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The Holy Trinity Meets Ashtoreth: A Critique of The Episcopal "Inclusive" Liturgies
ALVIN F. KIMEL, JR.*
Within the mainline churches, a powerful and growing movement is demanding radical revision of the Church's liturgy. Our worship must be made "inclusive." Inclusivity now means far more than the question of the generic status of mankind, man, and masculine pronouns, that is to say, the language we use to speak about ourselves. Rather, we are told that the Church's language for God must also be drastically revised. Specifically, the masculine language and imagery traditionally used by Christians must be reduced and supplemented by feminine imagery. Consequently, in 1988 the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church submitted new Daily Office and Eucharistie liturgies (henceforth referred to as the Blue Book liturgies) to the General Convention. These liturgies, after review by the Bishop's Committee on Theology, are scheduled to be released for experimental use in Advent of 1989. Now it has to be conceded that these liturgies could have been far worse. The Triune Name, for example, is not formally repudiated, nor is the deity actually addressed as Mother. There is, perhaps, much in these liturgies of which we may and should approve. However, I must say that I find these liturgies deeply troubling, particularly when the supportive argumentation is considered. We are presented, I believe, with the beginnings of a heretical reconstruction of the Christian faith. The inclusive language liturgies and documentation raise serious questions about the Christian perception of God and our language for him. I write this essay and critique, therefore, to urge the Church to a serious evaluation of this whole enterprise. The Holy Trinity meets the goddess Ashtoreth. Only one will survive the encounter. Jesus and His Father The naming of God as Father and Jesus as his Son is fundamentally primitive. It belongs to the grammar of the Christian faith. Throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew and John, Jesus is portrayed as
* Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., is the Rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Highland, Maryland. He is a graduate of Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin.
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addressing God as Father in a way which is unique and distinctive.* We are all aware of the significance of Jesus' use of the Aramaic term Abba. It signifies filial relationship of both intimacy and respect. This relationship with God defines the person and mission of our Lord. His life is dedicated to the service of his Father. As the Son, he is the herald of his Father's Kingdom, the mediator of his Father's forgiveness, the executor of his Father's judgment. Jesus lives for his Father and dies for his Father. If Calvary is the ultimate manifestation of the Son's love for God, then Easter is the event of the Father's love for Jesus. The Father will not be without his Son. Given the biblical usage, the Blue Book avoidance of this language is of serious theological consequence (Citations in the text from the Blue Book liturgies are to Supplemental Liturgical Texts (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1988). pp. 100-101). The naming of God as Father and Jesus as Son is more than figurative speech. God truly is the Father. He is the Father of Jesus, and Jesus is his Son. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt. 11:27) This text may guide our discussion:2 (1) Jesus is named as the Son who has received the authority and empowerment of the Father (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; 16:13-17). The Sonship which belongs naturally to our Lord is divine and transcendent. (2) God is named as the Father of Jesus. The divine paternity is not an arbitrary metaphor chosen by humanity and then projected onto the deity: God is self-revealed as Father in and by his Son Jesus Christ. First, Jesus is the Son, known and identified as such by his Father. "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased," God tells Jesus at his baptism (Mk. 1:11). "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" he informs the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk. 9:7). The Sonship of Christ is expressed in his filial address to God, in his loving obedience and willing acceptance of Calvary, in his communication of his Father's love to the people of Israel, in his authoritative interpretation of the divine will. This Sonship belongs uniquely to him and must
1 The scholarly literature is immense. A popular introduction I have found helpful is Thomas Smail, The Forgotten Father (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980). On the historical Jesus consult James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), pp. 11-40, 62-67. With the rise of redactional and narrative approaches to the Gospels, the historical questions (e.g., did the "real" Jesus think of himself as the Son of God?) appear less pressing. Of far greater importance is the apostolic interpretation of Jesus and God. As an example, see Jack Dean Kingsbury's discussion of Matthew's christology, Matthew, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), pp. 33-65. The identification of God as Father and Jesus as Son is fundamental and universal in the New Testament. 2 John P. Meier, Matthew (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1980), pp. 126-128; Kingsbury, pp. 42-43.
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be clearly differentiated both from the created relationship between God and humanity and from the adoptive sonship which God bestows upon the disciples of Christ. Jesus, and Jesus only, is the divine Son. This is the radical significance of the Nicene confession of the homoousios—our Lord's oneness of being with the Father. In rejecting the Arian assertion of the creaturehood of Christ, the Church dogmati cally declares that Jesus Christ belongs to the essential reality of God.3 The begotten Son is God from God, Light from Light, fully possessing the one and indivisible Godhead of the Father. That which we attribute to the Father must equally be attributed to the Son, but without denying their hypostatic distinctness.4 Our pagan notions of divinity are thus challenged and revised by the revolutionary claim that the evangelical narrative of Jesus is the history of God. The Creator has actually entered into space and time, thereby giving humanity a knowledge of himself grounded in the person of his Son. Thomas Torrance explains: The Sonship embodied in Jesus Christ belongs to the inner relations of God's own eternal Being, so that when Jesus Christ reveals God the Father to us through himself the only begotten Son, he gives us access to knowledge of God in some measure as he is in himself. You and I are children of God, for we are creatures of God upon whom he lavishes his love and within whom he dwells through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our being children of God falls outside the Being of God, for we are created beings, utterly distinct from the Being of God. But Jesus Christ is Son of God in a unique sense, for he is Son of God within God, so that what he is and does as Son of the Father falls within the eternal Being of the Godhead.5 In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the being of God is manifested—not by pointing away from Jesus to some other reality or dimension but by embodiment and incarnation. The eternal Son has come as Man. Second, God is the Father of Jesus and is known only in his Son. Father is not just one name among many for the deity, nor is it imported by us into the Godhead. The appellation is revealed from him. In and by Jesus Christ, God designates himself as the Father, the Father who begets his Son before all ages. "Remember," Hilary writes, "that the revelation is not of the Father manifested as God but of God manifested
3 See Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith (Edinburgh: Τ & Τ Clark, 1988), pp. 47-74, 110-145. This book is a brilliant interpretation of Nicene theology. 4 See Athanasius, Against the Arians, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), IV:395. 5 Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 64.
