Why I do not believe that Women can be ordained.


Why women cannot be priests
in the Anglican Catholic Church.

 

As Anglican Catholics, we are committed to following the Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. We do this by following the teachings of the Undivided Church which predate the Schism of 1054 just as all Catholic and Orthodox Christians have done. Our Traditions are rooted firmly within Scripture and the subsequent testimony and teaching of the Church Fathers and the first, truly oecumenical councils.

Often, when we explain ourselves to people, they ask us how we are different from the Church of England or the wider Anglican Communion. There are many differences, but one difference which seems to matter most to people is the fact that we in the Anglican Catholic Church do not believe that women can be ordained. The next question we get is, “why not?”

Hidden in this are really two questions that we have to answer here: “Why shouldn’t women be ordained priests?” and “Why should women be ordained priests?” These questions have some very different answers and reveal why, as Anglican Catholics, we believe that following the Catholic Faith means that we will never see women presiding at the Altar.

Why shouldn’t women be priests?


As Anglican Catholics, we do have a burden of proof to share on the matter. Let us, therefore, start with the obvious.

Men and women are different


This is an obvious statement of fact and yet people do try to deny it despite good evidence. Men and women are different physically, emotionally and theologically: modern genetics, neurology and psychology show this very clearly even if the superficial appearances can be altered by hormones, surgery and cosmetics. In Genesis i.27 it is written, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He Him; male and female created He them.” They share the same humanity[i], but that same humanity is expressed in different ways. And this is good! Everything that God created is very good[ii]! Crucially, though, both are needed in order for children to be born and raised and loved and nurtured into good, loving and happy human beings[iii].  It cannot be denied that there are those who are brought up happily in a single parent family, but nonetheless, someone important is missing from that family for whatever reason. It doesn’t change the fact that it takes the involvement (direct or indirect) of both male and female to bring life into the world.

If men and women are different, then they have different roles to play in Creation. Surely this is a difference that God takes pride in and in which we too should rejoice. Why not rejoice in one's manliness or womanliness? They are good things meant to be together by a Creator God who loves both without preference.

Scripture is abundantly clear that salvation is meant for everybody, without any exception. St Paul[iv] states:

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

We can clearly see that the fullness of the Christian Faith is open for all who love the Lord Jesus Christ, hold to His teachings and submit to his Kingship. Our salvation does not depend on WHO we are but rather HOW we relate to Christ Jesus.

God discriminates!


However, again, one can look at Holy Scripture and see that God plays pick and choose. Yes, it's true, the same God who says He has no favourites engages in discrimination. He chooses one man, Abraham, to be the Father of Jews and Moslems and the spiritual Father of Christians. What about the others? Was there no-one else who believed in God? He chooses one tribe - the Levites - to be the priests, and only the males. Why? Weren't the women good enough? And so it goes on, there is a choice made by God. He chooses Moses, a stammerer and stutterer, to be his mouthpiece[v], Jonah to be a reluctant prophet[vi], Job, His devoted follower, to be the one who suffers one of the worst misfortunes known to humanity. All these choices have a point and reveal more and more the unfathomable nature of God.

Concerning the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we find a Rabbi who tolerates women more than any other man of His day. He teaches them at his feet[vii], numbers them among his disciples and allows them the marvellous privilege of being the first witnesses to His Resurrection[viii]. Why is it then that He chooses only men to be His Apostles[ix], headed by St Peter? Why is it that St Paul, writing Biblically, decrees that it is only men chosen to serve as Episkopes and Diakonoi (which became our Bishops and Deacons) whilst separating out the ministry of women in I Timothy iii?

It is therefore a reasonable belief, according to the two organs of God's revelation, Scripture and Tradition, that there is no Catholic female ordination, and indeed any attempt to ordain a woman is an active denial of her femininity because of the masculinity of the priesthood.

Sexual Symbology


If we try to communicate with each other, we use a variety of media to get our point across. We can write, speak, produce PowerPoint presentations, record a song, a video or even do some interpretive dance. All of these can express some very deep truth which may not be easily communicated via other means. Now if we think of God Himself, we know that He can create and write His truth in nature. Medieval Scholars taught how one can understand scripture by the use of four senses:

Littera gesta docet,
Quod credas allegoria.
Moralia quod agas,
Quo tendas anagogia
[x]

The Literal sense teaches what has happened;
The Allegorical sense what one ought to believe;
The Moral sense what one ought to do;
The Anagogical sense what our destiny is.

