Saturday, May 31, 2008

Vatican Statement on Women Priests

The following article was in the NY Times and can be found in most newspapers (through the AP). The Vatican has reaffirmed the ban on women becoming priests to the point of excommunicating any woman who undergoes ordination and any clergy who ordain women. Part of the reason given is that Jesus only had male apostles. This conveniently ignores ancient traditions that calls Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles and in Orthodox tradition as "equal to the apostles" (see the comments by Shades of Gray and Black). Although Orthodox traditions, too, do not ordain women. This also ignores the prominent role women played in the early Christian movement, being leaders in the community, especially in association with and evidenced by Paul (figures such as Priscilla, Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, who was a deacon, etc.), before their leadership roles were curtailed in later centuries.

The other reason that is often offered is that God is male and, therefore, can only be represented by men. There are many ways to discuss this in the tradition. Firstly, there is now evidence that in the pre-exilic period, the Israelites worshiped YHWH and the Queen of Heaven, or the goddess, Asherah, who was considered YHWH's consort. The opposition to and repression of this tradition was by those few men who controlled and tried to centralize the cult to YHWH to only Jerusalem (prominently the Deuteronomic School and its successors and the prophet Jeremiah)--this is now very clear. Secondly, the books that became the Bible (and that excised many of these earlier traditions or polemicized against them) were written by men and reflect a male-centric worldview. These men made God in their own image. Yet, evcen so, God as "father" is probably meant to be as literal as God as a "shepherd" or whatever. Thirdly, even the canonical texts use feminine imagery with God, such as God's "compassion" which is cognate with "womb"--it is literally God's "womb love" (see Jer. 49:15). For other feminine imagery applied to God, see Deut. 32:11, Ps. 17:8, 22:9-10, 36:7, 91:4, Hos. 13:8. Especially prominent here is the imagery of God as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. Interestingly enough, Jesus also uses this imagery to regard himself as a mother hen and the children of Jerusalem as the chicks (Luke 13:34-5). In the books of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, especially the latter (which, one might emphasize, the Catholic Church takes as canonical, whereas Protestants do not), portray a feminine aspect of God; namely, God's Wisdom (Sophia). In Jewish traditions, moreover, the "presence" of God is the feminine Shekhinah.

Similarly, one argument is that Jesus was male and, therefore, only a male can handle the Eucharist and effect the transformation (transubstantiation) of wine and bread into the blood and flesh of Christ--although, it does not seem that based upon Jesus' interactions with women or even Paul's that they thought so (see first paragraph above). This argument seems like a stretch. One could just as easily argue that since Jesus had brown hair (or likely had brown or black hair) that no blond haired person should be allowed to perform the Eucharist--for how could a blond priest possibly represent a dark-haired Jesus? Or perhaps that since Jesus was Jewish, only a Jew can effect transubstantiation (that will definitely make things difficult indeed). I personally do not know any ancient traditions that actually exclude women in this way for this reason. This explicit reasoning seems to be a much more recent innovation, a post-facto rationalization of previous practice mixed with suppression of the earlier traditions mentioned above (both canonical and non-canonical).

Vatican Asserts Rule That Bars Female Priests

Published: May 31, 2008

ROME — The Vatican on Friday reaffirmed a ban on ordaining women as priests, warning that the consequences of any such ordination would be the automatic excommunication of anyone involved.

The decree was a reaction to specific episodes of “so-called ordinations in various parts of the world,” according to Msgr. Angelo Amato, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the decree. In recent years, dozens of women have been ordained by individuals acting outside of the church’s authority.

The document was also drafted to give bishops uniform guidelines on an increasingly contentious matter, as a growing number of Catholics contest the church’s position that only men can be ordained as priests.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, Monsignor Amato reiterated that the church did “not feel authorized to change the will of its founder, Jesus Christ.” The Vatican, he added, felt “in good company” because the Orthodox and ancient Eastern churches have also preserved what he said was a 2,000-year-old tradition.

The decree went into effect on Thursday, after it was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Last March, the archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond L. Burke, excommunicated two women in his diocese and another living in Germany after they were ordained as priests as part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization.

In the past six years, the organization says it has ordained more than 50 women and some men as priests and deacons in North America and Europe. In 2002, the Vatican excommunicated the first seven women shortly after the organization designated them priests.

On Friday, Bridget Mary Meehan, a spokeswoman for the group, said the excommunication, which extends to both the women and the bishops ordaining them, was a positive sign “that the Vatican is taking us seriously.”

Excommunicated Catholics cannot participate in the sacraments or public ceremonies or hold any ecclesiastical position.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Polymorphic or Polydoxic Christianity? Perhaps Neither.

