I was informed of a comment of the sort they will not delete, the theology and history of the comment having no merit, and exemplifying the kind of sophistry that makes banality seem profound. Unfortunately, like the famous El Greco Fallacy, the comment has the danger of creating an idea that will catch on unless it is nipped in the bud. Therefore, not to pick on a man who flew too close to the Sun, but simply to prevent a dangerous bit of Gnostic "reasoning" from catching on, I post here the comment and some very good responses that refute it well (which are, in addition, educational). Professor William Witt, answering another commenter, wrote his own unfortunate and novel idea:
The bad news for William Witt is that the old argument still holds.
An entire forum of e-mail responses from learned theologians have answered one person's question, "how do we respond?" Well, here are some responses from that e-mail forum, responses that have no chance of being posted at SFIF any longer than it would take for the censors to delete them and ban the person who dared to write something intelligent.
First up, Dr. Timothy Teeter wrote:
Somewhere long ago--I think it was on Pontifications, but if not there, then on TitusOneNine--I dealt specifically and at length with this in a back and forth with Bill Witt. If anyone wants to find it, happy hunting. Let me know. Bill Witt has written a paper on the idea of in persona ecclesiae. I've read it, and it's interesting, but the reply re: women priests is simple--at times in the eucharist, the priest does indeed represent the church; he is a member of the congregation, speaking for us. But at other times, he specifically represents Christ, as Christ in the incarnation represents all of humanity, which requires that he be male. See Romans 5. Anyone, male or female, can represent Christ--but only men can represent Christ *as he represents all of humanity to the Father*. Otherwise Genesis and St Paul make no sense, and we are reduced to a gnostic conception of human nature in which sex (or gender if you prefer) is of no ultimate significance. Or to put it another way: in the eucharist, the priest stands in persona Christi totius humanitatis repraesentantis, something that encompasses both in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae. The incarnation requires no less--otherwise Genesis 2, Romans 5 and I Cor 11make no sense.
Timothy M. Teeter
Georgia Southern University
Department of History
Next, Anthony Esolen wrote:
Nowhere in the tradition that I'm aware of is the priest said to act "in persona ecclesiae." To say that he does shows already that we have lost the full sense of persona -- we have turned it into a functional role, or a legalism. In a functional or legalistic sense, I can, at the attorney's office, act -- I suppose -- in persona uxoris. Actually, though, I believe the more proper term would be "in loco uxoris," just as schools once upon a time were said to act "in loco parentis," not "in persona parentis." The priest does not act in persona ecclesiae, because he does not represent, iconically, in his personal and therefore sexed humanity, the figure of the Bride of Christ, the mystical body which is the Church. He speaks pro ecclesia, on behalf of the Church, as a delegate or ambassador of the church appealing to the Father on her behalf. That was the old idea behind the priest's standing before the congregation, facing the altar, as one of us, but one of us delegated to speak on our behalf. Catholics believe that the magisterium is the magisterium; and evangelicals ought to believe that the plain sense of Scripture is the plain sense of Scripture, not just in one thorny place but across the whole of the New Testament, from which I glean the exaltation of woman to her just position as equal with man in dignity before God, but NOT sexual indifferentism, and not the dissolution of order within marriage and within the Church. To believe that the denial of the ordained ministry to women constitutes an offense to them is rather strange coming from people who are otherwise supposed to accept Christ's dictum that the last shall be first, and to model themselves after the humility of Christ and of Mary, and to remember that God has chosen things of naught to overcome those things that are. It seems that what the WO proponents really believe is that IF God indeed has limited ordination to men,that would be an offense to reason -- we would have to revert to a voluntarist conception of God. I'm not buying that. Nor am I buying the underlying assumption that the ordained ministry is some kind of plum reserved for the favored few, rather than a dread burden and responsibility. All of this reminds me of Screwtape's advice to Wormwood, letting us in on the secrets of how Hell operates. You distract a nation from its real sins by getting it to focus on the last thing in the world it needs to worry about. The last thing in our fatherless society we need to worry about is whether we aren't placing enough women in charge of teaching men and everybody else. I know it's not an argument exactly. It's more of an observation. Your foot hurts, then, does it? You might consider not shooting yourself in it all the time.
