Wednesday, 18 January 2006

women in the priesthood : women as bishops

Some opposition to women priests appears to centre on the fact that Jesus was a man, and possibly also on the “Fatherhood” of God. The argument assumes that representing Christ at the Eucharist requires a male person. I doubt whether Jesus would have supported the line of reasoning. Matthew 22.23-33 has a story in which Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection ask, mockingly, about who will be married at the resurrection to a woman who has had seven husbands on earth. Jesus’ reply is “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Artists have traditionally followed this guidance by depicting angelic beings without beards or breasts, with no (female) head covering and with clothing which does not denote the sex of the wearer. Depictions of cherubs, sometimes with all the sexuality of the Roman god Cupid, owe more to classical taste than to scripture. Portraying sexuality in angels is mistaken.

Thus Orthodox ikons of the Trinity, which illustrate the appearance of God to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18) show three angels with wings. The angels look like triplets. They are beardless. The three persons are distinguished mainly by the green robe of the Holy Spirit, and the deacon’s stole on the shoulder of Christ, denoting that he “took the form of a servant”.

Western pictures by contrast might show an old man with a long beard, the young man on the cross, and a dove somewhere between them, with no discernable relationship between the three persons. No doubt it is this somewhat dysfunctional looking image which provides preachers with such a difficult task on Trinity Sunday.

The Orthodox show three beings in fellowship, and the relationship between the persons is devoid of any sexual expression. Christ sits behind a table which clearly also represents an altar on which the Eucharist is presented. He wears his humanity in the deacon’s stole over one shoulder, but the masculinity of Jesus during his life on earth has given way to a depiction in which he is “like the angels in heaven” who “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

One might then argue that whilst the priest represents the humanity of Christ, what is represented is not just the Jesus of Nazareth who died on the Cross, who was male. Rather, the priest must also represent the risen Christ of the upper room, of Emmaus and of the shore of Galilee, who is “like the angels in heaven” and, mysteriously, difficult even for his closest followers to recognise.

The sex of the priest who represents Christ our great high priest at the Eucharist is then immaterial. The priestly function is not a sexual one, but, in representing Christ who is risen, “neither male nor female”.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Wednesday, 18 January 2006 at 5:30pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

Speaking as a now retired clergyperson, what strikes me is that there is so little about "ordination" as we know it, in the NT. There is however, a good deal of "taking a dim view of the priesthood" in the Letter to the Hebrews, and only having one great High Priest. Oh well, I expect it's all been changed. Back to sleep.

Posted by: Septuagent on Wednesday, 18 January 2006 at 6:27pm GMT

Excellent post. I linked to it http://chris.tessone.net/2006/01/18/on-women-priests/ here.

Posted by: Chris T. on Wednesday, 18 January 2006 at 6:40pm GMT

This little essay gets to the heart of the matter in a way seldom seen. It is a commonplace that the Church has frequently had serious problems in dealing positively with God's gift of human sexuality. Mr Ambrose points out that we seem to have equal difficulty dealing with the fact that God also transcends the limitations of gender and sexuality.

Posted by: Nick Finke on Wednesday, 18 January 2006 at 10:10pm GMT

I have always felt that had Jesus wanted women officially in His service, we would have had Mary and Martha among others as possible Apostles. He did not call them. Jesus was clearly not a bigot. It is just as clear that he favored women with much attention in making points he wanted made and depended on them in many prominent ways. As a result, we know strong and deeply Christian women that would have been forgotten in any other society of 2000 years ago.

I make the point that men and women are different - oh how un-PC a comment! We can each contribute to the garnering of souls to Christ. But need it be the same role?

I defer to my Lord in this and I would prefer an entirely male clergy.

Posted by: Tenaj on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 2:11am GMT

Interesting essay by Tom Ambrose. My understanding of Matthew 22:23-33 (and in parallel, Mark 12:18-27) though is that Jesus in no way proves the resurrection to be devoid of sexuality. Jesus' point must be in the context of proving the resurrection (the very thing the Sadducees are mistaken on) and his argument from marriage deals with their 'conumdrum' by making it clear that there will be no marriage in the resurrection because everyone will be "like angels". This surely ONLY proves that because the resurrection is true and therefore beyond the grave there is no more death for the believer, there is no need for procreation (and the fulfillment of Gen 1:28) in heaven. i.e. we will be like the angels in that we will live forever. This does not seem to prove that angels are devoid of sexuality, but only goes as far to say that angels are devoid of marriage and procreation.

Posted by: James Taylor on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 7:56am GMT

Thats because Jesus lived 2000 years ago.

We live in today's society, and have progressed since the mores of that era.

It just goes to show that conservatives are largely influenced by the social patterns of a bygone age. Its the worship of first century society.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 10:32am GMT

A view which holds to the need for any human being to 'represent' Christ is questionable enough, not to mention the unthinking assumption of the tradition-laden and non-original word 'Eucharist' (The word itself may be argued to be a NT one, but not in the sense of a ritual or form of words and actions.)

