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MAN, WOMAN, AND PRIESTHOOD
(Edited by Peter Moore, SPCK London, 1978)

2. Some Basic Considerations
(Eric Mascall)

E. L. MASCALL (b. 1905) was a senior mathematics master before his ordination in 1932. After five years in London parishes, he became subwarden of Lincoln Theological College in 1937, and then Student of Christ Church, Oxford, 1945-62, and Professor of Historical Theology at King's College, London, until his retirement in 1973. Bampton Lecturer 1956, Gifford Lecturer 1970-1, and a Fellow of the British Academy, he has written numerous books on philosophical and dogmatic theology, and has many ecumenical contacts, especially with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

 

The Present Situation

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in September 1976 authorized by a small majority the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate, it was taking an action which to most people outside the Church and to many within it appeared to be nothing more than a matter of natural justice and, like most recognitions of the climate of the times on the part of the Church, to be very much overdue. Other professions—law, politics, medicine, teaching, research, to mention the most obvious—were open to women as to men, even if in some cases women showed little desire to enter them; why then should they be excluded from the ministry of the Church? And indeed, it could be argued, had not women many qualities that made them eminently suitable to exercise any pastoral office? To suggest that it might be doubtful whether in fact, quite apart from her personal suitability or unsuitability, it was possible for a woman to be a priest would appear quite meaningless to those who had become accustomed in any case to look upon the difference between a priest and a lay person as purely a difference of function, with the possible addition of a large element of social prestige. It is not, I think, untrue to say that the more enthusiastic proponents of the ordination of women simply do not take their opponents seriously and have convinced themselves that, provided they can get women ordained somehow, the opposition will rapidly melt away, or, if it does not melt away, will not deserve respect or consideration. Thus, in the United States several women were given the form of ordination even before the Convention gave its authorization and have since, together with the ordaining bishops, been accepted as courageous pioneers, and the Convention itself acted on the principle that, provided the majorities required by its constitution were obtained, there could be no doubt that women ordained in accordance with its decision would in fact be priests of the Catholic Church.

There appears in fact to be a common assumption that the validity and morality of a sacramental rite can be settled by a democratic voting process and are then irreformable. Thus Professor G. W. H. Lampe asserted in a letter to The Times (26 October 1977) that it was not open to the English bishops collectively to hold that the ordinations of women were invalid, 'since the General Synod, by majorities in each of the Houses . . . has already recorded its view that there is no fundamental objection in principle to the ordination of women'. This called forth the reply (October 1977) from the Bishop of Truro that, so far from actually determining the truth in the matter, the Synod 'did no more than record that, of the members present and voting, 41 per cent thought there were fundamental objections to the ordination of women and 58 per cent thought there were not', and Dr Leonard pertinently inquired: 'Would Professor Lampe be prepared to accept that the many theological issues with which he wrestles in Cambridge could be solved by a decision on a simple majority vote in the General Synod after a few hours' debate?' 'Some matters', he continued, 'can rightly be so decided and the decision loyally accepted. Decisions about what is true cannot, however, be so made. It would be ridiculous, for example, to suppose that the truth about the Theory of Relativity could have been determined in such a manner.' The ultimate explanation is, I believe, that most of those who assert that there are no serious theological objections to women priests do not hold that the priesthood has a distinctive theological character in any case. This would account for the fact that, while there seem to be comparatively few church people who really want women priests, there are many who, confident (perhaps over-confident) that they will not find themselves entrusted to the ministrations of these ladies, feel it would be intolerant and unchivalrous to oppose the ordination of those who passionately wish to receive it.

Of all the innovations that have been introduced or proposed in the long history of the Christian Church it would be difficult to find one more extreme than this, or one more clearly in conflict with the traditional Anglican attitude on matters of faith and practice. Repeatedly, in clarifying their own domestic position and in controversy with other Christians, Anglicans have appealed to the famous 'Canon' of St Vincent of Lerins: 'We within the Catholic Church are to take great care that we hold that which hath been believed everywhere, always and by all men (ubique, semper, ab omnibus) .. . and that we shall do if we follow universality, antiquity and consent.'(1) It has of course been pointed out that the three qualifications are to be understood in a relative rather than an absolute sense; ubique means 'virtually everywhere' or 'everywhere except in a few very odd spots', and similarly with the others. However, if there is anything to which the Vincentian Canon does apply absolutely, it is surely the restriction of priesthood to the male sex. Again, Anglicans have been obstinately opposed to innovations in matters of dogma and faith; and down to the most recent statement of the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission (the 'Venice Statement' on Authority in the Church) the elevation to dogmatic status of the Marian doctrines of the immaculate conception and the assumption, in 1854 and 1950 respectively, has seemed to most Anglicans to constitute a very serious obstacle to reunion with Rome.

