Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The `Aqedah and the male-only priesthood

It seems to me it would have been less appropriate for God to ask Sarah to sacrifice a daughter than to ask Abraham to sacrifice a son. I don't have an argument for this—that's just how it seems to me. But if this is right, then it is not an accident that in the `Aqedah (the binding of Isaac) the two persons involved are male. But the `Aqedah is a foreshadowing of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. While with respect to the Incarnation as such, Christ's maleness might be reasonably argued to be incidental, if my intuition about the `Aqedah is right, then it is plausible that with respect to the sacrifice of Christ, the maleness is not incidental. And if so, then since what is central to the priesthood is the offering, in persona Christi and in an unbloody way, of the one sacrifice of the Cross[note 1], it seems quite appropriate that the priest be male, since he represents one whose maleness is not accidental in this context, and participates in Christ's sacrificial activity to which activity Christ's maleness is not accidental.

Is this sexist? Here is a way of thinking about this. Suppose that part of the reason God asked Abraham to sacrifice a son rather than asking Sarah to sacrifice a daughter had to do with Abraham and Isaac's maleness (leave aside the accidental fact that Sarah perhaps didn't have a daughter, since God could easily have fixed that). Would it follow that God discriminated against Sarah in asking Abraham to make the sacrifice? Surely not: one can at least equally well say that it was Abraham who was discriminated against by being asked to make the sacrifice.[note 2] The restriction of conscription to males does not discriminate against women, but against men, since it is upon men that it imposes a duty that it does not impose on women. Similarly, if God restricted who he requires to become priests to men, it is not obvious that this would be a form of discrimination against women.


Jeremy Pierce said...

I'm in general agreement with this line of thought, but it's going to be harder to run in terms of the marriage relationship. Role distinctions between male and female when it comes to ecclesiastical positions of leadership do amount to giving greater responsibilities to some males. I would argue that the same is true with headship in marriage for those who take that seriously. But it does also involve an obligation for the wife that the husband doesn't have, i.e. submitting to her husband in some sense more than whatever sense in which he submits to her. Does the argument work as well for that?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe. There is also an obligation on the side of the husband not to shirk exercising authority. There are also indications in the epistles that the Christian husband has stronger duties of self-sacrifice.

Jeremy Pierce said...

Yes, I think that's probably right. I do think it will need a little more work to support, though.

European observer said...

Does the restriction of pregnancy to women impose an additional duty without a corresponding right? Apparently it occurred to neither God nor Abraham to make Sarah privy to their dealings, which happened to involve her son. If you think Abraham had an obligation not to shirk from ‘exercising authority’, perhaps you think he had an obligation to act unilaterally. I’m not sure killing a child a woman has given birth to counts as ‘self-sacrifice’ on the part of a man. I don’t know about Sarah but Clytaemnestra never forgave her husband, and that was over a mere daughter.

If this is the deal, perhaps women who wish to rise in the hierarchy of Christian churches or marry Christian men are conflicted masochists, or faith and love are blind. Certainly women seem not to read this blog, or at least not to contribute to discussions here.