William Tighe had this to say:
Stuart wrote: "As you may know, the Montanists did ordain women to the presbyterate (and had a unique order of "prophetesses" as well), but when an agreement was reached to reincorporate them into the Catholic Orthodox Church, Montanist priests were allowed retain their orders upon making an orthodox profession of faith, while priestesses were laicized (it is not clear whether any were allowed to enter the order of Deaconesses)." In this context, I recall the fascinating essay by Nicholas Afanassiev (d. 1966) that was reprinted in both editions of *Women and the Priesthood* ed. Thomas Hopko (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1983, 1999) on those presbytides mentioned by the Council of Laodicea (a local council of bishops that met at an unknown date in the middle years of the Fourth Century) whose office was to be discontinued and abolished. After considering the various possibilities (senior deaconesses, priest's widows, elderly widows) he concludes that they were probably derived from those "female presbyters" of the late Second/Third centuries who either returned to the church from Montanism or were a Catholic copying of the Montanists. He goes on to speculate that since bishops were thick on the ground in Asia minor, every village in which there were Christians having its own bishop, and sometimes a Montanist bishop and/or a Marcionite one as well, presbyters would seldom, if ever, have celebrated the Eucharist or any other sacrament, and so would have remained the elders and rulers of the church, who sat in a "place of honor" in the assembly (much like the Jewish zaquen/zeqenim who were the prototype of the presbyters appointed by the apostles in the churches that they founded, along with the deacons) -- and that, this being the case, "presbytides" were their female equivalents, who sat with the presbyters in such a "place of honor" or more likely had a "place of honor" of their own. This is all speculation, of course, but what is not speculation, but fact, is that these "presbytides" appear to have existed only in that heartland of Montanism, interior Anatolia. Bill
Stuart Koehl reminded us:
On the rapprochement between the Old Catholics and the Orthodox, the matter seems to be in the same place the Orthodox-Anglican rapprochement was in 1977, when Protopresbyter Alexcander Schmemann wrote to an Anglican friend, "The ordination of women means the end of dialogue". For the Orthodox, as a practical matter, the ordination of women is such a fundamental violation of Tradition as to end any possibility of communion.
Timothy Teeter writing again, said:
This, by the way, also explains the difference between the idea that May representing the Church is somehow the equivalent of the priest representing Christ. Mary is a metaphor; she stands in loco ecclesiae. A priest is Christ in the eucharistic celebration as the elements are His body and blood; he (and they) are in persona Christi.
Again, Anthony Esolen weighed in:
Mary does not represent, iconically, the Church, in the same way that the priest at Mass. Catholics call Mary the mother of the Church, and so it would seem absurd to them to refer to Mary in persona ecclesiae; she is the mother of the Church because she is the mother of Christ, Mater ecclesiae et Mater Dei. The closest you come to an iconic identification of Mary with church is in the old medieval paintings of the Coronation of Mary as Regina Coeli; there is a kind of bridal imagery in those paintings, but it would feel downright bizarre to press it. Even in those paintings Mary does not represent the whole Church as she stands at the forefront of the Church, as, in a different and less significant way, does John the Baptist. See Dante's formulation of all of this in the mystic Rose in the Paradiso.
Inevitably the egalitarians "prove" more than they wish. If it is an offense against reason that God should command that only men be ordained priests, then it must also be an offense against reason that God should call John and not Ed, or that he should choose the Hebrews rather than the Egyptians. I am not assuming a voluntarist God, who wills because he wills. But even in the calling of SOME people to the ordained ministry, we have discrimination: drawing a line between some people who are called, and some people who are not. The offense then is not the discrimination but the criterion. And that leads us back to sexual indifferentism. Jesus was pointedly NOT indifferent to sex: he often treated women with a chivalry that the world would not see until its colorful appearance in the romances of the Middle Ages; yet at other times he treated them with an abruptness that now shocks. "Woman, what is that to me?" I've heard it said that in that case, "Woman" was an honorific address -- but I don't see that in Hebrew. "My daughter," that I see, and "My mother," but not the vocative "Woman." Jesus has, however, nothing critical to say about women-in-general -- it having already been said, and said again, in Proverbs and Sirach and elsewhere. The villains in his parables are all male. So too are his apostles. It should occur to somebody that there might be a connection there.
On the villains all being male: it isn't as if you couldn't find cultural villainesses aplenty, in the ancient world. You have Clytemnestra, the daughter of King Servius (who is said to have ridden her chariot over her father's mangled body), Jezebel, Athaliah, Vashti, the goddess Ishtar, the implacable Juno ... Jesus avails himself of none of that. On the contrary, he seems to assume that "man" in his parables will quite naturally stand for males and for men-in-general. It is an embarrassment to the indifferentists, or it should be, that the word for "man" in Jesus' parables is not aner but anthropos -- AND then Jesus tells parables in which it is perfectly natural to assume that anthropos means the ordinary man, as it apparently did in the Greek common to his time. I know this brings up the linguistic-anthropological issue (dealt with very nicely by Fr. Mankowski in his old Touchstone article), but man is to woman as the general is to the specific.... There isn't anything SPECIAL about being a man, in that sense.
William Tighe passed on this observation from Fr. Jeffrey Steele:
From Fr. J. Steele of Notre Dame:
Prof. Tighe. Here is my response to Witt. It will be interesting to read the ideas of others.
There is a clear coupling in the West of the concepts of in persona christi and the words of institution as the central act. The Western understanding binds these two because the consecration refers to "my" body, "my" blood. That is, the priest speaks in the divine first person. This is also true in absolution. "I absolve you..." Again, the divine first person, thus in persona christi.
