Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Thank God for the laity
Today, the Church of England rejected the women bishops measure in its General Synod. It passed with the required two-thirds majority in the house of bishops and in the house of clergy, but fell six votes short in the house of laity. All three houses needed to concur for passage. It will not come up for a final vote again for another five years.
This post is not really about the ordination of women, per se. But to explain briefly why this is important, sacraments are visible signs of invisible grace and "sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." That certainty is guaranteed by an unfailing use of the same matter, form, intention, and minister (see the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral). By changing the matter and/or minister, the surety and certainty of sacramental grace is no longer guaranteed. If the validity of a priestly ordination is in question, the all the sacraments they administer (save baptism) are in question. The significance of having women bishops as opposed to just women priests is that you can't just go by whether the person in a collar is a man or a woman, you have to know who ordained that person and who ordained that bishop, and who ordained that bishop, and so on.
It is significant that this vote occurred today, on the feast of St. Edmund the Martyr. He was a boy king in ninth century England. Danish armies invaded in 870, burning monasteries and churches, plundering villages, and killing hundreds. Upon reaching East Anglia, the Danish leaders offered Edmund a share of their plundered treasure if he would continue as a figurehead king by acknowledging their supremacy and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Wealth, security for his people, a royal throne--and all he had to do was stop practicing the Christian faith. Edmund's bishops urged him to accept the deal. But Edmund refused.
This 29 year old young man gathered his small army and bravely fought the Danish invaders. Predictably, he was captured. He was also tortured in hopes that he would renounce Christ and the faith. He did not. All the bishops urged him to, but this layman said, "No!" He was then shot through with arrows and beheaded for the cause of Christ on this day 1142 years ago.
Thank God for the laity. This wasn't the first time that the laity have saved the day when the clergy failed. If it weren't for the laity, the church would have long ago become Gnostic or Arian or who knows what. St. Edmund the Martyr, pray for us.