God as mother
Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the US (but not Mothering Sunday in the UK – if confused, look here for various dates of various days celebrating various motherhoods), and the British Library’s ‘Medieval manuscripts’ blog took the occasion to remind its readers of Julian of Norwich and her Revelations, where she famously speaks of God as mother:
[…] when [a child] is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother for help as fast as it can; and [God] wants us to do the same, like a humble child, saying, “My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my dearest Mother, take pity on me.
Mother’s day or not, it is worthwhile to remember the vast body of theological, exegetical, visionary, homeletic and hagiographic sources dealing with God’s gender when thinking about body history in the longue durée. For historians of the body, these sources are invaluable to understand concepts of sex and gender in the Christian tradition. In theory, we do know this ever since Caroline Walker Bynum published her book Jesus as mother for the latest. In practice, it is easy to forget that in the Middle Ages at least, much cutting-edge research in gender studies took place in the faculty of theology, while the Art tended to lag behind a bit. Theological debates about sex and gender went far beyond the question of divine fatherhood and motherhood as metaphors – with Incarnation for the latest, they question of bodily sex became a very serious one: Did God have to be incarnated as a male? In other words, could Christ have been born a woman (Gibson 1992)?
Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother. Studies in the spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Publications of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance studies 16), Berkeley 1982. http://books.google.com/books/about/Jesus_As_Mother.html?id=SRN0q7zfyiYC
Caroline Walker Bynum, Why all the fuss about the body? A medievalist’s perspective, in: Critical Inquiry 22 (1995), 1–33. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344005
Joan Gibson, Could Christ have been born a woman? A medieval debate, in: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 8 (1992), 65–82. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25002171