Women Bishops?

English: Flag of the Anglican Communion

English: Flag of the Anglican Communion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s continue what we started Sunday.  From what I’ve seen many of my Catholic friends are rehashing women in the priesthood, rather than sticking to female bishops, which I think is rational given that Bishops are a subset of the priesthood, in their churches. As always, the C of E sits on the fence, not quite Protestant and not quite Catholic either, and it seems many of my Anglican friends are just plain not sure which is fish or fowl at this point. Let’s see if we can find a little light in all the smoke here.

First what constitutes the priest hood, for me as a Lutheran, there are two classes.

  1. The High Priest; Who for all of us is Jesus Christ, himself.
  2. The Universal Priesthood

That last is a belief with its roots in the Reformation, particularly in Martin Luther. Let’s let him speak for himself, in  To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation he says.

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”

Two months later in his  On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520) he would write:

How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom.” In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: “No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God.”

Note that this does nothing to eliminate the preaching office or authority, including bishops. Nor is anything in it gender specific, although at the time, all were male, as was indeed true of the Apostles as well. And traditionally with us, as with all churches remained true until the late twentieth century. From the Augsburg Confession:

[From Article 4:] Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us … [From Article 5:] To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel … [Article 14:] Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call.

I also note that the Roman Church has recognized this also, from Wikipedia:

The dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council specifically highlights the priesthood of all believers. It teaches that the Church’s relationship with God is independent of whatever ordination people have received, as evidenced by the guidelines and rubrics for personal prayer when no priest is present. Such Churches have always taught implicitly that a Christian’s personal relationship with God is independent of whatever ordination they have received.

Thus, the Catholic Church accepts the ‘priesthood of all believers’ doctrine – it is not the exclusive domain of Protestantism. This is exemplified in ‘chaplet of divine mercy‘ prayer, in which the individual Christian declares: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins…” The primary difference between the teachings of the Catholic Church and those of the (non-Anglican) Protestant churches that reject the ordained priesthood is that the Catholic Church believes in three different types of priests:

  1. first, the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5–9);
  2. second, the ordained priesthood (Acts 14:23, Romans 15:16, Titus 1:5); and
  3. third, the high priesthood of Jesus (Hebrews 3:1).[8][9]

I think, without much source documentation, that the difference between the C of E and Lutheran churches, has most to do with historical and political matters rather than belief structure. What I’ve read (and I’m no church historian) leads me to believe that Luther would have like to have reformed the church much as happened in England but, the difference between a group of  Principalities in Germany, protected only by the Rhine, and the nation-state of England protected by the Channel led Luther to realize he would have to make a clean break. Where England was able to sort it out on their own until the Crusade of 1588 (otherwise known as the Spanish Armada) which of course, failed.

It might be useful to note for my American readers, that the Queen is titular head of the Church of England. Hence the title, Defender of the Faith, which is an ancient one. If memory serves, and I could certainly be wrong here, it was first bestowed by the Pope on King John after he swore fealty for the Crown of England to obtain the Church’s help in suppressing Magna Charta. But at any rate, as with all of the Monarch’s powers, it has devolved on Parliament, although the church is supposed to be self-governing under the Archbishop of Canterbury. [If I’m wrong here, somebody please correct me. Jess?].

[Edit/Correction I asked for corrections on this paragraph because I was out of time and working from memory, and as always my astute readers have come through.

From David B. Monier-Williams

From Wikipedia: “The origin of “Defender of the Faith” was given to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in Oct. 11th 1521. His wife Catherine of Aragon held the same title in her own right. The title was conferred in recognition of Henry’s book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments), which defended the sacramental nature of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. This was also known as the “Henrician Affirmation” and was seen as an important opposition to the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, especially the ideas of Martin Luther.

There are a couple more paragraphs in the comments. Thank You David.]

In Conclusion

What I intended this for is basically a background piece, because few of us, including myself most likely, understand all the issues involved, and I hope I’ve shed a bit of light on what’s involved here.

You all know I am a conservative, in all things. That means I don’t believe in changing things unless there is demonstrable improvement or correction to be made, and I’ll readily admit that although my contact with female clergy has all been positive, I’m still not completely convinced that it was a good idea. Not least because in our churches, it seems to have cost us (sometimes) one of our most valuable offices; the unpaid one of the Pastor’s wife.

My opinion after a good deal of thought, not that what I think really matters to anyone involved, is that once you decide to have women clergy, you really have no ground to stand on in stopping their advancement to the rank of bishop.

