Bishop A. Bilindabagabo Elected as President of the Council of Protestant Churches of Rwanda

News from Rwanda follows:

A Press Release from The East Africa Revival Network

Gahini, Rwanda



Dec. 26, 2011

This month Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo was elected to succeed Dr. Onesphore Rwaje (Archbishop of PEAR) as President of The Council of Protestant Churches of Rwanda (CPR – French Acronym).

The Council of Protestant Churches of Rwanda is a fellowship of 23 Protestant Churches and Christian Organizations. The CPR was created in November 1962 to create a forum promoting unity and cooperation among the Protestant Churches of Rwanda.  The CPR has worked tirelessly to promote healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation among all Rwandan following the genocide of 1994. The CPR is noted and respected by both Church and Government leaders for its transparency, unity, and harmonious operations and for promoting the same across all denominations and Christian organizations.

Among the Members Churches and Organizations of the CPR are:

The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda

PEAR – Province Episcopal Au Rwanda

The Association of Baptist Churches of Rwanda

The Lutheran Church of Rwanda

The Nazarene Church of Rwanda

The Brethren Church of Rwanda

The Free Methodist Church of Rwanda

Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda (ADEPR)

African Evangelistic Enterprise

African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM)

The Seventh Day Adventist Church of Rwanda

Youth for Christ Rwanda

The CPR provides a forum for resolving conflicts and misunderstandings in and among churches, promotes and provided initiatives for many social development programs, provides leadership and resources for trauma counseling and other ministries to help the country recover and reconcile from the genocide. The nation of Rwanda is grateful for all of the help and support she has received from nations, organizations, and agencies around the world. However, the goal of President Kagame and the Rwandan people is to be a nation that eventually needs no assistance, but, rather provides help and assistance to others. The CPR has a strong emphasis in guiding the Protestant Churches in Rwanda towards financial autonomy and sustainability.

Bishop Alexis is well suited to continue to help toward these goals as he follows Abp. Rwaje in this leadership role. Bishop Alexis is a genocide survivor who served the church in Rwanda during that sad period. He saw and experienced firsthand the sorrow and tragedy visited upon many lives firsthand. Immediately following the cessation of hostilities the Bishop was involved in forming the Barakabaho Foundation. For more than sixteen years that organization has provided sustenance, education, and other kinds of care for thousands of children orphaned by the war. Barakabaho means, “let them live”.

Bishop Alexis is a man who cares for his nation and for people. This concern, taken to God in prayer, often results in visionary initiatives. Two years before the genocide Bishop Alexis and his wife Dr. Grace started an organization called The Christian Movement for Evangelization, Counseling, and Reconciliation. This NGO continues its valuable contribution to Rwandan society up to this day. Through MOUCECOR (French acronym) trauma counseling, practical care for widows, vocational training, and other programs and resources, coordinated with international organizations, provide help for thousands of persons at risk.

In response to the aggressive Islamization of the African continent Bishop Alexis, together with other Christian leaders, has helped to launch two initiatives (APRID and the East Africa Revival Network) to reach out to Muslims and to equip the Church in East Africa to increase its understanding of the situation and to respond in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in regions at risk.

Bishop Alexis assists Archbishop Rwaje as the Dean of the Province Episcopal au Rwanda (PEAR). This position is conferred upon the longest serving bishop in the Rwandan House of Bishops.

The Bishop’s past experience should equip him to do well as President a diverse group of Churches and leaders like CPR. Bishop Alexis has been the Bishop of Gahini Diocese in the far east of Rwanda since the genocide. The new diocese was formed in this war-ravaged area under his leadership. His national and regional work and involvements have not detracted from his intense interest in providing pastoral care, leadership training, evangelism, church planting, and the development of social and agricultural projects in his own diocese. Under his leadership the formation of the newly created diocese has grown to several hundred churches that are sending missionaries into neighboring Tanzania.

Predestination, Policy and Polemic

I have just finished reading Peter White’s book, Predestination, Policy and Polemic, Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War. It is a masterful summary of the topic throughout a varied landscape of Church politics, belief systems, and changing theologies.

