The Ordination of People

This is an expanded version of a comment I made on Facebook. I thought it might be helpful more generally.

The context is the teaching of various traditionalist churches that women cannot be validly ordained as priests because they cannot act “In persona Christi“, that is “in the person of Christ”. This is obvious because Jesus had a penis and so, therefore, women, lacking penises, can’t be priests in the same sense that Jesus and male priests can. I phrased that in a direct and vulgar way to be clear about what we’re talking about.

Independent churches have an acknowledged right to determine their own teaching on this matter and, from an ecumenical position, I won’t comment on that.

Obviously, the AJC disagrees with the outcome of this doctrine since we ordain women. We don’t make a detailed theological statement about why that’s OK – because it’s obviously OK. That’s it’s OK is so obvious that it’s been necessary, as women have been progressively freed from limiting assumptions about their social roles and capacities, for the traditionalist churches to attempt to erect a detailed theological position to the contrary.

However, if a member of my community was to put this position to me, I would – very politely – suggest that it’s an incredibly silly misunderstanding erected primarily to maintain a ridiculous prejudice and dress it up as tradition.

In my personal view, the second person of the Trinity (the Logos, if you like) became one with human nature itself. This is good news! We historically venerate Jesus as having fully realised and shown the truth of this union and for teaching this good news. We acknowledge the completeness of his realisation with the title, “Christ”. And we both commemorate and invoke this in the Eucharist, making it also present amongst the people in this contemporary moment.

That this is a union of natures to me must mean that “taking on the mind of Christ” is a potential reality for any human being. This is the end point of the journey – Union – in our shared tradition which, everyone acknowledges, is fully possible for both women and men. Otherwise, St Teresa, to choose one well-known example, would be a mere fraud.

To say that only a man can act “in persona Christi” (note: not in the person of Jesus), is to suggest that women are somehow not human in the same sense as men. Or that men and women have different essential natures. To me, that’s patent nonsense.

Obviously, my view must be insane, since it’s at odds with the teaching of the Sees of Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria. So you should pay me no mind at all and go about your business.

Failing to admit women to the priesthood is a social norm, not a theological position. Hustling to erect wobbly theology to shore up a failing norm diminishes all of us.

Practice for All Souls Day

A collaboration between Ramon Szeitszam and Bishop Tim Mansfield.

As we come to the end of October, most people’s attention is on the candy and costume festival known as Halloween.

Like most popular, modern holidays, Halloween is a blend of an ancient pagan festival (in this case Celtic Samhain), a medieval church holy day and a liberal dash of 20th-century commercialism. Quite how much of each and where one begins and the others end is a matter of debate.

Continue reading Practice for All Souls Day

Temple Talk

Over the last few months, stimulated by a talk I gave in Boston, an intrepid group of explorers have gathered in an online video chat to explore the details and implications of Margaret Barker’s Temple Hypothesis.

Over a series of conversations, we ranged over a pretty vast range of topics, from the details of Dr Barker’s theory, connections between the NHL material and the First Temple, implications for liturgical practice, connections to the Desert traditions and monasticism, connections between the First Temple and Egyptian ascent ritual and further back to prehistory and the mythology of ancient peoples (which Gordon White explores deeply in “Star.Ships”).

Continue reading Temple Talk

Be What You See

I grew up an Anglican and for years I received communion with the words, “The body of Christ keep you in eternal life.” Others might be more familiar with the shorter form “The body of Christ”.

One of the ear-catching things (and there are quite a few) when you first receive communion in the AJC is the words,

“Be what you see, receive what you are.”

They’re powerful, profound words and they deserve a thorough chewing and some deep rumination. I’m still digesting them after ten years.

It tends to surprise most people to discover that St Augustine, that nasty, old, Original-Sin-defining, crypto-Manichean, is the author of those words.

Estote quod videtis, et accipite quod estis.

They’re from a sermon he delivered at Pentecost in about 408CE. It’s quite a profound meditation on the symbols of Bread and Wine – how both are single things which are made from many… many grains, many grapes. There’s a lot of 1 Corinthians – the Body of Christ and its members.

They’re also a pun, apparently.

“The Latin verbs esse (to be) and edere (to eat – in its elided form) conjugate with very similar forms in some specific combinations of person, tense, and mood. Estote (imperative) can mean “become” or “eat”. Estis (present indicative) can mean “you are” or “you eat”. Both meanings are simultaneously present in the Latin, and are given force by their association with the bread of the Eucharist. The bread of the Eucharist, which you see and eat, is the body of Christ, which you also become and are, and when you receive and accept it, you eat what you are – the body of Christ.”

