Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Ordination of Women

Canon Heidt has made it very clear that he cannot accept the validity of orders conferred upon women--and you can find various reasons, such as they are, for Fort Worth's position. You will find, I think, heavy use made of the notion of a need to "act in the person of Christ" (p. 15), the relative novelty of "ontologically equal" sexes with "differing roles" (p. 12), the curiousity (p. 19) of "ontological sexual identity" and a real boner ("no asexual human nature"--implying men and women don't share a species; whoops). Disappointing: as if they rushed to carry whatever they dug up in the back yard into the living room so as to be able to say "Look--a reason!" For we find ourselves prima facie in the 21st century carrying around a tradtion--the denial of Orders to women--without a reason. How did it come to this?

Whence this still very popular belief, that women cannot be priests, much less bishops? Perhaps one key text comes from Aquinas:

I answer that, Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of the sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament.

Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament.

Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way. Wherefore even though a woman were made the object of all that is done in conferring Orders, she would not receive Orders, for since a sacrament is a sign, not only the thing, but the signification of the thing, is required in all sacramental actions; thus it was stated above (32, 2) that in Extreme Unction it is necessary to have a sick man, in order to signify the need of healing. Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.

The key point: women as such lack a measure of perfection; as women they bear an ontological defect--this is implied by their being "in a state of subjection." He means women are monstrosities, on the order of two-headed calves and dogs with eight legs:

If it were not for some [divine] power that wanted the feminine sex to exist, the birth of a woman would be just another accident, such as that of other monsters.
Nisi ergo esset aliqua virtus quae intenderet femineum sexum, generation feminae esset omnino a casu, sicut et aliorum monstrorum. De Veritate 5, 9, d. 9.

They wouldn't be around--God would not have created such degenerate life-forms, Aquinas is saying, if we didn't need to reproduce. He thinks this way in party because he has a lousy understanding of human reproduction, inherited from Aristotle; he thought women made no active contribution, but were like passive vessels for the motions of development initiated by male semen. I think everyone, even Canon Heidt and assorted like-minded denizens of Fort Worth, would reject that particular line of reasoning from Aquinas.

That leaves a question of course: Surely Canon Heidt and these other guys don't think women are monsters; but what about Akinola and the rest? If so, let's just come out and admit it in the open. If he is married, did he wed a freak of nature? No? "Of course not" Akinola would say.

Quick, what did we just learn? We saw the virtue of subjecting traditional beliefs--and there is a looooooooong tradition behind this sort of idiotic regard for women as defective(right up to Immanuel Kant even, and beyond)--to critique. We would not want to be fools carrying a bag of bricks over millennia for nothing.

But we also should be wary of treating traditions with a respect they do not deserve and did not earn. At least part of the long duration of the tradition behind denying women orders was simply void of sound reason. To count these years toward that tradition's favor seems perverse, a willing embrace of ignorance and false witness that can only be unnatural to human beings. Indeed, I wager much ancient and medieval thought about sexuality, gender and marriage is similarly afflicted. Doubt me? Browse through this stinker and get back to me.

What else does Aquinas have? Let's leave aside his "argument" from hair (seriously: The woman’s hair is a sign of her subjection, a man’s is not. Hence it is not proper for a woman to put aside her hair when doing penance, as it is for a man.” Summa Theologica Supplement , qu. 28, art. 3 ad 1). Women, you see, are fools by nature, incapable of manly rationality:

Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit; and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is another kind of subjection which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin. For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. Nor is inequality among men excluded by the state of innocence, as we shall prove (96, 3). Summa Theologica I, qu. 92, art. 1, ad 2

That, my gentle readers, is what Aquinas is referring to when he speaks of women being in a state of subjection--the comparative lack of "the discretion of reason" in women. The upshot is not everyone was equally made in the image of God:

The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, "To the image of God He created him," it is added, "Male and female He created them" (Gn. 1:27). Moreover it is said "them" in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii, 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the beginning and end of every creature. Summa Theologica I, qu. 93, art. 4 ad 1

This is embarassing; Scotus does little better:

Woman however possesses a [state of] natural subjection with respect to man. Therefore she ought to have no degree of eminence over any man, because as much by nature as by condition and nobility women are more ignoble than any man; whence after the fall, the Lord subjected her to the rule and power of the man. But if she were able to receive some [Holy] Order in the Church, she would be able to preside over and to have authority, which is contrary to her condition.

And hold your nose:
1. Timoth. 2. ‘Let the women learn in silence’, and ‘I do not permit them [women] to speak or to teach’, where a gloss [reads], ‘not only I but also the Lord does not permit it’;and this is so because of the weakness of their intellect, and the mutability of their emotions, which they commonly suffer more than men. For a Teacher ought to have a lively intellect in the recognition of truth, and stability of emotion in its confirmation.