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as the Father." God is more than just like a father; he is the Father.7 When Jesus prays, Abba, he is praying to the One who is the source of his being, the object of his obedience, the hope of his life—the One he, and he alone, knows as his Father. Father specifically names and identifies the God of Jesus. To encounter Jesus of Nazareth is to meet his Father (Jn. 14:6-11). In his words, his actions, his miracles, his sufferings, his life and his death, the Father is made present and visible. There is between them an identity of being and agency. The Father inheres in the Son, the Son in the Father. Jesus is the way, the Truth, and the Life; for in Christ and through Christ we are brought to personal knowledge of the Father and united to his salvation. "All things that are the Father's are seen in the Son," Gregory Nyssen writes, and all things that are the Son's are the Father's; because the whole Son is in the Father and has all the Father in himself. Thus the person of the Son becomes as it were Form and Face of the knowledge of the Father, and the Person of the Father is known in the Form of the Son.8 But Jesus is not the Father; he is the Son. And it is precisely as the Son that he discloses the Father. The divine Fatherhood and Sonship are correlative: The Father is the Father of Jesus, and Jesus, the Son of the Father.9 Neither can be conceived apart from the other. We do not, therefore, know the Father first and then know his Son, nor do we know Jesus first and then know his Father: We know both simultaneously and coincidently in mutually defining relationship; together they are apprehended in an indivisible act of cognition.10 Thus our Lord can insist that he is the sole mediator of our knowledge of the Father (Jn. 14:6). Only through Christ are we given access to the holy of holies. Only the Son can introduce us to his Father. The ontological fellowship of the Father and Son, in the Spirit, means that the Fatherhood of God cannot be equated with his role as Creator. The act of creation belongs to God's free decision. He did not have to create the universe, but freely chose to do so. To put it bluntly, he was not always Creator or Maker; he became such by his contingent decision to create.11 But God is eternally Father. Before time and forever, he is the Father of Jesus Christ. This relationship belongs to his
Quoted in Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, p. 77. P. T. Forsyth, God the Holy Father (London: Independent Press, 1957), pp. 3-4. 8 Quoted in Torrance, p. 63. 9 Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J. R. Foster (New York: Seabury Press, 1969), pp. 130-131. 10 Torrance, pp. 59-60; idem, Mediation, p. 65. 11 Idem, Trinitarian Faith, pp. 87-89.
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inner being and is prior to his functional relations with the universe. Though the activity of creation is traditionally, and appropriately, associated with God the Father, it must properly be considered a cooperative work of the Trinity: The Father creates through the Son by the Spirit. Unfortunately, much of the contemporary Church has failed to understand this important theological truth. More and more, one hears "Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier" being substituted for the Triune Name. As the Blue Book itself recognizes, this alternate formula "confuses operations of the Godhead with the persons of the Trinity" (p. 106). Given the hypostatic relation of the Father and the Son, may we not dispense with the traditional Father/Son language and substitute new terminology of our own making? This is the question put to the Church by the Blue Book. The answer, I believe, lies in the historical foundation of the Church's understanding of the Holy Trinity: God is in his inner being as he has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth. As Karl Rahner summarizes, "The 'economic* Trinity is the 'immanent' Trinity and the 'immanent' Trinity is the 'economic' Trinity. "12 The Triune life is enacted in history. We read the pages of our Bible and perceive the salvific activity of the God of Israel whom Jesus calls Abba, of Jesus the Son who effects the redemption of the world, of their Spirit poured out upon the Church for mission and ministry. These revelatory events occur within the divine being and are constitutive of the Godhead. They are thus determinative, normative, final for our knowledge of deity. The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity. We cannot transcend the divine self-revelation—in all of its contingency and historical specificity—in order to find a pure and culturally untainted deity: The whole point of the trinitarian doctrine is that the temporal structures of salvation history define divinity. Precisely in that Jesus names the Lion of Judah as his Father, and the Father embraces Jesus as his Son, do we have the Christian God. The first person of the Trinity is constituted by the filial address of Jesus Christ; the second person, by the paternal address of the Father. The God of the Gospel is given in this mutual communication. We may be embarrassed and frustrated by the limitations which this reality imposes upon our theology; but our prayer to God, and our speech about him, will be true only to the extent that they are controlled by the temporal relations of the evangelical history.13 God is who he has revealed himself to be—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p.
13 Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 106-107. Jenson's book is an important and creative attempt to reinterpret the trinitarian dogma in terms of the history of God.
30 Logos and Son
Because of the historicity of the Christian God, we must judge the Blue Book practice of using "Son" when referring to the historical Jesus and other titles, such as "Word," "the Christ," or "Only-begotten," when referring to the second person of the Trinity as fundamentally mistaken (p. 101). Whatever may have been the case before the Incarnation (the logos asarkos), there is now no second person of the Trinity except the eternal Son who is incarnate in Jesus Christ. As the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon emphatically insisted, the union of deity and humanity in the one person of Christ is eternal and indissoluble.14 Not two subjects existing alongside each other, but the one hypostasis who has come as Man and has gathered our human nature into the life of the Godhead.15 Jesus is Word and Son. A dualistic separation between the historical Jesus and the eternal Word is thus rejected. Cyril of Alexandria states the axiom: "For my part, I say that it is appropriate neither for the Logos of God apart from the humanity, nor for the temple born of the woman not united to the Logos, to be called Jesus Christ."16 We need to ask ourselves the question: How do we acquire our knowledge of the eternal Word? When we use words like "the Onlybegotten" or "the Christ," to what do they refer? In the 16th century the Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz specifically addressed this problem: It is also the nature of the hypostatic union that now after the incarnation the person of the Logos cannot and ought not to be considered or made an object of faith outside of, without or separate from the assumed nature, nor in turn the assumed flesh outside of and without the Logos, if we wish to think reverently and correctly. Indeed, since for us poor sinners there is no approach open to the bare divine majesty any more than for a blade of straw to a consuming fire, the divine nature of the Logos assumed a nature of the same substance with ours and akin to ours, in which He placed the whole fullness of the deity personally, so that in this object which is of the same substance with ours and akin to us we might know God, seek, and grasp Him. For in the flesh of Christ dwells the whole fullness of the deity of the Son, and the Father is in the Son. We thus begin from the flesh of Christ and from there mount to communion with the deity of the Logos, and from there to communion with the entire Trinity.17
14 See Cyril of Alexandria's "Second Letter to Nestorius," Select Letters, ed. and trans. Lionel R. Wickham (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 3-11; and the Chalcedonian Decree, A Theology of Christ: Sources, ed. Vincent Zamoyta (Beverly Hills: Benziger, 1967), pp. 69-70. 15 Eric Mascall, Via Media (Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury Press, 1957), pp. 79-120. 16 Quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 249. 17 Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures of Christ, trans. J. A. O. Preus (St. Louis:
