by: Dr. Gary D. Knight
Recently I was out for a friendly beer with a gaggle of folks engaged in lay ministries at our parish, and some of their friends. Naturally I took along my wife, who appreciates a fine wheat-beer and is a good conversationalist. A day or so later the organizer of the outing asked me whether I had overlooked that the call was for men only? I was gob-smacked, as it never entered my mind that Christians actively engaged in public ministries would consider any cadre of themselves as socially exclusionary. Especially ironic was that the lubricated exchanges had turned on the needs of the ‘New Evangelization’ and how inclusive outreach should be. I did not answer my friend in a very affirmative fashion, for I could not help seeing his clubmanship as part of the problem. I came away realizing that some of the basis of complaint of persons who feel ‘put in their place’ even in church norms and practices is real and palpable. I myself, say as a young man interested in Christian education, would be affronted if told that only nuns could do that job, as they largely did in my elementary schools. Even in secular careers I had known the reverse discrimination of quota- based hiring policy.
Just days later in a seemingly unrelated incident I was shown an article by a rather combative young man, whose arguments as to why the Catholic priestly ministry must be male struck me as marred by the chauvinist bent of my former beer buddies. It brought to mind that various good friends, including nearly every RCIA candidate, has asked for underlying reasons that the major orders, priesthood and the diaconate, are male. And I felt here a call to address this question with inclusive, non-chauvinistic candour. Questioners wish to know if the male Ordinary is disciplinary (and so in principle optionable for change) or is it theological. The sign that it is theological is the definitive statement that on a question of change the Church has no authority to rule. Always she has disciplinary authority ("whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven”); so, unless a sainted pope was theologically wrong, the matter must be theological. This is the same pope who brought in the discipline of women servers and eucharistic ministers at the altar of the Lord.
By settling the question John Paul II was guided by the Spirit of the Church (the Holy Spirit .. easy enough to demonstrate for a mystical body whose foundation, head and mind is Christ and whose inheritance is divine) to avoid speculating or specifying all the reasons in mystery by which it remains that Orders are male.
Reasons might be educed afterwards, as Monica moved Augustine to say: “seek not understanding in order to believe; rather believe and understanding follows.” Ready-to- believe catechumens and and others who express hunger for the truth (presuming as I do those whose contentions are motivated by inquiry, not by antagonism) may appreciate the effort. One feels a duty to shed light on the theological issues that point strongly to the aptness of Christ's fixed choice to constitute a male priesthood - from whom derogate the diaconate too). It is not to prove the matter; but neither are demonstrations of God proof. Saint Anselm, claiming to have had an interlocution or ‘light’ from God, noted how apt was a divine nomen “than Which nothing greater can be conceived”. Even if the fine aptness was no proof that God fully had explained Himself thus, it has long since served as a sound ontological demonstration. Anselm’s recollection that God expressed Himself touching what can at most be conceived, comports with the fact that ours is most characteristically a religion of the Person: less the book or bell or candle, ritual or rite, than the Person of Christ or the trinity of Persons that is God. Therefore a focus of this matter of ordained ministry must be the essence of personhood, which one philosopher well said is presence.
To allay unfortunate jumps to wrong conclusions, this focus does not imply that men will be more essentially persons than women. But it may mean that one cannot personally represent essential maleness in Christ’s act of spiritually begetting children of God by way of proxy standing-in for Him, whether as male of female. We shall see. Regeneration by baptism can of course be effected by any well intentioned Christian, a member of the royal priesthood who by inheritance shares in the royalty of Christ (Kristos means anointed as king). But recognition and ratification of the fact of a new Christian needs to come from a person in the order of Melchizedek. That is to say a ministerial priest who acts in persona Christi at the essential loci of Christian life: confessed sin and life-giving nourishment to the soul.
