The Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, presumably Freefall for short, tipped to become one of the first female bishops, has delivered herself of a particularly stupid speech. Making idiotic pronouncements on the Church, I hasten to add, isn’t the exclusive prerogative of her sex. Male priests are more than capable of matching their female colleagues in that department, as any reader of Dr Williams’s speeches will testify.
What vexes me about this specific piece of oratory is that it’s symptomatic of the dire state of Christianity generally and Anglicanism in particular. It’s only for this reason that this rant by a silly woman is worth talking about at all.
The Rev Freefall compares the Church of England to chaps who beat their wives and gouge their eyes out. Now I proudly number three vicars among my friends. All three are married, all three wives have a full complement of eyes, none ever bears any signs of physical abuse or other trauma – if one disregards frequent rectal pains caused by the likes of Rev Freefall.
But of course her accusation was figurative, not literal. It’s merely an unfortunate simile, not a police report. Yet what’s behind the simile is even more unfortunate.
The Rev Freefall singles out for opprobrium those of her ‘sexist’ colleagues who have even the mildest of reservations about the consecration of woman bishops. Not about the consecration in general, as I hope you understand, but only about a bishopess performing the full range of liturgical functions before a congregation that’s opposed to it.
The Rev Freefall’s use of the word ‘sexist’ in this or any other narrative places her in the ‘infra’ area beneath criticism. Responding to her harangue seriously would be self-demeaning and, even worse, counterproductive. Instead I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on the consecration of female bishops and indeed on women’s ordination to the priesthood. For few perversions perpetrated by modernity are in my view more egregious – or more destructive to the Church.
First, why suddenly, after 2,000 years of Christianity, has this idea popped up at all? Jesus Christ, after all, didn’t ordain women, even though he clearly venerated them. A woman carried him in her womb, three Marys witnessed his crucifixion, two of them saw his burial, and it was to one of them that he first presented himself after his resurrection. These women, especially the Virgin, and also countless female saints are worshipped, with varying fervour, in every Christian confession. And yet, because he himself was a man, not a woman, Jesus wanted his priests to be not women but men.
This tradition matters infinitely more than anything thrown up in recent years, or even centuries. For a priest is only an ontological entity when he is outside his church. When he performs his liturgical duties, he is truly, in St Paul’s words, ‘neither male nor female’. At the altar a priest isn’t a person – he is merely a medium through which another person, Jesus Christ, makes his presence known; he’s but a synapse carrying the living memory of the Church, a transmitter of tradition. Because Jesus was a man, theologically this function can be performed only by a man.
This part of Christian doctrine doesn’t exist in isolation. Rather it’s attached by an unbreakable umbilical cord to the totality of tradition. A woman appearing at the altar is an affront to the very essence of Christianity: to the nature of the Trinity, creation, fall and its redemption by Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and immortality.
The issue of women’s ordination, or indeed any other issue of theological import, can only ever be discussed in the context of Christian anthropology as laid down by the Scripture, not that of human rights, ‘sexism’, equality and other harebrained modern shibboleths. These are at best meaningless and at worst subversive even in their natural, secular habitat. In any ecclesiastical environment they are simply foreign and incomprehensible.
As Christ himself taught, his kingdom is not of this world. Bring his kingdom down to earth, and you’ll destroy the divine unity of the two realms – rather than being a God man, Christ will become neither.
This much ought to be clear even to the Rev Freefall. Presumably, at some point she had to study such obscure matters, even though she manifestly neither understands any of them nor believes in their truth. That gets us back to the original question: so why has the manifestly anti-Christian issue of women’s ordination come up at all? In fact, the second half of the first sentence in this paragraph answers the question more or less exhaustively.
The whole problem with the Christian Church is that these days, though it’s still a Church, it’s barely Christian. Gone are the anticlerical believers of yesteryear; their place has been taken by an indigenously modern type, clerical infidels. The Church is no longer the Bride of Christ; it has left him at the altar, to become instead a social service with a slight spiritual dimension. And social services have to respond to social trends. In other words, the Church has surrendered its transcendent soul to transient fads.
One such secular fad is the ‘liberation’ of women from their supposed erstwhile bondage. Obviously, the Church, now purely a parallel structure in the conglomerate of social services, has to mimic this secular trend. Never mind that 2,000 years of Christian theology are thereby cast adrift – the Church has to move with the times. If the times impose new pieties, the Church will respond with new theologies.
Thus real priests have to step aside to let in Freefall and her ilk. Little thought is given to the consequences, in which this lot believe as little as they do in God. One such consequence will be that the Anglican Church will be torn asunder. Those in its Anglo-Catholic part, and many in the other two, won’t accept this new slap in the face of Christianity. They’ll run away from their spiritual home and, hungry for the body of Christ, thirsty for his blood, wander off to the Ordinariate, straight Roman Catholicism, private chapels or simply away from ecclesiastical worship.
Imagine a spiritual desert, with famished, parched multitudes striking out in every direction, knowing that this time no Promised Land awaits at the end. The wind is blowing sand and thistle into their gaunt faces, they stumble every couple of steps, fall, then feebly try to pick themselves up. Then they see a mirage in the distance: Bishopess Freefall, smugly happy and jubilant. She got what she wanted.