…the model of a theological dichotomy between ‘Calvinism’ and ‘Arminianism’ is simply inadequate for understanding either the overall development of doctrine in the Reformation period, or of personal allegiances within it. This is by no means to deny the existence of polarities, but rather to suggest that they were concurrent and evolutionary rather than abruptly linear, that there was development within a continuing spectrum, a development to which theologians of contrasting churchmanship contributed, in spite of their indulgence from time to time in the language of polemic against each other.

White gives us an interesting quote from Arminius himself on his view of Calvin:

…after the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other (as the whole Academy, yea the conscience of my colleagues will testify) I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read, whom I extol in higher terms than Helmichius himself, as he owned to me, ever did. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above all others, above most, yea above all. His Institutes, so far as respects Commonplaces, I give out to be read after the Catechism, as a more extended explanation. But here I add – with , as the writing of all men ought to be read.

Bishop John Hooper summarized early Anglican beliefs on the subject by saying:

It is not a christian man’s part to attribute his salvation to his own free-will, with the Pelagian, and extenuate original sin; nor to make God the author of ill and our damnation, with the Manichee; nor yet to say, God hath written fatal laws, as the Stoic, and with necessity of destiny violently pulleth one by the hair into heaven, and thrusteth the other headlong into hell.

Bishop Latimer outlined what was to become a common theme within Anglicanism regarding predestination – that discussing the subject outside learned circles would only produce chaos and division:

Latimer warned his hearers not to trouble themselves with ‘curious questions of the predestination of God’. In particular, he condemned a ‘lewd opinion of predestination’ based on Acts xiii (‘as many as were ordained to life everlasting believed’) that ‘therefore it is no matter whatsoever we do; for if we be chosen to everlasting life, we shall have it’.

The common target in injunctions like Latimer’s is antinomianism, which was a very legitimate problem in the Church (and still is). White’s book traces the influences of Bucer and Peter Martyr on the emerging Anglican consensus:

Although Bucer and Martyr have much in common which provides an obvious contrast with Hooper and Latimer, there were significant differences between them. There was a spectrum of opinion on the doctrine of predestination in the Edwardian Church which cannot be neatly categorized into indigenous and continental, or ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Lutheran’ influences.

White discusses the view of Cranmer and the early divines as expressed in the Articles of Religion and the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum on the subjects of free will and grace. White says that “There is compelling evidence of a consensus among Edwardian Protestants that divine grace may be spurned and rejected, that it is not irresistible; human free will must play its part, first to accept or reject, to obey or not to obey, and having obeyed, then to co-operate. The concern of the Reformatio was to refute those who placed such confidence in human free will that they believed that ‘by it alone, without any special grace of Christ’, man could live uprightly.” This view was in synch with that of Erasmus, and indeed his Paraphrases were ordered by the King to be “provided in every parish.”

White discusses John Jewel and highlights his belief that Christ died for all men. White says:

The reprobate for Jewel are those ‘who have refused the word of reconciliation’, for ‘though God be patient and long-suffering, because he would have all men come to repentance; yet, in whom his mercy taketh no place to work their amendment, upon them  he poureth out his wrath and indignation to the utmost’.

White’s contention throughout is that the early Anglicans represented an early Reformed consensus that was not equal to later hardening of doctrine (double decrees, one to life, one to damnation) on the part of Beza and others who responded to Arminius. When various factions would veer, some to the side of totalizing free will, others to the side of a decree to damnation from before the world’s creation, the Crown and Bishops would reel them in to the teaching of the Articles or Religion, which are essentially a Bucerian, early Reformed consensus. Davenant again reflects this consensus in a letter he prepared at the Synod of Dort:

…we do hold that our blessed Saviour by God’s appointment did offer himself up to the Blessed Trinity for the redemption of mankind, and by this oblation once made, did found, confirm and ratify the Evangelical Covenant, which may and ought seriously to be preached to all mankind without exception…consequently we hold, that the whole merit of Christ is not confined to the Elect only, as some here do hold…

I will not weary you with the writings of Richard Hooker, King James I and others. White is very exhaustive in covering this ground, and unless you are into Anglican history, this book may weary you with several very obtuse points of doctrine finely argued. One common refrain throughout the book is the ultimate inability to know with finality about the doctrines discussed. Many of the best divines offered up an argument, but rested on the fact that they could not know. Bishop Laud put it this way: “somewhat about these controversies is unmasterable in this life.”

