Monday, July 07, 2008

Revealing a Hidden History

Gary Macy (pictured at right) is a Catholic theologian and church historian whose scholarship I greatly appreciate and admire.

Recently appointed John Nobili, S.J. Professor of Theology at Santa Clara University, Macy received both his Bachelor’s and his Master’s degrees from Marquette University where he specialized in historical and sacramental theology. He earned his doctoral degree in Divinity from Cambridge University in 1978.

I first became aware of Macy when my friend
Eduard recommended his 1999 book, Treasures from the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist. In the introduction to this book, Macy asserts that, contrary to popular misconception, “the true tradition of the Church is diversity.” He goes on to note that:

All of my research . . . has been directed against what I think of as the “Big Book of Doctrine” school of historical theology. This strange form of authoritarianism, fomented both by the ultra-montanism of the late nineteenth-century papacy and by Enlightenment anti-clericalism, understands Roman Catholicism as fundamentally an attempt to provide the definitive answers to all questions, usually in one ‘big book of doctrine,’ whether it be Thomas’s “Summa,” Denzinger’s “Enchiridion,” or lately the Roman Catechism of the Universal Church.

Macy also notes, no doubt to the chagrin of those who can’t wait for those “diversity-loving liberals” within the Church to pack up and move out, that “in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a truly autocratic notion of Church was propagated with great success and then read back into the rest of Christian Catholic history. [In the] twenty-first century we are still wrestling with this terrifically successful campaign of misinformation.”

The implications of this are truly fascinating. I mean, think about it: those being pushed out of the Church for being open to and tolerant of diversity (including diversity of liturgical practices, currently much maligned here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis) are actually more attuned to the true tradition of Catholicism than the so-called traditionalists doing the pushing and who have confused unity with uniformity.

Of course, these traditionalists, these defenders of the “autocratic notion of Church,” do not see their efforts as misguided or ultimately destructive. I have no doubt, however, that many of them do believe that a smaller, more homogeneous Church - one dedicated to the ‘Big Book of Doctrine’ school of theology - would be better than a Church that welcomes and encourages diversity. How misguided and tragic!

Anyway, Gary Macy has a new book out, one entitled, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West. Following is the National Catholic Reporter’s June 13 review of this book. Enjoy.


The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West offers valuable historical background for the ongoing debate about women’s ordination. Theologian and historian Gary Macy documents and explains references to the ordination of women that exist in papal and church documents in the first millennium of Christianity.

As a radical church reform that occurred during the 11th and 12th centuries took hold, it changed the concept of ordination, leaving women behind. But prior to that, sufficient evidence exists to warrant the claim that women were considered to be ordained ministers in the Western church.

Macy writes that women were not ordained as ordination would come to be understood from the 12th century on, “that is, as receiving a personal irrevocable power to serve at the altar.” Rather, he writes, “They were commissioned for particular roles in particular communities.” The important point to be made, however, is that so were men.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of Which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Responding to Excommunication
The Discussion Continues
Crisis? What Crisis?
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code

Recommended Off-site Links:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests
Women’s Ordination Conference

Recommended Blogs:
God is Not 3 Guys
Bridget Mary’s Blog

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