Saturday, January 12, 2019

Women Priests: Alternative or False Narrative?
Alice C. Linsley

The Presidential Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, came under criticism during a Meet the Press interview on 22 January 2017 when she spoke of "additional facts and alternative information.” Conway later explained her remarks: "Two plus two is four. Three plus one is four. Partly cloudy, partly sunny. Glass half full, glass half empty. Those are alternative facts."

Jacques Derrida, the “father” of deconstructionism, would have loved Conway’s perspective.[1] He wrote about the subordinated voice and how it must be heeded if we are to grasp the greater meaning of a narrative. The dominate narrative of contemporary society is untrue not only because it is half the story. It is untrue because without the subordinate narrative we cannot explore the relationship of the opposites and the signage of the Male-Female binary set. The dominant-subordinate character of the Male-Female binary set points to the Presence; it bears witness to the Transcendent God.  Derrida called this “supplementarity” and it is not to be confused with complementarity. Complementarity speaks of things that naturally belong together and moves back and forth between paired entities. Supplementarity implies that the sum of the complementary entities is greater than either entity and greater than the relationship of the entities. It seeks to break out of the binary enclosure.

The logic of supplementarity involves consideration of the marginal, which in this discussion refers to the “alternative facts” of the catholic Faith concerning the priesthood. We must regard this as “alternative” because our catholic Faith is radically subordinated, even among those who call themselves “Christians.” Ironically, by the logic of supplementarity, the catholic faith nevertheless defines the dominant cultural narrative about men and women. For the Church, supplementarity of male and female is an essential mark of sacred Tradition and is expressed in Scripture.[2]  Further, the assertion of the divinely-created Male-Female set is affirmed by empirical observation of the natural world.

For Anglicans the authority of Scripture and Tradition is central to our identity. Further, we share a rich heritage of reasoned observation of the natural world. To disregard our Anglican heritage in favor of a false narrative that presents women as priests would be fatal to our identity. More importantly, it would perpetuate the Marxian/Feminist lie.

The Marxian/Feminist narrative reduces all to a level plain. It strips away “hier”-archy, that is, priest ranking. Are we surprised? It must do so because ontologically, linguistically, anthropologically, and empirically, the priest is a male ruler in the realm of a God who is called “Father.” Saint Augustine asked, “What do I love when I love my God?” The catholic Faith responds unequivocally, “I love the Father because He first loved me.” The catholic Faith flows against the social current toward the Triune God who deconstructs every human artifice.

E.L. Mascall presents aspects of the false narrative in his treatise Women Priests?[3] He writes,
The view that sex is irrelevant in deciding who should or should not be ordained to the priesthood has been based on a belief that there is a sexless human nature common to men and women underlying their sex differences.  This view is no longer tenable.  There is in fact a masculine and a feminine human nature with some complication from the shadow of the opposite sex in each.”

Derrida called the shadow a “trace” and he argued that unless the trace is pursued the philosophical project in the West is dead. Philosophy, theology, and general good reasoning, require dialectical tension.

Mascall also writes: “A refusal to recognise this polarity of the sexes tends to create not satisfaction, but further and more deep-seated restlessness.”

The false but dominant narrative concerning women and the priesthood is predicated on (1) a conception of social evolution that claims authority for itself without a basis in real life, and (2) a conception of progressive revelation that would have us believe that the Church, Scripture, and Tradition are in the process of being redefined. The catholic Faith bears witness to the fixed nature of divine revelation as reflecting an immutable God. Even Derrida - that sophisticated, Arabic-speaking Jew, who secretly was named Elijah at his eight-day circumcision - has to admit this. In his autobiographical work Circumfession, he reflects on how deconstruction advanced revelation of “the constancy of God in my life.”[4]

If Scripture, Church Tradition, and reasoned observation of patterns in nature are not enough to persuade the reader that the priesthood of the Church is categorically masculine in nature, consider that the priesthood of the Church emerged from the all-male priesthood of Abraham's Horite Hebrew ancestors, for whom the work of a priest involved asceticism, fidelity in marriage, and purity of life. The objection that there were women “priests” in the Greco-Roman world is irrelevant as these were not priests, but shamans who consulted the spirits while in a trace state, something forbidden to the Hebrew priest. The Scriptures recognize wise women such as Deborah, Huldah, and Ana, but they condemn Saul for consulting the female medium of Endor (I Sam. 28:7).

