Saturday, January 13, 2007

Priesthood and the Church

In 1995 I was in Chicago at an art museum, enjoying French Impressionism, elongated El Greco paintings, and other masterpieces. But, in a special section I saw an archeological find, several identical little statuettes of a woman’s body, from the neck down to the vagina. A modern Westerner might assume that these ancient, mostly forgotten, people were obsessed with sex and had produced pornography; and this would say more about the modern Westerner than about the people who actually carved these little sculptures. The fact is, they were found in graves, clearly sculpted to be buried with the dead. The most logical thing to conclude is that these statuettes showed the part of a woman’s body most clearly identified with bearing children, giving birth and nourishing infants in order to help assure the safe delivery of the departed spirit into another world. There the dead would be reborn and nourished as spirit children.

In a sense, if I am right about their meaning, these ancient pagans had a clearer understanding of a sacredness of the feminine than modern theologians who want to convert the Church into a religion with a Divine Feminine. Their idea even carries a little bit of the ministry of the Church in its role of administering, as well as proclaiming, salvation. Christians do not worship a goddess, and I have commented on that rather extensively in Revelation and Imagination.

But, the imposition of women trying to fulfill the role of the priesthood, and the new “Feminist Theology” of goddess worship meant to overtake and replace the worship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, have come together in time, and among the same apostate sections of Anglicanism, as well as the Church of Sweden, and among the Old Catholics of the Utrecht Union. It is not an accident or mere coincidence that women priests and the new “Divine Feminine” are contemporary with each other.

The Russian Orthodox theologian Dr. John Meyendorff once wrote: “There is no doubt that the Protestant rejection of the veneration of Mary and its various consequences (such as, for example, the really ‘male dominated’ Protestant worship, deprived of sentiment, poetry and intuitive mystery-perception) is one of the psychological reasons which explains the recent emergence of institutional feminism” (of course, it would be neither fair nor accurate to lay this charge against all forms of Protestantism, especially unfair to lay it against catholic Anglicans; but, it is fair to say that the charge is uniquely applicable to certain forms of Protestantism). Eric L. Mascall, building on this, went on to say:

“It was male human nature that the Son of God united to his divine person; it was a female human person who was chosen to be his mother. In no woman has human nature been raised to the dignity which it possesses in Jesus of Nazareth, but to no male person has there been given a dignity comparable to that which Mary enjoys as Theotokos, a dignity which, in the words of the Eastern liturgy, makes her ‘more honourable than the cherubim and beyond comparison more glorious than the seraphim.’…The centrality of womanhood in redemption is shown by the fact that the incarnation itself waited for the courageous and obedient Fiat of Mary (Luke 1: 38).”1

We see that redemption cannot be separated from the feminine presence of Mary, as the only human person to share directly and physically in the miracle of the Incarnation with Jesus Christ; in fact she became His mother; not simply a feminine presence, but a female presence. This distinction is necessary in order to clarify its significance to an age that confuses the meanings of the word “sex” and “gender.” People come in two sexes, male and female, rather than in genders. The Mother of God is a woman. However, the Church is not a woman, but it is the Bride of Christ, and as such is of the feminine gender, though not of the female sex. Jesus is a Man, a member of the male sex in His human nature. But, as God he is of the masculine gender, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost. God, speaking strictly of the Divine Nature shared by the three persons of the Trinity, is “without body, parts or passions.” 2

It is necessary to distinguish between the two natures of Christ, the Nature that is proper to His Divine Person as one with the Father, and His nature that has been taken into the Divine Person of the Logos, an alien nature, that is a nature created taken into the uncreated Person of the Logos; a physical nature taken into a nature of Spirit (and different from every created spirit), and a nature fixed in time taken into eternity. Our redemption necessitates this deifying grace, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” Clearly revealed from the beginning, and more clearly revealed in the name of God as “Father” by Jesus Christ, God is masculine in gender. This makes the creation, and the human race in particular, feminine in relation to Him. Our redemption was not accomplished without the Son of God appearing in the material world by assuming our nature, and this requires both the female sex and the feminine gender as necessary for the accomplishment of God's gracious will.

We see that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the woman, the new Eve, mother of a new humanity in the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, in whom all are made alive. The female sex was necessary for our salvation as God willed and accomplished it, since the redemption that has been revealed by God is not merely a spiritual idea supported by speculation, but a real life drama that involved everything that was part of the Incarnation, including the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

Also, the Church provides our need for the feminine gender. It is the Bride of Christ and the mother of all believers. We need to understand and appreciate the Church as an extension of Christ’s Incarnation. Saint Paul clearly taught that the Church is the Body of Christ in this world (I Corinthians 12), and that in the Church Christ reveals His mind, and within her He acts to give new life and salvation to all who truly believe. Knowing that the Church not only proclaims salvation by the ministry of the Word, but also administers salvation through specific sacraments, and that reconciliation to God involves walking in the light with others in the Church 3, we see the necessity of a sacred, though not Divine, feminine. Mary is the woman who bore the Son of God for our salvation, and the Church is the Bride of Christ within which we are born again and nourished unto life eternal.

