On Female Clergy

On Female Clergy

Encyclical Letter
of His Excellency
Bishop Gregory Wayne Godsey

First Release – May 11, 2003

Revised – March 14, 2005

We have been accused on numerous occasions of changing our theology on a regular basis and sometimes making a 180 degree turnabout. To this charge, we proudly plead guilty. Saint Paul says in Second Timothy:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth[1].

In keeping with this command, we continue to diligently study and grow in the grace and peace of God.

Woman as Priest

In this study of the Holy Scriptures and early writings of the church, we have found that we have been lead astray by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches yet again. In their efforts to monopolize the market of religion, they misinterpreted, misconstrued and misrepresented what the Holy Scriptures and tradition say on the matter of Female Priesthood.

There are two arguments that these churches use in defending an all-male priesthood. The first being that the priest operates “in persona Christi.” In the doctrine of “in persona Christi” the church says that the priest operates “in the person of Christ.” This doctrine has lead the Roman church into the heresy that they are, therefore, “alter Christus” or “another Christ.” Since Jesus was male, they argue, so also must those be who would stand “alter Christus.”

The original doctrine of “in persona Christi” stated that the priest was an agent or spoke on the behalf of Christ to the people. In this definition, there is no reason that a female could not operate in that function; as Saint Paul says:

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.[2]

In this scripture, Paul is speaking to the whole church, not just to the male congregants.

In their second argument, those against female priesthood use a scripture in First Corinthians:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.[3]

There are two major problems with using this scripture as a basis of doctrine. First, a majority of Biblical scholars believe that Paul did not write this verse but that it was rather added to the epistle at a later time. Second, the very sense of this statement is starkly inconsistent with Paul’s other authenticated writings. An example of this is in the following scriptures:

And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and [with] other my fellow labourers, whose names [are] in the book of life.[4]

This scripture shows us that there were women that labored with Paul in the teaching,preaching, the very spreading of the Gospel. If only the apostles were allowed to preach then these women must have been apostles.

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas [the brother] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.[5]

This scripture clearly indicates who was in the upper room right after leaving the Mount of Olives following Jesus’ arrest. It shows that the above mentioned women were present when Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins and commanded them to go forth and baptize and preach the Gospel. There is no mention of any exclusion of those women from that command of Christ; in fact they were also present in the upper room during Pentecost:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.[6]

Not only that, but they also received the Holy Ghost:

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.[7]

Note that it does not say only the men received the Holy Ghost but that all of them were filled with the Spirit. Paul gives us more evidence of the Female Priesthood in the book to Titus:

The aged women likewise, that [they be] in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, [To be] discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.[8]

This is another scripture often misread to say that women can only teach other women. But note that the Scripture says that they may teach not that they can only teach.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.[9]

Here is another scripture that is at odds with the notion of a male-only priesthood. Paul is clear here in Galatians that there is no male or female but that we are all one in Christ.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.[10]

As these scriptures show, the scriptures have a wealth of information that puts 1 Corinthians 14:34 in a suspicious light. 1 Corinthians 11:5 shows us that Paul allowed a woman to pray or prophesy in a church but they had to have their head covered. As a side note, the definitions of the word prophesy, as used here by Paul, means “to preach.” If Paul is truly the author of the mandate that women cannot speak in church, then all of these other scriptural notations are false and useless.

We can also prove that women held roles of authority in the Old Testament. In the book of Judges it says:

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.[11]

We can also show that Jesus himself had a desire for women to be counted amongst the Apostles and that he sent them out with the same authority as the male apostles.

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve [were] with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered (diakoneo) unto him of their substance.[12]

It is no surprise to us that Jesus had women as disciples but in the Greek language of the New Testament they are also given the term “diakoneo” which is the word that is translated, “Deacon”. These same women brought the Gospel to the other male apostles as the first evangelists:

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary [the mother] of James, and other [women that were] with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.[13]

Paul continues to give us evidence of female clergy and apostles. In Romans 16, he says:

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.[14]

According to the Strong’s concordance, Junia is “a Christian woman at Rome, mentioned by Paul as one of his kinsfolk and fellow prisoners.”[15] Paul clearly equates her as a member of the apostles. And if the apostles were the first Priest and Bishops of the church then she must have been one as well.

But he doesn’t stop there. Below is listed, from the book of Romans, all the women that Paul says were laborers or apostles with him:

I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla (another female) and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise [greet] the church that is in their house.[16]

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.[17]

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.[18]

Salute Tryphena (another female) and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis (yet another female), which laboured much in the Lord.[19]

Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.[20]

Paul makes reference to seven women that are fellow laborers in the Gospel, just in the sixteenth chapter of Romans.

