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'Is the ordination of women an ecumenical problem?' by Professor Dr. Anne Jensen

'Is the ordination of women an ecumenical problem?'

by Professor Dr. Anne Jensen

Internationale Kirchliche Zeitschrift 84 (1994) vol.4, pp. 210 - 228. Complete text of the habilitation colloquy delivered in abbreviated form on 31 January 1992 by Dr.Anne Jensen of the staff of the Ecumenical Institute, Tübingen. In no 4/1993 of the Theologische Quartalschrift a heavily edited version appeared.

Translated from the German by Mary Dittrich, Canterbury, September 1999, and here for the first time made available on the Internet in English, with permission from the author and the magazine.

On the latest developments in the Anglican, Old Catholic and orthodox Churches

  1. The ordination of women in ecumenical dialogue.
  2. Relationships between the Old Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Churches.
  3. Developments in the Old Catholic Church.
  4. The reaction in Orthodoxy.

1.  The ordination of women in ecumenical dialogue

The question-mark in the title with regard to the problem may cause surprise, for all too evidently the ordination of women is discussed between Churches not as a simple controversy but with extreme vigour. Fresh splits within Churches are threatened, and results of ecumenical consensus as so far reached are called into question. Nevertheless, is the situation really so dramatic? Is the battle about priestly ordination of women truly comparable with the great conflicts that split Christianity in ages past?

It seems to me that one can take another view. Nowadays one does hear frequent complaints about ecumenical stagnation, but as far as I know, nobody attributes that to the growing number of ordinations of women, but rather to the attitude of Church leaders, unable in spite of the theological consensus achieved, to decide to “open up frontiers”. Looking back, one notes instead that in many churches the trend towards ordaining women in fact runs parallel to the growing ecumenical agreement among Christians.

One could almost call it symbolical that the first priestly ordination of a woman - by an Anglican bishop with the consent of his Synod in 1944 in Hong Kong - took place just at the time when the World Council of Churches was to be set up. However, at that juncture the ‘kairos’ had evidently not arrived for women, for because of the protest by the English bishops, Deaconess Li Tim Oi, ordained to the priesthood, ended up by resigning voluntarily.

When the Ecumenical Council of Churches was set up in Amsterdam in 1948, the problem of differing praxis regarding the ordination of women was thus already present. It was debated in the committee on “The Life and Work of Women in the Churches”. The conclusion at that time was as follows:

“The churches are not agreed on the important question of admission of women to the full ministry. Some churches for theological reasons are not prepared to consider the question of such ordination: some find no objection in principle but see administrative or social difficulties; some permit partial but not full participation in the work of the ministry; in others women are eligible for all offices of the Church. Even in the last group, social custom and public opinion still create obstacles. In some countries a shortage of clergy raises urgent practical and spiritual problems. Those who desire the admission of women to the full ministry believe that until this is achieved, the Church will not come to full health and power. We are agreed that this whole subject requires further careful and objective study.”

‘ Report of Committee IV:I. The Life and Work of Women in the Church. 4. Ordination of Women’ in: The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Man’s Disorder and God’s Design), ed.W.A. Visser’s Hooft, London 1949, p. 147.    

This overall picture is still essentially valid. Not very much has changed, except that the number of member churches which ordain women is increasing steadily. In the official convergence and consensus papers covering 1931 till 1982 (Note 1) the term “ordination of women” crops up only five times; the texts fill not quite eight pages of the 700 plus page volume. That is not much for a weighty ecumenical problem.

  • The first time the matter turns problematical is to be found interestingly, in the Methodist/Roman Catholic Dialogue  (that is in talks with a Free Church), in the “fateful year” 1976. I shall revert to that date. Here in five brief lines the factual dissent in theory and practice is recorded (Note 2).
  • The Anglicans and Orthodox follow a similar line, setting out their divergent views separately in the “Athens Declaration” of 1978. With its five pages, this is the most comprehensive statement on the subject.(Note 3)
  • The “Salisbury Report” by the Anglicans and Roman Catholics followed in 1979. It covers half a page. Although it has been preceded by an agitated exchange of letters between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Donald Coggan,(Note 4) here it is expressly stated that the controversy over the ordination of women does not endanger the consensus achieved regarding “the origin and essence of ordained ministry”(Note 5) .
  • Much the same is said in the 1980 paper by the Lutheran and Catholics (over half a page) (Note 6).
  • The present closing stage is in the so-called “Lima Document” of 1982. The declaration on convergence entitled “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” by the Commission on Faith and Order, to which Roman Catholic theologians and other non-members of the WCC contributed. Here the ordination of women gets half a page of text and a further half-page of commentary. This latter pointing to the positive experience recorded in the meantime.(Note 7) In the light of the reciprocal recognition of office, the question now gets a second airing:

