May 4, 2008

Impossible Things

Andrew Brown writes:

...The ordination of women priests was bought on credit, and the church can’t ever pay down more than the interest on the bill. When women priests were ordained, the Church of England was only held together, to the extent that it was, by both sides making solemn promises that they didn’t believe they would ever be called on and had no real intention of delivering. In particular, the supporters of women priests solemnly promised that there would always be an honoured place for their opponents within the church, even though they thought of the arrangements as entirely transitional; in return the opponents solemnly declared that women priests were legally and validly priests, even though they did not believe this could possibly be true. They still don’t.

Anglicans (and Episcopalians) have long engaged in such wishful thinking, which often turns out to be of the Red Queen variety: believing six impossible things before breakfast. Since the Elizabethan settlement, and the inclusion of two diametrically opposed eucharistic theologies in the same liturgy, this has shown a certain genius, as, in fact, the hot issues of one generation tend to cool with time, to the point that few today would quibble about the exact nature of the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and I doubt that anyone is denied ordination on the basis of his or her understanding of the exact mechanism by which (or if) this happens.

Sometimes, however, Anglican Fudge grows not only cold, but stale with time, and crumbles. The ordination of women hasn't rested long enough, it seems -- and perhaps it is only logical with a matter that so touches on human identity, in which the world at large has moved so much more quickly than the church in recognizing the full humanity of women, and hence doesn't limit their activity in that world. Some still insist that "only men can be daddies" -- but then, of course, one presses on to ask what in heaven's name that has to do with being a priest, since any priestly fatherhood is purely spiritual, and not based on a complement of testosterone, nor indeed if one is an actual daddy or not. (Isn't it odd that the church that has most resolutely stuck by an all-male priesthood also generally disallows the one thing for which a male is undeniably needed? All dressed up and no place to go, it seems, is the order of the day. Of course, they also hypostasize "maleness" into all other sorts of things, but then that precisely avoids the question of daddyhood, doesn't it? It seems it isn't only Anglicans who manage their share of Impossible Fudge, most definitely with nuts.)

Can we continue to live in an ecclesiastical ambiguity on this matter -- or must the lots be cast to Justus or Matthias. One notes that in spite of the Apostles' concern to fill Judas' seat, nothing was heard further from his successor once the Spirit actually came to pour out grace "on sons and daughters... menservants and maidservants" alike. Perhaps it is taking us this long to realize the wisdom of the prophet Joel in this regard, in spite of Peter's having cited him. What did Luke record Jesus saying on the road to Emmaus? "Ye foolish men and slow of heart to believe the prophets..." Sounds familiar. More fudge, anyone?

—Tobias Haller BSG

(Hat Tip to Thinking Anglicans)


Anonymous said...

Toby, I suppose that, in this one thing, I think I agree with you entirely. If there are to be women clergy anywhere, they must certainly be everywhere. How can one have a single Church if some clergy are recognized by all and some only by some?

I have in the past been characterized as "against women clergy." That's really not quite accurate. If the Church tells me that women clergy are fine, that's fine with me. I don't see it as totally precluded in the Catholic Church, though I doubt, if it does happen, it will be in my lifetime. Howver, I am confident, that when and if Vatican III ever tells us women in the clergy are OK, those who deny it will be on their way out with the Old Catholics and the LeFebrists.

But, in the mean time, I am happy to live with the status quo, and find it easily defensible, if only on the discredited-with-so-many ground of sacred tradition. And, with so many other crying questions in the world, I just don't see the question of who gets to be clergy as that terribly important. Perhaps I am prejudiced, as a layman, but I don't understand being a Christian to be so centrally tied up with who gets to be clergy.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...

The effeminization (or emasculation?) of the church has essentially killed the church of northern Europe. I believe that less than 1/2% of the population is in church on a given Sunday morning.

Women's ordination was foisted on the Episcopal church. The experiment has gone on long enough to show that it is a miserable failure.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


Certainly tradition has a role to play; but I agree that the Roman Catholic Church will very likely change its position on this subject eventually. It may be sooner than any of us think. The Orthodox are already on their way -- as they've begun to acknowledge the theological problems with the assertion that only a male person can represent Christ. We may see the change in the next generation.

It is odd, given that many also "don't understand being a Christian to be so centrally tied up with who gets to be clergy" that the matter is causing such a to-do.

I'm not sure what "masculine" church you are talking about, but from my memories as a child in the Roman Catholic Church the only males in the building were the clergy and school-age boys. Dads were notoriously absent, usually waiting outside in the car, or smoking on the steps. I don't think you will find this situation much changed in the average RC Church today, and I dare say women outnumber men among the active congregants in most places.

Meanwhile, it isn't only in Northern Europe that the RCC is dwindling -- here in the US the Pew study reveals losing from 1/4 to 1/3 of those "born" to the RC Church, only compensated for by the influx of Latino immigrants. And if the all-male RCC is dwindling, your argument would appear to be specious, if you are trying to link the sex of clergy with church growth. TEC doesn't lose anything like that proportion of its membership, so arguments about foisting and failure don't follow from any rational evidence.

And how very odd to speak of the Bride of Christ as becoming "feminized."

Erika Baker said...

It's not unusual for men not to understand the fuss about women wanting to be clergy.
Straight people also often don't see anything wrong with excluding lgbts.
It might help to talk to those who feel excluded to come to a more accurate assessment.

Tobias, Robroy has been posting increasingly outrageous statements on TA, apparently only with the desire to shock not to engage in conversation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. Yes, I'd noticed the increasing number of posts by Robroy over at TA. He (or she -- though I doubt he's a she) is, I think, an excellent spokesperson in aid of the progressive cause, like so many of the reasserters these days -- they really do our work for us in tilting the undecided in our direction. RR hasn't learned the wisdom of keeping silent at the risk of being thought a fool, rather than speaking out and proving it.

Anonymous said...

"It might help to talk to those who feel excluded to come to a more accurate assessment."

Erika, I am, in fact, excluded from the priesthood of my own church. It's really OK with me. That's not what being a Christian is all about.

For that matter, Jesus, too, was excluded from the priesthood. Born in the wrong tribe. But it wasn't a matter that was a major theme of his preaching.

--rick allen

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, but Rick, you are (if I'm not mistaken) excluded from the [RC] priesthood on the basis of a "lifestyle choice" rather than on the basis of who you are. You might have chosen differently; a woman is not in the same position.

I do agree, however, that the priesthood is not the be all and end all of being a Christian. I tried to avoid it for most of my adult life, and came to it late. But then again, it isn't the priesthood that is at issue, but the closing off of access to it, for those who believe they may be called to it.

bls said...

"That's not what being a Christian is all about."

Well, apparently it actually is, for many people - else why all the uproar about "priestesses"?

Perhaps you could talk to the people who make such a fuss about this, and convince them? I think most of us in TEC would already wholeheartedly agree that worrying about the gender of the priest "isn't what being a Christian is all about"....

Erin said...

And, with so many other crying questions in the world, I just don't see the question of who gets to be clergy as that terribly important.

When I was an undergrad and a Roman Catholic I wrote a paper arguing that the fight for the ordination of women should not be a priority because there were other issues that were more pressing. I had spent the summer working in a laundry with mostly immigrant RC women and was disturbed by what I had seen of their lives and working conditions. I thought the church should be doing more to address issues of literacy, education and unionization for these women. I was in favour of the ordination of women but I wondered whether it should be a priority.

