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«[Editor's note THIS is not the first time that Professor von Allmen has turned his pen to the subject of the ordination of women. An important ...»

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Women and the Threefold Ministry

J. J. VON ALLMEN (translated by C. D. W. ROBINSON)

[Editor's note

THIS is not the first time that Professor von Allmen has turned his

pen to the subject of the ordination of women. An important article

of his entitled 'Est-il legitime de consacrer des femmes au ministere

pastoral?' appeared in Verbum Caro, vol. 17 (1963), pp. 5-28, and his

present essay may be regarded as supplementing and updating his

earlier one. The earlier article made the following points, among


1. That in this matter all is of grace: no one has a right to be ordained to the pastoral ministry, so the question of women's rights is irrelevant.

2. That the pastoral ministry is an institution of Christ, not an arrangement of convenience made by the Church, which can be altered at will.

3. That the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is irrelevant.

Ordination does not admit one to the priesthood of believers, nor does the withholding of ordination exclude one from it.

4. That women are definitely upgraded in the New Testament, and that this shows their continued exclusion from the pastoral ministry by the New Testament not to be simply a cultural hangover but to be deliberate.

Professor von Allmen's earlier article was written against his own church background, which is Presbyterian. In his present essay, which is the substance of a long letter in reply to an enquiry from Miss Christian Howard, he considers the question how the matter is affected by being transferred to a setting in which there are bishops, and the normal or essential ministry is considered to be the episcopal ministry, the presbyteral ministry being merely dependant. Of course, not all episcopal Churches do consider the episcopal ministry to be the normal or essential ministry, and the presbyteral ministry merely dependant.

Many Anglicans and Lutherans, for example, hold that the episcopate derives from the presbyterate, not the reverse, and that NT limitations 89 90


on women's ministry apply indirectly to the episcopate, but directly to the presbyterate.] Three presuppositions: ministry and priesthood MY REPLY IS BASED on three presuppositions. First, I am con- vinced that no one will solve the problem of ministries in general and of the ministry of women in particular by starting from the concept of priesthood; witness the almost desperate efforts of the expositors, both Roman Catholic and others, to explain why from post-apostolic times onwards it has been legitimate to speak of ministries in terms of priesthood when the New Testament does not do so-or does so only very rarely, as in Rom. 15: 16, for example, where the 'priestly service of the gospel' seems to be understood in the sense of the ministry of the evangelisation of the world by the Word (and baptism?) rather than in the sense of the ministry of the edification of the church by the eucharist. On the whole, the New Testament makes use of the category of the 'apostolate' and that of 'ministry' (which usually covers the function of bishop, teacher, pastor, presbyter, deacon etc.). The question seems to me not to be: Is it legitimate to ordain women to the priesthood?, but rather: To which ministry is it legitimate to ordain women? It must be said again and again that neither the indispensability of the ministry for the church, nor its institution by the Lord, is endangered by refusing to understand it in terms of 'priesthood'.

Ministry is not sacramental because it is priestly, but because it is apostolic.

My second presupposition is that the tradition of the church must be given decisive weight: it has known from very ancient times three regular ministries: the episcopate, a major ministry of apostolic succession; the presbyterate, a collegiate ministry participating in the episcopal ministry; and the diaconate, also a ministry participating in the episcopal ministry, though in a more personal way. I am aware that this raises many historical questions, some of which have not been solved and doubtless never will be~ One point, however, seems to be dear: these three ministries are distinct from each other not only by the tasks which they entail, but also by the necessity that each should have its own proper 'legitimation'. There is a legitimation peculiar to the episcopate, another peculiar to the presbyterate, a third peculiar to the diaconate. One other point also seems clear: it is the episcopal ministry which, of the three, by very ancient tradition carries the most weight. To attest its ecclesial character a local church, for example, does not point to its presbyteral college, and still less to the presence, in its midst, of deacons: it points to its bishop. It is he who, at the level of ministry, certifies a church to be a church. That is why one finds early on that a particular church, when providing a successor to a


deceased bishop, appoints one of its deacons or (later?) a member of its presbyterate, whereas one does not see a bishop becoming a presbyter or a deacon. Of course, the few historical exceptions which one always

manages to unearth if one tries would have to be carefully weighed:

but such exceptions would in fact only confirm the rule.

Sociological forms of the traditional ministry

THE last of the presuppositions, which constitute the basis of my argument, is that in the course of history there have been many structural or sociological variants by which this traditional scheme of ministry has been expressed, and that these variants have not necessarily compromised the faithfulness of those churches which adapted their own ministerial structure, as well as they could, to new conditions of place and time in which they were called to remain faithful as a church.

The history of the presbyterate is particularly instructive in-this respect, as is also the history of the relationship of precedence and prestige between the presbyterate and the diaconate, or that of the extent of presbyteral participation in the bishop's ministry. Because of historical vicissitudes, the faithfulness of a church lies not so much in perpetuating unconditionally a given sociological solution, adopted (to provide a framework for the relationship between bishop, presbyters and deacons) at a given time and in given circumstances. Faithfulness seems, rather, to depend on the two following factors: firstly, on the fearless desire to receive, practise and transmit faithfully the ministry of apostolic succession instituted by Christ and essential to the very existence of the church (the 'episcopal' ministry); secondly, on the flexibility and readiness necessary in order to adapt particularly the form of the presbyteral and diaconal ministries to the circumstances and needs of the church at a particular place and time, or in particular difficulties which it encounters in the course of its history. To take an

example relating directly to the Eglise Reformee in which I was ordained:

the Reformers were convinced on theological grounds that their rejection of the diocesan structure which distinguished a church from a parish-rejection not because of doctrinal stubbornness, but because the titular bishops of churches either would not hear of reform or seemed unconcerned about their church, giving it into the care of a suffragan-was not a rejection of the church structure required by the nature of the church, but merely of one sociological form which the structure can take. This conviction was due in large part to St. Jerome, whose hypothesis of the origin of the episcopate they had adopted, along with most of their contemporaries: according to him, the creation of the episcopate was a measure not of Messianic institution but of ecclesiastical law, a measure taken to strengthen the unity of the church by providing a structure for the presbyterate, itself recognised as the 92


original ministry of apostolic succession.

