The women debate—my attempt to explain from a sacramental perspective

Sacramentalists (or Christians who favour a more sacramental system of God distributing aid to his people) usually don’t agree that a woman can be a cultic or ritualistic priest. Sacramentalists are High Anglicans, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox generally. They may also include the Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church of the East as well. They have a wide variety of arguments as to why a woman cannot function as the ritualistic priest (distinguished from the priesthood of all believers) but they generally, for the most part, insist a woman should not be a ritualistic priest.

Why not? Feminist theologians generally argue along the lines of what women should be allowed to do according to the Bible—preach, teach, evangelise, they were deacons, apostles, etc. There are three orders of Holy Orders (which is what the sacrament is called)—deacons, priests, and bishops (Light for Life, Part 2: The Mystery Cdelebrated, 85-86). So permitting women to be deacons would not be discriminating against them from receiving this sacrament. Why should only men be allowed to partake in this sacrament? But should women become priest?

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a fence-sitter and I theoretically have no problem with a women being a priest (unlike Auntie who seems to be against women’s ordination–forgive me if my impression is wrong). It seems to be that there follow two lines of thought. The first, from Hans Urs von Balthasar that the priest “participates in his mission of representing the Lord with regard to the ‘feminine’ Church and community” (Priestly Spirituality). The role is “analogous to Christ the Bridegroom inseminating his Bride the Church and making her fruitful” (The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar). Which is a strong reason why women should not be priests. It was Christ as bridegroom who administered the eucharist (Rev. 19:11-16). Not a bride who administered it.

It is the eucharist that is clearly at the heart of the opponents of women priests. Not whether women can be preachers, teachers, apostles, deacons, and evangelists. This, I think cannot be emphasised enough in this present debate. Unfortunately, the feminists generally ignore this emphasis of their fellow sacramentalists and they resort to slander. There is also tradition. No fourth century theologian permitted women to be a priest.

“For those things which I have already mentioned might easily be performed by many even of those who are under authority, women as well as men; but when one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of menalso;” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, 2.2)

But if you can point out a fourth century theologian who did support women priests, please point them out. Also, make certain they weren’t condemned as a heretic for this either. I emphasise the fourth century since the canon of the Bible was being constructed then as well and hence, the developed tradition seems best to start there. Most feminists use the Bible as opposed to any other document to support their case since the tradition just simply doesn’t support their arguments. It may support women deacons but bishops and priests are generally a no. But they shouldn’t be using the Bible though if they are complaining about one developed tradition because the Bible itself is a developed tradition.

The iconographic argument is incidentally carried out by medieval theologian, St. Bonaventure (Schneiders, Women and the Word: The Gender of God in the New Testament and the Spirituality of Women, 72). But regardless, women priests remain heavily absent from the tradition other than the context of heretics who ordained them, being the wives of priests and bishops themselves they assumed an honorary title, and St. Brigit of Kildare whom I’ve touched upon as well.

Emphasising that the conversation should be focused on who should administer the eucharist (man, woman, or both) should advance the discussion hopefully to a higher status that isn’t focused on beating up the lay. Under Catholic and Orthodox canon laws, any lay person can procure a sacrament in the context of an emergency and a woman who doesn’t want to confess to a man the entire time might be qualified as an emergency situation. Why would a woman always want to confess her sexual status at the moment to a man all the time?

At the same time, the bride-bridegroom argument shouldn’t be taken so far. It was a woman who administered the eucharist in Prov. 9:1-6. Then again, there are interpretational issues with that section in Proverbs such as why Wisdom is portrayed as a woman. Could it be simply that Solomon was just using the woman because of his own interests in woman and that Wisdom was really intended to be a man and the Church a female in this chapter? It’s possible. Because of this, I largely lean against women priests and bishops but at the same time, if the correct emphasis is made in the debate, I have no problem with them either. Unfortunately, the emphasis has largely been sociological at the expense to the laity. I’ve noticed this in Protestant churches that the leaders seem to be the sole people with access to God. Not thrilled by it. They understand the debate sociologically and because of this, I felt abused as a lay person in two allegedly anti-clerical Evangelical Protestant churches (a non-denominational one and a Covenantal one).

Now, at this point, I would like to throw out a challenge to the feminist theologians—if they see my swaying toward a male-only priesthood as sexist in any way, shape, or form, I would like them to point out which elements of it are sexist. Most feminist theologians seem to just simply parrot the same line that “a male-only priesthood is sexist!” without giving any such information as to why and how it is sexist. They simply repeat that mantra thinking that they have “proved” some sort of point when all they’ve really done is refuse to contribute to such discussions. If my position is sexist, I would like to know which parts of it are sexist so that I can improve my theology on this issue. But my entire position is, for the most part, focused entirely on a theological question of who can represent the iconography of administering the eucharist better—a man or a woman. And obviously, a man can represent Christ in his function as a bridegroom better. So feminist theologians, which parts of my leanings toward an all-male priesthood are sexist? And get my entire argument before commenting and contributing to the discussion. Thank you.

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About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
This entry was posted in Anglicanism, Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, Feminism, High Church. Bookmark the permalink.

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