“Some churches ordain men and women, others men only. Differences on this point raise obstacles to reciprocal recognition of office. But these obstacles must not be seen as unsurmountable barriers to further efforts towards reciprocal recognition. Openness towards others harbour the possibility that the Spirit may well address one church through the insights of another. So ecumenical considerations should encourage discussion of this matter, not hamper it.” (Note 8)

Whether women can be ordained to the deaconate, and how such an ordination is to be judged is not discussed at all in the interconfessional consensus texts up to 1982. So we can draw a preliminary conclusion: as long as the ordination of women was established only in the reformed and free church spheres, the matter had absolutely no negative effect on ecumenical dialogue. Despite the increasing number of ordinations of women, the Orthodox churches have steadily built up their collaboration in the WCC; contacts between the WCC and the organs of the Roman Catholic church have also increased.

All this seems to have changed in 1976. In that year, in the United states, the General Synod of the Episcopal Church recognised as “valid” the priestly ordination by three retired bishops of eleven deaconesses which had taken place “illicitly” in Philadelphia on 29 July 1974.(Note 9) That had been preceded by three ordinations in Hong Kong as far back as 1971. The General Synods of the following churches had declared themselves in principle for the ordination of women: Burma (1972), Indian Ocean (1974), New Zealand (also 1974,) Wales, Canada and England (all 1975). However, in the United States a slight majority had reached a negative decision in 1973.(Note 10) Note that here, too, the earliest positive decisions come from “mission countries”, much like the early impulses in the ecumenical movement. In the Anglican sphere the practise of ordaining women continued to spread since 1976, and it culminated on 12 February 1989 when Barbara Harris was ordained a bishop of the Episcopalian church in America.

Back to 1976. In that year the Roman Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith pronounced if not “infallibly” yet definitively, on the question of ordaining women by publishing “Inter Insigniores”:(Note 11) “Out of fidelity to the model of the Lord, the Church does not consider herself authorised to admit women to priestly ordination” (Introduction). (Note 12) The principal arguments were the appeal to tradition, and the citing of the ‘repraesentatio Christi’, which could not be accomplished through a woman.

In that same 1976 the bishops of the Old Catholic Church reacted to the Anglican Communion with a much shorter but essentially even more restrictive declaration:

“The International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Utrecht Union, in agreement with the old undivided Church, cannot consent to a sacramental ordination of women to the catholic-apostolic ministry of a deacon, presbyter and bishop. The Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, called twelve men through the Holy Spirit into the apostolic ministry, in order to continue his work of redemption for humanity. The Catholic Churches of the East and West have called only men to the sacramental catholic apostolic ministry. The question of ordaining women affects the fundamental order and the mystery of the Church. Those Churches which have retained continuity with the old, undivided Church and its sacramental ministerial order should jointly discuss the matter of ordaining women, thereby giving full weight to the possible consequences of unilateral decisions.” (Note 13)

So the Old Catholics started off by going even further in their rejection than the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as they included the diaconate of women but as we shall see, they would soon be changing their stance.

Against the background of these varying decisions in 1976 (and 1978’s “Athens Declaration” by the Anglicans and Orthodox is based on a conference in Moscow in that year), it seems interesting to look at developments in the Catholic-tradition churches separated from Rome, as regards both the theological discussion of the matter and the concrete stages leading to ordinations carried out, and finally regarding the effects these ordinations had on the mutual relations of the three churches. Let us start by outlining the situation prior to 1976.

2. Relationships between the Old Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Churches

These three church families, separated from Rome have in common that they regard themselves as a communion of independent national or regional churches who know no central organ of jurisdiction. In 1889 those Catholics in Switzerland, Germany and Austria who rejected the infallibility dogma of Vatican I, joined up in the “Utrecht Union” with the little “Church of Utrecht”, which had parted with Rome a century and a half previously in the confusion of Jansenism. At the outset of this century other East European and American churches joined in. These churches have set up a central synodal body in the form of the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conferences already mentioned. They have no primate.(Note 14)

The “Anglican Communion”, which embodies some 30 churches, sees the Archbishop of Canterbury as their primate but he has no jurisdictional powers of any kind. Nor does the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the honorary primate of Orthodoxy.(Note 15) I cannot discuss here the Old Eastern Churches. Since 1867 the bishops of the Anglican churches assemble every ten years in the so-called “Lambeth Conference”.(Note 16) Since the beginning of the century Orthodoxy has been trying to bring about a pan-orthodox council. This has led to a kind of institutionalising of fairly regular pan-orthodox “preconciliar” conferences. (Note 17)

