After Constantine relocated the capital of Rome to the Eastern city of Byzantium (Constantinople), followed by the division of the Empire into East and West and then by the collapse of the Western Empire due to Barbarians migrations, the Church became the focus of civilization and culture, the one sustaining the spirit and body of the people. It was the beginning of a huge ascension to something close to universal power, adopting many of Rome’s original rules and authority over people, through a well-organized institution. The Roman Catholic church became the new incarnation of the Roman Empire, guarding not only the physical wealth of the western world but also the spiritual safety of its people. Because the end times did not occur despite the collapse of the Roman Empire, which some conceived of as that end, there was a shift in the view of the Church as the guardian of History as well as the one to bring salvation to mankind. The Church of Rome became independent from the Eastern Emperor, focusing its loyalty on the Bishop of Rome instead, thus further separating the Latin Church of Rome from the Greek church of Byzantium, a separation which has subsisted to this day.
In the early times of Christianity, Holy Spirit was referred to, and conceived of in more feminine terms: Hagia Sophia, the Holy Spirit in its Greek version, or Wisdom of Sophia, in its Latin translation became Spiritus Sanctus, a most decidedly masculine appellation/interpretation. This coincided with a diminishment of the Holy Spirit as this exultant and ineffable power to a far tamer experience under Church Dogma. However, as the Latin Church of Rome came into its full authority and grew in independence, something momentous occurred; a return of the Divine Feminine under the guise of the Virgin Mary. This was a boon for the newly converted pagans who saw the Great Goddess in Mary.
The main difference was in that the ancient goddesses presided over Nature whereas Mary was of a more historical context. Her humanity helped soften the more radical and severe doctrines of the Church, while at the same time she embodied all the most profound values of the Church, as the very first Christian, as the first believer in her resurrected son. The problem of Mary becoming at times more powerful or important than the Church was resolved admirably by the Church by conflating the two, Mother Mary and Mother Church becoming one and the same. This was the most successful move of the Church which could be seen as stern and authoritative, like the old Father of the Jewish faith, and bringing in a more comforting and nurturing quality through the Mother. Even in the architecture of its buildings you can see the womb like aspect of the church, “the tangible sense of the virginal mother’s numinous womb.” (Tarnas, 164). Despite this move, fundamentally, the Church had a patriarchal authoritarian attitude toward women, referring to the role of Eve in the Fall in Genesis, to continually and systematically put down women. In its organization and self-image, you can see a polarity in the Church that is gender based. In its ecclesiastical role, it takes on the old Testament role of YAHWEH, the masculine authority of God, but as the body of the faithful, the church becomes Israel, the beloved feminine of God, and later the Virgin Mary with the corresponding “feminine” virtues of compassion, purity, humility and obedience.
I love this song from the movie Sister Act honoring the Virgin Mary, “Hail Holy Queen”. I think you will enjoy it as well.