Essay Non Ordination Sample Traditional

Recently, I posted the following on Facebook in response to the recent ACNA College of Bishops Statement on Women’s Ordinaton:

As a member of the ACNA, I was a consultant to the ACNA Women’s Orders Task Force. When the ACNA was founded, it was decided that we would be a “large tent” representative of orthodox Anglicanism, extending hospitality to those Anglicans who could not affirm women’s orders, even though they held a minority opinion within worldwide Anglicanism. I am happy that the ACNA has continued to recognize that there is room for disagreement on this issue.

However, I am unhappy with this statement in particular, which does not tell the whole story: “However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.”

Yes, the practice is recent, but so is the recognition that women are of equal moral, intellectual, and spiritual status with men. The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men. Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

I accompanied the post with a link to this page:

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument.

I quickly discovered that posting this was a mistake, as I received responses like the following that made clear that people read my statement, but had not actually read my essay:

Who has made this “historic argument”?

To make matters worse, my statement was shared elsewhere without the link to my accompanying essay, where it received responses such as the following:

I would truly love for someone to post even one demonstration of the Early Church arguing specifically that women cannot be ordained due to their inferior intellectual, moral, or spiritual state, or even an inferior ontology. Just a quote from them that speaks for itself.

The substance would be giving a quote from the Early Church that shows – rather than assumes – that they argued from a view that women are inferior:
– not merely subordinate, but inferior, for assuming that subordinate implies inferior merely assumes what Witt needs to demonstrate,
– not merely that a writer or several made an observation or rebuke or rhetorical flourish against the female sex (for they did that against men, too)
Basically, just someone, provide something from the early church that clearly shows that they said, basically, “the mind of the Church is that women can’t be priests because women are without exception intellectually incapable/wanton/etc.”

Lots of words, lots of assertions, lots of analogies, lots of debate over whether the analogies are valid…. but no early church quotes, viz, no actual evidence.

I am tempted to respond by again referring back to my earlier essay, but that would be too easy. I’m more than willing to accept a challenge, and will raise the challenge with one of my own.

So first a response to the above challenge.

My argument consists of the following two assertions:


The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men.

This can be broken down as follows.

First is what I will call the “ontological deficiency” claim. Writers in the tradition claimed (all quotations are from my original essay):

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.

Claims that women are less intelligent than men:

“To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of government . . . She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly . . .” John Chrysostom

“[T]he female is more prudent, that is, cleverer, than the male with respect to evil and perverse deeds, because the more nature departs from the one operation, the more it inclines to the other. In this way, the woman falls short in intellectual operations, which consist in the apprehension of the good and in knowledge of truth and flight from evil. . . . Therefore sense moves the female to every evil, just as intellect moves a man to every good.” Albert the Great

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Their [women’s] “judgments are commonly weakest because of their sex.” Richard Hooker

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others . . . .” Richard Hooker

Statements that women are emotionally unstable compared to men:

“[G]enerally, proverbially, and commonly it is affirmed that women are more mendacious and fragile, more diffident, more shameless, more deceptively eloquent, and, in brief, a woman is nothing but a devil fashioned into a human appearance . . .” Albert the Great

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe.” John Knox

Statements that women are more susceptible to temptation than men:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.” Tertullian

“For it is not possible for the Bishop, and one who is concerned with the whole flock, to have a care for the male portion of it, but to pass over the female, which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins.” John Chrysostom

“Therefore there is no faithfulness in a woman. . . . Moreover, an indication of this is that wise men almost never disclose their plans and their doings with their wives. For a woman is a flawed male and in comparison to the male, has the nature of defect and privation, and this is why naturally she mistrusts herself. And this is why whatever she cannot acquire on her own she strives to acquire through mendacity and diabolical deceptions.” Albert the Great

“Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

Second is what I will call the “exclusion by nature of subordination” claim:

(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and threfore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.