Two further points in common in these church families should be stressed. 1.They have no ban on marriage for their clergy (with the exception of orthodox bishops, who are bound to celibacy); 2.In church bodies such as parish councils, diocesan synods et al., the laity have far greater claim to be heard than in the Roman church. This difference, which is important for the significance granted in a church to the ordination of women is often passed over. In Orthodoxy, for instance, especially in Greece, both scientific theology in the universities and catechetic instruction in schools are matters for the laity. Once they have completed theological studies (the priests are trained solely in the liturgy) they are entitled to preach. All these functions can in principle be exercised by women too; it is quite usual for women to teach, but not usual for them to preach at a church service.(Note 18)

For a long time there have been endeavours towards mutual recognition between these three churches separated from Rome but nonetheless considering themselves catholic, so as to achieve intercommunion, or even “full communion”. As for the vocabulary, this is a bit elastic. People have tried to differentiate between “intercommunion” (Eucharistic hospitality), “full intercommunion” (the possibility of interchanging ministers) and “full communion” (organisational ecclesiastical unity). But mostly “full communion” is taken to mean the possibility of inter-celebration (Note 19).

This goal has, in fact, been achieved between the Anglicans and the Old Catholics. As far back as 1880 the Old Catholics recognised the “Unity of the Episcopacy” (with certain disruptive manoeuvres by the Dutch up to 1925) i.e. they accepted the validity of Anglican orders - a step which the Roman Catholic Church has felt unable to take up to the present (Note 20).

The definitive move towards Eucharistic community between Anglican and Old Catholics (including the right to intercelebration) was enshrined in 1931 in the Bonn Agreement. This runs:

  1. “ Each church community recognises the catholicity and independence of the other, and retains its own.
  2. Each church community consents to admitting members of the other to participation in the sacraments.
  3. Intercommunion does not require from any church community that it adopts all doctrines, sacramental piety on liturgical practices specific to the other, but embodies the belief in each that the other adheres to all essentials of the Christian faith." (Note 21)

For Anglicanism the relationship with the Christian East is naturally quite different, for historical reasons, from that of the churches in the Utrecht Union. But from the viewpoint of modern Orthodoxy, in both cases it is dealing with western catholic churches. Thus, at the outset the ecumenical contacts ran parallel: in 1968 at the 4th Panorthodox Conference it was decided that official bilateral theological dialogues should be set in train with both churches. The Anglican-Orthodox Commission started work in 1973 and the Old Catholic-Orthodox Commission in 1975. (By way of comparison, the official theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church did not start till 1980, and with the Lutheran World Union till 1982).

As we have already seen, considerable tension was aroused in the Anglican-Orthodox Commission after the recognition of the “unlawful” ordinations of 1974 by the Episcopalian Church in the States. Indeed, dialogue did run onto the rocks, and finally the separate Athens declarations of 1978 ensued; but despite all prophecies of doom, the debate was resumed by 1980 and has since carried on normally. The most recent plenary session of the mixed Commission was in 1989.

Dialogue with the Old Catholics even led to an official settlement in 1987, i.e. theological consensus is held to be achieved, and merely requires still the sanction of the various church leaderships.(Note 22) In concrete terms, what this means for Orthodoxy is that it would require confirmation by a Pan-Orthodox Council. So, in fact, the definitive decision has been postponed ‘sine die’. Nevertheless, the official agreement of a western church on a theological level with eastern Orthodoxy is a remarkable event, and one understands the emotion with which Damaskinos Papandreou, Metropolitan of Switzerland and Secretary-General of the future panorthodox Synod emphasises, in contrast to a frequently-met tendency to play off the East against the West that “through dialogue we have given another answer. This Christian Spirit - whether Latin or Greek - constitutes one single heritage of the West and East”.(Note 23)

The final document of the official theological dialogue between the Old Catholics and Orthodoxy was signed in 1987 in Kavala (Greece). At that stage the Old Catholic Church had itself already embarked on the road to the ordination of women (we shall revert to this). How was the problem solved in the consensus document? The complete compendium of the resolutions worked out in seven plenary sessions runs to some 50 pages. The question of ordaining women is dealt with in one sentence, which runs:

“§ 4. The undivided Church has not consented to the ordination of women, aside from the unclarified institution of deaconesses”. (From: V. Sacramental doctrine, 7.Ordination).(Note 24)

So here, in the prudent, pragmatic attitude with regard to new dogmatic stipulations typical of Orthodoxy, it is enough just to determine the historical findings, without prejudice to the future. Regarding deaconesses, it is even stated expressly that the valuation of their ordination is controversial. This official or semi-official viewpoint (for it is only the declarations of an officially-appointed theologians’ commission) thus leaves all the doors open. If only one didn’t know that here not everything has been said, one could rejoice unboundedly.