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The human being Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Son embodied in creaturely reality. In his sanctified humanity dwells the wholeness of the Godhead (Col. 2:9). Deity and humanity coinhere and interpenetrate in personal union. Thus the radical claim of the Gospel: Jesus, the son of Mary, prophet, teacher, healer, friend of tax collectors and sinners, is the second person of the Holy Trinity. The historical particularity of Christ is definitive in our knowledge of divinity.18 We meet the eternal Word only in the flesh of the God-Man. But perhaps the matter may be put even stronger. Since his resurrection, the ascended Christ is no longer restricted to the finite limitations of our mortal existence. He is enthroned as Lord of the Cosmos and now shares in the full powers and attributes of divinity (Phil. 2:9-10; Eph. 1:20-23). He is glorified, in the words of Charles Gore, "under the conditions of Godhead."19 What can it mean to be glorified under the conditions of Godhead but to receive all the prerogatives of divinity? In the one hypostasis of Christ there is a true communion of his two natures. All of the big words—omniscience, omnipotence, omnipres ence, immortality, etc.—are now predicated (really and not just verbally) of Christ in the integrity of his risen body, yet without obliterating the distinctness of the natures. If this is true, then we are absolutely precluded from speaking of the eternal Word in separation from his humanity. The risen Son is not helplessly stuck in some corner of heaven, while the Logos goes merrily about his own business. Jesus in his glorified state is Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier—participating with the Father and the Spirit in the work of the Godhead. He enjoys the supra-historical freedom of God to be with his people at all times and in all places (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 4:10).20 His "location" is the location of God. Wherever Jesus is, there is the Word;
Concordia, 1971), p. 79. Also see Karl Barth's rejection of a disincarnate Logos, Church Dogmatics, vol. IV/1, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: Τ & Τ Clark, 1956), pp. 52-53. 18 Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), p. 93: "The incarnate humanity of the Word, even in his distinctive individuality and physical particularity, is not something that can be discarded like outworn clothing that has served its purpose in the past, for it is constituted the actual form and reality of God's Word to man and is indissolubly bound up with its material content. " 19 Charles Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891), p. 177. The classic argument is that of Martin Luther, That These Words of Christ, 'This Is My Body,' etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics, Luther's Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 37:56-66; and Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, LW, 37:227235. Also see Chemnitz; Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Lutheranism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), pp. 91-109. 20 Carl E. Braaten, "The Person of Jesus Christ," Christian Dogmatics, two vols., ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 1:553-554.
wherever the Word is, there is the first-born of Mary. "I know of no other God," Martin Luther declared, "except the one called Jesus Christ."21 Once again, it is necessary to insist that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a piece of philosophical speculation but the theological attempt to construe divinity by the economic relation between the Nazarene and the God he named Father. We do not begin with a preconceived understanding of the pre-existent Logos into which we squeeze Jesus the Son; rather, we begin with the Jew hanging on the cross, who then leads us into a trinitarian understanding of deity. In the third century the pagan philosopher Celsus accused Christians of sophistry for identifying the Son of God with the eternal Word. Why? Because, Origen explains, "although we proclaim the Son of God to be Logos we do not bring forward as evidence a pure and holy Logos, but a man who was arrested most disgracefully and crucified."22 The history of God in Christ compels us to reconstruct our inherited views of godship. Imagery and God As noted above, the Father/Son imagery which we find throughout the New Testament and the writings of the Fathers should not be dismissed as figurative language which we are free to put aside or ignore. It has an almost literal force, uniquely naming the God of Israel and his Messiah. Yet we would be guilty of gross misinterpretation if we failed to acknowledge the analogical quality of this language. When we call God "Father" and Jesus "Son," we are obviously not suggesting a procreative relationship between them, such as exists between Zeus and Hercules. This language must be interpreted christologically, theologically, soteriologically. That is to say, we must allow the unique relationship between Jesus and his God, which this imagery reveals, to purge the concepts of Father and Son of their creaturely content and define their meaning for us. 23 "It is the divine ontology that sets the meaning of the terms," Geoffrey Wainwright writes, "not an already established meaning of the terms that dictates the divine being."24 What we must not do is read back into the Father/Son imagery, and thus into the Godhead, our biological understandings of fatherhood
Quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), p. 191. 22 Quoted in Pelikan, p. 189. 23 Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1980), pp. 69-71; idem, Mediation, p. 30. See the sensible words of that great Christian feminist of an earlier day, Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (New York: Harper & Row, 1941), pp. 24-26. 24 Geoffrey Wainwright, "Trinitarian Worship," The New Mercersburg Review (Autumn 1986), p. 8.
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and sonship. The theological tradition has always understood this. As our Lord says, "Call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). Professor Torrance argues that our language for God must be interpreted as possessing an imageless, nonmimetic relation to the infinite deity. He likens this imageless relation to that which obtains in modern physics where imagery and patterns of thought refer to phenomena inherently invisible.26 Electrons, for example, are described by physicists both as particles and waves (depending on the experiment). This imagery is true in that through it we actually comprehend, in some degree, the indicated reality; yet the very nature of the electron prevents us from interpreting the images literally or univocally. The precise meanings of the analogies, in other words, are controlled by the nonobservable, higher reality to which they refer. Similarly, a proper interpretation of biblical imagery requires that we prescind from our consuming anthropocentricity and permit the immanent relations of the Godhead to illumine its meaning. By the direction of the Spirit, God chooses the names and metaphors by which he will be known and addressed. They are authoritatively communicated in the Holy Scriptures and enjoy a normative, paradigmatic status in the life of the Christian Church. Baptized into Christ, they are made a constituent part of the divine revelation.27 Through them we are now given to apprehend the Triune God. The revelatory efficacy of these images depends not on their natural, iconic character, but on the fact that God has clothed himself in them. They are historically grounded in the being of the eternal Logos. The Word is known through his words. Just as we cannot bypass the Incarnation to know God, so we cannot bypass the biblical images in and by which he has communicated himself in Christ. Austin Farrer explains: The images are supernaturally formed, and supernaturally made intelligible to faith. Faith discerns not the images, but what the images signify: and yet we cannot discern it except through the images. We cannot by-pass the images to seize an imageless truth.28
25 See, e.g., Gregory Nazienzen's complaint of the simplistic literalism of his opponents: "Or may be you would consider our God to be a male . . . because he is called God and Father." The Fifth Theological Oration, NPNF, VII:320. 26 Torrance, Grammar, pp. 115-117; idem, Reality pp. 61ff. 27 See ibid., pp. 107-113; Austin Farrer, The Glass of Vision (London: Dacre, 1948); E. L. Mascall, Words and Images (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1957), pp. 109-120; Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, vol. 1, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 79-80; Donald G. Bloesch, The Battle for the Trinity (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1985), pp. 13-27. 28 Farrer, p. 110.
