Is The Holy Spirit Feminine?

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    Profile photo of mary

    This was posted on our YahooGroups list.  I thought it was interesting enough to re-post here.

    Is The Holy Spirit Feminine?
    By Brother Lawrence Damien CoS

    In 325 C.E the Council of Nicea first came up with the doctrine of the Trinity as comprising of God the Father, God the Son Jesus, and the Holy Ghost/Spirit. All were seen as being male or having attributes of a male.

    This concept was formalized in the Nicene Creed we say every Sunday and in the Apostle’s Creed and in the Athanasian Creeds. However before then in the first three hundred years of church history what did the church believe? Did they believe in the Trinity as we know it now or was there a different idea of the trinity that early Christians would have subscribed to?

    First let it be understood the the doctrine of the Trinity is not necessarily original, as it was found in ancient Egypt where they had a trinity of Father – Mother – Child. They also had a trinity of the Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother – and Crone.

    One idea of the Trinity held by many early Christians especially among the Gnostic Christians was that of Father, Son and Wisdom that they called Sophia. Sophia they found in chapters like Proverbs 8 where wisdom is described as a woman.

    Seen also as justification for the Holy Spirit being female was the word Elohim which is the plural name of God found in Genesis 1:1 for starters and elsewhere in the Old Testament. Trinitarians would point to this a proof of the Trinity doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However in the original Hebrew there is another idea suggested there.

    Elohiym is a combination of two words El meaning Father and Ohiym meaning Mother. Thus a possible rendering would be that God who is Father and Mother created the heavens and the earth.

    The term in the ancient world was applied to both God and goddesses as well as upon occasion to magistrates and angels.. It meant someone who is like God, exceedingly powerful, one who is very great and a mighty judge.

    Elohiym is so powerful that it can create something out of nothing its spoken word only. We also see God hovering over the waters which the ancients saw at God’s spirit moving over the waters. In the Hebrew the word for spirit is ruwach is I understand is in the feminine gender of neutral and can apply to either male or female and thus can support the idea of God as having the attributes of both a father as well as a mother.

    Going back to Sophia the early Christians saw her as the Holy Spirit and thus a female member of the Trinity.[i] She was also seen as the Goddess of Wisdom. Her symbol was a dove and the personification of wisdom as found in Proverbs where wisdom is described as female.[ii] This concept of Sophia was very popular with early Christians.

    Sophia was also viewed by the Gnostics especially as the Bride of God, the female power which Jehovah seen as one of the Sky Gods, needed to validate his rule. This was to lead to the introduction on the ancient though unorthodox worship of Asherah who fulfilled a female function as the wife of Yahweh.[iii] [iv]

    This concept was later adopted by the church and changed to refer to the church as the Bride of Christ. This adopting of pagan symbols and ideas and reinventing them with Christian ideals was a common practice of the early church as they sought to teach Christianity to the pagans and make it easier for them to come into the church.

    Another popular conception of the Trinity held by many early Christians was that of Father, Mother, and Child. In this scenario Joseph is the Father, Mother Mary is the mother and second person of the trinity Jesus is the child and third person of the trinity. The idea was based on the Egyptian Osiris myth.

    Osiris a primeval king of Egypt who is murdered by his brother Set who then usurps the throne. Osiris’ wife Isis restores her husband’s body, allowing him to posthumously have a son with her.

    The son Horus is at first a vulnerable child protected by his mother. Later as he gets older he becomes Sets rival for the throne. There follows a violent conflict ending with Horus triumph.

    Horus then restores order to Egypt after Set’s unrighteous reign and completes the process of Osiris resurrection. In Christian terms Jesus son of Joseph and Mary battles demonic forces who put him to death but then he rises from the dead defeating them and now reigns as King of Kings forever who will one day come and establish his kingdom here on earth.

    In Christianizing the pagan world where the Osiris myth was well known, this family trinity was familiar and therefore effective in encouraging conversion to a religion that seemed so similar to native worship.[v]

    The hand gesture we use in blessing ourselves with i.e, middle finger, index finger and thumb extended is believed to be a holdover from the Holy Family trinity. The tallest (middle) finger represents the father. The next tallest (index), the mother and the small thumb the child.

    Today though we no longer worship or see Mary as part of the Trinity the Holy Family image is still popular. This is because the family is a real life model for everyday life. It is seen as much more real and familiar than an all male trinity or an ephemeral Spirit.

    A third conception many early Christians had of the trinity was that of Maiden, Mother and Crone. A crone is a wise old woman. Thus Mary as a virgin is a Maiden; having given birth to Jesus is a Mother and is also according to this tradition a wise old woman. This has been hushed by the church out of fear and hatred of old women that has imbued the cultural consciousness in both east and west for the last 2,000 years. However in Jesus time old women were seen as wise women and powerful women.

    Today many are revising the view of Mary from that of pliant Virgin into that of a mature mother who lived into her 50’s (according to Catholic tradition) before being assumed into heaven. In many of the Gnostic gospels Mary and Mary Magdalene are pictured as having a more excellent knowledge of the gospel and been closer to Jesus and therefore the ones who the Apostles come to be taught words of Jesus and to be taught more about him. Also one of the titles in the Gnostic gospels for Mary Magdalene is “Apostle to the Apostles” indicating women held powerful positions in the early church.[vi]

    If what I have shared is true then why haven’t we heard about it and why is it not taught in our churches today? Why no mention of God having a female side or the Holy Spirit being seen as female instead of an insistence on a all male Trinity? To answer that we need to have a brief look at history and what the world was like in the time of the Bible and in the succeeding generations.

