Concering the Ordination of Women
to the Priesthood
Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)
INTRO: ORDINATION TO THE PRESBYTERATE AND EPISCOPATE A TRADITIONAL UNDERSTANDING
When media reporters and other writers discuss any aspect of sacred orders in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., almost without exception a statement will be included to the effect that only three dioceses in the country do not ordain women to the priesthood. Why do the bishops of those dioceses refuse to “go with the flow”? After all, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate was approved in 1976 and the General Convention of 2000 created the A045 Task Force to ensure compliance with the previously optional legislation; why the resistance to compliance? Does the traditional understanding of holy orders in the Church catholic have validity?
Because of these and other similar questions discussed at a number of meetings of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Iker appointed a group of four parish priests to compose this compendium of essays in an effort to illuminate the traditional understanding of why only baptized males are considered as the proper subjects for ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. The essays include: 1) a synopsis of the current situation, 2) the witness of Holy Scripture, 3) the witness of sacred tradition, and 4) the place of reason in supporting the traditional understanding.
Here is the context in which these essays are written. Every candidate for holy baptism affirms the Apostles Creed in its entirety, which, of course, includes the articles “I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints ... ” These essays are written within this consideration of catholicity – wholeness – which must, because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, include not only the Church Militant (the Church on Earth) but also the Church Expectant (Paradise) and the Church Triumphant (Heaven). By this we affirm that we are not detached or dislodged from those Christians who have preceded us for 20 centuries.
By virtue of the communion of saints, no generation of Christians is isolated, and the bishop never represents himself alone. He does not proclaim his own ideas. He is an ambassador of Jesus and as such must only teach “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In fundamental matters of faith, the majority cannot be isolated into a particular convention or national group, but must rather extend across the ages into eternity. This is what it means to be apostolic and catholic. One of the chief tasks of the bishop is to be a spokesman for the majority across time, to be a true voice for the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In this sense he is not free to embrace contemporary and novel ideologies that are at odds with apostolic faith and order.
Despite its embrace of women’s ordination, in a somewhat interesting manner the Episcopal Church still renders service to this catholic, apostolic, and cosmic understanding of the priesthood and episcopate being male only. In practice, men who have been ordained to the priesthood in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches are received into the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church does not require re-ordination. Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches adhere to the ancient and universal criteria of only baptized males as candidates for ordination.
While not intended to be an exhaustive work, we hope the reader will find this compendium of essays to be informative and to stimulate the desire for further study. The authors of these essays are parish priests in the Diocese of Fort Worth with broad pastoral experience. The Very Rev. Christopher T. Cantrell is rector of Church of the Holy Apostles, Fort Worth, Texas, and a graduate of Nashotah House. The Very Rev. William A. Crary Jr., also a graduate of Nashotah House, is rector of St. Laurence Church in Southlake, Texas. The Rev. Quintin Morrow, rector of St. Andrew Church, Fort Worth, Texas, is a graduate of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. The Rev. Canon Robert L. Young is a graduate of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and is rector of St. Andrew Church, Grand Prairie, Texas. Gratitude is extended to Mrs. James Garrard and the Very Rev. Richard McHenry for assistance in editing and to Susan Steele and Suzanne Gill for production support.
The Very Rev. William A. Crary. Jr. Chairman
October 31, 2002
1. THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN TO THE PRIESTHOOD AND EPISCOPATE: WHERE ARE WE?
And they took hold of Paul, and brought him unto the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by thee? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.) Acts 17:20-22 ASV
We sit at the beginning of the third millennium. It is a time of new things. The world around us is changing in myriad ways. Like it or not, it is a new age, a time of innovation and reinvention. As an example, in this new age we are supposed to embrace a new way of referring to the present time. Use of the term A.D. (“in the year of our Lord”) is discouraged; instead, C.E. (meaning “the Common Era”) is the new preferred way of speaking of the present age. Culturally and socially we are more and more in an environment that cares nothing for the things of the Church Catholic. In a time of new things, the Episcopal Church has embraced a number of “new things” of her own, not the least of which is the admittance of women into the ranks of the ordained ministry, specifically to the priesthood and episcopate.
How new is it, and how did we get here? In the early church there did appear to be an order of women ministers set apart for servant ministry in the Church, primarily for the purpose of ministering to women. Over time, along with the orders of virgins and widows (fourth century), the order of deaconesses disappeared (10th century in the West, 12th in the East). It was not until the mid-1800s that the restoration of the order of deaconesses was seen in the Anglican Communion.
In 1944, Bishop R.O. Hall of Hong Kong laid hands on a woman named Florence Li Tim-Oi, intending to ordain her to the sacred priesthood. The rest of the Anglican Communion reacted negatively to the news. As a result, Li Tim-Oi agreed not to function as a priest, in order to protect Bishop Hall from censure. Four years later the 1948 Lambeth Conference of the Bishops of the Communion responded negatively to the request of the Province of China for permission to experiment with the ordination of women to the priesthood for a period of 20 years. The Conference offered that “such an experiment would be against the tradition and order and would gravely affect the internal and external relations of the Anglican Communion” (1948, Resolution 113).
With the exception of the actions of Bishop Hall of Hong Kong, the subject appears to have been seen as one that would be acted upon by the Communion as a whole. The 1968 Lambeth Conference, taking up the matter, “affirm[ed] its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive” (1968, Resolution 34). Resolution 35 of the same Conference requested that careful study be made throughout the Communion. Resolution 37 requested that the Anglican Consultative Council consult with other churches that were ordaining women at the time. Resolution 38 recommended that “before any national or regional Church or province makes a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood, the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) be sought and carefully considered.”
In 1971 the Anglican Consultative Council was formed. At its first meeting a request was made by the Diocese of Hong Kong concerning its desire to begin ordaining women to the priesthood. The Council chose narrowly not to stand in the way of a diocese that, with the approval of its Province, chose to go ahead with the innovation. The vote was 24 to 22 in favor. The Council’s resolution included that it would “use its good offices to encourage all Provinces of the Anglican Communion to continue in communion with these dioceses [deciding to ordain women to the priesthood].” It is worth noting that the matter was still considered grave enough to warrant concern over maintaining communion throughout the Communion.
As a result,
The Episcopal Women’s Caucus was formed on Oct. 30, 1971, during a meeting of professional lay women and deacons. Notified that the House of Bishops had created yet another study committee on the ordination of women, without having taken action on its previous studies, the women informed the Presiding Bishop of their refusal to cooperate further and constituted themselves the EWC.