If we are trying to get a sense of what God is telling us, it is therefore necessary to look very closely at the language that the Lord Jesus uses to describe His relationship with the Church. We see that the relationship that Jesus uses very clearly is matrimonial and sexual: He constantly refers to Himself as the Bridegroom[xi]. Now, for there to be a Bridegroom, it is necessary for there to be a Bride, and who might this be?

In the Book of Revelation[xii] we read:

And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying , Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God…;

and earlier we read[xiii]:

And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

This New Jerusalem is clearly identified throughout the Book of Revelation as the Church where the faithful dwell. Thus it is the Church that is the Bride. The imagery is clearly sexual. God is masculine and the Church feminine. Christ is masculine and His people feminine. We are all feminine in this relationship with God.

If this is the case, why does God choose male priests?

The Sacraments and the Person of Jesus Christ


God the Father is so called because that is what Jesus told us to call Him[xiv]. Even so, we cannot attribute a physical sex to God the Father. Now if we look at the Mystery of the Incarnation, we see that Our Lady Mary had to be female because God had already ordained that women should be the bearers of children. So God the Father, who has no physical sex, conceives Our Lord through the Holy Ghost (again, no physical sex, only bodies have sexes) in the womb of a virgin girl. If the Lord were not male, there would have been no male involved in the Salvation of Mankind and Salvation is for everybody, male and female. Thus Jesus had to be born male. Notice that the “ordination” of women to be mothers naturally prescribes the sex of the Incarnate God. It is the feminine that calls the shots here!

We now need to examine what this means in reference to the priesthood. From the beginning it was the action of the priesthood to intercede between man and God[xv] in all kinds of offering. In particular, the priest was responsible for making an offering for the sins of man and procuring the forgiveness of sins and thus the salvation of mankind from the Eternal effects of those sins[xvi].

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains, “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”[xvii]

God prefigured Christ in the Jewish sacrifices by choosing the Levite men, thus setting them apart for this job. When Christ came, He offered Himself (i.e. as a priest) as a Sacrifice (i.e. as a victim on the Cross) in order that we might be saved from our sins for all Eternity. In order to pass on that common salvation, He instituted the Holy Eucharist where He presented Himself in the sacramental form of Bread and Wine, to establish a substantial Communion with all people in all time.

If Our Lord is as fully human as we are, how can He distribute this sacrament beyond the confines of Maundy Thursday to every single Christian who will follow in the next two millennia spread out all over the world? This is the beauty of the sacrament that the Lord Jesus gave us: that one sacrifice is re-presented so that all may share in its effects. Christ is present as the bread and wine are turned truly into His Body and Blood AND as the High Priest offering the sacrifice in the person of the priest. The sacrifice is not a repetition because Christ died only once for all; it is a re-presentation of that sacrifice as we all become bound with Christ in His Eucharist at Maundy Thursday in the Holy Mystery. So we see that this Eucharist is instituted to bind people together and bind them together in God in full and perfect Communion in Eternity.

For this to happen, someone has to stand in (that’s what “vicar” means) for Christ as priest so that Christ the victim can be re-presented for us now. This is our priest, who, in keeping with the maleness of the Levites and the maleness of Christ, is male. When the priest at Mass says “This is my Body”, he is not talking about his own body, but the Body of Christ. These words are not the words of the priest, but of Christ our God. The priest is completely identified with Christ at that first Mass. Since Christ is acting here as the Bridegroom communing with His Bride, the identification is most perfect only with a male priest.  

The Church Fathers


It seems very clear that aside from the Montanists (see below), there were no Catholic female priests. There were deaconesses whose job it was to administer to women, especially at baptism where the recipient was usually stripped naked for Baptism. St Epiphanius[xviii] makes it clear that “they were only women-elders, not priestesses in any sense, that their mission was not to interfere in any way with Sacerdotal functions, but simply to perform certain offices in the care of women”. The deaconess is the only exclusively female ministry of the early Catholic Church and is not a recipient of Holy Orders[xix]. Aside from this, in the whole corpus of the Church Fathers (which is quite a body of work) there is no mention of women as anything other than Deaconesses. This includes the great councils where all ministers are mentioned and regulated from Lectors and Exorcists to Bishops, Priests and Deacons. If there were a recognised and valid female priesthood, it would have been mentioned.

Thus we see that there is no female priesthood extant in the Early Church. There are prohibitions in Scripture, and our understanding of God’s communication with the Catholic Church demonstrates that it is not possible for a woman to be ordained priest in the Catholic sense. For this to happen would entail a radical change in the way that we regard the priesthood. So now we must turn and see if there are any objections that can convince us to reconsider the position and see if a radical change is actually necessary.

Why should women be priests?


