I have noticed lately an uptick in chatter about women deacons, deaconettes, deaconesses, whatever. There was a conference at Fordham recently at which speakers (read: promoters) blew past the obvious problems of our lack of certainty about what ordination may have meant for women in the ancient Church, etc., and the fact that Lumen gentium definitively identifies diaconate, with priesthood and episcopacy, as a grade of Holy Orders (reserved to men), and also made assertions about how deaconettes would be accepted in parishes, etc.
Essentially, promoters of women’s ordination, even to the diaconate, comes down to this:
Maybe we don’t know some essential points about ancient deaconettes, but we want them now because they could be useful for ministry today.
This is a deadly trap.
However, there is a brilliant response to the trap available at this month’s number (Jan/Feb 2019 – Vol. 32, No. 1) of Touchstone James A. Altena. This superb article is a must read for anyone even slightly interested in the issue of women’s ordination to any of the three grades of Holy Orders.
Sex, Women’s Ordination and the Rejection of Hierarchy and Equality.
The author lays down the “irreducible theological connection between women’s ordination and ethical normalization of homosexuality.”
The article slays women’s ordination. The fact that Altena writes from an Anglican perspective makes no difference whatsoever for the inescapable logic of his conclusions.
The writer, James A. Altena, carefully sets forth his argument, to which in a single blog post I can hardly do justice.
He begins by showing how the Trinity is a hierarchy of equal persons. Equality and hierarchy do not conflict. Man (human beings), as God’s images, reflect in his relationships both equality and hierarchy. The ease of harmony of human equality and hierarchy was marred in the Fall. Maleness and femaleness reflect equality and hierarchy.
The relationship of man to woman, who signify in living forms the divinely created principles of male and female that in turn manifest the divine triune relations of hierarchy and equality, is one such unalterable symbolic relation, because it signifies the relation of Christ to his Church. It is in the Church that the principles of the Incarnation – God made man – and of man and woman – complimentary persons made in the image and likeness of God – are brought together.
As Paul states,
the relation of Christ to his Church, and hence of male to female within it, is that headship and submission, in short, one of hierarchy…. And yet St. Paul also states that in the Church the salvific relation between its members, conferred by baptism, is neither male nor female… in short, is one of equality. Both principles… are fully present and operative in the Church, and when rightly understood and applied, they cannot contradict each other.
Thus, the hierarchic relation of male headship to female submission cannot be one of dominance to subjugation that violates the principle of salvific equality, and the relation of equality cannot be one of undifferentiated egalitarianism that denies the principle of hierarchic relation. Instead, as reflective of the ordered relations within the Trinity, the relation of headship to subjection, of male to female, is one of service and response – of self-sacrificial service by the head in union with the consenting and enabling cooperation and support of the subject, each selflessly seeking the greatest good of the other.
From here, Altena moves into examining ordained ministry as a sign of the Church. As you might guess, ordained ministry, too, “embodies and manifests the principles of hierarchy and equality, and of headship and submission within hierarchy”. Note the use of “sign”, which is a theological principle.
[T]he ordained minister does not just do things…. Rather, and far more importantly, he is something – a living sign, an ‘icon’ or ‘image’ of Christ to the Church, just as Christ as the Incarnate Son is the divinely given image of God to man (Heb 1:3), and the husband is the image of God to his wife and children in marriage and the family.
Then Altena moves into an important distinction between what he calls essentialism and functionalism. Everything has an essential principle which makes it what it is, which orders its relations, goals and ends. However, there is a modern, secular concept of functionalism,
“which denies the existence of any such inherent and irreducible essence, and hence of any intrinsic ontological or teleological character to things. Instead, it asserts that a thing is nothing more than the sum of its parts and capacities for action or uses at a given moment, a particular collection of accidents which man chooses to conceptualize as a unity and to assign a name to.
