Mater Sapientianederlands

Voorkant proefschrift

Scientifix Abstract

In the theological works of the Christian of Church father Augustine (354-430) many references to motherhood can be found, as had been remarked often in passing. This study systematically explores these references in his texts and analyses the significance of these mother images from the perspective of spirituality studies, church history, and gender studies. This study also reconstructs the relationship between Augustine and his mother Monnica, and highlights the motherhood of Augustine’s mistress, who gave birth to his son Adeodatus.

Both divine motherhood and spiritual motherhood appear to be key concepts in the works of Augustine in context of mystagogy, the process by which human beings become initiated into the mystery of God. Augustine ascribes aspects of spiritual motherhood to persons such as Monnica, Jesus’ mother Maria, and the apostle Paul, and to impersonal instances such as the Church and the Scriptures. Aspects of divine motherhood become visible in Augustine’s works with regard to divine personifications such as Wisdom, Christ, and the celestial Jerusalem.

Following these textual findings and their theological patterns this research shows that two notions of salvation, both referring to motherly figures, are at work simultaneously in Augustine’s texts: one belonging to an early Christian wisdom tradition that centre stages Mother Wisdom and sees Jesus as her envoy, and the other to the more mainstream Christian tradition in which Mary’s performance is emphasized in her role of giving birth to God’s Son. In both cases salvation consists of being guided by the Church and finding fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Augustine interwove these two ‘paths’ of salvation, but they are recognisable as separate ways in the motherly symbolism of ‘feeding’ and ‘carrying and giving birth’ which he uses frequently in his works. Both refer to the involvement of the Spirit in the church community. With these symbolic constructs he affirmed and reworked the image of the Church as mother and underlined the Church mystagogical functions in faith formation

(nurturing, carrying, giving rebirth and feeding with grace). The mystagogical functions expressed by Augustine in the symbolism of motherhood pointed to a specific and continuity in spiritual experience throughout the whole process of Christian initiation. This process starts with one’s introduction tot the Christian faith, and is completed with the ultimate initiation into God’s presence in eternal bliss. This research shows that the Christian concept and practice of initiation should not only be described and understood in terms of maieutics. In Augustine’s interpretation of Christian initiation, the spiritual mother and the disciple (myste) are both subjects in the mystagogical process. In this notion of Christian initiation the Holy Spirit is the director of this process, acting in the interest of both persons, while in maieutics it is the midwife who direct the mystagogical process as she accompanies the parturient (myste). By discovering and discussing this conceptual difference, this study gives an innovative impetus to the contemporary fields of mystagogic research and praxis.