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When is conversion not conversion?

By Joan Chittister, OSB

 

Just when you think that things are quieting down -- at least on one front -- someone sets off a landmine. This time it's a theological one.

 

On July 11, the Church of England voted, 11 years after the ordination of the first Anglican women priests, to begin the legislative process that will now admit women to the episcopacy. Don't for a minute think that the issue is finally resolved. Either for them or for us.

 

Theology is a tricky subject. You have to be careful when you're trying to understand exactly what is being said -- or how. It has an eel-like quality to it. It slips and slides. It changes its mind a lot more than the tone of its teachings imply. It can get all entwined in history -- called tradition -- and interpretation -- often called revelation.

 

If you're Roman Catholic, you're good at this: As in the shift from usury, which used to be a sin, to the Vatican Bank. Or the shift from the selling of plenary indulgences, which was once a promise of remission of sins, to their complete disappearance. As in the shift from "infallible" to "definitive." Or the shift in the nature of fetuses. Years ago a fetus could not be buried in blessed ground because they weren't fully developed human infants, my mother was told. Now even stem cells are protected as potentially privileged human beings.

 

Some of theology, at least, is, apparently, a movable feast. The problem is that its tenets often only get changed long after it has done eons of damage to society, people and church alike.

 

In the meantime, theology raises a lot of questions:

 

How was it, for instance, that white converts could receive the Eucharist immediately but American Indian converts like St. Kateri Tekawitha had to wait until they had proven that even Indians could control their impulses and so would not violate the host?

 

How was it that cultural understandings pretending to be moral absolutes, like segregation, could be so soundly theologized?

 

How was it that public prejudices that purport to be eternal truths, like the prohibitions against mixed marriages, could shift to the point where those marriages now can now be shared by both ministers?

 

How is it that birth control can be determined to be so clearly sinful but nuclear weapons are a matter of theological doubt?

 

How is it that women, also made 'in God's image and likeness" -- according to God, at least -- have their access to God controlled by men?

 

Answer: Who knows?

 

The new news is that Roman Catholics do not have a monopoly on examples of circuitous theology presented from age to age as part of revelation. Anglicans are now in a theological bind of their own.

 

In the first place, the Anglicans ordained openly homosexual priests but are now divided about whether or not gays can be bishops as well as priests.

 

Now, the Church of England has determined that it will allow females to become bishops -- meaning that ordained women were not eligible for bishoprics before this time.

 

And that is where the theology gets fuzzy. More than that, thanks to them, it gets fuzzier for us. Their questions create new questions for us, too.

 

If women and homosexuals are "fit matter" for priestly ordination -- still a question for some denominations -- why wouldn't that be the same "matter" that's theologically necessary for episcopal consecration? So why is it a question at all? Especially when 87 percnt of the bishops, 78 percent of the clergy and 66 percent of the lay representatives to the Synod voted for it?

 

But it is. To those who argue that a ban on the episcopal ordination of women undermines the credibility of the church, others respond that Christ's apostles were all male and it is wrong for women to have authority over men in a religious capacity.

 

In fact, some Anglican priests are threatening to become Roman Catholics if the Church of England follows the theological principle of woman's ordination to the ultimate acceptance of women bishops. And the Roman Catholic church, history attests, will surely accept them.

 

That's precisely what must make the rest of us wonder about the consistency of our own theology: Is this really a theological question at all? Or is it simply a matter of sexism or homophobia? Is such a motive really "fit matter" for genuine conversion if the only thing in question here is the role these already ordained women ministers will begin to play in the structure of the church itself? Is that a matter of faith or a matter of discipline, a matter of theology or a matter of prejudice?

 

If the Roman Catholic church believes that a celibate priesthood is an essential dimension of Roman Catholic witness in the world, how is that we can accept married priests whose only disagreement with the theology of their church is their resistance to the promotion of women whose priesthood they have already accepted? What is "conversion?" Is this a real conversion to the Roman Catholic faith -- or is it just an attempt to run away from the leadership and authority of women?

 

From where I stand, it seems that our theology of conversion may be as much in question as their theology of ordination these days. But one thing we can count on: there will be a good theological reason for it.

 

The National Catholic Reporter

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I"m not going to quote the article, it's easy enough for anyone to scroll up and read again if they so choose. But seeing as I'm a Catholic (in good standing, so far as I can tell) I would like to respond to the drivel which the so-called Sister has presented us with.