    The world of that time was a male dominated society. Women were seen as inferior to men and not worthy to enter the temple and be taught or learn the scriptures. They were seen as property owned by their father’s prior to marriage and by their husbands after marriage.

    Women had no rights to decide anything for themselves even over control of their own body. They were simply there to be used however the man saw fit and to submit without question or complaint. While a man could divorce a wife simply by telling her three times I divorce you no such recourse was allowed for a woman but she was supposed to suffer in silence and endure it. Perhaps a Jewish prayer I was told by an Orthodox rabbi I studied under is prayed every morning by Jewish men upon arising sums up the general attitude towards women. According to him they prayed something to the effect of “I thank you God for making me a Jew. I thank you God for not making me a gentile and I thank you God for not making me a woman”.

    This is the world that Jesus and Paul and the early church grew up and lived in. This is also the world as it was at the time of the Council of Nicea. Beginning in about 100 CE there was a move to make women subservient and inferior to men. They were also excluded from the priesthood and all positions of authority within the church. By 200 CE there were only male priests. Thus in 325 CE when the Council of Nicesa was held only men were allowed at the council and thus came for a document upholding God as male only. Had woman been allowed to be present I suspect a very different document would have emerged.

    Having thus decided on the accepted Orthodox view of the Trinity as all male they then went to work to get rid of all who rejected this view. This led to the persecution of and suppression of Gnostics as heretics and the destruction of their writings. Ultimately then if you wanted to be a true Orthodox Christian you had to believe in an all male trinity.

    However I believe I have shown from both history and the Bible a different view of the Trinity. I have shown also that many early Christians also had a different view of the trinity which allowed for a female to be a part of the trinity especially as Sophia and this was a pretty wide held view among many early Christians.

    In conclusion then I am not advocating that we throw out the Nicene or the other creeds of the church or ignore them. However I do believe that we should broaden our understanding of the Trinity to recognize God has the attributes of both father and mother, male and female and thus bring us back closer to what I believe the original church believed. God does not have a penis or a vagina and so can’t be thought of in those terms. However God can possess the attributes of both and act accordingly sometimes as a father and sometimes like a mother. Some may say that I am preaching goddess worship. However far from it as I am just recognizing the fact God has a dual nature which encompasses the attributes of both male and female.

    This is a sketch of what I have found thus far. I will continue to research and report what I find if there is interest in this topic. As always will look forward to any comments or thoughts you may have and hope that this will give you some food for thought and some ideas for further discussion.

    God Bless You All
    Brother Lawrence Damien CoS

    [i] The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
    By Barbara Walker

    [ii] The Gnostic Gospels
    By Elaine Pagel

    Profile photo of RevFrank

    I believe, in the mixture of scripture, theology, ritual, belief, and doctrines that has defined “church”, we must also look at the impact of linguistics when dealing with evidence that support a view or another, especially when we, as English-speaking, forget that much of the original material was written in Hebrew and Greek.  Even these languages, in modern times, are radically different than 2000 to 5000 years ago.

    There is no rhyme or reason why inanimate objects are “masculine or feminine” – it’s just how the language evolved.

    Same with the various aspects of YHWH, the Holy Spirit, Yeshua, and the “genders” involved. Who today can truly know the rhyme or reason? YHWH is is not a gender and neither is the Ruach  (Hebrew for “breath”. “spirit”). Both are spirits. Yeshua is the only One who is actually a physical MASCULINE gender because He was a human male who actually walked this earth for 33 years.

    Languages are complicated and one must never jump to conclusions about the meanings of certain words or concepts. They must always be viewed in context.

    Therefore, if we look at either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, which are simply, in my mind, the traditional and ritualized Statement of Belief (credo) used widely by Christians, we can easily ‘re-work’ the language to modern times and still retain the basic message.  Whether “God” (however one defines it) is male, female, non-gendered, transgendered, or the “Holy Spirit” for that matter, is irrelevant.  While the “Son”, by convention and definition is ‘male’, could it be possible, if The Son is also God, to be non-gendered?

    IF we consider God, The Son, The Holy Spirit all to be “transformational”, does it matter what gender identification we use?  Is a “convention” truth?  How do we define ‘truth’ anyway?  Or, we go back to the origins of the terms, debate, ponder, and, by consensus, agree to develop and adhere to a convention (as the ‘big boys’ did at Nicea), are we reducing the whole thing to “TWO GUYS AND A BIRD”?

    A pondering mind is simply enquiring . . .



    Profile photo of Brotherlawrence

    Dear Rev. Frank

    As I see it how we see God isn’t as important as what it represents. In that respect I see God as having the attributes of both father and mother and can act like either one of them as God chooses. By including the female we bring the female attributes of God into play  and also as having a part in creation and also a reminder that woman was created to be equal with the woman to help the man in taking care of the garden. Also it recognizes that according to Genesis God created man and female and called their name Adam. Thus we see them as one and the same in Gods eyes. Thus what I see is a new understanding that gets us away from a male dominated viewpoint which oppresses women and makes them second class citizens to full inclusion and able to do whatever God calls her too. Its  to let women see they are as much a part of God as are the males and to see that God also understands them. That is why I feel it is important to acknowledge that God has male and female attributes whatever else God may be. Again thank you for your response and look forward to continuing this discussion with you

    Brother Lawrence Damien

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