Thursday, 4 August 2011

Bishop Victoria Matthews on Women in the Episcopate

Victoria Matthews, the Bishop of Christchurch in New Zealand addressed a fringe meeting (arranged by WATCH and the Open Synod Group) at last month’s meeting of the Church of England General Synod.

Although her address was primarily about Women in the Episcopate, she also spoke about the earthquakes in Christchurch.

The full text of her address is below the fold.

Church of England General Synod, 10 July 2011
Address by Bishop Victoria Matthews
on the Subject of
Women in the Episcopate.

Opening Prayer:
Gracious God we come before you in thanksgiving for our life in Christ and for the manifold blessings we have received from your hands. In this time we have together considering your call and the exercise of ordered ministry in your church, grant us grace that our ears may hear and eyes see the fullness of the life of the Body of Christ on earth and the promises of your Kingdom yet to be realized. Come Holy Spirit, and set our hearts on fire for love of you. In the strong name of Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.

I would like to begin by thanking WATCH and Open Synod for this invitation. Thank you also to Archbishops Rowan and John for their warm welcome to this General Synod. To begin with a disclaimer, the topic I am asked to address seems a bit dated. I do not say that as a criticism but as an admission. I have been in episcopal ministry for over 17 years, longer than I served in parish ministry and theological education combined. Indeed I have served in three different dioceses [Toronto, Edmonton and Christchurch] as either Suffragan or Diocesan Bishop. Currently I am service the Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand where we have experienced an astounding and unsettling 7000 plus earthquakes and aftershocks in what is now being described as writing a new chapter in earthquake history. 181 people have died with many others injured. A third of the listed buildings in the city are down and more are to come. 23 Anglican churches are unsafe to enter, with a smaller number of vicarages and halls also listed for demolition. The Cathedral, which is the icon of the city has been sufficiently damaged to require partial or full deconstruction. On June 13, just a very few weeks ago, when the fourth and fifth major earthquakes struck [both over 5.5] the icon within the icon of the cathedral, the Rose Window, fell inwards along with 75% of the west wall. Throughout this time of devastation and upset, the National Government and the Christchurch city council, recognizing that what we are experiencing is the biggest natural disaster ever experienced in New Zealand, have looked repeatedly to the church for leadership. Remember this is New Zealand with a culture that is increasingly secular. But it does have to be said that this secular self-understanding has not always been the identity of Christchurch. The history of Christchurch goes back to Archbishop Sumner and the Canterbury Association when four sailing vessels were sent to New Zealand to establish a new colony more English than England, named for Christchurch Oxford and intended to be clearly Anglican in its vision and reality Today it continues to be the most Anglican part of New Zealand. When I was elected in Christchurch by the Electoral College of the Diocese, the medium level upset was the election of a Canadian bishop sight unseen, elected on reputation and references and not that I was a woman. There was also an upset that I was reputed to be an Anglo Catholic, yet had just been elected Bishop by a clearly evangelical diocese, but again the controversy was not about gender. You may remember that Penelope Jamieson, now retired, was elected in 1990 by the Diocese of Dunedin, New Zealand, as the first woman Diocesan in the Communion. This is not to say there was no concern about gender but simply that it was well down the list.

So again let me say that speaking about the idea of women in the episcopate does seem a bit odd to me. Believe in it? I live the reality. But let me also say that if you are experiencing this conversation and my presence as something of a disaster, an earthquake happening out of the blue, than please know you will be a casualty if you do not actually engage the earthquake. Sitting in shock as your house comes down in not healthy. Earthquakes require response and recovery because the one thing that will not happen is that they go away and life continues as normal. Earthquakes change your experience of life and knowing that is the first step to a healthy and life-saving response.

Over 20 years on in the history of the episcopal ministry involving both genders, or as the Canadian Church said, bringing completeness to episcopal ministry, I no longer can actually seriously engage the argument about the validity of the sacraments celebrated by women. The sacraments we celebrate are valid and transform lives much as the sacraments celebrated by men in holy orders. That is because in the lives of the men and women the Holy Spirit has conferred gifts of grace. My successor in the Diocese of Edmonton was ordered deacon and priest by a woman in episcopal ministry who then was a co-consecrator at the episcopal consecration. In the USA there are a growing number of bishops all consecrated by the Presiding Bishop, also female. Apostolic Succession has not been endangered by these episcopal acts. Rather Apostolic Succession is the handing on of the apostolic faith and the authority to uphold and protect it, which has less to do with the pedigree of the episcopal minster than the work of the Holy Spirit. Thirty-five bishops participated in my consecration by far more important; the Holy Spirit was present and active in that ordination. So why all the fuss? Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the seminaries of the Communion began to emphasize the need to critique the tradition. Liberation theology, Black theology and feminist theology, to cite examples, began to highlight the gaps and oversights we had permitted in our reception of the Biblical narrative. Their insight was that Scriptural proclamation had become increasingly the telling of the Story of Salvation in ways which upheld the authority of the powerful and present day office holders. Everyone had their place and was expected to know their place. Gradually, thanks to Liberation, Black and Feminist Theology, with the emphasis on the Story of the Exodus and a re-reading of the Gospels, new insights began. The insights highlighted what had been overlooked and dared to ask what else needed to be heard again as if for the first time. The concern that they brought to the attention of the churches was not a new problem. If one reads about the preaching of the Gospel on the Plantations in the Southern USA during the days of the slave trade, the reality was that the sermons preached to the owners were most frequently on the epistles. Upholding the status quo was an important part of Christian ministry. The Tradition does need to be critiqued and I say that as one who holds the Tradition in high esteem. However by the time we were into 1990’s and frankly into the 21st century as well, there was a distressing tendency to critique the Tradition without first teaching the Tradition. So as you consider the question of the ordination to the episcopate of both genders, in this province, I believe that it is as important to listen carefully to the Tradition as it is to critique the Tradition. For this reason I have been adamant that voices on all sides need to be heard. There is much we can learn from each other. For too long we have been listening only to the voices who agree with us.

