Today is the feast day of St Pope Leo the Great. As we have had some excellent posts recently on the themes of authority and catholicity, this might be an opportunity to say something about the role of Leo the Great in the process of establishing the place of the Papacy in these matters.
It is easy (which is why it is ao often done) to assume that from the beginning the Papacy based itself on the Petrine verses in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Eastern Orthodox like to point out that those claims were cast in terms of ‘primacy’; they are correct. But what did that much-disputed word mean to those who used it in the early Church? If we are to understand this, we need to understand something about Roman ideas of inheritance and authority – ideas which were shared across the whole Empire – including Constantinople.
St. Leo the Great made two main contributions to the developing understanding of what ‘primacy’ mean. The first amounts to an assertion that the past existed in the present, not just because he was Peter’s successor, but in the form of a direct and present link between the Apostle and the Pope. As he put it in his sermon on 19 September 443 (Sermon 3.4)
Regard him [Peter] as present in the lowliness of my person. Honour him. In him continues to reside the responsibility for all shepherds, along with the protection of the sheep entrusted to them. His dignity does not fade even in an unworthy heir.’
This is what Leo understood by the saying of the Chalcedonian Fathers: ‘Peter has spoken through Leo. (See here also W. Ullmann, ‘Leo I and the Theme of Papal Primacy’, Journal of Theological Studies 1960, pp. 26-28).
Under Roman jurisprudence, a person was supposed to be present in his legal representative, even as the deceased was in his heir. The same jurisprudence was present in the eastern empire, so to argue that anyone in Constantinople would have been ignorant of this conception of what it meant for Leo to have said what he had said seems to strain credulity. Indeed, as K. Shatz puts it in Papal Primacy From Its Origins to the Present (1996), Leo made ‘the “church of tradition … into the church of the capital city that extends its laws to the whole world.’ (pp. 33-36 for the argument).
On this understanding the Pope was not simply Peter’s representative but his living successor – Peter spoke through him. Thus, Rome’s judgments and decrees were rendered universal because the Holy Apostle was understood to be present in Leo and in the system of justice he administered. As Leo put in in that same sermon on 19 September 443 (3.3):
Persevering in the fortitude he received, blessed Peter does not relinquish his government of the Church. He was ordained before the others so that, when he is called rock, declared foundation, installed as doorkeeper for the kingdom of heaven, appointed arbiter of binding and loosing (with his definitive judgments retaining forces even in heaven), we might know through the very mysteries of these appellations what sort of fellowship he had with Christ. He now manages the things entrusted to him more completely and effectively. He carries out every aspect of his duties and responsibilities in him and through him whom he has been glorified.
So, if we do anything correctly or judge anything correctly, if we obtain anything at all from the mercy of God through daily supplications, it comes about as the result of his works and merits. In this see his power lives on and his authority reigns supreme. This, dearly beloved, is what the confession has obtained [Matthew 16:18]. Since it was inspired by God the Father in the apostle’s heart, it has risen above all the uncertainties of human thinking and has received the strength of a rock that cannot be shaken by any pounding.
It is Peter’s presence that brings about the Christian universalism that Leo envisoned himself exercising. If we look at his letter to the bishops of Illyricium, 12 January 444, placing them under Anastasius, the bishop of Thessalonica, and telling them that serious disputes must be referred to Rome, we see him exercising that power of which his sermons spoke.
The primacy of Rome was not simply the result of Apostolic succession, or of inhertance from St. Peter, but of this very special relationship which ensured that Peter spoke through the Pope. As Leo says in a sermon given on 29 September: [Sermons 5.4]
our solemnity is not merely the apostolic dignity of the most blessed Peter. He does not cease to preside over his see but unfailingly maintains that fellowship which he has with the eternal Priest. That stability which he received from Christ the rock (by having himself been made ‘rock’) has poured over onto his heirs as well. Whenever there is any show of firmness, it is undoubtedly the shepherd’s fortitude that appears.
Leo’s views are set out in fuller form in a sermon preached on 29 June 443 (Sermon 83.1) in which he makes it clear that since Peter exercises the Lord’s power on His behalf, so too does the Pope exercise the powers of Christ Himself, as Peter speaks through him.
This is not a claim made by any other Bishop. It was made in public by Leo in his sermons and letters, and it was based firmly upon Scripture, patristic testimony and the common law of the Empire. Leo deserves to be called ‘the Great’, not only for what he did in his time as Pope, but also for the rich legacy he left us. His sermons are well worth acquainting yourselves with.
One of our commentators, Cath.Anon raised the issue of ‘authority’ in a searching and penetrating comment on my post of ‘catholicity’; it’s a jolly good question and one to which I had been (sort of) coming. He has encouraged me to get my skates on and brace myself to do it – so thank you Cath.Anon, both for the excellent comment and the nudge!
He is right to say that there needs to be authority. The quickest survey of church history shows this has been a problem from the start. However one wishes to interpret the claims of Rome that its Bishop is more than primus inter pares that is not how things operated for most Christians for most of the history of the faith.
We know from Acts and Paul’s letters that when Peter drew back from table communion with Gentiles under pressure from the church in Jerusalem, the matter was resolved only by what we have seen as the first council – and there Paul told Peter he was wrong – and the majority agreed with him. That set the precedent for the next four hundred years or so.
No one seeks to deny that the Bishop of Rome had a prominent place in terms of authority, but that authority was as a presiding bishop over those bishops in the western part of the Roman Empire. Alexandria, the most fertile intellectual and cultural centre of the Roman Empire was far more prominent in terms of the development of doctrine and theology, and its Bishop, like his counterpart in Rome, had authority over bishops in north Africa and to the south. The Bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch also had an authority which stemmed from their historical importance, and with that a right to be heard. The establishment of the new imperial capital at Constantinople created a tension and a dynamic which became important once Christianity was recognised by the Emperor.
