Indiana University Bloomington

Fleshing Out the Word: A Feminist Re-Imagining of the Incarnation

Olivia DeClark, English and religious studies
Written for REL-A300: Sex and Gender in the Protestant Reformation
Instructor: Prof. Constance Furey

Christianity has often been used as a means to justify the patriarchy. Ridding the Church of its ties to oppression requires creativity, as it has been so finely ingrained into interpretations and morality. The incarnation has been a prominent source of interpretations that hold up male superiority. Both Luce Irigaray and Mary Daly see the ramifications of the way the incarnation is conceptualized and interpreted. Irigaray and Daly resist popular interpretations of the incarnation, and offer a creative re-imagining of the story in order to challenge patriarchal presumptions. Irigaray and Daly both discuss their ideas about the incarnation, and explore its potential to esteem women, through the figure of Mary.

In the essay “After the Death of God the Father: Women’s Liberation and the Transformation of Christian Consciousness,” Mary Daly begins by saying that much of the past work in women’s liberation has been critical research, pulling out the “skeletons in our cultural closet” and realizing the “diseased” culture women find themselves in (54). The logical next step, following this inspection, is what she calls “creative thinking” (54). Critical research has revealed a deeply patriarchal society, and escaping it requires the ability to think outside the cultural box we’ve been trapped in. Daly demonstrates this kind of creativity in her re-imagining of the incarnation. Christianity’s interpretations of the incarnation have the potential to be used to justify the patriarchy and the oppression of women. Jesus becoming “incarnate uniquely as a male” potentially validates “argument for male supremacy,” (58). The incarnation has been interpreted as grounds for conceptualizing women as inferior. However, with the advanced awareness of women to their situations, these means of oppression loses its plausibility.

“This awakening of women to their human potentiality by creative action as they assume equal partnership with men in society can bring about a manifestation of God in themselves which will be the Second Coming of God incarnate, fulfilling the latent promise in the original revelation that men and women are made to the image of God,” (60).

Daly points out that this promise is “latent,” it is yet to be fulfilled. Until now women have not been able to participate in being. The creative action that Daly calls for is an affirmation of being coming from women. By awakening to ideologies which bound women to a “dehumanized situation,” Daly hopes this will spark a demand for the creation of a new situation (213). A woman that takes part in being is a “manifestation of God,” which supports women to truly achieve the equality that old interpretations of the incarnations did not offer (213). This allows for women to “have our being” (213). Being refers to an acute awareness of one’s position and the agency which this consciousness supplies. Daly refuses to accept non-being, and simultaneously demands that any creation refuse to create another “other” (213). In other words, esteeming women does not imply the subordination of men. Inclusion should not necessitate the exclusion of another group. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, and thus, using the present culture as a model will not work. There must be a conceptual shift from an “us vs. them” mentality to an “us vs. non-being” (213).

“The unfolding of the woman consciousness is an intimation of the endless unfolding of God” (215).

Daly argues for both women and men to become whole persons. Creative thinking is a means of leaving behind the restrains of patriarchy, including strictly enforced polarized gender norms which tie transient beings to sex and gender. This unfolding of women exemplifies an unfolding of God. When women embrace their own divinity, understandings of God are allowed to expand.

In her essay “When Gods Are Born,” Luce Irigaray thinks creatively about the incarnation, and focuses on “the word made flesh” (55). Irigaray notes that the dominant understanding of the incarnation is not aimed towards earth, but towards the Father in Heaven (51). Irigaray wants this distance between the human and the divine to get smaller. Like Daly, she wants the divine to be recognized in all humans, and she gives special consideration to Mary. The old interpretation appears to resist the flesh, and Mary by always pushing Jesus towards the Father in Heaven. Irigaray contends this, saying;

“With the penetration of the word into a body still recalling and summoning the entry of that body into a word” (52).

Neither the word nor the body holds the upper hand. Irigaray is painting a picture of a relationship that comes full circle. Just as Jesus returns to His Father in Heaven, so is he born through Mary on Earth. Thus, Mary is indeed “incarnating the divine,” (52). Irigaray rejects prioritization of word over the body. Rather, she calls for the recognition of their. The flesh is not something to avoid certainly God did not. God becoming a Man and being born of a Woman. Mary, is not merely a vessel, but is herself, an incarnation.

Both Irigaray and Daly agree that Christianity can be a means of affirming women, despite past interpretations. They both assert that the incarnation has not been fully realized, Daly says it’s “fulfilled reality lies in the future” (59) and Irigaray says it is “still to be discovered” (55). The action and thought of the women’s liberation movement is needed to bring about this incarnation. Daly believes the incarnation is brought about by creativity, that our likeness to God is realized in our ability to create something that does not exist, and in doing so, entering into being. Irigaray says the incarnation is a recognition of the relationship between the flesh and the word. Since God became incarnate in Jesus, through Mary the divinity of the flesh is made apparent as it is where the Word presides. Both Irigaray and Daly emphasize the Word’s presence in the flesh. Daly conceives of God as a Verb, as action (213). Thus, the gap is closed between Word and flesh, and there is a constantly interplay between the two. Closing this gap, expands understandings of God by placing God as ever-present in action. Recognizing Mary’s body as being penetrated by the Word suggests her own incarnation, and thus, expands our concepts of women’s potential. Irigaray and Daly call for an incarnation to take place, an incarnation that will redefine the culture by reinterpreting the religions that support culture and allow for its continuation. The incarnation is not inherently aimed away from women, or the flesh, and its potential for women’s liberation has yet to be fully realized.


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