12 July 2007

More on Summorum Pontificum

Thom at Ad Dominum has an excellent post on the Franciscan connections he sees Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Fr. Zuhlsorf comments - and shreds - Sr. Joan Chittester's reaction to Summorum Pontificum. I'm glad he did so I don't have too.


  1. Anonymous9:49 PM

    Father, do you really think Fr. Zuhlsorf offers an effective response to Sr. Joan Chittester's critique of Summorum Pontificum?

    It seems to me that his response is much more full of ridicule and condescension, rather than reasoned argument and respectful engagement. (Even you admitt that he attempts to "shred" her case, an approach on Fr. Zuhlsorf's part that seems more appropriate to a grudge match than responsible, productive rhetoric.)

    Zuhlsorf offers a mocking "sniff" when Chittister raises what is for many good Catholics an important point: there IS much imagery in the Bible (particularly in the Old Testament) that depicts God as having what we would in English call "maternal instincts." (For a quick example, check out Job 38:29, where the Lord asks Job, "Out of whose womb comes the ice, and who gives the hoarfrost its birth in the skies...?" (NAB). Yes, I know, one should not quote out of context, but perhaps you will admitt that although God is neither man nor woman, male nor female, God is depicted as a loving, powerful mother in more than one part of the Bible? And yet Fr. Zuhlsorf seems eager to dismiss such a concern out of hand, and in a smart-alecy way, too.

    Zuhlsorf also contends that what may strike some as language that intentionally excludes women members of the church is actually much welcomed by women. The basis for his claim? All the women he encounters at Latin mass seem to love it. Is that a bit like saying that people in general have great dental hygiene, because everyone who shows up twice a year at the local dentist's office make a point of getting their teeth cleaned? I would argue that those who show up at a Latin mass are, by and large, there because they like the traditionalist language and rites. Those are not the folks of which Chittister writes. (Yes, traditionalists matter, but so do the rest of God's children, of course.)

    Anyhow, I'm one of those Catholics who is bothered by language and rhetoric that goes out of its way to exclude (or make invisible) women. Fr. Zuhlsdorf post -- and his rhetoric -- hit a real nerve with me.

    In respectful disagreement,

  2. Thank you for your comment, Steve. I won't disagree that Fr. Zuhlsdorf's tone is one of ridicule. At the same Sr. Chittester's is not much better; much of one she says suggests she has not actually read the motu proprio, or at least not very carefully.

    I, too, have never met a woman who was unhappy with the socalled "sexist" language of the Scriptures or the Liturgy. The women that I know get made when the language is changed because they "know man includes women" in some cases, and these are easy enough to deduce.

    I won't deny that some women are offended at this, but the issue is not really the issue. Their difficulties lie far deeper than a matter of language; it lies in a matter of faith.

    To your question about God being depicted as a "loving, powerful mother," I offer you the words of Pope Benedict from his book, Jesus of Nazareth:

    "One last question remains: Is God mother? The Bible does compare God's love witht he love of a mother: "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you" (Is 66:13). "Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Is 49:15). The mystery of God's maternal love is expressed with particular power in the Hebrew word rahamim. Etymologically, this word means 'womb,' but it was later used to mean divine compassion for man, God's mercy. The Old Testament constantly uses the names of organs of the human body to describe basic human attitudes or inner dispositions of God, just as today we use heart or brain when referring to some aspect of our own existence. In this way the Old Testament portrays the basic attitudes of our existence, not with abstract concepts, but in the image language of the body. The womb is the most concrete expression for the intimate interrelatedness of two lives and of loving concernfor the dependent, helpless creature whose whole being, body and soul, nestles in the mother's womb. The image language of the body furnishes us, then, with a deeper understanding of God's dispositions toward man than any conceptual language could.

    "Althouth this use of language derived from man's bodiliness inscribes motherly love into the image of God, it is nonetheless also true that God is never named or addressed as mother, either in the Old or in the New Testament. 'Mother' in the Bible is an image but not a title for God. Why not? We can only tentatively seek to understand. Of course, God is neither a man nor a woman, but simply God, the Creator of man and woman. The mother-deities that completely surrounded the people of Israel and the New Testament Church create a picture of the relation between God and the world that is completely opposed to the biblical image of God. These deities always, and probably inevitably, imply some form of pantheism in which the difference between Creator and creature disappears. Looked at in these terms, the being ofthings and of people cannot help looking like an emanation from the maternal womb of being, which, in entering time, takes shape in the multiplicity of existing things.

    "By contrast, the image of the Father was and is apt for expressing the otherness of Creator and creation and the sovereignty of his creative act. Only by excluding the mother-deities could the Old Testament bring its image of God, the pure transcendence of God, to maturity. But even if we canot provide any absolutely compelling arguments, the prayer language of the entire Bible remains normative for us, in which, as we have see, while there are some fine images of maternal love, 'mother' is not used as a title or a form of address for God. We make our petitions in the way that Jesus, with Holy Scripture in the background, taught us to pray, and not as we happen to think or want. Only thus do we pray properly" (139-140).

