"Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?"That is none other than Pope Benedict XVI speaking two days ago at this year's papal Chrism Mass.
Benedict's whole response to this particular challenge is steady, theological (asking whether it is 'configuration to Christ' or not) and pastoral (he has got to keep the global Catholic church together).
But what is he going to do if these several hundred European priests become several thousand European, British and American priests? Imagine if some Kiwi priests join in? (Here's a fact: talk to Kiwi Catholic priests in NZ about the ordination of women and you will find a lot in favour).
This is an interesting time for the Romans: on the one hand offering the Anglican Ordinariate, reasserting the importance of the Latin Mass, tightening up on this and that which flowed from the loosening up which as Vatican II; on the other hand facing a liberalising movement which could get out of hand in which shibboleths are challenged. Dare the Pope call rebellion the many Catholics throughout the world who ignore Humanae Vitae? Is it really 'rebellion' to follow a common sense understanding of the possibilities of modern life, whether it is utilising artifical contraception to enhance family life or seriously considering whether women might be priests?
Rome's challenge through the next pope or three will be facing the facts on the development of human life through the last century. A new fullness of humanity is being enjoyed by women, as educated, emancipated, empowered persons. If this is faced up to in a theological manner, that is accepting that these developments are a 'configuration' to Genesis 1 and 2, and Galatians 3:28, a configuration to our imaging of God and to our redemption by Christ as male and female, then change might occur. A key theological shift would be to move away from the priest as the icon of Christ's gender to the priest as the icon of Christ's humanity. Underlying this shift would be a (perhaps somewhat Anglican) emphasis on the incarnation: the Word became flesh, not the Word became male.
Otherwise it is going to be 'trouble at mill' for Rome. I expect change, but not necessarily in my lifetime.
In other news, some poor arguments against the ordination of women to positions of authority continue from Protestant pens. Here is Cranmer's Curate:
"It was precisely to counter spiritual disorder in the early Church that much of the New Testament was penned. Important New Testament epistles such as 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, the Johannine letters, Jude and the Revelation to John were written against the background of local churches facing serious theological threats.This approach is seriously interesting inasmuch as it begs a question or two about why God let the church which began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit grow into such disorder without prior written instructions to signal the order that was meant to have been followed, to say nothing of the question of whether a response to the unruly seas of Ephesian and Corinthian church life was intended to forbid women ever leading a church in any situation, including one in which there is neither chaos nor disorder.
The two Pauline epistles where the Apostle to the Gentiles directly asserts the requirement for male headship in the ordering of the Church – 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy – were written to counter serious disorder in the congregations at Corinth and Ephesus.
Even those NT documents apparently not occasioned by a particular theological crisis, such as St Paul's epistle to the Romans, certainly contain warnings against false teaching and ungodly behaviour.
Various New Testament churches, within a few years of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, had got themselves into a mess and needed sorting out. Hence the exalted Christ sent forth his divinely inspired Word to bring order to the unruly seas of ecclesiastical chaos.
Furthermore, in his providential and sovereign wisdom the reigning Christ ensured that these authoritative Holy Scriptures would be preserved for coming generations of Christians in order to remedy future disorder in his Church."
I suggest another explanation is better: God cares for the order of the church but does not care particularly which order is followed. In all discussions of church order in the New Testament we do well to observe that no one order is set down which is to be followed by all in all situations. Bishops, elders, deacons, ministers, co-workers are all mentioned but never in a definitive 'this is how the church offices are to be ordered for all time' manner. The greatest detail in 1 Timothy about the ordering of ministry and church life concerns widows. Twenty centuries later, I know of no church which follows this order!
The early church was a church propelled by the Spirit which fuelled it into life at the first Pentecost. Carried along in the Spirit the church was led by the apostles (for the obvious reason that they were the people closest to Jesus and commissioned by him to continue his work) and thereafter made things up as it went along according to the challenges it faced (table ministers in Acts 6, men and women leading churches in Romans 16, women being prohibited from usurping authority in 1 Timothy 2), though it always responded with responsible theology, anchoring its responses into its knowledge of God, of the Spirit, of Christ, of the church as the body of Christ in which varieties of gifts and ministries are to be found, and of the need for good order and sound teaching.
What Cranmer's Curates approach in the post I cite from above, and what Benedict XVI's chrism sermon are not reckoning with is the possibility that women might serve in the church of God in a manner in keeping with its order rather than in a way which promotes disorder and rebellion.
It is not reasonable to suppose that the likes of Phoebe and Priscilla were contributors to disorder in the churches they were part of and it is incredible to suppose that they needed prohibitions to govern their roles in authoritative leadership and teaching. We may properly suppose that their ministries as leaders in the church were a 'configuration to Christ'.
At this Eastertide it may be especially useful to consider the rationality (i.e. logic) of the resurrection: in Christ everything is made new, including divided and hostile humanity being made into a new society (Ephesians 2), so our reasoning about what constitutes order in the new order of the resurrection now allows for the fullness of our renewed humanity to be represented in the life of the church. In Christ there is neither male nor female is not just a baptismal formula affirming that all are redeemed through the cross of Christ. It is a ministry formula affirming that in Christ there is a new humanity in which old distinctions between men and women in respect of ministry roles have passed away (see further via link a lovely essay by Benjamin Myers). That they were reinvoked in 1 Timothy shows how seriously stormy the ecclesiastical seas had become in Ephesus, but that reinvocation tell us nothing about the ordering of ministry when the seas are calm. The letter to the Ephesians tells us nothing about gender in ministry, presumably because it was written after the storms had abated or before they arose.
In short, Benedict XVI's problem on Maundy Thursday is resolved on Easter Day and Cranmer's Curate's theology is challenged on that same day.
These are not idle ramblings at this season (though I acknowledge they may appear to be so). When we consider the cross and the resurrection we must do so precisely in relation to the world as we find it today: Jesus died for it and lives for it as much as for the world in AD 33 or 1533. Do we have within Christianity a coherent message for humanity as 21st century humanity or not? If we are, in part or in whole suffering from incoherency, then there may be no part more so than the Anglican churches individually and collectivised into the Anglican Communion (see further an essay by John Milbank which repays very careful reading).
Those Austrian priests challenging Rome are an intriguing part of a great convulsion going on within world Christianity. In 2012 we may be as close to the epitome of that convulsion as Christians were in 1512 to the epitome of the Reformation.