Monday, September 28, 2009

Scott Hahn's "maternal" Spirit compared to ancient heresies



One of my very first posts on this blog was concerned with the questionable doctrine put forth by Scott Hahn that the Holy Spirit should be understood as feminine and maternal. I blogged on this in my early days as a Traditionalist, when I was first learning about the pre-Vatican II liturgy and was only starting to see some deficiencies in the pop-conservative Catholic positions exemplified by EWTN and Catholic Answers. Since I had been led back into the Church by the writings and tapes of Dr. Hahn, turning to cast a critical eye on some of his assertions was a big turning point, a crossing of the Rubicon.

I have great respect for Dr. Hahn, and I know him to be a man of great personal zeal and piety. I owe him a great debt for leading me back into the arms of Mater Ecclesia. However, even back then I saw his doctrine of a maternal Holy Spirit as dubious, a belief that has only intensified in the past three years if reflection. I pointed out then that Dr. Hahn's assertions had very scarce patristic support - he quotes an obscure Syriac called Narsai, a poem of Ephrem, and a saying of Aphraahat the Sage. These are hardly the type of sources to build a case upon!

However, in the past few weeks I surprisingly came upon many more patristic references to the Holy Spirit as female. Looks like Dr. Hahn was right after all that a lot of persons in the ancient Church believed this proposition of the Spirit's femininity. The only problem was they were all gnostic heretics, at least the ones I came across; I admit there could be others I don't know about who support Hahn's view. If so, I should like to see them.

Belief in a divine mother was always popular with the gnostics, as with the pagans, and many early gnostics ended up denying the Personhood of the Holy Spirit and replacing it with some kind of "mother-spirit" consort of God the Father. Consider:


In the Gospel of the Egyptians, a gnostic-Coptic work written in the 2nd century, God is referred to as the Father, the Son and "the Mother, the virginal Barbelon."

Another contemporary gnostic work, the Trimorphic Pretennoia, we find a reference to "the Father, the Mother and the Son."

In the Apocryphon of John, a 2nd century gnostic work referred to by St. Irenaeus, a mystical voice announces to John the Disciple: "I am the one who is with you always. I am the Father; I am the Mother; I am the Son."

The famous Gospel of Philip presents Christ as conceived by a union between the Father and the Spirit who is both Virgin and Mother. The author sees the spirit as essentially female (perhaps following on the fact that the Hebrew word ruah (spirit) is feminine) and attempts to rebuff the orthodox position by saying: "Some said, 'Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.' These are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?"

In the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus speaks of "my Mother, the Holy Spirit."

In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus contrasts His earthly mother and father, Joseph and Mary, with His heavenly Father and His "divine" Mother, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is made to say that whoever becomes a Christian gains both a Father and a Mother, who is the Spirit.


When we see how many early heretical writings saw the Holy Spirit as a feminine mother, we should not be surprised that Dr. Hahn can muster up so little genuine patristic support for his ideas. The fact that heretics believe something does not mean it is wrong ipso facto, but if a whole bunch of heretics profess something and none of the legitimate Church Fathers do, it ought to give you pause.

I know it has been several years since Dr. Hahn made his remarks about the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he has modified his positions since, or clarified them; if anyone knows and can tell me, I would be grateful. In the meantime, I think we should continue to reject this idea of a maternal Spirit as dangerous and smacking of heresy until we get a better clarification from Dr. Hahn. While I don't want to condemn something outright that I don't understand, I also want to be wary of anything attempting to inject femininity into the Godhead.

17 comments:

JWilson said...

Hey great question. The Hahns have also played a role in our family Coming Home.

I would say listen to Hahns arguments as they are written in full. Seek to understand his position.

It seems the devil is causing problems in the orthodox Catholic world these days by getting a number of folks to become hyper-critical of each other in uncharitable ways. I seek Christopher West under the same attack.


Again, seek to understand the issue as Hahn understands it, then weigh his doctrines.

Mr S said...

1] First the Tiber.... now the Rubicon.... you are either going to get waterlogged, or become a fisher (of) man.

2] I will look for the article/conversation I read about Dr Hahn's "explanation" of what he either meant, or means now. Seems like it was similar to the dad who holds his child and comforts them much as mom does. Plus, I have heard/read nothing newer in a long while.

