When you look at an orthodox icon of one of the ‘Church Fathers’ (early Christian theologians of the first few centuries AD)… they are all painted with high domed foreheads. Presumably this is to indicate symbolically their great wisdom… but today I present an alternative theory, I think they may have been tearing their hair out.
Being female, and being Anglican, and being called by God into ordained ministry, is a combination that makes me, to some people, impossible to swallow. And today I came into possession of some intriguing reading matter by a society whose aim is to bring the Anglican Church into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church (sounds like a nice, ecumenical idea).
However the focal point of their mission, rather than God, or Christ, or even the Gospel, (which-lets face it, already hold the catholic [kathoulou: ‘general’/ ‘universal’] church together) is the Institutional church…they seek to bring the Church into visible, human, Institutional unity at all costs, even- much of their writing suggests, at the cost of truth or reason.
Articles in the book recognise that this tactic may sound dubious (like a process of absorption, homogenisation leading to uniformity… ) and they protest, even to their own followers that this is not so. Still the ecclesiological underpinnings of their process are based upon human patrimonialism… (ie -the whole church to be run on a human system of power and governance that flows through the male leader: in their ideal The Pope).
In their concept of ‘church’, in order to maintain correctly the ‘flow’ of power… every intersection and subdivision would rely upon its human constituent as being of one type with the archetype… (ie male, like the Pope). One article described the bishops as the ‘bridegroom of the local church’…(not, I trust, in a physically active sense;o) but (more shockingly?) as ‘in persona christi’: Christ is often described in the Bible as ‘the bridegroom’, and the Church or heavenly city as ‘bride’… so certain ecclesiologies allow, in the most convoluted way for priests to have to be( actually, physically) male, as they are to interact with the church which is portrayed as (in a strictly metaphorical sense) female.
So basically in their model it goes: God the father, Christ the Son, Bishops, Priests- (also actually Christ, more so than other people -which aside from other theological objections, also somewhat undermines the particularity of Christ’s incarnation!)Male Priests -holding the female Church in communion.
…Don’t ask me what they’re supposed to be holding onto the church with… their deacons perhaps?
Where was I… priests in communion with bishops (male… don’t ask me why the male/male communion relationship between bishops and priests is supposed to be different from the male/female? communion relationship with the church) and bishops with the pope…
Perhaps to explain this particular directional discrepancy, they invisage a model based on electrical wiring: a one-way, direct-current flow of patrimonial power with bishops and priests acting as ‘step-down transformers’ from the Pope- ending up with a mild electric shock delivered to the ‘ordinary’ churchgoers at the end?
Also -by all being male -they supposedly make the Church physically the ‘body of Christ’ in some great big flesh-collage (providing you don’t count all the churchgoers who are female as part of the church, or nuns, or female deacons in the orthodox church)(and providing you ignore the fact that you’ve previously described the church as female bride to male bridegroom).
They very often attempt to balance the skewed gender-heavy view by assigning all things female to the domain of Christ’s mother Mary.
It’s all quite bizaare, rather than admitting that Christ is all in all, and holds all things together, that Christ alone is God incarnate and may be worshipped … instead the patrimonialists end up with a physically manly God in charge, and a consort ‘feminine’ aspect of god, assigned to Mary and a symbolically/invisibly female church with a concrete male physicality… and then having declared an apparently impassable gender divide, these people insist that they are working for unity!
It’s all daft, and the proponents are rarely able to cite a single piece of relevant scripture or orthodox belief: their arguments instead drawn, and picked over, from ancient annals and appendices, from the deepest earthly bowels of history… and the whole thing requires one to swallow a camel -whilst possible gnats like me are delicately picked out of camel-filled mouths. [Still -its amazing the effluvience of text that is produced from annals and bowels when over time people have been fed enough camels!]
‘You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel’
For the love of God and the Church of Christ, I must end on a conciliatory note, and that is about a true ecclesiology, a true vision of the Church across the world, the vast majority of thoughtful and academic theologians, in their doctrine of the Church, manage to retain God as the focus, and not become entirely lost in the gender cul-de-sac, even the strictest catholic theologian of repute does not attempt to build a theology entirely on Christ’s genitalia… if Christ is the ‘cornerstone’ and ‘one foundation’ as Christians all believe, then if anything that area seems like the weakest part of the body of Christ to build on.
And that is perhaps a helpful metaphor to understand the place of these viewpoints, if the Church is the body of Christ:
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:4-5
They may not be the head, nor the heart, and they may draw much of their thinking from dubious sources, but they are still part of the body of Christ… I leave you to work out which part.