Sunday, November 11, 2007

Roman Catholic Women to be Ordained as Priests--- in St. Louis Synagogue!

O.K., I didn't see this one coming. I knew about the Womenpriests movement, a small number of Catholic women who have either ordained themselves or gotten themselves ordained (about 100 of them now worldwide, 37 in the U.S.), and I knew that the Pope had banned the first seven of these ordinands from the Catholic Church several years ago, but none sense (by which I do not mean 'nun sense' :). These women are tired of waiting for the Catholic Church to recognize the call of God on their lives and their gifts and graces. The article in the NY Times this morning tells us of two more '60 something' Catholic women pursuing ordination in a city that is a Catholic stronghold-- St. Louis. Here is the link----

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/us/11catholic.html?th&emc=th

What is unique and remarkable about this story is that these women sought out a female Jewish rabbi in a Reform synagogue for permission to have their ordination service in their sacred building, and the rabbi said yes. She knew the cost, and the cost is the severing of the good ecumenical relations she had had with the local Catholic Church heretofore. Yet in some ways this was a very appropriate place for such an ordination to transpire, since these womens' vision of ministry is right out of the Hebrew Bible-- they want to be priests, offering the sacrifice, in this case the sacrifice of the mass. Not surprisingly when Rabbi Susan Talve informed the Catholic office of ecumenical relations of this, she was told that it was unacceptable and violated Catholic theology and praxis.

What do I think about this? Well, several things. Firstly, I think it would have been better and wiser for these women to seek ordination through an appropriate channel such as one of the many Protestant denominations that ordain women. But I suspect they did not see this as an option since they are Catholic through and through.

The problem in this case, in my view, is actually generated by the Catholic theology of Christian ministry, which I find inconsistent with what the NT says about ministers. If one has an overwhelmingly OT vision of ministry, informed largely by Leviticus, then it is understandable that one would argue-- 'ministry involves priesthood, in the OT only men could be priests, ergo, no women can be ordained to such a post'. I understand this logic perfectly well, my problem is that it is a logic grounded in the old covenant, and not in the new covenant where we have a very different vision and praxis of ministry.

For one thing, in the NT ministers are not priests offering sacrifices, and they are not called priests. The only priesthood in the NT is the high priesthood of Christ in heaven (see Hebrews) which is said to eclipse and make obsolescent all OT priesthoods, including the Levitical one. It is hard to escape that this is the core message of the discourse found in Heb. 3-10. The only other priesthood mentioned in the NT is the priesthood of all believers (see 1 Peter), and I do mean all believers. What Peter is talking about there is that all Christians have an obligation to intercede for others and to offer true worship to God, and as Paul was to say, to present themselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12). What Peter is not talking about is a class of clergy between Christ the high priest and us, the laity. In fact the whole clergy--laity distinction is not found in the NT. The LAOS is the whole people of God, whether they are ministers or not. There is a sense then in which we are all laity, and we are all priests. What the NT does not authorize is a new class of priests, much less an all male priesthood to lead the Christian flocks.

In the NT, what determines who can minister is whether one is called, gifted and graced to do some ministerial task, and whether the church has recognized those gifts in the person or not, and so laid hands on them. Mainly the NT talks about elders and deacons, and it certainly talks about female deacons, for example Phoebe in Rom. 16. It also talks about women prophetesses, and women apostles, but that is a story for another day. So, part of the problem here in my view is a failure of the Catholic Church to have an adequately New Testamental theology of ministry.

Read the story, and see what you think. I must admit that my heart is mostly on the side of these women, though I wish they had pursued ordination through more legitimate channels.

------

In a related story, authorization has been given from the Vatican for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass once more, something that caused various French Catholics priests to lose their orders after Vatican II because they refused to stop using this ritual. This of course demonstrates that the Vatican is perfectly capable of changing its praxis, and the way the Mass is celebrated, if it wants to do so. The link for the story is below. What is of interest to me is that in a post-modern situation, the Catholic authorities have recognized the interest in and love for more 'mystery' in worship especially among the young, and presumably this is one reason why this practice has again been authorized.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/10/us/10latin.html?th&emc=th

62 comments:

Aelfwine said...

These women are certainly not "Catholic through and through", as you put it. Being Catholic means, inter alia, accepting and respecting the Christ-constituted authority of the Church and its Magisterium. By rejecting this authority in so flagrant a manner, these women have set themselves outside the Church.

Furthermore, the theology and praxis of Catholic priesthood is not "an overwhelmingly OT vision of ministry"; it is, rather, founded on the model of Christ Himself, who is the Eternal High Priest, and on His Apostles, whom He commanded to "do this in memory of Me".

All of this is clearly explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which ought really to be consulted before one presumes to present Catholic teaching.

Ben Witherington said...

Howdy Aelfwine:

I am well aware of what the Catholic Catechism and Magesterium teaches on this and of course the problem is that Christ is NOT the model of Christian ministry in the sense you are suggesting. His sacrifice and priesthood is unique, and unrepeatable, as Hebrews makes clear. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not the Levitical priesthood, and that is a 'forever priesthood' Christ assumes, which he cannot and does not pass on to anyone else. Only he can perform it, and no one else needs to, nor can imitate it. As the author of Hebrews says 'it is once for all time'.

Christ did not command priests in the OT tradition to 'do this in memory of me', and if you read 1 Cor. 11 it is perfectly clear that non-apostles are practicing the Lord's Supper in homes in Corinth. One didn't need to be a male or an apostle to share communion with someone (see my book Making a Meal of It).

In other words, the Catholic teaching on this matter is not well grounded in either the teaching of the NT, or in early Christian practice during the NT era. Consider, for another early Christian source, what the Didache teaches and bears witness to on this matter.

And as for these women setting themselves outside the church, is any Catholic who disagrees with Catholic practice or tradition automatically outside the Catholic Church? I don't think so. This is a decision for the Pope and the Cardinals to make, not you or me.

The real irony of your comments is that Catholic theology has come to accept what Luther said in the first place at beginning of the Reformation about justification by grace through faith. Of course this was deemed heresy originally and a basis for expulsion because it opposed the theology of penance and indulgences. Maybe someday the Catholic Church will also realize, on further review that it needs to reform its theology of ministry as well. I certainly hope so.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Aelfwine said...

