Disagreement Between Friends, II

Part 2: The Priority of Scripture

But since, in our weakness, we cannot yet follow the path of the perfect, let us talk of what edifies, and speak of such things with reference to the words of the fathers, without undertaking to interpret the scriptures; for this latter is fraught with dangers for the ignorant.  The scriptures are written in the language of the spirit, and men of the flesh cannot understand spiritual things.  It is best to use the words of the fathers in our conversations; then we shall find the profit they contain. [1]

So say SS. Barsanuphius and John.  I quote them by way of cautionary preface. For a Roman Catholic reader of this blog (a convert from Protestantism) has asked me to speak about holy scripture, as it relates to the queer question.  I expect his query stems partly from a sort of post-modern Western curiosity about Eastern attitudes to sacred text and authority, which are rumored to be different.  The Orthodox accept a third and occasionally a fourth book of Machabees, as well as the Prayer of Manasses and the 151st Psalm, as canonical; meanwhile the Apocalypse of S. John, which is visually much in evidence in an Eastern church’s iconographic program, is never in fact read in church aloud.  Certain of the Eastern fathers caution laymen against attempting to interpret any scripture at all.

The second, and probably larger reason for my inquirer’s curiosity, is the obvious one: submitting to scripture’s authority, it is widely alleged, precludes participating in or condoning homosexual relations (or any other sort of non-procreative sexual behavior).  The traditionalist Orthodox Christian Information Center, for example, lumps its discussion of homosexuality into its discussion of abortion, euthanasia, and genetic cloning, and to do so it repeats the usual scriptural proof-texts—the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. xviii and xix); the Levitical prohibition of homosexual relations as an “abomination” (Lev. xviii and xx); and the Pauline condemnations of homosexuality (Rom. i and I Cor. vi).  A traditionalist Catholic blog does the same, and more, raising up a specter of “homosexual totalitarianism” which, if unchecked, will drive the Church “underground.”

The Church in modern history has, however, already weathered any number of philosophical and scientific challenges to its theology, and notably to its theology of creation.  Evolution by natural selection, also once regarded as a theory precluded by scriptural authority, is no longer generally controversial—such that Patriarch Bartholomew, a respected environmentalist, may simply absorb Darwin into traditional Christian cosmology: “The dynamics of evolution are henceforth linked with death—entropy, monstrosity, disintegration….  Of course the laws of nature, which make salvation history possible, witness to the cosmic covenant concluded between God and the world after the flood.” [2]

That the ecumenical patriarch regards the specific wastefulness of the evolutionary process as something continuous with human sin, is not the immediate point.  Rather, he still perceives a natural end to that process cooperative with the divine will; and he is able to take the new evolutionary account of biological reality for granted, without any particular comment.

Why, then, such frequent ferocity of opposition to accepting homosexuals?

Disagreement Between Friends

In Part 1 of this series, “The Necessity of Dogma,” I suggested that traditional dogmatic theology is neither merely optional (contra Christianity’s “cultured despisers”); nor is it necessarily incompatible with homosexual love (contra the ecclesiastical hierarchy).  I began with a discussion of the significance of dogma because it is dogma primarily which imparts to the Church its visible unity: a symbolon, the symbol of the faith “unites.”  We may disagree about most other things (including even what constitutes the complete canon of holy scriptures), yet through such disagreements we are able to say that we are still one Church, because we confess the same faith—because we answer the question “But whom do you say that I am?” (Mc. viii. 29) with the same formulas.

I now turn to consider the priority of scripture.  I hasten to add that I am not any kind of biblical scholar.  Still less do I have the spiritual gifts which SS. Barsanuphius and John (perhaps quite rightly) consider as the pre-requisites of biblical exegesis.  This essay is offered therefore in a spirit of humble uncertainty; and I am eager for those who know more than I do, to contribute their knowledge and sources.