The Anti-Liturgical Oxford Movement

Writing about John Mason Neale, James Jordan says:

While like all of us I appreciate Neale’s contributions to our hymnody, I think the Oxford movement was more anti-liturgical than liturgical, because it was not oriented toward the congregation. In short, it did not arise from the Bible but from romanticism. To my mind the parallels have always been quite superficial.

There are plenty of folks today who want “liturgy,” but it’s all what feels good to them…Whatever WE are, it’s Biblical…High Church Puritan…

Anyone who reads Jordan and Leithart knows they are deeply concerned with liturgy and liturgical reform, but the refreshing thing in their case is that they are constantly engaging the text of the Scripture in order to do so, not just venerating this or that stream of liturgical history. Many, many people who embrace liturgy do so with no general concept of Scriptural guidance for our actions in the Church. Often, they look to history alone, or a love of beauty that leads down all kinds of paths. For what it’s worth, Jordan critiques Anglicanism here.

We cannot repristinate the past. While the move towards liturgy is generally good given the current dreadful environment in most churches, that move should be accompanied by a constant engagement with Scripture.

N.T. Wright Reviews Pope Benedict

Wright reviews Pope Benedict’s JESUS OF NAZARETH Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection here. Excerpts follow:

Benedict’s venture has already been dismissed by many (including Casey) on the grounds that it treats the four canonical gospels as more or less straightforwardly “true”, whereas the entire modernist “quest for the historical Jesus” has wrestled with the challenges posed by H. S. Reimarus in the eighteenth century and a multitude ever since. The attempt to place Jesus historically (or the assumption of a particular answer to that question) has been a significant element within European and American modernism. But you would hardly know that from the Pope’s books, which proceed (as he says) more after the manner of Thomas Aquinas’s “theological treatise on the mysteries of the life of Jesus”. Reading Benedict feels more like being on retreat, pondering ancient and subtle wisdom, than attending a seminar to struggle with questions of history.

Yet he has not simply ignored history. He has read the great German exegetes of the past generation, Protestant as well as Catholic, and draws on them for particular points even though the format of his work does not make for detailed discussion. He denies the suggestion that he is producing a “Christology from above” (in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse) by arguing that scholarly exegesis of the New Testament “must see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character”, forswearing popular but shallow positivism and combining a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic” so as “to form a methodological whole”.

The Pope suggests that this is a step forwards. Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place. The parallels between this approach and the stance that the Church is perceived to take on some other issues will, naturally, raise eyebrows. The business of whether theology and history can actually meet without a serious explosion is of course a question which, in one form or another (whether through debates on science and religion, or on faith and politics), has stood behind a good deal of intellectual conflict in the West over the past two centuries. Many will take more convincing than is provided in Jesus of Nazareth before they will readily accept such a marriage.

Benedict’s book, for all that, is full of surprises. There is a welcome emphasis on the rootedness of Jesus and his followers in Israel’s Scriptures, something which older exegesis, both Protestant and Catholic, often passed over. The heart of the volume is an exposition of Jesus’s vocational understanding of his own death in terms of the Psalms and Isaiah, particularly the “servant songs” of Isaiah 42–53, leading to a clear statement of the cross as the moment of vicarious, substitutionary atonement. This, Benedict writes, “constitutes the most profound content of Jesus’ mission”. This is not a view that Protestants normally expect popes to hold. Some Roman theologians, I suspect, will be surprised as well.

