In an article about feminizing the Trinity, Cynthia Bourgeault presents a conundrum which is of concern to me. This is because the principle in the article circumscribes and limits our understanding of the Universal Christ. The article appears to be an attempt to politicize God, or, more accurately, to make him appear politically correct. The essence of the argument is to attach a female persona to the Holy Spirit.
Here is my perspective as a female and a mystic. I am deeply unsettled by the things that compromise the status of women in the world, but this attempt to make the figure of the Trinity politically correct, is problematic.
I value the idea of God and Christ as universal entities, unlimited by earthly ideas of time and space, and also unlimited by earthly concerns.
To continue my discussion, I am going to have to find a suitable pronoun to refer to the Trinity, and for the sake of this discourse I will refer to it as ‘he’ without intending to offend anyone or to align myself with worldly genderisms. I am having this discussion in the world, and so I am constrained by the limits of our language. I embrace the ‘wonder-full’ idea that God does not need us to communicate in words, but that there is a much more profound way of interacting with him through our experience of him, in silence. But I am not communicating with God in this blog, I am offering a socio-spiritual protest that centres around limiting God, and in particular the Holy Spirit. My concerns address the issue that genderizing the Holy Spirit simply does not fit with the universality of Christ and his infinite nature, a sacred entity that transcends all earthly categorization. The nature of God, is shrouded in mystery and always will be, until we can transcend what is human and embrace the divine and its potential without suspicion or question. If we want to change the nature of God in a way that makes us comfortable, then we serve a very small god. This is surely not what we have been promised or what has been told to us in the scriptures. This small god is an anathema, an insult to our faith, we cannot embrace it. A god such as this conforms to the ego and power-based dimensions of this world, which destroy and hurt God’s creation, and is devoid of Godly love, compassion and humility. He will not stretch or challenge our idea of ourselves as having the potential to transform to a new frame of mind, a new way of living, one that will save our world and ourselves.
How has this concern about the gender identity of the Holy Trinity arisen? Well there are a number of things to consider, mostly but not entirely, issues that relate to the patriarchal nature of the church, and the status of women in biblical times.
First, we should note that the church, it’s doctrine, it’s traditions and the foundation of scripture upon which its existence depends, are all almost entirely fashioned by male influence. In particular, apart from church leaders, philosophical and theological figures like Aristotle, St Augustine and Aquinas of Hippo have laid the foundations for church doctrine and tradition. The church had its beginnings in around the fourth and fifth centuries CE, and the Catholic Church was the only church. Most of us know the perspective of the Catholic Church when it comes to women. It is an institution that, to this day, cannot bring itself to allow women to be ordained, and who, since their inception, have forbidden their priests to marry (perish the thought that they should be subject the malaise of femininity!). It was the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches that crafted the structure of the church and the rules by which it would stand. So naturally, it comes under fire from feminist theologians, and the female component of society who, in this postmodern world, rightfully demand recognition, respect and their rightful place in the church and in the world that it serves. The temptation to feminize God is understandable, after all the assumption that God is ‘he’ has been taken for granted from the beginning.
Another factor to be considered is that we live in a postmodern world characterized by constant change. Not even the age-old binary system of male and female is protected from gaining a new perspective. We are now asked to come to terms with the idea that gender is no longer a binary system of two opposites. People can now be any gender they choose. They can have their gender medically changed, girls can live their lives as boys and vice versa. We are told that we may not impose gender identity on a child and we must allow that child to make their own choice about who and what they want to be. We live in a world of where transgender identity is becoming more and more common.
Bear in mind, the Trinity itself is a man-made concept, and I emphasize the ‘man’ part of that statement. It was developed by a Council of Churches at Nicaea in 325 CE and later added to by a second Council, in Constantinople in 381 CE. The nature of the Trinity is clearly set out in this faith statement which represents the beliefs of all Christians. This was the time when Emperor Constantine brought about significant changes to the church, incorporating it within the state and providing elaborate churches which became the formal meeting place for services. This moved the church from having a community and home-based identity, to a hierarchical institution that suffered all the pains of male domination, power abuse and egotistical, individualized thinking and decision making. This did not follow the way of Christ and represented an apostasy of religion and spirituality which is still stifling our spiritual transformation today, especially where women are concerned.
Given this history, it is clear why there are attempts by various stakeholders, to feminize the Trinity. However, Cynthia pinpoints the problem of feminizing the Trinity very clearly. She argues that to do this results in the intuitive genius of Christianity being fatally blunted, and divine revelation itself, compromised. What I think she is referring to is the mystery which shrouds many aspects of the nature of God. Something that I treasure because it requires me to place my faith firmly in God’s hands without having to know all things at the cerebral level. It’s a kind of kenosis that makes it necessary for me to give control of my life and my faith, to God. This point is what Cynthia refers to as the metaphysical aspect of God, beyond what we can see and what is tangible, the luminous, the esoteric. It represents a revelation that God is greater than our humanity and our world and he is so much more than we can ever imagine.
Cynthia Bourgeault offers a discourse on an alternate way to view the Trinity through applying the work of Gurdjieff and the Law of Three. In order to do this she attaches the notion of binary and ternary systems, to explain the nature of the Trinity. A Binary system is composed of two opposing parts, for example in the game of chess there is a winner and a loser. A ternary system involves the interaction of three parts and in Cynthia’s argument she sees Father and Son in a binary relationship with the Holy Spirit taking up a third role as a catalyst in the binding together of the three entities. For example, if you plant a seed in the soil, that is a binary system which requires the catalyst of water to cause the plant to grow. This, in essence, is what Cynthia proposes in order to explain the nature of the Trinity. However, I have some questions. In discussion with my husband he queried the idea that the Father and the Son, could be polarities and I have to agree with this. However, viewing the Holy Spirit as an energy, a catalyst in transforming the relationship between the three entities, is something I can lovingly embrace. It brings to mind Gestalt theory, which argues that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. This is a phenomena I have observed in working with groups and teams of people.
In conclusion I need to say that in many ways all discourse about the nature of the Trinity is somewhat spurious because of the original process that took place in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, under the direction of the Council of Nicaea and Constantinople where a gathering of church leaders struggled to find agreement about the nature of God, with the particular purpose of defending the church against the heresy of Arianism, not really with the specific purpose of defining the Trinity.
Footnote: Arianism is a heresy which essentially and simplistically, for the purpose of the article, said that Jesus was not divine in any way.
Secondly, the deliberations failed to reach consensus resulting in a split between the Church of Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Therefore, I question how something can be ‘of God’ when a collection of eminent male church leaders could not agree about it. I have always favoured the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of the Trinity, if in fact I acknowledge the integrity of the notion of the Trinity at all, for the reasons mentioned above. However, adding to an already flawed notion, an element which is aimed at political appropriateness, is a complete anathema to my sense of probity in regard the nature of God.