Claims that women are subordinate to men:

“Even before her sin, woman had been made to be ruled by her husband and to be submissive and subject to him. But . . . the servitude meant in [Genesis 3:16] denotes a condition similar to that of slavery rather than a bond of love.” Augustine

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Eve “had previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection. Now, however, she is cast into servitude.” John Calvin

“He [the man] will dominate you [the woman], that is, you will decide nothing by your private inclination but will act in everything by the inclination of your husband.” Heinrich Bullinger

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others . . . .” Richard Hooker

“So, I say, that in her greatest perfection woman was created to be subiect to man.” John Knox

Claims that women cannot be ordained because they are in a state of subjection to men, and therefore cannot teach or exercise authority over men:

“It is neither right nor necessary that women should be teachers, and especially concerning the name of Christ and the redemption of his passion. . .” Didascalia apostolorum

“But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest?” Apostolic Constitutions

“Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . . If they don’t want to learn but rather want to teach, they destroy both themselves and those who learn from them. . . .” John Chrysostom

“Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“To make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity, seeing the Apostle hath said, ‘I permit not a woman to teach.’” Richard Hooker

“I am assured that GOD hath revealed unto some in this our age, that it is more than a monster in nature that a Woman shall reign and have empire above Man.” John Knox

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox

Third is what I will call the “inherent correlation” claim.

(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.

Claims that women cannot exercise authority over men because of an intellectual, emotional, or moral incapacity (which necessarily implies that they cannot be ordained):

“To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of government . . . She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly . . .” John Chrysostom

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe: and experience hath declared them to be vnconstant, variable, cruell and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faultes haue men in all ages espied in that kinde, for the whiche not onlie they haue remoued women from rule and authoritie, but also some haue thoght that men subiect to the counsel or empire of their wyues were vn worthie of all publike office.” John Knox

Actual claims that women cannot be ordained because of such an incapacity:

“Never at any time has a woman been a priest. . . . And who but women are the teachers of this [that women can be ordained]? Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

“For if the ‘man be the head of the woman,’ and he be originally ordained for the priesthood, it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation, and leave the principal to come to the extreme part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side, and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For says He, ‘He shall rule over thee.” Apostolic Constitutions

“For ‘if the head of the wife be the man,’ it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head.” Apostolic Constitutions

“So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. . . . Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.” Boswell’s Johnson

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox (compare with the above statement by Knox)

The above should be enough to make clear that there is a traditional understanding of why women cannot be ordained which can be expressed in terms of the inherent connection between propositions (A), (B), and (C). Any argument against women’s ordination that does not include all three propositions is not the traditional argument, but an innovation.

This leads to my second affirmation:

Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

To elaborate this claim, there are three new positions concerning women’s ordination: (1) The Egalitarian position that women can and should be ordained; (2) The Protestant “Complementarian” position that women cannot be ordained. (3) The Catholic “Sacramental” argument that women cannot be ordained. All are innovations insofar as they reject some element of the traditional argument. This can be illustrated by the following propositions.

(A1) Women share an equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacity with men. They are not less intelligent, emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men.

Egalitarians, Evangelical Complementarians, and Catholic Sacramentalists equally affirm (A1).

But (A1) is directly contrary to (A).

I have yet to find a contemporary opponent of WO who will acknowledge that (A) is inherent to the traditional position, but the above citations clearly demonstrate that it is.

The (1) Egalitarian position is that in light of (A1), there is no valid argument against WO, and therefore women should be ordained. The (2) Complementarian and (3) Sacramentalist positions argue that despite (A1), women should still not be ordained.

The (2) Protestant Complementarian affirms (A1), but also continues to affirm (B). However, because the Complementarian does not affirm (A), he (or she?) cannot affirm (C). Rather, the Complementarian affirms:

(C1) Although (A1), women still cannot be ordained because God has created different “gender roles” rooted in “male headship.”

For Complementarians, men can exercise any role in the church that women can fulfil, but women have the exclusive role of always being in submission to male authority. In a religious setting, women cannot teach, speak publicly where men might be present, or exercise authority over men.

Complementarians do affirm (B), but rather than affirm (A) and (C), they affirm (A1), and (C1), and are thus an innovation in relation to the previous tradition.

The (3) Catholic sacramentalist also affirms (A1), but differs from the (2) Complementarian in the following:

(B1) The argument from authority no longer applies. Women can exercise any role of teaching, exercising authority, and speaking, and even preaching within the church. (There are no “gender roles” rooted in “headship.”)

