This is a continuing reflection on The Paradox of Religious Patriarchy and the Golden Rule to focus on the absurdities of patriarchal gender ideology, the travesty of denying to Christ any chance of calling women to the ministerial priesthood in today's world, and the social and ecological repercussions.
Patriarchal Gender Ideology vs. Theology of the Body
Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Being a body precedes, both ontologically and biophysically, becoming male or female via sexual differentiation. Both the male and the female of the human species are body-persons, of the same homogeneous flesh, before they differentiate as female or male, XX or XY. Any claim that men are women are ontologically different as to their human nature, and that therefore it is ontologically impossible to ordain women to act in persona Christi, is based on the obsolete sex/gender "binary" of patriarchal gender ideology, which is now known (via the Theology of the Body) to be ontologically and biophysically false.
Patriarchal (and imperial) Christendom is practically dead, but Christianity is not finished because the great commission is not finished. Ecclesiastical patriarchy must be dismantled for a new evangelization, for integral human development, and for an integral ecology; else, much pain and suffering will be inflicted by the institutional church on the body of Christ and the entire community of creation. It is not just an issue of justice for women; it is also about justice for men, because man needs woman as much as woman needs man, heads included. Male headship is a nefarious patriarchal myth, not natural law.
The relational complementarity of man and woman does not cancel their consubstantial unity. It is time to recognize that the real travesty is not to deny ordination to women. The real travesty is to deny Christ the right to call women to serve in the priesthood of the New Law after the priesthood of the Old Law has been superseded by the redemption, and especially now that patriarchal civilization is passing away. For over fifty years now, scholars have been cautioning that the ideology of male supremacy is the root cause of both social injustice and the ecological crisis.
Historical Background and Integral Anthropology
For historical background on the Christian understanding of the ministerial priesthood, the reader is referred to The Paradox of Religious Patriarchy and the Golden Rule and the more detailed timeline in Religious Patriarchy in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Then click the image below to view a list of suggested points of meditation grounded in the Theology of the Body, a theological anthropology that is based on an adequate, integral anthropology consistent with human nature, male and female, and consistent with what we now know about human biology and psychology:
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, and Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles
Original painting: Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ, by Janet McKenzie
Image source: Center for Action and Contemplation (annotated by the author)
Contrary to patriarchal gender ideology, there is no "second sex" because there is no "first sex." Women are not "defective males," as Aristotle taught and not even Thomas Aquinas was able to refute based on his understanding of human biology. As it is clearly explained in the Theology of the Body, the first "man" (Genesis 2:7) was a solitary, androgynous body-person ('adam), a living (spirited) being subsequently differentiated into male and female ('is-'issah) -- as it happens at conception and subsequent (very fast, nanoseconds, but not instantaneous) sexual differentiation -- while remaining fully homogeneous (i.e., consubstantial) in one and the same embodied human nature. Furthermore, man and woman become fully human not in isolation, or in a patriarchal nuptial covenant, but in communion with each other (communio personarum, in the image of the Trinity). With this in mind, consider the points listed, one by one. Let them sink in. Counterpoints may come to mind. Check them against the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine. Try to filter out cultural conditioning, consider the realities of today's globalized world, and draw your own conclusions.
Implications for Integral Human Development
The concept of integral human development means that "the development of peoples must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each person and of the whole person." It means developing the human person in all dimensions of human life: biophysical, intellectual, social, psychological, and spiritual, from conception to natural death. This precludes any form of violence and discrimination based on biophysical or social factors. Obviously, ideologies such as racism and sexism are grave obstacles to integral human development. Due to our flawed human condition (Genesis 3) it may not be possible to completely eradicate racism and sexism until the end times. However, institutionalized racism and sexism can and must be eradicated, and sooner rather than later.
There is empirical evidence that racism and sexism reinforce each other, and in turn induce classism, nationalism, and other forms of cultural violence ("culture wars") detrimental to social cohesion. What happens when racism and sexism go mainstream? Very bad things happen, such as people indulging in delusions of racial/gender supremacy and refusing to act for the common good in matters of public health and social welfare. We are currently suffering the consequences of entire economies becoming patriarchal (under a variety of capitalist or socialist disguises) and working only for the benefit of elites, in utter disregard for the integral human development of poor people and the human rights of workers.
