Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

On Ordaining Women: Ought Implies Can

A post yesterday at Vox Nova on the Anglican Church’s decision to ordain women bishops provoked some predictable comments in the comments about the Catholic Churches refusal to do the same. For me the issue turns not so much on whether the Church should ordain women, but whether it is even possible to do so (followers of Kant will of course note that ought implies can, and therefore if something can’t be done then we shouldn’t do it). Ordination is not just some ceremony; it is sacramental. The Church has the power to ordain only to the extent that God has given it that power, and it has been the longstanding opinion of the Church that it was given the power only to ordain men. They could go through the motions, but it wouldn’t take. So talk about whether ordaining women would be a good thing is largely beside the point.

Now, this does leave open the question of why God would only give the Church the power to ordain men, but I think I have a pretty good answer to that:

I don’t know.

The ways of God are a mysterious, and we shouldn’t think that we can figure out why He does everything that He does. Various theologians have speculated as to why a male priesthood might be important. Maybe they are right. Maybe the reason is something else entirely. Or maybe there is no reason. The Church teaches that it has the power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; it does not have that power with respect to milk and cookies. Why did God give this power for wine but not milk? I’m sure that we could come up with many possible reasons, but does God even need a reason? Perhaps it was simply important that there be some food that could be transformed in this way.

I suspect that some may read this and smile at my relative lack of understanding. Others may rage at my lack of sympathy. Perhaps to them the issue is crystal clear, just as I have sometimes found clear what others have found murky and difficult. But this is just one more way in which God’s work in our lives is so wondrous. Where He comprehend his dictates we can appreciate their beauty and truth and thus come closer to Him, and when we cannot this teaches us humility and obedience, which also bring us closer to Him.

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July 9, 2008 - Posted by | Catholicism

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