MAN, WOMAN, AND PRIESTHOOD
(Edited by Peter Moore, SPCK London, 1978)
8. The Body is the Book
SUSANNAH HERZEL (b. 1939) took a degree in English literature at Stanford University, California, and taught for five years at Lahore. She was assistant principal at the Institute of Christian Studies, All Saints', Margaret Street, from 1973 to 1975, where she founded the Epiphany Dance Group, to which she still belongs. After work with St Julian's Community, she is at present research assistant for religious programmes in BBC Television.
Love's mysteries in soules doe grow,
But yet the body is his booke.(1)
I should like in this chapter to pose a number of questions about beginnings; and the first is in relation to the office of priest as it is most formally understood. Perhaps it is because we forget the extent to which the Christian priest is a direct development of the Jewish high priest that we have such difficulties in our discussion of holy orders. For, while the early Church emphasized inclusiveness within the 'priesthood of all believers', it equally affirmed hierarchy and holy authority. Its genius lay in following Christ's own example of completing the old order with the new, rather than abolishing it. The Church went back to the beginning and 'knew it for the first time'.
So formal priesthood as distinct from the equally important priesthood of all believers has evolved as a public and ritualized office. It involves a certain amount of public performance, proclamation, and objectivity. It is an expression of holy order, of the rites of initiation and direction. Above all, it is concerned with the clear and outward focus of our communal life. The priest represents the Head of the Body. Unless the priest's office is performed with vigour and energy, precision and an appropriate aggression, it becomes sentimental or even boring, losing its prophetic incisiveness. This energy must be innate, not a matter of shouting and gesturing and posturing. It is totally different from the devotional and pastoral life of the Church which is its inner, secret life.
The priest, then, is the cutting edge. He breaks the offered bread; he separates and orders by his signing of the cross; and he sows the seed of the Word into the earthed community. This was the meaning of the eastward-facing altar: the priest, with the atoning sacrifice before him, stood at the head of the procession of the people of God on pilgrimage. He led them, as Moses led his people, cutting beyond into the wholly unknown. His altar signified the transcendent mystery of God and the efficacy of bleeding, dumb bodies. For this reason, the priest is the sign of the Old Testament in our midst.
The primary revelation of God to his people was of his distinctive otherness and his transcendence, and of his presence in a piece of land continually torn asunder and very precious. The priest re-members this, and its particular efficacy must be rediscovered by people personally: at one level we must all be 'Jews' before we are Christians and while we are Christians. The worship of God in his holy otherness, his mystery, must remain a part of our life together and must not be confused with the agape, which, like the sabbath meal after the temple worship, is a mark of the Church in the home. That revelation of God, as well as the response it evokes, remains in eternity—now. It would be a mistake to ordain women to this priesthood, for I believe that it is the highest expression of the masculine principle, the Logos. But all of this is pre-resurrection and certainly pre-Pentecost: pre- the Body And so, a priesthood based on this alone is of necessity partial The priest as priest is, by the very nature of his role and in the best sense of the word, exclusive. This creates a considerable dilemma: it is easily carried over into personal life and becomes corruptive The priest forgets that he who is greatest is least, and a servant. Women are the first to sense such a corruption and suffer the most from it. And so there is a protest that something must change: woman must be allowed to contribute at a more fundamental and inclusive level. The protest is right. In the evolution of the formal priesthood we have reached a stage where, without abolishing the old, something new must be added; something distinctly feminine The new must be a ministry which is both entirely opposite to the man's and entirely complementary. Under no circumstance should the two ministries be subsumed—and thereby confused—into one in the name of 'equality'. Rather, the two ministries must relate in a dialectical spirit which transfigures, and is truly in keeping with, the tradition of the 'new Israel'. My hope is that this debate will explore the givenness of woman's nature and try to understand what function that has within the equally irreversible history of the Church. All our material is fore-given: it is God-given and good. It is prophetic material in that it points to some future which is more complete. As co-creators with God, our liturgy, or work, is to take these natural materials and transform them into meaning. The scandalous Christian Way, well rooted in the Judaic pattern, is never to deny or to bypass nature. Rather it illuminates uncreated material and elicits its fore-given shape. So a sculptor releases form from stone; and so, the ancients believed, to name something was to release identity, not impose it. My sense is that the feminists in the just claim of equality have ironically bypassed physical detail and the important aspect of 'predestination': a rose is a rose is a rose. And so, too, a woman is a woman is a woman.