The Eastern position does not have a corollary necesity between emphasis on the epiclesis and the priest functioning in persona ecclesiae.
The differences between Eastern and Western traditions on Eucharistic theology are matters of emphasis and are not mutually exclusive. Prior to the schism, the differences in emphasis between East and West were well known and were accepted as different but valid. This is clear in that the comprehensive discussions of between East and West currently under way do not include these particularities of Eastern and Western conceptions of Eucharistic theology.
Differences over the formulation of transubstantiation notwithstanding, both systems are recognized by both East and West as valid. Furthermore, they are essentially differences of emphasis. Can not a priest function both in persona christi and in persona ecclesiaeepiclesis and the consecration?
There are two poor assumptions that Witt makes here:
1. That any shift in emphasis on the part of the West from the words of institution toward epiclesis implies a shift from in persona christi toward in persona ecclesiae. While Rome's system links the two issues, the East does not.
2. If a shift toward an emphasis on in persona ecclesia is occuring at all officially (an I havent seen evidence for that), it is not in any case a denial of in persona christi, as these are complimentary conceptions, not mutually exclusive ones.
In short, my problem with Witt's argument is the phrase "by implication:"
I see here now attached Prof. Witt's summary of the history of Eucharistic Theology.
It seems to be de rigeur to continue some of the errors of the polemicists into modern theology by making sharp distinctions between Eastern theology and Western theology on every point and presuming a facile pre schism harmony. There are so many points to be made here, I will try to limit myself to the central ones.
Witt performs a slight of hand by making all his Eucharistic references to meal rather than to sacrifice. This is a convenient way to avoid all sacerdotal arguments against WO. The "Holy Table" is in both East and West an altar of sacrifice. Some liturgists who play fast and loose with the facts have suggested that the emphasis on sacrifice is a Western preoccupation. This is not born out in the prayers of preparation nor the Eucharistic prayers of the East, nor the imagery of the altar itself which is dominated not be a Last Supper but by an icon of the crucifixion. The loaf of bread is cut with a lance and the prayers of preparation make several references to the lamb of sacrifice.
So the paterfamilias is perhaps a bit of a type for the presiding priest or bishop. But the presidency of Bishop or priest over an assembly was the least part of what they do. No, they do not merely preside (stand over) at Eucharist, but they are priests of the sacrifice of Calvary who offer this sacrifice to God. This is true in both East and West, where West excludes many Anglicans and the rest of the protestant world.
Similarly, the idea that the words of institution are somehow unimportant in Eastern liturgies is not born out in the gestures that accompany them. In some Eastern rites all the chants of the people cease during the words of institution so the congregation can hear them when apparently it is not crucial that they hear any other parts of the Eucharistic prayers. The Greeks actually kneel for the words of institution and in other rights the priest makes a solemn bow, touches the floor and crosses himself after the words are spoken over each of the elements, a progression of gestures which is found in no other part of the liturgy.
Thus, we have to look at the priestly antecedents of Christ, the apostles and their successors. These would be the Levitical priesthood of the Temple.
Thus, it is not the liturgical tradition which sets up absolute distinctions between East and West but the polemical tradition--a tradition of contradistinction which is a reflection of the post Imperial East rather than the East of the undivided Church. Witt tries to play divide and conquer between East and West over WO. But, East and West will withstand his assaults because in reality they are not two opposing systems, but two complimentary ones.
...I think Witt is mistaken about the East copying the West's position of in persona Christi when in fact the Eastern position of the multi-dimensional theology of icons is at the basis of their argument that we find in the writings of many early eastern Fathers particularly St. John of Damascus. I think he's blowing smoke here!
Stuart Koehl wrote:
Witt's problem is more fundamental. The Eastern Christian argument that the epiclesis is the decisive moment of consecration is relatively new, dating to the counter-reformation, and represents nothing except a reflexive mirroring of the Latin position regarding the Institution the Orthodox Church. Modern liturgical theology has recovered the patristic view that the entire anaphora is a consecratory prayer, in which it is impossible to point to a single consecratory moment (in fact, the oldest liturgies lack either an explicit Institution, or an excplict Epiclesis, or both). This view has been accepted in both the Eastern and Western Churches. Thus Witt's "implication" is lacking foundation. Even worse, he does nothing to address the continuing strong opposition to women's ordination in the Eastern Churches, unless, of course, he wants to chalk it up to cultural backwardness.
Finally, I weighed in, having little to add:
1. Witt has invented a novelty with his idea of in persona ecclesiae. There is nothing about this in the Tradition, and even so there would be no reason to connect it to the modern (equal and opposite reaction) of making the Epiclesis the central part of the Liturgy.
2. Witt can go on all he wants about in persona Christi as a "western" idea, but the Orthodox have always laid great stress on the priest as the icon of Christ.
Witt reduces himself by half with his argument.