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St. Teresa of Avila supports "Mother Jesus"?

Today’s Washington Post carried a front page story about the ongoing discord in The Episcopal Church after the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the denomination’s presiding Bishop. Bishop Jefferts Schori has long alienated the conservative members of the Episcopal community with her vote to approve the election of the openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson as well as her support for the blessing of same-sex unions. However, what really got people talking is her use of the term “Mother Jesus” in her first homily after her election.

That bloody cross brings new life into this world. Colossians calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead. That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained labor of the cross bears new life. Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation -- and you and I are His children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ-images for the world around us, we're going to have to give up fear.

The Post gives this account of her response to the controversy she created with this phraseology.

To those who accuse her of heresy for referring to a female Jesus, she responds with a typically learned disquisition on medieval mystics and saints who used similar language, including Julian of Norwich and St. Teresa of Avila. "I was trying to say that the work of the cross was in some ways like giving birth to a new creation," she said. "That is straight-down-the-middle orthodox theology."

Yet she acknowledged that she likes to shake people up a bit.

"All language is metaphorical, and if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol," she said in a telephone interview. "I'm encouraging people to look beyond their favorite understandings."

Is she really saying that there are no fixed meanings for words? Such an elastic approach to language is beyond my comprehension. It gives me an “Alice in Wonderland” state of confusion.

However, what really raised my hackles was her reference to St. Teresa of Avila as justification for her description of Jesus as “Mother”. I know Julian of Norwich was given the title blessed by popular acclaim. I do not believe she was ever formally beatified by the Church. She did claim that her visions revealed a female side to God and is often cited by those who wish to use female pronouns in reference to God. St. Teresa of Avila, on the other hand, is named a Doctor of the Church. Did she really refer to Jesus as a feminine persona? Was she a proponent of a female deity? I have never heard such a thing, but admittedly, I am no scholar of St. Teresa. I would be grateful to anyone who could enlighten me as to how St. Teresa of Avila supports the depiction of Jesus as our “mother”. I invite Bishop Jeffert Schori to read Saginaw Bishop Carlson's catechesis on The Naming of God.

Members of the Episcopal Church need our prayers. Some of their orthodox members may be motivated to “swim the Tiber” and join the Roman Catholic Church. Others will stay with the undying hope that their church will reverse course and return to the fold of orthodoxy. As parishes or even diocese try to leave the Episcopal Church there will be many spiritual and legal battles. This is no time for Catholics to be smug or gloat over the battles that loom for our Episcopal brethren. The McBriens and Doyles of our own faith will lead us down the same path if we don’t stand firm in our obedience to the Magesterium. Let the trials and tribulations of the Episcopal church stand as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I.


Michelle said…
"...if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol..."

It is the Word of God, is it not? See the beginning of the Gospel of John for a mind-boggling explanation of how The Word IS God (not an idol).

As for St. Teresa, I've moved The Doctors of the Church by Bernard McGinn to my vacation reading list. It has only a few pages for each of the 33 Doctors. I skimmed the section on St. Teresa and it didn't mention anything controversial. It did say that she wrote primarily for nuns, which might affect the language.

If interested, the book recommends The Interior Castle as a good starting point in reading her works.

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