29Jan Why it cannot be required of any Catholic to take the pope’s declaration as the last word on women’s ordination

The question that needs to be asked in regard to John Paul II’s declaration 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” is – what theological note is to be attached to this declaration? Is it, and can it be, any stronger than “theologically certain” (a quaint way of saying that it is not so certain that it cannot be discussed and reconsidered!)? I doubt it because the fact of the matter is that never before, in the history of the Church, has the question been raised (on the very few occasions that it has been raised at all) in the context of an assumed social equality of men and women. It is, therefore, a new question and none of us (John Paul II included) know the answer to a new question until we have considered it. Therefore, in spite of John Paul II’s “definitive tenendam”, it cannot be required of any Catholic that they take the pope’s declaration as the last word on the matter.

Nicholas Lash

January 29th, 2013

43 Responses

  1. Soline Humbert

    More information on this point is contained in
    http://www.churchauthority.org/resources2/lash.asp Confusion over infallibility by Nicholas Lash
    and the very important detailed background article
    http://www.churchauthority.org/resources2/benedict.asp Incredible “infallibility “claim, which refers to the dismissal of bishop Morris over the issue of the ordination of women.
    http://www.womenpriests.org/teaching/moingt.asp The French theologian Joseph Moingt SJ on the dangers of attempting to close the debate prematurely.

  2. daithi

    At long last somebody is waking up to the idea that society has changed and that the church should be taking that into account in the pronouncements that it makes. The church cannot hope to play a meaningful part in people’s lives if it insists on forcing people to accept inappropriate and outmoded interpretations of statements, structures and roles, habits and perceptions of a society in a distant land 2,000 years ago.
    Canon Law, interpretations of the life of Christ and the preachings/teachings of the church have changed and adapted over the centuries.
    Vatican II was a watershed of development and change. At a minimum we need to embrace the ideas of that council and 50 years later we need to move forward from there to recognise the need for further development and change.

  3. Noel J. Healy

    Blessed John Paul II was truly a wonderfully gifted man of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit in his writings. If women feel that they have a vocation, then, they should join a covent and follow in the foot steps of St Claire.
    To confer Holy Orders on women would be unnatural and not of God. If Jesus intended women priests, he would have ordain this, when he walked with the apostles.

  4. Pew View

    I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said ” the person who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower” To be PC, Chesterton ought to have added “.. or widow”. Anyway, the Church has developed and refined, clarified and indeed changed its teaching over the centuries but that movement is through discernment and reflection on the Word of the Lord amid new challenges and not in response to the political and social zeitgeist whose inspirations may be well meaning but which do not accept the paradox of the cross which is the Christian’s way to fullness of life. The Church has always been most authentic when it challenges and opposes the spirit of the age rather than trimming its teaching to it as if there was some kind of inevitable upward progression involved in social change. The zeitgeist in Ireland today is comfortable with abortion or its concept., with the re-definition of the family, with gross inequality within our own society. It is the test of the genuine follower of Christ or any movement that marches under his name to ask what stand they take on such issues, some of which may be quaint and outmoded but rooted in the Gospel as preached by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostle Paul and upheld against hostility and scorn through the ages.

  5. roy donovan

    Nearly every third day (sometimes every day these times) as a priest, I ask myself anew are women and men equal because being part of such a male dominated institution the message I get through osmosis (ie. the language of the new missal) is that women are second class citizens. To me language is critical – it communicates values. Maybe there is alot of truth in what Marion Keenan put out about priests but so quickly took back. So I find that I have to work extra hard to believe in Jesus and in his message that in the Kingdom/Queendom that women and men are equally important to Jesus. I believe that womens’ and mens’ experience of life and of the divine are equally valid and should have structures to represent this. Again most children and young people instinctively know this. There’s alot to be said that this should not be a Year of Faith but a Year of Liberation (Gospel last Sunday)! Imagine if that was the slogan/mantra for this year and was visible in every Church!

  6. John Wotherspoon

    A recent book on St Theres of Lisieux shows that till her dying day she longed to be a priest.
    For this should she be excommunicated (even though she’s a Doctor of the Church!) or should she be made the patron of women priests?

    See this review

  7. Diffal

    An interesting point Prof. Lash, but given the fact that the nature of the Catholic Priesthood is sacramental rather than social, and it’s basis is in revelation rather than convention, to ask this question “in the context of assumed social equality” as you put it does not make sense even in the modern debate around the issue, begun in 1975 under Paul VI. Therefore I don’t see how we can ignore John Paul II in the method you suggest. Men and Women are equal in dignity in the eyes of God and His Church but they are different in function, and for reasons best known to himself, Jesus only chose men to be his Priests. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”(Jn 17:18) We work with what we’re given we don’t make it up as we go along.

