Recognizing the fatherhood of God is the basis of Catholicism

Father John A. Kiley

Mary Daly, militant feminist theologian, or perhaps better, belligerent feminist theologian from Boston College passed away recently. Daly made headlines a few years ago when she refused to allow men to attend her classes on the Chestnut Hill campus.

Her point that women do not speak their mind when men are present might have some validity. The author’s most celebrated publication was “Beyond God the Father,” in which she wrote that the fatherhood of God was merely a projection of male dominance into the divinity. God’s fatherhood is merely a metaphor, according to Daly. God is essentially no more a father than he is a shepherd or a mighty fortress or a rock or a light. These are all figures of speech which male believers employ to suppress feminine ascendancy.

Actually the opposite is true. The fatherhood of God is the basic reality and the heads of earthly families are the metaphors. The First Person of the Blessed Trinity is fundamentally a father. Appropriately, male creatures reflect this attribute. Men reflect God; God does not reflect men. St. Paul writes accordingly to the Ephesians: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Paul Vitz, a distinguished writer (who has become more distinguished by becoming a Catholic) observes, “To begin with, it should be clear that when people change the name for God, they have changed their religion. If a small group began to refer to God as “Zeus or Jupiter” we would know that something non-Christian was going on. To reject God the Father as a name is to deny the basic Christian creeds. It is to deny the language of baptism, and of course to deny the entire theology of the Trinity upon which Christianity and its theology have been constructed. But we can get even more specific. Jesus himself gave us the terminology for referring to God as Father. He expressed himself in this language often, clearly and with emphasis in the Gospels, and it is obvious that the notion of God as Father is a major new theological contribution of Jesus himself. This means that to deny the language of God as Father is to repudiate Jesus and his message.”

Recognizing the fatherhood of God is, frankly, what Christianity is all about. The clever devil in the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent attacks Jesus at the heart of his being, his sonship. The devil dares Christ to change stones into bread and to cast himself down from the temple to prove that he is the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God. …” are words that the highlight the person of Christ, his appreciation of what it means to be a Son and his understanding of what it means for God to be a Father. The devil presents Jesus with several options. He can trust in God’s fatherhood too little and take things into his own hands by changing stones into bread. Or Jesus can trust in God too much by throwing himself down from a tower, presuming God will come to the rescue. Or Jesus can abandon God the Father altogether and do homage to the devil as supreme being. Christ happily resists all three temptations. His faith in the fatherhood of God is neither deficient nor excessive nor misplaced. Jesus knows that God in his fatherhood has brought him into this world, that he will nourish him with sustenance and that he will maintain him in time of need. This fatherly role of creating, feeding and maintaining is revealed first in God and is then reflected by human fathers here on earth. At the core of his being, Jesus knew that God was his father and no seduction will deter him from that belief.

The success of Jesus in maintaining his convictions about the fatherhood of God contrasts directly with failure of the first humans, Adam and Eve, to grasp the significance of God’s fatherhood. Adam and Eve were not content to be a good son and daughter of their heavenly Father. They were tempted to usurp the role of God the Father for themselves. “You shall become like God,” the serpent tested the hapless woman. God had adequately proven his fatherhood by giving Adam and Eve life, by feeding them with the lavish fruits of Eden, by maintaining them secure in the midst of the animals and nature. There was no denying that God was a father to them. Yet, they were not satisfied. They denied God’s essential being, forsook their own sonship and made themselves supreme. Jesus salvifically reversed this original sin and redirected mankind toward a deeper and wider appreciation of the fatherhood of God.