The Priesthood

The priesthood of the Church is not simply a function, or job to be done. It is not the possession of any man, even of those who are part of it. Rather, it is the extension of Christ’s own ministry in the world. It is uniquely apostolic, and even to a greater degree when it is taken into the episcopate. The priesthood was established with unique power and authority, and it cannot be assumed or granted by any human power. The Church does not authorize the role of bishops, priests or deacons, because they are sent by Christ.

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:21-23).”

Among the many reasons we give for the all male priesthood (in fact for all three of the sacramental orders) is that it is not the ministry of the men themselves, but that of Jesus Christ working in His Church. When the priests forgive sins it is the extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ, who gives this power unto men (Matt. 9:8). And, when they stand at the altar and offer the Eucharist, it is Christ who says, “this is my Body…this is my Blood.” The priesthood belongs to Jesus Christ, not to the Church as such (II Corinthians 5:20). It belongs to the bridegroom, and represents Him in an exclusive sense not shared by any layperson, no matter how gifted and holy. Furthermore, it is not the privileged position of men who belong to the priestly order, and it is not about their desires or status; it is, rather, for the benefit of the Bride of Christ, and the gifts of the priesthood are given for the salvation, pastoral care and edification of all who are baptized into the Body of Christ, as reborn children of the Church.

At this point we must teach that the priesthood is not only the ministry of the altar. To reduce anything to one of its main functions at the expense of its entirety is a serious mistake. When the Archbishops of England wrote Saepius Officio, they made it very clear that they agreed with the teaching of Apostolicae Curae, published under the papal imprimatur of Pope Leo XIII, regarding the administration of Eucharistic sacrifice as unique to the priestly office. But, they found fault with the papal document for failing even so much as to mention the pastoral ministry of the priesthood. A priest always minsters alter Christus, not only when he offers the Eucharist. And, this gives a special sacramental charism to his teaching, his advice, and his fatherly love for the people of God. (as a much earlier Pope, St. Gregory the Great, had written in his book Regulae Pastoralis, i.e. Pastoral Care).

An individual priest may fail to exercise all the gifts of his office, but he does not lose the sacred character implanted in him. So we do not agree with those who say that the priesthood is only about the ministry at the altar and nothing else. Rather, as the ministry of the Church extends the grace of the Incarnation among mankind, the priesthood extends the graces of the Incarnation among the people of the Church, and does so at all times by the sacramental charism of the indelible character added to the man who is ordained to the priesthood. In St. Paul's First Epistle to St. Timothy, the third chapter, we learn that the nature of pastoral care that is charismatically present in the priesthood is fatherly: "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (v.5)

Indeed, laypeople may function as teachers and prophets, and also carry on a kind of priestly ministry as those who are called to be saints. The Sacrament of Confirmation gives each member of the Body of Christ not only a special place, but a special function due to the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit. The ordained priesthood, however, belongs to the Bridegroom in a special way that makes it the embassy of Christ among His own people. For this reason, among the others we have cited, it is reserved to men who are called and ordained, and only to them.

1) For these quotations see Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? E.L. Mascall, 1980, London, chapter 5, Sexuality and God.
2) From Article I of the Thirty-Nine Articles
3) In the Fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, Saint Peter made it clear that to lie to the Church is to lie to the Holy Ghost (which caused the death of a greedy and dishonest couple).


poetreader said...

Fr. Hart,
I had hoped to elicit something good from you. This is better than I had hoped for. Thank you.


ACC Member said...

This is about the best essay on this topic I have ever read! The Anglican faith has always relied on 1. scripture 2. tradition 3. reason. The scripture is clearly there, and could there be a finer explanation of tradition and reason than this? I think not! I so much admire the wonderful, evangelical spirit of AMiA and their growth. But its just a shame they are allowing women's ordination. They are working so hard to build a church, but because of WO, it is a church on a shaky foundation. WO and the Vicki Gene "consecration" are two sides of the same coin.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

As for the AMiA, they have rejected W"O", but only as far as the priesthood goes. I do hope they will come to a beter understanding of the Diaconate as well.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The origins of the Priesthood both predate the Incarnation of Christ and spring from Christ's eternal Being as Priest.