Much of the rhetoric used in the debate on woman's ordination to the priesthood has been influenced by feminism and the psychological pressures which that movement exerts. The feminists rightly protest that women have been treated as 'second class' citizens. In the Church, because of their bodies, women have been effectively legislated against from Tertullian and Augustine to Aquinas, Luther, and the Calvinists. Worst of all has been the intolerable burden of discarnate virtue which has been imposed by men upon women ever since the Middle Ages. Jews know that their women are bitchy and greedy. They thank God daily that they are men and not women. Yet they adorn and praise their women, and thank God daily for them. In the Churches, on the other hand, men's idealizations and fastidious concepts of purity and 'love' (by which is meant meekness and mildness) have been projected upon women and thereby inevitably caused them to become vehicles for guilt and disillusionment. More could be said. Yet it must also be registered that there are moving exceptions to all that has been suggested by the feminists. Women owe much gratitude to the countless monarchs, priests, and artists who have paid tribute to our sex—far surpassing the public tributes which we have paid to men. With the possible exception of Michelangelo, there is no artist, poet, or musician who has not publicly acknowledged the qualities and inner struggles of women. Poets and novelists have wrestled with the position of women with far more attention to detail and sensitivity than modern feminists have dared dream of. And a German (Rilke) prophesied our modern predicament long before it actually took shape.(2)
As well as the exceptions with which one would qualify the feminist protest, there is the need to recognize and deal with the peculiar role of suffering and bafflement which men have had to bear in relation to women. We ignore at our peril in this debate the deep-seated—often unconscious or unnamed—fear which men have of women and (particularly in the Church) the lurking shame which men have felt for their dependence on women. In a culture which has neurotically stressed independence, 'self-reliance', and individuality, the idea of delight in interdependence has disappeared. For men—and women—to acknowledge their deep need of each other has become an expression of weakness. For Christians this need has come, bizarrely, to mean an insufficient experience of the 'sufficiency of Christ'. No wonder gnosticism now expresses itself through the postures of male homosexuality and lesbianism.
The gift of the Church to this inbuilt antagonism between men and women is Christ's own ministry of the reconciliation of opposites. But it is only in facing the fact of our mutual distrust of one another that we can enter into that reconciliation. Just as the law of the Old Covenant served to indicate how completely 'other' Yahweh was to his creatures before we could enter into the New Covenant of sonship, so must we grasp how completely 'other' men and women are before we too can be reconciled and minister side by side as a priestly people. So my basic argument is that Communion lies on the other side of distinction; that equality does not mean sameness either of essence or of function; and that women must rediscover a pride in their own sexual uniqueness before they can know to what priestly vocation they are being called. It would seem that just as Christ makes us more distinctly ourselves in order that we may grow into his likeness, so as men are more fully men and women more fully women will they paradoxically become more androgynous and in communion with the opposite gender both in themselves and in society. How can we at any rate discuss the ordination of women if we do not even remember who or what a woman is and embodies? My real fear is not for the institutionalized Church—and certainly not for the risen life of Jesus. It is that if women become priests, they will be deprived of ever discovering their full femininity. As Sir Michael Tippett's 'angel of annunciation' in The Icebreak warns: 'Take care of the Earth; God can take care of Himself'. So this chapter is a plea for time and courage to explore the issues in psychological and historical detail and depth; a plea to men and women to affirm and publicly ordain the Feminine which exists, like a Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, in a repressed and distorted condition within our society and has been almost excommunicated by the western Church—and the Feminists; but which is best represented by Asian and West Indian minorities in Britain; an underlining of both these pleas with the conviction that we must apply spirit and intelligence to reading material bodies against the new rise of gnosticism and spiritualism in our midst. We must cut across Victorian fastidiousness and look again at the shapes of limbs, genitals, breasts, and buttocks, seeing them in their whole context and as chief carriers of God's eternal word to us. We mustn't forget where every Jew carried the mark of 'Emmanuel'.
This exploration is made particularly difficult because we do not like to acknowledge that there are creative distinctions between men and women. Whatever is creative lies very near that which is destructive and complicated. As well, the differences are so fundamental as to be invisible to certain levels of seeing—in the way that roots or natural resources are hidden and cannot be seen from outside or above the ground. They are 'hidden', or 'secret' and they are correctly both subtle and sensitive. An appropriate silence surrounds them. Yet that is precisely where the dynamite is hidden. We don't like to expose it; yet to ignore it or reject it is to pay a suicidal price or to cheapen the price through irresponsible permissiveness, where the inner eye can be averted. Women are, I believe, more in tune than men with these inner dimensions and the emotions surrounding them, though they find it difficult to appropriate a language which fairly expresses their patterns. We must depend for a while on time and poetry to help us.
The Question of Time
The feminine in every woman is always waiting . . . every woman if she looks deep enough will find that the essential core of her is waiting.(3)
... groaning inwardly while we wait for God to ... set our body free.(4)
Because we have misunderstood Christ's teaching about eternal life, we have lost the Jewish ability to be 'present'. In fact, it is ' because of the masculine tendency to abstract and project and multiply that the feminine instinct to immediacy in the best sense of that word has been lost and replaced by the concept of hurry. 'Resurrection' and 'eternity' are not about the future. They are about a process which always is, as distinct from a progress which is futuristic and utopian.
It is the woman's burden and her offering to be more fundamentally connected with time and its detailed process than man. Waiting for something or someone and being aware of the hours as they pass has been a vocational discipline for woman. She is an hourglass in her shape; and she has waited for men, that is, 'on behalf of' men and as a complement to their business. Men, however, have undervalued this feminine work, have not acknowledged their need of it, and have certainly not recognized the kind of painful discipline it entails.
