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Support from Psychology for the Fatherhood of God


It is widely recognized today that the Christian concept of God as Father is under attack. Specifically, various religious writers, primarily feminists, have proposed that God should be called Mother, or possibly the androgynous Father/Mother or Mother/Father. In some instances the term God as Parent has been proposed. This paper will, however, explore the psychological case for the orthodox understanding of God as Father.

Paul Vitz

Obviously, this is a sensitive subject today but where angels fear to tread, psychologists rush in.

But before getting to our primary subject it is well worth summarizing some a priori reasons for not accepting the androgynous or feminized notion of God. To begin with, it should be clear that when people change the name for God, they have changed their religion. If a small group began to refer to God as "Zeus" we would know that something non-Christian was going on. Likewise, when neo-pagans begin speaking of the "Horned God," this modification is not without significant theological impact, to put it mildly. Changes in the name of God, therefore, are truly great changes because they mean that you are changing religions. For example, to reject God the Father as a name is to deny the basic Christian creeds. It is to deny the language of baptism, and of course to deny the entire theology of the Trinity upon which Christianity and its theology have been constructed.

But we can get even more specific. Jesus himself gave us the terminology for referring to God as Father. He expressed himself in this language often, clearly and with emphasis in the Gospels, and it is obvious that the notion of God as Father is a major new theological contribution of Jesus himself. This means that to deny the language of God as Father is to repudiate Jesus and his message. Therefore, whether one admits it or not, to do this is to reject Christianity.

Aside from such theological considerations, there are also historical a priori reasons for not changing the name of God. Looking back, we see that the history of Christian heresies has been the history of succumbing to the spirit of different ages. Ours is the age of modernism, which includes a great emphasis on egalitarianism and on sexuality. These two elements have combined to create the modern emphasis on androgyny. Androgyny or unisex is the notion that sexuality. male and female, is not fundamental to our nature but is arbitrary, and that all forms of sexuality are equivalent and basically arbitrary. From an androgynous perspective, male and female are not part of the nature of reality much less of the nature of who each of us is.

Since modernism was founded to it large extent on hostility to Christianity, it should not be surprising that ideas coming out of it particularly in extreme forms are also hosthe to the faith. Rationalism, materialism, individualism, nationalism, communism, evolutionism, fascism and positivism are all examples of modernist movements that created Christian heresies or involved explicit rejection of important Christian beliefs.

Although the history of heresy has been the history of giving in to the spirit of the age, nevertheless heresies have been useful because they often attack an important but previously undeveloped aspect of our theology. As a consequence, Christian theology has often developed in response to heresies. In any case, when the spirit of the age, in some extreme form, presses for changes in theology, this is an a priori reason to say "No thanks!"

Another reason is that modernism itself is dying. The list of ideologies given above is also a list of exhausted world views. These are now has-been ideas which have lost their cultural energy, which have been thoroughly critiqued and which exist primarily in college courses on "The History of Ideas: from the 18th through the early 20th centuries."

In the context of the death of modernism, let us look at feminism, which arose in the mid-19th century and is clearly modern in origin and character. The major ideas which had to develop First, before feminism, were individualism, egalitarianism and socialism/communism. This is not the place to describe how these ideas lay the groundwork for feminism, but perhaps on some reflection it is obvious. In any case, many of the important feminists were Marxists or socialists (for example, Simone de Beauvoir, Rosa Luxemburg, Bella Abzug, and the many explicitly Marxist feminists). Feminism took the basic idea of class warfare and used a similar rationale to interpret the conflicts between men and women. Marxism is known to be dead, or at the least, mortally wounded. Socialism and the welfare state are well past their peak and literally facing bankruptcy. Individualism has been criticized for some 30 years, from both the Left and the Right the Left longs for community while the Right (and sometimes the Left) is now advocating ethnic purity (as in former Yugoslavia and in some Black movements), tribalism or some other localism.

