Pleroma, priesthood, and abortion
Frans Wouters, after Sir Peter Paul Rubens, "The Sacrifice of the Old Covenant," oil on oak panel.
It is interesting where one's wanderings in the Steppes of Cyberia can take one! From following links on Holy Tradition and the priesthood, I found myself struck by a passage which speaks to one of the great issues – and traditional / orthodox Christians would assert, evils – of our time: abortion. This, even though abortion is not mentioned in this context.
In her essay, "What is Holy Tradition?" in her blog, Just Genesis, anthropologist, scholar, and former Episcopal priest (one uses that word with caution, and she herself has rejected it, when applied to women) Alice Lindsey writes (this is long, but please bear with me – it's important to set the context),
"The whole fabric of Holy Tradition is one with the Pleromic Blood of Jesus Christ. No where is this more evident than in the institution of the priesthood which is essentially the Messiah Priesthood. The Messianic Priesthood is unlike any other religious institution. It at once makes distinctions in its binary character and brings unity through its power to redeem and cleanse. It makes distinction between God and humanity and it makes distinction between male and female. The distinction in both cases addresses the primeval universal anxiety toward blood, an anxiety which many cultural anthropologists have observed.
"Underlying the priesthood is the belief that humans must give an accounting to God, especially for the shedding of blood. The priesthood is intrinsically linked to blood. The priest is the functionary who addresses the guilt and dread that accompany the shedding of blood.
"There are two types of blood anxiety: blood shed by killing and blood related to menstruation and birthing. To archaic peoples both types were regarded as powerful and potentially dangerous, requiring priestly ministry to deal with bloodguilt through animal sacrifice and to deal with blood contamination through purification rites.
"Not a single female in the Bible served in a priestly role. We can argue a case for women deacons, but the deacon is not intrinsically linked to blood. Despite the efforts of many to create an egalitarian reality, we find no basis in Tradition or Scripture upon which to argue for women priests. The Bible does not say that women can be priests because the binary distinctions that frame the biblical worldview make “woman priest" ontologically impossible.
"The Scriptures do not forbid women priests because the very idea of women sacrificing animals in the Temple was beyond imagination. It would have been regarded as an affront to the Divine order.
"It was a bloody business when a priest sacrificed a lamb, so much so that the carcasses were burned outside the walls. It was a bloody business giving birth to children, so much so that the birthing hut was set outside the community. In the ancient... worldview from which Holy Tradition emerges, the two bloods were ordained for different purposes and could never share the same space. C.S. Lewis presents the grotesqueness of women priests in his depiction of the savage slaying of Aslan by the White Witch. If you wonder why the image is so troubling, consider that woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it" [emphasis added].
"If you wonder why the image is so troubling, consider that woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it."
That is it in a nutshell, I think. Why is abortion so abhorrent to many of us? Why is it so troubling, even to people who support it, that they have to build defenses around their belief that it's really okay, after all – defenses like "reproductive rights," and "my body, my choice" – or conversely, "I had to do it, I had no choice"?
To those outside the pro-abortion movement, those have a hollow, desperate sound: abortion is the antithesis of reproduction; I have already discussed how there is more than just the woman's body to consider; and there are always choices. They sound like justifications, rationalizations, after the fact – and they are.
Woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it.
This is why abortion is not only wrong, or sad, or "a shame," but – on a visceral, and even metaphysical, level – abhorrent and evil: because it goes against the very nature and purpose of womanhood as such. Woman alone can conceive a child, bear it in her womb as it develops, and bring it forth to life.
Men cannot do this thing; only women can. Therefore childbirth (and I know individual women have other marvelous abilities, and I also know that some women for a variety of reasons simply cannot have children; but we are talking on an ontological level, here – the level of beingness) is of the essence of woman, in a way it is not and cannot be of men, obviously, or even of humanity as a whole.
Woman was made to bring forth life.
Those women who elect to have an abortion (elective abortions being defined as those that are not medically necessary to save the life of the mother, the latter of which is a very small percentage of all abortions, on the order of 1% or less) – whatever struggles and psycho-emotional agony they may have gone through to reach that point, and I do not wish to minimize the very real struggles of many women, who may feel themselves pressured toward abortion by circumstance, by society, or by their "significant other" – are in a very real sense rejecting the most defining characteristic of womanhood itself, the ability to bear a child and give birth to him or her.
In effect, by her decision and action, the woman who chooses abortion – although it is the abortionist who actually does the deed – is choosing (by Lindsey's categories, above) to function in the role of priest... but of a priest of Moloch, the biblical Phoenician deity who demanded child-sacrifice.
This is not only an individual act of violence and cruelty against the most innocent and defenseless among us, but – on a metaphysical level – it is an inversion of, and offense against, the cosmic order itself, and thereby an offense against the God who created that order (and who also taught us, "thou shalt not kill," and "love thy neighbor as thyself").
No wonder it is greeted with unease, at best, and often (and rightly) abhorrence, by many – frequently including the woman herself!
When a woman, whose natural role (inter alia, but also preeminently, since she alone can do this) is to bring forth life, chooses instead to kill it, not only is her own world turned upside down, but so, metaphysically, is the cosmic order itself. Is it any wonder, then, that a culture and society which not only accepts, but is expected to "affirm" and even "celebrate" such actions (638,169 in 2015, and nearly 45.7 million between 1970 and 2015, per the CDC), also seems topsy-turvy?
On a metaphysical level, as well as a socio-cultural one, it is!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
— Rudyard Kipling, "Recessional" (1897)