Women's bodies have taught them the discipline naturally as have their accustomed spheres of work: the garden and the kitchen. You can make neither a flower grow nor a kettle boil more quickly than its given time. It takes nine months for a child to come. A woman can only wait. And each month in her life there is a heaviness, dragging her down to a slower pace and into a 'low key'. This kind of modulation is important. The two experiences of waiting and weighting go hand in hand, so that it is by a process of time that a thing is thickened and enriched in texture. C. S. Lewis talks a lot about the weight of glory. Like vintage wine, substantiality grows through time. But the waiting is not necessarily an inactive period. In their representations of women waiting, artists have instinctively depicted them as sewing, weaving. In the realm of language and thought such a time for connecting and reflecting is as important as the time of sowing and disseminating. In such a process, the new grows out of the old, rather than replacing it. Such threading activity is a natural talent which women have to offer the busy Church—if men will have the patience to refrain from irritable reactions to 'dithering' or to real confusions.
To wait on the issue of ordination is to allow the questions— the really mucky questions—their rightful place. It is to set aside rigid 'agendas' and deal with the questions that come naturally to women, questions like: 'What is really the underlying cause of our dissatisfaction?' 'What is it we wished to be ordained to?' 'How much does this issue indicate whether I am really a Catholic or a Protestant?' 'If I had to choose, would I rather be a woman or a priest?' 'How much should I allow my own culture to deny the cultural insights of the past—or of Asia?' 'What is it to "ordain" "the Woman" in life, anyway?' 'Well, what about the diaconate?'
America has arrived at its decision through political and sociological rhetoric without taking account of such questions. Personally, I am delighted that in England there is a developing debate which is releasing theological questions at many different levels. The issue is beginning to act as a focus for exercising imaginative and precise thinking. It could indeed become revelatory in the most converting sense of that word. To 'ponder' something in the depths and 'chew' something over makes sense to the feminine and should therefore be welcomed and preferred to the cutting flash of imperative rhetoric.
The Anglican Church has always been a mediator between the Catholic and Protestant Ways, the traditional and the innovative, the European and American, and, besides, serious debate is a good English game. Let us play it with verve and enjoy it, for God's sake. 'Playing for time' is, as well, a necessary complement to the earnest American spirit which exists in every one of us, whatever our nationality. This work-without-play, pioneer spirit is impatient of frontier boundaries, of wilderness and the shackles of the old (world). Also, it is a condition of the physical environment in America that there seems no need for deep routing, for heeding the principle of limitation or for examining minutiae in order to find new perspectives. On the other hand, there is the dead weight of ecclesiastical structures; and without the grit of American energy and irritation, the Anglican communion might have evaded the re-evaluation of its theological material indefinitely.
There is pressure for change, and the question of women's ordination is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the particular opportunity given us to savour a deep process which could bring a social as well as liturgical renaissance. And I would like to suggest that, like the true craftsman, we take the trouble dextrously to know and love the classical forms of our vocation before we change them. Legislated dictums never transform anything. Only by loving our tradition as it is can we hope for its rebirth.
The Question of Modes: The Models of Myth and History
Myth is the speech and the imaginings of the psyche. It is our way of experiencing ourselves from the inside out.(5)
Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody.(6)
In his modern myth Perelandra, C. S. Lewis' character, Ransom, stumbles across the meaning of gender at the same time as he discovers the deeply revelatory nature of myth. I believe that for us today any real understanding of sexuality and spirituality must be re-routed through a new awareness of the metaphoric and personal character of language itself. In English any idea that nouns have gender has been lost. Where it does suggest itself, gender has been distorted and damned as 'sexist' in a pejorative tone. This blurring of linguistic distinctions is no less disastrous than mistaking salt for sugar, in the kitchen.
The gendering of nouns simply cannot be called a sexist activity. It is not a mental activity at all. Its value is that it is instinctive It is derived from the primitive experience of seeing the objects which one wished to communicate in verbal form and thereby noting similarities in shape, gesture, behaviour, and response between the objects and one of the two sexes. To respond in this way to the world requires musing until one enters its basic harmony and coherence. Primitive speakers and writers, like children, had to be artists; and the primitive condition of all language is pictorial. In other words, before language becomes cerebral and abstract, it is by nature synaesthetic—visual as well as aural. Jesus reflects this double aspect of language in being both the Word of God and the Image of God. Hearing and seeing validate, indeed substantiate one another. The loss of connection between the two has in fact diminished our image-making faculty. We have ceased to read the pattern on the carpet, ceased either to create or to understand images. Words have become abstracted from the particularity of enfleshed objects, and we no longer understand the dynamic of embodiment which is fundamental to all scriptural use of language.
To suggest the metaphoric dimension of language leads of necessity to a larger question, concerning the modes which convey these words. Technological and scientific language is denotative, systematic. It is concerned with definition and stability. Gradgrind's school in Hard Times reinforces the connection between this use of words and an industrial context.(7) But in this debate we need to reconnect the pedestrian activity of language and its modes of literature with the sheer play of language which certain other modes of literature have always engaged in. These alternative modes enhance the protean, connotative quality of words and positively enjoy their fickleness. These modes are ironic, dramatic, paradoxical, and contradictory by nature. I am speaking of fictional modes as distinct from factual modes.
