Esoteric Meaning of Candlemas, Imbolc, Groundhog Day, Feast of the Purification

Here is one of our Mystery School’s esoteric holiday calendar pages:

Candles lit in a rowFebruary 2, Candlemas, Imbolc, Feast of Purification

You’ve probably heard of Midsummer and Midsummer Night’s Eve.  But did you know today is Midwinter and last night was Midwinter Night’s Eve?

Midwinter, Groundhog Day and Candlemas are part of a very old holiday with a Christian-Pagan history. Its Christian version is called the Purification of the Virgin and is the end or culmination of the forty day period after Mary God-Bearer had her baby on December 25. Jesus is 40 days old today.  He gets to be Christened at the Temple, where Anna the Prophetess and Simon will see the baby and proclaim him the “Light of the World”.

In the ancient world, it was the custom for women to wait forty days after childbirth before entering a church or Temple again due to “uncleanliness”. This 40-day waiting period is still observed in Eastern Orthodox Christian churches today, and all Christian churches still schedule the Christening of a new baby at least forty days after the birth in keeping with this ancient purification practice. Also, there was the idea that the soul takes 40 days to anchor inside the baby.

Therefore today is Yeshua’s Christening or Naming Day when an exorcism is performed and the baby formally enters the Church.This special forty-day period in the Christian calendar is one of four such in the esoteric Church year.  The other three forty-day periods are:  Fall Equinox (Sept 21) to Halloween / AllSaints Day (Oct. 31, Nov.1), Spring Equinox (Mar 21) to May Day (May 1) and of course, Lent. Lent is the forty-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday every year.Candlemas is a church “adaptation” of a pagan goddess holiday called Imbolc where people light candles to banish dark spooks. Candlemas is celebrated on the same day as that pagan holiday, February 2nd.
The word Imbolc, variously spelled Imbolg, Oimelc and Imelg, means “ewe-milk” because this is the time lambs were born in old England, Ireland and most of Europe thus bringing back the flow of ewe’s milk.

February 1, Imbolc Today (tomorrow, according to some calendars) is the day of Candlemas, the Festival of Lights, a Midwinter Festival. Known to Neopagans and ancient Celts as Imbolc (Gaelic origin, “in milk” or ” in the belly”), a festival of the Maiden Goddess and a traditional time to bless agricultural implements (especially the Plow) and livestock. Neopagans celebrate the holiday with home blessings and lighting candles to welcome the coming of the light and the Goddess in Spring. In Ireland, the day is the festival of St. Bridget, a holdover from celebrations of the Celtic Goddess Brighid. Traditional corn dollies and Bridget’s crosses are fashioned from straw.

–Jennifer Emick

Bishop Katia writes:


On February 2nd we ask that all members of our Church of the Way and Ekklesia Epignostika light a candle at their altar and carry it across the room to put in a window.  It’s a simple but powerful rite that acknowledges today as a holy day going back 5000 years. You may light more candles if you’d like, the more the better. See the picture below for how many candles Christian churches get ready for this day!


Make a Crown of Lights for the Candlemas Queen

Another observance is to light several taper candles (seven is best) which are shaped into a crown, called the Crown of Lights worn by the Candlemas Queen.  See the very end of this page for description:  “A Crown of Lights is prepared for the Mother and left by the altar. Traditionally, the Crown should be of candles or tapers, which are lit during the ritual.”

Mother of God of the Blessed Thunder Candle from Polish TraditionRev. Francis X. Weiser, SJ writes:

The Poles have a beautiful legend that Mary, the Mother of God of the Blessed Thunder Candle (Matka Boska Gromniczna), watches on wintry nights around Candlemas, when hungry wolves are on rampage outside the sleeping village. With her thunder candle she wards off the ravenous pack and protects the peasants from all harm…

All over Europe Candlemas was considered one of the great days of weather forecasting. Popular belief claims that bad weather and cloudy skies on February 2 mean an early and prosperous summer. If the sun shines through the greater part of Candlemas Day, there will be at least 40 more days of cold and snow. This superstition is familiar to all in our famous story of the groundhog looking for his shadow on Candlemas Day.


Mark Raines writes:

Imbolc really is the beginning of Spring, despite the fact that there may
still be snow in some places and dreary skies almost everywhere! If you look closely, you will see that the snow is just a blanket covering the beauty of the Mother, which is about to shine through soon. You’ll see the first hints of Spring, if you’re really looking for them. In this spirit, Candlemas is celebrated. (Note: Candlemas is the Christianized name for Imbolc, but the two are used almost interchangeably by many earth-based groups such as Wiccans today. Groundhog Day is a secularized term, but it draws from a Pagan tradition. More on that in a minute)

Imbolc is closely associated with the Celtic-Irish goddess Brigid. Imbolc is sacred to Brigid because she is a goddess of fire, of poetry, and of healing, all things that go along
with the creative powers of the onset of spring. She is a powerful representation
of the Maiden Goddess, and she has been almost perfectly preserved for us
today by none other than the Roman Catholic Church. Rather than call her
demon and risk the displeasure of all Ireland, they canonized Brigid and
made her the patron saint of poetry and healing. This appeased the Irish,
who at the time probably saw the Catholic saints as being very similar to

There is one very well-known tradition of Imbolc, and that is the tradition
of the groundhog’s shadow predicting our weather. If a groundhog came out
of its hole and saw its shadow, that meant six more weeks of bad weather.
This tradition is still widely celebrated today. Another tradition is to
put a candle in your window on Imbolc Eve, representing the Eternal Flame
of the Maiden Goddess.

Candlemas Christian Setup at the Credence TableFeast of the Purification

In Myth and Ritual in Christianity, Alan Watts says about the Feast of the Purification observed in Catholicism, and by Anglicans and Lutherans: “Finally, the rites of the Incarnation reach their climax with the Feast of the Purification on February 2nd, otherwise known as Candlemas. For at this time the Church blesses all the lights to be used in its ceremonies thruout the year, since it was at Christ’s Presentation at the Temple that Simeon called him “the Light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people.”…As the choir chants…all the clergy and people assembled for Candlemas receive the blessed candles before the altar, and then go in procession with them around the church, singing: O daughter of Sion adorn thy bride-chamber and welcome Christ the King: greet Mary with an embrace, who is the gate of heaven, for it is she who bringeth the King of Glory, of the new light. … During the mass that follows, all hold their lighted candles during the chanting of the Gospel” and various other times in the ceremony.

FEBRUARY 2nd (Excerpt below Ret’d from Jan 31, 2004)

Greek: DEMETER and PERSEPHONE; The Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries, Second Day:
(for the first and third days of Feb., see the above link)

Roman: CERES and PROSERPINE; LUPA. (Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. Vol. Il. p. 51)
“the list of festivals for the whole Christian church was swelled by the
consecration of the day [February 2nd] of the holy virgin Mary, that the
people might not miss their Lupercalia, which they were accustomed to celebrate
in the month of February.” Note by Soames: “This was instituted in the reign
of Justinian, and fixed to the second of February . . The Latins called it
. . Candlemass; because many candles were then lighted up; as had been done
on the Lupercalia, the festival of Proserpine, whom her mother Ceres ‘searched
for with candles . . See Hospinian, de Fest. Christ, p. 52.

(Whistler, English Fist. p. 86) “the early Church instituted on February
2nd the Feast of Lights, blessed her candles, placed by the altar in sheaves,
and filled her basilicas with candleshine . . ‘Thus’, said the Pope, ‘what
was done before to the honour of Ceres, is now done to the honour of the
Virgin’. (Foot-note) Quoted by William Hone, The Every-Day Book, Vol. 1 Col.

JUNO FEBRUA, The Purifier. (Brewer, Dict.) “Candlemas Day. . It was the old
Roman custom of burning candles to the goddess Februa, mother of Mars, to
scare away evil spirits”.

Celtic: BRIGANTIA, BRIGHID. (Denning and Phillips, Magical Philosophy, Vol.
III. p. 166) “Brigid is the most widely powerful of the Celtic Goddesses.
She is the power of the new moon, of the spring of the year, and of the flowing
sea. In Ireland she is most famed, and in Britain she was Goddess of the
widespread tribe of the Brigantes. Her festival, from ancient times to the
present, is the second of February, the Celtic FireFestival of Imbolc . .
In Pagan times, her statue was annually washed in sea or lake to celebrate
her festival, being conveyed ceremonially overland, in a chariot or a boat;
in her associated with a ship – she may be compared to Isis (note: see March
5th). . Always with candles and with water do we greet her, the great
Moon-Mother, patroness of poetry and of all making and of the arts of

Candlemas LightbearerClick on the image on the right to read a modern pagan take on Imbolc/Candlemas.