For this reason I think it is important to recognize that women have not been part of the ordered ministry of the churches for very long periods of time in church history. Some would say that this is due to questions of headship founded upon Scriptural teaching. Others would say it has to do with the requirement of physical similarity to the male body to the body of the man Jesus. And others would say that it was so in the beginning and always should be.

However, if we look again at the Tradition we notice that in the body of the Scriptures we do have some remarkable examples of leadership, proclamation by, and vocation of both genders. To mention but a few examples, there is Lydia who enables the Gospel to go into Europe by persuading Paul to preach there. Her role is extraordinarily episcopal. Then backing up a touch we have the Pharisee, Saul of tarsus, rounding up the leaders and members of The Way in order to put them to death. Acts 9 clearly says it was men and women that he was targeting. I suggest to you that Paul was enough of an Alpha male that he was most interested in gathering the leaders. Both male and female Christians are his target. This strongly suggests to me that women held positions of leadership in the early church and that this was recognized and acted on by Saul. But as a catholic as well as evangelical Christian I find the strongest argument is the Virgin Mary who grows in her womb the body and blood of Christ, the incarnate Son of God. She is therefore the first celebrant of the Eucharist. “Let it be according to your word.”

The list of arguments goes on and on and I am not going to rehearse them all here. However I will say that what deeply saddens me more than any of these arguments, for or against, is that the church, the Body of Christ, is divided and rent asunder by these arguments. And in fact it is far more than arguments that are at stake. I fear we may be guilty of the sin of idolatry. So let’s back up a moment and remember what is of the greatest importance. We are, all of us, called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Bishops are the successors of the apostles in every century. To be an apostle, two things are required. First one must be the witness of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And secondly one must be commissioned or sent by Christ to proclaim the Good News. Mary Magdalene [“I have seen the Lord”] fulfilled both those criteria and hence is called the Apostle to the Apostles. So if we are going to worry about who should be a bishop at this time and in this part of the world, the requirement must be that a bishop, as a successor to the apostles, is able and eager to witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and be recognized as one who has been sent to proclaim our Lord’s Resurrection to the world. That is why Paul who did not know Jesus in the flesh could claim to be an apostle. It was because he was a witness of the resurrection of Christ in the encounter on the road to Damascus and he was sent out by no one less than the Christ to make this proclamation. To state the obvious: this is all about Jesus and the Resurrection, and not about gender. To say that one needs to have certain gender specific human attributes are more important than what we have received as a gift from Almighty God. And that to me is idolatry and serious sin. So I would suggest that all parties in this need to repent and commit, yet again, to praying for God’s guidance in this matter.

My time will start to run out soon so let me say a couple of things about the matter of women in the episcopate: and the concerns raised with respect to ecumenical dialogue. We all know that the actions of provinces such as Canada, the Episcopal Church, New Zealand and Australia in ordaining women to the episcopate has led to increased tension with other Communions specifically Rome and the Orthodox. It would seem this is particularly true if the Church of England takes the step. Frankly I do not understand that as I believe that the Church of England is one province of our beloved Communion and not the head Office. But let’s ask a couple of further reaching questions here. Does Rome recognize the episcopate of my brother bishops in the Anglican Communion? She does not. I have worked, as the Anglican Bishop, in dioceses alongside Roman bishops who are conservative, even by Roman standards. Has this proved to be difficult? No it has not. In fact I would have to say that in those instances I enjoyed a particularly good relationship, and we were able to initiate projects together with ease. At the end of the day we still did not agree on everything but the level of respect we had for each other was and is immense. In earthquake devastated Christchurch, I have worked most closely with Bishop Barry Jones my brother in Christ in the Roman Church and together we are spearheading an ecumenical response entitles Rebuilding the Faith of Canterbury, to the disaster.

One other personal story: My mentor as a priest and for many years as a bishop was an exceptionally wise and holy Anglican bishop by the name of Henry Hill. Bishop Henry was Archbishop Robert Runcie’s delegate for work with the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. It was my privilege to preach at Henry’s funeral. Afterwards one of the Orthodox prelates said to Alyson Barnett Cowan, with tears in his eyes, that he so regretted not being able to share the Eucharist with Henry and the other Anglicans on that occasion. HE did not because he knew it would be a stumbling block for his brethren, not because he found there to be a problem.