Firstly then, the ordained minister acts in the presence of God, like the temple priest to whom Jesus required the healed leper to show himself: an ordinandi who would ratify and confirm the blessing and mercy from God. A strange Christianity it would be - a sort of anapresbytery - to declare ourself a member with no ecclesial record and affirmation! Sure baptism there must be, for there’s no such thing as a living breathing Christian without it (those known to God as baptized in blood or desire are Living, but not breathing). For the ecclesial community of the Church, a lack of due form or evidence that the right things were said and done is analogous to the problem of Anglican priests not being able to demonstrate their apostolic succession. The Catholic answer to these problems has always been 'regularization' - conditional renewal of the prima facie trial actions of baptism, marriage, or ordination outside of form.
Accordingly the Church under Pope Benedict provided an Ordinariate for Anglicans who wished to re-establish apostolic succession including union with the bishop of Rome. That is form. Clearly, form and public ecclesial sign-value are deeply intertwined. Our exposition thus far requires an ordained human personhood to convey (and not just symbolically) the voice of the Lord, at least to affirm and confirm what is taking place upon human actions, supernaturally. This is more especially the case when the minister’s own liturgical actions, as in the Mass, are the requisite actions.
The centrality of form now puts the question, whence comes the essential form of maleness in the ministerial orders when those orders are requisite? Even the proponents of female ordination agree the requisite locus is the Mass, a supernatural re-enactment translated in time to the selfsame supper of the Lord, as well as His death and resurrection. The question thus reduces to 'why is it necessary that the celebrant of Mass be male, even if we agree the Eucharist is not a symbol but the real, true and complete presence of Christ - body, soul and divinity?' How can the 'form' of maleness be critical? The word form lies central in the creed of Christians and in our liturgical language, believing that the second Person of the blessed Trinity took the 'form' of man -- which decidedly does not mean the apparition of humanity (that would be docetism), but rather the essence of humanity expressed in a rather Platonic term as complement to the Aristotelian substance used also in the creed to avoid equivocating on the divinity of Christ (which would be Arian).
The first essential thing, as to any minister acting in persona Christi, is the form which is His humanity. Perhaps aptness itself is the appeal. Humanity is a broad term, and the Saviour of the world - so far as anyone may conjecture - could have chosen to be born a girl, or even (speculatively speaking) a couple of fraternal twins to convey the innate communitarian nature of the Trinity as described by Saint John-Paul. But the problem with being incarnate as twins - aside from confusions felt by Romans imagining an echo of or rejoinder to Romulus and Remus - is that the love between them would have to be so perfect as not to lack personhood. How does one do that in the flesh, except through singular oneness? For the Holy Spirit is the perfect love between Father and Son, lacking none of their infinite perfections, including Personhood. Pax to eastern friends and confreres in Christ, who prefer to take or receive the Spirit as proceeding from the Father through the Son; our creed prefers to say that what is done through the Son is the creation of all things, and of course we agree east and west that the Spirit is no creation. RCIA candidates like to hear it noted how God created by willing (as Father) and so speaking (the Word) carried on His breath (the Spirit). A ‘breath’ might seem anthropomorphic, but really it is God who is deopromorphic with man: making him in His image and likeness.
We are persons for this reason only: that God is Person. From the creation account one could equally say the Word proceeds from the Father and the Spirit, and we glimpse the inseparability of the Trinity of which the Hebrew expression is ‘Adonai ehod’. Speculations aside, it was most apt that God redeem man as a single unmitigated unconfused and unmixed person, since as St. Paul explains, sin and death entered by one, Adam (rather letting Eve off the hook in those semiotics). So the Redeemer had to take on human form as either male or female. Why then male? Was this chosen as most apt for the salvific mystery, or a choice forced by the two- sex fact of human biology (as opposed to other life forms and plants that are asexual or mono-sexed)? A similar question arises in the science of physical cosmology, about the ‘anthropic principle’: is the universe tuned for life on purpose, or do we find it so because we are here present in the cosmos to question it? On the face of it, without loss of humanity and suffering, Christ might have opted to arrive as androgynous or hermaphrodite; so his actual choice of the male person can be seen to have purpose and import. This He elected without excluding from the work of salvation anyone - even these exceptions of hormone balance that prove the norm - since 'male and female He fashioned them' in his own likeness. Feminists generally agree with me when I say ‘to be a woman is not not to be a man, a human’, and really good friends will allow me to add “man-up to this”.