Regional organizing conferences were held in 1972, and EWC chapters were created in many parts of the country. Following the ordinations in Philadelphia and Washington in 1974 and 1975, a special conference was called to develop strategies for the 1976 General Convention. These strategies contributed to the action of the 1976 Convention making the ordination canon equally applicable to women and men. [From the EWC website: www.ecusa.anglican.org/ecw/ewc.our_story.htm]
On July 29, 1974, 11 women deacons participated in a priesthood ordination service at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Two retired and one resigned bishop performed the service. The reaction was immediate. Their bishops inhibited some of the women from priestly functions, and some from deacon’s service; others of the women agreed voluntarily to refrain from priestly ministry. Presiding Bishop John Allin called an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops in Chicago on Aug. 15 (ironically, the Feast of the Virgin Mary). At that meeting, the ordaining bishops were criticized for their “violation of collegiality.” The House asserted that the ordinations were not valid. The Philadelphia 11 (as the women came to be called) rejected the bishops’ action. The Vice President of House of Deputies, Charles Willie, resigned in protest. Ecclesiastical charges were filed against the Philadelphia bishops but were later turned away by a Board of Inquiry, saying that doctrinal issues needed to be resolved first. Some of the Philadelphia 11 continued to seek attention by traveling about and celebrating the Eucharist at various locations.
In September 1975 four more women deacons were illegally ordained to the priesthood by a retired bishop in Washington D.C. Shortly after that the House of Bishops censured all the bishops who participated in the illegal ordinations.
While this was going on in America, Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, corresponded over the issue. Pope Paul wrote:
Your Grace is of course well aware of the Catholic Church’s position on this question. She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.
The Joint Commission between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, which has been at work since 1966, is charged with presenting in due time a final report. We must regretfully recognize that a new course taken by the Anglican Communion in admitting women to the ordained priesthood cannot fail to introduce into this dialogue an element of grave difficulty which those involved will have to take seriously into account. [Emphasis mine]
This pronouncement was followed by a declaration from the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the ordination of men only. Archbishop Coggan sat on this exchange until after the General Convention.
In September 1976 General Convention approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate by changing the language of the ordination canons: “This canon shall be interpreted in its plain and literal sense, except that words of male gender shall also imply the female gender.”
Perhaps if the Convention had been aware of the communication between Pope Paul and Archbishop Coggan the vote might have gone differently. As it was, the result of the adoption of the practice radically changed the nature of The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical efforts with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Orthodox. The Polish National Catholic Church broke off communion with ECUSA over it. Prior to 1976 it was common for members of the Orthodox churches to be told by their clergy that if they found themselves in a community without an Orthodox Church they should worship with the Episcopalians. All that changed after the General Convention of 1976.
Within two months, the Anglican Church of Canada began ordaining women to the priesthood. Within a year of the passage of the permissive interpretation of the ordination canons, the House of Bishops, meeting at Port St. Lucie, Fla., adopted a document that came to be called the “conscience clause.”
It is, in actuality, a Statement on Conscience prepared by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops and accepted by the House at their fall meeting in 1977. The statement spoke to several aspects of the situation including the legislative intent of the canon change:
(c) The meaning of a law involves not only the wording of the legislation, but also the intent of the legislation. Did General Convention intend (1) to make certain that dioceses prepared to ordain women were assured that they had the approval of the Episcopal Church in going ahead or (2) to require such action even by dioceses not yet prepared to act nor persuaded that they could rightly do so? By the nature of the case absolute proof is impossible, but majority opinion would seem to support the first understanding. At any rate there are adequate grounds for seeing at least sufficient doubt about the intent of the legislation, so as to inhibit insistence that women priests be accepted by all and at once.
The Statement’s concluding paragraph reads:
In the light of all this and in keeping with our intention at Minneapolis, we affirm that no Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the 65th General Convention’s action with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate.
In the atmosphere established by the Port St. Lucie Statement, the Episcopal Church moved forward with the innovation. Women were ordained to the priesthood by bishops who believed that it was right to do so, and those who were not so disposed were not compelled to conform. The statement was just that, a description of the Anglican position on matters of conscience particularly applied to the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. It was not framed as a canon or even presented to General Convention as a resolution. It did not need to be. It did, however, speak to every member of the Church and not just its bishops. [See sec. 3 of the statement]
The state of affairs resulting from the accommodation described by the Port St. Lucie Statement turned out to be the eventual position reached by the entire Communion a decade later. The 1988 Lambeth Conference, faced with the imminent possibility of a woman being consecrated a bishop, established what came to be known as the “Eames Commission,” (named for its chairman, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev. Robin Eames). The Eames Commission set about to encourage the various Provinces of the Communion to maintain the highest level of Communion possible, given disagreement over the practice of the ordination of women.
The Eames Commission described the situation within the Communion as a process of “Open Reception.” Not only had the introduction of this innovation radically hampered our ecumenical efforts [Paul VI correspondence], the Anglican Communion was faced with coming to terms with the notion of “impaired communion” within the Communion itself. It must be admitted that the introduction of the practice of the ordination of women has fractured the Anglican Communion.
The Eames Commission also upheld what the Port St. Lucie Statement had described:
Respect for the positions of those who are in favour and those who remain opposed has to be maintained within dioceses and Provinces, even after a decision is taken to consecrate women. In the continuing and dynamic process of reception, freedom and space must be available until consensus of opinion one way or the other has been achieved. Bishops and dioceses who accept and endorse the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate would need to recognise that, within a genuinely open process of reception, there must be room for those who disagree.
[Source: www.lambethconference.org/reports/report10.html, ¶41.]
In 1986 the Anglican Church of Canada, despite the Eames’ Commission’s rescinded its “conscience” provision and required acceptance in all its dioceses of women priests.
The first elections of women as bishops occurred in 1989. First, Barbara Harris was made Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and then Penelope Jamieson was made a Diocesan Bishop in New Zealand in early 1990. As things have played out, we now have bishops in office in parts of the Communion who are not recognized as such throughout the Communion.
In 1994 the Church of England (C. of E.) made provision for the ordination of women but in doing so institutionalized a system for respecting the consciences of all involved. Individual parishes are able to decide whether or not they will accept the ordination of women and are guaranteed episcopal oversight in keeping with that decision. As of this writing, there are no female bishops in the Church of England, but women do function as priests in every diocese in the C. of E.