The decision before the Church of England is of course a decision that only your Church can make. You are presently deciding diocese by diocese. I am aware there is great concern about the outcome tearing the church apart. There are concerns about proper safeguards for minorities. All that only you can decide. But I do want to say that in each of the 3 dioceses I have had the incredible privilege to serve, there have been those who do not agree with the ordination of women to the episcopate. In Edmonton the concern was Anglo Catholic and was about women presiding at the sacraments, and in Christchurch the concern is of the more Sydney minded evangelicals and has to do with women preaching. In every instance we have managed to work together with great respect and mutual support. Following the September and February earthquakes in Christchurch I received numerous telephone calls from the Archbishop of Sydney offering his prayers, financial support and actual fundraising for us. You may remember that Sydney Diocese suffered huge financial losses recently, but that did not stop an initial gift of $10,000 to the Diocese of Christchurch for pastoral and earthquake response ministry, Subsequent gifts were designated ‘to be used at the discretion of the Bishop’. Archbishop Jenson has also invited me to visit and stay in his guest apartment when I need to get away from the devastation in Christchurch. None of this is meant, for one second, to say that I have unique or special gifts at reconciliation. What I am saying to you is that if I can do it, anyone can enjoy a very high level of fellowship and partnership in the Gospel. It is after all our common calling in Christ. The Bishop is the symbol of unity, and whether my brother bishop is Roman, Orthodox, Anglo Catholic or evangelical Anglican, I have never felt that my episcopal ministry has been an insurmountable stumbling block to the ministry that we share in Christ and offer to the glory of God.

In conclusion, I offer you my prayer as this Province continues to seek the mind of Christ, and discern how to serve God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that as you make your decision Diocese by Diocese, you will be shaped by our calling to give glory to God, to be reconciled in Christ and to proclaim the Gospel in the world our precious Lord Jesus died on the Cross to save. Thanks be to God.

Posted by Peter Owen on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 11:18am BST | TrackBack
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This is a very sensible and mission-oriented address. I was particularly struck by this statement: “I believe that the Church of England is one province of our beloved Communion and not the head Office.” Likewise, the Archbishop of Canterbury should not be the head bishop of the Communion. The Anglican Covenant, however, will make him that.

Posted by: Lionel Deimel on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 1:34pm BST

Thank you, Bishop Matthews for all that you have said. And for the way you have pointed out that the Church exists for those with whom we disagree as well as for those who agree on principles they hold dear. We should not be rent asunder by disagreement, but seek to work together whwerever we can. Sadly some people in the Anglican Communion have decided only to live with those with whom they agree, and to discriminate with those with whom they disagree by exclusion. I regret that stance deeply. In Christ we are one and that is what matters. Una

Posted by: Una Kroll on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 3:19pm BST

A splendid address, and helpful in basing itself on a clearly articulated understanding of the apostolic succession (and what a treat nowadays to hear a bishop affirming the physical Resurrection of Jesus as central to the proclamation of our faith). I wonder, though, as a Canadian Anglican, are we really to understand that our episcopate was previously "incomplete"? Taken to its logical extreme, that position would seem to imply that every diocese ought to have both a male and a female bishop simultaneously! Far better, surely, to think of it as the Church freeing itself of unnecessary restrictions on whom it may call to exercise episkope.

All that said, I would dearly like to see some engagement with an argument put forward some years ago by the then-Anglican priest, now a Roman Catholic, Fr. John Hunwicke (archived here: He suggested that the real challenge was not necessarily to do with "sacramental validity" but with how a woman priest or bishop could be understood as an icon of the "Fatherhood of God", a theme apparently crucial to primitive Christianity (seen in the retention of the Aramaic "Abba" in otherwise Greek-speaking communities). Paul, suggests Hunwicke, saw his "fatherly" relationship to the churches under his care as "paternal in a starkly sexual and even genital sense". Later, Ignatius saw the bishop as the "tupos tou Patros".

While acknowledging the contingency of any cataphatic attributions, Hunwicke cautions that embarrassment about calling God "Father" -- and about the concomitant understanding of the orders of Christian ministry as, in some sense, "patriarchal" -- entails a retreat from the very essence of primitive Christian theology, and indeed Christ's own teaching. He therefore asks whether advocates of women's ordination are willing to argue that a woman can indeed be a "signum efficax of the Patria of God", just as the water of baptism is an effectual sign of the washing of regeneration (where milk or wine would not be).

Has such an argument ever been mounted? Perhaps, in light of Bishop Matthews's comments, we would have to explain simultaneously how a male priest consecrating the Eucharist can be a signum efficax of the Blessed Virgin!

Posted by: Jesse on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 3:49pm BST

The most engaging part of the Bishop's address is contained in the following section:

"Beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the seminaries of the Communion began to emphasize the need to critique the tradition. Liberation theology, Black theology and feminist theology, to cite examples, began to highlight the gaps and oversights we had permitted in our reception of the Biblical narrative."

She really understates her point. In fact, critical theologies of the type she cites have radically debunked the credibility of gender segregation which is alive and well to various degrees in the Communion.

Notwithstanding, the conversation, including the conversation in Canada, continues to be about, as the Bishop indicates, women's ordination within a field of institutional sensitivities to Anglo-Catholics here and conservative evangelicals there.

What is missing in the Bishop's address, and in the corporate response by the church, is an unqualified commitment to gender equality as a matter of human rights.

As long as there remain, as a matter of pastoral policy, no go parishes and no go "altars" for female priests and bishops, then the church's commitment to equality is compromised. The ability of even a few parishes to block the full sacramental expression of female priests and bishops makes a statement about the equality or not of every single baptized female person. The presence of women in episcopal office is not a consolation prize in this regard.