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Inadequate as our language is, in and of itself, to mediate divine reality, it has been appropriated by the Holy Trinity and made a vehicle of our apprehension of the deity. Instead of replacing the revealed images with figures of speech more amenable to contemporary tastes, it is our task, and joy, to receive them in faith, allowing them to inform our imaginations and instruct our reason. Father Inglorious The Blue Book seems to be embarrassed by the term Father because paternity is often associated with power and cruelty (p. 100). Of course, even the Blue Book authors must acknowledge the historic practice of Jesus in addressing God as his Father (pp. 100-101). Latching onto the intimacy and familiarity of Abba, they assert that "the important sense of the metaphor is Jesus' experience of intimacy with God." They then go on to say that in our personal prayers "we can call God whatever best describes that intimate relationship." I will return to this point below, but it is problematic whether any other word can ever substitute for the vocative, "Abba, Father." The significance of Abba goes far beyond the subjective experience of intimacy, for it is precisely the Father/Son language which expresses and elucidates the ontological relationship between Jesus and God—and thus determines our relationship with God. Because Jesus is the Son, we who share his Sonship are bidden to call on his Father. To pray to God as Mother, for example, is to change substantively our relationship with him.29 Indeed, it is to step outside the circle of the divine self-revelation and create a new religion.30 Father is embarrassing only if we continue to comprehend the term according to our personal, social experience. That we insist on doing so is, of course, our sin—the innate propensity to remake God after our own image. Like our egos, our language for God must be crucified with Christ and raised to new life and meaning in the power of the Spirit. No matter what we may feel about our personal fathers, or about men in general, the Father of Jesus Christ is none other than the God who has graciously sent his only begotten Son into the world to die on the cross in atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Only in the death and resurrection of Christ is the divine paternity properly discerned. Instead of expounding the Fatherhood of God by the sinfulness and limitations of our own human fathers, perhaps we need to reverse the
See C. S. Lewis, "Priestesses in the Church?" God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 237. 30 See Roland M. Frye, "Language for God and Feminist Language," Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, 1988), p. 14, Ralph Quere, " 'Naming' God 'Father,' Currents in Theology and Mission 12 (Feb. 1985): 5-14.
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process. Commenting on Ephesians 3:15, Athanasius wrote, "God does not make man his pattern, but rather, since God alone is properly and truly Father, we men are called fathers of our own children, for of him every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." 31 A true understanding of human paternity requires that we first understand, in Christ, the archetypal reality from which it derives and by which it is judged. 32 Prayer to The Father Christians address God as Father because, and only because, our Lord commands us to do so. "Pray then like this: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name" (Matt. 6:9). By the instruction of the eternal Son, creaturely human beings are given the privilege of addressing their Creator, with and through Christ, as their Father. In boldness we take upon our lips the words of our Savior. I submit that this command represents a fundamental grammatical mandate of Christian liturgy: Bespeak God thus, Father. No matter how other groups of human beings may choose to pray to God, the matter is already decided for Christians, decided by God himself. The vocative of Father, Karl Barth declares, "is the primal form of the thinking, the primal sound of the speaking, and the primal act of the obedience demanded of Christians." 33 The Church is constituted by this address. We simply are the community which knows God as its Father. To disobey the canonical command—either outrightly, as with more radical proposals where God is named Mother, or more subtly, as in the Blue Book liturgies where God is substituted for Father as much as possible—is to reject our ecclesial identity. How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus when we refuse to call upon his Father? The Blue Book liturgies justify the substitution of God for Father by appealing to the New Testament practice and the apparent interchangeability of the two words (p. 101). I concede the ambiguity of the apostolic usage. However, it must be remembered that in the New Testament (and the later liturgical tradition) the word God is interpreted by the narrative of Jesus and the triune structure of Christian prayer. Its theological significance and function is in the process of change as it encounters the Gospel and is used in the churchly discourse. Thus we note that God is
31 Quoted in Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, pp. 69-70. Cf. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, trans. G. T. Thompson (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), p. 43. 32 See Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 66. 33 Karl Barth, The Christian Life, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 51.
