Put this one in the "weird" basket…

…or, on the other hand, there seems to be something definitely educational in it.

I am referring to this entry on Father Hollywood’ blog, Girls Gone Wild, WELS Edition. A regular visitor to this blog, Dr William Tighe, put me (and, it would seem, Father Hollywood himself) onto this.

In short summary, the post is about the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in the States. That particular group of Lutherans in the State has reached a position on the public ministry of the Church somewhat akin to the Sydney Anglicans here in Australia. Being “bible-based”, they have determined that the Bible does not establish an “office of the ministry”. (Technically, I have no problem with that position – after all, Jesus, not the bible, established the ordained apostolic ministry). They are convinced beyond all doubt that the Bible does, however, teach that women should not have authority over men. Making this the cardinal and only law of ministry, and taking a completely functionalist view of the ministry of word and sacrament, they therefore conclude that:

A woman can celebrate the eucharist as long as she only communes women.

Father Hollywood – a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor expounds the whole business, but concludes with this:

Just as female ordination inevitably leads to the blessing of same-sex marriages, I also believe that a functional view of the ministry inexorably leads to women functioning (if not outright claiming to be) pastors. Until we in the LCMS come to grips with the idea of ontology (both of ministers and of the sexes), we will continue to follow in the train of our conservative brethren, even though the tracks have taken a radical turn to the left.

It is true that Lutheranism has always held together both a “high” and a “low” view of the ordained ministry, where the “high” view regards the “office of the ministry” as being ontologically tied to the person who fills the office and the “low” view regards the “office of the ministry” as a set of functions (specifically preaching the word and administering the sacraments) which does not. They have never entirely sorted this one out, and generally (even in the Lutheran Church of Australia) continue to walk the tight-rope without looking at the rope itself (something which in fact is necessary if you are trying to balance on a thin line of any kind).

This explains why in the LCA there are continuing debates about women’s ordination, almost completely balanced in terms of numbers of supporters and opponents. But in all these debates, only a few brave souls have come out and definitely declared themselves for the “high” or “low” view as such. Of course, the “high” view, if followed logically, must finally lead the one who holds it to question what happens in the rite of ordination itself, and that (if followed through ontologically) leads to questioning the whole business of the incarnate transmission of the Office of the Ministry, and (take it from me folks) it is all down hill from there to a full-blown acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of Holy Orders.

Which, of course, the bible does not itself “establish”.

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19 Responses to Put this one in the "weird" basket…

  1. Kiran says:

    I suspect, from reading the original post and comments, that part of the problem here is a kind of nominalism. That said, Father Hollywood speaks of authority being conferred once for all, but is chary of “metaphysical change,” and PE expresses in his comments a disdain for “ontology gone wild” at Trent. I think this too is nominalistic, but not self-consistently so.

    The Catholic belief about ordination is not just that it confers authority, but also imparts character, which seems to be just what the Lutherans hold (else why speak of once in a lifetime events?)

    So, while I think the diagnosis is right, that one must have an ontological view of the priesthood (which ultimately follows from a “sacramental” view of sacraments i.e. that sacraments have a defined corporeal logic to them) if one is not to fall into the error of supposing that just about anyone can be a priest, I don’t see how you can maintain this position without committing to the idea of an ontological change that happens in a person.

  2. Son of Trypho says:

    I’m not sure that the writer understands Donatism properly either (at least from what he wrote in that post.)?

    I think he might have got his summary from CARMs which uses very similar language.

  3. Joshua says:

    So a class of schoolchildren, having no adult present, could have one of their number celebrate, not a kiddies’ play-Mass, but a real Eucharist for them? Talk about Boy Bishops and the Feast of Fools!

    I assume that a class of boys could have a junior pastor, and one of girls, a shepherdess…

    This is beyond parody.

  4. Tony Bartel says:

    “… it is all down hill from there to a full-blown acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of Holy Orders.”

    Don’t we know that for a fact!

