Liberating Liturgies: Anselm of Canterbury, and Jesus Our Mother

Liberating Liturgies: Anselm of Canterbury, and Jesus Our Mother September 24, 2014

Today’s Liberating Liturgy comes from an interesting source: Anselm of Canterbury, a monk who lived from 1033-1109 C.E.  I found this Liberating Liturgy quoted in She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson (pg 151–emphasis mine):

But you too, good Jesus, are you not also a mother?

Are you not a mother who like a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings? ….

And you, my soul, dead in yourself,

run under the wings of Jesus your mother

and lament your griefs under his feathers.

Ask that you wounds may be healed

and that, comforted, you may live again.

Christ, my mother, you gather your chickens under your wings…

Image via Wikipedia Commons. Artist unknown.
Image via Wikipedia Commons. Artist unknown.

A lot of people are willing to talk about the Holy Spirit using female imagery. Some people are even willing to call God “Mother.” But what about Christ? We can’t deny Christ was a man, who used he/him pronouns, right?

Well, yes and no.

I think we can concede that the historical person of Jesus was likely seen as male/a man by society. From what we can tell he identified as male/a man as well. Yet, many queer theologians argue that we can’t automatically assume Jesus easily fits into the mainstream binary gender/sex category.*

Virgina Mollenkott, for example, has suggested that the historical person of Jesus was an intersex individual. As Patrick S. Cheng states in Radical Love, (pg. 83-84)

Mollenkott argues that if Jesus’ birth was truly a result of a virgin pregnancy, then Jesus’ birth would be what biologists call parthenogenetic. This means that Jesus would have two X chromosomes (because there would not have been a Y chromosome contributed…), which means that Jesus would be chromosomally female [according to the binary biological categories of sex, which not everyone fits into*] yet phenotypically male.

Cheng goes on to explain more of Mollenkott’s work:

…this view of the intersex Christ is reinforced by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s characterization of Jesus’ wound in his side as [a vagina/vulva] that give[s] birth to his bride, the church…

The body of Jesus–like many of our own bodies–may not have fit easily into gender/sexual binaries. 

I also believe that the part of the Trinity that we call Christ is more than just the historical person of Jesus. In the beginning was the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. Christ–God’s Word (or God’s Wisdom) in human flesh–preexisted the person of Jesus, and still works in the world today.

Christ exists in the Church, for one. The Apostle Paul believed that the Church was quite literally the body of Christ. As Sandra Schneiders says (as quoted in She Who Is, pg. 162–emphasis mine)

…the Christ is not exclusively the glorified Jesus, but the glorified Jesus animating his body which is the Church. Christ said to Paul “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) because the literal fact is that the Christ is composed of all the baptized. This means that Christ, in contrast to Jesus, is not male, or more exactly, not exclusively male. Christ is quite accurately portrayed as black, old, Gentile, female, Asian or Polish. Christ is inclusively all the baptized.

Christ also exists in those that society treats as “the least of these.” Therefore Christ exists in women (including transgender women, and perhaps especially trans women of color). Christ exists in genderqueer people, non-binary people, intersex people, agender people.

One image for Christ doesn’t do them justice.

Christ is he and she and ze and they.

Christ is mother, father, parent, brother, sister, sibling, friend.

This isn’t some modern, radically new idea–Over a thousand years ago, Anselm of Canterbury was already pushing the boundaries of how we view Christ. Let’s follow Anselm’s example, and continue to create our own Liberating Liturgies!  If you are interested in submitting your own liturgies to this project, read this blog post, and email me at


*According to much of society’s beliefs about gender/sex, those born with a penis are males/boys/men, and those born with a vagina are females/girls/women. Simple, right? Yet reality is, sex and gender is much more complicated than that. Intersex people –people who have characteristics typical of both “male” and “female” people–exist, and may choose to identify as male, female, both, or neither. Trans people exist, who truly are a gender/sex other than the one they were assigned at birth. Genderqueer and non-binary people exist, who don’t exclusively fit into either male or female categories–they may be both, or neither, or something else entirely! God’s creation is diverse and wonderful and good!

Browse Our Archives