Bishop Matthews is careful to include in her address how her being a female in episcopal orders has not been overly upsetting in her work with some other bishops i.e. its not that bad, some of the boys are quite happy to work with me on some things. One wonders why validation must constantly be rooted in such ground.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 6:19pm BST

Hunwicke's argument is in fact very common. It's difficult to engage with from a practical point of view because it presses on so many 'fault-lines' in Christianity which make Christians of different persuasions very anxious (it's not intellectually difficult to engage with).

So one could say:

(1) there weren't any 'priests' in first-century Christianity. This is true. And yet early Christians celebrated the Eucharist (or something like it). But they did have priests from the second century and we've still got them. 'Apostolic succession' etc.

(2) it is absurd to insist that God is male (or exclusively male). What, then, of the virgin conception, Mary, mother of Jesus/God etc.? And what of the fact that Jesus and Paul did regard God as male? Answer, of course, they were 'conditioned' by their time. What, then, of Jesus as God and Paul as key builder of the authoritative tradition? Answer: 'kenotic Christology' deals with former and Paul is fallible. But many people shy away from these concepts.

So it seems to me:

(1) 'orthodox' people like Hunwicke are wrong to insist on theirs as the only way;

(2) 'liberals' likewise cannot insist on the rightness of their 'take' (even though I personally am convinced it is right);

(3) messy compromises (including acccommodation of Hunwicke-like priests who wish to remain Anglicans) are inevitable.

(4) I do think that Bishop Victoria is not taking seriously enough the arguments of people like Hunwicke (as was).

Posted by: John on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 7:54pm BST

Jesse, how much of the theology you just succinctly enunciated is based on ancient – and archaic -- views about the roles of men and women in human reproduction, and applying those roles to God?
Jesus is the only-begotten. In ancient times, who did people think did the begetting? Men. They didn't know that begetting (conception) requires equal contributions of material from men and women. Even when 17th-century scientists first saw sperm under a microscope, they believed that the sperm was carrying a literally microscopically-small teensy human being (a homunculus?) to the woman. The woman was seen as a vessel, as passive, as fertile soil to accept and grow what the man delivered. God was not seen as passive, as a mere static thing. God was seen as active, therefore, God was seen as male.
I would go beyond Paul's statement that in Christ there is neither male nor female (funny how that gets overlooked when it comes to priests).
God was never created and will never cease to exist. God is eternal. Being eternal, God does not need to reproduce. Hence, God is neither male nor female.
But! God cannot create that which God cannot imagine/visualize/think of. God created human beings in God's own image. Male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27) Therefore, God contains both masculine and feminine.
Or, as I like to put it, God is both and neither male and female.
I’m sorry, but God the Father is limiting God, is constraining God, is confining God.
I recognize the value of tradition. I recognize the need for the Church to hold onto its roots. But "We've always thought this way, we will always think this way, world without end, amen" creates a sterile house with no room for the Holy Spirit.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 8:10pm BST

Bishop Victoria mentions that the Sydney diocese gave $10,000 to the Christchurch diocese after the earthquake and Peter Jensen has offered her accommodation in Sydney should she need a respite. All very nice, but I am sure many of the reasonable laity of Sydney would have been disappointed had he done less and it needs to be seen in the perspective of my suburban parish in Dunedin which has given $50,000 shared between the Maori and Pakeha dioceses. Also while ++Jensen might be willing for a woman bishop to stay in his guest house it does not negate the fact that should Bishop Victoria want to participate in a Eucharist while in Sydney, like Bishop Barbara Darling of Melbourne, she could only do so as a deacon.

Posted by: Brian Ralph on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 10:20pm BST

I recall a conversation at College some 27 or 28 years ago where we were discussing the proper way to address female priests. (We were inclined, at Trinity, to address male priests as "Father."). A much younger Victoria Matthews, a mere priest at the time, opined that female priests should also be called "Father."

I've never known if she was serious or not,

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Thursday, 4 August 2011 at 10:44pm BST

"On June 13, just a very few weeks ago, when the fourth and fifth major earthquakes struck [both over 5.5] the icon within the icon of the cathedral, the Rose Window, fell inwards along with 75% of the west wall."

I had not heard this. :-( Prayers for the Diocese of Christchurch!


"'Fatherhood of God', a theme apparently crucial to primitive Christianity (seen in the retention of the Aramaic "Abba" in otherwise Greek-speaking communities"

I would argue that "Abba" (a baby's babbling sound interpreted---by eager parents!---as signifying parenthood and, furthermore, gender of) was left untranslated because of the shockingly embarrassing *intimacy* of the term when translated [Would anyone else *cringe* if we said "Our Da-da in Heaven"? I would! O_o (Just as much if it was "Our Mommy")]

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 2:27am BST

Many thanks, John and peterpi (and I'm fascinated by your anecdote, Malcolm French; it's exactly the sort of thing that Fr. Hunwicke wonders aloud about in his piece!).

Naturally I am on the whole sympathetic to all the reasons one might simply want to dismiss this particular Anglo-Catholic argument -- though scriptural proof-texting (Gal. 3:28) offers sauce for Bishop Goose as well as Bishop Gander. And I always have a minor heart attack when it is suggested that we must decide which of Jesus' words are "historically conditioned" and therefore safely ignored, and which are of eternal significance. That sounds like too much responsibility for anyone not endowed with an infallible magisterium... Fr. Hunwicke's point, in any case, is simply that a disciple of the Christ of the gospels cannot conscientiously say, except in an extreme apophatic mode, that God is "not Father", whatever else may be said about God.