As for egalitarianism, it too is being rejected in recent years, even-in fact, particularly by many recent feminists. Modern feminism was very much about equality between men and women and was opposed to any emphasis on differences between the sexes. But in the last 15 years or so a new kind of feminism has arisen which might be called "post-modern " feminism. These feminists very much emphasize sexual difference indeed some of these radical feminists argue not only that women are different from men but are psychologically and morally superior to them. This kind of emphasis on difference rather quickly led, in theology, to goddess-worship and to explicit rejection of Christianity.

Much less extreme examples of this postmodern feminism would include Carol Gilligan's (1982) work on how men and women demonstrate different approaches to the moral life and even such popular works its Deborah Tannen's (1990) You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation and John Gray's (1992) Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In short, egalitarianism in its extreme forms is decidedly on the way out. For Catholics to buy into this kind of individualist egalitarian logic at such a late date is just another example of Catholic intellectuals trying to catch up with a dominant secular trend with timing that is absolutely abysmal. Such Catholics show the intellectual equivalent of the stock- market victim: Buy high and sell low.

Three models of sexuality

But let us set aside these theological and historical considerations, however important. Our primary concern here is with the psychological significance of the concept of the Fatherhood of God. To set a context for this we address the major interpretations or "models" of sexuality. Probably the most familiar model of sexuality is the exploitive model in which men have traditionally dominated and taken advantage of women. This model has been rightly criticized, especially by feminists. I will call this the "Exploitation Model." Throughout the world, men have dominated and exploited women in all the societies of which we have any historical record. Sometimes the treatment has been relatively benevolent, but in any case the general picture is familiar to all.

The second model is what has already been termed the "Androgyny" or "Unisex" Model. This is an understanding of sexuality as basically arbitrary, and that male and female are not only equivalent but more or less interchangeable, except for minor differences in external genitalia and associated sensory pleasure. Some people seem to assume that a unisex understanding of sexuality is less exploitive of women. There is, however, no evidence for this, and instead there is good reason to believe that the androgynous understanding does lead to exploitation of both men and women. After all, in the unisex model, sex is essentially each individual's personal search for sexual pleasure, however experienced. It is this model which provides today's general rationale for pornography. The androgynous understanding of sex means that any form of sexual pleasure is okay since there is no natural character to sexuality; it is an arbitrary social convention defined by each person. Once sex as recreation, rather than as procreation, is established, individual moral relativism goes with it. The result is the world of today's pornographic exploitation, in which sex with either sex, including even especially sado-masochistic sex, sex with children, and now sex with animals is justified; if you enjoy it, it's okay. But the logic that relativizes sex to each individual also relativizes power to the individual. That is, power can now be utilized in the service of pleasure with no more restraints either. In short, if you have the power you can get away with sexual exploitation.

That is, a feature of the current situation with regard to sex and power is that now exploitation is without any "principled" rationale. Men can exploit women, and occasionally women can exploit men, because those who have the power to exploit do so. In the "old days" under the old regime you had exploitation justified by bad social philosophy; in the androgynous situation we have exploitation in a philosophical vacuum in which "anything goes." Does anyone really believe that the amount of sexual exploitation in the last 30 years has been significantly less than that under the old "exploitive" macho system?

The third model which I believe to be the traditional Christian model will be called "The Complementary Model." Here, maleness and femaleness are seen as important and positive differences, and as fundamental to reality and to the nature of each person. God created us, male and female, and it was good. This emphasis on the reality and importance of sexual differences contrasts with androgyny. But masculinity and femininity maleness and femaleness are seen as cooperating in a mutually supportive fashion. This also contrasts with the exploitive model. No doubt, the complementary model is hard to maintain and to live up to, but then so is much of the rest of Christianity. We all know that the Christian faith is not about how to live the easy life. Instead it is a faith that challenges us to rise to a higher way of being.

What I will try to show now is how the psychological significance of the fatherhood of God helps to maintain the complementary understanding of the sexes, for both men and women.