often qualified in one of two ways: Either explicitly as the Father or as the God of Jesus (e.g., 1 Pt. 1:3; Rom 1:8-10; 2 Jn. 3; Eph. 1:17). The New Testament does not give us divinity in general but a God defined by his consubstantial relation with Jesus his Son. The interchangeability of God and Father is no doubt grounded in the New Testament reluctance to actually identify Jesus or the Spirit as God. But as the Church comes to understand and appropriate the full divinity of both the Son and the Spirit, such manner of speaking is increasingly misleading. "God" ceases to function theologically as a proper name and instead becomes a common term predicated of the three persons of the Trinity.34 "When I say God," Gregory Nazienzen explained, "I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit."35 Simply to return to the earlier tradition is to repudiate the dogmatic insight of the Nicene Church into the triune nature of deity. To use one of Torrance's illustrations, once the jigsaw puzzle has been put together, we cannot then pretend we do not know how all the pieces fit.36 Once we clearly understand that each of the hypostases is God, fully and completely, we cannot then pretend that the word God can simply substitute for Father. Indeed, rather than engaging in such substitution, it seems to me that the proper move is to make as clear as possible the fact that our worship is not directed to abstract deity but to the Father.37 This is exactly what we see in eucharistie prayers A, B, & D in our current Book of Common Prayer. The Proper Name of God It is the particularity and historical concreteness of the Christian revelation that makes the proposed substitution of "God, eternal Word, Holy Spirit" for the Triune Name in the Gloria Patri so utterly unacceptable. The Blue Book would have us believe that the two are equivalent. They are not. The self-revealed Name of God is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." It is by this Name that our God has identified himself. It is into this Name we are baptized and sealed. It is the invocation of this Name which forms our worship and unites the Catholic Church throughout the world and down the centuries.38 The purpose of any proper name is to designate and specify an
See Jenson, Triune Identity, chapters 3 & 4. Quoted in Torrance, p. 93. 36 Torrance, Mediation, p. 14. 37 "Father! Understood as a vocative and used in Christian thought and speech, this word gives the required precision, the appropriate fullness, and the authentic interpretation to a word that is indefinite, empty, and ambivalent, namely, the word 'God' " (Barth, p. 53). 38 See Jenson, pp. 1-20. Gail Ramshaw-Schmidt's failure to recognize the unique and authoritative status of the Triune Name critically flaws her analysis of the names of God. Christ in Sacred Speech (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), pp. 27-44.
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individual object, to separate it from the anonymity of existence for communication, study, use, love. Even deities need proper names. We need to be able to identify which one we're addressing, worshipping, and obeying. When Jacob wrestles with God he begs him to tell him his name. God refuses; and Jacob has to be satisfied with the blessing of this mysterious, but still unknown, deity (Gen. 32:26fF.). When Moses encounters God in the burning bush and receives his marching orders, he tells the Lord that he will need to know his name if he is going to persuade the Israelites. The Lord replies: You are to tell the Israelites, "Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come. (Exodus 3:15) By this name the Saviour of Israel is identified and distinguished from other possible gods. Knowledge of it is reserved for the People of the Covenant. Throughout the Old Testament, the name of Yahweh features significantly in worship, invocation, prophecy, teaching, covenantrenewal. Israel is exhorted to honor and sanctify the holy name. "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" summarizes and embodies the primordial Christian experience of divinity. It identifies the specific God we are talking about or praying to as being precisely the God of the New Testament. Each term within the Name links us to God's historic self-revelation; each interprets the other two. We invoke this Name and are incorporated into the story of Jesus. Through it we are introduced into the apostolic apprehension of the triunity of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit both denominates the Christian God and linguistically defines our experience of deity. We know God as the Holy Trinity because we speak and hear his Name in proclamation and prayer.39 As we would expect, the Triune Name functions prominently in the central sacraments of the Church, particularly in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew, the Risen Lord commands his Church to baptize new disciples in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (28:19). Historically, this command has been obeyed in different ways, but no matter how the Triune Name is featured, what is crucial is the naming of the Christian God over the neophyte. In and by this sacramental action, the individual is initiated into a new and transforming relationship with the deity—and not just any old deity but specifically the God of Jesus. From this point on, the new
39 On the priority of language in religious experience, see George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), pp. 30ff.
Christian belongs to and lives in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The dominical command, therefore, not only sanctions the Triune Name by divine revelation but establishes it as a necessary function in our experience and knowledge of the living God.40 As Basil observes, "We are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we have been baptized/ 41 "God, Word, and Spirit," on the other hand, is an abstraction one or more steps removed from the Gospel story. Not only can it not operate as a name (it does not identify)—and not only does it suggest a heretical subordination of Word and Spirit to God—but it is not even intrinsically Christian. Plotinus would have no problem using it. Speak "Father, Son and Spirit," and we immediately know we are dealing with the deity of the New Testament. Speak "God, Word, and Spirit," and we are stuck in philosophical generality.42 (God? Well, which God in particular do you have in mind? Word? What is the Word? Spirit? Whose Spirit?) Such generality may be appropriate in philosophical theology; but it is, I suggest, inappropriate in the liturgy. The liturgy embodies and communicates the Christian knowledge of God as articulated in the Triune Name. This knowledge is concrete, particular, historical, inextricably rooted in the primal language of the Holy Scriptures.43 If today most Americans do not recognize the need for a proper name for God, this is because, as monotheists deeply influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we mistakenly believe that when we talk about God we are all talking about the same deity. "God" functions for us both as a concept and as a proper name.44 Of course, since each individual understands divinity differently, God must be further qualified by a series of descriptions which will distinguish which deity he or she has in mind. Perhaps at the height of Christendom, when the Christian God was the only serious candidate for the job, it was possible to dispense with his proper name. However today we are surrounded by a host of competing claimants. The mission and life of the Church require that our deity be clearly specified and separated from the false gods of the world and the
40 Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, p. 70. See Deborah Malacky Belonick, "Revelation and Metaphors: the Significance of the Trinitarian Names, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 40/3 (1985): 31-36. 41 Quoted in Torrance, p. 193. 42 "From time to time, various concerns lead to proposed replacements of the trinitarian name, for example, 'In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier' or 'In the name of God the Ground and God the Logos and God the Spirit. ' All such parodies disrupt the faith's self-identity at the level of its primal and least reflected historicity" (Jenson, p. 17). 43 "The trinitarian name and doctrine is precisely not an abstract formula. It belongs to a living context. It must be kept firmly attached to the historical revelation through the telling and retelling of the story recounted in Scripture" (Wainwright, p. 10). 44 For a discussion of "God" as a proper name, see Mortimer Adler, Thinking Ahou God (New York: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 49-68.