Prior to that, in cases of theological controversy, local bishops did what the Apostles had done, got together, when they could, to sort things out. The establishment of the See of Constantinople and the official recognition of Christianity changed things decisively – as we see at Nicea and after. As C451 has written extensively on this (just follow the link), I shall confine myself to the question of authority.
The decisions reached at Nicae followed the template of that first council – except for the presiding of the Emperor. Rome sent representatives, but no one asked the Pope whether he approved or not. The pattern which developed across the next few councils is interesting. Rome and Alexandria had a common interest in trying to contain the upstart claims (as they saw them) of Constantinople. We see the apogee of this alliance at Ephesus in 431, where Cyril of Alexandia’s alliance with the Bishop of Rome saw off Nestorius. This alliance broke down in the unskilled hands of Dioscorus at Chalcedon in 451, where Constantinople was able to win the support of Rome. But the dynamic was the same.
None of this is to deny the theological and doctrinal issues that were at stake, but it is to suggest that the church dealt with them by dialogue and discussion as between equals; the Pope in Rome mattered greatly, but his imprimatur was not decisive (or even, sometimes needed), and ecclesiatical politics often resembled coalitions in countries with a system of PR. Where there were three major sees, two against one would always win, and Rome was skilful. The demise of Alexandria, first after Chalcedon and then the Muslim conquest, left only Rome and Constantinople. The latter refused to recognise the claims of the former to primacy, and indeed tried to claim the same for itself (follow the link to C’s posts). This led to the schism of 1054, which was never healed, and helped lead to the downfall of the great imperial city.
In the four centuries which followed, both Sees faced encroachments from secular power, but where Rome was dealing with kings who were Christians and, while sometimes disputing the extent of it never denied its power, Constantinople was dealing with Islamic invasions which were to leave it a shadow of its old self, a decline not helped by the Catholic Venetians sacking the city in 1204 in an act of disgraceful vandalism.
After 1453 Rome alone remained of the old five major Sees of Christendom, at least in terms of freedom from Muslim domination. However, within a century, it managed to create schisms within its own domain by its ham-fisted response to calls for change. Of course, further east, and as far as China with the Nestorians, there remained Christians who had never acknowledged the claims of Rome. In the end, Rome reformed itself, but not before the unity of Western Christendom had fractured.
In terms then of ‘authority’, where should a Christian wanting certianty look. Rome? I look acros the Tiber and see warring tribes, with many Catholics claiming not only to be more Catholic than the Pope, but that the Pope is not even a Catholic. If that’s ‘authority’ I can have that, without the nastiness, in my own Church. Of course, you can decide to convert and take the view that the Pope is right on matters infallible, but you can do that anyway, and as I understand it, there is even dispute on how many infallible pronouncements the Popes have made. I am sorry, none of that would be comfort if I needed the security of a single voice of authority.
What then, is the alternative for those of us who do not find the claims of Rome convincing? In a way it is the same as for those who are Catholics but do not find the Pope very convincing oin the environment or what some wags call “tutti frutti”, which is to make up our own minds – reason and scripture working on how we interpret authority. I suspect most of us do that anyway.
In terms of ecclesiology, there are bishops and a synodical system with lay participation for Anglicans which are our equivalent of that meeting at Jesusalem – and the Archbishop of Canterbury, like Peter, can find himself challenged. Its better for all of us than a system where the Pope is challenged only by some bishops, priests and laity after the event, and where people genuinely spend weeks and months trying to work out what he actually said and then what he meant by that.
In the end, we make up our own minds as guided by the Spirit which moves us. I respect those who find their destination in Rome and ask no more than respect for those of us who find it in Canterbury – even if the architecture is not so grand and ancient.
I cannot read God’s mind but I can clearly see what He did in Scripture.
He breathed life into Adam and then made Eve from Adam; flesh of thy flesh.
He set Aaron up as being the High Priest of His first Church and even his sister was punished for thinking herself equal to Aaron.
Christ too, had many faithful and loving followers amongst women and yet not a single one was invited to His Last Supper which we Catholics see as the first ordaining of Bishops for His Church.
Christ breathes upon the 12 (men) and tells them that they can forgive sin: a type of blessing) and a very important role for the priesthood. This follows from he OT Church which passed blessings on by the laying on of hands to the first born son etc.
We see a man being ordained by the laying on of hands in order to replace Judas.
We see no other texts in the last 2000 years that the Church has ever ordained a woman as a priest or bishop.
Let’s look more closely to make sure that we are not doing what my last post suggested men have done, which is read into Scripture what they think is there, and then to use that as exegesis.
It would be equally true to say that we do not see Jesus breathing upon any men except Jewish men, and that the Apostles, in seeking a successor to Judas do not choose anyone except another Jewish man. Yet no-one would argue that only Jewish men could be ordained, so at some point something happened for which there is no scriptural warrant – that is non-Jews were “ordained.” The quotation marks are there advisedly, because the very use of the word “ordain” is a loaded one. Where, in Scripture, is the word “ordain” used about what the Apostles did? Again, as it is not there, it suggests that as tradition developed it seemed reasonable to apply that word to what happened to Matthias.
If we go back to the examples offered in earlier posts of Junia and Phoebe, I would hope to have made the case that they occupied positions of leadership and that they exercised “ministry”, which raises the interesting question of what that might have meant.
If we begin with the example of the priesthood. Let us follow Scoop’s wise advice and turn to Scripture. Surely, there we shall find something to help us, whom does Paul describe as a “priest”, and what qualifications were there? There are certainly plenty of “priests” in the Jewish Scriptures, and not only are they all men (as Scoop correctly points out with reference to Aaron and Miriam [for some reason while he gives Aaron his name, Miriam is just “his sister”]) but they are all from the tribe of Levi. Alas, here Scripture is not a great deal of help when we get to the New Testament. The word “priest” is never used, and the only use of the word “priesthood” is in Peter’s first epistle (2:5) where it refers to the priesthood of all believers.
