CO writes: “I recently attended a Catholic women’s retreat. There was a speaker there that referred to “Sophia, as the feminine face of God”. I am a cradle Catholic and this is something I have never heard of and it made me uncomfortable for the rest of the day. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament are all masculine. Nothing else was mentioned about this until the end of the day during a sending forth prayer ritual in which Sophia, Wisdom of God was thanked 3 times (“for your continual invitation to relationship with the Holy One, for showing yourself in our experiences today and for your presence in this circle”). This bothered me also so I did not say the prayer aloud as we were instructed. . .
CO continues: ” While searching for answers on the internet, I found that ‘Sophia’ means wisdom in Greek. I also read that Wisdom in its feminine form refers to the Holy Spirit? In addition I found many new age website references relating to Sophia as a goddess. Also, that Sophia is a Gnostic tradition. In the book of Wisdom, Wisdom is referred to as feminine (is this Divine Wisdom?). Now I am really confused! Does “Sophia” have any place in the Catholic church and if so, how? Would it be considered heresy? How do I respond to someone telling me that Sophia is the face of God? Thank you for any insight on “Sophia”.
CO, all of your instincts are right on! There is definitely something very wrong with Sophia – who is nothing more than a pagan goddess disguised as the “feminine face of God” by people who have a vested interest in maintaining their Christian audience.
An expert in this field, Donna Steichen (author of Ungodly Rage) describes contemporary Goddess religion as an “unstable compound of neo-pagan practices drawn from dubious sources: it combines appropriations from established religions with Masonic rituals, primitive drumming and bonfire dancing, elements from Theosophy, Santeria, occultism and voodoo, ancient mythology . . . “
The goddess is a New Age-neopagan construct that originated a century ago in the writings of Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the occult-based theosophy. Blavatsky was very much in favor of the emancipation of women, including freeing them from the “male” God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her ideas became a perfect fit for the modern feminist movement of the 1960s. Women adopted her ideas, combined them with New Age interest in ancient religions, and came up with a whole new set of old gods – or should I say, goddesses – such as Isis, Gaia, Artemis, Aphrodite and Sophia.
Sophia is the goddess of choice for many U.S. nuns who invented her to serve as a kind of female version of God. Also known as Sophia/Wisdom, Sophia Christ, Sophia-God, Spirit Sophia and even Holy Wisdom, experts say this female god is actually an accident of grammar.
“In Greek, the word for wisdom is ‘sophia,’ which, like all abstract Greek nouns, is feminine in gender,” Donna Steichen told me. “In the Greek of the Old Testament Wisdom books, references to sophia are personified as feminine. But that doesn’t mean that they refer to a goddess; it is merely a matter of grammatical convention, like calling a ship ‘she’ in English. But feminist theologians use it as a part of their strategy to replace God the Father with a female Divine Being.”
Attempts by feminist theologians to create a goddess out of this rhetorical personification are considered to be nothing more than sheer “ignorance” by many theologians.
Sadly, it was disaffected U.S. nuns in rebellion against the “male dominated hierarchy” of the Church who advanced the worship of Sophia. These are the same gals who push for “inclusive language” and women’s ordination.
For instance, author Joyce Rupp, a popular speaker and retreat master who does nothing to hide her distaste for the Church hierarchy, wrote a book called Desperately Seeking Sophia in which she describes Sophia as “another word for the radiant presence of the Holy One.”
As I wrote in a blog dated January 25, 2010 (/?p=31) Rupp treats Sophia as a kind of goddess of inner wisdom in her books, and even admits to struggling with the question of whether or not Sophia is Divine. Apparently, she never really answers that question for herself because although she refers to Sophia as another name for God, she treats this “person” as someone we’re supposed to discover, open ourselves to, pray to and turn to for all our needs in life – sort of like what most of us do with God.
“ I count on Sophia to influence my attitudes, values, and beliefs, to help me make good choices and decisions,” she writes. “I pray to her each day to guide me as I try to reflect her love in all I am and all I do. Whenever I am in doubt as to how to proceed in my work and relationships, I turn to Sophia for wisdom and courage. She has never failed to be there for me.”
This sounds very similar to what you experienced at the retreat and you have every right to complain about it. Even though these women claim Sophia is just the “feminine face of God” – experts say these women have actually abandoned the God of the Bible but refuse to admit it (especially when confronted).
“People are certainly free to reject Christianity. But they should be honest enough to admit that this is what they are doing, instead of surreptitiously replacing Christianity with the milk of the Goddess, in the name of putting new wine into old wineskins,” says Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press.
Indeed, if you look back at some of the early “feminist spirituality” conferences of the 1980s, you can plainly see this truth. For instance, at “The Goddess and the Wildwoman,” conference which took place in 1985 at Mundelein College in Chicago, participants were encouraged to “draw aside the curtain woven by patriarchal consciousness to reveal within each of us the Goddess and the Wild Woman.” Many of the nuns participated in their own liturgies complete with priestesses and a “consecration” performed by all the women in attendance with the words “We bless this bread of the eucharist of Woman Church.” At one point, the priestess proclaimed “We are empowered by a loving goddess. We proclaim the power of our foremothers.”
Does that sound like people who are just worshiping “the feminine face of God”?
And who says we can put a “feminine face on God” anyway? If you need a response to people who claim this is what they’re doing, quote Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in The Ratzinger Report, who explains why God the Father can never be changed into God the Mother.
“Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation . . . and we have no right to reconstruct it. Consequently, we are not authorized to change the Our Father into an Our Mother; the symbolism employed by Jesus is irreversible; it is based on the same Man-God relationship that he came to reveal to us.”
In other words, we’re not at liberty to change biblical references to God. Remember, God could have easily risen above the inherent misogyny of ancient writers, but chose not to do so. Therefore, the traditional biblical witness of masculine images remains the standard by which we refer to God.
“To do otherwise is to replace the true God of the Bible with a false god of our own making,” Brumley adds.
The really frightening thing about all this is that in spite of how blatantly unchristian Sophia is, many of these goddess-worshiping feminists decided not to leave the Church but to change it from within. Previous rebellions failed, they said, because the rebels left, either by choice or by excommunication. As a result, goddess worship has made considerable progress into Catholic academic circles, among disgruntled women religious professionals in the Church bureaucracy, and in retreat houses.
There is so much more to be said on this subject that I wrote a booklet about it for the Learn to Discern series. Click on the “New Age Resources” button on the navigation bar above for more information.
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