If history is about the fixed points of experience, mythology is about the shimmer or chimera, the fluid context surrounding and underlying those fixed points. And theology is the marriage of these two modes. Any theological argument for or against the ordination of women must be one which takes myth as seriously as it takes history. Unfortunately, the extent to which the Church today has excommunicated the mythical mode and focused its celibate attention on the historic can be illustrated by the emphasis its teaching places on the historical Jesus and the Pauline Epistles. Western Christendom positively courts ignorance in relation to the parabolic content of both the Gospels and the details of the Old Testament. To devalue parabolic language is eventually to become so literalistic and unrealistic as to think that 'young woman' means that Mary is always a virgin and therefore that sex must be bad. Or that 'loving the poor' means 'loving impoverishment'. Or that 'to sacrifice' means to eschew feasting and festival. Or that to live 'simply' means to live simplistic and drab lives. If we cannot stand under language and see its relation to the whole shimmer of its context, we shall fall into the inevitable belief that the 'narrow path' has to do with meanness and an ungenerous spirit rather than with the balance of walking tightropes or the deftness of dancing on points. The Church of Jesus Christ should look like a circus and the congregation like a 'family of acrobats' with its animal nature in proud attendance.
One of the maladies which the Reformation bequeathed to the Age of Reason was the idea that logical argument and exposition were the only modes for determining the rightness or wrongness of anything. Competitive controversy took the place of exploration and interpretation. All power reverted to the head. T. S. Eliot called this the 'dissociation of sensibility' which he saw as occurring in literature after the seventeenth century, as didactic pamphlets replaced poetry. In the Catholic tradition this dissociation has taken longer to happen. Intuition and bodies are still important centres of knowing, as are the paradoxical media of symbol and story. The true 'catholicism' of myth is still allowed to convey dramatically and imaginatively that bodies of flesh are incarnate signs of invisible and spiritual truths (or, for example, that erotic love and divine love are good glosses on one another). So women's bodies can gladly incarnate or carry certain spiritual realities while men's proudly picture quite other spiritual realities which cohere at psychological and spiritual levels. Our different shapes and functions are mythic images of some basic universal polarity and the interaction within that polarity.
Our experience of worship, as of life, and in particular our experience of sexuality wait to be filled with their inner meanings. They must be re-mythologized. This will not be easy. For myth to flourish and illuminate once more, we must first become aware of the way in which we automatically express disdain for its basic ingredients.
The rhetoric in the debate over the ordination of women illustrates this, and it underscores that bias in both men and women which belittles the feminine characteristics distinctive to the mythological mode. The jaded argument reads like this: 'I suppose there's not really any logical reason why women shouldn't be ordained.' Or 'If women can be doctors or lawyers now, why can't they be priests?' or 'The Catholics' position is based on mere gender or mere tradition or mere symbolism—a bunch of old wives' tales.' Or 'Isn't it silly—I just don't like the aesthetics of it.' Or 'I feel it's not quite right, but I suppose that doesn't count.' Or 'Women can do any job just as well as men.' Or, perhaps most facile of all: 'Paul says there is no difference between . . . etc., therefore, it follows logically that women should be able to do the same things that men do.'
The Iyrical response to this last example of masculine logic is perhaps best expressed in the Islamic verse:
There is no comparison between men and women.
It is like trying to compare a rose and jasmine
Each has its own perfume.
Women are not equal to men.
But, then, men are not equal to women.(8)
To feel something in one's bones may be called superstitious by a scientific society. In fact it is profoundly feminine and suggests one of the richest ministries which women have to offer: that of listening to what their bodies—or any part of nature—are saying to us.
The Bible places equal importance on both modes of communications: history and myth interweave. Fact and poetry transfigure each other, clothe each other, and illuminate a single truth in its double aspect. Like Eve, the Bible is two-faced and requires a double vision to be understood.
Until the end of the Dark Ages, there was every effort on the part of the Church to include and baptize as much as possible of the dark and difficult parts of the riddle of life. This was signified in the illuminated manuscripts and in cathedral architecture. On the nave floors, for example, there was a maze in which the mark of the chief mason was hidden. In the procession of the mass, the priests and the people used to trace such labyrinths and, as it were, take the confusion into the order of the liturgy and the straight way of the altar. So both order and confusion were symbolically present in the liturgy, as were the myriad of animals, demons, serpents, wheeling zodiacs, and disreputable biblical characters adorning the walls like mirrors, woven into the fabric and contributing to the final sense of beauty and balance. The cathedral became an icon of the community and in the community of the mutality between nature and art, man and God, woman and man, heart and head, death and resurrection.
All this could be seen before it was verbalized. The seeing was part of the procession around the church and through the labyrinth. This was the City of God and it could be traced in the experience of the myths as well as the histories of the Bible and the Church. Candles lit at narrative altars around the building were as important as those lit around the high altar. They told the gospel story as vividly as any reading of it. The Body of the Church was as important to worship as the sanctuary.
