Thinking Anglicans

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”.

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MariaPrior AelredMartin ReynoldsJ. C. FisherJim Pratt Recent comment authors
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Septuagent
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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.

Chris T.
Guest

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

Nick Finke
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Nick Finke

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.

Tenaj
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Tenaj

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… Read more »

James Taylor
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James Taylor

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,… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

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.

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

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?

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

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?

Murray
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Murray

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.

Tobias S Haller BSG
Guest

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… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

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.

Chris Jones
Guest

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.

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

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

k1eranc
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k1eranc

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… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

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… Read more »

Prior Aelred
Guest

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… Read more »

Jim Pratt
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Jim Pratt

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”,… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

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

augustus meriwether
Guest

Thank you Prior Aelred, for that link. Very encouraging. And Lo! What have we here? β€œIt 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 β€˜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… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

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?

Jane
Guest

“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… πŸ˜‰

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

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”.

J. C. Fisher
Guest

Even the estimable MM makes the occasional boo-boo, Jim. πŸ˜‰

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

Amen! πŸ˜€

Martin Reynolds
Guest

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

Prior Aelred
Guest

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.… Read more »

Maria
Guest

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… Read more »