Monday, July 07, 2008

By whose authority?

One of the reasons for my own seeking of reconciliation with the Catholic Church in 1973 was a visit I made to Walsingham a year earlier, there were lots of high intellectual reasons for my decision, but this was the visceral one, the one that changed my thinking and my life.
I loved the little Catholic Shrine, which then consisted of just the Slipper Chapel, I was moved to tears by the ruined Abbey, destroyed under the perfidious Henry VIII. The little Orthodox Church in the disused railway station filled me with delight, Dr Zhivago fused Orthodoxy and railways for me. A year or so earlier, I had very seriously thought of becoming an Orthodox.
It was the Anglican shrine however that left me stunned. I could cope with the plaster faux disneyesque crusader tombs, altars for every exotic Church imaginable, the grotesque museum-like mixture of styles was a bit of a problem. The real problem was the Holy House itself. The Holy House in the shrine is beautifully severe, filled with smoking candles, near to it is a new Holy Well. I don't care for the Spanish style of their statue, see the picture. I found it impossible to pray there. The words “by whose authority?” kept going through my mind. The original was built following the instruction of Our Lady to a Saxon noble woman. The new one, the replacement, was built by Alfred Hope Patten, Vicar of Walsingham in the 1920/30s, he had been some kind of family friend.
For me, “by whose authority?” has been a constant question, it has not made life easy. For a Catholic rebuilding a shrine whose conception and siting had a supernatural origin would most probably entail some higher intervention than personal choice.

I am not convinced by all the arguments against the ordination of women to Holy Orders, they are interesting but seem a little like intellectual gymnastics, which re never going to convince the otherside. The arguments for their ordination are slightly more convincing, not the utilitarian equal opportunities ones though. Of the contra-ordination arguement, the one I accept wholeheartedly, which trumps all others, is John Paul II’s statement that the Church does not have the authority to do it. Even the holder of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven has a limit to his authority, in the poor old C of E it seems that Synod has even more authority, authority over even Tradition and God.
As with shrines so with Holy Orders.


Anonymous said...


Also, besides JPII definitive answer, how about the whole of man's interaction with the God of Israel, both preceding, and after the Incarnation. He has never had a woman standing at His altar. He's never asked for it. From the Patriarchs, to the sons of Aaron offering in the Tent/Temple, to the Apostles, to the current Catholic Bishops.

Fr Ray Blake said...

That is why JPII says the Church has no authority.

Anonymous said...

A central argument for a male priesthood is that Christ's relationship to the Church is that of a Bridegroom to a Bride. The priest must represent a bridegroom.

This is not an appeal to simple custom or authority. It provides a rationale for the restriction of the priesthood to men - by tying it to a constant understanding of the nature of Christ's relationship to the Church. It also explains why Anglican/liberal support for women priests is so regularly linked to belief in the permissibility of gay marriage/sexual partnership. For liberals, gender differences have no decisive significance: neither for their understanding of the priesthood and the Church's relation to its incarnate Head, nor for their understanding of human sexuality.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Tom, it is a subsidiary arguement, but you can see quickly the erosian of a real theology of sexuality, the family and gender have led to this vote.
Ignoring gender differences only bodes badly for our national life.

Anonymous said...


You might not want to post this or its link. But, just as a matter of interest, here is a precise illustration of my last comment - taken from the lunacy that is the US Episcopalian Church.

And there are UK C of E sites fully as demented as this US one.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Tom, I haven't done more than look at it, I can't see a problem.

gemoftheocean said...

Interesting you feel that way Father. That's the one rational argument that convinces me too. I.E. there are limits to even what "Peter" can do. And you can't fault the church for error on the side of caution where matter and form issues are.

nickbris said...

Just like the Government and all MP's the Anglican Church is controlled by vociferous Pressure Groups.Vegetarians,Greens,Atheists and assorted other groups of Blackmailers & Comic Singers.

There is even talk of "human rights for chimpanzees".

With a bit of research all these weird ideas could be traced back to the originator and then we have to put them to the stake

Anonymous said...

The essence of fatherhood is the transmission of life outside oneself, which in Christ is the sending of the Holy Spirit, sacramentally signified in the shedding of His Blood.

The argument against women priests I like best is Ann Widdicombe's, that it is no more possible for a woman to be a priest than to be a father. The essence of the priesthood is the sacramental re-presentation of Christ's life-giving sacrifice.

Another is that men can certainly receive priestly ordination. Women cannot, or (for the sake of argument) can only doubtfully do so.

Since we must not receive Holy Communion in doubt of its validity, given the risk of worshipping bread and wine, the Church could not practically ordain a woman.

Not that this would be an issue for Anglicans, as they generally don't worship the Eucharistic elements.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Kaeton, the vocal and well-known US Episcopalian rector who runs 'Telling secrets' linked to in my comment above, explicitly ties the cause of women's ordination to that of the affirmation of gay sexuality.

Here is a sample of the post linked to:

"Oh, I know. The British Synod thinks it’s talking about ecclesiology and theology. These good Christian folk think they are saving the church or preserving the unity of the church. [Kaeton objects to any C of E Synod measures that show any lingering respect at all for the views and position of those Anglicans who still object to women bishops.] And, God knows, we do wish to accommodate. Accommodation is a cornerstone of classical Anglicanism.

