Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Ordination Shift

It is now official: the coldest spring in fifty years. I am not the only gardener with sulking seedlings; I've had to restart some squash and cucumbers, because the early plants objected so strenuously to the cold and the wet that it became clear they would never grow properly.

A rather too-obvious analogy could be drawn with religious institutions, but I will draw it anyway. I'm reading a fascinating and extremely sensible book called The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West Gary Macy OUP 2008 (New York), which points out that ordination meant something entirely different in the first millennium than it did in the second, when—these are not his words but mine—in the twelfth century the criteria for ordination were changed and ordination itself redefined to fit in with Paschasius' now-accepted and imposed magic cookie theology.

So much of the noise surrounding women's ordination has been spurious, as Macy points out in his careful discussion. There has been anachronistic application of standards regularized as late as 1947 to first millennium ordinations.

This radical change of the goal posts, as it were, goes hand-in-hand with many other historical tendencies that started even before Charlemagne, however. Re-reading Peter Brown's Rise of Western Christendom concerning Columbanus and Boniface has reiterated for me how the arrogance of these preachers from the north, who did not seem to care if their interpretations had any continuity with what historically was the case (especially in regard to the Desert Fathers and Mothers), laid the groundwork for the destruction of the paradise notion of Christianity which had hitherto prevailed, and for the distancing of heaven and objectification of Christ, and the massive psychological shift in general from a theology of beholding to one of solipsism. It is all too eerily like what Margaret Barker describes happened to the First Temple, its destruction by Josiah; and if that weren't enough, Brown includes a document that shows that Charlemagne indeed thought of himself as the new Josiah, and that his purpose in life was to impose conformity in all things religious, no matter how disconnected they were with older forms of Christianity, or how much they reflected magic, not sacrament, or the rituals associated with expressing an appropriate human relationship with the ecology, which it often took for magic.

It is, of course, quite a complex picture, but what is clear is that Paschasius didn't arrive out of a vacuum: he and his 'theology' (read magic) mark, rather, the birth of a grotesque that was, perhaps, the inevitable spawn of the misalliances that had gone before.

I've now finished drafts of five and seven-eights chapters of the new book, which I have sent off, with not a little fear and trembling, to the publisher I hope will do the book. I'm looking forward to writing the last of the historical chapters, the one that discusses the above issues. That will bring me to the end of Part I, and since Part II is much more my own interpretation based on the two ways of knowing model, I'm hoping that I can finish the book by the end of the summer, if not the end of the year.

So, dear Readers, please keep me in your prayers and if you have any issues you'd like me to address in the book, I'd like to hear about them.


Anonymous Tessa said...

Maggie, you have me sitting on the edge of my seat with anticipation! I would love to know more especially about ordination in the the first millennium...and prayer here for your writing and publishing!
yours, hopefully, Tessa

2:24 pm, June 01, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Empires and "imperial consciousness" from a historical perspective has played a devastating role in the practice of beholding. Even Solomon, though he built the First Temple was not free from this 'imperial consciousness' as he functioned with political astuteness and diplomacy, showiness of power and wealth before other kings during his time and sexual liberty. Josiah's reform and messianism (he tried to compare himself to Moses; one scholar labeled it as a"pious fraud" because of the "mysterious discovery" of the scroll of the Deuteronomy) came at the heel of the Assyrian imperial power. The Jews tried to relive their practice of beholding but then the destruction of the Second Temple came under the imperial Roman power.

Empires came along with the development of a juridical culture and either organized religions, if they are not sponsored by the Empire itself can react in two ways: by way of protest, or by way of being assimilated into the imperial system, at the expense of beholding. Christianity's assimilation into the imperial system since Constantine seem to be more of a disaster than the work of beholding. It created religious aristocrats in the first place. Empires come with the development of a juridical culture. Christianity was not spared from this linear living for example when Gratian during the middle ages re-introduced the Roman law, creating impacts on the ecclesiastical laws of the Church as well as its internal practice of penance and penitentials in very legalistic, binding ways for centuries (see Wilfrid Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington The History of Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period 1140-1234).

I guess the point i'm driving at is "imperial consciousness" or the empire image is devastating and costly for beholding and its promise. The image has undergone a different context in our time (Empire of Capital for example). The image must always be prophetically challenged (Benedict's papacy was beholden to some Germanic, Hegelian imperial ambition). Or the image could be used against itself to highlight beholding the way Gretel Erhlich titled her book In the Empire of Ice to highlight the need to behold the travails and dying and death of the indigenous dwellers of the North no thanks to humanity's contribution to climate change.

Perhaps - The Empire of Silence...

7:33 am, June 02, 2013  
Blogger Kathy Johnson said...

Hi Maggie,

When I was reading the lessons this past Lent in the King James Version of Jeremiah, it seemed to me that surely a good translation of the way "behold" is used there would be "now look here you low down so & so." I'm curious about "behold" in prophetic or simply angry contexts.

I've said a prayer or two for your garden, BTW.


2:25 pm, June 02, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

I guess the bottomline is - the deep mind is that as inclusive, encompassing so that another way of looking at the phrase "nothing is wasted" is even the word "empire" can become a "word-knot" or consciousness that can elide also into silence to be charged or transfigured. The idea is similar to Julian's "all shall be well": there is nothing that is beyond transfiguration.

2:42 pm, June 02, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thanks, Kathy!

2:58 pm, June 02, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across a twenty minute talk on the RSA website by the philosopher John Gray called The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. The title drew me in and what he has to say has a lot of resonances with Maggie's writing - although not in the way I anticipated from the title! If you want to watch the talk - here is the link:

1:30 pm, June 04, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Not an issue for your book but... there is an ecology to Christian spiritual pursuits it seems.

Money (and a lot of it) seems to be a limiting factor.

I was interested in doing an (other than right here) intensive meditation retreat until I looked into the COSTS of such.

It would not be surprising if one week of such experience added up to twenty five hundred dollars when the "costs" of travel and incidental expenses are also factored.

Personality linked to place seems to be the style, seems endemic.
Who willing pays/affords this given we all live in a thoroughly messed up world?

I am ranting but this just really gets my goat.

5:54 pm, June 07, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

The subject of loneliness, being alone, and solitude on/for mental stability might be usefully addressed in your book.

There have been some comments touching on this up column.

The Lake Baikal trekker:
"Without books I would have gone mad."

One comment on the effect of viewing the light installations spoke of experiencing prolonged state of disorientation.

I had some meditation experience that produced disorientation for some time as well although I would not characterize it as negative.

5:22 pm, June 18, 2013  

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