Saturday, November 18, 2006

Women and the Ministry: A Document (I)

A great deal of heat has been generated on The Continuum this week over the question of women and the priesthood. Concretely, the continuing churches were attacked for their "retrogade" stance on the question, and we were asked to state the grounds upon which we base our rejection of the ordination of women to Holy Orders.

That is a more than reasonable request, and one that over the course of a number of posts we shall fulfil.

I need to begin by stating that the position of the continuing churches on the role of women in the ministry is not one that we formulated, but one that we inherited from the universal Church -- founded in Holy Scripture and witnessed to by 2,000 years of Holy Tradition. This, indeed, is one of the reasons we adopted the term "continuing church" to describe ourselves: our purpose was to remain true to the faith as we had received it and not to attempt, as others were, to do something we believe we are not entitled to do.

As a preliminary, I shall post some key documents from the Roman Catholic Church, which set forth its position on the matter. With the Orthodox world being more disparate in terms of ultimate authority, the task is a bit more complicated. But I also intend to post documents from that tradition, once I am satisfied that they are more or less universally accepted within it.

We will then look at specifically Anglican sources of doctrine, all of which have grown out of this broader catholic perspective, though some -- naturally from our point of view -- have distorted that perspective.

The first document is the Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15, 1976 at the instruction of Pope Paul VI.

Pope John Paul II, writing 18 years later in the Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, had the following to say:

"When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: 'She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church.'"

The 1976 declaration begins as follows:

"The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: This innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church. It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavourable to woman, but nevertheless, it should be noted that these prejudices had hardly any influences on their pastoral activity, and still less on their spiritual direction. But over and above these considerations inspired by the spirit of the times, one finds expressed -- especially in the canonical documents of the Antiochan and Egyptian traditions -- this essential reason, namely, that by calling only men to the priestly Order and ministry in its true sense, the Church intends to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the Apostles."

The full text of the declaration can be found here.


Albion Land said...

Ohio Anglican and I have been having an exchange over at "Cantuar Goes to Rome," which I have moved over here to ensure it gets the widest exposure.

The history of it is as follows:

He said:

"I am, of course, dissappointed that (Rowan Williams) continues to uphold women's ordination, in light of scriptures that specifically forbid it."

I replied:

"I would put to you that Holy Scripture does not "specifically forbid" the ordination of women. It doesn't really speak directly to the issue. Indeed, this is the very reason why there can even be a debate on the question."

His rebuttal:

"I have to disagree. The scriptures say that a presbyter (priest) must be the HUSBAND of one wife.A female can't be a husband. St. Paul also says that women should remain silent in the church and should not teach men. It would be impossible to be a priest and remain silent in the church. Since all churches have men in them, a female can't be a priest if as the scriptures say, they can't teach men."

To which I respond:

I do not dispute you account of what the Scriptures DO say. But what they DO NOT say is that women are specifically prohibited from being episkopoi or presbyteroi.

There is a fine point of distinction here, but it exists.
As you will see as you follow this and subsequent posts on Women and Ministry, this distinction is dealt with from both sides of the debate.

I won't speak now to your second point -- that Scripture says women can't teach men -- as this issue will be dealt with in great detail later. For now, suffice it to say that this is not the case.

ACC Member said...

Albion: I see where you are coming from, but if the scriptures do say something, shouldn't we follow it? While they do not specifically say you must not do it (w.o.), since they do say that a presbyter should be the HUSBAND of one wife (obviously a man), don't you agree with me that it is wrong to ordain women, in light of that scripture passage? Just wondering?

Anonymous said...

This is off the top of my head, so I'd welcome correction, but it has occurred to me that the specific prohibitions in Scripture are of things that are morally wrong. Things which are simply impossible aren't forbidden, as there's no real reason to forbid them. While there might be something morally wrong in purporting to ordain a woman, in the way of misuse of the sacraments or disobedience to the teachings of the Church, it is not at first glance a moral matter. It's a matter of what is possible rather than what is permissible.

