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WOMEN PRIESTS IN ANTIQUITY?

- a debate between Thomas F. Torrance
and
Patrick Henry Reardon

In 1993 - 1994 these articles were published
in TOUCHSTONE MAGAZINE,
of which Patrick Henry Reardon is senior editor.

 

THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN

An Argument for the Ordination of Women
by Thomas F. Torrance

In one of the earliest of the Catacomb paintings in Rome in the Capella Greca, within a century after the death and resurrection of Christ, there is a remarkable mural depicting the breaking of bread at the celebration of the Eucharist. Seven presbyters are seated in a semi-circle behind the Holy Table, assisted by several deacons. This is known as the "Catacomb of Priscilla," for Priscilla is seated to the right of the presiding presbyter (presumably her husband Aquila), the proestos or bishop, and is actively engaged with him in the eucharistic rite. There are two points about this painting on which I would like to comment.

The first has to do with the number seven. In the great Temple Synagogue in Jerusalem there was a Sanhedrin of 71 elders (zekenim) or presbyters together with its president or sagan. What of the smaller synagogues in the communities outside Jerusalem or in the diaspora? According to the Mishnah tractate "Sanhedrin" it was laid down that a large Jewish community might have 23 elders, presumably plus its president, making 24 in all, but if a community were 120 strong it was allowed to have its "seven" elders, which would normally be presided over by an "Archisynagogos," just as Jairus or Crispus of whom we read in the New Testament. The "Sanhedrin" tells us that these presbyters were to be arranged "like the half or a round threshing floor so that they all might see one another." It was thus in accordance with the regulations of Jewish law that at Alexandria, where there well over a million Jews in the first century, the local sanhedrin numbered 23 or 24, while at Rome, the Jewish community, which was differently distributed, was served by a number of smaller synagogues each with its sanhedrin of 7 elders.

Regarded in this light, that fact that the number of disciples, who with Peter formed the original Christian community in Jerusalem, was numbered about 120 (Acts 1:15), is rather significant. It helps us to understand why shortly afterwards the twelve Apostles appointed specifically "seven" disciples (presumably as "presbyters" not "deacons" as is usually held) to serve the needs of the primitive church in Jerusalem, while they gave themselves over "to prayer and the ministry of the Word" in fulfillment of their universal apostolic ministry. We also learn, however, that in due course with the growth of its membership the Jerusalem church came to have a Christian sanhedrin of seventy presbyters, probably in line with the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus on the mission of the Kingdom mentioned by St. Luke (10:1,17), but again in accordance with Jewish regulations, presided over by James, not the Apostle but the brother of our Lord.

It is not surprising, then, that in Alexandria the church had twenty-four presbyters, twelve for the city and twelve for rural districts around the city, presided over by one of their number whom they elected and consecrated as bishop. Nor is it surprising that in Rome, on the other hand, as learn from Optatus (Libri VI, CSEL, XXI, pp. 187—204), there were at least forty small churches, which evidently had their due numbers of presbyters after the pattern of the Jewish communities in Rome, but with bishops rather than rulers of the synagogue as their presidents. Incidentally this helps to explain why "monepiscopacy"—having a single bishop—was comparatively late in developing in Rome and why Clement acted as the chosen spokesman for all the churches in Rome to those beyond. It is in the Capella Greca that we are given a vivid glimpse into the assembly of one of these small congregations of believers meeting in the catacombs with their seven presbyters, Aquila and Priscilla and five others, arranged in a semi-circle "like the half of a round threshing floor." Moreover, the Jewish as well as the Christian character of this eucharistic celebration, together with its very early date, is accentuated by a rough Hebrew inscription in the foreground.

The second point about this wall painting to which I wish to draw attention is that a woman is presented as concelebrating with men at the breaking of bread. Priscilla (or Prisca) is a presbytera officiating along with presbyteroi in the central act of worship of the church. At first sight this is rather startling in view of the statements of St. Paul: As in all the churches of the saints the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but they should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church in the context of speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:33—35). If our Jewish friends are right, what St. Paul has in view here relates to the customary arrangement of synagogues in which women, who usually occupied seats apart from, or overlooking the main area, were forbidden to chatter or otherwise interrupt the conduct of worship. That may well be how we are to regard St. Paul's injunctions here. Otherwise the passage is rather difficult to understand, since in an earlier chapter in the same Epistle it is assumed that women do pray and prophesy aloud in church—although it is made clear that when they do so they must have their heads covered, if only out of respect for their husbands' authority over them (1 Cor 11:3f). Should anyone question this, however, St. Paul agrees that no such custom is found among them, or in any of the churches (1 Cor 11:16). Thus it would appear that the Apostle has no objection to women praying or prophesying in church providing that they wear a fitting cover over their heads. In the same Epistle (1 Cor 16:19) he refers to the church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla in which it is hardly likely that Priscilla kept silent!

Another passage from St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy must also be considered: Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent (1 Tim 2:11—12). Here women are explicitly enjoined not to talk (lalein), but also not to teach (didaskein) in public, and perhaps also not even to teach their husbands in private! This hardly accords with the way some Jews interpret the passage just cited from First Corinthians, but whatever it means it must surely be understood in accordance with the activity of Priscilla in Ephesus, as recorded by St. Luke, when along with Aquila, she expounded the way of God more accurately to Apollos (Acts 18:26). It is hardly surprising, then, that St. Paul applies to her along with Aquila the term "fellow-worker" (synergos) which he used to refer to people associated with him in the ministry of the gospel like Timothy (Rom 16:3, 21—cf also 1 Tim 3:2; 1 Cor 3:9), or Clement (I Phil 4:3) or Mark and Luke (Philem 24).

One must also recall how St. Paul mentioned in a similar way women such as Nympha—like Priscilla she had a church in her house (Col 4:15)—or Junia, his female relative, to whom he referred as a noted apostle (Rom 16:7). Reference should be made as well to the four virgin daughters of Philip the Evangelist who were spoken of as endowed with the gift of prophecy, that is, with the gift of proclaiming the gospel as well as foretelling events. In his own list of those endowed by the ascended Lord with gifts for the ministry St. Paul put apostles first, prophets second, evangelists third, followed by pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11). That order gives some indication of the way in which the great Apostle to the Gentiles regarded the ministry of women like his kinswoman Junia and the daughters of Philip. St. Paul also speaks of women as holding the office of deaconess (1 Tim 3:11), with explicit mention of Phoebe in the church at Cenchrea (Rom 16:1), with which should be associated the order of "widows" who were not ordained but held a place of honor in the apostolic Church in fulfilling a ministry of prayer and intercession (1 Tim 5:3—16).

All this must be taken fully into account in reaching any balanced understanding of what St. Paul meant in the two passages commonly adduced by those who oppose the ordination of women in the ministry of the gospel. When we consider all that is recorded in the New Testament in this regard, it is rather difficult, to say the least, to accept the idea that there is no biblical evidence for the ministry of women in the Church. It also helps us to understand why the early Christians, who were hounded to death in the Catacombs of Rome for their fidelity to the gospel and the normative tradition of the Apostles, should have left the Church with such a definite depiction of the place of a woman presbyter at the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

The office of deaconess was developed in the early centuries of the Catholic church, appointed through the laying on of hands by the bishop (Apostolic Constitutions, 3.15), but there is no canonical record of any office of woman presbyters. There were evidently no women serving with men in councils of "elders of the people" (seniores plebis) in the North African Church who, although not reckoned among the clergy (cleri), assisted bishops, presbyters and deacons in the public life of the local community. Mention is sometimes made of elderly women who exercised a prominent role in the worship of a congregation, known as presbytides, but, as Epiphanius insisted, they were not to be regarded as female presbyters or priestesses (Haereses, 79.4). Attempts were obviously made by authorities in the early Church to play down the New Testament evidence for women in the ministry, apparent in alterations introduced into the Greek text of St. Paul's references to Junia and Nympha, which were changed to Junias and Nymphas, thereby making them out to be men! However, in spite of this depreciation of the female sex widely found in the Mediterranean Church, there were strange exceptions to the canonical restriction of clerical office to women. For instance, in a mosaic still extant in the Church of Santa Praseda in Rome, built by Pascal I toward the end of the ninth century in honor of four holy women, one of whom was his mother Theodora, we can still read around her head in bold letters THEODORA EPISCOPA! And so we have papal authority for a woman bishop and an acknowledgement by the pope that he himself was the son of a woman bishop! The word episcopa was evidently used at times to refer to the wife of a bishop, as presbytera was sometimes used (and still is in Greece) to refer to the wife of a presbyter, but that does not seem to have been the case in this instance.

It is, of course, the case throughout the general history of the Church in East and West, and until recently in Protestant churches as well, that tradition regularly restricted the priesthood or ordained ministry to men, but that was done on grounds of ecclesiastical convention and canonical authority. Appeal has also been made to dominical authority for, as we learn in the gospels, our Lord appointed only men to be his disciples and apostles, which was in line with Jewish convention. These men, of course, were all Jews, so that it must be asked whether the Church departed from the example and authority of Christ when it appointed Gentiles to be presbyters and bishops. The point is, as St. Paul himself wrote to the Galatians, a radical change had come about with Christ, for in him there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This means that in Christ there is no intrinsic reason or theological ground for the exclusion of women, any more than of Greeks or Gentiles, from the holy ministry, for the old divisions in the fallen world have been overcome in Christ and in his Body the Church. That applies to the division between male and female just as much as it does to the division between Jew and Gentile, or between slave and free.
In modern times it has been argued that only a man can represent Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist, for it is only a man who can be an ikon of Christ at the altar. To back up this claim, reference is often made to the Pauline statement that man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man, for man was not made from woman but woman from man (1 Cor 11:7—8). Appeal is also made to St. Augustine's interpretation of these words offered by way of a comment upon what is written in Genesis: God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them (Gen 1:27).

This means, St. Augustine once claimed, that while man and woman together are in the image of God, woman on her own, considered apart from her character as a helpmeet for man, is not in the image of God. Man may be in the image of God apart from woman, but not woman apart from man (De Trin. 12.7.10—contrast St. Basil, De con.hom., Or., 1.22f, and Didymus, De Trin 2.7)! If that were the case, the mother of Jesus considered in herself as a virgin could not have been said to be in the image of God!

This is a quite offensive notion of womankind that conflicts directly with the truth that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female; it even contradicts Augustine's own statement in the same passage that "human nature is complete only in both sexes"! And it conflicts directly with our Lord's teaching that in the beginning God made man male and female in such a way that what he has joined together may not be put asunder (Matt 19:4f; Mark 10:6f). It thus conflicts with the biblical and orthodox teaching that woman as well as man was made in the image of God, and may therefore be said to be an ikon of God as well as man. And of course it also conflicts with the orthodox understanding of the incarnation as the saving assumption of the whole human being, male and female, and as the healing of our complete human nature. This must surely be understood as involving the healing of any divisive relation between male and female due to the curse imposed upon them at the Fall (Gen 3:16), while sanctifying the distinction between them. It thus rejects any Manichaeistic denigration of the female sex (and St. Augustine, it should be remembered, was a Manichee for nine years before his conversion.)

Moreover, the fact that the Son of God became man through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and being born of the Virgin Mary, that is, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a human father, but of God (John 1:13), means that at this decisive point in the incarnation the distinctive place and function of man as male human being was set aside.

Thus, as Karl Barth pointed out, in the virgin birth of Jesus by grace alone, without any previous sexual union between man and woman, there is contained a judgment upon man (Church Dogmatics, I.2, p. 188ff). This certainly implies a judgment upon the sinful, not the natural, element in sexual life, but is also to be understood as a judgment upon any claim that human nature has an innate capacity for God; human nature has no property in virtue of which man may act in the place of God. Moreover, the sovereign act of God in the virgin birth of Jesus carries with it not only a rejection of the sovereignty of man over his own life, but also a rescinding of the domination of man over woman that resulted from the Fall (Gen 3:16). Thus any preeminence of the male sex or any vaunted superiority of man over woman was decisively set aside at the very inauguration of the new creation brought about by the incarnation. In Jesus Christ the order or redemption has intersected the order of creation and set it upon a new basis altogether. Henceforth, the full equality of man and woman is a divine ordinance that applies to all the behavior and activity of "the new man" in Christ, and so to the entire life and mission of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.

In thinking and speaking of the incarnation it is important for us to keep close to the biblical witness that in becoming man (i.e., anthropos, not aner— homo, not vir) the Word was made flesh, not just male flesh. All human flesh was assumed in Christ, the Son of God, the Creator Word became man, so that now all men and women alike live and move and have their being in him. We must not forget that our Lord regularly identified himself as "Son of Man" (ho huios tou anthropou), which clearly had divine and final import, as Jesus acknowledged before the high priest (Mark 14:62). The Being of Jesus, the Son of the Virgin Mary, was not just male being but divine—human Being with universal import as the Savior of all humankind. This is not, of course, to deny that he was physically a male, but to hold that the human nature of Jesus as Son of Mary was taken up into and united with his divine Nature in one indivisible personal reality—it is as such that he was and is the incarnate Son of God.

Hence, it would be a grave biblical and theological mistake to bracket the incarnation with the gender or sex of Jesus in such a way that everything in his incarnate life and work depended on his maleness, for that would seriously call in question the salvation of female human being and detract from the incarnation as the assumption of complete human being and the redemptive recapitulation (anakephalaiosis) in Christ of the whole human race of men and women. After all, the Greek term for incarnation adopted by orthodox Christian theology from the beginning, in line with the biblical witness, was enanthropesis, i.e. inhomination.