In 1996 the House of Bishops of ECUSA took a straw vote on the interpretation of the ordination canons and discovered that a majority of them believed the canons should mandate full acceptance of women in Holy Orders. The General Convention of 1997 meeting in Philadelphia saw the amendment of Canon III.8.1, saying, “the provisions of the canons of the General Convention, insofar as they may relate to the ordination of women and the licensing and deployment of women clergy, are mandatory.” At that time there were four diocesan bishops who said they could not comply out of conscience. Currently there are three diocesan bishops who have said they cannot in good conscience license or ordain women in Holy Orders to function in their respective dioceses.
In its resolution AO45, the General Convention of 2000 directed “the Executive Council [to] establish a Task Force by January 1, 2001 to visit, interview, assess and assist the people and the Commissions on Ministry, Standing Committees and Bishops of the three dioceses in the development and implementation of an action plan for full compliance with the canon by September 1, 2002.”
In the fall of 2001 teams from the AO45 Task Force visited those dioceses with the cooperation of the three diocesan bishops. In March 2002, the team consisting of the Co-Chairs of the Task Force made a follow-up visit to the Diocese of Fort Worth over the objections of the Standing Committee and the Ordinary, the Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker. One purpose of the visit was to work, meet with those members of the diocese who might be in disagreement with the leadership of the diocese. The Standing Committee, though not invited, attended the meeting in the interest of hearing from all involved and representing the interests of the Bishop, who was unable to attend.
Where are we now? In the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus prayed we might be one as he and the Father are one. He prayed that that unity would demonstrate to the world that the Father had sent him (John 17:20 ff.). In the face of our Lord’s high priestly prayer, ecumenically, our embrace of the “new thing” of women in the priesthood and episcopate has gravely hampered our conversations with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. Our great ecumenical achievement (so called) has been an agreement of full intercommunion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America that required our suspension of the preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer. The Preface stated our intention to continue the three distinct orders of ordained ministers characteristic of Christ’s holy catholic Church. We have set that aside in the name of ecumenical progress. In doing so we have again parted ways with the rest of the Communion.
The energy and effort expended in the life of the Episcopal Church and throughout the Anglican Communion to “maintain the highest degree of Communion possible” given disagreement over the issue has also been very costly. Many have left the fellowship of ECUSA for Rome or Orthodoxy. Since 1976, because of women’s ordination and other innovations, there has also been a substantial movement of people into what are termed the “Continuing Churches.” Throughout the Episcopal Church there is still significant disagreement over the issue even though most dioceses ordain women. There are still clergy and parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada that cannot in conscience recognize the ordination of women. This past year has seen a flurry of lawsuits between parishes and dioceses and clergy over issues related to the ordination of women. The Diocese of Washington alone has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuing a lawsuit against a priest primarily because of his inability to recognize the Acting Bishop because she is a woman. Twenty-six years of living with the “new thing” has not brought peace and harmony to the life of the Church, or numerical growth.1
The presence of bishops and priests in the Communion who are not recognized as such throughout the Communion, while indeed a “new thing,” cannot be considered a good thing. We have done violence to our understanding of conscience and its dictates. We have moved in ECUSA from permissiveness to coercion. The fruit of the introduction of the ordination of women has been further division. Ironically, in “division” and “diabolic” the root meaning is the same. The work of the Holy Spirit has always been to unite and build up.
- The Very Rev. Christopher T. Cantrell, SSC
# 2,333,624. Source: The Lee Clark Church Reporting Company
2. THE WITNESS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
The ordination of women to the presbyteral and episcopal ministries of the Christian Church was inaugurated under the aegis of “provisionality” and indeed has yet to find anything near universal acceptance. Nevertheless, meaningfully discussing the issue, without bias or passion, involved as it seems to the modern mind with matters such as equity and justice, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Often, the proponents of the novelty, when the debate turns to epistemology – especially Holy Scripture – argue that an appeal on either side of the question to a passage of the Bible is quite beside the point. But this is exactly the point. Accepting that the Christian Faith is a revealed religion; accepting that the preponderance of this revelation is found in the written pages of Holy Scripture, and that God Himself is the author of this revelation (II Tim. 3:16-17); and accepting that this revelation is coherent, non-contradicting and, as it has been faithfully preserved, authoritative, leads inevitably to the conclusion that what the Bible has to say about gender, gender roles, and the ordering of families, societies and the church is of the greatest importance.
What is the witness of Holy Scripture as it relates to the ordination of women to the presbyteral and episcopal offices of the Church? A comprehensive examination of the Bible on this subject can be meaningfully arranged accordingly: 1) the relationship of the sexes in the Creation narrative of the Torah; 2) the ministerial roles of women in the first covenant community of Israel; 3) the precedents of Jesus in the Gospels; and 4) the teaching of St. Paul.
As we examine the creation, relationship and ordering of the sexes in the Creation account in Genesis (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7, 15-25), we immediately discover an ontological parity between the female and the male. The male is created first, and consequently becomes a type or representative of the race. This representation, however, does not imply superiority. Next, the woman is created – drawn physically from the man, but both beings receive their ruach, the breath of life, in equal measure from God. We find no hierarchical relationship of one sex over the other in the narrative; indeed, both male and female are described equally as being created “in the image of God.” The woman derives her name from man (literally in Hebrew she was called a ‘female man,’ “because she was taken from man,” Gen. 2:23b), and was created to be an equal complement to man (“a helper as a counterpart,” Gen. 2:18). Despite their ontological equality, however, the Creation account does not assume or reveal an interchangeability of the sexes. Both male and female are of the same essence, of equal dignity, but differ in role from each other. Indeed, it isn’t until after the Fall that a linear hierarchy appears – “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” – and this is established by God as a consequence of the woman’s disobedience (Gen. 3:16b).
The remainder of the Hebrew canon of Scripture (especially Leviticus, the historical books and the prophets) presents a consistent and divinely ordered view of the role of women in the religious and political life of Israel throughout her history—from the patriarchal period through the post-exilic return to the land. Both women and men were considered equal members of the covenant community, though the male, as representative of the race, alone received the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). Both enjoyed covenant privileges for obedience (Deut. 28:1-14) and suffered the covenant consequences for disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68). Both were welcomed into worship, and both had related but separate ritual and purity requirements for access to common and divine assemblies (Leviticus 15). Moreover, in the functional life of the nation women served as prophetesses (Hulda in II Kings 22:14-20), judges (Deborah in Judges 4:4-24), and writers of Scripture (Miriam in Exodus 15:20-21; the mother of King Lemuel in Proverbs 31), all seemingly with complete parity with men.
