Saturday, November 14, 2009

Women's Ordination and Gregory the Theologian

As a fairly conservative Catholic who believes that the male-only priesthood is correct, one of the things that bothers me is the really bad arguments that conservatives often make in order to justify the Church's practice.

The problem with most of the arguments I've heard is that they imply that Christ assumed manhood, but not womanhood.

Now, this might not sound so bad to a lot of conservatives, but having recently been studying how the early Church hammered out Christology, it strikes me as incompatible with one of the fundamental principles of Christian doctrine.

"That which is not assumed is not healed" -- Saint Gregory the Theologian

If Christ assumed manhood, but not womanhood, then following St. Gregory's principle, women cannot be saved. Obviously this is heretical. But it seems the natural conclusion of the arguments conservatives typically use.

So, the trick is to find a way to articulate the necessity of an all-male priesthood without saying that Christ assumed manhood, but not womanhood.

Perhaps rather than focusing on manhood/womanhood as if they were things that could be assumed independent of each other, we should speak of Christ assuming Human Nature as a whole, including the sexual differentiation that encompasses both manhood and womanhood.*

Of course, that might mean no longer attempting to use Christ's incarnation as male to explain the all-male priesthood. On the other hand, perhaps there is a way to do so without running afoul of St. Gregory's principle. I'm just not sure what it might be yet.

* The medieval mystics, notably Julian of Norwich, managed to conceive of Christ as both male and masculine while simultaneously feminine (though not female).


Kacie said...

I'm interested to see if you have an answer for a question of mine. I have heard a number of bloggers talk about the theological reasons for why priests can't marry. And yet now through the news of the newly accepted Anglican dispensation I understand that both the Anglican dispensation and the Eastern dispensation are allowed to have married priests.

I would understand this if this was merely for discipline within the Roman church, but if it is for theological reasons than it seems that it shouldn't be okay for ANY dispensation to have married priests?

PresterJosh said...

Kacie: The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church ordinarily requires celibacy for priests as a discipline (not a doctrine or dogma!). However, even in the Latin Rite there are exceptions, as in the case of married clergy from other denominations who become Catholic.

There are theological reasons for this discipline: the general superiority of celibacy, the "undivided devotion" that isn't possible with a family, etc. However, theological reasons don't necessarily make a theological requirement.

Does that help answer your question?

PresterJosh said...

Kacie: I just wanted to follow up with a brief analogy. You may or may not know that the Latin rite and the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church have different practices regarding the bread used for communion.

In the Latin rite it is unleavened, based in part on the fact that the Last Supper was a passover meal, and the Christ (present in the Eucharist) is our passover.

In the Eastern rites, the bread is leavened. In part this is due to the symbolism of leaven in the parables of Jesus as a sign of the Kingdom of God.

The point here is that both rites point to theological reasons, but neither rite thinks of their practice as an unchangeable requirement for all times and all places.

This is a very close parallel to the situation with priestly celibacy.

Kacie said...

Yep, that's helpful. I think I've been confused because I've spoken to some new Catholics that have struggled with the concept of priestly celibacy and so have been reading and finding a good defense for it. Their perception may not be correct, as they have acted as though the concept is a necessary theological tenant rather than a discipline.