April DeConick, in the comments of her posts, has expressed some concerns with the term "polymorphic." Firstly, she notes that she had considered it before coming up with "polydoxy," and her reasons for rejecting it are:

1. Primarily, it is the same problem with "Christianities"--it just denotes varieties, but does not give any hints pertaining how these groups interact with one another or how they understand themselves. Although, I should note, "polymorphic" is not as grammatically jarring as "Christianities" or "Judaisms."

2. There is nothing particularly Christian about polymorphic--something I consider in its favor, but if one is trying to capture the interactions exclusively between Christians rather than Christians and other groups or just all groups in antiquity, then something with a more Christian ring, with "doxy" or "praxy" would be preferable.

I consider the first point the real potential problem with "polymorphic," and I would be willing to relinquish it for that purpose--its lack of teeth.

In contrast, "polydoxy" indicates a particular character of these groups--they are all claiming to be Christian and the "correct" Christianity against other forms. In this sense, if I have read April's blog entries correctly, this term denotes the specific interaction of jostling for primacy or the polemics of various groups claiming to have the correct understanding of rites and beliefs against the others. "Christianities" and "polymorphic," therefore, appear too benign to capture such polemical interactions, ranging from subtle to intense.

My question as a novice in this field to a seasoned scholar such as April would be this: does "polydoxy" conceal as much as it reveals? Meaning, is the Hobbesian "all against all" or polemical jostling various orthodoxies the only type of interaction that the sources reveal? Or does it capture just a portion of 2nd and 3rd century forms of Christian interactions?

But if this IS the case, perhaps the term "polyorthic" more correctly captures the interactions--it does not impose a false division between belief and practice, and it focuses on various groups claiming they're "right." And it is odd enough to catch people's attention!

It is an interesting topic to brainstorm.

Plurodoxy, Polydoxy, Polypraxy...

April DeConick, on Forbidden Gospels, has opened up an issue of how to refer to primarily 2nd and 3rd century Christianity, saying that we need a new term. She writes, and I quote at length:

"Orthodoxy did not exist as a totalitarian entity, although each type of Christianity may have thought of itself as orthodox while everyone else were heretics. So the discussion of heresiology is important to maintain, as long as one understands that the heretic is so only from the point of view of one party. An orthodox Christianity doesn't emerge until the fourth century. Even then, it struggles through council after council, swinging from Arian to anti-Arian for over fifty years. Not until the fifth century are the major lines put into place that will determine the shape of "orthodox" Christianity for the centuries to come.

"Heterodoxy is not any better because it describes religions that deviate from the orthodox. Since we don't have orthodoxy yet, we can't have heterodoxy either.

"Sectarian and cult language don't work either, because sectarian requires that there is some parental tradition that is being deviated from. Cult also suggests deviance along with innovation.

"So what do we have? Multiple forms of Christianity, although this isn't quite right either, because many of these forms are competing with each other and some forms of Christianity are stronger and more dominant in certain geographical locales. So what we have is plurodoxy. That is multiple forms of Christianity that are competing for the orthodox position and/or that consider themselves to be the orthodox position. From this vantage point I think we can better narrative Christian origins and the standardization of Christianity that eventually comes to dominate as orthodoxy in the fourth and fifth centuries."

Basically, as DeConick points out, 2nd and 3rd century Christianity is very messy. To study it, one has to navigate a variety of beliefs, practices, and groups who combine them and interpret them in ever-changing ways. And, as she also points out, the groups are of different size, strength, and shift across the geography and time. She offers the term "plurodoxy," although right now, on her blog, "polydoxy" is winning out, it seems, since plurodoxy combines the Latin (plural) and Greek (doxa), whereas polydoxy is all Greek. I tentatively suggested the inclusion of "polypraxy" alongside of this term, since "polydoxy" tends to privilege doctrine and beliefs, even if it does not necessarily exclude practice. But I fear that the focus on "doxy" and "praxy" imposes a false division between them that did not exist in antiquity, since, for example, our earliest Christian creeds derive from the ritual of Baptism, and DeConick notes that the Christological debates are as much about the Eucharist as anything.

Although she claims that "multiple forms" is not quite right (and I do not see why "multiple forms" cannot capture issues that she refers to, such as different power bases and geographical dispersions), I prefer the term "polymorphic." It does not have the specific religious reference that "doxy" and "praxy" has, but it does get across the "many forms" that Christianity takes in this period, and what is more, since "morph" has accrued a sense of change, it potentially connotes the fluidity of groups as they interact, change through their interactions, as they write their polemics, and jostle against one another, some emerging stronger in some areas and others coming out on top in others, but it is a process.

