Robert Hart on inclusive language

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, ‘The law of prayer is the law of belief.’ New forms and versions of Christian liturgy become a danger to right belief to the extent that the language of such prayer is a departure from the language of revelation. Setting aside ‘what has been believed everywhere, always and by all’ (St Vincent of Lerins), creative liturgists have set about giving us new services and prayers that reach even beyond ‘inclusive language’ to call God by the unrevealed name of ‘Mother.’ This equates mere imagination with what the Church believes by revelation. The message is that God has revealed a new thing contradicting the previous revelation, making him arbitrary, confused or capricious; or, that the Christian religion is not revealed. If not revealed, then we must conclude it to be a product of that same capacity of imagination which has created religions throughout the history of man. We must conclude that all religion is merely idolatry.

‘Inclusive Language’ about God and God as ‘Mother’

‘Inclusive language’ is nothing but an ideology, based upon the false notion that ‘Man’, adam, anthropos, homo, has lost any meaning inclusive of the entire human race, making it and all related words – him, his or he – into exclusive language.1 Hence, the promise of salvation given to each individual in John 6.40 (‘I will raise him up on the last day’) becomes subject to ideological imposition of a plural to replace the singular. There is no substitute for the individual use of ‘him’, and so the Lord is misquoted as saying, ‘I will raise them up on the last day.’ The havoc that is wrought on theology is this: the promise now appears to be made to a group, in which group not every individual, even though a faithful believer, is given any assurance of the resurrection. Or, when men are spoken of in a genuinely exclusive sense, we lose, as in the NRSV, the very much needed use of ‘fathers’ in Malachi 4.6, at a time when society’s need for men to take their paternal role has become a crisis. This unjustified rendering of av’yot as ‘parents’ instead of ‘fathers’ is just one example of many.

We can no longer speak of God as ‘Father,’ or ‘Lord.’ ‘Son’ is also unacceptable. The argument is that a God who is Father, or Son, or Lord must be inaccessible to women. The logical answer to this problem is to meet the needs of women by the elimination of ‘the Father,’ or, more boldly, by introducing ‘God the Mother’. And why not? Is it not helpful to fashion a new image of God based upon a perceived need? And, besides, we are told, the Bible gives us feminine names for God and images of God. This ideology requires a misunderstanding of the concept of names in Biblical literature, as well as a complete ignorance of the scriptural prohibition against attempting to make images of the Divine Nature. It denies revealed religion, preferring an image.

Feminist writers have ‘discovered’ a feminine meaning to such words as ruach, shadai, or shekinah, etc. Never mind the fact that there is no factual basis for these assertions, they fit the need of the ideology even despite their being fictitious. Fraudulent translations have been invoked, such as a ‘translation’ of the Hebrew word rawchem as ‘motherly compassion’, even though the ‘motherly’ part was dishonestly inserted. Be warned: this is not what it appears to be. They are not looking for authority in the revelation of scripture, but only to market their idea. Their entire system has nothing to do with revelation, and in the end must negate it.

The Revelation: what is in a name?

To the ancient Hebrews, a name represented the very person. After Israel returned to their land from Babylon, they ceased to pronounce the holy ineffable Name of God. In place of the mysterious YHVH they would say the word Adonai, which was translated into Greek as Kyrios, and into English as ‘Lord.’ From this we see that the New Testament proclaims Jesus as God by calling him Lord (and also the Holy Spirit 2 Corinthians 3. 17). Also, we see that the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) pronunciation has been lost, perhaps providentially. We do not need the ineffable Name; a far greater revelation shines in the brilliant light of the New Covenant.

The first mention of prayer is ‘Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord (Genesis 4.26).’ In the greater glory of the New Covenant revelation, he teaches us: ‘In this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name’ (Matthew 6.9). When uttering what is called the High Priestly Prayer, he addresses God with that same Name, ‘Father.’ He says: ‘I have manifested Thy Name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world’ (John 17.6). Whether we ever again can say the ineffable Name, we have this greater revelation by which we call God ‘our Father’ – the gift of the Father’s love.

After rising from the dead, the Lord fully revealed the Divine Name by commanding us to baptize ‘in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’ (Matthew 28.19). We see that ‘The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’ is the Name of God. The revelation of the Trinity did not come as an abstract proposition; it came in the life of Jesus Christ, intricately bound up in his salvation. So it is that the Creeds teach us the truth of the Trinity and also of our redemption in Christ; for the revelation of one is intimately tied up in the revelation of the other. And, only in this Person, our salvation himself, is God revealed and known (John 17.3). This is not an image created by human imagination, but rather the saving revelation.