Sophia: The Body of God
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom, of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification . . . For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.(9)
The emergence of a personified feminine figure called Wisdom occurred during the period of the Jewish exile in Babylon, when patriarchs and prophets lived day by day in the environment of their enemy—a great whoring people. Just as in Greek myth the warrior Theseus was dependent on the braided thread of Ariadne to find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth of his own animal confusions, so it appears that these exiled Jews were dependent on the illuminative presence of Wisdom to lead them back into their own muddled history, their own depths—and to light these up into universal meaning. Babylon became a mirror image, a reflector. Moon to their sun, she had always seemed to them an essentially feared female city with all the 'lewdness' or 'looseness' of which they were suspicious. Yet while they were in the harlot's midst, surrounded by her pagan myths and earth-goddesses, they discovered the fertility of their own imaginative gifts and wrote much of the Genesis account and Wisdom literature.
The word 'sophist' is Greek, however, and was originally a term for any skilled craftsman or artist. Later it denoted someone devoted to Wisdom. Finally the term took on pejorative connotations and indicated clever but fallacious reasoning or deceptive argument. Such a dismissal and deterioration of Wisdom was bound to happen when discursive logic monopolized the process of apprehension. We need to reclaim her as a ministry in the Church.
Because Sophia is divine matter, she signifies and helps us to understand the essential distinction between the masculine and feminine approaches to the Godhead and their respective mediations of Him. A Jungian has put this distinction nicely:
While the masculine mysteries start from the priority of the spirit and look upon the reality of the phenomenal world and of matter as the creation of the spirit; the feminine mysteries start from the priority of the phenomenal, material world, from which the spiritual is born . . . The two are complementary [my italics].(10)
In this respect, Sophia also indicates one of the main differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Western Church.
Nicolas Zernov points to this when he writes:
The fundamental conviction of the Russian religious mind is the recognition of the potential holiness of matter, the unity and sacredness of the entire creation, and man's call to participate in the divine plan for its ultimate transfiguration... These ideas can be grouped under the name of Hagia Sophia—Holy Wisdom, the vision of which has never faded out in the long evolution of Russian Christianity.(11)
To believe in Sophia is to believe that she is, not merely represents, the nature of the Godhead. It is Sophia who makes the universe of matter 'the body of God'. And it is for this reason that Justin Martyr in his dialogues (62) appreciates the instinct of Genesis when he points out that the words of Yahweh at creation were spoken to Sophia: 'Let us make man in our image' . . . 'So God created them male and female'. For the Russian theologians, as for many of the early Church Fathers and many Christian mystics like Boehm, 'the primary foundation of the world is rooted in Sophia'. Sophia affirms man's relationship with the lower natural order while at the same time linking that relationship to the Divine. Wherever she is acknowledged as belonging with the Godhead, there is transfiguration. Heavy dark matter, coarse material is lightened and illuminated. Airy spirit is weighted, incarnated. This is 'glory'. It is a process that occurs in many different forms whenever there is dialectic or cross-fertilization. Its counterfeit—dualism—results in stasis, schizophrenia, apartheid, sexism.
We see the dialectic process happening in everything from electricity to good poetry, but we usually fail to celebrate it and name it as the Great Crossing which Jesus showed it to be. This is why we miss one of the meanings of the Eucharist revealed by Hagia Sophia to the Orthodox. For them the Eucharist is the 'climax of this transformation of nature, revealing the glorious character of the material world'. So also for them the transfiguration of Jesus was not something which happened once—to him only. His was the revelation in time and in the particular of a process that is and always existed. The Transfiguration made visible the eternal procession between God and Sophia through man
We cannot develop all the implications which would follow for women were Sophia recognized as the feminine complement to the masculine Logos. For men like Lewis Carroll and John Henry Newman, she was a 'muse' signifying the extensions of that word from musician to amusement. Her validation would be the beginning of affirming eros, physical love, equally with agape and restoring to human bodies their sacramental nature. It would be the recognition that play is fundamental to the process of being in God:
Then I was at his side each day,
his darling and delight,
playing in his presence continually,
playing on the earth, when he had finished it.(12)
To play is to be utterly absorbed in the here and now—with presence. It is immediate reality, not postponed reality or a preoccupation with controlling the future. It is valued for its own sake and is, rather oddly, the very means by which beauty enters the world. So to honour Sophia would also be the acknowledgement that beauty belongs with truth and that we must work for its release. We know that basically beauty does sleep within, interior to life and locked into matter. It too is gratuitous and, like play, neither functional nor particularly necessary in either a capitalist or a communist society. Yet without its release into the world and the guarding of it where it already shows itself, we actually hinder the coming of the Kingdom. The Sabbath in both Hebrew and then in Christian tradition is meant to be the day of rest and contemplation and adornment. Above all, woman is meant to be man's sabbath. But if the masculine society in which we live is consumed with work and making money, then the sabbath rest cannot have a value and a place; and neither can 'woman'.
Eve: Questioning the Lower Order
'Adam' is a word which in Hebrew means 'red' and is suggestive of both the red earth from which man is made and the red blood which is his life. It is important to remember that the Hebrews understood how intricately men are tied to women on both counts. Eve is 'mother of us all', and her association with both mother-earth and the sea surrounding it, as well as her being a source of continuous and non-detrimental blood flow, intrigued the Jew in a perfectly natural manner: he wasn't fastidious. Eve simply is. There is no value-judgement placed on her or on the biological fact of original separation and the pain which that involves.
