Updated: May 29, 2021
Note: River’s Article can be found here: Responding to Apologia Anglicana on Women’s Ordination. His words will be bolded, italicized, and put in quotations as not to confuse his words with my own words.
Yesterday I posted the article, Women’s Ordination and Apostolic Succession. Although it was not a response article to River’s blog post on New Kingdom Blog, Why Women can be Priests, it dealt with many of the same issues that his post did, and attempted to refute many of the arguments that he made. After private discussions with River, we decided that an honest and charitable back and forth on our respective blogs would be most helpful for establishing and defending our respective positions, and informing you, the reader.
I pray that through this means of debate that you, the reader, would come to be illuminated by the truth presented, be given an example of charitable theological discourse to follow, and be led to reverence the great theological tradition that has been handed down to us by many pious, wise, venerable, and learned saints to whom I pale in comparison to. Above all, I pray that my God and your God may be pleased in this service of ours.
It is a foundational principle of proper debate that those presuppositions which are held in common and will be argued from are laid out openly for the consideration of those who follow the debate. Any inconsistency with these foundational principles reveals a false conclusion and any internal inconsistency within one’s premises reveals falsehood. Further, any fallacies which are committed in one's mode of argumentation reveals a false argument that is of no avail.
Those foundational principles which River and I share is helpfully summed up by the Right Reverend Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester,
“One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”
Further, this principle is expressed by St. Vincent of Lerins (whose feast day it is today), “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” Further, it can be expressed by the term “Reformed Catholicism,” that is, that we seek to return to the “ancient purity of the church” which our Anglican Fathers so often speak of. We seek to take the deposit which we received from our venerable Fathers of the Medieval church and to eliminate those elements which contradict scripture and the ancient teaching of the church catholic, while not daring to touch those elements which do not do so.
The deposit which we have received as fulfilling these requirements is that of the 39 Articles, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. My province (The Anglican Church in North America) and his (The Anglican Church in New Zealand) share no other foundational documents of authority.
Further, we share the common deposit of Reason. We may use reason in this disputation in a restricted sense. This restricted sense is in the form of “Mixed Syllogisms.” We are not restricted to the express words of scripture, but in theological disputation can draw consequences. When we draw these consequences we may either A. Use reason as the Major premise and scripture as the minor premise of our argument, or B. Use scripture as the Major premise and reason as the minor premise of our argument.
Further, as a specific point of prolegomena, River has conceded that this debate will work off of the presupposition that scripture and tradition teach that Women ought not to be ordained to the priesthood. As he writes, “It is Christian’s contention that women should not be ordained, and that debate is I think a completely separate one, which is too complex to get into now, and so I will respond to his article by assuming his position that women should not be ordained.”
This is for the good of a profitable and well-ordered discussion on this topic, and for this I commend him. Therefore, an unproved assumption which I will build my argument off of is the presupposition that women ought not to be ordained. This is a valid presupposition to work off of because River has conceded the point, and therefore neither can this be waged as an argument against my position, nor can it be used by River as an argument to bolster his position.
The State of the Question
The state of the question in this debate is not whether women ought to be ordained to the priesthood, or whether they can be ordained to be priesthood, but whether they are ordained to the priesthood in a real and true sense, whereby they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. This is a debate over what's called “validity,” the actual existence of the sacramental act, whether or not we can clearly affirm by faith that God works in the act to sanctify a woman to the priesthood. This is not a debate over the liceity of the sacramental act, that is, whether it is a lawful act for any Bishop to perform and woman to be the recipient of, for, this is a conceded point.
I will follow River’s two-fold division of “Women are a defective ‘object’” and “God Cannot Do what He Does Not Permit.” First, for the sake of orderly argumentation, I will state my own position, and then I will respond to each of the claims/arguments which River brings forth.
“Women are a Defective ‘Object’”
My position stated: I affirm that women are an improper object of the sacrament of Holy Orders, not considered per se (for there is nothing intrinsic in the ontology of a woman’s soul which differs from a man’s and would thus make for an improper object of Holy Orders), but considered qua her extrinsic/accidental/economic relations to God and the church, whereby God does not will the sacramental act to be efficacious, arising not out of her specific and intrinsic nature, the reason of which is expressed by the Common Doctor, “for a woman is in the state [extrinsic relation] of subjection [in the creational order].” I must stress that this is in reference to EXTRINSIC RELATIONS, not in reference to INTRINSIC NATURE, for Thomas goes on to say “in matters pertaining to the soul woman does not differ from man as to the thing (for sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul).”
