Every profession demands some essential qualifications.
Writers must know grammar, musicians must be able to read music, accountants must be good at numbers.
In the same vein, priests must worship Jesus Christ and believe in his divinity. But that’s only for a start.
Some grounding in theology is essential too, for priests not only officiate various sacraments but also teach their flock. And the flock may at times have doubts.
One way of allaying them is to answer cogently their probing questions about things like Virgin Birth, the Holy Trinity or why the meek will inherit the world. Hence priests who are ignorant of theology are in default of their remit – and similarly uneducated bishops even more so.
As you understand, I’m here talking strictly about Christians. A person can be highly moral and even, with certain in-built limitations, intelligent without believing in God or knowing anything about theology.
What such a man can’t, or rather shouldn’t, be is a priest. This seems to be self-evident, but nothing really is nowadays. Old certitudes no longer apply, and neither does elementary common sense.
This preamble explains why I think that many prelates of the Church of England aren’t qualified for the job: they don’t really believe in God and the divinity of Christ. And they have neither the brains nor the learning to get their heads around even elementary theology.
One case in point is the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, who holds the distinction of being the first, but regrettably not last, female bishop.
Now some of my Anglican friends may disagree, but I don’t think any devout and intelligent Christian woman will even want to become a priest because such a career flies in the face of two millennia of tradition started by Christ himself.
(Jesus didn’t consecrate any female bishops, aka apostles, even though some of the women around him were as important as the twelve, and one, the Virgin, much more so.)
Proceeding from this premise, it follows that any woman sporting a dog collar is either a dubious Christian or an ignoramus, or both. Perhaps there may be some exceptions to this generalisation, but certainly not many.
Her Grace certainly isn’t one of them because she thinks that describing God as ‘he’ poses a terrible problem. As a result, only one per cent of respondents in a recent YouGov poll believe God is female and half of the young respondents think God is male.
One would think that any sensible Christian would explain to those people that thinking of God as either a man or a woman represents pagan anthropomorphism at its most soaring.
There’s no reason Her Grace should be familiar with the Catholic catechism, but it does make this point unequivocally: “God is neither man nor woman: he is God”. Because God has no physical body, he has neither male nor female sex characteristics.
But the good bishop isn’t about to disabuse her flock of such ignorant notions. She’s preoccupied with more vital things:
“I am very hot about saying we can always look at what we are communicating… I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as ‘he’ [because] those things are giving subconscious messages to people.”
I agree that this message shouldn’t be subconscious. Priests should explain to their communicants in no uncertain terms that, even though God is neither a man nor a woman, there exist incontrovertible reasons for referring to him with the male personal pronoun.
Alas, being both unwilling to do that because they’re crypto-atheists, and unable to do so because they’re ignoramuses, these ladies lodge themselves instead in their comfort zone by mouthing dim-witted feminist rubbish.
Thus another bishop, Jo Bailey Wells, says that saying ‘he’ is a “growing problem as language becomes more gender neutral”. Liturgical or street language, Your Grace? She probably doesn’t realise there’s a difference.
And the Rev Sally Hitchens adds that it’s ‘heretical’ to say God is only male. Quite. Both heretical and stupid, I’d suggest. As is eschewing the pronoun ‘he’ when referring to God.
These professionals are so cosmically ignorant that even a rank amateur like me feels entitled to explain a thing or two to them (not that they’d understand). In doing so, I’ll appeal to both church tradition and theology.
The tradition is indisputable: Christians refer to God as ‘father’ because Jesus himself did so. And Christians don’t discard out of hand any of Christ’s teachings.
They believe that, since Christ is the fullest revelation of God, he isn’t to be ignored when he himself reveals how God should be addressed.
C.S. Lewis, a real Anglican, explained this exhaustively:
“…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.”
Jesus Christ referred to God as his father and couldn’t have done otherwise: his mother, Mary, would have been upset had her son disavowed her by addressing God as ‘mother’.
The Apostles’ Creed reflects this by stressing the masculine role played by God the Father through the medium of the Holy Spirit: Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”.
This alone should be enough to put paid to this matter. But at the risk of taking those reverend ladies out of their depth, one could add that the Judaeo-Christian God made the world as a free act of absolute creation, that is out of nothing (ab nihilo).
The human father imitates this act by initiating conception. Though both he and the woman are essential to it, the man, by impregnating the woman, is the active agent; the woman, by being impregnated, is the passive one.
Thus, referring to God as ‘he’ is a sound metaphor. But it’s also a sound analogy, for a father embodies what theologians call the ‘principle’ of procreation.
Because a man procreates outside his own body, he stands outside and above his creation in the sense in which a woman doesn’t. She conceives and gestates the child inside her body, and in that sense the child is a part of her, even though the man also contributes his DNA.
Symbolically the couple imitates the act of divine creation. The man is both transcendent (standing outside and above his creation) and immanent (present within it). The woman, on the other hand, is only immanent.
The reason theologians insist on referring, both metaphorically and analogously, to God as father is that his transcendence is a more important property than his immanence. Thus in Trinitarian doctrine the first hypostasis can only be treated as Father.
I realise that the non-Christians among you aren’t particularly interested in such recondite matters. What upsets me is that neither are the prelates in our state church.