Friday, 27 November 2009

On the Ordination of Women (part 2)

As I travel around the blogosphere, I keep seeing the name ‘Ed Tomlinson’ appear in comments, so I went to have a rummage around in his blog. Predictably, his piece ‘On the Ordination of Women’ left me with a few comments to make, so here they are, with quotes. Follow the link above for Ed’s original post in all its glory.

I realise this is all ‘old hat’ to many, but I fancied doing it anyway.

Quotes in italics, my comment isn’t.

Catholic theology advocates priesthood as vocation – concerned with ‘being’ not ‘doing’. It has little to do with ‘rights’ and everything to do with ‘role’. Priesthood is not akin to a secular job but to such things as motherhood, fatherhood, being a wife or husband. Something in which gender becomes a determining factor.

Please, please come up with an example not so ridiculously weighted. ‘Motherhood’ and ‘fatherhood’ are not things “in which gender becomes a determining factor” they are biological constraints. ‘Wife’ and ‘husband’ are limited by definition – though language changes so who knows! Maybe we will live to see the day when those words are no longer gender specific. Whether ordination is in that second category we will debate shortly, but the mother/father thing is nonsense in this debate. Unless gender is the starting point for what it means to be a priest. Surely not.

We must understand this basic fact before turning to the following reasons why this ‘priestly servile vocation’ has traditionally been understood as male in essence:

If masculinity is the essence of priesthood, we have bigger problems than I thought.

Supporters of women’s ordination [suggest] Jesus was limited by the wisdom of his age. But this seems dubious. After all Christ was ever willing to defy convention. He countered pharisaic teaching where necessary. Furthermore the pagan world of his day was awash with female priests. They were not an alien concept. Jesus could easily have followed such example if he willed. The evidence suggests he chose not to.

The twelve were indeed men, no denying it. When the eleven decided to replace Judas, they chose a man. No denying that either. So, the twelve were all men. I could ask whether, following the example of the apostles, all priests (though not laity) should be circumcised. After all, the thirteen apostles all were.

St Paul taught that women were equal to men (‘In Christ…there is no male or female, slave or free’) Yet also taught that their role was to be different (Forbidding women to have ‘liturgical authority’ in Church.)

I’m sorry, but where?

There were no women bishops or presbyters in the early Church. This indicates that St Paul’s take was not just his own (some even suggest sexist) opinion. But the consensus among all the Apostles- handed down to their successors.

I don’t know how to break this too you, but does the name Junia mean anything to you. It is often altered to Junias, a male form, but whereas there are many examples of Junia as a woman’s name, Junias would be unique as a man’s name. In Romans 16:7 she is described as an Apostle by... oh, that would be Paul then.

In the 3rd century, a group known as Montanists formed. Their teaching was rejected as dangerous because they questioned the reliability of Tradition. (Montanists wished to change things due to “new revelations of the Spirit”.- sound familiar?)

Yes – it sounds like the demand for priestly celibacy, or the rejection of slavery. It also reminds me of the canon of New Testament Scripture or, indeed, the creation of an ordained priesthood. Oh – and the ordination of women to said priesthood.

What ultimately condemned them was their desire to ordain women.

It really wasn’t.

The earliest Canon Law forbade women’s ordination. These canons were endorsed by the Council of Nicaea (who gave us ‘The Creed’ in 325.) To endorse women priests we must assume the council of Nicaea gave wrongful teaching on matters of holy orders. Yet they certainly got things right in the Creed. So is this tenable? Just as the Nicene creed is fundamental to Christian doctrine, so surely their opinions matter today?

It means they should not be lightly dismissed, but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

One can only argue Scripture endorses women priests, by attributing St Paul’s teaching against them as;
a) wrongful personal opinion –or-
b) applicable only to his time and place.

Simply untrue.

However there’s a right and wrong way to interpret Scripture. The traditional way is to endorse scripture where clear – and mould our lives accordingly. Choosing our preferred interpretation, making scripture say what we wish to hear, is most definitely not right. Therefore S. Paul’s teaching is hard to dismiss.

Classic piece of rhetoric. Whilst most people would agree with the first sentence in the above paragraph, plenty of people would have an issue with the second. Yet the way they are presented here seeks to tie the ‘right’ to ‘traditional’ – which is a matter of opinion. It also places ‘wrong’ with a confused and not necessarily cogent set of attitudes (‘preferred interpretation’ is not the same thing as ‘making scripture say what we wish to hear’ – you have a preferred interpretation, are you just making scripture say what you wish to hear?)

As noted: Secularism promotes gender as interchangeable- the Church upholds a celebration of two different natures- leading to a belief in a difference of role and function within equality. We see this clearly in Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul.

