Friday, September 08, 2017

Dogma Not Discipline

This essay delineates what the authentic Anglican Church teaches about the nature of the Apostolic Ministry: any prospective communion between the orthodox catholic Continuing Churches and the ACNA is now unattainable.

The controversy regarding the male character of the sacred Ministry is an unfortunate one, but one which continues to gain momentum and intensity in many parts of the Christian and post-Christian world. Our position is controversial to those who embrace the new hermeneutic, or the novel interpretation of the Christian Faith which has been developed over the past forty years, and yet it is our position which has been held 'everywhere, always, and by all' (Saint Vincent of Lerins) throughout two-thousand years of orthodox Christian Tradition and teaching. The definition of the Catholic Faith is that it is the Faith which passes the threefold test of universality, antiquity, and consent. 

The ordination of women fails each of these tests. The male nature of the sacramental priesthood is a received part of the catholicity of the whole Church. The entire Holy Catholic Church, East and West, for two-thousand years has always held that the ministerial priesthood sacramentally represents Jesus Christ, and is therefore male in essence, for the catholic priesthood of the whole Church is the 'icon of the Incarnation.' Simply put in a deductive form: 1. Jesus Christ is true Man in a male human nature, 2. the ordained priest in Holy Orders personifies or 'incarnates' the incarnate human nature of Christ, 3. thus the priest must be true man in a male human nature. The Anglican Province of America officially accepts the teaching of the Affirmation of Saint Louis (1977):

Holy Orders
The Holy Orders of bishops, priests and deacons as the perpetuation of Christ's gift of apostolic ministry to His Church, asserting the necessity of a bishop of apostolic succession (or priest ordained by such) as the celebrant of the Eucharist -- these Orders consisting exclusively of men in accordance with Christ's Will and institution (as evidenced by the Scriptures), and the universal practice of the Catholic Church.

The priest stands in the place of Christ, to quote Saint Cyprian of Carthage, at the altar, imaging Our Lord, 'impersonating' Him. Theology describes the ordained priest as in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the Person of Christ the Head of the Church. Christ is the Head of the Church, the Bridegroom of the Bride (Ephesians 5.20ff). Therefore the priest, the alter Christus, 'another Christ,' is the living icon or image of Christ the Bridegroom to His Bride the Church. The priest is the sacramental identification or personification of the incarnate Christ, the representative of God to man and man to God. 

The catholic priest is the Bridegroom and Head of the Church, in the Person of Christ. A bishop or priest is not ordained per se to fulfil a function, but rather to be the icon or image of Christ: the Sacrament of Holy Orders is ontological, a matter of being, not functional, or simply to play a role. The priest is ordained to be the icon of Christ. Hence, a woman cannot be ordained because she cannot be an icon of the Bridegroom to the Bride. Biblical orthodox Christianity has always used the metaphors, images, and types found in Holy Scripture which reveal in nuptial terms that God is the Bridegroom and Head, and His People, the Church, is the Bride. The ordained man 'puts on Christ' in his priestly ordination; he possesses an ontological indelible sacramental character which configures him to Jesus Christ in a unique way. 

The priest in apostolic succession is the great sacrament of Christ, the sacramental man in the Sacramental Man Himself. The ordained sacramental priest has no priesthood of his own, but shares in, sacramentally manifests, and extends to the Church the One Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ. We believe the male character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a truth revealed by God, essential to the nature of the sacrament as instituted by Christ and the Apostles and fundamental to the purpose for which the gift of the Apostolic Ministry was conveyed by Christ to the Church (I Corinthians 14.34-40). The sacramental sacerdotal priesthood exists to image of our Lord Jesus Christ in time and space, to represent Our Lord sacramentally as a living instrument of Christ. Ordination is the sacrament of history, the conveyance of Christ's sacramental structure in the Church, and thus Christ's presence, throughout time. 

The ordained priesthood is the extension and continuation of the very Ministry of our Blessed Lord through the course of the ages. We believe that the Church does not have the authority or competence to alter what is believed to be an salvific institution of divine origin: '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 (cf. Lk 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.' (ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS of John Paul II). On this matter, both the Roman and Eastern Churches have been faithful guardians and custodians of the Apostolic Tradition. The Catholic Faith of the creeds and councils stipulates that to deny the male essence of the priesthood, the image of the Incarnation, is to deny the reality of the Incarnation of the Word made flesh.

Ironically, it is not that we do not believe that women cannot be priests, in negative terms: it is that we believe, positively, that Our Lord Jesus Christ definitively instituted a male Apostolic Ministry in a sacrament which requires as its outward and visible sign the male subject of ordination. We believe that the priesthood of Jesus Christ transmitted in Holy Orders is one of the most profound gifts of God to His Church, a divine mercy granted the Church for her edification and salvation. Therefore even the Pope or an Ecumenical Council does not possess the authority substantially to change what has been revealed directly by God to be an permanent component of the life and ministry of the Church. In this respect, the action of certain provinces of the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches to change the prerequisite of a divinely-ordained sacrament is a unilateral innovation of the most egregious kind. By doing so, such provinces have not only severed their communion with the larger Church Catholic of the ages, but have irrevocably changed the substance of the sacraments instituted by the Lord Jesus. 

The question of the ordination or non-ordination of women is not a political or social justice issue, although it is often confused by its politically-correct promoters as such. Rather, the nature of sacred ordination is an issue of divine revelation and authority, a theological concern only - and one upon which our salvation depends. In the teaching and theology of the Holy Catholic Church, the validity of the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist, depends on the validity of the Christ-given priesthood which administers them. And the sacraments exist to guarantee the conferral of divine life; they are the divine assurances and covenanted means of grace without which we do not possess the certainty of grace. 'Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a Eucharist; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid' (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, To the Smyrnaeans 8). 

Anglicans have always held in common with whole Undivided Church that true bishops and priests are required for the validity of a true Eucharistic celebration. The Holy Eucharist, in turn, is generally necessary for salvation (S. John 6.50-66, BCP 581). In blunt terms - 'No bishop, no Church. No priest, no Eucharist, no salvation.' All tie together in one tremendous economia of divine grace. We believe the male catholic priesthood was revealed by God for the salvation of man, and to tamper with it is to tamper with the divine gift of salvation. I do hope these thoughts will be of use to you and will be helpful in your consideration of the complex and vitally important subject of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

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