This morning, as my wife and I were getting ready for church, I noticed that someone had posted this article on Facebook, regarding a 70-year-old Kentucky woman who was recently ordained as a priest by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. This ordination obviously took place against the authority of the Vatican (as well as their archbishop, who referred to the ceremony as a “‘simulated ordination’ in opposition to Catholic teaching.”)
The following conversation (names have been changed) ensued in the comments section beneath the posted link:
“Tracy”: A woman can no more be a priest than red can be blue.
Me: Tracy, that’s ridiculous.
“Tracy”: Well, Joshua, it’s not. But I think being out of communion with the Church that Christ himself founded is ridiculous. You can’t follow the groom and reject his bride… But in any case, Protestants are free to call animals priests if they want to, but the Catholic priesthood is defined by the High Priest himself through the Church He founded, the Church, which is His mystical body, and his bride. This is a great, concise synopsis of why women cannot be priests. [She provided this link as evidence of why women cannot/should not be priests].
“James”: The reason appears to be simply that Jesus didn’t ordain any women, which to me doesn’t seem to warrant such an extreme response. I would also appreciate it if you didn’t compare women to animals.
“Tracy”: It goes deeper than that, James, but yes if Christ had wanted women as priests he could have ordained them. Didn’t equate women to animals, sorry. What I am saying is you can call anything or anyone you want a priest, but that doesn’t make it so. Some things cannot happen. She can have hands laid on her by a bishop and call herself a priest but she isn’t one. It’s impossible. She can pronounce the words of consecration but she cannot consecrate. I can call that plank of wood over there yarn but I cannot knit with it, because it is not yarn. [In response to an earlier comment about exegesis/hermeneutics vs. eisegesis]: I am familiar with the concepts of exegesis and hermeneutics, yes. The church goes back to Jesus himself, not the Middle Ages. His Truth never changes, and nor does it need to. All the baptized are members of the priesthood of all believers. All the baptized are priests, prophets and kings, but this priesthood is not the ordained priesthood, which is reserved for those men who are called to it by Jesus Christ, and is only conferred upon those men who are ordained by bishops who are direct successors of the apostles. Every Orthodox and Catholic bishop can trace his line of ordination back to one of the original apostles. But a valid bishop cannot ordain a woman, because women cannot be priests. I’ll give birth to a yak sooner than this truth will cease to be, but it is nothing to balk at or feel offended by. Women have their own indispensable and irreplaceable roles in the Church. The actions of those in this article are sad, for they harm their own souls in the process and create scandal and confusion among those less formed in their faith. Having different roles does not make one group better than another, just different. Just because Jesus regards all men ad women with equal dignity doesn’t mean He intends all roles for men and women.
I felt like this was a pretty bizarre exchange, and was left with a few questions/observations:
1) How prominent is Tracy’s view among those who are members of the Roman Church? I had always assumed that the sort of comments she posted were caricatures of outdated RC beliefs, and that few—if any—actually believed that Protestants are outside the Communion of the Saints and have “rejected the bride of the groom.”
2) Is this really the best argument against female priests? “Jesus never ordained women, so obviously they were never meant to be in that role”? That seems to me like an argument from silence.
3) How serious and how prevalent among RCs is the belief that priestly succession actually can be traced back to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth? Isn’t this about as debatable as those silly Baptist folks who would claim their denominational lineage goes all the way back to John the Baptizer? And isn’t the premise of the argument kind of like painting a historical bulls-eye around a religious practice that was put in place long after the fact?
I understand that these questions reveal my ignorance of the Roman tradition. But the vast majority of RCs I’ve encountered have not been as radically fundamentalist (and, frankly, obnoxious) as Tracy. Feel free to post your thoughts on this RC/Protestant divide, as well as whether or not women should be permitted in the priesthood. Please keep it respectful.
Josh… Trust me in this…you don’t want my position on this.
David, this is a place for conversation—you’re more than welcome to post your thoughts.
Josh, the Roman Catholics you often refer to are alien to me. I don’t know any who are as mellow in their faith as many of the ones you mention seem to be. By definition, a Roman Catholic is in communion with the Holy Father in Rome. I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ on the shoulders of Peter The Rock. I’m not saying you can’t find salvation in other churches; I’m saying that I believe The Roman Catholic Church has more of the pieces to the pie.
Very interesting. I would be curious to hear from some of the RCs who post on this blog (particularly JohnDave Medina), and whether or not they share your same perspective. It would be great to get that dialogue going.
I’m assuming you don’t subscribe to the notion that the episode of Jesus claiming to build his “church” upon Peter was hindsight narrative back-fill? After all, the language of “church” most likely wasn’t used until long after Jesus lived and died. The earliest Christians were Jews who retained their Jewish identities and continued to worship in the synagogues until they were evicted by their Jewish compatriots toward the end of the first century (around the time the Gospel of Matthew was written).
