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February 8, 2016

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi)

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 4:11 am

Holy GrailThis is the third in a series of essays discussing Catholic objections to the ordination of women and the second to address the argument that women cannot be ordained because only a male priest can represent Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. Specifically, in presiding at the Eucharist, the priest acts“in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi). Since Jesus Christ is a male, only a male can play this representative role. In the previous essay in this series, I have summarized the biblical and historical background to the New Testament notion of priesthood, and to the understanding of ordained ministry in the early church.1 In that essay, I noted that there is no evidence that either the New Testament or the patristic church understood ordained clergy to play this representative role, i.e., to be acting in persona Christi. I now turn to find the sources of this theology in the sacramental theology of the Western Church, specifically as articulated by Thomas Aquinas.

During the early Middle Ages, Latin theologians taught that only the universal Catholic church was able to celebrate the Eucharist. Local churches who were in communion with the one holy Catholic church (una sancta catholica ecclesia) were understood to represent the whole church in the eucharistic liturgy. The priest who presided at the Eucharist was understood to represent the whole church when he acted as the liturgical leader of the local church. A key concern in the development of eucharistic doctrine was the problem of the heretical priest. How could a priest represent the whole church if he lacked the faith of the church? The consensus was that the Eucharists of heretical priests were invalid. The author of the Summa Sententiarum (probably Otto of Lucca [d. 1146]), held that they were invalid because in the eucharistic prayer the priest says “we offer” (offerimus), not “I offer” (offero); the priest thus acts ex persona totius ecclesiae (in the person of the whole church).2 In a discussion of the differences between the offering of the congregation and the offering of the priest, Lothar of Signi explained that the priest offers in the person of the whole church: “offerimus is said in the plural because the priest sacrifices not only in his own [person] but in the person of the whole church.”3

Different opinions concerning this ecclesiological status of who does or does not qualify to be a priest led to an “evolving theology of the hierarchical priesthood,” along with changes in terminology. Medieval commentaries on the Mass depicted the “priest of the New Covenant” as the fulfillment of Old Testament priesthood as one who offers sacrifice for the people. This description is applied first to Christ, and then to ordained clergy. Beginning in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, figures such as Peter Pictor and Rupert of Dietz began to use the term similitudo (likeness) to describe the participation of ordained clergy in Christ’s priesthood. In addition, the imagery of drama is introduced and the priest is said to imitate Christ when he recites the words of institution in the Eucharist. Priests are referred to as vices Christi (deputies of Christ). The priest is compared to an ambassador – as ambassador of the church to Christ, and of Christ to the church.4

Thomas Aquinas

As mentioned above, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is the central figure in the development of the notion that, in celebrating the Eucharist, the priest acts “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi), as representing Christ to the church. It is this theology of eucharistic representation that lies behind the recent and modern Catholic objection to the ordination of women to clerical office. If Jesus Christ is a male, then only a male priest/presbyter can represent Christ.

(more…)

December 19, 2015

I Get Mail: Concerning Women’s Ordination and Church Tradition

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 10:47 pm

Woman Touching JesusI received the following comment from someone named Peter in response to my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)”:

When I read your comment that the reason that church tradition opposed w.o. due to their believing that women were intellectually inferior to men and not based on either the reformed view(headship) nor the anglo-catholic view (Christ was a male)my internal red flag went up. The idea that that 1900 hundred years of a unanimous christian tradition was based primarily on women being inferior comes out of the handbook of modernisation liberalism. Well I went and actually looked on the earliest tradition of the first five hundred years. The apostolic constitutions clearly speaks against w.o.based on on 1 cor.11:3. So it is inaccurate for you to say that the headship reason is not found in the early tradition. Empiphanius of salamis opposes it based on the apostles were andll men. Many of the fathers I searched they don’t give an explicit theological or cultural reason(including the one you state)but do give the reason of scripture being emphatically against it. The use terms such as “delusion”, “deception”, “heresy”. This clearly infers that the opposition is grounded in a theological reason not cultural. If women were viewed an unqualified due to a weaker ability issue than man than thAt would be an issue of prudence. Yet the language of the fathers is far beyond that of prudence. You also have crysostom who says very positive things about women, even supporting them teaching men in a non-liturgical setting, yet he opposes w.o. to the Presbyter. Clearly his reasons are not what you suggest. His homily on the passage in 1 timothy 2 is clearly a conveyance of the principle of headship. I could go on but I stated enough to show that your claim, in all due respect, does not hold up to historical evidence.