Dealing with macho psychology

The psychology of men, influenced by the exploitive model, can be seen as the problem of correcting what can he called "macho" psychology. It is, I believe, easier to see the importance of God the Father if we see male psychology in the absence of such a concept. As noted, historically the predominant idea of male psychology has been one of male superiority, dominance and exploitation. We'll call this kind of male "the macho."

The answer to macho psychology, provided by God the Father is shown in the life of Jesus. The style of Jesus has been well described as servant leadership. Jesus was a tough man, living in what today we would call it rough blue-collar world, filled with fishermen, farmers and carpenters, as well as the tough competitive world of the marketplace, e.g., tax collectors and moneylenders, and an even tougher world of politics dominated by unsentimental physical power. But all of His authority with which He spoke and with which He led, all of the power which He manifested in His miracles, His mental power shown in His intellectual Confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees, was put in the service of others and of God. He did not come to do His own will. Servant leadership is the only model I know of that is strong enough to remove the sin of male exploitive psychology.

God the Father figures into this explicitly in Scripture. For example, when the disciples ask Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus is somewhat taken aback and then says, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." The concept of fatherhood as involving sacrificial leadership is further underlined by the fact that Jesus as the image of the father had no natural children and indeed was not involved in sexuality itself. Therefore, Jesus and God the Father model masculinity in its highest forms, independent of sexual activity or behavior. All children are God's: all children are Jesus'.

When masculine capacities are put in the service of others, neither women nor children nor community are likely to object. The basic Point of the Christian model about God as Father is that it allows a boy to identify strongly and positively with masculine ways of life but it removes the sting of selfishness of what psychologists call "narcissism" by placing male abilities in the service of others. The notion of God as Mother or androgynous Parent makes male identification psychologically not just difficult, but essentially impossible.

Another serious psychological problem in talking about God as father and mother is the strong implication that God is two people just as our parents are two people. We would be setting up yet another Jupiter/Juno, Moloch/Astarte pair.

How does the concept of God the Father help men who are drifting toward androgyny, the other pathological model of sexuality? Since in this unisex model, men and women are seen as essentially the same, this has led to the development of a new kind of male commonly called "the wimp." In many respects the wimp is based on the attempt to reverse the traditional logic of sex roles. In rejecting his basic masculine nature. this type of man is left in severe conflict and confusion about how to live. The result of this uncertainty is the psychological weakness of the wimp-man.

Today American men very often seem to fall into one of these two categories or to vacillate between them. The macho remains a male but does not care much for others; he devotes his energy, strength and intelligence exclusively to his own individual well-being. He looks out for his career. He looks out for Number 1. The macho treats women as sex partners: he understands marriage as something to be avoided or as it temporary arrangement to be maintained until something or someone better comes along.

Many other men the new wimps are nice androgynous creatures who are fun to go shopping with, but they are also indecisive, unreliable and weak. In short, men are opting for one of two ways of being the strong man who leads and exploits, or the weak man who is ineffectual but nice. Recently, it seems as though the latter is the fastest growing category. We all know "the great American wimp." He feels uncomfortable around strongly masculine men because they sense that he is squishy. The wimp needs to be loved at all costs, and the typical cost of the need to be loved is the truth. Holding to the truth in the face of social pressure, in response to political correctness, often means rejection by friends or parishioners. The easy way out is to compromise truth for social acceptance. In particular, the truth of manhood embarrasses him, and therefore lie acts as though it doesn't exist.

This new type of sensitive American, "the wimp-man," was at first welcomed by many women. But now the complaints have come in loud and clear. The wimp, like the macho, fundamentally avoids commitment to others. He can't be counted on; often he is still dependent, too much like a child a Peter Pan. Hence both the macho and the "wimpo" avoid true commitment to women and of course women know it. The final result is that it good man becomes even harder to find. All this only increases the disappointment, frustration and anger of many women which only leads to further criticisms of men and manhood. which further pushes men away. Talk about it vicious circle! Again, the answer is the strong male who serves, who sacrifices for others.

