“If men can represent the church and the Bride (of Christ), why cannot women represent Christ as Bridegroom?” [+Kallistos Ware]
Commenting on yesterday’s post by Scoop, I asked whether he really was drawing a parallel between abortion and the ordination of women; could he really imagine that both were mortal sins? His answer was clear – they were.
Scripture is pretty clear about the tendency of Pharisees to add burdens to the people, and equally clear about what God thinks of that. The great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, drew a distinction which is critical for the consideration of the issue between “things accessory, not things necessary”. He makes this comment concerning “matters of government” in the Church. There is a “difference between things of external regiment in the Church, and things necessary unto salvation.” Matters of doctrine fall into the first category, and one of the many reasons that the Anglican Church has taken the view it has on doctrine and dogma is the recognition that the Pharisee tendency – adding burdens – had gone too far in the medieval church. In essentials there must be unity, and by essentials we mean the dogma and doctrines decided upon by the undivided church.
Is it really essential for salvation that only men can represent Christ in ministering the sacraments? Do we go to hell otherwise? The emphasis in Christianity on the terrors of hell may have been a good means of social control, but it is a bad representation of God’s love for us, and one of the reasons so many have a profound hatred of our faith. What would be our attitude to a human ruler who, deciding that women should not teach and should remain silent outside the home, decreed that anyone contravening it should be tormented for the rest of their life? I suspect we’d all agree that such a man was a monster. Yet some think that a God who does this should be worshipped? If, as we believe, God is omniscient, and if we believe St John that God is love, we are asked to believe that one whose thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours, behaves in a way that in us would be condemned? That sounds awfully like making a God in our image – us in this case being a vengeful control freak. Sorry, but that is not the God I know and love. That would be a being to be feared, to be sure, but sincere worship?
That’s not to say we cannot condemn ourselves to hell – it is clear enough we can. We are free to reject God’s love. But the idea that it is necessary for salvation to believe in an all-male priesthood on the basis that Jesus only chose men, is as sensible as believing that because he only chose Jews, all priests should be Jews.
We are all, we are told, part of a royal priesthood – no gender specified. Whatever one’s view on the issue, to suppose that one goes to hell for believing that women have a vocation as priests, is assume that the only Just Judge resembles the Ayatollah Khomeini. Worship him? No, I’ll stay with the God who loves me and whom I love because of that. I know some think we speak too much of love, I think we can’t do that – if God is love, then we can’t speak of it too often or in a lukewarm manner. I am excited by God’s love, it warms my heart.
What each Church decides is essential is up to it and its members, but it would be hard to demonstrate that the view that mortal sin includes women priests is in Scripture – though fallen mankind, having put it there, can of course claim to have found it.
Aquinas himself admitted that: “It would seem that the female sex is no impediment to receiving Orders” before explaining that it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order. That may well have been so in his day, but it is not so now. If we wish to rest our objections on outmoded prejudice, so be it, but to say that only a man can represent Christ would be to admit that men cannot represent the Bride of Christ – that is the Church. Are we really using representational language that literally to exclude women but not men? There is an awfully good piece here, which sets these things out in some detail.
It must be because it is so easy to do it that it is so often done, that is to represent Anglican aguments in favour of ordaining women as nothing more than outworkings of modern feminism, but as I hope my series of pieces here have shown, there is far more to it than that. There is a detailed study of what Acts tells us, and of what we see in Scripture, where the Lord Jesus sets an example which many have not followed.
We all know, of course, about the great occasion in Scripture when Jesus is declared to be the Christ. When I used to teach Sunday school the hands shot up – “Peter, Miss, it was Peter.” And so it was. I then used to ask who else, before the Resurrection knew Jesus was the Christ. No hands went up. The answer of course, is that it was Martha who said: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” [John 11:27]. I am glad that my Church, after so long, has recognised the full ministry of women. I have found it a blessing, as have so many. A mortal sin? Well I suppose for those intent on adding to the yoke Jesus declares is light, anything can be added – but why?