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Augustine the Crazy Feminist

Melissa posts a couple awesome quotes from Augustine on God as Mother. Here’s just one:

My father and mother have abandoned me (Psalm 26:10). The psalmist has made himself a little child in relation to God. He has made God both his father and his mother. God is our father because he created us, because he calls us, gives orders and rules us; he is our mother because he cherishes us, nourishes us, feeds us with milk, and holds us in his arms” (Exposition 2 of Psalm 26, par. 18).

Didn’t Augustine know that only modern liberal feminazis call God “Mother”? I guess not.

44 Comments

  1. I can’t remember if it’s in the sermons on 1 John or the Gospel of John, or maybe in a letter, but somewhere Augustine also talks about the Beloved Disciple nursing from the breast of Jesus. (Boy, THAT would piss off Mark Driscoll, wouldn’t it?!)

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  2. james wrote:

    I guess gender stereotyping is allowed on Wednesdays.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Brad wrote:

    If I recall correctly, Calvin also makes a number references to God as mother – breast feeding, labor, etc.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  4. Dave Belcher wrote:

    This is a rich tradition. Julian of Norwich stands out as one who explicitly refers to God as “He” who is yet “Mother.” The language of the Father having breasts with which he nurtures not only his followers, but who is also “milked” by the Spirit into the Son who is the cup, then offered to the faithful, goes back to 2nd or 3rd century with the Odes of Solomon. Ode 8 is really beautiful, but this language from Ode 19 is really fascinating:

    Ode 19

    A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
    The Son is the cup, and the Father is He who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him;
    Because His breasts were full, and it was undesirable that His milk should be ineffectually released.
    The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
    Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand.
    The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth.
    So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.
    And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
    And she did not require a midwife, because He caused her to give life.
    She brought forth like a strong man with desire, and she bore according to the manifestation, and she acquired according to the Great Power.
    And she loved with redemption, and guarded with kindness, and declared with grandeur.
    Hallelujah.

    See the brilliant essay on the Odes by Catherine Keller in Horizons of Feminist Theology, an excellent collection of some of the most important and yet ignored feminist essays of the last half of this century.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  5. Rod wrote:

    Excellent

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  6. Charis wrote:

    Augustine also talks about the Beloved Disciple nursing from the breast of Jesus. (Boy, THAT would piss off Mark Driscoll, wouldn’t it?!)

    ROFL :)

    Halden and others,
    I haven’t read this yet but it sounds very intriguing and goes right along with this topic: Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  7. Charlie Collier wrote:

    As are snide remarks. Do you have other things to offer?

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  8. melissa f-b wrote:

    Anyone read A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast? I read the short piece in Christian Century but, you’ll never believe this, the local public library doesn’t carry this title. Imagine. I’d love a review.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  9. But I love self-appointed crusaders!! They like, totally speak truth to power. The powerful, powerful blogs. Wait, what?

    In this case (with James citing old-age as special revelation a number of posts ago) it seems the contrary with power over truth stimulating his pragmatic life. I decided to employ my Mother’s wisdom (she is much older than I, so this should be legitimate, right?): ignore him. He is what us young whipper snappers call a troll ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29 ): “someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  10. Cortney wrote:

    Hmm this doesn’t really sound like a feminist statement. “God is our father because he created us, because he calls us, gives orders and rules us; he is our mother because he cherishes us, nourishes us, feeds us with milk, and holds us in his arms”
    I understand the imagery and that the part that must be controversial for some and especially during Augustine’s day. It’s important to appreciate what Augustine was communicating. We’re all created in His image and encompass different components of God’s character. However it’s really just gender stereo typing which most if not all feminist would find a insulting today. As a feminist I don’t find equating God’s “male” characteristics with a “creator” and “ruler” and his “female” characteristics with a “nourisher” and I guess comforter “holds us in his arms” cohesive with feminism and/or encouraging to my identity as woman. Again I understand and appreciate the imagery as a child of God. Sorry Halden I don’t think that Augustine comes close to being a true feminist let alone a “crazy” one. Maybe a more appropriate title would be Augustine Almost a Feminist.

    I do appreciate that Mark Driscoll’s tiny brain would explode with anger over this quote.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    You’re right Cortney. I think what’s cool about the Augustine quote though, is how unashamedly he calls God Mother—an act which makes conservative evangelicals piss their pants in mindless rage.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  12. Wes Ellis wrote:

    hahaha… it would, it would.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  13. Cortney wrote:

    Agreed.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    Fascinating is a great way to put it.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink
  15. Marvin wrote:

    I behold your slow but sure transformation into a liberal Protestant with unalloyed joy.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  16. Jody+ wrote:

    Part of the beauty is the dissonance in the imagery–something which many modern “gender-expansive” liturgies miss–of saying “He is our mother…” The language of the beloved disciple suckling at Jesus’ breast has explanatory and poetic power at least in part, if not primarily, because we know that Jesus is male and such a description is not expected. This is something that Johnny Cash understands when he uses biblical imagery, but sadly many liturgists miss. Consider the like from his song “The Man Comes Around,”, “The Father Hen shall call His chickens home…”

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Well, if Augustine is a liberal protestant. . .

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  18. Tony wrote:

    ‘… he is our mother because he cherishes us, nourishes us, feeds us with milk, and holds us in his arms”. Hmm? What the?

    If Augustine had said ‘she is our mother because she cherishes us, nourishes us, feeds us with milk, and holds us in her arms’ then it would actually make sense.

    Marvin, a little bit of reading in historical theology would save you from using the term ‘liberal Protestant’ in such a loose manner.