Female empowerment

For women. caught up in a society of exploitive men which seems to be the historical rule the psychological problem is different. They need to receive more power, encouragement and autonomy. How is this psychological need met by the fatherhood of God, mediated through Jesus? It is met very simply by receiving the power of God through the Holy Spirit. For example, consider nuns and consecrated women. A woman who has God as her Father, Jesus as her Husband, and the Holy Spirit as her best friend is pretty much of an irresistible force. The history of many great female saints attests both to their womanliness, and to their extraordinary power. They recognized that their power had been lent to them and was not "theirs." Thus they remained feminine. We need think only of Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux and many others that history may not have noted but God has. Indeed, there is nothing equivalent to the great tradition of female saints in the Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox traditions. In no other religious or secular tradition in the world do we find so many examples of women who were both truly holy, truly powerful, and truly women and honored by men for being all three.

Individual autonomy and sexual identify for both sexes

In a developmental sense, each child, male or female has two major tasks in front of it. Psychologists refer to one of these tasks as "individuation." This is the process of separating oneself from others, especially from the mother or mother-figure. For a variety of reasons, male children find this task easier than female children. In part, it is because both the mother and baby boy recognize the boy as different, and therefore separation and autonomy come more easily to the boy. A contributing factor is that male children are relatively less interested in people and in relationships, and more interested in objects and spatial exploration than female children (e.g., see Moir and Jessel, 1991). As a result psychologists generally agree that autonomy and independence come more easily to boys than girls.

For the daughter, who is similar to the mother and closely tied to her, individuation can often be a problem (e.g., Chodorow, 1990). One of the important natural functions of the father is to help his daughter separate from the mother, to help the daughter form her own identity, and to keep her from remaining "merged" with her mother.

The other major task for both sexes is the development of sexual or gender identity. This task is reliably understood by psychologists as more difficult for males than females. Males may separate from their mother fairly easily, and recognize the mother as "not-me," but that does not tell them who they are as males. They must find this male identity elsewhere through their father or other father-figures who are often unreliable or unavailable, and in any case are usually not around much in the first few years of the child's life.

However, from the beginning, and apparently in all societies, little girls see in their mother the meaning of womanhood every day in very concrete ways, and Understand this as basic to their identity. They have an adult woman close by to model the meaning of femaleness for them. What fathers do qua fathers is far less obvious.

God the Father, however, gives men a model with which to identify, even if their own fathers have been inadequate. Thus, the model of God the Father is a fundamental psychological support for this essential masculine need. It seems to me bizarre to the point of pathology at this time in our culture to be trying to remove God the Father from our theology. We are just now aware of the widespread social pathology, especially the increase in violence, resulting from fatherlessness in families and the data are staggering! (See Blankenhorn, 1995, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem.) What worse moment could there be to diminish fatherhood in our theology? We have enough absent fathers without trying to send God the Father away too! To remove God the Father is to remove a major support for positive male identity. In a church that is already far more popular with women than with men, this means the removal of one of the few remaining supports for men.

Relevant to this point is the current situation in the world of religion. Those religions and denominations that have been most affected by modernism and feminism are those which are visibly in decline. Liberal Protestant denominations and Reform Judaism are good examples of this phenomenon. In contrast, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism, with their energetic male leadership and their traditional theology, have been growing substantially and continue to do so. In Judaism, the very masculine Orthodox and Hasidic groups are growing with almost explosive vigor. In Roman Catholicism, those orders which have been most affected by modernism and feminism are those with the smallest number of novices and the highest average age. In contrast, the orders and groups that are doing well are orthodox and clearly endorse the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality. Here are such orders or groups as the Legionaries of Christ and the Missionaries of Charity, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, etc.

Finally, the religion of Islam is probably the most rapidly growing religion in the world today. And it is not just growing in Third World countries. In the United States, it is growing through immigration and in the Black community, due to the conversions of large numbers of black men. Recently I heard a report that Black Baptist women were urging their husbands to become Muslim because they thought their men should have a religion and thought Christianity to be inadequate for men. The African American community has suffered greatly from fatherless families, and many Blacks who have become Muslims openly claim that Islam restored their manhood to them.