I assure you I do not subscribe to such a ludicrous notion. It is, however, an argument that does attempt to give credibility to those with that opinion.
Do you have grounds for calling this notion ludicrous? Sources of scholarly consensus, etc.?
I would be more than happy to. My source of scholarly consensus is The Holy Roman Catholic Church. Why would I wish to look elsewhere? I’m quite content with my faith.
What about the Holy Roman Church, specifically? Who told you this? Did you read that it was a “ludicrous” idea in a book, or did someone tell you that it was ludicrous? Is the Church itself infallible, with the ability to disseminate false information without recourse to serious biblical scholarship/historical inquiry? The Roman Church has been wrong before. It is mere hubris to think that a hierarchical bureaucracy is correct in all its assumptions (after all, that kind of thinking leads to dictatorships).
Well, the Greek word for Church is Ekklesia and appears 114 times in 111 New Testament. Holy scripture was translated. So, that argument holds no water. And I don’t remember every single source for the knowledge I have about my faith. I also don’t remember every source of information I have concerning changing the oil in my Expedition.
Oh, and as for the issue of “infallibility”… Please check out this link.. it takes me much less time to type this as it does to simply link a site that contains the information.
Actually, ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) is better translated as “congregation” or “gathering,” and historically does not specifically refer to a religious gathering of Christians until at least the late first/early second century. I get that scripture was translated (in fact, I’m a second-year student of Biblical Greek). What I am arguing for is the validity of the position that the passage in which Christ specifically claims to build his “ἐκκλησία” upon Peter is a later addition or interpretation to the text, and that Christ himself probably did not use the language of ἐκκλησία.
I will leave that to Biblical scholars to argue for another several hundred years. I chose to accept the quote as it appears in every Bible I’ve ever read.
And that’s a perfectly valid way of viewing scripture. As a “scholar-in-training,” I am simply aware that there are other possibilities than what the Church (Roman or otherwise) suggests is the “authorized” reading/interpretation of a text.
I will accept that there are other possibilities. But, I don’t necessarily believe there are all that many alternate probabilities.
Interesting…What do you mean by that?
Quite bluntly, I accept the interpretations and teachings of Rome as being accurate.
Being blunt does not necessarily make one correct.
And the teachings of Rome have been incorrect in the past.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that my faith was very “threatened” initially when I learned about how challenging translating can be. I could share a lot of insights based on personal experience in verifying translation of scriptures not only from one language to another, but even more across cultural differences and realities. With all due respect, David, I doubt that accurate is an adequate word for describing a translation of any sort across the barriers of centuries of culture and language. “Approximation with human limitations” works better for me to describe a translation. The variations on any given passage bear this out, be they RC or protestant (we used both as a base translation for translators who did not have knowledge of biblical languages).
To keep this light, allow me to inject a bit of humor. The target audience of a biblical tranlation did not have a word, or even the concept, of a cave since they lived in an area devoid of even hills. So the word used for caves basically meant a deep hole in the ground. On the first reading of 1 Samuel 24.3 which tells us that Saul went into a cave to relieve himself and that David and his men were further back in the cave, the tranlator basically read, “Saul went to the edge of the deep hole to relieve himself, and David and his men were at the bottom of the hole.” The audience roared, and someone said, “No wonder David’s men wanted to kill Saul!”
My experience, as an Anabaptist missionary, working along side Roman Catholic missionaries in Paraguay, South Americ gave me a profound respect for both the liturgy and spirituality that they lived and proclaimed, but also grieved me tremendously when it failed to contextualize spirituality for non-western/northern audiences. I am very hopeful that Pope Francis will open doors for re-approachment at higher levels that were closed at some point.
Perhaps an example of contextualization. One of the indigenous groups with whom we worked was very matriarchal. Women were in charge, women made decisions, women led the clan, and even the language reflected that reality. In that culture, verbs (not pronouns) make the verb masculine or feminine; to be inclusive, the correct way to address a mixed audience is to use the feminine form of the verb. An insensitivity to that reality, for example, by using all men in church leadership, is equivalent to cultural genocide. In the same way, using a word for the Divine that is borrowed from the word the “power up” culture uses, creates a distance between ordinary persons and the Divine and may even make God be considered an oppressor.
The concept of contextualization is hardly something exclusive to Anabaptists. I assure you, I have heard many examples similar to the ones you described. I have sponsored several people who have joined the Roman Catholic Church through R.C.I.A (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and have been privileged to hear many wonderful and well educated priests, Brothers, and Sisters. However, I fail to see how criticising my faith is going to achieve anything.
