Monday, May 28, 2007

Being Outrageously Yourself

What brings the most glory to God?

Being a good person?
Having an expansive theological knowledge?
Believing the right doctrines?

Let me give you the suggestion that Rod offered at Space For God last night - being outrageously yourself.

Now, I must admit that's a fairly outrageous suggestion. Throughout most of the history of Christendom our essential humanness has been held in disdain by those in authority. To be human is seen to be dirty, corrupt, totally depraved. And you dare not do anything so human as to enjoy yourself and smile. In Calvin's theocracy of Geneva in the sixteenth century, to smile during a baptism (which I would have thought was meant to be a happy event) would get you imprisoned for three days.

Even though we may no longer be locked away for having the audacity to enjoy ourselves, the suppression of our humanity in Christendom continues. A good Christian is seen as someone who acts in a certain way, believes certain things and speaks Christianese fluently. And if you want to fit in, remember this advice: show emotion at your own peril, because if you do, people will think that you're a bit unstable. That is, unless you belong to a Pentecostal church, in which case you can show the type of emotion carefully scripted by the church to which you belong.

It didn't always used to be this way. Once upon a time, before Christianity had become Christendom, the humanity of humanity was celebrated. Nowhere was this more evident than in the quote of second century Church Father Irenaeus who wrote that "The glory of God is a person fully alive". The root cause of humanity's alienation and estrangement from God is not that we are human, but rather that we are not fully human. And shamefully, Christendom has proved not to be a help in this pursuit, but rather it has become a hindrance.

Think about it. The Psalmist writes that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). We are made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27). This is something to celebrate. In celebration, let us dance. And sing. And shout. And do precisely those unrefined and unkempt things that make us truly feel human, but make Christendom uncomfortable. To celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant, King David went so far to affirm his humanity as to dance naked (2 Samuel 6:14-20). He too was chastised for his unreasonable and inappropriate display of emotion. Just to reassure people, I'm not quite ready yet to affirm my humanity in such a bold manner, so you can all take a deep sigh of relief!

Perhaps one of the ways we inadvertently subvert our humanity and that of others is to assume that we are merely rational beings. As Rod pointed out, this is a legacy of Medieval theology that still exists in contemporary Christendom. Logic and rationality has been and still is championed over emotion and intuition. Because logic and rationality have traditionally been viewed as synonymous with masculinity, with emotion and intuition being seen as synonymous with femininity, Christendom has generally suppressed and subverted the feminine perspective. I think it would a fair comment to suggest that this has only served to impoverish Christendom. To adequately express the human condition it is necessary to listen to both the male and female voices in the Church.

Perhaps our distorted understanding of what it means to be human stems from the fact that we have traditionally viewed God in exclusively masculine terms. While it is right to affirm the masculinity of God, we also need to affirm God's essential femininity. On the margins there have been concerted attempts to do this. For instance, there has been a long standing tradition to equate the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity with Sophia, the goddess of Wisdom. There is much to commend this perspective, considering the personification of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs (in female terms, no less), the fact that the Hebrew word for Spirit - "ruach" is distinctly feminine and the development of Trinitarian theology in the apocryphal writings.

I would like to suggest that Christendom would gain a much greater understanding of God and of what it means to be human by re-examining the person of the Holy Spirit. She is a creative, emotive being. She is not necessarily ordered or logical - or at the very least does not correspond with our understanding of order or logic. In fact, at Pentecost we see the Holy Spirit at Her most spontaneous and chaotic. Nor is She subject to our human constructions - She is a mystery beyond our deepest understandings. While She dwells with us and we dwell with Her, we cannot comprehend the depths of Her being. Indeed, the Holy Spirit provides an interesting metaphor for the paradox of human existence. We are at the same time ordered and chaotic, transcendent and imminent, familiar and ineffable. Let us celebrate it all.


CraigS said...

In Calvin's theocracy of Geneva in the sixteenth century, to smile during a baptism (which I would have thought was meant to be a happy event) would get you imprisoned for three days.

