Sex in Church

In a wide-ranging and penetrating essay contra the ordination of women, Peter Leithart argues that because sex is inerasably graven in the logos of man, ipso facto is it graven in the nature of whatever man does, from liturgy to marriage; that worship, being the quintessentially human activity, in which we can reach the sublimity of all our special capacities (for thought, word, deed; for art, music, argument, prayer; and so forth), is the font and archetype of all subsidiary activities, to which it lends them form; so that when we upend or confuse the sexes in church, we must perforce do likewise in marriage, and everywhere else.

Thus a church that ordains women, and so doing muddles the roles of the sexes in the liturgy, is effectually enacting an argument that at the highest pitch of human embodiment, sex is irrelevant. She is proposing that in the final, ultimate, and perfect analysis, and in the judgement of Heaven, our bodies do not matter. She is, in a word, gnostic; for she rejects the whole inherently sexual aspect of our being, and so of our cosmos (that some organisms are sexual entails that among many other things that she is, the cosmos herself is sexual, at least in them (our sex is a feature of our world, or we could not partake it), and thus throughly – nemo dat quod non habet). In respect to her Lord, the whole cosmos is feminine; so likewise is the Church a Bride to her Lord, and each church to his vicars. Rejecting the order of sex, we reject the order of embodied being.

This order is not just imposed upon us by the facts of biology – although it is that, to be sure – for it is imposed upon biology by Reality, and upon Reality by her God. “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” [Genesis 5:2] Leithart writes:

Men and women are biologically different in ways that used to be obvious to everyone, but Genesis isn’t about biology. Churches are confused about ordination because we are materialists who identify the order of creation with biology, who assume that everything but physics is cultural construction. Liturgical differences aren’t imposed on the more basic physical differences. For Paul and Genesis, differences between male and female are essentially symbolic, fundamentally liturgical.

A church that ordains women then, in pretending that both poles of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb can be feminine, symbolically – which is to say, archetypally, and *most really* – rejects the order that God has established in Creation. It rejects the logos of the cosmos, and with it the Logos it embodies. NB: she rejects the Word, the Second Person, her Lord and Bridegroom (cf. Hosea).

Such a church will not be able to mount any consistent defense against sexual muddlements of other sorts in “other” departments of life, as gay marriage, paederasty, polygamy, bestiality, and so forth. Where nothing is absolutely delimited, nothing can be prohibited, and there can be no social order. Cult – a society’s doctrines of the absolute First Things – is the root and form of culture; so the sexes must be kept clearly distinct in worship, or they won’t be distinct anywhere else, and social life will more and more decohere.

And this is just what we see happening. Sex in the West is a total mess, and no one knows quite how to cope with it. This is one of the reasons we talk about it so much – viz., fashion, porn, feminism, the men’s rights movement, gossip, pop “arts,” Game, “rape culture,” advertising: it’s all about sex, or the lack thereof, or the impropriety. But there is another, deeper reason: the modern doctrine of sex is radically disordered. It is false, and generates disease. This wounds us all, of course: divorce, promiscuity, and perversion are terrible for our health and welfare. But worse even than these injuries is its malnourishment, and the consequent desperate hunger which provides the occasion of so many of them, and prevents any recovery from them, or healing. For, the disorder – the disease – of modern notions about sexuality is manifest in the fact that moderns are obsessed with sex. They see it everywhere, all the time. No cigar is allowed to be just a cigar, ever. On the contrary; some even go so far as to engage in sexual acts with cigars.

Whatever it is that moderns are supposed to be getting from sex, whatever they are designed and intended to be getting from sex, it appears that they are not getting it from the sorts of sex they get. Like a man living on “food” that has been stripped of any solid nourishment, and who is therefore insatiably ravenous no matter how much he eats, they are starved for the goods that properly ordered sex would furnish, and that defective sex cannot. So they expend tremendous effort to get as much of whatever of sex there is to be had as they possibly can, but are never sated. So their desperate obsession with sex is suffused with despair, and its cynicism is ultimately nihilist.

