Rowan Williams asks whether, "when so much agreement has been firmly established in first order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, it is really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integity". And: "In what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so enhance the life of communion, reinforcing the essential character of filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of the Church as so defined?" Behind this surely lurks a question which, if we are honest, many of us sometimes have worried about: " How do we present to the world a gloomy prohibition against Women Clergy as being positive Good News?"
The answer is in Rowan's own summary of the new consensual ecclesiology: "God is eternally a life of three-fold communion; and if human persons are to be reconciled to God and restored to the capacity for which they were made, they must be included in that life of communion. The incarnation of God the Son recreates in human persons the possibility of filial relation with the Father ... etc". The Church images and embodies that divine life of communion in which the Father stands as as the principal of unity because he is the pege theotetos or its arche, the Source of Godhead. The Father, as S Paul writes in Ephesians, is the One from whom all patria, Fatherhood, comes, and in the ekklesia the Bishop is the typos tou Patros [Ignatius Trallians 3:1; Smyrnaeans 8:1; Magnesians 3; 6:1], the 'minted' sacramental reproduction of the One Father. This preoccupation with Fatherhood presumably goes back to the Incarnate Word who used the Aramaic term Abba, and who is reported in John 17 as having prayed that the Holy Father would keep his disciples so that they all might be one. The description, in I Timothy 3, of the episkopos as the paterfamilias of God's Assembly is also significant.
If sacraments as efficacious signs bear a natural resemblance to what they signify (compare the formulation of Hugh of S Victor: that there is an analogy between the visible and invisible elements), it is difficult to see how a woman can image or deliver the Fatherhood of God unless one empties that notion of signi-ficant content. (It is wise to recall that the New Testament does not see God the Father as the Mother of the hypostatically united Word. It suggests that his Mother was a Palestinian Girl called Mary. Nor do its semantics allow that, rather than a Father, he possessed a single undifferentiated 'Parent'.)
It seems to me wholly subversive of an ecclesiology which derives from the Communio of the Trinity to place in a cathedra episcopalis a person who cannot be seen as the typos of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ*. In other words, a woman-bishop subverts the Patri-archal life of the Church as an expression of that very life in the communion of the Blessed Trinity which Rowan seeks to establish. Prescinding from Scholastic categories of 'valid' and 'invalid' (not that the scholastic formulation causes me any anxieties), this is what it really means when we say that a woman 'cannot' be a bishop.
Putting it demotically, Women Bishops bugger up the Trinity and they bugger up sacramental signification.
Or if they don't (after all, I am not infallible), they are de facto able to focus and articulate neither the unity of the local church, nor its integration by the person of its 'bishop' into the mia Katholike, for as long as de facto there are people who share my misapprehensions. This must be what it really means when Rowan concedes that we are still in an open period of discernment and reception. And given the importance of the episcopal ministry (and its dependant ministries) in structuring the Christian Assembly in Trinitarian communio, the structured and structural doubt implicit in Discernment and Reception disqualifies the innovation from possibility.
I recall reading that in New Zealand, in ordinations, 'bishop' Penny was addressed as "Right Reverend Mother in God". Is that correct? Does anyone know of Anglican Provinces which have had the courage of their feminist convictions to address women bishops as 'Father in God'? Or bishops of either gender as 'Parent in God'?