July 26, 2010

This Time in Rhyme

I am on retreat, but the muse spoke early this morning, in keeping with the sentiments of the previous post, and it being the feast of Joachim and Anna, I thought it appropriate to share this short quatrain:

Ere the Bread could first be broken
in the Eucharistic Feast,
Mary's "Yes" must first be spoken.
She the altar; she the priest.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: the poem continues here.

And, from the comments to one who questioned the imagery of priest and altar and declared it illogical: this is of course a reference to the double analogy of Christ himself as both "priest" and "victim" -- an equally "illogical" possibility, but true nonetheless. Mary is the altar upon which (indeed from which) the ultimate Gift was sanctified, and she was the one who presented the offering, and pronounced the words that made It so.


F. Harry Stowe said...

The answer to the question "Who first turned bread and wine into the Body and the Blood?" And natrually, at that.

IT said...

And let's remember who made the bread they all ate too...!

JCF said...

What tune do you recommend for this lyric? (It sounds like it should be sung)

4 May 1535+ said...

Hi, everyone.

Just for the sake of pedantry, this argument is actually one of the ones used against the ordination of women (i.e., because women share in the BVM's role in making the Word Flesh they ought not also to share in making Christ present in the sacrament [Mind you, I think there are more holes in this proposition than in my kitchen colander, but it has been made.].)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for the comments. (I'm on a break from retreat... if that doesn't sound too strange.) JCF, if I could come up with another couplet it could be Tantum ergo...

Carthusian Martyrs, I've never encountered that argument. I have seen in in a few contexts (mostly RC and E. Orthodox) things like "even the BVM was not appointed as a priest by her Son..." but the only link with the Chalcedonian Principle (as I see it) was actually a positive recognition of its importance in the Eastern Orthodox/Old Catholic symposium of some few years [a decade?] ago. To suggest Mary is too priestly strikes me, as I think it does you, not a particularly compelling point of debate...

Allison Elaine said...

Just a moment while I go dig up a book by Charles Williams, one of the Inklings...

In his book "The Forgiveness of Sins," (1942), Charles Williams discussed the sacrifices required by the Hebrew Covenant. In a chapter entitled "The Offering of Blood," he made this astonishing statement:

"There is also, of course, that other great natural bloodshed common to half the human race -- mentstruation. That was unclean. But it is not impossible that that is an image, naturally, of the great bloodshed on Calvary, and perhaps supernaturally, in relation to it. Women share the victimisation of the blood; it is why, being the sacrifice so, they cannot be the priests. They are mothers and, in that special sense, victims; witnesses, in the body, to the suffering of the body, and the method of Redemption."

This book was published in 1942. I have no idea if he developed this image himself, or if he found it in older writings. The sentences I quote here were almost an aside, not really part of the main thrust of the book, which closed with a consideration of how to achieve reconciliation after the war between those who were now enemies.

Williams was a poet as well as a novelist. I think the quote above would make better poetry than prose, though it might not be any more convincing; I suppose it could also be used to argue that only women, or perhaps only mothers, are competent to be priests.

Has anyone else run across this or a similar argument before?

4 May 1535+ said...

Thanks, Allison Elaine, that's the very passage I was thinking of: but I was running it together in my head with this passage from his fellow Inkling, C. S. Lewis, in "Priestesses in the Church?":

"That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost a fourth Person of the Trinity. But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months' inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the font of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture."

dbdonnell said...

Just a tiny bit more pedantry: shouldn't that be "Ere the bread..."?

David Donnell

MarkBrunson said...

The problem with arguing whom was appointed priest by Christ is that He didn't appoint anyone as priest. He promised "The Comforter" or Paraclete or Holy Spirit or what you wish to call it, to each and every one of His followers, but He didn't appoint a priesthood. There was already a priesthood as appointed in Mosaic Law (which also pretty much nullifies any arguments, such as Williams', stemming from Mosaic Law).

Unless your name is Cohen, or Levi or a variant thereof, with a familial descent that can be verified by rabbinical warrant, no one is allowed to be a priest.

F. Harry Stowe said...

Lewis is falling in my favor rather rapidly. Scripture doesn't say Mary was absent from the Last Supper or Pentecost, it merely doesn't say she was there (and who baked the bread and cooked the lamb, after all?)

Allison Elaine said...

4 May 1535+

Yes, but in reply to the Lewis quote: first, I thought the Blessed Virgin was present at Pentecost; second, I have read that an early source for the legends of the Holy Grail involve an image of the Blessed Virgin holding a bowl which radiates fire.

I changed my own mind about women in the priesthood because of this image; because after the Ascension it was only the Blessed Virgin on this earth who could refer to consecrated bread and wine as "my flesh and my blood"; because she alone could speak for the Lord, whether blessing or pardon, before He was born; because she is the Queen of the Apostles; because Mary Magdalene was the Apostle to the Apostles; because of Junia, well known among the apostles.

