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Calling for the Lord in the Priesthood Part 1

This week we have the first of a two part article by Tomoya. He takes a step back and looks at the question of the ordination of women by first looking at the ordination of human beings in general. -Editor.

Regarding the topic of women in the priesthood, I have read the articles and the reader comments as well as the most of the papers here in New Church Perspective. The more I read, the more I was drawn to the processes, rather than the products, of proponents’ arguments. I thought that I might be able to contribute to this topic from a different perspective, without exploring anything more about masculinity and femininity. We have seemingly exhausted what needs to be said about these, and I am convinced now that the call for women in the priesthood doesn’t even have much to do with masculinity and femininity, if none at all. Since this is a long article, I’d like to start with a synopsis.


The call for women in the priesthood is not about women; it is about us as human beings. It is also not even about priesthood; it is about any source from which we can procure powers for ourselves. As such, the call for women in the priesthood is essentially our struggle with respect to the First Commandment, which requires us to do the opposite, namely, to cease holding onto our powers and return them all to the Lord. It is what the Word teaches us in its entirety, and we can read this elaborated in the Writings, as we read indeed that no one can be instructed by the Lord without our first stopping ascribing powers, such as our own intelligence and wisdom, to ourselves.

As a church, we are to start from the Word as this is the First Commandment, which reigns universally in all things in the Decalogue. We are not to start from the common sense of the world, even though it may appear very true and righteous. The common sense of the world comes from the human philosophy that was purposely designed to confront the Word - particularly against the First Commandment - at around the time of the Second Coming. Even though we are still very much in the midst of its influences in our civil life, it is important that we do not allow this human philosophy to be our starting point for our spiritual life; it will only do what it is meant to do, which is to bring us toward ourselves by urging us to acquire powers for ourselves. The Word always does the opposite, which is to bring us toward the Lord away from ourselves by urging us to relinquish powers back to the Lord.

In the context of women (i.e., human beings) in the priesthood, there are two ideas that the human philosophy employs to affect us, which are falsities. One is the idea that we are a complete whole human before we are our sex, and the other is the idea of equality as a means to attain our humanity. In combination, they lead us to become powerful at the expense of the Lord, which are the same errors that caused the fall of the churches in the past. We can refrain from going down the same path by being aware of these falsities. But to be aware of them, we always need to start from the Word.

The priesthood belongs solely and fully to the Lord; none of us human beings, neither the women nor the men, owns or has the right to own any part of it for any reason. He needs to be properly restored to His own priesthood.


The call for women in the priesthood is not about women or even about the priesthood. We can easily replace the word "women" with some other classifications of people who are often discriminated against, and the word "priesthood" with some other positions that are perceived as having powerful authority, and still find the same general rationale and sentiments that run through the call for women in the priesthood. Discussions around “women” and “priesthood” are like the clothing that protects something that remains relatively untouched underneath it.

What is underneath the call for women in the priesthood is the pursuit of our ownership of power. We may not literally spell it out as ownership, but it is articulated in appeals for our own dignity and respect, which are what follow whenever there is an ownership.

As we pursue the ownership of power, we seem to project our wishes to interpret what is around us, perceiving everything in terms of the ownership of power. Thus we frequently see the use of words such as “superior,” “condescending,” “second-class citizens,” and “equality” which are all words that already have as a premise the understanding that we own, or are to own, power. In this framework, a position that is deemed powerful is viewed and discussed primarily as a vehicle of power from which we can harvest it for ourselves. Our freedom is also in being able to empower ourselves through owning such a position, and our charity and righteousness are defined in terms of ensuring that we all have an equal chance to this ownership. Unfortunately the priesthood doesn’t seem to be an exception to this treatment any longer. As the priesthood is currently exercised by men only, it is immediately interpreted as owned by men. And this appears uncharitable and unrighteous for women in this framework wherein we pursue the ownership of power.

From the perspective of a new church congregant, a priesthood that comes to exist as an instrument to raise us up for whatever reason is not sound. When the priesthood is sought after for the sake of empowering the personhood (and in extension a specific group of us), it would then be us human beings, not the Lord, who would be made powerful over the congregation, thus leading it.