 

My arguments are not new arguments, in fact they are drawn prinicpally from a lecture given my Dr. Peter Kreeft, a much better and smarter philospher than I (*** gratutious advertising *** which can be downloaded for free from his website in the featured audio section)

 

This answers will be reasons why the Catholic Church cannot and will not have priestesses. Anglicans, well, they decided they wanted to do their own thing a while ago and it seems like there's not much chance fo them turning back.

 

The Church is neither the author nor the editor of the Priesthood. She cannot therefore change something over which she has authority (author's rights) over. This is a similar situation to the Priests of Israel. Good choose all his priests to come from the Tribe of Levi. Just as the Jews were not free to change the Priesthood, neither are Catholics.

 

Ms. Chittister made some remarks about sexism, etc. in her article. This is a serious error and a serious sin in that it charges Jesus Christ with either committing the sin of sexism or with condoning and perpetuating this sin throughout history. This is a denial of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ was who He said He was, completely God and completely man, utterly perfect, tempted but never sinned.

 

She is therefore forced to accuse God of sinning or be demanding that the Church sin by changing a rule set down by God. A sticky wicket, no doubt.

 

Secondly, the priest is in persona Christi during the Sacraments. And just as Jesus has a male body (He ascended with His resurrected body into Heaven) those who speak as His mouth (a male mouth) must be male. To do otherwise would be as absurd as asking women to cross-dress to perform the sacraments and pretend to be who they are not.

 

Christ's maleness depends heavily on the masculinity of the Father. This is not male chauvanism (as Dr. Kreeft often notes) but if anything, close to female chauvisnism because it makes all souls female to God, we, as the Church, constitute His Bride. His maleness cannot be understood as Him having a male body (He has no form) but rather by creating ex nihilo, from nothing, He commits an act which is much like the impregnation of a women. He is outside of creation and so must come from outside to give life. (I"m not going to explain each step of impregnation, I can only assume that the "marital act" is reasonably familiar to us all, virgins or otherwise) This fundamental masculinity of the Father is present in (and is the cause of) Christ's maleness.

 

There cannot be priestesses either for several reasons of the common ecclesiastical good. Not only would massive schism and doubt (were the sacraments I received valid because they were preformed by a women, is that priest validly ordained because he was ordained by a bishopess, etc.) but it would create a doubt as to the entire mission and necessity of the church. If the Church were wrong about someinthg which it held to be true from the time of the apostles (and something which has been defined as being true in recent times) namely that only men can be ordained to the priesthood, what else could it be wrong about? Transubstantiation, confession, sin, the need for forgiveness? and so on and so on. It also creates a slipperly slope, if you can subtract things from the Deposit of Faith because you don't like them, where does it end? If Christ's maleness can be removed today, why not His compassion tomorrow? If Feminism can be read into the Scriptures today, why not Naziism tomorrow? These are pressing questions Ms. Chittister never deals with.

 

Finally, women cannot be priestesses for reasons fo discernment. The priesthood does not exist to "empower" individuals. It exists to make the sacraments real to the Church. The priesthood is not about power, but about service. One of the Pope's titles is Servus sveorum Dei, that is, Servant of the Servants of God. Priests, like Christ, are sewers who siphon off the sins and refuse of our lives in the confessional. It is not about power or glory. More importantly though, priests do not choose themselves, but are chosen by God, so any vocation which is about "empowerment" is already a problem.

 

With any luck that was coherent. I've done my best to sum up the Church's reasoning and arguments (with much thanks to Dr. Kreeft), but you should go listen to his lecture on "Women and the Priesthood" because it's much clearer and "awesomer".

 

God Bless

 

Victory in the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

 

jamesamdg.blogspot.com

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The Church is neither the author nor the editor of the Priesthood.  She cannot therefore change something over which she has [no] authority (author's rights) over.  This is a similar situation to the Priests of Israel.  Good choose all his priests to come from the Tribe of Levi.  Just as the Jews were not free to change the Priesthood, neither are Catholics.

If, as you believe, the outward form of the Priesthood is ordained by God until God sees fit to change it, then yes, the Church is committed to this view. Naturally, you're not going to find many here who share this understanding of Priesthood. Many reasons have been suggested why the Bible and early Christian history have men at the forefront of sacramental life. Most charitably, some suggest that the idea of priestesses would have been incomprehensible in the first century, in a religion aimed foremost at the Jews, and so Jesus elected male leaders out of a simple recognition of that fact. On the other end of the spectrum, it is claimed that the ordination of male priests did not go back to Jesus, but was a practice of the early church retrojected back onto him. In any case, it's not at all clear that the presence of the commission of Peter in the gospels has to mean that God has forever ordained an exclusively male priesthood.

