|For me personally this ceremony just puts a band aid an a much deeper dysfunction.|
Every once in awhile I come across a editorial or a comment which seems to speak precisely to my own thinking, or puts in a nut shell thoughts I have meandered towards from twenty different directions. The following excerpt is from a response written to Jamie Manson's latest NCR article. It is one such find. The author of the comment is Tony Equale and you can read the entire comment at his blog. But don't stop with just this commentary, Tony has other wonderful thoughts about some other very basic, but usually unexamined, concepts and assumptions.
...."I claim that the institution of the “sacramental” priesthood as we know it in our times, is a greco-roman elitist innovation that did not exist until well into the 2nd century, a hundred years after the founding of the church. It was designed precisely to eliminate christian egalitarianism, create a hieratic caste, mystify the ordinary people and concentrate power in the hands of the upper class. It represented the unwarranted transformation of a legitimate ministerial role — the presbyter — into an ontological caste that did not previously exist in the christian scheme of things, and certainly not in the mind of Jesus. It was an essential step in bending christianity to the cultural requirements of the class-based society run by the Roman Empire. It makes the people themselves complicit in their own impotence by making it seem impossible for a christian group to have the eucharist unless it be performed exclusively by the magical hands of a representative of the (upper class) bishop. (One can see this phenomenon really playing out in the defenders of Fr Euteneuer and other clerical abusers.)
The earliest accounts of the life of christian communities portray a fellowship where fixed caste status for the clergy grounded in ritual alchemy, was not in evidence. Likewise, infrastructure (buildings) if they existed, were a secondary feature of the community. It’s not insignificant that the two phenomena seem to have arisen together, suggesting that “buildings,” i.e., property and wealth became a factor requiring the creation of new “sacramental structures” that would insure that control stayed in the proper hands. These developments were exactly what made christianity an attractive choice as the “new” Religion of the empire. An egalitarian group of slaves and tent-makers operating out of homes and storefronts just would not do for “divine Rome.”
By the 4th century, with the elevation of christianity to the status of State Religion of the Roman Empire, the connection between church property and the Roman upper class was such a conspicuous part of ecclesiastical reality that we see Constantine himself sending his legions in 316 to restore North African church buildings to their “rightful” bishops. What made this restoration so shocking, besides the use of imperial force, was that the “rightful” bishops were in most cases the same men who had “handed over” (traditores) the (sacred) books to the Roman authorities during the persecution of Diocletian, causing the “people” (afterwards called “Donatists”) to refuse to receive them back as their bishops. But Constantine had made a huge transfer of basilicas, temples and other buildings to christianity from the Roman polythesitic religions, and he would not abide having “his” imperial church buildings taken over by a mob of disobedient nobodies. Every facet of the empire was run by obedience to the Roman authorities. The Empire’s new Church would be no different. Precedent had to be set.
“Ordination” functioned in this context to insure a mystified control of the Church and its sacramental life by the upper classes. This is the “priesthood” that the RCWP is banging on the door to enter … rather than to eliminate in order to return the eucharist to the fellowship of equals. How can we support an elitist anachronism in the name of gender equality? It’s time, I think, to stop talking about the church and the “ecclesistical careers” that have been denied women, and begin talking about the kind of living community that Jesus encouraged his followers to form. (This has been the core question for me about women's ordination. My answer has always been that removing the core elitism is more essential than gender or orientation inequalities.)
Just look at the ludicrous scenarios described in the Manson article. Imagine, mature adult christians, so mesmerized by the Roman sect’s absurd claims about apostolic fidelity being bound to mechanical legal ritual that they are ordained in the middle of rivers in order to avoid the reach of episcopal jurisdictions! This is not rebellion. It is a crass submission to the legalistic mystifications that have been developed to solidify power in the hands of those in control. It is to be complicit in the elevation of caste superiority into a christian category in utter contradiction of the egalitarianism preached by Jesus. (To be honest, it was the idea that women needed to be ordained in the middle of a river to somehow circumvent parts of the canonical strictures in order to perform another canonically illegal act that soured me on the whole ordination issue. There was something seriously wrong with that picture.)
I'm not unaware that the Roman Catholic Women's Priest movement state on their website that they seek an end to the abuses of patriarchal clerical power. But what they don't state is that they seek to end the inherent flaws in the hierarchical system for which they desire to be a part. Jesus was very explicit, in both deed and action, as to what kind of spiritual leadership he desired--an upside down pyramid in which power resided not in His servant priests, but in the community of believers. Spiritual power would flow from the community to the servant leader--an upside down pyramid or a funnel.
Of course that kind of power distribution model is anathema to patriarchal systems which are essentially based on the microcosmic model of the male led family. Jesus is even quoted as saying "Call no man father.", and yet here we are with a whole hierarchy of levels of childless fathers and scads of spiritual children desperately willing to defend the most abusive of these 'special' men. Did Jesus teach that we should do so? I don't recall that He did. I do seem to recall that when Peter got all upset with just how far Jesus intended to take His notions of servant priesthood, Jesus called Peter Satan.
One of the lessons I take from the ongoing revolution in the Middle East is that once people have moved beyond a system, they will not mess around with reforming the system from with in. That's especially true if the system is to be perpetuated by dictatorial papa's chosen son. There's something about that whole notion of dictatorship by male blood line that seems to have finally run it's course in the Middle East. If that's true, it would leave Roman Catholicism as the last major global organization that emulates the whole 'father to son' scenario. I'm sure the Vatican is computing that thought themselves and not taking much joy from it. They may even come to the conclusion that assimilating some changes to the clerical system, odious as they may be, is a wise move at this particular time. If the Anglican/Episcopal Church shows anything, it's that for people who have moved into notions of a more mature adult spirituality, adding women and married priests to the old paternal/parental clerical system is not going to cut it.
I've also been following the Catholic stories coming from the US, Ireland and Germany. In the US we have more stories of clerical authority gone amok. In Ireland we have a story about clerical authority doing some serious repentance for having gone amok, and in Germany we have an exploding reformation movement designed to prevent clerical authority from going amok in the future. Maybe it's time we seriously looked at the idea that our notions of clerical authority are just plain amok and do what Jesus actually taught us to do: Use the reverse pyramid scheme and find some servant leaders.