Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Women Priests (Part I)

Alice C. Linsley


"...I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Order. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds..." -- C.S. Lewis, from his essay “Priestesses in the Church?”


Lewis was speaking personally, as obviously he was opposed to the innovation of women in the Order of Priest, but he was also speaking prophetically, as is now apparent. Women priests is an innovation which, like a wedge driven into dry wood, has split the Anglican Communion. As is often the case, one innovation leads to another. This innovation led to the ordination of non-celibate homosexual clergy and to the blessing of same-sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada and in The Episcopal Church USA. The actions of these churches has led to a fracturing of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The slide started in the 1920s when liberal clergymen began to question Biblical authority and the authority of Church Tradition. The Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine Appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1922 (not published until 1938) reveals that only about half of the clergy of the Church of England held to the historic Faith “once delivered”. By 1930, the Church of England slipped further from the historic Faith when it succumbed to egalitarianism and the sexual freedom demands of English society. That year the Synod accepted contraception.

Many Protestant churches followed that path, but the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Vatican retained the authentic Christian Tradition against egalitarianism, modernism, and contraception. Orthodox resistance was heartily demonstrated at the 1978 Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission held in Athens. Here the Orthodox delegates soundly rejected all possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. However, Church of England clergy, feeling pressure from their Episcopalian cousins in the United States, were ready to discuss the question.

Now, under similar pressure to accommodate to the world, Orthodox clergy are being encouraged to open the discussion, to engage in dialogue on the issue of women’s roles in the Church. I’m wary of “dialogue” which too often means beating down the opposition with high-sounding words, circuitous arguments and polished clichés. I’m told that there are seminarians at St. Vladimir Seminary (New York) who believe that women should be ordained priests. It is a good thing that I have no authority there. I would dismiss every seminarian of this mindset as unworthy of the priesthood, seeing that they do not discern the foremost necessity for a Priest, which is to preserve Holy Tradition.

But these seminarians, mostly converts to Orthodoxy, can’t be made to bear all the blame for wrong thinking. They have professors who encourage them in this waywardness and even bishops who insist that Holy Tradition should be questioned.

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (Timothy Ware) is one to be credited with opening the door. As Thomas Hopko wrote in the Forward to Woman and the Priesthood (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1999), Bishop Kallistos “has moved in the direction of greater tentativeness about the possible ordination of women as priests and bishops in the Orthodox Church. He demonstrates less conviction about the authority of the traditional Orthodox practice on the issue, and questions his own rather firm arguments against the ordination of women…” (work cited, p. 1)

In this series of essays, I will examine Bishop Kallistos’ approach to the question of women priests. I refer primarily to his essay, “Man, Woman and the Priesthood”, in which he focuses three crucial questions. He writes, “First, there is the question of the nature and the authority of Tradition…” and “There is secondly the question of anthropology...the distinction that exists within humanity between male and female” and “Thirdly, there is the question of what we mean by priesthood.”


In Part II, we look at the nature and the authority of Tradition.

In Part III, We consider ideologies opposed to Holy Tradition.


Related reading:  God as Male Priest; Why Women Were Never Priests; Blood and Binary Distinctions

19 comments:

James Gibson said...

When you look at the damage done to those traditions which have strayed down the path of egalitarianism, it is utterly mystifying that any sector of the older Apostolic churches would even consider the possibility of woman priests.

I guess it's sort of like those old worn out arguments we keep hearing for socialism, despite its failure wherever it's been tried: "Oh, it works. It just hasn't been tried by the right people."

Alice C. Linsley said...

We humans are easily tempted to any ideology that cuts God out of the picture.

Anonymous said...

Yes those described as the disciples in the gospels were all male.
However, they were not thought of, in any credible way, as priesthood or even the foundation of one, nor do they appeared addressed or talked about as such, because Jesus came preaching not the church but the kingdom. To pretend otherwise is to place Jesus as the intelectual author of the humanly broken reality that the church was, is and will always be until the Lord returns again.
As for anglicans/episcopalians who feel that, because of their commitment to erradicate that evil of some liberal churches, like the ordination of women, their orders are going to be taken any more seriously by some specific eocumenical partners, please think again. In the eyes of those churches, anglican/episcopal bishops, priests and deacons are, have always been and, unless submitted to Roman obedience, will never be anything but pretend ministers of a pretend church. Ask Bishop Iker.