There are plenty of details to keep the reader alert. Benedict’s own tradition shows through here and there, for instance on Mary. It is fascinating to watch him treading carefully through minefields: “the Jews” who demand Jesus’s death are not the nation as a whole, but only the Temple hierarchy on the one hand, and the supporters of Barabbas on the other. And the historical detail sometimes needs attention: first-century Jewish corpses were anointed for burial not (as Benedict suggests) to keep corruption at bay, but in order to offset the stench of decomposition as more bodies were placed in the same cave-tomb before secondary burial of the fleshless bones.

Two major linked emphases indicate the underlying strength and weakness of this book. First, Benedict stresses that Jesus believed he was constituting himself and his followers as, in some sense, a new Temple. This, I believe, is historically correct, and is near the heart of the Christology of all four gospels. But, second, Benedict insists that, with this, Jesus “achieved a separation of the religious from the political, thereby changing the world”. This, he says, “is what truly marks the essence of his new path”. Jesus “had inaugurated a non-political Messianic kingdom”. The cross indicates a radical stripping away of all power. This results in “the new community”, which Benedict describes as “the new manner of God’s dominion in the world”.

The problem with this is that the Jesus of the gospels (which, on Benedict’s principles, ought to be determinative) insisted that through his own work, Israel’s God was becoming King “on earth as in heaven”. The Pope’s proposed disjunction (reflecting, perhaps, a measure of penitence for earlier ecclesial power politics?) plays into that modernist split-level world which Benedict’s whole project is designed to outflank. The integration of history and theology that the Pope is proposing at the level of exegetical method stands in tension with the separation of politics and religion he is endorsing at the level of meaning.

Benedict offers, inevitably, an exegesis of the gospel passages that deal with Daniel 7, and the strange prophecy of “one like a son of man” who “comes on the clouds of heaven”. He takes the normal view, that these passages are predicting the “second coming”.

CANA Continues

Lost in the AMiA kerfuffle has been the CANA story. If you think back to the first AnglicanTV episode with tidings from Pawley’s Island, you’ll remember that there was also a story about CANA creating a new diocese in America geared towards Nigerians. This was met by mutual statements of support from ACNA and Bishop Dobbs (a man that I respect a great deal).
In my view, the problem is not so much the creation of a new diocese, but rather the continued existence of CANA. CANA issued a pastoral statement yesterday, saying in part:

The bishops rejoiced in the recent creation of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic where many clergy and congregations continue in their relationship with CANA. While acknowledging that the concept of ‘dual citizenship’ continues to raise some questions we heard a number of testimonies from those who have embraced this gracious provision and celebrate this opportunity for a direct connection to the Anglican Communion through the Church of Nigeria. We believe that this can only strengthen the ongoing work of ACNA in its determination to demonstrate the transforming love of Jesus Christ throughout North America.

Yes, this concept does raise some questions, such as, what is the end game? I can understand why groups with theological qualms might hesitate to jump into ACNA with both feet. The REC seems to be sticking only one foot in the water, for example. But as far as I can tell, there is no discernable theological difference between ACNA and CANA. Further, there is not a difference in praxis. Both ordain women, both do not seem to be particularly affectionate for the Prayer Book in their worship and so forth. So why the separation? And what event or series of events will signal to CANA bishops that their structure can come to an end? The pressure should be on Bishop Minns and the other CANA bishops to answer these questions clearly.
I must say as an observer of the Anglican scene in North America that the lack of transparency from all parties does not engender trust. Statements from bishops seem to assume knowledge that does not exist. ACNA has not revealed its “Theological Lens” document, CANA has not revealed why it keeps a separate identity, and the issue of women’s ordination is as clear as mud. For there to be unity, these discussions should be had in the open, not revealed to the masses when the bishops feel that it’s safe. Perhaps an unfortunate legacy of the Episcopal Church is this tendency to do things quietly behind closed doors and only reveal a matter when it has been decided. CANA should lead the change here by openly stating why they continue to exist, and what would allow them to cease existing.

