Monday, February 19, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 4)

NOTE: This is part 4 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. Please scroll down to see the earlier posts.

To avoid the confusion of layers, I will paraphrase my points that Luis is responding to, rather than include his quotations of my last letter (which can be read in the previous post-post #3).

I wrote that Scripture gives no evidence of neither Jesus nor the apostles after him giving women a role of ecclesial governance and sacramental ministry. To assert that this was due to the prejudice of the times one would have to assert that the prejudice began with Jesus Christ....

To this Luis replied:

"This discussion requires thinking *before* and *after* the resurrection. Before the resurrection, the earthly mission of Jesus was to the people of Israel, not to all the nations. Accordingly, all the apostles were males, and all the apostles were Jews. Jessu also tolerated slavery and mostly kept a distance from gentiles. Prudence does not necessarily imply prejudice.
After the resurrection, the mission of the church is to all nations. Mary Magdalene is the first witmess of the resurrection, "apostola apostolorum." The church started baptizing gentiles, and soon there were gentile apostles."

To this, I respond:

Certainly, the earthly ministry of Jesus began with the people of Israel. The prophets foretold that the messiah would come to the Jews first. Israel was then to be the light that would attract all nations to worship God on mount Zion (Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 22:28; Psalm 67:3-4; etc. etc.). Of course Jesus anticipated opening up the new covenant with the Gentiles after first proclaiming it to the Jews (many of whom he knew would reject his message—especially the leaders).

As you well know the Gospels detail important interactions between Jesus and Gentiles: "the Greeks" who search him out (Jn 12:20); Jesus first insisted that he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but healed the Syrophoenician woman for her faith as she acknowledged the dependence of even Gentiles who, like dogs, "under the table eat the children’s scraps" (Mk 7:28; cf. the Canaanite woman from the Tyre/Sidon regions Mt 15:21-28); in response to the Centurion (a Gentile) who appealed for the cure of his servant, Jesus said, "in no one in Israel have I found such faith" (Mt 8:10); when Jesus was rejected at Nazareth he referred to how Elijah came to a widow in Sidon (not Israel) to miraculously open the sky and end the famine…and that though there were many lepers in Israel, it was Naaman the Syrian who obeyed Elisha’s command and received healing (Lk 4:16-30).

I understand that in Mt 28:19 Jesus clearly commissioned the disciples to make disciples of all nations. However, I think you might be making too sharp of a distinction between Jesus before the resurrection and after. Clearly, during his entire ministry he was anticipating the fact that Gospel would be proclaimed to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (indeed, it already was being preached and accepted by Gentiles as these verses make clear).

Yes, at first "all the apostles were males, and all the apostles were Jews." What happened once the church began to have Gentile bishops (Timothy and Titus, for example)… do we then see clear evidence in the New Testament epistles of female priestesses? Do we such evidence in the writings of the early Church fathers. No. And why not, I wonder. Female priestesses were already known of in Pagan religions of the time. What would have been the big deal for Jesus or the early Christian community to reveal the fact that women were also called to exercise this function? Mary Magdalene was called "the apostle to the apostles" by certain Church fathers. This, however, would not seem to mean Apostle in the specific sense, but rather apostle in the small "a" sense of one who was sent on mission to proclaim the good news. Indeed, if Mary Magdalene was an Apostle in the sense of one who was commissioned by Christ to govern his Church and have a share in his ministerial priesthood why was SHE not chosen as the successor to Judas. Why would the apostles pass up such an illustrious original disciple… one of such high regard as Mary Magdalene… in order to choose the unknown Matthias (Acts 1:26). That would not make any sense. Oh right, I forgot, the apostles were blinded by their own misogyny.

You also speak of the prudence of Jesus. Certainly, he exhibited prudence. However, you should not take that argument too far either. Do not forget that Jesus constantly clashed with the Jews: foretelling the destruction of the temple, violating the Law, working on the Sabbath, consorting with unclean people, identifying himself with God (the successive I AM’s of John’s Gospel). Are you telling me that he was holding back on the female priestess thing because he did not want to ruffle any feathers? Surely he would have foreseen the rejection of the Christians from the institutional assembly of the Jews. Only Jewish men were circumcised,... and yet the Church baptized women as well as men (why not ordain both if that was God's plan). Why did St. Paul, or any of the authors of the New Testament reveal this teaching about women priestesses (because at this time the Church was independent of the synagogue and there would no longer be any concern about the reaction by the Jewish leaders)? Yes it was the council of Jerusalem that defined teaching about the circumcision and dietary requirements. But notice, it was a COUNCIL of Church leaders. No such council has ever met to discern or validate women priests. The authorities of the Church have done nothing but denounce the practice.

