Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.1)

NOTE: This is part 5 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. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link:
Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

Scripture and the Early Church; Does justification necessitate admittance to all sacraments?

I made the charge that Luis was overemphasizing the distinction between the scope of Jesus’ New Covenant in the pre-Resurrection and post-Resurrection periods (i.e. that before the Resurrection the covenant was offered to the Jews only, or to men only, etc.; after the Resurrection it was universal in scope). I also made the related point that he was overemphasizing Jesus’ “prudence” (in his alleged approval of slavery—which cannot be proved—in his alleged exclusion of the Gentiles—which is also not true). In response, Luis wrote:
He also anticipated opening the new covenant to women. Remember, women
were not allowed in the synagogue. All exclusions came to an end when the … [unfinished sentence?]

Likewise, he was anticipating that it would be proclaimed to women, and
in fact accepted the ministrations of women. For example:

Mark 14:6 -- "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her?
She has done a beautiful thing to me.

John 12:7 -- "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that
she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.

Sounds like a sacramental anointing to me ....

In response, I wrote:

Of course, Jesus opened the new covenant to women from the very beginning (starting with the disciple par excellence—the Blessed Virgin Mary). I do not know what point you were driving at when you mention women not being allowed in the synagogue, or what event brought an end to all exclusions (I do not see where your original sentence continues on, it just broke off).

However, women were certainly considered to have a share in the covenants of the Old Testament—even if they were not circumcised. You cannot tell me that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Rahab the harlot, Ruth, Judith, Esther, Hannah, did not have a share in the covenant of the people of Israel (even those that were of Gentile origin were part of the salvific history of Israel… as you can see from Matthew’s genealogy [Mt 1:5]). Also, you make a presumption that if anyone is allowed entrance into the new covenant they also by necessity be allowed to function in the very specific role of sacramental ministry. I would like you offer some kind of proof and convince me of this point. I do not see the necessary connection. If God ordained that only a certain cross-section of his people would exercise this function, why should I second guess Him?

These verses that you cite above do not strike me as suggesting a sacramental anointing at all. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (which can hardly be criticized for “papal fundamentalism”) states that John 12 and the parallel accounts in the other gospel “all agree that the woman’s action is preparation for Jesus’ burial”, and that the Greek term used is for “burial preparation” (this passage relates to his impending passion, death, and burial). This commentary makes no reference to this being the act of the anointing of the sick. It would not make any sense for Jesus to receive a sacrament from anybody, seeing as He is God. The sacrament of anointing of the sick addresses the sick and forgives sins—which, Jesus would not need. In fact, the only place in Scripture that we have any indication of sacramental anointing of the sick is in James 5:13-15 where the presbyters of the church are the required ministers (and do we have any biblical evidence of female presbyters?).

These verses do speak of the central role of female disciples—but they deal more with right devotion and do not address sacramental administration or church authority.

On the contrary, I believe that these verses are another example of how those who are in favor of women’s ordination stretch and strangle biblical texts to support their arguments (an odd phenomenon for those who repeatedly charge the Magisterium and 2,000 years of Sacred Tradition with biblical fundamentalism and literalist interpretation).

In addition, you did not respond to: “Jesus also tolerated slavery and mostly kept a distance from Gentiles. Prudence does not necessarily imply prejudice.”

I made the point that, even though the first apostles were Jewish men (before the Resurrection), the Church soon saw Gentile bishops (Timothy and Titus, for example), and yet, we did not at the same time see the institution of women priests or bishops [I used the term “priestesses”]. This would be strange if it was Christ’s intention (post-resurrection, of course) to extend sacramental ministry and governing authority to women. Despite countless examples of exemplary women disciples (Mary Magdalene, Martha/Mary, etc.), it was a man who was chosen as the apostle to replace Judas.

Luis wrote:

The term "female priestess" is derogatory. This conversation is about
female Christian priests, not female pagan priestesses.

I replied:

I did use the term “priestess” which was not intended to be derogatory. The Council of Nicea mentions “deaconesses” and the Council of Laodicea mentions “presbyteresses” and “presidentesses”. Even WomenPriests own website quotes Pliny’s Latin term which translates as “deaconesses?” So, I used the term because I heard/read it being used before… I did not mean to offend anyone by the term. Of course, I do not believe that “female Christian priests” exist in the true sense of having been validly sacramentally ordained by a true Church authority (as a Catholic, of course, I do not count the Episcopal church or any other Protestant body), but I will use the term out of respect for those who so designate themselves.

I asked if this overlooking of a woman to be appointed the successor bishop was just misogyny on the part of the early Church.

Luis replied:

“Could be, or could be that the possibility never crossed their minds;
and if it did, they had a rationalization not to do it, i.e., they
didn't want people to confuse the Christian priesthood with the pagan
priesthood. The entire cultural fabric was saturated with misogyny.”

In response, I wrote:

Why would it not have crossed their minds to ordain women priests and bishops? Jesus clearly associated closely with women (and much to the initial shock of the apostles--Jn 4). The WomenPriest website, itself, mentions that St. Paul makes many references to women assisting in the service of evangelization [ ] (though, they fail to point out that these roles of service include teaching, and evangelization—roles that are not exclusive to the ordained clergy and do not require sacramental ordination to exercise—more reckless Biblical eisegesis!).