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Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gender, Priesthood, and the Church

I’m sure we all remember last October, when the Church welcomed traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold. Perhaps you had a reaction similar to mine:  “Yay!  Anglican-use parishes!  Wait…we’re acting as a refuge for ‘Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops?'” [1] Do we need more people like that?  We want people to convert, not because they’ve come to terms with say, the authority of the Pope, or, more importantly—for some Anglicans—transubstantiation, but because of problems with the sexual orientation and gender of those performing the sacraments?

There are those who would argue that the disagreement over the gender/orientation of those performing the sacraments is deeply theological, and not to be taken lightly.  I am not convinced, however, that some are changing their faith due to deep theological convictions.  The conservatively minded sometimes employ theology to justify the disgust they feel at GLBTQ folks or their desire to keep the status quo (as do we all, from time to time).

On the other hand, perhaps I am convinced that these Anglicans have no good reason to leave because I, myself am not particularly moved by arguments as to why women can’t be priests.  Both sides toss well-worn premises around with unfortunate predictability:[2]

Anti:  We can’t have female priests, Christ chose 12 men, and only men even though He had female disciples.

Pro:  This doesn’t tell us anything about his feelings about a female priesthood, He was merely adhering to the social norms of the times.

Anti:  Christ was the Son of God, he can do anything.  If He wanted to make women priests, He would have.  He didn’t.  Clearly, He didn’t want women to be priests.

Pro:  He also didn’t choose Asian, Innuit, or African priests, does that mean that he clearly only wanted people from his portion of the world to be priests?   Furthermore, as an observant Jew, Christ kept kosher, surely that means He wanted us to keep kosher?

And so forth, with variations and discussions about social norms, Christ’s desire to ignore/embrace them in the service of His church, the innate fitness of women for the priesthood, etc.  Arguments frequently descend to people finding parts of the New Testament where Christ is doing something not in current Church teaching and asking why if this has been dispensed with, why not the prohibition on women priests?

On the other hand, we have the more allegorical argument that Church is Mother, and the priest, as Alter Christus, marries the Church, serving as Father to his spiritual children.  As someone deeply interested in allegory, I would probably find this image more convincing, were it not for my gender and orientation convictions.  Not only do I have no problem with the image of a woman marrying a woman, but I also have no difficulty with the idea that a woman can act as a father/fatherly/fathering figure.  Aside from the biological fact that only women can bear children, I don’t see gender as a defining characteristic for the roles of mother- and fatherhood.

On the other hand, being a true believer in my Church, I’m not ready to just start ordaining women without official sanction, as these people have.

Women ordaining women

If anything, I worry that they make the case for woman priests look bad, as, while they claim to be working within the Church, they are actually making a new Church hierarchy for themselves.   While sympathetic with their cause, I am not so sympathetic with their means.

This week, as I’m sure many of you know, the Vatican issued its revised internal laws for the discipline of pedophilic priests.  (The text of the document itself is to be found here).  Article five of that document reads as follows:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is  also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

The Times suggests that,

“The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.”

On one hand, I’m not entirely sure the analysis is correct.  The document does contain, not merely the rules for dealing with abuse of minors, but also other kinds of abuses associated with sacraments (see, for example, Article 3, which deals with sacrilegious acts against the Eucharist.)  The inclusion of a discussion about female priests takes place in the context of sacramental abuses, not specifically  in a discussion about pedophilic priests.  On the other hand, there is no mention (that I can find, perhaps your eyes are sharper, dear readers) of what action may be taken against priests who attempt to marry, or those who attempt to ordain an already married man, which would also be an abuse of Holy Orders.[3] Thus, only the ordination of women is put on par (in terms of sinfulness) with desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and abuse of children.  This feels pointed and unwarranted, and I am deeply disturbed that the Vatican seems bent on providing more fodder for those who would portray it as a hidebound misogynistic club of old men.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] Of course, the NYT may overstate what the Vatican  actually said, but the point is still worth observing.

[2] Clearly, I am simplifying the arguments on both sides.