It should be noted that the Pauline argument about the first Adam and the last Adam in the redemption of mankind does not have to do specifically with Adam as a male but with Adam as the one made from the ground, adamah in Hebrew, and so in Hebrew "Adam" means "earthling," just as our word "human" derives from the Latin "humus" meaning "soil." This is reflected in St. Paul's statement: The first man is from earth (choikos, of the dust), the second man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor 15:47). That is to say, the argument of St. Paul about the saving recapitulation and renewing of the whole human race in Christ the last Adam has to do with the first Adam as "human being," and not just with the maleness of Adam in contrast to the femaleness of Eve (as elaborated rather fancifully in patristic typology), and with the second Adam, while certainly a human being and historically a male, as man "from heaven." The first Adam was not generated (genomenos) like other human beings but brought into existence (genomenos) by a creative act of God from the earth as a human being to be the beginning of the human race, and the second Adam so far as his flesh was concerned was brought into existence (genomenos) by a creative act of God to be the beginning of the renewed human race—but in contrast to the first Adam he was man from heaven. The new humanity is not begotten through Christ as a male, but brought into existence by the downright act of God from heaven, and it is in him that the whole human race is gathered up and redeemed by him as Lord and Savior. The maleness of Jesus just does not enter into the argument.

In view of this soteriological nature of the incarnation, it is understandable and highly significant that the Augustinian conception of man apart from woman was never employed, to my knowledge, in any official council of the universal Church as a theological reason for the claim that only a male human being may image or represent Christ at the altar (but cf. statements in Didascalia Apostolorum 15, or Apostolic Constitutions 3.6.1f to which appeal is sometimes made). This strange pseudo-theological idea is a modern innovation evidently put forward by some rather reactionary churchmen in the nineteenth century, but has recently been revived as a convenient (although specious) argument for the exclusion of women from ordination to the Holy Ministry, and has been make to look ancient by being cast in the terms that only a man can be an ikon of Christ at the altar (a misuse of 1 Cor 11:7 which applies only to relations in the order of creation).

What happens here is that an old ecclesiastical convention is being put forward quite wrongly as a theological truth or a dogma of the Apostolic and Catholic church. Hence I believe that Dr. George Carey, the new archbishop of Canterbury, was quite right in his assertion that the idea that only a male can represent the Lord Jesus Christ at the Eucharist is a serious theological error. He was not declaring that those churches and churchmen who reject the ordination of women, because it conflicts with a convention long sanctioned by catholic tradition or canonical authority, are to be judged heretics, but asserting that it is a very grave mistake for anyone to convert such a convention, no matter how strongly enforced by catholic tradition, into a dogma or an intrinsic truth of the Christian faith.

I would also add that it is a serious epistemological error (often denounced by the great theologians of the early Church) to confuse what may be held on conventional grounds (thesei) to be the case with what must be held on true or real grounds (physei).

Basic to this whole discussion is the theological use of creaturely terms and images taken from God's self-revelation of humankind in the Holy Scriptures. "Image" is surely to be understood in a strictly relational sense in accordance with the Old Testament teaching that God has created human beings (i.e., man and woman) for fellowship with himself in such a way that, in spite of the utter difference between them as Creator and creatures, human beings are made after the image and likeness of God. The Latin translation "ad imaginem Dei" is quite right, for it does not mean that the image of God inheres in man's nature, far less in male or female nature, as such, but that it is a donum superadditum, a gift wholly contingent upon the free grace of God—that is why St. Athanasius used to refer to "the image of God" as "the grace of the image" (he kat' eikona charis, e.g., De Inc. 12). Hence we are not to think that men and women through creaturely human nature, by virtue of some intrinsic analogy of being reflect God's uncreated Nature, but that they are specifically destined by grace to live in faithful response to the purpose and movement of God's love toward them as his creaturely partners, and thereby to live and act in personal conformity to what God reveals of himself to humankind through his Word.

In making himself known to human beings God certainly communicates with them in human forms of thought and speech, so that there is necessarily an anthropomorphic ingredient or coefficient in his revelation which is very evident in the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless God makes his self-revelation shine through all anthropomorphic forms of thought and speech in such a way that under the transforming impact of his Word they are not opaque distorting media, but become transparent forms through which his divine Word and Truth are conveyed to us. That is why in the mediation of his self-revelation through the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament which are replete with dramatic imagery, there is a persistent denunciation of all images of God conceived by the human heart, whether conceptual or physical, as forms of idolatry. And that is why there is built into the self-revelation of God an absolute rejection of all naturalizing of religion, typified by the worship of Baalim and Astaroth with its heathen projection of creaturely sex, male and female, into God.

The proper understanding of "image" was a crucial issue that cropped up in the fourth century Church in the debates between Nicene theologians and heretical Arians about the way in which they were to think of Christ as the image of God and of themselves as conformed to his image. Stress was laid by the Church Fathers upon the fact that since God is Spirit (John 4:24), all the language used of God in biblical revelation and in Christian theology must be interpreted in a wholly spiritual, personal and genderless manner, in accordance with God's intrinsic nature which infinitely transcends all human imaging or imagining. Thus any images taken from creaturely being such as "father" and "son" have to be understood in a diaphanous or "see-through" way; they are to be used like lenses through which the vision of truth may take place, and so in such a way that the creaturely relations they express in ordinary mundane usage are not projected into Deity. When used theologically they are forms of thought and speech that refer to truth independent of themselves, and are themselves to be understood in the light of that truth to which under the thrust of divine revelation they refer. In short, when used theologically, creaturely images in language about God have a referential, not a mimetic relation to the divine realities.

It is surely in this way that we are to think of "father" and "son," as terms expressing creaturely images which divine revelation uses and adapts in speaking about God, and so as transformed terms which Christian theology is bound to use about God. It is only in and through "father" and "son" as they are appropriated and adapted by God for his self-revealing in accordance with who he really is, that we are to know him and think of him and worship him in spiritual ways that are true of him and worthy of him, without reading the creaturely relations and images in them back into his divine nature.

It should be emphasized, then, that the understanding of the words "father," "son," "spirit," "deity," "trinity," "being," "nature," etc., when used theologically of God may not be governed by the gender which by linguistic or cultural convention they have in this or that language, for sex belongs only to creatures and may not be read back into the Being of God as Father. Moreover, since the Son and the Spirit are consubstantial with God the Father (that is, of one and the same Being with him), they are likewise beyond sex in their Being. This remains true of God the Son, even though as incarnate he is also the Son of Mary, for we cannot speak of his being begotten of the Father before all ages as true God of true God in sexual terms. Moreover, as we have noted, in becoming man it was complete human being and nature that he assumed for our salvation, not just male nature. In all these statements about God, "father" and "son," as theological terms and images harnessed to God's self-revelation in Christ, are transformed under the impact of his Word and Spirit and are to be understood spiritually, in accordance with the transcendent Nature of God who is Spirit (John 4:24). Just as the self-revelation of God as three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, transcends the category of number, so it transcends the category of sex or gender. Hence, as St. Paul has taught us, human fatherhood may not be used as a standard by which to judge divine Fatherhood, for it is only in the light of the divine Fatherhood that all other fatherhood is to be understood (Eph 3:14—15).

We come back to our consideration of the place of men and women in the ministry. It should now be clear to us that when we are told that the Lord Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God and that we are renewed in Christ after the image of the Creator (Col 1:15), (3:10), "image" must be understood in a wholly spiritual and transparent way without the intrusion of material relations and properties such as sex.

What are we to say, then, in view of this theological understanding of image, about the assertion that it is only a man or male human being who can image or represent Christ at the Eucharist? Fundamentally, that depends wholly on how we are to think of Christ himself as present at the Eucharist, and correspondingly of the way in which he is represented at the Eucharist by the celebrant. At the institution of the blessed sacrament of the Lord's Supper during the Passover Celebration in the Upper Room on the night in which he was handed over, Jesus ministered himself to his disciples, giving them communion in his own body and blood, which he did in his unique identity as the incarnate Son of God. Thus it is utterly unthinkable that the body and blood given to us by the Lord Jesus in our communion with him is to be regarded as restricted to male body and blood, for it was the body and blood of the Son of Man, the bread which came down from heaven: Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me (John 6:53—56). That explanation of eucharistic Communion was given by Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum in anticipation of the Last Supper. And so when it actually took place in Jerusalem, as St. John tells us, Jesus ministered to the disciples as he who had come from God and went to God, and spoke to them at length of his oneness of being with God in terms of a mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son in one another.

The union of the disciples with Jesus through their communion with him was grounded in his own union with the Father. There the image of Jesus as male just did not come into the picture, for in the supper Jesus was present in the midst of his disciples as the Son of Man clothed with the glory of the Father: In receiving him they received the Father who sent him. That is the real presence of the Christ, God incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended, at every Eucharist: when the appointed celebrant on earth acts not in any representative capacity of his or her own, as male or female, but solely in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who sent him or her, and only in virtue of his real presence as the unseen Celebrant who in his atoning love communicates himself to us as often as we eat the bread and drink the wine. He commanded us thus to do in remembrance of him: This is my body, this is my blood given for you. It is as High Priest and Atoning Sacrifice united indissolubly in his one Person, that Jesus Christ comes among us and ministers himself to us in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and gives us his peace, the Savior who presents us to the Father in union with himself as those whom he has redeemed and consecrated through his one eternal self-offering.

The general line of our response to the strange idea that it is only a man, or male human being, who can image Christ or represent Christ at the altar which he himself is, should now be clear. However, three considerations in particular ought to be stressed.

(1) If the notion of image is retained, it must be a diaphanous image through which the reality to which the image is directed can show itself unhindered and unobscured. Since the ministerial celebrant acts in Christ's name, he does not and dare not obtrude himself or his sex into the celebration; instead of imaging Christ in the form of a transparent medium, that would obscure Christ by coming in between Christ and the communicants. At the Eucharist the minister or priest does not act in his own name or in respect of his own status as a male human being, but only in the name of Jesus Christ and in virtue of his incarnate significance as the one Mediator between God and human being.

It may help us to recall what happened at the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount when a cloud overshadowed the disciples and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son: hear him." When the disciples looked round they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. It is surely something similar, mutatis mutandis, that takes place at the Eucharist, when the celebrant is robed with the garments of office symbolically blotting his own human self and sex out of the picture so that Christ in his own self-presentation may be the sole focus of worship, unobscured by the opaque image of the celebrant, male or female. If the notion of image is used of the celebrant at all here at the Eucharist, it must be image, not in its picturing of mimetic sense, but in its referential sense in which the image points beyond itself altogether and in so doing retreats entirely out of the picture.

(2) The celebrant officiates at the Eucharist, not as a male or female human being, but as a person set apart and sanctified in Christ for this ministry. Christ himself presides at the Eucharist as he in whom human nature and divine nature are indissolubly united in his one Person. As we have seen, it was as man, not just as male, that the only-begotten Son of God became incarnate, and it was human nature in its completeness and not just male nature that he assumed and united to himself in his divine Person. Hence to claim that it is only a male who can represent Christ at the altar savours of a heretical Nestorian separation between human and divine nature in the one Person of Christ. Even St. Augustine, in spite of what he had written earlier in the De Trinitate about the image of God, finally insisted that while the Trinity himself is three Persons, "the image of the Trinity is one person." (De Trin. 15.23.43) That is to say, if reference is to be made to the notion of image, it is strictly not as man or woman (or man and woman together) that is to be thought of, but man or woman as person. It should be remembered, however, that the concept of person, quite unknown in antiquity in Hebrew or Greek tradition, arose under the creative impact of the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity and takes its creaturely pattern from the uncreated relations between the three Divine Persons who are the Triune God. This is a concept of person in which the relations between persons belong to what persons are, and is not the same as the modern psychological notion of personality in which the person is turned in upon him or herself. Christ himself is Person in a unique sense, as personalizing Person, whereas we are persons in a dependent and creaturely way as personalized persons, who exist in inter-personal relations, which transcends the distinction between male and female.

It is person in that contingent relational sense that is the image of God, not male or female human beings as such, which fits in very well with the biblical notion of the creation of man for fellowship with God which we noted above. Hence, it should be argued here, that if Jesus Christ is present to us in the Eucharist as God and Man in one indivisible Person, we should think of the celebrant acting in his name or representing him as a human person, not as a male or female human being, yet even so not in virtue of his or her own personal being but solely in virtue of his or her sacred commission to act in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.(3) Above all, however, we must take into account what the celebration of the Eucharist means, as the sacrament of the atoning self-sacrifice of Christ made in our place, on our behalf and in our stead, for that governs absolutely the way in which we must think of the celebrant as representing Christ at the altar. We must also remember, as Athanasius expressed it, that the Lord Jesus is both the Dispenser and the Receiver of God's gifts, who ministers the things of God to us and the things of us to God (Con.Ar.3.39f; 4.6f). In becoming man for us and our salvation, he became one of us and united us to himself, really becoming what we are in order to be ourselves in our place in his identity as very God and very Man, in such a way that he acts for us and on our behalf in all our responses to God, even in our acts of belief and worship.