  5. It seems to me there are a few logical errors being made here, and not only by the WELS. Their error is simple enough: not paying sufficient heed to what CA V & XIV teach and confess about the Lutheran doctrine of the ministry before apparently drawing the conclusion that women may preside at the sacrament of the altar if only women are present.
    Now, would someone care to outline for me the logic that must lead a Lutheran who holds to a so-called ‘high’ doctrine of the ministry to the notion of an indelible character being imparted at ordination, and from there, presumably, to move to acceptance of Roman doctrine holus bolus? That, to me, does not appear to be so simple.

  6. Tony Bartel says:


    I am not sure that “its all down hill from there” equates to “the logic that must lead”.

    It may well be possible to maintain a high view of the office of ministry without such a view flowering into the Catholic understanding of Holy Orders.

    Nevertheless, once a person accepts the necessity of ordination for those who will preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, that person will begin to question the nature of ordination.

    If a man is ordained only once and not re-ordained when he takes up a new assignment within the Church or when he returns to ordained ministry after a period of absence, it is reasonable to assume that such ordination imparts a certain character to the ordained which remains with them throughout their life (and perhaps even extends into the life to come).

    If therefore one comes to accept that ordination confers a certain character on a person, one may well ask what that character is. One might then say that the ordained not only has unique functions within the Church, but also that the ordained stands in a new relationship to God and the Church. Or to put it another way, it is not only a matter of what the ordained can do, but also a matter of what they are. Or better yet, they can do what they do because they are what they are.

    When one comes to this point, one is on the doorstep of a Catholic understanding of Holy Orders in its broadest sense. And it does not take much to step through the door if one seeks to take the patristic era seriously.

  7. Thanks for that, Tony.
    I should say, there is a bit of history behind my comment about “the logic that must lead” of which you are not aware.
    Yes, you have put your finger on the nub of the issue, viz. the Roman view of priesthood as an “order” and the magisterial Reformation’s understanding of ministry as an “office”. Lutherans do not re-ordain ministers each time they receive a new call, or return from leave of absence, not because of any indelible character ordination is believed to have bestwowed upon them, but simply because they never left the office of the ministry. So, to use your terminology, the ordained can do what they do not because of who they are, but because of the authority of the office they are placed into by call and ordination, authority which comes from our Lord and his word.

  8. Tony Bartel says:


    I would never argue for the “Roman” view, only for the Catholic view :-)

    • Ditto! :-)
      Tony, you are EO, yes?
      Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote some interesting reflections on indelible character and the EO tradition about ten years ago. Have you read them?

      • Tony Bartel says:


        Yes and yes.

        While the doctrine of “indelible character” is not one that is common in Eastern theology, I do not believe that it is a marker of a large divergence between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Consider, for example, the 1988 statement from the United State Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops:

        “Three general points of agreement on Orders were noted:

        1. the three sacred orders of Diaconate, Presbyterate, and Episcopate have a sacramental nature;

        2. these orders are exclusively conferred by Bishops with unquestionable apostolic succession; and

        3. Ordination implies a setting apart. Roman Catholic theology has emphasized an indelible sacramental character to explain this distinctive status as a special configuration to Christ the High Priest. Thus the Sacrament of Orders adds an essential specification to the indelible characters resulting from Baptism and Confirmation–sacraments more recently described as relating all the faithful to the mission and witness of Christ.

        From the Orthodox point of view, the distinctive status resulting from Ordination is intended to last permanently. A cleric, however, may be the subject of deposition because of serious sin which creates a permanent canonical hindrance to performing his sacred function. In such a case, even though he may be penitent, he cannot be restored to clerical status. On the other hand, there are some offenses of a canonical nature for which the penalty of deposition is foreseen but that are not necessarily an obstacle to canonical reintegration to Holy Orders, if they are not an impediment to ordination itself.

        With either the Roman Catholic understanding of character or the Orthodox understanding of the creation of a permanent hindrance due to sin, “reordination” is impossible. Even in cases when a Roman Catholic cleric may lose clerical status either through cause or petition, the sacred Ordination never becomes invalid.”