Moreover, the generic aspect of "polymorphic" has the benefit of being applicable not only to polymorphic Christianity, but also can capture the interactive developments within 2nd temple Judaism and beyond. If, indeed, one can speak of a Mediterranean religiosity or perhaps some larger patterns that find various expressions in Christian, Jewish, Egyptian, Syrian, Greek, and Roman religious "forms" as they interact, imprint themselves on one another, jostle, and reformulate each other (which is how I have been increasingly seeing things as of late), it could be more beneficial that doxy and praxy.

But that is just my two cents.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Catholics and Evangelics for McCain

In the previous post, I noted the disenchantment of many evangelical voters with the GOP, many leaving to become Democrats and others Independents. In this post, one sees the persistence of GOP loyalty among both conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics.

Anyone who knows anything about the past 500 years of history realizes that Catholics and Protestants haven't always gotten along very well (again, I like to understate things). But the politics of the past two and a half decades has shown a rapprochement not necessarily in terms of ecumenical understanding (which usually occurs among more liberal-leaning believers, although not exclusively so), but in terms of political expediency.

Thus, Texan Evangelical leader, John Hagee, has recently made anti-Catholic remarks and has recently endorsed John McCain. Prominent Catholic figures on the conservative side have pushed McCain to reject Hagee's endorsement. McCain, however, needing Evangelical voters (who have generally looked askance at McCain), has accepted the endorsement while noting that he does not support everything Hagee says and does.

Hagee, though, has issued a formal apology to William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, saying: "Out of a desire to advance a greater unity among Catholics and evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful." The "common good" they are promoting is, in fact, the Republican party. Donohue has accepted the apology, saying that in conversation with Hagee, he thinks Hagee "has seen the light." Thus, while tension remains between the "papists" and the "schismatics," they put aside their differences with each other and even with McCain in order to have a united political front, all the while the Democratic party is torn in two with its extended Primary season.

For more on this story, see this article from Yahoo.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Evangelicals for Obama

In recent years there have been growing fissures between Evangelical Christians and the GOP, an association that has been rather strong since about 1980. These fissures are evident especially (but not exclusively) among younger Evangelicals. They still dislike abortion (understatement of the year), but they seem to balance it with other issues that are more characteristic of Democratic concerns: poverty, environment, social justice, and immigration. In addition, a growing number oppose the war in Iraq. They are also sick of people like James Dobson, founder of "Focus on the Family," supposedly being considered a representative voice.

While there are fissures and many Evangelicals are leaving the GOP, not all are joining the Democratic party. Many seem to be caught in the middle and see no party that really aligns with their mixture of concerns. Yet, come November, there may be many Evangelical votes going for Obama. Moreover, more conservative Evangelicals, like Dobson, have had a difficult relationship with the GOP nominee, McCain, and Dobson has even claimed that "if" McCain is the nominee, he's sitting this election out--thank God!

For more, see this article from the Seattle Times.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

By the way, I almost forgot, but today is the Mexican Independence Day! Happy Cinco de Mayo! As someone in my class said today, there should be a huge party on the U.S./Mexican border, perhaps around the wall on the Rio Grande! In any case, it is a good excuse for a party!

Teaching and Funding

In the previous post, I pasted my closing comments to the "Instituting Religion" conference from April 10, and my friend Jodi raised some issues in the relationship between funding (and academic advancement) and teaching, noting that as long as research is the primary means of advancement within academe that teaching will get the short end of the stick. She also raises several important issues of the relationship between pedagogy and theory (bringing theoretical savvy to teaching and practical teaching experience to theory), between research and teaching (bringing research into teaching and teaching issues into research), and speaking in general about the contingency of context for these issues (concerning the type of school, its funding structures, and so on).

Given all of these interrelationships, I thought it would be appropriate to announce to my blog-reading public my situation next year: I will be teaching Literature of the Humanities next year at Columbia, which, according to most people I have known who have taught it, is an intensive teaching load (at least for the first-year teachers in the program). Yet, this program will fund me to finish my dissertation (although the teaching load will put me behind my original research schedule). I am very excited for the opportunity to teach in Columbia's Core next year! I do hear that it is great teaching experience and a great overall experience. In fact, some of the people I have spoken to have said that the way they teach Lit Hum, forcing people to slow down and do very close readings of texts from Homer to Virginia Woolf, has forced them to reconsider their own reading practices for their dissertations--forcing them to be much more careful readers in their own fields based upon their situations in the classroom. I do hope to be able to bring insights from my own work (at least from a standpoint of reading practices or ways of organizing large blocks of texts) into conversation with the texts I'll be teaching. Since I work on the interrelationship between the Sabbath and the Sanctuary in ancient Jewish and Christian literature, I'm sure I'll be able to find a time/space bridge (via Bakhtin's Chronotope perhaps).