They were convinced that theologically it is not possible to draw a meaningful distinction between bishops and presbyters, since both are ministries of the word, the sacraments and the 'keys' (discipline and absolution). The distinction being purely sociological, it was therefore possible, in the view of the Reformers, to avoid interrupting the necessary apostolic succession, while rejecting the 'episcopal' form of the esscmtial ministry, so as to transfer it to and practise it at the level of the parish rather than the diocese, i.e. at the presbyteral level. (It is interesting to note that the term chosen for him who has this ministry was 'pastor', cognate with 'episcopal', rather than 'presbyter'= priest.) Thus, theologically, the equivalent of the 'reformed' pastor is not the 'catholic' presbyter (who is sociologically his peer), but the 'catholic' bishop (who is sociologically his superior). I have gone into detail about this in my book: Le saint ministere se/on la conviction et la volonte des reformes du XV!e siecle [Neuchatel, 1968], the fruit of thirteen years' research. This research has led me to distinguish the (variable) sociology of the church's structure from its (apostolic and so constant) theology. I am myself hesitant about following St. Jerome's way of presenting the origin of the episcopate. I must, however, say that my church-far from deliberately breaking with the current tradition, but rather basing its actions on belief in what St. Jerome and many other Fathers and Doctors affirmed-was convinced that it was upholding faithfully the ministry of apostolic succession instituted by Christ to gather together and edify his church until his return, since the succession of ordinations maintains the ministry of the Word, the sacraments and the 'keys'. It was also held that there was no reason to qualify or disqualify the church in and for which this ministry was exercised because of the sociological level at which it took place.

This has had the following interesting and perhaps illuminating consequence for ecclesiology in general: in the Eglise Reformee, in Switzerland at least, the ordained ministry has been so reduced to a merely pastoral ministry that the relative status of the ministry of elders and deacons has become uncertain; indirectly, this provides proof that the faithful~ ness of a church depends not on these ministries, their ordination or the kind or degree of participation in the essential episcopal ministry that they have, but solely on the essential ministry.

This lengthy introduction was necessary to show how I approach the problem of the ordination of women to one of the traditional ministries of the church. Basically, and in principle, I stand by what I wrote in 'Est-illegitime de consacrer des femmes au ministere pastoral?' [Verbum Caro, 1963, a study reproduced in Prophetisme sacramentel, Neuchatel, 1964]. Nevertheless, in view of subsequent literature I need to temper some arguments and strengthen others.

93 WOMEN AND THE 1'HREEFOLD MINISTRY Three questions: women as bishops?

ATTEMPTING to transport myself in spirit to the Anglican situation, I see three questions which the Church of England has to face.

1. Is it legitimate to ordain a woman to the episcopal ministry, i.e.

to the ministry of apostolic succession which is essential to the church?

This is the question which faces you and which for us would be that of the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry. I start from the presupposition that the bishop is not a presbyter plus, but that he fulfils a ministry sui generis to which one must be specially ordained or consecrated in order to exercise it. In other words the difference between deacon, presbyter and bishop is of a different kind from that which distinguishes a bishop from an archbishop, a patriarch or the pope-a difference which (happily or not) exists within the hierarchy of the same episcopal ministry: the pope of Rome receives no higher degree of ordination to his ministry, if he is already ordained to the

episcopate, than the archbishop of Canterbury, if he is already a bishop:

both are installed, in all solemnity, to exercise their 'power of jurisdiction' in a new way.

Is it then legitimate to ordain a woman to the episcopal ministry?

To this first question I answer in the negative. An affirmative reply would entail a twofold theological error, irrespective of the entirely different question whether such action would be politic or expedient.

The first error is ecclesiological, for it presupposes that the ministry is at bottom hardly more than a sociological measure necessary to the bene esse of the church, which, being a social body, needs officials.

What would then prevent the recruitment of such officials by following the recruitment pattern of other social bodies? In a historical situation where officials for the other social bodies are recruited without the distinction between men and women being a deciding factor, if such a distinction is particularly unpopular with those who look forward rather than back, why should not the church adopt the same principles of selection as other social bodies, principles which ignore the natural distinction between men and women? I would go further: what, apart from an injurious attitude towards women, would prevent the opening of the most responsible tasks of the social body in question to women worthy and capable of them?

Theology and sociology IT is clear that ecclesiology must involve sociological considerations.

It is also clear that these considerations will be of particular importance in examining the application of doctrines of the ministry. The church is not, however, solely a social body: it is a mystery of salvation. The ministers are not merely officials of the church; they are witnesses and 94


bearers of the very presence of Christ, they have a sacramental and not merely a sociological basis. An attempt to solve the problem by adopting a solution in fundamental conformity to the present age (cf.

Rom. 12: 2) would be an admission, contrary to unanimous ecclesiastical tradition, that the ministry of apostolic succession is based, essentially, on the sociological needs of the church, and that these needs are more important than Christ's institution of it.

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