What was left unsaid is revealed in a contribution by the already mentioned Damaskinos Papandreou in the ‘Internationale Kirchliche Zeitschrift’ (International Church Journal) of 1989 which is the old Catholic theological mouth piece. In this he advises the Old Catholics to renounce their intercommunion with the Anglicans, and expresses the fear that the expected decision of the Old Catholics in favour of the ordination of women could menace the agreement already reached.(Note 25) Admittedly Damaskinos Papandreou is here speaking not in an official capacity but as it were “privately” as a theological commentator.

At the close I shall revert to further Orthodox statements on the ordination of women, but now I want first to address developments in the Old Catholic Church itself. Within the framework of this colloquy it isn’t possible to trace the long, complicated path which the Anglican churches have trodden in their ordination praxis; but one can point to just a few stages. In England there have been deaconesses empowered by the laying on of hands since 1862. In 1920 the Lambeth Conference recommended that the female diaconate be raised to the level of canonical ordination. But only when the 1968 Lambeth Conference again expressly confirmed the 1920 decision, according to which deaconesses have by virtue of their ordination the same canonical rank as male deacons, did the ordination of women to the diaconate gradually become accepted practice.(Note 26) The further steps towards priestly and even episcopal ordination have already been mentioned.

3.Developments in the Old Catholic Church

In a certain way this process, which in the Anglican Church can be followed since about 1920, has been repeated as it were under our own eyes in the Old Catholic Church. As we have seen, at first it definitely rejected any ordination of women. Nevertheless, as early as 1971 at the 13th International Conference of Old Catholic Theologians, the idea surfaced that maybe here, too, an initiative might have to be risked as when a century earlier celibacy had been abolished. “Can we simply shelter behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches?” was the question.(Note 27)

But the majority was not yet ready. In 1972 the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference proclaimed that women might neither celebrate the Eucharist nor bestow other sacraments.(Note 28) In 1973 the IKZ published a detailed article by Kurt Pursch, basing the exclusion of women from the priesthood on the differing gender roles of father and mother in the family. He connected the concept of representation expressly with the will of Jesus, for he himself had decided who might represent him. Roman society was favourable to emancipation, so if contrary tendencies became evident in the early church one might assume that Jesus had rejected such emancipation.(Note 29) In 1975, at the 16th International Conference of Old Catholic theologians, the “illicitly” ordained Anglican women were dismissed as “pirate priests”; however, increased collaboration of women in all church organisations was approved.(Note 30) In 1976 this was followed by the already mentioned definitive ‘No’ of he International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference.(Note 31)

But, and this is remarkable: for all that, intercommunion between the Anglicans and the churches of the Utrecht Union has been maintained! Anglican women priests were merely refused permission to celebrate at Old Catholic services. Only regionally, i.e. in the United States and Canada did it come to renunciation of inter-communion by the Polish National Catholic Church, but here contact, if not Eucharistic sharing, was soon restored. In 1977 there was a conference of Anglican and Old Catholic theologians which was unable to achieve consensus and saw problems in unilateral action by one church - but it did not lead to a break in relations.(Note 32)

I cannot say what triggered the change in the Old Catholic attitude to women’s ordination: but in 1982 the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference revised the 1976 decision and gave consent in principle to the ordination of women to the diaconate. In 1984 it was decided that a formula for ordination with the same wording for men and women be worked out. That same year the 24th International Conference of Old Cathodic Theologians considered the theme: “For a richer development of the apostolic ministry, in the light of the complementary nature of man and woman”. All speakers refuted the preceding arguments against the ordination of women, and the Conference ended by endorsing some truly remarkable theses:

  1. “The argumentation in the tradition of the Old Church, which rests upon superseded non-theological assumptions, sets us the task today of thinking through afresh the matter of ordaining women to the presbyterate.
  2. The ordained minister represents both Christ, the Son of God, and the community, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Restricting this representation to men alone is felt to be a defect. We are seeking a way of remedying this defect.
  3. We recommend a richer development of ministry in the spirit of the polarity of man and woman. Men and women are mutually complementary and are dependent on one another so that the fullness of humanity is shown in such expanded ministry. A minority at the conference attaches importance to the rider: ‘In this the significance of the already adopted permanent diaconate of men and women should be borne in mind.’
  4. The necessary change of consciousness in attitudes to ministry will not ensue merely by admitting women. It would have to be linked with the removal of the one-man undertaking: the community is everybody’s business.
  5. Debate with the other Catholic churches should be sought with a view to a possible consensus. If  this is not achieved, we should have to ask ourselves if we should act independently according to our conviction. Such a decision should also be understood as a service to the other Catholic churches.”(Note 33)

So not only is the ordination of women in principle affirmed here, simultaneously deeper reflection on how ecclesiastical offices are to be exercised within communities is set going. Already a year later, when the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference gave effect to revised rituals for the celebrating of episcopal and priestly ordination (of course, only in a “male” version), “it simultaneously released the ritual for the consecration of deacons and deaconesses, which, however, was to remain open to improvements based on practical experience”.