Now it might reasonably be argued that the word “priest” is used, what else, might be said, is meant by the word “presbyter”? The answer to that is that, unless we wish to engage in the sort of circular argument which says Junia cannot be a female and an apostle, because women weren’t apostles, but if “she” becomes a “he” called Junias, the problem is neatly solved – and I suggest not going there for the reasons outlined at some length in earlier posts and by C451 – then we would have to admit that the Greek word is capable of a number of translations into English.
In Acts 14:23 and 20:7 the word is translated as “elder”, while in Acts 15:4, 6, 22-23 they are associated with the Apostles. In Philippians 1:1, Paul writes: “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons”, but at no point is anything said about gender here, and indeed, the only person specifically identified by Paul as a deacon, is Phoebe. But, I think I already heard someone cry, “hold on a cotton-picking minute Miss Hoff, with all the Scripture you’re citing, how come you missed 1 Timothy 3:13 and Titus 1:5-9, that wouldn’t be because they totally flatten your argument?” To which my answer is, I needed to deal with the question of the words “presbyter” and “priest” before saying something about these passages. So, to work, woman!
So, what is 1 Timothy 3 about? It is describing the moral character of an “overseer/deacon/bishop”. Where does it say these orders can be held only by men? Indeed, given that we have seen that there were women deacons, and even a woman Apostle, why do we begin by assuming what it is needs to be demonstrated? It only makes sense to say that these verses “prove” that only men could hold them on two conditions: the first is that we disregard everything just said about Phobe and Junia; the second is like unto it, which is that since women could not be deacons and apostles, it follows that these passages refer to men only. But precisely where does Paul say that? Or is this yet another example of reading into the text what we want to see?
What is plain to see is that Paul is describing the moral character of people holding office in the Church. No one but a fool would read this verse literally: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach”. Why, because it would make a total nonsense of the Romman Catholic and Orthodox view that a bishop must be celibate. Clearly, I hear the chorus (with which I agree), this is not saying that the bishop must be married; why then do we assume that the bishop must be a “he.” The male pronouns are ones inserted, and yet we know that often, in traditional English use, “man includes woman”. Why not assume that here? Ah, I forgot, “because we know that the church never ordained woman.” How do we know? Because the Bible uses the word “he” and 1 Timothy 3 supports that – except, as I have just deminstrated, it doesn’t.
I still hear that chorus, this time thus: “Very ingenious Miss Hoff, but are you not forgetting the order used by Paul – bishops, deacons and then wives and women in general”? No, I am not, I am suggesting that given that there was a female apostle and at least one female deacon he might well be addressing both genders. The counter-argument only works if we presume what it claims to “prove” from Scripture.
Oh well, it might be argued, here is one of those feminist women arguing a novel case because of the times in which we live, it is all part of the dreadful trend that is destroying the Anglican/Catholic/Presbyterian/Lutheran Church. Clearly:
If the testimony borne in these two passages to a ministry of women in apostolic times had not been thus blotted out of our English Bible, attention would probably have been directed to the subject at an earlier date, and our English church would not have remained so long maimed in one of her hands.
Which dreadful modern feminist wrote this? That was a trick question. It was Bishop Lightfoot who was Bishop of Durham from 1879 to 1889 – he is “regarded as one of the greatest New Testament and patristic scholars of the Anglican tradition.” Lightfoot is also germane when we turn to the one question still to handle – the position of Bishop.
Lightfoot, a man steeped in Biblical history and one of the greatest Greek and Bible scholars of his day. Lightfoot did not :
regard the terms episkopos and presbyteros as entirely synonymous. He believed that the second of these had been taken over from the synagogue and was used especially to refer to the leaders of Jewish-Christian congregations, whereas episkopos was an equivalent term used mainly (if not exclusively) among the Gentiles. According to Lightfoot, the difference was one of flavour and reference, rather than one of substance, i.e., what we would now call an early example of ‘cultural contextualisation’.
A fuller discussion of the translation issues connected with the word “bishop” is offered in Loveday’s 2012 lecture in Chester, which I was lucky enough to be able to attend, and the text of which can be found here. Loveday concludes:
Overall what this shows is that most modern translators (even the Catholic JB) have virtually ruled out the possibility that there might be any bishops in the Bible, illustrating graphically how Bible translationreflects not only the changing faces of historical scholarship, but the tradition andecclesiology of the translators.
So yes, tell me firmly that the version of the Bible you use to confute me is from your tradition and accepts its traditional ecclesiology, and I will respond, of course it does, but what it does not do is what Scoop says it does, and shows there were no women bishops. It shows, depending on your ecclesiology and translation that there were no bishops in the Bible until translators put them there.
A reasonable riposte, with which I would agree, would be to argue from tradition and to say that by the time of Ignatius there clearly was a model of what has been called a monarchical bishop, but that tells us only that by the early second century women may not have been playing the role we see them playing in Paul’s epistles. What it simply cannot do is to tell us that Paul was wrong in describing women as being in positions of leadership.
Paul tells is that in being baptised into Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Some in the Jerusalem Church were so cross with him that they told Peter off for saying that the old Jewish diatary laws were a dead letter, and it took a heated conference in Jerusalem to decide that despite everything the Jewish Scriptures said on the issue, Paul was correct. Paul also said that in Christ there was neither male nor female. Are we asked to believe that he did not really mean this and that what he really meant was that there is a real distinction, and that in spite of the fact that women were playing leading roles, they were barred from positions such as “bishop” which did not actually exist in Paul’s day? You might argue that there was no equivalent of the Council of Jerusalem on the issue, and you would be right. But might that not mean that no-one thought the issue a problem? Women were taking leading roles, as we have seen, so what?
In short, unless we use tradition to say you can’t have women in positions of leadership in the church, you are on shaky ground basing yourself on Scripture alone, which is why what Scoop says works for his church and for him. But if your tradition does not teach that in some quasi-mystical manner a “priest” represents Christ at Calvary and that as Christ was a man, a priest must be, then even there, your ground for denying the ordination of women is not as firm as all that.
