Wesley Hill

From Charisms to Calling

Women and the priesthood.

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What, then, of the priest's iconic representation of Christ at the altar? If there is no specifically masculine or feminine charism or ontology, the significance of the priest's maleness fades away. What matters—as patristic Christology recognized centuries ago with its dictum, "That which is not assumed [by the Son of God in the incarnation] is not healed"—is that Christ became human, assuming and thereby healing the nature common to men and women. Although biologically a man, Christ assumed human nature in such a way as to include both men and women in his salvific work. And that means, in turn, that to refuse to allow a woman to preside at the Eucharist may be to say much more than opponents of women's ordination realize—namely, "that women are not adequate icons of Christ." The result, notes Hinlicky Wilson near the end of her book, is nothing less than "to leave both their humanity and their salvation in doubt." If women can't reflect the human nature of Christ at the altar, how then can they trust Christ's human nature to save them at all?

This line of thinking is what I wish I could have discussed with my friend Martha before leukemia ended her own earthly ministry. I would pay a lot for one more chance to eat Indian food with her and tell her about Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's theological evolution. I like to imagine Martha, loud and boisterous and never shy to voice her unpopular opinions, not being offended if I told her I didn't think God called her to the priesthood because she was a woman or because she had some special bouquet of gifts that God couldn't do without in his church or because he wanted to balance out all the headstrong male priests in our communion. I like to imagine instead her smiling—puzzled at first but perhaps, after hours of debate, coming around to see Behr-Sigel's point—when I said that he called her because he is God and she was Martha. Martha, in all her "self-transcendence as a person, in her non-reducibility to her human (and indeed, if there is such a thing, her female) nature," was the one God called. Not a generic woman, not a faceless feminine "nature," not an impersonal assortment of charisms, but Martha—to be the hands and voice of Christ for his church.

Wesley Hill is assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. His most recent book is Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Brazos Press).

1. I wish to dedicate this review to the memory of Martha Hughlett Giltinan (1957-2014), priest in the Anglican Church in North America, beloved friend, and colleague.

2. See Karen Kilby, "Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity," New Blackfriars, Vol. 81 (2000), pp. 432-45.

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