I can be really naughty when I want to be. Not being a parish pastor anymore means it doesn’t matter if people like me or not, I am free to stand up for what I believe no matter what opposition I am likely to encounter.
I am fresh back from a seminar that was held in my local parish called “Women and the Tradition”, given by Dr Mary Coloe, a Presentation Sister, biblical theologian and author teaching New Testament at Australian Catholic University and St Paul’s Seminary in Brisbane.
Something in the back of my head said: Go and see what she has to say. I googled her, and found nothing at all objectionable.
[Reader: Why would you?
Schütz: Oh, I don’t know, something about the words “Sister” and “Biblical Theologian” and “Australian Catholic University” used in the same sentence, I guess.]
Anyway, the gathering was smallish–about 20 of us, three blokes, the rest women, mainly 50+. (I was going to say “elderly” but I have to be careful using that word these days as I am now over the 40 mark myself).
Was the presentation objectionable? No, not really. Bits of it were excellent (as the Curate said to the Bishop re the egg). But then, there is that calculated way in which things are suggested or half-said which leave the ignorant and the easily led to come to their own conclusions that wasn’t quite honest. There was that subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) suggestion that the Church’s Tradition could not be trusted on this one, and that a revolution had to be started.
I’m not going to go through the whole lecture. That would be tedious. But I did find myself rather vocally objecting to one part of her presentation, namely, the suggestion that Paul was actually very pro-women, and the bits in the Pauline letters that seem to be negative (eg. 1 Cor 14:32-38, and all the bits about women being silent and submitting) were not genuine Paul, but either non-genuine letters or interpolations.
Her authority for this? No, not textual criticism (since there are no texts that do not have these passages) but a sort of literary criticism that says: This is what Paul says passages A, B and C; and this is what is written in passages X, Y, and Z. Since I can’t see how A, B, and C square with X, Y and Z, the only conclusion is that X, Y and Z are not genuine.
But, I interjected, there is no textual basis for this assumption, nor is there any authority for it prior to contemporay scholarship (she cited the great authorities of Brendan Byrne and Elizabeth Fiorenza!). She replied: if I see a row of oranges, and there is a pear in the middle, I can pick the odd one out. I replied: Yes, but if I see an orange tree, I assume that all the fruit on it will be oranges.
So Dr Mary tried structural analysis. She appealed to the structure of 1 Cor 14 to demonstrate that verse 32-38 are a later addition, because they don’t fit the otherwise neat structure of Paul’s arguement. To which I replied that I have often preached a classical three-point sermon, and snuck in a sub-point (2b) between points 2 and 3 because there was something important I wanted to say that didn’t fit my preordained structure. The arguement from structural analysis seems to me to be a matter of deciding what I think the text should look like, and then chopping out any bits that don’t fit the model. Not very scientific really.
And what really is the point? Even if it isn’t genuinely Pauline, it is genuinely canonical New Testament, a point Dr Mary didn’t dispute. So how does it help to say it isn’t “genuinely” Pauline?
I find it ironic that a good deal of time was spent talking about the way in which male translators have intentionally obscured the Pauline text for their own purposes (eg. in Rom 16:1-2 by translating Junia as Junius, and prostasis as “helper”), and then turning around and doing their own “wax nose job” on the text in this way. Dr Mary was sincerely puzzled when I said to her that I thought exegetes had a duty to take the text as it was, and if there appeared to be a contradiction in the meaning of various Pauline statements then the difficulty lay with our interpretation, and not with the text. I believe it is a dereliction of duty on the part of theologians (or sceintists, or historians) when they exclude evidence because it doesn’t fit their idea of the way the theology (or theory or narrative) should go.
Dr Mary ended by refering to the 1976 International Pontifical Biblical Commission conclusion that there was nothing in scripture that said we either should or shouldn’t ordain women. That isn’t exactly of course what the Commission actually concluded. I quote here from an article that appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on the 2 March 1978, page 5:
“In fact, in the three points drawn up by this Commission…a certain disagreement was seen to exist among the exegetes. Some admitted the presence of “sufficient indications” to exclude the access of women to the priesthood, in connection with the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Others, on the contrary, without affirming anything, however, asked if the Church, to which the economy of the sacraments was entrusted, could not entrust also to women, according to circumstances, these two ministries of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. They all agreed, however, in saying that there is no “evidence” properly speaking on the matter in the New Testament.
“Actually there was no opposition between the Biblical Commission and the Declaration [INTER INSIGNIORES]—nor could it be otherwise—owing to the fact that the two points on which the exegetes diverged were not fully opposed to each other. In the first place their respective stylistic tone was different. One group affirmed the existence of “sufficient indications”. The other group did not put forward an affirmation, but raised a question; they asked, that is, if the hierarchical Church had not the faculty to entrust those ministries to women. Furthermore, while the first affirmation was purely exegetical, the other abandoned this field for a theological question: whether the hierarchical Church, to which the economy of the sacraments has been entrusted, did not also have the power of entrusting the Eucharist and Reconciliation to women. In short, the “disagreement” between the exegetes was the following: some affirm, others ask; some remain in the exegetical field, others pose a question of theological hermeneutics. It is obvious that there could not result from this context a real opposition between the two authorities, between the Biblical Commission and the Declaration, since there was no clash of opinion between them.”
Ah, very subtle. But then a parish seminar is probably not the place for subtlety. Nor, I was informed, is it the place for an “in depth discussion”. Still, I don’t have to be popular. As I said to Sister, our pastoral associate, on the way out: “I’m sorry I kept interupting, but I’m very good at it, and I like to stay in practice.”