Friday, Aug. 18, 2006  

Ordination of Women

Why Some Faithful Anglicans Still Cannot
Ordain, License or Accept Women as Priests

by Canon John H. Heidt
Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Fort Worth


For many years those of us who cannot accept women as priests, and bishops who refuse to ordain or license them, gave all the reasons why we oppose this innovation. But gradually we came to realize that what we were saying was falling on deaf ears and soon we became tired of repeating ourselves. Now it seems that people have forgotten what we said, or assume that the reasons we gave no longer count for much. We have more heady things to argue about, things like the ordination of +Vicki Gene, and most people have lost interest in the debate over women’s ordination. It is taken for granted that those still opposed are only headstrong cranks immersed in past injustices, and that’s the end of it. But if history teaches us anything it teaches that what once happened to all our arguments against ordaining women as priests and bishops will soon happen to all the current arguments against ordaining practicing homosexuals. So in the midst of our current debates the time seems right to repeat once again why we believe women cannot be priests even if they are legally ordained. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Those who promote the ordination of women commit three errors: biological, anthropological, and theological.

The biological error is about sex. Sex is confused with gender; male and female with masculine and feminine. But the two are quite different and we confuse them at our peril. Both are biological at their source but sex manifests itself physiologically and gender psychologically or, in its original meaning, spiritually. Thus God is not male because he has “no parts or passions,” i.e., He is not physical. But He is masculine because He is the spiritual Source and Father of all.

Every Human being is both masculine and feminine and this is natural, but if anyone is both male and female this is pathological. We are masculine in originating behavior, be it through thought, imagination, or physical activity. We are feminine when we receive outside influence be it grace or music or food.

God is only masculine because He is what the philosophers have called “pure act.” There is nothing passive about Him; he does not receive grace or music or food from any source other than Himself. But we are sacramental beings in which the inward and spiritual expresses itself in the outward and physical. Male and female are both masculine and feminine but each symbolizes one more than the other. Physiologically the female is predominantly receptive or feminine, and the male is active, initiator, and originator. Women need to be cherished; men need to be honored, as St. Paul himself recognized. (Ephesians 5:33) Women need to be caressed physically and spiritually; men need to be built up physically and spiritually. Women are from Venus; men are from Mars. Hence women represent the feminine and men the masculine. They are not interchangeable. A woman will be upset if her husband forgets their wedding anniversary, by at least giving her flowers, but in all my years as a priest I have never heard of a husband being upset because he did not get any flowers from his wife on their anniversary.

The second error of those who accept women as priests and bishops is anthropological. Having confused sex with gender and realizing that all human beings have both masculine and feminine characteristics, the next step was to confuse women with men. Just as the biological differences between men and women express themselves in the physiological and spiritual, so the anthropological differences express themselves in economics and politics. Be they single or married, women get together and talk mostly about clothes and shopping; men talk about sports or ways we should resolve the war in Iraq; Women are the economists and men the politicians. By nature women are practical, men are idealists. But in the eighteenth century Adam Smith changed all this. By redefining economics as finance rather than household management, he took women’s work out of the home of cottage industry into a man’s world of factories, laboratories and banks.- and women have been trying to get back their proper work ever since.

It was thought that to regain their rightful work and make women equal to men they had to become just like men. This was called Feminism but it is really just the opposite of Feminism. It is a movement that denigrates femininity. There is no accepted word for it, but let us give it its proper name; let us call it Masculism. Men unjustly remained on top of the pinnacle of earthly greatness, and women were simply encouraged to climb up after them. Women doing men’s work was not a social revolution but a greater participation in the status quo. Unisex shops sold trousers but not dresses. Bars became refuges for women as well as men, but few men ever frequented Tea Rooms. And in spite of heavy pressure, most men rebelled against becoming housewives. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with women doing the work normally done by men and vice versa, Yet when women and men do each other’s work they do it in different ways. Men and women are not interchangeable nor are their jobs.

Finally we come to the theological error of those who support women’s ordination; the one most crucial for traditional Christians but of little interest to the typical secularist sitting in the pews of our churches or voting in national conventions. They usually so emphasize the crucifixion, centering their theology on sin and redemption that they ignore the real significance of the Incarnation, turning Jesus into a pure spirit of fairness and good will rather than the incarnate Son of God. When they argue from the Incarnation it is only to demonstrate that human beings are spiritual and God-like, not that the Incarnation is God’s self- identification with fleshly human nature. The Catholic, on the other hand, in emphasizing the Incarnation talks about nature and grace. Both emphases are necessary, but the Catholic view must come first. To appreciate the crucifixion and resurrection one has to accept the Incarnation; to understand sin one has to believe in human nature; to be saved one has to know the nature of the Savior.

Jesus is divine, but He is also human. “The Word became flesh;” It became sexual. God the Son became man physiologically as well as spiritually. As God He remained masculine but as a human being He became male. One was a sacrament of the other. He was man, i.e. all of human kind, of the same nature as us, and able to represent everyone, women as well as men, but as an individual he was male, with both masculine and feminine characteristics. He could, for example, be thought of as feminine by someone like the mystic Julian of Norwich, (who by the way was never canonized a saint) and he could describe himself as a mother Hen gathering her baby chicks under her wings. But that is no excuse for calling Him Hen Jesus or Mother Jesus. As an individual human being He is fully male, not a hybrid of male and female. He had to be male in order to be the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity. Unlike His portrayal in some nineteenth century paintings, He is not androgynous.

The advocates of women’s ordination either so emphasize sin and redemption that they forget that this redemption was achieved through male flesh, or else they use the doctrine of the Incarnation to so spiritualize Jesus and all humanity as to ignore or deprecate the flesh. In either case inherent American Puritanism wins the day. But in Jesus Christ our created earthly humanity is saved, not changed. Our sinfulness does not come from our humanity but from acting less than human. By our participation in Christ’s humanity, our own humanity is glorified in spite of our sins. And this happens sacramentally, by Baptism and the Eucharist. In these and other sacramental rites God saves and transforms our humanity and He does this through those who have been set aside by ordination to re-present the activity of the Father. The church and all its members are feminine in relation to the Father - we speak of Mother Church, but some human beings within the church are ontologically ordered to re-present, to make present, the activity of the Father in relation to His creation which is always masculine. As the Church is called mother, so Priests are called Father. To call them Mother is trying to turn them into something they cannot be.

Though men and women both have masculine and feminine traits and both can and must minister in the Church, only males can represent the masculine. Only men can be priests.

  To read or post comments on this Viewpoint,
see Canon Heidt's blog, Transfiguration.