Thus we believe in God through sharing in Christ's vicarious faith or faithfulness toward him, and we worship God through sharing in Christ's vicarious prayer, worship, and adoration of the Father. In fact, in a very basic sense Christ Jesus is himself our worship and it is as such that he is actively present with us and in us at the Eucharist, as through him, with him and in him we are brought into such a communion with the Father through the Son and in the Spirit, that we are made to participate in the real presence of God to himself. It is strictly in accordance with this vicarious presence of Christ in the Eucharist that we must think of our part in its celebration whether as participants or celebrants. "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." As participants we hold out empty hands at the altar or the holy table to receive the bread and wine, and by faith to partake of Christ's body and blood. For we bring to it no sacrifice or worship of our own, or if we do, we let our worship and sacrifice be replaced by the sole sufficient sacrifice of Christ, and it is through him, with him, and in him alone that we worship the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

It is not otherwise with the celebrant. At the Eucharist the celebrant ministers not in his own name, but in the name of Christ, acting through him, with him, and in him, and thus in such a way that he yields place to Christ, lets Christ take his place, never in such a way that he takes Christ's place or acts in his stead. That is how his representation of Christ is to be understood, through a personal and liturgical inversion of his/her own role with the role of Christ who is the real Celebrant. The rule of John the Baptist must apply supremely here: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

If we speak of this celebration in terms of Eucharistic sacrifice, as I believe we should, answering sacramentally to the one atoning vicarious sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross, it must be asked how we offer a sacrifice, even sacramentally, which by its essential nature is one offered on our behalf, in our place and in our stead. The substitutionary as well as the representative nature of the atoning sacrifice must be kept fully in view throughout when, pleading Christ's eternal sacrifice, we set forth the anamnesis (remembrance) of it which we are commanded to make. That is a eucharistic sacrifice in which we may not combine any sacrifice of our own with the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and into which we may not obtrude anything of ourselves or seek to harness it with what we are and do; that would be to sin against the unique unrepeatable and completely sufficient nature of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. However, in view of this representative and substitutionary nature of the sacrifice of Christ, to insist that only a man, or a male, can rightly celebrate the Eucharist on the ground that only a male can represent Christ, would be to sin against the blood of Christ, for it would discount the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. At the altar the minister or priest acts faithfully in the name of Christ, the incarnate Savior, only as he lets himself be displaced by Christ, and so fulfils his proper ministerial representation of Christ at the Eucharist in the form of a relation "not I but Christ," in which his own self, let alone his male nature, does not come into the reckoning at all. In the very act of celebration his own self is, as it were, withdrawn from the scene.

It is surely, partly at least, for that reason, that the celebrant wears vestments (which have no reference to his sex), for he does not act in his own significance, or in his own name but only in the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is rather in the office or "persona" with which he is clothed to act in Christ's name that the representation of Christ is to be recognized, not in the self of the celebrant, and certainly not in his male nature. It is actually the unseen Christ who in the real presence of his divine-human Person ministers at the Eucharist, not the person of the presbyter or bishop as such except in the name of Christ, and then only in a humble, self-effacing way. Hence the celebrant is not to be regarded as a sacrificing priest who repeats the atoning sacrifice of Christ, even though in an "unbloody" form, but is only one who serves the eucharistic proclamation of Christ's full, perfect and sufficient, all-prevailing sacrifice, offered once for all. It is upon Christ our ascended High Priest that the Father looks and only on the celebrating priest on earth as found in him. Thus, however we look at it, to insist that man, precisely as man or as male, alone is able to represent Christ, would amount to a serious intrusion of male self-consciousness and assumed preeminence into our understanding of the priestly office of Christ, and would be tantamount to some form of psychological sacerdotalism and eucharistic Pelagianism.

We conclude that in spite of long-held ecclesiastical convention, there are no intrinsic theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament; rather, there are genuine theological reasons why they may be ordained and consecrated in the service of the gospel. The idea that only a man, or a male, can represent Christ or be an ikon of Christ at the Eucharist, conflicts with basic elements of the doctrines of: the incarnation and the new order of creation; the virgin birth, which sets aside male sovereignty and judges it as sinful; the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus Christ who is of the same uncreated genderless Being as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; the redemptive and healing assumption of complete human nature in Christ; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which he has offered once for all on our behalf, in our place, in our stead.

And therefore it conflicts also with the essential nature of the Holy Eucharist and the communion in the body and blood of Christ given to us by him.

As in Christ there is nether Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, so there is neither male nor female, for all sinful separation and gradation between them resulting from the Fall of mankind have been done away, while God-given distinctions have been preserved, renewed and sanctified. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ humanity has thus been set upon an entirely new basis of divine grace, in which there is no respect of persons, and women share equally with men in all the grace-gifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit, including gifts for ministry in the Church (cf. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88).

 

WOMEN PRIESTS: HISTORY & THEOLOGY

A Response to Thomas F. Torrance
by Patrick Henry Reardon

By submitting this article in response to Dr. Thomas Torrance I intend, in the first place, to pay my respects. When I read his recent argument favoring the ordination of women ("The Ministry of Women," Touchstone 5.4, Fall 1992), I felt that the author had to be answered. Not that the lines of his argument are either especially persuasive or particularly original. I believe that they are neither, having used some of them myself back when I was an Evangelical Protestant and thought women's ordination an idea whose time had come. But Dr. Torrance is Dr. Torrance, after all, and anything theological he has to say is, on this implicit point of merit, worth paying attention to.

In fact he is certainly receiving attention. The article in question has also been published as a pamphlet in Scotland and in A Festschrift for Penelope Jamieson, the new woman bishop of the Anglicans down in New Zealand. Any study supporting the priesting of women has the current advantage of riding a wave, perhaps even a tidal wave. As I comment on the article by Torrance, I beg indulgence also to remark, from time to time, on some of his fellow surfers.

Let me say at once that, unlike my dear and delightful friend, S. M. Hutchens ("God, Gender and the Pastoral Office" in that same issue of Touchstone), I cannot summon the energy to mount a charge against the priestly ordination of women. A little later, I shall float a hint as to why that matter is not a realistic question for debate at my current address, the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church.

The following response, therefore, will not form a case against women's ordination. I hope only to show that Torrance's own arguments in favor of that practice were ill-conceived and very badly made. His approach was two-fold, historical and doctrinal. In the first he adduced documentation that the ordination of women was in fact done by the Church at certain periods of history, and in the second he endeavored theologically to justify a return to that discipline today. His first argument was inductive and requires a point by point address. His second and more properly theological argument was largely deductive and can be more briefly rejoined by a critical analysis of its major premise.

Presbytera

The real controversy, the one most addressed by Torrance, concerns the priesthood or presbyterate. Let it be said up front that those who would appeal to ancient precedent to justify the ordination of women to the ministry of presbyter in the Church are faced with a fairly daunting task. Torrance concedes that "there is no canonical record of any office of woman presbyters." Indeed there is no literary record of any kind to that effect.

Oh, that all proponents of women's ordination were so honest about the lack of literary evidence. For example, a 1987 article in the Priscilla Papers (Volume 1, no. 4) claimed that "St. Cyprian writes [in Epistle 75.10.5] of a female presbyter [elder] in Cappadocia [also part of modern Turkey] in the mid-230s." If true, of course, that would seem to be game point and match, for what fool would contest the great African Father? A fine shade of doubt faintly shadows the mind at this point, nevertheless, and I wonder how, having studied St. Cyprian assiduously from my youth, I had failed to distinguish this fairly big detail. Well, I didn't. The letter in question was actually sent to the saintly bishop of Carthage by Firmilian of Caesarea reporting on what he regarded as the pretentious (deceperat . . . simularet . . .usurpans), irregular (ab ecclesiastica regula),and even scandalous (nequissimus daemon per mulierem) activities of some local woman whom he managed to call just about everything but a presbyter. A delicate and gentle tact pleads that no more be said about this so-called evidence from the third century.

Getting slightly, but only slightly, more serious, we know that there are quite a few early epigraphic references to this or that presbytera (priestess), and there is no shortage of feminist archaeologists to make the most of them. These tomb inscriptions, found all around the Mediterranean basin, would perhaps make a cogent argument for women's ordination if we did not already know exactly what a presbytera was during the earliest centuries of Christianity: an elderly woman, often a widow, under the care of the Church. There is no evidence whatsoever that it referred to an ordained woman. Consequently, in calling St. Priscilla a "presbytera officiating along with the presbyteroi in the central act of the worship of the church," Torrance employed the word in a sense unknown either in the Christian literature of the period or in any clear epigraphic examples. Salva reverentia, this was an unwarranted, eccentric and misleading liberty.

One finds also a few early epigraphic instances of the word presbytis, but once again we already know from Titus 2:3—5 and other canonical documents that this simply means an elderly woman. In the Apostolic Constitutions the term seems synonymous with presbytera in the sense of a widow or other older woman in the special care of the Church.

Torrance himself refers to presbytides, a title signifying women who had certain special functions in the worship of the Church, but he cites the testimony of Epiphanius that these women were not to be regarded as priestesses. Evidently because they functioned that way among the fourth-century Montanists, Canon 11 of the Council of Laodicea finally suppressed the title (Hopko, 61—74).

Something more must be said about the later history of presbytera, of which Torrance admits that it "was sometimes used (and still is in Greece) to refer to the wife of a presbyter." Indeed, we should give this usage more serious attention. I am not aware of literary instances of it before the sixth century. The earliest witness I know of is Canon 19 of the First Council of Tours (ca 567), which speaks of a presbyter cum sua presbytera, "priest with his priestess." A nearly contemporary example of this usage is found in the Dialogues (4.11) of Pope St. Gregory I.

The origins of presbytera in reference to a priest's wife, nonetheless, were evidently quite a bit earlier. When our literature finally does bear witness to the custom in the sixth century, the masculine term presbyter was already in the process of being replaced in Greek by hiereus and in Latin by sacerdos. It is very important to note, however, that these words, hiereus and sacerdos, were not feminized by custom; only the older term presbyter was. That changing of the masculine noun presbyter reflected an alteration of accent in the theology of the priesthood during that period, but the significant fact for our investigation is that there was no corresponding change in the feminine form of the word. A presbytera was simply the wife of a priest; if I may express it so, the word had only a sociological, not a theological, reference. At no time was any woman ordained a presbytera; she became one when her husband was ordained a priest.

Furthermore, this very preservation of the word presbytera in reference to a priest's wife certainly bears witness to its antiquity and general acceptance. Some feminist archaeologists, as though they were proving something, actually present slide shows with perhaps a score of tomb inscriptions bearing the word presbytera. Well, there are doubtless thousands more such inscriptions to be found out there, but they add zero to the feminist case.

It is inadequate to say then, as Torrance does, that it "was sometimes used" to refer to the wife of a priest. After the fifth century that was the most expected and normal meaning of the word in both Greek and Latin; the select references to this usage from the sixth century onwards fill more than a column of Du Cange's standard lexicon of medieval Latin. From the earlier part of that same period there are still, to be sure, a few instances where the word refers to widows of the Church, and occasionally, but more especially among the Greeks, it designated an abbess. Still, the dominant meaning of presbytera after the fifth century was (and has remained) the wife of a priest. I am aware of no evidence, prior to the Slavic missions, that a priest's wife was ever called by any name other than presbytera or, after the seventh-century Moslem conquest of Syria, the Arabic precise equivalent, khoureeye. At absolutely no point in the first thousand years of Christian history do we find testimony of presbytera designating an ordained person in the Church.

Another remark is in order here with respect to the presbytera. She was very often the mother of a priest as well as a priest's wife. While I cannot speak for Italy or Gaul, where efforts were being made to force celibacy on the clergy, we know that in many villages of Greece and Syria (and later among the Slavs), the priesthood tended to stay in the same family for a number of generations. A presbytera in such a situation acquired a twofold claim to the name. One observes even today the common Arabic title of address: "mother of the priest," um-l-khoury.

Expressing candor at the risk of appearing haughty, let me submit that the exegetical problem here is one of historical continuity. For practical purposes, only the Eastern Orthodox Christians nowadays know by immediate social experience what a presbytera is, whether she is called a popadija (Serbian), a panyi (Carpathian and Ukrainian), a matushka (Russian), a khoureeye (Syrian) or a presvytera (Greek). (My parishioners are proud to address my wife as khoureeye, "priestess," but I fear she would do damage to the hands that tried to ordain her.) This specific sociological creature called the presbytera almost does not exist today outside of Orthodoxy, even when, as among the Anglicans, the parish priest is a married man. During the first 1,000 years, however, she was an ordinary and anticipated phenomenon in thousands of parish churches.

Because she is culturally alien to them, Western Christians today sometimes fail to identify the presbytera when they find evidence of her in history. If I am permitted to say it abruptly and with no desire to find fault, my meaning is this: the Roman Catholics got rid of the priest's wife, and then the Protestants got rid of the priest. So at the present moment Western Christians, who are still very deeply divided among themselves as to what ordination theologically means or what exactly a person is being ordained to, are simultaneously speculating whether women themselves should be ordained. Thus, every time another tomb is discovered bearing the inscription presbytera, a certain number of them stand around congratulating one another on how their evidence is piling up, while the others wring their hands and wonder how to dam the tidal wave. It is a waste of time.


Back to the Catacombs

So Torrance and other proponents of women's ordination, deprived of the faintest filament of support for their case in either literary or monumental sources, turn to the iconography of the early Church, a move that this Eastern Orthodox Christian would frankly like to see become a trend. Torrance takes us to Rome, there to examine a very early mural in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla. It depicts seven figures seated at a table, and these he describes as seven presbyters celebrating the Eucharist in a catacomb. Torrance, whose eyesight must be infinitely keener than mine, went so far as to identify two of these figures ("presumably") as the biblical Aquila and Priscilla, and Touchstone reproduced the picture.

Well, right now I am recalling some wonderfully enjoyable afternoons of yesteryear when, after a long northbound bus ride on the Via Nomentana, I would stand in reverence before that mural and the other fascinating examples of primitive iconography in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla. Doubtless my respect for him over the years may prompt me to regard Torrance as a visionary of sorts, but let me tell you that I never during those afternoons detected anything on that wall comparable to what he claims to behold there.

Even now, looking at a photograph of that fresco over and over again, I discern no trace of what he and some other people say they see. Not terribly clear in every respect, the picture has been the subject of numerous conjectures and since Davin in 1892, even caricatures. Some viewers could find no male figures in the picture at all (Irvin, 6f.), while Henri Leclercq, who describes them more generally as personages, sees a bearded male, évidemment le president, to our left (Dictionnaire 2.2092). It was the presence of at least one woman at the table that ruled out an early interpretation that the portrayal was of the seven disciples eating at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:12—23).