3] I don't remember Hahn ever referring to his opinion as "doctrine" on this issue.

4] Like you, I was helped back into the Church by his work and influence. And after a while, I came to see he was only about 90% right on things. That sign of humanity is actually both comforting and challenging. Makes me delve further into something.

5] I have not established a % for your stuff yet.... still working on it :) So keep up the good work and others will pat you on your back. :)

BONIFACE said...

JWilson-

The problem is that there is no "full" exposition of Hahn's theory. He chooses to keep putting out little, concise books that are relatively shallow and devoid of any in depth explications. If Hahn really wants to make sure he is understood, he should stop with the little Doubleday 150 pg. books and put out a scholarly, 400 page tome where he can clarify and document his arguments exhaustively. That used to tick e off when I was listening to his tapes and he'd say, "Of course, I could write a thousand pages about this," and I'd think, "Well do it- don't short-change us!"

Father Cory Sticha said...

Not to argue whether you're right or not, but a clarification of terms. Doctrine has a very specific meaning within the Church, that of revealed Truth passed through the ages by the Church. The teachings of a theologian, no matter how revered he might be, does not fall under that definition. It might be clearer to say that the feminine aspects of the Holy Spirit is Dr. Hahn's opinion. Again, not to argue whether you're right or not, but calling it "doctrine" inflates Dr. Hahn's position on this matter to a higher level than he likely would.

God's blessing upon you!

Alcuin said...

Boniface,

Have you used any of Scott Hahn's bible study guides (i.e. volumes of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)?

http://www.scotthahn.com/ignatius-study-bible.html

If Dr. Hahn's focus is making a complete Catholic study bible then I think he should do that. Based on the two volumes that I've used (Matthew and Romans), this study bible is greatly needed. It is clear, deep, and shows how scripture points to the Catholic Church.

I certainly agree with you that a female holy spirit sounds suspect and needs clarification. And the last thing we need is a high profile Catholic Study Bible with questionable doctrine. However, it seems to me that Dr. Hahn's time is best spent on the Study Bible. After all, his greatest gifts seem to be in reconciling scripture with the Church.

BONIFACE said...

Great point, Father.

BONIFACE said...

Mr. S-

Who do people keep pointing out this issue about the word "doctrine?" Look, you are right in that Hahn's opinion is not a doctrine, but sometimes, as a rhetorical device, you use the word "doctrine" to denote something that is obviously not a doctrine - here I was contrasting the Church's true doctrine with something that is dubious, that I have rhetorically referred to as "Hahn's doctrine," meaning just "Hahn's teaching." I'll try to be more precise next time. Sheesh...you people expect too much out of a blog! LOL

Mr S said...

Dang right we do.

Next time spell Sheesh correctly as sheeesh to give it the doctrine, I mean emphasis, it deserves!!!

:)

Mr. Louis Pizzuti, OP said...

While I cannot comment on Dr. Hahn's position, it seems to me that the Old Testament does have a number of passages the would indicate a maternal aspect of the divine.
Indeed, one of the the names of God, "El Shaddai" literally means "God, my breasts", i.e., the God who suckles me.
There is also a passage in one of the prophets that speaks of God brooding over his children like a hen over her chicks (or something to that effect - I cannot find the passage at the moment) would probably resolve the question in my mind by saying
1) The revelation given to man of the first two Persons of the Trinity are masculine - Father and Son
2) The revelation given to man of the second Person of the Trinity contains no direct reference to gender
3) There are aspects of the Divine Parenthood which are revealed to man with images reminiscent of motherhood.

BONIFACE said...

Louis-

It is not true that the Holy Spirit has no gender identification in the Bible- He is clearly referred to as "He" on several occasions.

2 Cor. 12:11- All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

John 16:13- But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he
will tell you what is yet to come

Romans 8:26 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Scott Hahn said...

Phillip,

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

First, I have never once referred to the Holy Spirit as feminine, as the ancient gnostics did. Indeed, I expressly deny the Holy Spirit is feminine in my book First Comes Love (both editions). I do quote Cardinal Ratzinger, from his book, Daughter Zion (p. 27), where he states: "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself." I subsequently go on to clarify Ratzinger's point by stating: "Once again: God is not feminine by nature. Nor is the Holy Spirit feminine" (pp. 163, 166).