What I wish to suggest in closing, is that none of this is anything to do with strident feminism or modernity, it is to do with there being neither male nor female in Christ, and it is to do with doing justice to the role women have played and can play in the Church. If that also involves questioning the male version of events and that makes me a feminist, then I suppose I can live with that. But it is not the result of wanting to be on trend, but to be in Spirit with the apostolic church.
First let me thank two men: Rob, for his incredibly helpful book, and then C451 who, despite (or because?) of his own views on the subject, gave me his collection of books on women and their ordination (it may explain the dates of some of what I quote from) as well as some guidance which was offered with characteristic generosity of spirit.
Second, an apology because I know that at times I have let vent in ways which while they show my feelings, offer, as C451 put to me, “more heat than light, which never helps with illumination.” As Neo said to be, “we’re all human,” which while true and a good explanation, isn’t an excuse, any more than responding in kind, is an excuse. I hope that the last few posts have, to a large extent, rectified that failure on my part, but a general apology is hereby offered.
Third, an explanation of what I am trying to do might be in order, since some comments suggest that I have not been as clear as I thought. In my own Church the matter of women’s ordination is a done deal, and as C451 has, again with a generosity of spirit that shames me, it may be that other churches will find in it lessons and an example. I know C well enough to have spotted the coded caveat of “for good or ill”! What I am trying to do is to explain how someone who considers herself a high Anglican in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, can possibly have ended up supporting the ordination of women.
I want to begin with Phoebe, as a way of illustrating the wider context. We are told that Phoebe is a “helper” or a “servant”, and that is, of course, a translation of the Greek diakonos. Paul uses the same word to describe his own monistry in his letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, but in a purely English version of the New Testament you might be hard put to see their roles as parallel. It is hard to escape the conclusion that circular reasoning is at work here. We know that when the word is applied to Paul it represents what he does, which invests even the word “servant” with a halo. When it is applied to Phoebe, there is no halo. The Douay-Rheims is an honourable exception translating it as “in ministry”. The choice of the words “servant” or “helper” are, I fear, gendered. It goes thus: we know women were helpers in the Church, therefore we translate diakonos as helper. Then, when asked what the role of women was in the early church, we are told they were “helpers” and pointed to the NT as evidence, where, helpfully, that is indeed the word used – QED. Except, of course, for the circular reasoning. Now if we found the same translation of the word applied consistently to men as well as women, my point would fall away; but we don’t, so it doesn’t.
If we look at the Greek, Paul describes Phoebe as “being” (the participle ousan) “of the church is Cenchrae” which is why the DR uses “ministry” – it is clear from the context that Phoebe was in ministry in the church, and that is the sense in which she was a “helper” or “servant”. In other words, absent the gendered assumptions and no-one would have any reason to question that Phoebe was a “minister.” We can discuss what that means, but I hope this explains why I can’t avoid the issue of gendered assumptions.
While on the subject of Phoebe, it might be worth saying that when Paul says she is delivering the letter, that does not mean she was just the postman. The likelihood was that she would have been reading it out and answering questions about it – so she would have been in Paul’s confidence and had an idea of what he meant – something generations of scholars have wished for! This, of course, involved a public teaching role.
Paul also calls her a “prostasis”, another Greek word often translated in her case as “helper.” This is a difficult one because the word in that form is found only in Paul, but its masculine form, “prostasis” always denotes a form of authority, which of course may be why it is not often applied to Phoebe, if we are back to the cricular logic we have already identified. The majority of translations translate the word as “helper” or a synonym, you have to get to contemporary ones before the word “leader” is used. So again, we see how unconscious bias downplays the role of Phoebe. If she’s been a “he” called “Philip” I wonder how many translations would have used the word “helper”?
This has taken me further than I thought, and means that I shall need another post to say something about how it all maps onto leadership in the Church. Let me say though, in parting, that it is for each Church which inherits tradition to interpret it as it does. The Roman Catholic Church has a high doctrine of the magisterium, and therefore, whatever an Anglican might say about tradition does not apply to the way that Church views things. This is not an argument to be seen in a Roman Catholic context, though some in the communion will be challenged and are challenged by such arguments, it is, however, an argument to seen in a catholic context to explain how a high Anglican can not only accept, but welcome and celebrate the ordination of women who have been called (lucky things!).
“Time present and time past /Are both perhaps present in time future”
Thus T.S. Eliot in my favourite poem, Little Gidding and thus, I think, tradition in the Church. If we hold the same faith as our ancestors, that has to be the case, but we know that the Spirit moves in the Church, he did not stop moving at some point in the past, and so, as Newman among others pointed out, we also have change, or if you like, development occurs. If we are the same Church, then what the Apostles said in Acts remains true: “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” In short, tradition cannot be just conserving what was done in the past. If that were so there would be twelve bishops, all Jewish and all men – when there are more than twelve bishops, few of them Jewish and, at least in some traditions such as my own, not all of them men. It’s easy (which is why it happens so often) to attribute this to reckless modernists wanting to change because society has changed. It may be the case that some people fit that bill, but what about those of us who in many senses consider ourselves on the conservative and sacramental wing of our tradition? This is what I want to examine here, and that involves trying to say something about tradition first.
My own Church, and I think all others I know, agree on a starting point, which is that Scripture comes first, nothing which on the other parts of the tripod rest, that is tradition and reason, can stand if it contradicts Scripture, but we have to be careful that tradition does not become an excuse for giving our own reason extra weight. As anyone who has engaged in discussions in this area knows, there is an awful lot of what passes for tradition that gets quoted out of context. We must always be careful both to give tradition its place, but to beware the temptation to take the existing church in our time and its teachings as the whole of tradition. As Hans Kung put it:
At Trent tradition ousted Scripture, at vatican I real historical tradition was in turn ousted by the present magisterium of the church. Trent said that tradition shows what Scripture teaches; Vatican I said that the Church teaches what tradition is. The ‘teaching of the Church’, understood in this way, and hence the Church itself was made identical with the tradition of Christ. [Kung, The Church, 1967]
This view has not been accepted by any other Christian tradition because to them it seems to give too much weight to the Church. Anglicans take a more measured view. “We cannot separate the the Bible from the Church which recognised it and preserved it. The Divine Book and the Divine Society are the two factors of the one Revelation – each checking the other.” [H.P. Liddon, quoted in H.R MacAdoo, Anglicans and Tradition, 1997] The Church has the right to change things as long as nothing is done that contradicts Scripture. According to Article XXXIV
IT is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.
