Acting Theologically

In considering the question of women’s ordination, I’ve been struck by the inadequacy of most justifications for both the pro and anti ordination positions. It seems that most of the “pro” arguments make the mistake of assuming that an exclusively male priesthood is intrinsically unjust, while most of the “anti” arguments make the mistake of assuming that bride/bridegroom/etc. metaphors necessarily imply their literal embodiment. (Yes, the incarnational principle applies, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that little boys should be dressed up like brides for their first communion because they are the “bride of Christ.”) However, while mulling all this over, I came upon a thought which I’d never seen articulated elsewhere before: a theology of acting. (Perhaps because I haven’t been looking in the right places.)

In this case, I do mean acting in the sense of stage acting rather than the broader sense of taking action.

I think it may not be entirely coincidental that the technical name for the priest’s actions in administering the sacraments is acting in persona Christi, or “in the person of Christ.” Persona doesn’t just mean “person” in the modern sense. It also means “mask” &mdash a mask of the sort that one wears in a play. The priest, therefore is “acting” as Christ.

For a young man to act the part of Joan of Arc would be quite jarring. Why? Because though sex does not determine identity, identity does include one’s sex. To watch the young man act the part of Joan of Arc, necessarily involves the audience in actively reconstructing his identity as Joan, whereas watching a young woman act the part does not.

But, someone might say, what of Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy (in which the actual mask was used)? These stages had only one sex on stage, and yet they acted both sexes. After all, it was a young man who originally played Juliet.

Certainly, this is true. My suggestion, though, is that we probably shouldn’t be looking to imitate the practices of Greek and Shakespearean acting, especially since they both seem to have had this practice largely as a result of cultural misogyny.

But it would seem that introducing women’s ordination would have to presume at least some degree of cultural misandrony. Of course, maybe I’m wrong. 🙂

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About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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