Thursday, August 24, 2006

Canon Heidt on Ordaining Women

The canon theologian of the Diocese of Fort Worth has this to say about men and women; these words are incredible:

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.

Keep in mind Fort Worth does not ordain women, and in his article the canon has taken it upon himself to argue the dioceses' case; he says:

...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.

Hear indeed--Heidt's case for denying women ordination is not the traditional one found among the Fathers and Doctors of Christian tradition. Heidt's case is an innovation--a very curious one indeed--standing outside the tradition of the catholic church. It is odd to see an Anglo-catholic trade in such shoddy novelties (he describes himself as The Canon Theologian of Fort Worth on the Theology of Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Living the Catholic Life in a Secular society...). Aquinas, the prince of Roman Catholic theologians, bizzarely misconceived women as aberrations who would not have been created were there no need for reproduction; they were not ontologically "separate but equal" in his eyes, but ontologically defective, rightly kept in a place of subjection to men. Poor Thomas was misled by Aristotle's loose grasp on the biology of reproduction, a clear case of paganism contaminating Christian understanding. Fort Worth and Canon Heidt do not argue along Aquinas' line--with good reason--but in taking a new line, they have ventured an innovation. How many concurring priests and pew-sitters in Fort Worth have a firm grasp of exactly what Heidt and company are up to?

What indeed is Canon Heidt's argument? Skip down to what he describes as his most important point, the theological error of those who support women’s ordination, and see what you can make of it all.

Let's start on a positive note. This bit is right about Jesus, in my opinion:
He [Jesus] 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.

And this is fine:
As an individual human being He is fully male, not a hybrid of male and female.

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.

I'll even go "all in" for more; there is a pretty bit of Platonic metaphysics behind it, but it remains thoroughly Anglican, being entirely in the mode of Hooker:

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.

Stepping back, I see a substantial amount of common ground with Canon Heidt; how then does he move from all this to denying women ordination?

Heidt writes He [Jesus]had to be male in order to be the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity, implying at least the rather weak:

(1) If Jesus is the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity, Jesus is male.

Let the antecedent be (2) and the consequent (3); I admit (3) is true. Why does (2) have (3) as a necessary condition? On the face of it, any person of the Trinity could have assumed the human nature of a female, using "could" with respect to the absolute power of God. According to Heidt, a female incarnation of a divine person would not be the sacramental or incarnational presence of divine masculinity. Interesting, at least insofar as Heidt prima facie discerns
here a limit to the very extent of Omnipotence.

We need to knbow a little more about (2) in order to evaluate (1): what is divine masculinity?
Right away there is a problem with Heidt's account:

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.

Yes, God cannot be male, being immaterial, but it is exceedingly sloppy to call God the Father of all when this use of "Father" applying to God simply should be distinguished from the sense of "Father" attached to the first person of the Trinity. Moreover, God is one in three persons, and as such cannot be the Father of all, if we take the second and third persons of the Trinity with ontological seriousness--as I grant Heidt wishes to do. For those persons do not proceed from God who is one in three persons. Heidt has reached the height of absurdity even before getting into the meat of his argument. Poor canon!

Well, let's see what the canon will do with his false premise just for the hell of it. This part is fine:
God is only masculine because He is what the philosophers have called “pure act.” The masculinity of God is God's pure actuality, void of any potentiality or imperfection. We may say this then it seems:

To the extent an item is act, it is masculine.

God being pure act is maximally masculine. Fine--let Heidt define terms as he wishes. His use of "masculine" is highly irregular, but let us grant his stipulation. Where are we going with all this? It seems Heidt should--for the integrity of his argument--go on to make a point out of Aquinas' great Summa: men are in act to a higher degree than women. This would be to say, with Thomas, that women are ontologically defective, lesser beings.

Heidt does not argue that way however. Instead he shifts ground rather radically, arguing instead:

Male and female are both masculine and feminine but each symbolizes one more than the other.


Hence women represent the feminine and men the masculine.

Ah--see the shift? He moves from a sense of "masculine" following from ontology, based on
an item's degree of act it seems, to a point about symbolization and representation, a subjective or at best intersubjective attribute. Women are items with some degree of act--but that is not what Heidt is talking about. Women as such also represent or symbolize a certain degree of act.
The function of representation or symbolization is to some degree arbitrary, in the eye of the beholder--we saw this with Heidt's choice about what he thought "masculine" should represent or symbolize. Suppose X has a higher finite degree of act than Y; Y can symbolize a greater degree of act than Y itself or even X. Representation and symbolization need not track reality; we see this all the time in churches with icons, stained glass, Bibles and crosses. That is to say, women might have a higher degree of act than men, and yet symbolize a lower degree. That possibility doesn't register on Heidt's radar. Heidt's shift into the subjective and arbitrary is the most glaring departure he makes from the Christian tradition to which Aquinas belonged as a principal exponent, and it does not seem to be a well advised departure at all.