You ask whether "any Catholic who disagrees with Catholic practice or tradition automatically outside the Catholic Church?" Of course not. But some Catholics who disagree flagrantly enough, obstinately enough, and about matters of sufficient gravity, can and do incur automatic excommunication. These women disagree with a fundamental doctrine of the Church, and have now rejected Church authority in about as public and flagrant a manner as possible.

As for the rest: I understand your interpretation of the New Testament and of Church history. I am however not convinced by it. For example, my reading of the history and writings of the the Didache, the Apostolic Fathers, and other early witnesses to Church theology and praxis, including of the Priesthood, is quite at odds with your depiction of the early character of the Church, Further, to say (in essence) that the Catholic Church has accepted Luther's views over against penance and indulgences, betrays a dim understanding of what Catholic teaching was then and (still) is now (see Scott Hahn's excellent book The Salvation Controversy for a succinct, charitable, and informed overview of both "sides" of this matter).

In any event, though, the fundamental point is that I, unlike these women, choose to accept the authority of the Christ-constituted Church and its Magisterium, and so to accept its interpretation of Holy Scripture, and of history, as formed and guided through the millennia by the Paraclete, which carries with me far more weight than the dissenting interpretation of any individual, even myself, could ever possibly have. This is what makes one truly "Catholic through and through".

Moreover, history -- from the earliest Gnostic heresies through to this present case -- has shown that to do otherwise inevitably results in multiform "churches" that look more and more like any other human institution, more and more characterized by compromise, expedience, self-regard, and loss of conviction, and less and less like the unified Body of Christ on Earth calling us to "be Holy as My Father is Holy".

Aelfwine said...

I would also like to clarify that the "Tridentine Latin Mass" was never abrogated, and was never entirely forbidden: various dioceses and constituted organizations of religious have always been authorized to say this Mass.

Which leads to the correction of the false impression given by the statement that "various French Catholics priests [lost] their orders after Vatican II because they refused to stop using this ritual". The Society of Saint Pius X (a.k.a. "Lefebvrists" after their founder) set themselves in schism with the Church not because they continued to say the "Tridentine Mass", but because Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the approval of the Holy See, which he did because he refused to recognize the authority of the Popes elected after Vatican II.

Which brings us right back to the present case of the "womenpriests", from the opposite end of the spectrum!

Aelfwine said...

Oops! The Salvation Controversy is, of course by Jimmy Akin (not Scott Hahn as I mistakenly typed).

Ben Witherington said...

This is an interesting discussion--


So let's be clear. Jesus did not found the Catholic denomination any more than he founded the Coptic denomination, probably an even earlier particular expression of Christianity.

Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews, and the Greek of the relevant Matthean text is clear enough-- it reads 'and on this shelf of rocks I will build my community'. This means Peter and others of like profession.

Furthermore, when Paul writes Romans there is no Peter there in A.D. 57, and the church has been going for a long time. Nor do we have any historical evidence Peter was the first pope, for that matter. As 1 Peter makes clear enough, he is an elder and an apostle, and there are others of like office.

Scott Hahn is reasonably irenic--- for a zealous convert to Catholicism from Protestantism!

So we must disagree :1) on the interpretation of the NT, which is the most crucial bit: 2) on your interpretation of church history. There was no Roman Catholic Church as we know it before about the fifth century A.D.; 3) if memory serves, Priest L. of France was first anathematized for continuing to practice the Latin mass, well before the ordinations.

Blessings,

Ben W.

PamBG said...

I have lots of mixed feeling about this too. Like aelfwine, I thought that the Roman Catholic argument was that a woman cannot, by virture of her gender, stand in persona Christi. Like Ben, I do not believe that this is what New Testament ministry is about.

I studied theology at a Roman Catholic university in the 1970s when I received my BA. Since then, I have become a Methodist minister late in life and my best friend at university has her M.Div., but as a Roman Catholic, cannot pursue ordained ministry. I see in her and in many other Roman Catholic women the call to what I consider a 'presbyteral' ministry (irrespective of the RC church's definitions).

I know that many of my Roman Catholic sisters can no more become Protestant than I can become Catholic. As Ben says, they are Roman Catholics through and through.

I have to say, though, that I applaud the Rabbi and her Board for their courage in standing up for what they believe to be right.

Being a white woman really does not make one an outsider these days, but I had enough of being told as a child that there was something ontologically inferior about me before God vis-a-vis the ontology of a man to know a bit about discrimination. I think that there have to be some people in life who push the boundaries. I'm sure Womenpriests will continue to be a marginal group in our lifetime, but I admire their chutzpah.

Aelfwine said...

My purpose here is certainly not to stage an apologetic for Catholicism, so I will have to simply state that it is quite obvious that we differ in interpretation in the matters you list, and in obvious ways (after all, I'm Catholic, and you're not!). So be it. My purpose was, and is, rather to question the characterization of these "womenpriests" as "Catholic through and through", which hinges on the definition of "being Catholic", not on your or my or even their interpretation of Scripture and history.

I must however ask about your apparent claim that Gk. πέτρα in Matt. 16:18 means "a shelf of rocks", as a plurality of foundation material that you seem to imply dilutes and distributes the Petrine authority. This is a different interpretation from that of every reference I have consulted (Accordance is wonderful!), which instead agree that πέτρα is a singular noun meaning "a rock" or "a shelf of rock" (i.e. "made of rock") or "a mass of rock", which is not quite the same as "a shelf of rocks". Indeed, Liddell and Scott clarify that "Properly, πέτρα is a fixed rock, πέτρος a stone".

In any event, Jesus specifically calls Peter -- and Peter alone (σὺ εἶ "you are") -- both "(The) Rock" (πέτρος, masculine form) and "this rock" (ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ) -- or "this shelf of rock" or "this mass of rock" (or even "this shelf of rocks", as you translate it). Notice that all the attributive words used (personal pronoun, verb, proper name, demonstrative pronoun, article, noun) are formally singular. There is thus no hint in any of this that Jesus is speaking to or about anyone but Peter.

