The following post, “The Male Image of God and the Priesthood” was not designed to be a quick read but rather, due to its philosophical and theological nature, it is an depth treatment of why it's important to keep the male image of God as well as the priesthood intact. Any change which assigns the feminine principle or feminine image to God or the priesthood implies a radical transformation of the Christian religion into paganism. C.S. Lewis, an Anglican, once said that you can have your priestess...but it will not be Christianity (ps- this is why so many are leaving the Anglican and Episcopal Churches) Why is this? Why can't we call God Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit? Why can't we have women priests? Take the time to read this post, in piecemeal if necessary, and you might arrive a better understanding as the male-only priesthood. With the egalitarianism (radical equality) so prevalent on in every sector of society, it is important to know some basic principles in order to debunk it and furthermore help people steer clear from it.
Unfortunately, a 500 or 1000 word post would do this topic an injustice. As such, "The Image of God and the Priesthood" amounts to almost 3000 words.
The Male Image of God and the Priesthood: Equality Not Sameness:
A friend of mine had recently asked his friends how one explains why Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. Because of the emphasis our society puts on absolute equality- forgetting that equality in no way implies sameness –this question gets asked of Catholics quite a bit. As with non-Catholics not being able to receive Holy Communion, a woman not being able to become a priest is a sore spot for many people. Keep in mind, no matter what answer you provide, it is not likely to have an immediate effect on the inquirer. After all, if one subscribes to egalitarianism- the belief that men and women are not only equal but psychologically, sexually and spiritually the same –then this radical version of equality needs to be discredited before they accept the Christian version of equality.
Overview of Three Answers:
In any case, there are three answers you can give. The first is quick and to the point; although true, it is not likely to win over many skeptics. The second answer better utilizes certain principles that are relevant in our entertainment culture. However, I consider this one to be more like an appetizer; hopefully it will lead to another explanation having more depth.
The third one requires that your listener has a long attention span. Most of the time simple answers are the way to go. But for this one, it really is worth it to chew on this explanation and let it settle. Americans, as Tocqueville once said, have an aversion to meditation and deep thoughts. They are more geared towards the practical doing. True enough. Still, I would press on with this third answer as to why Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. Challenge your audience- be it family, friend or co-worker –to think a little deeper and a little broader. I believe this to be the best answer once the other answers have been exhausted. It explains why C.S. Lewis could say: You can have your priestesses…but it will not be Christianity.
First: The Precedent
As I said, the first answer is quick and to the point: Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. The Catholic Church doesn’t have the authority to change it. And that's that! But this is a "...because I said so!" kind of an answer. It may be true but it is not that satisfying to most. Invariably, you will get a response along the lines of: “Well, at the Last Supper, when the priesthood was officially instituted, only Jewish men were present. Why, then, did the Church go ahead and ordain Gentile men in subsequent decades?” I will leave it to you to explain why the ordination of Gentile men (non-Jewish men) and the ordination of women are apples and oranges. Perhaps the second answer will help.
Second: Acting Out Last Supper
The second answer: The Mass is rightly characterized as a prayer, the most perfect one on earth, which is directed to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. At the heart of this great liturgical prayer is a sacred act or play in which the sanctuary and altar is a kind of stage where the priest plays Jesus. That's right. The priest who presides at the Mass not only recites the words used at the Last Supper when Jesus said, “This is my body...” but he also acts out what Jesus did. Few think of the Eucharistic sacrifice as a play simply because it is often associated with entertainment. Nevertheless, by lifting the host and then the chalice the priest reenacts the part of our Lord at the Last Supper.
Now, even Hollywood can relate to this principle. If a movie were to portray the life of George Washington, for instance, who would doubt that a male actor would be chosen to play his part? True, what happens at the altar is more than just a play or a reenactment. Through the words of consecration the body, blood and soul of Jesus is communicated. Since his body is male in essence, it is only fitting that a male priest mediate the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, in order to uphold the integrity of the play and the consecration of bread and wine, a male representative is required.
It would seem that the second answer to the question of why only men can be priests is a reasonable one. After all, Hollywood uses male actors to represent men in the story and the same goes from women. No one questions that policy. It would seem in the case of the Mass that requiring male priests to represent Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would apply even more considering the above stated reasons.
When defending the male-only priesthood of Jesus Christ one is almost socially obligated to provide a litany of wonderful qualities of the female sex; as if to apologize for this unchangeable doctrine. But this misses the point. The Catholic priesthood of only men has nothing to do with the personal merit of a man or a woman. The Catholic Church, more than any other religion or institution, honors women throughout the year by celebrating female Saints; most notably the Blessed Virgin who is heralded as the holiest of all the Saints and human beings. Perhaps this is why when the Catholic Faith was most influential just a few centuries ago in Europe, the station of women was elevated far above than what it had been in pagan civilization.
Third: Sexuality, Creation, Redemption
In any case, the male-only priesthood has everything to do with this one fact: Sexuality symbolizes the unseen spiritual world. Indeed, human sexuality and spirituality are so tightly interwoven with one another that to change the attitude or practice of one is to change the attitude or practice of the other.
Man and woman were created in God's image. According to Scripture, God has chosen to reveal not only who he is but the truth of his creation as it relates to himself; especially with regard to God's relationship with the human race. Keep in mind that our culture has become increasingly egalitarian in previous decades. In addition, with the advance of same-sex marriage, the sexual attributes of masculinity and femininity have come to be seen as superficial categories. Some ask, “What is the difference if a child has a father and a father rather than a father and a mother?” “As long as each parent is loving,” they say, “that is all that matters.” Under this radical version of equality, men and women have become neutered to great detriment of humanity.
With that said, we can restore the proper understanding of what a man and what a woman really is by returning to God's revelation. And the bearer of that revelation is the Catholic Church.
Someone who made a brilliant case for the male-only priesthood was a non-Catholic, C.S. Lewis. In fact, he belonged to the Anglican Church; a church that eventually renounced the male-only priesthood. He points out that God's identity as Father is closely bound up with men being priests; and that God invoked as Father brings to light who we are as his image.
“Suppose the reformer [innovator] stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to 'Our Mother which art in heaven' as to 'Our Father'. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.”
Lewis goes on to say, “One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.”
If it doesn't matter that God is invoked as mother or father then it does not matter if Christ is seen as the bridegroom or bride. To reverse the traditional imagery, dare I say the imagery revealed by God, then it is no exaggeration to say that we will find ourselves in a different religion entirely; one closely akin to ancient paganism. With pagan religious beliefs we will soon be led to pagan morality; you know, the good old gladiator games in the Coliseum and the human sacrifices on the pyramids.
Rarely do people follow doctrines or principles- be it revealed or man-made -to their logical conclusions. Nevertheless, the revealed doctrine that the Priesthood of Christ is to be transmitted through men only preserves the correct belief in the Holy Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also guarantees the doctrine of how God and his people relate to each other and who we really are. Take away the linchpin which binds only men to the priesthood, and the rest unravels. Sad but true, a fine illustration of this unraveling is to be found in the twenty-first century Anglican Church. It has severed so many of its ties with primitive Christianity. King Henry VIII would not even recognize it.
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.
Fr. Hauke: Women in the Priesthood?
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.
Man: Something He is Not
First, a man represents something that he is not! His spiritual and psychological nature, as well as his physical anatomy, projects 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.
Woman: Something She Is
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.
Male Image Reveals Distinction:
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 worship 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 Eucharist: The Life Giving Principle
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 with your spirit.”
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.