Now I'm ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada. I must honestly say that I am grateful to those who made the ordination of women a priority in the ACC for it made it possible for me to answer the call I felt. Yet I still think about the argument I made 25 years ago.

Today, in our diocese, we expend a great deal of energy debating same sex blessings while working people live in shelters because there is no affordable housing, while thousands of aboriginal Anglicans live in poverty with no clergy to serve them, while immigrant women continue to work in sweat shops, and it is tempting to make the same kind of argument that we should be setting priorities differently and that the concerns of glbt Christians should be set aside while these life and death issues are dealt with.

But I've come to the conclusion that I was operating on a false assumption of scarce resources as an undergrad and it would be a mistake to make the same assumption now. The assumption I made then was that there is a limit to how much time, energy, resources we have and so it is important to do triage and rank our priorities. So women who work in sweat shops should get priority over middle class women like myself who feel a call to priesthood. And aboriginal Christians dying of diseases of poverty and suicide should get priority over gays and lesbians who wish to have their commitments blessed in the church. But I don't believe this anymore. I don't believe we have scarce resources in our churches. I think we can do a lot more to care for the struggles of the marginalized and suffering people in our churches.

I have also come to appreciate the force of the RC whole cloth approach to issues of life. I believe the issues of gender, sexuality, class and race are all interconnected and they need to be addressed in consistent and connected ways.

As to Robroy's comment about the effeminization of the church your response Tobias was dead on.

Anonymous said...

Face it, the manly men have never attended more church than necessary to keep up appearances with the boss or to keep wifie happy. This is true worldwide.

If European church attendance has dropped, it is the result of Establishment and the consequent inability of clergy to adapt preaching and ministry styles to the current crop of potential congregants. Now that church attendance is no longer required for careerist brown-nosing purposes (except in Poland), only the truly interested will bother.

And, face it, US and European manly men don't want to be priests, now that this is no longer a job with significant power and prestige and pay relative to secular jobs.

"Unambitious" heterosexual men, gay men, and women are all that are left to fill clergy positions in wealthy first-world countries. The RCC has to import third-world priests to first-world countries, including Ireland. Being a priest is a good job if you are a poor boy from the Phillipines.


Anonymous said...

The Orthodox are already on their way -- as they've begun to acknowledge the theological problems with the assertion that only a male person can represent Christ. We may see the change in the next generation.

Stifling the urge to laugh out loud, I'll just ask: on what basis would you make such a statement?

I'm willing to bet anybody neither of the Apostolic Churches will ever ordain women; but it's equally certain in my mind that Rome would crack first.

You must have no understanding whatsoever of the phronema of Orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

Rick Allen writes, “with so many other crying questions in the world, I just don't see the question of who gets to be clergy as that terribly important.”

Well, I can see his point. After all, this is pretty much the same question we deal with in society at large, where surely it isn’t that big a deal who gets to attend school, vote or run for office, own property and control his or her own body and the fruits of his or her labor, have custody of children, travel freely, speak in public, enter into contracts, contribute to intellectual life, exercise leadership in institutions and businesses, and so forth. How could it be regarded as important -– with so many other crying questions in the world – if half the population were disabled with regard to most or all of these categories of citizenship?

Why, similarly, should we in the churches lose any sleep if half of those persons who discerned a call to the priesthood had automatically to be disqualified on account of gender? Let’s leave aside the practical question whether there is such a surplus of candidates for holy orders in the Roman Catholic Church, and such an abundance of priests eager and well-prepared to take up parish assignments, that this sort of waste need not be cause for concern. Let’s even leave aside the suffering of those individual women who feel themselves to have the vocation but are denied the possibility of exercising it. Let’s just ask: what is the harm to Christ’s body?

I would say that it is only in retrospect, after the shift has occurred and some time has passed, that we can begin to realize the nature and extent of the waste and the harm and the reasons why this is not a trivial matter. I have lived through the change in the Episcopal Church. I was the first woman lay reader in my parish, and I can still recall the impact that was felt, by members of the congregation, the priest, and myself, that first Sunday when I stood up and began to read. As the years went by women began to be ordained and my parish in Baltimore hired as its associate the first woman priest in the Diocese, and I still remember exactly what it felt like that first Sunday as she processed in beside the rector, the first time she preached, the first time she presided at the table. As a parish, we (men and women together) finally felt balanced at the level of the sacred. The picture of the human being created in God’s own image was complete. And through the years, as women have taken their place at every level up to and including Presiding Bishop, we have felt this shift become more and more pronounced and the results more and more fruitful.

My daughter, born in 1972, as an infant and toddler saw me up front as a lay reader in the Diocese of New York. She was with me in Washington, DC in 1975 for the second (irregular, but later regularized) ordination of women priests. I sat near the front and held her up on my shoulders so that she could see everything, and grow up with this image clearly before her eyes. She never had to doubt that she was made in the image of God, that her gifts would be needed and her vocation considered as worthy as anyone’s. She never had to fear that her spirit, intelligence, devotion and courage would be discounted compared to those of men. She never received the message that by virtue of being female she was intrinsically less worthy to mediate the sacred than a male, or that her voice on spiritual matters should be accorded less authority than a man’s. To me, as her mother, these are not matters of indifference.

The Episcopal Church meanwhile has had a full generation of experience of women priests and now bishops, crowned with the leadership of our current Presiding Bishop. We sense concretely what it means not to have wasted all that talent and energy and commitment, and how important it was that we didn’t crush the spirits of another generation of girls. We see the value of decision-making and of ministry that is informed by the voices and perspectives and life experiences of both men and women. Our men are no longer stuck with the burden of having to do it all alone, and to try to guess how best to minister to women. Male and female clergy have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other’s differing experiences and apply that learning in pastoral work and in their thinking about the faith.

As a person in the pew, I feel that this reformation has helped men and women in TEC to celebrate and support each other in a new way. The holy things are as holy as they ever were, but they are no longer confused with or contaminated by a mystification of maleness, a spiritual inflation of the priest’s gender which can render him unconscious about his own human weaknesses and blind to the contribution and the needs of women. Women tend to humanize whatever sphere they enter anyway, and the rounded image of the priest that can incorporate both father and mother seems to me far more human, less (neurotically) precious and less anxiety-ridden than an all-male priesthood.

To an outsider, it looks as though the Roman Catholic Church is expending an immense amount of precious energy trying to stave off or postpone this transformation. I hope the time is not too far off when they will find a way around the obstacles that stand in their path. They may find that it will feel really good when they finally stop hitting themselves on the head with that particular hammer.

Anonymous said...

Sorry 'bout the length of this, but I am trying seriously to engage in the listening process!:

"But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

I am not sure that one can compare Roman Catholic Church with the mainstream Protestant denominations (MDPs). There are lots of sociological factors that come into play.

In the Protestant churches we have seen the female to male ratio soar:

1952 53% female and 47% male
1986 60% female and 40% male
2002 64% female and 36% male

At the same time, we have also seen the rise of female clergy in MPDs. Causality? I would argue that each drives to the other.

Of course most Episcopalians are too smart or too old to have kids but church attendance by the father is far more important than the mom for the child to carry on the religious practice. See here. It is also interesting that having children very much increases a father's church attendance. "Men with four children attend church socials about 7 times more a year than men with no children (Nock 1998: 100)." Incidentally, we are expecting our fourth child (our second adoption) this summer.

