Here I want to reply to Tom Osborne’s post from several weeks ago. In his post Tom argues that although the Church doesn’t permit the ordination of women, it is overly strong to claim that this is an ontological impossibility. He offers two reasons against this:
First, it does not seem impossible for Christ to have made a co-ed or all-female priesthood. It may be inappropriate, but it seems hardly impossible. It just didn't happen.
Second, suppose that a validly ordained man becomes a woman not through some sort of operation or sex-change, but some truly natural or supernatural process. The identity of the individual would be the same. The priesthood is permanent. It seems then that there would be a woman priest. It doesn't happen, but it isn't impossible.
Of course, Tom isn’t calling for women’s ordination. That’s not the moral of the story. He’s simply pointing out what he takes to be problems with certain arguments against women’s ordination.
Be that as it may, I’m going to take issue with Tom’s second argument above.
On a hylomorphic account of the human person, i.e., an account that sees the human person as a unity of body and soul (or matter and soul), the person isn’t the body or the soul but the whole package. Furthermore, on this account, souls – the substantial forms of persons – are, so to speak, “fitted” to bodies. In other words, the apparently Platonic idea that there’s no necessary match between the kind of body and the kind of soul such that any soul could inhabit (a hylomorphist would say “actualize”) any body (e.g., my soul would be just as suitable for a whale’s body) is wrong.
I think the hylomorphic account of the human person is the right one. What does it imply about men and women as human persons? To me it appears to imply that the difference in male and female anatomy and biology, implies a difference in substantial form (not an essential one but either an accidental one or a difference that falls somewhere between essential and accidental). What I’m saying is that men and women have different souls. You can’t, then, have a female body with a male soul or vice-versa. Male and female souls are no more interchangeable than male and female bodies.
If I’m right about this, then sex isn’t just skin deep. The human person is a sexed being through and through. That means that I am a sexed being through and through. So, I can’t be a male at T1 and a female at T2. If I’m the person at T1, then I could never be the person at T2. Let’s call the person we have at T1, who is male, person A, and the person at T2, who is female, person B. Suppose that by some natural or supernatural occurrence (such as Tom speaks about in his post), A is in some sense transformed into B. On the account I’ve been proposing, the continuity between A and B couldn’t be a personal continuity unless we’re prepared to say goodbye to the PNC. It could only be, at most, a material continuity. The change wrought by the transformation would have to be a substantial rather than an accidental change.
In light of these considerations, I don’t see how, if A were an ordained priest, that A’s ordination could be transferred to B. It would be an ontological impossibility.