Do you have a reference for that?

David Castor said...

This is fairly well attested Craig and can even be read in the town records themselves. Perhaps you might like to read "The Right to Heresy" by Stefan Zweig, which is a fairly comprehensive study on many of the Reformers. With respect to Calvin, what I described is merely the tip of the iceberg - I simply used an appropriate example.

CraigS said...

David, don't say "It's well attested" - give me the attestations!

Which town records? Did you see them? Where?

Does "The Right to Heresy" contain a reference to this practice?

More to the point, where did *you* hear about this? What is your source?

CraigS said...

Craig: Rob Bell eats babies

David: Hmmm...evidence?

Craig: Oh, *everyone* knows that...

CraigS said...

Ok, I found that book online -

It makes the claim that David speaks of, but provides no supporting reference.

David Castor said...

Craig, I've already given you a scholarly source - I don't know what else I can do. We're talking about something that happened nearly five hundred years ago - I think you can forgive me for not providing a Podcast of John Calvin himself making commentary on his statutory regime!

CraigS said...

Craig, I've already given you a scholarly source

No you haven't. Stefan Zweig is not a reformation scholar - he was an Austrian novelist. I've only glanced at "The Right to Heresy, or how John Calvin killed a Conscience", but it seems more like a polemic than a work of scholarship.

At any rate, he has not provided any references to verify his facts. Unless I see evidence, I can't accept this claim regarding the imprisonment.

David Castor said...

The term "polemic" is rather subjective and is often employed when one writes critically of another. Perhaps it is polemic to refer to someone as being polemic when using "polemic" in a pejorative context?

Nonetheless, this discussion has encouraged me to look more deeply at the figure of Sebastian Castellio. He sounds like a really intriguing theologian.

CraigS said...

An example of Zeig's "scholarship" -

"Calvin's long, oval face is harsh and angular, gloomy and inharmonious. The forehead is narrow and severe above deep-set eyes which glimmer like hot coals; the hooked nose masterfully projects from between sunken cheeks; the thin-lipped mouth rarely smiles. There is no warm flush upon the wasted, ashenhued skin. It seems as if fever must, like a vampire, have sucked the blood out of the cheeks, so grey are they and wan, except when, in fleeting seconds, under stress of anger, they become hectic. Vainly does the prophet's beard (and all Calvin's disciples and priests did their best to follow the fashion set by their master) strive to give this bilious countenance the semblance of virile energy. The sparse hairs, like the skin of the face to which they are attached, have no sap in them; they do not flow majestically downwards, like the beard of Moses in the old paintings, but sprout thinly, a mournful thicket growing on ungrateful soil.

A dark and cheerless, a lonely and tensed face! It is hardly credible that anyone should want to have the picture of this grasping and hortatory zealot hanging upon the walls of his private rooms. One's breath would grow cold if one were continually to feel these alert and spying eyes fixed upon one in all one's daily doings."

David Castor said...

What's the context Craig?

David Castor said...

Just to clarify for everyone, feel free to make comments about things other than John Calvin. I kind of expected that sentence about him would cause some commotion, but it's not the only thing (or indeed the main thing) that I write about in this post!

Anonymous said...

Hello David,
I have serious problems with the references to the Holy Spirit as "She." I'm aware of your reasons for doing it. As you are likely aware, "spirit" is only in the feminine in Hebrew, while in Greek it is in the neuter, and it is in the masculine in Latin. So, there is serious problems in refering to the Holy Spirit as "She" based on the feminine in Hebrew. Besides, if we are to look at the use of masculine versus feminine in the words used for the Holy Spirit--we must note that one of the central texts on the Holy Spirit in the Scripture uses the masculine Name "paraclete" or "Comforter" for the Holy Spirit (John 14). [Regardless, of this, the gender of the words used for the Third Person of the Trinity (whether in Hebrew, or Greek) are not an acceptable basis for referring to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "She."]