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idols of secularity.45 It is more important than ever, therefore, that the true and proper name of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, structure and pervade our proclamation and liturgy. The Masculine God "We know," the Blue Book asserts, "that God is not 'he' except in the incarnate Jesus" (p. 99). On the basis of this debatable premise the authors propose to eliminate masculine pronouns for God, as well as multiplying feminine imagery for God. Several points may be briefly made. First, throughout the Scriptures, the deity is ostensively described in masculine terms. God is husband, king, lord, shepherd, father of his people. The references to God as father occur over 250 times in both Testaments, mostly in the New where God is definitively named Father. Masculine pronouns are always used. Even the Spirit, grammatically either feminine (Hebrew) or neuter (Greek), is ascribed masculine pronouns in John. The biblical identification of God as masculine (but not sexually male) is overwhelming and normative.46 It is true that God is, in a handful of instances, spoken of in maternal and feminine terms in the Bible; but it is always in the form of simile and not metaphor.47 God is compared to a mother but is never named Mother. This distinction is fundamental. In simile two things are compared and said to be alike in some specific and self-limiting way. A resemblance is stated within the ordinary meanings of the terms. Simile clarifies the subject but does not identify. Thus, for example, in Isaiah 42:13 Yahweh is compared to a mighty warrior, but is, significantly, not named as one. Metaphor, on the other hand, predicates and names. Two things are identified. The metaphoric figure "carries a word or phrase far beyond its ordinary lexical meaning so as to provide a fuller and more direct understanding of the subject. "48 Language is stretched beyond everyday usage, producing new insight and enlightenment. Jesus, for example, is
Jenson, pp. xi-xii. See Roland Frye's important essay "Language for God and Feminist Language." Much of the first three paragraphs of this section is a summary of Frye. Also see "Liturgical Texts for Evaluation: A Response by the Faculty," Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (unpublished paper), John W. Miller, "Depatriarchalizing God in Biblical Interpretation: A Critique," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986): 609-616; Mayer I. Gruber, "The Motherhood of God in Second Isaiah," Revue Biblique 90 (1983): 351-359; Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood?, trans. David Kipp (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), pp. 216ff. passim. 47 Frye, pp. 17-22. This distinction is generally overlooked by inclusive language advocates: e.g., Robert A. Bennett, "The Power and the Promise of Language in Worship: Inclusive Language Guidelines for the Church," The Occasional Papers of the Standing Liturgical Commission, collection no. 1 (New York: Church Hymnal, 1987), p. 45. 48 Frye, p. 18.
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named as the good shepherd in John 10:11. By this appellation, we are given a radically deeper understanding of Christ. Unlike simile, metaphor may thus become transparent to personal identity. Literary critic Roland Frye explains the significance of this distinction between simile and metaphor as applied to feminine imagery for God: The similes comparing God to a mother illustrate some phase of divine attitude or intent, as defined in the simile's context, but they are not and do not claim to be transparent to personal identity as are predicating metaphors such as 'the good shepherd' or 'the Lamb of God,' and even more broadly God 'the Father' and Christ 'the Son/49 Consequently, the feminine images for God which we find in the Bible cannot be given equal status with the foundational masculine imagery. Indeed, the poetic and theological power of the former is dependent upon the latter. It is because God is our Father that the feminine similes are striking and illuminating. Needless to say, the identification of the deity as masculine does not preclude in any way the attribution of feminine traits to God. The Father of Jesus Christ is indeed compassionate and caring and nurturing as a mother. Maternal and feminine similes help us to see the fullness and depth of God's heart (but are these traits exclusively feminine?) and discourage us from stereotyping him in accordance with cultural models. However, it must be insisted that these comparisons be interpreted within the totality of the Biblical witness, in light of God's self-disclosure in his Son. It is in the death and resurrection of our Lord that the love, pity, compassion of the Father, as well as his severity and judgment, are enacted and perfectly revealed. We are not saved by images but by the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, the divine masculinity of the Judaeo-Christian God must not be rejected as patriarchal projection. Israel was perhaps the one culture during biblical times that did not incorporate the feminine principle into the deity.50 The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans—all had pantheons of male and female deities, yet each were at least as patriarchal and sexist as Israel. Patriarchy is no bar to interpreting deity in feminine terms.51 Why, then, is Yahweh identified as a "male" God in the Scriptures? Why is a female goddess not partnered with him? Why does Yahweh
Ibid., p. 19. Vernard Eller, The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism (Grand Rapids.Eerdmans, 1982) p. 39. This contention is not vitiated by the historical possibility that Israel may, at one time, have worshiped a female deity alongside Yahweh. The canon repudiates all such developments. 51 Frye, p. 7.
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always find himself at odds with Ashtoreth, Anath, Asherah? Biblical scholar Elizabeth Achtemeir advances the following answer: It is not that the prophets were slaves to their patriarchal culture, as some feminists hold. And it is not that the prophets could not imagine God as female: they were surrounded by people who so imagined their deities. It is rather that the prophets, as well as the Deuteronomists and Priestly writers and Jesus and Paul, would not use such language, because they knew and had ample evidence from the religions surrounding them that female language for the deity results in a basic distortion of the nature of God and of his relation to his creation.52 Masculine language is essential to maintaining the utter transcendence of God. He is the One who brings the cosmos into existence ex nihilo through his free and sovereign will. He does not give birth to creation but creates it through his Word (Jn. 1:3; Heb. 11:3). When the divine is construed in feminine terms, the birthing metaphor, as Achtemeir observes, becomes inevitable.53 Sun, moon, stars, earth, humanity emanate from the being of God (Blue Book, p. 86). All participate in the substance and life of divinity.54 The deity is indissolubly bound up with the universe. God and creation are pantheistically identified; humanity is deified. Confirmation of this point is provided by the well known expert on mythology, the late Joseph Campbell: "When you have a Goddess as the creator," he says, "it's her own body that is the universe. She is identical with the universe."55 This is a very different religion from that of the Bible. Yahweh is transcendent Creator, the absolute other, differentiated completely from his creation. He is neither the universe nor the self but Lord and ruler of both. Nor does he create out of compulsion or necessity. In the inner life of the Holy Trinity, God is perfectly and inexhaustibly happy and fulfilled. He has no need to create. He is complete in and of himself. "God less the world," one Christian philosopher notes, "is not less than God alone."56 The act of creation, therefore, must be understood as being utterly gratuitious, an expression of sheer generosity. Hence the absolute Lordship of God. That which he is free to create, he is also free to destroy—or make completely new. As Elijah demonstrated on Mount Carmel, the God of Israel is not to be confused with the gods of nature and fertility.
52 Elizabeth Achtemeir, "Female Language for God," The Hermeneutical Quest, ed. Donald Miller (Allison Park, Pennsylvania: Pickwick Publications, 1986), p. 109. Also see Jenson, pp. 13-16. 53 Achtemeir, p. 100. 54 Ibid., pp. 100-101. See Hauke's comparative religions survey, pp. 144-175. 55 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), p. 167. 56 Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), p. 10.
