The Fatherhood of God

by Rev. Msgr. Andrew T. Cusack, Ph.D.

Suggested reading: 1. The Image of God: Gender Models in Judaeo-Christian Tradition, by Kari Elisabeth Borresen (Editor) Kari Elizabeth Borresen, (1995) $20.00, 2. Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, by David Blankenhorn, (1996) Paperback, $11.20 and 3. Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society, by Mary Ann Glendon (Editor), David Blankenhorn (Editor), (1995) Hard cover, $19.57 available at our conneaction with amazon.com

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   It is widely recognized that the Christian concept of God as Father is under attack. Specifically, various religious writers, primarily feminists, have proposed that God should be called Mother, or possible the androgynous Father/Mother or Mother/Father. In some instances, the term Parent as God has been proposed.  What worse moment could there be to diminish fatherhood in our theology? We have enough absent fathers without trying to send God the Father away, too. To remove God the Father is to remove a major support for positive male identity. In a church that is far more popular with women than with men, this means the removal of one of the remaining supports for men.

Relevant to this point is the current situation in the world of religion. Those religions and denominations that have been most affected by modernism and feminism are those which are visibly in decline. Liberal Protestant denominations and Reform Judaism are good example of this phenomenon. In contrast, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism, and their energetic male leadership and their traditional theology, have been growing substantially and continue to do so. In Judaism, the very masculine Orthodox and Hasidic groups are growing with almost explosive vigor. Finally, in the religion of Islam is probably the most rapidly growing religion the world today. The African American Community has suffered greatly from fatherless families, and many African Americans who have become Muslims openly claim that Islam restored their manhood to them.

To reject God the Father as a name is to deny the basic Catholic Christian creeds. It is to deny the language of baptism, and of course to deny the entire theology of the Trinity upon which Christianity and its theology have been constructed. Jesus gave us the terminology for referring to God as Father and the very notion of God as Father or more intimately prayed, "Abba". For example, when the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus is somewhat taken aback and then says, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Jesus, and God the Father, is model masculinity in its highest forms, independent of sexual activity or behavior.

How does the fatherhood of God enhance feminine identity? I propose that it is analogous to the way in which, through love and support, a good father enhances the feminine identity of his daughters. Consider nuns and consecrated women. A woman who has God as her Father, Jesus as her Husband, and the Holy Spirit as her best friend is pretty much of an irresistible force. The history of many great female saints attests both to their womanliness and extraordinary power. In no other religious or secular tradition do we find so many examples of women who were both truly holy, truly powerful, and truly women--and honored by men for being all three. In short, it is in concrete interpersonal relationships and intimacy that the majority of women seem to find their greatest rewards. That is, women find something emotionally extraordinarily satisfying about their relationship with God, as Father. And as far as a woman's identity goes, how can she doubt her femininity, her womanhood, if it is acknowledged and honored directly through the love of God, her Father?

that orthodox Christian theology is thought to be somehow hostile to women or inadequate for their psychology, remains a great mystery to me. It is not just that Christianity, compared to the other great religions, accords a remarkable place to women—after all, the Virgin Mary is the highest form of human saintliness, women were part and parcel of the Gospel story; they were among those who ministered to and helped Jesus. He treated them with unusual (for his time) love and respect. It was women, far more than the male Apostles, who showed loyalty and support at the time of his crucifixion. It was women who first were told of his resurrection. This occurred in a Jewish society that gave less importance to women's testimony even in court.

Women are major contributors to the Apostolate of Saint Paul. Holy women surrounded many great early saints, such as Saint Jerome. Thousands of the early martyrs were women. Large numbers of the greatest widely acknowledged saints were women. There is simply nothing like this great tradition of female accomplishment and of honor paid to women in any other religion or, for that matter, in any other domain of human endeavor. So the idea that God the Father has been an impediment to the female seems to me most unlikely in light of historical evidence to the contrary. Somehow, for hundreds of years, millions of Catholic women did not notice that it was a problem. Indeed, historical evidence speaks very much to the interpretation that the Fatherhood of God has been a strong, positive component of Christianity for women.

To conclude, let me emphasize again the Christian model of manhood and womanhood as equal, complementary differences, making a difference with and for the child of God that one another is. After decades of tension and paralyzing conflict over the roles of men and women in the Church, isn't it time to turn to a positive model that honors the sexes as different but as cooperative? Isn't it time for both sexes to honor and receive the unique gifts of the other? Isn't it time for the Church, of all places, to be open to such a recognition--the kind of recognition that makes a wedding feast such a glorious symbol of men and women having a wonderful time in a mutually complementary celebration.

 

Msgr. Andrew T. Cusack, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the National Institute for Clergy Formation, Seton Hall University, and Member of the National Catholic Conference of Psychiatrists. This article is condensed from Understanding the Divine, his presentation at the 1998 Association of Diocesan Liaisons Conference.
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