| || ||
SON OF THE FATHER
In his explanation of the term "Son", which is also a term often
considered non-inclusive in our era, Gregory of Nyssa reiterates that
this also is a precise theological term leading one to the inner relationships
of the Godhead. It has primacy over other scriptural terms. He says:
"While the names which Scripture applies to the Only-begotten are
many, we assert that none of the other names is closely connected with
reference to him that begot him, for we do not employ the name Rock
or Resurrection or Shepherd or Light or
any of the rest, as we do the name Son of the Father, with
a reference to the God of all. It is possible to make a twofold division
of the signification of the divine names, as it were, by a scientific
rule: for to one class belongs the indication of his lofty and unspeakable
glory; the other class indicates the variety of providential dispensation"
(Answer to Eunomius Second Book).
All sorts of epithets for God are available to man through revelationgoodness,
love, mother, fire. But none of these is exchangeable or comparable to
the revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are the terms
by which man enters trinitarian life to discover the unique Persons of
the Trinity and their distinguishable marks.
The traditional trinitarian terms arc precise theological terms, not easily
exchangeable for any others. They lead us to the Persons of the Trinity,
as well as defining relationships between them. To be unbegotten, begotten,
and in procession are characteristics of the Persons of the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit. Paternity, generation, and procession are the unique
marks of the respective Persons.
What about the feminist allegation that the traditional doxology is the
product of a patriarchal structure, of a "male" theology? Did
the patristic writers harbor animosity toward women or femininity? Did
they use masculine terms for God, the source of all life, because they
mistakenly thought that human fathers are the sole source of human life?
Indeed, the opposite appears to be true.
First, some women did have opportunities to express their understanding
of the Godhead. Macrina, elder sister of two of the greatest theologians
of the fourth century) Basil the Great and the aforementioned Gregory
of Nyssa, was referred to by her brothers as the "teacher".
It was she who raised them in the Faith and instructed them in the theology
of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She defended these titles as revelations
recorded in Scripture (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
of the Christian Church. second series, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry
Wace. Vol. 5: Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, etc, [Grand
Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1892], pp. I6).
Likewise, Nina, the evangelizer of the Georgians, converted that nation
by her teaching of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Trinity-Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. She did so by her own will; she was not commissioned by the
bishops (Lives and Legends of Georgian Saints, by David Marshall
Long [Crestwood, N.Y.: SVS Press, 1956], pp. 13-39)
PRAISE FOR WOMEN
Second, the most accurate way to describe the Church Fathers attitude
toward women would not be animosity but ambivalence. One can indeed find
passages in their writings deriding women for their weak wills and for
leading the human race into sin (John Chrysostom writes that "the
woman taught once and ruined all"). But one also finds Passages extolling
women for being of great character and teaching the gospel better than
men. Gregory of Nazianzen, in writing of his parents, explains that his
fathers virtue was "the result of his wifes prayers and
guidance, and it was from her that he learned his ideal of a good shepherds
life.... They [his parents] have been rightly assigned, each to either
sex; he is the ornament of men, she of women, and not only the ornament
but the pattern of virtue" (Funeral Oration on His Sister Gorgonia).
Jerome says his reader may laugh at him for so often "dwelling on
the praises of mere women. . ., [but] we judge of peoples virtue
not by their sex but by their character and hold those to be of the highest
glory who have renounced both rank and wealth" (Letter 127,
It must also be noted that in several instances the Church was much
fairer toward women than the surrounding culture. Gregory of Nazianzen
exemplified this by upbraiding the men of his flock in regard to a civil
law which meted out strict punishment for wives committing adultery but
disregarded husbands committing the same crime: "[Let me discuss]
chastity, in respect of which I see that the majority of men are ill-disposed
and that their laws are unequal and irregular. For what was the reason
why they restrained the woman but indulged the man, and why a woman who
practices evil against her husbands bed is an adultress (and the
legal penalties for this are very severe), but if a husband commits fornication
against his wife, he has not account to give? I do not accept this legislation;
I do not approve this custom. Those who made the law were men, and therefore
the legislation is hard on women" (On the Words of the Gospel).