Aelfwine said...

The issue here is not whether these "womenpriests" are "standing up for what they believe to be right". Clearly that is what they are doing. The issue is whether having done so they can reasonably be called "Catholic through and through" (or frankly, even just "Catholic", without the intensifiers), since they reject a fundamental doctrine, and thus the authority, of the Catholic Church.

The Church is not a democracy: its authority and doctrines are not subject to vote. And neither is it a tyranny: anyone (including the "womenpriests") is free to choose to accept the authority of the Church and its teachings, or to choose to reject them. But one cannot choose to do the latter (and so flagrantly and obstinately) and still remain a Catholic in any meaningful sense, any more than one can reject the authority and teachings of Christ and remain a Christian in any meaningful sense.

Ben Witherington said...

Aelwine:

Jesus, did not speak these words in Greek, he spoke in Aramaic, and the Aramaic original would make very evident that we are not dealing with a single boulder! But even in the Greek it is reasonably clear. See my Matthew commentary.

I must say that this whole approach to Catholic authority, which supercedes Biblical authority, not merely adding to it in ways that the Bible suggests, is not even warranted on Catholic terms.

Perhaps you know your Catholic history well enough to know there have been various times when the leadership of the Catholic Church has asserted a variety of things, that it later had to take back, modify, or even outright reject.

Why? Because on further review it involved a bad misinterpretation of the Bible and early Christian tradition. A good example of this would be the various anti-Semitic teachings and assertions of several medieval Popes.

Why is this important? Because it shows that not only are these authorities not infallible, there teachings have been subject to subsequent correction-- by the subsequent church leaders.

What this in fact means de facto is that in matters of faith and practice the finally authority is God, and his Word, and that at times it is necessary for good Catholics to challenge bad rulings by the church-- and they should do so.

I am married to a woman who grew up a New England Roman Catholic, part of a devout Catholic family, a woman who went through 16 years of parochial education both pre- and post- Vatican II.

Vatican II was a water shed event, and it involved some serious breaks with the past, which cannot be denied.

I will hope that the Catholic Church will continue to reform itself, as all Christians and denominations must do, and in the mean time, I will say one more time--- there is nothing 'unCatholic in the true sense of word' or unBiblical about those women pursuing their calling, and longing to remain faithful to their church.

To say otherwise is to forget entirely that neither Catholic tradition nor its praxis has been written in stone-- it is always evolving and changing.

Blessings,

Ben W.

PamBG said...

The issue here is not whether these "womenpriests" are "standing up for what they believe to be right". Clearly that is what they are doing. The issue is whether having done so they can reasonably be called "Catholic through and through" (or frankly, even just "Catholic", without the intensifiers), since they reject a fundamental doctrine, and thus the authority, of the Catholic Church.

Since I'm a Protestant, you might infer that I do not agree with your views of what 'the Church' constitutes.

I'm hardly surprised by your statement. What's more interesting to me is why a Protestant who supports the concept of women in ordained ministry should wish that these women should have stayed within the confines of the Catholic Church or left.

Aelfwine said...

Ben, you write: "I must say that this whole approach to Catholic authority, which supercedes Biblical authority, not merely adding to it in ways that the Bible suggests, is not even warranted on Catholic terms."

I would have to say the same thing. I certainly do not view Catholic authority as "superseding" Biblical authority. In fact, I see the whole notion that these are two separate authorities (of whatever relation to one another) as unfounded. It is certainly a notion that I find no support for in Scripture itself. But again, this is tending towards apologetic, which as I said is not my purpose here. (I did however have to reject the notion attributed to me here.)

Yes, of course I know that Jesus did was not speaking in Greek. But since Scripture reports his words to us in Greek, that is all we have to go on as a sure basis for discussion. One can infer what Jesus might have said in Aramaic, but that must remain an inference, the bases of which are the Greek text we actually have and our (indirect) knowledge of and theories about the language of the time and place in which Jesus lived and spoke.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Pam:

My wish is that these women get to do effective ministry somewhere. In a perfect world, it would be better if the Catholic Church allowed them to do it, so they could stay in the tradition that they love, and serve the Lord. But, since this is not happening de jure, I suppose it would be better for them to go elsewhere if they actually want to practice ministry unencumbered. I do know of some Catholic churches where women are actually allowed to serve communion, and I was pleased with the recent relaxing of some of the restrictions on some worship rules in the Catholic Church, but clearly for these two 60 year old women, change, if it comes, will come too late.

Blessings,

Ben

K.W. Leslie said...

Ben: Funny; I just commented on this very issue recently (in response an article on a womenpriest in Santa Cruz). Seems the issue is getting some traction.

Since you don't believe the priesthood continued in any way other than through Christ alone, I'd like to know how you understand Revelation 1.5-6, "To Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever."

Ben Witherington said...

Howdy Brother Leslie: What I said was that there are only two priesthoods in the NT, the high priesthood of Christ, and the priesthood of all believers. The Revelation text refers to the latter, as does the discussion in 1 Peter, both of which are citing or alluding to the same OT text. This has nothing to do with a clerical class called priests.

Blessings,

Ben W.

K.W. Leslie said...

Ah, my mistake -- I must've skimmed past that whole paragraph you had on the very subject. Shows what happens when I try to speed-read. Thanks.

preacherman said...

Ben,
Do you think it will be to long before the restoration movement will follow?

crystal said...

Interesting discussion. I just wanted to mention, as a Catholic, that not all of us agree with Aelfwine. The Church has changed its mind about a number of things over the centuries and I think women's ordination will be accepted eventually.

Michael Gilley said...

Ben, I was just wondering how you got the Aramaic from which the Greek came from. I believe I remember hearing that a certain Matthew Black had translated the sayings of Jesus and/or the entire gospels into what would have been the original oral Jesus Traditions in Aramaic and came up with some very interesting insights to semitisms and the like, however I'm not sure if I got that right. Just curious to your process.

Grace to you!

Michael

JoAnna said...

