"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Doesn't everybody know that women were priests?

My post yesterday about Elaine Pagels reminded me of a particularly silly idea that's been going around lately. It's the idea that women in the early Church were priests not just in pagan religions, not just in heretical sects such as the Gnostics and Collyridians, but in the real, honest-to-goodness, orthodox Catholic Church. Scott Carson of An Examined Life has drawn my attention to an NPR story, reported by Sylvia Poggioli, that seems to take that idea as undisputed fact. Now I listen to NPR daily—either The Morning Edition or All Things Considered, depending on when my boss lets me sleep—but missed that one. I'm glad I did: I didn't have my Alka-Seltzer with me.

Scott understandably asks: "Where do they get the morons who write these things, anyway?" The facts cited by the "pilgrims" of FutureChurch in the story have been known for well over a thousand years yet never, until now, have been taken as evidence that women were priests in the Church. But people will prattle on as if such evidence were obvious all along and just covered up by some Vast, Right-Wing Ecclesiastical Conspiracy. William Tighe, Professor of History at Muhlenberg College, has done yeoman work rebutting the latest allegedly scholarly version of this flapdoodle. But Poggioli and the other snake-oil salespeople don't listen because what they believe is obvious to them; it's obvious to them because that's what want to believe; and they want to believe it because so many people with whom they empathize want so badly to believe it. Consequently, they believe that anybody who disagrees with them must be either benighted or in bad faith.

I think we all know that the same sort of self-deception causes many lives and relationships to founder. For years, decades, I badly wanted to be a priest, but refused to admit to myself that I didn't have the vocation. As a result, much that was good in my life was spoiled. I now have more years behind me than ahead of me to make of my life the sort of offering the Lord desires. Sometimes I'm tempted to bitterness, but in my better moments I pray against that and thank God for the gift of love. Let's hope that more women out there don't end up in the same boat I did.
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