In my own judgment, the American Black community has been an early warning system for the rest of our society. The African Americans were the first to feel the scourge of drugs, but a decade or so later whites caught up; the same is true with regard to family breakdown and illegitimacy. The African American illegitimacy rate is leveling off at a high level, and the white rate is just beginning to accelerate. Sociologists are predicting that the result will be the development of a white underclass in American society. This underclass will also be a "fatherless society." In short, the potential for the growth of Islam among white male Americans should be taken very seriously. They too will need to regain their manhood. After all, God gave men their manhood, just as lie gave womanhood to women. Christianity must recognize that malehood is a gift from God and that it must be honored as such by the Church, not just by the National Football League.

What about female psychology, in a unisex society? We have already looked at how feminine autonomy and power are enhanced through a relationship with their father or spiritually with God as Father. Now we turn to the problem of the psychology of female sexual identity and God the Father. In general, as already mentioned, women have an easier task at forming their sexual identity.

But how does the fatherhood of God enhance feminine identity? I propose that it is analogous to the way in which. through love and support, a good father enhances the sexual identity of his own daughters. A good deal of research has shown that girls raised without fathers tend to be less sure of their lovability and femininity. As a result, they are more vulnerable to pathologies ranging from depression to promiscuity. Here let me expand somewhat on what I see as a special feminine capacity for the spiritual life.

From the time they are born, little girls are much more responsive to people than little boys. Girls respond earlier and more strongly to the human face and the human voice. They smile sooner. As noted, boys are much more responsive to objects apparently primarily to objects that move or make noise. We have all noticed that the great majority of girls are more likely to play interpersonal games, often of a cooperative nature, and girls' playing with dolls exists in every culture. Boys are much more drawn to competitive games where there are winners and losers, rules to argue about, and to playing with things like balls, sticks, and trucks, etc. Women are not only more sensitive emotionally which means to interpersonal messages-they are more sensitive to different degrees of temperature, to different kinds of touch, to different tones of voice, different odors, and the like. (For a good summary of the many differences between men and woman now known to be rooted in biology and brain differences, see Moir and Jessel, 1991.)

Not only interpersonal relations but that kind of relationship described as "intimate" is something on which many women place great value. In short, it is in concrete interpersonal relationships and intimacy that the majority of women seem to find their greatest rewards.

Since God made women that way, since He finds it "good," there is every reason to believe that He would honor this need. That is, that God would honor women's special needs and abilities to have deep and intimate interpersonal relationships. Perhaps this is what is meant when Jesus told Martha that Mary had the better part; perhaps this is much of what is meant by the "contemplative life." In any case, the lives of the female saints have been filled with language describing the intensity of the personal relationship with Jesus and with God. It is as though the capacity of women for spiritually intense relationships is rooted in their capacity for many and intense relationships in the natural world. I do not wish to imply that the relationship of Christian men to God the Father is less rich, but themes of union, themes of love and intimacy seem to me to be much more typical of the female saints. And it seems to me that this is a good way to explain the great number of impressive Christian women throughout history. That is, women find something emotionally extraordinarily satisfying about their relationship with God, as Father, or as Son, or as Holy Spirit. And as far as a woman's identity goes, how can she doubt her femininity, her womanhood, if it is acknowledged and honored directly through the love of God, her Father.

Yes, but what about the psychology of all those feminists? If things are this fine, why all the tremendous criticism? This question raises the issue of the special psychology of the radical feminists. First, it is important to note that such feminists represent a clear minority of women, although they are common in academic and religious settings.