Michaël de Verteuil said...

To Anonymous

I have no idea what Iker's views on Roman recognition are, but I am sure he is aware that it doesn't depend on submission to Rome.

Rome has no difficulty recognizing valid orders in Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy, for example, the clergy of which are no more subject to Roman obedience than is Iker.

Non recognition of Anglican Orders by Rome is due to specific historical circumstances tied to liturgical changes in the ordinal imposed for a time on the Church of England for about 100 years as part of the Elizabethan settlement. The arguments are technical, and I don't propose to enter into them in detail here, but the situation affecting Anglican (and by extension, Methodist) clergy is virtually unique, at least as seen by Rome.

Anglican clergy who convert, and thus actually accept Roman obedience, still have to go through at least conditional ordination, which again demonstrates that the bar to recognition is not related to loyalty or lack thereof to the Holy See.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Anonymous, I haven't a clue what you are getting at, and I detect a good deal of confusion.

You make a distinction between the Church and the Kingdom, but without explanation. I happen to agree that they are distinct.

Phil said...

Anonymous said..."However, they were not thought of, in any credible way, as priesthood or even the foundation of one, nor do they appeared addressed or talked about as such, because Jesus came preaching not the church but the kingdom."

Then how do you explain Matthew 16:18?

Anonymous said...

Michael> try telling that to orthodox churches who don't seem to take it kindly to MARRIED bishops. Same problem with Rome. So Iker, and Alice, for that matter, go to neither church.

Alice, how effective is it to keep a strict, narrow and reactionary view about gender in the ministry of the church, in regards to accepting salvation and becoming one with Christ? In other words, how is a woman who presides over an eucharist a roadblock for the coming of the kingdom, OF WHICH THE CHURCH, ITS PEOPLE, MINISTRY, SACRAMENTS AND SCRIPTURES ARE NOTHING BUT A FADED ANTICIPATION?

Some think WO has brought about too may problems for the church. I wonder what hasn't.

Phil, as for Matthew 16.18.... of course, Jesus took his disciples to Cesarea JUST to tell them who the first pope was going to be. Sure. And there IS a father Christmas, too!

Now, how is Mt 16.18 evidence, in any way, of the STRICTLY male nature of christian leadership and, more particularly, church ordained ministry? How you explain Mary Magdalene (the FIRST witness of the resurrecction, and if that doesn't count for preeminence next to a swearing, sucking up, coward fisherman -Peter- then we better drop the subject, and now).

Alice C. Linsley said...

Anonymous, your comments lack the precision necessary to focus the question. We are not discussing leadership in the Church. Holy Tradition and Scripture admit to women in leadership. We are discussing whether Holy Tradition, provides any basis for women in priesthood.

Fr. Greg said...

Anon wrote, "How you explain Mary Magdalene (the FIRST witness of the resurrecction, and if that doesn't count for preeminence next to a swearing, sucking up, coward fisherman -Peter- then we better drop the subject..."

I think everyone here agrees that Mary M., Mary & Martha, most especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many other Biblical women are all greatly to be honored, and indeed have a "preeminance of honor."

The question for you and the pro-WO folks is: How do you explain that Christ did not appoint any of these women, nor did the Spirit-filled Apostles consider any of these as Apostolic replacements, despite bestowing/knowing well their "preeminance" of honor?

Anon, you thus have proven your grasp of the fact that these women were the most "qualified" on human terms, but were nevertheless not to be numbered among the Twelve. Thank you for your clarity in this regard.

Even so, those against WO innovation today grant that women are often "preeminent" over men in people skills, leadership skills, intelligence, spirituality, etc., but still are not part of God's design for the priesthood.