Forgive me David for not communicating clearly. I have no intention of negatively criticizing your, or anyone’s faith. My comments were flawed when they seemed to imply that the Roman Catholic church alone has failed. More than anything, I would criticize my own approach, and the organization I worked with, for our failture to validate those cultures profoundly different from our own.
This position doesn’t represent all of Catholicism. When I was ordained, a lot of my Roman Catholic family celebrated with me. Roman Catholics have been on the forefront of liberation theology in some parts of the world (Gustavo Guitterez, Leonardo Boff, to name a couple) and feminism (Rosemary Radford Reuther, Elizabeth Johnson). RC is actually more diverse than many Protestant denominations.
Also, notice the absence of women’s voices in this conversation–I wonder why?
Good observation/question, Kate. As for the observation, that was my assumption, but in addition to a lot of progressive RCs I know, I have recently encountered several folks who might fit the description of “caricature,” and it left me kind of puzzled. Additionally, I was equally puzzled that “Tracy,” a woman herself, so adamantly and irrationally argued that only men could be priests (“I’ll give birth to a yak sooner than this truth will cease to be,” etc.).
As for the question, I am indeed disappointed in the lack of women’s voices (aside from “Tracy’s”). The simple—although uncomfortable—answer is most likely that statistically the vast majority of bibliobloggers are male. If you know of any women, especially RC women, who would be interested in making a contribution to the conversation, I’d be very much appreciative if you’d pass this post along. The idea behind my writing of this post was to seek clarification through dialogue between both RCs and Protestants, and particularly with women who may or may not feel called to priesthood/vocational ministry.
In answer to Kate: I haven’t responded because I’m not Catholic and don’t know Catholic (or generic “protestant”) doctrine well enough to comment on a Catholic/protestant divide =0) While women in ministry is a topic that I am happy to talk about and discuss, the questions asked (the fodder for discussion) aren’t questions I feel qualified (or interested) to answer, given that I’m not Catholic and I DO believe that women can and should serve in all places in church life.
Note: I should add (since the above sounded negative) that I enjoyed reading the discussion. I’m not at all saying this isn’t a worthwhile discussion — just one that I’m in the gallery for =0)
Most people, whether RC, Orthodox, Protestant or from other religions, have history, story (narrative), legend, theologizing and myth all mixed up! (And not surprisingly, as the Bible has them all mixed together as well.) As a once Evangelical and now Progressive Protestant, I don’t like to typically charge the RC Church with a worse confusion, but on “apostolic succession” and tracing a line back to Peter and/or the other Apostles, give me a break! The history just isn’t there. In fact, a lot of data mitigates against such a concept.
Now, having studied these X’n Origins issues for literally thousands of hours, I certainly don’t claim one can fully separate out the different strains of history, legend, etc. But one can set some reasonable bounds and some strong probabilities. I recently was interested to note that NT Wright, as “Catholic” (“lite”–Anglican) and a strong rep. for a relatively “orthodox” view of Christian Origins and the NT, clearly stated, in “The Meaning of Jesus” that the Catholic (and largely Protestant also) view is clearly mythological, not based on historical data primarily…. Thus the ability to come to the “article of faith” that there is such a thing as Apostolic Succession.
I’ve heard Catholics use this argument in the past (and I’m pretty sure C.S. Lewis adopted it in ‘Mere Christianity’), but one thing it doesn’t address is *why* Jesus chose twelve men. It seems more likely that he was drawing a comparison between his own followers and the original patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel than giving an endorsement of men over women for leadership roles.
Jesus chose 12 men because each man represented a tribe of Israel, and thus a governor of the King of God.
(This intent of the New Covenant is found here [Jer 31:31];
Jesus’ claim about His own purpose is found here [Matt 15:24];
His command to his disciples regarding this are here [Matt 10:6]; and
Final Confirmation is here [Matt 19:28])
If you’re talking about why 12 ‘men’, it is because at the head of each of the Israelite Tribes was a son of Israel. Speculating, had Israel had a tribe founded by a daughter, we might have seen a woman.
The problem with arguing about Apostolic Succession is that it is unbiblical (as it is meant now).
Biblically, there was an Apostolic Succession but it was ‘doctrine’, and was not ‘authority’ that was ceded. [1 Cor 11:2,23][1 Cor 15:3][Col 1:26] and especially [Jud 1:3].
So arguments about Apostolic Succession make sense when comparing the connection between doctrine of one ‘Saint’ to another, but makes no sense when comparing the authority of one saint to another.
Geez, anything else about us poor deluded Catholics that bother you?
