Thealogy 1: Christian Goddesses and Female Manifestations of the Divine
I’m taking a class with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. Needless to say, it’s fascinating. I thought I might do a series of posts sharing some of the highlights of the class with you.
According to Ruether, Christianity’s strongest claim to a divine feminine is through the Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. Proverbs is the only book in our current canon that contains this Wisdom tradition – two other Wisdom books were displaced by Protestants to the Apocrypha, but the Catholics do retain them. (The Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach.)
The Wisdom of Solomon in particular gives a very robust vision of Wisdom as a divine female figure which enters into and shapes creation. Wisdom is God as creator. Through Wisdom, God sustains the world, shapes the world, and acts as agent of revelation, communicating to humanity and reconciling humans to God.
Then at the time of Christ, Wisdom gets a sex change. Philo takes all the attributes and roles of Wisdom and applies them to Logos, otherwise known as “The Word.” (Think book of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”) For Philo, Logos was the essential inner spark of God in all of us. While Wisdom had been envisioned as feminine (Sophia), Logos was definitively masculine, and the Christian tradition wholeheartedly embraced Philo’s new paradigm, leaving Lady Wisdom, for the most part, in the dust.
While Logos is decidedly prominent in the New Testament, hints of Wisdom do remain. Feminist theologian Elizabeth Fiorenza interprets Jesus as being Wisdom’s son, and Matthew 11:19 says, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Interestingly, in traditional Christianity, Wisdom never morphs into the Holy Spirit, which remains either non-gendered or masculine identified. This was a surprise to me since it seems clear that Wisdom functions much as we think of the Holy Spirit functioning.
Wisdom ultimately finds its fullest expression in the figure of Mary, mother of Jesus. In medieval thought, she becomes an expression of God’s Wisdom manifest in creation, and she becomes an important mediator, as a figure that is fully human but totally uncorrupted from the fall.
- As Mormons, we believe in a feminine divine, though her thealogy has never been developed. When you think of her, do you associate her with Wisdom? with the Holy Ghost? with Mary? with none of these female or female associated figures?
- Do you envy the Catholics, as I do, because they have such a prominent female figure — Mary — to venerate, to look at, to touch, to think about as one prays?