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Did the Early Church acknowledge the Holy Spirit as Feminine?

An article recently titled “ The Holy Spirit as feminine: Early Christian testimonies and their interpretation” note that the early Church referred to the Holy Spirit as Feminine.

They cite such examples from resources such as Origen’s commentary on John. He writes

If anyone should lend credence to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the Saviour Himself says, 'My Mother (mētēr), the Holy Spirit, took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great Mount Tabor', he will have to face the difficulty of explaining how the Holy Spirit can be the Mother (mētēr) of Christ when She was herself brought into existence through the Word. But neither the passage nor this difficulty is hard to explain. For if he who does the will of the Father in heaven [Mt. 12:50] is Christ's brother and sister and mother (mētēr), and if the name of brother of Christ may be applied, not only to the race of men, but to beings of diviner rank than they, then there is nothing absurd in the Holy Spirit's being His Mother (mētēr); everyone being His mother who does the will of the Father in heaven. (Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John 2, 12 - Preuschen 1903:67)

Or Jerome which notes

… and he should believe in the Gospel, which has been edited according to the Hebrews, which we have translated recently, in which it is said of the person of the Saviour: 'My Mother (mater), the Holy Spirit, took me just now by one of my hairs ….' (Jerome, Commentary on Micah 2, 7, 6 - Adriaen 1969:513)

And also this: (in the text) 'like the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress' [Ps. 123:2], the maid is the soul and the mistress (dominam) is the Holy Spirit. For also in that Gospel written according to the Hebrews, which the Nazaraeans read, the Lord says: 'Just now, my Mother (mater), the Holy Spirit, took me.' Nobody should be offended by this, for among the Hebrews the Spirit is said to be of the feminine gender (genere feminino), although in our language it is called to be of masculine gender and in the Greek language neuter. (Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 40, 9 - Adriaen 1963:459)

So is this true? Are these genuine citations from the Church Fathers? Or is this quote mining to propel a more feminine deity?

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    The church is seen as feminine, the fitting and suitable counterpart to the Headship of Christ ; and the Spirit within the church, thus, is involved in that likeness (in scripture). But to go further than that is highly questionable. And if seeking support from the 'fathers' is what is intended, one feels it may be misguided to do so.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 4, 2023 at 5:52

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Did Early Church acknowledge the Holy Spirit as Feminine?

The short answer is no, but the Early Church did give the Holy Spirit some feminine attributes. Think about it more on the line as being a metaphor.

Obviously, the Holy Spirit is just that spirit. Thus the Paraclete is not a physical being like us and has no body. But the Early Church did give some genuine feminine attributes to the Third Person of the Divine Trinity.

The grammatical gender of the word for "spirit" is typically masculine in Hebrew, but sometimes can be constructed in the feminine Hebrew (רוּחַ, rūaḥ), The term Ruah HaQadosh is masculine as the femanine form for Qadosh is Qedushah. It is neutral in Greek (πνεῦμα, pneûma) masculine in Latin (spiritus). The neutral Greek πνεῦμα is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew רוּחַ. The pronouns used to address the Holy Spirit, however, are masculine.

The Holy Spirit was furthermore equated with the (grammatically feminine) Wisdom of God by two early Church fathers, Theophilus of Antioch (d. 180) and by Irenaeus (d. 202/3). However, the majority of theologians have, historically, identified Wisdom with Christ the Logos.

Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century wrote that terms like "Father" and "Son" in reference to the persons of the trinity are not to be understood as expressing essences or energies of God but are to be understood as metaphors. The same position is still held in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ancient church

For Semitic languages, such as ancient Syriac, the earliest liturgical tradition and established gender usage for referring to the Holy Spirit is feminine.

The Syriac language, which was in common use around AD 300, is derived from Aramaic. In documents produced in Syriac by the early Miaphysite Church (which later became the Syriac Orthodox Church) the feminine gender of the word for spirit gave rise to a theology in which the Holy Spirit was considered feminine.

Gender of the Holy Spirit

In essence there is no feminine principle in the Trinity. Nevertheless some have expressed a feminine element so to speak in regards to the person of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is called "Father", while his love for man may also be depicted as motherhood, but he ultimately transcends the human concept of sex, and that "God is neither man nor woman: he is God".

The Father revealed by the Son

238 Many religions invoke God as "Father". The deity is often considered the "father of gods and of men". In Israel, God is called "Father" inasmuch as he is Creator of the world.59 Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, "his first-born son". God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. Most especially he is "the Father of the poor", of the orphaned and the widowed, who are under his loving protection.61

239 By calling God "Father", the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.

240 Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Of the thirty or so parables in the canonical Gospels, the Prodigal Son was one of the four that were shown in medieval art almost to the exclusion of the others, but not mixed in with the narrative scenes of the Life of Christ (the others were the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Dives and Lazarus, and the Good Samaritan. The Labourers in the Vineyard also appears in Early Medieval works).

God the Father will never forget his children here on earth, just as a mother would never forget the child of her womb.

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thanks for the comment. In relation to your question, my answer seeks to make it clear that God is not limited to the human condition, the human being is limited to God's creation. And the view of the early church had the spiritual view that when Pentecost occurred, tongues of fire descended upon the apostles. Tongues of fire cannot be masculine or feminine. Also when we look at the book of Revelation, we see that the seven spirits of God were torches of fire. We also see in the book of Ezekiel about the four living beings regarding the Spirit with them. We also see Moses speaking with the Spirit of God, and it was like flames of fire, but they did not burn the bush. The point is always not to limit God in human vision. I'm glad you expanded on the answer. Thanks

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Yes, those are authentic citations. See the Wikipedia article on the Gospel of the Hebrews for additional citations, mostly taken from well attested collections of the Church Fathers. This article gives a more exhaustive list.

In addition, we should consider that in second century Christianity, Gnostics coexisted with the proto-orthodox in many churches, especially Rome. These teachers often affirmed the femininity of the Holy Spirit. Valentinus, a leading Gnostic known for this teaching, had been a candidate for bishop of the church of Rome before forming a separate congregation. Irenaeus, who struggled to refute their doctrines, provided a summary:

The Son manifested himself to the other Aeons in the form of Christ (male) and the Holy Spirit (female) (Against Heresies 1:2:5).

So yes, parts of the Early Church taught the femininity of the Holy Spirit. But by the late second century this doctrine began to be excluded. And the Early Church as a whole never endorsed this doctrine.

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