Thursday, July 14, 2005

+tom southwark and the clamorers for women bishops

There is an interesting article from the Catholic News Service about potential Anglican converts to Roman Catholicism in the wake of the very likely election of women as 'bishops' within the next ten years or so. (Read the whole thing here.) Here is what +Tom Southwark had to say:

Anglican Bishop Tom Butler of Southwark said during the debate that the Church of England should not be deterred by its relations with Catholics.

"The Church of England, catholic and reformed, has before acted prophetically for the wider church: The vernacular liturgy, married clergy, have all been pioneered by our church and have proved to be a blessing to other communions also," Bishop Butler said. "The same I believe will be true of women's orders, which we are pioneering."

But that's just ludicrous. And why does he have to use that vacuous and boring rhetoric about being "prophetic"? In addition to being muddled and backward, its downright Griswoldian in its inducement of yawning.

Does His Grace really think that the Anglican Church is the inventor of married clergy? I mean, St. Peter was married! (Cf. Mark 1:29-31.) Which is to say nothing of the near universal presence of married clergy in the Church for centuries, and their lawful continued presence in parts of the Church, uninterrupted, down to the present, e.g. among the Greek Orthodox.

And the liturgy in the vernacular was invented by Thomas Cranmer?! I suppose that means that Latin, Greek, Coptic, Slavonic, Ethipoic, etc. etc. not only are now, but have always been dead languages.

But as far as I know, no part of the One Church with plausible claims to catholicity has ever attempted the ordination of women to the presbyterate or episcopacy - until about 1976, or whenever it was.

Which brings me back to "prophecy". I'm sure its been said before, and better, but this "prophetic role of the Church", so often cited by the apologists of innovation, manifests a seriously bastardized understanding of prophecy. Its certainly not the biblical model. Its more akin to chrystal-ball gazing: an ability to predict and anticipate the cultural viscicitudes of secularism.

On the contrary, Jeremiah, for example, is clear: "Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness. Behold, we come to thee; for thou art the LORD our God" (Jer 3.22). The prophet's role is to call the people back to God and to what he had anciently revealed.

Again, Malachi (2.7ff) does not equivocate: "For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction. "

Malachi, in his prophetic functioning, is not the advocate of something new, but the herald of the custodianship of the Levitical covenant (Holy Tradition), comme il faut. He comes to change nothing but the deviation from that which has always bound the people.

This is authentic prophecy. And an authenticly prophetic role for the Church today would likewise be in calling the people back to what God has anciently revealed: back to the Holy Tradition, back to the authenticity of Catholic faith.

My Lord Bishop should know better.


J-Tron said...

Hmmm... I will have to read +Butler's lengthier comments. I'm not sure if your charge against him is justified based just on what you excerpt though. He does not, for instance, suggest that the prophetic stance taken by the Anglican Church in contrast with others stances taken in other parts of the Wounded Body of Christ means that the shifting CofE position on women in the episcopate is an invention of Anglicanism. Personally, I think making the connection between the reforms of the Anglican reformation which have their roots in the life of the early Church and the edicts of scripture is a proper connection to make. A good number of us believe that the elimination of women from the orders of priest and bishop came early in the life of the Church but not at its behest, since scripture itself testifies to the existence of at least one female "apostle," while many others could be seen as performing what would become known as episcopal functions. And while there's little evidence of women occupying the offices of bishop or priest (or deacon for that matter) in the post apostolic period, this does not make for an argument against their suitableness for the office or their ability to be ontologically changed. Those arguments, based on what I perceive to be a highly flawed read of scripture that essentially boils down to "Jesus didn't choose women," came much later in the life of the Church. Whether that is because the Church prevented women from fulfilling their call for a time or because God was not calling women to the priesthood for a time is open to speculation. But the real argument now is on the substance of the matter. And while the Communion at large has not made up its mind (partially due to its general lack of instruments for determining its mind), the mind of the CofE on the matter seems to be for the moment decided.

Great polemical writing though. I especially like the term "Griswoldian." I'm going to have to use that.

J-Tron said...

I should add as a point of clarification that if +Butler really does believe what you charge him with believing, namely that the prophetic role of the Church is to ignore tradition and invent new truth, then he is grievously mistaken. However, the opinion of the bishop notwithstanding, this does not mean that the theological argument for admitting women to the priesthood and the episcopate is not valid.

father wb said...

No, you're quite right. Just because the doings of Anglicanism regarding the putative making of women priests are not properly prophetic, does not mean that those doings are wrong.

As many know, I think that the priesting of women is at best unwise, and at worst impossible and blasphemous. It is in any case unwise, mainly due to the lack of consensus among Catholic Christians. Such a radical departure from Tradition can, as far as I can see, only be justified by the decision of the the Whole Church, Catholic, Ecumenical, etc. (Protestants don't get a say because protestant ministers don't claim to be priests in the Catholic way.)

And we should be honest with ourselves about the strong influences (very often deleterious) of secular society on members of the Church. I.e. it stands to reason that because women can and should be (e.g.) lawyers or presidents, that people should start thinking that they can and should be priests. But this isn't necessarily so. And I think two thousand years of consistent tradition (the identity of "Junia" is not clear) militate away from a hasty (and illegal) decision like the Episcopal Church's.

But I very much agree that "women can't be priests" does not follow from Bp. Butler's comments. I was just annoyed by his use of the word "prophetic".

Rob said...


From something you said in this previous comment you made here above, if I am a Protestant, I don't get a say in what exactly? I do think of myself as Protestant, but also as Catholic as well as fitting into the Tradition of the Church. The fact that I am a Protestant means to some that I have departed from Tradition, while from another perspective it means I have returned to Tradition. (Some days I'm not sure if I'm coming or going exactly.) Tradition has been used to interpret orders in the Church in various ways. So, does the Protestant understanding of orders (taken from Scripture and Tradition) allow for the ordination of women which puts such a perspective outside of the Traditions of the catholic Church; OR is it that because the Protestant understanding of orders falls outside of the Tradition of the catholic Church and can allow for the ordination of women? Is it the Protestant understanding of what ministry and ordination are that is problematic, or the attempt to include women in ordained ministry?

Also, I was a little annoyed by the use of the word "prophetic" myself. Pretty soon everyone will be using it willy nilly, I suspect.