But what is one to say of the unargued assertion that the risen Christ is/was neither male nor female? Would this have been the apostles' impression when they saw him? If we know better than they, on what grounds do we know better?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 11:14am GMT

Merseymike's comment exemplifies a common faulty presupposition, namely what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery.

He simply assumes (without any argument) the principle 'the more recent the better'. On which basis we are evolving towards perfection. Of which we see the evidence all around us.

Or do we?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 3:41pm GMT

The iconography of course explains why the Orthodox have always had women at every level of the ordained ministry and today are the most active proponents of female priests and bishops.

Ahem. Perhaps Mr Ambrose should explain to Orthodox Christians why they don't understand their own sacred images properly.

Posted by: Murray on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 4:00pm GMT

An interesting collection of essays on this topic from an Orthodox/Old Catholic colloquium appeared in the Anglican Theological Review Summer 2002, 84:3. It demonstrates that the Orthodox (at least some of them) are indeed examining the possibility of the priesthood of women in light of the Chalcedonian defintion of the Incarnation. I have been arguing on this basis for nearly two decades now, and it is gratifying to see the professional theologians of the East begin to take this up -- as indeed they take things like Chalcedon seriously. The point, briefly, is that Jesus is of one substance with humanity (i.e., derives his human nature) solely through his mother, Mary: if woman was “missing” something that could only be supplied by a man (which is the ordinary dictionary definition of “complementary”) then the Christ could not be fully human — which is heresy. Mary could not provide something she did not possess: so full humanity is present in woman as well as man. Since it is the "human" (not the "male") that is the image and icon of God -- another Orthodox article of belief -- the conclusion is obvious: a woman can fully represent Christ in all that is of significance, or of "sacramental" value.

Given the glacial pace of change in Orthodoxy, don't expect any sudden amendments -- the lack of a proper Council is also a difficulty. However, I am confident that this change will come, as the theological basis for the change is now on the table and has to be addressed.

I also believe that Rome too will come to reexamine this matter in coming years; and when they do, the change can happen almost immediately, due to the authority of the hierarchy.

Posted by: Tobias S Haller BSG on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 6:16pm GMT

Lewis was wrong on that (not an unusual occurrence)

I certainly believe in human progress. of course, to do so goes against traditional Christianity, which is why I think the latter is so lacking.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 8:25pm GMT

Merseymike,

"Jesus lived 2000 years ago"

True; but, more importantly, He lives today, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What He ordained for His Church was not conditioned by the time and culture of her founding, but by His understanding of what was needed for the salvation of all, in all times, places, and cultures.

To devalue what He ordained for His Church based on the circumstances in which He became flesh for us, is to fail to recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord: Lord of all cultures, Lord of time, and Lord of the Church.

Posted by: Chris Jones on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 8:50pm GMT

No, don't agree. Much of Christian tradition is culturally contained and thus requires revision.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 12:20am GMT

Another interesting question is actually a highly antiquarian one (much like Christopher Shell and MerseyMike's chronological issue): there is no absolute evidence that women were excluded from leadership in the Church of the first century - and leadership is what the whole argument is really about. How can we reconcile the apparent reliance of some self-confessed and 'default' conservatives on societal values belonging to an age rather closer to our own when womens' leadership comes up for discussion? If we accept that the common 'classical consensus' period for the Church is the first half-millenium or so, then there is clearly more ambiguity than certainty in assessing the role women played in the Church - clearly the long discussion is far from conclusion.

Posted by: k1eranc on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 8:55am GMT

What does it mean to believe in human progress? Isn't that a big generalisation? There are all sorts of areas of human life, and presumably everyone would agree that (broadly speaking) we progress in some of these, tread water in others, and regress in others.

In every given case, therefore, justification needs to be provided for the belief that progress (or regress) has been made in the area in question.

The shallow popular 'thought' of the 1960s-70s threatened us not to trust anyone over 30. Merseymike would have us not trust anyone who lived in any former era whatsoever?

Our own era will be ancient history before we can blink. So if recentness is the all-important criterion (which surely no-one belives) why should we even trust people under 30 either? The under-30w of now are the over-30ws of the future.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 3:27pm GMT

Tobias --

The Greek Church seems to be doing more than considering women's ordination -- the the diaconate, anyway

http://www.orthodoxnews.netfirms.com/158/Women.htm

BTW -- some people might suggest that an unbiased (or "nonpatriarchal") reading of the Gospels shows the women as apostles or even "apostles to the apostles"

Many things have changed over the course of the church's history & it is not clear from Scripture that Our Lord "ordained" anyone -- of course, very little actually is clear in Scripture or there would not be so many disagreements -- one of the sad failures of the Reformation vision was the naive notion that a vernacular Bible would mean that every plowman could read the sacred scriptures for himself & that their meaning would be self-evident to everyone

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 4:15pm GMT

Merseymike,
"progress" is not a central value of the Church, and if we make it so, then we make the Church subject to the spirit of the age, rather than to the Holy Spirit.