Luis wrote:

"Then it took the church 1700 years or so to come to a mind that slavery is morally wrong. Until very recently (as recently as 1988?), the official position of the church was that women were sub-human, and therefore could not possibly be ordained."

I respond:

The slavery issue is a complicated question of history, one which I will have to do more research on. I will write more on that in another email. In brief, however, you are comparing a very fundamental liturgical question: the question of sacramental matter (who can be ordained) with the specific application of general moral principles to an institution that has taken MANY forms throughout history. Comparing these two things is apples and oranges. Indeed, my research shows that the Magisterium did speak out against barbaric chattel slavery on many occasions. And I have not discovered a Church doctrine that extolled forms of slavery that offended human dignity. But more on that later, because it is an interesting question.

Where do you find 'the official position of the church was that women were sub-human'? If the Church considered women "sub-human" then why were women baptized (last I checked, sacraments were always restricted to humans)?… We don’t confirm insects and we don’t give Communion to dogs. Why would the Church venerate female martyrs from the very earliest centuries if they considered them sub-humans? Why celebrate their feast days? Why would the Church canonize women saints or declare two of them doctors of the Church? Why were orders of women religious founded (in many cases by men)? Why would bishops appoint abbesses who wielded great prominence and power in the Medieval period? Why would we see great partnerships in mission and obvious mutual respect in such pairs as St. Frances of Assisi and St. Clare, St. Francis De Sales and St. Jane De Chantall, etc, St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila? Why did St. Catherine of Sienna possess the moral authority to command the Pope to leave Avignon, France and return to his rightful place in Rome? I am not denying that there has not been individuals with male chauvinism in the Church. But the view of the Church as a whole has always acknowledged the dignity of women in theory and practice.

Luis wrote:

"The Lord instituted the sacraments and entrusted them to the church, not for the church to perpetuate ignorance and prejudice that he could not handle in his mission to the Jews, but to administer them according to the signs of the times, for the glory of God and the good of souls..."

I respond:

"Again, I do not understand. What was the "ignorance and prejudice that [Jesus] could not handle in his mission to the Jews"? I believe in the divinity of Christ and do not think that he was limited in his mission by the prejudices of the times. As I said, Jesus’ teachings already flipped the Jewish world of his times upside down. It does not seem to me that he would be worried about some Jewish male chauvinists. As I said before, Jesus already acknowledged the dignity of women in a way that was unprecedented (the woman at the well—Jn 4:9, 27; the woman caught in adultery—Jn 8:3-11; the pardon of the sinful woman—Lk 7:36-50 ). Why would he have truncated his Gospel by leaving out an important point about who can receive this sacrament that is SO essential to the make-up and functioning of the Church?

"Other than that, you just repeat the assertion that the Church "perpetuates ignorance and prejudice." This is an assertion for which you provide no proof. Really, it is just your opinion. You point to unenlightened views about women by some fathers and Thomas Aquinas. Such personal misconceptions about the female nature can coexist along side the valid theological principles whereby only men are ordained (because only men can sacramentally image Christ who was a man). If Thomas Aquinas makes an unenlightened comment about women, this does not mean that prejudice is at the root of the millennium of Sacred Tradition that preceded him and, more importantly, began with Jesus Christ and the apostles.

"By the way, who interprets the "sign of the times" in order to reverse the centuries old administration of the sacraments?... Do YOU interpret the sign of the times? Does Sr. Joan Chittester?... Does do this interpretation... Call to Action... FutureChurch? If you asked me, I would disagree with your interpretation of the sign of the times… and so would a lot of Catholic women I know. But what I think does not matter in this regard. Once again, I’ll let the Magisterium interpret the sign of the times on this one. In a similar vein, some people think that the sign of times requires that we change who can administer the sacrament of holy matrimony to one another… saying that its high time that 2 men be allowed to do this… or two women. … If such people want to leave the Church over this, I guess I understand, but why would they hold their breath waiting for the Church to start whirling chaotically in the winds of change?"

In response to my assertion that he would have to say that the Church immediately betrayed the intention of Jesus (to have female sacramental ministers)... and that I trust the Tradition of the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that would not be wrong on a matter of such great importance...

Luis wrote:

"What about [the Church for] 1700 years approving the morality of slavery?"

(slavery discussion to follow later…)

In response to the fact that the same Council that refuted the Arian heresy and contributed the Creed that we recite at Mass also denounced female ordination (as did the Council of Laodicea in 360)...

Luis wrote:

"This reflects their understanding as of 361 AD, is not a definition of revealed truth, and does not preclude further development."