In this particular case, it seems better to engage with the (Anglo-) Catholic argument by asking, "What is it about 'fatherhood' that Jesus has in mind when he calls God 'Father'?" Is there anything in it that we recognize today as strictly limited to male parents? peterpi's questioning of ancient biological theory goes right to the point, at least in one aspect. But surely Jesus (and Paul) don't have just that in mind. And we can also helpfully consider what such a title *excludes* from God's characteristics (e.g. God the Father is emphatically not Diana of the Ephesians). Is there, today, a serious risk of confusing Christianity with pagan fertility cults served by priestesses, as various Anglicans opposed to women's ordination have warned (C. S. Lewis, Eric Mascall)? If there is, I suggest that the problem arises from misunderstandings separate from the admission of women to holy orders!

Fr. Hunwicke is concerned -- and may we concede that he is right in this? -- that the ministries of the Church should be understood to reflect a Christian understanding of the Godhead (as in Ignatius, who compares the bishop to the Father and the deacons to Christ, i.e. sent from the Father). If we are to engage seriously with Fr. Hunwicke's argument, we must advance a persuasive understanding of the role of the Father in the Trinity and demonstrate that a woman can be the icon of that role in the life of the Church.

Has *that* been attempted, ideally based on scriptural and patristic sources? That, I suspect, is how we will win our "conservative" brethren, or at least win their respect. They are mostly deaf to tub-thumping about equality and rights.

Posted by: Jesse on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 5:37am BST

'A much younger Victoria Matthews, a mere priest at the time, opined that female priests should also be called "Father."'

Malcolm, many years later, when I had just moved to the Diocese of Edmonton and Victoria Matthews was my bishop, after I had been calling her 'Bishop' for several weeks, she said to me "'Victoria' works quite well too".

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 6:35am BST

'That, I suspect, is how we will win our "conservative" brethren, or at least win their respect. They are mostly deaf to tub-thumping about equality and rights.'

Jesse, if your conservative brethren are evangelicals and not Anglo-Catholics, they are also deaf to arguments about whether or not a woman can be an icon, in the life of the Church, of the role of the Father in the Trinity. This is because they don't see that as part of the New Testament job description for a presbyter in the Church.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 8:40am BST

While we're worrying about how a female bishop can represent the fatherhood of God, I wonder if we might also address the question of how a male bishop can represent the motherhood of God?

The point, which has been made for over a millennium and a half in the Christian tradition, is that God is beyond biological gender categories. Yes, we do refer to the first person of the Trinity as "Father" because that's what Jesus did. But, as has been pointed out (I think by Hilary of Poitiers, if memory serves correctly), the revelation is of God as Father, not of father as God. Nor of God as male. (I think it was Arnobius who said that the word "god" is grammaticall masculine, but we should not conclude from that that God is biologically masculine.)

And, at any rate, I don't see how the priest or bishop is able, let alone required, to represent God in all attributes. The whole debate is a red herring.

Posted by: Alan T Perry on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 1:05pm BST

Re the posting of PeterPi, above: I'm embarrassed to say it had never occurred to me to consider that conceptualizations of deity and of Incarnation are conditioned by biological understandings of conception at the time they were formulated--but of course they were.

IMHO that puts the entire discussion about gender roles in the church on an entirely different footing. Among other things it forces acceptance that the Incarnation needed not just the Virgin as vessel--but required her ovum. I believe overlooking that little fact has allowed some to continue to give short shrift to the place of women in the church. The fact is--without his mother's egg, DNA and the rest of it, you got no Jesus.

Posted by: Daniel Berry on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 1:35pm BST

FWIW, the "father" -- in the thinking of that time -- represents the force of creativity and life, the female being merely the receptive, nurturing "earth" that promotes but does not create life. (Obviously this ties in with pagan imagery too -- so much for the way in which beliefs about reality, even mistaken ones, shape and form all sorts of religious thinking.)

We do know better now, and there are enough hints in the tradition to open the doors to seeing the priest as "father" in the sense of creativity quite apart from "maleness."

More importantly, there is ample material in the Fathers (ahem!) and in the scholastics to counter the notion that the "Father" is "male."

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 2:03pm BST

I always thought that the Virgin Mary supplied the physical material (mater, Latin for mother, gives us the word material) for Jesus. Men were believed to contribute the spirit, which was the more important part of the mix. The Gospels tell us that the Holy Spirit came upon her, or that she was with child of the Holy Spirit: Mary's egg (physical material) plus the anima from the Holy Spirt.

Posted by: Richard on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 2:58pm BST

@Tim - Now THAT'S the +Victoria I know.

@Jesse and @Alan - The essential problem with Fr. Huncliffe's argument (at least as presented here) is that it elevates one aspect of divine attribute above all others - which is, of course, the modus operandi of virtually every heresy. The iconic idea of "Father" is one aspect of how we think of God - and only one. But to follow the argument to it's logical conclusion, perhaps only a man who is also both a shepherd and a king - should ever be ordained. After all, how can a non-shepherd be an effective icon of the Good Shepherd, and how can a non-king be an effective icon of the King of Heaven?

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 4:29pm BST

Couldn't we just do away with the label 'father' and address people only by their first names? If we don't have a suitable form of address for female priests, then the title 'father' is redundant.