Even if this were a realistic picture of the early Eucharist at Rome, it would add nothing to Torrance's argument for women's ordination. Even on that conjecture, it is just not possible to say that anyone at that table is a female presbyter "concelebrating" the Eucharist. That notion cannot be dated prior to some two decades ago, I think, when feminism began its intense feeding frenzy. The world's most eminent liturgical archaeologists since 1885, including Rossi, Wilpert, and Leclercq, studied the fresco from every angle without spotting anything of the sort. That was the year, by the way, that this catacomb was first named for St. Priscilla, largely because scholars believed that she was in Rome (see Romans 16:3) when the catacomb was originally dug on the property of the senator Pudens. To my knowledge, Torrance is the first viewer to spot both Aquila and Priscilla in the mural itself, a feat in whose emulation I have contracted severe eye strain.

But is this supposed to be a realistic portrayal of any actual celebration of the Eucharist? There are reasons for thinking that it is not. According to Justin Martyr, the Eucharist at Rome was celebrated standing and in prayer, whereas in this scene we are presented with seven figures sitting there at a table talking and gesticulating to one another in what appear to be three separate conversations. (One admits readily that random discourse and other spontaneous pleasantries have also been known to break out from time to time among the less devout during the Eucharist itself, even in some of the local parishes of my area, but we rarely memorialize the event in a mural.)

There are scores of extant catacomb icons showing Christians at prayer, and those all conform to what we know about the usual posture of Christian prayer from several literary sources: figures standing, arms elevated and extended in cruciform, eyes raised. Two good examples are the pictures from the Septuagint Book of Daniel—the praying Susanna and the three boys in the furnace—which are found right there in the same Capella Graeca as the table scene we are talking about. In this latter icon, however, there is no resemblance whatsoever to those other artistic and literary witnesses. All the figures are seated, not one eye in the painting is cast upward, not a single hand raised even to shoulder height.

If we are not looking at a realistic portrait of the Eucharist, still it would be rash to conclude that there is nothing Eucharistic about it. The picture is somewhat complex. We observe that its imagery is drawn in part from the Last Supper, in part from the Multiplication of the Loaves; one notes the fish along with the bread and chalice at the table, as well as the seven baskets of fragments (see Mark 8:8 and 20) off to the sides. This all suggests a combining, a "com-penetration" if you will, of images from two Gospel scenes. Indeed, the later presence of elevaties oculis in coelum ("with eyes raised to heaven"), a direct quotation from the Multiplication narrative in Mark 6:41, within the actual Institution Account in the venerable Roman Liturgy, is a striking testimony of how easily the Roman Christians combined the two Gospel scenes.

I believe that this is an icon of the Messianic Banquet, of which the Multiplication of Loaves was a foreshadowing, and the eucharist an anticipation. The seven figures, whom I take to be symbolic of the Church in her eschatological fullness, are doing exactly what Jesus said his disciples would do in the kingdom—they are sitting and feasting. The picture is less a portrayal of how early second-century Christians conducted themselves at the Eucharist than of how they hoped to behave themselves in heaven.


Theodora Episcopa

But now let us continue to follow the lead of Torrance south through the streets of Rome from the Catacomb of St. Priscilla to the Church of St. Praxedes. There we find a ninth-century mosaic depicting four female "saints" who were dear to Pope Pascal I (817-824), a fierce opponent of iconoclasm. The heads of three of these women are each shrined in a round nimbus, signifying that they were already venerated as saints in the liturgical calendar of the Church: St. Praxedes, the Virgin Mary, and (supposes Henri Leclercq, who enjoys a kind of infallibility in these matters) St. Prudentiana. The woman on the extreme left is featured with a square nimbus, indicating that she was still alive when the mosaic was made.

This last woman was also important to Pope Pascal I; she was his mother, Theodora. (She was not the Empress Theodora, as one might be led to think by the picture that unfortunately accompanied Torrance's article in Touchstone and which I am sure he did not choose.) Undoubtedly, none of this would solicit our attention in the present discussion on women's ordination were it not for the inscription to the side of and over her head in the mosaic: Theodora Episcopa [Theodora the Bishopess]. Torrance, convinced now that he has at last discovered the smoking gun, sums up his case: "And so we have papal authority for a woman bishop and an acknowledgment by the pope that he himself was the son of a woman bishop."

Well, if he insists on grasping for that straw, I am afraid that Torrance's proposition must simply sink with it. As I will show in a moment, an adequate exegesis of that inscription will necessarily involve some element of reasonable surmise and contextualizing. Torrance's ipse dixit, however, cannot seriously be called even a conjecture; it is a revisionist bluff, an unfounded affront to everything we know about the ninth century by accepted standards of inference and context. During the period under discussion every ordination canon in force and every ordinal in use presumes that only persons of the male sex are ordained. No feminine noun, adjective or referent is ever employed in those testimonials. Every single contemporary literary reference to a bishop, whether in sermon, treatise, or letter, including those of Pope Pascal himself (Volume 129 of Migne's Latin Patrology), is masculine. To seize on this one inscription, then, and gratuitously to pretend that it documents the existence of a female bishop at Rome in the ninth century is an embarrassing exercise in ideological fantasy, first advanced, I believe, by Joan Morris in her 1972 hallucination, The Lady was a Bishop.

We are left, nonetheless, with the task of finding out what the word episcopa does mean as it appears over the head of Theodora. Literary references are the first and most obvious place to look for an answer. Here the positive and direct evidence, though materially slight, demolishes Torrance's thesis. In 813, during Pascal's priestly and monastic ministry in Rome and just four years before he was made pope, the Second Council of Tours prescribed the following Canon 13: "Let no entourage of women accompany a bishop who does not have a bishopess" (Episcopum episcopam non habentem nulla sequatur turba mulierum). By itself the text is unanswerable proof that an episcopa in ninth-century Latin was understood to be the wife of a bishop.

It has also been suggested that episcopa may likewise have meant "abbess." I am aware of no evidence supporting this attractive suggestion, however, except the very inscription we are talking about (see the sources cited in Du Cange's entry episcopa). In our mosaic Theodora does seem to be wearing the coif normally associated with feminine monasticism. (Indeed, that coif was once invoked to argue that Theodora was unmarried and thus not the wife of a bishop! – See Irvin, 6). That the mother of so monastic an enthusiast should have become a nun in her advancing and widowed years would be no surprise. Still, in the absence of supporting testimony, it appears to me a rather shaky business to regard episcopa as the equivalent of abbatissa solely on the basis of this inscription. I would be delighted, nonetheless, to have some medievalist show me wrong.

At the risk of seeming fickle, let me submit one more possibility. In spite of the testimony of the Second Council of Tours cited above, I confess that I am not really convinced that Pope Pascal's mother was married to a bishop. My suspicion, based on nothing more than what I know of the folk habits of Orthodox Christians, and advanced here with all due discretion, is this: Theodora was called an episcopa or bishopess, simply because she was the mother of the bishop of Rome. As the latter had no wife (the Roman popes and most other bishops having been celibate for quite some time) but did have a popular mother living close at hand, the name episcopa was informally transferred to her by those who held her in high regard. If this was so, episcopa in her case was a name of endearment, charmed with that hint of play and irony that often adorn terms of affection. Pope Pascal's mother was later remembered as gracious and kind (benignissima genitrix, says a source cited in Du Cange). In his mosaic crafted during her lifetime, then, her son memorialized her with that respectful and affectionate name by which everyone in Rome knew her: the bishopess. It would take another thousand years and a vastly different ecclesiastical context for that title to be so totally misunderstood.

So, at the end, how much archaeological evidence has been found for women's ordination to the priesthood in the Church of the first thousand years? Zero, and not the faintest fraction more. Those who have sought for solid historical data in its support have come up with just plain zero. Unfortunately, they have often enough then proceeded to multiply their zeros and pretend that they are ready to alter the ministerial structure of the Church.
It would cause me no grand surprise and only small pain to learn that sometime in some ecclesiastical backwater or infrequently visited village, some bishop had sneaked his ordaining hands onto some woman's head. But the proponents of this most novel of novelties have failed to give us even a single historical example of such a laying on of hands. That has not, however, prevented their impressive display of sleight of hand.


Theological Reasoning

In the second part of his article Torrance advances speculative theological reasons for female presbyteral ordination, commencing with the premise that "there is no intrinsic or theological ground for the exclusion of women." He accuses opponents of women's ordination of arguing that "it is only a man who can be an ikon of Christ at the altar," and then goes on to show why he thinks them wrong.

Torrance hints repeatedly that those who would restrict presbyteral ordination to men alone are not taking seriously the biblical doctrine that both men and women are made in God's image and likeness. In Christ, he reminds us, there is neither male nor female. So, he argues, "woman as well as man was made in the image of God, and may therefore be said to be an ikon of God as well as man." This likeness to God, in short, pertains to human nature, not a specific sex. So if "iconography" is a basis for ordination, then the male must not be given preference to the female. I trust that this summary accurately represents the thought of Torrance.

In response let us ask another question: Can a Christian man icon or represent Christ in a way that is not possible for a Christian woman? If the answer to this question is yes, then perhaps there may be a doctrinal basis for ordaining men and not ordaining women. Keep that thought in mind: If the answer is yes—if the Christian man really can icon or represent Christ in a way that a Christian woman cannot—then everything Torrance wrote on this matter by way of theological reflection is beside the point.

If I have correctly understood Torrance, however, his answer to that question must be no. Indeed, it seems to me that he says repeatedly throughout his article that, in this matter of iconing or representing Christ, the male cannot do it in any way not also available to the female. Such representation always has to do exclusively with human nature as such, he contends, and never with a specific sex. Now if that is truly what Torrance is saying, then he is manifestly at odds with Holy Scripture. I take it to be the clear teaching of the New Testament that the Christian man, as male and not simply as person, can represent Christ in some way that the Christian woman cannot.

We are taught in the New Testament that the husband in the Christian family, precisely as husband, can represent Christ in some way that his wife is not able to duplicate (Ephesians 5:21—33), and that this representation has to do with his specific sex. This representation involves his being masculine and not feminine. This representation is further described as one of headship: "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church." The text here is something of a hard saying in our contemporary setting precisely because it is so clear and so irreducible. It says that the Christian husband, as head of the family, represents Christ who is head of the Church. This representation of Christ in headship pertains to the husband's specific sex (see also 1 Corinthians 11:3).

Now if that is true, then the answer to the question posed above must be yes: It is possible for the Christian man to icon Christ in a way that is not possible for the Christian woman. And if that is true, then there is a reasonable and possible theological basis for ordaining men and not ordaining women, and thus Torrance's major premise is eviscerated.
Please understand, I am not making that argument myself; I am simply saying that the argument can be made on a scriptural basis. I am reluctant to craft any such theoretical argument, because I do not want to convey the impression that the Church's refusal to ordain women is based on some theological study or speculative reflection. That refusal by the Church is not founded on any sort of rational theory excogitated by theologians but on the authority of the living Apostolic Tradition. Quite simply, the ordination of women was not received from Christ and handed down to us by the Apostles. It is an alien intrusion, a meddling with Moabites, and consequently must be numbered among those novelties against which the Bible warns us.

Male headship, however, does raise an important point of Christology and Trinitarian doctrine. Prior to becoming a male in the human race, the eternal Word was already God's Son, not just his offspring. The fatherhood and the sonship in the Holy Trinity are not simply cultural names. Even if there were no such things as men and women, God would still be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Male headship in the Church and in the Christian family then is not an arbitrary arrangement. It has to do with the very being of the God of Christians. Change it and you start to alter that most patriarchal of dogmas: the doctrine of the Trinity.
I hasten to agree with Torrance that sex "may not be read back into the Being of God as Father." I simply want to insist that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not something else. If it is erroneous to read sex back into God, then it is at least as wrong to read androgyny or gender-neutrality back into God, and that is exactly what has happened among some Christians who several years ago adopted female ordination. Anyone entertaining doubts on this point is invited to examine the new Methodist service book or the various trial liturgies recently inflicted on some unsuspecting Episcopalians. The theology in those books goes out of its way to portray an androgynous divinity by concentrated and intentional recourse to gender-neutral, feminine, and even animist metaphors with a view to "balancing" the biblical names "Father and Son," while these latter are only sparsely employed. The books are shocking examples of a modern reluctance to voice the two proclamations given us by the Holy Spirit: "Abba, Father" and "Jesus is Lord."


Theological Error

Torrance cites with approval George Carey's much publicized assessment that those who oppose women's ordination are in "serious theological error." Well, perhaps so. But we may do well to examine the implications of that assessment. If we are in serious theological error, how did we get that way? We got that way from the previous generation of Christians. Okay, how did they come to be in serious theological error? Apparently they got it from the generation before them, and so forth. A slight difficulty arises here, however, because it is a matter of historical fact that all generations of Orthodox Catholic Christians for roughly 2,000 years have been opposed to the ordination of women. Why? Because of the supposed vestigial Manichaeism of St. Augustine and his alleged sexual hangups? Be serious. Just where did the error come from?

The Last Supper, that's where. If we are in error, it is penultimately because the Apostles themselves got it wrong. And if the Apostles themselves were in error, they received that error from the One who told them what to do and how to do it. And if that Person was in error, we—those among us who believe him to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world and its only hope—have a rather serious problem on our hands.

That was the whole point of my reference to the neo-paganism of the new Methodist and Episcopalian worship experiments. I trust it will not be a matter of indifference to Torrance that our opposition to women's ordination springs from a deeply held conviction that the practice itself is a grave act of disobedience and a first, but firm, step toward apostasy. In fact, this was the assessment explicitly asserted by C. S. Lewis several decades ago in a passage that is well known. Lewis argued that ordaining the male sex to minister at the Eucharist has to do with the "correct appearance" ("orthodoxy" in Greek), the proper iconography. Change that appearance, alter that icon, he reasoned, and in due time you are worshipping a different god. That is precisely what we are witnessing today in congregations that were still Christian back when C. S. Lewis spoke his mind.

