Thursday, October 01, 2009

Scott Hahn Clarifies About the "Femininity of the Holy Spirit" Motif

Some of Dr. Scott Hahn's teaching in this regard has been questioned, particularly by Catholic "traditionalists." After traditionalist "Boniface" offered his own respectful critique (following a past effort), Scott responded at length on his blog, and "Boniface" essentially retracted his criticisms:
This does indeed "alleviate some of my doubts", at least to the degree that I can say that it is not something Dr. Hahn is pulling out of thin air. He seems to be suggesting that certain maternal aspects of God seem to be attributed to the Holy Spirit by appropriation, not stating that the Holy Spirit is essentially feminine. If this is all he is getting at, then I think that I for one can give him the benefit of the doubt -- - after all, Proverbs 8 speaks of Wisdom as unambiguously feminine, but this has never stopped the Fathers, Scholastics or modern theologians from applying these passages to the preexistence of the Son, who is obviously not a female. In the same way, while keeping in mind both that God has revealed Himself as a Father, but that in His substance He is neither male nor female, I don't see as much problem in saying that the Spirit acts maternally now that I have read Dr. Hahn's exposition of it and seen his citations.
Here is Scott's reply in its entirety:

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I am grateful for your blog and also for your kind words. And I appreciate your concern about my understanding of the Holy Spirit, and some of the bridal-maternal aspects that may (or may not) pertain to the Holy Spirit's Person and work. Please allow me to share some thoughts that might help to alleviate your concerns.

First, I have never once referred to the Holy Spirit as feminine, as the ancient gnostics did. Indeed, I expressly deny the Holy Spirit is feminine in my book First Comes Love (both editions).

I do quote Cardinal Ratzinger, from his book, Daughter Zion (p. 27), where he states: "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself." I subsequently go on to clarify Ratzinger's point by stating: "Once again: God is not feminine by nature. Nor is the Holy Spirit feminine" (pp. 163, 166).

I then proceed to quote the Catechism's teaching about God: “He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective ‘perfections’ of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband” (CCC 370).

As to my patristic sources, I quote first, from a baptismal homily of St. Aphrahat (who speaks of "God his Father and the Holy Spirit his mother"); second, from a homily by St. Macarius (who speaks of how "Adam no longer saw the true Father, nor the good Mother the grace of the Spirit, nor the desirable brother, the Lord"); and third, from the Syriac rite of pre-baptismal anointing (where the Holy Spirit is called upon,"Come, Mother of the seven houses").

As you mentioned, I quote St. Ephrem, a Doctor of the Church, who actually refers to the Holy Spirit as "Mother" on many occasions (in homilies, hymns and prayers). I also cite St. Catherine of Siena, another Doctor of the Church, who wrote: "The Holy Spirit becomes a mother who feeds them from the breast of divine charity."

But I draw most extensively from modern Catholic saints and theologians of unimpeachable orthodoxy. So for instance, St. Maximillian Kolbe speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "Uncreated Immaculate Concepion," and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit."

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein) writes: "Thus we can see the prototype of the feminine being in the Spirit of God poured over all creatures. It finds its perfect image in the purest Virgin who is the bride of God and mother of all mankind."

The great 19th century German Thomist theologian, Matthias Joseph Scheeben, who is generally acknowledged to be the founder of Mariology as a distinct branch of Sacred Theology), writes: ""As the mother is the bond of love between father and child, so in God the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son." He also notes: "As Eve can, in a figurative sense, be called simply the rib of Adam... St. Methodius goes so far as to assert that the Holy Spirit is the rib of the Word (costa Verbi)" (Mysteries of Christianity, 183-85).

I go on to show how this notion is affirmed by many other notable theologians: R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP; L. Bouyer; J. Kentenich; B. Ashley, OP; Cardinal Y. Congar (Tradition & Traditions, pp. 372-75); F.X. Durrwell; A. Feuillet; H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP (The Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit).

All of this does not prove that bridal and maternal elements are proper to the Holy Spirit's Person and work, of course; but it does indicate how highly unoriginal I am in exploring something that has never been condemned by the Church's Magisterium. Nor should this ever be linked to (or confused with) the bizarre speculations of the ancient gnostics, who rejected the Incarnation and Trinity in favor of bizarre aeon-schemes drawn from a pantheistic/emmanationist view of God and the world.