[ Admin note: A further note, since it seems to be impossible to discuss female bishops in the Church of England without wading through tons of Catholic writing on the male priesthood here, which might be an interesting topic but is not the topic today, leading to such things as having the basics of all the Protestant faiths called “silly putty”. I am going to place all comments into moderation. If they are at least close to topic, in my opinion, they will be approved, if not they won’t be. Have a great day.]

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14 Responses to Women Bishops?

  1. From the Catholic perspective it might be good to have recourse in this post to the actual authoritative words of the Church itself as given us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    Two participations in the one priesthood of Christ

    1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”20 The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”21

    1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially.22 In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

    In the person of Christ the Head . . .

    1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:23

    It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).24
    Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.25

    1549 Through the ordained ministry, especially that of bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers.26 In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father.27

    1550 This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.

    1551 This priesthood is ministerial. “That office . . . which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service.”28 It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all.29 “The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him.”30

    . . . “in the name of the whole Church”

    1552 The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ – Head of the Church – before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.31

    1553 “In the name of the whole Church” does not mean that priests are the delegates of the community. The prayer and offering of the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her head; it is always the case that Christ worships in and through his Church. The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself “through him, with him, in him,” in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. The whole Body, caput et membra, prays and offers itself, and therefore those who in the Body are especially his ministers are called ministers not only of Christ, but also of the Church. It is because the ministerial priesthood represents Christ that it can represent the Church.

    The difference in degree of the ‘royal priesthood’ of the baptised is obviously different than that which is given by ordination.


  2. From Wikipedia: “The origin of “Defender of the Faith” was given to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in Oct. 11th 1521. His wife Catherine of Aragon held the same title in her own right. The title was conferred in recognition of Henry’s book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments), which defended the sacramental nature of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. This was also known as the “Henrician Affirmation” and was seen as an important opposition to the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, especially the ideas of Martin Luther.

    Following Henry’s decision to break with Rome in 1530 and establish himself as head of the Church of England, the title was revoked by Pope Paul III (since Henry’s act was regarded as an attack on “the Faith”) and Henry was excommunicated. However, in 1544, the Parliament of England conferred the title “Defender of the Faith” on King Henry VIII and his successors, now the defenders of the Anglican faith, of which they (except the Catholic Mary I) remain the Supreme Governors (formally above the Archbishop of Canterbury as Primate).”

    Thus the current title was given by a civil authority and not by the Church.

    Neo, I agree that since the CofE choose to change the rules and ordain female Priests they can consecrate female Bishops. They will have also to live with a greater schism.


  3. Sorry Neo if I was off-topic. Didn’t think so as Catholic and Lutheran understanding of the priesthood is different and it cannot be explained by me in any shorter form that the CCC, but that is your call and I will abide by it. 🙂


    • It is, and I value your input. As you know, we abolished the Priesthood per se long ago, on the theory that there is now reason to have a man installed between a congregant and God.

      We’ll be back to normal soon.


      • It simply seems strange that Luther speaks of the administration of sacraments and yet abolishes the sacramental priest who can administer the same. I would be intrigued to know the dates of the various excepts from your post as one seems to be from the early departure of Luther and the other from a more distant Luther who had changed, or modified his theology somewhat.


        • Sorry about the delay in my reply, I had some stuff to take care of. The first two are from 1520 and the Augsburg Confession, which is our principal statement of faith is from 1530. Luther did grow some in his faith, although not really in what I would call his essentials, we all do.


  4. JessicaHof says:

    The C of E was subject to legislation by Parliament directly until the C20th, when that duty was delegated to the Synod. One of its problems as a State Church is that Parliament still has ultimate say.


  5. illero says:

    “. . . once you decide to have women clergy, you really have no ground to stand on in stopping their advancement to the rank of bishop.”

    I am not familiar with the specific beliefs of the churches you mention, but I believe this sentence nicely and simply wraps up the issue of whether or not to allow female bishops [assuming “clergy” means some form of ordained office.].


  6. mtsweat says:

    …and considering that the Bible has some very difficult statements that really seem to point toward a male only occupied under-shepherd position, I can’t help but believe one is better to reside on the side of church history than testing untried waters. Given an inch, we’ll always demand a mile, won’t we? Probing thoughts good friend.


    • Thanks, and yes I think many of us made a mistake on women clergy, although for pastoral care, they are superb as I’ve said. But I think it going to be very hard for the C of E to make a stand on Bishops rather than the priesthood.

      By the way, good luck on predestination, it goes back, of course, at least to St. Augustine and we still have some trouble with it as well.


  7. Pingback: Working for God? « A Robin Hood's Musing

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