  8. seán eile

    Wasn’t Jesus’ primary purpose in choosing 12 to re-establish the 12 tribes of Israel (new chosen people) – and so they had to be men as the patriarchs were. When he choose them was he really, deliberately, picking candidates for the priesthood?

  9. pew view

    There is no question but the church like its founder upholds in its teaching the equal value and dignity of all human beings, male or female, enslaved or free, born or unborn. Otherwise, we are all very unequal and diverse thankfully in the gifts and qualities we bring to the community of faith. The current zeitgeist which is very influenced by radical feminism denies the complementarity of gender and sex. For whatever reasons, the Word was incarnated amongst a patriarchal people; there were at the time other cults in the Middle East with priestesses. Jesus also used spousal imagery to explain his relationship with his church. Priesthood and Eucharist are at the core of that relationship. Are we anymore free to change the model the Gospels give us than the signs of bread and wine ?

  10. Soline Humbert

    There is even more,which has led to St Therese being adopted worldwide as patron saint of women priests!
    St Therese believed so much in her vocation to the ministerial priesthood that she made the daring request to have her hair tonsured (then a part of the ordination ritual). That request, which was granted by her sisters in Carmel is recorded in the official process of Beatification. However, to the best of my knowlege, it is never mentioned in the biographies of St Therese, and certainly was not mentioned when she was made a doctor of the church. I should disclose that I have a personal interest in lifting the veil on this cover-up (pardon the pun!) because the bishop who presided at the beatification process and first heard this was my great grand uncle.
    St Therese also forecast her death at age 24 and explained it would be so because this was the age for ordination. She interpreted her death at that age as God sparing her the pain of not being ordained. We might disagree with her, but the fact remains that this is how she interpreted her death (evidence given under oath).
    From an article by Eric Doyle OFM, who was appointed by the Vatican as a member of the 1975 Anglican/Roman catholic Working Group on the Ordination of Women (these were the days!):
    ” I came upon a fascinating detail recently from the life of St Therese of Lisieux. Among the testimonies from the process of her beatification there is a long and detailed statement by her sister, Celine Martin, whose name in religion was Sister Genevieve of St Teresa. She gave her testimony from 14 to 28 September 1910 before a diocesan tribunal, set up by the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux. Sister Genevieve bore witness under oath that:
    In 1897, but before she was really ill, Sister Therese told me she expected to die that year. Here is the reason she gave me for this in June. When she realised that she had pulmonary tuberculosis, she said: ‘You see, God is going to take me at an age when I would not have had the time to become a priest . . . If I could have been a pnest, I would have been ordained at these June ordinations. So, what did God do? So that I would not be disappointed, he let me be sick: in that way I couldn’t have been there, and I would die before I could exercise my ministry.’ The sacrifice of not being able to be a priest was something she always felt deeply. During her illness, whenever we were cutting her hair she would ask fore tonsure, and then joyfully feel it with her hand. But her regret did not find its expression merely in such tnfles; it was caused by a real love of God, and inspired high hopes in her. The thought that St Barbara had brought communion to St Stanislas Kostka thrilled her. ‘Why must I be a virgin, and not an angel or a priest?’ she said. ‘Oh! what wonders we shall see in heaven! I have a feeling that those who desired to be priests on earth will be able to share in the honour of the priesthood in heaven.’

    St Therese was twenty-four on 2 January 1897, the canonical age for ordination to the priesthood in theRoman Catholic Church at that time. She died on 30 September that same year. This remarkable passage provides much food for thought. One wonders what reaction it provoked in the Promoter of the Faith (known popularly as the ‘Devil’s Advocate’) in Rome as he sifted and examined the evidence for St Therese’s heroic sanctity. It evidently proved no barrier to her canonization.
    I would like to make one final point. This question ought not to be divorced from the theology of God and the feminine. The mystics and the mystic theologians have much to teach us here. Without embarrassment and with complete confidence so many of them spoke beautifully of God in feminine terms. That has so much relevance to the question about the ordination of women. Let St Anselm, then, have the last word: ‘Surely, Jesus, good Lord, you are a mother? Are you not a mother who, like a hen, gathers her chicks under her wings? Indeed, Lord, you are a mother.’(28)”

  11. Darlene Starrs

    Let me present this scenario……..again, at the risk of being disrespectful. Today, we are celebrating the baptism of this boy and of this girl.
    Now, in order, that we understand, their baptisms, we will have prayers for the girl and prayers for the boy, so that, there is no scandal and confusion with the faithful gathered here today, in terms, understanding what the baptism means for the girl, and what the baptism means for the boy. They will each have different “functions” in the Church, and the girl, will not be “groomed” for the role of the boy, which could be the priesthood. Just so, we all understand. Does she have to go out to the whole world you ask? No, she can be like Mary, in the Martha and Mary story. She will sit at the feet of Jesus and be quiet. The boy will be charged with proclaiming the Kerygma, but will need a good home cooked meal, now and again, and that’s where the girls comes in. Does everyone understand? Now, we can proceed with the baptism!