It’s not inclusive to object to women priests


It’s actually very difficult to see what this statement means sometimes. Inclusive means “for everybody” and, if one thinks hard, this is precisely the meaning of Catholic. However, by Catholic, we mean “universal” and by Catholic Church, we mean “everyone who accepts the authority of God in Christ Jesus”. So what do people mean by “inclusive”?

There is an obvious sense that someone might be excluded if they cannot participate in the Church as far as they believe themselves to be able. The Church certainly does not exclude anyone from receiving the Sacrament of Baptism on the grounds of circumstance but only upon the grounds of belief. Likewise, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord only excludes those who, for some reason, do not believe that they are receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord.

Yet, every gathering must be exclusive if it has conditions for membership. In order to be a member of the human race, one cannot be an aardvark. In order for someone to be a bachelor, it is necessary that they are male. By being an aardvark, one is excluded from the human race. By being a married woman, one is excluded necessarily from a club of bachelors. Likewise, one cannot be a member of the Church and not a Christian.

So why is it a sin for the Church to be exclusive by not ordaining women? After all, the reasons for not doing so are set above. Why does it make it wrong? This sin has not been established. Who is being excluded except those women who believe that they should be priests and those men and women who want the ministry of women priests? Well, they can’t be Catholic if they will not accept the rules by which the Church is bound. The vast majority of Christians who ever lived (and still live now if one believes in the communion of the Saints) did not worry about women priests. They accepted that such an ordination cannot happen. If one goes by the democratic vote, the “democracy of the dead” swings it. The choice is free and clear. You can have women priests, but you will cease to be Catholic. Thus these folk are excluded because they choose to be excluded and the Church cannot reach them until they turn back.

It’s sexist to object to women priests


You can certainly hear arguments such as “Well, the view in the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date, a product of a male dominated society! God will put all wrongs to right because He hates discrimination.” Yes, God hates any discrimination that makes anyone a second-class citizen, a lesser being, a slave, a wretch or a sub-human. But we have seen that God Himself does discriminate, not to set one person above another in His eyes but rather to edify all humanity. Look at how Christ the King washes His disciples' feet, the King is equivalent in the eyes of God to a servant and the servant to a King, though both have different roles[xx] . If we are going to reinterpret the Bible according to our own philosophies (and this idea of female ordination is a result of a modern philosophy) then we risk falling foul of St Peter who said that we are forbidden to make our own interpretation of Scripture especially when it deviates from the worship of the Church[xxi]. The moment we start using our own way of thinking to judge God's choices, we set ourselves up to be His judge, and thus our own. Anglican Catholics would prefer to be faithful to what they have received through the teaching of the Church, than to rely on our own philosophies which may have led folk astray in the past.

The current climate of chauvinism versus feminism gives a false dichotomy which does far more harm than good. It seems that one can be labelled a sexist just because one says that men and women are different or that women are never priests. To say that there is no difference between male and female denies the reality which is present, not only in the obvious sexual differences, but in the heart of every cell of the body. The species depends on the interdependence of the two sexes and their different roles, and this is true down to the physical level. To say that there is no difference between the sexes is to produce a Frankenstein monster, a man-made man, and the philosophy that seeks to create this awful hybrid is steeped in this philosophical hubris.

It is clear that sexism is a sin and that it is wrong to regard either sex as inferior based on superficial judgements. However, is sexism something we can ascribe to Jesus when He appointed only men as apostles and priests? Well, if Jesus is sexist for choosing only male apostles, then we have just described Him as a sinner! If Jesus’ decision was the product of a sexist age then why did He not challenge it? He challenged every other single injustice, including sexism by teaching and associating with women, but still He did not choose female apostles. If not appointing female apostles was sexist, then He is still complicit in an institutional sexism and is guilty of sin by implication!

The Church did have women priests, but these were suppressed


Despite supporters of women priests looking very hard, there are no women priests and no women bishops within the Catholic Church. They will try to cite the Mitred Abbess St Hilda, but although a mighty and powerful lady chosen by God to lead communities, she wasn't a priest, she didn't administer sacraments. They will also try to cite Paul[xxii] whom it is worth quoting in the original Greek.

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνιᾶν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

This could be taken for being evidence for a female apostle, until one realises that the phrase “among the apostles” is taken in the same way as “Pope Benedict is of note among the Protestants,” the Protestants know Pope Benedict (and many hold him in high regard) but he is not a Protestant – at least in the conventional meaning of the word. It is not even clear whether this Junia, Junian, or Junias is even female. It is desperately unclear and thus useless for discerning a change in our understanding of the priesthood.