As a Catholic convert, I would have to disagree with you, Crystal. There are no doctrinal issues upon which the Church has "changed its mind." There are certainly areas of DISCIPLINE where Church teaching has changed or evolved, but its doctrinal teachings have remained, in essence, the same. The fact is that, according to Catholic doctrine, women can no more be priests than men can become pregnant and give birth.

And if you disagree with this stance, it means that you do not respect or believe in the authority of the Catholic Church or its ability to teach truth... which would, essentially, mean that you're a Protestant. No insult intended; that's the plain truth of it.

Rev Tony B said...

It is clear that these women have seriously breached Roman Catholic discipline. That justifies the Roman catholic Church in considering them to have excluded themselves from its ranks. Whether that justifies anyone is saying they are not Catholic (as opposed to Roman catholic) is another issue.

In the UK, it is not uncommon for Anglo-Catholics to define themselves simply as "Catholic." I was present in a clergy fraternal in which a Roman Catholic priest berated his Anglican colleagues for playing at being Catholic - if they wanted to b Catholic, he said, they should do it properly and accept the authority of the Pope.

Rome is not the only Catholic church in the world. There are others which have the same understanding of priesthood and sacrament, but for various reasons (usually historic) do not accept the authority of Rome. Perhaps these women will find themselves part of a schismatic Catholic movement. Perhaps this will be the start of a new Reformation in the Catholic movement. Who knows? As a Methodist, I approve entirely of their responding to the call to ministry, and I disagree completely with Rome's stance on priesthood. Aelfwine will disagree with me - fair enough. We will conmtinue in what Lord Soper used to call "the fellowship of controversy!"

But none of that alters the fact that these women are certainly Catholic, even if Rome no longer recognises them.

Ben Witherington said...

Actually Joanna, you are wrong about the lack of change of doctrine. For example, transubstantiation was not the doctrine of Roman Catholics before the Middle Ages, and interestingly various of the Marian doctrines are late doctrines, some date to the 19th century, so it is in fact not true to say that the Catholic Church 'has always taught and believed these things'.

BW3

Ben Witherington said...

As for the Aramaic, there were variouys brilliant scholars who have helped us with the Aramaic originals of Jesus' teachings, and that of others. Joachim Jeremias, Matthew Black, Max Wilcox, Maurice Casey.

Blessings,

Ben W.

JoAnna said...

Ben, I'm afraid you're incorrect. Transubstantiation was taught from the earliest days of the Church. It was FORMALLY DEFINED as a doctrine during the Middle Ages because clarification was needed due to some ongoing heresy, but the teaching itself had existed from the earliest days of the Church.

See here and (for more about the whole "women priests" issue) here.

JoAnna said...

Also, the same applies to the Marian doctrines. They were ALWAYS taught within the Church, and only formally defined when necessary due to heresy that was being promulgated by non-Catholic or anti-Catholic sects.

See here, here, and here.

Dave said...

Was raised RC, but left about 5 years ago to the UMC. I spent a lot time reading apologetics for both sides.

I have a deep respect for the RC's, there are still many in my family. And one of the preists I had growing up was great.

A lot of discussions between RC's and non-RC's never get anywhere, because of where the authroity lies.

I agree to a certain extent that being Roman Cathoic means you follow what the pope says. That's just part of the deal.

For that matter, a lot of folks consider me as not being saved now that I left the "one true church". Which is supported by the catechism.

It is VERY difficult to leave the church. NOT in a cult way, but because the way it represents its self as having the only true worship and communion and the keys to heaven. In addition, its difficult for friends and family to accept that you'd leave.

It was hard on my parents to see me leave.

Dave said...

I'm surprised that know one has brought up that even some Popes were married...

This is common Roman Catholic knowledge, taught by RC priests, so this isn't some sort of media mis-characterization.

Of course Peter was married, as were several of the apostles.

The point is that the rules do change...

Dave said...

Ben,
to be fair shouldn't you also weigh in on the ordination controversy in the UMC with the licensed local pastors? ;-)

Aelfwine said...

Does this mean then that the text of the Greek New Testament does not count as authoritative Scripture? That is, is the Greek New Testament only conditionally to be counted as authoritative Scripture, depending on the extent to which various Aramaic scholars declare that the Greek agrees with their surmise about what the underlying Aramaic would likely have been? If so, does that mean that exegetes should await the publication of these scholars' "reconstructed" Aramaic "original" of the NT before practicing exegesis?

Aelfwine said...

Rev. b, what you say about other churches that call themselves "Catholic" is true, obvious, well-known, and completely beside the point. Ben did not have these other "Catholic" denominations in mind when he called these "womenpriests" "Catholic through and through". You yourself agree with me that they are not, in your first paragraph.

crystal said...

I believe the Church has changed some teachings - examples might be infallibility, primacy of conscience, scriptural interpretation, religious freedom, ecumenism, the Jewish people, slavery, married clergy, contraception, evolution, usury, and war & peace.

if you disagree ... it means that you do not respect or believe in the authority of the Catholic Church or its ability to teach truth... which would, essentially, mean that you're a Protestant.

Yikes! :-) At least I'm in good company - even Karl Rahner SJ disagreed with the Church occasionally.

Ben Witherington said...

Joanna:
Unfortunately you are wrong on both counts. There were huge debates in the Catholic Church about the perpetual virginity of Mary, for example, with Jerome taking one view and Epiphanius another. It was not a widely accepted doctrine early on, at all. You really need to know your church history better.

Likewise, transubstantiation was not a doctrine taught by any in the first century, and not taught by many before the fifth century. See my book Making a Meal of It and the history of all this.

What is surprising to me is that you are unaware that many Catholic Biblical scholars are perfectly clear on these two points as well-- check out Raymond Brown, John Meier, etc.

Aelwine, you raise an important point. However the same issue arises with the OT-- which text do we follow-- the Hebrew original or the use of the Greek LXX in the NT? They are often not identical.

In other words, historical reconstruction is required, and this also applies to Jesus' Aramaic sayings. I quite agree that the Greek text has authority, but not in isolation from its historical context and Aramaic background.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Aelfwine said...

Ben writes: "I quite agree that the Greek text has authority, but not in isolation from its historical context and Aramaic background."

I absolutely agree with this.