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If Yahweh has no need of a female consort, it is because he already has one—namely, humanity (Israel).57 God is masculine not in relation to a female deity (not sexually, in other words) but rather in relation to the creation and the Church. Throughout the Scriptures the metaphor of husband/wife or lover/beloved is used to speak beautifully and profoundly of the intimate communion between the People of God and their Redeemer (e.g., Hos. 2:16-25; Rev. 19:6-7).58 We are the beloved of our faithful husband who searches for us in our sin and woos us to the bed of his Kingdom. At this level of thought, masculine and feminine transcend sexuality and become symbolic categories for expressing the covenant bond between God and his people. Masculine here signifies initiative, power, authority; the feminine, receptivity, dependence, loving obedience. In rehtion to the masculine God, we are all feminine. The Blue Book avoidance of masculine pronouns—and if Christian prayer is addressed to the Father, how can we felicitously avoid masculine pronouns?—distorts our relationship with our God and impoverishes both our understanding and imagination.59 Finally, the masculinity of the deity must be comprehended through the transcendence and otherness of God. God exceeds all of our finite limitations and boundaries. He cannot be captured by our understandings and conceptualities nor reduced to our sensible experience. On Mount Sinai, he is not seen, only heard. Thus Israel is prohibited from the making of images. Consider the important text from Deuteronomy: You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a
57 Eller, pp. 37-47; Hauke, pp. 252-256. Cf. Donald G. Bloesch, Is the Bible Sexist? (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982), pp. 61-83. 58 For a survey of the biblical material, see Edward Schillebeeckx, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, trans. N. D. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 31-52, 107-119. 59 See Leonard Klein's forceful argument for the continued use of masculine pronouns for God, "That God Is To Be Spoken of as 'He,' " Lutheran Forum 22 (Pentecost 1988): 23ff; also Frye, p. 8. Ramshaw-Schmidt refuses to admit the metaphorical, nonsexual quality of God's masculinity and thus the appropriateness of using English masculine pronouns (p. 56). She is thus left without any pronouns with which to speak of God. (The personal God of the Bible certainly cannot be called "it"!) Bennett follows suit, recommending that the pronouns be replaced by "God" (p. 48). Robert Jenson rightly points out that a monotheistic faith, in English, cannot do without pronouns: e.g., the sentence "God sent God's son" does not specify whether the son is or is not the son of the God who sent him (and indeed seems to suggest two Gods). "The Loss of the Word," dialog 27 (Fall 1988): 249. Quere explains that English masculine pronouns function as metonyms: "That God is King and Father means that we use 'he' as the pronoun that stands in the place of God. Neither King nor Father nor 'he' means God is male" (p. 13). Obviously, some explanation is required here, but is that so bad?
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man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the water below. (4:15-18) Israel is forbidden the projection of creaturely conceptions and images into the Godhead. Whatever the masculinity of Yahweh might mean, it does not mean that we are to conceive him as an infinitely large man with penis and testicles. Our God is beyond human sexuality, "immortal, with no need to procreate, and already whole in love." 60 The biological distinctions of male and female belong to the created order: As Creator, the biblical God far surpasses any such limitations. In the history of Israel, we discern the denaturalization of divinity and the absolute divorce of Godhead and fertility. Yahweh is suprasexual, neither male nor female.61 Because God is personal being, it is inevitable and proper that terms with sexual connotations be applied to him; however, as argued above, our imagery enjoys an imageless, nonmimetic relation to the transcendent diety. The masculinity of the Hebrew-Christian God must be defined by his infinite, invisible reality. The Feminist Hermeneutic How are we to evaluate the underlying hermeneutic of these inclusive language liturgies? The Blue Book states: These texts deliberately seek a more balanced imagery in descriptions of God. This concern is closely related to the issues in language about people, since the words we use do, in fact, form and affect our perceptions, both on a conscious and unconscious level. Care has therefore been taken to avoid an over-reliance on metaphors and attributes generally perceived as masculine, and to seek out and use images which describe God in feminine and other scripturally-based terms. (p. 99) At one level it is difficult to argue against such a statement. After all, if our liturgies are unbalanced, biased, inequitable, distorted, then we must by all means correct the situation. But unbalanced compared to what? The Bible? The use of feminine imagery for God is infrequent in the Scriptures, and as we have seen, for good reason. Given the minor role such imagery plays in the Biblical tradition, it is not easy to be impressed by the claim that the Church's liturgies are drastically unbalanced—that is, if the Bible is our rule and norm.
60 Ramshaw-Schmidt, p. 31. See Mary Hayter, The New Eve in Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 7-44. 61 Ibid, pp. 14-18.
But is the Bible the rule and norm for these liturgies? My guess is, no. Here I must depart from the Blue Book text, which is politically silent on its determining hermeneutic, and rely on contemporary feminist writers. I suspect that the passion for feminine imagery is rooted not in a commitment to Holy Scripture but in the conviction that the entire theological and liturgical tradition, including the Bible, is fatally flawed by male sexism. As the dominant members of the ecclesial community, men have projected onto the deity masculine characteristics and attributes. This male deity, in turn, reinforces the patriarchalism of society. As Mary Daly has memorably stated, "If God is male, the male is God." The liberation of women, therefore, requires the immediate transformation of our understanding of God. Masculine imagery must be either replaced by feminine imagery or supplemented by it. In either case, a radical reconstruction of Christian theology is necessary. I am reminded here of Martin Luther's 1518 Heidelberg Disputation in which he draws the distinction between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.62 By a theology of glory he means a theological method by which one infers the attributes of God from the works of creation (perhaps today we would say "experience"). Through this process of reasoning and reflection, one composes a picture of majesty, strength, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, benevolence. We impute to the deity those values we consider superior. According to Luther, however, this is not a saving knowledge; for sinful humanity is bound to use the theology of glory to advance its own egotistical schemes. In the very exercise of the method, the sinner is reinforced in his or her self-righteousness and pride. Our insatiable need to re-make divinity after our own image remains untouched; indeed, it is confirmed and nourished by the hermeneutic itself. Ultimately, the God of glory is but the projection of self into eternity.63 If theology is simply a matter of importing our needs, desires, perfections into the heavens, then it seems appropriate (nay, imperative) that everyone contribute to the process, men and women, adults and children, blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, first-worlders and third-worlders, capitalists and workers, oppressors and victims, etc., etc. But do these self-projections have anything at all to do with the living God? Do we not each end up with that deity which we ultimately want, namely, ourselves?