David, I wasn’t criticizing Catholics; I was criticizing an unbiblical doctrine (for being unbiblical). In proper rhetoric, the focus should be on the thesis and the one posing the thesis.
Someone raised the issue of proper Apostolic Succession; to which I noted (by providing references) that everywhere it a appears in the bible it applies to the integrity of the doctrine being ceded, and not the authority of the one proclaiming the doctrine.
That said, you have a couple of options to counter. You could refute the assertion, prove it wrong, or you could agree with the assertion given the evidence, but provide sufficient reason why, despite this, the Catholic Church holds to it. I notice you did neither.
Should have read ‘… and not the one posing the thesis’
Andrew…. Your protestant scholars have rejected Peter’s position as the first Bishop of Rome. From there on, they have found the ‘authority’ to reject any Catholic doctrine that they wish to. How can I prove a negative?
All I can do is say what I believe and explain that it is what I have been taught: We read in Acts 1:15-26 that the first thing Peter does after Jesus ascends into heaven is implement apostolic succession. Matthias is ordained with full apostolic authority as a successor of Judas . The necessity to have apostolic succession in order for the Church to survive was understood by all. God never said, “I’ll give you leaders with authority for about 400 years, but after the Bible is compiled, you are all on your own.” Later on we read in Col 1:25 that Paul calls his position a divine “office.” An office has successors. It does not terminate at death. Or it’s not an office. See also Heb. 7:23 – an office continues with another successor after the previous office-holder’s death.
David, don’t assume I feel any more affinity for Protestant scholars than Catholic ones. Whether someone is Protestant or Catholic isn’t what makes them correct or incorrect. Being correct or incorrect is what thes correct or incorrect.
Regarding Apostolic Succession, I’m asking you, if you hold to this doctrine, to provide warrant for doing so. That is proving a positive. If you’re unable to, than concede the point (or acknowledge you do so without warrant).
The argument so far is ‘Apostolic Succession isn’t about authority buy doctrinal integrity’. It would be a non-sequitur to come back with ‘Peter was the first Bishop of Rome’. (And [Acts 1:15-26] has nothing about imparting authority …]
(Incidentally, Peter wasn’t the first Bishop of Rome; either Paul was (since he was in Rome while Peter went east to Babylon), or Llyn (otherwise known as Linus) son of Claudia and Pudens was. Personally, I’ve seen no convincing evidence Peter even made it to Rome. Even if that isn’t the case however, even were I to grant that unproven assertion, it still doesn’t address that the bible was more concerned with doctrinal integrity, and not concerned at all with who possessed authority (outside of Christ), and who succeeded whom)
You have seen no proof that Peter was ever in Rome? I simply have no desire to continue this discussion. I’m not a debater and I have never claimed to be. Through my life I have read many Catholic religious books and I have been present for many lectures. I choose to believe by faith. You are certainly free to believe whatever your heart desires, however, I get no pleasure from taunts from others to provide specific sources to defend my faith. I’m through here. If this is your idea of holding a Christian dialog then please know that all you have accomplished is to lessen my desire to ever reach out to brother and sister Christians of other faiths.
Doesn’t the Bible say a Bishop should be a husband, so that means a male not a female. So 2 points for RC members
1 A Bishop should be male
2 A Bishop should be married – yet RC doesn’t allow marriage for their clergy
Are you referring to the “husband of one wife” clause? I don’t think that requires you to *be* married, but rather, not take more than one wife. For instance, if a bishop had to be married to be qualified for their office, then they would be disqualified if their spouse ever died.
Interestingly enough, the underground Roman Catholic Church in communist Czechoslovakia ordained women because there weren’t enough men willing or able.
Not sure if you’re following this yet, but here’s an article speaking about a new debate emerging from the reopening of labyrinths of catacombs in Rome containing images showing early Christian women, apparently with arms outstretched, (according to some) saying mass wearing garments appeared to have been worn by priests.
One of the images is known as the “Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman. Obviously if this interpretation is correct that these are women .. saying mass .. and wearing priestly garments it suggests evidence of a female priesthood in the early Church.
Although debates about gender and priesthood are not at the top of my list of things to engage, I understand that from a social justice perspective you have an interest in – so I thought I’d share ..
Thanks, Andrew. That’s fascinating.
I have confessed before (and will again) that I don’t care much for the women-in-ministry debate. Growing up in the UMC, it was a given for me that women could be pastors, as the Methodists have been ordaining women since the 70s. It wasn’t until I attended a Baptist seminary where several of the faculty/staff members were women who had been rejected as viable faith leaders that I began to see what all the fuss is about. And while it is not a cause that I am personally invested in, my personal opinion is that women should obviously be allowed to do what they are called by God to do.
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