The fact that you can cite the examples of a Pope and a nun doesn’t speak to others’ vocations – just theirs.

This difference in role leads to the Mass. At the Eucharist the priest stands ‘in persona Christi’. “The person of Christ”. (hence Orthodox priests have beards and long hair!) Christ cannot be ‘sacramentally’ represented by a woman because Christ’s ‘maleness’ is not incidental- its revelatory. (It tells us something about God) It would be silly on stage to cast a man in the role of Mary. It seems equally silly at Mass to ask a woman to stand in the place of Christ. He was a man- and there is not avoiding that fact.

You seem to be confusing the universal Christ with the Jesus of history. It is entirely possible for a woman to stand ‘in persona Christi’. Oh, and if there is to be in any genuine conversation about this issue, please don’t draw such parallels between celebrating Mass and staging a play. They’re two unconnected occasions and treats the priestly role as play-acting.

Jesus is bound to his role as Father not mother. This revelation of a ‘male God’ says something subtle yet profound. We see this in the following:
Pagan religion used priestesses to promote the ‘mother god’ who gives birth to creation. (Hence nature worship) But Judaism challenged this- making God life giver instead- revealing a separateness to created order. Nature created by him not of him.

Judaism did see God as the life giver – I know, we’re agreeing! – but not I would suggest in the way stated above. The source of life in the creation of new little people was seen to be entirely in the male ‘seed’. The woman was thought to simply be the carrier and deliverer. (Any women out there feel like a ploughed field?) Thus it was a sin to spill said seed on the ground – this was akin to abortion (and no, I’m not getting into that debate here.) If God was therefore the source of life – then God must be our Father.

The fact that we know this view of human reproduction is fundamentally flawed provides us with the chance - the obligation - to rethink. For a start, it means that the idea of God having a gender is based on nothing more than a scientific error, which has led to a cultural error. We can reclaim (as has been done for centuries) the idea that God transcends gender. It also helps us to make sense of the idea that “God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

Scripture teaches that Christ’s relationship with his people is signified by the imagery of Christ as groom and His bride the Church... It follows that we- the bride of Christ must open ourselves to our groom in order to be impregnated by his Word. We then ‘give birth’ to fruits of the Spirit. At the Eucharist created order is echoed. Marriage and the Mass tell us about our relationship with God. Alas a female priest confuses this image of ‘Christ and bride’ at a subtle yet profound level.

This argument is totally nonsensical. If women cannot represent Christ at the altar because Christ is the groom, then by the same token only women can represent the ‘bride’, which means we need to have a female only laity and no priests at all.

Mother Church (feminine not masculine) [see above] has always taught that changes to belief and practice can only be accepted when backed by scripture, reason and tradition. All three -not just one. If something cannot be proved by all 3 then we lack authority to adopt it. So even if modern ‘reason’ suggests women’s ordination to be correct – it cannot be accepted- unless equally revealed by Scripture and tradition. (Which it is patently not).

Actually, it can be ‘proved’. Not only by reason, but also scripture (back to Junia again) and tradition (she does crop up a lot doesn’t she?)

Incidentally, if tradition were a pre-requisite, nothing could ever change and the church would be arguing for the re-introduction of slavery as a doctrinal issue – just a thought.

All arguments in favour of women priests return to the Secular argument for ‘inclusivity’...


Pro arguments appeal powerfully to the heart-but are entirely sociological and based on the secular concept...


God does not do U-turns. Why would the Holy Spirit teach that women’s ordination is wrong through scripture and the teachings of the early church – only to declare such practice valid in the 21st Century? God is surely the same yesterday, today and forever!

Why the change? Probably for the same reason that there was first the law, and then Christ. The same reason that both Old and New Testaments endorse slavery by laying down teaching about it, and yet the church now holds it to be abhorrent. As Jesus is recorded as saying: “It was because you were so hard-hearted...” It’s not a u-turn, it’s a movement toward God.

We should be wary when we consider that the cry to ordain women – a so-called ‘revelation of the Spirit’ has only really arisen alongside the rise of the liberal political opinion of the last Century.

Not entirely true – it’s just become harder to ignore.

If God wants women priests and bishops- he wants them for the whole Church. To ‘Anglo-Catholic’ Anglicans this is crucial! I cannot accept that the Church of England- which makes up only a tiny fraction of global Christianity- has authority to make such immense decisions alone. Only when Rome and Constantinople agree – can we possibly proclaim the ordination of women as a decision from God.

The unity of the Church is important, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But don’t worry, they’ll catch up with us eventually.

In 1992 we were promised that ‘women priests’ would restore the image of the Church. It was stated powerfully that people, especially the young, would flood back to our pews. The reality has been quite different!