After all this, if there remains a temptation to trifle with the Church’s priesthood, consider what the Fathers have to say.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The divine law indeed has excluded women from this ministry, but they endeavour to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing of themselves, they do all through the agency of others.”

Speaking of the exclusivity of the priestly office, St. John Chrysostom wrote, “When one is required to preside over the Church, and be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also.”

In his Oration against the Gentiles, Athanasius declared: “That the Scriptures are sufficient to the manifestation of the Truth.” Not a single woman is designated "priest" in the Scriptures.

St. Basil wrote in Letter 90, To the Most Holy Brethren and Bishops Found in the West: “The dogmas of the Fathers are held in contempt, the Apostolic traditions are disdained, the churches are subject to the novelties of innovators.”

St. Athanasius said: “It is fit for us to adhere to the Word of God, and not relinquish it, thinking by syllogisms to evade what is there clearly delivered.” (Tract of the Incarnation). He also said: “Ask not concerning the Trinity but learn only from the Scriptures. For the instructions which you will find there are sufficient.” (Tract of the Holy Ghost) 

Speaking about the danger of innovation, St. Basil the Great said: “Everyone who steadfastly values the old ways above these novelties, and who has preserved unchanged the tradition of the fathers both in the city and in the country, is familiar with this phrase [with whom in the doxology]. Rather, it is those never content with accepted ways who despise the old as being stale, constantly welcoming innovation, like worldings who are always chasing after the latest fashion. Observe that country people cling to ancient patterns of speech, while the adroit language of these cunning disputants always bear the brand of the latest trends of thought. But for us, what our fathers said [the received Tradition], we repeat: the same glory is given to the Father and Son; therefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son. But we are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of Scripture.” [5] 

Before Anglicans worldwide fidelity to the catholic Faith is challenged by the willingness of some bishops to allow members of their flock to stray from that Faith and yet to claim its authority for themselves.

In August 2014, Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, explained:

" our constitution and canons, we have left the issue of women's ordination for each diocese to decide. A lot of people came into the ACNA in good faith that their perspective -- including those who ordain women -- would be protected and guarded. And, people who believe in ordaining women hold their position by conscience and can Biblically argue it, although I disagree with them. This issue is a very important thing to them, and so I think it would create a lot of tension. A lot of the women priests in ACNA have stood side-by-side with a number of our bishops and clergy who are against women's ordination when they were in The Episcopal Church. These women argued for the right of these bishops to have the freedom to not ordain women. Women's ordination is a very complicated issue, because we've got people who have given their heart and soul on each side. And, these people are sincere; they're godly."[6]

The end of this course of action is a parting of ways and a widening of present divisions. This was foreseen by C.S. Lewis in this essay Priestesses in the Church?
"...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..."
Lest we regard our situation to be unique, consider that the catholic Faith has faced the challenge of innovators from the beginning. Speaking of this concern, St. Basil wrote:
Every man is a theologian; it does not matter that his soul is covered with more blemishes than can be counted. The result is that these innovators find an abundance of men to join their factions. So ambitious, self-elected men divide the government of the churches among themselves, and reject the authority of the Holy Spirit.  The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline; the jostling for high positions is incredible, as every ambitious man tries to thrust himself into high office. The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered utterly void and unprofitable, since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself” (On the Holy Spirit).


11.  Probably the best volume on Derrida’s non-method is The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, by John D. Caputo. Indiana University Press, 1997.

22. The Apostle Paul speaks of the marriage of a man and woman as ordained by God to be indissoluble. He writes, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32)

33. E.J. Mascall, Women Priests? Reproduced with permission by Forward in Faith, Scotland  

44.  Geoffrey Bennington, Jacques Derrida. University of Chicago Press, 1993. Derrida's quotation found in the Circumfession, p. 154.

55. On the Holy Spirit, translated by David Anderson, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1980

46.   Interview with Archbishop Foley Beach, 12 August 2014 at Juicy Ecumenism, The Institute of Religion and Democracy Blog 

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