(B. Morgan, Matriarchy Newsletter, No. 2) “Just as Hallowe’en marks the retreat into winter darkness and symbolises menstruation at the dark of the moon, so Candlemass marks the opening out of the natural world, ovulation, and emerges into the pure light of Spring first glimpsed at the Winter Solstice. The festivals symbolise on another level the Celtic belief in reincarnation; death at Hallowe’en followed by gestation in the dark space-womb of the Goddess and rebirth in a new body at Candlemass. This is the time for initiations in witchcraft, a rebirth of the spirit.

“Candlemass is when we come spiralling out again from the darkness, and our matriarchal symbol, the spiral, seems to recur in many aspects of Brigit’s cult. The dynamic shape of her crosses, the curling coats of her sheep and perhaps even the twisted patterns in Aran wool, handed down from mother to daughter, are part of her”.

British-Roman: SUL-MINERVA. (B. Morgan, id.) “Sul-Minerva of Bath seems to be identical with Brigid; a goddess of knowledge and healing with an ‘ashless fire’ in her sanctuary. If Sul, whose name derives from the Celtic words for the eye (i.e. suil) and seeing, is cognate with the Goddess of Silbury Hill, there could well have been a procession at Candlemass to her sacred spring, the Swellowhead, which begins to flow again in February, when the Queen ‘comes from the mound’ “.

English: THE WIVES. (Esther Harding, Woman’s Mysteries, p. 131) “In the north of England . . Candlemas used to be called The Wives Feast Day because it was regarded as a fertility festival”.

General: THE WITCHES, Great Sabbat. (Doreen Valiente, ABC of Witchcraft, p. 98) on Druidic links with Witchcraft: “the Great Sabbats of the witches are identical with the four great yearly festivals of the Druids in Celtic countries; namely Beltane (30th April), Lughnassadh (1st August), Samhain (31st October) and Imbolc or Oimelc (2nd February)”.

Jewish: THE VIRGIN MARY. (Esther Harding, Woman’s Myst. p. 130) “Another ancient festival of candles celebrated long ago for a moon goddess is now repeated on the same date, February the second, for the Virgin Mary, Moon of our Church. . This is the Festival of Candlemas. It corresponds in date and customs to the Celtic Holy Day of St. Bride or St. Brigit. St. Brigit is the Christianized form of the ancient Celtic goddess Bridgit or Brigentis, a triune moon goddess whose worship was at one time very widespread. On February the first, as today in the Catholic Church at the Festival of Candlemas, the new fire was kindled and blessed”.

(Whistler, English Fest. p. 87) An extract from an account written by a
prebendary of Durham, in 1628, of John Cosin, bishop’s chaplain, later Bishop
of Durham: ” ‘On Candlemas Day last past, Mr. Cozens, in renuing that . .
ceremonie of burning candles in honour of Our Ladye, busied himself from
two of the clocke in the afternoon till foure, in climbing long ladders to
stick up wax Candles in the said Cathedral Church. The number of all the
Candles burnt that evening was two hundred and twenty, besides sixteen torches:
sixty of those burning tapers and torches standing up, and near, the High
Altar . .’ ” (id.) “A writer to the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1790 noticed
at Ripon that ‘the Collegiate church was one continued blaze of light all
the afternoon, from an immense number of candles’. Today, in all Roman Catholic
churches, and in some Anglican ones, the feast of lights is remembered, and
there is much blessing and processing with tapers . . Snowdrops are ‘Mary’s
Tapers’ – ‘Candlemas Bells’. They are the day’s particular flower”.

THE CANDLEMAS QUEEN. (Farrar, Eight Sabbats, p. 66) “Imbolg, 2nd February
. . In Christian tradition, the Crown of Lights is often worn by a very young
girl, presumably to symbolize the extreme youth of the year”.

In an illustration shown by Dr. Margaret Murray (The God of the Witches,
p. 15) the Swedish Lucia-Queen is a girl wearing a crown of seven tapers
set in a circle.

THE TRIPLE GODDESS; THE IMBOLG MOTHER. (Farrar, Eight Sabbats, p. 66) “Imbolg
. . The Preparation:

“The High Priestess selects two women witches who, with herself, will represent
the Triple Goddess-Maid (Enchantment), Mother (Ripeness) and Crone (Wisdom)
– and allocates the three roles.

“A Crown of Lights is prepared for the Mother and left by the altar.
Traditionally, the Crown should be of candles or tapers, which are lit during
the ritual”.

Groundhog Day. (Druids Cal.) “February 2nd: Groundhog Day. ” (Fell. of Isis
Dir.) “February 2nd: Groundhog Day. Down to Earth for growth”.

Heightened spiritual happiness, Prosperity etc for the New Year

I received this nicely worded greetings of the season from one of our seminary alumni:

“Just a quick note wishing You and Yours heightened Spiritual Happiness, Prosperity and Wellness during the coming new year.”

The guy is a wordsmith. I like the term “spiritual happiness” since we so often in our work as spiritual teachers focus on spiritual awareness.


Gift Idea for the Ordained Minister – Bible in Chronological Order!

This looks nifty. Just think, no Soap Opera style flash backs any more while reading the Bible!  <grin> 

Might be a good version of the Bible for our Doctor of Theology degree candidates since it’s non-mainstream and non-fundamentalist.
I need to put this on my Christmas wish list. The list I really don’t have this year. But if I did, my children and husband would groan and say, “What? Another booook on your gift idea list….?!”  Worse yet, it’s another religion book. That’s all I like to read. Hee hee.  But this is no ordinary religion book people, it is a version of THE religion book. PERFECT gift for the ordained minister in your life hint hint hint…

The Chronological Study Bible

The Bible in Dynamic Historical Order

Immerse yourself in the beautifully designed pages.  Dig into ancient civilizations, religions, governments and the cultures and peoples that continue to shape our world today.  Explore the hidden connections in Scripture through one dramatic historical timeline.


Religion in America in 1776

Religion in America in 1776

July 4, 2013 By 

An interesting look back: 

When the Declaration of Independence was drafted on July 4, 1776, religious practice in the 13 colonies of the United States was colorful and varied. The quest for independence — as well as loyalist resistance to the cause — permeated church life and teachings across denominational lines. Patriots argued that their fight was God-ordained, while many Anglican clergy were bound by oath to pray for the King and the royal family.

Benjamin Franklin depicts God’s role in the revolution in his design for the Great Seal of the United States. Circling an image of Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the Israelites out of Egypt is the inscription, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” Cast in 1752 in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell bears the words of Lev. 25:10, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all inhabitants thereof.” And the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence cite God as the author of the quest for freedom: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, most American Christians belonged to Anglican, Congregationalist, or Presbyterian groups. In 1776, there were also around 2,000 Jews (mostly Sephardic) and five synagogues in the colonies. The average size of a church congregation was around seventy-five members, and religious adherence amounted to only 17 percent of the total population.

The effect of the struggle for independence on religious practice was most visible in Anglican parishes. Since Anglican priests pledged loyalty to the King as a part of their ordination vows, many remained faithful to the British and continued with liturgical prayers for the monarchy. Boston’s King’s Chapel was a thriving Anglican congregation during this time, with “box pews,” or small enclosures owned and even decorated by wealthy families, on the main floor, and “unboxed pews” for black or poor church members on the second floor. King’s Chapel was the first church in New England to incorporate music into its services, having both a choir and an organ. Popular at the time was the hymn, “Old 100th,” commonly sung today as a doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”).

Led by a Loyalist priest, King’s Chapel closed its doors after the British retreat on Evacuation Day (March 17, 1776) rather than allow the patriots to take over. Other Anglican congregations aligned themselves with the revolutionary cause and chose to change the liturgy rather than abandon it entirely. The rector of Christ Church in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, pasted strips of paper with prayers for the Continental Congress over the prayers for the King in the Book of Common Prayer. At a vestry meeting on July 4, 1776, Philadelphia’s Christ Church made a similar move, replacing the prayers for the King with a prayer for the wisdom of the new government: “That it may please thee to endue the Congress of the United States & all others in Authority, legislative, executive, & judicial with grace, wisdom & understanding, to execute Justice and to maintain Truth.”

Rev. Peter Muhlenberg made a bold display of patriotism before his Anglican congregation in Woodstock, Va. At the conclusion of a sermon in January 1776, he threw off his clerical robes to reveal his Virginia military uniform. During the struggle for independence, a number of ministers left their congregations to work as chaplains or take up arms, even some Quakers who felt that the cause of independence superseded their commitment to pacifism.

Read the rest. 

Atheism Monument Bench proves Creator Exists?

