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The Holy Spirit as Mother (2)

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01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

12 Assyrian Identity

Marius Victorinus
3rd century CE
5th century CE
Roman Empire
Christian philosophers and scholars

The understanding of Holy Spirit as Mother is not confined to Syriac writers or to those working in a Semitic milieu, where the word for “spirit” is feminine in gender. Thus Hippolytus, writing in Greek c. 200 CE, describes Isaac as an image of God the Father, his wife Rebecca as an image of the Holy Spirit, and their son Jacob as an image of Christ - or of the Church. Most striking in this respect is the second Hymn of the highly cultured Synesios, Bishop of Cyrene from 410-413 CE. After addressing the Father and the Son he turns to the Spirit: “I sing of the (Father’s) travail, the fecund will, the intermediary principle, the Holy Breath/ Inspiration, the centre point of the Parent, the centre point of the Child: she is the mother, she is sister, she is daughter; she has delivered (as midwife) the hidden root.”

Examples of the same kind of imagery used of the Spirit can also be found in a few Latin writers, most notably in Marius Victorinus in mid fourth century. Thus among early Christian writers, Greek and Latin as well as Syriac, one can find scattered pieces of evidence which may suggest that there was once a fairly widespread tradition which associated the Holy Spirit with the image of mother.

Sources (list of abbreviations)
Hippolytus I.2, p. 54 (Achelis)
Synesios, Hymns 2


Achelis 1897, I.2, p. 54Achelis, Hans. Hippolytus Werke, Vol. 2: Kleinere exegetische und homiletische Schriften. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung 1897.
Brock 1990, 81Brock, Sebastian. “The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature.” In: Janet Martin Soskice (ed.). After Eve: Women, Theology and the Christian Tradition. London: Marshall Pickering 1990, 73-88.

Amar Annus

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