The final cruel twist is that, just as the malnourished man eats with insatiable desperation, and so grows obese and diabetic, moderns gorge on “sex,” and so grow ever more engorged with it, sclerotic, choleric, proud, enflamed and irritated to the point of constant dull anger, and ultimately dead bored. So is sex become a haunt of war; “For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” [Proverbs 4:17]

The whole thing prevents any quietness of spirit. So, it prevents true worship. Indeed, it can ruin all pleasure in life, of any sort. What good is a life, after all, and how can it be quite truly fun, if there is in it nothing really of the highest good, from which all subsidiary goods depend and derive? If there is nothing you think absolutely good, and so perfectly worthy – “worship” is “worth-ship” – then what good is anything, beyond this moment’s stupid pleasure?

I do not mean to suggest that everything that ails the West stems from the ordination of women, or even from the confusion of and about the sexes that made it seem reasonable. Rather, in the ordination of women is manifest the sexual illness – which to say, again, the *ontological* illness – of our culture, and the sickness in her basic understanding of reality. In the ordination of women, the Logos is rejected; but such ordinations could not have been entertained in the first place in the absence of a prior, and deeper, and more sweeping rejection of his Lordship.

The West went off the rails when we began to think that the symbols of our liturgies supervened upon physics, as merely conventional epiphenomena thereof, and as therefore deficiently real, or material, or important, so that we could with impunity make of them whatever we wished. In truth, of course, the supervention runs the other way: physics supervenes upon, and is itself a symbolon of, that Truth to whom liturgical symbols all refer, and intend, and from whom they are derived; so that all importance, all material, all phenomena are enactions of those symbols, or of their functions, implicates, and corollaries. And you can’t control the Truth, for he controls you, absolutely. No matter what you think or do, he is in fact your Lord. If you try to mess with him, you only mess up yourself.

The West is in a greater mess than usual because we presumed, more egregiously and profoundly than usual, to mess with Truth.


It is only right that I should add that, as an Episcopalian from birth until last year, I know, love and admire quite a few godly women ordained to the priesthood of that communion. I am convinced furthermore that they do the Lord’s work. I wish I did that work even half as well, as earnestly, and as faithfully as they do. I wish that I could bring even a hundredth as many souls to Christ as it seems they are bound to do. But, not only because I am now Catholic, but because of the conclusions I have myself reached after some study of the issue, I do not think they do the Lord’s work qua priests.

38 thoughts on “Sex in Church

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  3. If the Didascalia is correct, deaconesses in Church may be ordained and serve as a type of the Holy Spirit. A development of this notion would in fact require a role in worship for ordained female clergy distinct from, and complementary to, that of the priest.

    • Distinct indeed. According to the Didascalia, “A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons, but only is to keep the doors, and to minister to the presbyters in the baptizing of women, on account of decency.” The latter because the practice in Syria at the time was to anoint every inch of the catechumen’s body before the triple immersion of baptism, and while bishops and priests could participate in the immersion itself – despite the complete nakedness of the catechumens – the deaconesses were in charge of the anointing of women (as were deacons of men), and afterward of clothing the newly baptized women in white linen, prior to the chrismation.

  4. Everywhere nowadays the greater truth is corrupted in the name of a lesser truth. In this instance, as in so many others, human concerns are placed ahead of divine principles, but if you subordinate the latter to the former you are likely to lose all connection to them except in their more superficial aspects.

    Women, it seems to me, can be priestesses (as it were) but they can’t be priests any more than they can be fathers. The problem is that, outside of the convent, Christianity had no real role for women who wanted to serve in some ministering capacity. So what’s the answer? It seems to me that some new office would have to be created which would be patterned on the idea of the Virgin Mary and the Mother of God. Perhaps something along the lines of Arakawa’s suggestion.

    • To be fair, within the Roman Church there really hasn’t been much for men to do if they didn’t want to become celibate either. In Protestant Churches, there are usually plenty of opportunities for women to minister to other women and in service capacities outside of the ordained ministry. The idea that there is “nothing” for women to do is usually code for nothing they want to do (i.e., usurp male authority in the name muh equality and muh feminism).

      It’s a power play, as witnessed by the fact that whenever you open up minor ministerial positions to women they start to dominate them. Men still tend to dominate the senior/full-time pastoral positions, but women and girls will start to dominate lay ministerial posts. They’ll dominate congregational prayers offered by the laity, lay Bible readings, and lay altar assistance. The men and boys that end up doing those things will tend to be feminized. If women must be allowed some form of ministry, it must be for the women or young children.