  12. Francisca

    Could I point out to Noel Healy @ 3 above: When the Pope of her day tried to make Clare of Assisi accept lands and revenues that would have compromised her desire to follow Christ in poverty, he said ‘If you fear for your vow, we can absolve you from it’. Her response was:
    ‘Absolve me from my sins, Holy Father, but not from following Jesus Christ’.

  13. Michael O Sullivan

    Work back from the point of one’s beliefs until you arrive at The God that those views represent, then ask is this the God I want to believe in. Does God not wish women to be ordained or is it men who do not wish women ordained? Could it perhaps be time to listen to the Spirit.

  14. Soline Humbert

    @3 Noel, There is more to St Clare of Assisi. Consider this:

    “Around AD 1455 in Siena, Tuscany, the painter Giovanni di Paolo created a small panel titled “St Clare of Assisi blessing the bread before Pope Innocent IV”. (see http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=319) He represented a well known story which has Clare ask the pope on the occasion of his visit to her community to bless bread. According to the story in the Fioretti Innocent IV insisted that Clare herself bless the bread. As she did so,miraculously, the sign of the cross appeared on the bread.

    The painter depicts a woman with her right hand authoritatively stretched out in priestly blessing over the three small round loaves on the table. The miraculously transformed bread with the cross now imprinted resembles the large Eucharistic hosts reserved for priests.The painting frames these three host-like breads:on the right stands the pope,bowing both to the blessed bread and to Clare,with the remainder of that side filled with the papal entourage who exude power.

    The left side of the painting is filled with Clare,alone,with the bread she has transformed.Her hand is outstreched in blessing over the bread.Clare’s head is surrounded by a large halo.The pope ,on the other side wears his tiara and the cardinals their red hats.The painter has chosen to display the power of female sanctity in the face of male clerical power and God’s authentication of this female power over bread,to which a pope can only bow.” ( from Gender Differences And The Making Of Liturgical History by Teresa Berger).

    There is a large fresco representing that same event on the wall of the convent refectory in San Damiano, where it actually happened. In that painting the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is also present….a strong reminder of the epiclesis during the Eucharist. For some strange reason that fresco is normally kept hidden from sight to the general public, with no reproductions available. When queried as to why this invisibility,the reply from the poor clare sister in charge was: It is not yet time. Eight centuries later!…

  15. Pew View

    St Therese yearned to be an angel as well as a priest. Soline, a desire is not the same as a demand. Darlene should also consider what the discipleship of the Woman at the Well involved: she listened too like Mary but she also proclaimed the kerygma. How can you belittle Mary’s discipleship when Jesus tells us that she will be remembered “wherever the Gospel is preached “? And Isn’t it a bit simplistic to state that because women can’t enter priestly ministry they are called to be no more than providers of hot meals?

  16. scareport

    One more points : Priests are spiritual garbage men, taking out the trash of our vilest, darkest sins. It’s not a nice job, like being an exorcist, isn’t a nice job. It’s akin to physical garbage collection. Notice how few feminists there are raging about under-representation in that field.

  17. Joe O'Leary

    Fascinating details about Thérèse de Lisieux from Soline. Surely we should all have heard of them; and there must have been a very determine effort to airbrush them from the record.

    “there were at the time other cults in the Middle East with priestesses.” But Jesus did not ordain priests, much less priestesses. The presbyters or elders of the New Testament are not priests. Apart from Christ the high priest (in the Letter to the Hebrews) and the priestly people of God (I Peter) there is no Christian usage of “priest” in the NT.

  18. Diffal

    @Joe O’Leary: To be fair that Jesus did not use the term Priest when referring to the Apostles does not make for a convincing argument, as priestly terminology, if not the term itself, is used by Him in reference to them.

    Jesus himself is the High priest(which we can agree on as per Heb 7:20-28, He does not acknowledge the titles Lord, Christ, Messiah, Redeemer or Son of God in the scriptures, but I hope that we can agree that he is all of these things as well) but that He Himself does not use the title Priest is not a sign of abolition, as we know he came not to abolish but to fulfil(cf Mt 5:17), rather to develop His new Christian Priesthood He distanced Himself from the framework of old Levitical Priesthood. (cf wineskins and Lk 2:22). We know He spoke in terms of Shepherd, Sacrifice and Service which are the hallmarks of his new Ministerial and Cultic(cf Jn 6:53, 10:10 & the Institution of the Eucharist) Priesthood. It is in this new Priesthood that the Apostles share in order to tend to Christ’s flock(i.e. feed my sheep peter).

