Lent, Day 21

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After the Bible itself, some of the earliest orthodox references to a Christian mother-God occur in the second century, in writings of Clement of Alexandria. Clement’s Paidagogos focuses nearly a whole chapter on a maternal, suckling God. To Clement, the aspect of God’s nature that has sympathy with humankind is Mother: “By his loving,” Clement says, “The Father became of woman’s nature.” Clement also specifies that “The Word [Christ] is everything to His little ones, bother father and mother…”

Like Clement, St John of Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) uses allusions to God’s motherhood in his Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. In his Baptimsal Instructions Chrysostom says that “Just as a woman nurtures her offspring with her own blood and milk, so also Christ continuously nurtures with His own blood those whom He has begotten.” At about the same time in the West, Saint Ambrose of Milan speaks of “the Father’s womb” and even of the nourishing breasts of Christ. And in the early fifth century, the Bishop of Ptolemais in Lybya, Synesius, said of the Christian divinity, “You are Father, You are Mother, You are male, and You are female.”

Others in the orthodox Christian tradition who utilize one or several of the biblical images of God as female include Valentius, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Augustine of Hippo, the Venerable Bede, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and St. Gregory Palamas. The mystical writer Mechtild von Hackeborn makes reference to all three divine persons as mothers, stating that Christ in a conversation told her directly that God’s love is her mother. Other Christian women sharing in the tradition of a female, maternal God include the Blessed Angela of Foligno, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Bridget of Sweden, Margery Kempe, Dame Julian of Norwich, and St. Theresa of Avila. In her Revelations of Divine Love, Dame Julian developed the image of a Christian feminine divinity more fully, more centrally, and more creatively than any other medieval author.

It should be obvious from this list that on the whole, more men than women have explicitly recognized the feminine principle of the godhead. None of these people had been influence by “subjective, liberationist, human-centered theology.” None of them could possibly be accused of trying to evade the “subordination attendant upon confessing God as husband or father or lord.” By utilizing imagery of God as female, they were very simply following the usage of Scripture and the guidance of their own inner experience.

– The Divine Feminine, Virginian Ramey Mollenkott

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