Supporters of women's “ordination” have used again and again texts which refer to issues of salvation, not issues of Church policy, organisation and sacramental theology. I make reference to that here as I already mentioned above.

What is most confusing is that some supporters of women’s ordination say that there was a full, church-wide acceptance for women “priests” but that it was suppressed by a male dominated society. Well, which is it? There is no hard evidence for the former, why not? Answer: it was destroyed by the latter. But if it was church-wide acceptance – remember that the Church has managed to pass through being a minority before – just how was the female priesthood suppressed?

It is true that there were women priests ordained in the second century apocalyptic sect of Montanism which began as a group not unlike modern Charismatics, but which descended into heresy by teaching a new prophecy which superseded the old. This is very little different from the argument made below that “the Holy Spirit wants women priests”. Montanus certainly ordained women, but certainly by the 4th Century, the movement was condemned and refuted by the Catholic Church (most notably by St Jerome) and died out in about the 6th Century. Thus Montanists were not truly Catholic[xxiii] and even if they were, one does have a very clear theological tool to demonstrate whether something is from God. It is called the Gamaliel principal and is found in Acts v. 33-39?

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed . And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
Further, the whole movement was based on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit (according to St Jerome) appears to have denied that Jesus could not have achieved salvation by His death on the Cross therefore the Holy Spirit fell upon Montanus. Since this is not Catholic teaching it does render the "spirit" of the Montanists unreliable at best.

 Irrespective of this, if the female priesthood had existed, it was certainly not regarded as Catholic, and it lasted barely 350 years – a very short time in the Church History. Besides, we have already shown that there were no female Catholic priests in the Early Church!

Women have the same rights as men


Actually, no-one has any right concerning God’s decisions, since God is the ultimate authority. God operates according to His own Will which is far removed from our understanding of the universe. However, He is faithful to His children.  Of course women can be doctors and lawyers and businesswomen and Prime Ministers – and good ones too. But the Sacred priesthood is not a job! Yes indeed, women can say the words of Eucharistic prayers, and wave their hands in precisely the same manner as men, but this is not an issue of “I can do it, therefore God wants me to do it”. As St Paul says, everything might be permissible but it is not always that which builds up the Church[xxiv]. Ordination is God's choice, and God has revealed how He makes His Choice, in the only two places where He makes Revelation - In the Church through Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition.

Women can be leaders


Of course women can be leaders. One only has to look around at women who lead successful projects, guide, help, counsel and heal. The Church is filled with women who have demonstrated some truly extraordinary gifts of God. To name but a few, the Church recognises the work of St Catherine of Siena, St Theresa of Avila, St Hilda of Whitby and lately St Hildegard of Bingen who led communities, gave spiritual guidance to priests and counselled popes! But they weren’t priests.

It is clear that the pattern for the leadership of priests is different from just these qualities already mentioned. Remember that the priest stands in the person of Christ. We have shown that this isn’t just a nominal “keeping His seat warm” but that there is a clear sacramental presence of Christ in priests. This is why Ordination is a sacrament, it instils the indelible character of Christ on the person whom He has chosen to stand for Him.

The leadership that Christ shows is that of service and much of a priest’s job is dealing with serving rather than being in charge. If a feminist objects to the truly outdated and offensive notion that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” then they will not find priesthood any different from that, for that is where we find Christ. Thus there is nothing in priesthood that will exhibit any special “in charge”ness that feminists may crave in their crusade for equality. Indeed, by campaigning for women’s ordination, they are denigrating that which they wish to promote!

The Holy Spirit wants women ordained


We’re back to the Montanist heresy here. “The Holy Spirit can do what He likes and He is ordaining women.” Anglican Catholics will heartily agree that God the Holy Ghost does whatever He wills, but He is God, and Faithful God at that. Why would He thus send mixed messages to His disciples? God does not contradict Himself if only for the sake of His children coming to know Him better.

How could we believe in a trustworthy God who makes one rule for the people of one time and another rule for the people of another time? The fact of the matter is that God the Father hasn’t changed (indeed, He can’t change), God the Son sought only to do the Father’s Will[xxv]  and God the Holy Spirit has been sent by both for the same purpose[xxvi] . Perhaps one might think that the rules of the Old Testament being different from those of the New Testament mean that God has changed His mind?

Well, we know this to be impossible, and if one believes that the Faith before Christ is different from the Faith after Christ then one is bordering on the Marcionite heresy in regarding the God of the New Testament as being fundamentally different from that of the Old. Certainly certain rules are changed, the dietary laws for one thing. However, Our Lord ratified the Old Covenant in no uncertain terms and demonstrated through His perfection of the Hebrew Priesthood how the subsequent priesthood of the Church should follow.