It seems, however, to have escaped observation by most Anglicans that, by authorizing the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. has, by clear implication, given dogmatic status to what was previously only a legitimate theological opinion or theologoumenon (and a widely disputed one at that), namely that it is possible for the character of priesthood to be imparted to a member of the female sex. For, among other much quoted Anglican principles is that expressed by the maxim lex orandi lex credendi, 'the law of worship is the law of faith', and there can be no point at which the worship and the faith of the Church so closely intersect as in the question of who is capable of presiding at the Church's eucharistic assembly. In view of the way in which, in Catholic Christendom, the eucharistic presidency is linked with the person of the bishop, such a complete innovation at the heart of the Church's life as is involved in women priests and women bishops would surely demand at the least the consensus of the episcopal churches. That one communion in divided Christendom, and still more that one constituent part of such a communion, should take upon itself to act in this matter is an intolerable assertion of self-sufficiency, all the more surprising when it comes from a Church which has just expressed its abhorrence of the 'fratricidal' insertion of the Filioque into the Western creed.(2) As the former Religious Affairs Correspondent of the BBC has written, with the future action of the General Synod in mind:

It is far more than a vote on whether to ordain women. It is a vote on the essence of the Church of England and its claim to comprehensiveness—Catholic and Apostolic, Protestant and Reformed—at one and the same time. The decision to ordain women must be a move towards Protestantism—a point made so well by Bishop Stephen Neill.(3)

And, so far from Rome being likely to follow us in having women priests, Mr Douglas Brown suggests that 'the Roman Catholic Church will turn towards healing completely the schism with the Orthodox'.

It is well at this point that we should realize how abruptly those Anglican churches which have expressed their intention to ordain women priests have snubbed not only Rome and the Orthodox but also the Old Catholics with whom since 1932 the Church of England has been in full communion.

After registering its majority opinion on 3 July 1975 that 'there are no fundamental objections' to the priesting of women, the General Synod requested its presidents to inform the Roman Catholic and Orthodox authorities of what it described simply as 'its' belief, without mention of any dissident minority, and also to 'invite those authorities to share in an urgent re-examination of the theological grounds for including women in the Order of Priesthood, with particular attention to the doctrine of Man and the doctrine of Creation'. Possibly feeling that it might be inappropriate to address the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Patriarch in these somewhat didactic tones, the Archbishop of Canterbury simply informed them of what he described as 'the slow but steady growth of a consensus of opinion within the Anglican Communion', again without mention of any respectable opposition, and informed them that 'the central authorities of the Anglican Communion have therefore called for common counsel on this matter', without particularizing either the participants or the details of this counsel. This and a further letter to Pope Paul brought from his Holiness two pained but quite definite replies. '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' (30 November 1975). 'Our affection for the Anglican Communion has for many years been strong, and we have always nourished and often expressed ardent hopes that the Holy Spirit would lead us, in love and in obedience to God's will, along the path of reconciliation. This must be the measure of the sadness with which we encounter so grave a new obstacle and threat on that path' (23 March 1976). The Archbishop's letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch provoked no immediate reply, but the Orthodox members of the Anglican/Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions in July 1976 stated that 'if the Anglican Churches proceed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, this will create a very serious obstacle to the development of our relations in the future', and the Ecumenical Patriarch emphasized the Orthodox Church's rejection of female priesthood at his meeting with the Archbishop in April 1977. How seriously the situation is viewed in Orthodoxy is shown by the fact that only the personal intervention of the Archbishop and of the Chairman of the Anglican/Orthodox Commission (Bishop Runcie) with the Patriarch prevented the cancellation of the meeting of the Commission in the following July and that it has been necessary to arrange a special meeting between Anglican and Orthodox theologians immediately before the Lambeth Conference in 1978 in the hope of influencing the Conference's deliberations. Nothing so explicitly directed to Anglicans has come from Rome, but the publication in October 1976 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of its reasoned but uncompromising Declaration (Inter Insigniores) against female priesthood can hardly have been a pure coincidence.(4)

It should be added that in July 1975 the International Bishops' Conference of the Old Catholic Churches, replying to the Archbishop of Canterbury, asserted that 'only men and not women can be the bearers of the priesthood of Christ', that 'the question of ordination touches the fundamental structure of the Church', and that 'no church alone can take the decision in this question. Only the Church as a whole, the "ecclesia universalis", is called for that.' And one Old Catholic church in the U.S.A. at least (the Polish National Catholic Church) has already broken off sacramental intercommunion with the Episcopal Church.(5)

