Rejoinder to Dr. Ladouceur

One dubious joy of publishing anything more controversial than a cookbook is that of attracting critical responses. One such critical response came lately from Dr. Paul Ladouceur, resident of Quebec, Canada, and a distinguished teacher at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, Toronto. Dr. Ladouceur’s negative critique of my 2012 book Feminism and Tradition was published in a recent number of the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, which is perhaps a bit odd, given that the book was a publication of SVS Press to begin with. Go figure.

If the response were simply an ignorant and dismissive rant such as one sometimes finds in the Customer Reviews section of, one could simply shrug and get on with other things. But a critique as thoughtful and lengthy as Dr. Ladouceur’s in a journal as prestigious as the St. Vlad’s Quarterly deserves at least the courtesy of a reply, and I will try to give such a courteous reply now.

I appreciate Dr. Ladouceur’s fairly long and detailed critique, along with his final stated preference for Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s essay in the 1999 edition of Women and the Priesthood because it demonstrates that the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood is still a live one in the Orthodox Church, and that therefore the need for a book like mine still exists.

To respond to specific critiques: Ladouceur writes that my “principal arguments revolve around the Scriptural teaching of the subordination of women to men”, and “the witness of the Fathers”. Actually it is simpler than that: my principal arguments consist of a re-statement of the Scriptural teaching on the subject and the witness of the Fathers. In other words, I simply present what the Bible and the Fathers teach on the subject, and assert that for Orthodox Christians the teaching of Scripture and the Fathers should settle the question. It is significant perhaps that Dr. Ladouceur does not dispute my presentation of what the Bible and the Fathers actually teach. Does he assert that the Bible for example doesn’t say what I assert that it says, and that I am misinterpreting the texts? If I am correct in my presentation of the teaching of the Bible and the Fathers, then what is the problem? Does Dr. Paul dissent from the teaching of Scripture? This question must be answered before any other really fruitful debate can occur.

Another point: Ladouceur writes that I “focus more on the second creation account in Genesis and the fall than the first account, and more on Paul’s teachings concerning women than of Jesus’ dealings with women”. This gives the impression that I prefer the second account in Genesis to the first, and the writings of Paul to the “dealings” of Jesus. In fact I deal with the second account in Genesis and the fall more than the first account because there is more material to be examined in the second account—thirty-one verses in the second account compared to just five verses in the first. It is similar in dealing with Jesus and Paul: Jesus’ dealings with women constitute a comparatively small amount of material compared to the writings of Paul. Since my project is rooted in exegesis, how could I do anything else? Once again I suspect that Dr. Ladouceur and I have different views regarding the authority of the texts themselves. Since I regard all of Scripture as authoritative, I cannot pick and choose, preferring the dealings of Jesus over the writings of Paul, or preferring the first creation story over the second. All are parts of Holy Writ, and all must be believed. One may not oppose one to another and then pick one’s favourite, but must interpret all the material as constituting a single harmonious whole. Ladouceur grants that “it is certainly much easier to support the contention of women as subordinate to men from the Pauline epistles than from the Gospels”. One gets the impression that he opts for the Gospels over the epistles. But my point is that one does not get to choose one over the other, but that both are authoritative and can be harmoniously combined. I realize that not everyone in Academia views Scripture as possessing such authority and as capable of harmonization (not to put too fine a point on it). But the Fathers had such a view of Scripture, and the mindset of the Fathers must be ours as well.

Another point: Dr. Paul says that I “slide very quickly from the historical fact that Christ did not choose a woman among the apostles to a broad theological conclusion ‘showing that he [i.e. Christ] recognised their [women’s] subordination’”. This he decries as “a logical non sequitur”. Dr. Paul offers an adequate statement of my summary conclusion on p. 66, but ignores how I reached that conclusion in the previous pages. My point in those previous pages was that (as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:34) the Law mandates a degree of social submission on the part of women, and Christ did nothing to overturn this attitude. He had no problem overturning other Jewish attitudes He found objectionable, but still declined to choose women as authority-bearing apostles. This suggests that He found nothing objectionable in this part of the Law.

Dr. Ladouceur also objects that I leave several questions “dangling”, such as the relationship between “‘equality’ and ‘subordination’”, and objects that I “do not reconcile two seemingly opposing ontological principles”. That is because, once again, I do not view equality and subordination as opposing ontological principles that require any reconciliation. I realize that feminist exegesis does indeed regard them as opposite and as mutually exclusive, so that if I say that wives must submit to their husbands, I cannot consistently assert any ontological equality between them. But the feminists are simply wrong about this. Where they see opposition of principles, I (and the Fathers) see intricacy, richness, and nuance. It looks as if Dr. Ladouceur tends more to feminist approaches than patristic ones. This is apparent when he says, “for Farley…sexual differentiation (and hence women’s subordination) takes precedence over ontological equality”. For me, the issue is not about which opposing principle “takes precedence”, but about how one combines into a single coherent whole all that the Scriptures teach about equality and subordination.