Parish of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto

… apparently they use a different translation, which is also lovely,

Behold what you are; become what you receive.

It’s not a long sermon and it’s worth reading (here’s a nice translation that’s more readably formatted than most).

Augustine is talking about unity, about peace and forgiveness and about the integrity of living your confession. But what creeps through in his tumble of metaphors reminds me forcibly of Christ’s perichoresis prayer from John 17:21,

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”

Perhaps those words at communion when I was a teenage Anglican and the words I now say myself are not so terribly different. For surely this is zōēn aiōnion – life eternal – that we are perfected in the One.

So may you be what you see
And may you receive what you are
And may the Body and Blood of Christ
Keep you in the Life Eternal
Amen.

An Exploration of Love

For Saint Valentinus Day, I led an online workshop about the many meanings of love in spiritual life – hosted by St Teresa of Avila Gnostic Community in Brisbane. Click the image at the bottom to get to the recording on their YouTube channel.

It’s now also available as audio-only on The Lectern podcast.

In our tradition, we use February 14 to remember one of the most significant figures of early Christian gnosticism – Valentinus. His teaching was so influential, it let to a whole school in early Christianity with its own scriptures (like the Gospel of Philip) and several other influential teachers.

One of the central themes in Valentinian teaching is love – not cool, charitable compassion – passionate, erotic, human love as a central symbolic reflection of spiritual life. This theme echoes through countless saints over the last two thousand years.

So, on Sunday (a few days after Valentine’s Day), I’m hosting an online discussion about love and the spiritual journey. Why is it such a significant theme? What are its dimensions? What does it mean to you?

(Click the image to get to the YouTube recording)

Gnosis and the Body

Talk Gnosis asked me back to talk with Father Tony Silvia and Jonathan Stewart about how our body (maybe bodies) play a role in spiritual life. It’s a fun, open, exploratory conversation and we cover a lot of ground. Mr Stewart wrote a blog post summing the whole thing up, if you’d rather read than listen.

In part one of our four part conversation about bodily Gnosis with Bishop Timothy Mansfield we compare the concepts of the body, the mind, the self, the brain, the heart, the soul, and the spirit. Phew! What a complex topic. We discuss these subjects through the lenses of Gnosticism, the kabbalah, and eastern religions. How did the ancient Gnostics view the body and the material world? What were the Valentinians really talking about when they divided humanity up into three types? Then we close things out by exploring how the body and the mind experience meditation, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your spiritual practices.

Part 2 of 4 finds us once again with Bishop Timothy Mansfield of the Apostolic Johannite Church discussing some bodily Gnosis. How do awareness and meditation techniques apply to the body? How did a 17th century fringe Christian theology called Jansenism have a profound impact on the development of world religions? The body and the passions are blamed for a lot wrong with the world, but are we really meatbag automata incapable of controlling our thoughts and actions? How can asceticism help us to grow spiritually?

Part 3 of 4 of our bodily Gnosis conversation with Bishop Timothy Mansfield crosses the thin barrier between psychology and spirituality, addressing the very real problem of spiritual materialism, or how people use the trappings of spirituality to stroke their egos. We give some suggestions for some spiritual practices you can do with the body in mind, and we wrap things up with a discussion on queer issues in Gnosticism.

The fourth and final part of our talk with Bishop Timothy Mansfield about bodily Gnosis delves into some esoteric anatomy and some spiritual practices that relate to it. Where do the emotions actually reside? How do we experience the emotions energetically? And we put to bed the discussion of reincarnation once and for all.

 

Talk Gnosis is an amazing show from Gnostic Wisdom Network. You can check out their web site here and if you want to support them, they’re on Patreon here.

A little Gospel of Thomas

Back on Talk Gnosis to chat with Deacon John Digilio and Father Tony Silvia about three sayings from the Gospel of Thomas – logia 25-27.

25. Jesus said, “Love your friends like your own soul, protect them like the pupil of your eye.”

26. Jesus said, “You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend’s eye.”

27. “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the (Father’s) kingdom. If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father.”

Talk Gnosis is an amazing show from Gnostic Wisdom Network. You can check out their web site here and if you want to support them, they’re on Patreon here.