Rather, the sacramentalist affirms:

(B2) The distinct function of ordination has to do with presiding at the sacraments. The presiding minister (the priest) represents Jesus Christ, that is, acts in the “person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when presiding at the sacraments. Because Jesus Christ is a male, only a male priest can represent a male Christ.

(B1) and (B2) are decided departures from the historic traditional arguments against women’s ordination. To the best of my knowledge, no traditional theologian raises this sacramental argument against WO. It does not appear until the 20th century, first in essays like C.S. Lewis’s “On Priestesses,” but most definitively in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores. Non-Roman Catholics (Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics) borrow the argument from Roman Catholics.

(B1) and (B) are also in opposition. Complementarians continue to affirm (B), but Sacramentalists do not.

(C2) Because women do not resemble a male Christ, women cannot be ordained.

(There is a variation of the above argument that does not strictly follow the Roman Catholic position that the priest acts in persona Christi, but still appears to “male/female” symbolism. Because only a male priest can symbolize a male Christ, only males can be ordained. The substance of the argument is still the same.)

Thus, (1) Egalitarianism, (2) Evangelical Complementarianism, and (3) Catholic Sacramentalism equally represent innovations to the tradition.

In light of (A1), (1) Egalitarians are an innovation in advocating the ordination of women, but only in the sense of recognizing the implications of what Scripture teaches about the intellectual, moral, and spiritual equality of men and women. Women’s ordination is the logical consequence of a Christian doctrine of vocation.

In addition to (A1), the Egalitarian would affirm:

(B3) The primary call of the ordained minister is to service (Matt. 20:26-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-14). Insofar as the ordained minister has a representative function, the minister first represents the church as the body of Christ, and the (female) bride of Christ. Insofar as the minister represents Jesus Christ, the minister represents Christ as the head of the church which is his bride, but most significantly through cruciformity, by pointing away from him- or herself to the crucified and risen Christ, and through following Christ in suffering. The ordained minister represents Jesus Christ as a “jar of clay.” This sort of Christocentric representation is not gender-specific, not unique to men or women, to clergy or laity, but is at the heart of discipleship for all Christians (Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4:5-12).

(C3) Insofar as the call to ministry is primarily a call to service, and the minister represents first the female Church (as the bride of Christ), and, second, Jesus Christ in terms of the cruciform pattern to which all Christians are called, ministry qualification is determined by Spirit-gifting and vocation, not by gender.

However, (2) Evangelical Complementarians and (3) Catholic sacramentalists are just as much positions of innovations as are Egalitarians. No one holds to the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (2) Complementarians affirm (A1), (B), and (C1). Complementarians reject two of the original three indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (3) Catholic sacramentalists affirm (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2). They reject all three of the original indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Moreover, the only position of agreement shared between (2) Complementarians and (3) Sacramentalists is (A1), not only a departure from the tradition, but also an agreement with (1) Egalitarians. Evangelical Complementarians continue to affirm only one of the original premises (B), while Catholic Sacramentalists affirm none, and Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree not only with the tradition, but with each other concerning (B) (which Sacramentalists reject), (B1) and (B2) (which Complementarians reject), and (C1) and (C2), about which Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree.

I think the above adequately addresses the original challenge. However, I conclude with a challenge of my own. I have argued that Evangelical Complementarians and Catholic Sacamentalist opponents to women’s ordination represent innovations to the historic tradition. Their advocates insist that they do not, and are simply following the historic tradition. My challenge:

Provide an actual historical reference from the Christian tradition that corresponds to what I have called the Complementarian or Sacramentalist positions. It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.

Rather, from a discussion that specifically deals with the issue of women’s ordination and opposes it, provide an example from a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author (or authors) that clearly endorses either (A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position. It is not enough to find individual quotations from an author that can be read to endorse any single one of the above propositions. Rather, in the same way that I have shown through detailed quotations that there is a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation writers who endorse (A), (B), and (C) and bring them together to form a coherent argument against women’s ordination based on female ontological incapacity, an adequate demonstration that what I have called the (2) Protestant Complementarian or (3) Catholic Sacramentalist positions are not innovations to the tradition would have to substantiate with actual textual references that one or the other of these two was an actual position that was held by someone in the history of the church before the mid-twentieth century.