 

Ms. Chittister made some remarks about sexism, etc. in her article.  This is a serious error and a serious sin in that it charges Jesus Christ  with either committing the sin of sexism or with condoning and perpetuating this sin throughout history.  This is a denial of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ was who He said He was, completely God and completely man, utterly perfect, tempted but never sinned.

I'm not quite sure what you're referring to when you say her article "charges Jesus Christ" with committing or condoning sexism, but I speculate that you take her to be implicating Christ by virtue of the fact that he founded the Church on a male priesthood. As I said above, there are many ways to read the Bible and early Christian history that don't implicate Christ in this, or any other, way. I don't get any impression from her article that the target of her criticism is Jesus Christ. I suspect that she takes Christ's view on Christian leadership to be fully inclusive, and then claims that the Church has strayed from it. If you want to criticize her, that seems like the fair angle to take.

 

... just as Jesus has a male body (He ascended with His resurrected body into Heaven) those who speak as His mouth (a male mouth) must be male.  To do otherwise would be as absurd as asking women to cross-dress to perform the sacraments and pretend to be who they are not.

I've heard this argument so many times (from Kreeft, Lewis, and others), and to this day I can't make a shred of biblical or philosophical sense out of it. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ took on our humanity, not our maleness. When priests speak in persona Christi, they are able to do so because God has taken their full humanity into Christ. The priest speaks in Christ with a human mouth, not a male one. Which of Jesus' other human attributes are qualifications for priesthood then?

 

Christ's maleness depends heavily on the masculinity of the Father.  This is not male chauvanism (as Dr. Kreeft often notes) but if anything, close to female chauvisnism because it makes all souls female to God, we, as the Church, constitute His Bride.  ... This fundamental masculinity of the Father is present in (and is the cause of) Christ's maleness.

There is a very important truth here. C. S. Lewis more poetically said, "God is so masculine, that all creation is feminine by comparison." The archetypal masculine and feminine (for you Jungian folk out there) represents a polarity between initiation and response, pattern and void, seed and womb, yin and yang. And in the primary God-World relationship, Godhead is the initiating force in and behind all that is. In this sense, our souls bear an archetypally feminine relationship to God.

 

In the web of creation, however, masculinity and femininity are imprinted on everything and everyone, in different ways, to different degrees. They clearly determine our physical/reproductive structure, but have successively less influence on the higher developmental stages: emotional, mental / logic, and spiritual / unitive awareness. Even in a marriage relationship, there are masculine / feminine dynamics going on all the time in both directions. Indeed, for Jung, one of the hallmarks of the maturation process is the unity of the masuline and feminine principles in oneself.

 

Bottom line, even if the masculine principle is what's so important for spiritual leadership (and I'm not even convinced of that), restricting spiritual leaders to people with masculine bodies isn't the most reliable way to get it. If having masculine bodies in the Priesthood is what's so important, to stay true to what you believe God has ordained, well, I'm not sure we have much common ground for discussion on that particular point.

 

There cannot be priestesses either for several reasons of the common ecclesiastical good.

Holding onto an ecclesiasical model for fear of schism and doubt may benefit the common good, but it bears no relationship to its theological or philosophical correctness. The same argument was made for continuing the practice of slavery in America. It also begs the question of just who's good is being benefited.

 

Finally, women cannot be priestesses for reasons fo discernment.  The priesthood does not exist to "empower" individuals.  It exists to make the sacraments real to the Church.  The priesthood is not about power, but about service.

This is absolutely correct, and I had the same criticism of her article, and of people who use women's "priesthood rights" for agendas of empowerment. It's not about having power, but about having the liberty to exercise one's calling to Christian service in the person of Christ.

 

As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts,

Fred

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In the fundamental churches..what the church thinks=what God thinks. Since Progressive christians are NOT fundamentalists they do not place what the church thinks as being equal to what God thinks. In light of this fact, when a fundamentalist comes here, whether they be Protestant or Catholic or other and tells us that 'their' church beliefs that God or Christ thinks this or that on a matter..it is not realistic for us a Progressive christians to really reply because we do NOt even accept or acknoweldge that what 'the church' thinks of says does = what God thinks or says.

