Sunday, 25 May 2008

On the Ordination of Women Part I: In Persona Christi

In 1997 I moved the legislation to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Diocese of Willochra.The first female bishop has been ordained in Australia now, but we are still hearing the same hackneyed arguments in oppositon. So here are some of the points (in an abbreviated form) I made in my speech, with some continuing relevance I think.

In Persona Christi: Can a Woman Represent Christ at the Altar?
The ordination of women is a necessary consequence of the theology of baptism where all who are baptised are made one with Christ. The baptised are capable and called to represent Christ in the world; that is, they are icons of Christ. To then deny the iconic nature of baptised women by arguing that they cannot represent Christ at the altar is to deny the baptism common to us all.

A good example of the iconic nature of the baptised, including women, is to be found in the Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne. In this account of martyrdoms in the late second century AD, a female disciple named Blandina is exposed to wild beasts, and when the other disciples see her they see Christ.

But Blandina was hung up fastened to a stake and exposed, as food to the wild beasts that were let loose against her. Because she appeared as if hanging on a cross and because of her earnest prayers, she inspired the combatants with great zeal. For they looked on this sister in her combat and saw, with their bodily eyes, Him who was crucified for them, that He might persuade those who trust in Him that every one who suffers for the glory of Christ has eternal communion with the living God.

In other words she was an icon of Christ. If women can represent Christ in the amphitheatre of martyrdom, then women can represent Christ at the altar. (Baptism is the foundation for both, and is why baptism is a prerequisite for ordination.) This is a basic consistency running from baptism through to ordination. Ordination cannot obliterate this iconic value of women, just as it is not ordination that gives men their iconic value as representatives of Christ in the first place. Therefore, to deny women ordination to the priesthood (and episcopate) on the grounds that they cannot stand in persona Christi is to undermine the integrity of baptism.


  1. You make a strong connection between baptism and ordination (no problem with that), but what about the sacrament of ordination itself? Soem think it is another gift of the Spirit. And if so, might this be 'incompatible' with the ordaining of a woman?

  2. I think there is a further gift of the Spirit at ordination. But it csnnot annul what has already been given.