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

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

As you mentioned, I quote St. Ephrem, a Doctor of the Church, who actually refers to the Holy Spirit as "Mother" on many occasions (in homilies, hymns and prayers). I also cite St. Catherine of Siena, another Doctor of the Church, who wrote: "The Holy Spirit becomes a mother who feeds them from the breast of divine charity." But I draw most extensively from modern Catholic saints and theologians of unimpeachable orthodoxy. So for instance, St. Maximillian Kolbe speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "Uncreated Immaculate Concepion," and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit."

Scott Hahn said...

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

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

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

All of this does not prove that bridal & maternal elements are proper to the Holy Spirit's Person and work, of course; but it does indicate how highly unoriginal I am in exploring something that has never been condemned by the Church Magisterium. Nor should this ever be linked to (or confused with) the bizarre speculations of the ancient gnostics, who rejected the Incarnation and Trinity in favor of bizarre aeon-schemes drawn from a pantheistic/emmanationist view of God and the world. Likewise, it should be noted that this approach to bridal-maternal aspects of the Holy Spirit is generally rejected as abhorrent to feminist scholars, like Catherine LaCugna, who warns that "the Spirit's activities should not be stereotyped according to gender-determined roles for women.... Further, the association of feminine imagery solely with the Spirit would reinforce the subordination of women in church and society" (cited in First Comes Love, p. 206).

All of this is found in a chapter of First Comes Love ("The Family Spirit"), which is available on-line: http://www.salvationhistory.com/documents/scripture/First_Comes_Love_appendix.pdf

All the best,
Scott Hahn

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

BONIFACE said...

Dr Hahn-

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog! I am surprised this made it to you, but perhaps somebody took my request seriously to find out more about your thinking on this. Thanks for fleshing it out.

Please see my above comment regarding you owing your long-time readers a massive tome instead of the little books you've been putting out. Something at least 700pages would be nice...real exhaustive...LOL.

Thanks again and blessings,
Phillip

Scott Hahn said...

Phillip,

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

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

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

All of this does not prove that bridal & maternal elements are proper to the Holy Spirit's Person and work, of course; but it does indicate how highly unoriginal I am in exploring something that has never been condemned by the Church Magisterium. Nor should this ever be linked to (or confused with) the bizarre speculations of the ancient gnostics, who rejected the Incarnation and Trinity in favor of bizarre aeon-schemes drawn from a pantheistic/emmanationist view of God and the world. Likewise, it should be noted that this approach to bridal-maternal aspects of the Holy Spirit is generally rejected as abhorrent to feminist scholars, like Catherine LaCugna, who warns that "the Spirit's activities should not be stereotyped according to gender-determined roles for women.... Further, the association of feminine imagery solely with the Spirit would reinforce the subordination of women in church and society" (cited in First Comes Love, p. 206).

All of this is found in a chapter of First Comes Love ("The Family Spirit"), which is available on-line: http://www.salvationhistory.com/documents/scripture/First_Comes_Love_appendix.pdf

All the best,
Scott Hahn

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

Scott Hahn said...

Phillip,

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

All the best,
Scott

BONIFACE said...

Thanks a lot Dr Hahn - I hope you don't mind that I took your replies and posted them as a follow up to my last post, just to make sure you had every opportunity of explaining yourself.

Thanks!

Phillip

Kneeling Catholic said...

Dr. Hahn and Boniface,

I'm just wondering what Dr.'s teaching will do to this prayer we recite after each decade of the Rosary (at least when we are at Church) "Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary your well beloved spouse." I'm a big fan of 'As we pray, so we believe'. I am afraid such a teaching might alter the way the Church has prayed for 2,000 years.

A Catholic friend waiting for his plane to Iraq said he was put off by the Methodist chaplain who began his public prayer: "Father-Mother God". Was my friend not well catechized? I'm just wondering.....

Of course if Dr. Hahn wants to get on board with my campaign for Communion kneelers, I might lose some of my fears. Monomaniacs can be very tolerant! :-)

K.C.