Women need to be made priests in order to make up for centuries of oppression


If one takes this view, then one is simply forgetting that two wrongs do not make a right. We have already established that we believe female ordination to be unauthorised. Why then should we compound any sin on our part with yet further sin. Indeed, in trying to become images of the Bridegroom, women priests are effectively denying the very feminity that they are trying to assert.

If Jesus chose only male, Jewish disciples from Galilee, then all priests should be male Jewish disciples from Galilee


Again, this is missing the point. The Priesthood of Christ is not about race or locality – indeed the Lord wants to reach every race and locality[xxvii]  – it is about humanity. Sex is a universal characteristic of humanity which transcends race, culture, country and even creed and religion. The masculinity of Christ is the same the world over and is thus a fundamental human quality shared with all communities in every time and place. Jesus the Man is as Catholic a notion as one can get, though there are some feminist groups that seem to want to deny even that!! Non-Galilean priests appeared very quickly in Church History as the faith spread to Rome and thence to the rest of the World.

Women “Bishops” and the Three Musketeers


There is also the question of whether women can be ordained bishops. All of our arguments which explain why Anglican Catholics do not ordain women as priests work just as well for bishops, perhaps even more so. If a Church were to ordain women, then they ought to ordain them as bishops first, since the order of priest evolved as a deputation for the bishop as the Church grew. The bishop gives his licence for the priest to confect the Mass in his stead. Thus the masculinity of the bishop is linked with the masculinity of his priests. It’s a case of “one for all and all for one”, if a woman can be a bishop, then she can be a priest as well and vice versa. Conversely, if a woman can’t be a bishop, then neither can she be a priest and vice versa.

The presence of women in the episcopate produces a level of confusion which affects the whole church. If a bishop’s ordination is invalid, then so are all the ordinations that bishop performs. Over time, this would lead to people having to ask for their priest’s line of succession in order to make sure that they really were a priest. Surely this would be an intolerable situation! The only way out of this is for everyone to agree that women can be ordained as bishops, or for everyone to disagree. However, the Catholic Faith is quite clear: women cannot be ordained priest or bishop.

Conclusion


Perhaps you can now see where the Anglican Catholic Church is coming from even if you cannot agree. The ACC is not being sexist: it does not look down on women, but it will not accept their ordination. We do not regard a woman “priest” from other Anglican jurisdictions as non-Christian unless she shows unChristian behaviour (as some very definitely have in recent years), but we regard her as gravely mistaken about her status as a Catholic in the Church. We cannot worship with such a woman as Catholics if it means accepting this status: this is why the Anglican Catholic Church has had to walk apart from the Anglican Communion and the See of Canterbury. However, the ordination of women is merely a symptom of a deeper trouble as our investigation of the objections has revealed. The people of the present age have not proved themselves to be superior theologically, morally nor intellectually to the people of past ages. Indeed it seems to be a rather unwarranted assumption that, because we in this age have greater benefit of hindsight, we somehow possess a superior understanding of God’s will. If this were so, then we would be more morally superior than the saints of previous ages. The atrocities of the last century and at the beginning of this century tell us otherwise.

We are called to obedience to God. We may not understand His motives, nor agree with His decisions, but we can surely trust Him to be faithful to us if we are faithful to Him and His Church. As Anglican Catholics, we commit ourselves to be faithful to God in His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.



[i] Gal iii.28
[ii] Gen i.31
[iii] Gen i.28
[iv] I Corinthians xii.13
[v] Exod iv.10
[vi] Jonah iv.1-3
[vii] St Luke x.39
[viii] St Mark xvi.
[ix] St Matt x.1-4, St Luke vi.13
[x] Medieval poem based on St Thomas Aquinas’ reading (Summa Theologiae Q1 A10) of St Augustine (De Util cred iii)
[xi] E.g. St Matt ix.15, xxv.1, et al
[xii] Rev xxi.9-10
[xiii] Rev xxi.2
[xiv] St Matt vi.9
[xv] Gen xiv.18, Exod xxviii.1-4
[xvi] Exod xxx.10,
[xvii] Hebr v.1
[xviii] Haer, lxxix.3
[xix] Apostolic Constitutions VIII xxviii.6
[xx] John xiii.5-13
[xxi] II Peter i.20
[xxii] Romans xvi.7
[xxiii] Tertullian, De Praescr xli, De Virg Vel ix.
[xxiv] II Cor x.23
[xxv] St John vi.38
[xxvi] St John xiv.26, St John xx.22
[xxvii] St Matt xxviii.19-20