I came across this video by N.T. Wright a while back. It’s interesting because I think it points out the major problems in making a radical egalitarian argument on this base. The radical egalitarian normally begins his argument for the full, sacramental ordination of women by appealing to Romans 16 and these other bits in scripture that point out what women did in the ancient church. I’ve never been swayed toward egalitarianism by these arguments that assert “Oh, look, these women were Paul’s co-workers!” not because I’m totally against the full participation of women in ministry but because I don’t view that as a valid starting point to this discussion. One could easily point out the cooperation that Catholic priests and bishops have with lay women and nuns as a counter-argument. These verses simply don’t even imply what the radical egalitarian thinks they imply. I think that starting with this point is actually going to result in more theological problems than it is going to actually benefit a discussion on the inclusion of women in the priesthood and episcopate.
Now, this is where the radical egalitarian usually starts when making his case for the full inclusion of women in the priesthood and episcopate. Whereas the catholic* usually starts this discussion with Ephesians 5:22-31. Now, before the radical egalitarian freaks out and stops reading here, it’s not the “head” language that forms the basis of the catholic’s argument but rather the wedding language that forms the basis for the catholic’s argument. The man is presented as Christ, the woman is presented as the Church, the Church is the bride, Christ is the bridegroom. Without even getting into St. John Chrysostom’s comments on the ordination of women, we can see that this idea of bride-bridegroom theology and the connection to the priest is taking place in this theology.
For if a daughter kept in seclusion is a cause of sleeplessness to her father, his anxiety about her depriving him of sleep, where the fear is so great lest she should be childless, or pass the flower of her age (unmarried), or be hated (by her husband), Sirach 42:9 what will he suffer whose anxiety is not concerned with any of these things, but others far greater? For in this case it is not a man who is rejected, but Christ Himself, nor is this barrenness the subject merely of reproach, but the evil ends in the destruction of the soul; for every tree, it is said, which brings not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. Matthew 3:10 And for one who has been repudiated by the divine Bridegroom, it is not sufficient to receive a certificate of divorce and so to depart, but she has to pay the penalty of everlasting punishment. (On the Priesthood, III.17)
Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.
Well! After this will any one venture to condemn me for arrogance? For my part, after what has been said, I imagine such religious fear will possess the souls of the hearers that they will no longer condemn those who avoid the office for arrogance and temerity, but rather those who voluntarily come forward and are eager to obtain this dignity for themselves. For if they who have been entrusted with the command of cities, should they chance to be wanting in discretion and vigilance, have sometimes destroyed the cities and ruined themselves in addition, how much power think you both in himself and from above must he need, to avoid sinning, whose business it is to beautify the Bride of Christ? (ibid, III.6)
From here on out, the liturgy has been envisioned as a wedding supper of sorts. This is why you see Traditionalist Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, etc., dressing up for the liturgy. For them, they are going to see a wedding. The priest is the administer of the wedding supper acting in persona Christi. We can see aspects of this in Revelation 19:7-16. “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; … he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty”. What could be more Eucharistic than the theology expressed in the Revelation of St. John the Divine? And yet, the Eucharist is made the wedding feast!
Of course, I will point out that this argument is also deeply flawed for an argument against women’s ordination for two reasons. 1) The priest does not just stand in persona Christi as our good friend QVO would like to have us believe. According to the Angelic Doctor, he stands also in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the Church). “The priest, in reciting the prayers of the mass, speaks instead of the Church,” (Summa Theologica, Part 3, Q. 82, A. 7). Anglo-Catholic theologian Catherine Pickstock also points this out. Further, the bride-bridegroom theology concerning the Eucharist also shows up in Proverbs 9:1-12 as well. Wisdom is presented as a female character.
I’ll admit, there might be solid critiques out there of these arguments I present that can be in favor of women’s ordination. One must remember that while there might not exist a “right” or “wrong” answer on the question of women’s ordination, there is a right and wrong approach to the question of women’s ordination and I believe the way that most radical egalitarians approach the question is not merely wrong but is heresy worthy of them being excommunicated as it radically disintegrates the holiness of the liturgy!
*any Christian holding to the full sacramental system of the ancient churches of the Assyrian Church of the East, Orthodox Church, or Catholic Church–this may include Old Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, High Anglican/Anglican Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East–as well as holding to the truths expressed in the first seven ecumenical councils though not necessarily the councils themselves