But I do not agree that "historical reconstruction is required, and this also applies to Jesus' Aramaic sayings". It is interesting to speculate on these things, and such reconstructions may be instructive and illuminating; but they remain nothing more than speculations, however well-informed, and as such simply do not have the normative status of the Greek text.

I also disagree, Ben, with your willingness to make flat statements about Catholic dogma and its development (note carefully that term) without providing specific examples where you see a contradiction in teachings; particularly when Joanna makes reference to specific articles with numerous Patristic quotations demonstrating the great antiquity of various points of Catholic dogma that you nonetheless insist did not exist then. Isn't it unfair to simply repeat your denials without engaging these specific examples? You don't have to agree with them, of course, but you should at least acknowledge and address them, rather than simply gainsaying them.

That is, of course, if you consider this an appropriate forum for this sort of discussion at all, which it may well not be. But if that is the case, shouldn't we move it somewhere else rather than treat it so summarily?

Ben Witherington said...

Aelwine:

This really isn't the place for us to examine the patristic evidence piece by piece. I noticed you said nothing about the debate about Jesus' brothers between Jerome, Epiphanius and others.

If you actually read Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus etc. from the second century you will discover there were a variety of views on these very subjects. There was no Catholic dogma then. It was up for grabs and various people had various views. This is the historical reality.

Now you can claim these dogmas are theologically true, but you are not free to do revisionist history and say that these have 'always' been the dogma of the western church. This is historically false.

I would be pleased to know as well which Catholic NT scholars say otherwise about the history issue? I don't know of any, and I know most of them who are in the SBL or SNTS.

As for the Greek text of the NT, it has to be interpreted in light of its original contexts. This includes the linguistic context, and even just on the basis of the Greek there is a difference between cephas/petros and 'tauta...petra' which means a shelf of rocks. Notice the difference in gender of the noun. It is indeed a different term than 'petros'. This matter cannot be solved just by checking a lexicon, online or otherwise. You need to actually read the commentaries.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Aelfwine said...

Ben: I'm not sure what you thought I might or should say about the "brothers of Jesus" matter (esp. since I didn't bring the matter up). It is a fact that there is disagreement on this matter exemplified in the extant Patristic writings (has anyone claimed otherwise?). But it is also a consequent fact of this same fact that the perpetual virginity of Mary was indeed an ancient belief, even if not universally held by all. (In fact, why would there be any dispute at all among the ancient writers if the Catholic position were so novel and what became the Protestant position were such a slam-dunk?)

No one has said that a belief must be held by absolutely every ancient Christian writer to count as an ancient belief of the Church. Dogma is typically formalized and promulgated precisely because disputes arise, which obviously shows that there were differences of opinion: but the mere presence of a dispute does not mean that the belief eventually formalized was not previously held generally

You also write: "Now you can claim these dogmas are theologically true, but you are not free to do revisionist history and say that these have 'always' been the dogma of the western church. This is historically false."

I've never made any such claim, so I don't know why you address this to me. Dogma is a formal statement and definition of infallible truth.* Most any matter of dogma I can think of came to be stated and defined as such only long after the belief or matter it formalizes arose. Even very fundamental beliefs such as the union of divine and human natures in Christ, and the nature of the Trinity, did not become dogmatized for centuries, and there were certainly very dramatic disputes over them, as attested in extant writings! But that doesn't mean that the dogmatic definitions eventually formalized and promulgated were not in fact based on and reflective of universal beliefs of the Church that were held from the beginning.

*And contrary to what a previous poster implied, it is not true that "Catholics have to do what the Pope says": not everything a Pope writes or says is infallible, or dogma. In fact most things a Pope writes or says aren't. Dogma has very specific signification and conditions, and must be formally promulgated. (It is also not limited to the Pope, but also involves the Magisterium.)

Really, this is all very basic stuff as pertains to Tradition and the development of doctrine. You can't really think this is some novel or devastating fact to inquisitive Catholics, can you?

"there is a difference between cephas/petros and 'tauta...petra' which means a shelf of rocks."

petra is not translated "shelf of rock_s_" in any of the standard sources I've consulted; and even if it were to be, I don't see how that has any bearing on the specificity of Petrine authority, or take precedence over the specifically singular form of all the other attributive words used of Peter (alone) in that passage. I also don't see how the fact that Petros is masculine (Peter is a man, after all, and so is addressed with the masculine form of the noun) and petra feminine (the grammatical gender of this Greek noun) is significant: particularly in the context of such an obvious play on words. The linking between Petros and petra is not only clear, it is conspicuously the whole point of this verse and its syntactic construction.

"This matter cannot be solved just by checking a lexicon, online or otherwise. You need to actually read the commentaries."

What makes you think I haven't?

Ben Witherington said...

Well Aelwine we will have to leave this discussion at this point since it is intractable, but there are two things that needs to be said: 1) the word play in Mt. 18 is in the Greek, and Jesus did not likely say this in Greek to Peter. It does not work the same in the Aramic. Futhermore, it is not at all necessary in word play for both terms to refer to exactly the same thing. Peter is included in the shelf of rocks, but the issue is not Peter himself simpliciter, it is confessing Peter, Peter confessing Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This confession by Peter or others is the basis of the Christian faith and community, not Peter in himself as some sort of authoritative person. Notice that the binding and losing authority given to better is also given to the community or other disciples as well two chapters later. ; 2) You said "But that doesn't mean that the dogmatic definitions eventually formalized and promulgated were not in fact based on and reflective of universal beliefs of the Church that were held from the beginning. "

I must say I find this comment stunning. If there were a diversity of views on a subject then there is no way you can claim that the view in question reflects universal beliefs. This is historically false. And again, you have to argue from numerous silences in the NT era to come to this conclusion about a whole host of Catholic dogmas-- the Marian dogmas, the transubstantiation dogma, etc. There is no evidence at all that any of the NT writers held such views, including none of the apostles who wrote documents. Sometimes silence screams at you, and this silence is big-- on a whole host of these topics. I certainly do not think it is possible to make the logical leap-- 'they were silent on all these subjects because the beliefs were all universally held and non-controversial'. That's reading way too much into the silence for anyone who takes the history issue seriously to be comfortable with.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...

