Monday, March 17, 2008

An Astonishing Admission

On 14 March 2008, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh published a formal response to the efforts of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Title IV Review Committee of TEC to depose him from the ministry of the said jurisdiction. In the letter, Bishop Duncan makes an astonishing admission...

3. I have preached and taught nothing but what faithful Anglicans and mainstream Christians have always preached and taught, with the exception only that I have supported and encouraged the ministry of women in Holy Orders.

Bishop Duncan seems to be stating very clearly that the support and encouragement of the ministry of women in Holy Orders is not what faithful Anglicans and mainstream Christians have always believed and taught!

In his striking admission he is absolutely correct. But his statement begs another question: if the support and encouragement of the 'ordination' of women is not what the Church has always preached and taught, then what is it?

Saint Vincent of Lerins provides the answer in his Commonitorium, chapter 2:

'I HAVE often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic Faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic Faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation?

For this reason, - because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' (magnopere curandum est ut id teneatur quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est) as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.'

Bishop Duncan concurs with the judgement of history - the purported ordination of women fails the test of Saint Vincent of Lerins, Catholic Tradition, and thus fails the test of orthodoxy. His admission puts him in a very serious situation indeed.

Let us consider by comparison the inexhaustibly rich and helpful instruction offered to the whole Church, East and West, by two Bishops of Rome in the twentieth century. Every orthodox Catholic, Anglican, Latin and Eastern, should purpose to learn, process and synthesise in one's own understanding of the Faith these excellent words:

Inter Insigniores, Pope Paul VI, 15 October 1976

'1. The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: this innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church. It is true that in the writings of the Fathers one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavourable to women, but nevertheless, it should be noted that these prejudices had hardly any influence on their pastoral activity, and still less on their spiritual direction. But over and above considerations inspired by the spirit of the times, one finds expressed—especially in the canonical documents of the Antiochian and Egyptian traditions—this essential reason, namely, that by calling only men to the priestly Order and ministry in its true sense, the Church intends to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the Apostles.

The same conviction animates mediaeval theology, even if the Scholastic doctors, in their desire to clarify by reason the data of faith, often present arguments on this point that modern thought would have difficulty in admitting or would even rightly reject. Since that period and up to our own time, it can be said that the question has not been raised again, for the practice has enjoyed peaceful and universal acceptance.

The Church's tradition in the matter has thus been so firm in the course of the centuries that the Magisterium has not felt the need to intervene in order to formulate a principle which was not attacked, or to defend a law which was not challenged. But each time that this tradition had the occasion to manifest itself, it witnessed to the Church's desire to conform to the model left to her by the Lord.

The same tradition has been faithfully safeguarded by the Churches of the East. Their unanimity on this point is all the more remarkable since in many other questions their discipline admits of a great diversity. At the present time these same Churches refuse to associate themselves with requests directed towards securing the accession of women to priestly ordination.

4. This practice of the Church therefore has a normative character: in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men, it is a question of an unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West, and alert to repress abuses immediately. This norm, based on Christ's example, has been and is still observed because it is considered to conform to God's plan for his Church.

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II, 22 May 1994

1. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (Saint Luke 22.32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.'

In fine, the Church simply does not have the authority to alter the substance of the Holy Sacraments as received from the institution of Our Lord and the Apostles - this truth is transmitted to us dogmatically through Holy Tradition. Let us pray that Bishop Duncan may one day embrace the fullness of the Faith on this vitally important matter.

1 comment:

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Yes, this is an astonishing admission, and perhaps it's a small sign of Duncan's willingness to reconsider the ordination of women. I have long held two interrelated points:

1. No one who accepts the ordination of women can finally exclude the marriage of homosexuals, and

2. There is no hope of enduring cohesion among continuing Anglicans if all of them oppose homosexual marriage but some of them support the ordination of women. The tension created by Point One makes ecclesial coexistence impossible, as the losing party in TEC is discovering.