Our Struggle with Dignity and Respect

The pursuit of our ownership of power is the very error that we as the human kind have embraced from a very early point, which is represented by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Not only did it cause the fall of the Most Ancient Church, making the written Word and the office of priesthood necessary in the first place, but it became severe again later, making it necessary for the Lord to be born on earth. He was with the people, who were suffering from the oppressive external conditions under the Roman rule, but He did not fulfill the dignity and respect as these people defined it, which was the earthly kingdom that they wished to claim a full ownership of.

The pursuit of our ownership of power, which prompted us to crucify the Lord at that time, appeared again much later in the form of the Enlightenment. Closely coinciding with the timing of the publications of Swedenborg’s Writings was the publications of Diderot's  Encyclopédie (1751-1772). The illustration at the beginning of its first volume represented the nature of this movement; the figure of Theology is seen knelt down while shielding its eyes from the bright rays emanating from the face of Truth standing beside it, whose veil is being lifted up by human Reason and human Philosophy. The source of all knowledge to be trusted upon went through a conscious shift from the Divine to us the finites in the world, and in the general rationale and sentiments of the Enlightenment, an atheistic humanism emerged. We have then proclaimed again that we own and could manage the dignity and respect on our own apart from the Divine. After a few centuries, which is a relatively short time in the course of the church history, we still live in the midst, if not the thickest, of its general rationale and sentiments, where Theology is still set aside on its knees in our hearts.

The world those of us in the West live in now, which we refer to as modern and progressive, is a world that has been set up in contrast against the Divine, the shift of which was already happening before the time of the Last Judgment. Subsequently a lot of what emerged therefrom and is common sense to us now, does not require the Divine to make sense of its own existence by design. What is at the core of the call for women in the priesthood is from these ideas of the world, and unbeknownst to us, its strife is against the very heart of the Word, namely, the First Commandment.

What Makes Us a Church: Where to Start in Particular

And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of servants. Thou shalt have no other gods before My faces. (Exodus 20:1-3)
That "no other gods before My faces" signifies that truths must not be thought of from any other source than the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia 8867)

It is not that which enters into the mouth which makes the man unclean, but that which comes out of the mouth which makes the man unclean. What matters more to the church is not so much what we have accepted, but how we have come to accept it. In other words, it is less critical to ask "what is the answer?" than to first ask "why is the question?" And this latter is what reveals the internal quality of an incoming idea, despite how righteous its appearance might be, which brings us immediately to the First Commandment.

In the church, we believe that the Word is what upholds the humanity within all of us completely and definitively, regardless of the external conditions which we didn’t choose to be born into, such as sex, race, culture, and era. We know that the Divine Truth never changes or progresses in itself; it is infinitely complete and constant, and all seeming changes and progressions take place only in the finite realm, where we understand limited aspects of it.

Our inquiry into the issue of women in the priesthood, therefore, is not to be into a new church faith against the light of the progressive ideas of the modern world, but instead, into what these progressive ideas of the modern world really are against the light of a new church faith as we understand it. These two stances are already the opposite of each other, as each has the opposing foundations where we place our very first reference point, that is, where we look to as the authority to guide us. And this difference changes the outlook of everything that follows:

That this is the first thing which is said by the Lord from Mount Sinai, is because this ought to reign universally in each and all things that follow; for what is said first must be kept in the memory in the things that follow, and must be regarded as the universal thing that is in them. (Arcana Coelestia8864[3])

As the First Commandment reigns universally in each and all other commandments, it provides the church with the foundation, serving the context to all things in the church. And this context is where we find the defining difference between the world and the church. The world may speak the wisdom with more eloquence, and it may also perform the charity with more elegance, but the world seeks its identity in the dismissal of such a context that would admit something that transcends us. In this respect, the state of the world is aptly described in the following:

... he who purposely or deliberately acts contrary to one commandment, acts contrary to the rest, since to so act from purpose and deliberation is to deny utterly that it is sin, and when it is said to be sin, to reject the statement as of no account; and he who so denies and rejects the idea of sin gives no thought to anything that is called sin. Those who are unwilling to hear anything about repentance come into this fixed attitude of mind... (True Christian Religion 523)

