Thursday, November 21, 2013

Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών

This morning I posted the following on my Google+ page.  As I have settled into that account, I have taken to posting links of note and certain comments of mine there rather than here, and, although I have not articulated a very specific difference between what should go on Google+ and what should go on Lasseter's Lost Reef, I have a fairly clear intuition about it.  I still, though, have to decide about how to connect everything, such as perhaps by putting a widget here to show updates from my Google+ page, much like I have one in the right column for my Twitter account.

Nonetheless, this could have been a post here: it touches on what we were created to be and how we fall short, which puts it squarely within the purpose of this journal.  So I am putting it here as well.  At some point I may make the changes to this journal's layout that I've been kicking around so that I don't feel any further need to post the same thing in two places.

I'll note also that some of my more regular readers will disagree with a position that is at least implicit in my comment below.  I don't get into too much controversy online, and indeed I can be a bit gun-shy when I see things that offend me or contemplate writing about topics that I know will alienate certain readers.  I also am glad to have a pleasant rapport with a few people whom I know to hold contrary views on certain delicate topics.  There is, however, no sense in pretending about my views.  As I said, odd enough, in the very essay of mine that is also linked in the Google+ post below, there are realms of my conservatism that would rub some of my readers the wrong way.  Whether there should be female priests in the Christian Church is one of them.


  1. Clearly you know my position on women priests, and I clearly have much at stake in the discussion. I hope it goes without saying but I will say it anyway that I take no offense whatsoever in your article. I am rather accustomed to being disagreed with but you never adopt the rather strident and violent tone I am accustomed to meeting; you are very circumspect, more than you need to be, but I value and appreciate it.
    I am no expert, not within a light year or two, at patristics, but the little I have read suggests that the role of women in the early church is ambiguous and the evidence inconclusive. I would not necessarily change my mind even if conclusive evidence could be found against the existence of women priests in the early church, but it would make me a lot more tentative disagreeing.
    All day today I have been working on a post, ostensibly on Galatians, but actually on sola scriptura. I attribute that to you, a remark you made as an aside to someone else's comment, and you got me thinking about the principle. It came up as a sidetrack on the verse I was considering so I went with it. It is a great service that you did, inadvertently bringing the idea to my attention. One can't think through everything; the best I can do is think through what I am thinking about, which is unfortunately not a redundant statement.
    Out of curiosity, how far removed is my theology from Orthodoxy? I assume there are at least one or two major divergences but I am ignorant enough to not necessarily be aware of them.
    When my oldest son, Nicholas, was in the hospital - waiting on a kidney transplant - the hospital chaplain who came to visit him was Orthodox. He was very helpful to Nicholas, very kind and very Christian, if you take my meaning. It was my first ever encounter with Orthodoxy and I have felt kindly toward Orthodoxy ever since. My comments tend to ramble and for that I apologize.

    1. Carroll, I think you and I sometimes compete for the prize of being the most rambling commentator, and I'll proudly say that I still think I'm putting forth a valiant effort in the contest, as perhaps this comment may demonstrate by the time I finish it. So no need to apologize. Fight on, I say.

      … inadvertently bringing the idea to my attention. One can't think through everything …

      I think that here in some respect you summarize a key shortcoming of sola Scriptura. From so uneducated a source as myself (but one nonetheless that offers the benefit of a different perspective) or from the commentaries of greater men and traditions in history, you learn what you would almost certainly not see all by yourself and find yourself moved to ask questions of your own you otherwise would not ask. The Ethiopian Eunuch asked St. Philip, "How can I [understand the passage from Isaiah], except some man should guide me?" Learning from the counsel or perspective of others is a principle firmly rooted in Scripture. To return to an idea from my essay above, what do we think the Apostle Paul was doing? And we know from his writings that he also gave substantial and Godly counsel that was not written.

      When I first reflected on your comment, I tried to find some way I could with a clear conscience and no embarrassment insert into my reply some lamentation on my experience of "blogs" and of the scant readership of this journal, but in this I failed. Not that my lament would lack objectivity or analytical prowess, but just, to put it a bit glibly, who cares? I will, though, note the reason your comment brought this to mind (although I will also grant that, given how the viewer stats stare me in the face every time I log into Blogger, and how I see the shenanigans of folk who follow me, and what I see when I log into my Feedly reader or go on Twitter, this has a tendency to come to my mind often enough anyway). Pretty consistently in my experience with the World Wide Internet, my disagreeing views on this or that sensitive topic are met either with silence or open contempt—far more often the former, by the way. You are one of a few (and a couple of others who meet this description have commented in this journal) who, although well aware that we have these differences, approach the discussion with civility and a readiness to acknowledge where we agree or have similarities in our views.

