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Indian Women Theologians - 17-19 April 2015

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2015/04/22 10:48:07 (permalink)

Indian Women Theologians - 17-19 April 2015

Statement of the
Indian Women Theologians Forum Meeting,
Papal Seminary, Pune, 17th – 19th April 2015
On “The Common Priesthood of Women”
“New Wine requires new wineskins,” new visions and liberative insights cannot be contained in old structures. This was the realization that struck us during our critical theological reflection on “The Common Priesthood of Women,” which was the theme of the annual meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum, held at Papal seminary in Pune, India, from 17th to 19th April 2015. 
Recalling the commemoration of the institution of the priesthood on Maundy Thursday, led us to ask: Did Jesus really institute the ministerial priesthood or was his celebration of the Passover meal the culmination of his ministry through symbolic gestures like washing of the feet, breaking of the Word and bread and entrusting his disciples to carry on his mission of bringing about the reign of God?
It is evident that Jesus did not belong to a priestly family nor did he use the term “priest” for himself or his disciples. On the contrary he vehemently opposed the cultic priestly structures of domination and oppression of his time. Jesus’ horizons were prophetic not priestly.
According to Exodus 19 Israel as a whole community was considered a priestly people. In the New/Second Testament, the term “priest” Hiereus  (Gk) and Sacerdos (Lat) is used for Christ alone (Heb 7:15), and for the Christian community as a whole(1Pet 2:5) by virtue of their Baptism.
The followers of Jesus, both men and women,  lived their discipleship through witness and various ministries like teaching, healing, prophesying and service to the community which later was interpreted as the exercise of their ‘common priesthood.’ In the early Church women shared in decision making and had leadership and liturgical roles in the community  (Acts 18: 26, 21:8-9; Rom 16).
Tracing the history of the ministerial priesthood in the church, we see that it has evolved in the context of the Church’s self understanding in relation to the Roman Empire and the cultic priesthood of ancient Israel.  The leaders of the Christian community adopted its titles of leadership, power and respect from the surrounding cultures. Consequently Christian leadership came to be designated using the term “priest.” With the introduction of the Levitical paradigm as a type of Christian office and the consequent revival of the purity laws in relation to priesthood, women came to be totally excluded.
On examining critically the existing hierarchal structures of the Church based on the ministerial priesthood, we find this to be a significant deviation from what Jesus envisioned for his community of equal discipleship. We feel the need to explore further and find new ways of growing as a prophetic and witnessing community according to the vision of Jesus.
This vision of Jesus for the Church as an inclusive community of discipleship of equals, which will be instrumental for initiating the Reign of God is like the ‘new  wine’ which requires ‘new wineskins.’ Realization of this vision will involve:
  • Uprooting the hierarchical and patriarchal mindset from ourselves and our communities
  • Creating an awareness of Christian discipleship according to the vision of Christ
  • Choosing leaders for Christian communities according the criteria deployed by the early Church, like selecting persons filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3)
  • Celebrating ‘inclusive table fellowship' in the family which is the domestic church as well as in Small Christian Communities which are the “house churches” of today, where sharing experiences of joys and sorrows can help create bonds of support and solidarity, thereby building family and community
  • Recognizing the varied ministerial services exercised by all the people of God  like Coordinators of Small Christian Communities,  Ministers of the Eucharist, Ministers of the Word, Ministers of  healing/teaching/social outreach/ justice and the like, as  equally valued and  effective ways of realizing the vision of Jesus
Through this, we dream of birthing a new vision of being the Church with structures which are collaborative, participatory and inclusive without distinctions of class, caste and gender. This will help the Christian community to become the ‘new wineskin’ that can hold the ‘new wine’ of the Reign of God.
 Virginia Saldanha

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    Re: Indian Women Theologians - 17-19 April 2015 2015/04/22 11:18:53 (permalink)
    The statement is excellent, and hits the right notes - notes which are often studiously avoided in official Vatican documents, which consistently ignore the evidence emerging from theological research.

    In this connection, may I add a few wonkish and somewhat lengthy observations. Two things have struck me: the first is the challenge which the document mounts, correctly, against having a "priesthood" in Christianity, as a development foreign to the words of both Jesus and the early church as recorded in the NT.

