Julian, Hildegard, and the Fourth (Feminine) Side of Divinity

Julian teaches that “in our coming into being, God All-Wisdom is our natural Mother, supported by the boundless Love and Goodness of the Holy Spirit. All one God.” 

“Sophia” by Mary Plaster

She clearly names the Trinity as feminine when she tells us that she saw “three ways to look at the motherhood of God. The first is that she created our human nature.” Here she applies the term “motherhood” and the divine feminine to the Creator, or the first person of the Trinity. “The second is that she took our human nature upon herself, which is where the motherhood of grace begins.” Thus, Julian applies the motherly dimension of divinity to Christ. “And the third is motherhood in action, in which she spreads herself throughout all that is, penetrating everything with grace, extending to the fullest length and breath, height and depth. All One Love.”  A cosmic vision of the Holy Spirit and of divine love in action for sure. The divine feminine permeates all history and all work.

For Julian the word “mother” becomes a special name for the divine—indeed, “this beautiful word ‘mother’ is so sweet and kind in itself that it cannot be attributed to anyone but God. Only he who is our true Mother and source of all life may rightfully be called by this name. Nature, love, wisdom and knowledge are all attributes of the Mother, which is God.” To be a mother is to be a source of life, and since divinity is the source of all life, divinity is preeminently a mother.  Again, wisdom and the feminine are united.

In ascribing the divine feminine and motherhood and motherly actions to the entire Trinity, as she does on many occasions, Julian, in many ways, rewrites Christian theology. She insists on including what Carl Jung called the “fourth side” of the Trinity, the feminine side that has been missing. Thus she introduces a Quarternity as a way to look at divinity. 

Illumination of the “golden tent” or “golden kite” that Hildegard had a vision of. For more of Hildegard’s illuminations, see Matthew Fox‘s Illuminations book.

Hildegard of Bingen also had a vision of the Quarternity of the divine in relationship to the human person and painted a picture of it.  In this painting the child in the womb is pictured with an umbilical cord connected to what Hildegard calls a “golden tent” or “golden kite” which stands for the “kingdom of God” and for “original wisdom.”  

We are born with this tent inside of us, but we are small so it comes folded up inside of us.  Life’s journey is about setting it up.  In picturing life’s journey in the right column, she is clear how difficult the journey is—notice the obstacles we undergo–demons to face, rivers to ford, mountains to scale—but eventually the soul sets up the tent and demons are kept at bay.   

Wisdom in the Scriptures is said to be seeking to set up her tent—and chooses to do so in Israel. In John’s Gospel she does so in Christ, understood as wisdom incarnate.  (John 1)

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 53f.  And from Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, plate 9 and pp. 76ff.

Banner Image: Hildegard’s depiction of Mother Wisdom, from the manuscript of her Scivias. Posted to Pinterest by Lynn Cherny.

What further lessons do you see in Hildegard’s painting?  Notice how her kite that is four-sided also houses a trinity on the inside.

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen, Illuminations reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition.  At the age of 42, she began to have visions; these were captured as 36 illuminations–24 of which are recorded in this book along with her commentaries on them.
“If one person deserves credit for the great Hildegard renaissance in our time, it is Matthew Fox.”  – Dr Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Sacred Voices.

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4 thoughts on “Julian, Hildegard, and the Fourth (Feminine) Side of Divinity”

  1. Avatar

    When we let ourselves get caught up with gender, we too often lose the Truth that is unknowable except in the heart. It is good to consider God as mother for as far as that goes or is useful, but it too must be surrendered at some point. }:- a.m.

  2. Avatar

    Of course. All names and images of God must be surrendered at times–that is what the apophatic divinity is all about. “God is nameless” (Eckhart) and “God is superessential darkness who has no name and will never be given a name.”
    Nevertheless, humans learn by way of names and images and often our names/images for God undergird and hold up our cultural values. Thus to name God exclusively as male can easily feed patriarchy, a way of seeing life that is top/down and dominator/dominated and dualistic and invokes a punitive father God to uphold it. God as Mother dismantles that imagery, deconstructs it, gives breathing space for Divinity to flourish in minds, hearts and imaginations in fresh ways.
    I offer many names for God, 80 of the cataphatic divinity (names such as flow, love, energy, goodness, etc); and 9 of the apophatic divinity (darkness, silence, mystery, etc.) in my recent book, “Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful & Useful Names for God–Including the Unnameable God.”

    1. Avatar

      Exactly Matthew! When I first heard God called in the Feminine tense, I was shocked. That was different than I had ever conceived of God (I was brought up a good little Catholic girl 🙂 ). The more I thought about it, the more I knew that it felt right. And so my journey to find the Divine Feminine began. 30+ years later, I am still on that path, and I have discovered so much since–and still have so much more to learn. I know that God has “no name and no gender”, but if I was created in the image of God, I need more than a male to relate to. She has given me that.

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