Dear Peter,

I apologize that I have not responded earlier. It has been the end of the semester where I teach, and I have had to put blog matters aside. You are incorrect that “The idea that that 1900 hundred years of a unanimous christian tradition was based primarily on women being inferior comes out of the handbook of modernisation liberalism.” You can be excused for not having read every one of the numerous essays I have contributed to this series, but the documentation for my claim can be found at length in my previous essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument”. In that essay, I include citations from East and West, patristic, Medieval and post-Reformation tradition in which Origen, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Bullinger, Richard Hooker, and John Knox all attribute as the primary reason for not ordaining women to their ontological, intellectual, or moral inferiority. (These citations are representative enough to make the case. I could have expanded considerably.) The texts say what they say. (more…)

September 26, 2015

Bought With a Price: A Sermon

Filed under: Sermons,Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 3:06 am

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

weddingSometimes a preacher looks at the lectionary passages and finds himself tempted to preach on the Psalm. I am going to look at the 1 Corinthians passage this morning – precisely because it is such a difficult passage, and precisely because it is so misunderstood. The apostle Paul is sometimes accused of being a misogynist sexist and of being against sex in general – and some consider this first verse in 1 Corinthians 7 as a prime example because it has both – a negative statement about women and a negative statement about sex. But modern commentators tell us that this is almost certainly a misreading. The clue is what comes first in the passage: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” In 1 Cor. 7-8, Paul is responding to a letter that has been written to him by the Corinthians in which they ask a number of questions. What follows is his response to these questions.

In chapter 7, verse 1, most scholars agree that Paul is almost certainly quoting from the Corinthians’ letter to him. In the original Greek, the sentence can either be a statement or a question. So the Corinthians were either offering their opinion: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” or asking the question “Is it good for a man not to touch a woman?” In light perhaps of Paul’s own example of celibacy, and perhaps in response to Paul’s warnings not to follow the bad examples of pagan culture, some of the Corinthians apparently thought that it might be good advice to avoid sex altogether – perhaps even for married people.

In the section from this morning’s lectionary, Paul is actually responding to questions about two different groups of people. The first group is married couples; the second group are widows and, perhaps likely, widowers.1 In today’s passage, Paul is then dealing with two sets of questions: 1) Is it better for married Christians to avoid having sexual relations with one another in order to devote themselves to prayer instead? 2) Should widows and widowers stay single? Throughout the rest of the chapter, Paul addresses other questions having to do with marriage or sexual practices: Can Christians get divorced? What about Christians who are married to non-Christians? Wouldn’t it be better to separate from them? What about single people? Is it okay for them to marry or is it better to stay single? Finally, he addresses some other questions: What about slaves? Should they try to obtain their freedom? Is it okay to eat food that has been offered to idols?

When we look at Paul’s responses to these questions, we notice a common pattern. (more…)

August 19, 2015

Objections to My Essays on Women’s Ordination

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 6:39 am
ship

I am pleased to discover that someone actually takes the time to read my blog. An Anglican deacon named Christopher Little has taken the time to address my series of essays on women’s ordination. I am happy to have my views challenged. I believe that what I have written is defensible, but, if not, the sooner I am corrected, the better. Little begins by addressing my first essay, “Concerning the Ordination of Women: Preliminaries.”

I began that essay by noting the names of a number of contemporary orthodox theologians and biblical scholars who embrace women’s ordination: T. F. Torrance, Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Michael Gorman, Robert Gagnon, and Alan Padgett.

Deacon Little comments:

Now, it’s of course fallacious to argue or even imply that because a number of noted “orthodox Christians” defend women’s ordination (“WO” going forward) that Witt therefore stands in good company. It may be the fact that each and every one of these ostensibly orthodox Christians happens to be heretical on this particular issue, and defenders of the traditional view believe that they are in fact so, their commendable orthodoxy on all the other issues not withstanding. Also fallacious is the argument that “the number of orthodox Christians endorsing WO is not a small or insignificant group.” Size doesn’t matter in this discussion. What matters is whether or not WO is an unbiblical and uncatholic innovation.

It is of course correct that the number of adherents to a position does not determine its truth. At the same time, the number of those who disagree with a position does not determine its falsity. The point here was not to “count noses.” When there is disagreement about an issue, it does mean something that there is sizable disagreement. It is possible that one side is simply stupid or deliberately deceptive, but charity would not assume that without giving a fair hearing to the opposition.

