Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part III — Part I can be found here, Part II here.
St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) can provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community.
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.
“This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” The proper matter for the sacrament is “flesh,” not “maleness.” Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who became incarnate and abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial. None of the sacraments were instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.
Doctrinally, nothing essential (dogmatic) needs to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The TOB confirms that there is one (embodied) human nature, shows that men and women equally share in human personhood, and makes clear that the human body, male and female, is what makes Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine Person.
Jesus, born in a male body, nevertheless revealed a strong feminine spirit: gentle and compassionate, nurturing and affectionate, always concerned for the other. Scripture and the prayers of the Church refer to him as the Wisdom of God –a designation considered female in Scripture. In the beginning, John’s Gospel tells us, Wisdom/Spirit was with Logos, the Word. Wisdom and Logos encompass both masculine and feminine attributes of God. To the question in Job (38:29) “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” we answer Holy Wisdom, Mother of the universe. Henceforth, every living creature is knit together in, and comes forth from, a woman’s womb –divine image, likeness and activity. We have only to think of Julian of Norwich’s famous words: “A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself.”
Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of Ephesians 5 abundantly shows), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male.
To act “in persona Christi” means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are fully divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act “in persona Christi.” All ministries, including ordained ministries, should be gift-based, not gender-based.
The blood and water flowing from a woman in childbirth commingles with the blood and water flowing from Jesus on the cross in one great act of birthing a new world, recalled vividly in every Eucharist when water is mixed with the wine/blood of Christ. Jesus was flesh of Mary’s flesh and blood of her blood, having grown in her body for nine months; at the crucifixion it was equally Mary’s flesh that was tortured and her blood that was spilt for our salvation.
St. Thomas Aquinas said, “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” Every woman knows intimately, even if she is not a biological mother, her God-given potential to transform ordinary food and drink into the body and blood of a new human being. In every conception and birth God’s great incarnation and Eucharistic work is revealed in and through a woman.
But in the spiritual realm, all priests male and female are in the business of birthing. We learn from Jesus that we have to be reborn into our new lives in Christ. The priest has a recognized role as midwife in bringing others into new life and caring for them as they mature in faith. The female priest at the altar visibly and audibly signifies the feminine, the maternal, with all the symbolism and associations around creation and procreation, birthing and caring. These are all associated with the life-giving, nurturing God, but which are given particular resonance when borne in the body of a female priest. The symbolism comes to full bloom in a priesthood of both sexes, thereby manifesting in greater expression the very essence of JP II’s Theology of the Body, which is the sacramentality of the human body as manifested in both male and female bodies, both capable especially together of making God visible—tangible—audible—present! (Green, pg. 47-52)our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds.
To be continued …
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