In the creation myths of feminine deities, mother-goddess conveys a notion quite different from that of father. The womb of the mother-goddess sets the linguistic pattern. Mother-goddess gives birth to creation. Her offspring is an already divinized world. God is creation; creation is God.
This notion is foreign to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The affirmation that creation is God, and that God is creation is known as pantheism. In creating the cosmos ex nihilo, God is radically other, outside of the creation process. Moreover, nature and human beings are not good in themselves, already divinized in birth from the mother-goddess. They are divinized because God has breathed divine life into them.
Though men and women can create through the arts, the uniquely feminine metaphor for creation is birth. Ours is a personal and relational God who is beyond us and yet with us, transcendent and immanent. God is at work within us – always, everywhere, and providentially.
Linguistically, a parent-god is even more drastic than the lone mother-goddess. It sees the universe as the product of divine copulation or as a dualistic god (Berke, 34).
On the one hand, God as a divine parent involves no genetic connection and no role for sex or pro-creation. On the other hand, generic parenthood is a meaningless concept because we have no sense or experience of a generic parent, as the French government proposes. Two primordial words remain: father and mother.
The Fatherhood of God
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Jesus revealed that God is Father in unheard of ways. God is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father” (no. 240).
Paternity does not describe the essence of a man – let us call him Steve. Even without begetting children, Steve remains a man. Paternity is added on to his person; therefore it is accidental to his manhood.
God the Father differs from a human father. In relation to his Son, God is eternally and always Father, and then our Father. “It is plain that paternity is applied to God first,” writes St. Thomas. “For in the concept of the person of the Father, God is understood; but not conversely.” ("Summa Theologica", I, 33, 2-3)
This relation takes priority over other realities about God because it is one of unconditional love poured out. All men and women are drawn into this love: “You will understand that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20). The Father loves Jesus who reciprocates that love. And the love between them is the Spirit, the gift poured out on the world. Relation distinguishes the three Divine Persons – the relation of paternity, filiation and procession. The Father, for example, does have something that the other two do not possess, that is, fatherhood. But at the same time, he is perfectly equal to the other two. Drawn into this Trinitarian love, men and women participate in this pre-eminent model for all relationships.
(Column continues below)
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What Did the Father Mean to Jesus?
When Jesus came on earth, his mission was to reveal God as Father: “No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father too; to have seen me is to have seen the Father. Do you not believe this (Jn 14; 6, 10)?”
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks the Father’s name no fewer than 170 times, and in the Johannine Gospel, at least 110. When Jesus calls God his Abba (papa), he conveys the reality of an amazing relationship of intimacy, between God and himself, between the Creator and ourselves, and between a father and his family. Jesus chose the Aramaic Abba (papa) because the word was part of the language he spoke (Walter Kasper, "The God of Jesus Christ", 142).
Jesus would often spend the night in prayer to his Father. He thanked his Father and prayed before making decisions. He prayed before performing miracles. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that his suffering be removed, and if not, then for consolation and courage. On the cross, he prayed to his Father. At various times, the voice of the Father comes from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved, my favor rests on you” (Mk 1:11). This same verse appears virtually unchanged in the other Synoptics.
Today some reject the name Father because it ascribes gender to God. Such language, they say, confirms a patriarchal system that keeps women subservient and prevents them from gender equality. Modern feminism faults a patriarchal culture for developing the doctrine of God the Father’s eternal relationship to God the Son. Accordingly, “the Christian tradition has made the image of God’s fatherhood literal...This tendency favors dominance of male over female onto God’s being, thereby eclipsing women as equal carriers of the divine image” (Catherine Mowry-Lacugna, “Fatherhood of God,” Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 520).
Lacugna admits that Jesus did not refer to God as Amma (mother). However, within this view, doubt remains – a doubt that the words of Jesus, about his Father and to his Father, are insufficient to prove God’s eternal fatherhood because they were interpreted and developed in a patriarchal culture.