I do not think that this challenge can be met, and so I stand by my initial claim: Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

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Pope Francis says that the training of priests must be a “work of art, not a police action…We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

Pray Tell has heard increasing reports in the last few years about difficulties with some recently ordained priests. There are divisions in some parishes because some younger guys are more traditional or conservative or legalistic than much of their flock. This seems to be an important issue that needs addressing. To get the conversation going, Pray Tell went to some folks we knew in diocesan offices and asked them to reflect on the issue as constructively as possible.

The three contributors writing below have asked to remain anonymous. Given the highly sensitive nature of this issue, and the possibility of hurt feelings within dioceses if the writer were known, Pray Tell has agreed to their request for anonymity. We hope this puts the focus on the message rather than the writer.

We asked the contributors, “What is a positive, constructive way to deal with young priests who have good zeal, who want to do the right thing, but what they do sometimes doesn’t build up the church and instead causes ill will? What good attitudes are needed? Is there a need for better education and formation? Is it an issue of maturity, and can we be hopeful that the crucible of life will polish rough edges in young people’s temperaments?”

We hope that younger priests will come to Pray Tell, feel respected, and hear the loving challenges presented them. And we welcome them, and you, to join the conversation!



Diocesan Official #1:

The last several years, I have increasingly found it difficult to engage in a positive and constructive way with many of our newly ordained priests. My role as the diocesan director of the Office of Worship allows me to work with these men directly during their seminary formation for ordination planning, and often more indirectly after they are ordained. While I can handle the criticisms (the type of censer we use or the style of vesture, etc.), lay ministers in parishes are having more difficulty coping.

I often receive calls in my office from lay ministers and parishioners regarding actions by these men. The issues include rigidity, unwillingness to receive people where they are, offending messages during homilies, confusing interpretations of rubrics, very lengthy processes of purifying vessels at the altar, and making changes to parish practices, though they are valid and licit, because of his personal preference. My encouraging lay ministers and the faithful to speak with the priest about these issues doesn’t seem to work. They are afraid or unwilling because of a perceived lack of openness on the part of the priest, or a very real fear of being fired for speaking up.

To be fair, I am sure that problems can be seen in all generations of priests. I would imagine that a generation or two ago, the older priests were lamenting the younger priests’ ideals and actions. Among those being ordained now, there are certainly those who have good pastoral qualities, leadership skills, and sensitivity to community. However, there are also many who seem to have “all the answers.” Because of this, these men are perceived as caring more about their interpretation of the rubrics than the Mass, unwilling to engage in conversation, overly critical of the people they serve, and unwilling to receive feedback.

With all this being said, newly ordained priests are a gift to the Church. We can learn much from their passion for Christian discipleship, reverence for the Eucharist, energy and seemingly fearless desire to evangelize. When one has been in ministry a long time, new energy helps to remind us why we once started serving in church ministry. My question is this: what is the community’s role in helping to develop better leadership skills with those newly entering ordained ministry? I hope for a fruitful dialogue.

Diocesan Official #2:

When I was about to begin ministry in parish liturgy a long time ago, I prepared to encounter the people of my parish with great confidence. I had a fine educational pedigree, was respected by my peers, and had an excellent skill set. Give me five years, I thought, and this would be the best parish in the diocese!

I quickly fell from the pedestal I had created for myself. People didn’t particularly care where I was educated. They didn’t know my peers and didn’t care what they thought of me. My skill set didn’t seem to have nearly enough tools.

That was lesson number one of a long series of lessons I have had over the years. I’ve learned from accomplishments and failures, from wise ministers and crabby sacristans, from compliments and insults, from bishops and pastors and from the average Catholic in the pew. Ultimately, of course, God was the wise master teacher who presented these lessons.

With that in mind, I would like to offer a little advice to newly ordained men who are beginning their own lifetime of learning.

