Monday, October 26, 2009

More Vicars of Dibley

The Washington Post rounded up some usual suspects to discuss the Vatican's latest salvo in its relationship with the Anglican Church. Included in them is George Weigel, who never found a George Bush policy that he didn't like. But anyway, Weigel applauds the Vatican's move on the ground that it creates a "moment of clarification" (which was always one of George Bush's favourite phrases when there was a war going on), specifically regarding the divergent positions of the two churches on the ordination of women --

The tensions were evident more than twenty years ago, in a historic exchange of letters among Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, and Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the veteran Dutch ecumenist then leading the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Pope and the cardinal asked Runcie to explain the reasoning that had led certain parts of the Anglican communion to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood. Runcie replied in largely sociological, rather than theological, terms, citing women's changing roles in business, culture, and politics.

So let's go read the actual Runcie letter --

The fundamental principle of the Christian economy of salvation-upon which there is no question of disagreement hetween Anglicans and Roman Catholics-is that the Eternal Word assumed our human flesh in order that through the Passion Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ this same humanity might be redeemed and taken up into the life of the Triune Godhead. In words common to both our liturgical traditions: ‘As he came to share in our humanity, so we may share in the life of his divinity.’

It is also common ground between us that the humanity taken by the Word, and now the risen and ascended humanity of the Lord of all creation, must be a humanity inclusive of women, if half the human race is to share in the Redemption he won for us on the Cross.

Some Anglicans would however then go on to point to the representative nature of the ministerial priesthood. They would argue that priestly character lies precisely in the fact that the priest is commissioned by the Church in ordination to represent the priestly nature of the whole body and also-especially in the presidency of the eucharist-to stand in a special sacramental relationship with Christ as High Priest in whom complete humanity is redeemed and who ever lives to make intercession for us at the right hand of the Father. Because the humanity of Christ our High Priest includes male and female, it is thus urged that the ministerial priesthood should now be opened to women in order the more perfectly to represent Christ’s inclusive High Priesthood.

This argument makes no judgment upon the past, but is strengthened today by the fact that the representational nature of the ministerial priesthood is actually weakened by a solely male priesthood, when exclusively male leadership has been largely surrendered in many human societies.

This is not a "sociological" argument. It's a doctrinal argument that Runcie said has only become more relevant because of sociology. And in fact, one could even argue that it's a fundamentally Catholic argument. If you're going to go to the trouble of creating a hierarchy of sacraments in terms of who is in a deeper relationship with God, then to maintain the claim of universality (or "catholicism", if you will), don't you have to open these sacraments to everybody?

For Weigel and more than a few of the neocon Catholics, it sometimes happens that the real Catholics aren't Catholic at all. For once, we agree!

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