Thus the report by Sigisbert Kraft, the Old Catholic Bishop of Germany.(Note 35) Here it is interesting that the International Old Catholic Liturgy Commission “has preferred the hazard of a completely new treatment to a verbatim or merely modified adoption of the Roman or of an Anglican (or even of the Orthodox) rite.”(Note 36) Originally the commission had adhered to the Pontificale Romanum for the consecration of bishops and priests.

It is not expressly stated here that the ordination of a deaconess should be seen as “higher orders”, i.e. as part of the “Catholic-apostolic ministry” as the 1976 Declaration had termed it, but that follows cogently from the equivalence with the deacon. But the Liturgy Commission has not quite kept its word regarding equal treatment in language, for in the long prayer two sentences diverge significantly. So the deacons get:

“With his (i.e. the Holy Spirit’s) aid, Apostles and the community chose seven men for service for the Church. You give the Church on her journey deacons to help the bishop and the priests so that apostolic proclamation may spread by means of attention to humanity with its cares and needs.” (my italics)

But for deaconesses:

“Together with the Apostles, women accompanied the works of your Son, and were the first to meet the Resurrected One. You give your Church deaconesses on its jrouney, who join in helping her to fulfil her apostolic mission and to bring the mercy and goodness of the Redeemer to humanity”.(Note 37) (my italics)

So the question arises: do we again see here men being charged with proclamation and women with charity? As so far no definitive decision has been reached in the Old Catholic Church about priestly ordination, developments will have to be awaited. Nevertheless, the ordination of deaconesses is already a practice.

4.  The reaction in Orthodoxy

So what is the attitude of the Eastern churches in the face of these changes in the two Western church families closest to them? A definitive decision for the way of Orthodoxy can be reached only by the future Synod; two semi-official statements, that is from officially appointed panorthodox theological commissions on dialogue, are however available. Both have already been cited. The authors of the 1978 “Athens Declaration” do not pronounce expressly on the canonical ranking of the female diaconate but reject ordination to the priesthood most emphatically - this, it is felt, concerns “the foundations of the Christian faith”(9); additionally, a “catastrophic blow” to all hopes of union is prophesied. As we have already seen, this blow was not delivered. The second “semi-official” proclamation is in the 1987 Old Catholic/Orthodox consensus document, and has already been cited: “The undivided Church has not consented to the ordination of women, aside from the unclarified institution of deaconesses.”(Note 38)

Over and above this, however, one must regard, too, as semi-official declarations the replies of individual Orthodox churches to the important consensus document drawn up at Lima in 1982 entitled “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry”. They are most revealing.

  • First, of the eight churches who responded to the request for reactions to the convergence documents,(Note 39) three - Constantinople (!), Greece and Finland offered no comment at all on women’s ordination.
  • The Russian and Bulgarian churches are fundamentally against it, but are not in any way threatening to break off ecumenical relations;(Note 40)
  • the churches of Alexandria, Rumania and the USA expressly want further, more profound discussion(Note 41): “...we are not convinced by the arguments in favour of the ordination of women” in the very cautious phrasing of the Americans.(Note 42)

Finally, a peep over the Byzantine fence affords a great surprise. Let’s look at the few Eastern churches of the ancient Eastern tradition which answered the “Lima Document”.(Note 43). The reaction of the little Syrian “Mar Thoma Church of the Malabars”(Note 44) runs as follows:

“The document calls for ‘a deeper understanding of the comprehensiveness of ministry which reflects the interdependence of men and women’. We wholeheartedly support this concern. The male-dominated social order which one encounters in many parts of the world is partly a reflection of technologies used by these societies which are dependent more on muscle power than brain power. The modern developments in science and technology liberate women partly because human mastery over nature is now dependent more on brain power than muscle power. Women now are able to share responsibilities which were formerly exclusively male. This change in society must be seen as an act of God. This must be reflected in increased sharing by women in the priestly ministry of the Church. However, the Mar Thoma Church presently has barriers due to custom, culture, tradition on allowing women to share in the ordained ministry of the church. It is earnestly hoped that these will break down as men develop greater consciousness of the change of times and women become willing and open to new challenges that God is opening before them. At the same time we also earnestly hope that ways will be found so that the ordination of women does not create new barriers on the way to mutual recognition of ministry and sacraments.”(Note 46)