Historical Anglicanism on the Councils

Here is the text proposed by Cranmer et al in the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum on church councils:

1.14 What is to be thought about councils.

Although we freely grant great honour to the councils, and especially to the ecumenical ones, yet we judge that all of them must be placed far below the dignity of the canonical Scriptures, and even among the councils themselves we make a huge distinction. For some of them, such as the special four, Nicaea, the first of Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon, we embrace and accept with great reverence. And we make the same judgment with regard to many others which were held later on, in which we see and confess that the most holy fathers determined many things, in a most serious and holy manner, concerning the blessed and highest Trinity, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind procured by him. But we do not regard them as binding on our faith except in so far as they can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures. For it is most obvious clear that some councils have occasionally erred, and defined things which are contrary to each other, partly in [our legal] actions and partly even in faith. Therefore the councils are to be studied with honour and Christian reverence, but at the same time they are to be tested against the godly, certain and right rule of the Scriptures.

Women’s Ordination

Lots of pixels are being spilled lately about women’s ordination, an issue of much relevance to the Anglican Communion. Lue-Yee Tsang asks about a Chalcedonian canon here, Alastair Roberts goes in depth here, here and here, and Matt Colvin discusses Junia here.

Interestingly, the Times Literary Supplement has also had a back and forth going on over the subject, originating in the September 23 review of Gary Macy’s book The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination. The review was written by Bernard Hamilton and says:

In this study of the status of women in the Western Church in the period c.400-1200, Gary Macy pays special attention to three groups: the episcopae or episcopiae, the presbyterae and the deaconesses.

There are only two secure references to episcopae (the female form of episcopus/bishop): a tomb inscription dating from c.300-600 commemorates “the venerable woman, episcopa Q”; Canon 14 of the Council of Tours of 567 enacts that “No crowd of women should follow a bishop who does not have an episcopia”; and a mosaic portrait of 817 in the San Zeno chapel at Santa Prassede in Rome is captioned Theodora episcopa, identified in an inscription as the mother of Pope Paschal I (817-24). The status of “Q” and of Theodora remains enigmatic, but Macey argues that the episcopiae mentioned by the Council of Tours were the wives of bishops who, with their husbands, had taken vows of celibacy while continuing to live together. Macey thinks that the same is true of presbyterae (the female form of presbyter): that they were priests’ wives who, with their husbands, had vowed to live together in continence. The evidence about deaconesses is unambiguous. Canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon states: “A deaconess shall not be ordained until she is forty years old. If, having received the laying-on of hands, and having spent some time in her ministry she then marries, scorning the grace of God, she shall be anathematized together with her husband”. Deaconesses had some limited liturgical functions, but their most important work seems to have been to instruct women in the faith.

Macey points out that in the early medieval West, the term ordinare was used in its classical sense, meaning to institute someone in office, and stresses that in some pontificals it was used to designate a wide variety of ministries.

In addition to doorkeepers, lectors, exorcists, acolytes, subdeacons, deacons and priests, all of whom served the altar, emperors and empresses, kings and queens, abbots, abbesses and deaconesses were also described as ordained.

The ministries exercised by ordained women in the early Middle Ages are unlikely to seem very attractive to the modern proponents of women’s ordination, since there is no evidence that any of those women could celebrate the Eucharist or exercise other priestly functions – with one exception. Abbesses, and abbots who were not in priest’s orders, could hear the confessions of members of their communities. This monastic tradition of spiritual direction survived in the Western Church until the twelfth century, when it was assimilated to the sacrament of penance and reserved to priests. Macey argues that although the ministries that ordained women performed were different from those of the clergy who served the altar, deaconesses, abbesses (and, presumably, queens and empresses) enjoyed parity of status with the ordained male clergy.

After c.1050, the papally led reform movement was concerned to enforce clerical celibacy and to suppress simony in order to free the Church from the control of the lay nobility. This affected women because when clerical marriage was made illegal, clergy wives ceased to exist in the Latin Church. Deaconesses, widely regarded as being identical with abbesses, continued to be ordained, until the revival of the study of Aristotelian logic and of canon law in the Western schools led educated churchmen to develop a precise technical vocabulary: one consequence of this was that the term ordinatio became reserved for the clergy who served the altar, while the rites for instituting abbots and abbesses, deaconesses, kings and queens, emperors and empresses were described as blessings (benedictiones).