Can one attribute the decline of MPDs with the rise of female clergy? That seems difficult to untangle. Can one attribute the liberalization of the MPDs? I would argue most definitely yes. As we know, female clergy in the TEC didn't enter by the gate but climbed in by some other way. Because of this, theological questions were simply bypassed. Scriptural authority took a big hit. What we have now are clergy at all levels viewing scripture, not as the holy word of God, but as impediment to be overcome. They are applying this point of view to the present controversies. As Bp Bennison famously said, "We wrote the scripture, and we can re-write it."

June Butler said...

If the Church tells me that women clergy are fine, that's fine with me.

Rick, would you feel at all free to form an opinion about whether the RC church should have women clergy all on your own? Of course, you don't have to answer that. Perhaps I'm being intrusive.

June Butler said...

What we have now are clergy at all levels viewing scripture, not as the holy word of God, but as impediment to be overcome.

Robroy, I beg to differ. What I'm seeing is a good deal of picking and choosing from the Scriptures by clergy and lay folks on both sides of the divide on the ordination of women and the ordination of lesbians and gays.

As we know, female clergy in the TEC didn't enter by the gate but climbed in by some other way

So then Jesus didn't want them in? They sneaked by him, did they? Ah, those uppity women! I dunno. I think maybe Jesus admires their feistiness.

Mary Clara, excellent, just excellent!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for all the comments. I am away at a clergy conference with limited internet access. Just had a fascinating small group meeting with Archbishop Daniel of the Sudan, with a few gay and lesbian clergy and Bishop Roskam. Most helpful.

I do want to respond to Phil's laughter. Phil, you must be unaware of the conference held a few years ago between Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bishops and theologians concerning women's ordination. The problems for the East, while real, are practical. The canonical difficulties are actually quite minor; and there is no extensive theological position on the ordination of women, and the theologians are beginning to realize that to the extent there is one it is an error, and may be deemed a heresy eventually, on the order of the iconoclast heresy -- on much the same grounds, that it denies the significance of the Incarnation. Goes against Chalcedon, too. And the theologians are now saying this.

Robroy, thanks for that citation. You may not be aware there are two words for "fool" in NT Greek, and while Jesus condemns those who use "moron" (as it represents a kind of conditional foolishness) Paul makes free with "anoetos" (senseless, ignornant) in Galatians. You seem to me to demonstrate rather well this latter form of foolishness: following rumors, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. Just to name one of the former, surely you know there is a difference between "church social functions" and the real life of the church. You also persist in the fallacy "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" -- there are many factors at work in the decline of mainline protestantism (and Roman Catholicism) than the ordination of women. The gradual "unchurching" of our society is probably based more on shifts in the economy than in the gender of church leadership, or membership. But what really rankles me is the outright falsehood in the quotation attributed to Charles Bennison. Whatever his faults -- and I do admit he is faulty -- he never said what you attribute to him. This is a lie spread by the angry rightists. What he said, quoting Reginald Fuller, was, "The Church wrote the Bible, the Bible didn't write the Church."

If you really want to listen, you will need to pay closer attention, and check your facts.

Malcolm+ said...

Robroy's bizarre charge that women priests did not "enter by the gate" is just another falsehood.

One may not like the outcome of the canonical debate, Robroy, but it was enacted canonically. The irregulat ordinations in Philidelphia might qualify - but they were all subsequently regularized.

Your tactics here remind me of the tactics the Campbell used to have the real Rob Roy declared outlaw and to have the MacGregor name proscribed.

Anonymous said...

"Can we continue to live in an ecclesiastical ambiguity on this matter?" Are you trying to prove yes or no?
It sounds very loving and inclusive to say yes, but how does one actually do it--when converting the rest of the church to your mindset is the goal for both sides?
When one part of the church believes the others are heretics and the other part thinks the opposition are bigots or neanderthals, how do you really stay together?
As a friend put it," To an Episcopalian, schizophrenia is a good thing." Maybe multiple personality disorder would be a better term, but is it really positive to belong to a church that talks out of both sides of its mouth?

Why is thinking 6 impossible things before breakfast good?Wouldn't it be best to let the divorce happen--separate synods or what have you, admitting that both sides come from the same historic tradition,but had to move on? The Episcopal church allows divorce-more than once- among its priesthood, why can't they accept it between parishes/diocese?

C.S. Lewis described how the word "gentleman" went from having a specific meaning to being meaningless by people wanting to be more inclusive--"Episcopal" seems pretty meaningless now because you never know what beliefs a person who is "Epicopalian" will have.
Isn't too much fudge bad for your diet?
Chris H.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Malcolm+, thanks for that note on the true history of the ordination of women. It is another bit of twisted history common in the Continuum and its allies. Those who want to read the real story, explored at some depth, will check out Pamela Darling's New Wineskins. She is a careful and fair historian who tells the story with all of its intriguing details. If anyone was "climbing over the wall" it was John Allin and the bishops who conceived the extracanonical "conscience clause" at Port St. Lucie.

Which, I believe was the origin of the problem Andrew Brown was trying to describe. Was it a mistake to allow for such a conscientious objection on a matter that is black and white. Either X is a priest, or she isn't. The idea that the very thing we use to determine a degree of ecclesiastical communion (mutual recognition of valid ministry) should be so compromised is the source of the continuing tension.

I hope that answers your questions, Chris H. You appear to assume I was affirming ambiguity in this case: rather I was simply asking the question -- can we endure this ambiguity, with all the problems it creates, or do we need to make a final decision. You appear to favor the latter. Personally, I have long believed the opposition to the ordination of women will eventually vanish from all main strands of Catholic Christendom -- Phil's objection notwithstanding. And I think that will happen sooner rather than later. OCICBW.

Anonymous said...

I think, that our feelings about certain things are influenced greatly by the church we have known growing up. As a Vatican II RC, I didn't lament the loss of the Tridentine Mass or roll my eyes at guitar masses. That is the church of my childhood (Yes...I am a 70's child).

I agree with you, Tobias, that eventually women's ordination will become a non-issue.

As usual, a fascinating discussion here. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Since you didn't use the Greek, but English term "fool" I was worried that you risked the fire of Hell. In fact, if you read fuller context of Matt 5:21-22, Jesus is talking about being angry with a brother. Your aggressive ad hominem makes me still concerned.

E.g., accusations of "outright falsehood - The actual quote by Bennison is:

"The scriptures did not "write" the church, but the church wrote the scriptures - and can rewrite them..."

Bennison, C. 1997 "Rethinking Marriage-Again" Anglican Theological Review 79 (1997), 560-525

Thus, the slight paraphrase that I quoted is accurate.

And what I assiduously try to avoid is "cum hoc ergo propter hoc."

As to participation in "social functions" versus true religiosity - I did not create the studies but merely cited them. What is in people hearts is difficult to objectify. Thus, I suppose the authors chose participation in "church social functions" as an objective measure.

That male participation in religious organizations goes up with the number of children should be self evident. Again, there is a question of causation and I would argue that the increasing responsibilities of fatherhood drives religious participation but also religiously active males tend to have larger families. (Tried to find good studies of this, but so far unsuccessful.)

For those interested in growing a church, male participation is crucial. The Episcopal denomination is quickly becoming the effeminate church in the eyes of the public - consisting of females and homosexual males. And this does not bode well for its future and should be of concern to all political persuasions.

Anonymous said...

