Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Priestesses in the Church revisited

So, a good while back I did a little series of three posts on C. S. Lewis's worst essays, the point being that it can be revealing to look at failed works, the worst a really good writer  has to offer (cf. TIMON OF ATHENS or YOU KNOW MY NAME, LOOK UP THE NUMBER). And I argued that the worst of the worst was a little piece of his called "Priestesses in the Church",* explaining why he was against women's ordination.

There Lewis essentially came down to 'if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be wrong' as his ultimate justification for banning women from the priesthood, with 'it's against tradition' as his runner-up. These seem wholly inadequate for something of so great moment; hence my judging his piece such a failure.  So it was interesting to discover that he briefly revisits** the issue in his explication of Charles Williams' Arthurian poems, WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD, but here his reason is completely different: woman can't be priests because they have periods.

Here's what Williams' says in his poem "Taliessin in the Rose-Garden" (THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS, page 27)

       Well are women warned from serving the altar
       who, by the nature of their creature, from Caucasia to Carbonek,
       share with the Sacrifice the victimization of blood.

Lewis's comment on this is, in part, as follows

The menstrual flow in women presents certain problems 
on the scientific level . . . Wms sees it as a 'covenant in the flesh'. 
By it all women naturally share in the great sacrifice. That, indeed, 
is why they are excluded from the priesthood; excluded from the office
 because they thus share mystically in the role of the Victim
(ARTHURIAN TORSO p. 150; emphasis mine).

The reasoning behind this is fairly murky, but has something to do with Williams' linking menstrual blood with the blood in the chalice during communion/mass, which would then involve hypothetical woman priest as taking two roles in the same ceremony. I think. Or something along that line.

I'm curious why, if Lewis believed this, he didn't use this argument in his 1948 article. Maybe he felt he  could address such a topic in a scholarly book but not in a magazine article.

Personally, I think it all comes to "Lewis thinks girls got cooties".

Which is not the most compelling of arguments, then or now.

today's song: "LETTING GO" (McCartney, live version)

**actually, it turns out to be the other way around: the article was written in 1948, while Lewis's contributions to the book, although not published until 1948, dates from 1946.

1 comment:

Katherine Langrish said...

This made me laugh! This has to be one of the daftest things Lewis and Williams ever came up with! Talk about hypothesising with no sufficient database! Cooties indeed.