I have trouble imagining Jesus as female. Like most Christians I grew up with, I see the classical image of Jesus—angelic face, softly curling locks and perfectly cropped beard—definitely male, and in His incarnate body, He was. However, Jesus has two natures, divine and human. The logos (the Word) became flesh in Jesus, but so did Sophia (the Wisdom). “Jesus is the Wisdom/Sophia of God incarnate”.
We have no trouble imagining Jesus as the logos; present with God the Father at the creation of the world—speaking into existence that which came from nothing. But most of us do not equate Him with the feminine Sophia or Wisdom. John 1:1-3 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”. In the masculine Greek logos, we see Jesus the divine logic and creator, but in the feminine Sophia we behold the embodiment of eternal wisdom.
She describes herself in Proverbs 8:27-30:
I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the
horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its
boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he
marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side.
Sophia was always present with the logos. The idea that Jesus embodied both male and female is surprising, if not provocative.
This also provides a challenge to the way we speak about God. God’s position in the Trinity is of Father, but does this mean he is male? Surely, he is not anatomically male—that is reserved for creatures who need to reproduce. Isn’t God beyond sex? By extension, this also means God is not female. Yet both male and female were created in his image and both mirror this image.
The situation is complicated by the use of masculine pronouns when referring to God. The Bible is replete with masculine metaphors and pronouns that further the notion that God is male. But this reflects more of the patriarchal cultures in which the Bible was written than the Lord’s nature. Even in present times it is simply inconvenient, even artificial, to tiptoe around the masculine imagery when referring to God.
Julian of Norwich had no such problem. After recovering from an illness, during which she had a vision of Christ’s suffering, the remarkable fourteenth century mystic understood God in both male and female terms, believing as surely as God is Father so is she Mother. In medieval tradition Julian understood the Wisdom (Sophia) of the Trinity as female; however, she also recognised that nurturing female qualities were inherent within the three Persons of the Trinity. This medieval understanding of God as male and female foreshadows the current interest in gender and God.
In the present maze of gender politics, what is our conception of God—female, male, both or neither? The theological complexity of this topic is explored in our course God, Gender, Sexuality and the Church which engages with the theological and practical aspects of gender and sex in contemporary Christian life.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Sophia Wisdom of God (blog), Centre for Action and Contemplation. November 11, 2017. https://cac.org/sophia-wisdom-of-god-2017-11-07/
Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: an Introduction (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell), 2011.
Anne Clift Boris, “Julian of Norwich, the Loving Motherhood of God”, Priscilla Papers 22, no.1 (winter 2008), 21-22,