I see the matter to be every bit as serious as that tiny but notorious fourth-century iota that Athanasius would have died to keep out of the Creed. The adoption of female ordination is regarded by some of us as an implicit but definite challenge to the lordship of Christ and the finality of his word, those very same concerns devoutly cultivated and always maintained uppermost in the adorned and spacious mind of Thomas Forsyth Torrance.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Dictionnaire: Henri Leclercq, several articles in Volumes 2 and 14 of Dictionnaire d'Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, Paris: Letouzey, 1935, 1948.
Hauke: Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood?, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988.
Hopko: Thomas Hopko, Women and the Priesthood, Crestwood: St. Vladimir's, 1983.
Irvin: Dorothy Irvin, "Archaeology Supports Women's Ordination," The Witness, February 1980.


ON THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN

A Correspondence Between Thomas F. Torrance
and Patrick Henry Reardon

Torrance: Athanasius Approved

of Women Priests?

Thank you for the new number of Touchstone, for Winter 1993 in which there are some strong reactions to my essay on the ministry of women—rather stronger and less objective than by my Orthodox friends and theologians over here—some of whom are bishops who support me.

I do not wish to reply or enter into a debate with contributors in your pages in which, among some good arguments some rather strange ideas are put forward. However, I think you should ask your contributors why they did not appeal to Didascalia Apostolorum 15, and Constitutiones Apostolicae III.6-1-2 and 9.1-4, in support of their rejection of the ministry of women? Perhaps because they are of Syrian and not mainstream provenance? They are the only patristic passages I know to which appeal might with some reason be made for the rejection of women priests.

But also ask them what they make of Athanasius the Great, Peri parthenias [De virginitate]? There he tells us that consecrated women may celebrate the Eucharist without the presence of a male priest. "The holy virgins may bless the bread three times with the signs of the Cross, give thanksgiving and pray, for in the Kingdom of Heaven there is neither male nor female. All women who were well received by the Lord attained the rank of men."

They should also read Basil the Great, Oratio I.22ff, and Didymus the Blind, De Trinitate II.7, where it is pointed out that while in the fallen state of humanity woman was subjected to man, that has been overturned in Christ, for woman as well as man was made in the image of God and is equal in God's sight.

I would be interested to read the theological arguments P. H. Reardon will bring forward, and see whether he confuses institutional "truth" with theological truth, or canonical decisions with dogmatic propositions. My Greek Orthodox theologian and episcopal friends all tell me that the Orthodox church has never given theological reasons for restricting the priesthood to males, but that the historical institutional acts limiting the priesthood to males have been of what they call an "economic" kind, that is, for convenient social reasons or on recommended cultural grounds. They use much the same arguments about the celibacy of bishops. I have sometimes had to warn some of my friends who become Orthodox to be aware of falling into the "convert's disease."

—Thomas F. Torrance
Edinburgh, Scotland


Reardon: Reply

Dr. Torrance's reference to the De virginitate, spuriously credited to St. Athanasius, is, I regret to say, of a piece with his other desperate appeals to ancient authority. Comparison with eucharistic prayers and rituals of the period will show that the text in question has to do with the daily monastic meal, not the Divine Liturgy. If one may speak frankly, his case for women's ordination is not well served by such bogus support from tradition. Every historical claim made by Torrance in his article was completely disproven in my response to it, a fact ill-disguised by his present reluctance "to reply or enter into a debate" on the subject.

Also, as a member of the Antiochian Orthodox archdiocese, let me say that my failure to cite standard Syrian sources certainly does not arise from some bias against them. It was not my intention to argue against the ordination of women, but only to address Torrance's arguments from the other side.

—Patrick Henry Reardon


Torrance: Misplaced Quarrel?

The De Virginitate of St. Athanasius, far from being spurious as Patrick Henry Reardon alleges, is accepted as genuine and is included as such in the Athens Edition of the Greek Fathers published by Apostolike Diakonia tes Ekklesias tes Hellados in Athens, vol. 33, 1963. Its authenticity, backed up by Syriac and Armenian texts, was established a good while ago by Goltz, and so is not included among the Amphiballomena. Dr. Reardon's quarrel must be taken up, therefore, not with me but with the Greek Orthodox Church which accepts it, and with established patristic scholarship. I am aware, of course, that some Western scholars in the Roman tradition would like to reject it as a genuine work of Athanasius, just as they want to reject his two books Contra Appolinarem, for their content conflicts at significant points with their own presuppositions!

—Thomas Forsyth Torrance
Edinburgh, Scotland


Reardon: Torrance Missing the Point?

Instead of frankly conceding that his appeal to the De Virginitate was no help to his case for women's ordination, Dr. Torrance understandably prefers to change the discussion to the authorship of that book, a subject I touched only lightly in passing.

Erasmus, Scultetus, and Montfaucon being among the earlier critics, that book's authorship has been debated intermittently for about five centuries, and it is simply pretentious to say that Torrance's view is sustained by "established patristic scholarship." Apparently he is persuaded simply by Goltz's defense of the authenticity of the work and its inclusion in the uncritical Athens edition, but quite a few of us are more impressed by the contrary arguments of Batiffol, Burch, Zucchetti, Lebon, Delehaye, Leipoldt, Aubineau, Buonaiuti, Quasten and others.

Torrance's brief remarks on the subject, moreover, do not inspire confidence. In particular, his puzzling reference to Syriac and Armenian versions of the De Virginitate leads one to think that Torrance is confusing two (of four!) different "Athanasian" treatises bearing the same name. There is, indeed, a De Virginitate preserved in Syriac fragments published by Lebon and in an Armenian version edited by Casey. The question of authorship aside, however, these versions are not the same work as that defended by Goltz and quoted by Torrance. So one is at a loss to understand his remark that the latter book is "backed up by Syriac and Armenian texts" except by presuming his confusion of the two different treatises.
But, candidly, is any of this discussion really to the point? Such concentration on a textual problem can only serve to obscure the fact that, in summoning Athanasius in support of women's ordination, Torrance was creating evidence ex nihilo—a thing he has repeatedly shown, all through this debate, a remarkable disposition to do. Whether or not the great Alexandrian himself did write the book that Torrance cited is manifestly beside the point, inasmuch as the passage in question does absolutely nothing to further his case or to render his quoting of it anything other than an embarrassing exercise in legerdemain. I am reluctant to let that point get lost.

—Patrick Henry Reardon

 

Here are the two articloes of S. M. Hutchens, referred to by Fr Reardon. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

 

GOD, GENDER, AND THE PASTORAL OFFICE

by S. M. Hutchens

In the brave new world of the public elementary school my daughters are confronted daily with graphic assurances that boys and girls, men and women, are mere variations on the theme "human." This means that as a Christian father I am obliged to supplement their education by explaining that while I have no direct objections to women doctors or truck drivers, the differences between men and women are less superficial than their schoolbooks imply. The deeper problem involved is that in omitting something about us they are also omitting some things about the God in whose image and likeness we are made. There are connections between what God is and what we are that define our existence, that tell us what we are as human beings who are men and women, connections which the egalitarian gospel of modern culture and the secularizing churches must because of its very nature deny or overlook.

The time will no doubt come when they will ask me why if a woman can direct a ship or a school she can't be a pastor. It is a reasonable question. Anyone can see that women can teach, address the congregation, and handle the elements of the Lord's Supper as well as men can. Why should they be forbidden to do these things? What denies them but an absurd old prejudice, akin to the sort that regarded women as incapable of education because of their intellectual inferiority? Perhaps Daddy, as nice an old fellow as he might otherwise be, has a bit of a problem, and as soon as his consciousness is raised to where it can accept women's equality, the difficulty with their pastoral ordination will likewise disappear.

But perhaps not. Those who favor the pastoral ordination of women are frequently willing to attribute little more than reactionary motives to those opposed--who for their own part justify the attribution all too often. It must be understood, however, that the theology which excludes women from the pastorate is not shallow, desultory, or (necessarily) the product of mere conservatism. Nor does it depend on a few verses in the Pauline writings of the New Testament. Rather, the well-known statements of St. Paul on the place of women in the church simply represent, explicate, and apply, a massive and logically connected body of doctrine common to both the Jewish and Christian scriptures and the indelibly patriarchal faith they describe so that no argument for women's ordination based upon egalitarian premises can persist in Christian theology. It might have been otherwise: a strong rationale for women's ordination may be developed along ancillary--Marian, in its purest form--lines, which I will identify below, with apostolic direction, on grounds other than those upon which it has been denied. But it was not, and the church has no authority to alter the dominical constitution in which its practice of pastoral ordination is defined. Whatever theoretical arguments, even in the context of orthodox theology, might be adduced for women's ordination to pastoral offices, they fail because the offices are defined within scripture and tradition as patriarchal.

Those who, therefore, wish to reject the traditional practice on egalitarian grounds--and that is where the vast majority of the debate has taken place--should know, as the more radical feminists have repeatedly attempted to tell them, that they cannot pluck this piece from the whole without causing a collapse far more extensive than they have shown themselves willing to anticipate. The pastorate as an exclusively male office has from the church's beginning been placed in the ground not merely in religious and social convention, but in the very life of the Holy Trinity they profess to worship. Because God the Creator is the depth and origin of all meaning, no created distinction, especially any distinction found in the creature made in his image, can be insignificant. The office of the man as pastor is part of this structure of meaning that has its deepest root in the person of God himself. It cannot be overthrown without denying his character and bringing confusion to the churches that presume to do it.

One needn't look far for the evidence of this. The institution of women's ordination is farthest progressed, as might be expected, in the part of Christendom already most deeply ravaged by modernism, whose faith is the weakest and most deeply compromised, and whose spiritual life is the most secularized and chaotic. In mainline Protestantism, and increasingly among Evangelicals, the presumption that women are as ordainable as men is so strong it is generally believed there is no basis upon which fair-minded people can oppose it. If one is tempted to wonder whether there are good reasons to move against this flow, given that for the last two millennia it has gone in another direction, he is assured by august legions of bishops and professors that there is not. No less an authority than the archbishop of Canterbury has said that the heretofore universal practice of ordaining men only is based on a "serious theological error." With this he joins a chorus of church leaders who affirm (usually "joyfully") that our generation (guided by them) has advanced so far in faith and knowledge that it can unblushingly declare the Church's belief and practice to have been wrong up until now. This being the case, they have felt it their duty to correct a state of affairs into which even our gentle Lord feared to tread because he was, they typically say, unwilling to offend or confuse his contemporaries. Making himself equal to God, he was simply unable to take the more radical step of making women equal to men.

 

Some Concessions, Some Hard Words

Let us first acknowledge that apparent novelty is no conclusive argument against women's ordination, or for that matter, against any alleged innovation in the Church. The Lord did not scruple to offend tradition, even that of pious and reasonable traditionalists, when it was being used to diminish some more fundamental truth--truth that was heard by his frequently bewildered disciples as nothing less than new revelation. Christ and his apostles scandalized a great many biblically informed conservatives. There is nothing, for example, more disturbing to mere conservatism than St. John's record of his teaching that "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these, because I go to the Father." When this is added to the possibility that there are certain things the churches have been unable to receive because they are not ready for what St. Paul called "solid food" the argument that refusal to ordain women is based upon an expiring indulgence cannot be dismissed out of hand.

It would be easier to reject the institution as eccentric if it could be treated as the exclusive domain of the feminist ideologue. But in fact it cannot be, for many who believe in it firmly, or at least do not find themselves opposed, do not call themselves feminists, and their allegiance to the creeds appears otherwise firm. Among these are no small number of theologians who appear able to pull up all the strongest counter-arguments by the roots, yet without seeming to attack the main lines of Christian authority. Even if at the end of the day one is still not quite convinced of the rightness of it all, if there are, for example, certain parts of the Epistles that persist in giving trouble, it still may appear that the sum of the arguments put forward against appointment of women pastors is not conclusive enough to defeat the sum of those opposing. Placing the burden of proof on the innovator does no good, because he can in fact produce proofs, and whatever weaknesses they may have are more than adequately compensated by the receptivity of the forums to which they are taken. In the Protestant world not even the strongest presumptions and demonstrations are decisive enough to take into battle against ideas and practices that have already become "tradition" under the sponsorship of some of the brightest and most powerful people in the churches. Where women's ordination is fait accompli, the only real choice that has been given is to accept it with good grace or leave.

Although I hope what I am going to say in this essay is said courteously and with no unnecessary cause for offense, I am not going to mince words. This is a tu quoque, addressed particularly to church leaders who believe that those opposed to ordaining women are guilty of a serious theological error, or who are willing to allow all this to slip by as though it were a mere adjustment to a mere convention that conservatives will oppose because they are naturally inimical to change. No, friends, you are the ones who are guilty of error, a calamitous error that lays violent hands on the very heart of the Christian doctrine of God. You must stop evading the clear meaning and intent of apostolic doctrine by clever and specious arguments, and bring yourselves under authority once again. You must cease making women pastors and repent of the offense of doing so. At stake is nothing less than the integrity of your witness to God in Christ and your accreditation as witnesses to the gospel.

 

Why I Changed My Mind

The history of my own opinion on the question has been that of one who wished to affirm the ordination of women to the pastoral offices, and has in fact participated in such ordinations. But this was abandoned when I found, for the reasons set forth in this essay, that I simply could not justify it without violating the apostolic constitution of the Church. During this time I was a member of a denomination that ordained women and found it convenient to say that while I was personally in disagreement with the institution, the issue was a hill upon which I was not prepared to die--that I would reluctantly tolerate it.