This quote is the First Commandment in effect separating the world and the church, and it is probably also a description of the treatment it receives the most itself. The word "sin" implies that we have accepted something that transcends us, the act of which is called repentance. Repentance is our first turning-around to seriously look to the First Commandment. It is, in fact, our first effort to stop empowering ourselves against the Divine. This, of course, is what paved the way for the Lord's ministry on earth, and as such, it also reigns universally in each and all things of His teachings. As the foundation for all else that follows, both the First Commandment and repentance form the same truth that we find in the Writings over and over, which is that all good and truth come from the Lord only, while left to ourselves, we are nothing but evil and falsity.

On one side of this truth is a description about the Lord, and on the other, a description about us. For this whole truth to have an actual effect on our lives, it is not much use to take only one of them and hold it up as a truth by itself. Each side of the truth reinforces the other, and only as a whole, it can soak in and become the true reality within our lives, wherein we can sincerely love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. The effects of all the rest of the Commandments and the Lord's teachings must flow into, and end in, the acknowledgment of this whole truth through the temptations and the despairs that none of us can avoid going through in our effort to live them out. Whenever we are tempted as to any one of the Commandments specifically, we are also tempted as to the First Commandment which always lies in the background.

What makes us a church is that we have this background, which is the Lord, and keep looking to Him as a guiding flag of all our effort to the end. It is for this reason that, in a new church faith, whenever we follow the precepts of the Decalogue, we are to immediately attribute back to the Lord the very power we employed, which appears as if it belonged to us. It is the First Commandment in action, reigning universally to all things that we do.

What Makes Us a Church: What to follow in General

As a result, no part of what we do should appear to us an accomplishment of our own, which we can enumerate and offer as if it was sacrifice to the Lord, or which we could even advertise to the world. But all parts of it should appear no more than simple trust and obedience as in children, who are told what not to do, following the Lord for no more reason than simply that He has so taught us. We thereby ascribe all the power to the Lord without reserve, so that He is restored to be the only Something on His own - only true Proprium - in our minds. The call for respect to Him naturally occurs on that account, which is the true worship. The ownership of good done and truths said in the church are not to rest with us but are to all be acknowledged as credited to the Lord only. Then what we feel will become the opposite of sacrifices, which is, His mercy. We are finally truly led, not by ourselves, but by the Lord.

The foundation that serves the context to all things in the church, and which sets it apart from the world, is both the acknowledgment of the Lord as one and only source of all good and truths, and the work of repentance based upon - and solidifying further - this very acknowledgment. A church is where we empower the Lord through our disempowerment. We always start with - and ensure that we indeed start with - the dignity and respect for the First Commandment, before we even begin talking about the dignity and respect amongst ourselves. The very worrying about our own dignity and respect, on the other hand, is rather a testament to the contrary, as it is reminiscent of the following:

And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:24-27)

This teaching is not about how everyone now has the right to be the least. It is talking about the state after the First Commandment has had an actual effect upon us all as the reigning truth. The Lord's teachings are about our disempowerment with respect to the Lord, even the Lord Himself showing the very examples in his attributing all the power and the glory to the Father while He was on earth. That was the only way His Human could become united with His Divine, and this is also the only way a church could be conjoined with the Lord.

The true "equality" in a church, therefore, is not the ordinary kind that is based on “something” that we think we have as our own power. It is the extraordinary kind that is based on “nothing” that we realize we actually have as we learn to look to the Lord. The flames of matches in our hands are visible and comparable only in the darkness; they disappear as soon as the sun is risen. The very concept of equality as well as inequality amongst us will need to dissipate likewise in the church for it to truly become a church. The Sun is to rise, and we look to this Sun who is to be one and only Something in our sight.