But what choice did Heidt really have? To stick with ontological inferiority would have seemed recalitrant--how could he argue from a blatant falsehood? To argue from inferior representation or symbolization though, well, maybe that has a chance of coming out OK. At least it doesn't seem blatantly false:

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.

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.

Arguing from inferior representation or symbolization, Heidt grants the prevailing culture in which women represent or symbolize a great degree of authority. In effect, he grants sexism authority in the church to determine who may be ordained. This is not well-advised; indeed, it seems an abdication of proper Christian moral responsibility. What we get upset at, how we need to be touched--these things do not follow as propria from our degree of act; they are not ontological counterparts to being a man or a woman.

Heidt's argument is sad. It has the feel of a reductio for itself--how can he argue this way in good conscience? Isn't he afraid of making a mockery of the faith? Is this really the best that Fort Worth can do?

Alas, Fort Worth would do better to keep silence on "why" rather than to offer rational support like Heidt's for its denying women ordination. The unconverted seeing the poverty of his thought might go on to suspect more important matters are similarly void of cogency, like the Incarnation or justification.

There is more to his argument.

The key passage from Heidt seems to be this one (I've added brackets to ease reference to certain statements within the citation):

[A]The church and all its members are feminine in relation to the Father - we speak of Mother Church, but [B] 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. [C]As the Church is called mother, so Priests are called Father. [D]To call them Mother is trying to turn them into something they cannot be. [E]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. [F]Only men can be priests.

[F] is his desired conclusion. [B] is true; note that whatever God does in relation to humanity must have some degree of act in order to qualify as a doing of God at all--and so it will be masculine. [A] is fine--we are not pure act, and so qualify as feminine in Heidt's rather eccentric terminology. As it stands [C] might beg the question; substitute "those ordained" for "Priests." So altered it is fine.The trouble starts with [D] and continues to [E]; these are false so far as I can tell.

The ordained are called "Father" in relation to the church, from [C], to which they
represent the Father. That part is fine.

Heidt seems to want to say that only men can function to represent the Father to the church, since "only men can represent the masculine." A woman could not represent the masaculine--she could at best represent the feminine, in virtue of which she could be called "Mother" in relation to the Church. But that will not do--she should represent the Father.

Well, why is it true that only men can represent the masculine? Heidt is NOT saying men do it better than women, or that most men do it better than any women, or thaat most men do it better than most women--all of which would be too weak for him. He has in mind something much stronger: only men CAN represent the masculine. Women CANNOT represent the masculine; it is simply impossible according to him.

Nowhere does Heidt prove the impossibility of women representing the masculine. At most he could show they actually do not. But he has not even shown that. His cliches about modern culture serve only to show at best what holds for the most part, not what holds all the time, and much less what must and must not hold.

heidt's case is a failure, but worse than that, it is a glaring failure. It is not the case that he has a line of argument here that would be cogent with a few adjustments here and there; rather, the whole thing lacks cogency. His reliance of representation should go, as well as the eccentric stipulations about the use of masculine and feminine. But where can he run to? Aquinas will not offer much cover in this case. I fear Canon Heidt and his ilk shall ever only come up empty handed.


At 9:41 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Fr Heidt says: "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."

My problem with this kind of argument is that there is not a whit of objective evidence to support it; it's merely an assertion, a weak attempt at philosophical categorisation.

Perhaps before one refuses women's ministry it would be wise to see what the scriptures say -- but that is very little, and there's the rub.

The whole question of women's ordination begs a larger question, the very nature of ordained ministry itself. There is no sense of a select representational priesthood in the New Testament -- we all are priests. Rather, the NT speaks of eldership and gifts of ministry, 'ordained' through selection and laying on of hands.

But elders or ministers are no more or less representative of Christ that other baptised believers, who are both women and men. It's just that simple; no need of elaborate philosophical or psychological categories.

At 2:45 AM, Blogger Caelius said...

I still can't get past how Heidt's account of God and masculine and feminine can be reconciled with male and female both being created in the image of God. I never thought I would say this, but the Word compels me to ask who is representing the divine feminine?

At 6:37 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

All of this raises the problems with gender ontology being foisted into God in a dubious way of using analogies starting with human anatomy rather than God's relationship to us shown in Christ.

