Synodalists and their kind attack the Church, Our Lady, the Priesthood and Marriage

Angela Berlis: "Women's priesthood and marriage for all are theologically possible".

The Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Catholic Church share a theological foundation.  (Cathcon:  Christian Catholic is the title of the Old Catholics in Switzerland....the title itself is a sneer at Catholicism)  Nevertheless, the Christian Catholic Church recognises the priesthood of women and marriage for all. A conversation with Angela Berlis about Catholic theology and the question of how tradition and modernity can be united.

Ms Berlis, you were one of the first women priests in the Old Catholic Church. Were there theological debates before the introduction of women's ordination?

Angela Berlis: Of course. The question of women's ordination has been much debated since the mid-1970s. At first, the attitude of the Old Catholic bishops was quite similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

Both churches have the same theological foundation, since the separation only occurred after 1870.

Berlis: Exactly. In 1976, the Old Catholic bishops wrote in a joint declaration that women could not be admitted to the triple office, i.e. the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate. The reason given was: Jesus had called twelve men, and the ordination of women was contrary to tradition.

"After all, the arguments were very similar."

The Roman Catholic Church was dealing with the question at the same time.

Berlis: Yes, there was a much more extensive document, "Inter Insigniores", with similar conclusions. Incidentally, the further discussion in the Christian Catholic Church benefited from the discussions in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. For the arguments were very similar.

And yet the Christian Catholic Church finally came to a different conclusion than the Roman Catholic Church. How did that happen?

Berlis: That has to do with various factors. In the Christian Catholic Church, people considered whether it was a question of faith or a question of discipline.

"The Old Catholic Churches have come to the realisation that the question of women's ordination is not a question of faith."

Where is the difference?

Berlis: A question of faith is on a par with teaching about the Trinity or about the two natures of Jesus Christ. These were questions that ecumenical councils** in the early church settled after very lengthy debates.

And questions concerning discipline?

Berlis: A question of discipline is about whether something was introduced for reasons of order and can therefore be changed. An example of this is celibacy for priests, which only became church law in the Western Church from the 13th century onwards. The Old Catholic Churches have come to the realisation that the question of women's ordination is not to be regarded as a question of faith, but nevertheless has a high theological significance.

"Tradition must also be contextualised historically."

Having clarified that in principle, how did one approach the question?

Berlis: Like Roman Catholics, Christian Catholic theology and the Church engage with the Bible and Tradition to find theological answers. When it comes to the question of the priesthood, however, the Bible is only of limited use as a direct guide. In the early churches, the offices were hardly developed. For example, it cannot be said that the apostles were the first bishops.

Even if the Bible is ambiguous, the hurdle of tradition remains. Priests have been male since early Christianity...

Berlis: Here the historical findings are also more complicated. Tradition also has to be contextualised historically. Today we are very aware that we have to read sources more carefully. In doing so, we also have to question them critically with regard to their misogynistic tendencies. This is not a Christian Catholic insight, by the way. In the Roman Catholic Church, too, there are differentiated arguments here, and that leads to adjustments.

For example?

Berlis: For example, in the Einheitsübersetzung of 2016, Junia is no longer translated into German as a man in the 16th chapter of the Letter to the Romans, but as a woman and thus as an apostle, as in ancient times. Or in sermons, the interpretation of Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection and her significance as "apostle to the apostles" is emphasised. Generally speaking on the subject of tradition: one must critically differentiate in each case whether it is really a tradition with a "capital T". Or whether it is a practice that has grown historically.

Pope Pius IX was controversial - the dogmatisation of the Immaculate Conception was one of the reasons that ultimately led to the schism.

Is this critical-historical reflection a central difference between the Christian Catholic and the Roman Catholic approach?

Berlis: For both Christian and Roman Catholics, tradition with a capital "T" is central. At the same time, the inclusion of the historical-critical view has been formative for Christian Catholic theology since the 19th century. And with it also the conclusion that historically developed things - especially when they lead to an erroneous development - can be changed.

"The later Christian Catholics therefore also argued historically here."

Is this understanding one of the reasons for the separation of the Christian Catholic Church from the Roman Catholic Church?