As Archbishop Laud, who is more usually remembered for his matryrdom than for his theological contributions, put it: “the ancient Fathers relied upon the Scriptures” and made the Creed “the rule of faith” and the Church of England is happy with that position. Scripture is central.
But Scripture does not exist in a vacuum outside the context of the Church and tradition. With the rare exception of a person who chooses not to ask questions, we will all use the light of our reason to interpret Scripture, and as the current reality of most of our churches is that there is a great deal of contestation (in some cases even about whether a Pope is a Pope), the witness of the ancient undivided Church via the Fathers is critical. For Anglicans this gives us a certain economy in terms of doctrine, and as Article XXXIV sgows, a liberality in non-essentials. In Laud’s words:
Catholicity is not a narrow conclave … but lays open those wider gates of the Catholic Church, confined to no age, time, or place; not knowing any bounds but the faith which was once (and but once for all) delivered to the saints. [McAdoo, pp. 13-14].
For Anglicans the teachings of the Fathers and the witness of an ancient church matter a great deal. In the words of the great Bishop Andrewes: “On canon … two testaments, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period … determine the boundaries of our faith.”
It can be seen from this brief, and naturally rather simplified summary, that for Anglicans the appeal to antiquity is in terms of doctrine, and not other aspects of tradition. There are some things, the Creed for example, which must be believed, but there are other, non-doctrinal traditions, which are received from our ancestors which may, at the determination of the Holy Spirit, change within the life of the Church as it is lived down the ages. No one has ever suggested that all the successors to the Apostles should be Jews, even though all the first Apostles were Jews. Paul himself challenged Peter when he resiled over the dietary rules which the first Christians followed as Jews always had. Tradition in this, non-doctrinal sense, has always been subject to change.
All of which is by way of an introduction to what I had hoped to deal with in three posts, but which will take more, and that is how a high Anglican such as myself, with a high doctrine of the sacraments, can accept that women can be ordained. More soon …
In Acts 1:24 when a successor to Judas is being mooted, Peter talks about those who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry. We know that included among those were many women from what Luke tells us, and that some of these women actually provided the funds to enable Jesus and his followers to live while ministering. That tells us something about the relationship and the role played by women. In that sense they fulfilled one of the requirements to be an Apostle – that is they had been part of the ministry. But they did not, and could not, fulfil the requirement to be a replacement for Judas. The “twelve” represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and only men were allowed to do that, indeed, only Jewish men were allowed to do that. While, in the early Church, the requirement to be Jewish would be gradually abandoned, the requirement to be male was not.
Did that mean that women were not “Apostles” or does it mean that there is more than one sense in which that word could be defined? If we take Luke’s stricter sense, that is being eligible to succeed Judas, the answer is clear enough. But that is not the only sense in which the word is used, not least by the man who often gets a bad rap from feminists, Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he claims the title for himself, he defines the role as one who spreads the Gospel of Christ, and we know from Luke, and from Paul himself that women did this. Indeed, rather more than that in some cases, as we know that the very first witness of the risen Lord was one of the women Luke mentions as helping support Jesus and his ministry. It is often asssumed that the seventy two who get sent out were all men, but there is no actual warant for that except the (male) assumption that they must have been men. Yes, the Greek word leads us to that conclusion, but the Greek language has an adrocentric bias, and there is no reason not to read “men” as in some English phrases where “men includes women.”
Paul clearly regards being an Apostle as important, he stresses it often enough for us to be clear that it cannot be read loosely. It involves encountering the risen Christ and receiving the commission to spread the gospel, with all the sufferings that involved. It was certified, so to speak, by signs and mighty works. Junia, as an Apostle, must be said to fit this description, and given what Luke and Paul says about the role women play in the early church, the only occasion for surprise is that this has been ignored and, yes, suppressed for so long.
That last may seem harsh, but how else to characterise an historic position which, when the name was “Junias” and therefore male, accepted that “he” was an apostle, but when it was established that the name was female, argued that she was just “known to the Apostles”? There is, for those who want the detail, an extensive discussion of this in Epps’ book on Junia cited by C451, and also in Richard Bauckham’s excellent and scholarly (i.e. too deep for me in many parts) “Gospel Women” (2002) which goes into an extensive discussion of the koine Greek by experts in the use of the language.
In short, with Junia we are back to church tradition – ironically. It is later commentators, not the Church Fathers usually cited by those defending tradition, on which those defending “Junias” rest; they might ask whether there is any other case in which they’d prefer a twenth century source to a Church Father, and if not, why they feel the need to do so here. Chrysostom wrote:
To be an apostle is something great, but to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was worthy of the title of apostle.
There is, of course, a possible reason why some modern fathers prefer, for once, to ignore the Church Fathers, and that seems to be to do with the arguments for the ordination of women. For me, and for many others, that argument does not depend upon Junia, but on what one means by “tradition” and whether one thinks of it as static or whether one believes that the Holy Spirit is at work still guiding the Church. If the former is the case, then there’s no argument, although one might well ask how and why the requirement for the twelve to be Jewish was dropped, but the requirement to be men was retained; tradition either develops or it doesn’t. But these are arguments to which I shall hope to return.
In the meantime, we might consider imitating Chrysostom and marvelling at what Junia must have done to have been considered an apostle – and ponder in humility how it could be that she has been almost forgotten and often denied.