I had to let go of my left brain micro-analyzing scripture verses (and I don't know Greek or Aramaic anyway) and let my right brain pull together all of these images of women as apostles (more than as priests) before I could be comfortable with women as priests and bishops.

It helps, occasionally, to imagine looking straight at someone who disagrees and ask "are you telling me God doesn't have the right to call a woman to the priesthood?"

But I also keep in mind, on this and other matters, that I may have got it entirely wrong. I don't think God's grace will give up on me, in that case. I think we may all have a lot to learn when we finally see the Lord, face to face.

Christopher (P.) said...

I think that the Lewis statement about Mary and Pentecost (and the Last Supper) is a red herring. But I went back to Acts, and found--ambiguity. Mary is clearly mentioned as being with and praying with the 11, and then the 12. At Pentecost itself, the phrase is "they were all together" (NRSV). But it seems the early church thought that "all" included Mary--the iconic tradition not only has Mary at Pentecost, but central in the icon. That's what I remember--perhaps what Allison remembered as well.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Coming up for air (or aether?) during a retreat break. Thanks again for the continued comments. (And the grammatical correction -- I can only plead the overlap of syntactic domains between "before" and "always" when it comes to the Eucharist, and have made the "fix"!)

As to Mary at Pentecost, I seem to recall a painting by El Greco, with the BVM very centrally located and the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over the assembly.

Davis said...

In the western tradition Our Lady is nearly always among the followers of Jesus in the upper room at Pentecost. Catholic artists have generally felt the ambiguity of Acts was not a problem.

+Edmund Campion said...

Mary's 'Yes' made way for Jesus,
opened Heaven's bolted gate;
Yet she never grasped at priesthood.
Why can't you be like her, Kate?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bp Edmund, Mary did not "grasp" at being a priest any more than Kate -- both of them accepted the office, in obedience. Moreover, Mary is the model for all priests, in her humility, obedience, and service.

+Edmund Campion said...

My brother, I'm afraid that women's ordination is all about grasping, exclusively about grasping, and done only for the sake of grasping.

To call Kate a model of Mary-like humility is surely facetious.

I have worked with female clergymen for twenty-two years come this September, and have never yet met one who is a success in ministry. There is a thin-skin-edness to their sense of personal power (which they gloss as "empowerment," as if that obscured the word "power") that definitively precludes the pastoral cooperation that the Church (I thought!) holds up as essential to viable ministry.

I have also worked with female rabbis and cantors and find them exactly like their Christian counterparts: power-drunk frauds. Theologically, they are beneath lightweight. Pastorally, they enable women and ignore men.

They are a disaster for organized religion; and that is probably their true intention.

Even if Jesus Christ did not definitively exclude women from the priesthood, women's track records would be sufficient to condemn them.

Your poem, though it breathes a true hymnic spirit, baldly asserts that Mary is an "altar" and a "priest." There is no logic here, only the brute force of power.

I was ordained in a public place. To an observer, it would look like a small prayer huddle, perhaps a break-out from Promise Keepers. Yet the Roman words were used, and my orders are unquestionably valid; which cannot be said of the outcome of that orgy of female streamer-dancers and Buddhist gong-bangers who purported to "consecrate" Kate Schori or Mary Glasspool.

I agree with much of what you write, and feel I would like you personally. Still, on the issue of WO you are catastrophically, unfixably, wrong; as is the Episcopal Church and liberal religion in general. And I fear it will cost you your corporate existence.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Bishop Campion,

I appreciate your irenic tone, but what we have here is largely a subjective response, based on your personal encounters with women [whom you do not recognize as] clergy. I would bid you for a moment consider the "observer effect" and how your own feelings might evoke the expressions of thin-skinedness and obstreperousness that you have perceived.

As to success and failure, depending on how you measure them, I know a number of successful women clergy and not a few male failures -- but variances in mileage are hardly proof either way.

I have had several one-on-one conversations with Bishop Katherine, including a quiet breakfast shortly after her election, and I can attest that she is in fact a humble person. In her role as Primate, particularly when faced with corresponding obstreperousness and scorn, she is likely to find it needful to muster some of the "power" to which you refer.

I do not doubt that there are some women priests and bishops who have various chips tucked in their brassiere-straps nigh the shoulder. As indeed there are numerous male preists and bishops whose panties are uncomfortably wadded. But these are purely anecdotal.

As to "altar" and "priest" this is of course a reference to the double analogy of Christ himself as both "priest" and "victim" -- and equally "illogical" possibility, but true nonetheless. Mary is the altar upon which (indeed from which) the ultimate Gift was sanctified, and she was the one who presented the offering, and pronounced the words that made It so.

And merely adding adjectives to the word "wrong" does not serve to make your case, though you are of course welcome to your position. How the various branches, liberal or not, of Christendom thrive or wither in the days ahead, is open to the future. I am more optimistic about the future of TEC than are you. But I could certainly be mistaken.