In one instance at least, Dr. Ladouceur has simply not read what I have written. As part of the above critique he writes, “another question left dangling is whether this ‘subordination’ implies that all women are subordinate to all men, or, as the biblical and patristic witnesses mostly stress, wives to husbands.” I do not know why he thinks this question is left dangling. On p. 41 of my book I wrote, “The translation used [of 1 Corinthians 11:3-12] is that of the English Standard Version, which mostly translates the Greek gyne as ‘wife’, rather than ‘woman.’ This is reasonable, since Paul was dealing with relationships between husband and wife, and not with women and men per se.”  In fairness to Dr. Ladouceur, I admit that it is often difficult to give careful attention to texts which one finds objectionable.

Another area of disagreement is regarding the distinction between maleness and masculinity. Ladouceur sees no distinction between them, and accordingly rejects the distinction as “semantic slight [sic] of hand”. For him, an attempt to distinguish between the two is tantamount to re-introducing the pagan notion of male gods and female goddesses. It is difficult to respond to this, since here we are left staring at each other across a conceptual abyss. C.S. Lewis was but one example of someone who did not think God was male, and yet was capable of distinguishing maleness from masculinity. In his little article Priestesses in the Church? he says that “God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex” and yet still argues that He is a Father and not a Mother. In his The Four Loves, he speaks of God as “One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male”. Like Lewis, I also distinguish maleness and biological gender from masculinity. Without this fundamental distinction, of course my iconic argument will make no sense. I cannot help but again think of Lewis, when he wrote that there were some things in the Church which some will call irrational and which others will call supra-rational, leaving the two parties staring at each other with no way to bridge the gap. For me as for the Fathers, the title of “Father” for God was not simply a metaphor or “an analogy” (to use Ladouceur’s term), something rooted in one particular culture, but ultimately disposable in another. The title has greater depth and meaning than that. God is not male, yet He is Father, and masculine.

Ladouceur also complains that I “devote little attention to a straightforward appeal to tradition, which is the strongest argument against the ordination of women”. That is partly because merely saying, “The Church has never done this in the past, so it can’t in the future” is everywhere rejected by feminist thinking as inadequate, and so my concern in the book was to show why in fact the Church had never done so in the past. But as a matter of fact, I did appeal to tradition. Ladouceur himself quotes me in the next breath as saying, “The ordination of women involves a complete denial of our Tradition and of our experience of Christian salvation”. He may think that this is an overstatement, but he can’t have it both ways. For what is the assertion that “the ordination of women involves a complete denial of our Tradition and our experience” if not “a straightforward appeal to tradition”? I everywhere appeal to Tradition, including in the book’s very title. My task was to reveal what that Tradition in fact says and why it should be embraced.

Dr. Paul also objects to my comparison to theological feminism with the Arianism of the fourth century. He is right in saying that I compare the two as equally threats to the integrity of the Church. The comparison was also made by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, in an interview with AGAIN Magazine soon after he was installed as the Dean of St. Vladimir’s. In this interview he said that he believed that the issue of women’s ordination “is kind of like our iconoclastic controversy, our Arian controversy. It shows what a person believes about everything.” In this interview he also quoted Russian priest Fr. Vitaly Borovoy: “The Russians have a saying. If you say A you have to say B; if you say B then you have to say C. I’m interested in where you get when you’re at LMNOP.” Hopko went on to say that he interpreted Borovoy as meaning “if you take a step in a particular direction, you must see the full implication of where you are going.” In other words, Fr. Hopko also appealed to the much-maligned “slippery slope” or the “thin edge of the wedge”. Ladouceur objects to my use of such an approach as “another rhetorical device”. One wonders if he would say the same of Frs. Borovoy and Hopko. Dr. Ladouceur does acknowledge, however, that I “may have a point from the experience of Churches which have ordained women”, but says that I must also “demonstrate that the downstream consequences of one act are indeed inevitable”. One wonders how this might be “demonstrated” without use of a time machine.

But does it really require such demonstration? Surely learning from the multiple experiences of other churches and denominations should suffice? The notion sometimes heard that “such a thing could never happen in Orthodoxy” strikes me as preposterously triumphalistic or simply as magical thinking. Are we Orthodox that much more intelligent, holy, wise, or prescient than other Christians? And if so, perhaps one could “demonstrate” this with contemporary examples? Does anyone really believe we Orthodox are so much wiser and holier than our neighbours that we possess a kind of immunity to the ecclesiastical decline which has befallen them if we take similar steps? For the ordination of women is not simply “one act”. The willingness to ordain women is a symptom as much as it is a cause, and (in the words of Fr. Tom) “it shows what a person believes about everything”. Taking this step involves turning our backs on Tradition as a guiding principle in favour of contemporary and shifting cultural norms, and setting ourselves definitively upon a new path. Where this path leads we can see from the multiple examples of the denominations which have done so. No time machine is really required.

