Towards A Rich Sacramental Theology: It Is Time To Abandon Genitalia Theology

By Ikenga Chronicles January 13, 2021

Towards A Rich Sacramental Theology: It Is Time To Abandon Genitalia Theology

— Aihiokhai Simon

A few years ago, I asked a question of my student that allowed him to pause and his entire comfortable theology on the maleness of Jesus was disrupted. Theology must disrupt if systems are to be reimagined. My student was adamant on the fact that Jesus had to be male to bring about our salvation, after all, Pope John Paul II was in favor of this argument. In response, I asked him the following question: Were you saved by the penis of Jesus? He was confused and that did it. That question revealed the absurdity of an anthropology of maleness that many in

Christianity have used to replace the rich understanding of Christology.

The Latin version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed states that “He became human.” It uses the noun, “Homo-hominis” (generic humanity) andf not “Vir- Viri” (genderized man). Yet, many fail to make this distinction and simply interprete hominem to mean man. This mistranslation has defined the view that maleness has a unique and a special role in identifying with Christ as alter Christus (Another Christ).

Pushing this forward, the theology on ministry, especially as it defines the Sacrament of Holy Orders, becomes a theology of the phallus – Penis Theology. Penis Theology can be summarized as such: God made man in a unique way to become God’s epiphany in a manner that a woman cannot. Thus, When God chose to become human, God necessarilly had to become male. With this in mind, only a male can represent in his body the fullness of the ministerial priethood of Christ as an alter Christus. Penis Theology goes further to back up its views by using culture and tradition: If Christ wanted women to be priests, he would have chosen a woman as one of his apostles (Culture argument). The Church does not have a mandate to ordain women because no woman has ever been ordained a priest (Tradition argument).

None of the arguments presented in Penis Theology is completely arcurrate. Christ never ordained anyone. If at all one is to be called an apostle, the person who deserves that title in the order of precedence is not Peter but Mary of Magdala. The Gospels tell us that she was “sent” by the Risen Christ to bear the Kerygma to the other followers of Christ. To be an apostle is to be SENT to bear witness to the Resurrection message – Christ is Risen. This is the climax of the Christan faith; to believe that the Dead Christ is Risen and has overcome death. Mary of Magdala is thus the first of the apostles.

The culture argument has no foundation. Again, Jesus never ordained anyone. Jesus never excluded women from ministry. In fact, women were at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. They were active within the diakonoi ministry within the cycles that Jesus kept. Ministry in the early church developed organically based on the locations of the Christian community. The Church of Rome had several ministries not relevant to the Churches in Syria or even in North Africa or in Abyssinia. Rather than study the evolution of ministries within the early church using sociological skills and tools, many in the church continue to spiritualize the evolution of ministries. Whatever won the day, even though it was politically motivated to exclude women from ministry is sometimes defined to be within the intentional plan of God for pristhood to be male only. This is the argument that Pope Benedict XVI prefers to defend, one I find to be problematic on many levels. Church ministry is not outside of the demands of the socio-cultural context of the faith community. Reading Acts of the Apostles closely, one sees that even the ministry of deacons came out of an unintended necessity, to feed the hungry and care for the sick and homeless. If Mary of Magdala was found worthy to be sent by the Risen Christ to be an Apostle to the apostles, then women have a fundamental role to play as ordained ministers called to fulfill the ministerial duties of the Church. If I may ask those of you who have travelled around, you would notice that the ministries in your parishes are not the same in other parta of the world you have visited. In many parishes today, Greeters are considered to be part of the hospitality ministry. That is not a universal practice. But where they are found, they are a legitimate form of ministry in the churches of those regions. We have to move away from a monolithic understanding of ministry. Ministries are culturally and contextually defined.

It is incorrect to conclude from the argument of tradition that women have never been ordained within the Church. Archeology and history tell us that women were ordained (hands being layed upon them, the Book of Gospels being placed over their heads, symbolic of episcopal ordination). These were not fringe churches that ordained women. Ministry in the Churches of Syria developed differently from those in Rome. To claim that what was happening in Rome was a universal phenomenon is both historically inaccurate and misleadling.

Roman simplicity, along with an unhealthy attitude towards women who were seen as temptresses, eventually led to the exclusion of women from ministry in the Roman ecclessial traditions. For example, the rituals of Baptism no longer needed women deaconesses to administer the Oil of Chrism on the newly baptized when theologically it was okay to use a little dropplet on the head of the baptized rather than rubbing it on their entire body. Women had to go in a culture that did not respect women as equal to men.

Penis Theology is a contradiction to the rich theological anthropology that Christianity advocates. Is our humanity reduced to the penis or is it holistic humanity? Did the Second Person of the Trinity redeem the male penis or redeem our humanity? Was it the male penis that is considered to be united to the Hypostatic Union or the entire humanity that God took upon Godself?

In the article attached to this post, Pope Francis is instituting women into the ministries of Lector and Accolyte. Prior to the Motu Proprio of 1972 by Pope Paul VI, lector and accolyte were considered minor orders with rituals similar to an ordination. They were reserved for the clerical state. The revision of ministries contained in that motu proprio made these no longer orders but ministries. They remained steps that a future priest had to be instituted into. Since they fall within the broader understanding of the Sacrament of Orders, they cannot be repeated once performed. This is different from the extraordinary steps taken by a priest that allows for a parishioner to administer the sacraments during Mass. The institution into such ministries has its own unique rituals and liturgical ceremonies.

It is a good thing that the Bishop of Rome is today moving the Church to a place where women can be celebrated as worthy bearers of Christ’s identity in their bodies through Baptism. What should prevent a woman instituted into the ministries of lectorship and accolyte to become a deaconess? A presbyter? or a bishop? If our understanding of Baptism rejects Penis Theology, then there ought to be nothing preventing women from being ordained into these respective orders of ministry. Penis Theology reduces the complex reality of human relational connection with God to simply the function of a sexual organ. So, when next we are tempted to articulate an exclusivist Christology and theology of ministry by appealing to the maleness of Jesus, let us ask ourselves the unsettling question: Were we saved by the penis of Jesus? God became in Christ – God-Human and not God-penis.  

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