It is a commonplace of the debate about women’s ordination that Evangelical and Catholic opponents are coming from different corners. The Catholics, it is said, major on the priest as icon of Christ; the Evangelicals on the Pauline doctrine of Headship. This distinction – the darling of those Liberals whose aspiration is to divide and rule – is expressed in the wording of the two Schedules to the 1993 Measure.

But is it the case that the Catholics and Evangelicals are using different, perhaps incompatible, arguments? It has never seemed so to us. Evangelicals, of course, have often majored on issues of authority in the Church: what they delight to call ‘leadership’. Catholics have been wary of such language as dangerously unscriptural – and any Cruden, they tell you, will establish that! So what is the argument from ‘headship’; and what is the primary meaning of kephale in the relevant texts?

Lord or source?

Because certain Evangelicals have allowed the idea of ‘headship’ to be subsumed into a notion of authority in the sense of ‘dominance’, it has proved difficult for them to discharge themselves honourably or acceptably in debate. They have, almost inevitably, fallen foul of the feminist identification of ‘headship’ and ‘leadership’ with the wholesale and perennial male ‘conspiracy’ to oppress women. Hierarchies in any form whatever are to them the feminist equivalent is of a red rag to a bull.

More moderate proponents of women’s ordination have expended considerable ingenuity demonstrating that kephale, in many contexts, has no connotation of ‘leadership’ or ‘authority’, and simple means ‘source’ or ‘origin’.

In the unpacking of the complex metaphor of ‘the head’, we suggest that both the supporters of women priests and the conservative evangelicals have got it wrong.

Head of the Body

To unravel a metaphor as rich as kephale, first identify its locus or ‘core’. That, of course, is to be found within the wider (and primary) Pauline metaphor of ‘the body’. (John Robinson’s short book The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (SCM, 1952) remains a broad and useful summary. Says Robinson in his preface: ‘It is … remarkable that there exists … no study which seeks to correlate all Paul’s language on the Body.’)

Christ is ‘the head of the Body, the Church’ in various and interrelated senses. He is its source of reason, direction and will: members of the Body are conformed to the mind (nous) of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). He is its source, origin and progenitor: ‘the first- born (prototokos) from the dead’, ‘so that in all things he might take primacy’ (proteuein) (Colossians 1.18). His headship of the Church, moreover, is related to headship within the Church and within the domestic Church (the Christian family) in a way that only can be described as meta-analogical: the submission of wives to husbands (Ephesians 5.22–23) and the wearing of head-coverings by women (1 Corinthians 11.3–10ff) are not merely expressions, but out-workings of this ultimate headship, which devolves upon the Son as the offspring of the Father.

Divine and Domestic

The divine and the domestic (here so closely related) come together pre-eminently in the institution and continued celebration of the Eucharist. The Passover is a domestic rite in which the paterfamilias traduces the heilsgeshichte to the youngest present. Though its principal participants are males (the most senior and the most junior), it includes, nevertheless, the entire family, both women and men.

The Last Supper is, in almost all respects, eccentric. The thirteen at table are all men. They are a ‘family’ only in the sense that they represent the twelve patriarchs ‘the sons of Israel’, and prefigure the universal Church ‘the household of faith ‘. There is no dialogue, moreover, by which the traduction of the saving history is effected. Instead the berahkah becomes the katamnesis, which is commended to the Church as an anemnesis: ‘do this as the remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11.24–25).

The head of table at this eccentric Passover, what is more, is the Christ, the ‘express image of the Father’. In Christ, God himself is re-writing salvation history. Henceforward the meta-narrative which explicates all narratives will centre on him and be transmitted by those whom he has chosen: here a story is renewed and a people reconstituted.

The Household of Faith

It is the tragedy of much Evangelical argumentation about ‘headship’ that it has adopted, for the most part, post-biblical imagery, and failed to portray the Church as the oikos, the household of faith, constituted by the rites it celebrates (the Body of Christ confecting the Body of Christ in order to become the Body of Christ). Evangelicals have failed to make the biblical connection between headship in the domestic church (the family) and headship in the Church universal. That surely is a basic premise of Pauline ecclesiology. Nor have they grasped that this apostolic connection is faithfully represented, in the next generation, by Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome, both of whom assume as axiomatic (that is, as a tradition which they have received and are transmitting, not as their own opinion or perception) that there should be only one Eucharist in one location and the bishop who presides at it can do so only as the image of the Father.

Head of the Table

The Pascha, the Passover of God, the primary rite of the Catholic Church, is that at which the paterfamilias, the Lord and Saviour, the prototokos, who has redeemed the body, presides over the New Israel.

That authority in the Church (‘headship’) is directly related to table presidency at the pascha of the New Israel , and that all this is related to the manner in which the paterfamilias, in home and Eucharist, is the icon of Christ (Ephesians 5.23–32; Ignatius, Trall ) should, we think, be apparent to every intelligent and unprejudiced reader. Arguments about Pauline ‘headship’ and iconic representation are not the separate and adversative arguments (which liberal proponents of women’s ordination would love to proclaim) but essentially the same argument – the differing aspects of which give strength and coherence to the whole.

The Head of the oikos, who is the eikon of the Father, establishes the table fellowship of the Eucharist – by which the ekkelsia itself is established; order in the domestic church is affirmed; and the testimony of Scripture is vindicated by the anamnesis which reveals the coherence of the divine plan.

Evangelicals and Catholics in this matter are, or should be, at one. For to exercise ‘headship’ in the Body of Christ is to preside at the Eucharist as paterfamilias in the household of faith – nurturing his Body with his Body so that it may be his Body, and pledging oneself, like him, in sacrifice, so that Church may truly be his Bride.