This equality of access did not extend, however, to the offices of priest or Levite. As the word of the Lord to Moses makes clear in both Exodus and Leviticus, the requirements for admission to these two ministerial offices were stringent and specific. The priesthood was given by God “as a gift of service” (Num. 18:7) and was made vocationally responsible for three primary tasks. The first was mediatory and intercessory: The priest represented God to the people and pronounced His forgiveness and blessing to them; he also represented the people before God and prayed for them. The second was functional: The priest alone was authorized to offer the appointed sacrifices. The third was didactic: When not in service at the tabernacle or temple, the priest was to go amongst the people and teach them the Law. Admission to the priesthood required a male descendant of Aaron without disease or bodily defect, it involved total separation from the obligations of war and farming, and it demanded conformity to ritual, vestment and purity standards set out by God.
The Levite differed from the priest in that he need only be descended from Levi (and not Aaron specifically). His vocational obligations involved assisting the priest at the sacrifices and caring for the tent of meeting and worship precincts. The Scriptures make clear that the requirement that both priests and Levites be male was not incidental or culturally conditioned. Every other pagan religion in the Fertile Crescent, excluding Israel, had priestesses and temple prostitutes, and even as unfaithful to Yahweh as the descendants Abraham became, their continual violations of the first and second commandments never once included introducing women into the priestly or levitical offices of ministry.
At the moment we are introduced to the ministry of Jesus Christ we are immediately confronted with the reality that He is male. Moreover, this gender distinction is not of minor importance. Jesus of Nazareth, from at least His baptism by John in the Jordan River until His crucifixion, made the claim that He was the very Son of God incarnate. His miracles testified to this claim (John 3:2); His teaching likewise substantiated this claim (Matt. 7:28-29); and even His adversaries were aware of this claim (John 10:33). His incarnation was volitional and voluntary (Phil. 2:5b-8), and His maleness was intentional. Further, as the Gospels and the inscripturated apostolic writings make clear, Christ being a man had and has profound redemptive ramifications. First, as a man, Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us,” represented God (who revealed Himself exclusively in masculine terms to the old covenant people) to us (John 14:9; Heb. 1:3). Second, as a man, Jesus becomes the head of a new race – the elect and redeemed – and is the instrumental cause of their salvation, so that, as St. Paul writes, as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all the redeemed be made alive (Rom. 6:12-19). And third, as a male, Jesus qualifies for His sacrificial, mediating double role as both priest and victim, offerer and offering (Heb. 10:5-14).
In addition, Christ’s itinerant teaching and healing ministry was not exercised in isolation but in concert with 12 disciples. These 12 disciples were exclusively Jewish men. It is frequently argued by proponents of women’s ordination that this fact either was societally demanded of Jesus (meaning that He could not have chosen a woman disciple had He desired to) or that this ethnic apostolic monopoly by Jews must then forever exclude Gentiles from assuming ministerial offices of the church. Both contentions are wrongheaded, but for different reasons. As to the first claim, Jesus, while declaring that He had not come to destroy the Law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17), nevertheless exhibited a radical new relationship with women during His ministry. He ignored custom and spoke with women publicly (John 4:4-29). He forgave a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He allowed Himself to be touched by one woman who had “lived a sinful life” (Luke 7:37-50). Jesus did not regard the ritual impurity of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34). He touched a dead girl’s body and brought her back to life (Mark 5:35-42). Women followed the Lord wherever He went (Luke 8:1-3) and even accompanied Him to the Cross (Luke 23:27). Finally, though women were not allowed to give evidence in a juridical matter in Jesus’ day, women were the first to witness and bear testimony to His resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10). As to the second, the ethnicity of the disciples – and later the apostles – is unrelated to the Lord’s gender requirements for inclusion in the Twelve; for, while the 12 disciples assume a quasi-patriarchal role in the new covenant mirroring that of the 12 sons of Jacob (and thus must be male), it was God’s clear intention from the beginning of salvation history to include Gentiles in the covenant of redemption (II Chron. 6:32- 33, Mal. 1:11, Rom. 1:16).
Because of his proclivity to systematize, some of the clearest teaching in Holy Scripture on men, women and ministry comes through the pen of the Apostle Paul. Like Jesus, Paul grounds his teaching on gender and roles in Creation (I Cor. 11: 3-12).
As Hauke points out,
The role of women in the Pauline communities is extremely significant. In many passages of his letters, the names of women occur who render assistance to the apostles even in the spreading of the Faith. His mention of the married couple Priscilla and Aquila makes evident the fact that the woman is always first, which indicates the outstanding degree of respect in which she was held.2
Additionally, Paul praises the women who labor with him in the Gospel, interacts with them in evangelism and church-planting, and won and baptized the first European convert to Christ – a noblewoman, Lydia – in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). Furthermore, he teaches that men and women are justified equally before God by faith, are of equal dignity before God in salvation (Gal. 3:26-28), and equally, without distinction, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12).
Nevertheless, the Apostle does not set apart women for apostolic or congregational oversight and ministry. He forbids the churches he started from doing so (I Tim. 2:11-12) and
2 Hauke, Manfred. Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption. Translated by David Kipp. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988. assumes that this practice will continue and succeed him (I Tim. 2, II Tim. 2:2). Paul’s reasons are threefold. The first is that man was created first and is the archetype and representative head of the human race, through whom and in whom God acts to save and bless it (I Cor. 11:3-16; I Tim. 2:13). Second, woman was deceived first, not man (I Tim. 2:14). And third, the institution of marriage and the ordering of the human family (of which man is the head) mirrors and reveals something of the mystery of the risen Christ’s relationship to believers and the ordering of God’s family, the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – is frequently cited as a biblical apologetic for the ordination of women. Exegetical gymnastics must abound to make this text contradict everything else St. Paul says on the issue, however, and nowhere in the passage – or indeed, in the entire Galatian letter – is a reversal of the order of Creation or the matter of ordination even alluded to.
The clear witness of Scripture is that God created man and woman ontologically equal, with equal worth, dignity, potential for obedience or disobedience, and access to covenantal mercies. God did not, however, make men and women interchangeable, but gave each sex differing roles in human society and the cosmic drama of redemption. What is more, because of the Fall from grace, He imposed differing consequences pertaining to the ordering and relationship of the sexes, and these will not be obviated until the Parousia and the final consummation of all things. Until then, we groan in anticipation of the redemption of our bodies and the reordering of creation.
