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Priestesses & a Flawed Interpretation of Galatians

There is much confusion in the argument for women’s ordination around the hackneyed use of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The passage in question is in reference to a baptismal formula and is not a justification for priestesses. It regards the universal offer of salvation in Christ, not the makeup of the sacrament of holy orders. Arguing that “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) as a qualification for priestesses is nothing more than a cheap classical reductionism. What is the statement actually saying? The phrase, “neither male nor female” is not focused on biology or psychology, just as “nether slave nor free” is not a statement of sociology and “neither Jew nor Greek” fails to center on anthropological realities. Moving away from fundamentalism or literalism, the statement in Galatians is heavenly, even apocalyptic language. This particular unity does not emanate from a common humanity but rather from God’s election. It is similar to that for which Jesus appealed: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 18:20-23).

This unity for which Christ prays is not yet fully realized. During our earthly pilgrimage, the Church must be sufficiently sacramental so as to perceive the current realities of sex, position, culture, etc., raising up that which is of value in each and discarding that which profanes both God and men. Fr. George Rutler writes:

Secular exploitation of sexual differences in fields which theoretically have no sexual restrictions violate the Christian mind but that is a far different matter from the divine discrimination which merely states the reality of different sexes. St. Paul’s statement about male and female eradicates the fact of maleness and femaleness no more than his statement about bond and free or Jew and Greek denies the reality of Onesimus and Philemon or the fundamentals of geography. Certainly his readers know this; that is the source of one of the great ironies of the ordinal controversy: proponents of priestesses quickly label St. Paul an anti-feminist on the grounds of his abiding awareness of the different order of men and women yet they simultaneously use his own writing in Galatians 3:28 as a proof text for the indistinguishability which he himself found so grim. Having sighted the careful line between representation and misrepresentation, these exegetes have approached it with all the temerity of Caesar at the Rubicon. (Priest and Priestess, pp. 21-23).

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