Religious institutions are notorious for procrastinating in discarding practices of racism and sexism that are often supported by doctrinal rationalizations. The Catholic church did not declare slavery to be morally wrong until as recently as the late 19th century. Even today, the Vatican continues to exclude women from the ministerial priesthood. Protestations to the effect that the dignity of women does not require ordination are self-serving and hardly persuasive; equal but separate is not equal. Religious patriarchy does reinforce social patriarchy and negates the "integral" part of integral human development. The following articles explore the influence of religious patriarchy on integral human development:
Religious Patriarchy is an Obstacle to Integral Human Development
Overcoming Patriarchal Gender Ideology for Integral Human Development
An Integral Anthropology for Integral Human Development
The Climax of Religious Patriarchy and the Renewal of Human Relations
The Paradox of Religious Patriarchy and the Golden Rule
Implications for an Integral Ecology
Ecology is the study of the relations of organisms to one another and to their biophysical environment. Human ecology is the study of the relations among humans and between humans and the human habitat. Social ecology studies relationships between human communities and their environment, i.e., the interdependence of people, collectives, and institutions. Industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems, and how such flows depend on natural resources and in turn impact the natural environment. The term "integral ecology" is used by Pope Francis in Laudato Si' to mean social ecology that explicitly focuses on integral human development in harmony with the ecosphere, i.e., the entire community of creation, our "common home."
Back to religious institutions. Approximately 80% of people worldwide identify with some religious tradition. About 31% (2.3 billion) are Christians, and the Catholic church is the largest Christian tradition (1.2 billion). The reason that ordaining women to the priesthood and the episcopate is instrumental for social and ecological justice is that patriarchy, as a mindset of male domination in the family, translates to a mindset of human domination of the human habitat. This mindset is further reinforced by patriarchal religious language, whereby God is imaged almost exclusively in masculine terminology. Dismantling religious patriarchy for 1.2 billion people sounds like a good way to foster cultural evolution beyond the patriarchal gender ideology that is driving the ecological crisis. Granted that money and other factors are influential, religion is key.
In the Catholic church and other sacramental churches, the idolatry of masculinity is manifested by allowing only males to be ordained as ministers of the sacraments, thereby also excluding women from roles of headship in ecclesial communities. Given that there is no dogmatic imperative to perpetuate the conflation of patriarchal ideology and divine revelation, why the vexing refusal to ordain women? Is it "pastoral prudence"? If not dogma or prudence, what else? Untying this knot may be the task of the 3rd millennium of the Christian era, except that the ecological crisis (undoubtedly a "sign of the times") may not grant the churches time to proceed at a glacial pace.
If man and woman complete each other in both Church and society, why is patriarchal male headship still enshrined in the Church hierarchy, given that man and woman are fully homogeneous in their "whole being"? The patriarchal ideology of male domination and female submission, which is a consequence of original sin (Genesis 3:16), is an obstacle to integral human development, integral humanism, and integral ecology. The fundamental issue is whether the Church makes decisions based on cultural conditioning or an ever deepening understanding of natural law and the deposit of faith. This is not about what women (or men) want. This is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls, and the care of our common home, in light of an adequate theological anthropology.
Would Jesus, in today's globalized world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? After 6000 years or so, patriarchy is an era that is passing away. Abusive neoliberal capitalism is an economic manifestation of patriarchy, communism being nothing but capitalism turned inside out; both are based on domination of the weak by the strong, i.e., domination of the female by the male, domination of nature by humans. The exclusively male priesthood is the ecclesiastical manifestation of patriarchy. To the extent that "respect for creation" is for the glory of God and the common good of humanity, it is hard to envision that the Church should remain patriarchal much longer.
The following articles explore the influence of religious patriarchy on both integral human development and an integral ecology:
Religious Patriarchy Contributes to a Dysfuntional Human Ecology
An Adequate Anthropology for an Integral Ecology
The Twilight of Patriarchy and the Dawn of an Integral Ecology
Overcoming Patriarchal Gender Ideology for an Integral Ecology
An Integral Anthropology for an Integral Ecology
The Patriarchal Roots of the Ecological Crisis
Fostering Gender Communion for an Integral Ecology
A Cultural Revolution for an Integral Ecology
Patriarchal Gender Theory: Defective Anthropology, Defective Ecology
Seeking New Paths for Humanity and for an Integral Ecology
The Nuptial Dimension of Human Ecology
The Nuptial Insanity of Male Headship in Human Ecology
The Marian Model of Human Development for an Integral Ecology
Mary of Nazareth is a model of integral human development. Judging from the way her son grew to be the model human, she was also the best integral human developer. From the humid cave in Bethlehem to the crucible of Mount Calvary, she was faithful to her unique ministerial vocation as Mother of Jesus and, consequently, Mother of the Eucharist. Let this sink in: before the redemption, at a time when women in the patriarchal culture of Israel could not even enter a synagogue or serve as witness or in any other role of public authority, she was chosen to be the Mother of the Eucharist -- much more than any priest of the Old Law, and much more than any priest of the New Law. It begs the question: if Mary, an unbaptized Jewish woman, was "ordained" by the Holy Spirit to bring us the Redeemer, why is it that, after the redemption, baptized women cannot be ordained to be priests of the New Law. Why? The patriarchal mindset of male headship, plain and simple.
The ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood and the episcopate is fully consistent with, and builds upon, the presence of the Mother of Jesus, Mary of Nazareth, in all Christian communities. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and is therefore the Mother of the Eucharist; much more than an ordained priest. Mary raised Jesus to be appreciative of nature and how to use natural resources well, as clearly revealed in what he did and taught during his public ministry: Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns... The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few... He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes... Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them... Fill the jars with water... Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds... Wrote in the ground with his finger... I am the vine; you are the branches... In the gospels we can see that, as he went around doing good, Jesus never acted in a vacuum; his works and teachings were always built on what others could offer and were always grounded in nature, in biophysical reality, because his mother had taught him that everything created is very good.
A POEM TO THE
MOTHER OF THE EUCHARIST
Did the woman say
when she held him for the first time
in the dark dank of a stable, after
the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
"This is my body, this is my blood?"
Did the woman say,
when she held him for the last time
on the dark rain on a hilltop, after
the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
"This is my body, this is my blood?"
Well that she said it to him then,
for dry old men,
brocaded robes belying barrenness,
ordain that she not say it for him now.
Frances C. Frank, Easter 1990
How the cult of Virgin Mary turned a symbol of female authority into a tool of patriarchy is a sad story. So is the persisting misconception that women cannot be priests because they are not male and therefore do not bear a natural resemblance to the historical Jesus. Why is it that women have never been considered to be icons of Christ? The patriarchal mindset of male headship, plain and simple. Women priests can be images of Christ. After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was the first witness, and a witness to the witnesses, an apostle to the apostles. How come she is not recognized as an apostle? Because at that time women were not credible as witnesses. Judging from the way Mathias was chosen to replace Judas, the reason women "disappear" from apostolic succession is the patriarchal mindset of male headship, plain and simple.
So is the fallacy of suggesting that we don't need women priests because the Virgin Mary was not a priest. What matters is that God became flesh, became an embodied person. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. What matters is body, not sex. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:9-10). Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me (Hebrews 10:5). Who gave us that body? Mary of Nazareth. Who accompanied Jesus during his public ministry? Mary of Nazareth. Who stood at the foot of the cross? Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene was stading there too. Who was present when Jesus has buried? Mary Magdalene. Who was the first one to see the Risen Christ? Mary Magdalene. Who was the first one to bear witness to the resurrection? Mary Magdalene. What kind of rationalization can be used to deduce, from the gospel accounts, that women cannot serve in apostolic succession? Patriarchal gender ideology, plain and simple.
What is not forbidden, is permitted. There is no prohibition of women priests under the New Law. It is a prohibition imposed by the church (CIC 1024, CCC 1598), not by Christ. Church patriarchs making women invisible do not make the prohibition divine. It is a cultural thing, rooted in patriarchal gender ideology disguised as divine law (CCC 1577). It is a tragedy that is now becoming a travesty, a sacramental travesty that harms the entire body of Christ. The church is not a woman with a male head. Apostolic succession is not contingent on masculinity. Now that we have the integral anthropology of the Theology of the Body, there is no justification to keep aborting female vocations to serve in apostolic succession. In addition to harming the body of Christ spiritually, a patriarchal priesthood is an obstacle to integral human development because it perpetuates delusions of male supremacy, and is also an obstacle to an integral ecology because it reinforces the delusions of human supremacy that induce irresponsible exploitation of natural resources. For these reasons, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is a sacramental travesty, a social travesty, and an ecological travesty. Just as the early church decided to abolish the patriarchal obligation of male circumcision (Acts 15) in spite of protestations by the Judaizers, now the Catholic church would do well to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate, and sooner rather than later, in spite of resistance by rigid traditionalists who want to keep Christ locked in the patriarchal mindset of the Old Law.
Sexism is artificial and pathological. It is the oldest cultural pandemic, and it is the most harmful, because gender belongs deeper in the psychosomatic structure of the human person, so it hurts personal subjects and human communities more deeply. Patriarchal sexism makes all human relations dysfunctional. It is also nefarious for human ecology, because dysfunctional human relations translate to dysfunctional relations between humans and the human habitat. The Christian faith is not sexist and is not intrinsically patriarchal. If the Virgin Mary is the Mother of the Eucharist, then women can and should be ordained to consecrate the body and blood of Christ for a more abundant life in humans and nature.
The Christ-Church nuptial mystery (Ephesians 5:21-33) cannot be reduced to a social covenant based on the false anthropology of patriarchal gender ideology. See, for example, "Women Priests and the Image of God," by Karen Strand Winslow, Priscilla Papers, 30 April 2020; and the comprehensive resources curated at Women Can Be Priests by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. The Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, is a clear sign that Canon 1024 is just a distant echo of Genesis 3:16, a tragic consequence of "original sin" that, 2000 years after the redemption, still persists as institutionalized sexism in church and society. It is time to ordain women!