Dear readers, I am harshly compressing Altena’s carefully argued article into a quick outline. Do not assume that there are not well-argued connections and foundations for all of these moves. However, you can see where he is going, even with my rough sketch.
Stepping away from Altena for a moment, the promoters of women’s ordination deny this hierarchal dimension when in comes to male and female. They don’t like the “iconic” argument, that males reflect the male Christ in ordained ministry and maleness is necessary. They say that women are also icons of Christ. Sure they are! In the salvific dimension of equality. But the way God has it set up, as revealed in the Trinity, equality can’t be considered alone. There is also hierarchy, an ordering of headship and submission, in the Trinity, in nature, in the Church, in ministry.
Proponents of women deacons refer to how “useful” they would be. This is a functionalist argument that does not account for what Altena calls essentialism. The idea is this. If ministry is a function, a job, in the Church, then anyone qualified should able to fulfill it because all in the Church, men and women, are equal. Some men who are ordained can barely put three coherent sentences together in the pulpit and some women are brilliant orators and scholars. Why shouldn’t they be ordained? That reduces ministry to a function. That’s a trap.
Going back to Altena, you can see where he is going with the connection between those who promote women’s ordination (to any grade of order) and those who promote sodomy. If sex is just a detail, then why shouldn’t men have sex with men?
When it comes to promotion of women’s ordination and of homosexuality
both positions deny or reject essentialism in favor of functionalism. Apologists for sodomy deny that there his any underlying significance or purpose to sexual relations as essentially procreative and unitive, which naturally constitutes them and orders their use to those specific ends. Rather, since they they can be conceived of and use (physical and emotional pleasure), these become [pace James Martin!] ends in themselves, and the means to them is asserted to be ‘natural’ in a reductionist sense.
Likewise, apologists for women’s ordination deny that there is any underlying significance of purpose to the ordained ministry as essentially hierarchical and authoritative, which naturally constitutes it and orders its use to that specific end. Rather, since it can be conceived of and used functionally to obtain other desired results (e.g., pastoral care, Bible study, church administration, etc.), these become [pace Phyllis Zagano, Fr. Pottier, etc.] ends in themselves, and the means to them is asserted to be ‘natural’ in a reductionist sense.
Second, both sets of apologists deny or reject the Christian belief in divine signs, symbols, and signification. For both, there is no belief that created things – whether sexual relations or the ordained ministry – are divinely constituted with any essential power or meaning to signify and point beyond themselves to revealed, eternal divine verities. Instead, all symbols are purely human concepts which may be created, altered, and discarded at will, since their signifying power and meaning are determined by man (not God) to satisfy human desires and needs.
Altena keeps arguing through eight different points with two more quickly mentioned. One of them, point eight, mentions a long-time reader of this blog…
Eighth and last, the final fruit of support for both women’s ordination and “sanctified sodomy” (to borrow William Tighe’s term) is the fundamental inversion of divine human relations. Both the ability and the asserted right to take as a sexual partner a member of one’s own sex, or to ordain as a minister a woman rather than a man, presume that it is man and not God who sets the terms. As with inclusive language – the assertion of the right to name God as man desires rather than as God reveals – these are (as with all acts of disobedience) ultimately acts of idolatrous self-worship that seek to conform God to the image of and likeness of fallen man.
Do you hear the cosmic echo of the Fall of man? Remember the lie of the serpent? “Did God really tell you that? You shall be as gods!”
Altena goes on to shoot down the counter-arguments, which I won’t summarize here. You should get that article. But if you have followed this, you can hear anticipate them: there is a priesthood of all believers… ministry is a job, a function… ministry shouldn’t reflect any sort of hierarchy…etc.
Altena shows in his superbly argued article – 9 densely argued pages – that the same line of thought and desire underlying the defense of and promotion of sodomy undergirds the promotion of women’s ordination. And that applies to ordination all grades of Holy Orders. The fact that Altena writes from an Anglican perspective makes no difference whatsoever for the inescapable logic of his conclusions.