As usual, I’m going to have to raise the dead again, but I hope to do so in an edifying manner, mainly because it has been bugging me. The issue of women’s ordination is a chapter that I want to close and keep closed because I really don’t want to give the impression that this is the only reason why I’m an Anglican Catholic, and that it is the only reason that the Anglican Catholic Church exists.
Again, I will restate something that I want to make quite clear from the outset. The issue of the ordination of women is a big deal even today. Dawn French as the vicar of Dibley states that it is a small deal, but considering that it is a question about how we understand the relationship between God and Humanity as well as between Man and Woman, it needs careful thought. In fact the Church owes it to women, especially those that it has belittled or demonised, to ensure that the reasons for asking the question “why can’t a woman be a priest?” are answered sensitively and in a way that demonstrates the humanity shared by both men and women. As a mathematician, I find the question of equality somewhat vexed, especially since human beings are not mathematical objects which can be compared absolutely. Nor can we really be reduced to measurable bits that can be compared. Personally, I’m beginning to think that the notion of equality is illusory and should be replaced with each human being seeking what we truly share with others in society. As a Benedictine, I seek to replace “equality” with “commonality”, an equivalence class with a true community.
So, as we retread some old ground, let’s return once more to Galatians iii.28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Catholic Church teaches that this is a statement of salvation: that all types of people are saved by sharing in Christ’s humanity. Thus, say the proponents of women’s ordination, “if women share the same humanity of Christ and thus find salvation in Him through that salvation, why can they not share the priesthood of Christ? Why cannot a woman be an ikon of Christ as priest at the altar?”
First question: do women share the same salvation as men? St Paul in this verse from Galatians gives an unequivocal “yes!” in answer. The only means of salvation is by sharing in the humanity of Jesus so that He will share His divinity with us. That divinity is not a respecter of sex.
Second question: do women need the same salvation as men? St Paul says, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” If you remember, woman was taken out of man, Eve from Adam. What does this mean? I’m going to put aside the literal interpretation of the account in Genesis of the generation of Eve from Adam’s rib aside and look at the allegorical interpretation. In this account we have a clear statement that, first, men and women are different, second, that they share humanity, and third, God has made the man the material cause of woman (God Himself being the efficient cause here).Genesis teaches us that man is the steward of God’s creation and that woman is his helper. This sounds like a divine inequality from the outset. It sounds as if man is the boss of woman and that woman must be beneath man because she is not original.
Yet, we must look to God Himself. If God causes Man in some way to beget Woman, then neither begetter nor begotten are alternately superior and inferior. Why? Look to God. God the Father begets the Son. Yet, God the Father can only receive His identity as Father because of the existence of God the Son. Likewise with the procession of the Holy Ghost. Just because the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father does not mean He is inferior to the Father but again the Father receives identity as the source of the Holy Ghost. Their differences of identity are relational, yet they are God. That is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: it is an unfathomable mystery.
Likewise, we have the same mystery in humanity. Woman comes from Man and therefore cannot be superior to Man. Yet, it is God’s inscrutable decree that Woman comes from Man: Man is not her efficient cause – that is God alone. Therefore Man cannot be superior to women. Both Man and Woman require humility in order to relate properly to each other. Why? Humility originates from the dust: dust we are and unto dust shall we return.
Thus in Genesis, we see a fundamental difference in how men and women exist, yet share the same humanity. This is Scriptural and therefore a theological truth. I believe that this truth also exists scientifically. There are scientific, evidential differences between men and women which bear up only to say that they are different and yet are fundamentally and equally necessary for the existence of the human race.
Further, it is humanity that needs salvation from sin. Men and Women are both progenitors and victims of sin. Yet it is to be noticed that our first sins are different. For the woman Eve, it is disobedience and desire that allows her to succumb to temptation and to receive the fruit of the tree of knowledge. For the man Adam, the sin is to renounce responsibility and to blame not just the woman but God for making the woman. The sins are different yet they could have been the same. Does this mean, then, that we need salvation in different ways? We receive the same salvation – namely theosis – but in different ways. We know that our resurrection will entail our bodies as well as our spirits, and that indicates that we will still have maleness and femaleness in Heaven. After all, God created us that way. Our Lord’s resurrection body was still recognisably Him (I don’t buy into all these theories of a shape-shifting Christ). The visions of Our Lady have definitely been of her. There are male and female in Heaven: one just does not need to be one of those in order to be saved.
