One of the unfortunate consequences of Mormon Great Apostasy rhetoric is that it causes an almost complete disregard for two millennia of Christian debate about the sorts of issues with which we currently wrestle. Let me be the first to point out that there are, of course, some small corners of Mormonism that are conversant with, and appreciative of, the Church Fathers or Aquinas or John Wesley, but these are voices largely missing from official Mormon discourse.
Let me also point out that the solution to the problem of women in Mormonism will not come because of a meditation upon St. Gregory Nazianzen. For Mormons to accept any change in women’s status, the means must be Mormon, i.e. be believed to come through authoritative revelation. All that said, there is no compulsion to believe that such revelation comes unprompted. Herewith is one potential prompt from the Church Fathers.
Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), Archbishop of Constantinople and patristic theologian, stated that, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” He is here speaking of the humanity of Christ — that to heal us, he had to assume our essential human identity. It is this simple idea that persuaded an Anglican friend to accept women’s ordination in the church universal.
There are two main theological impediments to women’s ordination in the catholic tradition. The first is that Jesus rather clearly chose twelve men to be his special witnesses, despite having trusted women available to him. The second is that a priest acts in persona Christi and as Christ was male, so must be his vicars.
I suspect that Mormons defending the all-male priesthood would find these reasons credible, although it is worth pointing out that the more basic Mormon reason for the all-male priesthood is that there is an all-male priesthood. Whatever the reasons, this is how it is, and if God wanted it otherwise, he would make it known.
To the extent that a challenge to the above reasons might give Mormons pause, however, especially as Mormonism is an inheritor of the western Christian tradition, let me simply offer this reflection. On the first point, the original male apostleship can be attributed to first century Jewish biases and need not be seen as relevant for all time. On the second — the male persona Christi — we might say (and this is how my Anglican friend sees it) that Gregory is right:
“What has not been assumed has not been healed.”
As all of humanity can be healed in Christ, so Christ must have necessarily assumed humanity and not only contingently assumed maleness. Therefore, a woman can be in persona Christi as the officiator at the healing Eucharist because she represents the humanity of Christ not his maleness; therefore, a woman can be a priest. That women already act in persona Christi in Mormon temples is further grist to that mill.
Mormons would contend that Christ’s human maleness was not contingent. However, it was not his maleness that healed us but rather his divinity coupled with his humanity. As neither states are inherently gendered, I do not think there is a theological reason to exclude women from being his vicars. At the very least, asking this question is legitimate. The rest is up to God.