Although it might be argued that in a large organisation such as the Church we need senior, middle and junior managers - bishops, archdeacons, deans and priests serve as useful job descriptions - in a priesthood of all believers we diminish the discipleship of the laity by outmoded heirarchies.

Posted by: A J Barford on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 5:10pm BST

Thanks for everyone's kind consideration of my question. Very helpful indeed. Alan and Tobias's references to the "Fathers" are very apt. And I am sensitive to Alan's questioning of the entire premise of Fr. Hunwicke's argument (i.e. if the bishop must represent God the Father, how are we to isolate just *one* attribute that is to be represented?). Bishop Matthews's "back-to-basics" understanding of the original thrust of the Apostolic calling (to be a witness to the resurrection and to proclaim the gospel) is absolutely the more credible foundation on which to build and re-build our understanding of episcopal ministry.

But I also think that her point about first teaching the Tradition before we critique the Tradition is well made. One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is that we receive the Tradition (the scriptures, the creeds, the undivided ecumenical councils, the teaching authority of the Church), but we don't assume that the Tradition is never in need of correction. So, if I may be forgiven for invoking the 39 Articles as a shorthand of convenience, Articles VI, VII, VIII, XX, and XXI are counterbalanced by Article XIX: the Church receives, transmits, and submits itself to the Tradition, but the churches have also historically "erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith". A patriarchal understanding of ministry is an element of the received tradition, and it's one we should first seek to understand, interpret constructively, and then critique. Dismissing it altogether would be out of character for our communion.

Tim, you're quite correct! In particular the doctrine of male headship is a different hydra to be... beheaded. :) I sometimes wonder if those who would like to restore a late first-century polity entirely understand what they're wishing for...

Daniel, as it happens Fr. Hunwicke himself wrote a beautiful reflection on how Jesus had only Mary's DNA, where, now that I look at it again, he also offers some thoughts about the origin of Jesus' theology of God as "Abba" (i.e. that Mary taught it to him: An interesting read -- though of course for him the subject is irrelevant to the question of women in holy orders.

Posted by: Jesse on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 5:16pm BST

Daniel Berry is highlighting in contemporary terms the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation as expressed at Chalcedon. Jesus is made of the "stuff" of the Virgin Mary (back then they didn't know about the ovum, but thought it was the blood, which keen observers noted stopped flowing with pregnancy). Not just his body, but his whole "human nature" derives entirely, and solely, from Mary -- which is precisely why maleness or femaleness should not be an issue in the consecration of a human priest. All persons share in the same human nature by birth, and all Christians in the divine "Christ-nature" by the new birth (which is really adoption) of baptism.

The deeper one looks into the theology, the thinner the arguments against the ordination of women appear to rest almost entirely on ideas which are at odds with orthodox theology and anthropology.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 5:35pm BST

JCF, I was under the impression that the popular "Da-da" interpretation of "Abba" (founded on the work of Joachim Jeremias, who did not go to that extreme) had been effectively demolished by more recent scholarship (e.g. Geza Vermes and, especially, James Barr in JTS 39 [1988], 28-47). Of course, the same scholars point out that address to God as "Father" may be a much older Jewish insight!

Posted by: Jesse on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 6:02pm BST

Daniel Berry, thank you!
Maybe it's because I come from outside Christianity, maybe it's because I'm too rational for my own good, but thinking about the Incarnation can tie me in knots. Maybe that's why it's called a Mystery.
For me, the problem comes from trying to reconcile modern science with certain scriptural events. For example, I think about DNA, about scientific -- as opposed to theological -- parthenogenesis, etc. Your last sentence is spot on, in my thinking.
With all due respect, Jesse, I can’t see how one can read scripture without an awareness of the times they were written in, and the influences upon the writers. Such thinking does not mean that the faithful can just “safely ignore” what is written, but it can give them appreciation and fuller understanding.
And, the faithful can simply accept the Incarnation as happening in ways we humans are not meant to understand, which is why it’s called “faith”.
Ideally, the fact that in English and, I think, in Hebrew, "God" is a grammatically male word should not influence our thinking about God. But humans are not ideal, and the male grammar bleeds into our thinking about God. One only need look, for example, at the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the figure of God giving Adam life. But, I also suspect that God the Creator and Nurturer, God the Savior, and God the Holy Spirit will probably never catch on. Many “do” see God as male, in the physical sense of the word. They associate God with certain specific aspects of maleness. They then declare that, based on those same certain specific aspects, half the population is unfit to participate in certain aspects of the Church. So, in this instance, grammar is destiny.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 6:57pm BST

On iconography, the prime text is not the particularity of Jesus as a man, but Genesis 1.27 (so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them NRSV). To say that a woman cannot be an icon in the same sense as a man contradicts this basic text.

Jesus tells us that the fatherhood of God (mentioned in every new testament book apart from 3 John, so not to be ignored) is different from our conception of fatherhood in Matthew 23.9 - a deep text which has been insufficiently probed in the various critiques of patriarchy.

When I think about what we call each other, I think mainly of my Christian name, the one into which I was baptised, when the people who loved me said (to God) "this is Mark". It is, as I sometimes tell groups of schoolchildren, the name God knows me by.