 

As such, when you come here as a devote fundamental catholic and tells us that 'the church' (Catholic church) teaches/believes that Jesus or god thinks this or that on whether women should be spiritual leaders or not..this, to me, as a progressive Christian means positively NOTHING to me. I am NOT Catholic so what the Catholic church thinks or beliefs about whether women have the Godly right to be spiritual leaders or not does not matter..anymore than it it matters to me what the leaders of the Southern Baptist convention think or say they think God or Christ thinks about women being spiritual leaders.

 

Basically if I am not a devote Catholic fundamentalist and I am not a Fundamental protestant then why should I care what 'they' think God or Christ thinks?

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His maleness cannot be understood as Him having a male body (He has no form) but rather by creating  ex nihilo, from nothing, He commits an act which is much like the impregnation of a women.  He is outside of creation and so must come from outside to give life.  (I"m not going to explain each step of impregnation, I can only assume that the "marital act" is reasonably familiar to us all, virgins or otherwise).

Oh, by the way, creation ex nihilo isn't even close to what happens in the impregnation of a woman. In inpregnation, an exactly equal amount of genetic material is contributed by the male and female parents. The zygote that results does not come "from the outside," but literally "from the inside" of both parents. Apparently the "marital act" (not sure why intercourse has to be euphemized and quoted) is not reasonably familar to everyone, because your analogy of it to creation ex nihilo is about 500 years out of date.

 

And lest it be claimed that I'm reducing impregnation to the physical act only, I deliberately used "intercourse" rather than "sexual intercourse." I do, however, presume that a child partakes equally of its parents in every other way as well, which makes the genetic analogy perfectly apt.

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Basically if I am not a devote Catholic fundamentalist and I am not a Fundamental protestant then why should I care what 'they' think God or Christ thinks?

The viewpoint was presented for debate on the debate board. Please don't take it personally.

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I have a question.  The article says women can be Anglican priests but there is some controvery about women being in the episcopy.  what is the episcopy? Is that different than being a priest?  I'm not an episcopal so I don't understand what the debate is about.

The episcopate comes from the Greek "to oversee," and is more or less the term for "bishop." Any ecclesiastical structure with an overseeing college of bishops pretty much qualifies for the generic term "episcopal." The article deals specifically with whether women can be bishops as well as priests in the Episcopal Church, and by extension, anything in any church.

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If the Roman Catholic church believes that a celibate priesthood is an essential dimension of Roman Catholic witness in the world, how is that we can accept married priests whose only disagreement with the theology of their church is their resistance to the promotion of women whose priesthood they have already accepted? What is "conversion?" Is this a real conversion to the Roman Catholic faith -- or is it just an attempt to run away from the leadership and authority of women?

Through all the hoopla (and 'Dillo's question) I reread the article a bit more closely. Everyone (including me) seems to have missed the whole point. The question she is posing, as a Roman Catholic, is this: if we believe that a celibate male priesthood is an essential dimension of our faith, how is it that we will accept married priests from the Anglican or Episcopal Churches whose only theological disagreement with their own Church is that of the ordination of women? Is such a transferred priest truly "converted" to Catholicism, or just running away from this one issue in their own denomination? Don't you then have, effectively, an Episcopal priest presiding over a Catholic parish? Personal opinions on women's ordination aside, she seems to be asking whether the reality of such "priest transfers" has some serious implications for the Catholic Church's understanding of conversion. It's a good question.

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Is such a transferred priest truly "converted" to Catholicism, or just running away from this one issue in their own denomination? Don't you then have, effectively, an Episcopal priest presiding over a Catholic parish?

 

I wondered if this article might start a "women versus men" in the priesthood conversation. :lol: Although that part of the article is interesting and has merit, I DID actually post the article because of the "conversion validity" aspect.

 

In restrospect, I should have named the thread something different, but didn't think "Are these Catholic conversions valid?" would be as interesting a title. :rolleyes: Oops.

 

It made me wonder how happy and effective these priests are going to be in the long run. The "quadrilateral" approach to faith and spirituality that is the heart of Episcopalianism (and Methodism) just doesn't factor into Catholicism. Can these priests truly embrace ALL that is Catholicism?

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So I clearly missed the actual intention of posting the article. Ooops.