I used to think Eve was a bad woman who was responsible for all the ills in this life and who caused me to be ashamed of my own sex. It was even suggested to me once (in a class on Paradise Lost) that Adam was very magnanimous in giving up his happy Edenic future for the woman he loved! This attitude was turned upside down by a representation of her in Autun Cathedral in Burgundy. It is by the thirteenth-century sculptor Gislibertus, who has helped qualify both Milton's Eve and Michelangelo's hideous partner to the beautiful Adam.
Gislibertus imagined Eve with a loving inner 'I'. He really saw her situation prophetically. There was Adam with his special verbal line to God. God had turned his 'fiat' over to Adam and Adam, dizzy with the exhilarating power of naming the animals and ordering the environment and keeping everything under control, must have had his head pretty much in the clouds. His stance was upright and attuned to the vaulting heavens—'out there'. He spent a lot of time talking to God and passing on imperatives, thrilling to the glint and power of words. He was very busy at his 'office'. That might have been all right if Adam had taken the fruit of his side with him—or conversed with her inarticulate sighs. The trouble was that Adam's better half was also his lower half and somewhat heavy and ambiguous to take on errands of clear light. Gradually, therefore, Adam became more exclusive and bound by the abstract laws of command and conscience. He kind of went numb from the neck down. His heaviness was left behind—dropped. And as she stayed behind she became, like the moon without the sun, darkened.
Gislibertus picks up the story here. He depicts a dreaming Eve. It is as if, in being dropped, Eve falls into the primary world of uncreated nature (which is chaos). In her fall she discovers the lower order and the inner, insinuating order of life. Gislibertus' Eve looks as if she is obeying a natural hunger to move beyond or behind the realm of conventional experience by somehow stooping beneath it—getting under it. She alerts us to the odd similarity between the root of the word 'temptation' and the word 'tempo'— time—for she is utterly absorbed in the newness of her experience: 'Yesterday God said...; Today, here and now in time, the serpent—the twist in the belly—says, is saying...' So she is touched by time, by the immediate concrete thing before her. And she allows herself to be given over to that experience with amazing abandonment. Gislibertus indicates that Eve actually 'falls in love' with her ambience. She is portrayed lying horizontally, enveloped in hermetic silence. Her ear, though, is pressed to undulating flora and she listens as if to a secret caress of the rough vegetable earth. This is Eve's dropping. And the way in which Gislibertus' stone shows her gliding, indeed swimming, as she listens, is breathtaking. She becomes the archetypal mermaid slipping through the stone and deepening it with emotion. As she uses one hand to cup her ear to the ground and listen to the lower order, her other reaches with blind instinct behind and, just above her buttocks, closes over the apple which swims into it.
In this ambidextrous moment, when her right hand has no knowledge of what her left hand is doing, Eve becomes herself the beautiful serpent, the seraph without wings who is the communicator and container of ambivalent knowledge. She takes into herself the baser elements—water and earth. The scene is seamless. But one imagines it breaks as she rises to offer water and earth to the fire and air which are Adam's milieu. This is her offering for his liturgy. In giving Adam the apple, Eve gives him the real material with which he has to work: the world, the flesh, and the devil. He swallows these into his light, to name and complete. Adam's acceptance of the apple, like the Jews' acceptance of all that is, is his acceptance of God and the pain and suffering which is inherent in God's very act of creation. For, then, the One split himself to become many Ones, and the heavens were divided from the earth and the day from the night and the masculine in him from Sophia. Eve's apple, like Pandora's Box, released into consciousness the questions already in the world, questions based on the necessary pain of our separated and conflicted nature. Eve, by breaking up the closed circuit of 'order', allows growth and encourages Adam to bear the pain which that ambivalent process involves. We all know we must leave whatever Edenic security we are given and move eventually into a harder, more substantial environment. It is through desert, wilderness, concrete jungle, 'foreign' parts that we reach the New Jerusalem. Yet without an 'Eve' to nudge us into world, flesh, and even, sometimes, the territory of the devil, we would never move at all. Having said that, however, one can understand why Adam would find it diffiult to thank Eve for her services.
Today, because of Jungian psychology, we know that the 'fall' into our natural darkness, into the waters of the subconscious, is absolutely essential to any maturing, healing process. We know that though this fall means a temporary experience of death to the ego, and chaos, it is the prerequisite for truly knowing ourselves made in the image of God: the light shines only out of darkness. So we must find some ritualistic way in which to be authentically eucharistic about the fall and about this tendency in the feminine to listen to the world of dream and nature and to follow such personal instincts which might seem to contradict the outer, 'higher', and more abstract laws of the clear word of command. It is not a quick nor a public work, and its 'reward' is hard to find and must somehow be incarnated in our communal life. Otherwise the risk in living by this insinuating voice is too great, its pitfalls too terrible, and its loneliness a real diminishment. Woman has ceased to be the priestess to man in relating him to this lower order. She has abdicated from her role in the evening of life; bringing that which is in the darker chaotic regions below to meet that which is above and without. So structures grow more inflated and brittle, like bones without flesh, and empty. They reflect a 'skyscraping mentality'; whereas Eve's prayer, by contrast, is always: Thy Kingdom come (down) in earth as in heaven. Where a woman tries to exercise this ministry she is usually punished; and certainly the Christian praise of 'light' and 'words' has been an implicit judgement on such work. Against this, the Jewish tradition which created Eve suggests both their escape from dualism and their instinctive appreciation of the Woman as bearer of incarnational life.