Here’s a nice little ontological argument piece based on the atheism monument bench installed in Florida next to a 10 Commandments monument. Yes, this short piece is based on the “intelligent design” argument, but I have always found that compelling. It did it for great minds Thomas Aquinas, so who am I to feel superior? Hah. Wholeheartedly agree with the author that listing Old Testament punishments do not express the tenets of atheism. It’s really just Judaism-Christianity-bashing, not Atheism-glorifying. But I love the ironic twist regarding the bench itself being a nice sleek design. I’ve actually visited the town where this atheism bench was installed. Makes me wanna go and try it out.

Atheists Argue Against Themselves With New Monument

C. S. Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Let’s say you are walking down the street, and someone comes up to you, stopping you dead in your tracks. They hold out their arm, around which a watch is strapped, and they tell you that the watch was designed and manufactured by Timex. You examine the watch, observe its hands ticking, and see the Timex label etched on the back. Would you believe them? You would have no reason not too.

Now suppose the same person came up to you, and told you that the watch they were wearing had just appeared one day on their arm; where before, there was nothing. The watch carries the exact same complexities, but lacks any designer label. Would you believe them? Obviously not. Simply seeing the complexities of the watch, one immediately; instinctually knows that something that is that complex must have been designed by an intelligence.

This will be relevant; I promise. But for now, I’m going to change the subject. According to the Associated Press: “A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.”

David Silverman, President of American Atheists, said: “When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. Atheists are about the real and the physical, so we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench.”

Being that we live in a free society, people have the right to believe whatever they want to believe; or not believe, as the case may be. But what interests me the most about this bench of non-belief is the statement it is unintentionally making. One of the features of the bench is a carved out list of punishments from the Old Testament. This is clearly intended to mock believers. The inclusion of this feature is an aggressive act.

Atheists have within them an aggression; an aggression toward anything and anyone who believes in God. They will deny it, of course. They will say that religion is the great aggressor. But in the end, it is atheists who—in their mockery and disdain of belief and believers—position themselves as the agitator.

The unintended statement that this bench is making is that of an obnoxious child, trying to assert himself to his parents. He sees what his parents believe, and he wants to be different. The problem is, he doesn’t know why he wants to be different; or how to actualize his want. So, rather than create something new, he takes what already exists, and rejects it. His actions are a negative. He looks at a complex piece of machinery—like a wrist watch—and despite instinctually knowing that it cannot have come from nowhere, out of nothing, by chance; the need he feels to deviate from his parents drives him to reject common sense, in favor of absurdity.

Within the heart of every human being is the understanding that we were created. The atheists cannot remove that etching in our metal, so they cover it over. The problem is: hiding something is not the same as removing it. What is hidden still exists, whether or not we want it to.

That is what this non-belief bench represents: a vacuum. It represents the rejection of the actual, in favor of an empty space. The funny thing is, by its very nature as a designed and constructed piece of architecture (so that it may “function,” as David Silverman intended), the atheist bench is a contradiction of atheism. Anyone looking at the bench will know, due to its complexity, that an intelligence had to have created it. They will look at the bench and think: “I wonder who the designer was?” Indeed.

Man of Steel movie supposedly full of Christian Jewish References

I definitely want to take my older kids and go see the new Superman movie, but I am not so sure the makers of Man of Steel filled it with Christian references. Just because Superman holds his arms out (in flying position?) it resembles a crucifix…? The other so-called Christian references are reaching too, imo, such as his father Jor-EL appearing as a ghost resembles the Holy Spirit and / or God-the-Father and God-the-Son working as a Trinity.

The article is very interesting though, especially intriguing is the reminder that the original Superman creators were young Jews. They chose names with -El endings for Superman and his father, El being the Jewish god’s name (and thus the Christian god’s name) and appearing in popular names Micha-EL, Gabri-EL and girls’ names EL-izabeth, Rach-EL etc.

Neil Cavuto on Fox News Business just mentioned another Christian “similarity” not listed in this article. Someone didn’t like the moviemakers switching Clark Kent from a reporter to a fisherman. Neil Cavuto humorously said, “Hey. It worked for the Apostles…”

Either way, the esoteric references will be fun to try to spot. Gotta see this flick soon.

‘Man of Steel’ filled with Jesus, Christianity references
By Justin Craig
Published June 14, 2013

Read more:

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s … Jesus?

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created their iconic comic book hero Superman in 1938, their character wasn’t just a representation of “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” but for many, a metaphor for Jewish immigrants in 1930s America. Created by two young Jewish men, Superman was an allusion to the Jewish faith and history, from his baby Moses-like origins to his golem-esque invincibility, to his outcast status and his ultimate struggle to assimilate in a new land.

But somewhere along his journey since 1938, Kal-El converted to Christianity, which is no more evident than in Zack Snyder’s current “Man of Steel.”

Snyder and his “Steel” co-creators Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer have layered this latest incarnation with quite a few allusions to Jesus Christ. Here are a few:

While there isn’t a miraculous birth per se, Kal-El’s (Henry Cavill) father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) claims that his son is the first “natural” birth in centuries. All children on Krypton are genetically engineered to a pre-determined purpose and thus artificially inseminated. Not Kal-El. Jor-El and his wife Lara had some legitimate baby making going on.

There is some Christ-like imagery planted throughout “Man of Steel.” One blaring symbol occurs during a climactic battle: Superman jumps from General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) ship and hovers in the sky with his arms out-stretched like the crucifix. Freeze-frame it and you can have your own Superman prayer card.

Kal-El says he is 33, a not-too-subtle reference to the same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified.
The Passion of Superman. Kal-El is more than willing to sacrifice himself to save the people of Earth. Originally reluctant to reveal his identity and powers to the world, Supes decides to turn himself over to Zod to save humanity from annihilation.

When things get tough, Clark Kent seeks advice from a priest. Visible in the background is a large painting of Jesus so you can see Supes and Christ side-by-side.

Superman is a non-violent being. Even though people everywhere seem to want to beat up on Clark Kent, he never returns the favor, always opting to keep the peace.

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Clark’s adoptive father, is somewhat like Jesus’ adoptive dad, Joseph. Both are tradesmen: Joseph a carpenter, Jonathan a farmer. Superman’s ship (or manger, if you will) is even kept in the Kent’s stable.

And finally, don’t forget the Holy Trinity. Jor-El returns to Kal-El on Earth as a ghost, guiding his budding superhero son on his journey to salvation. Before Jor-El sends his son off to Earth baby Moses-style, he tells his wife that, like Jesus, “He’ll be a god to them.”

With Superman’s seemingly invincible powers, he is.

Read more:

Not so sure Why God is Father but not Mother

Wow, this author “argues like a Jesuit”, probably is one. I am partly persuaded by some of his arguments, but not all. Seems to me we can also call God “Mother” and recognize Her in and above Creation (as supposedly only the Father can be recognized). See what you think…

Why God is Father and Not Mother | Mark Brumley | ;

“The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” is how the 19th century liberal Protestant theologian Adolph Harnack once summarized the Christian faith. Nowadays Harnack would find his brand of reductionist religion dismissed as hopelessly sexist and exclusive by many feminist theologians. The “brotherhood of man” might be reworked into “the family of humanity” or its equivalent. But what would they do about the Fatherhood of God? Can we replace the allegedly “sexist” language of Divine Fatherhood with so-called gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terms such as Father/Mother or Heavenly Parent without further ado?

Many people–including some Catholics–say “yes.” “We not only can,” they contend, “we must. God is, after all, beyond gender. Calling God ‘Father’, without adding that God is also Mother, unfairly exalts one image for God above all others and ignores the culturally conditioned nature of all our images of God,” they argue.

A Consensus of the Many and the One

Of course, not everyone agrees. While most “mainline” Protestant churches have acquiesced, Evangelicals, the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church have maintained traditional language for God–although even within these communions some people’s sympathies run in the other direction.

That the Catholic Church and these churches and ecclesial communities would agree on a point of doctrine or practice presents a formidable unity against feminist “God-Talk.” How often do we find that kind of united witness among that range of Christians? Yet as solid a prima facie case as that makes, a more serious obstacle to feminist revisionism exists–an insurmountable one, in fact. Not the witness of this group of Christians or that, but of Christ Himself. The commonplace manner in which Christians address the Almighty as Father comes from Him. In fact, Jesus actually used a more intimate word, Abba or “Daddy.”

Unfortunately, twenty centuries of Christian habit has eclipsed the “scandal” of this. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, however, it stunned the ear. They did not usually address the All Powerful Sovereign of the Universe in such intimate, familiar terms. Yes, God was acknowledged as Father, but usually as Father of the Jewish people as a whole. Jesus went further: God is (or can be at least) your or my Father, not mere our Father or the Father of our people. Anyone who wants to fiddle with how we talk of God must reckon with Jesus.