In its reply it calls at the same time for the “Lima Document” to be in principle ‘relativised’ in view of the incipient dialogue in the Third World “with non-Semitic, non-Latin, non-Greek cultures.”(Note 46)

Although Constantinople in its reply to the Lima Paper passed over the subject of ordaining women, the Ecumenical Patriarchate nevertheless did act on the matter, one good reason being the planned future Synod. It initiated an ‘Inter-Orthodox Consultation’, which took place on Rhodes in 1988, and to that we owe another most interesting and informative Final Report.(Note 47) In this we do first find again the traditional reasons for the “impossibility of admitting women to the Christocentric sacramental priesthood”, but otherwise a remarkable openness for “the challenge through the feminist movement”, and a great willingness to do away with factual discrimination against women outside the strictly liturgical area.

In brief: the arguments of Orthodoxy against ordination are: 1) The appeal to tradition and 2) the ordering of woman (the female sex) towards the Theotokos and the Holy Spirit. The problem of ‘representatio’ does crop up in the theological discussion, but in official documents at the most marginally, whereby the priest is to be regarded not as sacrament, but as icon. Of course there is rumination in the paper, too, about the revival of the diaconate for women, to which there is no canonical bar - an ordination of women deacons could at any time take place as it were without much ado. The only point at issue in Orthodoxy is whether this ordination is of equivalent value to that of a male deacon, or whether it represents a kind of “intermediate” ordination sui generis (according to the consecratory formulae of the Byzantine church, this is definitely a sacramental consecration, not a simple blessing).(Note 48)

So we can draw the conclusion that in this matter some things are moving in Orthodoxy too. However, so that too optimistic a picture is not drawn, one must mention that in October last year the Orthodox bishops’ Conference in the United States not only renounced for the time being its collaboration with the National Council of Churches but also interrupted (without breaking off!) its theological dialogue with the Episcopalian Church.(Note 49)

Summing up

In theory the question of ordaining women is still regarded by the leadership of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches as a fundamental dogmatic problem. In the ecumenical praxis of dialogue, however, it has visibly grown into a concrete aspect of church order, on which basis theological agreement need not founder. Not only between churches, but also within them, female ordination is still a problem. That is why there has up to now been plenty of strain and conflict on this account, but that has not led to a really grave new split. However, that may yet occur. But if it proves possible for each to respect the other’s views, togetherness between churches is certainly possible.

Here the 1988 Lambeth Conference may well have been a signal and a model. In principle it opened the path to the ordination of bishops, while at the same time warning against undue haste in doing this. Nevertheless a year later the Episcopal Church of the United States took the step. Fortunately, the “irreparable breach not only with the Catholic Church but also with the Orthodox” which, for example, Cardinal Lustiger had foretold in 1984(Note 50) has not happened. On the contrary, at the conference an Orthodox theologian and bishop, John Zizioulas, was a guest representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In most earnest tones he voiced his reservations, but at the same time said: “It seems to me that we have not even begun to treat the issue of the ordination of women as a theological problem at an ecumenical level.”(Note 51) So the Lambeth resolutions which are programmed towards the cohesion of the “Anglican Communion” might perhaps be a model for the dialogue between churches. The first of these resolutions runs:

“That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ”. (Note 53).

So is the ordination of women an ecumenical problem? Yes, certainly - but first and foremost an ecumenical task!    

Anne Jensen

Foot Notes.

1.   Documents of Growth in Agreement. Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level, ed.Harding Meyer/ Lukas Vischer, (Faith and Order Paper 108), Geneva 1984.

2.   M/RC 2 (“Dublin Report”) 102, Documents, 447.

3.   A-0/2 (“Athens Declaration”) 5-15; Documents, 90-94.

4.   Letters from Archbishop Dr.Donald Coggan dated 9.7.1975 and 10.2.1976 (reprinted in the main in “The Replies of the Leaders of Certain Churches to Letters of the Archbishop of Canterbury Concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood with Extracts from the Archbishop’s letters”, ed. by the Church Union, London, 1977); Letters from Pope Paul VI dated 30.11.1975 and 23.3.1976 (see also Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) 68 (1976) 599-601).