In the light of such reactions as these, together with the clearly expressed conscientious opposition in many parts of the Anglican Communion, the drastically divisive effect on the Church that any further action would plainly have, and the virtual, and indeed in many cases actual, schism that has already been produced in the U.S.A., one can only conclude that for its proponents the ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of such immediate and compulsive urgency, although the Church has managed without it for nearly two millennia, that literally nothing—not the reunion of Christendom, the unity of the Anglican Communion, the welfare of individual dioceses and parishes, the doubts of many theologians about its theological possibility, the agonies of conscience with which it faces many intelligent and devout priests and layfolk—can be allowed to stand in its way. Is it too much to describe such an obsessive concern with what is on any account an innovation as bordering on the pathological?

 

Getting the Question Right

One of the chief difficulties with which one is faced is that of being sure that we are all discussing the same thing. This largely arises from the tendency in ecumenical discussions to talk about something called 'the ministry' as if there were substantial agreement about its nature or at least as if among its many aspects it did not matter which is taken as primary, as the standard by which the others are to be interpreted. The confusion to which this can lead is well illustrated by the fact that when the Church of Scotland recently decided that its ministry was in principle open to women, this was announced by headlines such as 'Women now allowed to preach' and 'Pulpits open to women', which no doubt was how the matter appeared in a Church where sermons are preached every Sunday and the Lord's Supper administered once a quarter. Again the permission now given in the Roman Communion to certain lay people, both men and women, to administer the eucharistic elements under certain circumstances will appear to those Protestants who do not believe in the real presence as a virtual admission of the validity of lay celebration, whereas to a Catholic it is absolutely nothing of the kind. How far confusion can go was shown by the cover of a recent book entitled Women in the Pulpit, which depicted two hands elevating a chalice! Now it is of course true that a great deal of rethinking is going on at the present time about the nature and the functions of the priesthood. This is much to be encouraged, but two things need to be kept in mind. The first is that, just because the thinking is still going on, we cannot be sure what its results will be. We have certainly no right to assume that it will show, as many seem to assume, that priesthood is purely functional without any theological or ontological status, that ordination is merely a ceremony of commissioning, that Christian faith and morals are to be settled in each time and place by normal democratic procedures, that the Church has no divinely given structure, and so on. Secondly, a time when rethinking is taking place is emphatically not a time for precipitate action, for when the thinking is complete it may show the action to have been misdirected or stupid. What is quite dishonest is to decide on the action first and then to demand that the thinking shall justify it. This is unlikely to happen if the rethinking is genuine thinking, but it is much more likely at a time like the present when much that is called 'rethinking' is rather suspension of thought.

The question with which Anglican synods are being presented has in fact an ominously loaded form. The 1968 Lambeth Conference modestly 'affirm[ed] its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive'.(6) This at least left the possibility open that conclusive theological arguments might be discovered and presented later. However, the resolution on which synods are being asked to vote appears to be simply that 'there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood', and this carries disquieting suggestions. The adjective 'theological' has been dropped and, while this absolves the voters from the necessity of either posing as or consulting theologians, it enables them to avoid any reference to theology at all and leaves one in the dark as to what kind of considerations are considered to be 'fundamental'.(7) However, the form of words certainly implies that all objections have been examined and that none are fundamental. Even if this is strictly true, the onesided and loaded nature of the wording remains. For, even if there are no fundamental arguments against the ordination of women, many will still wish to know whether there are any fundamental arguments for such a revolutionary innovation. The assumption seems to be, however, that, unless we have discovered fundamental arguments against it, it is permissible, indeed obligatory, to put it into practice without further ado, or at least as soon as is feasible.(8)

Why in fact has the Church down the ages refrained from ordaining women to the priesthood?As a matter of pure logic, two answers are conceivable. (9) The first is that the restriction of the priesthood to males has no valid theological basis but is the outcome of purely cultural or even political conditions. It is admitted that neither Jesus nor the primitive Church was notable for social conformity, but on this issue, we are told, although women were just as qualified theologically as men to exercise the priesthood, the social climate of the time (or rather, a multitude of social climates as varied as the pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Western civilization of the Middle Ages, and the cultured serenity of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution) made it impossible, and perhaps inappropriate, for them to enter on that exercise. Sometimes this is interpreted as due to scandalous and tyrannical male chauvinism. Sometimes, on the contrary, we are told that God reveals his truth gradually as men are prepared to receive it, and that in accordance with this principle the Holy Spirit has withheld their due rights from half the Church's members in the past but now intends that those rights should be granted.(10) In either case, it is held, the pentecostal moment has now come when action must be taken. There must be no more delay!