After looking into the matter more closely, however, I became convinced that it cannot be tolerated and must be actively opposed. In a different context, in a different age, with different sorts of people sponsoring it, it may not have been worth bothering this much about--to strain friendships, damage career prospects, and sever valued denominational ties. But things are different now. When an increasing number of the people zealous for women's ordination are those who have reason to know better, the disputed ground begins to look far more strategic than it did. Blood must be shed when Roman Catholics, confessional and evangelical Protestants, and even some Eastern Orthodox, begin to circumvent large tracts of Scripture by ignoring them or making them mean what they have never, or hardly ever, been taken to mean, when they create local and temporary confinements for dicta from the Epistles clearly intended to have timeless and universal significance, reduce apostolic commands or teachings to the personal opinions of men with silly, malignant, or antiquated biases, uncritically employ the principal modernist criterion of truth by treating counter-theses as false because obsolete, introduce speculative meanings into biblical passages where those far less so are closer to the hermeneutical surface, deal with rare and widely scattered exceptions to the rule of the male pastorate as if they were more than anomalies, treat high offices held by women as evidence for the involvement of a feminist principle in their establishment, claim ambiguities as firm evidence for their own position while reducing clearly hostile authorities to ambiguity, suppress the massive weight of historical consensus, pretend that the essential question has never been addressed before, conceal the judgment of the Church at large on figures and movements whose opinions on the ministry of women resemble their own, claim the patronage of highly regarded authorities by non-contextual presentation of their views, and accord the same measure of dignity to canonical and non-canonical, orthodox and heterodox sources when making general statements about the beliefs of the early Church--in short, to add to a host of tortions and clever dodges a grand illusion of substance by the multiplication of insubstantialities, as if a hundred well-marshalled fleas and the ghosts of a hundred more could, when finally reckoned at full weight, overbalance an elephant.

When the defense of women's ordination appears to require so many distortions and evasions, the movement begins to look as though there were something far more ominous than a mere mistake at the bottom of it. The divisions which must be made between those who hold to it and those who do not become correspondingly deeper, and the hill upon which we are fighting looks more like ground worth dying for. Anyone who has been exposed to denominations that ordain women will readily testify that there are female pastors and people who believe in female pastorates who are devout and well-intentioned. (Make no mistake: I would not claim otherwise.) The existence of this practice among serious Christians, however, should be reckoned a measure of God's patience rather than of a human wisdom that has made so remarkable a discovery after all these centuries of serious theological error.

 

Hierarchy and Equality in God and Man

The question of the propriety of the ordination of women to the pastoral offices in the Christian Church places two enduring principles at issue, that of the equality of men and women--which is not only a part of general human consciousness, but recognized in both the new covenant and the old--and that of the male hierarchy, of which the same may be said. The fundamental attribute of feminism in either its egalitarian or gynarchial form is its denial of the second. The confusion in Christian circles on the ordination of women comes primarily from the teaching of those within the churches who, in (often unwitting) accord with feminist ideology, use the egalitarian principle to annul the hierarchical. Orthodox Christianity retains them both, insisting that they are equally true and must be held together in a way that agrees with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Where the Church has the highest measure of self-awareness, its intuitions on how these principles relate to one another are controlled by its understanding of the life of the Holy Trinity as reflected in man. Created male and female in God's image, humanity's dual gender is a reflection of the nature of God, in whom hierarchy and equality each have their place. Because of the persistence of the egalitarian principle, the ordination of women to the pastoral offices of the Christian Church becomes a theoretical possibility--a possibility exploited to the fullest degree by those who favor the institution. More shall be said on this below. The Church's understanding of the equality of persons, however, rests in revelation that places it in the context of patriarchy in the domains of both created and uncreated being. The equality of God's persons is contained not in a principle of balance so that he is equally, for example, Father and Mother, but in the consubstantiality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father from whom they respectively are begotten and proceed. When viewed as principles, that of hierarchy and equality are equally true, but one is greater than the other as Christ and the Father are One, and equally God, but the Father being, according to our Lord's own testimony "greater than I." It is this very equality and hierarchy that is reflected in the relation of man and woman; their equality in the image of God does not efface headship of the man any more than the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit effaces the patriarchy of the Father.

I cannot say this better than Patrick Henry Reardon did in his Touchstone article on "Imaging God" [Winter 1990].

Patriarchy is of the substance of revelation in two senses. First, revelation identifies the Pater with the Arche; the Father is the Origin. In the measure that the Holy Trinity is patriarchal--that God the Father is pege theotetos, the "Fount of Divinity" (Maximus the Confessor)--all of the Christian Revelation is patriarchal. Secondly, this patriarchy is reflected in God's institution of paternal headship in the family and in the worshiping Church. The biblical texts that support this latter thesis are well-known.

Indeed they are, and widely disliked. But no matter, for holding to them is holding, as Fr. Reardon says, to the "substance of revelation." The belief to which we refer is not the invention of Maximus, the Cappadocian Fathers, or even of St. Paul, but is the natural and necessary understanding of Divinity and its created image in a faith where a divine Son, who is himself one with God, names God Father and tells us to do the same. We do not say that the equality of the Holy Trinity resolves into patriarchy as if it were sublated or destroyed (when we speak of "principles" we remember that these are symbols for the realities in which they participate) but that the Father loves the Son whom he generates in eternity, who is himself obedient to the Father, and whose life we have the privilege of living among ourselves in the way he prescribes. We live this life not simply because it is demanded by tradition, or even because it is taught in holy Scripture, but because these sources as faithfully received reflect the very nature of God and of our being in Christ.

 

The Preeminent Man

The task of the Church, its reason for being, is to bear witness to God in Jesus Christ, and thus show forth his glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All aspects of its ministry are parts of this. As the bride and consort of Christ, it exists not for its own sake, but to give him praise by reflecting his life in all it does. As the body of Christ, animated by his Spirit, it is the presence of Christ in the world. To put it another way, in the words of St. Paul, the Church is the body of which Christ is the head. It exists in him, and is therefore "Christic" in its very nature.

The witness of the Church to Christ extends beyond its own being in him to his Lordship over creation. In the natural world, as with the Church, he is not simply a detached sovereign. The relation of Christ to creation as a whole is sublimely intimate. Creation is, like the Church, an expression of his being that exists because it was created by and coinheres in him--another great mystery: "Through him all things were made; nothing that was made was made apart from him;" "in him all was created, in heaven and on earth. . . . He is before all things, and in him all things subsist;" "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

It is this doctrine and the intuitions it has nurtured in the Church that account for its insistence that its pastors be men. We are not dealing here with an arbitrary ordinance carried along in traditional Jewish patriarchies and reinflicted on the churches by St. Paul, but with the shape and meaning of created reality as expressed in the in the gospel of Christ and recapitulated in the life of the Church. If what the Scriptures say about the nature of Christ is true, that this carpenter from Nazareth contains heaven and earth in some astounding way, being universal in his particularity and particular in his universality, the Everlasting Man, the Life and Light of the world, the Beginning and the End of all things, then how can it be a matter of indifference that when he was manifest in human flesh he came not as a woman, an angel, or some tertium quid, but as a man? His maleness, like everything else about him, cannot be regarded as incidental: it has timeless, cosmic significance. The flesh in which he came was not simply human, but that of a male, a particularity toward which the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant pointed. The Christian faith understands that the God who does new things does them through One who has existed with him from eternity, being the same yesterday, today, and forever. That which is truly new in the Church and in all things is based upon the being of him who does not change. The new creation in Christ incorporates and transforms (the Lord said "perfects" or "fulfills") the old, transfiguring, not destroying, what is good and true.

It should therefore be no surprise that when the ancient promise was fulfilled. God came to us and remained through his death and resurrection a Son and a man, not obliterating the original gender distinction but glorifying it, emphasizing it as a foundational matter in both the new creation and the old, and showing the lordship of the Man (who is male) not to be a matter of economy or dispensation, but a revelation of the nature of the unchanging God himself, whom our Lord called Father.

Jesus Christ is therefore not simply an everlasting person in the sense used by those who would dissolve his maleness in his humanity, but the eternal Son of God the Father, who is also the Son of Man. The concept of generic humanity apart from its personal expression in the lordship of particular males--Adam and Christ--is completely foreign to Scripture. Because the world was created, exists, and will be consummated in and through Christ, his sonship, which includes his maleness, cannot be treated as if it were a mere accident of a gender-neutral personhood. The ontology of his entire being, including his maleness, touches, forms, and transforms every particle of created being, for all that was made is made in and for him. In this is revealed the character of the Everlasting God that lies at the root of both the old creation and its redemption in the new. Nothing of what Jesus is maybe placed aside as incidental, or used to nullify anything else that he is. (To do such is a christological heresy, and those who absorb the Man in his humanity are doing precisely this.) To assert that when one speaks of God one is no longer in the realm where gender is of significance,

or to use the humanity of Christ to obscure or defeat his maleness, is to deny the Incarnation, that is, to refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh--the solid, substantial, flesh that was actually his, in which the chromosomes of each cell identified him as not only human, but a human of a particular sex.

 

The Man in the Church

It is because of the maleness of Jesus Christ that the Church has confirmed and advanced the doctrine ofmale priority found in the Old Testament. The Second Adam is like the first: the man is found in the woman because the woman was first found in the man. Creation was in God before God was in creation. Mothers exist because the Father came first, and the Son in and with the Father from eternity.

This is at least one of the things meant when the Church speaks of the headship of God in Christ as the incomparable First through, by, and in whom all things have their being. Everything it believes about the headship of the man over the woman [Note 1] flows from its belief in the headship of the preeminent Male over all creation and in the necessity that it be re-capitulated in both the world at large and in the life and witness of the Church. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul declares "the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the male [kephale de gunaikos ho aner], and the head of Christ is God," thus explicitly relating the subordination of the man-woman relationship directly, through Christ, to that within the.godhead [Note 2]. The relationship of God to Christ, Christ to the man, and the man to the woman are all described in the concept of headship; one cannot deny one of these without breaking a chain of analogy not only described by St. Paul, but acknowledged through the length and breadth of a Scripture which teaches that man came from God and is to be subordinate to him, and woman came from man and is to be subordinate to him--as Paul himself notes when he says that the woman is to remain in submission "as the law says."

The most discerning feminists have seen the point clearly and quite properly stopped identifying themselves as Christians. They understand that feminism, even that which is elaborated on an egalitarian paradigm, owns as its foundational principle a denial of the unique headship of the Man, which it recognizes as a pervasive feature of biblical religion.

Feminist doctrine cannot accommodate the Church's insistence that all must bend the knee before the Man who is the perfect and complete revelation of God, for it simply does not believe God can be perfectly and completely revealed by a male. In consistently egalitarian theology there must be at the very least a feminine co-principal. But this orthodox Christianity denies, agreeing here with the more thoroughgoing feminists, that those who wish to retain their alliance with the faith by styling themselves Christian egalitarians can only do so by misunderstanding both Christian doctrine and the telos of their own ideology. You cannot have both at once; Christianity and feminism, whether of the egalitarian or gynarchial variety, exclude one another.

Nor can one change the emphatic and unified witness of Scripture to the revelation of God by a divine Son in both promise and fulfillment by chopping a few bothersome passages out of Paul, referring to the liberality of Jesus, or trotting out biblical similes that compare God to a hen. (How these bumbling defenses must irritate the more consistent feminists!) Belief that the Christ of God was a male, even apart from elaboration on what this means for the life of the Church in the Epistles, suffices to contradict the Denial which is at the heart of the egalitarian gospel. The instincts that the mass of scripture's teachings on the character of God and Man have bred in the Church with regard to the gender of its pastors are strong and natural. It has insisted on an exclusively male pastorate because it understands that its offices of authority, of headship, must reflect and bear witness to the greatest degree possible [Note 3] to the person and character of Christ himself, and that the sex of the office holder is therefore no less important than the sex of Christ himself [Note 4]. The maleness of the Church's head is an indispensable aspect of his being; it therefore is and must remain an essential part of the Church's witness to him. To give God the "right glory" it must show forth the person of Christ before God and in the world. As the great Ancilla Domini, its task is not to point to itself, but, as the icons of Virgin and Child show, to point to Christ.

The male in the office of church authority (a reflection of Christ in the womb or the arms of his mother) is the appropriate symbol. When one walks into a Christian sanctuary--itself a kind of womb - what should be seen and heard is pre-eminently the Man. The idea pervades the whole thought and being of the Church - its Scriptures, its theology, its art, its liturgy, its architecture, its self-understanding, and has from the beginning.

Why the Confusion?

The churches' present muddle comes from its toleration of egalitarianism, and the latter's attempt to merge its own idea with Christianity, producing a hybrid in which the feminist aspect is weighted to prevail. Many a church has taken in this foundling (presented to it by feminism as its own) but is now discovering that the larger it grows the fewer family traits it exhibits, and the more likely it is to beat the legitimate children out the door. The logic of egalitarianism, that equality excludes or neutralizes hierarchy, is difficult to resist in churches (liberal or conservative) that have adopted an idea of reason that excludes paradox, a religion that spurns mystery, and a dogmatic and catechetical tradition that attempts to make sense of Scripture by systematizing it in accordance with these exclusions. While the Bible as a whole may be accepted as authoritative, or even inerrant, once fundamentalism--the only attitude that can keep rationalism orthodox--is discarded, the mechanisms by which the egalitarian principle may destroy the hierarchical are firmly in place and ready to be used.

 

Subversion of the Paradox: The Methodology of "Christian" Feminism

The method of argumentation used by those who believe that all church offices should be open to men and women on an equal basis is not always consciously feminist. It may be believed to be grounded in the idea of sexual equality taken from the Bible and reflected in various ways through the history of the Church. But like all classical heresies, it ends up telling only half of the story. The proofs adduced are frequently complex and sophisticated, emphasizing, wherever they can be found, the scattered exceptions to the rule of male-only episcopate and presbyterate as if these reflected fidelity to an apostolic principle abandoned early on by a patriarchal church and long overdue to be revived by ordaining women to offices they have been unjustly denied.