Second, a significant number of feminists are responding to their experience of abuse or lack of respect from men. Psychological recovery from these experiences and associated emotions requires the sympathetic and positive support of men. Spiritual resources available in Christianity include the Virgin Mary and Jesus, who call serve as spiritual models of holiness, and in time lead the woman to God the Father. As tradition has long held, Mary leads such women to Jesus, who can then lead them to a glorious affirmation of their womanhood by God the Father. In short, for women with a solid feminine identity but negative associations with men, especially fathers, there are available answers. In any case, such women often have little desire for God as mother they are just fearful and distrustful of God as father.

God the father and Christian women

That orthodox Christian theology is thought to be somehow hostile to women or inadequate for their psychology remains a great mystery to me. It is not just that Christianity, compared to the other great religions, accords a remarkable place to women after all, the Virgin Mary is the highest form of human saintliness. Women were part and parcel of the Gospel story; they were among those who ministered to and helped Jesus. He treated them with unusual love and respect. It was women far more than the Apostles who showed loyalty and support at the time of his Crucifixion, and it was women who first were told of the Resurrection. This in a Jewish society that gave less importance to women's testimony even in court. Women were major contributors to the apostolate of Saint Paul. Holy women surrounded many of the great early saints. such as Saint Jerome. Thousands of the early martyrs were women. Large numbers of the greatest and most widely acknowledged saints were women. When I became a Catholic, it was to me mind-boggling coming from a secular and Protestant background to find so many women held up as models of veneration and imitation. As I mentioned earlier, there is simply nothing like this great tradition of female accomplishment and of honor paid to women in any other religion or, for that matter in any other domain of human endeavor.

So the idea that the idea of God the Father has been an impediment to female religious the seems to me most unlikely in light of the historical evidence to the contrary. Somehow for hundreds of years, millions of Catholic women did not notice that it was a problem! Indeed, this historical evidence speaks very much to the interpretation that the Fatherhood of God has been a strong, positive component of Christianity for women (in part, for the psychological reasons given above).

Another relevant issue is that many radical feminists are lesbians, and thus it is important to discuss what can be called "lesbian psychology." I will refer here to the important work of the Christian psychologist Elizabeth Moberly (1983, 1985) who has written extensively on the psychology of lesbians. Moberly's basic point is that lesbians represent that small proportion of women who never developed a strong feminine identity. This identify failed because of a disruption in the early mother-daughter bonding. Their insecure feminine gender identity is associated with a great deal of anger which may erupt unpredictably. Because of their painful, often destructive relationships with their mothers, they are usually very ambivalent about women (same sex ambivalence). For example, they may resent being treated as women by other women. I However, they often seek other women who are positive mother figures, or they live out mother roles in their relationships with other women. Lesbian women also tend to be angry at men, especially if they have experienced indifferent or abusive men; they are very vulnerable to any criticism that they perceive as directed at women. For such women, God the Father commonly fails to meet their psychological needs.

Bill what is the Christian psychological response to this? To begin, you don't throw out what is good psychology for the great majority of normal women in order to meet the needs of a very small number of lesbian feminists. Nevertheless, you still must try to find ways to support I these women's needs and to help them. But how? Besides good psychotherapy, there is in the Orthodox and Catholic tradition an extraordinary mothering function which is sometimes met by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the "Mother of Mercy." In short, spiritual mothering is one way, often overlooked, that can promote the psychological and spiritual healing of women with painfully defective mothering.

Male archetypes, and the concept of father

Some surprising support for the model of male servant leadership comes from recent Jungian theorists describing male psychology. It is not that they are directly aware of their support, but nevertheless they provide it. Nor am I endorsing Jungian psychology. Instead let us assume that it has some basic validity especially the Jungian notion of an archetype or inborn mental structure which develops in response to various cultural experiences and symbols that express the archetype's structure. Certain contemporary Jungians, Such as Robert Bly (1990), and especially Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1990), and Patrick Arnold (1992) have proposed four primary archetypes as underlying male psychology. These are referred to as the archetype of the King, the Warrior, the Lover, and the Wiseman/Magician.