    On this point, I often quote James Dunn, for many years Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Dept of Theology at the University of Durham, now Emeritus Lightfoot Professor, and one of the top Pauline scholars in the world:

    "What is so astonishing is the complete absence from its pages [New Testament] of a distinction between ‘priest’ and ‘laity’….It has never failed to astonish me that a principle so clearly formulated could be so blatantly ignored or side-stepped by those who insist that nevertheless, despite Hebrews, an order of priesthood is necessary within Christianity. To use Hebrews 5.1 to justify or explain Christian priesthood, as Vatican II does, while ignoring the thrust and argument of the Letter as a whole is a form of eisegesis which ranks more as abuse than as correct use of Scripture. Similarly the argument that the function of Christian priests is to represent the one true priesthood of Christ reads more like a rationalization than a justification. And since it interposes once again a mediator of grace between believer and God, when the concern of Hebrews was to convince his readers that such mediation was no longer necessary, it can hardly look for support to Hebrews in good faith. Mormons who operate with two orders of priesthood, the Aaronic and the Melchizedek, seem to have misunderstood the argument of the Letter still more. But the mistake is basically the same. What price the canonical authority of Hebrews when one of its principal concerns is treated so casually and twisted to serve a variation of the very case it was written to oppose? ... Could it be that this is one of the most important underlying reasons why the issue of church order has prove so impracticable? Because the major authority by all Christians (The New Testament) has been effectively discounted and ignored? "

    From J. Dunn, "Church Ministry: A View from New Testament Theology," in Dunn and J. M. Mackey, New Testament Theology in Dialogue: Christology and Ministry (London: SPCK, 1987), 121–40 (125–6).

    Or, if you need a "Catholic" quote (Dunn is Anglican), you can quote the late Herbert Haag’s concluding sentence of his more recent study on the development of a distinct clergy during the early centuries of Christianity (my translation):

    "For nearly four hundred years an “ordained” [Priesterweihe] was not necessary for the performance of the Eucharist. Why should it be essential today?". Again, ". . . in the first two hundred years not a consecration [Weihe], but a commission [Auftrag] was the determining criterion for the presidency at the Eucharistic celebration . . ."

    Haag, Worauf es ankommt - Wollte Jesus eine Zwei-Stände-Kirche? (Freiburg: Herder, 1997) pp. 111 and 46 respectively.

    Or, more recently, Robert Egan SJ in a debate about the ordination of women (where he argued in favour of it):

    "There was no Christian “priesthood” in the early church. It made an entrance into Christian discourse only slowly and metaphorically in the second and third centuries as a way of thinking about elders and overseers. To make the category of “priesthood” the decisive one, then, separates us from the first three centuries of church history, as well as from the testimony of the New Testament."
    Presentation available at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/why-not-0, the entire article is well worth a read.

    The second thing that positively struck me is the final point of the bullet list at the end, and the final paragraph. They are both very valuable, and can find their firm scriptural grounding in the crucial chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. About this passage, Dunn again has made important observations:

    "[The] idea of mono-ministry or ministerial autocracy - that is, of all the most important gifts concentrated on one man (even an apostle) or in a select group - is one which Paul dismissed with some ridicule" in 1 Cor. 12, as I said, especially verses 29-30.

    As I remark in my book on Democracy in the Christian Church: An Historical, Theological and Political Case (London: Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2012), the importance of the principle that Paul enunciates there - that there MUST be a division of labour according to everybody's charisms, and that NO ONE individual or ministry can centralize on himself all ministries and tasks) is that it is one of the only two explicitly "political" principles (i.e. teachings concerning the correct way to structure our social and political relations and institutions) unambiguously advanced in the entire NT - the other being that concerning the exercise of authority as service rather than dominion.

    If you put those two points together, you get a discipleship of equals where, as Paul insists in 1 Cor 12, there must be a division of labour according to everybody's charisms/talents. Which is what the document suggests at the end.

    This still leaves some problems that need to be addressed, and might make the subject of a future document:

    How do we reconcile this vision of equality and division of labour with the old but non-scriptural understanding of the Christian priesthood as the one ministry with exclusive power to evaluate, select, coordinate and govern all other ministries? What should be the process, more concretely, for evaluating, selecting, and coordinating the various ministries?

    My suggestions, very briefly: the priesthood needs to be re-interpreted as one ministry among many, namely, the ministry of spiritual guidance (thus taking priests on their words, in light of the fact that spiritual guidance is one of the key tasks that, historically, they hierarchy said was distinctive about them).
    On the other hand, the ministry of coordination (i.e. the NT "episkope" or "oversight" - as distinct from micro-management) should be exercised by those people the community will deem most suitable to represent them, because he or she will have the task of making choices regarding the direction of common action according to the desires, needs, priories, values and goals of the community.

    Those interested can find a much more detailed explanation of those problems in the final two chapters of my book, which address the historical, canonical, and scriptural evidence.

    All best,

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