But, if you listen, just underneath all the God-talk and the invocation of the name of Jesus, you can hear it....That’s not the sound of London Bridge falling down. It’s not even the sound of the sky falling, Chicken Little. What you hear is the crumbling of the last two cornerstones of patriarchy: sexism and homophobia.

Oh, they have not gone away completely. They surely won’t in my lifetime. Indeed, they are going on in a little Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis, MO where a nun who supports the ordination of women has been effectively excommunicated [in fact interdicted by Archbishop Burke, not a figure Kaeton approves of]"

Note that for Kaeton, traditional theology is just 'God-talk'. In Kaeton we find a radical secularisation of Christian discourse.

There are further posts by her on her site directly abusive of the magisterium and traditions of the Catholic Church and of Archbishop Burke of St Louis in particular. What I suspect we really hear crumbling in all this are are what remains of recognizable Christianity in an increasingly aggressive liberal Anglicanism - and a crumbling too of the remaining structures of Catholic-Anglican ecumenism, at least in any form that is not merely cosmetic.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it is that they are not Catholic. They are not a church. You can co-opt a title of Bishop or priest but these are just make believe titles false copies of the original. They are meaningless. Why not have women leading prayer services and gathering meals of bread and wine. What does it matter. Why should it be seen as some further "break with Rome". Goodness the Anglicans are long gone from Rome. Certainly there was a hope that they would see the errors of their ways and return but that has not happened. They have been away and going further away for quite some time. When ABC described the communion as non-dogmatic that was enough to tell you it is just a talking club without truth. To restrict women from all levels of such a club is hubris. I do not mean to be disrespectful and I am sure there are many Anglican clergy who feel deeply wounded by this decision. However, I do think the source of the wound is a false belief that Anglicanism is the true Church. It is not and I hope these Anglican clergy and lay sit down and do some serious thinking about coming home. Life is very short. You can't play dress up and make believe forever.

GOR said...

I have the greatest admiration and respect for converts to the Catholic Faith – those who had to search, pray and agonize to find the Truth. We ‘cradle Catholics’ (I really don’t like that term, but it is illustrative…) had it easy. We didn’t have to search for the Faith – it was offered to us at an early age. All we had to do was assent when we came to the use of reason.

But it is not an occasion for smugness, rather for humility. We didn’t earn this gift. It was freely given to us – and we can lose it. All the more reason we should cherish and nourish it and daily thank God for it. “To whom much is given, much will be expected.”

I think we sometimes underestimate the impact, intellectually and practically, of people – especially clergy – becoming Catholic. To leave behind a life you have lived for many years, suffer the reproach of friends or family and even give up your livelihood, takes a lot of courage, strength and, of course, Faith.

The current maelstrom in the C of E is not a reason for rejoicing by us Catholics. We must pray for them that they will see the light and the fullness of Truth that is the Catholic Church and come join us. And those who do should be welcomed with open arms like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel.

Ut unum sint!

Anonymous said...

"we cradle Catholics had it easy"

yes, just one big picnic, isn`t it, gor.

GOR said...

Well Bernadette, as you know, disputes and divisions happen at picnics also - even fights...:)

But in comparison to people who didn't have the Faith from an early age, we cradle Catholics have had it 'easy' - though being faithful is never easy!

Actually, I note that my earlier comment should have been on Father's "Commiserations' thread rather than here.

Here I was thinking more of Father's 'motto' - "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia"

I have often wondered what it must have been like to have lived around the end of the 14th century during the Great Schism of the West.

Who was the 'real' Pope - Benedict XIII...? Gregory XII...? John XXIII...? How could you tell and whom would you follow? Each had their own following for different - and often rather mercenary - reasons.

Fortunately, we don't have that problem today and my conviction has always been: stay close to the Pope and you won't go wrong. And that applies to whether it was Paul VI in Humanae Vitae or John Paul II on women's ordinations.

"Where Peter is, there is the Church"

Anonymous said...

How about, instead of saying that "Women can't be priests because", we say "The priesthood is a gift to men because . . . ".

Ordaining women to a pretend-priesthood hasn't solved any problems in non-catholic ecclesial communities; In fact, it's reduced the number of men in their ministries.

Now look at a typical parish activity - classes, prayer meetings, daily mass, adoration... Women out-number men 3 to 1 - more where the priesthood is weak, less where the priesthood is strong.

Look in communities where natural fatherhood ends at conception - where conception is usually an accident. Generations of women raising children alone - if they haven't killed them - because the 'fathers' are missing. Generations of children losing their identity, (frequently) doomed to repeat their parents mistakes.

As a woman, it's clear to me that faith is easier - at least to express and publicly participate in - for women than men. If we steal this gift from the Father to men, their Fatherhood, then what is left for them?

As women need Good, Strong, Men - Fathers! Our husbands and sons need these good role models!

It's not just "By Whose Authority" - our Creator knows that we need FATHERS. Men need this gift of priesthood. And the rest of us, need the gift of these faithful priests as fathers.

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