I deliberately listed the above names because they are some of the most significant and respected scholars in late twentieth century and early twentieth-first century orthodox theological and biblical scholarship. T.F. Torrance was one of the most significant systematic and historical theologians of the late twentieth century. If one wants to know something about trinitarian theology, then one had better know Torrance. Christology, incarnational theology and atonement? Ecumenical theology? Sacramental and liturgical theology? The relationship between theology and modern science? Torrance.

The other scholars I mentioned are all experts on NT scholarship. Hays, Wright and Gorman are recognized authorities on Paul. Witherington has written critical commentaries on every single book in the NT, and his doctoral dissertation (later published by Cambridge University Press) was likely the first ever study of every single passage referring to women in the NT. It is still considered an indispensable work in the field. Gagnon’s book on homosexuality and the Bible is considered the definitive work in the field. Given that so much of the discussion about women’s ordination rests on the interpretation of passages in Paul, it might have some significance that perhaps the majority of contemporary NT Paul scholars say that there is nothing in Paul’s theology that would forbid the ordination of women. It might be significant if the foremost expert on what Paul says about homosexuality also says that nothing in Paul forbids women’s ordination. If we have Wayne Grudem (pretty much alone) on the one side, and a significant number of the most respected Pauline scholars on the other, that alone is worth noticing.

Deacon Little writes:

What matters is whether or not WO is an unbiblical and uncatholic innovation.

And, of course, that is correct. However, it is also the case that the people I mentioned are in fact experts in the area of both biblical studies and (in Torrance’s case) evangelical, ecumenical, and catholic theology. It is, of course, possible that these intelligent  orthodox theologians and biblical scholars suddenly become either “dunces,” dishonest, or “heretics” when they discuss the issue of women’s ordination, but it would be presumptuous to make such an assumption without first hearing what they have to say.
(more…)

August 5, 2015

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 2:48 am

Lamb of GodT

his is the second in a multiple-part series of essays in which I intend to address Catholic objections to the ordination of women. This essay will be the first in the series to examine the definitive new Catholic objection to the ordination of women that first appeared in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores. In summary, the objection runs as follows: Women cannot be ordained because, during the celebration of the Eucharist, the presiding priest represents Jesus Christ. During the eucharistic prayer, the priest recites Christ’s words (the “words of institution”) – “This is my body,” “This is my blood” – and thus makes Christ present by acting as a representative of, or “in the person of” Christ (in persona christi). Because Jesus Christ is a male, only a male priest can exercise this representative function. In this essay, I will summarize the rise of the objection and examine the relevant biblical and patristic background.

In previous essays concerning Protestant objections to ordination, I have focused on arguments based on hierarchical authority: Women cannot be ordained because of a permanent hierarchical oversight or “headship” of men over women. Although ontologically equal, men and women have different roles: men always lead and women always follow; men always command, and women always obey.

Catholic objections are distinct from this Protestant hierarchical understanding based on authority in that Catholic objections focus not on authority per se, but on issues of sacramental and, in particular, eucharistic theology. Catholic objections rest on the following assumptions not usually shared by those whom I have referred to as “Protestants.” First, while the priesthood of Christ is unique, ordained clergy in some manner participate in Christ’s priesthood. The clergy are not simply members of the congregation who have been delegated to perform a function, but have a distinct ontological status bestowed on them through the laying on of hands in ordination. The clergy are not simply “elders” or representative members of the congregation, but are in some sense, “priests.”1 Second, while the primary duty of ordained clergy is to proclaim the Word and to celebrate the sacraments, the Eucharist has the distinct purpose of making the risen Christ sacramentally or “really” present in a way that he is not present in creation in general. The Eucharist is not simply a memorial or “nothing more” than a symbol (as in Zwinglianism), but in some sense, it really is or enables participation in the risen humanity of Christ. The consecrated elements of the Eucharist “are” or “become” or “enable participation” in the risen Christ’s body and blood. Third, the Eucharist is, in a qualified sense, a sacrifice. Protestant objections at the time of the Reformation to the notion of eucharistic sacrifice as a “repetition” of Christ’s sacrifice seem largely based on misunderstanding – one hopes not deliberate misrepresentation. No one seems ever to have believed that! The patristic and Catholic position is that Christ’s sacrifice took place once-and-for-all on the cross of Calvary, and cannot be repeated. Nonetheless, in the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice is made effectively present or “re-presented.” Although Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice is a past event, its effectiveness is not relegated to the past.