Likewise, it should be noted that this approach to bridal-maternal aspects of the Holy Spirit is generally rejected as abhorrent to feminist scholars, like Catherine LaCugna, who warns that "the Spirit's activities should not be stereotyped according to gender-determined roles for women.... Further, the association of feminine imagery solely with the Spirit would reinforce the subordination of women in church and society" (cited in First Comes Love, p. 206).

All of this is found in a chapter of First Comes Love ("The Family Spirit"), which is available on-line here.

All the best,

Scott Hahn

PS I might add that I first ran the entire manuscript of First Comes Love by my "spiritual father," Bishop Bruskewitz (who received me into the Church back in 1986), asking him to read it carefully and offer his critique. He offered some suggestions and then concluded: "I assure you that in my view it is not only completely orthodox but also exceptionally useful."

PPS Thanks for suggesting that I write bigger books, which makes me think you may be interested to learn that in June, I published a 600-page book with Yale University Press, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises (Anchor Bible Reference Library), and a 1000-page Catholic Bible Dictionary (Doubleday), also in June, and then last week a measly 200-page book, Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Baker Brazos). But I will get to work on another big tome just as soon as I've recovered from these! It's a start, at least.

All the best,


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Lvka said...

Femininity and masculinity belong to persons, not natures. (Human nature is neither masculine nor feminine: it is *people* that are men and women -- since nature is what things have in common).

BONIFACE said...

Geez Dave, have you nothing else to do than read my blog all day long? I'm flattered, but you should get some exercise or something. :)

I do appreciate you mentioning in your posts that I try to be respectful. I don't want to be seen as a dour Trad.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Human nature is neither masculine nor feminine: it is *people* that are men and women -- since nature is what things have in common.

The generative power is common to both, although necessarily divided into modes in human beings as they actually exist. Think of it like will or soul; the power is natural, and the exercise is individual. That's why it is important that priests, who image Christ individually, have those those individual characteristics that necessarily pertain to His natural powers, which is why they can't be female, but why they can have different hair color, eye color, genotype, etc.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Bon,

Well hey, you mentioned it here, which is how I found out about it. :-)

Dave Armstrong said...

I was happy to play my part in knocking down one myth that trads have about us non-trad "EWTN-loving" apologists. :-)

Now if Sungenis can get up to speed . . .

Giovanni A. Cattaneo said...

Sungenis is a kook not a trad.

His Prince Michael said...

Ah, Scott "The Church is greater
than the House of David" Hahn?
I've got a T-shirt for you, uh,
uh, doctor.

His Prince Michael said...

THE Battle, has just BEGUN,
and GOD, is GREATER:

Your Guardian Angel said...

what a shame that we should argue about the Holy Spirit being male or female. The Holy Spirit is neither male nor female. The Holy Spirit is spirit. God is neither male nor female. Jesus was male while on this earth but is now a spirit and is neither male nor female. God created the rules of nature and male and female for the express purpose of reproduction. When we die we are neither male nor female........

Matt said...

Let us not forget that the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit are feminine, but Latin, masculine. This has little (if any) bearing on theology, but is interesting nonetheless.

Julian of Norwich and possibly several other mystics have written about the maternity of Christ.

Liam Ronan said...

Jesus was 'conceived' by the Holy Spirit.
Mary asked how that could be since she did not know 'man'.
I think all this attribution of the 'feminine' to the Holy Spirit is mischievous at best.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Hey all,

I just found: Count Zinzendorf,the 18th cty founder of the Moravians, openly taught the doctrine Dr. Hahn seems only to be hinting at. I believe the Moravians celebrated the Holy Spirit's enthronement as 'Mother' of the Church. This does not necessarily make the teaching wrong...but I don't see how such a teaching won't conflict with the role we traditionally give to Mary... also if Dr. Hahn is giving us a true teaching, then why does its most clear enunciation come from non-Catholic Moravians? has our Magisterial faculty been sub-contracted? :-)]


btw I'm not a traditionalist, I just think kneeling is for everyone!

Randy said...

You seem to be implying that Scott Hahn has some big theology in his head that he is only hinting at. Somehow you know what it is and can figure out that someone else who taught something different is really just teaching a clearer version of Hahn's undisclosed theology.