Mary: From Sea to Mirror
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
The annunciation is an icon of liberation for women: it indicates that moment when the penetrating spirit and word, the masculine energies, join themselves to the body. What is ideal descends to the real. It is the routing of heaven through earth, as at the creation and as in the evolving history of the Jewish people. Mary, like Sophia and Eve, comes at the end of a long train of vivid Old Testament women whose names were well grounded in the history and keen observation of the Hebrews. Variety, contrariness, and unconventionality mark such women as Sarah, Rebekah, Rahab, Judith, Ruth, Bathsheba, Esther. In every instance these historical women were both subversive to the existing order and bearers of the difficult genesis of a new order.
They were always signs of the unpredictable, accomplices and mediators of the chaos which preceded growth. Theirs was not a ministry of holy orders, but one of holy disordering or reordering. And in some way their bodies always figure in whatever they were noted for. These Hebrew women, like the serpent, the sea, or Babylon itself, threatened to overwhelm on the one hand and were the very means of salvation on the other. It is not for nothing that the first historical and only significant 'Mary' prior to Mary of Nazareth is Miriam, whose magnificat is associated with the Red Sea. And it is in the particular and historical New Testament figure of Mary that the spirit of both Sophia and Eve—as well as all their Old Testament sisters—is fulfilled.
Marina Warner's book, Alone of All Her Sex, is a fair and serious study of the way in which Mary has been abstracted and contorted. Thus far her 'biography' has been written almost exclusively by men, so it is controlled, frozen, and very thin: her middle is missing. Or it depicts a squatting earth-mother. To show Mary's real width is of necessity to reconnect her with the bits which have been chopped off her. These are, I believe, her Jewish bits, suggested by her Old Testament sisters, and her shadow bits suggested by Mary of Magdala and perhaps by the occasional black Marys which occur in some southern European countries. Without these other aspects, she becomes a reinforcement to schizophrenia and a convenient receptacle for man's need of a pure virgin/mother to cope with his own fears and guilt and the refusal to undergo the rigorous pains of emotional growth.
Mary sang a song of reversals and revolution. It is only in that spirit of change and contraries that we can speak of her and see what she stands for in this context of women in the Church. The great fact of the annunciation is that it was precisely an ordination of the body. It was God's fiat on woman as she is. It was a statement for all time that God's own character is born through bodies, women's bodies. It seems entirely appropriate, therefore, that Mary is placed in Scripture squarely between Salome and Mary of Magdala.
In mythological language, the story of Salome and John the Baptist is as much a story of the dualistic antagonism between the masculine spirit and the feminine flesh as the story of the incarnation is a story of their reconciliation. John is a head without a body; Salome is a body without a head. Together they represent the terrible distortions just this side of the annunciation. They also indicate what happens when a man or a woman or a community is under the power of the mother's domination. For the salient factor in the story of the beheading of John is the domination of Herodias' voice and will. The young, undeveloped girl is a vehicle for the devouring mother archetype. This archetype is a major theme in all mythological literature, in writers as far apart as Sophocles and Henry James, and most recently in the important commentary on America's matriarchal influence, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It is an archetype which must be understood in any discussion on the ordination of women.(13) This is where knowing how to read myth and make instinct intelligible is important: there is a sense in which 'being born again' must never be mediated by the mother. If it is, it will continue to be of the old nature and will have something to do with being unable to cut the umbilical cord. The new birth must be through water and the Spirit. The mother is symbol of our primary unity and the thing we long to find again. But the paradox is that unity is the other side of differentiation, and for that the cutting edge of the Father and the Logos is necessary. It is not for nothing that a patriarchal tradition had to prepare the way for the entry of grace, nor that Jesus had to reject Mary as Mother before he could freely relate to Mary, his bride, figure of the Church. Neither is it insignificant that between his rejection of Mary as mother and his reconciliation with her at the cross, the figure of Mary Magdalene intervenes.