Although I am using the adjective “Catholic” to describe this position, I am not assuming that “Catholic” means exclusively Roman Catholic. Broadly speaking, Eastern Orthodox Christians, many Anglicans (particularly “Anglo-Catholics”), Lutherans, and some Reformed could embrace the above three points. The third point would be problematic for Lutherans (as well as low-church Anglicans and many Reformed) insofar as Luther rejected the “sacrifice of the mass,” but Lutheran affirmation of the “real presence” still makes the Lutheran position fall into the parameters of what I am calling “Catholic”).2

It needs to be emphasized that this is a new argument against women’s ordination. (more…)

December 25, 2014

Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 1: Old Testament Priesthood)

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 12:16 am

In Memory of Martha

Jairus ' DaughterIn previous essays in this series on women’s ordination, I have focused primarily on Protestant objections against the practice, dealing especially with issues of biblical exegesis. Beginning with this essay, I will be addressing Catholic objections, focusing primarily on issues dealing with sacramental integrity.

Strictly speaking, this first essay should not be necessary. As with a previous essay addressing non-theological objections to women’s ordination,1 I will be addressing an objection that is not actually a theological objection. Stated as succinctly as possible, the objection is that an ordained woman would be a “priestess,” and the Christian church does not have “priestesses,” but “priests.” This is an objection that one does not hear among Protestants, since Protestant churches do not refer to their clergy as either “priests” or “priestesses,” but as pastors. It is not an objection that is encountered in the theological literature, as, I think, most theologians realize that the term “priestess” is offensive, and those who advocate women’s ordination are not advocating the ordination of “priestesses,” but the ordination of women who will fulfill the same roles as male clergy, who, in Protestant churches are referred to as “pastors,” and in churches of Catholic tradition (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, many Anglicans) as “priests.”

In personal experience, I have encountered the objection primarily in two venues: (1) on the bad-mannered no-holds-barred free-for-all of the internet, where the term is used regularly by those opposed to women’s ordination, and (2) in private conversation, where those opposed to women’s ordination are referring out of earshot to women clergy, for whom they use the term “priestess.” In both cases, the term is used disparagingly, with the conscious realization that the women to whom reference is being made would not use the term to describe themselves, and would find the term offensive. It is significant that those who use the term “priestess” are assuming as valid assumptions about women’s ordination that they know those who are in favor of women’s ordination would reject, and are addressing arguments that they know that those in favor of women’s ordination would not make. Since advocates of women’s ordination do not believe that ordained women are “priestesses,” to argue against “priestesses” is a classic example of a “red herring” argument. Nonetheless, since the argument does raise issues concerning the continuity between the Old Testament priesthood and New Testament church office, and the differences and similarities between Old Testament priesthood and pagan religions, it provides a helpful introduction to this next group of essays.

(more…)

October 2, 2014

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 5:50 am

head coveringI

n the last few essays in this series on women’s ordination, I have focused on the handful of passages in the writings of the apostle Paul to which complementarians regularly appeal to justify their position that women should always be subordinate to men and should not exercise authority over men in the church. In the previous two essays, I have focused on the two lengthiest passages in Paul’s writings discussing questions of the relationship between men and women: Ephesians 5:21-33, in which Paul discusses the relationship between husbands and wives, and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, in which Paul talks about disorderly practices connected with the ways in which men and women were leading church worship. I have argued that there is nothing in these passages to suggest a subordination of women to men or a hierarchical order defined by a position of permanent authority of men over women. Appeal to Paul’s metaphor of “head” (κεφαλή, kephalē) to justify the complementarian position of “headship” as authority of men over women represents a misunderstanding of how Paul used that metaphor, and is reading into the text something that is not there.1

In this essay, I will address two much shorter passages in Paul’s writing which, in the end, provide the strongest biblical warrants to which complementarians appeal, the “last resort” to which appeal is made if all else fails – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. (Indeed, these two passages are often the first resort in less formal settings.) At first glance, a straightforward reading of English translations of the passages, especially when select verses are read out of context (as they often are), makes it seem as if Paul intended to forbid any public role to women in worship: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.” (1 Cor. 14:34b-35); “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Tim. 2:12).