There is, however, an alternative explanation. It is that the restriction of the priesthood to males rests upon a deep and valid intuition in the mind of the Church, which may be none the less authentic although it has not hitherto found a complete or fully satisfactory theological formulation. It can be pointed out that the same has been true about many other mysteries of the Church's life and faith. It was only when the deity of Christ was challenged by the Arians that the Church was forced to tussle painfully and perseveringly with the problem of the relation of Jesus to the Father in the way that led to the definition of the Council of Nicaea. Similarly, it was the errors of Apollinarius, Nestorius, and Eutyches about the Son becoming man that led the Church to grapple with the problem about the relation between the Godhead and the manhood of Jesus in the way that led to the definition of Chalcedon. And there is a vast and difficult problem about the relation between the sexes in the order of redemption and of the Church's life, which has never yet been adequately discussed and has hardly been recognized, and which is not to be solved simply by reference to the natural order—the order of creation—in terms of biological, sociological, and psychological categories. To raise the question whether the priesthood is essentially male, and if so on what grounds, provides one way of entry into the discussion of this problem, and if that were what we are faced with it might be very fruitful. But to demand that because the question has been raised at this moment it must be solved in accordance with the principle of sexual non-discrimination is to leave the wider and deeper problem uninvestigated. It is also to make the very odd assumption that, while throughout its past the Church has obscured a basic truth of the gospel by conforming to the cultural assumptions and pressures of its time, it will be no longer obscuring but releasing that same basic truth if it conforms to the cultural assumptions and pressures of the present day. Granted that it is by interaction with contemporary problems that the Church is often brought to see the implications of its faith—and slavery, of which some advocates of women's ordination make great display, may provide an example (11)—it has to be shown that the action proposed does in fact derive from Christian truth, and in the case of women priests this simply has not been shown. And it might seem clear that the extraordinary confusion concerning all matters involving sex into which the contemporary world has got itself now that it has emancipated itself from any kind of Christian control makes it a very unsure and dangerous guide indeed. It is hardly surprising that, in Bishop Runcie's words, the Orthodox Churches 'believe we are drifting apart from apostolic order and faith, and that our theological and synodical life is at the mercy of fashionable Western cultural movements'.

This judgement will hardly seem groundless when it is recognized that, to give one example, under the present rules for synodical government of the Church of England, lay persons are entitled to be entered on the electoral roll of a parish and so, in the words of the official application form, 'to have their place in every aspect of church government, including the doctrine and services of the Church', on the simple conditions of being baptized persons over seventeen years old, resident in the parish, and members of the Church of England or a Church in communion with it. Neither Christian conviction, knowledge of the Church's faith, nor any sharing in the Church's worship is required of those who are invited to share in deciding what the Church's belief and worship are to be. This is the more serious in that some at least of our bishops, in spite of the solemn promises which they made and the solemn obligations which were laid on them at their consecration, seem glad to divest themselves of some of their responsibilities on the grounds that 'these things are now decided democratically by the Synod'. There may not be any immediate danger of our parish electoral rolls' being suddenly inflated by hordes of atheists who hope in a few years' time to have captured the General Synod and to have removed belief in God from the Creeds, but we are, I think, entitled to ask how many of those who vote in Anglican synodical bodies on theological questions are really qualified to do this and how far the constitutions and procedural rules of those bodies are adequate for the discussion and answering of such questions.