At the center of the argument of the "biblical egalitarians" is a playing off of the egalitarian against the hierarchical principle, with the egalitarian principle prevailing because of its superior moral quality, its alleged affinity with evangelical instead of legal principles, or the like. The game is usually centered, as one might expect, around the writings of St. Paul, in which both are manifestly found. The Pauline dichotomies are admitted, but after considering both sides the question is posed in a form something like this: Given what is said on the egalitarian side and on the hierarchical side, how do we balance them out" or "reconcile" them to one another? Predictably--but never without painful contortions around the hierarchical passages--they are reconciled in favor of the egalitarian principle, which is then used as a hermeneutical tool to work over the rest of the Bible and the history of doctrine.

After such treatment the story of Adam in Genesis, for example, may be brought forward in witness that Adam is the name God gave to the race with both its male and female components, who together reflect the image of God. The female is Adam, and so is the male. From this premise, which is hardly disputable, it is argued that men and women, considered separately, can re-present God in equal ways. Thus a quick and nearly imperceptible move is made from Adam and Eve to Adam/Eve, to man/woman or woman/man, to the concept of generic humanity so beloved of feminist theology, carried along on its characteristic raft of slash marks and otherwise mutilated grammar. All of this reflects back upon a God who bears the same qualities and is therefore obliged by virtue of God's very nature to relieve the woman of the intolerable burden of patriarchy, since She/He is no longer troubled with it Him/Herself.

Since hierarchy is no longer under consideration it may be conveniently forgotten that Adam is the personal name of the male, and not the woman, who is named by the man--something of no small theological significance--and that the race is presented here as comprehended by and defined in the male person in whom it originated [Note 5]. It is this to which St. Paul is referring when he mentions that the man was formed first [protos eplasthe], denoting, in the context of his argument, both ordinal and dominical priority--a point with powerful Christological overtones in the context of the theology of the New Testament. The confession kurios Christos as the second Adam, the first lord and head of the race, contains the whole theology in nuce.

Why do so many Christians seem anxious to believe that hierarchy and equality annul each other? It is essential to the pattern and teaching of the faith that they do not. Christ, who declared himself to be the Lord and Master of his disciples also called them his brothers. The mystery of our redemption is based on the incarnation in which the Lord of heaven and earth (becoming no less the Lord) became one with us--our equal, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone--even to the point of taking our sins upon himself. On what basis is it taught that one side of St. Paul can be used to exterminate the other? The Apostle said that in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. But he also taught that the gospel was for the Jew first, that the slave was to obey his master, the wife her husband, and that the women were not to usurp the peculiar authority of the men in the churches.

The declarations that men and women under Christ are equal and that the woman is subordinate to the man are perfectly situated within the larger landscape of Christian doctrine, and must be accepted and taught together. It is not a question of either/or, as those who use equality to defeat hierarchy would have us believe. The alternative is to assert that Paul (whose own teachings faithfully reflect the shape of the Bible's theology) was contradicting himself, that there existed in his mind two incompatible ideas of the relations of men and women of which he was really unaware, even when he mentioned them both in close proximity, for it is simply not true that in Christ there is no male or female (in the sense that the proponents of women's ordination assert) if women are, merely because of their sex, prohibited from doing certain things that are permitted for men. On the contrary, I must insist that St. Paul articulated the only possible position mat can be taken on these matters by a theology based upon the incarnation of God. If he had declared hierarchy without equality, he would have been a stranger to the God who became Man. If he taught equality without hierarchy (indeed, patriarchy), he would have made salvation impossible, for salvation must be accomplished for us by God. Orthodox trinitarianism is also impossible without equality and hierarchy perfectly coinhering within a patriarchal relationship--a relationship which is at the foundation of all that was, is, and ever shall be, of the mind and finger that wrote the world, and created man, male and female, after his own image.

The dignity of the woman as man of very man ("flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone") is not compromised because she submits herself to him. The great error of religious feminism is believing that there is something essentially inglorious about the kind of subordination to which women are called. This is an anti-Christic position, denying the doxa of the Christ by denying the subordination after which it is patterned--that of the Son of God himself--treating it as an unworthy thing, by implication diminishing his deity in proportion to his obedience, and confusing submission with qualitative inferiority. In the same manner even "Christian" feminism in effect diminishes the humanness of the woman to the degree she is submissive to the man. But this point of view in fact has nothing Christian about it.

The answer to the question of what St. Paul means by saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free, must be that there is in all these aspects of human existence a perfect equality based upon their analogy to the equal deity of the persons of the godhead, which does not, however, obliterate the distinction of persons and the roles that accompany those distinctions. The Son and Spirit are still obedient to the Father; the woman is still subordinate to her man. The servant is to be submissive to his master, and the Jew is still the native branch with prior rights to the gospel. All attempts to subvert one aspect of this single (yet multiple) truth by the denial or virtual exclusion of its complementary aspect is in essence heretical, the method of heresy being the use of one truth to destroy another. Arius, for example, was correct in confessing the incomparable humanity of Christ but wrong in denying his deity. The feminists are right in confessing the equality of the woman with the man, wrong in denying his lordship over her.

The Authority of the Christian Woman and the Command of the Lord

We must still speak to the other aspect of the image of Mother and Child, where the infant Jesus points to the blessed Woman who holds him. While the Church must identify egalitarianism as a non-Christian ideology and deal with it as such, this does not in itself settle the issue of the nature of the ministry of women who reject it and remain Christian. We must make a strict division between the Christianity that raises the question of women's ministry under the Lordship of the Man Christ Jesus, in whom mere is neither male nor female, and the feminism that rejects it on principle. The first clarification that needs to be made in these exceedingly muddy waters is that egalitarianism and the question of women's ordination are theoretically separable.

When the feminist dogma of the absolute equality of the sexes, grounded on denial of male headship, is used to justify the ordination of women, it must be exposed and rejected. When, however, the reasoning offered is based upon Christian teaching about the worthiness of redeemed womanhood and the equality of men and women under Christ, the Son of God the Father who is the head of us all, it merits careful and respectful consideration.

If indeed the glory of the Church is to show forth Christ--and I think it must be granted that traditionally this has been unthinkable apart from a male priesthood and pastorate--still, logically speaking, is not the arch-paradigm for this ostention the Mother who through her obedience gave our Lord to us and to whom the Master himself was subject in his youth? Then why cannot those of her sex in like manner give to us, as she

did, the body and blood of our Lord? Why can they not exhibit and express his life from altar, pulpit, and in all places? This is not only the most convincing argument for the legitimacy of ordaining women to pastoral offices; I would insist that it cannot be defeated merely by asserting the principles of male headship, iconic representation, patriarchy, or hierarchy, for it needn't deny these to be true itself, and rests firmly upon the

same theological foundation. An exclusively male pastorate or priesthood does not follow with absolute necessity from the principle of male headship, and the significance of the maleness of the Lord of the Church.

One must consider, for example, the authority that the mother has over her sons--derivative but real--an authority that carries the weight of the father's. There are mothers in the Church whom I doubt not should be heard, reverenced, and obeyed. The Church itself is the mother of every true Christian and as such rules us all.

The matter at issue between orthodox Christians, however, concerns the Lord's own example of selecting a male-only apostolate, as followed by apostolic instruction on how the equally true principle of male authority over the woman as reflecting the priority of Christ over the Church is to be demonstrated among us. The Church, obeying not only its apostles, but following the example of the Lord who chose only males for this ministry, has persisted in placing men in its offices of pastoral authority, despite episodes of resistance. (The Epistles show opposition from the earliest days. It appears that certain women have always claimed the privilege of "speaking in church.")

Given that men and women are equal in one sense, and that as far as this sense goes, the woman indwelt by Christ can represent him as well as the man, there are excellent reasons for the persistence of males in the offices of authority: Despite what may be said about the theoretical possibility of women representing Christ as pastors, the fact remains that the Fatherhood of God and the male headship of the cosmos are best expressed in the Church by--male headship! The presence of women in offices of authority has the powerful tendency to give a wrong impression on what Christians believe about the nature of God and creation. It is a necessary part of our teaching to retain the male in these places, for he reflects the being of Christ in a way that no woman can, however godly she may be. Christians are not dualists, believing God is composed of masculine and feminine coprinciples--and while we do understand that men and women can in a sense represent him equally well, in another sense we hold they cannot, for the man, simply because of his sex, is a symbol of Christ, re-presenting his being in a way a woman cannot. (Those who mock "genital theology" are scorning dignities, as if the things that make men and women different from each other are trivial or meaningless, as though they do not point beyond themselves to the greater things upon which they are based.) We must be careful that those who observe our doings from the outside do not misunderstand the witness to Christ in our corporate life--something which concerned St. Paul and should concern us too. The placement of women in the offices of authority, especially in a society that is increasingly coming to see such things as concessions to feminism, is in fact a way of speaking unintelligibly to the world we are supposed to be giving the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father.

The arguments for the ordination of women are, moreover, being placed in public view by people who anomalously consider themselves Christian egalitarians, or who are in friendly alliance with feminism. In mainline Protestantism the ordination of women came with this ideology and remains inseparable from it--a decidedly unchristian camel now very much at home in that tent and obviously there with every intention of staying. The movement to ordain women in the Roman Catholic church is headed and dominated by feminists. The witness of the Church to its confession of the lordship of Christ and the Fatherhood of God has suffered and continues to suffer from the distortions inflicted upon it by promiscuous and decayed forms of Christianity, less recognizably Christian from year to year. The movement to ordain women simply does not have the flavor that would be given it by those who are pointing to an aspect of biblical teaching the Church needs to consider more closely. It looks far more like an act of rebellion. The voice we hear is not that of a modern Deborah, a Kathryn Kuhlman arguing that she was given her task because the men chosen for it defaulted. Rather, it is one that says very loudly and clearly that the Church has been wrong from the beginning and the enlightened of this age have come to set it right. This is a challenge which cannot go unanswered, and I can see no fitting way to do it apart from a decisive non valet emphasizing the role of the man in the offices of authority.

Whatever force these arguments may have, however, should not be viewed as based upon their cumulative weight as much as their consonance with the apostolic prohibition of women "speaking in the church." While we may readily grant that the details of what this demands in practice are not perfectly clear, in St. Paul's teaching it minimally means that a woman, simply because she is a woman, cannot stand before the congregation as though she were endowed with the authority symbolized in the sex of the man, for that would be an act of "usurpation." A restriction is placed upon the woman--simply because of her sex--which is not placed upon the man, and the silence enjoined upon her is identified by St. Paul as a command of the Lord (1 Cor. 14.37).

There is an argument that would attempt to subvert this dictum on strength of the (hardly disputable) fact that not all authorities have been agreed on its precise method of implementation. But in doing this it characteristically refuses to acknowledge the historical consensus of the churches: that the pastoral offices, which include in them what we might call the public presidencies of the church--bishop and presbyter--certainly are to be held exclusively by men, and that refusal to appoint women to these offices is based upon a consensual interpretation of a dominical command, conveyed by an apostle--whatever the reason for that command might have been, and whatever reasoning might be held against it. Feminists who forthrightly reject the authority of Bible and Church can see clearer than those who are still trying to reconcile Christianity with egalitarian doctrine. They no longer are burdened with the necessity of inflicting grotesque interpretations on the Epistles or explaining away a practice heretofore universal among Christians to justify their offices and opinions. They can call patriarchy patriarchy (écrasez l'infâme!) and get on with their attempt to exterminate it.

No matter how powerful or distinctively Christian in theory arguments for the ordination of women to the pastoral offices may appear, they fail because an Apostle has told us that of the two theologically possible roads that open before us here--both of which may be paved with Christian rationales--the Lord has directed us, for reasons known best to himself, to take one of them and not the other. As one under the magisterial authority of Christ's apostles, whose own authority depends upon theirs, I am free to see why things might have been otherwise, and perhaps even free to remonstrate with the Source of the command. But I am not free to disobey it or stand idly by while others do. The directive is as clear to me as it is to the more thoroughgoing and scrupulous feminist, whose less radical ally's contortions around the salient passages on the places of men and women in family and church are strong evidence that she doesn't understand the Bible nearly as well.

My own attempts to interpret them out of existence in hopes of retaining favor in disobedient churches have been unable to vault the bars of Scripture, tradition, reason, or conscience. There has been nothing for this but repentance, renewal of the mind, and weary acceptance of the pitying smiles these archaic prejudices elicit among my more open-minded friends.

NOTES

1. I am aware of the debate on the Pauline notion of headship, and intrigued by the exotic argumentation of those who would narrow its definition to mean something (anything!) other than "authority over." But given the apparent singularity of the Apostle's use of the term in places like I Cor. 11 and Eph. 5, should not the meaning be understood in accordance with his thought on the relation of husbands and wives in general, by the immediate as well as the larger context of his teaching on the subject? Why should we restrict the definition unless there are sound hermeneutical grounds for doing so? Indeed, it would appear that there are excellent reasons to understand kephale in these places as meaning nearly everything it has been alleged to mean, including "source" and "lord" for these are both made possible by the text and are part of biblical doctrine on both the natural and covenantal relation of man and woman ab initio, echoed strongly and unmistakably throughout the Pauline writings. That this idea of headship could be employed to exclude the authority of the husband over the wife is as improbable as the notion that Paul did not think Christ to hold authority over the Church, not only because he employs an analogy that should make this obvious, but since he makes it eminently clear in other places that this is exactly what he holds to in both instances. There is simply no reasonable way for those who style themselves biblical egalitarians to enlist St. Paul in their party without corrupting him.

2. The most theologically alert egalitarians understand that the analogy drawn here--that of the sexes as re-flecting an intrinsic quality of the uncreated being of God--is at the base of their opponents' argument and must be defeated for their own to hold. It is at this decisive point where they do some of their most elegant theologizing. But alas, the project is doomed to fail, simply because the Scriptures teach that Man, who is male and female, is created after the image and likeness of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever one may say about the nature of the analogy (that is where Barth thought he and St. Thomas were at odds), the analogy itself cannot be denied. For those who would qualify it out of existence or assert its invalidity because of the impossibility of an analogy of being, I simply say that the idea is not a modem aberration invented by theologians who refuse to acknowledge the infinite qualitative distinction between God and the creature, but pervades Scripture and is explicitly applied to the matter at hand by St. Paul. Where he declares "the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is the male, and the head of Christ is God," he rides roughshod over excessively fastidious doctrines of analogy, relating the subordination of the man-woman relationship directly, through Christ, to that within the Godhead. In the Mediator the persons and affairs of heaven and earth are bound together. By him we not only can, but must, speak of their concurrence.