But did Jesus really call God “Father”? Few things in modern biblical scholarship are as certain. Skeptics may question whether Jesus turned water into wine or walked on water. They may doubt that He was born of a Virgin or that He rose from the dead. But practically no one denies that Jesus called God “Abba” or “Father.” So distinctive was the invocation in his day, so deeply imbedded in the biblical tradition is it, that to doubt it is tantamount to doubting we can know anything about Jesus of Nazareth.

What is more, not even most feminists deny it. What then to make of it?

Since Christians believe that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, they must hold that He most fully reveals how we, by grace, should understand God: as Father. Otherwise they tacitly deny the central claim of their faith–that Christ is the fullness of God’s self-disclosure to man. Non-Christians may do that, of course, but Christians cannot–not without ceasing to be Christians in any meaningful sense of the word.

“But surely we must hold,” someone will object, “that Jesus’ view of God was historically conditioned like that of his contemporaries? His masculine language for God cannot be part of the ‘fullness of God’s self-disclosure,’ as you suppose. It was merely a residue of first century Jewish sexism. We must look instead to the ‘transhistorical significance’ of his teaching. And that is not the Fatherhood of God but the Godhood of the Father–that God is a loving Parent.”

Two Errors

At least two false claims lie hidden in that objection. The first is that Jesus’ own concept of God was “historically conditioned.” The second, that we can strip away a patriarchal “coating” to His notion of God to get at the gender-inclusive idea of the Divine Parent beneath. In other words, God’s Fatherhood, per se, is not central to Jesus’ revelation of God, only those qualities which fathers share with mothers–”parenthood,” in other words.

But was Jesus’ view of God “historically conditioned”? Not if you mean by “historically conditioned” “wholly explicable in terms of the religious thinking of His day.” We have no reason to think Jesus uncritically imbibed the prevailing ideas about God. He certainly felt free to correct inadequate ideas from the Old Testament in other respects (see, for example, Matt. 5:21-48) and to contravene religio-cultural norms, especially regarding women. He had women disciples, for example. He spoke with women in public. He even allowed women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. How, then, on this most central point–the nature and identity of God–are we to suppose He was either unable, due to His own sexism and spiritual blindness, or unwilling, to set people straight about God as Father? Even if you deny Jesus’ divinity or hold to a watered-down notion of it, such a view remains impossible to maintain.

Furthermore, even if Jesus had “picked up” the notion of God as Father from His surrounding culture, we can not simply dismiss an idea as false merely because it happens to have been held by others. Otherwise Jesus’ monotheism itself could be as easily explained away on the grounds that it, too, was generally affirmed by the Jews of the day and therefore must, on this view, be only ‘historically conditioned.’

Nor can we simply ignore Jesus’ teaching about God’s Fatherhood, as if it were peripheral to His revelation. Time and again Jesus addresses God as Father, so much so that we can say Jesus’ name for God is Father. If Jesus was wrong about that, so fundamental a thing, then what, really, does He have to teach us? That God is for the poor and the lowly? The Hebrew prophets taught as much. That God is loving? They taught that as well.

Notice too that these truths–still widely held today–are subject to the “historical conditioning” argument. They are just as liable to be wrong as Jesus’ views about the Fatherhood of God, are they not? They, too, can be explained away as “culturally conditioned.”

Furthermore, Jesus’ way of addressing God as Father is rooted in His own intimate relationship to God. Now whatever else we say about God, we cannot say that He is Jesus’ mother, for Jesus’ mother is not God but Mary. Jesus’ mother was a creature; His Father, the Creator. “Father” and “Mother” are not, then, interchangeable terms for God in relation to Jesus. Nor can they be for us, if Catholicism’s doctrine that Mary is the “Mother of Christians” is correct.

The Real Issue

Undergirding Jesus’ teaching about God as Father is the idea that God has revealed Himself as to be such and that His revelation should be normative for us. God, in other words, calls the theological shots. If He wants to be understood primarily in masculine terms, then that is how we should speak of Him. To do otherwise, is tantamount to idolatry–fashioning God in our image, rather than receiving from Him His self-disclosure as the Father.

Many Feminist theologians seek to fashion God in their image, because they think God is fashionable (in both senses of the word). Many feminists hold that God is in Himself (they would say “Herself” or “Godself”) utterly unintelligible. We can, therefore, speak only of God in metaphors, understood as convenient, imaginative ways to describe our experience of God, rather than God Himself. In such a view, there is no room for revelation, understood as God telling us about Himself; we have only our own colorful, creative yet merely human descriptions of what we purport to be our experiences of the divine.

Whatever this is, it is not Christianity, which affirms that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis, in an essay on women’s ordination in Anglicanism, put the matter thus:
But Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favor of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.
Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar point in The Ratzinger Report: “Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose. Consequently, we are not authorized to change the Our Father into an Our Mother: the symbolism employed by Jesus is irreversible; it is based on the same Man-God relationship he came to reveal to us.”

Now people are certainly free to reject Christianity. But they should be honest enough to admit that this is what they are doing, instead of surreptitiously replacing Christianity with the milk of the Goddess, in the name of putting new wine into old wineskins.

Taking Another Tack

Here proponents of feminine “God talk” often shift gears. Rather than argue that Jesus’ teaching was merely the product of a patriarchal mindset to which even He succumbed, they say that Jesus chose not to challenge patriarchalism directly. Instead, He subverted the established order by His radical inclusivity and egalitarianism. The logical implications of His teaching and practice compel us to accept inclusive or gender-neutral language for God, even though Christ Himself never explicitly called for it.

This argument overlooks an obvious point. While affirming the equal dignity of women was countercultural in first century Judaism, so was calling God “Abba.” Some feminists counter with the claim that the very idea of a loving Heavenly Father was itself a move in the feminist direction of a more compassionate, intimate Deity. The first century Jewish patriarch, they contend, was a domineering, distant figure. But even if that were so–and there is reason to doubt such a sweeping stereotype of first century Judaism–revealing God as a loving, compassionate Father is not the same as revealing Him as Father/Mother or Parent. That Jesus corrected some people’s erroneous ideas of fatherhood by calling God “Father” hardly means we should cease calling God “Father” altogether or call Him Father/Mother.

Feminists also sometimes argue that Scripture, even if not Jesus Himself, gives us a “depatriarchalizing principle” that, once fully developed, overcomes the “patriarchalism” of Jewish culture and even of other parts of the Bible. In other words, the Bible corrects itself when it comes to male stereotypes of God.

But this simply is not so. Granted, the Bible occasionally uses feminine similes for God. Isaiah 42:14, for example, says that God will “cry out like a woman in travail.” Yet the Bible does not say that God is a woman in travail, it merely likens His cry to that of a woman.

The fact is, whenever the Bible uses feminine language for God, it never applies it to Him in the same way masculine language is used of Him. Thus, the primary image of God in Scripture remains masculine, even when feminine similes are used: God is never called “She” or “Her.” As Protestant theologian John W. Miller puts it in Biblical Faith and Fathering: “Not once in the Bible is God addressed as mother, said to be mother, or referred to with feminine pronouns. On the contrary, gender usage throughout clearly specifies that the root metaphor is masculine-father.”

In fact, the Bible ascribes feminine characteristics to God in exactly the same way it sometimes ascribes such traits to human males. For example, in Numbers 11:12 Moses asks, “Have I given birth to this people?” Do we conclude from this maternal image that Scripture here is “depatriarchalize” Moses. Obviously, Moses uses here a maternal metaphor for himself; he is not making a statement about his “gender identity.” Likewise, in the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) and Paul (Galatians 4:19) likened themselves to mothers, though they are men. Why, then, should we think that on those relatively rare occasions when the Bible uses feminine metaphors for God anything more is at work there than with Moses, Jesus and Paul?

Of course there is a crucial difference between God and Moses, the Incarnate Son and Paul. The latter possess human natures in the male gender, while God, as such, is without gender because He is Infinite Spirit. Furthermore, the biblical authors obviously knew that Moses, Jesus and Paul were male and intended to assert as much by referring to them with the masculine pronoun and other masculine language. The same cannot be said about the biblical writers’ notion of God. Even so, they speak of God as if He were masculine. For them, masculine language is the primary way we speak of God. Feminine language is applied to God as if it were being used of a masculine being.

Why the Masculine Language to Begin With?

Which brings us to a more fundamental issue, namely, “What is the masculine language about in the first place?” Since Christianity, as St. Augustine was overjoyed to learn, holds that God has no body, why is God spoken of in masculine terms?

We could, of course, merely insist that He has revealed Himself in this way and be done with it. That would not, however, help us understand God, which presumably is why He bothered to reveal Himself as Father to begin with. No, if we insist that God has revealed Himself as Father, we must try to understand what He is telling us by it.

