The feminizing of Holy Order

Arthur Middleton explains that the Church should never attempt to conform to modern socio-political ideology, particularly in relation to the threefold ministry

The ordination of women is not a social issue so that any arguments about the role of women, ancient or modern, are irrelevant. Pusey in a letter to Dr Arnold said he once measured early Christianity by a modern standard before discovering that the two systems are entirely different and at variance. In the mind of early Christianity nothing in God’s creation is accidental; everything has a meaning if we would find how to read it. ‘All things are made double one against another, and he hath made nothing imperfect’ [Ecclesiasticus 42.24].

Pusey was not looking at the modern view as untrue, but as a small portion of the truth only, and wrong when it assumes to be all, and for the most part miserably shallow. He cautioned Arnold against any attempt to engraft early Christianity into a modern system and ended with a strong dissuasive that anyone imbued with variance. Their interpretation derives from a modern sociopolitical ideology that is unbelieving, has arisen in opposition to the Gospel and is incapable of being an interpreter of Holy Scripture. If, however, the theological response to the question of women in the threefold ministry depends ultimately on this, currently dominant, stream of ideas in the world, a pragmatic or utilitarian argument can be built from these premises at a time when there is a general decay in religion and the number of those who profess themselves unbelievers increases.

Such thinking will reduce the threefold ministry to a function that can be done by male or female so that the bishop/priest becomes a mere functionary that sees him/ her and evaluates him/her as a professional person who possesses skills and techniques to be acquired through training. He/she is then to be concerned modern principles should refrain from doing so as it might do more harm than good. We have seen the ecclesial devastation ecumenically as well as in the Anglican

‘Discrimination’

Our Church finds itself captive to a principle of interpretation that is sociological. The pressures to feminize the historic order of the threefold ministry as received in the Judeo-Christian Tradition has come, not so much from advances in theological knowledge as from changes in the social sphere in an increasingly secular society.

In all areas of life, the roles of men and women seem to be becoming more and more similar, while sociological studies have given currency to the view that the vast majority of differences between the sexes are but products of social conditioning. Any and every restriction of women’s scope of activity tends to be seen as an instance of unjust ‘discrimination’ and a denial of the demand for ‘equal rights’ and ‘emancipation’.

The plea is that the Judeo-Christian Tradition be engrafted on to this modern view by allowing male and female to share an equivalence and interchangeability of function in the historic order of the threefold ministry. Then it would become more representative of the relation between the sexes in contemporary society and its sociopolitical understanding of equality. This plea has emerged from a cluster of ideas that stem from an unbelieving school of modern socio-political philosophy that has intruded into the theological scene to provoke a debate about the inclusion of women in the threefold ministry.

Entirely different systems

The problem is whether the Church can reconcile herself to this outlook and engraft the Judeo-Christian Tradition on to it when the two systems are entirely different and at variance. Their interpretation derives from a modern sociopolitical ideology that is unbelieving, has arisen in opposition to the Gospel and is incapable of being an interpreter of Holy Scripture. If, however, the theological response to the question of women in the threefold ministry depends ultimately on this, currently dominant, stream of ideas in the world, a pragmatic or utilitarian argument can be built from these premises at a time when there is a general decay in religion and the number of those who profess themselves unbelievers increases.

Such thinking will reduce the threefold ministry to a function that can be done by male or female so that the bishop/priest becomes a mere functionary that sees him/ her and evaluates him/her as a professional person who possesses skills and techniques to be acquired through training. He/she is then to be concerned with using and allocating such skills and techniques in an efficient way.

Management replaces ministry, to allow efficiency, planning, and the use of resources to become the central determining factors in the shaping of mission. The priest becomes the administrative functionary or leader, and administration rather than doctrine determines the form the Church takes. It is a secular determinism that dominates ecclesiastical circles today and excludes the roles of prayer and sacrament, or assigns them to a very low status. Their value lies in a utilitarian function, as means to achieve some other end, ways to help us do something else better.

Secular mentality

This will make the threefold ministry what it was never intended to be, representative of a socio-political concept of equality in the relations between the sexes in contemporary society by allowing an equivalence and interchangeability of function for male and female. It will transpose it from a charism to a power structure, a career, in which the three orders become levels of promotion introducing debates about glass ceilings. James and John had a conversation about this kind of career status. Jesus told them that this inverts the Gospel that sees greatness in terms of service, not promotion.

This secular mentality destroys the sacramental character of the Church and Holy Order. Furthermore this concept of equality is at variance with the biblical understanding of equality between the sexes in the Orders of Creation and Redemption. Here the differentiation of the sexes is a fact of creation and redemption where they find equality in their complementarity, not in an equivalence or interchangeability of function.