Macey argues that this change of name was very important, because ordination then ceased to mean institution in office and came to mean the conferring of spiritual powers. I am not convinced that any significant change occurred, since the ordination rituals had always emphasized that powers were granted to the candidates commensurate with their ministries, and those liturgies did not change significantly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Indeed, the form for the blessing of an abbess contained in the Rituale Romanum of Clement VIII (1592-1605) directs that the candidate should kneel before the bishop and say: “I [N], of the monastery of [N], who am about to be ordained abbess [ordinanda abbatissa] promise obedience to … “. The content of that rite had not changed: only its name.

Having restricted the use of the term ordination, theologians stated that women could not be ordained, because they had never held the offices described by the new definition of the word. Gary Macey argues that this ruling reflected the widely held view that women were inferior to men, but although some churchmen did hold that opinion, women did not occupy an inferior position in the Church after 1200.

The exponential growth of the cult of the Virgin Mary during the central Middle Ages, which emphasized that a woman had a central role in the divine economy of grace, had practical consequences, such as the foundation of the Order of Fontevrault, made up of double monasteries of monks and nuns, in which authority was vested in the abbess. Moreover, the church authorities recognized the prophetic office of a number of spiritually gifted women, such as Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schönau, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich, who exercised considerable influence. Although women religious no longer had ordained status, they all continued to enjoy a privileged clerical status: they, together with their often considerable estates, were exempt from secular jurisdiction and subject to the church courts alone.

This review prompted several letters to the editor, first one by Gary Macy himself:

Central to the argument of the book is that the definition of ordination changed radically in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, creating a new church organization centred on the priesthood and its power to consecrate the bread and wine. Before that shift, ordination was, as Hamilton points out, the institution of someone in a particular office, not the granting of a personal power. Ordained ministries other than the priesthood, therefore, could and did celebrate sacramental rites, including the Eucharist. Some of these were women. Professor Hamilton reads the book as if the only group capable of celebrating the Eucharist during this period were priests.

This error results in other misrepresentations.

When Hamilton asserts, “there is no evidence that any of these women could celebrate the Eucharist or exercise other priestly functions – with one exception”, he ignores my lengthy discussion of a number of sources that do claim that women served at the altar. From the fourth to the twelfth centuries, a series of laws forbidding bishops to continue to allow women to serve at the altar, hagiographical stories of abbesses who led liturgies, and survival of communion services performed by women suggest that two groups of women led liturgies: women who served with their husbands in the liturgies, and abbesses who performed sacramental functions for communities and for the surrounding villages. Given this evidence, Hamilton is again incorrect when he states that I argue ” that … the ministries that ordained women performed were different from those of the clergy who served at the altar”. They were often the same.

Hamilton rejects the argument that any substantial change in the role of women took place with the changing definition of ordination. His evidence is that the rituals for abbesses did not change. This example strikes to the heart of the argument of the book: that the change in the definition of ordination would necessarily change the meaning of the ritual even if the words remained the same. As I point out, the ritual for the ordination of a woman deacon or an abbess before the twelfth century was a true ordination to a clerical state that allowed them to exercise sacramental functions. The same ritual by the thirteenth century bestowed no ordination at all and did not give them sacramental functions.

Furthermore, the ordination ritual for women deacons was completely removed from the papal pontifical in the thirteenth century and no longer practised.

Finally, Professor Hamilton asserts that “women did not occupy an inferior position in the church after 1200”. He cites a growing devotion to the Virgin, the influence of certain powerful religious women, and the use of clerical courts by women religious. Again, this ignores significant evidence. By the thirteenth century, for example, in law, the testimony of women was disallowed because of their weak minds. In theology, women’s “matter” was incapable of receiving ordination because they were not the direct images of God that men were. In sum, before the thirteenth century religious women could be, and sometimes were, considered the intellectual, ministerial and legal equals of men partly at least because they could be ordained. That equality was impossible by the thirteenth century.

