The Pew Center for Religion and Public Life recently released a study that looked at the desire among American Catholics for changes in the Church. Not surprisingly, one of the issues that a majority of Catholics (59% of all Catholics and 46% of regular Mass-goers) were in favor of changing was Women’s Ordination. We as Americans especially (interesting that this really is a non-issue everywhere else except Canada) hate being told no and won’t stand one second for any type of discrimination.
For her part, the Church has spoken infallibly on this issue. In Ordinatio Sacerdotalis John Paul II said that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” In other words it is an issue solely based on the authority given to the Church. The Church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women. The Church has never said that it will not ordain women only that it cannot.
As an aside, there is a movement by dissenting theologians and priests to find loopholes in definitive Church teachings. One of the great gifts that our current Holy Father has given to the Church is his clarity as a teacher after Vatican II. When he was Prefect for the CDF made sure that all loopholes were closed when in the audience of John Paul II he confirmed that it was an infallible teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium when he wrote:
This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.
This is why I find the whole issue particularly puzzling. If someone is a faithful Catholic they know that when the Church speaks infallibly it speaks for Christ. To continue arguing on this issue is not an argument for priestesses but an argument against the Church as the voice of Christ. We also know that the truths of the faith do not arise from common human experience but they come to us form God’s gracious self-giving. A doctrinal tradition that is grounded in objective revelation must be preserved and monitored by an authority that transcends subjectivity and is capable of real judgment.
It is helpful however to understand and respond to the reasons why those in favor of priestesses are unable to hear the Church when she says “No.” According to womenpriests.org there are seven reasons why the Church should allow women’s ordination. While there appears to be little distinction between a few them, it does seem to adequately summarize the reasons why those in favor of women’s ordination think it something to be considered.
Jesus empowered women to preside at the Eucharist
The argument goes that Mary and the women disciples were present at the Last Supper and received the command from Christ to “do this in memory of Me.” I have to admit that this is an incredible stretch. All three of the synoptic Gospels say that it was Jesus and the Twelve at the table and make no mention of anyone else. Mark says “when it was evening, he came with the Twelve.” (Mk 14:17), Luke says “when the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles” (Lk 22:14) and Matthew says, “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.” (Mt 26:20).
It is interesting to note that none of them mention these women disciples. Given Luke’s affinity for showing women’s place in the kingdom you would think he might mention that there were women there.
Matthew’s Gospel is perhaps the most damning for the priestess argument. He was writing to a Jewish Christian audience, so if there were to be priestesses he would not have omitted that important detail. The Jews were perhaps the only religious sect that did not have priestesses at the time so if there were to be priestesses in the Christian religion he surely would have mentioned it.
To the argument that the women prepared the Passover and then Jesus and the Apostles came to the meal also has no biblical evidence. Luke in fact says it was Peter and John who did the preparation (Lk 22:8-13).
In this case the advocates for women’s ordination are going way beyond what Scripture tells us; especially given that Tradition does not support that position either. This brings us to arguments two and three
This is a true case of Latent Tradition. Believers have always known in their heart of hearts that women too can be priests.
I am not real clear what they mean by “latent tradition” in this case, but I assume they mean it was something that was believed early on and then was hidden away in the hearts of some of the faithful. This is almost a subtle form of Gnosticism where there is this select group who has held on to the true teaching.
Is there any evidence to the claim that “believers have always known in their heart of hearts that women too can be priests”? Clearly St. Paul did not teach this to be true. In 1 Tim 2:11-14, he taught that women could not teach or have authority over a man in the Church, which are two obviously essential functions of the clergy.
The early Fathers of the Church also were unanimous in saying that there could be no women clergy. Tertullian quoted St. Paul’s admonition that women might not speak in the church in the 3rd Century (206) saying “(I)t is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church [1 Cor 14:34–35], but neither [is it permitted her] . . . to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say sacerdotal office” (The Veiling of Virgins 9).
Similarly in the 4th Century (387) St. John Chrysostom said that “(W)hen one is required to preside over the Church and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also, and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature” (The Priesthood 2:2).
A natural question would be if it was rejected from the very beginning, when exactly did it go “latent”?
Women were given the full ordination to the diaconate in the Early Church.
This like the previous argument is not historically accurate. According to the Apostolic Traditions (written around the year 400) the role of the deaconess was to assist with the baptism of women. In the first few centuries baptism was done completely naked. “A deaconess does not bless, but neither does she perform anything else that is done by presbyters [priests] and deacons, but she guards the doors and greatly assists the presbyters, for the sake of decorum, when they are baptizing women.”
Furthermore there is no evidence that these deaconesses were ordained and in fact there is evidence to the contrary. Both the First Council of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Laodicea (360) said that they are not to be ordained but be counted among the laity.
Through baptism women and men share equally in the new priesthood of Christ. This includes openness to Holy Orders.
With the historicity of their position highly suspect at best, we turn to the theological argument. This argument is an attempt to equate or at least put on the same level the priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood. This is one of the essential differences between many of the Protestant ecclesial communities and the Catholic Church.
What exactly does the Church say about the differences? In Lumen Gentium(10), the Second Vatican Council said the following:
‘Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to the other; each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.’
The proponents of women’s ordination say that the difference is one of only degree. But the Church says the differences are in kind even though they are ordered towards each other. The priest is for the laity and the laity for the priest.