Finally, I note that Prof. Ladouceur does not mention in his review either my chapter arguing against the wisdom of creating a new order of deaconesses, or my chapter arguing for the legitimacy of women receiving the Eucharist while menstruating. Given that these chapters constitute almost a quarter of the book, and that my latter chapter on “Menstruation and the Communion of Women” is arguably more controversial than the chapters on the ordination of women, it seems that Ladouceur’s main concern was not to review my book, but rather to argue with some of my conclusions. Otherwise why ignore the last forty pages?

In conclusion, I would like to put the ball of dialogue back in Dr. Ladouceur’s court and simply ask two questions. Does he deny that my Scriptural exegesis or my presentation of the Fathers’ views are correct? And if my exegesis of the Bible and the Fathers as forbidding the ordination of women is correct, does he agree with it? I would like to end by saying that I appreciate that Dr. Ladouceur did not stoop, as many do in this debate, to using the label “fundamentalist” or any of the other theological swear words often employed to short-circuit debate. That debate is better served when both parties avoid such tactics and stick to arguments, and I thank Dr. Ladouceur for doing just that.




  1. Well stated Fr. Lawrence. I am pessimistic about this however. I think that for the majority of NA/English language bishops, the question is not *if* to ordain women (starting with a modern “female deacon”) but *how*, given that it will cause a “traditionalist/fundamentalist” backlash- at least at first. For too long our seminary’s and “scholarship” have blended secularism with Christian formation and secularism has won. The EP has even got the ball rolling so to speak (through proxy via the Alexandrian Patriarch – forget his name). I know for a fact (he explicitly told a group I was a part of) my own Metropolitan is fully on board….

  2. I have studied and meditated on this topic for decades. It is, in a roundabout way, one of the reasons I converted to Orthodoxy many years ago, though the communion from which I came did not (and still does not) ordain women.

    My study and mediation centered on the question of “why?” My wife and I knew intuitively that ordaining women was an error. But again, the question remained – Why? Was it just our traditionalism? Fear of change? Or was it more?

    The Scriptures are very clear – not quite in terms of ought-right expressed prohibition, but rather in terms of what roles are appropriate to men and women. This was a sufficient argument for us, but it still doesn’t answer the question – Why? Why was it that the Apostles themselves held to this ordering of male and female when in other ways their affirmations of the dignity of women were radically contrary to both the Jewish and Gentile cultures of their time?

    You, Father, already know all the arguments (on both sides), and I won’t reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that I know them as well. It is also evident that the…shall we say…more ‘creative’ theologians of our time – those who (mistakenly) think of the Church as somehow ‘making progress’ – generally do not find these arguments convincing. Looking at them from their point of view which seems to rely only on the rational, I can at least understand why they don’t. They are correct in the sense that the Church has never deemed it necessary to give dogmatic definition to this issue. And so, while I firmly believe Met. Kallistos was in error when he famously referred to this as “an open question,” he was not technically wrong if by this he meant that it has never been defined in a dogmatic sense. I hasten to add that I do NOT think this is, in fact, what he meant when he said it. Although I respect his office, his thinking on this subject reflects a lack of participation in the Tradition which is uncharacteristic of him. There are clearly manifold things that he accepts as truth, right-worship, and right-practice that are not dogmatically defined, yet neither he nor we would therefore view them as “open questions.”

    Yet even I admit that this is difficult to ‘explain’ in an easily understood, rational manner if one attempts to go beyond the simple Apostolic instruction and attempt to understand the “why” behind it. It is hard enough to explain it to ourselves (those who accept Apostolic practice), let alone to those who don’t – or to those who otherwise accept other aspects of Orthodox practice but cannot wrap their minds around this one in particular. It is so woven into the seamless fabric of the Church’s life and worship (and our humanity in general) that it gets ‘lost’ or overlooked as being integral to the fullness of it all.

    One of the things that puzzled me as I contemplated this subject is this: Why is it that every ‘Christian’ communion that gets seduced into going the way of female clergy eventually winds up in apostasy and sexual confusion? Women can be wise, learned, strong, and are generally more intuitive and spiritually sensitive than men. They can also be just as ‘manful’ in terms of courage. As persons they are the equals of men, and often (if we men are willing to listen) they keep men from stupidity. So why can’t they fill a role for which they are (apparently) physically and constitutionally capable?

    I have not read your book, so if you addressed what I am about to suggest I apologize.