Perhaps I missed your argument why we should we start violating Tradition and Scripture at this point in history?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The second in the series has been posted. We take up the nature and authority of Holy Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Yes the gospels (all 4 of them) talk about male-only apostles. Yet they all talk about a wide range of commitments and issues I don't see most of conservative anglicans paying nearly as much attention to. As, for example, the whole 'if you feed clothe visit one of these' thing. Well maybe you are now done with that and have all this spare time to argue about what hdes behind the celebrant's underwear.
P a t h e t i c.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Anonymous, I prefer to respond to people with names. Why do you hide your identity?

No matter! You have identified yourself through your remark about "a wide range of commitments and issues" as someone who does not understand the Bible or Holy Tradition. Everything in the Bible is about one commitment and one issue. May God grant you sight.

Fr. J. Jacobse said...

Anonymous said: In other words, how is a woman who presides over an eucharist a roadblock for the coming of the kingdom, OF WHICH THE CHURCH, ITS PEOPLE, MINISTRY, SACRAMENTS AND SCRIPTURES ARE NOTHING BUT A FADED ANTICIPATION?

Not "faded" but "partially seen." Faded implies something that once was bright -- a regression in other words. "Partially seen" posits the trajectory in the other direction.

Also, the character of priesthood is not dependent of personal qualifications but on sex.

Here's the deal. Christ offer's a new birth -- a creative prowess replicated (not mirrored) in the creation through the female. It is through the female new life comes into the world. This is so fundamental to creation (all but the most primitive species are designed this way), that it affects our entire way of seeing. The perception, in other words, is not merely socially constructed, but reaches to the very core of our being -- an ontological reality.

Put a women in front of the altar holding a chalice, and the symbolic imagery becomes confused. Who is offering the new life here -- the woman through her natural creative prowess (where she has a child or not is irrelevant here), of Christ?

Put a man in front of the altar, and there is no question that the life comes from Christ -- especially on the symbolic level. Why? Men, by nature, cannot create life. Man cannot hold life within themselves and give birth.

Think this through. Don't just react. Ask yourself why the sacramental churches that allow female priests end up with problems with neo-paganism, and lesbianism. It deals with the symbolic confusion.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Father. The issue is one of ontology. You have pointed to the reality, but there are many who choose to believe an alternative "reality" and would justify their delusion before God.

James said...

"Put a women in front of the altar holding a chalice, and the symbolic imagery becomes confused. Who is offering the new life here -- the woman through her natural creative prowess (where she has a child or not is irrelevant here), of Christ?

Put a man in front of the altar, and there is no question that the life comes from Christ -- especially on the symbolic level. Why? Men, by nature, cannot create life. Man cannot hold life within themselves and give birth."

I think I'm beginning to understand.

Fr. Simeon said...

Alice,

Thank you for this seried of articles. You have provided some much needed clarity to an issue that is often presented in a "fuzzy" mater.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Father Simeon, thank you. If I've helped to clarify this matter, it is God who must take all the credit.

David said...

Okay, folks ... here's a question for you ...

What if of a once female male becomes an Orthodox priest? Let's say she/he keeps this quiet, serves 20 years in a Church and then suddenly is discovered ... or, comes out. What happens to all of those who were baptized, married and such by this priest?

Alice C. Linsley said...

David,

I trust that God honored the sacramental work that I did for 18 years as a women, ignorant though I was of the Church's Tradition concerning the all-male priesthood, a tradition which the Apostles received from the time of Eden.

God honors His sacraments even when the priest is ignorant, obstinate or gender-confused. Here is the difference, however. The Episcopal Church pushed women to be priests. It was part of the "diversity" agenda to break the back of catholic orders. Once that was done, there remained no boundaries as to who could be ordained. TEC then went on to ordain a Muslim women (who was later defrocked) and two Wiccans in Philadelphia area, also later defrocked). As far as I know no partnered homosexuals have been defrocked. So we see what stood behind the diversity agenda.

I don't see Orthodoxy pushing women or gender-confused people into the priesthood. A person such as you describe is a poor candidate for the priesthood, but might slip through the process by lies and poor oversight of bishops.