The Idolatry

At the end of the First Epistle of St John, is a very simple commandment: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5.21). It would have been very unlikely that people once enlightened by Christ, possessing knowledge of the true God, would be so easily deceived as to bow down before images made of wood or stone. The context of the Epistle is that it contrasts the truth of the Gospel against heresy, false teachings by which people are drawn to worship images of God that, though not ‘graven’, are nonetheless idols of the mind and heart.

One major characteristic of the feminist theology by which God’s Fatherhood is denied, and in which God is called ‘Mother’, is that the apologists for this sort of religion never use the word revelation. It is not in their vocabulary. Instead, they endorse their view of God by telling us of our need to have new and improved ‘images’ of the Divine; in this way, and by this method, they regard the revelation of God in Christ as though it is nothing but an ‘image’ as well.

Two kinds of images exist in religion: idols and icons. These two are opposites. Christ himself is called the Icon of the Father in the Greek New Testament, for in his Incarnation we see that iconography exists by God’s own initiative, and is an echo of the revelation. And it is the very fact that it stems from the revelation of God that makes a written picture an icon instead of an idol. In a sense, the first icon of God was Adam; the perfect such icon is the Incarnate Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4, Colossians 1.15). We are transformed into the icons of Christ by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.29, 2 Corinthians 3.18). ‘The Word was made flesh … and we beheld his glory’ (John 1.14). Therefore, the Church regards iconoclasm as a heresy; it was not the destruction of idols, but rather a subtle denial of Christ’s having taken human nature into his Person, and thus into the Godhead. So, the difference between iconography and idolatry is, above all else, the source; it is also the intention. Icons are based upon divine revelation, and are themselves sacramentals.

But, idols are not based upon God’s revelation. The English word image is related to the word imagination; and only understood as a product of imagination do we see religious images as idols. The human imagination, I believe, with the aid of the demons creates images as it creates gods and goddesses. People who would not worship the work of their own hands will nonetheless worship the work of their minds. The feminist theologians actually are saying that their image of a Mother God is at least equal (and I think they believe it is superior) to the revelation of the Father in Christ. Put another way, they are saying that Christianity is a form of idolatry; in fact that is their view of all religion. By this construct, there was no difference between worshiping the Lord and sacrificing to the golden calf. One was as much a mere image as the other. They want to worship their goddess, and call this pagan idolatry a form of Christianity.

But all in stages, like any strategy. First comes the ‘inclusive language’ stage. The baptismal formula has been substituted at times with ‘In the name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier’ – such is no true baptism. It is in three designations instead of the one Name of the Undivided Trinity. At this first stage we are told that our faith is simply the worship of an image, the product of human imagination (I would suggest that human imagination can only tend to shy away from such a mystery as the Trinity, and could not, therefore, have created it. But, that is a subject for another day). The second stage is the introduction of the new image: Mother God, the goddess, the Ashteroth, an image from the fallen mind for pagan adoration. And so, the revelation of God in Christ is rejected by being denied; the message is that it was no revelation, just an image of the divine which is outdated as a relic of the age of male dominance.

This is subtraction by addition. Christianity is based upon belief that the revelation is real and therefore true. The attempt to join a religion of human imagination to revealed religion causes not only a denial of the truth of revelation, but also of the fact of revelation. As a result there is nothing left in which to believe. The equation is simple. Idolatry plus revealed religion equals zero. Pagan idolatry can exist on its own, and revealed truth on its own. To wed the two is impossible as they must cancel each other out. Finally, it produces atheism.

Holding fast

St Paul told the Corinthian Church that they were being saved if they remembered the Gospel he taught them, lest they believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15.1f). We are commanded in scripture to ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). Our liturgies must not be the latest fad, the newest style, but the Tradition in which we pray to the God who revealed himself in Christ. Our Creeds must be the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed, by which we rehearse the truths of our God and his salvation. We must baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and worship only this One undivided God who has, for our salvation, revealed himself to all men only in Christ. We must worship him only as he has made himself known by revelation, and never worship the images fashioned in our own minds. We must keep ourselves from idols.

1 See Jesus, Son of Humankind? By Paul Mankowski, S.J. in Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, vol. 14, num. 8, October, 2001.