Mother church as metaphor in key early patristic writers and Vatican II

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The maternal ecclesial metaphor has been a part of Christian ecclesial language from the early first centuries to the council of Vatican II. The beginnings of its usage are undetermined, and in biblical tradition, the Church was never explicitly named a mother. The first explicit evidence of mother as an image for the Christian community is found in the writings of Irenaeus (c.125-200 CE) who was writing out of the Church of Lyons. By then the maternal metaphor was already in common usage. But, whilst Irenaeus imaged the Church community as a mother, it was Tertullian (160-220 CE) who was the first to use the appellation more specifically, as an entity separate from the sum of the Church’s membership. Cyprian (200-258 CE) further develops the tradition of naming the Church a mother. By the time Ambrose (339-397 CE) utilizes this metaphor, the Church’s maternity was no longer the primary focus of description for the Church. Instead it becomes highly associated with virginity. The figure of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, was used by Ambrose to then support the image of the Church as both virgin and mother. It was he who first named Mary as ecclesiatype in the Latin West. In a similar way, Augustine (354-430) also named Mary as ecclesiatype. The first section of the thesis not only explores the context of the uses of the maternal ecclesial metaphor but also the maternal images projected. It asks if this maternal image aligned with surrounding cultural ideas of motherhood and womanhood and therefore whether the maternal ecclesial metaphor worked as a live metaphor for its audiences. Both Ambrose and Augustine are referenced in Vatican II Council’s Lumen Gentium, in the naming of Mary as ecclesiatype at LG 64. The richness of their contexts are not indicated in the documents and more often the references are rather used as proof texts.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Moore, Gerard, Principal Supervisor
  • Cruz, Gemma, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Feb 2015
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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