Sons in the Son

There is a line in the first reading at Mass today, from Romans 8. 12 to 17, which has been bothering me all morning: ‘Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God.’ Theologically, I understand the importance of our being ‘sons in the Son’, and I have no shortage of references in my memory bank to tell me why; but much as I delight in meditating on those words, deeply significant though I find them, they are still immensely difficult for me. I’m a woman, and emotionally I can’t connect with them. My primary human relationship is daughter, not son.

I think this may be why some liturgical discussions leave me (and others) cold. I care about words, I care about beauty and history and all sorts of other things connected with liturgy, but calling myself a son of God just doesn’t work. I notice that the new translation of the Missal is inconsistent in its translation of homo/homines, sometimes using ‘people’ (as in the Gloria), at others ‘men’ (as in the Creed). I can find good theological justifications for the two usages, but still I am left wondering: what am I in the sight of God? As a son in the Son, am I to be defined as a man? In which case, being a woman is profoundly irrelevant, which strikes me as absurd. I don’t have an answer to my question. Indeed, I expect to spend the whole of my life trying to work it out, but it’s a question that concerns a large part of the human race.


23 thoughts on “Sons in the Son”

  1. Some languages don’t have a differentiation of son/daughter or even male/female and these verses are quite hard to translate. For us you could think of it as parent – child, but somehow that takes away some of the intimacy

  2. Thank you, Andrew. Having myself spent some years translating patristic and liturgical texts, I’m certainly not knocking the skills of those responsible for our current scriptural/liturgical translations. However, in opting for one formulation rather than another, we bring an interpretation to bear. How we are heard v. what we say, perhaps?

  3. Sr Catherine, my experience is that to approach through Mary, who is Queen of Heaven and bound up eternally with Jesus, the Way to God, entirely solves the problem. It brings her and her Son into the heart of every day reality with all its trivia. The effect is profound. Mary is a real mother to me and Hail, Mary, often the first recourse in a crisis, although I am deeply conscious of the presence of Jesus now in everything.

  4. Rosy, I’m glad you have a solution. Despite a deep personal devotion to our Lady, it isn’t a solution for me. I still stumble over the words and the concept. (Now I’ll probably get emails telling me that I’m spiritually shallow! That’s true but won’t stop me trying to work this question out in a way that makes emotional as well as theological/spiritual sense to me.)

    • St Paul can be a tiresome and sinewy evangelist, even among men. I am not sure that he is ever ’emotionally’ satisfying. Appeals rather to the intellect. A system of reference, perhaps.

      • Well . . . I may be thick, but I’m certainly not looking for emotional satisfaction in St Paul β€” or anywhere else for that matter. For me, to make emotional sense is to connect the head language with the heart language. As I said, I have no particular difficulty with either the scriptural idea or patristic commentary on the same. Scope for another post, maybe. Perhaps we could do a joint one?

        • For my part, I am searching deeply, for emotional satisfaction, weak as this may seem to some. A unity of body, mind, spirit and heart, in fact. It is only on that level that we can begin to enter into the parent/child relationship which is necessary for our understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. God takes care of us in the smallest details, in a dynamic way. He cares and understands far more than a parent. To me, this is the beginning and end of wisdom. It is, in a way, beyond the liturgy which is a foundation and a guide, a method of ordering our thoughts and conducting us to the truth.

          Thank you for the offer of a joint post. It is much appreciated, but I think I’ll leave that in your capable hands.

          And it didn’t occur to me for a moment that you are, as you say, ‘thick’ πŸ™‚



  5. I’ll join you in your awkwardness here, Sr Catherine, as I too cannot identify with the idea of being a son or see myself as included in men. The ELLC texts which form the core of much modern English-language liturgy have been very helpful for me (e.g “for us and for our salvation” in the Creed) but of course your church now has a new translation which has moved away from those joint texts, so no easy solutions on offer.

  6. Thank you, Perpetua. The whole question of inclusive and gender-free language in worship is huge, as you indicate. Sticking strictly to the ‘sons in the Son’ point highlighted above, I suppose I’m circling round the really big question: is that how God thinks, is that how God sees me? If my relation to God is always one of sonship, how do I live that when I have no experience of being a son?

