Expert Answer Forum
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:
An interesting thing occurred while trying to answer your question. I was almost finished and then all of a sudden the whole question and my answer disappeared, vanished. I had to start over again. Emmm. Maybe someone does like my answer :-)
Anyway, I thank you for giving such a great analysis of the origin of Sophia. The late Father William Most, who died recently, was arguably the top moral theologian in the U.S. and one whom I relied upon for advice on how to answer the more difficult questions. He has a few thoughts on the idea of this personified wisdom that the Sophia-ists like to assert. His commentary can be found at:
The overall answer to your question was answered in your own narrative: So it seems to me that a feminist desire to find a female God is at work here rather than the Holy Spirit. Your analysis is TOTALLY correct.
This feminist vision of God is in error and has been condemned by the Church as has the feminist desire for inclusive language. All this is part of the Inclusive Language debate.
The Church has resoundingly rejected horizontal inclusive language. In recent years Rome has rejected the English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church until improper inclusive language was taken out, and rejected a lectionary for its improper inclusive language.
The whole area of inclusive language is a contrivance of radical feminists who have convinced many even otherwise orthodox women that they are somehow excluded and harmed by the language of Scripture. This is utter nonsense.
But has Father Most suggest, the struggle over gender language is a struggle over power. It is a struggle born out of ego, pride, delusion, and faithlessness.
These people who worship a god of Sophia have abandoned the faith for a false god. We must pray for their eternal souls.
Some articles from various people who have written about this subject of inclusive language that I quickly found on the Internet include:
Report on Rome rejection of Inclusive Language: http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Igpress/cwrindex2.html Aug/Sept 97 edition
Msgr. Richard J. Schuler http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/outinlan.txt
St. joseoh Foundation http://www.ewtn.com/library/canonlaw/vioright.txt
Paul V. Mankowski, S.J. http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/silkpurs.txt
The Sacraments and Authentic Womanhood by Dale O'Leary http://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/stautwom.txt
As far as how to handle this, we need to stand our ground for the faith. These people you are working for have, in my opinion, left the Catholic Faith and are teaching serious and dangerous error, perhaps heresy. In no way should we even remotely validate their nonsense. The truth needs to be affirmed in the face of error when we are confronted with that error.
In no way could I recommend that you actually participate in their idolatrous prayers. And , in my opinion, to do artwork for them that depicts their false theology would be to give affirmation of that lie they choose to assert.
I have been in a similar position myself. I used to work for a national Photocopy Shoppe. One of the clients of the shoppe was Planned Parenthood. I worked graveyard shift and at times Planned Parenthood would come into the shoppe at 3am wanting workshop manuals copied by 8am for a conference.
I took the order, but I refused to work on the job.
My boss called me in one day to confront me on my refusal to work on any Planned Parenthood materials. I told him that, for me, to work on Planned Parenthood materials is as offensive as it would be for a Jew to work on Nazis material. He asked what I would do if the material came in at 3am and had to be done before the morning shift came on duty. I replied, I would not do it, and that I would call him and he could come in an do it. Again the implication of being fired was given. I looked the boss in the eye and said, I would rather be fired by you, than be fired by God. I will not work on their materials.
By the way, I was never fired, but I was persecuted, denied pay raises that I should have received, given unjust evaluations, was ridiculed by co-workers, had my car vandalized by co-workers, was threatened by co-workers, and was generally considered an undesirable. But I stuck it out knowing that I was doing the right thing. I finally left on my own terms when I began to live a mendicant lifestyle as a lay brother.
The Scripture has some things to say about how to handle situations like what you describe:
St. Paul, speaks about this in Titus 1:9 – 2:1. Although he is talking about bishops, the principle may be applied to all of us:
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach--and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Other passages that are instructive:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. -- 2 Timothy 3:16 – 4:5 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. --Roman 16:17-19
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. –1 Timothy 6:3-5
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. – 2 Timothy 1:13-14
Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. – 2 John 1:8-11
On your last question, I imagine that your employment will be subject to whatever employment laws are applicable in your state. In most instances you could be fired for refusing to do something that is part of you job even if the reason you didn’t do it is based upon your religious convictions. You would have to contact an attorney in your locale to find out where you stand on that.
But I would suggest that you contact the Bishop to report the whole Sophia thing. These people are harming the faithful by their theories.
You are in a tough situation. We will pray for you.
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