"Rick, would you feel at all free to form an opinion about whether the RC church should have women clergy all on your own? "

Mimi, I'm not sure I understand your question. I don't know why thinking that the Church is competent to decide these questions is somehow not thinking on one's own.

Over the years I have spent what most would probably consider much too much time, for an amatuer, and a layman, on the particulars of any number of Church controversies--gnosticism, Arianism, the monophysite and Nestorian Christologies, Pelagianism, iconoclasm, the nature of the eucharist, justification, sola scriptura, originl sin and free will, to name a few of the obvious ones--and I have had confirmed, through my own reading and meditation, the old affirmation that the Holy Spirit guides the Church.

So, on the question of women's ordination, obviously I have seen a lot pro and con here and all over the internet, and in the occasional historical treatment looking for woment priests here and there. And I find it all very interesting, obviously, but in the end I am confident that the Church is competent to decide the issue.

Unlike Toby or Robroy I am less confident in proclaiming where the Church will go on this in the future. I don't think the current restriction is any more an injustice than the choice of one people, through whom the law, prophets, and, finally, the Messiah, were given to the world, or the divinely mandated restriction of the temple pristhood to a single tribe of a single people. A real priesthood is not a profession or middle-class "job." And I think most of us would be taken a little aback if, in reading ancient history, we came across an agitation by, say, men, appalled at the injustice of not being allowed to be Vestal Virgins.

So I hope you don't see this as blind and unthinking obedience to a despotic autarky. I certainly don't. Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church. That doesn't mean that we don't question or doubt. But my own judgment and experience is that, by and large, the considered opinion of the Church indeed deserved some weight, even against the magistarial authority of my own contrary inclinations.

--rick allen

Anonymous said...

Tobias, indeed, I am unaware of any such conference, let alone one that would carry any weight whatsoever within Orthodoxy. (I’d be happy to know more, though, if you have details that go beyond hearsay.) In any case, I repeat my contention that you’re speaking from a deficit of understanding of the Orthodox mind. Orthodoxy, in its self-understanding, is the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Christ; it’s therefore a central part of the Orthodox ethos to pass on what has been bequeathed to it from the Fathers and the Apostolic Tradition, entire. And so, any “dialogue” of the type you describe isn’t approached as an opportunity to negotiate away differences, but to see, in Christian charity, how far from the True Faith the non-Orthodox participant remains. But why take my word for it? Why not let the Old Catholics speak for themselves?

Communiqué of the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference (IBC) in Münchenwiler/CH from 26th to 31st March 2006

At this year’s meeting, the Old Catholic Bishops of the Union of Utrecht focussed on their ecumenical links and ongoing conversations with other churches.

The Orthodox – Old Catholic discussion group dealt at their last meeting with the ordination of women to the priesthood. As was to be expected the discussion proved to be difficult but will be continued at their next meeting.

The relationship between Old Catholics and Orthodox has developed in five phases. …

The sixth phase of this dialogue has become characterized by new problems: the debate about the ordination of women in the Old Catholic churches, and the closer relationship of some Old Catholic churches towards churches of the Reformation.

As to unnamed “theologians” “beginning to realize” that WO is not only to be fully accepted, but to do anything less is a heresy, no less, we might let some respected and influential named Orthodox theologians speak, also – such as Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna:

The Orthodox, on the other hand, were frustrated by certain decisions made within some Protestant communities, especially the ordination of women, the virtual acceptance of homosexual practices, and the adoption of inclusive language with reference to God.

On the issue of common prayer, the Orthodox participants declared that certain elements within the worship life of the WCC are ‘incompatible with apostolic tradition’, namely the use of inclusive language in referring to God, the leadership of services by ordained women, and the introduction of syncretistic elements.

The suggestion was made that mutual accountability of member churches should be encouraged, and that ‘member churches need to be aware that decisions taken by a particular church which relate to the interpretation of the Bible, the Creeds, theological traditions, or ways of shaping Christian life in the contemporary world, can impair the fellowship of churches’. For example, ‘in matters such as the ordination of women, the Orthodox felt that they were first presented with a fait accompli and then expected to discuss it’.

However, once Anglicans began to ordain women and take other decisions at variance with Orthodox thinking, the gains in the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue were virtually invalidated.

(“Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: Prospects for Orthodox Participation in the Ecumenical Movement,”

Or Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

I cannot discuss the problem itself because to do so would necessitate the elucidation of our approach - not to women and to priesthood only - but, above all to God in his Triune Life, to Creation, Fall and Redemption, to the Church and the mystery of her life, to the deification of man and the consummation of all things in Christ. Short of all this it would remain incomprehensible, I am sure, why the ordination of women to priesthood is tantamount for us to a radical and irreparable mutilation of the entire faith, the rejection of the whole Scripture, and, needless to say, the end of all "dialogues."

The debate on women's ordination reveals something which we have suspected for a long time but which now is confirmed beyond any doubt: the total truly built-in indifference of the Christian West to anything beyond the sphere of its own problematics, of its own experience.

(“Concerning Women's Ordination-a Letter to an Episcopalian Friend,” given here:

You repeat your category error by apparently assuming the Orthodox share your penchant for tearing down any part of the Christian Tradition that can be assaulted with supposedly superior logic. Or should I say, “putting God to the test,” something which you seem to enjoy; e.g., you’ll accept Christian sexual morality when somebody can give you what you consider a good argument for it. Here, again, it might be enlightening to consider an Orthodox view of that approach to faith (taken from the daily “Dynamis” devotion for Sunday’s Gospel):

There is another way to avoid the Lord’s claim [on one’s life]. The technique is to set up one’s own conditions for submission to Christ as God: “Unless I see...and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (vs. 25). Such an assertion is fueled by self-assurance and pride. The demand for objective, verifiable evidence sounds entirely reasonable at first blush, but it is human “wisdom.” The contemporary world is filled with people who brush the Lord aside with this demand.

Be advised: God does not stop anyone who tosses aside the claim of the Person and ministry of the Lord Jesus. He allows us to set our standards of evaluation, to “reduce the size of the playing field,” and to “prove” what pleases us at the moment. The results are materialism, self-indulgence, and the passions. When God is addressed as another hypothesis, where is the mystery that humanizes life? Listen to St. Paul: “Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). Beloved, join Thomas and say:

Turn the obstinacy of my soul into fervent faith, that I may cry out from the depths of my soul, Thou art my Master and God, Who didst arise from the dead. Glory to Thee!

The Orthodox are not Episcopalians. They will not mutilate the received Faith to curry favor with MTV, or engage in the sophistry of seeing which can be more clever, every believer with a pope in his belly, or the Church, or the culturally benighted Apostles, in order to see what they believe today.

June Butler said...

I don't know why thinking that the Church is competent to decide these questions is somehow not thinking on one's own.

Rick, as well as the pope and the cardinals, you are the church. It seems to me that your thoughts and conclusions, simple layperson that your are, could well make a contribution to the discussion.

Robroy, my husband participates in the Episcopal socials (the food and the company are good), but he attends church only twice a year, Christmas and Easter. What to make of him? Folks fall all along a continuum of participation and attendance. As for religiosity, I hope that he never falls into that.

Unknown said...

Okay, when I read comments about the "feminization of the church," I have one question: And this is a bad thing because . . . ? The way it's often used seems to convey that feminine is bad, something to be resisted by true manly men.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Well, I'm back from my clergy conference and facing two long notes from Robroy and Phil.

