When St. Augustine wrote On the Trinity, he tried to work out a conundrum. He wanted to figure out how women could be the image of God. He finally solved the puzzle by writing that when a woman is alone, then she is not in the image of God. It is only when she is joined with a man, when she is one flesh with him, she can be considered the image of God.
Of course, we cannot take our ideas of gender equality and try to compare them to a different time and culture. We shouldn’t judge Augustine by our liberated standards. But, it is important to ask if we let Augustine ideas seep into our current debates. Do we still do this? Do we reduce a woman’s worth to her sexuality or her fertility?
I love reading all the bloggers over at Red Letter Christians. Carol Howard Merritt is no exception. As she mentions in the quote above it is not surprising to see what St. Augustine thought about women only being in the image of God after they are married. That was just the way it was during those times. These are the same circumstances that made Paul tell women to be quiet in church and wait till they got home to ask their husbands about it. Women during that period were considered more property than anything else. Of course Jesus’ actions told us to think otherwise but as usual we failed to get the message.
What is truly saddening about this is those who continue with that same mentality today. Some say that the Bible is the only word of God and it is meant for all eternity. They have locked down God to the fourth century when the Roman King Constantine put that document together in order to strengthen his control of his kingdom.
I can still hear all the rationalizations around keeping women in their place, even and maybe especially by some women in the fundamentalist church I once belonged. They proclaimed that God has ordained women to be the helper of men and that men are the “deciders” so to speak. They cite some words attributed to Paul as the foundation for this still on-going discrimination.
But when we look at the actions of Jesus we see he for the most part treated women as equals to men. In fact the first person he showed himself to after is resurrection was a woman.
When we lock-down God to a fourth century mentality we are in effect denying that he has any real place in today’s world. We are denying any revelations either personal or public that God has given us since that time. I personally believe that things like cures for diseases, DNA, and other life saving discoveries come from God revealing it to us.
I have had a couple of pretty significant revelations from God in my lifetime. When I mentioned this to my then pastor his first comment was “How do you know it wasn’t from the devil?” Given that the clergyman was one of those lock-down Christians I shouldn’t have been a surprised as I was by his comment.