our “Mother” (also never said in Scripture or Tradition). Jesus, for eg., used the image of a mother hen for his own love for Jerusalem, but there is no way we could conclude from this that Jesus himself was in fact female (or poultry, for that matter).

I think the problem stems from the fact that many who use the “Father and Mother” language for God regard such language as simply “metaphoric”, without anything of essence or identity.

There are reports (I have yet to find the official references to them—please help if you can) that a comment along the lines of “God is Our Father, but even more so God is Our Mother” was made by either John Paul I or John Paul II (the sources I found conflict), and much is made of this one off-the-cuff comment (which is a long way from having the status of magisterial infallibility).

Yet the meaning of this comment is doubtful. Does it mean that it is lawful for us to name God “Mother” as well as “Father” (Jesus taught us to call God “Our Father”, not “Our Mother”)? Does it mean that God is ontologically “Mother” as well as “Father” (if so, in what way does God actually conceive, gestate and give birth to us)? Or does it simply mean that God “mothers us”—in terms of nurture and care etc.—as much as he “fathers us”?

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