By the King archetype, Moore and Gillette mean the basic primal energy in men focused on ordering creating Right Order through wise ruling. The King archetype is also concerned with providing fertility and blessing. The King must have children and he must bless his Kingdom's children. The King symbolizes the life force and balance: he is a mentor

The Warrior archetype stands for male energy and aggressiveness, clear thinking in the presence of death, plus training to develop aggressiveness in a disciplined way. The Warrior shows loyalty to a transpersonal ideal his God, or leader, or nation or another cause.

The Magician archetype is the knower and master of technology. He is usually an initiate that is, part of a secret religious world. He is an archetype of awareness, insight, thoughtfulness and introspective reflection.

The Lover archetype stands for passion and love. The Lover is very aware of the physical world, of sensations, sensuality and feeling. The Lover's energies are close to those of the mystics. Artists and psychics represent common professions of the Lover.

As described, any of these archetypes can be distorted in a macho manner, or in a weak, wimp-like fashion. Moore and Gillette very clearly acknowledge that each of these basic male archetypes can be used for evil. They explicitly note that the King can be a tyrant or a weakling (macho or wimpo, if you will). They also admit that the Warrior can be corrupted into a sadist or masochist; the Magician can be a prideful manipulator or an envious weakling; the Lover can degenerate into an addicted, promiscuous Don Juan; or he can be impotent, depressed and uncommitted.

The problem with the Jungian understanding of male archetypes is that however much these theorists decry the serious, harmful distortions of these male archetypes, they offer no convincing method or model for avoiding the ways in which men have distorted these male tendencies to exploit or harm others especially women.

What is interesting is that Jesus, who is our model of God the Father, is the perfect integration of these four archetypes within the framework of servant leadership. That Jesus was a King is acknowledged in the liturgical year at the last feast of the Christian year: Christ the King. Jesus is commonly referred to as our Lord. As a Warrior, Jesus said that he had come to bring the sword; recall his attack on the money-changers in the Temple, his fierce criticisms of the Pharisees all Warrior behaviors. Of course the primary battle that Jesus led was a spiritual battle. St. Paul frequently refers to our life as one of spiritual warfare, and so do many of the saints. As for Christ the Lover, much of his message is one of love. He showed kindness and concern for the suffering of others so strong that it is no wonder that one of the great spiritual classics is titled This Tremendous Lover and a famous Protestant hymn is "Jesus Lover of My Soul." He shows explicit love for children implicitly all children. As for the archetype of Wiseman or Magician, Jesus was known as a rabbi or teacher who brought new teachings and spoke with authority, and was also a miracle-worker. In short, Jesus summarizes and integrates all these basic archetypes, most especially when he says "I and the Father are one." For a father is called to be all of these: to bring the archetypes together and live all of them. He is the lover of his wife and children, the fighter for God and his family, a servant king within the household, and a source of knowledge and wisdom about the world. So once again we see the model of God as servant leader speaking to the needs and highest aspirations of male psychology. We see Christian fatherhood as a genuine model for removing the strong tendency of men either to abuse others or to betray their masculine gifts through weakness and cowardice.

Female archetypes, and the concept of mother

As described earlier, what is sometimes called "The Men's Movement" has used Jung's psychology to develop an understanding of male archetypes. Here let me propose that there are analogous female archetypes which are very clearly exemplified in Christian and especially Catholic theology and history.

These parallel archetypes are: the Queen. the Wisewoman/Magician, the Defender, and the Lover. Some might find it surprising that women have archetypes so clearly analogous to those of men, but I believe they do, although they take somewhat different form.

Let's start with the Wisewoman/Magician and look at the great female saints. Many of them were famous in their time, and still are today, for extraordinary wisdom and prophetic gifts. Many of these saints were also miracle-workers. And all saints, male and female, are believed to have performed miracles after their death; that is, indeed, an important element of the canonization procedure. Two of the great female saints are honored as "Doctors of the Church": Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila.