The Opposite Direction

In the call for women in the priesthood, it appears that we are walking in the opposite direction. We are actively ascribing to ourselves knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and even charity, in the context of serving leadership roles in the church. We call for the dignity and respect for ourselves ultimately on account of our having these things. This rationale of looking to the flames of matches in our hands reigns universally in most, if not all, the calls for women in the priesthood. And it contradicts the First Commandment; it is precisely the reason we cannot be given these things - intelligence, wisdom, and charity - from the Lord:

In Luke: Whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all his property, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:33); he who does not know that in the internal sense "property" denotes spiritual riches and wealth, which are knowledges from the Word, cannot possibly know otherwise than that in order that he may be saved he must deprive himself of all wealth; when yet this is not the sense of these words: by "property" are here meant all things which are from man's own intelligence, for no one can be wise from himself, but only from the Lord; wherefore "to renounce all property" denotes to attribute nothing of intelligence and wisdom to self; and he who does not do this cannot be instructed by the Lord, that is, "be His disciple." (Arcana Coelestia 10227[18])

We find so many passages with this apparently paradoxical theme elsewhere in the New Testament, which carry the same message:

Nevertheless in heaven the man who knows, acknowledges, and believes from the heart-that is, from affection-that he has no power from himself, but that all the power he has is from the Lord, is said to be the least, and yet is the greatest, because he has power from the Lord. The case is the same with the man who is humble, in that he is exalted; for he who is humble, acknowledging and believing from affection that he has no power of himself, no intelligence and wisdom of himself, and no good and truth of himself, is preeminently endowed by the Lord with power, with the intelligence of truth, and with the wisdom of good. It is the same with the poor and needy in respect to their being rich and in abundance; for he is said to be poor and needy who believes from his heart and from affection that he possesses nothing of himself, that he knows nothing and is wise in nothing of himself, and has no power of himself. (Arcana Coelestia 4459[4])

The holiness with us, which is especially fitting for the priesthood, also comes from the same source:

With all men, except with the Lord, holiness can dwell solely in ignorance; and if not in ignorance, they have no holiness. With the angels themselves, who are in the highest light of intelligence and wisdom, holiness also dwells in ignorance; for they know and acknowledge that of themselves they know nothing, but that whatever they know is from the Lord. They also know and acknowledge that all their memory-knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, is as nothing in comparison with the infinite knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom of the Lord; thus that it is ignorance. He who does not acknowledge that there are infinite things with which he is not acquainted, beyond those with which he is acquainted, cannot be in the holiness of ignorance in which are the angels. (Arcana Coelestia 1557[2])

The same truth also defines the church, applying to everyone who constitutes it:

In respect to what is their own the men of the church do not make the church, but in respect to what is Divine which they receive from the Lord; for everyone in the church who does not acknowledge and believe that all the good of love and the truth of faith are from God, is not of the church; for he wishes to love God from himself, and to believe in God from himself, which, however, no one can do. From this also it is evident that the Divine of the Lord makes the church, as it makes heaven. Moreover, the church is the Lord's heaven on earth; consequently the Lord is also the all in all in the church, as He is in heaven, and there dwells in His own with men, as He does with the angels in heaven.  (Arcana Coelestia 10151[3])

And so to everyone who constitutes the heavens as well:

In this whole chapter spiritual theft is treated of, which is the claiming to oneself of the good and truth that are from the Lord. This is a matter of so great moment that a man after death cannot be admitted into heaven until he acknowledges at heart that nothing of good or truth is from himself, but all from the Lord, and that whatever is from himself is nothing but evil. (Arcana Coelestia5758)

Swedenborg himself had been brought to acknowledge the same truth in his own experience and elaborated this further:

It has been given me plainly to perceive this now for many years, and also that insofar as I have been left to my own or to myself, I have been inundated with evils, and so far as I have been withheld therefrom by the Lord, I have been lifted up from evil into good. Therefore to claim truth and good to oneself is contrary to the universal that reigns in heaven, as well as contrary to the acknowledgment that all salvation is of mercy, that is, that man of himself is in hell, but is of mercy drawn out thence by the Lord. Man cannot be in humiliation, nor consequently can he receive the Lord's mercy (for this flows in only in humiliation or into a humble heart), unless he acknowledges that there is nothing but evil from himself, and that all good is from the Lord. Without this acknowledgment a man attributes to himself as merit, and at length as righteousness, whatever he does; for to claim to himself the truth and good which are from the Lord is to make himself righteous. This is the source of many evils; for he then regards self in everything that he does for the neighbor, and when he does this he loves himself above all others, whom he then despises, if not in word, yet in heart. (Arcana Coelestia 5758[2])