5.   A-RC/3 Enl. (“Salisbury Report”) 5; Documents, 158

6.   L-RC/5,25; Documents, 337

7.   FO/A, (Lima/Ministry) 18; Documents, 573

8.   FO/A, (Lima/Ministry) 54; Documents, 584

9.   One of the theologically most interesting documents arising from the Anglican debate on ordaining women is the “Report on the Validity of the Philadelphia Ordination”, which was compiled after the event by four theologians at the request of a diocesan bishop. It is printed in “The Ordination of Women: Pro and Con” ed. Michael P.Hamilton/ Nancy S.Montgomery. New York 1975, 179-195.

10.  Information from Akten der Katholischen Informations Dienst (AKID) No 176/1460 dd. 10.7.1975.

11.  Inter Insigniores. Declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the admission of women to the priesthood (Statement of the Holy See, published by German Bishops’ Conference) 1976; Lat: AAS 69 (1977) 98-116.

12.  This quotation replaces my phrasing which Peter Hünermann was right to question at the colloquy: “The priestly ordination of women is irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine”. On the degree of canonically binding force of this document, please see: Peter Hünermann “Roma locuta - Causa Finita? Zur Argumentation der vatikanischen Erklarung über die Franenordination” in Herders Korrespondenz (HK) 31 (1977) 206-209; Hervé Legrand. “Die Frage der Frauenordination aus der Nicht-Katholischer Theologie. “ ‘Inter Insigniores’ nach zehn Jakren” in : Warum Keine Ordination der Frau? Unterschiedliche Einstellungen in den christlichen Kirchen ed. Elisabeth Gössmann/ Dietmar Bader (Schriftenreihe der Katholischer. Akademia Freiburg), Munich. Zürich 1987, 89-111.

13.  Text taken from Urs Küry, “Die Altkatholische Kirche, ihre Geschichte, ihre Lehre, ihr Anliegen” (Die Kirchen der Welt 111), Stuttgart 1978 (completed and given an appendix by Christian Oeyen), 460 f.

14.  Cf. Urs Küry above; Erwin Fahlbusch. “Kirchenkunde der Gegenwart” (Theologische Wissenschaft 9) Stuttgart 1979.

15.  Cf. “Die Kirche von England und die anglikanische Kirchengemeinschaft” ed. Hans Heinrich Harms (“Die Kirchen der Welt IV) 1966. Fahlbusch (above) mentions Anglicanism merely as a sub-point in an appendix, because his criterium for inclusion in his ”Kirchenkunde der Gegenwart” is membership of the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in der BRD und Berlin/West.”(17) Cf. also: Chapter IV “Der okumenische Weg des Anglikanismus, Altkatholizismus und der Freikinchen” in Handbuch der Ökumenik II ed. Hans Jörg Urban/Harold Wagner, Paderborn 1986.

16.  Cf. Eric W.Kemp: “The Problems of Church Relationships facing the Anglican Communion in the coming Lambeth Conference” in IKZ 78 (1988) 65-78

17.  Cf Anne Jensen: “Die Zukunft der Orthodoxie. Konzilsplane und Kirchenstrukturen” (Ökumenische Theologie 14 ) Zurich-Einsieldeln Cologne 1986.

18.  These assertions are from a lecture by Anastasia Protopsaltis entitled “Die Orthodoxe Kirche” held at the Evangelical Academy, Bad Böll, on 30.10.1991.

19.  See: Urs Arx. “Zwischen Krise und Stabilikat” in IKZ 81 (1991) 1-40.

20.  In 1990 the following appeared in the OR: “Recently a joint Anglican/Roman Catholic study entitled ‘Anglican Orders - a report on the developing interest of their assessment in the Roman Catholic Church’ was published in the United States. It calls for a reassessment which might lead to a revision of the declaration of invalidity of these orders by Leo XIII in 1896. ”OR 39 (1990) 485. In the most recent consensus document of the second Anglican/Roman Catholic Dialogue Commission (ARCIC II) dated September 1990. The matter of the unrecognised orders tops the list of problems awaiting solution; it is followed by the ordination of women, “moral issues” and the question of authority; the last point relates not only to the primary, but also to the role of the laity in the processes of decision (The Church as Communion 57, in “The Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity. Information Service 77, 1991/II, 96). In Rome’s official reaction to the first consensus document. ”The Final Report" (ARCIC I, Windsor 1981) which was not published till 5.12.1991, according to the KNA, the following problems were cited as still unsolved: 1. The Real Presence; 2. The Sacrament of Orders (the ordination of women is not mentioned here); 3. The dogmas of infallibility; 4. Mariology: see KNA-ÖK1 dated 11.12.1991, 3.

21.  Cited from Küry (see above), 110.

22.  See in comparison “Koinonia auf altkirchlicher Basis”, German edition of the joint texts of the Orthodox Old Catholic dialogue of 1975-1987 with French and English translations, ed. Urs von Arx, supplement to IKZ 79, 1989 .

