THE PROPER THEOLOGY OF PRIESTHOOD ? by Canon Christopher Hall
In the November 1984 debate on the Ordination of Women, Robert Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury said ''it is of course an illusion to suppose that you can separate the two orders [priesthood and episcopate]''. I had been severely reprimanded by the Bishop of Birmingham for this illusion when, in order to make progress in the November 1978 debate, I had put down an amendment to separate the two orders. Years later Bishop Hugh Montefiore said to me: “You were right politically; I was right theologically.”
The theological reason why I was then wrong was that to admit women to a priesthood which was not to be open to the episcopate would be to admit them to a second-class priesthood. Politically it was later expedient for the process to be taken in stages - although other Anglican provinces have done so in one step.
Theologically there is only one class of priesthood for women as for men. No male priest would admit to be being a second-class priest. For the 2000 women who have been made priest in England it is high time for the anomaly to be removed and for the Church of England to practise the proper theology of priesthood by opening the way for them to the episcopate.
The Church of England has also made the priesthood of women second-class by creating no-go areas for them. The Act of Synod in 1992 was intended to protect those who might then claim that the Church of England was not that from which they accepted holy orders, not those who have accepted those orders subsequently. It was on 3 July 1975 that the General Synod agreed that there were ‘no fundamental [therefore including theological] objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood’.All those, who have sought and have received Church of England orders since then, have done so in the knowledge of that decision. They have accepted Holy Orders from and in a Church, which believed then that women priests were possible, and for the last 13 years has experienced the reality of their priesthood. The arrival of women bishops cannot be claimed to change the Church of England again because the priesthood and the episcopate cannot in essence be separated. It follows that the legislation to allow women bishops should not create further no-go areas thus making them effectively second-class bishops.
The Gamaliel principle has been proved in thousands of women priests: ‘If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest haply you be found even to fight against God’ - Acts 5.34. The period allowed for the reception of women priests has expired. The holy orders of women are as indelible as those of men.
Canon Christopher Hall
Thank you for these words, Canon Christopher Hall.
I first came across Canon Christopher Hall when I got in touch with him in his post as Hon Secretary of the Li Tim-Oi Foundation and related to him my story. His advice was very helpful. Thank you for all of your supportive emails. Thank you for your words above. Canon Christopher Hall is also vice-president of the Open Synod Group.. You can access 'The Proper Theology of Priesthood' there.