Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Conclusion: Why a Male-only Priesthood

The third answer of why only men are admitted to the priesthood has a lot to do with what C.S. Lewis touched upon in the previous blog.

Human sexuality symbolizes who we are in relation to God. Fr. Manfred Hauke, a German theologian, wrote a book published by Ignatius Press with the title, Women in the Priesthood? In it he gives a philosophical and theological exposition on how masculinity and femininity respectively symbolize different modes and attributes of God. Although his work is quite scholarly, I intend to provide a simpler version of his insights. If you like JPII's Theology of the Body then you might take a liking to Hauke's work.

First, a man represents something that he is not! His spiritual and psychological nature, as well as his physical anatomy, prjects outward and as such symbolizes the transcendence of God. In other words, the trait of masculinity reveals that God is beyond us, above us and is without limit. Men are restless creatures by nature; much more so than women are. He is constantly driven outside of himself and outside his domestic environment. Rarely is he content with his surroundings; he seeks to venture beyond the horizon. The discovery of the New World, the first flight across the Atlantic ocean, and the landing on the moon, although dangerous enterprises, were envisioned and accomplished by men. Whether it be the quest to conquer the world or the quest to save it, such ambitions are the making of man's spirit. His ambition to transcend space and time is not only a “guy thing,” but it reveals a strong underlying desire for heaven where there are no limitations. However, in the absence of divine grace, this desire for transcendence can be destructive. Hence, high crime rates, terrorism and dictatorships are often the products of masculinity gone wrong.

We find, however, man's perfect compliment in the female sex. In contradistinction to men, a woman symbolizes something that she is. What she symbolizes- in her physical anatomy as well as her psychological and spiritual nature -is God's intimacy and his indwelling. She, unlike her counterpart, is much more intuitive and sensitive to relationships. This gives her the moral advantage. Indeed, she possesses a keen instinct which allows her to detect problem spots in marriages and in relationships.

After all, human life has its origin within her. Perhaps this is why the book of Genesis used the Hebrew terms “built-up” to describe Eve's creation. In fact, the expression “built-up” is also used to recount the construction of sacred places; most notably the Jewish temple by King Solomon where God chose to dwell. To be sure, just as God dwelt in the holy of holies in the Temple, and just as he dwells in tabernacles in Catholic churches throughout the world, the female womb would come to serve as a sanctuary of the first nine months of human life. In her, human life begins and through her it is nurtured. It can even be argued that two human beings are never so close as when a mother is pregnant with her child.

This leads us to why it is important to retain a male-only priesthood and the masculine image of God as Father and Son. It furthermore explains why creation and the Church is depicted in the feminine. The relationship between a man and a woman in terms of procreation reveals the distinction between God and creation; it further illustrates the relationship between Christ and his Church.

At conception, the unity between the mother and the child is ever so close as mentioned above. With this, the distinction is less pronounced between a mother and a newly conceived child than with a father and a newly conceived child. As a matter of fact, father's child can be conceived when he is miles away. Therefore, the creation of human life, or its beginning, is closely bound up with the mother but not so with the father. Indeed, there is a gap, a physical distance if you will, that inheres between the father and the inception of life. Indeed, it is he who learns about the pregnancy from her.

This distinction is important when it comes to God and his creation. There is a profound difference between the Creator and creation as we know from Scripture. The masculine image assigned to God and the feminine character given to creation preserves the distinction between the two. The Lord speaks and the sea, the land, the moon, man and woman came into being. Hence, creation is receptive while its Creator is proactive. However, if a feminine imagery would be assigned to God such as “mother” or “daughter,” then such designations would convey an entirely different kind of God; one that is receptive like creation itself. He would become confused with the world that he created. History demonstrates this. Is it no wonder then that New Age spirituality and other forms of paganism have their goddesses and also wroship nature? I remember praying in a chapel that belonged to a convent of feminist nuns (I was unaware of their orientation at the time) and I happened to read their invocation of “Mother-Earth” and the “four winds” on their prayer cards. Worshiping God as mother quite naturally leads to pantheism- the worship of creation.
St. Paul reminds us that the world before Christ was replete with this kind of paganism. He said the "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes."

The leads to the last point about Christ the Bridegroom and his Church the Bride. This, as you can imagine, parallels with the logic of God and his creation. Christ, in his masculine nature, takes the initiative and gives of himself in the Divine Liturgy. At the altar, as with the union between a man and a woman, our Lord gives to his Bride, the Church, his body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. We, as his Church, receive him. And this, of course, is done through the priest who is an icon of Christ. Not only through the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar does our Lord assume the male role in giving us the bread of life, or, if you will, the seed of life; but during the Mass the priest, who represents the Son of God, takes the initiative with the greeting. He begins by saying, “The Lord be with you.” And we, the faithful, who play the feminine role, respond, “And also with you.”

The male-only priesthood is loaded with symbolic significance. To alter it would lead to a whole new set of theological errors and moral dissoluteness. And although our culture is doing away with gender differences under the guise of equality, we, the faithful members of Christ's Mystical Body, must refuse to go along.

So next time you greet your parish priest as “father,” know that it stands for much more than a man having authority in the church. It should remind us that God has chosen to reveal himself to us as a Father would to a Son; not as a Master to a slave. And for that, we should be eternally grateful.