Women as Bishops

The office of Bishop is often referred to as the “fullness of the Priesthood of Christ.” This having been said, we are drawn to the point where we must be willing to accept woman as Bishops if we also accept them as priest.

History gives us some clues as to the rank of women in the church, as is shown in these quotes:

There are only five know references to women bishops in Western Christianity. By far the most famous is the ninth-century mosaic of “Theodora episcopa” in the Chapel of St. Zeno in the Church of Santa Prassede in Rome. An inscription on a reliquary in the same church identifies Theodora as the mother of Pope Paschal I (817-824). This inscription dates the translation of the relics contained therein to July 20, 817. The Liber pontificalis named the father of Pascal I as Bonosus without further title. More than likely, if Bonosus had clerical status, this would have been noted, so it is unlikely that Theodora was the wife of a bishop.[21]

Much has been made of our use of Church Art as proof of the existence of female priest and bishops in the early church. However, the orthodox definition of “Holy Tradition” is as follows:

But to an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means something more concrete and specific than this. It means the books of the Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons — in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages.[22]

As we can see church art plays an important role in the life of the church and in Holy Tradition as it is a form of testament to the practices of the church throughout the centuries. In the Celtic Church the practice of women priest and bishops was very prevalent. As we can see from this quote:

In the Celtic Church, the Irish Life of Brigit describes her ordination as bishop:
“Come, O holy Brigit, that a veil may be placed on your head before the other virgins.” Then, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the bishop read the form of ordaining a bishop over Brigit. While she was being consecrated, a brilliant, fiery flame ascended from her head. MacCaille, Bishop Mel’s assistant, complained that a bishop’s rank was bestowed on a woman. Bishop Mel argued: But I do not have any power in this matter. That dignity has been given by God to Brigit, beyond every other woman. Henceforth, from that time to now the Irish people have given Episcopal recognition to Brigit’s successor.”[23]

While many will continue to argue that these references have been taken out of context or that these are isolated incidents that should have never occurred and that should never be repeated, it is our firm belief that it shows a greater pattern of women serving in roles other than laity. In our opinion, it is a practice that should be reinstituted in the church, especially in this time of clerical crisis.

Conclusion

Thus, in this paper, we have given numerous scriptural references to the fact that female priests existed. Therefore, we affirm and attest the following to be true and free of error:

  1. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, appointed woman to be numbered among the Apostles.
  2. Our Lord gave the authority of absolution and evangelization to the Apostles with which four women at least were present and were not excluded.
  3. St. Paul declares many women to be involved in the work of salvation as clergy in different ranks.
  4. We have found compelling evidence to support the claim that there were women Bishops as well as Female Priests and Deacons.
  5. That there will no longer be a prohibition against Female Deacons, Priests or neither Bishops nor will there be a prohibition against the ordination of women to the sacred deaconate, priesthood or episcopacy within our church.

Given in North Augusta, at Saint Peter’s Church, on 11 May, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, in the year 2003, the fifth year of my Episcopacy, the Year of the Holy Eucharist.

Ordered to be released with changes, on the 14th of March, in the year of our Lord, 2005, being the seventh year of my Episcopacy.

+Gregory Wayne Godsey


Footnotes

  1. [1]2 Timothy 2:15. KJV.
  2. [2]2 Corinthians 2:10. KJV.
  3. [3]1 Corinthians 14:34. KJV.
  4. [4]Philippians 4:3. KJV.
  5. [5]Acts 1:13-14. KJV.
  6. [6]Acts 2:1. KJV.
  7. [7]Acts 2:4. KJV.
  8. [8]Titus 2:3-5. KJV.
  9. [9]Galatians 3:28. KJV.
  10. [10]1 Corinthians 11:5. KJV.
  11. [11]Judges 4:4-5 KJV.
  12. [12]Luke 8:1-3. KJV.
  13. [13]Luke 24:10-11. KJV.
  14. [14]Romans 16:7. KJV.
  15. [15]Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for Iounias (Strong’s 2458)”. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2012. 30 May 2012. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/Lexicon.cfm? strongs=G2458 >
  16. [16]Romans 16:1-5. KJV.
  17. [17]Romans 16:6. KJV.
  18. [18]Romans 16:7. KJV.
  19. [19]Romans 16:12. KJV.
  20. [20]Romans 16:15. KJV.
  21. [21]Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. #53.
  22. [22]Bishop Kallistos Ware, “Holy Tradition: The Source of the Orthodox Faith,” Church Mother of God | Orthodox Church Information |, The inner meaning of tradition, accessed December 21, 2011, http://churchmotherofgod.org/articleschurch/articles-about-the-orthodox-church/2577-holy-tradition-the-source-of-the-orthodox-faith.html?device=desktop.
  23. [23]Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver, Praying with Celtic Holy Women (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 2003).
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