A little over three years ago Chalcedon described the last day of Constantinople. I have nothing to add to his moving account, which is here. Some of us of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian stock may remember 29 May 1453 as the day when Emperor Constantine XI dies amongst his household which included the Varangian Guard, his personal guard recruited from Scandinavia since Viking times and joined by Anglo-Saxons after the Conquest of England. Truly was Constantine reputed to have told his nobles and his household both that:
Constantine told his hearers that the great assault was about to begin. To his Greek subjects he said that a man should always be ready to die either for his faith or for his country or for his family or for his sovereign. Now his people must be prepared to die for all four causes.
He spoke of the glories and high traditions of the great Imperial city. He spoke of the perfidy of the infidel Sultan who had provoked the war in order to destroy the True Faith and to put his false prophet in the seat of Christ. He urged them to remember that they were the descendents of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome and to be worthy of their ancestors.
For his part, he said, he was ready to die for his faith, his city and his people
But Constantinople and it’s wondrous cathedral, Hagia Sophia, the Cathedral of Divine Wisdom of the title. had been on the front lines of the jihad for centuries. Indeed Mohammed himself lusted after the city, which capturing would open the road into Europe.
Raymond Ibrahim wrote last week in FrontPage Magazine about one, perhaps the greatest effort to capture the city, and it’s Cathedral.
At the head of 120,000 jihadis, Maslama crossed into Christian territory and, with “both sword and fire, he put an end to Asia Minor,” wrote a near contemporary chronicler. On August 15, 717, he began bombarding the city, which was defended by Leo III, formerly a general. Just weeks earlier, and because he was deemed the ablest man, Leo had been consecrated in the Hagia Sophia as new emperor.
Unable to breach the cyclopean walls of Constantinople, Maslama waited for 1,800 vessels containing an additional 80,000 fighting men to approach through the Bosporus and completely blockade—and thus starve—the city.
Suddenly Leo ordered the ponderous chain that normally guarded the harbor cast aside. Then, “while they [Muslim fleets] hesitated whether they should seize the opportunity . . . the ministers of destruction were at hand.” Leo sent forth the “fire-bearing ships” against the Islamic fleet, which was quickly set “on fire,” writes Theophanes the chronicler: “some of them were cast up burning by the sea walls, others sank to the bottom with their crews, and others were swept down flaming.”
Matters worsened when Maslama received word that the caliph, his brother Suleiman, had died of “indigestion” (by reportedly devouring two baskets of eggs and figs, followed by marrow and sugar for dessert). The new caliph, Omar II, was initially inattentive to the Muslim army’s needs. Maslama stayed and wintered in.
Unfortunately for him, “one of the cruelest winters that anyone could remember” arrived, and, “for one hundred days, snow covered the earth.” All Maslama could do was assure his emaciated, half-frozen men that “soon! Soon supplies will be here!” But they did not come; worse, warlike nomadic tribesmen known as Bulgars—whence the nation of Bulgaria—accustomed to the terrain and climate began to harry any Muslim detachment that left the starving camp in search of food.
By spring, Muslim reinforcements and provisions finally arrived by land and sea. But the damage was done; frost and famine had taken their toll on the Muslims encamped outside the walls of Constantinople. “Since the Arabs were extremely hungry,” writes Theophanes, “they ate all their dead animals: horses, asses, and camels. Some even say they put dead men and their own dung in pans, kneaded this, and ate it. A plague-like disease descended on them, and destroyed a countless throng.”
I’ve little to add to his account, it’s well out of my field, but he wrote a fascinating article on it that I urge you to read.
But I can read a map, and Constantinople blocked the easiest route into Europe, thus blocking the easy early conquest. Not long after this Charles Martel, at the Battle of Tours blocked the western path up through what is now Spain. Thus in the eighth century was Europe saved for all we know to develop.
In the sixteenth century, the twin battles of the Siege of Warsaw, featuring King John Sobieski and his cavalry, and the naval battle of Lepanto, again checked aggressive Islamic moves on Europe.
This allowed the modern world we know to develop, with all the advances we have made.
Malcolm wrote about his visit to Hagia Sophia here.
It’s a long time since I wrote here, but Chalcedon’s typically kind republication of my little piece on the women at the tomb, and Audre’s lovely piece on the woman at the well prompts a few thoughts to share.
Too much of the commentary on women in the Gospel has been skewed by an almost feverish (often androcentric, but not wholly) desire to explain away what it means to call someone like “Junia” an “Apostle.” It was almost amusing to see the extent to which some of the comments on C’s essay on Junia went to deny the obvious literal reading, which is that a woman called Junia was “prominent among the Apostles”. If I just list the Church Fathers who all acknowledged the fact that “Junia” was a woman and an Apostle, it comes to the sort of list that, if I was using it to illustrate that (as they are) the consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus in a way not to be defined), traditionalists would be quick to say ‘there, look at that witness from the Church’; odd how it doesn’t work in Junia’s case. C quotes Ambosiaster (I’m not, by the way criticising him for not including all the others, just doing it myself), to which can be added Origen, Jerome, Chyrsostom, Theodoret and John of Damascus. Of course, you can (as others have in other cases) argue that they all got it wrong, and that it wasn’t until the twelfth century that it got put right; but I sort of feel that in any case other than one concerning women, traditionalists would be the first to say how jolly unlikely that one was! I especially love the example of A.C. Headlam in the late nineteenth century who wrote wrote that the fact the name was borne by an Apostle was decisive: ‘In that case it is hardly likely that the name is femine.’ Not one, then, to let the fact there is no known example of the name ‘Junias’ known in antiquity, get in the way of a conclusion he’d already drawn!
I wonder whether some of this isn’t the fault of women ourselves? How so? We’ve usually gone down this route to argue the case for women’s ordination. In my church that’s a done deal and in our special Anglican way we’ve managed to rub along, on the whole, nicely, so for me that’s a done deal, and those who don’t want it, fine, not my church, not my issue. I say this not to say it doesn’t matter, it does, but to wonder how it looks if we set it aside and ask what role women played in the early church?