    I hope this helps, Steve.

  3. Anonymous8:49 AM

    Thanks, Father, for the time and effort you've invested in responding. I do not presume to suggest that I can approach the scriptures with either the scholarship or the length of intense devotion that the Holy Father approaches them. However, while I appreciate the Holy Father's setting forth his reasoning (and the reasoning of the most orthodox theologians) in his book, B16's recent book clearly does not fall under the umbrella of infallibility, so I will presume to take issue with one important the Holy Father draws at the end of the excerpt you've quoted.

    Specifically, the Holy Father seems to imply that the great underlying lesson of Jesus' desire for us to refer to God as "Our Father" is that Christ wished for us to recognize that God, while neither male nor female, is somehow (paradoxically) more male-like than female -- sovereign in a way that no woman could be sovereign in antiquity. (Certainly we cannot assume that Christ, like the rest of the culture, thought that women should forever be subjugated to male authority. Christ was counter-cultural in so many respects, was he not? And I would contend that Christ's valuing of those who traditionally were disregraded --women included -- was one of thread in that counter-cultural stance.) My own perspective on Jesus' teaching us to pray to God, "Our Father," was that Christ wanted us to be intimate relationship with God -- the God Jesus taught us about, and led us to, was indeed a very approachable, loving, protecting (yet powerful) God, not a God whose name dare not cross our lips. Whereas B16 seems to place the emphasis on Jesus' teaching us about the quasi-maleness of God's parental role, I see Christ's emphasis as being on God's loving, parental role itself. The intimacy of the parent-child relationship is what I experience everytime I pray the "Our Father" in a devout, prayerful way. The idea that God would be dishonored to be viewed as a mother and father never, ever crosses my mind. Perhaps this makes me a heretic. Yet I will continue to call myself a Catholic-Christian, a struggling sinner who needs the role of my ultimate loving Parent, my Father (who is very maternal simultaneously, in my experience).

    One last thing, Father. As a liberal, "Vatican 3" Catholic, I do not always agree with what I read on your blog, but I always appreciate the thought and care that you invest in what you write, and you have my respect. Best wishes and peace to you.


  4. Are we humans so arrogant to think that God should be a relfection of us, and not the other way around?

    I'm imperfect. The God that I worship is perfect. Should I be intimidated and oppressed because of my imperfection? Can I not relate?

    My human body is finite. the God that I worship is infinite. Should I be intimidated and oppressed because of my finite existence? Can I not relate?

    I know very few women who feel uncomfortable worshipping a God with masculine attributes. The woman that I do know who feel otherwise have other issues in the mix regarding these kinds of considerations.

    Our scriptural, liturgical, and traditional language attributes masculinity to God. As did the ancient Hebrew religion. To be involved with a 2,000 year old institution is to realize that some things were decided a long time before you came around, and that, just perhaps, they might persist.

    Might I suggest a lighter load in the Karen Armstrong reading, and perhaps a heavier one by some strong, saintly women who were not too intimidated or proud to worship God and say "He?"

  5. I'm sorry for my great delay in responding to you, Steve. It's been a crazy week and the State Troopers wouldn't be happy if I blogged behind the wheel :)

    You are right that Christ does not wish women to be subject to men, but at the same he did not abolish the differences of the sexes. It is true there is no longer male nor female, as Saint Paul says; men and women are equal in dignity but their characteristics and roles are not identical; they are not merged together in some for of androgynous creature. Their uniqueness is preserved precisely because it is dignified.

    You are correct that Christ was counter cultural in many respects, but also in many ways he ways he was not. Too many people today seek to make Jesus more than what he was, projecting onto him secular values of our day. I am thinking especially of "tolerance."

    I also think that if we take an honest look around at fathers in our lives, most of them possess what we might call "maternal" characteristics. This does not mean that they are mothers or women.

    Jesus did emphasize the love of God; he himself is the embodiment, the enfleshment, of that love, but I wouldn't use the term "very approachable."

    God certainly draws us to himself, but requires humility and penance of us, too. Remember that when the Apostles and the women finally recognized Jesus after the Resurrection, they didn't run up and give him a big hug; they fell down at his feet in worship and awe, and in love.

    All this being said, we know that Scripture attributes maternal qualities and images to God, but never refers to God as "mother." Scripture, and Jesus, call God "Father." That is privileged language of faith. It is the name that is revealed to us and it is the name, the title, that we should use in turn, not thinking ourselves better than Holy Writ.

    I don't mind if you don't agree with everything I say here; I'm not out to win points. I also don't agree with everything you write on my blog, but, I, too, respect you and your comments. I hope what I write shows this; if it doesn't, I apologize.

    Part of the purpose of this blog is for fruitful, respectful dialogue. May it continue.

    Pax et bonum!