The Scripture consistently identifies the Triune God as male and thus the Holy Spirit, as a Person in the Blessed Trinity must also be identified as male. The witness of the Church for 2000 years affirms this Scriptural truth in applying the masculine to all of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity (and the Church has repudiated the innovative feminine identification of any Member of the Trinity--which innovation would itself disrupt the very nature of the Trinity as revealed in the Scripture (as noted somewhat above) and affirmed consistently in the Church).

As for "Wisdom" in Proverbs--it should be remembered that according to 2000 years of Church teaching (in accordance with the words of St. Paul) Christ and not the Holy Spirit is identified as the Person of the Trinity Who is "figuritively" spoken of in the passages which personify Wisdom.

William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

David Castor said...

Hey William - thanks for your comments.

First of all, I'd like to point out that I didn't refer to the Holy Spirit as "She" solely to be provocative, although I'd be lying if I said I was unaware that some might take issue with the usage. This post was primarily written for the people of my own church, who are quite unfazed by referring to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms. Secondly, I appreciate what you have written and believe that it provides more food for thought.

While I'm not really a fan of thinking of the Trinity in primarily conceptual terms - I'll be speaking about that this Sunday at Space For God and putting a review up on my blog - I wouldn't agree that regarding one member of the Trinity as female would have a detrimental effect on the doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity, after all, states that the members of the Trinity are three distinct people with three distinct identities.

I'd agree that there has been a predominant tradition to speak of God in masculine terms, but I certainly wouldn't view this trend as authoritative. However, it is worth mentioning that there has also been a long standing recognition that calling God male is to speak about him in metaphor - it gives an insight into the nature of his character, insofar as with associate masculinity with stereotypical understandings of what it means to be male. Conversely, to refer to the Holy Spirit as "She" is not to say that the Holy Spirit is intrinsically or exclusively female, but rather that she has characteristics that we usually identify as being quintessentially female.

Anonymous said...

Hello David C,

I won't try to get to all of the points I would like to cover, at least at the moment.

I've already shown that if you are basing whether you refer to the Holy Spirit on the gender of the words in the original languages then you are just as obligated to call the Holy Spirit "It" or "He" (masculine "Comforter" in Greek, as noted before).

(Sorry repeating myself here) In other words the use of the feminine versus the masculine (or nueter) cannot be a basis for whether you refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "She".

I also noted that the feminine personification of "Wisdom" cannot be applied to the Holy Spirit, because "Wisdom" personifies Christ, not the Holy Spirit.

In addition the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures is a male role (whether it be in the Creation of the earth, or the Incarnation of Christ, or the Baptismal New Birth of each believer in the Baptismal womb of our Mother the Church (as the Church Fathers have always noted)).

So my question is, what basis do you have, other than an appeal to the pagan beliefs of the goddess "Sophia," to back up your innovative reference to the Blessed Holy Spirit as "She"?

William Scott

p.s. Going quickly back to the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is God--and God is always identified as male throughout Scripture, and througout the History of the Church.

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

David Castor said...

Hey William,

Thanks for providing me with some things to think about.

Yes, I think my argument about Wisdom being equated to the Holy Spirit sounds like it is wrong if Wisdom is actually meant to be Jesus.

I think I'd suggest that the term "Paraclete" being masculine is not really of too much significance considering that it is merely a description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The fact that "Holy Spirit" is neuter in the Greek is interesting though. Obviously we are fairly reluctant to refer to the Holy Spirit as "it" and do not take the neuter status as proof of an impersonal Holy Spirit. Perhaps we could suggest that masculine references to God are similarly inappropriate?

Regarding the feminine aspects of God, God is likened both to a "Mother" and a "Mother Hen" at different points in Scripture. Jesus tells a number of parables where he uses a woman to illustrate the character of God. What should we make of this?

Honestly, I'm not so precious that I absolutely need to refer to the Holy Spirit as "She". I simply don't think that it's particularly inappropriate. It is a metaphor, after all - I don't conceptualise an anthropomorphic God with female genitalia!