I respond:

"Further development" [of doctrine] is not the same thing as an outright about-face reversal, a 180 degree change. Doctrinal development is not when the Church says ‘the Church has no authority to ordain women' and then later, 'the Church has the authority to ordain women'. I am not sure that I understand what you mean by this distinction of revealed truth. My point is that the question of who can receive a sacrament is a question of vital importance… a question that would have to have been definitively settled at the very beginning. We do not debate whether unbaptized men can be ordained? We do not debate (yet) whether Holy Matrimony can be between 3 people. These questions go to the heart of the definition of the sacraments, themselves.

"Therefore, when a Church council REPEATEDLY answers a question concerning an issue, then I accept the teaching (especially when it is defined as definitive in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and again in Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1995 Ad Dubium). Please re-read those two passages and tell me that the Church is leaving this question open for "further development.":

'Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance
this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.'

I guess no matter what Pope John Paul II tries to do, he will never be able to remove ALL doubt about this matter. Some people will persist in doubt.

In response to my point that I do not feel the need to pick and choose between which canons of the Council of Nicea that I should accept... and that the Fathers of the Church also spoke against women's ordination...

Luis wrote:
"They also wrote that women are "the gates of hell" and what about Thomas Aquinas ... have you read what he thought about women?"

In response to my point that women have had countless roles of important leadership of service within the Church throughout history (even if not administrative roles in the hierarchy--a very small part of the entire Church's make-up)...

"This is not the point. The point is that the signs of the times seem to indicate that the ordination of women is needed, here and now, not to satify any "post-modern feminist agenda," but for the glory of God and
the good of souls. Incidentally, men are the ones who might benefit the most from the sacramental ministry of women priests (Carl Jung, etc.)"

I respond:

Once again… who gives you the authority to definitively interpret the "signs of the times" (that is such a vague concept… very open to manipulation in order to support ANY agenda)… or what makes for "the glory of God and the good of souls"? I am curious, why would men benefit the most from the sacramental ministry of women priests? I am not well read on Carl Jung’s psychology. However, I doubt that I would be convinced by such arguments. Is it a question of men being nurtured by women ministers?... or mothered by them? I do not go to the sacraments for primarily emotional motivations. I go to the sacraments to receive grace via an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who acts through his ministers. I do not get terribly concerned with personal characteristics or talents of individual ministers.

Regarding the theology of the body and the differences between men and women (specifically, the ability to sacramentally image Jesus Christ--who was a man), ....

Luis wrote:

"Thank God, men and women are different but, except at the genital level, they are not mutually exclusive. Their complementarity is also not black and white. There is man in woman, and there is woman in man."

I respond:

"I do not know exactly what you mean by this. Men and women can share traits, but I do not have "woman" in me."

Regarding arguments from the theology of the Body...

Luis wrote:

"The theology of the body is, among other things, liturgical theology. How can we have good liturgy if the language of the body around the altar is exclusively male?"

I respond:

"Here is one explanation how. According to Genevieve Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Womanhood:
'The Theology of the Body shows us that there is a nuptial backdrop to the universe and that life is created spiritually and physically when the bride and bridegroom unite in a complete gift of self. Thus, the priest (bridegroom, an icon of The Bridegroom Christ) is espoused to Holy Mother Church (the Spotless Bride), offering the semina [seed] (word of God) in order that she nourish her children. If there is a woman priest, there will be a same-sex union, which will be sterile.' [this is from a private correspondence]

"Now, I am aware that you will disagree with her theology of the body. You would probably craft your own whereby God is bride/Mother and the Church is the bridegroom… but her theological perspective is based on Ephesians 5."

Regarding the question of whether the Church has spoke definitively about a male-only priesthood...

Luis wrote:

"There has been no *definition* that the male-only priesthood is revealed truth and therefore a matter of faith. Ordinatio sacerdotalis uses the "literalist" method to interpret certain biblical texts in isolation from the entire Bible. I am sure you know the difference between "literal" and "literalist."

I respond:

"I can only continue to point you (once again) to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the 1995 Ad Dubium from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope John Paul lI wrote OS because of a certain misconception that was popular at the time—namely that "the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force." If something is not a question of discipline (which can be changed), then it is a question of doctrine (which does not change, although it can develop… and once again, a complete about-face reversal is not doctrinal development). Disciplinary issues are not "to be held definitively" nor are they to be understood to belong to the deposit of the faith. Nor do they pertain to the Church's divine consititution itself (see below).

"Pope John Paul further called the question of who can be ordained 'a matter of great importance, A MATTER WHICH PERTAINS TO THE CHURCH’S DIVINE CONSTITUTION ITSELF.' He concludes by saying that 'this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.'