Robroy, you mistake me if you think I am angry with you. I strongly disagree with your assertions, as you do with mine, and I think you are making erroneous causal connections concerning church growth; and I think these continued assertions are foolish and do not meet the facts on the ground; but I am not angry.

Thanks for adding the rest of the Bennison quote, and the source. You might also have added the rest of the sentence, for it continues, "The scriptures did not 'write' the church, but the church wrote the scriptures, and can rewrite them, which is why it has in its bishops and councils institutionalized, authorized ways of rewriting them." As the context of the essay shows, he is speaking about the way the scripture is understood, as it must always be interpreted in such a way as to speak to an evolving and changing world. That is, I submit, far less revolutionary than the "summary" which you gave, which made it appear he was talking about literal rewriting, rather than the figurative rewriting that goes on through translation, editing for lectionary use, interpretation in preaching and use in liturgy, and so on.

As to your theories about male participation in church and its relation to church growth, I think they remain just that, theories of causation, for which I find your evidence less than compelling. Again, I commend the recent Pew study of American churches to your attention: the actual loss of members is highest in the Roman Catholic Church; it is only offset by the large influx of immigrants to produce a net steady figure. The children of those immigrants, however, tend to a large extent not to remain members of that church. Will immigration or Roman Catholics continue forever?

Just to compare notes, my parish has been relatively stable in membership and attendance for the last two decades, growing slightly in the last decade. My nearest neighbor RC parish has lost 90% of its membership in the last 20 years. That's not a typo; it went from over 19,000 to 2,000. My parish also has a goodly number of married men with families, as well as single men and women, who are active members, and a lively Sunday School; and average age of 45. Your simplistic equation of "effeminacy" or "homosexual clergy" with a decline in the church simply doesn't apply. The RCC could hardly be taking a firmer line against gays and women clergy than it does -- so how do you explain the massive losses in its membership?

Thank you, Phil, for the further elucidation. First, I have to correct a statement I made: the Old Catholic / Orthodox conference I was referring to took place in 1996, though the papers from it were not published in English until 2002. The conference (in two sessions) was specifically focused on the question of the ordination of women, not primarily on the "ecumenical" question. The translated papers appear in the Summer 2002 issue of Anglican Theological Review. (Some of them are available on line.) The 2006 meeting you refer to was another matter altogether, dealing explicitly with the ecumenical questions. I confess I have never been very good with dates.

It appears to me that you posit a monolithic Orthodox "mind" -- when in fact, as in any other church, there is division of opinion and emphasis on the part of many theologians. Surely you know the phrase, "Not our kind of Orthodox." And while it is true that the divisions this old saw concerns revolve around fairly minor matters, there is also a robust spirit of dialogue and breadth of vision in Orthodoxy, going back to the Fathers. The tradition is thus far richer than you (and even some present day bishops and patriarchs) appear to appreciate, which is a pity, as it is so very rich. Several of the articles from the conference, by Orthodox theologians (Constantine Yokarinis, Anastasios Kallis, for example), mine that tradition to show how it can (in spite of the opinion of other theologians such as Fr. Schmemann, who died in 1983, long before these matters were being discussed with any seriousness in Orthodoxy) lead to a deeply theological embrace of the ordination of women.

As I say, the emphasis in the reconsideration is on the doctrine of the Incarnation, which the Orthodox hold to very deeply, as I'm sure you know. As the concluding joint statemtent from the 1996 meeting put it, "We have arrived at the conclusion that there is no theological or dogmatic justification for definitively prohibiting the ordination of women to priestly ministry. A determining consideration was that of the Church’s soteriological dimension and vocation: the salvation of mankind and of all of creation in Jesus Christ. It is our common human nature in its entirety, man and woman, which our Lord assumed…"

You can of course continue to say I don't understand the Orthodox, and that they will never change on this matter. And you may be correct. But as the theologians continue their work, and the Orthodox wrestle (as they are wrestling) with the practical problems involved in any change at all to the ancient canons, who knows what we will see. I dare say many were taken aback by the Greek decision to revive the diaconate for women -- a revival of a suppressed tradition. I assume as well, when change comes, we will also see the equivalent of the Old Calendrists -- but it will have become plain by that time (whenever it comes) that they stand against the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers, whose reflection on salvation may shine again in a new age.

Finally, your protest that this is about "individuality" or every man with a pope in his belly is rather odd. I am not talking about my personal views, but the views of my Church, just as you stand by the views of your church. I submit to the teachings of my church under my vow of obedience. I assume you do the same -- and to that extent both of us make a personal choice to do so; but it an act of personal submission to the church. Moreover I submit to Christ, Christ incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Ultimately, that is the only truly important submission, though it be mediated by the church.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak to what RobRoy intended but I have seen and heard things written about the feminization of the church. It is a sensitive subject because to raise it, immediately results in denigrating comments but at the risk of being the target, I will try.
Men (yes, I know, a generalization) respond to grand challenges and bold initiatives. Quiet, introspective approaches don't work well. The argument goes that in the modern church, the Jesus described from the pulpit is neutered. We hear only about love, and inclusion and nice. We rarely hear about his traits that would more commonly be identified with masculinity - boldness, righteous anger, etc. As a result, it is claimed that men have a hard time identifying with the person of Jesus they hear proclaimed. "Causes" can be good or bad -- witness some of the Crusades to which men once repsonded, but mission and bold ideas capture men's attention. Blessings of the animals, inclusive language and the like don't attract or hold men's interest. So that, at least, is the argument. I think it holds some validity having observed over the years the declining numbers of men in mainline denominations.

Anonymous said...

Here is an article in Christianity Today that discusses the issue - pro and con.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


Interesting thoughts and article. This is nothing new those, who know their American church history. The nineteenth century saw almost exactly the same criticisms leveled against the church by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and the "Muscular Christianity" crowd, and the call for a more "manly" church. The whole YMCA movement grew out of this effort.

Personally, I think the men in question (the ones not going to church) are the problem, not the church. If they want a more manly church, then go to it, and beef it up. Personally, I run a pretty beefy church; I believe in strong gospel preaching, and tend towards activism -- maybe that's why I've got a good number of men in my church every Sunday.

(By the way, those who mistakenly equate homosexuality with effeminacy are really missing the boat. Effeminate men are a small minority of gay men -- and many effeminate men are not gay! These stereotypes just cloud the issue. If nothing else, if you want to know more about gay men, visit the YMCA! Ironic that the creation of Muscular Christianity should become a gay icon, but there you have it...)

When it comes to a healthy church, I think the key isn't gender or sexuality, but commitment to the Gospel -- that's what people want and need, and I agree that to the extent that the "liberal" church engages in boring preaching it will lose out; but so will the conservative church -- witness the lackluster performance of the bulk of the "Continuum" in terms of growth.

Finally, I note we have wandered rather far in this series of comments, I fear, from the original theme, which was the ability of the church to maintain an uneasy truce over the ordination of women.

Anonymous said...


We’ll have to disagree; the breadth of the Orthodox tradition is (in my opinion) not only richer than I appreciate, it’s richer than I can appreciate in a short and sinful lifetime. Thank you, therefore, for the particulars – I look forward to seeking those resources out and reading further.

On individuality, I think when one says – as you have written here – that one needs to see a logical argument, as defined by the individual, for the moral teaching of the Church before accepting it, that fits the definition. The best we can say about TEC on sexual morality, for example, is that its leaders plead that all should be able to get along, without regard to their views. That’s an explicit appeal to doing your own thing – and it’s not (by definition) an appeal being made by the Anglo-Catholic and/or traditionalist factions. Also, unless Anglicanism has abandoned the “branch theory” de jure as well as de facto, the teaching (on either WO or sexuality) to which you should be obedient is the same as that to which I should be obedient.

