Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bishop Schori on theological issues

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In reading Bishop Schori's biography, I noted that she served for a short time as Dean of the Good Samaritan School of Theology in Oregon and as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Oregon State University. This is in addition to her former career as a scientist. Certainly, I thought, we were getting an intelligent Presiding Bishop (whatever her take on church controversies) who would be able to speak theologically with other Anglican leaders.

Then I listened to her first press conference after being elected Presiding Bishop. She had to field a number of tough questions from the press. George Conger from The Living Church asked her about the appeal from Fort Worth (and now others) for "alternative primatial oversight" and asked, "What are the theological underpinnings you see at play?" And her response was, as reported by The Living Church:

Speaking at a press conference after her election, Bishop Jefferts Schori said she "hoped to be able to deal" with requests "pastorally" from traditionalists not to act as chief consecrator of new bishops opposed to the ordination of women. She would also seek to respond theologically by addressing the "heresy of Donatism. The actor in a sacramental act, the validity of the sacramental act is not dependent on the holiness or qualities of the actor," she explained.

Wow! Was she just caught off guard and couldn't think of a theological answer? Was she so politically charged that she couldn't bear to address it and instead pastorally accuses traditionalists of heresy? Or is she just so clueless that she has no idea what theological issues are involved in the question of ordaining women?

Allow me to explain. The charge of Donatism is a common one. For those who may not be familiar, the Donatists (named after Donatus Magnus) were a sect in Northern Africa in the fourth century who did not recognize the validity of the sacraments celebrated by those clergy who compromised their faith and witness during the Diocletian persecution. The Donatists said those clergy had forsaken their moral right and power to function in the ministry by their immoral and traitorous betrayal of the faith and of their flocks. One could see their point, but the Church responded that their view was heretical, for Christ is the true minister of all the sacraments. St Augustine of Hippo articulated the true theological understanding that the grace or validity of the sacrament is not dependent upon the moral character of the celebrant (otherwise, how could we be certain of any sacramental grace).

However, this is totally irrelevant to the question of women's ordination (WO). The opponents of WO do not argue that women are too immoral to confect the sacraments, or that the bishops who ordained them were too treasonous to do so. The issue rather has to do with sacramental theology. Each sacrament ("an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means whereby we receive that grace") has two parts--matter and form. The matter is the "stuff" that is used (i.e., water, oil, bread and wine). The form is what is done with that "stuff" (i.e., immersion, prayers, etc). In two of the sacraments, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, the matter (the "stuff") is the people involved (i.e., the man being ordained and the man and woman being married).

Two General Conventions that took place in Minneapolis essentially made the same statement in this regard--that men and women are sacramentally interchangeable. That it doesn't matter if a man or woman is ordained. That it doesn't matter if a woman marries a woman, a man marries a man, or even if a woman marries a man. But is this God's plan? Certainly not as we see his will revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

In Holy Orders, the matter of the sacrament is a baptized man, because he is essentially being set apart by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the Lord's priestly ministry in the world by functioning as another Christ (sacerdos alter Christus). It is not a new issue for the Church to consider. St Thomas Aquinas deals with the question here in his Summa Theologica. Since Christ was male, "other Christs" must be male. For although there is no longer the separation of Jew and Gentile, male and female in the economy of salvation (see Galatians 3:28), male and female are still two unique and equally dignified ways of being human in the created order, and it is the sin of Adam (the head of the human race) which the second Adam (Christ) came to redeem and recapitulate.

It is a theological position that goes back to the beginning, that a woman cannot function as a true image of Christ the way a man can. Even before there was any priesthood, it was the fathers (the "patriarchs") who functioned as priests on behalf of their families. Women cannot be priests, but not because they are immoral or untalented. It is because they cannot be spiritual fathers. Thus, Gene Robinson truly is a bishop of the Catholic Church, whereas Katharine Schori is not. Even if she were (in God's providence) truly ordained, we could never know it. It is thus not "sacramental" since there can be nothing "sure and certain" about the sacraments celebrated by a priest who may or may not really be a priest at all.

If there is a heretical theology at work here, it is not on part of the opponents of WO. It would instead be on the part of those who insist that women must be ordained for theological reasons (and not for reasons of social equality championed in the Women's Moment). To insist theologically that women must be ordained in order to fully image the humanity of Christ is to really say that Jesus was in some androgynous. Ironically, this ends up being a denial of the full humanity of Christ, who was male. In that sacred manhood, there is no lack of humanness nor of a redemptive claim upon all humanity.