Complementarians themselves recognize that these are the crucial passages for their position in the light of which they then read other passages. George W. Knight III states that these two passages are “clearly the didactic passages on the subject [of ‘headship’], while 1 Corinthians 11 only mentions the subject incidentally. Therefore, our interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 ought to govern our interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11, not vice versa.”2

(more…)

September 10, 2014

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and “Headship”

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 8:40 pm

head coveringT

here are four central passages in the Pauline epistles appealed to by complementarians to argue against women’s ordination or church leadership, based on an inherent subordination of women to male leadership and authority. The first is Ephesians 5:22-33, in which Paul exhorts women to “submit” to their husbands, drawing a parallel between Christ as the “head” of the church and husbands as the “heads” of their wives. I have already discussed this passage at length, arguing to the contrary that Paul is asking not for a specific subordination of wives to husbands, but a mutual subordination of all Christians to each other. Moreover, although Paul certainly affirmed that Christ exercised authority in relationship to the church, his use of the metaphor of “head” in relationship to Christ was not in the context of authority, but in the context of a kenotic self-emptying, of a voluntary taking on the role of a servant in relation to another, and in providing nourishment and support to another, what Michael Gorman refers to as “cruciformity,” and what Alan Padgett refers to as “submission II.”1

Ephesians 5 is distinguished from the other three passages in that the subject matter of the passage concerns household relations, and so does not touch directly on the place of women in the context of church worship. To the contrary, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 focuses on problems concerning worship, and is one of three Pauline passages that are the linchpins of the complementarian argument excluding women from participation in church office. The other two are 1 Cor. 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:9-15. While complementarians appeal to other passages of Scripture to argue for female subordination – the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, the role of women in the Old Testament, Jesus’ relationship to the apostles and to women in the gospels, Ephesians 52 – it is only these three passages that provide specific references to the status of women in the context of worship in the churches of the New Testament. In what immediately follows, I will discuss 1 Corinthians 11; I discuss the other two passages in the next essay.3

Preliminaries

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July 24, 2014

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 9:46 pm

weddingI

n previous essays in this series on women’s ordination, I have focused on Protestant objectors, who designate their position as “complementarian,” allowing that women and men are equal in status, but who nonetheless insist that they exercise different complementary “roles.” The term “complementarian” is misleading, since the sole way in which the roles “complement” one another is that men always exercise authority, and women always submit to male authority. I have focused on the Bible, specifically the creation narratives in Genesis and the teaching and deeds of Jesus and his interactions with women, because the doctrines of creation and Christology are crucial to the debate. I have argued that both Genesis and the gospels actually count against the complementarian position. Nothing in either Genesis or the gospels teaches or implies an essential ontological subordination of women to men.

However, although complementarians appeal to Genesis and the gospels to argue for female subordination, the primary complementarian arguments against women’s ordination come from the epistles of the apostle Paul. Paul has no extended discussion of a theology of the relations between men and women. Instead Paul’s views on men and women and how they relate to one another occur in places in Paul’s occasional theology in which he writes about men and women in the context of some other issue: household management, worship in the church, whether the single should marry. It is this handful of occasional texts in Paul’s letters that have become central to the debate.

Complementarians appeal to two kinds of texts to support their position: (1) texts advocating submission of women to men; (2) texts restricting women’s activity in worship, either in speaking or teaching. In addition, in two letters (1 Corinthians and Ephesians), Paul uses the word κεφαλή (kephalē), the Greek word translated “head” in English to describe the relation between men and women. This single word kephalē is so central to the complementarian position that complementarians regularly use the term “headship” to describe their position, even when discussing passages where the word kephalē does not appear. For example, Wayne Grudem refers to “male headship” in his discussion of Genesis 1-3 although the Hebrew word for “head” that would have been translated kephalē in the Greek Septuagint appears nowhere in the creation narratives. George Knight entitles the two main chapters of his book on The Role Relationship of Men and Women, “Submission and Headship in Marriage” and “Submission and Headship in the Church.”1

Readers of Paul have responded to this handful of Pauline texts in different ways. Complementarians have appealed to them as the definitive lynchpin in support of their position. Secular and liberal Protestant feminists have instead treated these passages as an excuse to dismiss Paul as an irremediable sexist. Other Christians, who recognize the canonical status of Paul’s writings and appreciate Paul’s crucial significance for Christian theology, especially his account of redeeming grace centered in the cross and resurrection of Christ, the Christian liberty that is a characteristic implication of his theology of grace (Gal. 5:1), and his affirmation of the fundamental equality of men and women in their unity in Christ (Gal. 3:28), read these passages with a kind of discomfort, perhaps wishing that Paul had not written them, or, in some cases, relieved that he did not.2