Also, the Bible declares that there exist in human life hierarchal relationships which are divinely mandated (and ethically neutral) and give God glory, because this relationship of ontological equity but relational submission exists in the very godhead itself (Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” John 10:30; and “The Father is greater than I,” John 14:28). Therefore, against the egalitarian argument, hierarchy is not inherently unjust.
The vocations of servant, steward and soul-winner are mandated for every regenerate believer. The offices of headship and teaching in the family and in God’s family, the Church, are restricted to males. The teaching of Holy Scripture concerning the ordination of women to the ministerial offices of the Christian church is coherent, compelling and unambiguous. It is not surprising, therefore, that current arguments for the ordination of women rarely appeal to Scripture any longer, but rather to pragmatics, rights and misplaced concerns for justice.
The Rev. Quintin Morrow
3. THE WITNESS OF SACRED TRADITION
Does Sacred Tradition support or admit the possibility of the ordination of women to the Christian priestly ministry? To deal with this question, we must first consider the nature of Christian tradition.
The Nature of Tradition
The term is derived from the Latin traditio – meaning the action of handing over, “to trade”; the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction. (Webster)
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes it thus:
In the early Christian Fathers, tradition (traditio) means the revelation made by God and delivered by Him to His faithful people through the mouth of His prophets and apostles. It does not mean something ‘handed down’ but something ‘handed over.’ Similarly in the New Testament the word, or its corresponding verb, is applied equally to be betrayal [handing over] of Christ by Judas to the Jews, and to the delivery [handing down] of Christian teaching by St. Paul to his converts. The tradition was at first called ‘apostolic’, because [it was] delivered by the apostles to the Churches which they founded, and later also ‘ecclesiastic’, because [it was] delivered again in each generation by the Church’s teachers to their people. Its substance was held to consist of the central facts and beliefs crystallized in the creeds of the great orthodox bishoprics. From the beginning of the third century, the tradition was something expressly identified with the Gospel record contained in Scripture.” The occasional references in early Christian literature to an ‘unwritten tradition’ left by the apostles appear to relate not to any body of information independent from Scripture, but to the evidence of primitive Christian institutions and customs which confirms Scriptural teaching. In a more modern sense, tradition means the continuous stream of explanation and elucidation of the primitive faith, illustrating the way in which Christianity has been presented and understood in past ages. It is the accumulated wisdom of the past. Sometimes, again, it means simply customs and ideas which have grown up imperceptibly and been accepted more or less uncritically. All tradition in these modern senses needs to have its true value proved by the double test - (1) whether it is in accordance with the principles embodied in divine revelation, and (2) whether it can be justified by the right reason.
Tradition in Scripture
Francis J. Hall’s Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, says the following:
The New Testament is clear in regard to the function and duty of the Church to transmit that, and only that, which has been revealed. The Spirit’s guidance is to bring such things to remembrance (John 14:26); Christ’s ministers are stewards, not creators of divine mysteries (I Cor. 4:1-2; 15:3); Christians are to hold fast the traditions (2 Thes. 2:15; 3:6); the church is the pillar and ground, not the inventor (I Tim. 3:15); what is committed to our trust must be kept (I Tim. 6:20) even in the form of sound words (II Tim. 1:13-14, 3:14); what had been seen and heard was taught by the apostles (Heb. 2:3; I John 1:1-3); those who lack this doctrine are to be shunned (II John 10); the faith once for all delivered is to be contended for (Jude 3). On the other hand, the accretions of man made traditions is possible, and such “traditions” are condemned (cf. Matt. 12:1-8; 15:2-20; Mark 7:3-9; Luke 6:1-11; Col. 2:8; I Tim 1-4; 4-7; I Peter 1:18).
The patristic recognition of the importance and authority of tradition is emphatic. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 13:1, condemns innovation upon tradition. The Didache, chapter 4, urges “to keep what thou hast received, neither adding to it nor taking from it.” Teachers who do otherwise are not to be received (chapter 11). Ignatius, to the Magnesians, chapter 13, makes “the ordinances of the Lord and of the apostles” paramount. Irenaeus identifies heresies by their modernness (Against Heresies III, 4:3); and contrasts their waywardness to the sure and consentient traditions of the Church (V, 20:1), etc. [Francis J. Hall, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, Authority, pp. 118-119.]
From the above it can be said that ecclesiastical tradition (Sacred Tradition) is something well known by the bishops and other teaching authorities, something that is necessary to the life of the Church, and something that is fixed with regard to its essentials.
The Concept of Evolving Tradition
In the 20th century in particular, the idea was advanced in some circles that tradition is evolving, in a parallel manner to Darwin’s theory of evolution. In many instances, proponents of an evolving tradition point to John Henry Newman’s idea of “development of doctrine.” To use this as a basis for an ever-changing, ever-expanding ecclesiastical tradition is to misunderstand the cardinal’s premises. Richard John Neuhaus, a contemporary writer, summarized Newman’s reflections on the development of doctrine in this way.
“Authentic” development has seven marks:
1. It preserves the church’s apostolic form.
2. It reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown.
3. It demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it.
4. It follows a logical sequence.
5. It anticipates future developments.
6. It conserves past developments.
7. Throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority
St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century held that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church’s old age that was not latent in her youth. [emphasis mine] Such was the truth discovered by Augustine of Hippo, a truth “ever ancient, ever new.” [First Things, Number 122, April 2002, pg. 19].
Sacred Tradition and the Ordination of Women The Commandment of Christ
The sacred ministry, instituted by Christ himself in the calling of the 12 apostles and commissioning them to make him sacramentally present to current and subsequent generations (“on the night before He was betrayed ... Do this in remembrance of me.” I Cor. 11:23-25), is intended to act in the person of Christ (“He who hears you hears me” Lk. 10:16 ... “And he who sees me sees him who sent me” Jn. 12:45 ... “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide ... ” Jn. 15:16).
The Apostolic Tradition
The New Testament provides no exceptions to the male gender for apostolic ministries. “Now a bishop must be ... the husband of one wife ... ” (1 Tim. 3:2); “ ... and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife ... ” (Titus 1:5-6). The apostolic ministry is conferred upon by men the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 13:3; I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6). There are no exceptions to the recipient being male. It can be said that a male ministry, commissioned by Christ himself, is integral to the New Testament tradition. This is what was handed on to subsequent generations.
Later Sacred Tradition
Sacred tradition has unfailingly interpreted this to mean that the sacramental minister must therefore correspond to the maleness of Christ and provide absolute clarity as to his status as well as to fulfill the image of the bridegroom in relation to the Church as a bride described in Ephesians 5.