Bishop Schori also gave a fascinating interview on the Diane Rehm Show (who certainly does not have a voice for radio). But I didn't hear a lot of depth there either. A one point, her comments on the show likened the Bible's strong prohibitions against same-sex relationships to not mixing fabrics, by saying, "It comes from a different understanding about right order in the world." The same comment might also seem to apply to her view of the Bible's statements about apostolic ministry. And so they are just as easily dismissed.


Chris Coucheron-Aamot said...

I am missing something from St. Thomas' argument. His only non-analogous point is that women are not suitable matter for receiving the sacrament because they are in a state of subjection.

So, is this subjection because of the Fall, or is it cultural? If the latter, do they become eligible for reception in an egalitarian culture? I don't know the Summa well enough to know what he's talking about--most of my experience with it is with his philosophy of law.

I really don't like his reasoning on this, because it makes the priesthood about power and eminence of degree. I rather think that priests, if they truly are acting as 'Christs', are made lowlier than other men just as Our Lord was debased for our salvation. He empty Himself to the point of death on a cross--if priests are ikons of this humiliation, in what sense are they of eminent degree?

Anonymous said...

Regular listeners to NPR know that there is a well-known reason for the quality of Diane Rehm's voice, and a rather inspiring story, to say the least.

From her official biography: In 1998, Diane was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological condition that causes strained, difficult speech. After finding treatment, she wrote several articles and produced a program about the little-known disorder. The National Council on Communicative Disorders recognized her work with a Communication Award, and the Maryland Speech-Hearing-Language Association honored her with a Media Award. ABC's Nightline host Ted Koppel devoted an entire program to a conversation with Rehm about her disorder.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Very interesting about Diane Rehm. Thank you. I have heard her before, but never heard anything about her.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...


Good questions. First, the section of the Summa in question is the suppliment--the part that was finished by Thomas' students with material from his notes and other writings. If Thomas had finished this section himself, we might have a fuller treatment.

His reasoning does not take into account culture, but only the divine order and what is theologically possible.

In creation, the woman is subject to the man willingly and harmoniously. After the fall, the relationship becomes distorted. The orginal submission becomes more like forced servitude. The grace of redemption puts things back in order and balance.

One should not read an inequality between men and women into the created order. As Paul notes in 1 Cor 11:3, "I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." Remember that the Father and Son are co-equal and consubstantial.

Jon said...

I'm not sure Bishop Schori had Ft. Worth in mind when she made that comment about Donatism. If she did it, she is mistaken in so far as the opposition to WO is grounded in good theology. The Donatism comment is rather appropriate, however, for places like Pittsburg which believe in WO and only object to her theology. Believing objectionable theolgy doesn't directly impact the efficacy of the sacraments such a person provides.


Anonymous said...

The Donatist controversy was also primarily about the viability of sacraments after-the-fact - if, e.g., someone has been baptized by one who was found to be "impure" because of certain moral or theological principles, is the baptism still valid?

It would make sense, though, in cases where a celebrant's positions are known to be so divergent from one's core beliefs to question whether one belongs in hte same communion, to wish for a different celebrant. The resolution of the Donatist controversy made sense by loosening some of the more stringent claims of the apostolic succession regarding morality, but bolster the claims when it comes to acts of office. However, to appeal to Augustine's doctrine regarding the Donatists for a situation in which the theological tensions are well-known beforehand, and use it to negate claims of conscience, is to further weaken its spiritual sense and connection to actual lived moral life, and further stengthen the notion as an act of office. In doing so, the delicate balance is lost, and the act of office seems more like a mystical effect of something passed on by a magical heirarchy, so making Augustine's doctrine on Donatism seem rather ridiculous. The sacraments seem then to be disconnected from moral efficacy and more tied to the paraphernalia of vestments and incantations.

As for her being Dean of the Good Samaritan School of Thelogy, this is apparently what her church called their adult Sunday School programs, inquirer's classes, etc. which she managed - I'm guessing the activities mentioned in the church's "Learning Corner" page - there is no current mention in their personnel page of a Dean, but perhaps Bischop Schori felt this was the most appropriate title for the position she held. But it's probably not the same kind of position which comes to mind with this title. Bishop Schori questioned re. resumé