Why call God Father? The question is obviously one of language. Before we can answer it, we must observe a distinction between two different uses of language–analogy and metaphor.

Sometimes when we speak of God, we assert that God really is this or that, or really possesses this characteristic or that, even if how He is or does so differs from our ordinary use of a word. We call this way of talking about God analogy or analogous language about God. Even when we speak analogously of God, however, we are still asserting something about how God really is. When we say that God is living, for example, we really attribute life to God, although it is not mere life as we know it, i.e., biological life.

Other times when we speak of God, we liken Him to something else–meaning that there are similarities between God and what we compare him to, without suggesting that God really is a form of the thing to which we compare Him or that God really possesses the traits of the thing in question. For example, we might liken God to an angry man by speaking of “God’s wrath.” By this we do not mean God really possesses the trait of anger, but that the effect of God’s just punishment is like the injuries inflicted by an angry man. We call this metaphor or metaphorical language about God.

When we call God Father, we use both metaphor and analogy. We liken God to a human father by metaphor, without suggesting that God possesses certain traits inherent in human fatherhood–male gender, for example. We speak of God as Father by analogy because, while God is not male, He really possesses certain other characteristics of human fathers, although He possesses these in a different way (analogously)–without creaturely limitations.

With this distinction between analogy and metaphor in mind, we turn now to the question of what it means to call God “Father.”

The Fatherhood of God in Relation to Creation

We begin with God’s relationship to creation. As the Creator, God is like a human father. A human father procreates a child distinct from and yet like himself. Similarly, God creates things distinct from and like Himself. This is especially true of man, who is the “image of God.” And God cares for His creation, especially man, as a human father cares for his children.

But does not what we have said thus far allow us to call God Mother as well as Father? Human mothers also procreate children distinct from yet like themselves, and they care for them, as human fathers do. If we call God Father because human fathers do such things, why not call God Mother because human mothers do these things as well?

No doubt, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 239) states, “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.” Scripture itself, as we have seen, sometimes likens God to a mother. Yet, as we have also seen, Scripture never calls God “Mother” as such. Scripture uses feminine language for God no differently than it sometimes metaphorically uses feminine language for men. How do we explain this?

Many feminists simply dismiss this as sexism by the biblical writers. But the real answer rests with the difference between God and human beings, between fathers and mothers and between metaphor and analogy. The Bible sometimes speaks metaphorically of God as Father. But it would be strange for Scripture so often to call God Father and so seldom to use maternal language, if the whole thing were merely a difference in metaphor. By never calling God “Mother” but only likening God to a human mother, Scripture seems to suggest that God is really Father in a way He is not really Mother. In other words, that fatherhood and motherhood are not on equal footing when it comes to describing God. To understand why this is so, let us look at the difference between fathers and mothers.

Father and Mother

What is the difference between fatherhood and motherhood? A father is the “principle” or “source” of procreation in a way a mother is not. To be sure, both father and mother are parents of their offspring and in that sense both are causes of their offspring’s coming-to-be. But they are so in different ways.

Both mother and father are active agents of conception (contrary to what Aristotle thought). But the father, being male, initiates procreation; he enters and impregnates the woman, while the woman is entered and impregnated. There is an initiatory activity by the man and a receptive activity by the woman. Furthermore, modern biology tells us that the father determines the gender of the offspring (as Aristotle held, though for a different reason).

Thus, while father and mother are both parents of their offspring and both necessary for procreation, the father has a certain priority as the “source” or “principle” of procreation. (This “priority as source” is complemented by the mother’s priority as first nurturer, due to her procreating within herself and carrying the child within herself for nine months.)

This difference between fathers and mothers for the Fatherhood of God is crucial. As Dominican Fr. Benedict Ashley has argued, so long as we compare God’s act of creating to a human father’s act of procreation through impregnating a woman, we speak only metaphorically of God as Father. For God does not “impregnate” anyone or anything when he creates; He creates from nothing, without a partner. But if we move beyond the particulars of human reproduction, where a father requires a mother to procreate, and instead speak of the father as “source” or “principle” of procreation, then our language for God as Father becomes analogous rather than merely metaphorical. As a human father is the “source” or “principle” of his offspring (in a way that the mother, receiving the father and his procreative activity within herself, is not), so God is the “source” or “principle” of creation. In that sense, God is truly Father, not merely metaphorically so.

Can we make a similar jump from the occasional metaphorical likening of God to human mothers in Scripture to an analogical way of calling God Mother? No, and here is why: A mother is not the “principle” or “source” of procreation the way a father is. She is a receptive, active collaborator in procreation, to be sure. But she is not the active initiator–that is the father’s role as a man in impregnating her. A father can be an analogue for the Creator who creates out of nothing insofar as fathers–while not procreating out of nothing–nevertheless are the “source” or “principle” of procreation as initiators, as God is the source of creation. But a mother, being the impregnated rather than the impregnator, is analogous neither to God as Creator from nothing, nor God as the initiating “source” or “principle” of creation. As a mother, she can be likened to God only in metaphorical ways–as nurturing, caring, etc., as we see in Scripture.

One reason, then, Scripture more often speaks of God as Father than likens Him to a mother is that fatherhood can be used analogously of God, while motherhood can only be a metaphor. We can speak of God either metaphorically or analogously as Father, but we can speak of Him as maternal only metaphorically. Thus, we should expect that masculine and specifically paternal language would generally “trump” feminine and specifically maternal language for God in Scripture. For an analogy tells us how God truly is, not merely what He is like, as in metaphor.

But we can go further. Even on the metaphorical level, it is more appropriate to call God Father rather than Mother. To understand why, we return to the difference between father and mother, this time introducing two other terms, transcendence and immanence.

Transcendence and Immanence

Transcendence here refers to the fact that God is more than and other than His creation–indeed, more than and other than any possible creation. This is part of what it means to call God “the Supreme Being” or “that than which no greater can be thought” (to use St. Anselm’s description). Immanence, on the other hand, refers to the fact that God is present in His creation–as the author is “in” his book or the painter “in” his painting, only more so. God created the world and it is marked by His creation of it. But God also continues to sustain the world in being. If He ever withdrew His power, the cosmos would cease to be. In that sense, God is closer to the cosmos than it is to itself–closer than its very own existence is, for God gives the cosmos existence, moment by moment.

Now back to fathers and mothers. We said a father “initiates” procreation by impregnating the mother, while the mother “receives” the father into herself and is impregnated. The obvious difference here is that the man procreates outside and “away from” himself, while the woman procreates inside and within herself. Symbolically, these are two very different forms of procreation and they represent two different relationships to the offspring.

Because the father procreates outside of himself, his child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) other than his father. Likewise, the father is other than his child (though also not wholly). In other words, the father, as father, transcends his child. Fatherhood, in this sense, symbolizes transcendence in relation to offspring, though we also recognize that, as the “source” of his child’s life, the father is united or one with his child and therefore he is not wholly a symbol of transcendence.

On the other hand, because the mother procreates within herself–within her womb where she also nurtures her child for nine months–her child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of herself. And similarly, the mother is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of her child. In other words, the mother, as mother, is one with her child. Motherhood, in this sense, symbolizes immanence, though we recognize that as a distinct being, the mother is also other than her child and therefore not wholly a symbol of immanence.

Now God is distinct from and the source of His creation. He is infinitely greater than and therefore infinitely other than His creation (transcendent). As Creator and Sustainer of creation, He is also present in creation (immanent). And we, as creatures who are both part of creation and distinct from the rest of it, can understand God as transcendent (more than creation) or immanent (present in creation). If we go a step further and use “father” for transcendence and “mother” for immanence, we can say that God’s transcendence is represented by fatherhood, which symbolizes God’s otherness and initiating activity (His being the “source” of creation). Meanwhile, God’s immanence is represented by motherhood, which symbolizes intimacy and union with the things God created. Which leaves us with the obvious question, “If this is so, why does traditional theology use only male language for God?”

The answer: because God’s transcendence has a certain priority over His immanence in relation to creation. And this is for at least two reasons. First, because transcendence, in a sense, also includes the notion of immanence, although the reverse is not true. When we speak of God transcending creation we imply a certain relationship of immanence to it. For Him to transcend creation, there must be a creation to transcend. And since creation resembles its Creator and is sustained by Him, He is present in it by His immanence.

But the opposite is not necessarily so. We do not necessarily imply transcendence by talking of divine immanence. Pantheism (Greek for “all is God”), for example, more or less identifies God with the cosmos, without acknowledging divine transcendence. To prevent God’s transcendence from being lost sight of and God being wrongly reduced to, or even too closely identified with, His creation, language stressing transcendence–masculine terms such as father –is necessary.