I meant of course 'that is given to Peter, is also given to the community'.

Dave said...

Well, I guess one reason I have left the RC church is because maybe they have become more dogmatic. I don't ever recall hearing that Peter was the first Pope as a child, or even that the pope was all that important.

Then again this would have been in the post Vat-II 70's and early 80's in a southern, somewhere between rural and suburban, non-hispanic RC church outside of Houston. It was always more important to talk about the love of God, and forgiveness. I guess those are the two biggest things I picked up from the church (and my parents) was forgiveness and confession.

It seems like only since the late 80's and especially into the 90's there has been a bit of reaction to Vat-II and a call to the pre-Vat-II "good old days".

But as I was alluding to earlier these types of discussion never get anywhere.

Dave said...

Of course, I find it ironic that Peter, after he gets "the keys":
(1) is called "Satan" just a few verses later
(2) later denies Jesus 3 times
(3) is chastised by Paul for not practicing what he preached

so when exactly did his infallibility start?

Aelfwine said...

Dave, infallibility does not mean what you and so very many other Protestants think it means. Popes (and the Magisterium) are infallible only when formally exercising their teaching role; they are not impeccable. In other words, the Church is prevented from (formally) teaching error; its members are not prevented from sin and weakness.

Also, I'm sorry you were so poorly catechized -- shockingly so, I'd say. Those who ought to have instructed you in the faith failed you badly.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

It seems to me that these women may or may not be Catholic - but they certainly aren't Roman Catholic through and through since that clearly involves a submission to Rome.

I think we need to make a distinction between Catholicity in the broad sense as described by St. Vincent Lerins - that which the whole Church believes across cultures and across the ages - and Roman Catholicism, since many of the Roman Catholic Churches beliefs are clearly unique to their own brand of Christianity.

The Orthodoxy Churches, the Oriental Churches, the Anglican and Protestant Churches are unified in their rejection of several Roman dogmas which therefore by definition cannot be called "catholic" beliefs in the broadest sense of the word.

I have discussed this distinction at length with regard to several issues at: http://gloria-deo.blogspot.com/search/label/Catholic%20but%20not%20Roman

But on the other hand, I think the Roman Catholic Church has every right, in so far as it is a Church, to establish its own discipline and to enforce it. I would encourage these women to become nuns if they want to remain in that tradition or Anglican priests if they want to be priests.

José Solano said...

These ladies who wish to become priests in the Roman Catholic Church and then, in flagrant violation of RC teaching, make themselves “RC priests” are from the RC perspective simply heretics. If they and others imagine that they are somehow Roman Catholics what will they think when they are excommunicated? They are as Roman Catholic as were Martin Luther or Menno Simons, probably less. Even the “former nun” ordaining them is not a RC. There is absolutely nothing RC about this. Indeed, it’s a sham and a mockery of the Roman Catholic Church and it’s the kind of divisiveness within Christendom that the NYT loves to publicize.

The issue of Peter the “rock” on which the church is founded has been going on for possibly millennia. The RC interpretation is rejected even by the Orthodox Church. That’s why there is only one Pope—eh, today. For me it’s not a big deal. There is certainly some ambiguity in the Matthew reading if one needs to reconstruct and debate the original Aramaic to figure it out. My reading of the interlineal Peshitta was not very helpful and except for “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” my Aramaic is rather weak. Follow "the rock" to the best of your understanding and if that’s your only confusion you should have no problem getting into heaven.

Scripturally I find that it is quite a stretch of interpretation to ordain women as priests/ministers/elders except perhaps in situations where the men are incompetent or incapacitated. There is something to be said about “headship” within the church as within the family. For women to try and forcefully usurp the man’s headship smacks of ego inflation, not humility and that’s all I see in these subversive ladies seeking “priesthood” in the RC Church. By “universal priesthood” I understand the Christians’ capacity and calling to proclaim the word of God under particular circumstances and not a cacophony of “preachers” within a congregation.

I’m sure to get an uproar from this but I feel called to say it. I believe Peter, Paul, Mary, etc. would fully agree with me.

crystal said...

I don't think becoming nuns is the answer.

That the issue of women's ordination is a valid one and worth discussing is shown by the effort towards and inability of the US Bishops to come to a meeting of the minds on women's issues, including ordination. If everyone accepted the idea that it was impossible and unthinkable, this wouldn't be the case ... Split, Catholic Bishops Defer Proposals on Women's Issues, and Women's Pastoral Fails.

Can a person be Catholic "through and through" and also dissent? I think so.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jose:

This word just in--- Peter, Paul, and Mary disbanded sometime ago and are not currently expressing an opinion, but Mary Travers and Paul Stookey both previously were in favor of women's ordination :)

Blessings,

Ben

Michael Gilley said...

It troubles me to think of some individuals having the right to enter in and out of an "infallible" role "like a wave tossed and turned by the wind." And here all this time I thought we were called to live out our teaching all the time. As a matter of fact, I do believe Paul commented that his churches ought to examine the way he lived and not only what he said to discern whether or not his teaching was from the Lord, if in fact the Spirit of Christ himself speaking through him. Perhaps we'd be better off placing powers of infallibility on the historical revelation of God's Word instead of on individuals.

Halden said...

Prof. Witherington, what other books on Church history besides your own would you recommend that fill out the points you make about when certain key Catholic doctrines were developed?

I've been debating similar issues on my own blog and I need more books that take a deep look at these historical questions, if for no other reason because people on both sides of the debate often toss out some rather black and white statemements ("The church never taught that!" / "The church has always taught that!")that, I suspect have little support in an actual critical history.

Thanks for your time.

-Halden

Ben Witherington said...

There are many fine books on early church history. Some of the standard ones would be by Everett Ferguson, W. H. C. Frend, Donaldson, MacinTosh, and there are many others.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Casey said...

Just thought folks should see the repercussions of this event. check it out at St. Louis Post-Dispatch's website:
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/69CC71BB98EB0E908625739200179D8A?OpenDocument

José Solano said...