But the female saints understood themselves to be pale exemplars of the extraordinary wisdom of the Blessed Virgin, honored in the Litany by such titles as "Seat of Wisdom," "Mother of Good Counsel," "Virgin Most Prudent" and "Mirror of Justice." In any case, the archetype of the Wisewoman is found abundantly and is honored in the Catholic tradition.

As to the Defender (or Warrior), we need to reflect what is meant by this female power and struggle as distinct from those exercised and practiced by men. Women have historically been defenders of their children, their family, their people, rather than attackers. But they have fought mightily in these capacities. As most people know, don't ever mess with a bear cub! You might run into a Momma.

Let's look again at the saints and the Virgin. Perhaps the best known female saintly warrior is Joan of Arc, who took up the sword to defend her people against foreign oppression. Another French saint is Genevieve, Patroness of Paris, who is said to have defended Paris when it was besieged by the pagan Franks under Childeric in the fifth century; Genevieve made a personal sortie with an armed band to obtain provisions for the Parisians. Later she won Childeric's respect, as well as that of Clovis. She is also credited with having kept Attila the Hun from attacking the city, through prayer and fasting.

But again Our Lady is the very prototype of the archetype. The Battle of Lepanto, a major turning point in the defense of Europe against Islam against the Ottoman Turks in 1571, was put under the protection of Our Lady; the memory of that victory is still celebrated in part by honoring her. One of Mary's titles is "Our Lady of Victory," which commemorates military victories achieved in various places under her patronage. But in her litany she has other similar titles which emphasize both her power and her strong defense of her devotees: "Virgin Most Powerful," "Tower of David" and "Tower of Ivory." Catholic tradition affirms that Jesus refuses his mother nothing.

As for the Queen, Mary has from early centuries been understood as the Queen of Heaven. Her litany confirms her queenly nature many times. Let us recall those magnificent titles that we all know: "Queen of angels, Queen of patriarchs, Queen of prophets, Queen of apostles, Queen of martyrs, Queen of confessors, Queen of virgins, Queen of saints, Queen conceived without original sin, Queen assumed into heaven, Queen of the most holy Rosary, Queen of peace."

The Lover is left. This is an easy one; this archetype fits women extraordinarily well. We all know about women's capacity for love and devotion to others. We know the great number of Christian women whose love of God and of other people has deeply impressed the entire world. Love often takes different forms in men and women, but the basic archetype is the same. The last two archetypes of Lover and Queen are very powerfully summarized in the fifth Glorious Mystery the Coronation. Here in heaven Mary is met in love by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and crowned. And Mary is the only human so honored; and she is the model of the soul's journey for all Christians women and men.

Finally, these four great archetypes are, I believe, best summarized and integrated in the term and role of "Mother" just as "Father" had the same function for men. A Mother is archetypally wise, queenly, fighter for her family, lover of husband and children.

To conclude, let me emphasize again the Christian model of manhood and womanhood as complementary. After decades of tension and paralyzing conflict over the roles of men and women in the Church, isn't it time to turn to a positive model that honors the sexes as different but as cooperative? Isn't it time for both sexes to honor the special gifts of the other. Isn't it time for the Church of all places to be open to such a recognition the kind of recognition that makes a wedding feast such a glorious symbol of men and women having a wonderful time in a mutually complementary celebration.


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This is J. Fraser Field, Founder of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

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Paul Vitz. "Support from Psychology for the Fatherhood of God." Homiletic and Pastoral Review, vol. xcvii, no. 5 (Feb. 1997): 7-19.

The Author

vitz1vitzPaul C. Vitz, is Senior Scholar at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, Divine Mercy University and Professor Emeritus at New York University. Dr. Vitz's work is focused on the integration of Christian theology and psychology, breaking from the secular humanism and post-modern relativism prevalent today. His books include: Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship; Sigmund Freud's Christian Unconscious; Modern Art and Modern Science: The Parallel Analysis of Vision; and Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. He and his wife live in Manhattan; they have six  grown children and 21 grandchildren. Paul Vitz is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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