Ontology and Sacraments

I’ve been continuing to ponder things sacramental, which is always likely to get me into trouble.  I realised recently that I have been teaching the Orthodox view of ordination all wrong, mixing it in with the Catholic view. In this discovery, I realised that opposition to the ordination of women has a different basis on either side of the Great Schism. From this I realised that there are significantly differing views on the ontology of (at least some of) the sacraments.

No doubt there will be theologians, professional and amateur, most of who would never bother to visit this blog, who would say (if they were to visit it), “Well, duh.” Those would of course be Valley Girl theologians, but there would be other theologians who would have a similar, if less blonde, response, incredulous that I have not already explored this in some depth and embarrassed for me that I even feel the need to write about it and demonstrate my ignorance.

I already knew that Orthodoxy did not subscribe to the Catholic idea of the indelible priestly character. However, I hadn’t thought about the implication of this being that in Orthodoxy a woman may not be a priest, whereas in Catholicism a woman cannot be a priest.

I suppose this is why the idea of deaconesses is considered seriously in some Orthodox circles. If it were demonstated (as some attempt to do) that deaconesses were the female equivalent of deacons at some time in the ancient past, then the precedent has been established in Holy Tradition that could eventually lead to such an equivalency being re-introduced. It seems to follow from this that the only thing preventing women priests in Orthodoxy is that it has never been done that way. Admittedly, this is a pretty high wall when it comes to Orthodoxy.  It does however, remove the ontological impossiblity. (While I have been writing and editing this, there has been a related discussion on Deacon Steve Hayes’ Khanya blog.)

One thing I don’t get is how the Catholic Church only sees three of the sacraments as unrepeatable, viz., Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. I seems to me that Marriage should fit in this category as well. After all, Catholic theology does not recognise remarriage after divorce. Does this not make the sacrament of marriage unrepeatable? It also seems like there should be an indelible married character, that there is an ontological (as opposed to a merely economic) aspect to becoming one flesh.

I don’t know if Orthodoxy considered ordination, not being indelible, to be unrepeatable. Can a laicised Orthodox cleric be re-clericised? I’m sure there is a textbook answer to such a question.

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2 Responses to “Ontology and Sacraments”

  1. Steve Says:

    I haven’t gone into this too deeply, but I suspect that the Orthodox view of ordination is just as ontological, but in a communal rather than an individualistic way. The RC view is based on a “character” that is imparted to the individual. But in Orthodoxy is places the person in a certain relation with others in the church, and if that relationship is broken, the priest, for example, is out of communion. So a priest cannot serve the Divine Litturgy without the antimension, because in serving the Divine Liturgy he represents the bishop, and not some “character” of his own.

  2. Michael Says:

    I’m not in any position to comment on the Orthodox or Catholic positions. Coming from my own Lutheran background, I regard ordination as permanent because of Romans 11:29, “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” I realize that the context of that verse is a different issue, but it would seem that Paul is applying a general principle to that specific case, and I believe the same principle would apply to the gifts and calling of ordination. This principle has been applied in several cases I know of where pastors have left or have been removed from our denominational body’s clergy roster, for discipline or other reasons, but are still considered to be ordained.


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