Thanks Dr. Witherington. I certainly enjoy both your humor and your scholarship, even as I may seek to tweak it a bit here and there in conversation. Glad to know that the latter day Peter, Paul and Mary are still on the concert circuit. Do you have a reference as to when and where they favored women’s ordination? Not that I doubt it. Just curious. Nice singers and pleasant people. But I didn’t think they were even Christians to be considering the ordination of women. More of the “transcendentalist spiritualist,” social activist type. Their message is still “blowing in the wind.”

If Jesus, the Apostles and the NT writers had favored the ordination of women it would have been so simple for them to have at least clearly selected one such woman in such a role. They certainly had their share of women prophets. Yet it seems tohave been left to the Gnostics to make that decision. They could have prevented all of Christendom—Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant—from falling into the great “error” of ordaining only men during some two thousand years of Scripture study.

Peace.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jose:

I am relying on when I met these folks in Boston a while back. Paul Stookey did several Christian lps as well. And of course Jesus did start the world order over again on Easter-- he chose Mary Magdalene to preach the first Easter sermon to the 12, and so as Chrysostom says "she became the apostle to the apostles",

Blessings,

Ben W.

José Solano said...

Great thinkers of the early Church, Hippolytus, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc., did refer to Mary Magdalene as “apostle to the apostles” but it is interesting that none of them considered this a reason to ordain women. Just because they are not ordained doesn’t mean that they can’t go out and make announcements or be witnesses. We know that there are extraordinarily holy women and prophets but it seems rather clear from Scripture that the heads of congregations were men. This in no way is being disrespectful to women. From Scripture we also learn that men are the heads of their households. Now I do believe that men may abdicate if they wish and they should when they are getting senile or otherwise incapable of fulfilling their functions. It is then incumbent upon the wife or other woman to become the head of the household. I can see this as a possibility under particular circumstances within a church also.

But what I see happening today is a shear usurpation of a role that has been granted to the man in the divine order of things. This is certainly a hard pill to swallow within radical feminist ideology that reconstructs Mary Magdalene only to ignore her true Christian vocation. They imagine that Mary Magdalene would not have obeyed her husband or would have challenged the Christ appointed apostles as certain early spurious writings would imagine. We could just as easily activate our imagination with a Mary Magdalene who got married to a saintly disciple and raised many children within a humble and blessed family.

Peace.

Duke of Earl said...

If Jesus, the Apostles and the NT writers had favored the ordination of women it would have been so simple for them to have at least clearly selected one such woman in such a role. They certainly had their share of women prophets. Yet it seems to have been left to the Gnostics to make that decision. They could have prevented all of Christendom—Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant—from falling into the great “error” of ordaining only men during some two thousand years of Scripture study.

Perhaps Professor Witherington could correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that by teaching women like Mary and her sister Martha, Jesus already established a dichotomy between traditional female roles and those for women in the new kingdom.

Also if the Gospel of Thomas is to be believed the only way in which gnostic women would reach heaven would be to forsake everything that makes them women.

Dave said...

I would argue that with declining numbers of men entering the ministry, that we are in need of women ministers.

God did create "man and woman" and created us differently for different purposes. And we men are meant to be strong, and leaders (of the household). We do this through our sacrifice, and selfless giving.
But we given up that role.

Ever notice that women outnumber men in church on Sundays, whether it be Mass or a Protestant service? I have. And these aren't all single women or single mothers. Of course I am not the 1st to notice or report on this.

Where men have failed, we need women to teach men, and to be our role models.

Brent said...

Hello. I don't have much to say about this particular topic, but I wanted to ask for some advice for my Christmas wish list. I want to throw some things on my list such as commentaries, books, concordances, etc to improve my study of the The Bible. Any suggestions? If you know any good ones with the title and the author that I could check out that would be great. Thanks for the help.

AG said...

I think it all primarily comes down to a couple of things:
1. Woman and Men were and are created equal- this male dominating rubbish is so white american middle class that it shows such a narrow sinful view of humanity.
2. At what point did we think that our sinful perception of humanity (placing men above woman in the faith) was an acceptable way theologizing?
The carry on about woman as not ebing allowed to be minsters is just sinful...where does Jesus say that woman should never be allowed to preach and be ministers and be ordained? Because at the end of the day...those people who believe in a inerrant, verbally inspired bible, need to show me where Jesus (God in flesh) spoke about such things in a clear explicit way? Cause if it was meant to be important for the church and for the kingdom...surely Jesus would have mentioned something? Surely God as he 'dictated' the words to the writers would have made sure it was a clear as crystal? surely God would have put 'mary' in her place teaching the sunday school class?.....really people....we have strayed so far from a proper view of humanity that it has become a Joke. And in the end this argument is about men dominating woman...you can make it as pious as you like but in the end the sinfulness of 'man' is looking to margenlize humans rather than set people free with the truth.
Anyway all the best

James W Lung said...

A fascinating and surprisingly civilized conversation.

Ben, here is my problem with your approach to authority. You sound to me like you are your own pope, submitting to a magisterium of scholars to the extent those scholars agree with you. As a United Methodist Christian, trying to live my life as a disciple of Jesus, I continue to find that I get a lot more useful guidance and teaching from John Paul II, Benedict, and the catechism than from the Social Principles and our bishops.


For what it's worth, even if the greek term means a shelf of rocks or stones, we are talking about a single shelf. In my reading of Church history, prior to the great schism, Rome was acknowledged as first among five 'jurisdictions' of equal status.

If Rome and Orthodoxy could only bury the hatchet, life would be so much easier.

Peace.

James W Lung said...

IN THE BEGINNING, Dr. W wrote:

"Only he can perform it, and no one else needs to, nor can imitate it. As the author of Hebrews says 'it is once for all time'."

Absolutely. The only problem is that the work of Christ is outside of time. Every time a sinner repents, the blood of Christ cleanses him, now for then.

Further, the term "imitate" is wholly inadequate to express what is going on in the Eucharist. Jesus is really present. Who was right, Ben? Zwingli or Luther?

I see the post is going in a different direction, but imho, the catholics have the better argument.

Peace

Dodi said...