Perhaps the argument can be made that, where Rome and Orthodoxy disagree, Anglicanism can chart its own path. Where they agree, however, presents a different issue altogether, as Anglicanism has never (until recently, and only sotto voce) claimed the authority to alter the Church’s undivided teaching.

Apostolic succession is made up of more than regional managers with the job title “bishop.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the note. I'm not sure I understand what you are saying in regard to individuality. All people are individuals, after all; and I am certainly not alone in wanting to engage in a rational theology based on faithful examination of the scripture and the tradition. Thus a "logical" argument is not a matter of private opinion but an objective assessment. This is not to say that certain things cannot be "proved by logic" -- indeed, it is a basic principle both of reason and faith that certain things simply have to be asserted as postulates (in the secular arena) or credenda (in that of faith.) Thus I can say I believe in the articles of the Creeds without further logical expansion. But when one asserts, as for example the RC Church does, that priests must be male because Christ only appointed male apostles, I can join with others in saying, Does this follow? In other words, we have no independent affirmation from Christ that his intent was to begin an all-male priesthood, and there are alternative explanations (the 12 represent the Patriarchs of Israel and serve an eschatological function at the end of the ages as judges with him of the world). Further, there is evidence in the NT of some form of leadership by women ministers and prophets, and an admittedly fuzzy evolution of the ordained ministry, which emerged in the early church and eventually settled into a recognizable form within a century or so, and one which, for whatever reason (it isn't clearly expressed) minimized the role of women in leadership, at least in some places.

Anglicanism has never advanced what you seem to think is its modus vivendi: to accept what Rome and the East concur on, and only differ when they differ. Perhaps the most obvious example would be episcopal celibacy, on which Rome and Orthodoxy agree, while Anglicans don't. The canon of Scripture might also fit in, though none of the three traditions have exactly the same canon, though Rome and the East are in greater agreement.

As I hope I make clear, I think the ordination of women is not a departure from the orthodox doctrine of the Fathers, even if it is a departure from orthodox practice as the church understood those Fathers in their time and culture; in other words, I believe that WO it can be defended from the Fathers -- precisely what the theologians I cited are attempting to do. But they, as I am, though working as individuals, are yet working within the church as members of it: there is a lively sense of Paul's theology of the Body of Christ at work here, where each member contributes to the good of the whole. When the implications of Chalcedon are fully realized: that a woman is homoousios with Christ as to her human nature, and all that that implies, I think the other canonical arguments ("women may not enter the sanctuary [because of the menstrual blood]" -- Laodicea 44, expounded by Zonaras; see also Canon II of Dionysius, Ep. to Basilides) may be superseded. And if the Orthodox Synods can come to embrace that women may have once functioned in sacred capacities in the Apostolic Church -- for which there is at least some evidence -- that aspect of the Tradition may well "trump" the later movement against such functioning.

Finally, I consider myself to be an Anglo-Catholic; I have a very high regard for the doctrinal teachings of the Councils (note that Anglicans do make a distinction between the doctrinal pronouncements as opposed to what may be regarded as disciplinary: for instance, we do permit kneeling on Sundays, and do not mandate episcopal celibacy; nor do we absolutely forbid clergy to engage in secular business, though a priest who does so must file an annual report with his bishop). I am well at ease with the teachings of the Fathers -- and in fact favor the East over the sometimes gloomy work of Augustine and his Western progeny.

May God bless you richly as you seek to serve in the ways to which he has called you, as I do in mine. That is the only individuality that matters, how we make use, each of us, of the gifts we have been given.

Anonymous said...

One last comment on this thread, as I said, I don't think that one can include the Roman Catholic Church in discussions. Unlike protestant churches, there are plenty of men and women are born Catholic and never darken the door and even hold to positions totally antithetical the church's (like Guliani's support of everything condemned by the RCC), and yet consider themselves Catholic. It is really quite strange. That and the shortage of priests as well as the priest abuse scandals makes the RCC something different entirely.

And as to causation, actually I think there is something worse happening. Factor 1 is driving factor 2 which is driving factor 1. The two faces identified with Episcopalianism are Katherine Jefferts Schori and Gene Robinson. The latter is finding himself in front of cameras on a daily basis. (Today, he was on the Today show repeat the shellfish nonsense.) I do not hide my faith in my profession and when I tell them what church I attend, the response is invariably, "You mean the gay church!?"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I almost didn't post your last comment, but decided to do so as it continues to show how poorly, and from what a narrow perspective, you understand the situation of the various churches.

The RCC is not alone in having large numbers of "fictive" members -- that is, people who consider themselves Roman Catholic (because their parents were) even though they may never darken the door of a church. In a recent study, 7 million people identified themselves as Episcopalians -- yet we know our active membership is closer to 2 million. Who are all of these people?

As to the RCC not being comparable -- why not? The existence of non-practicing or fictive members is not unusual, as I note. The pedophilia scandal only came to light long after the decline in the RCC was well established, and the clergy shortage only attests to the failures of a church that insists on maintaining an explicitly "non-feminized" clergy: no gays or women need apply. And yet the church's domestic membership is plummeting far faster than in TEC. If you want to support your claims, the way to test them is to look at a church that does what you think it ought to do, and see what happens.

As to the "faces" of the Episcopal Church, and people thinking it's "the gay church," I would assume these are the same kinds of people who might think of the RCC as the pedophile church. It isn't that, of course, but neither is TEC what your associates seem to think it is.

In short, you have nothing to support your claim that a church with ordained women and/or gay clergy will decline because of that fact. By excluding the RCC, an obvious control in this experiment, you are left with no evidence at all except the bare tautology that TEC will decline because it is TEC.

But let's look at another "control" church: take the Southern Baptists as an example -- they too like Rome have no women clergy, and no pedophilia scandal, and yet they are in decline just like the rest of mainline Protestantism. Consider the proportion of people who depart from the religion of their childhood (net difference between family religion in childhood and present affiliation, from the Pew study): RC -7.5%, Baptist -3.7%, Anglican/Episcopal -0.3%. The RC is the highest "losing" church, and the Baptists are the biggest "losers" among all "Protestants" -- so the non-gay-friendly and non-feminized churches show the biggest losses. Which rather disproves your theory of causality attempting to link the ordination of women (and gays and lesbians) to the decline of TEC. On the contrary, we've declined much less than these other denominations, so perhaps what we are doing is right -- in spite of the apparent dislike you have for being associated with a church your colleagues define as "the gay church." Your theories of causation simply do not meet the actual evidence, regardless of your anecdotal experience.

Anonymous said...

This steel magnolia is going to use the KISS argument in suport of ordaining women to the preisthood.

It is meet and right so to do. I can give you immutable proof: come to my church, any Sunday.

We are lucky enough to be very choosey about candidates for our historic, yet vibrant parish church. There's a reason why there are always female priests in our mix of clergy: we select by personality fit and qualifications, and we love having them in our church family. No quotas, no desire to be PC.

And to all the female priests who read this blog - I'm listening to Tina Turner sing Simply the Best. Keep on, sisters, you are loved in your parishes. God is smiling on all of you.

susankay said...