      Furthermore, I don’t think there is a single person whose actual reason for not attending Church is because there aren’t enough women in ministerial positions. If they use that now, they’ll just find another reason after we get more stuff for the women to do. If anything, there’s too much for women to do right now. Church is like 60/40 female/male these days from what I understand. Religion doesn’t have a women problem: It has a problem attracting self-respecting males who aren’t alpha enough to become a religious leader of some kind.

  5. The cloistered nuns used to be the Brides of God; they ministered to the poor, the sick, and the orphaned. Is it a coincidence that now, when the nun has all but disappeared, except in parodic non-nun-like manifestations, the cloisters have been replaced by Planned Parenthood clinics, invariably staffed by women, and the “women’s studies” departments of the universities, exclusively by and for and of women – places as unfecund and defeminized as can be imagined?

    All this is gnostic, quite as Kristor claims. It comports with gnostic nihilism with regard to the world, as it is non-negotiably constituted.

  6. Kristor, maybe a different title would sound less sensational, since you would hate to suggest that anyone would copulate in church. 🙂

    • Yeah, my mind went straight into the gutter too. It’s hard for it not to, given the corruption of language and the fact that I’ve been viewing degraded pop-culture for nearly forty years.

    • I considered that, and decided that I was damned if I was going to capitulate with my diction to the modern perversions of language by saying, e.g., “Gender in Church,” or otherwise prevaricating. The only way we’ll recover our civilization is if we refuse to compromise. Speak the truth and let the chips fall where they may. Sex, too, must be rescued from the gutter and consecrated. The Church herself is sexed. The Bible begins and ends with a wedding.

  7. Kristor,
    How can they be Godly women when they’re committing a bizarre sacrilege, one involving lesbian symbology?

      • I guess it’s a casual word lacking formal definition, but I assume “Godly” means more than “a Christian who’s a sinner.” I assume it wouldn’t apply to a baptized Christian who’s a practicing child-molester. I don’t’ know about the less extreme case of an Episcopal priestess but it’s hard to imagine St. Paul referring to her as “Godly.”
        Either you’re trying too hard to be nice or I’m trying too hard to be mean.

      • Paul, too, was afflicted with a thorn in his side. I take “godly” to mean, not “holy,” but rather “intending holiness.” One can intend holiness and err grievously in so doing. As I know all too well …

        If moral and theological perfection are de minimis criteria of godliness, then no man on Earth can be described as godly.

      • I would call Elizabeth and Zecharias “Godly” because they “walked blameless in the ordinances of the Lord.”
        BTW, I know nothing about the history of the word Godly but I’d guess that it’s a word typically used by Protestants and the closest Catholic equivalent is “saintly.”
        An episcopal priestess has a serious issue with authority. Also with God’s word. So I wouldn’t use the word Godly to describe her. “Well-intended” maybe.
        Sorry for focusing in on one word. You are obviously kind and charitable to the people you’ve known. Prejudiced person that I am, I can’t help but think of Hillary Clinton in vestments when I think of a priestess.

    • No, no, no, Kristor, not youuuuuu! Please don’t use that “thorn in his side” verse about Paul as if it had to do with sin. I think it’s utterly clear biblically that it referred to a physical ailment, probably involving his eyesight. (Elsewhere in the epistles he says to another church that he knows that they would have been willing to give him their own eyes. He also mentions writing with large letters.) I see *so* many people using the, “Paul had a thorn in his side” thing as if it had something or other to do with people with sin in their lives who are in the ministry, and it just isn’t about that.

      You’d do better to argue that Paul had a bad temper or was touchy or grumpy or something (also evident from the epistles) if you want to make that point.

      I’m somewhat more on Bruce’s side here, on the substantive issue, though I do want to say that in some denominations some ordained women don’t seem to have any lesbian symbolism in their approach. In fact, I have heard of some surprisingly (otherwise) conservative female “pastors” (pro-life, for example)–more like what Kristor is portraying: Muddled and completely wrong about ordination but otherwise doing a decent job. I admit to expecting more of a lesbian connection in the ECUSA, as Bruce apparently does, but perhaps that just shows my bias against what the ECUSA has become for a few decades now.

      • Thanks, Lydia. One of the great things about blogging is learning from comments. I had never actually studied the commentaries on that passage, just took what I heard from the pulpit as correct. That’ll show me!