Fourth, it appears that it was not unknown to the leaders of the fourth-century
Church that mothers as well as fathers contributed as sources to the making
of a child. John Chrysostom wrote:
"A man leaving them that begat him, and from whom he was born , is
knit to his wife. And then the one flesh is, father and mother, and the
child from the substance of the two commingled. For indeed, by the commingling
of their seeds the child is produced" (Homily 20, On Ephesians
Yet, even with this knowledge of mothers and fathers both acting as "sources"
in the life process, the Church insisted on using the exclusive term "Father"
THE SPIRIT AND THE FEMININE
Perhaps even more interesting, patristic writers never excluded the ideas
that women were made in the image of God or that human femininity had
some relationship to God. In many texts, there appears the idea that women,
with their femininity, are closely associated with the Person of the Holy
Spirit and the Spirits mode of life. In the patristic period, the
Fathers compared the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father with
the "procession" of Eve from Adam.
Later, in the seventh century, Anastasius of Sinai wrote: "Eve, who
proceeded from Adam, signifies the proceeding Person of the Holy Spirit.
This is why God did not breathe in her the breath of life; she was already
the type of the breathing and life of the Holy Spirit" (On the Image
and Likeness). Especially in Syriac hymnody, the association between human
femininity and the mode of existence of the Holy Spirit was stressed.
Therefore, the "masculine" terms used in the trinitarian names
are not the result of disdain for the feminine.
With this evidence, it is clear that the patristic writers were interested
in preserving the scriptural terms of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"
as revelations from God rather than reflections of patriarchal culture.
This is evident from their frequent appeals to Scripture for the bases
of their arguments.
PRECISE THEOLOGICAL TERMS
In view of this historical background, it appears the arguments supporting
"non-exclusive" language changes for God arc untenableincompatible
with Scripture, apostolic teachings, and Christian experience. Against
the historical backdrop of Church life, the terms "Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit" appear not as exchangeable metaphors, human imaginings,
or pillars of a patriarchal culture, but rather as precise terms revealed
by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and preserved in the canon of
The challenge to Christians today compares to the challenge to Christians
in the fourth century; to preserve these names as gifts from God which
give us clues to his inner life, for us as adopted children through his
Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Read part one of "Father, Son, and SpiritSo
What's In a Name?" here.
Deborah Malacky Belonick is a lay theologian who holds a master of
divinity degree from St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary.
She is the author of Feminism in Christianity: An Orthodox Christian Perspective
and is a member of the Orthodox Theological Society of America. This essay
first appeared in Pastoral Renewal in April 1986.
Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God
Edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Feminism and related ideologies have exerted unparalleled influence on organized
religion--and on nearly every other aspect of Western culturefor about
three decades. Nowhere is evidence of this dominant influence more obvious
than in worship of the liberal mainline denominations. The transformation
of the language of worship began almost imperceptibly with relatively peripheral
liturgical elements, such as prayers incorporating approved feminist language
and concepts, and with "corrected" lyrics to existing hymns and
words of prayers.
Encountering no effective resistance to these achievements, the feminists'
objective of radical destruction of "oppressive, patriarchal"
religion has now accelerated into an all-out attack on the Scripture and
on the core beliefs it incorporates which are common to both Christianity
and Judaism--essential beliefs about the nature of God, of the nature of
mankind's "imaging" of God, of the meaning of human sexuality
and of the relationship of men and women with one another and with God.
According to their view, the power of these teachings (the Judeo-Christian
"Myth") must be destroyed--and not only destroyed, but replaced
with a changeling Myth concocted to conform to their own politically charged
notion of reality and presided over by a god (or goddess) of their own construction
and which they claim the right to name.
So far there has been sparse and ineffective resistance to the relentless
undermining of the worship of God. The contributors to this timely and critically
important volume include Catholic, Protestant and Jewish believers, men
and women, scripture scholars, theologians, translators, linguists, poets,
clergy and laity who have in common, in addition to a shared regard for
and interest in the integrity of languagean unambiguous affirmation
of their religious faith, and a clear-eyed and objective view of the nature
of the Cosmic War in which we are all now engaged. These essays offer important
insights into the function of language and objectives of translation, as
well as penetrating analysis of the effect of ideologically motivated linguistic
innovations on new Scripture translations and on the worship of God.
| || || |