If we paid more attention to the doctrine of creation and the sacrament of baptism, we'd have less problem with the doctrine of redemption (what we are redeemed to become) and the sacrament of communion - doctrinally and sacramentally we have ct=rated church cultures in which tail wags dog.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 7:44pm BST

@ Richard: what you have just said about the "spirit" being the "more important part of the mix" would be called heresy by orthodox theologians who care about such things. Augustine understood the Incarnation as altering the status of our humanity definitively. The underpinning of your posting "overthroweth the nature" of our redemption. I suspect it's (yet another) a facile argument for denigrating the position of women. WAY past time to get over that.

Posted by: Daniel Berry on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 8:41pm BST

Br. Tobias, thanks for the observation. I believe also that Chalcedon used the term "hypostatic union" to describe the nature of the Christ - and the Athanasian Creed wants us to understand that this union as indissoluble. I'm afraid we still have a lot of "heretics" among us that still have trouble with Jesus' humanity.

BTW, I personally perfer the phrase "Mother of God" to the term insisted upon by our Orthodox brethren, Theotokos, i.e., God-bearer. Since all such language is mythological anyway, it makes more sense to me to say that a god--any god--has to hae a mother. The earliest representations of deity from culture to culture are feminine. Deities with a penis seems not to become important until they become warriors (Exodus 15:3) instead of patrons of agrarian societies.

Posted by: Daniel Berry on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 8:52pm BST

@ Jesse "A patriarchal understanding of ministry is an element of the received tradition, and it's one we should first seek to understand, interpret constructively, and then critique. Dismissing it altogether would be out of character for our communion."

Actually, the reverse is a more viable theory, i.e. the ministry tradition of the Church has been transmitted in a patriarchal understanding of society with credence given to socially assigned roles as "revealed" and biology posited as social destiny. It is a social paradigm that needs to be properly understood and then radically rejected--like a lot of other precious notions in our Communion.

As for the "fatherhood" of God, the term is so metaphorical as to be useless in the debate about the ordination of men and women to any order in the church.

By the by, as if anologia entis were not enough, folks may be interested in reviewing Geza Vermes' work "The Religion of Jesus the Jew" (Fortress 1993).

His chapter (6) "'Abba,Father:The God of Jesus" is very insightful. See especially the appendix to the chapter ("Abba Isn't Daddy") & the philological evaluation ( his own and that of James Barr) on this matter.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 9:32pm BST

'Richard: what you have just said about the "spirit" being the "more important part of the mix" would be called heresy by orthodox theologians who care about such things.'

But so too, surely, is the corollary - that sacramental grace should be restricted by a dichotomy which does not obtain (Gal 3.28) in the economy of salvation - at the very least questionable from the same orthodox perspective (as Fr Malcolm observes, it's undue emphasis, whatever on, that foments heresy).

Posted by: Geoff on Friday, 5 August 2011 at 10:15pm BST

Rod: Yes, you make a very strong case starting from the opposite pole, and this is the argument that seems to have won the day in many of our provinces. My concern in this discussion was merely to sound the group about whether proponents of admitting women to the episcopate could meet a certain stripe of conservative on their own ground. The prevailing sentiment in the comments here seems to be that such a scenario simply concedes too much to our "opponents": we either cannot do it, or should not do it.

I absolutely agree with peterpi about the need to read scripture responsibly, with an eye to its authors' context and assumptions (and would we be having this conversation at all without that as a baseline?). But for me that’s what makes this particular issue so emotive! It seems very likely, for instance, that “Abba!” was shouted by the newly baptized as they emerged from the waters, now “clothed with Christ” and having received in themselves the Spirit of God’s Son, making them too to be “heirs” and “sons” (sic!) of God in Christ (Gal. 4:6; see W. Meeks, The First Urban Christians, pp. 87-8; has this insight been controverted?). That passage in Galatians, of course, follows our famous text about how there is no longer male or female. How sad to think that an image that was for our Christian forebears an innocent and transcending joy, and which is nearly ubiquitous in the New Testament (thanks Mark Bennet!), is now received with suspicion, or indeed as positively noxious.

But this isn’t the first big “paradigm shift” to arise from a sea change in social norms. At least we may be grateful that our new perspective has not been prompted – as Augustine’s revolutionary City of God was – by the presence of Visigoths or Vandals at the gates set to destroy the old social norms!

Anyway, thanks to all for some stimulating discussion. I shall withdraw from the field... :)

Posted by: Jesse on Saturday, 6 August 2011 at 3:40am BST

@ Jesse "My concern in this discussion was merely to sound the group about whether proponents of admitting women to the episcopate could meet a certain stripe of conservative on their own ground."

Good point, fair comment. I tend to approach this on the basis of advocating for human and civil rights, finding ways to advance the concept within the church, and looking for theological grounds, exegetical grounds in particular, upon which to establish a beachhead in that regard. Because there is such entrenched special pleading in the church with regard to human and civil rights (Rowan Williams and the Pope being two notable examples), I have a tendency be unsympathetic to concessions to traditionalists. It's a kind of preferential option for the marginalized ( women, GLBT) over against the privileged ( men, the hierarchy).

The ground of the debate is also important. I would describe the lingering rear guard by conservatives, the "male priest as alter christus" approach for example, as arcane and muddled; but more to the point it undermines the ability of the church to be taken seriously by the wider society.