A second reason for putting God’s transcendence ahead of His immanence, and therefore fatherly language ahead of motherly language for God, has to do with the infinite difference between transcendence and immanence in God. God is infinitely transcendent, but not, in the same sense, infinitely immanent. Although God is present in creation, He is above all infinitely more than the actual or any possible created order and is not defined or limited by any created order. The cosmos, however vast, is ultimately finite and limited because it is created and dependent. Therefore God can be present in it only to a finite extent–not because of any limitation in God, but because of limits inherent in anything that is not God.

Thus, in order to express adequately God’s infinite transcendence and to avoid idolatrously identifying God with the world (without severing Him from His creation, as in deism), even on the metaphorical level we must use fatherly language for God. Motherly language would give primacy to God’s immanence and tend to confuse Him with His creation (pantheism). This does not exclude all maternal imagery–as we have seen even the Bible occasionally employs it–but it means we must use such language as the Bible does, in the context of God’s fatherhood.

In other words, God’s Fatherhood includes the perfections of both human fatherhood and human motherhood. Scripture balances transcendence and immanence by speaking of God in fundamentally masculine or paternal terms, yet also occasionally using feminine or maternal language for what is depicted as an essentially masculine God. This helps explain why even when the Bible describes God in maternal terms–God remains “He” and “Him.”

The Fatherhood of God in the Trinity

We see, then, that God is Father because He is the Creator and creating resembles human fathering in some important ways. But what if God had never created the world or man? Would He still have been Father? Or what about before God created the world or man? Was God Father then?

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us the answer to these questions is “yes.” The First Person of the Trinity, Trinitarian doctrine reminds us, is the Father. He is, in fact, Father of the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity (CCC 240). Before all worlds and from all eternity, the First Person “begot” the Second Person, who eternally proceeds from the Father, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” as the Creed puts it (CCC 242). In the Trinity, the Father is the Underived Principle of the Son (and through Him, of the Spirit as well); He is the Source or Unoriginated Origin of the Triune God.

Again, we draw on the analogy of human fatherhood. As we have seen, a father is the “source” of his offspring in a way a mother is not. The First Person of the Trinity is the “source” of the second Person. Thus, we call the First Person “the Father” rather than “the Mother” and the Second Person, generated by the Father yet also the Image of the Father, we call the Son.

Although the Son is also God and the Image of the Father, He is also distinct from and other than the Father. The Son is begotten; the Father, unbegotten. The Son is originated, the Father, unoriginated. Father-Son language expresses this relationship better than Father-Daughter; Mother-Daughter or Mother-Son language.

Of course because we use analogy, there are crucial differences between God the Father and human fathers. In the Trinity, God the Father begets the Son without a cooperating maternal principle, unlike how human fathers beget their sons. Moreover, God the Father does not precede His Son in time as a human father does his son. Both Father and Son are eternal in the Trinity, hence neither Person existed before the other. Finally, while human fathers and sons share a common human nature, they each have their own human natures. The father does not know with his son’s intellect; the son does not choose with his father’s will. And while they may have similar physical makeup, their bodies are distinct and genetically unique.

Yet in the Trinity, the Father and the Son do possess the same divine nature, not merely their own, respective divines natures as humans possess their own, respective human nature. This is because there can be no such thing as divine “natures”; there can be and is only one divine nature, just as there can be and is only one God. The Father and Son each wholly possesses the divine nature, though each in his distinctive way. The Father possesses it as unreceived and as giving it to the Son; the Son, as received from the Father.

Thus, within the Trinity, there is fundamental equality–each Person is wholly God–and basic difference–each Person is unique and not the Others, not interchangeable. And there is also sacred order, with the Son begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. This shows that equality and difference, and even equality and hierarchy, need not be understood as opposed to one another, as some feminists claim.

Furthermore, a proper understanding of the Trinity also helps us to see why we cannot just substitute “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” for “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” as some feminists propose. Traditional theology allows us to associate creation with the Father in a special way because of a similarity between the act of creation and the fact that the Father is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we can associate Redemption with the Son because He became incarnate to redeem us, and Sanctification with the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit proceeds in love from the Father and the Son and the gifts of the Spirit which sanctify are gifts of Divine love. This process of associating certain divine works in the world with a particular Person of the Trinity is called appropriation.

But in all these cases what is associated with or attributed to a particular Person of the Trinity–whether Creation, Redemption or Sanctification–really belongs to all three Divine Persons. In other words, the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity are not “defined” as Persons by these actions, since Creation, Redemption and Sanctification are common to all Three. What defines them as Persons are their unique relations among one another, with the Father begetting, the Son being begotten and the Spirit being “spirated” from the Father and the Son. To reduce each Person of the Trinity to a particular function–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier –is to succumb to the ancient heresy of Modalism, which denies that there are Three Persons in God and instead holds that there is really only one Person in God who acts in three different modes–Father, Son and Spirit. Or in this case, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.

The Father of the Incarnate Son

But we must not stop with the First Person of the Trinity’s Fatherhood of the Son before all worlds. For the Triune God has revealed Himself in history. The Son united Himself with human nature. He is the Son of the Father in His human nature as well as His divinity. This, in part, is the meaning of the Virginal Conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary (Lk 1:35). Jesus has no human father–St. Joseph is His “foster-father.” Jesus’ Father is God the Father and He alone. That is why Jesus refers to God as “Abba”–a highly personal and intimate form of paternal address. Jesus’ existence in time and history parallels His eternal, divine existence as God the Son. For this reason, we must not speak of God as Jesus’ Mother, as if the terms “father” and “mother” are interchangeable when it comes to Jesus’ relation to God. God is Jesus’ Father; Mary is Jesus’ Mother and she is not God.

Fatherhood of God by Divine Adoption and Regeneration in Christ

We come now to God and humanity. Is God the Father of all mankind? In a sense He is, because He created us and, as we have seen, to create is like fathering a child. Yet God also made rocks, trees and the Crab Nebula. How is He Father of man but not also Father of them? Granted, humans are spiritual, as well as material, beings, which means they are rational beings–capable of knowing and choosing. In this, they more closely resemble God than the rest of visible creation. Nevertheless, human beings, as such, do not share God’s own life, as children share the life of their fathers. Thus, we are not by nature “children of God” in that sense, but mere creatures. And, as a result of sin, we are fallen creatures at that.

Yet Jesus tells His followers to address God as Father (Mt 6:9-13). He says the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13) and that the Spirit of their Father will speak through them in times of persecution (Mt 10:20). He tells His disciples to be merciful as their heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). He speaks of being “born from above” through baptism and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5). On Easter Sunday, He directs Mary Magdalen to tell the other disciples, “I am going to my Father and your Father . . .” (Jn 20:17).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, God is also depicted as Father to Christians. Through Jesus Christ we are more than mere creatures to God; by faith in Him we become the children of God (1 Jn 5:1), sharing in Jesus’ own Divine Sonship, albeit in a created way (Rom 8:29). God is our Father because He is Jesus’ Father (Jn 1:12). What God is for Jesus by nature, He is for us by grace, Divine Adoption (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5-6), and regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5-7).

Behind this language of Divine Adoption and regeneration is the idea that God is our Father because He is the “source” or “origin” of our new life in Christ. He has saved us through Christ and sanctified us in the Spirit. This is clearly more than a metaphor; the analogy with earthly fatherhood is obvious. God is not merely like a father for Christ’s followers; He is really their Father. In fact, God’s Fatherhood is the paradigm of fatherhood. This is why Paul writes in Eph 3:14-15, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named . . .” (RNAB). It is not that God the Father is earthly fatherhood writ large; rather, earthly fatherhood is the faint copy of Divine Fatherhood. This is why Jesus says, “Call no man on earth father. For you have but one Father in heaven” (Mt 23:9). In other words, no earthly father should be seen as possessing the fullness of patriarchal authority; that belongs to God the Father. All earthly fatherhood is derivative from Him.

Thus, God is not Father of those who have not received the grace of justification and redemption in the same way as those who have. Yet they remain potentially His children, since the Father wills the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4) and makes sufficient grace necessary for salvation available to all. God desires that all men become children of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, hence the universal mission of the Church (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8). We can speak, then, in general terms of God as the Father of all men, inasmuch as He created all men to be His children by grace and makes available to them the means of salvation.