Back on the original topic -- it sounds like any two parties in a greatly valued relationship where there is a fundamental disagreement and they each: 1) assume the other party will "come around" eventually, and
2) assure the other party it doesn't matter if they ever agree (a well-intention lie). Only people who love each other and fear to lose each other go through this -- any less and you just walk away to begin with. Only people who are willing to risk loss of the love and the relationship are able to be honest from the very beginning and quite possibly come to an accomodation based on honesty and trust rather than manipulation and pious hope.

I don't know if you can go back and start again the right way after you screw up initially but the important thing to remember is that the errors were made out of love.

This rambling post is pretty obviously based on a mistake made by a younger me, rather than on in depth theological analysis but it's all I have to offer.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Phil:

An Oriental* Orthodox bishop once told me (mid 1990s) that the problem of women's ordination in his church was purely cultural.

[This was a private conversation, so I'm not going to tell you his name. But he was a senior bishop of an ancient Eastern Church (not some wacky American convert who invented a title or anything!)]

This gentleman---and he was that---told me, in halting English, that when he thought of a woman, he thought of his (OBM, of course) mother: her ENTIRE world had revolved around her son, the priest. To imagine a woman as priest, was to imagine his mother, abandoning him, while rushing off to say the Divine Liturgy herself. He just couldn't picture it---he said he knew there wasn't any valid theology against it.

He was a very dear man. :-)

[* Yes, yes: I know the difference between "Oriental" and "Eastern" Orthodox. This particular bishop thought that the (remaining) split over Chalcedon was "nothing but politics", too!]

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks JCF. And I would add that if an Oriental Orthodox bishop can make this confession, without the pressure of Chalcedon hanging over his head, how much more will the growing awareness of the theological difficulty for the Eastern Orthodox become as time goes on, and the cultural ground shifts. This is a cultural issue -- and every effort to theologize it ends up in false or heretical assertions ("God is male" or "God is masculine" or similar such nonsense that attributes non-universal qualities to the Godhead, "in whom there is no division or shade or difference." Sexism is a powerful force, and it can easily destabilize even otherwise excellent minds!

Anonymous said...

JCF and Tobias,

I’ve no doubt there are bishops that say such things. After all, a lot of people just want to get with the zeitgeist and move on and, generally, stop being the target of relentless criticism by The Beautiful People in society.

Today (May 12), we recognize St. Germanos, Patriarch of Constantinople, forced from office by the iconoclast emperor Leo the Isaurian. The saint was replaced by Anastasius, whose thinking was more in line with Leo’s, and who quite possibly could see the silliness of icon veneration: how the theology was rather thin – almost an after the fact rationale, even – and how icons were, in any case, completely unnecessary to the worship of the Triune God, something proved by Anglicans (though I’m sure there are a few exceptions) and others to this very day. One assumes the emperor suitably lauded Anastasius for getting on board with elite society, and therefore, that he has received his reward. Yet, here we are, and it turns out the weak carried the day after all over the strong.

As I opined above, I’m sure it makes perfect sense to you that, upon failing to present a rigorous theological defense of male-only ordination (as judged by you), Orthodoxy will rapidly shuffle aside its continuation of the practice in embarrassment. That’s a typical Western-church mindset, of which the prototype example is the Tridentine need to declare an exact theological exposition of how the Real Presence might make sense. I suppose some felt that, lacking such a satisfying explanation, the whole idea might collapse for the superstition rational people can see that it is. The East, in contrast, is just fine, at a real level, with lack of satisfaction and lack of rationality, and guess what? It seems to work. Orthodoxy continues in Eucharistic communion, which is the most important type of communion of all, while all the masterful thinking over transubstantiation hasn’t prevented Western believers over the centuries from failing to come to agreement on what the Eucharist even is, or if it even exists.

The Eastern Church accepts what it has received from Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers on faith, with no need to put God to the test. There’s a reason Orthodoxy is content to freely use the word “Mysteries” where others prefer different terms. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but mine is that it will continue to be so, and that the ongoing “aha!”-type disputation from Protestant sects that have already made a cafeteria of the Catholic Faith will continue to be seen by the Church for what it is – sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Well, Phil, now it's my turn to smile in wry amusement. The picture you paint of Orthodoxy as a simple faith untroubled by theological discourse is barely concordant with the historical record. Your assertions take no cognizance of the evidence I've presented -- the colloquium on the question of the ordination of women with leading Orthodox theologians examining the matter; and yes, certainly there will be some on the other side who will claim this is not open to discussion. But the fact is the discussion is taking place, so on that matter the hard-liners are evidently in error. You may think it will go nowhere, and you may be right; but the simple fact is that there are among the orthodox those who agree with what I am saying, and disagree with you.

Having no knowledge of your credentials in this regard, and seeing no evidence of particular knowledge in this area beyond your continued reassertions, I am left with weighing what you say against what a number of important theologians from the faculties of such places as the University of Athens have said, based upon the teachings of such of the Fathers as John of Damascus, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximos the Confessor and Gregory of Nazianzen. Of course, they may be mistaken and you correct. But you've given me no reason to concur with your assessment of the situation. You are, of course, quite welcome to remain firm in the belief that you are a part of the only true church -- as that is a part of the Orthodox tradition. You can keep lobbing insults at Rome or Anglicans to your heart's content. But where I come from such behavior is seen as a kind of pathology, and at the very least a bit ungracious -- and hardly likely to win anyone to your side of the divide.

Anonymous said...

I’m sorry, Tobias, that I’ve written something that is giving offense. Most of what you accuse me of, I haven’t done.

Painting Orthodoxy as “a simple faith untroubled by theological discourse?” Far from it; in the analogy drawn from the lives of Germanos and Anastasius, I gave an example of the opposite. On the other hand, it’s getting late in the day (so to speak) to figure major disruptions in belief will happen today just as easily as they did in the fourth or eighth centuries.

Saying women’s ordination is not open to discussion? I did no such thing. I wrote, instead, that I don’t expect the Church’s position to change, in spite of the discussion. And, really, Tobias, I'm sure you're a lot smarter than me and have superior credentials, but are you telling me this discussion is occurring on anything more than the margins? If you are, I think you’ll need more than an account of a conference or two. After all, I quoted the evaluation of the Old Catholics on the end result of the supposedly watershed conference: no deal, mostly because of WO. Which of the Orthodox Churches ordains women? Which of the Orthodox Churches – Churches, institutionally, not this or that Orthodox faculty member – is even actively discussing the issue? By what mechanism do you think Orthodoxy is going to accept the change and have it recognized – that is, not result in a worldwide schism over something which isn’t even a top 10 topic of discussion in real churches?

Keep lobbing insults? My first post was less temperate than it should have been, but where are the insults in the most recent? Is it an insult to describe practices or mindsets with which I disagree? What did I write that’s in error? Do you dispute the enduring impact of Scholastic theology on Western thought? Do you deny that Protestant churches treat the Apostolic Faith, by and large, as a cafeteria? (Compare and contrast Calvinism to Methodism to Lutheranism – each of its variants – to the Anglican Dioceses of Sydney to Fort Worth to Newark, if so.) Do you dispute there’s no shared understanding of the Eucharist among Western Christians?

You protest too much. I mean, “pathology?” Give me a break.