In the patristic period some heretics, notably Montanists, experimented with priestesses. They were soundly condemned by those who maintained Catholic faith and order. Tertullian even reiterated the Pauline prohibitions against women speaking and teaching in church. Tertullian also adds, “She is not allowed to teach, to baptize, to sacrifice or presume to the rank of male office, not to mention the priestly office” (Hauke, Women in the Priesthood, pg. 407). Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, fourth century, anchors the exclusion of women from the priesthood in the will of Jesus, which is the divine plan of salvation (Hauke, pg. 418).
Both St. Augustine of Hippo and St. John Damascene expressly categorize female priesthood as heresy. (Hauke, pg. 418). Hauke further states, “Whenever the Church Fathers have occasion to speak, directly or indirectly about “women in the priesthood,” they reject it clearly and unanimously” (pg. 425). Moving to the scholastic period, both Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure reject it. Duns Scotus, the subtle doctor, makes this astonishing statement: “I do not believe namely, that any office useful for salvation has been withheld from any person through institution by the Church or prescription of the Apostles, and much less still from an entire sex. If, then, the apostles or the Church cannot justly withhold from a person any office useful for salvation unless Christ as their head, has so determined, and much less still from the entire female sex, therefore Christ alone first prescribed this, He who instituted the sacrament” (Hauke, pg. 455, emphasis mine). The reformers, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, though they had no use for the Mass and therefore no use for an apostolic priesthood as it was commonly understood, upheld the tradition of a male ministry.
Anglicans and Sacred Tradition
Do we as Anglicans have an obligation to uphold this tradition? First a male priesthood knows no exception for two millennia. It is rooted in the action of Christ himself. Even after separating from the See of Peter, the constant claim of Anglicans is that ours is not a new church, but a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as stated in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. At the Reformation, Anglicans appealed to Sacred Tradition, particularly the Fathers and the first four ecumenical councils, in order to strip away accretions and clarify authentic Catholic faith and practice. Anglican reformers were not seeking novelties; in fact, just the opposite! They sought to establish what they believed to be authentic tradition rooted in Holy Scripture.
In the Episcopal Church, the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer (1789) states, “It will also appear that this church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.” In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the candidate to be consecrated bishop is asked, “Are you ready, with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away from the church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same?” The candidate for priesthood is asked a similar question.
Finally, the Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer describes sacraments to be “given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”
Q: What are the Sacraments?
A: The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. (BCP, pg. 857) The outward sign consists of “matter” and “form.” It is the means whereby grace (an unmerited divine gift of favor) is imparted. The matter consists of the physical actions and materials which are required, and the form of the prescribed words that signify the intention of the sacrament. Thus the pouring of water (matter) over the recipient accompanied by the form “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” recited by the minister with the right intention constitutes the valid conferral of the sacrament of baptism. The minister must not only be officially competent but must intend to do what the church intends and has always intended in the sacrament. To substitute canola oil for water nullifies the sacrament. To change the form from the Name to a description (e.g., creator, redeemer, sanctifier) nullifies the sacrament.
In the celebration of the sacraments, it is Christ who celebrates them using the appropriate human ministers, and in this celebration the Church confesses the faith received from the apostles (“the faith once delivered to the saints,” Jude 3). Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), no sacramental rite may be altered or changed or manipulated at the will of the community or the minister. To change the sacrament is to nullify its efficacy. The attempt to ordain women to the episcopate and presbyterate is currently being used as some justification for so-called same-sex marriages. If the recipients of holy orders can be arbitrarily changed from men to women, why cannot a man and man or woman and woman be the recipients of matrimonial grace? If one sacrament can be changed, they can all be changed and thus destroy forever the theology of a sure and certain sign given by Christ.
The Authority to Institute a Female Priesthood
If Christ established the apostolic ministry, and both scripture and unwavering tradition attest to this, then how can it be changed and by what authority? The current Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, echoed the words of his predecessor Pius XII when he stated that the church has no authority to change that which is given by Christ. Sacred Tradition will admit no change. The same must be true in Anglican practice if we profess to believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Altering the essential matter of sacraments and sacramental rites exceeds our sphere of competence and destroys those things given by Christ as “sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”
Tradition speaks with one voice. The recipient of Holy Orders must be a baptized male.
The Very Rev. William A. Crary, Jr
4. REASON AND THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN
First impressions can be very powerful, but they can also be quite mistaken. When the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate emerged as a significant issue and serious possibility in the Episcopal Church, USA, the concept was accepted prima facie as reasonable by most Episcopalians.
Opponents of the practice of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate cited its lack of consistency with the thrust of Holy Scripture, its incompatibility with holy tradition and its deleterious effects on ecumenical relations. However, there was a general willingness, even by those who doubted or disputed its validity, to concede that reason appeared to support the notion. After all, it could be argued, if a woman could be a head of state or hold any number of other leadership positions, why should her gender restrict her from the presbyterate or the episcopate?
Regarding this part of the argument traditionalists could cite only a vague, intuitive unease with the idea. These reservations were dismissed by its proponents as either simply a reflexive resistance to change or as an expression of paternalistic bigotry. It was assumed that the passage of time, the retirement and death of clergy who questioned the validity of women's ordination, and the experience of encountering women successfully acting in priestly and episcopal ministry would eventually sweep aside these objections.
However, now that the Episcopal Church has had 25 years of experience of the practice, a more measured assessment of the relationship between theological reason and women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate can now be made.
Based on the evidence now available, it is apparent that, surprisingly enough, the uncertain intuition that caused feelings of discomfort with women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate deserved to be heeded, researched, and taken far more seriously than they once were.
This conclusion is based upon the nature of theological reason, a comparison of the promises of women's ordination as opposed to the results, the concept of proportionality, and the Christian understanding of human nature.
THE NATURE OF THEOLOGICAL REASON
In the Anglican tradition, theological reason includes not only the cognitive processes but the contributions of experience and intuition as well. This may be seen in the Anglican acceptance of the Vincentian Canon's requirement that a doctrine have universal acceptance by the vast majority of orthodox Christians in order for it to be truly Catholic.
REASON AND THE NATURE OF HOLY ORDERS
Introduction: Both the Anglican Communion in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular, have repeatedly made it clear in their official pronouncements that they intend to be part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. They have also expressed countless times that they intend to continue the three-fold Catholic ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons through the apostolic succession. Therefore we must ask, Is the ordination of women to the episcopate and presbyterate consistent with the oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church?