Refutation: River writes,
“For Christian to introduce a distinction between baptized men and baptized women is to undermine this very principle”
I affirm wholeheartedly with River and with Paul that there is per se no distinction between male and female. If I have affirmed this in personal or public correspondence I will be the first to refute myself. Further, I will strengthen the argument. As Thomistic anthropology affirms, “sex is not found in the soul.” It would be improper for me to say that there is some defect (or even difference) of soul whereby a woman is made the improper object of Holy Orders. If God wanted to he could, without any change of process, impress the sacramental character on the soul of a woman due to the fact that sex is not found within the soul. This then is a faulty premise in his argument because I do not affirm a difference in the intrinsic nature of man and woman which is the cause of the impediment to orders, but the impediment is found in the will of God to not act in the sacrament.
“because of this, I conclude that there is no ontological defect in women that prevents their ordination.”
I agree with River, I affirm that there is no ontological defect in women that prevents their ordination, the cause or impediment is completely in the will of God. Further, this argument does not prove River’s conclusion. Just because there is no ontological defect present, does not mean that there is no other defect that could be present to impede the sacramental act from taking place.
God Cannot Do what He Does Not Permit
My position stated: I affirm, whereas God is perfect and immutable, that He cannot and does not contradict His express words in any action that He takes. For, God neither acts arbitrarily, nor is He constrained by any outward person, force, or power, rather God is only limited by Himself. Therefore, we may rightly say that God does not act in a defective sacramental act, whereas scripture expresses the immutable will of God. Otherwise, God would be acting in an arbitrary manner, contradicting His own self-limiting will.
Refutation: River writes,
“I cannot see any explicit evidence that God Himself does not permit for all time women to be Priests.”
In answer to this, I may respond two ways. First, we are working from the assumption, as was agreed upon between us, that Women’s Ordination is illicit, therefore the argument could be rested there.
Second, contrary to River’s claims, St. Paul’s claims in the second chapter of his first epistle to St. Timothy does clearly present a universal law to be followed in all ages, it is normative, not occasional.
First, from the nature of the epistle itself. It is a pastoral epistle that frequently sets forth universal, normative, and perpetual laws of church governance which are established jure divino. Such as the offices of the church, certain moral principles, and requirements for Holy Orders which we can all agree are perpetual. It is not a genre that we could easily regard as occasional, such as a historical narrative, there would need to be solid evidence to the contrary, rather than speculation.
Second, from the surrounding statements by St. Paul. In the surrounding verses we have, (2:1-8) An exhortation to prayer with reference to the gospel, (v. 9-10) An exhortation to modesty of apparel, and after the section (3:1-9) the moral requirements for a Bishop. There is no special indication within the text to regard it as occasional but reads just as normative as the text surrounding it.
Third, from the reasons given by St. Paul. Further, the reason given by St. Paul for such a requirement to be laid down is founded upon the state of nature (called the “state of subjection” by St. Thomas). “Adam was first formed, then Eve.”
“The problem with this is that sometimes St Paul specifies when he is saying something, or when God is saying it through him (1 Corinthians 7:12) and this may well be a case of that.”
I understand that this was probably more of a throw-away statement and is treated as a pure possibility, but this is a possibility which we ought not to ever entertain unless given extreme exegetical reasons for doing so. For, the implications of frequently appealing to and seeing this as a normal occurrence will lead us away from scripture being the Norma Normata. There is no indication in the text of this being one of those instances. If we start down this road, it will be a long and dark one, could I say that Romans 1 or 1 Timothy 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 are all St. Paul’s statements that reflect his own mind?
“To say that God does not ever permit women to teach, is patently false, since Priscilla corrected Barnabas (Acts 18:26), Mary Magdalene proclaimed the Resurrection (John 20:17-28), Esther made decrees for all the Jews to obey (Esther 9:32) and not to mention that Wisdom itself is personified as a woman in Proverbs. As for women holding authority, we have Deborah as a Judge who led Israel (Judges 4:4-5) as well as Judith in the Deuterocanon being a leader of the Israelites.”
I will put this argument into a syllogism that it may be refuted more easily:
Major: Scripture reflects the will of God.
Minor: Scripture speaks in many places of women teaching and ruling.
ERGO, It is not the will of God that he does permit female priests.
This can be attacked on multiple levels. First, the major premise. The major premise is not completely true, scripture does not in every word reflect the will of God. Rather, the normative statements of scripture reflect the will of God, while other statements in scripture are true, yet they do not reflect the will of God. For example, let's take the narrative of Judas hanging himself, it is not morally correct to kill oneself, yet scripture refers to it as a true event that happened, not as a perpetual moral obligation (thank God!).
Second, the minor premise. There is no disagreement here and it is happily admitted that women ruled and taught in multiple places in scripture.
Third, the conclusion drawn. The conclusion drawn is wrong on multiple levels. First, it follows from a faulty premise. It assumes that just because a narrative is spoken of in scripture that it becomes a normative rule of the church. Second, it draws a false conclusion from the premises given. For, the fact that women taught or ruled in various parts of scripture has nothing to do with sacramental ordination, all it shows is that women taught or ruled in various parts of scripture. Does the fact that David had multiple wives and ruled, or Solomon taught, negate the fact that a priest must be the husband of one wife? I too can slowly go through scripture and pick away at each of the requirements which are given by the Apostle with examples, which is why the normative is authoritative for practice, not the occasional.