Look, comments about my ignorance strike me as more of an insult than anything I said – and that’s fine; I’m no theologian. But, please don’t misrepresent what I wrote. I made no theological case against WO, so, by definition, nothing I said can be weighed against pro-WO arguments. What’s more, we both know there are any number of issues on which x and not-x can be argued from the same set of Fathers. All I’m doing is addressing what I see as the likelihood of this change actually occurring. If not getting on board with the program makes me ungracious in your eyes, so be it, but the bottom line remains the same: in my opinion, it isn’t going to happen. It impacts sacramental unity, and so isn’t at all comparable to New/Old Calendarists, or whether the Antiochians permit organs while the rest sing a cappella. There’s not even a mechanism for adopting this kind of change, as any RC partisan, explaining Orthodoxy’s dysfunctional structure, will be happy to tell you.


“This is the early Christians’ wisdom, not mine. I hope not to say anything original. If I do, ignore it.”
- Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation

johnieb said...

Oh dear Tobias: well said!

Caminante said...

"The Episcopal denomination is quickly becoming the effeminate church in the eyes of the public - consisting of females and homosexual males. And this does not bode well for its future and should be of concern to all political persuasions."

Hm, try saying that in the overwhelmingly male House of Bishops of TEC.

[coming very, very late to this discussion so perhaps not even worth adding to the thread]

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I suppose you think terms such as "cafeteria" and references to tales told by idiots, signifying nothing, ought not to be considered insults. I don't take it personally, but you clearly have a major axe to grind with the Western Church.

I have acknowledged that the practical difficulties for the orthodox churches to change any policy as well established as the all-male priesthood and episcopate are indeed great. (The Greeks were able to revive the female diaconate, but as I noted, this was a revival not a change. Still it offended some.)

In general I find that you are portraying Orthodoxy as a monolithic entity that is very far from reality, while at the same time painting the rest of Christendom with a very broad brush as fragmented and falling to bits. Yes, there are differences between the various churches of the West. The same could be said for the differences between Chalcedonian Orthodox and the Monophysite churches; to say nothing of the "Byzantine Catholics."

But you go too far in saying that doctrine is all up for grabs in the West. It's not that simple. You will find individuals -- some of them clergy -- in all of the churches, Orthodoxy included, who will express differing opinions, sometimes in tension with the teachings of the various churches. That doesn't mean that the churches themselves are cafeterias -- if it did, Orthodoxy would be just as much of one as Anglicanism.

You can say, for example, that the Old Calendrists are in a different category, but I don't think an Old Calendrist will agree with you! That's precisely the point -- they see this as a matter at the heart of Orthodoxy, and regard most of the other orthodox as renegades. The same goes for the very strong anti-Ecumenical strand that runs through some Orthodox communities.

You really need to read more carefully, as well. I didn't say that you said the matter of WO is not open to discussion -- what I said was that some on the other side of the debate in Orthodoxy have said so. I think there were statements along those lines in the quotes you sent me earlier. So, there is a division of opinion in Orthodoxy -- or among Orthodox believers, more precisely. That's all I'm saying. What I said about you is that you think this discussion will not go anywhere. Your recent note confirms what I said. You want to minimize the impact of the discussion on this matter in orthodox circles, and perhaps I to maximize it. But however we may see it, it is real. You are sure that this will never change. I am not so sure, even though I recognize the difficulties. That is where we differ. Since neither of us can prove the point, we are dealing with possibilities, not actualities.

For myself it is a matter of indifference if Rome or the East ever change their official policies on this question, though I continue to believe this will happen in time. It is of more significance to the RC and Orthodox scholars who are working on it, however, and if anyone is wasting their time, it is them, not me.

The pathology that concerns me is why you even bother talking to me about this. What does the opinion of an Anglican priest have to do with your life in Orthodoxy? Are you a convert to Orthodoxy? -- that might explain some of the fervor, which I may be seeing as a tad pathological when it is merely energetic. Clearly you have a strong opinion on the matter, but the evidence shows that there are Orthodox Christians, some of them with significant roles in Orthodoxy, who disagree with you. You can dismiss them all you like, or consign them to the fringes, but doing so in this forum serves no purpose -- you would be working in a more appropriate way by by writing to the University of Athens, for example, to demand their termination.

Anonymous said...


I never called anybody an “idiot” – Macbeth did that, but not in the quotation I used, and that was deliberate.

You’re right on the rest, though: I don’t regard terms like “cafeteria” as insults, inasmuch as they seem pretty accurate to me. Anglicanism itself is a cafeteria, as we can see just from the dioceses I mentioned. These teach utterly contradictory beliefs on central tenets of the Faith, and that’s considered by Anglican defenders as not only OK, but a positive. And, hey, maybe it is a positive, for all I know. I certainly regard the people in these various denominations as my brothers and sisters in Christ, but there’s no denying they each have their various differences that are open to criticism. For that matter, so does Orthodoxy, in spades. And this has been my point all along in mentioning Western vs. Eastern distinctives: not to grind some “major axe” (I have none with the Western Church), only that I believe you’re wrongly assuming Orthodoxy will follow a certain path because, if the same things were happening in your church, or another Protestant church, that path would be followed.

One more thing on “cafeteria” – I see a difference between what you’re describing (individuals dissenting in their own minds from the clear teaching of their church) and what I’m describing (official indifference to clergy or ecclesiastical units that teach completely different things as regards crucial topics, like the Eucharist).

As far as why I’m talking to you about it – you’re the one that brought Orthodoxy into the conversation, and I have enough familiarity with it that I felt you mischaracterized its position. Also, your comments are well-thought out and challenging, so that there’s an opportunity for me to learn a different perspective. Are those good enough reasons?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for this latest; it is actually very helpful.

I realize you didn't use the "i" word, but to a thespian such as myself (in former days) the implication is well enough known -- and I find the "signifying nothing" part to be equally broad, even if you did not intend it as an insult.

It does appear to me from this note that you did misunderstand what I intended about this matter from the beginning. I do not think that a change in Orthodoxy -- if it should ever happen -- will come about in the same way it did in Anglicanism. On the contrary, I was trying to make clear that I believe it is the high respect that the East has for its theological tradition that will allow this development -- if, again, it allows it. In Anglicanism I am afraid the change came about more out of the pressure of society and seeing the role of women in a new light than it did from any deep theological thinking; so you are to a large extent correct in seeing it as a zeitgeist matter in the West. But I never intended to suggest the East would deal with the matter in this way -- which is why I stress the work of Orthodox theologians, and the high regard the East has for theology, particularly the Fathers. If a change comes in the East, it will be because of the tradition, not in spite of it. You may be quite correct that the change will not come, even if the theologians discern the need for it -- even a majority of them. But the process of engagement will be entirely different in the East than it has been in the West. I never meant to suggest otherwise.

As to "cafeteria" I see from your recent comment that the issue is one I would phrase as one of discipline. That there are individuals in many churches who hold private beliefs at odds with official teaching is evident. That some are outspoken, and some of them even ordained, is also evident. But that doesn't, to my mind, reflect a failure of doctrine, though it may of discipline. Obviously you are correct that there are differences between the various western churches -- but within each of them, though there is clearly some range of individual belief, the churches themselves tend to hold to a much more narrow range of doctrinal positions than is suggested by "cafeteria." To take your example of the Eucharist, for instance, what the East accomplished by never defining, Anglicans accomplished by leaving the particular mechanism up to the individual -- if, indeed one feels the need for a mechanism, which in this day and age I think is less and less a matter of discussion, and we have effectively returned to an attitude of "Mystery" rather than precise definition.

I hope this helps further to clarify my intent. Peace be with you.