Berlis: The historical-critical approach was certainly one of the points of contention between Catholics in the 19th century. The break with Rome came about because various Catholics were not prepared to recognise the infallibility of the Pope and his primacy of jurisdiction as the new binding doctrine of the faith. They considered both to be impossible to dogmatise because they believed that these doctrines were not supported by either the Bible or Tradition. The later Christian Catholics therefore also argued historically here.

What did this argumentation look like in concrete terms?

Berlis: During the discussions at the First Vatican Council, the opponents of papal infallibility referred, among other things, to the so-called Honorius question. Pope Honorius I had been posthumously condemned as a heretic by the 3rd Ecumenical Council in 681. For opponents of infallibility in the 19th century, this proved that popes were not infallible. Advocates of infallibility played down the historical argument. Today's researchers say that at that time dogma defeated history. This also applies to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which Pope Pius IX elevated to a doctrine of faith in 1854.

What is the position of the Christian Catholic Church on this question?

Berlis: For us it is not a dogma, i.e. not a binding doctrine of faith. But as a Christian Catholic theologian I can certainly say: If someone personally believes that Mary was immaculately conceived or assumed bodily into heaven, if that helps someone in your personal faith, I am the last person who would contradict him or her. But to have to believe this authoritatively is going too far.

"The Christian Catholic Church also knows dogma."

Individual faith versus dogma that obliges to believe. Anyone who, as a Roman Catholic, does not accept that Mary was immaculately conceived is automatically excommunicated.

Berlis: The Christian Catholic Church also knows dogmas. But only those that were defined by the seven Ecumenical Councils, i.e. up to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), and were generally received. The most important binding doctrines, namely the Trinity and Christology, are found in the so-called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. This creed is prayed in most Christian churches. From a Christian Catholic perspective, therefore, the reception of dogmas, i.e. their acceptance or rejection, also plays an essential role.

"What is important is what unites us as churches."

Fewer Councils and fewer dogmas, does this make the Christian Catholic Church more flexible as far as fundamental reforms are concerned?

Berlis: Many churches agree on the importance of the ecumenical councils of the first millennium. What is important is what unites us as churches. It is also clarifying to distinguish between what is theologically essential and what is theologically less central. To answer your question more precisely: one must bear in mind that the Christian Catholics of the 19th century saw themselves not only as a protest movement against the new Vatican dogmas, but soon above all as a reform movement.

What does that mean exactly?

Berlis: They wanted to "cleanse the Church of abuses", as they said at the time. This meant reforms in the area of discipline, for example the abolition of celibacy. But also in the area of liturgy. Many saints' feasts, which had overgrown Sunday as the Lord's Day, were abolished and the vernacular was introduced into the liturgy. The concern was that the faithful should be able to follow the divine service. So here too the question is: What is the core of this? Many of these reforms were also carried out by the Second Vatican Council for the Roman Catholic Church.

Angela Berlis is the expert face of the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland.

And yet fundamental differences remain - we have already talked about the ordination of women. But the Christian Catholic Church also knows sacramental marriage for all. How have you solved the theological dilemma that marriage is a union for the sole purpose of procreation?

Berlis: I do not share this view. It goes back to Augustine (†430), a theologian whom I hold in very high esteem, by the way. But even the Church Father Augustine was a person who acted, thought and wrote socially, theologically and philosophically in a certain context. Such an understanding of the historical context makes it easier to say that some of his ideas and perceptions are problematic from today's perspective. These include the idea that in the sexual act, "original sin" is transmitted and that it then appears legitimate only for procreation.

"The challenge for us today is to define more precisely what is meant by this."

What do you think is at the heart of sacramental marriage?

Berlis: According to the Christian Catholic view, marriage is blessed by the priest or priestess. The Church blesses unions between people who want to share their lives together in love and faithfulness and place this under God's blessing.

Without Augustine?

Berlis: Augustine is not the only theologian and Church Father who has spoken about marriage. The tradition is polyphonic. In my view, the "transmission of life" should continue to be seen as part of the community of life and love between two people. The challenge for us today is to define more precisely what is meant by this. People prove themselves open to being at the service of the transmission of life in very different ways: for example, by having children, adopting children or, in a broader sense, offering protection to people who are entrusted to them.

*Angela Berlis (60) was the first Old Catholic priestess together with Regina Pickel-Bossau. Since 2009 she has been Professor of the History of Old Catholicism and General Church History at the University of Bern.



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