[3] I refer, of course, to cases in which the men in question are Roman Catholic, not converts from other traditions.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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Talking “Ism”s, Post-Pride

Two news stories out of the Russian church, of ambivalent significance, bookended this year’s Pride marching season.

At the end of June, Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, met with Patriarch Cyril in Moscow.  Good news: the patriarchate under Cyril is not going to walk away from ecumenical dialogue with the other Anglican and Protestant bodies which comprise the WCC.  Bad news: the condition of such continued participation in ecumenical dialogue is the official silence of the WCC on homosexuality and female ordination.   

And about a month earlier the Libreria Editrice Vaticana published at Rome an Italian translation of Patriarch Cyril’s politico-theological writings.  Good news: the Russian church, maybe for the first time since the misfortunate metropolitan of Kiev who signed on the dotted line at Florence-Ferrara in 1438-39, has a serious philo-Catholic for its primate.  Bad news: his proposed Roman-Muscovite alliance for the “re-evangelization of Europe” centers on public opposition to homosexuality and abortion.

Chiesa quotes the patriarch as writing:

Both of the questions [i.e., homosexuality and female ordination] confirm, among other things, the thesis about the liberal nature of Protestantism, as previously defined.  It is absolutely evident that the introduction of female priesthood and the admission of homosexuality have taken place under the influence of a certain liberal vision of human rights: a vision in which these rights are radically opposed to sacred tradition.  And a certain part of Protestantism has resolved the question in favor of this conception of human rights, ignoring the clear norm of faith in the tradition.

The question whether or not Protestantism may be, in its essence, a religious manifestation of “liberalism,” is a long geschichte.  But the question I would like to ask, is why does opposition to “liberalism”—opposition to liberalism having just been defined by the patriarch as support for sacred tradition—necessarily entail opposition to homosexuality, or to female ordination?  The Orthodox churches, just for example, have been ordaining women to the diaconate, time out of mind; and when S. Paul commends to the church of Rome the deaconess Phoebe, and also greets his co-adjutors Prisca and Aquila (Rom. xvi, 1-4), he surely has no notion of United Nations (or WCC) statements on human rights.

Conservatism, Healthy and Unhealthy

We have characterized this blog as “conservative,” meaning that we support sacred tradition.  And yet what His Holiness Patriarch Cyril finds to be “absolutely evident” and “clear” in the tradition, we do not. 

A.I. Solzhenitsyn, certainly the twentieth-century Orthodox public intellectual best known in the West, made the following observation about the underlying harmony of the principles of continuity (read: a rightly-ordered conservatism) and of change (read: a rightly-ordered liberalism).  The context is a discussion of literature at the National Arts Club of New York in 1993, but what he says here of literature and the fine arts, comparatively true, is perhaps superlatively true of religion and philosophy: 

The divine plan is such that there is no limit to the appearance of new and dazzling creative talents, none of whom, however, negate in any way the works of their outstanding predecessors, even though they may be five hundred or two thousand years removed.  The unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us, but this does not deprive our grateful memory of all that came before.  No new work of art comes into existence (whether consciously or unconsciously) without an organic link to what was created earlier.  But it is equally true that a healthy conservatism must be flexible both in terms of creation and perception, remaining equally sensitive to the old and to the new, to venerable and worthy traditions, and to the freedom to explore, without which no future can ever be born. [1]  

There exists in Orthodox ascetic theory, on the other hand, a diagnosis for the vice or passion which may be associated with an unhealthy conservatism.  Its defining characteristics are a sad complacency; insensibility of the need for continual striving; lack of pleasure in life or vocation.  Pseudo-conservative traditionalism—as distinguished from authentic conservative tradition—is, looked at supernaturally, only so much acedia.

Fortunately, since humans are still humans, and still bear the image of God (the Fall notwithstanding), “[t]he unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us.”

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] “Playing upon the Strings of Emptiness,” The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005, ed. Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), pp. 585-86.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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