Friday, April 1, 2016

Dr Aidan Nichols OP reviews Geoffrey Kirk's new book

Back in February I shared with readers of this blog the news that Dr Geoffrey Kirk had published WITHOUT PRECEDENT, an examination of claims often made that scripture and tradition allow (and even require) the ordination of women. It is a great read, and is especially valuable for younger people who were not around during the theological and synodical debates. The April 2016 edition of THE PORTAL (the monthly magazine of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham) contains this high praise from Dr Aidan Nichols OP:

Those who have heard Geoffrey Kirk in the flesh will know what to expect from any book coming from his hand: wit, incisiveness, and a powerful passion for the truth. Without Precedent fulfils all these expectations. 

It is very much an historian’s book. In retrospect, the reader can see that the title tells us as much. Its topic is the deafening silence of tradition on the subject of the ministerial priesthood of women – beginning with the silence of the Lord himself. Trying to locate precedents in the first millennium for the ordination of women turns out to be a triumph of hope over historical reality. And that is so whether the hope in question be vested in St Paul’s co-worker Junia (or is it really ‘Junias’?) or in Mary Magdalene (dubbed ‘apostle to the apostles’), or a daub in the catacombs that might or might not be a presiding presbyter at the Holy Mysteries. Indeed, if the wouldbe innovator is truly desperate, recourse may even be had to that hoary old chestnut Pope Joan.

As Rowan Williams declares approvingly on the book’s back cover, Without Precedent ‘quite rightly punctures some awful historical nonsense’. Incidentally, eliciting that particular commendation was quite a coup for the author. But then the former archbishop is always scrupulously fair.

Geoffrey Kirk’s elegant demolitions of these historical fantasies are based, as Williams clearly recognises, on sound scholarship. But they are not for that reason as dull as ditchwater or, in Ruskin’s phrase, as dead as leaves in November. Far from it! The five historical chapters are a very good read.

I said that Without Precedent is an historian’s book, and so it is. But it is also a judicious and convincing essay from a theologian in the tradition – I would suggest – of Austin Farrer, who is mentioned more than once in these pages. Like Farrer, Geoffrey Kirk combines two things that are rarely found together. The first is a careful attention to the exegetical ‘nittygritty’, something any close reading of the Bible will always require. The second is a poet’s respect for the symbolic vehicle in which the divine revelation carried by the Scriptures actually reaches us. The texts of the New Testament, for Geoffrey Kirk, do not enable us to assert that the Jesus of history was an advocate of women’s liberation – though equally, they do not warrant us in denying it. That is one major claim of this book, and in making it the author delights in dissipating the fog of political correctness that so often surrounds this subject. But a second claim follows on quickly enough. The New Testament revelation is a revelation in images, and those images speak with force and clarity about the essential message given to the Church. They tell of a Father’s Son who in the manner of a priestking was incarnate for us, fulfilling his kingship and priesthood on the Cross and in its sequel, the entry into the heavenly Sanctuary. Respect for revelation, not misogyny, requires the Lord’s ministerial icons to be congruent with his own masculine form.

Geoffrey Kirk protests he has only stepped in because those better qualified than he to address the arguments have feared to tread. This modesty becomes him, but it will not deceive his readers.

Those who took part with him in the struggle in the Church of England which led to the ordaining of women as priests and bishops – and, of course, to the inauguration of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – will find in the Conclusion to this book his mature reflections on what was done and suffered then.

Geoffrey Kirk, 
Without Precedent
Scripture, Tradition, and the Ordination of Women, 
published by Wipf and Stock at Eugene, Oregon, 2016
ISBN Hardback: 978 1 4982 3083 4 £26.00
ISBN Paperback 978 14982 3081 0 £15.00
There is a Kindle edition. £7.20
The above prices from Amazon.
Forward in Faith are adverstising it at £12 (p/b) including p&p!


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