And, in any case, why do we keep hearing that there are 'no theological objections', or 'no prohibitions'? If the Church, or any part of it, is contemplating (or has perpetrated) a novelty which constitutes fundamental change to what it's always and continuously done (and I have yet to see that the ordination of women isn't a fundamental change), shouldn't that be sufficient to set off the warning bells?

Albion Land said...

Ohio Anglican,

We're now talking the same language! Now just one more step to getting where this issue takes us: "Wrong" is perhaps not the correct word. Instead, I think the record will show that "must not be done" is the appropriate terminology. Read carefully what is said in the 1976 declaration regarding the scriptural evidence -- one of the three basic sources -- and look for similar language in the documents we will post subsequently.

Albion Land said...


"If the Church, or any part of it, is contemplating (or has perpetrated) a novelty which constitutes fundamental change to what it's always and continuously done (and I have yet to see that the ordination of women isn't a fundamental change), shouldn't that be sufficient to set off the warning bells?"

As we see in the declaration, those bells started ringing in Rome more than 30 years ago. What happened is that PECUSA, the C of E and others removed the clappers.

Simple: No bells. No warning. No problem.

poetreader said...

Ohio Anglican,

Regardless of the indoubted ultimate authority of the Scriptures in matters of doctirne and practice, the Bible is not a work of systematic theology or an orderly compendium of Canon Law. It's extraordinarily difficult to make an airtight case for anything if one starts from the Scriptures alone.

Note the Trinity, for example. This is a concept without which the Scriptures cannot be properly understood, but it took 300 years and more before the Church could figure out just how to talk about it. Once accepted, this principle is sufficient to bring sudden light to the whole volume.

On the ordination of women, arguments can be made back and forth, up and down on both sides, and are so made endlessly. It's a difficult point to establish conclusively from Scripture all by itself.

However, the position of the Church these last several centuries couldn't be much clearer. When one accepts what the Church has found to be true in the Scriptures, one finds that the whole tissue of the written word comes together and makes sense.

And what the Church has said on this matter is not that such ordination is evil or wrong or unwise or anything of that nature, but, much more simply, that it won't work. If one takes that as a given, one finds that the relevant passages work together beautifully. If one tries any other approach, one perceives a logical muddle.

Yes, that is what Scripture teaches, but, no, one can't make the case easily without listening to tradition.


ACC Member said...

Albion and Poetreader: I MOST CERTAINLY AGREE. In confirmation class (longer ago than I like to admit---oh to be 12 again!) we were taught that Anglicans evaluate all doctrine based on three criteria 1. scripture 2. tradition and 3. reason. All three seem to come together on this topic. Reason comes into play in evaluating the scriptures that say in Titus 1:5-6; I Timothy 3:1-2; and I Timothy 3:12 that Presbyters, Bishops, and Priests must be the HUSBAND of one wife--very obviously a man. Add to that approximately 1,970 years of ordination being limited to males only, and this issue (in my opinion) is pretty much a "no brainer". It seems to me that there is a scripture that says that women should teach the children the faith (ie Sunday School, Bible School, a logical choice). I couldn't find it today when I quickly looked up the above references. Does such a scripture exist or am I mistaken? In I Corinthians, chapter 11, in clearly says that women prayed, sand, etc.

Anonymous said...

The subject of WOMENS' ORDINATION has been handled. It was not recently that the pope spoke "ex cathedra" about it, saying that our Lord did not give authority to the Church to ordain women to Holy Orders. There were questions as to whether or not the statement was from the Chair. The matter was clarified by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in the affirmative: the statement was "ex cathedra."
Rome has spoken. What is the problem? Only those who have ears to hear did hear.

In the same clarification by the then-cardinal, it was said that the proposition of Rome that Anglican Orders are invalid was but a proposition and not an infallible statement. Was THAT the part of the clarification that was heard?