Language Given by God

We see now that there are good theological reasons for why we call God “Father,” not the least of which is that such language is not ours to adapt or abolish to begin with. God gave us this language–admittedly through a particular culture and its images–but it was God who nevertheless gave it. God wants us to understand Him as the Transcendent Source of creation, a truth better expressed using the language of fatherhood than motherhood. Within the Triune Life of God, the First Person is Father because He is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, He is also Father of the Son in history, through the Incarnation. And, by Divine Adoption and regeneration, He is Father of those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit–”sons in the Son.” Finally, as a result of God’s universal salvific will, all human beings are potentially children of God, for all are called to share in the Divine Life of grace through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of Catholic Faith magazine.

Related Articles:

• Father, Son, and Spirit: So What’s In A Name? | Deborah Belonick
• Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? | Fr. Manfred Hauke
• Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend Michael Hull, S.T.D.
• Do Boys Need Dads? | An Interview with Maggie Gallagher
• Male and Female He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
• Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, S.T.L.

How should Ordained Ministers & Clergy help after a tragedy

Last week we were discussing questions our many ordained ministers were asking about how to offer spiritual counsel to the thousands afraid of Mayan Doomsday. (Can’t believe it’s only hours away, by the way…I remember studying it 25 years ago and observing Harmonic Convergence in the 1980’s. But I digress).  But this week questions of a much much more serious and grave nature have been coming in. Such as why do the innocent have to die. What is going on with this rash of shootings. So very tragic. One of our ministers even lives in the next town and her daughter’s bestfriend’s brother is one of the deceased. What are we to think in the face of such Evil, how are we to respond as clergy, as human beings?
Here is some wisdom on the matter from not only an ordained minister and Rosicrucian, but famed esotericist.
* * * * * * * * * *
Esotericist Mark Stavish writes:
Dear Friends,
Below are two posts I recently made to Facebook, and am sharing here, regarding recent events.  Please take the time to read them, and to pass them on to others who may benefit from their message.
Mark Stavish
Sandy Hook, and What You Can Do….Last night my wife mentioned that there was discussion among her and several co-workers (all teachers) about the recent slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., about two and a half hours north of here. After much discussion it was mentioned that when discussing these events with their students, or even children, they would consider suggesting that each person do 28 acts of kindness in memory of the dead, and the suffering that not only brought about the events, but the suffering it has caused.

I like this idea, and in fact, find it to be the only real ‘solution’ to the problem of violence, as love and hate are ultimately about human relations and how we treat one another. Yes, there are many issues that can be dredged up, but there is no “policy” that can be set in place to “stop” violence – we already have secular and religious laws that make murder illegal, but they are ignored daily – even hourly.

I like this idea because it requires individual effort. It requires conscious decision making, and the formulation of a new habit, a new perspective on one’s self and others. Encouraging individuals to act as individuals, especially when those involved are children, and to consciously develop a compassionate attitude towards others as a living memorial to help lessen suffering in the world, those are seeds that can bear real fruit in the Tree of Life.

Please do more than Like this post, Share it, and pass it on.

The Way of Action, The Way of NegationThank you to everyone who Shared yesterday’s post on positive action we can individually take in light of the recent mass killing of adults and children in Newtown, Conn. Today I am going to make a suggestion that is my own, not borrowed from my wife as yesterday’s was, and it falls under the realm of The Way of Negation.

The Way of Negation is of things to avoid, wherein the Way of Positive (Action) are things to do.

For this Holiday Season, the Season of Light, I am encouraging you to think about the meaning of the season, and not give war toys as gifts. Now, to be very clear, I am not talking about strategy games such as Risk, Stratego, or Axis and Allies, or even some of the simple video games such as Star Wars Lego (yes, even thought it is Lego, it is still about guns and swords, even if they are lasers), or buckets of green plastic army men.

No, what I am referring to are toys that have no moral or ethical redeeming value, whose sole purpose is to make war (and the business of war is killing) into a child’s game, and appear natural and even fun. These would be toys easily found at the big box stores, and include .50 caliber machine guns, M60 machine guns, bazookas, hand grenades, and even toy survival knives and body armor. These are not the toy guns we played with a children, nor are they meant to be.

Along with this, and I am emphatic about this, are first person shooter video games, particularly Call of Duty, Halo, and all video games that glorify and entrain the mind towards war and murder. These games have no other purpose and are the greatest form of mind control yet created.

I am not against historical or even practical items. A real rifle or even BB gun with care and instruction is a tool not a toy, and it would be far better if we encouraged respect for the tools of violence rather than be fearful on one hand, and flippant on the other.

What I am talking about is the pure psychological indoctrination of the individual and collective mind in regards to violence, in a social environment that is increasingly ‘value free’ therefore, there are few solid moral and ethical standards by which to assist youth in understanding the world and their place in it. As I have quoted often, “If you want to know the future, look at the games your children play.”

While it sounds simplistic, it is time, with this the Initiation of the Nadir as some call it, to return Christ to Christmas and remember what the Season of Peace is all about.

How to Make (and use) Holy Water

Holy Water and aspergillum (sprinkler) for the minister or priest to sprinkle the holy water
Holy Water font with aspergillum to sprinkle it

“HOW DO WE MAKE HOLY WATER? WE BOIL THE HELL OUT OF IT!”  –  non-denominational church sign

The many alternative clergy in our network — ordained ministers, priests, rabbis, chaplains of all callings  — are increasingly employing holy water in their work. There has been an upsurge in requests for house-blessings and apartment blessings when someone first moves in, and for blessing of pets with holy water — and even cars! But recently there has been an upsurge in requests for  exorcisms! Holy water is good for all of the above, not to mention baptisms, blessing a newly married couple after performing a wedding, baby blessing, etc.

So the question brought up in our alumni forum recently was how do you “make” holy water. Making it is technically not the term clergy use but rather “blessing” holy water.


Here are some methods our ministers submitted to the discussion.

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Technically speaking you you are opening a channel to Divine Source, bringing
creative energy down to the material plane and infusing water with it.
Practically, there many ways to do it.
Anyway, following rites without inner understanding is empty theatre.  — Ordained in Poland

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I am ordained Interfaith Spiritual Minister.
Water is a necessary ingredient for Life.
To me water is inherently sacred.
Blessing it, infusing it with healing energy sets it aside as “Holy Water”.
I was ordained [live and in person] by our beautiful blessed sister Rev. Katia.
I do not belong to any specific tradition or path other than where I feel led by the spark of divinity within…my own part of the I AM presence as a daughter of the Most High.
My background is Jewish and Eastern Paths.  — Ordained in Pennsylvania

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Water is inherently sacred. God or the Divine leads us in the way that is part of our ministry.  We all serve presence of the most high by the way that he or she is revealed to us.  Our ministries are all unique.  That is why we were all called and happy to be ordained by the Interfaith ministries. I support your wonderful ministry and the way that you have responded to the Divine Calling.  — Ordained in Australia

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Put water – distilled is good – into a glass container, covered.   Then set this outside during the full moon (about a day and a half).   This will bless it and create holy water for you to use. Intention is so important, remember – blessings and love.   — Ordained in New York City

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I thought I had to add salt, but that must be for another recipe (exorcism?…not that I’m planning on doing any). I am new at this and it isn’t listed in the Interfaith Minister’s Manual. I am completely aware of the need for prayers and blessings…  — Ordained in Ohio

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Hello all, Nice seeing the wide-spread interest in Holy Water! 🙂

Seems to me there are a few major patterns being painted. One point turns on the
question of Intent/Apprehension. Some faiths state the properly observing the
ritual is all that is required. Other faiths state the Intention of the person
performing the ritual in intrinsic to the outcome. Personally, I am undecided on
this point, although in most cases I tend toward considering Intent as very
important, and even intrinsic to a properly observed ritual.

However, beyond my doubt is that the Holy Spirit (or whatever one prefers to
name the Divine Spirit) will do what It will. We may or may not be attentive or
appreciative or even aware. This aspect of the Divine Will is -I think- by
definition totally Its own power. So there is that.

But I also think the best situation is where one *is* concerned with one’s
Intention. Where this may be combined with a preferred ritual of one’s order, so
much the better. And if one is of a specific order, then I would suppose it is
incumbent upon one to observe the rules of that order.

For me this is an interesting question. On one hand I tend to prefer the dynamic
flow of sensing what I believe to be the Divine Spirit, and just going with that
on a gut level. Yet on the other hand, I must admit to myself there may be
something “extra” when following a long tradition. (Which, as observed above,
the Holy Spirit may always trump!)

But ultimately, when alone, I take living in the moment by preference. However,
when performing a ritual for others, I think there is more to be considered.
There is a “body of faith” we are also working with in such cases, and in order
to provide the maximum affect upon the person(s) whom we are serving, we should
abide as best we can by the expectations of that person(s).

Putting on the Scientific Hat, I’d say this also bumps up against the placebo
effect. Our minds are powerful! When we act so as to encourage this response in
those we are serving, I think we serve them best.

