WOMEN AND THE CHURCH
Anglican Church General Synod voted on Monday 7 July to remove
the regulations that prevent women being ordained as bishops.
Prior to this, by way of a narrowly won vote, the Church of
England (in contrast to the Church of Rome) has allowed the
priestly ordination of women since 1992, causing an ongoing
backlash from traditionalists. And now the current decision
to improve the female position threatens a major clerical rift,
even a schism within the establishment.
primary reason to oppose the decision, as stated by the dissenters,
is: 'Our Master and Lord, Jesus himself, when he sent us the
twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did
nowhere send out women to preach'. This statement is taken directly,
word for word, from the Apostolic Constitutions of the
Catholic Church and should perhaps have no bearing on reformed
Anglican procedures. But, notwithstanding this, it is in direct
contradiction of the historical facts of early Christianity.
New Testament epistle of Saint Paul discusses his own female
helpers: Phebe, Julia and Pricilla (Romans 16:1-2, 15; 3-4).
Phebe is specifically stated in the text to have been 'a
diakonos (deaconess)', although the English translation
mistranslates this as 'servant of the church'. We are also told
that, from the outset of his ministry, Jesus had female helpers
apart from his mother and sisters. There were Mary Magdalene
and Martha of course, but Luke 8:3 also mentions 'Joanna, Susanna
and many others'. Putting these gospel entries into perspective
within an early Christian context, Bishop Clement of Alexandria
wrote in the 2nd century: 'The apostles worked in the company
of women, who were sisters and co-ministers'.
the same era, the Church Father Origen of Alexandria recorded
that 'Women were instituted as deacons in the church'. Even
the Catholic Encyclopedia admits as much concerning the
female ministry. It maintains, 'There can be no question that
women were permitted to exercise certain definite functions
in the Church and were known by the special name of diakonoi
or diakonissai'. Attention is then drawn to a 4th-century
manuscript entitled the Testament of Our Lord which renders
it 'certain that a ritual was in use for the ordination of women
by the laying on of hands'.
Roman senator, Pliny the younger, had written in AD 112 about
female ministers within the Christian movement. A later Council
of Nicaea transcript of the newly-formed Roman Church from AD
325 discusses the one-time ecclesiastical role of a deaconess,
as did Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 365), St Basil of Caesarea
(AD 372) and various others. Among the most famed of ordained
Christian women in the 4th century was the wealthy Olympias
of Constantinople. She was consecrated as a deaconess by High
Bishop Nectarius at the city's principal church, the Hagia
earliest strategy for male-only ecclesiastical dominance was
implemented by way of the Apostolic Constitutions when
the emergent Church of Rome cited that Jesus had himself been
practising the wrong religion. It was decreed that the Nazarene
community of Jesus, 'like Jesus himself, expound upon the prophetic
books of the Old Testament. They reject the Pauline epistles,
and they reject the apostle Paul'. In retaliation, the Nazarenes
of the era denounced Paul as 'a renegade and a false apostle',
claiming that the idolatrous interpretation of his writings
by the Vatican should be rejected altogether.
Paul had written in his first epistle to Timothy (2:11-12) that
seemingly contradicted his previously mentioned working relationships
with females, was: 'Let the woman learn in silence with all
subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority
over the man, but to be in silence'. In the light of this convenient
statement, the Apostolic Constitutions resultantly maintained
that the teachings of St Paul were superior to those of Jesus.
so the seed was sown; there were to be no more women in the
Church and a rule of celibacy was implemented to avoid the possibility
of family-inherited office via any female source. As for the
Popes, they were deemed to be figurative apostolic successors
of St Peter, even though Peter had never been a bishop of anywhere
and was certainly not recorded as ever being in Rome. There
is no document that attests to anything in Peter's life beyond
AD 44 (1 Timothy 2:11-12), some 16 years before St Paul made
his famous sea voyage to Rome (Acts 21-28).
Peter did go to Rome, then Paul never saw fit to mention the
fact; neither did any Roman chronicler, nor any other Christian
or Jewish writer of the era. The Vatican Archive states: 'We
possess no precise information regarding the details of Peter's
Roman sojourn. It is widely held that Peter paid a visit to
Rome after he had been liberated from the prison in Jerusalem
[AD 44], but such a journey cannot be established with certainty'.
And yet, despite this admission, the whole premise of Vatican
male dominion relies on a principle that St Paul denounced women,
whilst the Catholic Church is not classified as the Church of
Jesus, but as the Church of St Peter.
arguments the present Anglican clergy who oppose this week's
Synod decision might care to put forward against the consecration
of women bishops, one fact is eminently clear: They cannot claim
against all historical record that ordained women were not part
of the original pre-Roman Christian ministry from the gospel
era. Such a declaration is indicative of a very poor level of
Gardner - Exeter, 9 July 2008.
Author of The Grail Enigma, HarperCollins, 2008.