 

I can't judge person's heart or faith, but we can judge their actions (the things we can observe). Not all priests who leave the Anglican Communion become Roman Catholics. So that's an important distinction to make. It's not as though all Anglicans who disagree with the AC's stance on women and gay priests (and bishops) becomes a Roman Catholic.

 

 

FredP said

 

The question she is posing, as a Roman Catholic, is this: if we believe that a celibate male priesthood is an essential dimension of our faith

 

This is not exactly a true statement. In the Latin (Western Rite) of the Catholic Church priests are required to be celibate as a norm of discipline. In some of the Eastern Rites, priests can be married, however, they much be married before ordination and only unmarried men can become Bishops. My understanding being that they can more fully be devoted to their flocks (and if they aren't under the responsibility of caring for a family). There are many reasons for this discipline in the Latin rite. Not the least fo which are three Evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obediance) as being the most intimate and imitative way to follow Christ and dedicate oneself to Him. (Religious take all three, and diosescan priests take a modified version of them).

 

So your statement about a CELIBATE preisthood being an essential element of the Faith is mistaken.

 

Another thing is that the "transfer" of a priest from a non-Catholic religion to one in good standing within the Catholic Church (this transfer would be more accurately seen as a ordination, as non-Catholic (or Orthodox) ordinations can't be proven to be Aposotolic and thus aren't valid) isn't done overnight or without a great deal of investigation on the part of the Catholic Church. The people who wish to be received into this exceptional situation must show good reasons for doig so and must fidelity to Catholic teaching, it isn't a free pass.

 

I will come back to some of the male priesthood stuff later this afternoon but my eyes feel liek they're bugging out. But I will offer this little correction. FredP, you are right about my ex nihilo stuff based on the way I phrased it. I meant that God created ex nihilo from things that didn't exist and he is outside fo them, distinct from them. It is this outside of creation aspect which emphasises the Father's masculinity. Just as a man must come from without of a women's body to share in the creative act with God, God comes from outside of Creation to work within it.

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In some of the Eastern Rites, priests can be married, however, they much be married before ordination and only unmarried men can become Bishops.  My understanding being that they can more fully be devoted to their flocks (and if they aren't under the responsibility of caring for a family).

Paul's understanding, too: "The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:32-35)

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I have no idea how to edit a post (maybe I'm just not so smart) but what I wrote in Post #10 about Orthodox (like the Eastern Orthodox Churchs, not to be confused with normal orthodoxy) was supposed to be that their ordinations are valid, but currently illicit because their situation with Rome is irregular.

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I will come back to some of the male priesthood stuff later this afternoon but my eyes feel liek they're bugging out.  But I will offer this little correction.  FredP, you are right about my ex nihilo stuff based on the way I phrased it.  I meant that God created ex nihilo from things that didn't exist and he is outside fo them, distinct from them.  It is this outside of creation aspect which emphasises the Father's masculinity.

But that significantly weakens your analogy between human and divine masculinity. God's relationship to the World in the act of creation is unequal, whereas the relationship between male and female in reproductive creation is completely equal. Not carrying your offspring on the inside of your body hardly seems like a qualification for fitly performing the sacraments in the person of Christ.

 

In an larger sense though -- and you already know this, of course -- your views are deeply at odds with a progressive theology over whether God's relationship to the World has just as much a maternal dimension as a paternal one. The Catholic Church, of course, teaches that masculinity and femininity are equally rooted in God's Being, and express that being equally, though differently. Our disagreement is over whether those differences extend to representing Christ in a priestly way.

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I have no idea how to edit a post (maybe I'm just not so smart) but what I wrote in Post #10 about Orthodox (like the Eastern Orthodox Churchs, not to be confused with normal orthodoxy) was supposed to be that their ordinations are valid, but currently illicit because their situation with Rome is irregular.

Isn't there a "+ Edit" button below your post when you view it? It should appear under any post you wrote.

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Paul's understanding, too: "The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:32-35)

Well, Paul is hardly laying down any kind of universal law here. Furthermore, while the observation may have some statistical generality to it, there are plenty of unmarried men and women whose interests are anything but focused on things above, and plenty of married folk whose interests are squarely on the things of God. Sure, having a marriage and family creates plenty of "worldly concerns"; but if they share your convictions and stand behind your calling, they can also be the biggest help of all. There's just no way to apply this sort of guideline in every individual case.

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