Thursday, 22 November 2012

Was God Speaking To The Church of England?

Archbishop of Canterbury
AP: Church of England: Vote Needs Explanation

I have been watching the matter of the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England with interest.  There are two main reasons.  I am a convert to Catholicism from the Anglican Communion and therefore what happens in the Anglican Communion always remains of interest to me.  Secondly, I find this current situation in which the Church of England finds itself regarding the ordination of women bishops a little strange. 

The Roman Catholic Church has always maintained a male only priesthood.  This is based on the example of Christ who continued the tradition of Israel of a male only priesthood by choosing only men as his Apostles.  The Apostles in turn also continued this tradition.  The Roman Catholic Church is very clear in its teaching that, based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, it has no authority to change this and that it cannot therefore ordain women as priests.

The Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century.  It also, like the rest of the Anglican Communion, broke with the apostolic succession in the sacrament of Holy Orders and therefore, in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, it no longer has a sacramental priesthood.  This means that the Anglican Communion is appointing ‘ministers’ through its ordination rite, not conferring sacramental priesthood.  So from our Catholic point of view they can go ahead and appoint women as ministers, be it as a ‘priest’ or ‘bishop’ minister, because they are not conferring sacramental priesthood.

Having said that, there are two things I found amusing about the Synod vote on Tuesday, which decided that the Church of England would not ordain women as bishops.

The first was the tremendous anger being expressed by those who had been in favour of women being appointed as bishops.  I got the impression that they had been quite content to pursue a democratic process because it seemed almost a fait accompli that the Synod vote would be in favour of women bishops.  Indeed it turned out to be a very close vote, with only the laity vote, by a small margin, stopping the motion. 

When the vote did not work out quite as they had thought it would, some then resorted to threats, such as getting the government to force the issue in terms of equality legislation.  How very charitable?  I will love you, accept your views and conform to a democratic system, as long it goes the way I want it to.  When it doesn’t, I will use whatever means available to me to force my views upon you.

The second was the reasons for wanting or not wanting women to be ordained as bishops.  Those who did not agree with the appointment of women as bishops were of the opinion that Christ, through his example of appointing only men as Apostles, had clearly intended it that men should govern the Church.  It was on this basis that they were therefore intending to vote against women bishops.

On the other hand, those who wanted women to be appointed as bishops seemed to base their reasons entirely on the equality of women and their right to hold the same positions as men.  The Church of England needs to change and align itself with the ways of the 21st century and not remain stuck in the dark ages, they argued. 

I found it really sad that their reasoning was all based on what women wanted and about the Church of England conforming to the ways of the modern world.  I do not recall hearing anyone mention God when expressing the basis for wanting women bishops.  This selfish focus was further highlighted after the vote when some women stated that they were now considering leaving the Church of England.  Where, I wondered, is the humility of accepting that God may have been speaking to them through the Synod vote?


  1. Thank you Mark, I am also interested at what would the Vatican say on this one. I am thinking that the Church of England is creating a ridge on many issues now and you are right the argument is on the equality of both the men and the women. Well in the book of Genesis 5:2ff God created them equal but I personally still maintain that we have different roles to play as either male or female. Equality does not necessarily mean that we have to adopt the gender role of another. The Church can never be democratic, it's an institution guided by the Holy Spirit and as you said Sacred Scriptures and Tradition.

    1. Hi Jeremiah,

      Did you see my post titled "Congratulatory Warning" a few days ago. It was a letter to the future Archbishop of Canterbury from a bishop in the Orthodox Church warning him about women bishops and certain other decisions of the Church of England. I think you will find it equally interesting.

  2. Was God Speaking To The Church of England?

    I am not too sure that God would take the trouble to speak to this rebellious cult.

    More than likely, was it England speaking?