Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, June 27, 2011

Protestants and Ordained Female Ministers

Today I came across an interesting paper regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood. It was written by Sr. Sara Butler. At first I wasn't sure which side of the issue she would defend, but as it turns out she supports the teaching of the Catholic Church. While she does a pretty good job of explaining the Church's view, the official reasoning of the Magisterium could use some more support (in my humble opinion).

That being said, this post is actually about Protestantism rather than Catholicism.

Sr. Sara pointed out that many people have shown that Protestants have female ministers, so why not Catholics. If we are all Christians, why is the Catholic Church so "anti-woman"? Of course, a good Catholic should quickly point out that the greatest of all God's creatures is a woman whose name is Mary, the Mother of God, but there is something to be said about how Protestant theology differs from Catholic theology regarding sacraments. As Sr. Sara writes:

It is well known that the 16th century Reformers denied that Holy Orders is a sacrament. This difference, then, touches the origins of the ministry (that is, its institution by Jesus Christ), its relationship to the office of the Twelve Apostles (and therefore to apostolic succession), and its relationship to the common priesthood (or priesthood of the baptized). To put it simply, it is not because we differ over the equality and complementarity of the sexes that some Protestants ordain women, and the Catholic Church does not; it is because we disagree over whether Holy Orders is a sacrament.

How does this disagreement impinge on our question? First, according to Catholic teaching, Holy Orders is a sacrament distinct from Baptism that confers on one of the baptized a sacred power not possessed by the rest. This is what is meant by saying that the ministerial priesthood differs in kind and not just in degree from the common priesthood of the baptized. According to the Protestant Reformers, by contrast, ordination commits to the minister, for the sake of good order and on the basis of his or her spiritual gifts, the exercise of functions that in principle belong to all of the baptized. The Reformers held that the “general ministry” of Word and Sacrament is given first to the whole Church, and then transmitted by ordination to those who will serve the rest in the “special ministry.” What follows from this? According to the classical Reformation doctrine, it is indeed unjust to bar baptized women from the ministry on the basis of their sex. The slogan, “If you won’t ordain women, don’t baptize them” makes sense in denominations that adhere to this doctrine.

In other words, Baptism is one's official entry into the body of believers called the Church. But for Catholics, God calls some men from within the body of believers to perform certain duties in His name and represent us before the Father. Furthermore, of these men there is a hierarchy of deacon, priest, and bishop. Protestantism, on the other hand, is ecclesially-speaking rather flat and egalitarian. Add to this the Protestant notion that all receive the same amount of grace (a grace which merely covers the soul, not inheres in the soul) and we have a communion of saints where no saint is any holier than the next. Very flat indeed.

But in this present conversation we can say that the sacramental status of Holy Orders makes all the difference between Catholic and Protestant thinking on the matter. If Christ called twelve men into a body called the Apostles and conferred on them the fullness of his own mission through Holy Orders (keeping in mind this calling came prior to the established mission to baptize), then their successors maintain that mission and draw other men into their body in order to further carry out the mission of Christ. By flattening out the nature of grace and the Church, Protestantism lost a vital icon of masculinity. Combine with this the rejection of Marian dogma and we see a Protestantism that is as disoriented as homosexuality, and absolutely confused over gender roles.

Keep in mind that these words are not to be in harsh criticism of Protestantism; rather, I hope Protestantism sees the help the Catholic Church could be on this matter. Furthermore, I would argue that Protestantism not only helped Catholics see the the importance of the separation of church and state, but it also helped establish the first modern nations including my beloved nation, the United States. I also thank Protestantism for helping me pick up my Bible in study and prayer. But if Protestantism can help Catholics get more Biblical, perhaps its time we help it become more sacramental.

In the end it's far easier to handle social issues when you have the Bible and Sacraments.

1 comment:

  1. I just noticed this post. I agree that certain Protestants have made grace and authority flat, but this has only recently become popular and not with all. There is nothing essentially Protestant about it.