23.  Damaskinos Papandreou: “Der Orthodox - altkatholische Dialog. Ein Modell fur die Uberwindung der Kirchlichen Spaltung zwischen Abendland und Morgenland?” in IKZ 78 (1988) 88.

24.  Cited from “Koinonia ” (see above), 95.

25.  Damaskinos Papandreou: “Theologischer Konsens und Kirchliche Gemeinschaft. Die Einheit zwischen der Orthodoxen und des Altkatholischen Kirche”, in IKZ 79 (1989) 44-52.

26.  On the Anglican discussion about ordaining women, see: Patricia A.Kendall (ed). Women and the Priesthood: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography, Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania 1976; The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood. A consultative document presented by the advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry (General Synod 104B, 1975); Emily C.Hewitt/Suzanne R.Hiatt, Women Priests Yes or No, New York 1973: The Ordination of Women: Pro and Con, ed. Michael P.Hamilton/Nancy S.Montgomery, New York 1975:Norene Carter, ‘the Episcopalian Story’ in: Women of Spirit. Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed.Rosemary Ruether/Eleanor Mc Laughlin, New York 1979.

27.   IKZ 62 (1972) 213.

28.  Reference in Pursch (below) 129.

29.  Kurt Pursch “Frauen als Priester” in IKZ 63 (1973) 129-167.

30.  IKZ 66 (1976) 103 ff.

31.  See above note 13.

32.  See AKID no 176/1487, 1.9.1976; Urs von Arx: “Zwischen Krise und Stabilitat”, IKZ 81 (1991) 1 (with his very detailed note 3).

33.  See the Conference Resolution : IKZ 67 (1977) 185 f.

34.  IKZ 75 (1985) 70.

35.  Sigisbert Kraft: “Die neugefasste Weiheliturgie der altkatholischen Kirchen unde ihre ekklesiologische Bedeutung” in IKZ 79 (1989) 192-203.

36.  Op.cit; 196.

37.  Op.cit; 200.

38.  Koinonia, 95 (see above).

39.  The replies of the churches to the Lima Document were published by the World Council of Churches: “Churches respond to BEM I-VI”, ed Max Thurian, Geneva 1989-1988.

40.  See op.cit vol.II. 9 (Russia); vol. II. 23 (Bulgaria).

41.  See op.cit. vol.III.2 (Alexandria); vol.II, 13 (Rumania); vol .III, 241 (America).

42.  Op.cit. vol III. 25.

43.  The Armenian and Assyrian Churches replied without commenting on the ordination of women. The Syrian Church of the Malankars supports the more active participation of women, but is against ordaining them to the priesthood; potential ecumenical difficulties are not dramatised; op.cit. vol V, 6f.

44.  For a time this church was Anglican-influenced but it has been independent since 1877 (cf Handbuck der Ostkirchenkunde, vol 1 ed. Wilhelm Nyssen/Hans Joachim Schulz/Paul Wiertz, Düsseldorf 1984, 260f.) At the 1988 Lambeth Conference it was represented as a guest church “in full communion”, thus in the same status as the Old Catholics.

45.  Op.cit. vol IV.12

46.  Op.cit. vol IV,13.

47.  Original Greek in  “Episkepsis 412” dd. 1.2.1989. German in Una Sancta 44 (1989) 252-260 (which includes the official English version and the French translation), and in Orthodox Forum 3 (1989) 93-102.

48.  This was proved as early as 1954 by the Orthodox theologian Evangelos Theodorou in his dissertation (University of Athens): Evangelos Theodorou, “I ‘cheirotonia’ i ‘cheirothesia’ tôn diakonissôn” (‘The consecration, the blessing of deaconesses’, in modern Greek) in: Theologia 25 (1954) 430-469, 575-601; 26(1955) 57-76, German translation of the work by Anne Jensen in the Institut für Ökumenische Forschung (Institute for ecumenical research) of Tübingen University.

49.  Cf. Service Orthodoxe de Presse 163, decembre 1991, 3.

50.  KNA  12.12.1984 .

51.  Engl: “It seems to me that we have not even begun to treat the issue of the ordination of women as a theological problem at an ecumenical level”. Quote from “Response by the Mosat Reverend Professor John D. Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamos (Ecumenical Patriarchate)” in : “The Truth shall make you free”, The Lambeth Conference 1988. The Reports, Resolution and Pastoral Letters from the Bishops. London 1988, 287. Cf. “Berichte und Dokumentation zur Lambeth-Konferenz 1988" in: Istura 34, 1989.

52.  Taken from “The Truth” (see above), 201.

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