Tradition has a real part in the Church (behind Scripture, and ahead of reason, in Hooker's scheme). This is not to say (as those who would define the Anglican Church according to the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP) that tradition is the last word, merely an important consideration.

Tradition can (and often should) be changed, but never simply for the sake of change or "progress", but because we have grown in our understanding of Scripture, or because the Holy Spirit is leading us in new directions.

Indeed, the strongest arguments for change (such as Tobias') are those that critically engage and respect the tradition.

Posted by: Jim Pratt on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 4:25pm GMT

Well, Jim, thats the conservative gospel. Not mine though.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 20 January 2006 at 5:25pm GMT

Thank you Prior Aelred, for that link. Very encouraging. And Lo! What have we here?

“It is certainly possible to rejuvenate this praiseworthy order, with its many diversified and blessed activities, as long as the Church decides this is necessary, after carefully weighing her needs and study, being illumined by the Holy Spirit concerning the ‘SIGNS OF THE TIMES.’” (my caps)

From an ORTHODOX church! See? Learning from what is happening around you and discerning how God might be involved in the world (and its 'progress') and allowing your understanding of God's will for his church in the world to change, is not necessarily being 'subject to the spirit of the age'. Even the Orthadox Church does it. Why can they take that approach and 'reasserters' absolutely not? What's the difference? I'm confused. What do they know that the Orthadox don't?

(Please note that I'm not talking about the diaconate issue itself, but the 'signs of the times' being a factor in the Church's decision making process in relation to that (and potentially the CofE women bishop issue. I wouldn't use the phrase they did, but you know what I'm getting at)

Posted by: augustus meriwether on Saturday, 21 January 2006 at 10:16am GMT

So, Mike, let's get this straight. You believe that the more recent something is,the better it is?

If not, then how would you characterise your belief?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Sunday, 22 January 2006 at 12:45pm GMT

"we would have had Mary and Martha among others as possible Apostles. He did not call them."

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... ;)

Posted by: Jane on Monday, 23 January 2006 at 12:27am GMT

Mike,
You're the first person to label me "conservative" since one of my seminary profs tried to block my ordination. Actually, her labelling me helped my slide under the radar of a very conservative bishop.

Really the better description would be "orthodox", not as the neo-puritans have twisted it, but as it has been historically defined (by the Creeds and the Councils).

And I see nothing inconsistent with orthodoxy in supporting liturgical reform, women in the episcopacy, blessings of same-sex unions, and other "innovations".

Posted by: Jim Pratt on Monday, 23 January 2006 at 10:06pm GMT

Even the estimable MM makes the occasional boo-boo, Jim. ;-)

"And I see nothing inconsistent with orthodoxy in supporting liturgical reform, women in the episcopacy, blessings of same-sex unions, and other "innovations"."

Amen! :-D

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 1:29am GMT

Ah! The Church in Wales also begins the process for women bishops I see from the papers of our Governing Body.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 2:54pm GMT

Seeing from the date on the last two postings, I see that this thread is not dead yet & offer this opening of an article from Sojourners:
http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=news.display_article&mode=C&NewsID=5162
"The real tradition of women and church leadership

by Sandra Dufield
SojoMail 1-25-2006
In claiming church tradition doesn't allow women to be ordained priests, Vatican and Catholic officials would do well to consider the history of their tradition.

According to Dorothy Irvin, a Catholic theologian and archaeologist, the traditional Christian church had women priests and the archaeological evidence of this is preserved for us to see today.

In the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome there's a mosaic depicting four women leaders. One woman, Theodora (ca. 820 A.D.), has the title Episcopa above her head, which means a bishop who is a woman.

In a cathedral at Annaba, in what is now Algeria, is a mosaic covering the tomb of a woman. Along with her name, Guilia Runa, is her title "presbiterissa," which means female priest. The same title is on women's tombs in Rome. Two read, "Veronica presbitera daughter of Josetis" and "Faustina presbitera."

Additionally, a fourth-century fresco in Rome's Catacomb of Priscilla shows a woman being ordained. She's wearing an alb under her chasuble, which is first worn at ordination. Only priests and higher church leaders could wear it. Next to her, with his right hand on her shoulder, is a bishop, identified by his chair and his pallium, also worn during ordination. ..."

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 8:20pm GMT

Congratulations, dear brothers and sisters, on your recent decision on starting the process for women bishops in the CofE (and apparently CofW). We in the Church of Sweden have had women bishops for some years now, and they (there's two of them) are among the most respected and theologically "sound" Christian leaders of our country. Not that it automatically goes with the gender... :o)
Since ecumenism isn't exclusive to adapting to what the Roman church thinks, contrary to what is often heard in dabates both here, and seemingly in England, a lot of us are really looking forward to this step forward in unity.

Posted by: Maria on Thursday, 26 January 2006 at 9:51am GMT
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