In recent decades, however, there have been numerous biblical scholars who have argued that a more careful reading of these passages does not support the subordinationist reading. What Paul writes is not inconsistent with the egalitarian position of Genesis or the gospels, and Paul should neither be appealed to as an advocate of male hierarchy, nor dismissed as a sexist. In the next several essays, I will look again at these controversial passages in Paul’s epistles. In this essay, I am going to look at Paul’s discussion of the relationship between husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 because it is the key New Testament passage laying out Paul’s understanding of the relationship between men and women. Other passages need to be understood in the light of this passage.3

(more…)

March 9, 2014

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Disciples of Jesus

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 5:57 am

“For Martha”

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryIn previous essays in this discussion of women’s ordination, I have identified two basic theological rationales endorsed by two different groups who oppose women’s ordination – a Protestant approach and a Catholic approach. Both oppose women’s ordination, but for very different reasons. Protestant opposition to the ordination of women focuses on hierarchy and authority, and bases its case on passages (especially in some of the New Testament epistles) that suggest that women should be in subordination to men or that women should not speak in church or teach men. Catholic opposition focuses not on authority, but on sacramental theology. It is claimed that women lack some essential characteristic that is necessary for administering the sacraments.

Both arguments also appeal to Jesus, but do so for contrary reasons. The Catholic position emphasizes that both Jesus and his twelve apostles were all males. Since, it is argued, the ordained clergy represent Christ when they administer the sacraments – the ordained presbyter/priest acts as a representative of or “in the person of” Christ (in persona christi) – a woman cannot be ordained because a female presbyter cannot represent a male Christ. Conversely, the Protestant position has recently stressed an argument drawn from a novel interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Protestant opponents to the ordination of woman have argued for a parallel between the eternal relations of the divine persons of the Trinity and the relations between men and women. It is argued that, although all three persons of the Trinity are ontologically equal, from eternity the Son has a “role” of subordination to the Father, and the Father has a “role” of authority over the Son. From all eternity, the Father commands and the Son obeys. Similarly, it is argued, there is a parallel relation between men and women. Men and women are ontologically equal, yet, just as with the Father and the Son, there is always a subordination of “roles” between men and women. Men always exercise authority over women, and women are always subordinate to men.

The Catholic and Protestant positions thus provide contrary reasons for not ordaining women to church office. For the Catholic position, women cannot be ordained because they do not resemble Christ. For the Protestant position, women cannot be ordained because they do.

At the same time, insofar as these ironically contrary reasons for not ordaining women appeal to Christology for their opposition to women’ ordination, they share a common characteristic. Both positions use highly abstract arguments that are somewhat removed from the actual narratives about Jesus in the gospels or the specific focus of the teaching about Jesus in the epistles. The Catholic argument presupposes a specific understanding of the role of ordained clergy in celebrating the Eucharist that was formulated first in the Medieval period, and then attaches to that theological understanding a reflection on its significance for women that first appeared in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores in the mid-twentieth century.1 The Protestant argument makes highly questionable assumptions about the eternal relations of the divine persons of the Trinity, insisting that the “economic” obedience of Jesus to his Father that appears in the gospels (an obedience of the Son in his “mission” as God become human) is a direct parallel to an eternal subordination of authority and obedience in the “immanent” Trinity itself, and, furthermore, that this eternal obedience of the Son to the Father is directly parallel to a permanent role of obedience of women to men.2

Needless to say, neither of these arguments reflects a careful exegetical reading of what the New Testament actually says about Jesus. There are no New Testament discussions whatsoever about the role of ordained clergy in celebrating the Eucharist, let alone what its theological implications might be for the ordination of women; nowhere in the New Testament is there a parallel drawn between the highly speculative theory about an eternal obedience of the Son to the Father in the immanent Trinity and a permanent subordination of women to men.3

At the same time, both positions are correct that a discussion of ordination and the relation between men and women rightly needs to focus on Jesus, and that what the New Testament teaches about Jesus is finally normative for what the church believes about the relations between men and women, and, ultimately for the question of whether women can be ordained to church office.

In what follows, I will examine the significance of what the gospels teach about Jesus for its implications for the relations between men and women. (more…)

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