Pathetic. But millions and millions of Christians are held in thrall to such "reasons" or ones no better--this dreck is celebrated all over the world and even, alas, in the Episcopal Church. You should stop by the pro-woman unofficial Roman Catholic site "Woman Priests" and see for yourself what kind of arguments Fort Worth and those similarly minded can muster.

I've concentrated on Aquinas and Scotus to show you how hollow the tradition behind denying women ordination truly was, even as represented in the thinking of Rome's best theologians. This is one strand of Anglo-catholicism that should finally die out. Dear indeed may be the hoary tradition hallowed by age, but dearer still, O brethren in Christ, is the Word and the Truth.


At 5:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like some of the reading in 1 Tim 2 in the netbible translation: "A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. For Adam was formed first and then Eve."

Well, at least the first part is good. Paul is saying women *must* learn, therefore obviously they *may* learn. I gather this is actually a liberation compared to the rest of the culture at the time.

Can't say I care for the throw-back to Adam & Eve, though. I've long-since abandoned any belief that there were two such actual people.

I figure the `culture' argument accounts for it over the last 1900-odd years; by now it's entirely vacuous. We have the example of Balaam's ass for what happens when the person God appointed to do something doesn't perform! Unsurprisingly, I figure it's `who God wants, where God wants, when God wants' that matters and such things as sex are irrelevant.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

It may be that Anglo-catholics now make common cause with evangelicals precisely because arguments for treasured church traditions are empty, and no new sound arguments are forthcoming.

Reluctantly amputating reason and tradition, they are left with appeals to Scripture, doing tacitly what evangelicals tend to do.

A critical eye cast at the Fort Worth position paper should discern hyow much is settled by proof-texting, how little by aid of reason. Right-wing crypto-"Schleiermacherism" indeed.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Closed said...

I indirectly address this in my latest rambling. We continue to confuse the imago Dei with genitalia, and that is the starting problem. Until this is addressed squarely, we cannot come to rethink the matter.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger bls said...

Ironically, even the evangelicals are arguing something different these days.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger bls said...

(It's all sort of funny, isn't it? The world changes for the better, everybody notices that things have improved - and then suddenly the Bible says something completely different!

I guess the A.C. crowd will be the last holdouts, because their arguments are from "natural law." Yep.)

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Closed said...

Actually, bls, check out Fr. Jake's place. "Natural Law" arguments are a fine Anglican tradition, it's just that some of these folks don't know either our understanding of grace on the matter or the complexity/scrutiny of Natural Law in our tradition.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Annie said...

When I've read these same things in the past it has galled me as I contemplated the sin that has been perpetrated in the name of God all these centuries. I has been far worse than it is now, in the past. It has caused everything from physcial abuse to denial of basic human rights. I almost can't bear to read them now. If there has ever been an excuse for injustice, if the Word has ever been maligned, it was in this. (Speaking as a woman, of course!)

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Contarini said...


I think Aquinas can be employed in a more positive way. What's interesting to me is that he emphatically believes women share the same nature as men (yes, I know this is obvious, but bear with me), and this is why they are, in the primary sense, created in God's image. His mistaken biology leads him to an affirmation of women's (accidental) inferiority.

I do not hear this theology coming from opponents of women's ordination today, at least from those on the more Catholic side (which account for most of the WO opponents in Anglicanism--certainly for all of them in ECUSA). Rather, the modern Catholic (and conservative Anglo-Catholic) argument is that men and women are different by nature--that human nature is bifurcated into two equal but different expressions. See for instance Peter Kreeft's claim (
that our souls are sexually differentiated--a claim that would make no sense to Aquinas.

I would argue that Aquinas's position is, theologically and philosophically, much sounder than this. Where Aquinas goes wrong is in his acceptance of a biology (itself of course conditioned by lots of social factors) that posits a physical, accidental inferiority on the part of women. To locate sex differences in human nature (as the "conservatives" on this issue do) is a far more radical move than simply to deny this biological inferiority.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

All parties of which I am aware appeal to tradition in order to deny women ordination. Aquinas, as you know, is a principal authority in Roman Catholic tradition to this day, and to Anglo-catholics who operate in Fort Worth. Any appeal to tradition in favor of denying women orination appeals to such arguments as those of Aquinas, which obviously hold no water whatsoever. It is no small thing to note how much of the tradition behind denying women ordination is hollow, even immoral. Thus, even if Fort Worth and the RCC have since moved away from such lines as Aquinas', we know (1)to regard the authority of tradition on this point with a very, very critical eye, and (2)to expect new arguments to carry the weight. Nobody in Fort Worth to my knowledge has the slightest idea how the ontology of essences and substance bears on women's ordination--so we have glaring errors in Fort Worth's official defense, and elsewhere where the RCC is forced into pathetic efforts to uphold "tradition".

I agree with you fully that Aquinas can be used to make more sense by appealing to other parts of his philosophy--yes--and he might even be gainfully employed to argue for women's ordination. Ruefully, that last maneuver has not been attempted to my knowledge. O times, O mores!


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