      Out of curiosity, how far removed is my theology from Orthodoxy?

      I don't have a ready-made answer for this, but I do know without cogently forming any specific example in my mind that I have passed over a couple of areas where I thought you were off the mark to my Orthodox view. In commenting here and on Caleb's Eye, I've preferred pointing out what I found meritorious or offering a bit of new information without controversy. I don't doubt, though, that if I were to get into one of the stickier differences, the discussion would not be an ugly one between us. Perhaps I'll take note and venture a few observations as you and I continue to write in our respective pages.

      As for the practices of the Church in the years before Constantine, evidence of women in roles resembling the priesthood does not surprise me in the slightest, nor would evidence of actual female priests (although, as I indicate in the piece above, I think the evidentiary value of the Priscilla images is overstated). Those were years that were lean in material and structural resources and fat with martyrdom and controversy for Christians. Heresies abounded, and much of the work of the great Fathers whose writings we still consult was devoted to addressing the heresies—as well as lesser differences that we might not call heretical—and making the true faith clear. When we speak of the catholicity and the longevity of the Orthodox Church, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that the entire realm of mundane Christendom was ever perfectly formed.

    2. We can claim, for instance, to celebrate in most services of most Orthodox churches a liturgy (St. John Chrysostom's) that is some sixteen hundred years old, and that's impressive, but what liturgy did most of the churches follow before then? Perhaps some of them followed the even more ancient Liturgy of the Apostle James, perhaps others had other means of praising the Lord and experiencing the Eucharist. Perhaps some unknown number of them involved roles for women that would be foreign to us (and to all of Orthodoxy for many centuries).

      We can, however, rest well assured that the catholic (with a lower case 'c') leadership—the bishops, the promulgators of the faith, the line of apostolic succession—was male. If anyone, for instance, says that men "defined away" some female leadership and hence wiped it from history, my answer is that this proceeds from an assumption that can fit with the facts that we actually know but that also by no stretch of the imagination is actually indicated, let alone proven, by the facts we know. It reminds me of the Trail of Blood fantasy of Baptist Successionism, which will answer any charge that it lacks facts by saying, "Why, of course, because those Catholics wrote the history while they were busy murdering fifty million Baptists five hundred to fifteen hundred years before we decided to call ourselves Baptists!"

      We also, of course, in discussing the matter in strictly historical terms of who practiced what where and when, run the risk of overlooking the most critical issue, and that is the religious and spiritual anthropology of it all. What does it mean to be a human being? What in particular a man, and what in particular a woman? What did God intend for us, and how are we to strive towards being in the image and after the likeness of our Creator as men and as women? This isn't a matter that should just glibly be "prooftexted" away (oh ho, we're moving back to sola Scriptura) as a good many lousy exegetes in, say, "Biblical" patriarchy will do for a good many of their abusive practices, but, unlike some cult that pretends it obeys a long-standing tradition when in fact its "tradition" is barely older than you or I (if even that), there are certain things we have been doing in Orthodoxy and consistently and well on record for many hundreds of years. Why? What do the Scriptures say about it? What do the great minds of the Church say about it? These sources are not devoid of explanations, and the practices we have followed ought not upon close examination reveal themselves devoid of good consequences to indicate their intrinsic goodness. If God has revealed Himself to some degree through the Church, then what in the ongoing revelation of God to the world has He had to "say" about it?

      And there you have it. I will say myself, again with some pride, I can comment at length with the best of them, and I believe I have won this round: Blogger even required me to break the comment up or reduce it, as there is a 4,096 character limit (of which I heartily approve, really, as far as comments go for others, but I don't mind being large and in charge in my own page's comment section from time to time). Often it's easier to comment than to write an independent post, although I have, as always, something kicking around. Today (the 23rd) is the feast day of my patron saint Alexander Nevsky. I should probably write something. I admit, though, the online experience has been a bit disheartening. I consider, however, our conversations an antidote to the noxiousness and ennui that I find so much of almost everywhere else.