Thanks for your perspectives on the issues.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 6 August 2011 at 3:45pm BST

Rod, I on the other hand do tend to see this as a theological issue -- which is not to negate the political / social aspect. But as Jesse is interested in the theological side, I think it fair to note that even some among the Eastern Orthodox are beginning to realize the full implications of the Chalcedonian definition: witness the Old Catholic / Orthodox consultation reported on some time back in the Anglican Theological Review.

My point was merely to question the soundness of the these that the bishop reflecting God the Father necessarily includes the bishop being male. Since the Fathers are clear that God the Father is definitively not male, that whole thread of theologizing must perforce be abandoned. It leads, ultimately, to a heterodox understanding of the Godhead.

The Roman Church attempted this line of reasoning in _Inter Insignores_ (that a sacrament requires "natural likeness" for recognisability) but quietly abandoned it as the implications of receptionism became obvious, and has removed the topic from the discussion table.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 6 August 2011 at 6:28pm BST

I have a friend in Christchurch who is a Reform type evangelical cleric and he even accepted Bishop Victoria.

Posted by: Robert ian Willaims on Saturday, 6 August 2011 at 10:44pm BST

I did not mean "spirit - the more important part of the mix" in terms of Incarnation theology. I meant it in terms of knowledge of reproduction at the time and the societal placing of women in a subordinate position to men.

Posted by: Richard on Saturday, 6 August 2011 at 10:47pm BST

@ Tobias "Rod, I on the other hand do tend to see this as a theological issue -- which is not to negate the political / social aspect."

There is an easier way. I wouldn't be bringing the Godhead into it at all. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I would reverse the order of things. I understand it as a social justice issue as well but one which gives rise to compelling theological problems.

Basically one has to choose between a fundamental theological anthropology that holds for the equality of persons, or one can choose a sacramental theology of holy orders in which "equal but different" is the engine that drives ordained ministry as exclusively male. You can't have both.

As every fan of Chalcedon must know, theological constructs have a tendency to be power games, empowering those authorized to formulate them in the first place.

When one distills arguments against the ordination of women,whether based on scripture or tradition or sacramental theology or all three, the finished product is always the same i.e., it is God will that only men can be presbyters/bishops.

The bottom line in all these theologies, even if there is a tendency to deny that God is actually male, is that for all practical purposes God is more like a man than a woman. It's called sexism.

It's hardly surprising that churches that have a phobia about women and women's bodies (and in one case uses a magesterium to control women's bodies) would rationalize blocking women from ordination as the will of God.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 7 August 2011 at 2:43am BST

Hey, Peter Gross, I like your posting on gender-language and would like to add this to the mix: I believe confining figures of godhead to one particular gender construct severely limits its power. This is why I strongly oppose the removal of references to gender from liturgical language and hymnody. Such a denaturing is enervating to religious language and, I believe, our experience of godhead as well as of liturgy--to say nothing of one another!

I believe CS Lewis was onto something when, near the end of his book Perelandra, he brings about the insight that the deity is characterized by no fewer than SEVEN genders.

What, after all, do we think WE know?

Posted by: Daniel Berry on Sunday, 7 August 2011 at 12:54pm BST

You have to remember that the choice before the Reform Evangelical in Christchurch was between the Devil and the deep blue sea; between a woman and Colin Slee! If the choice had been for Colin Slee then full inclusion all round would have been the order of the day. With Victoria Matthews you simply get women and no quarter offered to homosexuals.

Posted by: commentator on Monday, 8 August 2011 at 7:08pm BST

"With Victoria Matthews you simply get women and no quarter offered to homosexuals."

I don't believe the characterization of +Victoria as a reactionary on the gay issue is as warranted as is commonly supposed. Indeed, I was surprised by the shift in the discourse between her primatial candidacies and her translation. In the Canadian church, she was perceived as the more conservative by temperament while the NZ church press painted her a raving liberal.

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 9 August 2011 at 4:27am BST

As a priest acting under the authority of Bishop Victoria, in Christchurch, N.Z., I heartily approve of her understanding of women in ministry - whether as deacon, priest or bishop - to be thoroughly sound, given the current understanding of gender and sexuality that allows the possibility that gender is not a reasonable factor for discrimination in ministry.

After all, in the sphere of the laity, the N.T. Scriptures speak of the 'priesthood of 'All Believers' not just men - the criterion being belief and not sex or gender. Why then should the ministerial priesthood be barred to non-males?

Did not Jesus come to represent ALL humanity - not just men. After all, he needed to be some-where on the human gender scale, and in his milieu it was only possible for his particular ministry to be given any credibility if he was seen to be male.

I also agree with Bishop Victoria's view on Mary's special place in God's plan of redemption through her Son, Jesus. If the task of a priest in the Church today is to 'bring forth' Christ at the Altar, she brought forth Christ in her womb.
This seems, to me, to be a specifically (female) *priestly* vocation and activity.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 9 August 2011 at 11:10pm BST

'With Victoria Matthews you simply get women and no quarter offered to homosexuals.'

Victoria changed her mind on that issue. I know that for a fact, because she told me so herself.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 at 2:11am BST

Bishop Victoria was also involved in the Canadian meetings of the earlier 'St.Michael's Commission', which declared that neither the gender nor sexual orientation of a priest were matters that contravened any core creedal statement.

Perhaps the word 'adiaphora' might best describe both categories. She has not, since that time, seemingly, changed her opinion on this matter.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 15 August 2011 at 3:15pm BST
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