        • Kiran says:

          I don’t know about “permanent canonical hindrance.” Theoretically, anyone who has been ordained (and only those who are ordained) can in certain circumstances minister certain sacraments: the Eucharist and Confession. (In certain circumstances, indeed, they are bound to do so: if a priest dies in midst a Mass, and if in presence of someone who is dying).

        • Tony,
          I posted a reply earlier that hasn’t come through yet. Something has since occurred to me, though: if both the orthodox and Roman Catholics believe the grace of Confirmation to impart an indelible character, as the document ststaes, why do Orthodox chrismate converts? Is this not repeating the sacrament? Not to mention those Orthodox who “re-baptise” ROman Catholic converts, which I believe is quite common in parts of the Russian Church. Just a thought…

          • Joshua says:

            The Orthodox follow the Donatists in denying the efficacy of sacraments outside the Church: in their view, Roman sacraments don’t work, as they claim us to be heretics. Hence the need to chrismate, and even re-baptise converts to Orthodoxy. It has nothing to do with the irrepeatability of confirmation, and everything to do with their view that Roman rites are absolutely null and utterly void – just as Catholics view Anglican confirmations and ordinations as play-acting.

  9. Thanks for that interesting information, Tony. That suggests that any sacramental acts of a deposed priest would be efficacious but invalid or non-canonical, yes? I would regard that as problematic.

    I’m inclined to think that the whole idea of indelible character or sacramental status, whichever way you put it, dogmatically elevates the priesthood over the ecclesial community in a way that is certainly not indicated in the NT or the early church, from which view derives the characteristic Roman authoritarianism, such as denying the laity voice or vote in the selection of clergy, contrary to the practice of the early church.

    In response to this, the magisterial Reformation firmly relocated the ministry in and for the ecclesial community, a view which seems be shared by Orthodox writers like John Zizioulas for example, which, if he is deriving it from within the Orthodox tradition and not from study of the Reformation, would seem to indicate to me that there is an authentic theme here that runs back to the earliest church.

  10. Sorry for the typos – I can spell, I just can’t type!

    My previous, unappearing, post mentioned certain parallels with Zizioulas’s treatment of the Orthodox doctrine of the priesthood and the magisterial Reformation, alng the lines of the ministry being in and for the ecclesial community rather than imposed over it as ‘indelible character’ implies, and I was wondering whether it was a case of him being influenced by Luther et al (perish the thought, eh!) or returning to the Fathers, who, of course, the early Lutherans also quoted in their polemics with Rome on this issue.
    Any thoughts?

    • Tony Bartel says:

      I am not sure that the priesthood having an “indelible character” or a “unique status within the community” is necessarily opposed to the priesthood being in and for the Church. It could be the case, and in certain moments of Church history it may have been the case, but do they have to be mutually exclusive categories?

  11. Thanks Joshua; however I understand that the Orthodox attitude to Roman sacraments is not universal, and that there may be a marked difference between Russians and Greeks, but chrismation of converts is nevertheless universal. Is this correct? My question then is why?

    • Tony Bartel says:

      I left off the last part of the Joint Statement:

      “For both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, when a member of the clergy who has been ordained in a church that shares with them an understanding of the Priesthood and by a Bishop in an unquestionable apostolic succession is received into either the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic Church, his ordination should be recognized. It should be noted, however, that until such time when the practice of the Orthodox Church will be unified, these cases will be decided by each Autocephalous Orthodox Church.”

      I would also note that in some periods in some places Roman Catholics have been received by Confession alone.

  12. Tony,

    OK. I just thought it very interesting that Zizioulas was thinking along the same lines as the magisterial Reformation.

    On reception – confession alone – confession of faith, that is -would make a lot more sense than chrismation, but I gather it is rare. Presumably the different appraoches exist because the matter has not been discussed by a universal council? And is thus subject to ‘ecomony’? A Lutheran can relate to the Orthodox practice of ‘economy’ much better than the seemingly more juridical Roman canon law system.

    Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the existence and significance of ‘indelible character’. Thanks for your feedback, though.

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