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Wednesday
Jul222015

An Exchange Between William Witt and Me on Women's Ordination

From the Anglican Church in North America Facbook page, June 2014, with minor revisions and additions:

Patricia Hanlon:

For those interested, I recommend Bill Witt's series of blog posts on women's ordination. Bill teaches systematic theology at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. Smart man, irenic to boot, and well worth engaging with, whether you agree or disagree! http://willgwitt.org/category/theology/womens-ordination/

Me:

I will hazard a guess that many posters here are aware of Dr. Witt's position on the matter and the arguments he's advanced to defend it. It's not the last word on the question of women's ordination to the priesthood by any stretch of the imagination.

William G. Witt:

I have been composing a series of articles that will eventually comprise a single coherent argument. However, in order to deal fairly with the arguments of those who are opposed to WO, it is necessary to address all the major objections one at a time. At this point, I am still in the process of responding to the Protestant objections of "complementarians." I have not yet even begun to address the Catholic arguments, which are a different kettle of fish entirely.

The argument by Fr. Latimer above is a Roman Catholic argument, i.e., the priest acts in persona christi, and so, a female priest cannot represent Christ. However, the Orthodox position is that the priest acts in persona ecclesiae, a position that has Anglican support as well, (e.g., R.C. Moberley). Modern agreed ecumenical statements, (e.g., ARCIC), have endorsed both kinds of language. The priest acts both in persona christi and in persona ecclesiae.

However, as everyone knows, the church as the Bride of Christ is feminine. If a male priest can represent a female church (in persona ecclesiae), and not be accused of being a "man in drag," then it makes no sense to suggest that a female priest creates a "lesbian wedding reception" (in persona christi). If a male priest can represent a female church, then a female priest can represent a male Christ.

The priest is an icon of Christ, but precisely as pointing away from him or herself to Christ, not as representing Christ by his or her gender. And a woman can do that just as well as a man.

At any rate, this is a big project. I have had to put it aside for awhile as I have had to deal with the normal end of semester tasks, but now that summer is here, I am already working on the next essay, which is a discussion of Ephesians 5.

Those who want the whole thing will just have to wait until the whole thing is done.

Me:

It should be noted in connection with Dr. Witt's observations about Catholic and complementarian arguments against WO that both camps' arguments represent authentic instances of "task theology" such as we see in St. Paul's argument against the Judaizers or the orthodox Fathers arguments against the Arians. That is to say, the arguments have arisen suddenly in response to unexpected challenges to the orthodox status quo, forcing the orthodox defenders to articulate what has in the past been less explicit but assumed as true. This is why Witt's insinuation that the "newness" of the Catholic in persona Christi argument militates against its validity is untenable. "Homoousion" was also "new" at the time, and was even rejected by the church in another theological context, but "homoousion" is now what we confess in the Creed nevertheless.

This is precisely the dynamic in Roman Catholic and Orthodox circles as their theologians "scramble" to answer the arguments of the pro-WO inside and outside of their ranks. One such work from a Catholic author that must not go unread is Manfred Hauke's Women in the Priesthood?:
A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption. There are more recent works as well, but authors and titles have escaped me for now. The point is, if you're going to rely on the works of scholars such as Dr. Witt for scholarly authority, just understand that there are extremely able scholars on the other side currently "composing" arguments as well.

I have been asked why Anglican WO supporters should care about what the Catholics or Orthodox say or do. My response is that to the extent that Anglicanism is going to perpetuate the argument that it is merely one branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, then it better darn well care what the other two branches say and do. They say that this is a first order doctrine, and they act accordingly by not ordaining women to the priesthood. Woe to the Anglican supporter of WO who ignores them if they're right.

John M. Linebarger:

Fr. Christopher. . . , your points are well taken. However, I just like the way William G. Witt's mind works, even though I don't (yet?) agree with him on this point. He is always worth considering in detail, IMHO. Have you read his PDFs on Baptism? or on Anglican Theology? Wonderful syntheses.

Me:

I've read some of his lengthy blog articles and have his blog linked on mine. I agree with him on so much, just not this.

William G. Witt:

Christopher . . .

My objection against the Protestant complementarian and Catholic sacramental arguments against WO is not that they are new. All three positions -- pro-WO and the Protestant and Catholic anti-Wo -- are new positions in response to changes in the culture that did not exist prior to the industrial revolution. The historical argument was that women cannot be ordained because they are inherently inferior to men and subject to emotional instability. That position is no longer held by anyone. All sides in the debate now agree that women are ontologically equal to men. The question for women's orders is, in light of the abandonment of the historical reasons for opposition to WO, what should be the church's response?

The Protestant complementarian and Catholic sacamentalist response is to come up with new reasons to be opposed to WO. My problem is not that the arguments are new. It is that they are not convincing.

You mention Hauke's book. IMHO, the best summary of the Catholic anti-WO argument is Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women. This book lays out the issues in a calm and non-polemical way,Butler is honest in acknowledging that a real shift has taken place in Catholic theology as a result of the affirmation of the ontological equality of women and that the traditional arguments against WO will not work. She acknowledges that the in persona christi argument first appeared in Paul VI's Inter Insigniores in 1976. Anglo-Catholics have embraced this argument, but it is based on an understanding of eucharistic theology that first appeared (to the best of my knowledge) in Thomas Aquinas -- an understanding that has been challenged or at least complemented in modern ecumenical discussion.

The Latin Medieval theological position that the priest acts in persona christi must at least be complemented with the Eastern Orthodox position that the priest acts in persona ecclesiae. Once that move is made, the objection based on gender representation collapses.

Me:

Thanks, Dr. Witt, for your clarification. Regarding my point concerning the task theology being done by Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians in response to pressure inside and outside of their ranks to ordain women to the priesthood, you write (emphases mine):

"My objection against the Protestant complementarian and Catholic sacramental arguments against WO is not that they are *new*. All three positions -- pro-WO and the Protestant and Catholic anti-Wo -- are *new* positions in response to changes in the culture that did not exist prior to the industrial revolution."

That was my point, however, when I referenced your argument against the "newness" of their defenses of a male-only priesthood.

Butler's work is one of the sources I was trying to think of in my last post. Thanks for that reminder. The other Roman Catholic scholar I was trying to recall who defends the traditional view is Monica Migliorino Miller, who is critical of certain aspects of Butler's work.  Another work by Orthodox scholars that Anglicans need to read is
Women and the Priesthood (Thomas Hopko, ed.).

It hardly needs to be said that no one on our side of the fence, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, will agree with your argument that once the Catholic view is complemented by the Orthodox view, "the objection based on gender representation collapses." It is not quite that simple.

I believe it was Fr. RJ Neuhaus who wrote words to this effect: "To the extent that one can say 'never' in this world, it is safe to say that the Orthodox will never ordain women to the priesthood." Same is true, I would say, of the Roman Catholic church in light of recent papal pronouncements and the way the ongoing task theology in Roman ranks in developing. And as I observed in my previous post, the Catholic and Orthodox churches believe this to be a belief of the "first order", and if Anglicanism truly believes itself to be a branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, the advocates of WO in its midst need to think longer and harder than they currently are about their position.

William G. Witt:

I have withdrawn two of my own comments in the WO discussion. It is indeed time to take this conversation offline.

(End of exchange.  For a critique of Witt's argument that the presider at the Eucharist stands "in persona ecclesiae",  see the Continuum article and combox discussion here.  See also my blog entry "PhD Anglicanism" and the Anglican Disease).

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