More matter-of-fact, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith asked whether the Church’s teaching in this regard "is to be held definitively", and "IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD AS BELONGING TO THE DEPOSIT OF FAITH." The answer: yes (in the affirmative). The reason: it is founded on the written Word of God, from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, and set forth by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (LG 25, 2). "The Roman Pontiff…has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as BELONGING TO THE DEPOSIT OF THE FAITH.'

Earlier, Pope Paul VI indicated also that this was a question of the Church’s divine constitution: "The real reason [for admitting only men to Holy Orders] is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology—thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition—Christ established things in this way" (Inter Insigniores).

Literal vs. literalist interpretation of Scripture in OS (yes, I have studied theology so I know the distinction)? That can be a matter of debate, I suppose, but in the end, who cares? It was the authoritative interpretation… it was the binding interpretation whether or not you agree with it. Certainly many modern exegetes might disagree,... but then again some of then are so drunk with an exclusive use of the historical critical method that they also deny the historical validity of the Resurrection and the miracles of Christ. Why trust them over the magisterium and Tradition? Incidentally, people who argue in favor of women's ordination twist Scripture--"there is not male and female" (Gal 3:28), for example, concerns justification and does not state that there are NO differences between men and women of any relevance to theological anthropology and the sacraments. Women received the common priesthood of the faithful... but the people of Israel also had a "common priesthood" of the people and a parrallel ministerial priesthood.

Regarding what I call the ambiguities inherent in the moral teachings of (what I would call) modernist churches (such as the Episcopal church in US)...

Luis wrote:

"There are ambiguities and there are ambiguities. When you conflate matters of faith (such as the Assumption of Mary) with matters which are not of the faith (such as the male-only priesthood), it is reasonable to
expect that many people are going to be utterly confused."

I reply:

"I am not saying that the dogma of the Assumption is on the same theological level as that of the male-only priesthood. They do share many things in common, however. For example, they both belong "to the deposit of faith." Of both we can always say that "this teaching requires definitive assent." Both are founded on the Word of God, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium. I am just comparing the dogma of the Assumption with what I quote regarding the male-only priesthood above. Where is the confusion on my part? Rather, the confusion comes when people who disagree with Church teaching tell others that the teaching can change. On the contrary, modernist Christian denominations conflate the teachings of Scripture (especially on the moral issues regarding marriage and sexuality) with the perspective of contemporary culture."

Luis wrote:

"Roman Catholic bishops are forced to sign an 'oath of loyalty' that, in fact, conflates what we believe with 'certainty of faith' with other practices and doctrines which we do not believe with certainty of faith.
This confusing requirement, augmented by smoke screens of creeping infallibility and the ban to discuss the ordination of women, smell fishy to me."

I respond:

"Once again, I am not a professional theologian. All I can point to is the fact that the male-only priesthood is assigned to the deposit of faith and that we are to grant this teaching 'definitive assent.' Clearly you distrust Roman Catholic bishops, the Pope and the entire Magisterium. You seem suspicious of the Church for finally putting an end to this question. Why? This is what we have a magisterium for… to end debates over doctrinal matters and give clear direction. Why does this 'smell fishy' to you? Are you convinced that there is a misogynistic conspiracy to high jack the Holy Spirit and the Church?"

Luis wrote:

"In your current position as 'director of faith formation,' are you also required to sign the oath of loyalty?"

"No. The cover letter of my resume did, however, state that I strive to be orthodox, that is obedient to the teachings Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. I presume that the pastor who hired me took my word for it. However, would I sign an oath of fidelity (I do not know what you mean by "oath of loyalty" though perhaps they amount to the same thing) if asked? Certainly. Why not? In fact, I would frame my copy and hang it in my office. The way you posed this question sounds like you think be faithful to the Magisterium is something to be embarrassed about. I am not. I do not think obstinate disobedience and persistence in theological error is a mark of maturity (in contrast to Curran’s recent autobiography).

"I trust the Church because I trust the inspired word of God and 2,000 years of acquired wisdom over my own faulty opinions. My job as director of religious education (my official title is modern day church jargon) is a humble one. I organize and oversee the religious education programs at 4 parishes in our cluster. I also do not make my catechists sign an oath of fidelity. I told them explicitly, however, that they are to only teach what the Catholic church teaches. Unless I hear otherwise, I assume that they do this. That is just common sense—parents who drop their kids off for religious education should be taught the Catholic faith, and not speculation or what some people wished the Church taught. That is truth in advertising.

We are starting to repeat ourselves, so I do not know if any more can be said... (but I have a hard time giving up the last word) :)

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