His Eminence Carlo Maria Martini

Dear Mr. Martini,

First of all, pleasant-sounding as your name is, it challenges one such as myself with the humorous inclinations of a 13-year-old to take you seriously. Perhaps that is my own fault and, if so, I shall see to it with due diligence.

Your argument in defense of church tradition regarding women’s ordination is rife with lacunae and you know it. (By the way, I shall intersperse abstruse vocabulary with plain words in my letter to the end of both challenging the simple-minded readership which attends to these letters, and which Eco seems to favor, and appealing to the very same masses on some level which is comprehensible to them.)

If I’ve got you pegged, and a dear Cardinal such as yourself with an eximius vitus must certainly be beyond such pigeon-holing, though I would feign pretend you aren’t just the same an ordinary human being with a litany of shortcomings, then you are a scholar and an intellectual, though you are first a messenger of the church. Succinctly, my point is this: What matter and manner of mystery is carried like the ark through the ages to be revered and statue-ized to an end such as women’s exclusion from the priesthood?

Now your argument is valid enough as a Catholic, and though I am no longer Catholic (I side with Eco often, though am not the secularist he is), I feel the need to question part of what drove me from the church. Therefore, I wonder if it makes any sense theologically or spiritually to persist with your exclusion of the female gender. You say that by tradition, most keenly that tradition which was begun by Christ in the appointing of the apostles, women are kept out of the clergy. Their appointment, if one of sacred vows, is kept to the nunnery and the duties which they attend. But beyond this sense and source of tradition, you offer nothing of value—either to myself, as a passionate Lutheran and active ecumenist, or to Eco, who struggles yet through the growing pains of secularism.

I shine the light on two misgivings I am currently having. The first is simply that you acknowledge this mystery as established by Christ and therefore, being of Christ, it is to be maintained as it was 2,000 years ago. But we can only hypothesize what it was Christ was aiming to accomplish by appointing 12 men instead of some admixture of men and women. We admit fully there is no theological explanation for the continuance of this tradition today, nor do we rightly understand why it was imperative in Jerusalem circa 30 A.D. It flounders as reason for exclusion.

Quite to the contrary, while this tradition lacks basis (and as you say yourself, remains a mystery), the message of love and inclusion in all elements of life is constantly extolled by Christ himself in the gospels. Which is more seeming for us to follow, then?

I would also make the point, and gently, else I upset the deep faith of the church which has been meditated upon these last 20 centuries: What of the temporal Christ? Surely, if you desire the mystery of Christ to sustain itself among the faithful, we must understand and experience the transcendent Christ. Whatever happened to that noble theology of the 20th century, and now the 21st, which explores the notion of the faithful in persona Jesu? Or, for that matter (and may it not be sacrilege to say), in persona Christi? Are we not Christ for the world? Do we not, then, have some say in the development of the church? I remind you, Carlo, that Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Still, you might return with an argument girding the point of mystery whatsoever. That is to say, it is the church’s obligation to hold within its teaching the mystery passed to us by Christ, whether it is comprehensible to us or no. We call it mystery because we do not understand, and then sanctify it without bothering to explore the reasons of it, or perhaps its circumstances. Or, admitting that we do these things, if we lack an answer after a brief inspection, we make the whole business holy. Who is to say it is not a mystery to be dissected and explored? And what if there is no grand mystery to it at all, but the pragmatic need for males to disseminate the word of God in a male-dominated society?

Therefore, I would request (and more aggressively than the ever-polite Eco) that you revisit these understandings of the faith. Who am I, indeed, to challenge what you yourself have both struggled with and studied for years greater than my own age? Yet, I am a firm believer in the teachings of Christ, and it was Christ himself who taught us: The weak will be made strong and the strong weak; the ignorant wise, and the wise ignorant. Do not think by human logic, but according to the spirit and the will of God. Such is my intent; I pray I have done it faithfully and honestly in this letter, and without upsetting the institutions devoted to the faithful and loving pursuit of gospels.

Yours in Christ (whom we both adore),

Jeff