3. This is behind the requirements for the episcopal or presbyterial offices in the Pastoral Epistles. Perfection is not demanded, but it is understood that the incumbent will be a mature, self-controlled Christian man with the gifts and accomplishments necessary to represent his Lord to the Church and the world. What of the argument that on the premise the pastor must be male, he should also be required to be a Jew, or unmarried, or, ad absurdum, a carpenter named Yeshuah from the town of Nazareth? While the question is often posed in a mocking and frivolous way, the problem to which it points is theologically significant. It is something over which the Church has frequently agonized, beginning with the difficulty of receiving the Gentiles. Christ- likeness is required for admission to the Church and for accession to its offices, but given that no one attains its perfect measure, what degree of Christ-likeness, including Christ-likeness of sex, is necessary to retain membership and to hold office? Those who insist that compared to the relative importance of other qualities mere gender should not rank high, or rank at all, on the list of qualifications for the pastorate, might have a strong point if we were at liberty to decide the matter ourselves.

4. Leo Steinberg demonstrates the strong awareness of the theological significance of Christ's maleness among Renaissance artists in his astute monograph, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modem Oblivion (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).

5. The point is obscured by egalitarian Bibles such as the New Revised Standard Version, which consistently translate as if the hierarchical principle reflected by both Hebrew and Greek grammar were a dead letter. This method accords with neither the language nor the anthropology of the Bible, in which from the beginning the man and the woman appear together under the name and title of the man. In the English Bible, the only unambiguous translation of anthropos, for example, is "man," meaning either (depending on context) the male person or the race as comprehended in its male head. Consistent elimination of this usage and substitution of equalized or gender neutral designations reflects an ideology foreign to the Bible. The implied teaching is the same as that to which I refer in the opening paragraph of this essay and enlarge upon later with relation to its christological implications: that men and women are coordinate variations upon the non-gender-specific theme "human." This stands opposed to the Scripture's teaching that humanness is never without gender, and is defined by and contained in the archetypical and prototypical Males, Adam and Christ.

 

MYSTICAL THEOLOGY

AND THE SUBLIMATION OF GENDER

Suppose an ecstatic lover (voluble but sincere) were to tell his beloved, "Darling, my love for you surpasses the bounds of human understanding—in fact, the strength of my affection is of such transcendent intensity that 'love' as used in human discourse does not suffice to describe my feelings for you." Suppose then she snorted back, "You see there, I knew it all along—you don't really love me at all!" Would she not have inferred the very antithesis of what he meant? Similarly, what are we to make of the claim that ecstatic theology's insistence that human thoughts and words cannot contain or describe God means that the words and thoughts we apply to him must be denials of the reality for which they stand? Let us think that here, too, something has gone far wrong.

In his response to my article "God, Gender and the Pastoral Office," Steven L. Foster, serenely inspecting a field of battle his knowledge of mysticism and semantic philosophy allows him to remain above, suggests that I consign the mystical tradition to heresy and dally with idolatry by defining God within the confines of patriarchy. This, indeed, is one of the principal charges leveled these days against those who defend the Christian tradition in these matters: We do not understand the way in which what is unutterable—here, the relation of God to gender—does away with the merely utterable—such as the gender aspect of titles like "Father" and "Son." Since we fail to perceive how gender terms cannot be applied to God as he truly is, naturally we fail to grasp the deeper things of the doctrine of the ministry, where in like manner the law of gender distinction is allegedly to be relativized by the gospel of sexual equality.

While he does not confess full agreement with Thomas Torrance's argument for women's ordination [from "The Minstry of Women," in the same issue], Foster apparently concurs with this part of it.

Any images taken from creaturely being such as "father" and "son" have to be understood in a diaphanous or "see-through" way . . . in such a way that the creaturely relations they express in ordinary mundane usage are not projected into Deity. When used theologically they are forms of thought and speech that refer to truth independent of themselves . . . . (p. 9).


Here Professor Torrance lays claim to a venerable Christian teaching on the nature of God—that his transcendence places him beyond human gender, thought and speech—connecting this to our own happy discovery of the transcendence of gender as touching pastoral ministry.

I think that Dr. Torrance and Mr. Foster (who really has joined the battle) have erred, but precisely how have they done it? The difficulty in explaining the error as an error arises from the fact that what they affirm is correct; it is what they deny or will not profess consequent to their affirmation that causes the problem. They are as right as the Arians who insisted that Jesus was a man, as right as the Docetists who claimed that he was God, as right as the feminists who confess that the woman is the man's equal. In the same sense, those who are invoking apophaticism on feminism's behalf are right: it is true that human language and conceptualization cannot define or contain God. The attempt to do this is idolatry. One cannot, however, leave it at that. To be half right on such matters is to be wholly wrong.1

Apophaticism, the theological method associated particularly with the mystical theology of Eastern Orthodoxy, emphasizes that God in his uncreated essence lies beyond categories we can entertain, that the symbols through which his life is conveyed to us—whether they be words or other elements of creation—must be understood as provisional, standing for the Divine Life into which we are called to enter in an ever deeper and more intense way, but ultimately unable to hold it in its fullness. This being the case, the most accurate statements that we can make about God are not to say what he is (kataphatic theology), but what he is not (apophatic theology).

Apophatic theology, however, cannot stand alone. It can never become, to use Dr. Torrance's word, "independent." To express the fullness of the faith, negative theology must be accompanied by the positive. The dark rays of the Light beyond light may fall upon the mystic, but what they touch and affect in him is the flesh and blood and senses of someone who exists in a human body, and will for eternity. When mystical theology thinks to slip its moorings in creation, when kataphatic theology—the theology of icon, Scripture, confession and creed—is replaced by an apophatic theology that claims to leave it behind, something is amiss. It is, I think, no accident that Eastern Orthodoxy preserves alongside its mystical element a devotion to iconic, "material" theology so dogged and emphatic that to the Western eye it appears to verge upon idolatry. (And one should wonder, if apophatic theology teaches us what is being alleged here, why the Eastern Church—which, after all, named it to begin with—remains the part of Christendom most implacably opposed to all these new revelations!)

Mystical theology denies no tenet of confessional theology. In Christian mysticism "negation" is supercession, not variance or deletion, a point which must be eliminated or made ambiguous by those who are using the mystical to obscure the iconic. Positive theology is fulfilled (in the same sense that the gospel fulfills the law), not exterminated, in the negative. The transcendence of gender is not its destruction, but its perfection. We also need to understand this clearly: something that uses the language of apophaticism, and can pass for it among those who are not sufficiently alert, may be actually anti-Christian and must be tested by observing its response to the Christian confession, that is, in accordance with what it does when turned loose in the realm of kataphatic theology. If apophaticism "moves toward God by asserting that he is not, in fact, any of the things he is called" (R. C. Bondi), and in doing so cuts itself loose from the positive theology—the theology of word and symbol, of earth, water, body, and blood—that must accompany it in order for it to be true, then it must be rejected.

Here again is one of those perils in which something true falls from grace when it denies or destructively assimilates that which must stand with it. When the humanity of Christ is used to overcome his deity, when gender equality consumes and digests the hierarchy in which it rests, when "divine darkness" is employed to eclipse "that which we have heard, we have seen with our eyes, felt with our hands and preach to you," it is no longer true. When it is forgotten that even in his final beatitude redeemed man remains man, and contemplates the glory of God with senses and categories still those of the creature—this being his peculiar glory!—then Christian doctrine has been corrupted.

Proclamations declaring the inadequacy of human language to express the being of God must be given close scrutiny, for they are analogous to assertions of the inadequacy of human flesh to contain him. On one hand it is true (this we dare not forget) that there is a radical separation between Creator and creature, and from this point of view the incarnation of God, the salvation of men, the inspiration of humanly produced Scriptures, or the application of human categories of understanding to God, are indeed impossible. On the other hand, however, the great Paradox of our faith is that all these things are not only possible with God, but have actually happened through the Lamb who was slain at the world's foundation,2 and by happening open the way for human conceptualizations and metaphors about God to partake, in accordance with their nature, in the truth of their divine object.

What we are hearing from people who wish to advance feminism in the churches is, however, the insinuation that because metaphors are "merely" metaphors, they must in some sense be false—that if "Father" is a metaphor, God is not "really" Father. But true words about God (or anything else) are never "merely human" in the sense that my interlocutors imply here, for the very possibility of human discourse, that is, of the interchange of true words, words that have meaning, is based upon the incarnation of God. The divine act that makes it possible for human words to contain truth is the same one that made it possible for human flesh to contain God, and is dependent upon it. And yes, this is to say that semantics rests upon a Christological basis, and that philosophies of language may ultimately be judged on the clarity of their consciousness of how this may be.

No true word is merely human, but partakes truly in the Truth of God, who is Christ. And this is true a fortiori of divine titles like "Father" given by God through the mouth of his Son. They have the character of their giver and are therefore also both human and divine. From a "merely human" point of view, they are indeed inadequate to express their object, but no merely human point of view is under consideration here, for we are charged to speak as the oracles of God—that is, to speak the truth, to speak every word as a symbol in which heaven and earth are bound together. Words given to man by God, or procreated by man made in God's image in obedience to the divine command, have a sacramental character, partaking fully in both the human and divine nature, thus incorporating and relating, through the person of Christ himself, what we can and cannot say about God and his creation—that is, apophatic and kataphatic theology. Will anyone dare say that even to redeemed humanity in the glory of its final blessedness, God will no longer be "Father"? Or is it more likely that instead we will be entering more deeply into the inexpressible mystery of what the metaphor means? Does all this patriarchal imagery, Dr. Torrance, become false in statu beatitudinis? And if not, might it be among the irreplaceably important things given by God to connect us to eternity while we will dwell here among the tombs?

If male gender terms as applied to God in Scripture are both meaningful and true, then the invocation of apophatic theology (and with it the God we are assured is beyond gender) to relativize them out of existence is clear case of the defeat of the confessional, the iconic, the sacramental, and the symbolic aspect of the faith, and hence a defeat, in the character of docetism, of the enfleshment of the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot hold. Thy mystics should be consulted with caution on these matters, for the claim, such as that of Pseudo-Dionysus, that kataphatic theology is a primer that leads one to superior levels is, if presented by itself, ambiguous. If it points to the destruction of positive theology in the negative, teaching that only once we abandon the merely human we can begin to reach into the truly divine, then it cannot be allowed, for this is a Gnostic, not a Christian, idea. Believers, when they become divine, become new creatures, not un-creatures. They do not leave their humanity (and all that entails with regard to words, conceptualizations, and so forth) behind them. Philip Schaff's Terentian epigram comes to mind here as a truth of the faith that abides on both this and the other side of eternity: Christianus sum; nihil humani alienum me puto.3

Who can deny that mere creatures cannot contain or express God? Here we speak apophatically. And yet, the heart of our life and confession as Christians is that the creature did, does, and can contain and express God in Christ Jesus and the power of his resurrection. Here we speak kataphatically. Hold them together, brothers—hold them together.4 The argument against feminism and for the traditional doctrine of ministry I have put forward against Dr. Torrance in the pages of this journal depends on the belief that human gender terms applied to God are icons that serve as open windows, not closed doors, upon the reality they depict. Diaphanous they are, but one cannot use their "see-through" character to dissolve them into non-existence by declaring them independent of the reality they represent. It is the uncreated light which, passing through them, partakes in creation and formed these words within us to begin with, as true descriptions of what cannot be described.

Notes:

1. In describing the relationship between what God is and the thought and language we use about him, Dr. Torrance does soften what he maintains about their independence by saying the former are to be considered "diaphanous" rather than illusory, and that our problems lie in having to employ "ordinary mundane usage" rather than in the inherent inadequacy of human thought and language. At the end of the day, however, his argument for the ministry of women is based upon the independence at the expense of the connection. If the words and concepts we use for God are diaphanous (which I think is an accurate way to speak of them), then they must in some way partake of the reality they describe. If they are independent, then they cannot. One may have both at once only by accepting a paradox in which human words and concepts are both equal and not equal to the task—something I think orthodox theologians do instinctively. But if one does this he must play fair and not attempt to claim that in one theological instance this is the case while in another it isn't. You cannot say that the language of theology may be true and meaningful (this is implied by Dr. Torrance's willingness to write theology in the first place), and then turn around and claim that in the case of using Father and Son to describe God we must suspend the rules for a bit to make theological terminology independent of the reality it portrays.

2. In the Odyssey the shades in Hades cannot speak with Odysseus until they have drunk of the blood of the animals he brings. Perhaps the intuition that discourse is a gift gained through sacrifice is deeply fixed in the heart of the race.

3. "I am a Christian, therefore discard nothing human." Terence's original: "Homo sum . . . ."

4. Utterances of a professedly apophatic theology should be treated with profound suspicion, bearing intense scrutiny for Gnostic elements before they are "passed" for Christian use. I would suggest that they very point at which they show themselves false is where the symbols in which the greater theology must reveal itself are destructively subsumed. Dionysius says that "In the humanity of Christ the super-essential was manifested in human substance without ceasing to be hidden after this manifestation, or, to express myself after a more heavenly fashion, in this manifestation itself" [cited in Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976), 39]. This, to my mind, is a nearly perfect example of formally correct apophatic and kataphatic superimposition. The solidly iconic persists ("manifested in human substance"), within the greater sphere of the "super-essential." I do not know of an aspect of theology where the theologian must exercise greater care in thinking or caution in articulation. The "essential" and the "super-essential" must both be put forward, yet without erosion of one by the other.