What if Hahn is making his true thoughts as clear as he can? What if he is hinting at something mysterious because all he sees are hints of something mysterious and not something clear that he just does not want to tell us?

Dave Armstrong said...

I've yet to see real interaction by critics with what Scott Hahn actually stated. Instead we get accusations and innuendoes and second-guessing. That is hardly fair to Scott, given the seriousness of the silly charges freely flung about.

I guess it is the propensity for conspiratorialism and cynicism among some folks. Even the person who made the charges that Scott responded to withdrew them after Scott clarified.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Randy and Dave!

You guys are formidable! I've seen much of your work. I'm a big fan!

However, I think Dr. Hahn, by emphasizing the "motherhood" of the Holy Spirit, and then resorting to 'I never said the Holy Spirit was feminine,' has earned some second-guessing.

What part of 'motherhood' is not feminine?!! This is not a rhetorical question. I'm serious.


Randy said...

I don't think Dr Hahn has been "emphasizing" the motherhood of the Holy Spirit. He made some carefully worded comments about it. He observed that there was some Catholic tradition behind it. Besides that his comments have been mostly responses to people who have freaked out. The man is a theologian. He is supposed to explore new territory. Give him a break.

Dave Armstrong said...

But Randy, it's more fun to find a closet liberal disguised as orthodox under every rock. :-)

Kneeling Catholic said...

added 07 OCT 2009)>>>Further, the association of feminine imagery solely with the Spirit would reinforce the subordination of women in church and society"<<<<<

....wanting to beat a dead horse, but, in my opinion, Dr. Hahn's idea of 'associating' God's femine actions 'solely' in the Holy Spirit doesn't work. ((Someone might protest and say 'he's quoting someone else' -- yes, but he is accepting their characterization of his position ))

Did not our Lord want to gather Jerusalem like mother hen? Don't each of us believe that Christ is born of the Father before all ages? Does not the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and Son? If anything , Father and Son seem to be giving birth to the Holy Spirit!. Not to mention what this compartmentalization does with our beliefs about Mary. Can she be spouse to the Holy Spirit (anymore) when she is the Holy Spirit's quasi-incarnation? If she cannot, then I would say Dr. Hahn has stopped being 'unoriginal' ...What Dr. Hahn has revealed about his ideas reminds me of the false compartmentalization worked into the ICEL's [very poor and now rejected] translation of the Gloria where 'worship, thanks, and glory' are only offered to the Father, instead of the to the entire Trinity.

I'm sorry! that's just how I feel.
K. C

Randy said...

Someone might protest and say 'he's quoting someone else' -- yes, but he is accepting their characterization of his position

I would not say that. All he is pointing out is that he is not caving in to feminist theologians. They don't actually like this idea. Has Dr Hahn actually rejected the notion of Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit? Can you provide some quote that is not him quoting someone else summarizing who is him saying something you think might imply that?

Kneeling Catholic said...

>>>Has Dr Hahn actually rejected the notion of Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit? Can you provide some quote that is not him quoting someone else summarizing who is him saying something you think might imply that?<<<


He's probably reading this string! Let's just ask him:

Dr. Hahn,

Do you accept Mary's matrimony with the Holy Spirit as an essential tenet of our Faith?
((you have one week to answer before we notify the proper authorities!))


Kneeling Catholic said...

The discussion continues!

if anyone is still listening


Mystic Rose said...


Is "Mary's matrimony with the Holy Spirit" an essential tenet of the Catholic Faith? Was it ever defined as an article of faith? I don't recall it ever being made a dogma. Note to self: must check Denzinger.

Yes, Catholics have used the term for a long time, but there are some things that we say about Mary that are not essential tenets of our Faith. At any rate, Fathers and Saints have long called Mary the Spouse of God, or of the Father, or the Bride of Christ, as well as Spouse of the Holy Spirit. See this article for some examples:

Mary the Bride of God

We could be getting all tripped up by what is basically an appropriation.

As an aside, Scott Hahn is quite right about many feminists not liking the idea of a "feminine" Holy Spirit. I remember reading one "Christian feminist" when I was in college who objected to it, saying that the "feminine" in the Godhead would then be "outnumbered two to one!" Shows you how they tend to think in terms of power, actually.

In Jesu et Maria,