of first century sexuality
But first: let us pick again over the nits on the one, big, Biblical prooftext of the woman priesthood dogma: Galatians 3:28b: “In Christ there is neither male nor female.” The use of this text by the woman priest movement has, rightly, been criticised on the grounds that such use rips it out of context – which is baptismal. It has, however, been argued that Paul had in the back of his mind a saying, attributed to Jesus, current in some Christian circles in his time: in which case, it might be fair to consider the possible meaning of these words in isolation from the actual context in Galatians.
It needs – if such be so – to be pointed out that this verselet does not say what many of those who favour woman priests have appeared to assume that it says – in fact, it says the opposite. It is commonly argued that the priesthood should be inclusive of the full, rich diversity of human nature – this, we are told, is why it should include the particular gifts and instincts of women, as well as of men.
But Galatians 3:28b does not say “In Christ there is both male and female.” It says “…neither male nor female.” In other words, taken strictly and without reference to its actual context in Galatians, this phrase would have to imply that, by becoming a Christian, one leaves behind both femaleness and maleness so as to become a new tertium quid different from each. The suggestion that, in some early Christian circles, that is precisely what the phrase did mean, could receive support from the fact that the preceding phrase is “…neither Jew nor Greek…”: Paul did indeed argue that the Christian was neither a Jew nor a Gentile but a tertium quid different from each – a New Man; a Kainé Ktisis (a New Creation).
Should womenpriests wear birettas? I allude facetiously, of course, to the passage in I Corinthians 2 where, curiously, Paul argues that women should have their heads covered in the ekklesia. Not long ago an attractive hypothesis (for, of course, it is not more than a hypothesis) was put forward (D.R.MacDonald, There is No Male and Female...Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987: M.Y.Macdonald, New Testament Studies Volume 36 Number 2 [April 1990] pp 161 ff.).
It goes like this: Paul is here dealing with a firmly held conviction among the Corinthian women that they had passed beyond gender; that, in their new Christian state, they had transcended femininity. It was believed that Humanity, as first created, was androgynous – not divided into genders; that what had been true in the first was destined also to be true in the last days (Endzeit ist Urzeit, as we explain in our Sunday Schools). So the Redeemed were to transcend the gender division by not having – even within matrimony – any sexual relationships. There were those who took the logic of this to the logical conclusion of making themselves “eunuchs for the Kingdom”.
Even within our canonical New Testament, there are traces of such fashions. But it was in Apocryphal Gospels – such as the “Gospel According to the Egyptians” – that such notions were unambiguously expressed. The suggestion is that the following extract from Egyptians is an ‘uncanonical’ but genuine saying of the Lord about when the Kingdom will come:
“When you tread upon the garment of shame and when the two are one and the male with the female neither male nor female:” taken to mean “the necessity of trampling on the body in order that the believer might achieve perfection – the reunification of the sexes, the return to the perfection of the androgyne, and abstinence from sexual relationships.”
So, according to this theory, the Corinthian women were (by appearing bareheaded) imitating male appearance because, during ecstatic worship, they believed that they had transcended sexual differentiation, and achieved already their eschatological liberation from gender.
Clearly, a theological framework in which gender-distinction is excised is a theological framework in which there can be no conceivable pretext for denying to women any status or modality en Christo which males might enjoy. But there are, it has to be pointed out, by-products. If one adopts this conclusion, one is, ipso facto, “going behind” the accepted New Testament canon – for example, by ignoring Paul’s condemnation of the ‘asexual’ Corinthian women and by accepting instead the hypothesised teaching which the Apostle is rejecting; one is accepting Gospels which the Great Church definitively rejected because she found their teaching unorthodox.
(How might the wordsmiths of Liberal intellectualism urge such courses upon us? Just to show that I am as capable as anybody else of enjoying a bit of fun, I suggest the following formula: “validating diachronically an inclusive theological pluralism.”)
And while the radical vanguard of feminist liberalism might enjoy such an approach, the vast unthinking lumpenproletariet of those who swallowed women priests because they were told that it made really no difference to the rest of their faith, may not be so ready to embrace a Yet Newer Testament. And those early Christian groups who thought in the ways described, commonly rejected the Old Testament and its Creator God as Bad; they despised the Flesh together with all other material things; they denied that the Logos truly took flesh or genuinely died upon the Cross. Glorious, heady stuff.
But let us enjoy a vision of an enlightened, liberal future constructed on the basis of hypothesis I have described. Enforced celibacy for lay and clerical Christians alike – and encouraged Castration – will not come quickly in obscurantist communions like the Roman and the Orthodox (although our own Liberal Establishment will claim for itself the support for that far-sighted and invariable progressive figure, the Next-Pope-But-One).
But we Anglicans have our General Synods to set us free from obscuration and to enable us to follow the latest and purest guidance of the Spirit. Since Universal Celibacy (Revelation 14:4) and Castration for the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12) have rather more Biblical support than women priests, Synods will have little trouble passing them by the necessary two-thirds majorities. Intransigents, of course, will again fight for special arrangements (Bonds of Peace?). But in all parishes except those where obscurantist ‘Resolutions’ have been passed, all sexual activity will be totally banned. Those clergy, especially, who are ‘going places’ – bishops, archdeacons, General Synod functionaries – will be expected to ‘go all the way for the Kingdom,’ and a Diocesan Operations Centre (DOC acronymically) will be personned by sympathetic surgeries. Excision of the entire genital complex for males; a parallel surgical intrusion including clitoridectomy and external vaginal occlusion for clerical ladies, will be appropriate and adequate. Where a bishop who is in place when the legislation is passed proved recalcitrant, the DOCking will be done under the auspices of a liberal neighbouring bishop, functioning with Letters Commissary from the Primate.
I hope this frivolous interlude will not obscure my very serious point.
A theological landscape such as the one which has been adumbrated provides easy, fertile soil for the Dogma of Women Priests. Unfortunately, the same soil will bear the other exotic flowers of Universal Celibacy and Castration for the Kingdom. One can’t expect to pick-and-mix. And it’s a landscape – soil, exotic blossoms and all – which the Church, some 1800 years ago, considered, agonised over, and (at the cost of much controversy and ill feeling) rejected, when it incorporated into its Biblical Canon, Paul’s I Corinthians; when it declined to canonise volumes like the ‘Gospel According To The Egyptians‘; and when it canonised its patrial and unisexual priestly ministry.
So the idea that Christianity eliminates distinction of gender (I began by pointing out that liberals seem uncertain whether they believe this, or its direct opposite) is not a new and exciting notion which, in the power of the discernment we have from the Spirit, we may decide to receive or reject. It is a load of crass old nonsense which the discerning viscera of our Holy Mother the Church have already, long since, discharged.
What on earth are lavatories for?
John Hunwicke is Head of Theology at Lancing College.