The Magdalene's alabaster jar is the Magnificat in action: He has filled the hungry with good things. Her anointing oil represents the Eros (connecting power) which is the complement of the Logos (dividing power). Yet to touch on this woman, who was the first witness to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, is also to raise the important question of adultery and 'adulteration'. There is a sense in which this tendency is more pronounced in women than in men. And I am not here speaking of sexual promiscuity. It is precisely because men can compartmentalize that they are more easily promiscuous than women. I am referring to the difficulty which women have in discriminating and excluding. Any attempt to speak of ordaining women to holy ordering must look carefully at this aspect of her nature. For both her gift and her weakness lie in her tendency to mix things together—like a public office and personal affection. I think the story of Rahab makes the point nicely. She is signified in her harlotry by a red cord. Yet it is also the signal between her and the spies which will mark both her and their salvation. The work of the prostitute is precisely the work of connection—of 'liaison'. This is woman at her most basic: for her, 'current affairs' are immediate and intimate relationships. A Jungian analyst writes:
To the woman who is true to her basic self, unrelatedness is the touchstone of abomination. Precepts, causes, ideals, spiritual and intellectual achievements for their own sakes . . . cause the air which she breathes to stink.(14)
The feminine, as woman, as anima and as the body is like Noah's ark and the nativity stable: it receives and actively holds within itself whatever of the masculine is poured in—ideas, words, man's lower animal nature. It carries these embryos until they are transformed into something new and then released into life. Hence, the ancient tradition of the oracles in caves, of holy virgins who were also temple priestesses. This ministry waits for its redemption, its meaning in Christ, and is a clue to our re-evaluation of the marriage sacrament as well. But it is so dangerous and could go so wrong, or get so cheapened, that all our Manichean tendencies leap to our protection and deflect us from making the kind of breakthrough theologically that we must achieve. If we don't make it soon—or if we just place woman in a role which is essentially masculine—woman will soon forget how to be woman. She will become incurably frigid, a sort of Lot's wife; incurably promiscuous, like the men whose world she's adopted; or destructive in the manner of Lady Macbeth or Herodias. If woman cannot value this hidden, veiled place within herself, knowing its importance within the general scheme of things, then of course it is very hard for man to value it.
These are some of the fragments which must get reconstituted in the Mary of the New Testament. For the Orthodox Church her clothes are always red-brown, signifying much of what we have spoken, and relating back to the muddy colours of the Red Sea. In their tradition as well she is often shown at the annunciation knitting a curtain for the holy of holies. These details say much about where her clue to women's ministry lies. In so short a space none of these can be sufficiently developed and must be seen rather than spoken of.
By way of drawing some of the threads together, one might mention the figure who appears yet to lie ahead of us and our understanding of the Woman. She is the woman clothed in the sun from the Book of Revelation. Her qualities of perpetual motion, yet stillness; of reflecting light and largeness; of pain and yet extraordinary beauty, recall all the other women of the Bible. And because of her pregnancy she inescapably evokes the pressure and weight of the body in our lives. Her crown and her garments can never be simple, as the single blue of Mary of Nazareth. Rather, they are richly textured and adorned, signifying her as the great alchemical vessel which turns rough elements to gold: the son in her belly becomes the mature, penetrating sun rays upon her. In this she suggests the full work of women everywhere— to mediate to the child/man all those emotions which will energize him into mature manhood. In exchange, that manhood protects her from the fiery dragon. She reflects; he deflects. This is the liberating dance of exchange between masculine and feminine as embodied in the cosmos by male and female. The two are one another's mirror images; and the importance of Mary now is that she is no longer a sea, but a glass.
I have tried to suggest some questions and materials which have hitherto been neglected in our debate; and to suggest that in addressing ourselves to these wider areas we may actually have something to offer the world outside Anglicanism. The relationships between the sexes and within the family are a major concern of our society; and the recovery of the feminine is a prerequisite as well to our understanding of how we relate to our natural environment. If we could hammer our way through some of these issues, back through our Scriptures and the religious character of language, we might discover a priesthood nearer to that which Teilhard de Chardin imagined on our behalf. I have also written in this way because, though I am personally against the ordination of women, I am very 'for' women. I have not found this to be the case with many of the men who have opposed the issue. They are often people who simply do not want to understand how one does work with women; and their antipathetical emotions speak louder than their actual words. This is not helpful.
The practical implications of what we have touched on have yet to be articulated; but as function is rooted in essence, I wished to suggest the latter. If we get closer to our central being, I believe we will do what the Spirit of Christ intends. Paul admonished that women should guard the silence, the stillness. It is from there that the voice of who we are and what we are to do is given.
1. John Donne, 'The Extasie'. See also artide on Donne's poetry by Robert Nye, Critical Quarterly, Winter 1972.
2. Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet: '. . . women will be only transient imitators of bad or good masculine behaviour, and repeaters of masculine professions . . .'
3. Irene Claremont de Castillejo, Knowing Women, from the chapter 'Soul Images of Women'.
4. Romans 8.23, NEB.
5. June Singer, Androgyny: Towards a New Theory of Sexuality.
6. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra.
7. Cf. Lewis Carroll's egotistical manipulator of words, Humpty Dumpty in Alice's Adventures through the Looking Glass.
8. Recited in the BBC TV series, 'The Traditional World of Islam'.
9. 1 Corinthians 2.7, 10.
10. Eric Neuman, Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of The Feminine, A Commentary on the Tale by Apuleius.
11. Nicolas Zernov, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century. See also the writings of Vladimir Solovyev and Sergius Bulgakov on Sophia and 'sophiology'.
12. Proverbs 8.30-1, NEB.
13. On the mother archetype see Eric Neuman, The Great Mother and Amor and Psyche, translated by Ralph Manheim.
14. de Castillejo, op. cit., from the chapter, 'Animus, Friend or Foe?'.