Most of all it is necessary in this context to recognize that, while some constitutional structures can be relatively good and others relatively bad—the best being perhaps those that look on the Church as analogous to a family and the worst those that look on it as analogous to either an absolute monarchy or a parliamentary democracy—no constitutional structure can ever be entirely adequate to the essential nature of the Church as the Body of Christ and the People of God. There will always be possible courses of action that are constitutionally and canonically legal but are either morally or theologically wrong, abhorrent as this fact is to the administrative mind, which always wants rules that are exhaustive in range, simple to understand, and easy to enforce. Its attitude is exemplified in a remark made to me many years ago by a highly placed prelate, that he could not understand what I meant by 'the rights of conscientious minorities', because if a minority were conscientious it would fall into line with the majority. The fact is that constitutions and canons can deal only with rights, duties, privileges, rewards, and punishments, and life in the Body of Christ is concerned with something more than these. And ecclesiastical legislation and administration will become opportunistic or tyrannical or both unless those who are responsible for them see them as subordinate to the overarching values of holiness and truth. At the present time we are constantly being reminded that much radical rethinking is going on on fundamental questions of Christian belief and practice. This being so, two consequences would appear to follow. The first is that we should refrain from making radical changes in the structure and practice of the Church until it becomes reasonably clear where that thinking will lead and what changes would be justified. The second is that those with whom responsibility for decision lies should take steps to be thoroughly educated theologically. Neither of these seems to have been given much consideration as regards the matter in hand. Rather, the contemporary lack of theological stability has been made an excuse for precipitate action and the creation of faits accomplis, on the assumption that theologians will have sufficient ingenuity to find theological justification for action taken on non-theological grounds. In actual fact, the kind of theological thinking that is needed has already been taken in hand, but it is largely unknown, and where not unknown is largely ignored. It is typified by John Saward's pamphlets The Case against the Ordination of Women and Christ and his Bride,(l2) Jean Galot's Mission et ministére de la femme (13) and Louis Bouyer's Mystére et ministéres de la femme.(l4)

 

Priesthood and Sex: Theological Guidelines

I do not intend at this point simply to repeat what others have written elsewhere or in this volume. I merely wish to stress some points which are both important and widely neglected. The first is that it is futile to discuss whether the ordained priesthood can or ought to be conferred on women as well as men unless one's mind is first clear about both the nature of the priesthood and the significance in the order of redemption and grace of the differentiation of human nature into male and female. Only too often it is assumed that, whatever may be true in the order of nature—in the realm of biology, physiology, and psychology—where the life of the Church is concerned sexual differentiation is theologically totally irrelevant. (Some, of course, argue for the ordination of women on the ground that women can bring into the priesthood a special contribution that men cannot make, though some argue for it on the contrary ground that there is no essential difference between men and women and that therefore both are equally qualified for it; these considerations, however, are not theological but psychological and they leave the theological question untouched.) Appeal is usually made for this view to St Paul's declaration in Galatians 3.28 that 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus', although this text explicitly refers to baptism and was certainly not taken by its writer as carrying implications for the ministry. If, however, we hold that grace does not destroy or ignore nature but fulfils it and perfects it, it would be very strange if something as deeply rooted in human nature as sex had no counterpart on the level of grace and had not its own part to play in the order of redemption. The important and relevant point is that sex is not a principle of identity but of differentiation; men and women are not the same as each other but are different. And in inquiring what are their several roles in the Church's life we may learn much from their several characteristics on the level of nature, though the primary source for our inquiry must be that concrete activity of divine redemption—the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God the Son—from which both the Church and its priesthood took their origin.

I suspect, in fact, that, even on the level of nature, we have come to look upon sex in far too superficial a way, as if there were a kind of undifferentiated human nature common to all human beings, male and female alike, but itself essentially sexless, and that sex was superimposed upon this as a sort of extra. I believe that this assumption, often made unconsciously, underlies a wide variety of attitudes to sex in very diverse circles. It is implicit in the type of spirituality that conceives the saint—the perfected human being—as someone in whom sex has become extinct. It is also implicit in the widespread assumption in the modern world that any personal relationship between a man and a woman must either ignore altogether the fact that they are not of the same sex or else be given expression in a physically erotic way. This reaches its climax in that trivialization of sex which has offered such a vast field for commercial development, which treats sex as an activity to be exploited and experimented with in isolation from the rest of human living ('the joy of sex', unrelated to other human joys and sorrows; 'advanced sex' as a technique comparable to advanced chess) without this having any radical repercussions on the human subject as a whole. It is also implicit, though less crudely, in the view that the orientation of sexuality is in no way determined by the maleness or femaleness of the person who exercises it and that it may just as naturally find its object in a member of the same sex as of the opposite.

Now I do not wish in any way to underrate the specificity of human nature as such, as common to all humankind of whatever race or culture and as differentiating human beings from the lower creation; it is in the last resort our only justification for insisting upon human rights and protesting against exploitation and tyranny. But it is, I suggest, most important to remember that behind and beneath all the differentiations of skill, temperament, race, and culture there are not just human beings, there are men and women. Sexual differentiation is of an entirely different type from all the other differentiations of which human nature is capable. Men and women are not just two species of the genus homo or two varieties of the species homo sapiens. Humanity is, so to speak, essentially binary; it exists only in the two modes of masculinity and femininity, and we can only understand it by studying them. It does not exist partly in one and partly in the other but under a difference of mode it is fully in each. This fact, which overflows the conceptual structure of Aristotelian logic,(l5) pertains even on the level of nature, but it is vitally important on the level of grace and redemption. And it has two important consequences.

