Monday, November 4, 2013

Female ordination? An interview with CS Lewis

Mr. Lewis thanks so much for the opportunity to interview you today on a topic that has been much discussed since you left us, female ordination. This certainly is a major issue in the Church today. In fact, knowing whether someone supports female ordination is almost enough to predict where they will stand on many of issues in the Church. What do you make of women who seek ordination?
I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible... For at first sight all the rationality... is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone... What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men?
That's exactly what many proponents of female ordination would claim, that predjuice alone keeps women from the priesthood, that advocates of an all male priesthood hold women in contempt.
That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost "a fourth Person of the Trinity". But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her.  All salvation depends on the decision which (the Virgin Mary) made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months" inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross." But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture.
But weren't the conditions in first century Palestine such that Christ couldn't have included Mary as one of the Apostles? Isn't that merely an element of the culture Christ lived in?
Nor can you daff (the Sciptural evidence) aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all "prophesied", i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.
If women can preach why can't they do the rest of a priest's work?
This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word "priest". The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for "visiting", the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East - he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. 
Why should a woman not represent God in that way?
Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she might be as "God-like" as a man; and a given woman much more so than a given man. 
If a woman might be holier than a man, why should the admittedly less holy man be allowed to become a priest while the holier woman is passed over? Wouldn't the holier person, regardless of sex, be a better representative of God?
The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round. Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to "Our Mother which art in heaven" as to "Our Father". Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does... 
(I)t is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity.
Of course, God isn't a man in the sky. He has no physical body, hence no biological sex. Why shouldn't we speak of Him as Her, even if it causes more than a bit of discomfort to some of us?
Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child.
It seems the proponents of female ordination underestimate the natural differences between the sexes.
The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life . To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters... This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. 
Isn't the equality of the sexes fundementally a Christian principal?
 I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless "equal" means "interchangeable", equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. 
In the Church,then, we must people as God created, male and female, not as interchangeable sexless persons?
One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.
This is how Christ constructed the Church and we simply must not tamper with it, then?
The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational...If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.
What do you say to those who point to the obvious moral failings of men in the priesthood?
I am crushingly aware how inadequate most (men) are... to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can... represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but... "not near so much like a Ball".
And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think... the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety-namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church... we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.

Nota bene: CS Lewis' responses are taken from his essay 'Priestesses in the Church?' 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for digging this up, adding the questions, and providing a link to the original text.