And for me, serving the needs of others is one of the most important
considerations as we consider rituals and other sacred observances. When we are
standing at our altar and offering our personal oblations, that is a different

One path I see as private and the other public. Both are important, yet there
may at times be differences between them.

Thanks for the interesting topic! 🙂   —Ordained in Missouri

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[In the Independent Sacramental Catholic Church] Holy Water is blessed by a Priest with Holy Orders, generally while wearing a purple stole.  A Sacramental Priest holds Apostolic Succession and prior to ordination will be thoroughly experienced in Rites and Blessings.

There are three basic steps involved with the blessing of Holy Water.

First, the Priest performs an exorcism and blessing of salt, followed by a prayer.

Second, the Priest performs an exorcism and blessing of water (distilled water is often used), followed by a prayer.

Third, the Priest “casts the salt thrice into the water crosswise, as he or she says” a blessing followed by a prayer.

The Liturgy I use most often is The Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church, 3d Ed. 2002.  The blessing of Holy Water is at pp. 387-89 in that text.  Bishop Wynn Wagner has published a similar liturgy which is available in paperback. The Interfaith Minister’s Manual also has good materials on the blessing of Holy Water.

Some blessings can be found on internet sites. These are two examples:  and

Bishop James  – Ordained & Consecrated in South Carolina

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> This is an interesting site by a group of Catholic Churches in Western
> Washington.
> The article on vestments is an excellent introduction to the topic:
> The Church ordinarily permits the use of [four] colors in the sacred vestments
> — white, red, green, [and] violet… Gold may be used as a substitute for
> white, red or green.
> Each of these colors has its own meaning. The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered
> for many purposes and in honor of many classes of saints; and these various
> purposes are all designated and symbolized by the color of the vestments which
> the Church prescribes for each Mass.
> When are these colors used? When the Church wishes to denote purity, innocence
> or glory, she uses white; that is, on the feasts of our Lord and of the Blessed
> Virgin, on the festivals of angels and of all saints who were not martyrs. Red
> is the color of fire and of blood; it is used in Masses of the Holy Ghost, such
> as on Pentecost, to remind us of the tongues of fire — and on the feasts of all
> saints who shed their blood for their faith. The purple or violet is expressive
> of penance; it is used during Lent and Advent (except on saints’ days), and also
> on the sorrowful festival of the Holy Innocents. [White] is the color of [the
> resurrection and so is used in masses] for the dead. Red is used on Good Friday
> and Palm Sunday. Green is the color which denotes the growth and increase of our
> holy Church, and is also symbolic of hope; it is used at various times of the
> year, on days that are not saints’ days.

> The article on Holy Water was informative:

> The use of holy water in Catholic Churches goes back possibly to Apostolic
> times. There is a tradition that St. Matthew recommended it in order thereby to
> attract converts from Judaism by using a rite with which they were familiar in
> their former faith. However, we have no certainty that he introduced it, but we
> know that it can be traced back nearly to the beginning of our religion. It is
> mentioned in a letter ascribed by some to Pope Alexander I, and supposed to have
> been written in the year 117; but the genuineness of this letter is very
> doubtful. We find a detailed account of its use, however, in the “Pontifical of
> Serapion,” in the fourth century, and the formula of blessing mentioned therein
> has considerable resemblance to that used at the present day.

> The Asperges.
> The blessing of water [at] Mass on Sunday and the sprinkling of the congregation
> with it, which ceremony is called the “Asperges,” goes back to the time of Pope
> Leo IV, in the ninth century, and possibly even further. The word Asperges is
> the opening word of a verse of Psalm 50, which is recited … as follows: “Thou
> shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash
> me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.” [See Ps. 50:9 in the Douay Rheims
> version, or Ps 51 in the NAB or other modern versions, and footnote 3 in the
> NAB.]
> The custom of placing holy water at the door of the church for the use of the
> faithful is still more ancient. Among the Jews a ceremony of purification was
> required before entering the Temple to assist at the sacrifices, and this
> undoubtedly suggested the Catholic practice of using holy water at the church
> door. It is said to have been in vogue in the second century, and we know that
> it is at least of very ancient date.

> In the Middle Ages it was customary to use holy water when entering the church,
> but not when leaving it — the idea being that purification was necessary before
> entering the house of God, but that after assisting at the Holy Sacrifice it was
> no longer needed. However, the general practice now is to take it both on
> entering and departing…

> Why does the Church use salt in holy water? Because it was a Jewish custom, and
> because of the symbolical meaning of salt. Just as water is used for cleansing
> and for quenching fire, so salt is used to preserve from decay. Therefore the
> Church combines them in this sacramental, to express the various reasons why it
> is used — to help to wash away the stains of sin, to quench the fire of our
> passions, to preserve us from relapses into sin. Moreover, salt is regarded as a
> symbol of wisdom. Our Lord called His Apostles “the salt of the earth,” because
> by them the knowledge of the Gospel was to be spread over the world.
> And, there are pictures of volcanoes near the parish:
> +James

Winter Solstice Light in a Dark World

 “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” – Chinese Proverb

When we first went online in 1999 we were the first alternative interfaith seminary (and mystery school) to work in the cyber realm. Our site was the only place esoteric and alternative “believers” could come to become ordained, get a minister license, and start their own ministries immediately. The church/seminary website did not have ANY security, no 12- hour malware scans like we must pay for now, no Google blacklisting threat — Google didn’t exist when we first went online, actually! — no porn site spamming onslaughts with tens of thousands of spam comments coming from overseas. No blogs existed then, either, come to think of it.

In the days before cyber warfare our website focused not on safety and defense but on simply getting the word out. We were among the pioneers in building the online spiritual community, many of our forum members were original contributors on places like Beliefnet.  We offered a service — minister ordination — to people who had alternative spiritual beliefs and to mainstream believers who had not time or money to sit thru four years of seminary just to be able to perform a wedding. Many ordinands thus came (and still come) to us simply to become an ordained minister in order to officiate a wedding for a family member or close friend. Many others want minister ordination to found their own church, non-profit organization,  or alternative spiritual healing practice, or to do spiritual teaching and lecturing.

From our beginning in 1987 our mission has been to get clergy the credentials they need so that people in every county of every state can find alternative, multi-faith or interfaith ministers to help them along life’s milestones and find a spiritual home.

Our Theological Seminary also has the authority to grant the Doctor of Divinity, Theology, PhD in Religion or PhD in Metaphysics and other religious degrees to help our clergy serve their communities better by reassuring their clients and parishioners they are not a flake or a fake. People deserve to have clergy they can trust not to judge them, trust not to deny services to them because they are not a member of their church, or their church does not “approve” of their flavor of religious beliefs.

People deserve non-denominational clergy who are not brainwashed in the “traditional” stuffy four-year seminaries. Alternatives to mainstream clergy are in high demand and that’s why our ministers and rabbis prove time and again as they perform weddings, funerals, work as hospital and prison chaplains and bring spiritual healing. Our clergy have already gained knowledge by field experience, by actually laboring in the field of spirituality and religion. They have studied and worked independently, gaining credit for so-called life experience as they do hands on labor working unnoticed, guiding, counseling and ministering to countless people-in-need.

The darkness comes around every now and then — every year like clockwork in the case of our solstices and equinoxes! — and tries to crowd out the light. In the past month our seminary and church’s 13 year old (admittedly clunky) website got attacked by everything from anti-semitic Turkish hackers to black-hat SEO campaigns waged by competitors. So just like the solstice, we are hoping for the light to shine and dispel this darkness.  Many people get depressed this time of year, biologically assisted by the shortness of light exposure each day.

Darkness psychologically affects us, brings us down. We love it when Nature turns on the lights with the Winter Solstice and all the world’s religions/cultures have created holidays for that event. Earth turns the corner this year and the days begin getting longer on December 21, 2012 at 6:12 a.m. Eastern Time, USA. I don’t think there will be doomsday that day, as some claim the Mayan calendar predicted. Now that would really be depressing…  I need to cheer up and “count” my lucky “stars.” has a whole section on the Winter Solstice, the Return of the Light, in all the faiths of the world. Their inspiring words have cheered me up this day as I battle it out with search engine rank damage, malware recovery and anti-hacking security updates. As I told our alumni today on our two forums, part of me longs for the days when we were just a “correspondence school” doing everything with magazine ads and snail mail. Magazine ads, what are those? Hee hee.

Here’s some inspiration from

Let It Shine

The holidays mark a time of joy and celebration, but also a time of long, dark days. May this collection of quotes inspire you to see the light.

Light above you.
Light below you.
Light all around you.
Light within you.

“Winter is the time of love and of taking the light within.” –Terry Lynn Taylor

 “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” - Victor Hugo