1. Open yourself up to a wide range of pastoral experiences. You only have a short time as a parochial vicar, so take in as much as you can. Many pastors complain to me that some associates think that celebrating Mass and hearing confessions are their only real commitments as a priest. Don’t fall into that trap! Attend parish events and school concerts, endure parish council meetings, visit the sick, say Mass in the jail, learn what other staff members do, ask lots and lots of questions.

2. Don’t make sweeping judgments about people. People are complex. Not every Catholic who likes to sing the Agnus Dei in Latin wants the parish to celebrate Extraordinary Form Masses. People who prefer contemporary music may also prefer fiddleback chasubles with maniples. Some feel called to contemplation while others to service and action. Don’t assume that you know everything about a person based on very few facts. Once we’ve called someone a “flaming liberal” or “right wing radical” we have compartmentalized them and they can be dismissed. There is a great diversity of charisms, talents, and experiences in our parishes. Harmonize them for the glory of God.

3. Don’t see everyone who disagrees with you as a “dissident.” This word is applied freely by many clergy and laity to anyone who disagrees with them. Do they prefer a Eucharistic Chapel to a front-and-center tabernacle? They are dissident. Do they genuflect before Communion? Dissident! Do they complain when there is incense and Mass parts are in Latin? Dissident! I have yet to meet the perfect Catholic (although I have met many people who think that they are). Remember, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Mt. 7:1). Honest self-reflection is related to this. Sometimes the priest has to stand firm even when everyone disagrees with him. Sometimes, when everyone disagrees with him, he may be wrong. A wise person can tell the difference.

4. Seek out the lost sheep. I have heard many priests over the years dismiss Catholics who are marginal in their practice of the faith. I frequently have heard priests say that if this or that person doesn’t like what he is saying, they can leave the Church! Obviously the faith can’t be watered down, but everyone is made by God in his image and is deeply loved by God. Look to the Good Shepherd for guidance. He didn’t say, “Read this Catechism and fully believe it all, then come and see”! These marginal Catholics are the prodigal sons, the lost coins, the woman at the well. The liturgy tells us that Christ thirsts for their faith. As Pope Francis so beautifully says, don’t just tell them about the faith. Go out and meet them, walk with them, teach them, love them. Pope Paul VI eloquently summed up this idea forty years ago, saying “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

5. Follow the law of love. Love is sometimes viewed as weak and “soft Catholicism.” Yet, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm. 13:10). Loving another means that we are patient and kind towards every person regardless of who they are or what they believe. Love doesn’t jealously seek a higher position or more notoriety. The person who loves is neither arrogant nor a gossip. Love isn’t cynical, smirking at one’s superiority over those “pants-suit-wearing nuns” or those “Krazy Konservatives.” Love doesn’t call other people derogatory names. Love isn’t subordinate to the truth but complementary to it. Love ultimately unites rather than divides. Love is of such great importance that the Lord reminds us that we only will be recognized as his follower by our love for one another (Jn 13:35). God is love. If love is not present, we are not allowing God to be present. Where there is love, God is there.

Diocesan Official #3:

I would like to begin with an observation: this is an issue at both ends of the theological-political spectrum. While it may be more common now for new priests to be more “rigid” in their application of liturgical norms, we also have a history of those who have been much too “lax” in their approach to applying the same. Both would claim the “desire to do the right thing” as their motivation, and both—regardless of intention—can harm, and have harmed, the Church.

Is it an issue of maturity? On the one hand, there may be an inability to think outside of black-and-white categories, or a desire for security that is, in the end, illusory. If so, assuming that time alone will be corrective may be a dangerous assumption. Those attitudes may, instead, be perpetuated in the seminary environment. Such candidates need to be challenged early in their formation. In addition, a serious look needs to be given at how seminarians are selected and to the whole issue of minor seminaries, especially since affective and intellectual maturity seems to be increasingly delayed as adolescence becomes prolonged. On the other, immaturity may be manifested by an antinomian or rebellious attitude towards authority. I would think it less likely that one so predisposed would apply for the seminary, but such an attitude will have as much a negative effect on liturgical praxis as a more rigid attitude would.