62 Martin Luther, "Disputation held at Heidelberg," in Luther: Early Theological Works, ed. and trans. James Atkinson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), pp. 290-292. Throughout this section I am indebted to an unpublished essay by Robert W. Jenson, "Trinitarian Naming and Sexist Sensibility. " 63 Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to his Thought, trans. R. A. Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), pp. 227-228.
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The feminist hermeneutic is a modern example of a theology of glory. Divinity is construed in light of feminist (I do not say female) politico-religious experience. God becomes God/ess. Because the goal of the liberation of women requires, so it is believed, the exaltation of the feminine, what better way than to give it a divine status through incorporation into the Godhead. For Luther, only the concrete sufferings of the eternal Son can destroy our thirst for glory. Only the passion of Jesus can thwart our innate drive to idolatry. We must behold the deity in that which we hate. We must know him in "the humility and shame of the cross."64 In Jesus Christ we are confronted by the spectacle of the dying God. Our pagan conceptions of the divine are critiqued, rebuked, turned on their heads. Our self-projection is broken by the historical reality of the One who surrenders himself to ignominy and death. Knowledge of the true God is not gained by reflection upon our subjective experience: It is acquired by contemplation of the broken humanity of the Incarnate Word. In his weakness and death we encounter the God we do not want, the God who cannot be the creation of our idolatrous imaginations, the God we would choose to crucify all over again. "Therefore in Christ crucified," Luther concludes, "is the true theology and the knowledge of God."65 The Gospel is the wondrous news that we do not have to find God by the projection of our perfections. We do not have to name him by that which we approve. We do not have to make him male, female, or neuter (depending on our preferences). Rather, God himself takes the initiative in coming to humanity in acts of self-revelation and redemption. He makes himself known as he wills, freely identifying himself not just by that which we admire and love but by the negativities of our existence, by that which we fear, hate, despise—by weakness, sufferings, sin, death, even fatherhood!66 God will not allow himself simply to be the infinite inflation of our egos. He will not be reduced to a symbol of our self-esteem. He is the self-existent Savior who frees us from ourselves by confronting us as that which we consider bad or worthless. This is the paradox of the Gospel: God becomes our Sin and thus we become righteous. God dies on the Cross and thus do we live. God names himself as our Father and thus are we made heirs of his Kingdom.67 Because we are saved, freely and unconditionally, in the particular, specific, and embarrassing history of
64 65 66 67
Luther, p. 291. Ibid. Jenson, Triune Identity, p. 16. Idem, "The Inclusive Lectionary," dialog 23 (Winter 1984): 6.
Jesus of Nazareth, we are liberated from the need to image God after ourselves. God can now be God. And we can be ourselves.68 Are we offended by the masculinity of God? Good! That's the whole point. God wants to offend us. He wants to convict us of our egoism, pride, and idolatry. Only then is true repentance and faith made possible. For each of us, there is something about Jesus which will scandalize and anger us. 69 It may be his Semitic heritage or his association with prostitutes and sinners; perhaps it is his relative poverty or his refusal to support the political agendas of the day. It could even be his impotence and death—or the Father he worships and obeys. But whatever it is, we must be offended, indeed, crucified, that we may be freed from our religiosity and our incurable desire to reconstruct divinity. Only when we no longer seek to find ourselves in eternity will we find in the here and now the one and true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By this understanding, our language for God is not determined by that which we value in the world. It is determined by "God's choice of the actual history as which he is our object."70 Because Jesus named God Father, we address God as Father and not Mother. Because Jesus was in contingent fact male, we pray in the Son's name and not the Daughter's. Whether we rejoice or despair therein, as Professor Robert Jenson notes, is irrelevant.71 Our theological task is to be faithful to the history of God. Despite its intentions, the feminist hermeneutic succeeds not in liberating us from sexism but in further entrenching us in our sin. Unwilling to accept God's historic self-definition, it embarks on another quest to invent a deity more amenable to its concerns. But the God it ends up with is merely the mirror image of itself. Thus theological feminism finds itself necessarily opposing orthodox Christianity. There can be no compromise between Ashtoreth and the Holy Trinity. Conclusion Anglicanism is essentially a liturgical faith. The liturgy forms our belief and shapes our discipleship. For this reason, our corporate prayer must be deeply rooted in the tradition and the language of Canaan. This is the true apostolic succession, the formation of Christian identity in the
Idem, "Trinitarian Naming," p. 5. Idem, "Lectionary," p. 5. Even a moderate feminist like Patricia Wilson-Kästner has a very difficult time finding any place at all for the particularity of Jesus, especially in his maleness. His particularity is constantly opposed to his universality. Faith, Feminism, and the Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), pp. 89fi°. For a stimulating discussion of this problem, see E. L. Mascall, Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? (London: SPCK, 1980), pp. 38ff., 128ÍF. 70 Jenson, "Trinitarian Naming," p. 5. 71 Ibid.
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Holy Trinity through time and space. It is therefore imperative that ideological and sectarian concerns, not to speak of heretical theologies, not be incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer. If there are hermeneutical and theological problems, then let these be addressed from the pulpit and in the classroom. Interpretation of the tradition is an on-going process—the Gospel must be proclaimed today— but this interpretation is not a substitute for the primitive language of faith and the story of Jesus Christ. It is this story that has changed the face of civilization, that has brought hope and new birth to millions of men and women in the midst of unimagined suffering, poverty, violence, despair. The Blue Book raises serious questions. The language of faith is substantively altered. With the change of this language comes also a change in essence. Before this new approach is introduced into our liturgy, extensive theological reflection and critique should first take place, not only within Anglicanism but all of Catholic Christianity. The temptation of all ages is syncretism, the assimilation of alien forms of thought into the faith. Yahweh faced the challenge of the Baalim. The Trinity faced the challenge of the unknowable deity of Neo-Platonism. In both cases, syncretism had to be confronted and rejected. Are we not facing a similar situation today?
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