Caelius asks an important question, but a question nonetheless that (as I'm sure he'd probably acknowledge himself) only worsens the matter rather than gets us on track, as we then end with a kind of paganism in deos in masculine and feminine energy of the divine, divine and feminine faces, etc.

That both male and female human beings can image God by showing something of the character of God in their fleshly existence should not lead us to cross the Creator-Created Barrier of Chalcedon in such a way that analogy starting from the human side is conflated with God, so that the image of God is maleness and femaleness or masculinity/feminity rather than love, hope, faith, patience, prudence, courage, etc. Both men and women can be receptive and responsive, and to conflate one with feminine and the other with masculine and then go a step further and say that one is female and the other male simply does not hold to some of the most saintly Christians I can think of.

Just thinking of Amma Sarah saying to the desert fathers, "Now I have become a man, and you have become women" shows that a too easy conflation tends to keep people from truly being the image God calls them to be in the depths by keeping us to gender stereotypes in an incredibly subtle manner. It begins to look like preservation of an ideology by any means necessary.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Nick Finke said...

And here I used to tell my students that God transcends all human categories and I would try to get them to understand that our language, which has to rely on the use of defined (i.e., limited) terms, is incapable of making statements about God that can then be used to define (i.e., limit) him.

If Thomas Aquinas weren't enjoying the visio beatifica right about now I'm sure he would be a bit nonplussed to hear that the fact that God is actus purus acts as a limitation on the way God operates ad extra.

The way in which we perceive God is completely conditioned by the fact that we only have human minds to work with and so we have to use conceptual definition in order to talk about God at all. What we can never forget is that the limits that our minds require belong to us, not to God.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger The Postulant said...

If you don't mind my waddling in rather late . . .

OK, so women can't represent the masculine Father to the feminine Church. But pari ratione, as we scholastics say, men can't represent the feminine Church to the masculine Father. And last time I checked, that's part of the priestly role too. That's why we all use Eastward position in the Eucharist.

(We do all use Eastward position in the Eucharist, don't we?)

So no one can be ordained, apparently, which means I can skip that next COM meeting.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Kevin M said...

Re: the receptiveness of God,
I highly recommend Eugene Rogers' latest book, After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources Outside the Modern West. He explores especially much of the Syriac tradition, which often uses feminine imagery for the Spirit in particular. In addition, there are numberous references even in the Western tradition, such as at the 11th(?) Council of Toledo, which refer to the womb of the Father and some which even compare the wound in Christ's side to a womb that gives birth to the Church. . . . (cont.)

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Kevin M said...

. . . Now, these are my own thoughts: It seems that the Aristotelian idea of "pure act" has a a lot to do with the whole active/passive dichotomy. I have a number of problems with the identification of "male" with "active" largely because of penetration (assuming my memory is correct from college philosophy major days) chiefly because receptiveness does not necessarily mean passivity. Returning to Rogers' book, the Syriac tradition of speaking of the (laregely feminine) Spirit as "hovering" or "overshadowing" shows it to be a very active state indeed. Anyway, these are just a few thoughts that seemed relavent.

Kevin Montgomery

At 11:00 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for your comments.

Although Heidt would probably profess Chalcedon orthodoxy, I think he is most definitely guilty of making an analogy from the human side and conflating it with God--as you said. he simply can't keep his bizzare understanding of "masculine" to pure act and feminine to "potentiality"--merely cultural connotations bleed in, infecting his theology.

What is so alarming to me is how utterly oblivious he seems to this.

kevin m,
Thanks for the reference to Eugene Rogers and the Syriac tradition. With you I think, I believe Aristotle's notion of pure act labors under a cloud--its relation to a mistaken understanding of the female role in reproduction. For instance, he conceives of women as analogous to (prime) matter in his Physics. I think we have no such excuse for indulging in Heidt's simplistic gender stereotypes.

That's clever. I might try to use that in the future.

nick finke,
I agree 100%; I think you've hit the heart of the matter.

At 12:46 AM, Anonymous J.C. Fisher said...

All of Heidt's ridiculousness is irrelevant to me, as a transgendered person.

Then again, to someone like Heidt, probably I simply don't exist! :-0

Women CANNOT represent the masculine; it is simply impossible according to him.

Like I was saying... :-/

At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

they sure don't make canon theologians like they used to.

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

It should be noted that while the Syriac imagery of the Spirit as feminine is quite beautiful and True; none of the Syriac Churches ordain women to the priesthood. Deaconesses, yes; priesthood no.


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