It is true, women were a central part of the life and mission of Jesus and the early Church (as is evident throughout the New Testament—Mt 27:55, etc.). Why would it not occur to the early Christians to consider women for ordination? The liturgy and life of the early Church brought them suspicion from the Romans who mistook their “Agape / love feasts” as orgies and their Eucharist as cannibalism. They were mocked for their belief in the Resurrection. Why would they be concerned with being confused with a pagan religion when the world already saw them as freaks (both from the Jews on one extreme, and Pagan Rome on the other)? Again, how was the Holy Spirit absolutely strangled and buried by misogyny in the Church for 2,000 years? In my mind, that would mean that the gates of Hell definitely prevailed against the Church.

Continuing on the theme of Jesus’ radical challenge of the Jewish religious establishment and belief, I wrote: “…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).” In response, Luis wrote:

Yes, the church baptized women, making them icons of Christ ... now the
church must recognize that, if women can be baptized, they can also be
ordained to become icons of Christ in sacramental ministry. The mental
barrier here is to have women in roles of religious authority.

In response, I wrote:

Baptized women are icons of Christ in the general sense that they image Christ to the world. The baptized are sacraments in the “small s”, general sense (just was we say that the Church is a “sacrament” of salvation to the world). However, the matter chosen for the sacraments was very specific (wheat bread in the West, oil, wine of a certain alcohol content, water, etc.). If Jesus Christ (a man) instituted men as icons of Christ in the very specific function of sacramental ministry I do not see any reason to object to His reasoning.

The argument would be that men more fittingly image Christ when the sacraments (such as the Eucharist-Last Supper) are being administered. This position, like the theology of the body, would see that sexual identity is not just a matter of “genital plumbing” but actually has a deeper theological significance. In the same manner, it would be odd to see a man depict the Virgin Mary, because her feminine identity was instrumental (not accidental) to her central role in salvation history (as one who was perfectly receptive to the gift/will of God).

Of course, we have no scriptural evidence of why Jesus chose only men to be apostles… we only know that he did. We engage in theology (such as the theology of the body or sacramental theology) in order to try to explain what we know from faith (Scripture tells us that Jesus only chose male apostles, and that the apostles only chose male successors—so, in the sense of a Scriptural fact, I say it is a matter of faith). On the other hand, speculative conjectures that Jesus was blinded by misogyny, cultural barriers, or a gutless false prudence are contradicted by the Scriptures themselves (the fact that Jesus is God and not merely “a product of his times”).

Of course, If you say that it was not His intention to ordain only men, then we go back to the illogical conclusion that the apostles and the early Church suppressed his teaching or were overwhelmed by cultural prejudice (see previous arguments). There is a smug assumption in all of this that our time and culture knows best… that we are the enlightened generation that needs to correct the faults of previous generations. I just don’t buy it in this particular case. (I see it all as plagued by modernist gender politics.)

You work from an assumption that to be redeemed and justified (through baptism) necessarily opens one up to the specific sacrament of holy orders and sacramental ministry. This is an assumption for which I would like more theological proof.

It is true that baptism grants all the lay faithful a share in priesthood of Christ, and makes them icons (small i) of Christ. This is not as novel a revolution as some think. In the Old Testament, there was also a priesthood of the faithful and a parallel (and more exclusive) liturgical priesthood:

“If you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites” (Exodus 19:5-6).

God tells the Israelite people, through Moses, that they are to be consecrated… a people set apart in order to worship and serve the Lord. And yet, it was the Levites who were chosen to be the liturgical priests who offered the sacrifices. Of course, the “lay” Israelites also participated in the sacrifices by supplying the material sacrificed in atonement for their sin (just as the lay faithful are called to a full, active participation in the sacrifice of the Mass—through their PRAYER). As you know, those who tried to usurp the liturgical priesthood because they felt they had a “right” to it (liturgical ministry = object of a power grab?) were punished accordingly (Numbers 16; Jude 1:11). Does the fact that only the Levites were chosen to function as liturgical priests diminish the dignity of the other Israelites?

Once again, we sometimes assume that Jesus Christ brought about a complete break with the Old Testament beliefs and institutions. Again, I think that this card is overplayed. Many use the tearing of the sanctuary veil (Mt 27:51) as proof that the Christian dispensation now erases all distinctions/barriers (between Gentiles/Jews, Men/Women, Us/God). Some Protestants, of course, point to this verse as the eradication of all sacramental priest/mediators because Jesus, alone is the mediator before God. Of course, Jesus’ priesthood is different from the Levitical priesthood because it is a perfect mediation… a perfect sacrifice. This does not, however, mean that Jesus did not incorporate certain sacramental ministers into the mystery of his one priesthood.

Where is the proof that redemption and justification requires participation in the specific sacrament of holy orders? The Catechism calls the sacraments of holy orders as sacraments in service of communion. It is not the case that one needs to receive all 7 sacraments in order to be fully human or fully redeemed or fully sanctified. What is your argument that one necessarily needs to be allowed the sacrament of holy orders in order to have full Christian dignity? That is nonsense. If I were to be ordained a priest and did not receive the sacrament of holy matrimony that does not make me any less of a Christian. Certainly, I would miss out on the specific graces associated with the powerful sacrament of Holy Matrimony… but that would not be required for me to fulfill my vocation. What about a Christian brother who receives neither Holy Orders nor Holy Matrimony? Does he lack the full Christian dignity while living the consecrated life? The two central sacraments for the Christian are baptism (entrance in the Church, eternal life, sanctifying grace, configuration to Christ, priesthood of all believers, etc.) and the Eucharist (“source and summit of the Faith”). Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders are two parallel sacraments that serve only to help the baptized live out the glorious mission that came with their baptism (to know, love and worship God and to sanctify the world).

[see above for more posts in this part 5 of the conversation]

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