What is the difference between the priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood?
As part of our baptism we share in Christ’s priesthood. The role of the priest is to offer sacrifices. The priesthood of all believers offers spiritual sacrifices (see Romans 12:1 and 1 Peter 2:5). They are united to Christ’s priesthood by a spiritual union through faith and charity, but not by sacramental power.
The ministerial priesthood however is a personal (albeit sacramental) representation of Christ, such as offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice or forgiving sins. Like every sacrament, Holy Orders has matter and form—the matter is the male sex.
Why the male sex? Well, because Christ is male. That is no mere accident or social convention. You tread on dangerous ground if you suggest it is because then Christ would be guilty of the sin of sexism. He came as a male because He was the Son Who came to reveal the Father. The Father’s masculinity is essential to knowing Who He is. God is masculine in relation to everything and thus priests who represent Him sacramentally (i.e. make visible what is invisible) must be male.
Now let me make clear what I am saying. God is masculine in relation to everything that is. I am not saying that God is masculine. God has both masculinity and femininity in Him or else He could not be the source of those things. More accurately, it would be proper to say that He transcends masculinity and femininity.
A prejudice barred women from the priestly ministry…Women were considered less than men in every respect.
Does anyone see a problem with this argument right off the bat? On the one hand they say that the early Church did ordain women. Now they said they didn’t. Which is it? I love the part where they say, “OK, in the past the Church refused to ordain women as priests.” It’s as if they are saying that alright, alright, we made up the other reasons. But here is the real reason.”
That being said, this statement has a hidden assumption and it really goes to the heart of the confusion not only of the priesthood but of society as a whole. The assumption is that the only response to chauvinism is egalitarianism. The chauvinist says that because men and women are different in their essence, one must be superior to the other. Egalitarianists reject the conclusion that one must be superior to the other by also rejecting the premise that they are different in their essence. They say there really are no differences in the sexes. But in reality all they have done is swung equally wrong in the opposite direction. For what they both assume is that all differences are differences in value. But they can be equal in value while being different in role.
That our bodies are different ought to be obvious. But what is the body other than the form of the soul. This means that our masculinity and femininity goes to the very depths of our souls. When I say “I am a man” the “I” that is saying it really is masculine and not a neutered soul in a biologically male body. This is why when your biology contradicts your ideology it is time to rethink your ideology.
Maybe instead of merely dismissing the Fathers of the Church as chauvinists, we should look at the ways in which they were right. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of 1 Peter to call females the “fairer sex” which means that in some ways females are the weaker of the two sexes. This also implies that egalitarianism is contrary to Scripture.
The point is that the response to the injustice that men for many generations (ever since the Fall really) have perpetuated on women is not identity. As Chesterton said, “there is nothing so certain to lead to inequality as identity.” Unbeknownst to feminists however they are acknowledging the superiority of the male sex in trying to become like men. They foolishly seek to alter inequality rather than seek truth or justice.
In other Christian Churches women are now being given access to all the ordained ministries.
Is this really one of the best seven reasons they can come up with; “everyone else is doing it”? It didn’t work with my mother as a teenager and you can’t imagine it will work with Holy Mother Church. You need reasons why the Catholic Church should do it. Keeping up with the Lutherans is not one of them.
Cardinal George is often asked why the Church will not allow women priests. His response is very much how I would envision Christ responding—with a question. He asks them to tell him what they think a priest is. He has yet to come across a single person who could tell him correctly what a priest is. That is what is behind this “argument”. It is a fundamental misunderstanding what the difference between a Priest and other Protestant ministers is.
A Priest is not merely a minister who preaches and leads the congregation. No, a Priest is one who stands in persona Christi or in the Person of Christ. A Priest’s primary focus is to bring the Sacraments to the laity so that they can be empowered to go out and sanctify the world. This is something very different than a Protestant Minister who leads a congregation in worship. As CS Lewis says in his essay Priestesses in the Church?, that there is “an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him.”
The fact is that many Catholic women, all over the world, feel called to the priestly ministry.
Finally we come to the last of the arguments. Many Catholic women “feel” called to priestly ministry. This really is a question related to discernment. Although this is a whole topic in itself, this is something that we have forgotten how to do. When discerning any call from God as being authentic or not, there are checks that God has placed in our lives. One of those checks is to check it against the authority of the Church who we know speaks on behalf of Christ. Because the one who hears the Church hears Christ, if the Church says no so does He. This is a good indication that the call is not authentic. Again this is a rejection not of an all male priesthood, but the Catholic Church herself.
Truth cannot contradict truth. If you claim to be receiving an inspiration and it does jibe with the Church, then that is probably a good indication exactly which type of spirit is leading you. Like all heretical claims, it is really just a repackaging of an old heresy. The Montanists claimed that their leader Montanus was the spokesperson of the Holy Spirit (along with 2 women, Priscilla and Maximilla). Even Tertullian was drawn away from the Church by them. Like all heresies it keeps dying and then is reincarnated in a different form.
What is most disturbing to me personally is that it is really functionalism at the heart of anyone who argues it is an insult to a woman’s personal worth not to be allowed to become a priest. We are not who we are primarily because of what we do, but primarily in Who made us and Who we were made for. Am I less valuable because the Church won’t allow me to be a priest?
I close with CS Lewis’ conclusion regarding the problem of priestesses in the Church. He says “(W)e men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter.”