Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Joy of Distinction

While in Seminary, I witnessed a student get publicly corrected by a professor only once. The correction was due not to a grave theological error (which there were ample opportunity to correct), but due to the student referencing the God who revealed himself - sorry, I mean "Godself" - as Father Son and Spirit with the pronoun "He." If only for the sake of diversity, consider Kathryn Greene-McCreight (who, if I'm not mistaken, is part of that remarkable batch of Yale Ph.d's back in the Frei/Lindbeck days). At the risk of public correction, she writes,
I do not, as a policy, adopt "inclusive language" in reference to God.... Many feminists would not use the terms Father and Son, for example, to speak of the first and second persons of the Trinity. However, it is not the nature the Christian God to "include" either males or females within its being in this way. I use inclusive language only for humanity, since there is nothing in the reality of God that allows us, whether male or female, the luxury of being "included" in the first place. Since God is generally referred to in the Bible with the pronoun he, this is also the pronoun I generally use to refer to God. I thereby suggest neither that God is male nor that the female is "underrepresented" and the male "overrepresented" in the Godhead" (p. 8 of a fine book).
Contra Greene-McCreight's point on inclusion, some might actually believe we are ontological members of the Godhead, as (it seems) did Meister Eckhart:
We are an only son whom the Father has been eternally begetting out of the hidden darkness of eternal concealment, indwelling in the first beginning of the primal purity which is the plenitude of all purity. There I have been eternally at rest and asleep in the hidden understanding of the eternal Father, immanent and unspoken. Out of that purity He has been ever begetting me, his only-begotten son, in the very image of His eternal Fatherhood that I may be a father and beget him of whom I am begetting (Sermons and Treatises 2, 63-64).
But you see, that would be dangerously close to one of those grave theological errors referred to above. The doctrine of divinization, following testaments old and new, is something else entirely, and is so much more interesting. With it one gets all the benefits of divinity (immortality) but none of the responsibility (presiding at the final judgment). Boethius succinctly explains this often misunderstood concept (if you'll pardon the non-inclusive translation) in this way:
Since men are made blessed by the obtaining of blessedness, and blessedness is nothing else but divinity, it is manifest that men are blessed by the obtaining of divinity... wherefore everyone that is blessed is a god, but by nature there is only one God; but there may be many by participation (Consolatio, para. 10, 23-26).
Neglecting his Boethius, Eckhart - who was no dummy - slips uncomfortably close to the "You are God in a physical body... You are all power... You are all intelligence" of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. The real secret is, as far as women writers on spirituality in English, there's long been a much better one (free here). But as it also has some pitfalls, I'd stick with Kathryn Greene-McCreight, who seems to firmly grasp the joy of distinction between herself and God, whose English is consequently much less awkward ("Godself"?), and whose Theological Commentary on Galatians is due out eventually from Brazos Press.