All are born of woman. And moreover, just because 'nothing is impossible to God’ or that He can always have chosen other means, is no reason to discount in any way the fact that He decided on being incarnate a male, just as He chose that His mother as a primary figure and forebear of the Church would be a perpetual virgin and a married one at that. Before tackling the reason (again, not proof) that, for our sake, it was apt that Jesus be a man, and afterwards the importance for sign-value that the minister acting in His person be male, it is instructive to see the radical parallel that Jesus presents between the love of Him for his church as bride, and the sacrament of holy matrimony between man and woman. St. Paul says it is a mystery of whose depths he can only glimpse: this from a man who glimpsed enough of the length and depth, breadth and height of God's work to know that the Church has a divine foundation and is the sacrament of salvation in the world.
In the original union of man and woman, what is remarkable about God's use of the form and material of Adam to fashion Eve is that this action taken directly by Him is not subject to any of the natural law we must always associate with making a physical copy of something. Always in this world the law of entropy (or degradation of information, or 'noise') ensures that a copy of something never has the full unadulterated information of the original. Not so in the case of Eve fashioned from Adam. So perfect was this divine act that it would have been equally perfect to have formed Eve and from her obtained Adam. For emphasis of this, she was given the exalted privilege of all birthing: Eve would be the mother of the living. Jesus too was a son of Eve (her seed who would strike the head of the serpent), and so referred himself as ‘Son of Man’. On the cross He identified his mother as the new Eve, saying ‘Woman, behold your son’.
If Adam is saved with Eve, like John he is saved with the Mother ! Have I just now undermined a reason for the ordinandi of Christ to be male? If in all essentials pertaining to the image and likeness of God the man and the woman are interchangeable and equal in dignity, how is there something ‘male’ in essence about a priesthood — or for that matter ‘female’ in essence about motherhood? One answer, deferred below, is that the proper image is of their togetherness. But in heaven neither presbyterial priesthood nor biological motherhood will be anymore in play .. all are married to Christ (and that does not make me, straight up a male, squirm at all). The end of our ‘priesthood’ is that Christ is ‘all in all’; the end of marriage is that Joy is consummated in Him; and the nature of motherhood is fulfilled when (as St. Augustine put it), by Christian generation God populates heaven. That is not as triumphalist as it sounds: it means that anyone who gets to heaven by pursuing the Truth (perhaps only in death) will in that fact have entered the Church. In heaven it is simply the family or assembly of the saved. In the ministerial priesthood on earth, the male most aptly depicts the fatherhood sign-value, which is morally even more than physically a procreative prerogative, or a power to name the new. Without the man’s continued will if not initiative, nothing happens on the generational front. Naming too, has always been key; as the Father declared to Jesus “You are my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”. On the other hand, the very Church whose minister the priest is, and on whose behalf he approaches the altar of the Lord, is mother.
Without holy mother Church, whose model is Mary and the Holy Family, none of its cells or families constitutes anything of spiritual or lasting substance. Religion means, at least ‘lego’ - bound up together. The female genes of an embryo give him bonded substance, those of the male give it form, and one is meaningless without the other. It is true that “God plus one is always a majority”, as the saying goes, and true that as long as there’s one believing family the Church is not all in heaven. But even that family would hope to beget sons and daughters in the faith, either by the spiritual adoption of others, or by their procreation. That is why Augustine refers to any Christian husband as a bishop, and his wife and family the domus, or domestic church. It may irk feminism that in the context of the domus a mother isn’t necessarily bishop (though indeed she is, if she is widowed, or if she is the one Christian adult). But to appease them, the procreative prerogative of a man stands as partner, not arbitrator, in the woman’s most apt role as mater.