Ben,
Thanks for this wonderful stream of conversation. I have been a committed Christian for 40 years in the evangelical tradition, having surrendered to Jesus as a child. I've been studying the Catholic Church for a year and a half and have very much liked a lot of what I found, yet have been suspicious of their interpretation of events and the possibility of revisionist history. I have read several of the early documents such as the Didache and Epistle of Polycarp, Ignatius, etc., but have been unable to corroborate some of their claims from those writings. Not being a theologian, I did not trust my assessment in that regard and about some other issues as well. I have been seeking the Lord for guidance. It seemed to me the RC had access to the history and I was consigned to reading it from their viewpoint. Here on your sight I have found not only an evangelical who knows the history and refuses to concede the facts but also one who truly knows what the RC believes and can address the concerns from an informed viewpoint instead of from the hot-headed, ill-advised views of some anti-Catholic web sights I have seen. You have encouraged me beyond words. Much of what you have said I suspected or even humbly thought on my own, but I did not trust myself, nor did I have the facts to back up what I discerned. I now have the information I needed to back up what the Holy Spirit was telling me: I do not have to be Catholic to belong to the Church. Also, I can't wait to order your book on Holy Communion. This has been a huge issue for me. In the evangelical tradition of my upbringing it was given very little attention. I am now United Methodist and am thankful to at least partake once per month, 10 more times a year than in my childhood church.
Also, I have appreciated your stance on women and their call to ministry. I too am called and have served in various capacities, including a pastor in my former church affiliation. It is difficult to be a woman in ministry in some organizations.

One favor: Could you comment for me on the Protoevangelium of James? I just heard of it and read it today? Is it spurious?
Thanks again.
Dodi

Dodi said...

Ben,
Thanks for this wonderful stream of conversation. I have been a committed Christian for 40 years in the evangelical tradition, having surrendered to Jesus as a child. I've been studying the Catholic Church for a year and a half and have very much liked a lot of what I found, yet have been suspicious of their interpretation of events and the possibility of revisionist history. I have read several of the early documents such as the Didache and Epistle of Polycarp, Ignatius, etc., but have been unable to corroborate some of their claims from those writings. Not being a theologian, I did not trust my assessment in that regard and about some other issues as well. I have been seeking the Lord for guidance. It seemed to me the RC had access to the history and I was consigned to reading it from their viewpoint. Here on your sight I have found not only an evangelical who knows the history and refuses to concede the facts but also one who truly knows what the RC believes and can address the concerns from an informed viewpoint instead of from the hot-headed, ill-advised views of some anti-Catholic web sights I have seen. You have encouraged me beyond words. Much of what you have said I suspected or even humbly thought on my own, but I did not trust myself, nor did I have the facts to back up what I discerned. I now have the information I needed to back up what the Holy Spirit was telling me: I do not have to be Catholic to belong to the Church. Also, I can't wait to order your book on Holy Communion. This has been a huge issue for me. In the evangelical tradition of my upbringing it was given very little attention. I am now United Methodist and am thankful to at least partake once per month, 10 more times a year than in my childhood church.
Also, I have appreciated your stance on women and their call to ministry. I too am called and have served in various capacities, including a pastor in my former church affiliation. It is difficult to be a woman in ministry in some organizations.

One favor: Could you comment for me on the Protoevangelium of James? I just heard of it and read it today? Is it spurious?
Thanks again.
Dodi

Dodi said...

Ben,
Thanks for this wonderful stream of conversation. I have been a committed Christian for 40 years in the evangelical tradition, having surrendered to Jesus as a child. I've been studying the Catholic Church for a year and a half and have very much liked a lot of what I found, yet have been suspicious of their interpretation of events and the possibility of revisionist history. I have read several of the early documents such as the Didache and Epistle of Polycarp, Ignatius, etc., but have been unable to corroborate some of their claims from those writings. Not being a theologian, I did not trust my assessment in that regard and about some other issues as well. I have been seeking the Lord for guidance. It seemed to me the RC had access to the history and I was consigned to reading it from their viewpoint. Here on your sight I have found not only an evangelical who knows the history and refuses to concede the facts but also one who truly knows what the RC believes and can address the concerns from an informed viewpoint instead of from the hot-headed, ill-advised views of some anti-Catholic web sights I have seen. You have encouraged me beyond words. Much of what you have said I suspected or even humbly thought on my own, but I did not trust myself, nor did I have the facts to back up what I discerned. I now have the information I needed to back up what the Holy Spirit was telling me: I do not have to be Catholic to belong to the Church. Also, I can't wait to order your book on Holy Communion. This has been a huge issue for me. In the evangelical tradition of my upbringing it was given very little attention. I am now United Methodist and am thankful to at least partake once per month, 10 more times a year than in my childhood church.
Also, I have appreciated your stance on women and their call to ministry. I too am called and have served in various capacities, including a pastor in my former church affiliation. It is difficult to be a woman in ministry in some organizations.

One favor: Could you comment for me on the Protoevangelium of James? I just heard of it and read it today? Is it spurious?
Thanks again.
Dodi

Dodi said...

Sorry. Didn't mean to post it more than once. Just trying to figure out how to do this. My first time blogging here.
Thanks,
Dodi

Paul said...

I would just like to "ditto" what Dodi has said...I've been a United Methodist for six months now, raised Missouri Synod Lutheran. I was drawn by the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and the call to holiness, but just in the last two months I've been reading stuff by Scott Hahn, Ronald Knox and Peter Kreeft, pondering if maybe I should be in the RC church, if it's Christ's church. And, like Dodi, I keep asking the Lord to show me the way and point me in the right direction, as I'm no theologian or scholar, nor would I want to convert to Roman Catholicism simply because my intellect was satisfied.

With all due respect there are things the Catholic Church teaches that bother me to no end, among them that if you skip mass one Sunday and die before you get a chance to confess tough luck, or the common "ballgame concessions stand on Friday" scenario: do you dare to buy a hot dog and forfeit your soul?

And then there's the teaching that bothers me the most: that people like me who've encountered Roman Catholic theology and are considering its truths are in danger of hell should we perish the thought of converting and remain in our respective churches.

This stuff is too hard for me to swallow, and your blog has been very helpful in sorting many of these things out for me. Perhaps the conversation on this page was part of an answer to my prayers.