Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Women Bishops and the Anglican Church part 2 Thecla

As promised here is quite a surprise for those bought with the idea that the Church has never had female leaders. I refer to the tradition in the Syriac church regarding Thecla according to tradition she was an accomplice of Paul. The main tradition is based on a book called the Acts of the Apostle Paul and Thecla a summary of which can be found here.

Paul preached a doctrine of extreme ascetism, which was attractive to many women as it provided an escape from the traditional idea that the purpose of women was essentially to be married and to produce children (even though according to Timothy and the book of Genesis a woman was produced from a man :)). The early churches attitude to women  seems to have caused quite a stir amongst Roman society and the doctrine of ascetism for women  seems to have been regarded as a threat to society (sound familiar) . At about the turn of the 1st century there seems to have been a bit of a power struggle between men and women and it would seem that those men who didn't want women in the church eventually won the power struggle. There are many pictures of Thecla preaching alongside Paul but one of the most telling is this one,r:0,s:42,i:226

The painting shows Paul and Thecla preaching both are of the same height and both have their right hands lifted iconographically this would mean that both are seen as equal partners with the same amount of authority. But the image of Thecla has had her face defaced and an attempt has been made to obscure her right hand. This can be nothing but an attempt to airbrush the significance of Thecla out of history.     
Of course the ultimate irony is that she was canonized by the Catholic church which does not allow women as priests. Her feast day being 23rd September. Ascetism or abstinence from sexual activity now being seen as a good thing by a male patriachal society.

Anyway the point is that is strong evidence that up until the middle of the second century women seemed to have been able to take leadership roles in the Church. The claim that women did not is just bogus thus there can be no justfication for the idea that leadership in the church was the sole prerogative of men.

What about the second premise that Jesus only appointed men as his apostles. The point is that the church was not founded by Jesus. Indeed it is highly doubtful whether or not Jesus saw him self as founding a new religion. That was done by Paul and I have given sufficient evidence to show that women played a leadership role in the church.

As always the current Church has ignored these uncomfortable facts. I must admit to being quite surprised, given that a few hours research on the internet or consultation of some standard textbooks uncovers plenty of evidence that women took leadership roles in the church, that none of these arguments seemed to have been raised in the interminable debates about whether or not women should be Bishops or not.  

Anyway I hope I have shown that the two main arguments usually raised against women taking leadership roles have very little justification. I sincerely hope no one in the church really believes that a woman was produced from a man. The sooner the Church allows women to rise to the highest position in the insitutions the better it will be for all. Until it does so the Church can only be seen as upholding  the patriachal elements of  society alongside the Republican party and large parts of the Conservative party. Indeed until the current situation is changed I don't think it's going to far to accuse the Church (or those churches which do not allow Women priests or Bishops) of institutionalised sexism and as such subject to justified ridicule and contempt. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Women Bishops and the Anglican Church Part 1

As is well known the Anglican Church just missed moving with the times and finally allowing women to become bishops and take  leadership roles in the church. Some people might say what's the problem? the church is irrelevant, yet I feel that although I am no longer a church goer it sends all sorts of wrong signals about the possibility of a progressive form of religion, which even though I'm an agnostic, I would have more respect for than the current attempts  of a vociferous minority in the Church to move back to the dark ages and oppose every progressive development in society.  The current position just confirms my view that the Church has been hijacked by a combination of reactionary Anglo Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals who would otherwise have quite different theological views but have come together to prevent a long over due reform.

In this post I want to challenge some of the premises made by those who oppose women bishops and maybe introduce people to some quite novel ideas about the role of women in the early church that they might not have heard of before. There are two main premises I want to challenge

1) The Bible justifies the inferior status of women (a typical Evangelical argument)

2) Jesus selected twelve male apostles to found his Church thus women cannot have leadership roles (A typcial Anglo Catholic argument)

Most of what I have to say is summarised in Ehrman's book on the New Testament a standard college textbook and so representative of current scholarship. 

Ehrman B 2008 "The New Testament A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings" 4th Edition

I will consider the first premise in this post "The Bible prohibits women taking positions of authority in the Church"

In an earlier post I have given my reasons why I don't believe that you can just read off ethical positions from the Bible written two thousand years ago and transplant them to positions in the 20th century.

However I want to challenge those who refer to the Bible to justify their obnoxious position. The main verses in the Bible used to justify the position that women should not have any authority in the church are those from the Pastoral letters in particular the second chapter of 1 Timothy (ch2 v11:15) which enjoins women to obey their husbands, keep silence in church  and not to have authority over men. More bizarely, the quite ludicrous claim, is made that woman was created from man and this justifies the inferior status of women. This goes against all biological facts, open to anyone who has had children or even who was born. However even if one accepts this ludicrous claim, there are still problems about the significance of these verses. The usual claim is that this is Paul's teaching, and the words given in Timothy were written by Paul. This goes against current thinking in mainstream academic theology departments (See eg Ehrman Chapter 24). At the time of Paul the church was in a fledging state and hardly institutionalised, indeed as the expectation of both Paul and Jesus was that the world was going to end soon. It is hardly likely that fully formed institutions were set up. The whole tone of the Pastoral Epistles is that of letters written to those who had faced up to the fact that the world was not going to end imminently and hence the move to making the church more acceptable to Roman society. Current datings have the pastoral letters written at about the year 100 AD well after the death of Paul.

What is of more relevance, is the fact that in the letters which Paul is thought to have written Paul himself refers to women leaders in the church, this is hardly consistent with the sentiments of the author of the letters of Timothy. For example Romans ch 16 mentions many women Phoebe a deacon, (vv 1-2), Prisca who is responsible for the Gentile mission and many others (for a full list see eg Ehrman Ch 25 pp 404). Thus those who would quote Timothy in favour of not allowing women to take leadership roles in the church are (as is usual with anyone who quotes the Bible to justify oppression) being highly selective to say the least. 

That should be enough to refute the premise, that the Bible says that women should have no authority in the Church. Some parts  of the Bible do, but other parts  do not, thus the Bible is at best ambiguous on this issue, but as the Pastoral letters were probably not written by Paul, those bits that do maintain the inferior status of women are arguably of less importance than those of Paul. (This includes parts of 1 Corintihians generally considered to be a later interpolation see Ehrman ch 25 p410).

In the next post I will write about a supressed tradition about a female called Thecla who is portrayed as preaching alongside Paul in some early paintings but who seems to have been air-brushed out of history.



Results Out

Well got my results as predicted Grade 4 for Topology and Grade 3 for Waves pretty disappointing really
will try and post reviews later on. Apologies for not posting for about a month but heard early in November that my mum had broken her hip and has severe dementia. Things are under control social services are looking out for her and she is in the best possible place hopefully she'll be able to move back in the home early next year neeedless to say haven't really haven't concentrated much on OU work.

Anyway I'll try and post reviews of both M338 topology and MS324 Waves in the next week or so. Must admit feeling a bit trapped by my OU commitments at the minute. The switch to October starts hasn't really helped either

Will probably just do M381 next year to recuperate and develop my piano and ABRSM skills.

So all in all a bit depressing really. Congratulations to those who have done better than me.

Will probably post a bit of a rant about the Anglican churches refusal to ordain women as bishops this weekend.