Here too, masculine and feminine are not products of the culture but facts of creation where sexlessness is not on the agenda. Sociological reductionism is not really interested in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, episcopacy or priesthood, but only in how the inclusion of women can enable these constituents of the Christian Church to be an expression of their socio-political ideology.

A doctrinal matter

Holy Order is not a social issue but a doctrinal matter and must stand on theological, rather than sociological ground. Central to that theological ground must be the Incarnation from which any understanding of Holy Order must start and which hitherto has not produced any theological arguments for the feminizing of Holy Order and it never will because there are none.

‘The voice of the Bible could be plainly heard only if its text were interpreted broadly and rationally, in accordance with the apostolic creed and the evidence of the historical practice of Christendom. It was the heretics that relied most on isolated texts and the Catholics who paid more attention on the whole to scriptural principles. Two presuppositions are implied: first, that the Bible does provide sufficient guidance to spiritual truth, to the actions and character of God; and second, that the Christian Church does possess sufficient inspiration to give a true interpretation of the records. Neither presupposition can be mathematically proved. Both are axioms of spiritual practice. Those who respond to the Gospel and obey its precepts are the best judges of its truth’ [Prestige, Fathers and Heretics, p. 21].

Ultra-liberal values

After the last Presidential election in America two letters in the Daily Telegraph responded to points the editor made about lessons Tories must learn from that election. Bush won because he appealed to voters who care about traditional family values. Edward Leigh MP said that Bush was the candidate who clearly supported Christian values. Here, people once voted Conservative because they supported family values, but these voters are being lost because of libertarianism in Tory policies, the belief that an election success depends on embracing political correctness. It prohibits people making distinctions or seeing differences between people which it labels discrimination. Such ultraliberal values are a million miles away from the everyday beliefs of ordinary people. It is already reaping a mayhem of confusion in the social and political spheres. Bush was relentlessly criticized for his stand on moral issues that became a political masterstroke. He kept his nerve, ignored the liberal media dlite and listened to ordinary people.

Being labelled

Charles Moore suggested that life is ‘quite tough’ for people who try to behave properly: because they have ordinary, maybe old-fashioned, ideas of morality and try to live by them. And a letter claimed that people are tired of being labelled homophobic, xenophobic, intolerant, misogynists and middle-class because they believe in family values, marriage between a man and a woman, the rights of the unborn, civility in schools, and freedom of speech.

In 376 Basil described how the Arians within the Church, those who did not believe in the divinity of Christ, were persecuting them: ‘This is the thirteenth year since the heretical war arose against us, during which more afflictions have come on the Churches than are remembered since Christ’s Gospel was preached... the people have left their houses of prayer and assemble in the desert... To this they submit because they will have no part in the Arian leaven ...’ [Ep. 342] ‘... only one offence is now vigorously punished, an accurate observance of our fathers’ traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into the deserts. The iniquitous judges have no reverence... for a Gospel life’ [Ep. 243].

The unforgivable sin

Behind Anglicanism’s obsession with political correctness lurks an insidious Arianism, as the publication Believe or not! demonstrates and the poverty of theological education encourages. Anglican libertarians want to cut God down to our size, accommodate him to their political correctness and imprison him in the solitary confinement of the present. Arius stalks the Church again and with the same effects. Some ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ have ignored the Act of Synod, labelling those in the parishes opposed to the feminizing of Holy Order as intolerant and misogynist and in matters of human sexuality as homophobic. Such congregations are interested in the quality of church life and orthodoxy of belief, not political correctness, and will have no part in the heterodox leaven. This is now the unforgivable sin, ‘observing our father’s traditions’.

Labelling people dehumanizes them, distancing them and making it easier to remove them. Even Oxford’s former Regius Professor of Divinity, Marilyn McCord, finds her only defence against the opponents of political correctness is a descent to ‘tabloid theology’, the labelling of her opponents as misogynist. People in parishes without a priest, wishing to continue in an ‘accurate observance of their father’s traditions’, have been threatened with suspension and with the dishonest assertion that it will be more difficult to find a priest with such orthodoxy.

Preserving catholicity

The Church of England has no right or authority to extend catholic order and at no time have her Canons sanctioned such an extension. Not only would it be a contradiction of the very essence of catholicity, but also outside the intention and beyond the jurisdiction of Anglicanism at the Reformation and since. Her catholicity consists of certain qualities of faith and order, which are of universal rather than of parochially English or Anglican significance. The extending of Catholic order would need a consensus that could only be ratified by a general Council.

To act unilaterally in this matter would place the Church of England outside that catholicity within which she has always claimed to live and order her life. Furthermore, if she claims to adhere to the rulings of Ancient Councils and appeal to Ancient Canons, whose concern is to preserve intact that catholicity in which she claims her birthright is registered, the unilateral act of extending catholic order is condemned in the Seventh Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus. ND

Return to Trushare Home Page

Return to Home Page of This Issue