Oneness, catholicity and apostolicity: It is extremely unlikely that the faithful throughout the world would accept the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ as valid. Whatever the practice is, it cannot reasonably be called catholic or apostolic, and it imperils the oneness of the Catholic Church.
Holiness: The question of whether the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate has enhanced the holiness of the Church depends for its answer upon whether one regards the notable changes in the moral and ethical standards of the Episcopal Church since 1976 as promoting the holiness of either individuals or of the Christian community. The Diocese of Fort Worth maintains that these changes have demonstrably decreased the holiness of both.
Conclusion: In brief, the practice of ordaining women to the priesthood and episcopate is contrary to the very nature of the Church, its oneness, holiness and catholicity. It cannot be regarded as a sacramental rite of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
The Christian conception of human nature holds that human beings are inherently either male or female. There is no asexual human nature. Maleness and femaleness are both required for the full expression of human nature. This bi-fold sexual nature of human beings is not a choice; it is a part of the order of creation. Since sexual differentiation is fundamental to human nature, it is far different from and more significant than "accidentals" such as race, appearance, skill, talent, temperament, etc.
Consequently, an ontological sexual identity as male or female is an integral part of the dignity of every human being that Episcopalians vow to respect in the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, pg. 305). Maleness and femaleness each has a dignity that cannot be obliterated by falsely suggesting that the two are essentially synonymous in every way except physical attributes. Male and female human beings are not interchangeable but have distinctive gifts that make unique contributions to human life. To pretend otherwise is to diminish the dignity of every human being.
THE PROMISE OF WOMEN’S ORDINATION
When the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate was being championed in the 1970s its proponents maintained that it would:
o enhance the life of women in the Church
o benefit the Church at large by making it more relevant o make it attractive to modern people
It was asserted that the implementation of women's ordination would prevent erosion of the Church's membership caused by the disaffection of those opposed to a solely male priesthood. It was also held that the role of women would be enhanced by women's ordination, as women would be able to reach their full potential. Furthermore, justice would be served when women were no longer denied their equal civil right to ordination by what was portrayed as a patriarchal Church establishment.
Concomitant to this, the Church at large, having become a more just institution, would be viewed by society as more relevant to the prevailing culture of egalitarianism. It was maintained that any loss of membership from disaffected conservatives would be more than offset by gains among the younger (and, it was presumed, more liberal) generations.
Regrettably, on closer examination, each of these assertions has proven to be baseless or utterly false.
As has been shown elsewhere in the essay, it is disingenuous to suggest that when St. Paul declared the equality of all Christians in relation to salvation through Holy Baptism in his epistle to the Galatians that he meant to suggest that baptism obliterated any significant differences between men and women. St. Paul was reasonable enough to know that a baptized man still could not bear children. Sacramental grace, like all grace, does not change nature (in this case, human nature) but transforms it.
The recognition of genuine differences does not necessarily equate to positions of either inferiority or superiority. Reason and experience have made clear that being born with blue or brown eyes, pale or dark skin, small or large stature, does not make one of greater or lesser value. Such differences may affect how we live and in what ways we contribute to society, but they do not make us better or worse human beings. While both a short person and a tall person may be able to do most of the same things, a short person cannot reasonably expect to play for the NBA and a tall person cannot reasonably expect to serve as a Tunnel Rat in the military. However, both the tall and the short have made countless valuable contributions to human life and are judged by all reasonable people ultimately to be of equal worth.
Likewise, the differences between the sexes are not a matter of equality, since they do not make one sex superior or inferior. In fact, these differences are among the greatest assets of the human race. To claim that such differences do not exist is not to elevate womankind but to reduce it to something less than it is, to the detriment of all humanity.
The true dignity of women does not rest so much on their similarities with men as it does on their distinctive God-given gifts. For example, a woman, and only a woman, could have been the mother of Jesus Christ, for only females can be mothers. A man is not denied the fulfillment of his human potential because he cannot be a mother. That potential does not exist in the human male in the first place. A coherent, rational argument demonstrating with the sureness and certainty necessary to the validity of the sacraments (Catechism; BCP, 857) that women have the potential to be Christian priests and bishops has yet to be enunciated. Therefore it cannot be shown that an exclusively male priesthood prevents women from reaching their human potential. Ordination is not an issue of justice.
Likewise, it is unreasonable to suggest that the true dignity of the female sex depends upon whether women can be valid Christian priests and bishops or not. Men are not inferior to women because they cannot be mothers or sisters. Women are not inferior to men because they cannot be fathers or Christian priests.
Indeed, historically, religions in which women have been “priests” have accorded women far less status than Judaism and Christianity, faiths that have had no women “priests.” The cultures of the ancient world that competed with early Christianity combined having priestesses with sacred prostitution, the routine exposure of female infants, the practice of aborting girl babies, and easy divorces for men that frequently left women destitute. All of these bespeak a degraded place for women in society, and a near total lack of women's rights.
By contrast, Judaism and Christianity had no female “priests” but a greater regard for women as human beings. Both forbade the exposure of babies, abortion, easy divorces for men and sacred prostitution. History clearly demonstrates that priestly status is not directly related to an equal or elevated status for women.
ORDINATION AND CIVIL RIGHTS
Some regard the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate as a matter of civil rights. This is to misunderstand the nature of civil rights. In fact, ordination is neither a civil matter nor a question of rights.
The sacramental rite of ordination came into existence as the Church's method for perpetuating the sacerdotal functions of Jesus Christ as our great high priest (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14 ff.) and bishop of our souls (I Peter 2:25) until the Second Coming. Consequently, ordination is an altogether ecclesiastical (church) matter and cannot be regarded as a civil one in a secular state such as the United States.
In addition, it cannot be a question of rights, since ordination is always a gift (II Timothy 1:6; I Tim 4:14) and therefore never a right. Neither graduation from seminary, long service to the Church, nor anything else confers a right to be ordained. A person can prepare to receive a gift, but no one has a right to demand one.
ORDINATION AND EXPERIENCE
Since 1976 Episcopalians have had three kinds of experience of women who are functioning as priests: individual experience, corporate experience and societal experience.
While some women who have functioned in the Episcopal Church as priests have been very poor examples, it must be acknowledged that others have made a very favorable impression as individuals. The teaching, preaching, administrative skills and pastoral care demonstrated by such women have been cited as examples of women excelling in priestly ministry and as experimental validation of women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. However, to do so is to misunderstand the nature of the Christian priesthood and episcopate. Teaching, preaching, administration and pastoral care are all important ministries, but they are not distinctively priestly or episcopal functions.