        I haven’t known any lesbian priests. So that was not in my mind, so much as the notion that the vicar of Christ to a feminine church could quite rightly too be feminine. An absurd notion, blind both to symbology and ontology. I thought indeed that it was that which Bruce found objectionable.

      • (Thanks for taking that so kindly, Kristor.)

        Ah, you may be right about what Bruce had in mind. I took him to be referring to the general association of female “priesthood” with lesbianism as a sociological matter, but he may have meant the more strictly symbolic matter, as you say. And I think he has a good point there, as well.

  8. Bruce, you probably know hypocritical politicians who behave piously in church and impiously during the workweek. Is that happening when a radical leftist says, “I’m against . . ., but I believe that people deserve a right to do it?” Years ago, before he defrauded someone I love deeply, a dishonest businessman invited me to attend church with him. Some liberal pro-abortion Catholic politicians still receive Holy Communion when they know what it is the Catholic Church teaches about abortion and that they may earn automatic excommunication for their public stand about that serious sin. Are they Godly? Since I can’t judge their intentions, I don’t know. But I think their behavior can temp others to sin.

    To me, John Calvin’s once-saved-always-saved doctrine sounds perniciously presumptuous when it tells us that, after we accept Christ, there’s nothing we can to to forfeit our places in Heaven. If I murder you after I “get saved,” my friends may think I only seemed to have become a Christian. But then they may be committing the no-true-Scotsman fallacy.

    Suppose answer an altar call at a service where I believe an evangelist who tells me that, after I pray the sinner’s prayer, I’ll never commit any sin that would send me to Hell if I died impenitently. After the crusade, I shoot you. “Oh no,” I yell. “I’ve just some something terrible that a real Christian wouldn’t do. I accepted Christ. But He didn’t accept me. I better repeat that prayer.” What’s my point? It’s that Calvin’s novel theological opinion prevents the certainty he hoped it would give.

    • Bill,
      To me, the word “Godly” was never used to mean “good intentions.” I don’t doubt that two sodomite Episcopal men have good intentions in the sense that they think they’re pleasing God by “loving” each other. But I guess I’m distracting the discussion by focusing on the use of one word.

      Sola Fide, and especially the “once saved always saved” variety is plainly contradicted by numerous passages in the NT. The Catholic Church’s theology harmonizes the seemingly contradictory “law” and “gospel” passages. In my experience, if you point out the anti-sola fide passages to Protestants they either give a goofy explanation or say the passages are unclear and we must depend on clearer passages (passages which suggest sola fide, of course).
      Off topic, I know.

      • I must admit that I’m also puzzled by the word ‘godly’ to describe any woman desirous of being a priest (as opposed to a spiritual teacher, adviser or counselor). Whatever her private virtues may be she is surely actively defying God as Christians understand Him by making this demand in the first place. Still, just a word maybe.

      • Such a woman could not desire to be a priest if she understood things as orthosphereans do. Obviously she must therefore understand things differently. We should not jump to the conclusion that her understanding is tendentious or dishonest. I was once an honest Marxist – and a godly one, in the sense that I sought to serve God and honestly thought Marxism was involved in doing so – that it did not contravene his will, as now I think it does.

      • “if you point out the anti-sola fide passages to Protestants they either give a goofy explanation…”

        Not half as “goofy” (as you so eloquently put it) as those doctrines that your guys pulled out of thin air, e.g., the immaculate conception.

        “…or say the passages are unclear and we must depend on clearer passages”

        Yes, or read the passages in the larger context of the whole Bible. The Pauline Epistles could hardly be more unequivacable in their explication of sola fide.

        But that’s OK. You worship God your way, and we Calvinists will worship Him His way.

      • Mr. Lewis

        Orthospherian Protestants like yourself and Alan, of course, wouldn’t come up with goofy explanations. I was thinking of a recent online debate I listened to between a protestant minister and a Catholic. So I am sorry for being insulting.

        There are individual epistles that clearly describe anti-sola fide theology with no “counterpoint” verses to reference. There was no Bible available when these epistles were written and sent to the Churches. As far as I can tell, these individual epistles had to stand on their own.

