December 19, 2015

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

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

This is acknowledged by scholars who can in no way be accused of “modernisation” or “liberalism”: I cite Roman Catholic theologian Sara Butler, whose book against the ordination of women represents the new Catholic argument. Butler acknowledges that “until quite recently Catholic theologians generally did explain the Church’s practice, at least in part, by appealing to the difference and the ‘hierarchical’ ordering of the sexes. They appealed as well to the Pauline texts that prohibited women’s public teaching in the Church and their exercise of authority over men.” Furthermore, “Many Catholic theologians relied on the teaching of Saint Thomas.” However, notes Butler, “Because the contemporary magisterium has abandoned the view that women are unilaterally subject to men, it obviously does not supply this as the reason women cannot be priests.”

However, even if you were correct that this claim comes out of the “handbook of modernisation liberalism,” your objection would simply be an example of the genetic fallacy. The origins of an idea say nothing about whether or not it is correct. I address these kinds of fallacious arguments in my essay “Non-theological Arguments Against the Ordination of Women”.

2) Your comment about the Apostolic Constitutions is a misreading of my argument. I would never claim that pre-modern church writers do not cite passages such as 1 Cor. 11:3 or mention “headship” or refer to Scripture. Of course they do. Moreover, I acknowledge this not only in the essay on tradition I refer to above, but also in the several exegetical essays in this series where I discuss these passages.

However, the key issue here concerns hermeneutics — not just what does the passage say, but what do traditional authors claim is the reason behind the prohibitions against women teaching or exercising authority in these passages? The traditional argument is that women are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men because they are ontologically and intellectually inferior and (therefore) subordinate to men, and also more subject to moral temptation. It is this argument that is repeatedly used not only against the ordination of women, but against women exercising any position of leadership or authority over men in the church, anywhere or under any conditions. Insofar as contemporary churches allow women to teach or exercise leadership or teaching positions (whether in the church or elsewhere), but nonetheless insist that women cannot exercise ordained leadership, they have departed from the traditional position, whether they acknowledge it or not.

3) Your reference to the Apostolic Constitutions is not an exception here. That AC mentions 1 Cor. 11:3 is not surprising. This is a standard passage in the discussion; I discuss it at length in my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and ‘headship'”.

AC does not simply prohibit women in ordained ministry, but, as is typical, prohibits women having any position of authority whatsoever based on 1 Cor. 14:34 — that women are not allowed to teach — and also pointing out that Jesus did not send out women to preach. It is in this context that an appeal is made to “headship” (1 Cor. 11:3). The logic is that of (presumably) intellectual inferiority:”it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern [my emphasis] the head.” (AC 3.1.6)

As is all too typical, the passage goes on to warn of the particular tendency of women to moral temptation: “For such as these are wanderers and impudent: they do not make their feet to rest in one place, because they are not widows, but purses ready to receive, triflers, evil-speakers, counsellors of strife, without shame, impudent, who being such, are not worthy of Him that called them. For they do not come to the common station of the congregation on the Lord’s day, as those that are watchful; but either they slumber, or trifle, or allure men, or beg, or ensnare others, bringing them to the evil one; not suffering them to be watchful in the Lord, but taking care that they go out as vain as they came in, because they do not hear the word of the Lord either taught or read.” (AC 3.1.6). Elsewhere, women are described as being particularly tempted by lust for attractive men (AC 1.1.2), and as enticing men to commit adultery (AC 1.3.8). There are concerns expressed about men as well (AC 1.1.2), but in both describing men and women, the chief moral fault seems to lie with women; if a man entices a woman, it is because women are easily tempted by lust. If a women entices a man, it is because the woman’s beauty “compels” the man to lust.

As women are forbidden to exercise authority over men, they are forbidden to baptize, which is described as “wicked and impious.” Again, the appeal is to “headship,” but also to Gen. 3:16 — “he shall rule over you.” It is here (in connection with baptism) that the issue of women as “priests” is specifically mentioned: “For the principal part of the woman is the man, as being her head. But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest?” (Note that in the modern Roman Catholic Church, lay people — including women — are allowed to baptize in emergency situations.)

The argument is not spelled out in great detail, but the essentials are as I have argued in my longer essay mentioned above: The primary reason that women cannot exercise priesthood is that they cannot teach — not only in the church, but anywhere. The reasons that they are not allowed to teach are not spelled out in detail in AC, but what logic there is points to intellectual inferiority and moral susceptibility.

4) Yes, Chrysostom does say some positive things about women. I’ll take your word for it that Chrysostom allows women to teach in a non-liturgical setting — you don’t provide a citation — but Chrysostom specifically prohibits women teaching men: “Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . . If they don’t want to learn but rather want to teach, they destroy both themselves and those who learn from them. . . . [S]he is subjected to the man and that . . . subjection is because of sin.” (Discourse 4 on Genesis 1). Note that the concern here has to do with moral culpability.

Intellectual inferiority and moral culpability also appear as the warrants in Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Tim. 2:11-15:

For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides. . . . Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority. “Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.” (1 Cor. xi. 9.) Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards. For the woman taught the man once, and made him guilty of disobedience, and wrought our ruin. Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or rather her equality with him, God made her subject to her husband. . . .The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me.” But the man did not say, The woman deceived me, but, “she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Now it is not the same thing to be deceived by a fellow-creature, one of the same kind, as by an inferior and subordinate animal. This is truly to be deceived. Compared therefore with the woman, he is spoken of as “not deceived.” For she was beguiled by an inferior and subject, he by an equal. Again, it is not said of the man, that he “saw the tree was good for food,” but of the woman, and that she “did eat, and gave it to her husband”: so that he transgressed, not captivated by appetite, but merely from the persuasion of his wife. The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively. . . .

So the references to The Apostolic Constitutions and Chrystotom do not make your argument at all, but rather confirm my point. The historical traditional argument against women’s ordination was based on ontological and intellectual inferiority combined with accusations of moral culpability.

5) You do not provide the citation for Empiphanius, so I can neither confirm nor dispute your point. If so, this would be an interesting early example of the modern Roman Catholic argument, but, again, the logical warrant behind the argument would need to be examined, which cannot be done without an explicit citation.

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