Hagia Sophia

I have a guest post up over on Saints, Sisters, and Sluts regarding the ancient Israelite queen Jezebel and the feminine personification (or hypostasis) of God. This is not a topic that brings joy to my friends and relatives who have a more orthodox view on theology. In sharp contrast, I am fascinated by it and as an Episcopalian feel free to dig deep into … well, epistemological argument. At any rate, the more conservative of my brethren and sisthren should brace themselves for more information that might be disquieting.

Most branches of Christianity hold a Trinitarian viewpoint of God, which is to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all representations of a central godhead; they are of the same essence even if they are perceived separately. (St Patrick famously illustrated this using a shamrock.) In Latin and in most Western churches the Holy Spirit is a gender neutral term. However, in Aramaic and Hebrew the Holy Spirit is feminine. As theologian and Biblical expert R.P. Nettelhorst explains:

“Out of 84 OT (Old Testament) uses of the word “spirit”, in contexts traditionally assumed to be references to the Holy Spirit, 75 times it is either explicitly feminine or indeterminable (due to lack of a verb or adjective). Only nine times can “spirit” be construed as masculine, and in those cases it is unclear that it is a reference to God’s Holy Spirit anyway … The New Testament references to the Holy Spirit are not helpful for conclusively deciding on the gender of the Holy Spirit, since “spirit” in Greek is neuter, and so is referred to as “it” by the New Testament writers. The conclusion of all this is that our traditional assumption of a masculine Spirit is questionable; in fact, the evidence seems overwhelming that the Spirit should be viewed as “She”, which does seem to make sense, since the other two members of the Godhead are labeled “Father” and “Son”.”

Moreover, the early Greek-speaking Christians (Greek was the most common shared language used throughout the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) considered Holy Wisdom (Ἁγία Σοφία) to be part of Trinity manifested in the Logos (Word of God), Jesus Christ. The Greek for Holy Wisdom is pronounced Hagia Sophia, and is most famous as the name of a venerable church (now museum) in Turkey. The Wisdom of God, the Sophia, is a feminine word. Many of the aspects of Sophia were eventually given a place in beliefs about, and the veneration of, the Virgin Mary in the Christian faith … especially in Gnostic Christianity.

The idea of a female hypostasis of God was not one exclusive to early Judeo-Christian theology, of course. Many religions had a divine Mother/Father/Child archetype, and the vernation of these trinities is still reflected in Christian iconography. For example, the motif of Isis nursing and nurturing her divine son:

Isis to Mary

Although the concept of the Hagia Sophia and divine mother is viewed as near-heresy for some modern Christians – especially evangelical protestants —  believing that God has a feminine face is perhaps the most conservative theological perspective possible; it harks back to the very beginning of Christianity and is manifest in the language actually spoke by Christ. 

Something for my more orthodox friends and family to think about while the fetch the tar and feathers for me, no?

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