  7. I’ve often wondered how men deal with being “the bride of Christ” especially in relation to all the turmoil surrounding same-sex relationships (and I’m not being trivial). I have friends who are deeply concerned in gender issues and Spirituality. I look at Genesis; “male and female he created them”; I haven’t tracked this phrase back to source texts, but take it to have some sense of the way we are an image, but pale, flawed and incomplete, of our Creator who is presumably also “male and female” is some incomprehensible way. (it’s on my List of Questions to ask in heaven). I think that cultural history and linguistic inadequacies are just confusing the underlying message, that we are offspring, family members, genetically connected, sharing His DNA in some mystical fashion. We need a warm word, rather better than “it” and less clumsy than “he/she” to describe the fullness of God, don’t you think? No language works properly; maybe that’s some of what the gift of tongues is about?

  8. Thank you, Kirsten. I’m beginning to think this might make a good subject to explore in our next web conference . . . I think the Bride of Christ/marriage bond imagery is less to the fore than sonship, which may be why it creates fewer difficulties for many.

  9. I am so grateful for your comments on language and on liturgy, and the struggle that you identify. I also particularly appreciated your mention of the fact that in your community you are not discussing the new liturgical texts for 6 months (I think you said…) Very wise, and I wish we could all do this!

  10. Thank you, Steven. I have come dangerously close to breaking our ‘no discussion’ rule as regards the new Missal by mentioning the two variant translations of homo! You’re quite right. We are waiting to familiarise ourselves with the translation before we comment.

  11. Just to add – what probably should have been said at the beginning: God chose a woman to be the channel of Salvation for mankind. As you know, Mary is co-Redemptrix (Redemptrice) with Christ. That’s good enough for me.

    I think the whole issue of gender and marriage is a stumblingblock mostly to a younger generation who have to cope with the distracting sophistries of Political Correctness in the light of the journey women have taken in history.

    There is no marriage and giving in marriage in Heaven, we are told. Sex and gender belong to our function in this world – our route to God – and the package we are dealt that will best enable us to arrive there. Eve was born of Adam’s rib – an equal in the sight of God.

    So much is implicit in God’s love and provision for us where rational argument leads us astray.

  12. Thank you, Rosy. You are widening the terms of reference, which is good although it takes us a little away from the question raised in the original post. Don’t you think every generation brings its own questions to bear and they are enriching for the Church? For example, the Holocaust raised several new questions in Christology. Our own age has raised important questions about what it means to be human with some of the advances in cell stem research, etc.

    • Sadly, I’m not at all sure I do believe that the church and the world have been enriched by the debates of latter decades. ( I’m afraid I haven’t examined the Holocaust questions.)

      My approach tends to be simplistic in the first instance because it seems to me that trust and humility ultimately lead to a deeper understanding and more effective prayer, which is our primary resource. I believe with Tennyson that ‘more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of’. We should always fight for ie. ‘support’ justice in every way we can, but we need to keep everything in perspective lest our human motives become confused with God’s.

      To return to the original question: I see St Paul as a flawed human speaking in comprehensive terms of a pattern for Creation. (Translations will inevitably bear witness to this.) He is not Christ, he was not even a disciple, though he was a devout and uncompromising Apostle for the time and place he was in and he spoke the absolute truth of John 3:16.

      The letter may kill where the Spirit gives life.

  13. Yes, a BIG topic, but reading it I have been mindful of those many, many children and young people who have no notion of father or motherhood. How can the Gospel and its significant images reach those who are without parental figures, without customs of eating together, without even the table and cooking apparatus to do this?

    (Statistics on our contemporary ‘families’ to be found in ‘Litter’ by Theodore Dalrymple)

  14. Thank you, Patricia. You may be interested to know that the changing patterns of relationship and living are something that we in the monastic world have been grappling with for the past 20 years, at least. The whole concept of the common life, of eating a shared meal sitting at a table, with thought for one’s neighbour, etc. can no longer be taken for granted.

    Back to (main) topic, I have received a really beautiful email from which I am going to ask permission to quote as I believe it sheds genuine light on the subject.

  15. When the passage was originally written, the world was dominated by men; women generally had a secondary role. The authors were men of their time and wrote accordingly.

    If Jesus and the authors were people of our time, I think they might have written about children of the Son, not “sons of the Son.

  16. Thank you, Jim. I think my response must be both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It’s the tension between theology and its expression β€” which is not only a cultural construct. I will have to think some more how better to express this.

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