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.