Because ordination is a sacrament, it transcends these ministries, both individually and collectively. By including women as candidates for the priesthood and the episcopate, the sacrament has been changed (cf. “The Witness of Sacred Tradition,” preceding). However, catholic Christians hold that the sacraments were instituted by Christ. Thus we come to what appears to be a logical contradiction: If a human being presumes to alter a sacrament given by God, does the sacrament remain valid? If we are not certain about this point, then we cannot be certain that a woman (“ordained” under this altered sacrament) who performs the distinctively priestly acts of blessing, consecrating and absolving in the name of the Church is indeed confecting valid sacraments, sacramental rites and sacramentals. Whatever warm feelings may be generated in the hearts of those who behold a woman performing these acts, it has not yet been proved that women are sacramentally enabled to confect valid sacraments, sacramental rites and sacramentals. On the contrary, for the very reason that the sacerdotal function performed by women is of dubious validity in the minds of many, the women performing these acts not only introduce an element of doubt on the occasion, but they have reduced, rather than enhanced, the authority of the priesthood and episcopate.
In addition to the experience of the recipients of these ministrations there is also the experience of the women themselves to be considered. If the women who are functioning in the roles of priest and bishop are indeed not valid Christian priests and bishops, as remains to be conclusively proven, then they are living a lie. As we do not know with certainty that these women are valid priests and bishops, likewise we cannot calculate the harm they are doing their own psychological and spiritual health if they are not. It hardly seems to be a loving or pastoral act by the Church, which is called to be the pillar and bulwark of truth (I Tim. 3:13), to deceive a woman by an ordination ceremony of questionable validity, into living a life of dubious integrity at best and falsehood at worst. The Church has a pastoral responsibility to its female members not to put them in this dreadful dilemma, even if they seek to be placed there.
Women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate has been an ecumenical disaster. It has created a major stumbling block to inter-communion with the Roman Catholic Church and had a devastating effect on our relationship with the Eastern Orthodox. These communions show absolutely no sign of following our “lead” or accepting women as valid Catholic priests and bishops now or ever.
Has the practice of ordaining women to the priesthood and episcopate enhanced the priesthood and episcopate? The only way to judge this is to look at the most significant development in regard to the priesthood and episcopate since the inception of women's ordination.
Currently there is such a degree of confusion over the nature of the catholic priesthood that in our recent Concordat with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America the Episcopal Church appears to have agreed that catholic priest in the apostolic succession and protestant pastor outside of it are equivalent terms, both able to confect a valid Eucharist. Otherwise, the inter-communion agreed upon is meaningless, except as a gesture of goodwill. To reduce the sacrament of eternal life to such a status cannot be regarded as an enhancement.
Since adopting the practice in 1976 there has been no flooding of Episcopal churches by disaffected women, no growth among teens and young adults. Instead, we experienced the schisms from the Episcopal Church of the various Continuing Anglican Churches, a division in the Body of Christ, against the express wishes of Jesus Christ, our the great high priest. In 1975 the membership of the Episcopal Church was officially recorded at 3,039,136. In the year 2,000 membership had shrunk to 2,333,624, a 22.88% decline. The last 10 years of this period was touted as a Decade of Evangelism in which ECUSA concentrated on numerical growth.
In the United States, during the same period, the Roman Catholic Church, with its exclusively male priesthood, has been growing dramatically. Evangelical denominations have been increasing at such a rate that a book entitled Why Conservative Churches are Growing was produced.
Overseas, the Nigerian Anglican Church, which does not attempt to ordain women as priests and bishops, has tripled during the Decade of Evangelism. Contrariwise, there has been a decline in all western Anglican provinces where it has been adopted.
Most organizations, after looking at these statistics, would have reconsidered the direction in which they were headed long before now.
It is difficult to judge whether the Episcopal Church is now accounted more relevant than it was before 1976. Societal perceptions often lag behind events in the Church, and women's ordination cannot reasonably be seen as the sole factor or issue which determines the view of society at large toward the Episcopal Church.
However, it is evident that whatever additional relevance women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate may have with some people, it clearly has not been sufficiently significant to motivate large numbers to join the Episcopal Church. There is also good reason to think that others may in fact regard the ECUSA as less relevant, since it appears to be unable to remain faithful under pressure to its own principles. Its voice has been gradually reduced to that of an increasingly discredited and irrelevant, although highly vocal, minority within American society.
Finally, women's ordination may well have had a deleterious effect on society itself, adding to the current confusion over gender roles and the myth of the interchangeability of the sexes rather than leading society to a more balanced view.
The promises of numerical growth and societal relevance by “ordaining” women to the priesthood and episcopate has proven not only illusionary but quite the reverse has been the effect.
Reason dictates that there be some proportion between the price paid for a given thing and the value of that entity. The Episcopal Church has paid an enormous price for the experiment of attempting to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate. It is reasonable to expect that there be some proportionate gain in membership, in depth of faith and morals or the like, to make up for these losses.
Sadly, quite the opposite has been the case. Each has plummeted in the 25 years since the practice of ordaining women to the priesthood and episcopate was implemented. Bishops have gone on record repudiating key articles of the creeds, and General Convention has been asked to endorse flagrant immorality, a situation that was unimaginable in 1976. The degree to which women who have been ordained to the priesthood and episcopate have personally contributed to this precipitous decline cannot be gauged with any accuracy. While many have been vocal supporters of the most flagrant abuses of the radical agenda, others have bravely attempted to uphold Christian faith and morals.
However, the overall effect remains that the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate has not lived up to its promises. It has utterly failed to demonstrate that it was worth the exorbitant price paid for it. Clearly, women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate can no longer be regarded as reasonable.
REASON AND THE FUTURE
Is it reasonable to expect a reversal of women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate? Certainly it is not immediately likely, nor can it be expected in the foreseeable future. The idea is too firmly entrenched in the minds of those who control the Episcopal Church. Yet it is not hopeless to think that the time may come when reason will prevail over prejudice.
However, history indicates otherwise. Aryanism once appeared to be triumphant in theology. For centuries slavery and the divine right of kings were similarly regarded as “givens.” Likewise fascism, National Socialism and Soviet communism were at one time considered inevitable, irresistible forces in the modern world. A merciful God has seen to it that each of them has been consigned to history's dustbin.
It is reasonable then to hope that women's ordination may likewise come to be viewed as an experiment that failed, a concept that seemed rational enough at first, but eventually was recognized by more thoughtful generations as hollow and counter-productive.
The Rev. Canon Robert L. Young