No Woman is an Island

Those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate continue so for clear and fundamental reasons. The innovation is contrary to scripture, tradition and reason.

Scripture: Clear guidelines about women’s ministry in the Church are set out in the Pauline epistles. Paul’s statements are in no way contradicted by the words or actions of Jesus. To interpret Galatians 3.28 as contradicting other sayings in the Pauline corpus (and the action of Jesus in his choice of male apostles) is to take it out of its immediate context and to read it anachronistically.

Tradition: The witness of the Christian centuries has consistently upheld this reading of Paul. Women were not permitted to function liturgically or to exercise leadership roles in the Church. Far from being a necessary consequence of orthodox Christology, the priesthood of women was condemned as arising from Gnostic heresy.

Reason: Women’s ordination, pursued, as it has been, by means of regional or provincial autonomy, has overthrown the unity and interchangeability of orders and resulted in provisional or doubtful sacraments. What were ordained to be ‘certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace’ are no longer so. Such an action ‘overthroweth the nature of a sacrament’.

To these objections is added a weighty ecclesiological consideration: that the Church of England is but one small part of that wider Catholic Church whose orders it has claimed to continue and share. It has no entitlement to change what it received and did not make.

This last argument has a long history which echoes through the annals of the English nation and Church.

At the Synod of Whitby, convened under the aegis of the great Abbess Hilda in 664, Wilfrid made this appeal: ‘Do you think that a handful of people in one corner of the remotest of islands is to be preferred to the universal Church of Christ which is spread throughout the world?’

The same sentiments were repeated by Sir Thomas More during his trial for treason in Westminster Hall in 1535: ‘This realme, being but one member and smale parte of the Church, might not make a particular lawe disagreeable with the generall lawe of Christes Universall Catholicke Church.’

Both men, be it noted, are saints.

GK

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