(1) It is very misleading to say, as some do, that there are female characteristics in men and male characteristics in women, on the ground that men can be gentle and women can be courageous, for example.(16) I would not admit that gentleness is a basically female virtue, or courage a basically male one. What is true is that there is a male way of being gentle and a female way, and similarly with courage. But heaven defend us from the notion that a man must be effeminate if he is gentle, or a woman masculine if she is brave. Religious art has suffered badly from the former of these assumptions!

(2) If we wish to understand the functions of maleness and femaleness in the life of the Church, we must emphasize in their fullness, and not gloss over or minimize, the special roles which each has played in the redemptive act of God. We shall not take it as accidental and irrelevant that those roles have been different, but shall do our best to learn from those special roles with their mutual differences and relations how that act is perpetuated in the life of the redemptive community and is reflected in its structure. We must avoid the false modesty which shrinks from the physical realism of Mary's motherhood and which, by taking Christmas instead of Lady Day as the moment of the incarnation, has encouraged a docetic view of Christ. But above all we must resist the temptation to start from the distorted and muddled attitude to sex which is characteristic of the secularized culture of our time and to transfer that into the life of the Church. It is not only the extremer forms of Women's Lib to which this warning applies.

I shall therefore conclude this essay by sketching (for limitations of space will allow only a sketch) a theology of priesthood which will take seriously what both the acts and the words of God's revelation tell us about masculinity and femininity, not of course in the sense that we are to project our created modes of sexuality back upon God but that we are to see in the images and concepts which he has used to reveal himself to us, in his condescension to our condition, the archetypes of the manner in which masculinity and femininity are embodied in the redeemed community.

 

Outlines of Theology of Priesthood

Our starting-point must be that, in the strict and proper sense, the only ontologically original and ultimate priesthood is that of Christ; it is identical with his status as Son, Word, and Apostle of the eternal Father. This priesthood subsists in eternity (Heb. 4.14; 5.5, 6; 7) and it enters into the created world in his assumption of human nature in the womb of Mary. The Church, consisting of those men and women who are incorporated into him, is his Body and his Bride (Rom. 12.5; 1 Cor. 12.12ff.; Eph. 5.22ff.). The Church is taken into his priesthood. She is his Bride, made one flesh with him; she is the Body, of which he, the great High Priest, is the head.(l7) The whole Christ, membra cum capita, is priestly with his priesthood; the Body apart from the head is not priestly at all.(l8)

Priesthood belongs to Christ as the Son of the eternal Father. He became man as male, not by accident but because he is Son and not Daughter; because what was to be communicated to the created world in human form in the incarnation was the relation which he has to the Father. The fact that he has only one sex, and that the male, does not make his humanity incomplete. Humanity belongs to him fully in the mode of masculinity; he does not need to be a hermaphrodite in order to be fully human, any more than he needs to be a eunuch to avoid favouring one sex over the other. And because the ordained priest is not exercising a priesthood of his own but is the agent and instrument through which Christ is exercising his priesthood, he too must be male. To say that 'the Church has restricted the priesthood to males' is to speak in far too negative a manner; rather, Christ exercises his priesthood in the Church through human beings who possess human nature in the same sexual mode in which he possesses it.

