Benedict XVI corrects John Paul I

That’s JPI, folks, not JPII. It is easy, sometimes, to forget that there ever was a John Paul the First, given that in his 33 days as pope, he left us diddlysquat in regards to magisterial teaching (and no, a nice smile doesn’t qualify as magisterium). One of the few things he did say–at his weekday Audience on September 10, 1978 (which means it officially belongs to his magisterium)–was: “E’ papà; più ancora è madre”. Translation? As literally as I can make it out, it is: “(God) is Father, still more (God) is Mother”.

There is, of course, some truth to this. But it has also caused great confusion. It has been left to our beloved Papa Benny to set the record straight–unfortunately, in a forum that he himself has declared does not belong to his magisterium. What the heck. It still sets the record straight, and gives us the proper parameters within which to understand Papa Johnny Paulo’s magisterially authoritative declaration…

One last question remains: Is God also mother? The bible does compare God’s love with the love of a mother… [Here follow several examples, including the used of “the Hebrew word rahamim“] Although this use of language derived from man’s bodiliness inscribes motherly love into the image of God, it is nonetheless also true that God is never named or addressed as mother, either in the Old or in the New Testament. “Mother” in the Bible is an image but not a title for god. Why not? We can only tentatively seek to understand. Of course, God is neither a man nor a woman, but simply God, the Creator of man and woman. The mother-deities that completely surrounded the people of Israel and the New Testament Church create a picture of the relation between God and theworld that is completely opposed to the biblical image of God…

But even if we cannot provide any absolutely compelling arguments, the prayer language of the bible remains normative for us, in which, as we have seen, while there are some fine images of maternal love, “mother” is not used as a title or a form of address for God. We make our petitions in the way that Jesus, with Holy Scripture in the background, taught us to pray, and not as we happen to think or want. Only thus do we pray properly.

(Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, on the Our Father p. 139-140).

What are we to make of that in the light of JPI’s magisterial teaching? Only that JPI was talking in terms of appropriate images for God, not appropriate titles or terms of address for prayer. Despite his assertion that God is appropriately imaged as “mother” at least if not more than God is imaged as “father”, John Paul I did not teach that we should address God as “Mother” in prayer or liturgical rites.

Thus, while it remains valid for us to use “mother” images for God in our prayers and hymnody, it is never appropriate nor valid for us to use “Mother” as a title or form of address to God.

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