    To all those conservative evangelical who want ot bang on about ‘heresy’, all one can say is, ‘get a life’. I used to be a card carrying member of your elitist club. Trust me, life is much richer when you start thinking for yourself and you leave the fish bowl and enter into the real world.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 2:57 am | Permalink
  19. Hill wrote:

    Augustine is anything you want him to be. That’s why he’s so universally liked.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    I ain’t no fuckin liberal protestant!

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  21. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Perhaps someone who knows Latin better than I can confirm this, but I’m guessing that “he is our mother” makes perfect sense in Augustine’s native tongue. Nouns are gendered and pronouns reflect the gender of the noun to which they refer.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  22. Marvin wrote:

    C’mon man, everybody’s doin’ it!

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  23. Chris Donato wrote:

    The actual phrase is …mater, quia fovet, quia nutrit, quia lactat, quia continet.

    The sentence begins with “Pater est” (“He is…,” not “God is…”). That must be why “mater” is translated as such, because, as you can see, the “he is” does not literally exist in the above phrase, and the Deo, to which the mater refers, is indeed masculine.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  24. Jody+ wrote:

    Tony,

    As I noted above, I don’t think the imagery would be nearly as powerful or explanatory without the juxtaposition of “he” and “mother.” Anyone who wants to be intentional about theology should also study poetry. If Augustine has said “she” instead of “he,” he would have risked, IMO, what many fall afoul of today when they construct alternative liturgies with supposedly expansive imagery for God–they often come across as though their having an argument with an absent party (the traditional liturgies) and they attempt to plumb every possible descriptor except those that have traditional resonance. But it is precisely in restating the traditional alongside something new that the new ways of speaking become intelligible and what they offer in terms of character description becomes apparent.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  25. Chris Donato wrote:

    Only mater should be italicized in that last sentence. I’m not trying to emphasize a blessed thing.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  26. Marvin wrote:

    And to you, Tony, I say, Get a sense of humor!

    Now I will get back to reading Maximus the Confessor b/c I’ve got to present a paper on him in this doctoral seminar on medieval theology I’m taking at my liberal Protestant seminary…

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    No. Not gonna do it. Don’t care how cool it is.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  28. Marvin wrote:

    Isn’t part of the force of the statement the fact that it’s a metaphor and not a simile? No “like” or “as” to soften the relationship.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  29. Chris Donato wrote:

    bingo

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  30. Fairly certain being a liberal protestant is very uncool. Quasi-Catholics are the hipsters of theological studies.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  31. Mennonites, by analogy, are those who were into folk before it was cool (again) and are now really pissed.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  32. To keep it going, liberal protestants are the ones who are still really into Hootie and the Blowfish, but are flirting with listening more to Dave Matthew’s Band.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  33. Halden wrote:

    Who are the people who like Steve Earle, then, in this typology?

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  34. Tony wrote:

    Charlie, Jodi and Chris, thank you for your comments and clarifications. I have not studied any Latin and so I humble myself to your expertise.

    Jodi I take your point in regards to not dismissing the traditional forms. When I construct ‘alternative’ and ‘expansive’ liturgy I am not engaging in an argument with anybody, let alone an absent party. What I am seeking to do is to do justice to the rich biblical imagery. So in any of my liturgies you will find both the ‘alternative’ and ‘expansive’ right along with the traditional. God is our father as much as God is our mother. God is like a mother and God is like a father. As for me, I do not wish to privilege either over the other. Just because something is older doesn’t make it better, and of course that also goes the other way.

    BTW, this is a real live issue for me since some of my former conservative evangelical colleagues (who I suspect were potty trained at the point of a pea shooter) want to label me a ‘heretic’, a ‘liberal’, etc. for employing ‘the something new’ in the liturgy. The line ‘some of my best friends are women, but …’ just doesn’t do it for me.

    Marvin, I luv ya dude :)

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  35. Marvin wrote:

    Liberal Protestants were calling God Mother back when the all the cool kids who have a crush on Rome today were handing out tracts saying she’s the whore of Babylon. I’m telling you, the dinosaur lives, and he will eat you all!

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  36. Marvin wrote:

    Steve Earle is a Maoist Redneck, which if you ask me, is a sect with legs.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  37. Probably some kind of unorthodox Catholic socialist type.

    I think we’ve reached the limit of this joke, or at least my ability to make the joke funny.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  38. Hill wrote:

    I enjoyed it.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  39. roger flyer wrote:

    Two words for all you authenticotheologicos…Johnny Cash

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  40. Rob wrote:

    isn’t Maximus a patristic author, rather than a medievalist? running patristics up to, say, John of Damascus?

    Friday, September 25, 2009 at 3:03 am | Permalink
  41. rassleas wrote:

    Augustine was oh so Emo :) in a cool way

    Friday, September 25, 2009 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  42. kim fabricius wrote:

    For the mix, from the Odes of Solomon (second or third century), reflecting early Syriac Christianity:

    A cup of milk was offered to me
    And I drank it with the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
    The Son is the cup,
    And he who was milked was the Father,
    And she who milked him is the Holy Spirit.

    How’s that for cross – and trans- – gendering!

    Friday, September 25, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink
  43. Marvin wrote:

    When the Middle Ages begin is a good question. I think for Southern they start at 700 AD, but for Cantor they begin (and I’m speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek here) in 3200 BC with the appearance of authoritarianism in the Nile delta.

    Friday, September 25, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  44. Marvin wrote:

    Can’t wait to break that one out next Trinity Sunday!

    Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

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