Left just like this, such an exposition will no doubt appear to be a typical piece of male chauvinism,(19) saying nothing positive about femininity at all. It is not, however, all that there is to say on the level of either creation or redemption. We do indeed urgently need a thorough investigation of the signification and implications of sexual differentiation—of maleness and femaleness —in the whole order of redemption and the Church, but it cannot be conducted satisfactorily under the threat of imminent, and indeed anticipated, action based on preconceived answers to the questions. But even so there is much to be learnt from the part played by the concrete and physical motherhood of Mary in the incarnation; and the fact that such a book as the symposium Women Priests? Yes, Now ! can ignore it completely leaves one wondering whether the authors are fully orthodox in their attitude to the incarnation. The basic fact that emerges from even a brief consideration is that the roles played by maleness and femaleness in the incarnation are both essential but are extremely different, so different that to ask which is the more important is rather futile. It was male human nature that the Son of God united to his divine person; it was a female human person who was chosen to be his mother. In no woman has human nature been raised to the dignity which it possesses in Jesus of Nazareth, but to no human person has there been given a dignity comparable to that which Mary enjoys as Theotokos, a dignity which, in the words of the Eastern liturgy, makes her 'more honourable than the cherubim and beyond comparison more glorious than the seraphim'. In Mary a woman became the mother of God, but to no man, not even to Joseph, was it given to be the father of God; that status belongs only to the Father in heaven. The centrality of womanhood in redemption is shown by the fact that the incarnation itself waited for the courageous and obedient Fiat of Mary (Luke 1.38); the initial reaction of the man Joseph, however great his contribution later on, was to be doubtful about his fiancée's chastity (Mutt. 1.18ff.). It may well be that the contemporary demand for identity of function between the two sexes in the Church has sadly hindered the much-needed theological investigation of the special ecclesiastical function of women. And this investigation may well show that the real reason why women cannot receive priesthood is that they do not need it, a reason based in the order of nature before it applies in the order of redemption and arising from a superiority rather than an inferiority of womanhood. Père Bouyer has argued that there is a real sense in which men are inferior to women, for a man can exercise fatherhood only, as it were, by proxy, since unqualified fatherhood is the prerogative of the Father in heaven, while a woman can exercise motherhood in her own right; and the actual mechanism of conception and gestation confirms this. It is at least not obvious that to be unable to bear children is a sign of superiority! This is not the place for a detailed summary and assessment of Bouyer's exposition, but it should be recognized that his great achievement is to have shown that behind the question of the ordination of women there lie fundamental issues concerning both the natural constitution of mankind and the inner life of deity itself. It is silly to suppose that the prestige of the female sex depends upon whether women can be priests.

That the theological aspects are wider than is often recognized is suggested by the fact that it is in just those cirdes, both Roman Catholic and Anglican, where least interest is taken in Mariology and devotion to Mary that demands for the ordination of women are most vocal. On the other hand, that Mariology is not just a convenient device for shuffling off the legitimate demands of women for recognition is shown by the words in which that resolute opponent of the priesting of women Pope Paul VI, in his recent Marian document, shows himself fully understanding of the changed situation of women in the modern world:

The reading of the divine Scriptures, carried out under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with the discoveries of the human sciences and the different situations of the world today being taken into account, will help us to see how Mary can be considered a mirror of the expectations of the men and women of our time. Thus, the modern woman, anxious to participate with decision-making power in the affairs of the community, will contemplate with intimate joy Mary who, taken into dialogue with God, gives her active and responsible consent, not to the solution of a contingent problem, but to that 'event of world importance', as the Incarnation of the Word has been rightly called.(20)

No doubt to many an exposition of the kind just given will appear to be speculative and lacking in strict apodictic logical cogency. These, they will say, are not 'conclusive theological arguments', these do not demonstrate 'fundamental objections'. It is difficult to answer these caveats in the absence of any dear indication of what would be accepted as theological criteria and what type of objections would be considered as fundamental. But one cannot help wondering how often, if ever, some of those who have voted for or against women priests have engaged in anything that could seriously be called a theological argument. I would nevertheless maintain that one of the most important functions of the theologian is to bring to the conscious level, and to elicit the rational coherence of, those structures of worship and practice to which the Holy Spirit may have led the Church in the course of its history. This does not rule out that the Church itself may at times have become to a greater or lesser degree overlaid by features deriving not so much from its own inner reality as from the cultural settings in which its life has been lived. There is no ready-made and automatic method of identifying and removing these, but it is certainly not to be done by capitulating to the cultural prejudices and pressures of the present-day secularized Western world. To achieve even partial success there are needed spiritual discernment, intelligence, and humility to the Church at large, both of the past and of the present. With these, under the mercy of God some renewal may be brought about; without them failure is certain.

 