Is it an issue of intellectual formation? On the one hand, what some individuals are taught in seminary may be “de-formative” – perpetuating a strident clericalism. Too often we place the ministry of priests and the ministry of others (deacons, laity) in a zero-sum relationship: one can be promoted only at the expense of the others. Such an attitude is nonsense, yet still gets play, and from both sides of the spectrum. If we are promoting clericalism in seminary (and deacon formation programs) or an anti-clerical attitude (in deacon and lay ministry formation programs), then we need to take a hard look at ourselves.

On the other, “truth” has become what one decides it is. Some seminarians are simply not open to formation, to being challenged. They have decided on the “truth,” based on certain websites or Internet personalities, whether on the “right” or on the “left.” If they encounter something different in the classroom or in their reading, it does not matter: the seminary faculty is always wrong. Sometimes, the candidates are dishonest and tell the formation staff what they think it is that the staff wants to hear; but, in other cases, bishops—desperate for warm bodies to staff parishes and to keep vocation numbers up—simply ordain such men and thereby allow such attitudes to persist.

Is it an issue of pastoral formation? Liturgy in seminary takes place in an environment quite different from that of a parish. On the one hand, I hope we could agree that it is good for seminarians to learn and to experience the Church’s liturgy as they are being formed. On the other, we need to ask if we are always celebrating the liturgy well in our seminaries, and if we are exposing our seminarians to the joys and challenges of liturgical ministry in parish settings in a way that helps develop their pastoral skills.

For example, how well are seminarians prepared to exercise the legitimate flexibility and adaptability found in the liturgical books in a pastoral fashion – that is, for the good of the community and not to push one’s personal agenda or piety? Is such an appropriate exercise of pastoral judgment distinguished from changes made to the liturgy that are idiosyncratic and contrary to liturgical norms? Are seminarians taught that while our starting point is to respect the rubrics and the texts found in the liturgical books (“do the red, say the black”), something more is needed to be an effective presider (SC #11)?

Is it an issue of spiritual formation? Whether on the right or on the left, the cleric who imposes “his” liturgy on the assembly has lost sight of the fact that the liturgy does not belong to him or to any single group, but to the Church. At the same time, that liturgy is also particular to, incarnate in, a specific place and time. I am certainly not suggesting that the community should be given carte blanche; there are plenty of parishes whose liturgical practices—often due to the “de-formations” imposed by earlier pastors—are in need of correction. There are plenty of communities in need of solid liturgical formation. But what is driving the priest who wants to make changes? Is it a lack of self-awareness or humility, a savior-complex or need to control, and/or a negative attitude towards the laity that fuels the desire to impose one’s way of doing things on a community? Or is he motivated by not just a love of God and of the liturgy (which can be abstract), but of this people? And does he have the skills and dispositions to pursue needed changes in a way that is pastorally sensitive; that distinguishes between the urgent, the important, and the tangential; that refuses to let the perfect become the enemy of the good?

Is it an issue of mentoring? While seminarians are exposed to a great deal of philosophy and theology, what is needed is the experience of putting such learning into practice. Ideally, the assigning of new priests to be tutored by a more experienced priest ought to help bridge that gap between theory and praxis. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Effective mentoring requires that mentors be properly formed in the liturgy (both intellectually and spiritually), have the skills to mentor constructively, and take the time to do so. Sadly, at least in my observations, such is rarely the case—and either the errors and idiosyncrasies of the elder priest get perpetuated or the errors and idiosyncrasies of the new priest go unchallenged and uncorrected. In the end, it is the parishioners who are the ones who suffer and are deprived of the Church’s liturgy.

The selection and formation of seminarians, a willingness to discern whether or not a given candidate has the proper dispositions to be a good priest instead of just playing a numbers game, preparation of effective mentors for those newly ordained; all of these are important issues that need to be addressed. But, perhaps the deepest problem is that neither our candidates nor our formators nor those in our parishes have fully internalized the truth that the liturgy is what we do together as the Body of Christ. It is not what a priest does alone with the rest of us watching or helping or doing our own thing. Without the whole Body, there is no liturgy. Until all of us live and breathe this truth, a distorted approach to the liturgy (whether clericalist or populist; whether driven by the conservative/traditional right or the progressive/liberal left) will persist.


Coming soon: a response from a young, traditionally-inclined priest.

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