Friday, December 05, 2008

Could the Word have incarnated a female human nature?

I say the Word could have done so; whether or not one says that such a thing would be fitting, such an act is within the range of God's absolute power.

Addendum, in case what should be obvious is not:

As Christ could have been Christa, say, there is no obligation on the Church's part that a bishop or priest be male; Christa could have represented humanity as well as Christ did.

One who nevertheless obstinately holds that only males can be ordained to the episcopate--that there is an ontological block to female ordination and not merely a block in fittingness--is committed to denying the absolute power of God, and that implies a commitment to denying God.

The result, as there is and can be no other God, is that any who deny that women can be ordained--as a matter of ontology--are committed to atheism, which to say: heresy.

Still, there is an argument to be made for restricting ordination to males resting on the symbolic value of having humans who cannot bear children mediate grace to the laity. Their very barreness serves both to elevate the grace-filled fecundity of Mary as a model for Christian virtue, and to point away from the male clergyman as a model. However, that argument implies a block not of ontology--as if women could not be ordained--but only of fittingness. For some congregations at some times in some places, restricting ordination to males serves better. But that restriction, enabled by merely contingent, historical circumstances, is itself entirely contingent. Thus, to turn it around, one might imagine circumstances under which ordination should be restricted to females as a contingency. More to the point, it becomes entirely intelligible from a critical point of view how the Church over time should have moved from restricting ordination to males to opening ordination up to females.


At 6:57 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Is this a stunning revelation to you?

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I doubt he considers it stunning, but sometimes the obvious does need stated. . . . Besides watching the reaction of some to it can be quite entertaining, kind of like in the Three Stooges when Curly rolls around on the floor saying "wo-wo-wo-wo." (Okay, that's the best transliteration I can think of.)

At 4:19 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


No--I was hoping for some resistance though.

Here is the kicker, which I will add to the post so others can see it too:

if Christ could have been Christa, say, the there is no obligation for a bishop or priest to be male; Christa could have represented humanity as well as Christ did.

One who obstinately holds that only males can be ordained to the episcopate--that there is an ontological block to female ordination and not merely a block in fittingness--is committed to denying the absolute power of God, and that implies a commitment to denying God.

The result, as there is and can be no other God, is that any who deny that women can be ordained are committed to atheism, which to say: heresy.

But, since nobody stepped up, I'm left to lay these cards down for you.

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

OK, I'll play.

I'm fine with WO. However, the problem I see with this line of argument is it assumes that there was no reason that God incarnated a male Christ. I assume God had reasons that are beyond my comprehension.

Although I am fine with WO, I am open to the possibility that WO is not in God's plan.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

There is no "female human nature" there is only "human nature" which Chalcedon says Jesus derived, consubstantially, from the Virgin Mary (just as his divinity is consubstantial with the Father). There are not two natures in humans (one male and one female) any more than there are three natures in God. Three persons, yes, not three natures. This is why there is not ontological blockage: the "being" of human being is sexed in the individual (as accident) but not sexed in essence.

There may be secondary, symbolic or cultural reasons not to ordain women -- or men, for that matter -- to priesthood; but you are quite correct in saying that to base this on ontology is heresy; though you come to this conclusion from a different direction than I do.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

OK, thanks; in reply:

Perpetua, I am going to concede your point, that God has reasons for ther maleness of Christ that we do not understand, or that may seem arbitrary to us. That is most likely true, so far as I can tell.

What I muct hold onto to make my argument, however, is that those reasons concern contingent factors, and are not forced as it were by a limitation on God's absolute power.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

And to Tobias,

There is no human nature, in actuality. The human nature assumed by the Word must be individuated to a particular body and soul, or else it could not be assumed at all. Or: if it were assumed in its generality, yuo and I would stand in a hypostatic union with the Word, which is false though entertaining.

As the human nature assumed in fact was individuated, and this human to be a "this" must be gendered, it must have been male as assumed.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Well, yes, AS. That is how I suppose Wm of Occam would see it, and I am truly a nominalist at heart ;-)

But why get into "natures" at all, then? Why not just say that Jesus was a man, a male. But even "male" is a category, not a "res" -- "male" has no reality, only "this male" or "that male." So to say that only "males" can be priests has no real categorical basis, since categories themselves are nominal conveniences. This supports your argument, then, that necessarily limiting God in this way would be to limit God's freedom to take any particular being and say, "You are a priest." It seems to me that Jesus did not limit the church when bestowing the power to loose and seal.

As to hypostatic union with the Word -- well, as Jesus said, we are to be One as he and the Father are one -- and if that is not one in substance (consubstantiality) then what does it mean to say we are members of the Body of Christ? This is an awesome mystery, to be fair, but I think it is one in which we have a share...