Conclusion

To sum up, then, I believe there are extremely strong reasons, both theological and non-theological, against the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not claim to be infallible, and if the mature consensus of Catholic Christendom should decide in the opposite sense I hope I should have the humility to admit that I must have been mistaken. But so far from any such consensus being apparent, all the indications are the other way. It is very difficult to obtain reliable and up-to-date figures, but one cannot be very far out in saying that of the Christians in the world (themselves perhaps 35 per cent of the world's population) about threequarters are Roman Catholics or Orthodox and perhaps one in twenty is an Anglican. Numbers are, of course, not everything, even if they are accurate (and how, for example, is one to assess Christianity in England, with its large number of nominal but non-practising Anglicans, or in Russia, with its unknown number of secret and convinced Orthodox?); nevertheless, it is healthy for us Anglicans, who are still often bemused by Britain's imperial past, to be reminded what a tiny fragment of Christendom we are, and to question whether the synodical body of one small part of Anglicanism is competent to pre-empt the consensus of Christendom. But behind this arithmetical question there is, I am convinced, a much deeper issue which will affect, and is indeed already affecting, all Christian denominations, though in different ways and in different degrees, and of which the Anglican Church in the U.S.A. has simply received the first shock. That issue is whether the Christian religion is something revealed by God through his incarnate Son, which places us under loyalty and obedience to him, or whether it is something which we have the right to make up to our own specifications, by democratic processes and majority votes, in accordance with our own desires and the pressures of contemporary society.(21) Many conceive of the Church as a democratic organization, free to decide its doctrine and practice in accordance with the wishes of the majority by procedures of debating and voting modelled on Anglo-Saxon parliamentary government. Nevertheless, whatever may be constitutionally legitimate, theologically the Church is under obedience to God, and to Christ whose Body and Bride she is. Which of these views is to prevail is the great question facing the Anglican Communion in the immediate future.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Commonitorium, 2.

2. Eastern theologians have often condemned the Western insertion of the Filioque in the Creed as being fratricidal as well as heretical, since it was made without the agreement of the Easterns. The Anglican Church in the U.S.A. recently accepted the justice of this complaint.

3. Church Times, 6.1.78, p. 10.

4. The Pope's expressed anxiety can only mean that some revision of Rome's attitude to Anglican orders had been in contemplation, for no similar anxiety had been expressed about the ordination of women in the Protestant Churches. Nor would action by Anglicans have worried Leo XIII, for whom Anglican orders were 'absolutely null and utterly void' in any case. The rebuff to Pope Paul may mark a tragic lost opportunity.

5. Church Times, 17.12.76.

6. Resolution 34. The votes were not published.

7. The 'task-force' appointed to advise one American diocese reported that it had excluded historical and theological considerations altogether!

8. We may note that such a very sympathetic writer as Haye van der Meer (Women Priests in the Catholic Church?, Philadelphia, Temple Univ. Press, 1973, Gmn original 1969, p. 157) could only claim 'to have made clear that there is still much to be done for a genuine proof either pro or contra' and that in any case the pastoral office in its traditional forms as formed by man was unsuitable for women. 'This book', he wrote, 'was not written to come to the aid of those young women who would like to be ordained to the priesthood now.' On the remoter issue he is more open, but I find a disquieting quasi-Manichaean touch in a suggestion that the 'representation' of Christ in the priesthood must be realized in the psychic and spiritual level and excludes the biological and physical.

9. The following two paragraphs are taken almost verbatim from my essay in the symposium Orders Disorderly, W. S. T. Wright, ed. (Anglican Association).

10. Note that supporters of this interpretation cannot consistently criticize Rome for doctrinal innovation, a frequent Anglican accusation but one that Rome formally rejects (Vatican I, cit. Denzinger-Schönmetzer 3070).

11. I say 'may provide', because Fr John Saward has shown (The Case against the Ordination of Women, Church Literature Association 1975, pp. 5f.) that the cases are not really analogous: 'Those Fathers who argued that slavery was a necessary evil were never in any doubt that it was an evil, and this distinguished them from their pagan contemporaries. None of them, however, saw the exclusion of women from the priesthood in the same way.'

12. Church Literature Association, 1975 and 1977.

13. Paris, Lethielleux, 1973.

14. Paris, Aubier, 1976.

15. Such an overflow is not strange to Christian theology; the Trinity provides another example.

16. This assertion can be used as an argument either for women priests (on the ground that it shows that femininity is not excluded from the priestly character) or against women priests (on the ground that any necessary feminine characteristics are already contained in the male priesthood). But, since I believe it to be false, I shall not make use of it.

17. Whether the head is considered part of the body is really a verbal matter. What is important is the union between the head and members, the identity of their life, and the fact that the head is its source. Ecclesiology transcends natural physiology!

18. 'The priesthood of the laity' and, still more, 'the priesthood of all believers' are very ambiguous and can be very misleading phrases.

19. Incidentally, how many people who speak about chauvinism know anything about Chauvin?

20. Marialis cultus (2 February 1974), §37. Cf §34.

21. That such a challenge is not imaginary is perhaps indicated by the fact that one of the terms of reference of the newly constituted Church of England Doctrinal Commission is stated as 'to feed into the Church's formulation of doctrine the insights of secular thought', while nothing is said about feeding into secular thought the insights of the Church's formulation of doctrine (Church Times, 16 December 1977).