How likely, for example, is it that in Jewish and Roman society a mission largely carried on by men would have done what we know it did, which was to bring in many women? It’s always interested me, because I’m as guilty of it as anyone, when the argument is used that the fact that the testimony of women is used by the Gospel writers is a decisive argument in favour of it being true that the tomb was empty, because the testimony of women was not acceptable in Jewish law. Pardon my laughter. No doubt it wasn’t, but the idea that women would ever have gone, ‘oh, you know, it was only a woman who saw that Jesus rise from the dead, so it must be true,’ is to ignore that, to women hearing the story, there would be no such impediment. Apart from anything else, the testimony was not actually being used in courts of law, so I’ve never been clear this mattered as much as we sometimes think. Why then was it used, because it’s right to say it would cause doubt in some quarters.
It’s certainly true that the ancient world shared the view still common in some parts of the modern world that women are a bit gullible in religious matters and prone to hysterical superstitious fantasy (guilty as charged m’lud!) Origen records the awful Celsus, that pagan hater of Christianity, as commenting thus about Mary Magdelen: ‘after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment … but who saw this? A hysterical female as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery?” But it’s unlikely women shared that view of each other, and it may well be that those women we see in Luke who travelled about with Jesus along with the twelve, played a role in evengelising their own sex.
One reason for emphasising the testimony of women may well have been that those women Luke mentioned remained prominent in the early church. Richard Bauckham has written interestingly about how “Junia” and the “Joanna” mentioned by Luke may well be the same woman, and we know from Paul that women played a prominent part in the early mission of the church. What would be more likely then than mentioning the women because they were well-known in church circles? Mary of Clopas may well have been the mother of Symeon, who succeeded James as head of the church in Jerusalem, if so, mentioning her would have been a powerful testimony in the early church. As Bauckham puts it: ‘they surely continued to be active traditioners whose recognised eyewitness testimony coud act as a touchstone to guarantee the traditions as others relayed them and to protect the traditions from inauthentic developments.’ Which nicely links up with C’s essay on women as protectors of tradition, on which note, I’ll stop wittering and hope that, like me, you’re all managing to survive this ghastly plague. Prayers for you all, anyway.
What is one to say when someone questions venerating Our Lady? In me it inspires a sense of sadness. It drags the Blessed Virgin into controversy which is of men; oddly, or not, I have never had a woman find this a cause for controversy. One can, of course, pray for those who do this, and one can point out, for the millionth time that no one worships Our Lady. Those who refuse to see the difference between worship and veneration are, alas, like those who cannot see the difference between red and green; it is a form of spiritual colour-blindness. It is when they have resort to the Scriptures to support their views that a reasonable response can be made.
No one disputes that during the earthly Ministry of Our Lord, Our Lady was not one of those who followed Him from place to place. It is certain that we see her telling the servants at the Wedding at Cana to do as He tells them. It is equally certain that she tried to bring Him back home when He was criticised and attacked by those in the locality; so might any mother do for a beloved Son. Were St Mark all we had to go on then little attention would have been paid to Mary of Nazareth; but then were his Gospel the only one, we would be at something of a loss over the Resurrection. But of course, whilst concentrating on one Gospel and neglecting other sources may be the way of the polemicist, it is the way neither of the scholar nor reading with the eye of Faith.
Our Lady was there, with many others, at Pentecost, St Luke tells us this, as he tells us so much more about her. We know about the Annunciation because of St Luke, who also tells us more about the birth of Jesus than anyone else; it is Luke who also gives us the few details we have of His early life. St Matthew’s Gospel covers some of the same ground, but in less detail. Where did St Luke get his information? We cannot know, but we do know he collected information from eye-witnesses, and Our Lady seems the most likely source for all of this.
But let us go back a step. Why do we accept St Luke’s Gospel? Some time ago I asked Bosco what books he thought should be in the Bible, and he told me, no doubt in jest, that it was on the contents page. Of course there was no “contents page” in the original manuscripts, and we know their name and that they are “Scripture” only by the voice of the Church. Jessica wrote interestingly on the early history of the New Testament, and her piece has many references for those interested. The point to be made here is that the same Church which tells us that there are only four Gospels and which names them, also tells us that Christ was born of a Virgin. It does not go into detail about the early life of Jesus, but all the early traditions are agreed that Our Lady was a Virgin, and before relatively recent times, no one save a few heretics, read the Gospel references to the “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord as being uterine siblings. There is more on this here, but the point is the same, that if we accept Tradition gives us Scripture, then we accept as a corollary that it knows how to interpret it; were that not so then on what basis would we accept the Canon of Scripture? As Austin Ferrers put it:
The fact on which our faith reposes is not the fact of Christ’s history alone, it is the doubtle fact of that history taken together with the existence of the spirit-filled Church which proclaimed that history and lived by its fruits. And the Church accepted the virginal conception as a harmonious part of the sacred story; once it had been set forth it could not be thought away; it belonged so absolutely in its place. Inspired authority established the belief; Ignatius and Irenaeus make it a kernel of orthodoxy.
There is, of course, nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a Christian and believing whatever they want, but they cannot in so doing claim to be orthodox or in the Tradition of the Church whose book they are choosing to read by the light of their own intellect; wisdom might suggest tempering one’s own views with the great cloud of witnesses who have been here before us.
The recent series on the origin of the Canon has, I hope, been a help here, as one of the things it shows is the importance the first Christians attached to “handing on” what they had received from Jesus and the Apostles.
There are limits to what even the Spirit-filled Church can do. She is inspired to proclaim facts and interpret them. She is not inspired to create new facts; that seems to be uniquely the job of people who think they know better. The Creed states orthodoxy. We believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” There is, as St Matthew makes clear, a paradox here. In her “yes” Our Lady not only opened the gate to our redemption, she also opened the door to a personal scandal which could have ruined her life. Even the righteous St Joseph behaved as any man might on learning that his betrothed was with child. Being a righteous man he did not want to shame her, so he was minded to put her aside privately; only the Angel stopped him. Our Lady was willing to bear that for us.
