A 2nd Cent. Queer Hymn of Praise: “The father who was milked”


Wall painting from a Syrian house church, showing the healing of the paralysed man.

Sometimes, I come across an idea or image that is so remarkable, so fresh and new (to me) that it just has to be shared.  This one is hardly new (it dates back to the late second century), but it is startlingly fresh, remarkable and new – to me.

I have been trying to research a number of themes from the history of the early church.  While reading Ivor Davidson’s “The Birth of the Church:  From Jesus to Constantine AD 30 -312”, I came across a passage which had nothing to do with the subject(s) I was investigating, but which I want to spread.

The context is a Chapter on Christian worship.  After some discussion of the regular practice of community Eucharist on Sunday morning and Agape (“love feast”) on Sunday evening, he goes on to discuss the practice of regular fasting, prayer and praise. Services of “praise” incorporated psalms and hymns of praise into other Bible readings, as in the Divine Office.  Davidson then goes on to refer to a less familiar from of praise for worship, lost for centuries and rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th Century. Originating in the church of Eastern Syria, these are Gnostic in flavour, but probably orthodox in origin. The hymn quoted, Ode 19 of the “Odes of Solomon”, introduces an exaltation on the original conception.  Davidson says the odes contain some “striking” language.  The imagery of the Trinity as presented here, in its description of the conception of the Son, is not just “striking”:  it slams one across the face with a force sufficient to shake up one’s brain, and with it all  preconceived ideas of Trinity, and also of God and gender.

I present it here without comment:  see what you think.

A cup of milk was offered to me,
and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
The Son is the cup,
and the father is he who was milked;
and the Holy Spirit is she who milked him;
Because his breasts were full,
and it was undesirable that his milk should be released without purpose.

The Holy Spirit opened her bosom,
and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father, ……

The womb of the Virgin took [it],
and she received conception and gave birth.

How’s that for a new idea?

Read the full, text, and other Odes translated by James Chattlesworth, here.

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The Bishops of Rome *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Women Ordained Catholic Priests?

At The Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has reported on the latest in a series of ordinations of  women as Catholic priests:

“Yesterday in Minneapolis, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement hosted its Sixth Midwest Region Ordination – an event that drew over 500 people to witness the ordination of one woman to the deaconate, and three women to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Womenpriests

Now, I have no intention of repeating Michael’s story:  there is no need, when he does such a good job himself.  Cross over to the Wild Reed and get the full story there.  Then, in the days ahead, read the follow up series which he has promised will be forthcoming at the Progressive Catholic Voice.

But this story resonates with two themes that I have returned to repeatedly on this site, and it is these that Iwant to pick up on here.

On the issue of womenpriests itself, personally I am ambivalent.  I support the principle, and respect the calling in conscience, but am unsure about the validity and strategy employed.  Here is a comment from Thom, and my reply, the last time I wrote about womenpriest ordination. (The “vid”  Thom refers to was an extract from a previous ordination service, taken from the womenpriest website):

Other issues aside, I’m not sure what she’s saying in that first vid, but it isn’t a Mass. No one- menpriests nor womenpriests- have the authority to tailor the liturgy at will. The sacrament and prayer that unites us all, male and female, is universal.

And what is the purpose of the priesthood if everyone gathered may consecrate the Body and Blood? Why seek Holy Orders at all?

I don’t get it. At all.

And my response:

I agree Thom, that the liturgy needs to be treated with respect. Personally, I am deeply conflicted on this. BUT my experience and belief is that when authority attempts to impose excessive restrictions by compulsion, it loses respect and then loses all control.

To maintain a semblance of order, the Church should be stimulating proper and reasoned debate, not simply stifling all dissent.

This is exactly what I was referring to yesterday, writing about sexual theology, when I noted that if authority tries to enforce regulations that lack popular support, people end up simply ignoring the rules:  first the small ones, as with masturbattion and contraception, then the big ones – as with women’s ordination.  Eventually, the very notion of law and rules come into disrespect, and the power in question simply loses all authority (which is an important part of the end of apartheid in South Africa).

“Today, as we ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood, Roman Catholic Womenpriests Midwest region, we stand in union with you, the People of God, as our public liturgy re-dresses an injustice in the Roman Catholic Church that continues to deny ordination to women. We commit ourselves in an act of prophetic obedience that listens to the Spirit from our hearts, that listens to the signs of the times, and that listens in community where the Spirit moves and awakens us to new levels of awareness.” (my emphasis).

This is just one example among many, but one the more dramatic, of honest and sincere people acting in clear conscientious dissent from Vatican orthodoxy.  Until the hierarchy changes its approach to dealing with disagreement, there will be many more.

The second theme I want to pick up on here is the abuse of history.  Consider this, from the accompanying booklet:

“We stand, too, as women and men of the long view. Historical and archaeological evidence reveals that women served as deacons, priests, and bishops from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD: Deacons Phoebe, Sophia, and Maria; Priests Leta and Vitalia; and Bishops Theodora and Alexandra.” (my emphasis).

Did you know about Bishops Theodora and Alexandra?  Or the priests Leta and Vitalia? or the women deacons?  Well, did you?

Nope, me neither.

But then, before I read John Boswell, Alan Bray, Mark D Jordan and others, I also did not know about Bishop Paulinus of Nola who wrote erotic love poems to his boyfriend, but was still recognised as a saint; or of Bishop Ralph of Orleans, boyfriend of the Archbishop of of Tours, and of other bishops and the king, who was consecrated in 1098 over strong objections- made on the grounds of his youth, not his sexuality;  nor that the first generally accepted church condemnation of homosexuality did not come until the 3rd Lateran Council;  nor that for many centuries, the Church in both East and West had rites to bless liturgically same sex relationships, and buried many such couples in shared graves, with monuments and memorials inside churches which strongly resemble those of married couples;  nor……

But you get the picture.  For all that the Vatican likes to proclaim that the church has “always” and “unanimously” objected to same sex relationships, the evidence from secular scholars flatly contradicts this. As gay men & lesbians, the official church historians have simply airbrushed us out of their versions of history.

I have no independent knowledge of Bishops Theodora and Alexandra, or the priests Leta and Vitalia.  But I am satisfied that there is a lost history of women in the early church, just as there is for gay men. All educated, thinking Catholics should be at least considering and exploring the implications of these histories.  In this, we depend on the evidence of secular historians, such as Boswell and Brooten. We certainly cannot rely on Vatican officials to supply a reliable history.

Books:

Macy, Gary:  The Hidden History of Womens Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West
Kramer & D’Angelo: Women & Christian Origins
Madigan & Osiek: Ordained Women in the Early Church
Bernadette Brooten: Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism


Womenpriests’ website
Womenpriests’ photogallery

Wild Reed: Revealing a Hidden History
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit

Queering the Church:  God’s Tricksters, Prophetic Vision and Justice in the Church

Huffington Post: Roman Catholic Women Priests Growing in Numbers (June 2009)