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  1. December 6, 2012 5:14 pm

    Victoria,
    Yours is a clever (feminist) reading. One of my own (feminist) mentors, Sister Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ,, won’t have the metaphor of the Bride of Christ. She rightly notes several issues (in “The Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33) : A Problematic Wedding“):

    Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church….

    I would argue that casting the church as feminine, and above all as bride of Christ, far from enhancing the dignity of women, has in fact done harm to perception of the capacity of women to image the divine, and thus of women’s fundamental human and Christian dignity…..

    There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control. In the Second Testament, 1 Peter 2:18-Z5 does something very similar to Ephesians 5:21-33 in that it holds up the unjust suffering of slaves as a mirror of the suffering of Christ, and enjoins slaves therefore to submit even to cruel masters. We have long ago rejected that comparison as illegitimate. It is time to acknowledge the same dangers in the wedding of the bride of Christ.

    Daringly, you face some of the dangers Sister Osiek addresses, and you try something fresh. I’m not trying to keep readers from clicking on over to your other blog, but I do want to post your conclusion here:

    The image of the Bride of Christ needn’t be viewed only through the patriarchal perception of woman’s nature as inherently passive, docile, compliant, and receptive. Centering the perspective and agency of the bride transforms her from passive object to active subject: a subject characterized by “fully conscious and active participation,” one might even say, in her wedding and in her marriage. In a feminist reading, the Bride of Christ is seen as an ardent woman who loves, desires, and reaches for her Spouse.

    I wonder if you’d allow this language:

    In a feminist reading, the Spouse of Christ is seen as an ardent woman who loves, desires, and reaches for her Spouse.

    Lest anyone accuse me (or you) of giving a progressive and contemporary option out of gendered language, I’d like to remind all English readers that for some 400 years at least, the Bible has used this gender neutral term “spouse.” In the KJV, Song of Solomon 4:11 reads as follows:

    Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

    Here singing is an ardent person who loves, desires, and reaches for his spouse. Such agency and perspective, as you show, can be given to women (just as to men), to spouses, to grooms and to brides.

  2. December 7, 2012 3:07 pm

    Thanks, Kurk, for the pointer to Sr. Dr. Osiek’s work on this image. I agree with many of her points; though I’d point out the St. John of the Cross, for example, did identify with the Bride, I agree it seems to be rare for men to do so.

    I didn’t feel daring; rather, somewhere between desperate and determined: if we’re going to have this image, then how must we think about it in light of women’s experience?

    Your proposal of the church as the Spouse of Christ is a slightly different image: also valid and valuable, but it loses the already-and-not-yet element presented by the Bride, so I think it is less potent in that regard.

    On the other hand, it might open up some additional ways to think about the work of the church in the world. Hm! Will have to think further on that!

  3. Patriarchal Essentialist permalink
    December 10, 2012 8:15 am

    God help us all.

  4. December 10, 2012 8:25 am

    Interesting moniker, Patriarchal Essentialist. lol. And yes God help us all.

    Victoria,

    I like what you wrote on your post:

    “And it’s interesting; on first reading I assumed the fiat in Audrey’s comment was Mary’s ‘Let it be done to me according to your will,’ a submissive act of will. But Fiat is also the word the LORD spoke, Fiat lux!: a creative act of will.”

    And I note in Luke’s Greek for Mary’s fiat he has her calling herself a “slave.” She says, ἡ δούλη κυρίου. The Master’s female slave. Osiek spends some time in her work on how the NT neglects those women who were both slaves and females; how very little regulation of them the epistles provide, how very little protection. So I note her powerful conclusion in the article I link to above. We’ve rejected the hierarchies of human slavery; why not the other metaphor of hierarchy as well?

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