At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say, this doesn't seem to go anywhere. I fully support WO, yet the fact that God *could* have come as Christa doesn't change anything. What's the difference between denying God's power to chose, and denying God's actual choice. God could have come as Christa, yet chose to come as Christ. What does that tell us about the importance or weight to attach to the fact of Christ?


At 8:53 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


To say God could have come as Christa means his coming as Christ--as male--was not necessary. That may seem like small beans, and if so, then fine.

However, some might say his coming as male was no accident: that as the Son he could only have come as male, and that only a male Christ could have represented human nature before the Father. Those folks, if any exist, are the ones I have a bone of contention with--and maybe there are none. So be it.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Even Scotus--and Aquinas--see it that way. "Nature" is creed-speak, quite apart from contemporary metaphysics. But as creed-speak, I feel compelled to keep it.

Thus, human nature in itself is pictured by them as un-gendered; gender would be an accident to it. Or: your maleness is an accident to you, and mine is to me, and these accidents are in reality distinct. I still think the argument could go through.

As for union with God, isn;t there a tradition from the East about salvation as divination? There is some good lit on it from, but I have not had time to dig in yet. Maybe you've heard of this?

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, AS. What I'm attempting to show is that regardless of metaphysic (Nominalist or Realist, for instance) the maleness of Christ issue comes down to what you describe: (1) that the maleness of Christ has, in itself, some significance; and (2) that the maleness of Christ and the maleness of priests has a necessary connection. The first may be true -- a feminist theologian once wrote, in keeping with a kenotic Christology, that in order to express his self-emptying, Christ came as a man in order to then become "a worm and no man" and be "at the bottom"; and that had he come as a woman in that time and place he already would have been "at the bottom" of the social strata. An interesting notion, but not perhaps philosophically rigorous. However, it seems that even if we accept (1) there is no necessary correlation to lead to (2). I think the RCC has reached that point, officially, in shedding all of the earlier questionable arguments against WO and essentially saying, "End of discussion; Jesus only appointed men, and we do not feel free to do otherwise." Again, not a very rigorous philosophical position, but canonically unassailable -- until a subsequent pontiff assails it, I suppose.

Yes, the East has a lively understanding of theosis; though there are hints of it as well in more recent thinking in the West -- as in Teilhard de Chardin. I find process thinking to be, in its own way, a kind of western recovery of some of the older eastern patristic thinking, in a rather different metaphysical framework. And it does have the virtue of some significant resonance with the Gospel, John especially.

Thanks again for a lively and interesting discussion.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Anglcan Scotist,

I agree that God has the power to incarnate Christ as female. I don't know why God incarnated Christ as a male. I don't really know God's mind, so I can't know what all the ramifications were that led to God's incarnation as a male rather than a female. I am surprised you feel confident about this.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


True--knowledge of why the Savior was male muct escape us. Still, God may have made some hints known, which we might tentatively identify without claiming knowledge.

It seems esp. clear in John--and it is confirmed elsewhere--that Jesus as Son of God meant to reveal the Father, and that his authority as Son came not from himself as Son, but from his having been sent by the Father.

Being male might serve that function of showing better than being female--in a symbolic sense. Females have a capacity to gestate; males do not. There is something barren in being male, something relatively lacking in creative potential. Jesus, being male, might better serve to draw attention to the Creator Father by taking on the male's lack of creative power.

Just a guess.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Hi Anglican Scotist,

Thank you for this. I have been thinking about it, too, the meaning of Christ as male has something to do with our embodied experience of what it means to be male and what it means to be female.

Reflecting on the Nativity as Christmas approaches and of the vulnerability of Mary as a pregnant woman, and mother of an infant, and of the vulnerability of the infant Jesus, it occurs to me how beautiful it is for us to see Joseph caring for them. So, it occurs to me that when we say that Christ is male and His Church is female, we are saying that Christ takes on this care taking role towards the members of His Church, as Joseph did for Mary and Jesus.

Then I remembered Ephesians 22-28:

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think you have a lot of holes in this argument, but I'll settle for putting the finger on one: I don't see why one should predicate anything on a person's ability to bear (as distinct from cause another to bear) offspring. Takes two to tango.

I do, however, like your word `fittingness'. It is precisely because of that that the church's rules (canon law, whatever) must be permissive. It is not as though anyone is forcing half of all priests and bishop appointments to be female, rather, asking that women be allowed to express their calling by God in a particular place/office/role. Correctness of appointment is independent of mere sex of the person involved.


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