At the last supper, the pesach or seder meal of Passover, Jesus could well have changed lamb meat to His body for life-giving spiritual sustenance of his domus, the nascent Church. He himself was the Lamb par excellence, for whose sake the angelic instructions were first made to the Hebrews to sacrifice a lamb (or for which reason Abraham who was to sacrifice Isaac was given to substitute a ram). But instead and thus with new purpose Jesus used bread and wine: the samen of wheat, the seed of the vine. Bread, or the staff of life as it’s called, was already part of the inspired place-name of Jesus’ birth, where he was lain in a manger - the feeding trough ultimately for all the nations. In life He had spoken of his words as the real bread from heaven, and silenced the tempter - who sought to focus on bodily hunger - by proclaiming the sustaining Word, of which He was (and is) the incarnation. And not for nothing was His first recorded parable that of the seed and the sower.
In a recent scriptural reading God speaks of his word as that which goes forth with His regenerative and even procreative purpose (bringing forth grain where there was none) and returns to Him in abundance. That word is of course the Beloved, who is the husband and redeemer of all creation; and the return is the bride and Church he brings back from the ‘death’ of germination. No seed bears a stalk and ear without first dying - dying to self in fact, to be multiplied. Not in vain is all of this language parallel to the marriage act. Already the God-willed fructification or fecund generation of heirs to His kingdom is taking place in the giving of Himself, body and blood, at first signified and then embodied or disseminated under the appearance of cultured wheat and fermented grape.
It is this fatherly love-act that takes root supernaturally in His apostles, and later their followers (men or women), and which now sets them in gestation until the Church’s birthday at Pentecost, assisted spiritually by His own mother, Mary. Accordingly, when Jesus tells his apostles (even the betrayer) “do this in my memory”, He is initiating the temporal perpetuation - for his memory is without limit - of the one sacrifice that will beget all saved souls. If I paraphrase Him, “As I am lifted up, I do draw all souls unto me”.
The foregoing is to note with as little doubt as possible that the marital union between Christ and His mystical body the Church, holy mother Church, is present in the mystery power of the Mass to populate heaven till the fulfilment of time. It is an essentially fatherly and husbandly act to set this dissemination and fructification in motion; while indeed it is thereupon a maternal act to cooperate as the very willing, indeed eager, participants in the whole body.
The procreative prerogative is Christ’s, and the merciful grace of growth is received by the Church and nurtured in her and by her every means. She is the “fullness of help to salvation in the world” not least because nowhere else can a soul receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of its Lord and saviour. To paraphrase again in relation to marriage, “if you shun my body and blood, you have no real Life in you”. Again, this is not to rebut Christian assemblies who believe the inspired Word that ‘when two or more are gathered in My name, I am there with them’. He also was with John the Baptist alone in his cell, especially when he was visited by one of the disciples. But that degree of presence was not the same intimate fleshly presence as Jesus demonstrated when breaking bread with the disciples in Emmaus.
The real Life that an assembly is missing, perhaps in ignorance, is I presume not something that any of them willingly shun. As Jesus put it to the Samaritan woman at the well “if you knew Who it was who asks .. you would ask of Him living water”. This figure of speaking is much more than ‘symbol’ — in all its essentials it is sacrament. The great parallel between the sacrament of marriage and the sacrament of the Eucharist can hardly be fathomed out. Referring back to the original unity of man and woman, Jesus spoke of the two become one even in flesh. They might already have been one in affections (“friend” or “helpmate” could be said by either), but still more were one body (“flesh of my flesh”). Adam wakes at a start, hearing ‘yo, man !’ and seeing her says ‘whoa .. man !’ So when the hierarchically related creation stories refer to the fashioning of Eve after Adam - “after” in the sense of “following the same blueprint” - and to their being “male and female” in God’s image and likeness, there is no tension at all. The likeness of God is love-unity in communitarian nature, and that is what He impresses on the society of man, male and female generally, and on the united flesh of husband and wife intimately and personally.
Part II http://jceworld.blogspot.ca/2018/01/why-major-orders-are-male-reasoning-for_16.html