Anyone who thought or genuinely believed that ordaining women would be the ‘silver bullet’ to halt a decline in numbers was seriously deluded. I’m not denying that it was said by some.

Though many women priests perform excellent work, the decision to ordain them has deeply damaged our Church.

The church was already deeply damaged by not ordaining them, and in the intervening years the ordination of women has become accepted more widely than was, I think, expected. If you don’t agree, feel free to get a private members motion passed up to GS to have it revoke the decision.

A schism was created and, for the first time in history, endorsed by the establishment who declared both proponents and opponents to be valid!

That may well have been daft, but there you go.

Hundreds of faithful priests were lost to Rome. People left in droves. Should current trends continue there will be no ‘C of E’ worshippers in 2040. Hardly the promised outcome.

I’ll make a date in my diary for 2040 to continue the discussion (God willing.)

...since the ordination of women there is not one diocese where [the] circle of unity has not been broken. Legislation allows people to deny the validity of women priests if they wish. Which necessarily means that dioceses can no longer unite at the altar. No one priest can stand in for another. Ordinary people are allowed to decide (quite legally) if someone’s ordination is valid or not. (What compromise but what utter nonsense!)

Couldn’t agree more.

When the first woman was ordained Canon A4 of the Church of England was abolished: It read ‘Those ordained should be seen as fully valid by all.’


The result is that we no longer have unity. The seriousness of this cannot be underestimated. It is growing increasingly evident. How can you have private judgment in orders? Collegiality is rendered dormant and the Church turned into an international conference of conflicting beliefs. There is no priestly authority as has been handed down since the time of the apostles.

Quite right – rescind the Act of Synod now.

Its easy to assume this is academic fluff or hysterical theory: but we only have to open our eyes to see it as fact. Cracks are now opening up all over the communion, widening and growing. Once scripture was ‘overlooked’ to ordain women...

Please stop repeating this insulting lie.

Think Vertically The ordination of women has shattered the historic line handed down through the apostles. A woman priest would not be recognised by those serving in living two hundred years ago. Which breaks the unity of past and future. Augustine could not be replaced at his altar by Patricia – a deep strain of Holy tradition is now fractured.

This is true - as is the idea of a married priest. How is the family by the way?

Our Ordinal makes it clear that this tradition is what provides validity. It is fact not opinion. We are a Church built on Apostolic succession. Sadly no more… we have become a Church that has performed a wilful act of disunity.

Actually, that would be the Act of Supremacy of 1559.

Our Church foolishly refused to wait for all her members to agree.

We weren’t all agreed on the status quo, and more were in favour of the change than against.

Instead it made silly and impossible legislation- i.e. allowing traditionalists to disbelieve in women’s orders. Little surprise that the Church is now in a frightful mess. We are a Church that has dismissed tradition and scripture in pursuit of sociological ideals.

Show me a church that’s not in a mess. And again, I haven’t dismissed tradition or scripture.

I pray that we can find a way to restore our Church to its true nature. A protestant part of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I don’t think we’ve left the one Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Regardless let us remember that what unites us–is our love of the Lord Jesus. And even in disagreement we must draw together in working for his kingdom in this place.


Traditional Anglo-Catholics are seeking the creation of new ‘traditional Dioceses’ ... It is our way of allowing women priests to have what they desire – whilst granting space to those who, in conscience and sympathy with 90% of Christians worldwide – do not embrace the innovation.

That 90% - a throw-away figure that assumes unanimous support for the official position of the Roman and Eastern Churches amongst the laity. You can’t complain about being treated unfairly and ignored in your own church if you do the same to people in other churches who dissent from the official teaching of their church.

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. I do believe that men like Ed Tomlinson who don't want to see women allow to the office of priest have a problem with how they see women ( "not really made in God's image like wot men are...") but also a problem with their own masculinity. They are so afraid that if they see women as equal and called by God, they may lose that image of themselves as sacred and special by virtue of their gender.

  2. Suem - God bless you! I didn't think this would have any readers.

    Re your point - I was particularly worried by the phrase "We were made to compliment each other- not compete with one another!"

    I really don't feel the need to compete with any clergy, regardless of status or gender. I worry about people who feel that is the case.

  3. I think you see yourself as "working with" other clergy! Complementarianism is such a seductive idea because many of us have that instinctive idea of men and women as making up different parts of a whole. It is just that in reality it can be used in a very limiting way ( for both men and women) and particularly to control and limit women ,especially in the hands of certain conservatives!

  4. A great post. I find it odd that many Anglo-Catholics, whose worship stresses the majesty of God, cannot conceive how this same vibrant deity cannot relate to females created in His own image.

    If Mary is to be regarded as "theotokos" & arguably 1 of the few biblical figures to be described as an epitome of holiness - why can't women fulfill the comparitively easier role of a priest?