I should add that Gary Macey did not write this book. Gary Macy did. This may be a small point, but it is indicative of the lack of attention to detail prevalent throughout the review.

This was followed by a letter from John Wijngaards, a noted heterodox teacher on the subject:

Sir, – It would not surprise me if many readers of the TLS are left confused by the discussion between Bernard Hamilton, reviewer of The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, and Gary Macy, its author (Letters, October 21). A wider view might be helpful.

The discussion is not about the East. In the Byzantine Church, part of the Catholic Church until 1054, women were sacramentally ordained deacons, just as the men were. We know the exact ordination rites used. Women deacons instructed catechumens, assisted at baptisms, took communion to the sick, and administered the last rites. Ecclesiastical legislation such as that under Emperor Justinian gave them full clerical status like their male colleagues. Not so in the West.

Apart from some exceptions, massive prejudice based on Roman culture effectively barred women from any ministry. Women could not hold public office. Women were declared intellectually inferior. They were not allowed to enter the sanctuary for fear of polluting its space by menstruation.

They were forbidden to sing in church choirs. These prejudices voiced by the Fathers of the Church and endorsed in local synods entered the Decree of Gratian in 1140 and then became part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici. Until 1916 this Church Law stated that women were not created in the image of God. It also forbade women to touch sacred vessels, read or preach in church or be members of pious associations. To claim that women “did not occupy an inferior position in the Church” as Hamilton does, simply beggars belief.

Gary Macy is a brave man to document the exceptions. Perhaps, here and there, he overstates his case. Evidence seems to indicate, for instance, that the Latin ordination rite for women deacons had already eroded by the eighth century. And abbesses who were ordained Sacerdos Maxima or Sacerdos Magna, while enjoying jurisdiction in the administration of parishes and even in forgiving sins, could not preside over the Eucharist. But that does not disprove the value of his book. While studying women’s involvement in the Western Church, I found that valuable testimonies have often been ignored, dismissed or even maliciously suppressed. The real complex truth needs to be fully uncovered.

And another letter from Bernard Hamilton:

Sir, – I read Gary Macy’s book with great attention, as I would any book which I was reviewing. The conclusions I reached are based on the detailed examples which he cites and I see no reason to modify them. I do not consider that the evidence which Macy produces is strong enough to support the case about the role of women in the early medieval Western Church which he wishes to make. I also consider that his description of the place of women in the Church in the later Middle Ages is highly misleading because it is based on a very selective range of sources.

I do, though, apologize unreservedly to Gary Macy for spelling his name wrongly.

Finally, a letter from R.I. Moore:

Sir, – It’s a bit rich of Bernard Hamilton to accuse Gary Macy of undue selectivity (Letters, October 28). The last paragraph of Hamilton’s review (September 23) offers the foundation of Fontevraud in 1100, housing both women and men, as an example of the improved status he claims the Church offered to women in the high Middle Ages. He might have added that several other of the religious orders that appeared around that time placed men and women on an equal footing, including most spectacularly the Premonstratensians.

But from the 1130s they were the objects of a strong reaction, led by those prominent champions of mariolatry, the Cistercians.

Fontevraud was too well connected to be affected, but elsewhere the women were removed from most of the double houses to ill-endowed “sister” foundations, most of which soon withered away. Many men and women, thinking this contrary to the apostolic ideal of their founders, took voluntarily or involuntarily to the roads, and were from the 1140s demonized as heretics and ruthlessly persecuted. Since theirs are among the valuable testimonies to which John Wijngaards refers that have been “ignored, dismissed or even maliciously suppressed” (Letters, October 28), we know little about them. But there is enough to justify a strong suspicion that they held just the views on women’s capacity to administer the sacraments that Macy suggests, and quite enough to confirm that Macy’s, not Hamilton’s, view of the direction in which the Church’s treatment of women was changing is correct.

Lots to chew on here.