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Sophia and other feminine names for God QUESTION from Andrew Phillpotts May 19, 1999 I converted to Catholicism two years ago. I do part time work at a convent/Catholic retreat center for the Sisters of Providence. Although I do their security for them, they also ask me to do art work for them from time to time as well. One nun asked me to do a graphic for a hymn to Sophia, which she said was a name for the feminine face of God or the Holy Spirit. I expressed qualms about doing such a graphic because I felt it conflicted with my religious beliefs (much to her annoyance).
Moreover, several times at this center I've been asked to join in prayers to Sophia (for instance at staff meetings) and I've seen prayers and hymns to God Our Mother, God Our Guide or God/Goddess.
Being a university student whose fields of study are classics and history, I know that Sophia means wisdom in Greek and that in the Old Testament wisdom is personified as a woman who dwells in heaven with God and comes down to earth as the Law (Proverbs 8:1-21, Sirach 24:8 ff). However, it seems to me to be a stretch to claim that because of these passages it is appropriate to call God Sophia. I also know that Wisdom is a Gnostic aeon as well-- for instance, the school of Simon Magus was purported to venerate the goddess Helen as Sophia the first idea of God, or in the Pistis Sophia, a third century Gnostic work in Coptic, there is once again the emphasis on Sophia or Wisdom as a divinity. I also know a lot of New Agers and feminists like to refer to a Goddess Sophia. So it seems to me that a feminist desire to find a female God is at work here rather than the Holy Spirit. I also observed that a lot of the people in positions of power at the center have no qualms about Sophia. The Sister who was just elected Sister Superior of the Province herself sees no conflict with entertaining these beliefs, because she herself has taken part in such rituals.
While I try to respect other people's beliefs, I am also open about mine. I find that I am increasingly forced to defend my beliefs when I don't say a prayer with the others, or if I refuse to do art work, or even in a conversation with other staff members. Is it appropriate for a Catholic to refer to God as Goddess or Sophia? What are the teachings of the Catholic Church on the subject?
I also feel concerned for my job. The people in question who believe in these things have been kind to me (for instance, they allow me to eat there and evening jobs where a university student can sit down and study are hard to come by) and I feel indebted to them because of their kindness. Moreover, I know that they need the security and one of the pastoral ministers at my church asked me to provide security for them when I first joined the church, so I feel a strong sense of obligation towards them. Am I in spiritual conflict by working there? How do I deal with such a dilemma in a Christian manner? Or what happens if I refuse to take part in something and I am compelled to leave? Do I have an avenue of redress with my bishop or some other body?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on May 23, 1999 Dear Mr. Phillpotts:
This question is really one for the Spiritual Warfare forum, so I am answering it in that forum.
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