    The only passage of which I aware that addresses the question of WHY is that of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. He seems to be talking about head covering (and he is). He also seems to approach the subject from the perspective of the created order (and, again, he does), but I would suggest that for the purpose of the subject at hand our attention should be drawn to his language of “the image.” I will explain as we proceed.

    It is important to note that this passage makes reference only to man and woman. Paul is not here speaking of husband and wife. He is speaking of all men and all women without reference to marriage. It reads:

    “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.”

    For the purpose of clarity I would like to set aside the issue of head covering and focus primarily on “the image.” Editing out the words about head covering allows us to focus on the ‘why.’ If we do so, it reads:

    “For a man … is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. … Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.”

    What struck me as I meditated on this passage is the iconography – the images – that appear on every iconostas of an Orthodox Church: Christ (the MAN, the image and glory of God) on our right and the Theotokos (the WOMAN, the glory of Christ) on our left at His right hand. She came from Him, as woman came from man in the creation. He, in His Incarnation, also came through her. There is nothing she is that she has not given to Him. Likewise, there is nothing He is (save being divine by nature) that He has not given to her (for she is deified in and through Him). With this in mind, both He as the MAN and she as the WOMAN would seem to be what frames Saint Paul’s (and historically the Church’s) mind on the subject. Saint Paul’s words would be equally true had he written:

    “For Christ … is the image and glory of God; but the Theotokos is the glory of Christ. For Christ is not from the Theotokos, but the Theotokos from Christ. Nor was Christ created for the Theotokos, but the Theotokos for Christ. … Nevertheless, neither is Christ independent of the Theotokos, nor the Theotokos independent of Christ, in the Lord. For as The Theotokos came from Christ, even so Christ also comes [is /was incarnate] through the Theotokos; but all things are from God.”

    What struck me about it is this: Is it possible for men and women to live rightly apart from honoring and being conformed to the image of MAN and WOMAN that are Christ and His Mother – the man giving himself wholly to the woman by being her head as Christ is the Head and the woman being in submission to the man out of love for him as her head? The answer – proven out by every attempt to nullify the difference between man and woman – would seem to be a resounding “No.” Whether within the context marriage or not a man is a man, and a woman is a woman. Each must be conformed to his or her archetype in order (quite literally) to be who they are and all that they are created to become. And while I do not in any way deny that there is also a created order in that the man was created first and the woman was fashioned from the man, I would suggest that our first parents are but types that are fulfilled in Christ and the Theotokos.

    I would suggest also that we carry this one step further in order to address those who say, “What about where the Apostle writes that in Christ ‘there is neither male nor female’? And what about Saint Maximos who wrote (speculated?) that sexual distinctions are/will be abolished in the Kingdom of God?” To this it must be answered that the same Apostle (in the same sentence) also said that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free. Yet (much like being born a man or a woman) one cannot cease in this life to be a Jew or a Greek. One is what one is. Neither can a slave decide on his own to be a free man in this world by virtue of his conversion (The same apostle commanded Christian slaves to be obedient to their earthly masters – just as he commanded women to be in submission to men). We participate now in the freedom from our earthly bonds in a spiritual manner (“He who is a slave is the Lord’s freedman”) by being absolutely faithful “to the calling wherein we were called” – as a man, as a woman, as a slave, as an ethnic, as rich, as poor… Attempting to abolish the things that our God intends to abolish in the consummation of His Kingdom wherein the Bridegroom comes for His Bride and unifies all things in Himself is nothing short of what I would call “spiritual fornication,” an attempt to partake of that for which we are not prepared and therefore is harmful to us. Just as the tree of knowledge in the Garden was good (as were/are all things in God’s creation) and the prohibition from eating was temporary, albeit necessary for our good, so does our rush to partake prematurely of the good things God is preparing for His faithful ones always lead us into apostasy…and confusion and every evil.

    Forgive me for the length of this comment. And pardon my ignorance especially if in my desire to ‘understand’ (in a contemplative manner) I have taken undue liberty with Saint Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth. If you deem it unworthy of publishing, please delete it.

    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I did try to elaborate the rationale for the Church’s refusal to ordain women in my book, so perhaps I could just commend the volume to you, rather than attempt to reproduce it here. I suspect that if one’s basic presuppositions are formed by contemporary secular society (as those of the feminists are), one will not be convinced by any reason or rationale, simply because they fly in the face of those presuppositions.

  3. Fr. Lawrence, I recently finished your excellent book and wish more Orthodox Christians, especially bishops, would read it.

    1. Thank you, Father Deacon, for your kind comments. I am given to understand that some bishops are desirous of ordaining women to the priesthood, and are only held back by fear of backlash. This is does not encourage me. All the more reason to deal with the issue openly and boldly.

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