(More of his conviction and acknowledgment is found throughout his diary recounting spiritual experiences: Spiritual Experiences 1120, Spiritual Experiences 1559-SE1561, Spiritual Experiences 1628, Spiritual Experiences 1910, Spiritual Experiences 2060, Spiritual Experiences 3939, Spiritual Experiences 3940, Spiritual Experiences 4067, Spiritual Experiences 4728, etc.)

This same truth also describes what real charity is, giving us the hints as to what real uses would also be like:

In all good there must be innocence in order that it may be good. Charity without innocence is not charity; and still less is love to the Lord possible without innocence. For this reason innocence is the very essential of love and charity, consequently of good. An own that is innocent is to know, acknowledge, and believe, not with the mouth but with the heart, that nothing but evil is from one's self, and that all good is from the Lord; and therefore that what is man's own is nothing but blackness; that is to say, not only the own of his will, which is evil, but also the own of his understanding, which is falsity. When man is in this confession and belief from the heart, the Lord flows in with good and truth, and insinuates into him a heavenly own, which is white and lustrous. No one can ever be in true humility unless he is in this acknowledgment and belief from the heart; for he is then in annihilation of self, nay, in the loathing of self, and thus in absence from self; and in this manner he is then in a state capable of receiving the Divine of the Lord. It is by this means that the Lord flows in with good into a humble and contrite heart. (Arcana Coelestia 3994)

Finally, this same truth makes up real faith. This is our starting point, and it is the First Commandment:

The reason why man ought not to claim to himself anything that is from the Lord, thus not truth and good, is that he may be in the truth; and insofar as he is in the truth, so far he is in the light in which angels are in heaven; and insofar as he is in this light, so far he is in intelligence and wisdom; and insofar as he is in intelligence and wisdom, so far he is in happiness. This is the reason why man ought to acknowledge from the faith of the heart that nothing of truth and good is from himself, but all from the Lord, and this because it is so. (Arcana Coelestia 5749)

Instructions, powers, holiness, church, heaven, and charity, in fact, all things in our faith are not authentic with us, unless we are reduced to nothing on our own with respect to the Lord first. It is only after there is an acknowledgment and belief from the heart that we indeed do not have the intelligence and wisdom which we can even ascribe to ourselves that our instructions and uses become true and good with us for the first time. Then we will truly understand that it is not we, who lead the church, but the Lord who leads it, because it is no longer we, who own good and truths, but the Lord who owns them. As a result, it is not us to whom we ascribe the dignity and respect, but to the Lord only. Only in our disempowerment can the Lord become powerful with us.

While our disempowerment is itself a process that we do not see an end to, what ensures this direction we keep walking in is our faith in the First Commandment. It is because we start from the First Commandment that we do not turn around to walk in the opposite direction for our empowerment. At the end of the opposite direction for our empowerment, we will not find anything authentic, and we will certainly not find the Lord but only ourselves to whom we end up ascribing all the dignity and respect. The fundamental error in the call for women in the priesthood is in our not starting from the First Commandment. As a result, we are walking in the opposite direction away from the Lord toward ourselves.

In the call for women in the priesthood, there appears to be two predominant fallacies that incessantly haunt us to walk in this opposite direction. One is the idea that we are a complete whole human before we are our gender, and the other is the idea of equality. The means used to generate these fallacies is manipulation of the causalities. What drives the call is the same as what reigns universally in atheistic humanism, which is the trust in power that we claim an ownership of. And as a whole, these fallacies bring about the kind of darkness without the Lord as the Sun, where we only see the flames of the power in our hands and cannot but compare endlessly one against another wherever we turn.

Tomoya Okubo

Tomoya started reading the Writings when he was studying religion and philosophy in Tokyo. He grew up in Japan and now lives in Canada with his wife and three children. They attend the Olivet New Church in Toronto.