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.