Third question: are men and women saved in the same way? Now that’s not a straightforward question as it looks. We are not saved as individuals but as a Church. As a Church we trust God to supply whatever is lacking and correct whatever is amiss. While we are saved only through the Divinity of Christ, we must receive that divinity by being perfected in Him. Our Purgatory is through the blood of Christ, but nonetheless, that Purgatory is particular as well as general. Look also at the prediction of our salvation in Genesis, just after our Fall.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
It is from the woman that the destruction of Evil will come: the salvation of the woman is different from that of the man. Again, we can’t read too much into this text, but not only is this a text that predicts the fall of Satan at the hands of the Son of Mary, it shows an inequality in how evil is to be destroyed, and how our salvation occurs. Men and women each find their salvation in Christ at the level of their persons in relationship with the Holy Church. The method of that salvation is particular to each human being, and a respecter of sex. Mary plays her part in Salvation by reversing the disobedience and desire shown by Eve: she is obedient and chaste. This meekness is not mere passivity. It is an active war against temptation and the degradation of humanity as fleshy vessels that we can have sex with. It is an active war against the demotion of Woman as chattel and the defacing of Man as commander. The obedience and chastity that Our Lady embodies is a loud NO to the destruction of humanity through the loss of one's sexual identity. Our Lady is a feminist and thus honours all of humanity.
In a mirror to Eve springing forth from Adam, Christ is born of Mary and undoes Adam’s sin by taking responsibility and glorifying God. He does so by His sacrifice upon the Cross, a sacrifice that He commands His Church represent. It is Man who must take responsibility for this sacrifice in response to his first sin. The High Priest is Christ and it is His priesthood that some men are ordained to re-present.
The Christian man and Christian woman both share a complementary existence as human beings. In rejoicing in the sex that God Himself gives us as part of our God-given identity, we seek to love, honour and obey each other, to take responsibility and to serve each other according to ourselves and our calling, to respect each other sexually and asexually. Some men are called to be priests, but as the servants of all laity. It is a question of hierarchy but not higher-than-thou-archy. Priesthood is not something that will survive Salvation as it will become redundant when we achieve our theosis in Christ Jesus.
One of the ways that the Church can respect women better is to equip them for prophecy and, further, to listen to their prophecy; even as the Apostles heard the testimony of St Mary Magdalene. If any church allows women choristers then should they not have female altar servers as well? A cantor is a much of a minor order as acolyte. That's really a different question and one that does not pose the same question as ordination to the threefold Sacred Ministry.
The Church has a duty to answer carefully why it is duty bound to restrict roles to men. She must be purged of misogyny as much as any other form of prejudice. The arguments are very sound for the male nature of the Major Orders. This does render them largely untouchable to the slippery slope arguments used against female altar servers, especially if we already allow women in what used to be known as the Minor Orders which had a very different ordination. No, the arguments against female altar servers will have to be better than that. On this question, I have yet to settle my mind. If no good reason from Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason therefrom can be found for restricting the Minor Orders to men, then one must look critically to ensure that the Church is not engaged in misogyny.
Nonetheless, we have to see our sex as a blessing and actually rejoice in the restrictions that they possess because they are given by God as part of our identity. If there were no restrictions, then we would become amorphous and indeterminate and not really any thing. God's restrictions are for our good and we must trust Him even if we don't fully understand why He restricts us. We should rejoice in our masculinity and our femininity and obey the command to love God and neighbour. That way we cease to seek to be superior or allow ourselves to be inferior.
We are in an age in which it is now deemed good to break glass barriers. If God put the barrier there for our good, won't breaking it tear us to ribbons? Looking at the present age, I think it already is.
Why is it that we always want what we cannot have? That's what got us here in the first place!