Now, of course, there is nothing to stop anyone claiming that all of this tradition about the mother of Jesus being a virgin is just that, a tradition, but since the same is true about the canon of Scripture, I am not sure that the person making such a claim has not just sawn off the branch of the tree upon which he is sitting. In saying, in effect, “my reading of Scripture is x” he is begging the question of how he knows what is and is not Scripture in the first place.
Equally, there is nothing to stop anyone claiming that Our Lady had other children, although the very idea seems to me impious. But such a claim would need to explain why Our Lord gave over His mother to the care of St John rather, than as was the Jewish custom if there was more than one child, to the next eldest. So again, we ask ourselves whether the evidence of Scripture justifies what the Church has always taught, and we find that it does, and that it is the unorthodox who has to explain why the majority of Christians for most of history have been wrong and he and the few who agree with him is correct. Since, invariably, such critics also criticise the idea that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals, there is a certain irony in their insistence on their own infallibility in whatever matter it is upon which they wish to pronounce.
It takes a great deal of chutzpah, or perhaps it is ignorance, to prefer one’s own reading of Scripture to that of the Church which told us and tells us what it is. I have too little of either to wish to go there. Moreover, when it comes to the Blessed Virgin, I have to admit a bias. She is for me an invariable help in coming to her Son. In this sense, this is a very personal post, as I have found the Blessed Virgin an invaluable help on my journey, and sometimes she has been one of the few lights in the darkness. So, to those, such as Bosco, who insist on being unpleasant about her, I direct one comment. Just what do you think any good Jewish boy would think of anyone criticising his mother? If your version of Christianity pushes you to disparage the mother of Our Lord, then you, or it, is doing something very wrong.
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.
“Wherefore, let us leave empty and vain thoughts, and come unto the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling,” thus Titus Flavius Clemens, or as he is better known to history, Clement of Alexandria, in his first letter to the Corinthians. what was this “rule of faith’? Irenaeus outlines it in chapter 9 of the first book of Adversus Heraesis when he writes about St John:
proclaiming one God, the Almighty, and one Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten, by whom all things were made, declares that this was the Son of God, this the Only-begotten, this the Former of all things, this the true Light who enlighteneth every man, this the Creator of the world, this He that came to His own, this He that became flesh and dwelt among us
We see it in Tertullian (c.160-225), Hippolytus (c.170-236), as well as later in St Athanasius (c.296-373) and St Augustine (c. 354-4300. It consists of a statement of early Christian teaching and communal belief which could be used, as Clement used it, to refute heresy.
The core belief was that Jesus is the Son of God, the Creator of all things, who had become man and dwelt among us, and who died on the Cross, rose from the dead, and later ascended into Heaven, and who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. These beliefs were supported in the Apostolic writings which were identified by tradition because they were the “rule of faith” by which Christians could be assured of these things. That did not stop some Christians, like Irenaeus taking a view which rested on revelation, tradition, and on the power of the Holy Spirit, or others, like Clement, taking a more philosophical view. The “rule of faith” allowed both idioms; what it did not allow was Gnostic claims that there was “another Saviour, and another Logos, the son of Monogenes, and another Christ produced for the re-establishment of the Pleroma.” This “rule of faith” we see across the Mediterranean and what we call the Middle East, it was not the product of Rome or, indeed, of any central authority, it was the common possession of the Church from the “elders” supported by the Canon.
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.
This is worth quoting at length as it conveys better than any summary the way in which Bishops like Irenaeus saw themselves as receiving and passing on what had been received from the Apostles themselves, as recorded in the canonical Gospels. As Clement put it:
42:1 The Apostles received for us the gospel from our Lord Jesus Christ; our Lord Jesus Christ received it from God.
42:2 Christ, therefore, was sent out from God, and the Apostles from Christ; and both these things were done in good order, according to the will of God.
42:3 They, therefore, having received the promises, having been fully persuaded by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and having been confirmed by the word of God, with the full persuasion of the Holy Spirit, went forth preaching the good tidings that the kingdom of God was at hand.
42:4 Preaching, therefore, through the countries and cities, they appointed their firstfruits to be bishops and deacons over such as should believe, after they had proved them in the Spirit.
42:5 And this they did in no new way, for in truth it had in long past time been written concerning bishops and deacons; for the scripture, in a certain place, saith in this wise: I will establish their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.
WE have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
These men were not part of some “orthodox” conspiracy designed to impose order on “diversity:, they were the stewards the the Gospel message which they had the duty to protect and proclaim. It is not surprising that this “rule of faith” became the origin of the Nicere Creed.
That should not be taken to mean that there were not theological developments along the way, the Trinity is one example of such a development, but it does mean that, as Larry Hurtado put it:
Well before the influence of Constantine and the councils of bishops in the fourth century and thereafter, it was clear that proto-orthodox Christianity was ascendant, and represented the emergent mainstream. Proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus of the seond century constitutes the pattern of belief and practiced that shaped Christian tradition thereafter. [L.W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity].
I would be tempted to tweak that a little after what has been outlined here and to say that the Creeds approved by the Church Fathers, like the Canon they confirmed, served as a theological continuation of inherited orthodoxy, and as its chief means of transmitting what had been inherited.
None of that is to take away from the fierce debates over heresy and the part they played in focussing the mind of the Church on subjects such as the Trinity and Christology, but it is to say that it was the Church which preserved and transmitted what it had received from the Apostles.
My thanks to those of you who have borne with me thus far, and to those who have commented. The attempt to summarise such a vast topic inevitably produces simplifications, but I hope I have reflected what I have read. I am conscious that the sources here are Western in the main, and in later posts I hope to explore other examples of the tradition.