Just a couple of questions that I'd like to ask:

(1) It is reasonable to say that when we talk about God we talk in metaphor?

(2) It is reasonable to suggest that God has intrinsically feminine characteristics, considering that humans were made in the image of God, both male and female?

Anonymous said...

Hello David,

And thanks for your response.

Going to the issue of the “Paraclete”—while the proper name of the Third Person of the Trinity is, of course, the “Holy Spirit,” the Divine Title "Paraclete" used by Christ for the Holy Spirit, is certainly of greater significance than a mere description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (as Christ’s Title as the Good Shepherd is more than a mere description of His ministry). (And historically the Church has always used "Paraclete" as a central Title or alternative Name of the Holy Spirit). So, again, if we were to base whether we referred to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "She" (or, “It”) depending on the gender of the Title or Name used in the Original language the masculine "Paraclete" would be a serious matter (though the gender assigned to certain words in different languages is not in itself a valid basis, on its own, to refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "It", etc).

But going a little further on this--the role of a “Counselor” or “Advocate,” which "Paraclete" means, is a male role (and thus the importance of the Holy Spirit's Divine Title in further demonstrates His Male identification regardless of the varying gender placed on words (such as “spirit”) in different languages).

I wanted to bring up the issue of another clear and intentional identification of the Holy Spirit as “male” by the Apostle John in the fourth Gospel. I thought this matter was discussed quite well in Wikipedia so here is the quote of that discussion:
“The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine (in the Gospel of John 14-16).[3] John reports Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as Comforter (masculine in Greek), and uses grammatically necessary masculine forms of the Greek pronoun autos.[4] Grammatical gender, on its own, says nothing about natural gender. However, when John reports Jesus speaking of the Holy Spirit as Spirit, grammatically neuter in Greek,[5] he uses the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos ("that male one").[6] This breaking of the grammatical agreement, expected by native language readers, is a clear indication of the authorial intention to unambiguously convey the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and also his masculinity.[7] These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a full divine person, or just a "force". All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit.”

As for another point you mentioned--it is Christ in Matthew 23:7 Who likens Himself to a Mother Hen in the Gospels. And while God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and thus is not male or female in a physical sense, He still has chosen to identify Himself as "Male" and I’m afraid that referring to this as simply a metaphor does not adequately cover our God’s clear self-identification as Male.
It is true that there are a number of "feminine" metaphors of God in Scripture, as noted above in the case of Christ in Matt 23:7 (though “masculine” metaphors of God are by far predominant in the Scripture). But again, God’s identification of Himself as “Male” goes is not adequately described by the term metaphor (and it may be said that His Identification as Male is itself demonstrated in a physical sense in the Incarnation of Christ).

William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for typos.

Here are some corrections:

From the third "?paragraph?":

"...(and thus the Holy Spirit's Divine Title further demonstrates His Male identification regardless of the often varying way in which gender is placed on words (such as “spirit”) in different languages)."

In last "?paragraph?":
"But again--God’s identification of Himself as “Male” is not adequately described by the term metaphor..."

William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

David Castor said...

Hey William,

Just to reiterate, I'm not so precious that I need to refer to the Holy Spirit as being intrinsically feminine. As you may have noticed, I usually refer to God in the masculine, so I'd like to think that I don't simply have an agenda to push. There's a very real sense in which these descriptors (that is male/female) are quite limited if we take them as an end in themselves. They are merely meant to help facilitate our understanding about the person of God. Even then, these descriptors are metaphors - they speak about what God is like, rather than what God is. Would you agree with this assessment?

Gareth said...

§ 107. The Exercise of Discipline in Geneva.

I'm not sure if this is the same thing that was being referred to, but in Philip Schaff's "History of the Christian Church", under "107. The Exercise of Discipline in Geneva" ( it says,

"Three men who had laughed during the sermon were imprisoned for three days."

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