The words of John Knox on this issue sums up well the refutation,
“[they argue that] Deborah did rule Israel, and Huldah spoke prophecy in Judah; ergo, it is lawful for women to reign above realms and nations, or to teach in the presence of men. The consequent is vain, and of none effect. For of examples, as is before declared, we may establish no law; but we are always bound to the written law, and to the commandment expressed in the same. And the law written and pronounced by God forbids no less that any woman reign over man, than it forbids man to take plurality of wives, to marry two sisters living at once, to steal, to rob, to murder, or to lie. If any of these has been transgressed, and yet God has not imputed the same, it makes not the like fact or deed lawful unto us. For God (being free) may, for such causes as are approved by his inscrutable wisdom, dispense with the rigour of his law, and may use his creatures at his pleasure. But the same power is not permitted to man, whom he has made subject to his law, and not to the examples of fathers. And this I think sufficient to the reasonable and moderate spirits.”
“First of all, God delights in giving His people a certain degree of responsibility and even autonomy, and He has been that way from the beginning…[examples follow].”
In order to answer this objection, we must first make a distinction between God’s categories of action. First, God acts as the direct cause, that is, God acts in a direct manner and by his power without any intermediary. For example, God is the direct cause of the creation of the world. Second, God acts as the indirect cause, that is, He still acts as the first cause of the event, yet uses various secondary, contingent, and free means who carry out the act. For example, the Father wills that Christ die, yet He did not act directly in this, but permitted instruments, namely the Jews and Romans. When speaking of the sacrament, it is mixed, that is God acts in a direct manner, yet this direct action is conferred through means of outward elements and a minister. Therefore, we can truly say that “God baptizes not the priest.”
Any example of “permission” is to be seen in the second category, not the first. For example, God permits creatures to commit evil. We cannot say that God actively participates in this act of evil, but we say that God permits free creatures to fall into the lusts of their hearts. But why can we say that? How can we confidently affirm that God does not actively participate in evil when we can point to such examples as the crucifixion of our Lord and of the Assyrians (Isa. 10) where he wills it?
We can confidently affirm such a thing because God is perfect and immutable. It is the same way with many of the examples listed, God permitted evil things to happen or things that were contrary to his outward and expressed will, yet it would be blasphemous to affirm that God participated actively in such evil.
Where this is connected to Women’s ordination is that a sacramental act is not a passive allowance because it requires Divine power to be a sacrament. It would be just as wrong to say that God would participate in an evil that is against his express will, as it would be to say that God could perform a sacrament that is against his will.
“Turning to the Church, God has given our rulers a tremendous degree of autonomy and power...God has given the authority to the Church to put into effect what their liturgy expresses...Moreover, because I believe that since Bishops have autonomy and authority, when they lay their hands on someone and ordain them, the gift of the Spirit is given because they willed it to be so...Therefore, if the Anglican Communion expresses that women can be ordained, and valid Bishops ordain them with the approval of the Diocesan Synod, then I believe God respects that choice.”
With all due charity and respect, this truly paints a horrifying view of ecclesiastical authority beyond even that of Unam Sanctam. Here we have the Spirit being subject to the church. Sacramental acts become mechanical. “As for our God, he is in heaven; he hath done whatsoever pleased him.” (Psalm 115:3) Bishops and Priests are not autonomous agents in an absolute sense, subjecting God to their desires, but are under His express law.
“Finally, it should also be asked which option is God more in favour of: ensuring that no woman receives the gift of the Spirit for ordination, or, ensuring that the Sacraments are given to His people? Because if all the countless woman Priests and Bishops in the Anglican Communion are not truly ordained, then they are not truly feeding God’s flock and His sheep are going hungry and have their salvation in jeopardy.”
This can be attacked on multiple levels. First, this is a mere pragmatic argument. For, just because a certain situation is undesirable, does not mean that it is untrue. Second, this is a false dichotomy. For, we can both say that God does not give the gift of ordination to women AND that the faithful receive sacramental grace. For, in catholic theology, we have a place for extra-sacramental grace. Although the sacrament is invalid, yet due to the desire which the faithful have for the sacrament, God works extra-sacramentally in giving the grace of the sacrament to His people.
Am I a Donatist?
Lastly, the argument has been raised against me that the position I am putting forward is that of a Donatist. I deny this. For, the church catholic has always taught that there are certain impediments to the working of the sacraments. We can think of many examples, for example, if there is an improper minister of the sacrament (a layperson) we rightly say that the sacrament is invalid. Another example is given by our formularies,
“The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.”
The sacrament does not have its effect due to some impediment in the receiver. Donatism teaches, as our articles describe,
“Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in the receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.”
The issue with Donatism isn't that it teaches that impediments exist, the issue is that it teaches the wrong impediments, namely, the moral standing of the priest.