  9. Bruce, I know that the word “Godly” has never meant what “good intentions” means. My implied point was that some people can still be vice-ridden hypocrites, even when they’re trying to live the way God wants them to live. On his TV program called “Hardball,” Mr. Chris Matthews, who wrote a book about John F. Kennedy, said that adulterer used to worry his bodyguards when he sneaked into Catholic churches to go to confession. The faults remind me that I need to try not to condemn any other sinner. For all, I know, even with all his faults and all his failings, he may get to Heaven before or after I land in Hell. I hope and pray I’ll reach Heaven someday. Meanwhile, I remember there, if I knew that Christ had guaranteed me my salvation, I probably would take it complacently for granted.

  10. Two other things to take note of: The Church (all kinds) have been to varying degrees terrible at providing a good spiritual home for men. They have favored a feminine principle, and this is why today men are dropping out of the religious life far more than women. The Church has forgotten its masculine duties.

    Also, this doesn’t only apply to priests I think, but also look at the role of instilling spirituality upon children. That is supposed to be in the commission of the father, yet all too often because men are distant from the spiritual life, it falls to women and guidance is given inadequately in terms of how it was meant to be passed on.

    • In the “Homiletic and Pastoral Review,” I’ve read that boys don’t want to be altar boys when altar girls help the priest at Mass, since the boys want that privilege to be only for them. Letting girls serve is even unfair to the girls. The Church lets boys help the priest in the sanctuary partly because she wants to attract them to the priesthood. Since only men can be priests, girls may feel false hope because they serve at Mass, too.

  11. You’re right, I’m sure, Kristor. Pope St. Pius X wanted choirs to be all male. But even at the SSPX chapel where I go to Mass, women sing in the choir. I wonder what priests will do if female-to-male transgendered people apply to seminaries.

  12. The problem seems to be a lack of options for women who are more “male-brained”, i.e. who have a more stereotypically masculine approach to things (more intellectual, structural thinkers, interested in the derivation of the doctrinal minutiae etc.). The challenge is to find ways of integrating *that kind* of female being, with its accompanying gifts, into a given hierarchy and social microcosm, without violating the rules on which its coherence depends.

    They’re a minority, but a consistent one; extrapolating from other contexts, I’d say they’re about 10-20% of all women. That’s also where oscillates the percentage of women who have the capacity and aim to achieve at high levels professionally (not only to work out of economic necessity) or academically, women who are psychologically different from the majority with respect to sexuality and its outcomes (e.g. little or no maternal instinct, who don’t bear children, who can prefer being single/celibate to pairing up with a man and don’t feel called to marriage, sometimes completely asexual etc.), basically women who feel stifled when pushed into a designated “female space” and whose challenge is to find ways to live their femininity, as theologically opposed to masculinity, but in this *unusual* manifestation of what’s feminine.

    I’d argue that there’s a similar thing going on with some men, in about the same percentages, men who are stuck with what’s a more stereotypically female mental and emotional functioning, and whose challenge is to find ways to live without convincing themselves that they *must* be trans-women or homosexuals.

    So for those women, churches may prove psychologically distasteful even if they’re theologically convincing, because they don’t find their own corner and they’re not offered a way to live the faith in an authentic way, but without desecrating it.

    A part of it may be just power games, wanting the authority for its own sake, but I have the impression that there’s a real problem in socially conservative circles of how to address those “psychological oddities” of both men and women whose natural inclinations don’t quite fit the mold. You either lose them to the mainstream culture that’ll interpret this oddity as a sign of a different sexual “identity” they’re supposed to take on, or you stifle them into places that aren’t good for them and ultimately aren’t good for society either (e.g. who wants to have a mother *resentful* of the fact she bore him? and that’s one of the big taboos).

    For transparency’s sake, I’m not religious (ironically I share much of the moral framework, but I’m not *theologically* convinced), just trying to explain what it looks like from the outside, and why I think it’s a part of a wider social phenomenon.

    • Well, just as there are some equalists who deny the differences between men and women in favour of a homogenized human nature, there appear to be some complementarians who deny the differences between specific people in favour of homogenized male and female natures.

    • If we’re not going to take the superficially easy path of equalism, and recognize instead the more complex reality that there are natural differences between the sexes – that, i.e., there are sexes in the first place, ontologically real sexes rather than mere social conventions – then are we forced to draw the line *somewhere or other.* And wherever we do draw that line, we are going to end up with some liminal cases that don’t seem quite to fit it. But, either there is really a line, or not. Either then one is an equalist, or not. The choice between these two options is quite digital, and not subject to fudging.


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