    Jn 17:18 “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” The Priesthood of Christ is the foundation and source of the New covenant’s ministerial Priesthood which is different in degree and essence from the universal priesthood of all the baptised(Cf Lumen Gentium 10), as well as the universal priesthood, which itself is a fulfilment of the priestly people Israel who, despite their universal call to holiness as a priestly people, nevertheless had a dedicated ministerial priesthood and high priest. Our new and eternal High Priest is of course Christ Himself, but for what ever reason He chose men to be his ministerial Priests (probably what St Paul meant about weak and foolish in 1 Cor 1:27) when he instituted His new Covenant at the last supper. It’s not an all male power-grab-priesthood its what we’ve been given by Christ.

  19. Diffal

    @Soline Humbert: I’ve been reading the letters of St Therese and I don’t see how they can be used in the sense you suggest, rather they seem to be an idealised longing for personal holiness which we all should aspire to. She wrote in the greatest mystical traditions of the Church, and it must be said in the gushing romantic piety of late 19th Century France(not a bad thing per se, but it is the context in which she lived). I find St. Therese an inspiring saint, I don’t find in her a champion of female priests.

    As she says herself: “I feel as if I were called to be a fighter, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr; as if I could never satisfy the needs of my nature without performing, for Your sake, every kind of heroic action at once. I feel as if I’d got the courage to be a Crusader, a Pontifical Zouave, dying on the battlefield in defence of the Church. And at the same time I want to be a priest; how lovingly I’d carry You in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I’d bestow You on men’s souls! And yet, with all this desire to be a priest, I’ve nothing but admiration and envy for the humility of St. Francis; I’d willingly imitate him in refusing the honour of the priesthood.”

    She could not do all of these things at all, let alone all at once, this list of her desires cannot be taken as a literal statement of personal goals. As she herself says: “Dear Jesus, how am I to reconcile these conflicting ambitions, how am I to give substance to the dreams of one insignificant soul?” and she continues “I’d like to travel all over the world, making your name known and planting your cross on heathen soil; only I shouldn’t be content with one particular mission, I would want to be preaching the gospel on all five continents and in the most distant islands, all at once. And even then it wouldn’t do, carrying on my mission for a limited number of years; I should want to have been a missionary ever since the creation, and go on being a missionary till the world came to an end.”

    These are unrealistic goals but worthy ambitions of a saint. You could as well argue that she realistically and theologically wanted to be a priest as she realistically wanted to be a missionary from creation until the end of time, in all five continents at the exact same time. Obviously there are many more examples, but her writing is beautiful, mystical Christian poetry and Love of God as its highest point. It is not a hidden demand or desire to become an ordained priest which was airbrushed from catholic history as you seem to suggest.

  20. Darlene Starrs

    Dear Pew View:

    If the woman at the well had been given real attention by the powers that be, there would be no question about ordaining women!

    Just a note about other New Testament women: The scripture scholar Raymond Brown had suggested that Nympha who had a Church in her house, was probably, in all likelihood, also presiding.

  21. David A

    It’s not a new question but has existed from the early days of the Catholic faith.

    Also, men and women are equal in dignity before God. But equal does not mean the same. Just as only men can be fathers, only women can be mothers. Equal, but different.

  22. Pew View

    Darlene, the encounters of Jesus with the women of St John’s Gospel are the most beautiful, haunting and memorable of all the encounters of Jesus with specific people. At the house of Mary and Martha, at the anointing in the home of Simon, at the well and in the garden of the Resurrection there is nothing so spiritually and emotionally charged anywhere else in John or in the Synoptics. And yet, they were not among the Twelve, not the primary recipients of the Mandatum. Would the Gospels on which our faith is based be unclear about such a thing – their exclusion from ministerial priesthood? If so, what reliance can we have on anything else that is there?

  23. Soline Humbert

    I am NOT referring to the letters of St Therese. I am referring to the testimonies given under oath at the beatification process.
    I am pointing out that they are never included in biographies of St Therese, which deliberately air brush ( or is it hair-brush?) the fact that she had her hair tonsured, as an embodied sign of her own self belief in her vocation. Why do you think this is not made public even though it is on record? Embarrassing?
    Sr Catharina Broome OP has written an interesting article.http://www.womenpriests.org/called/broome.asp

  24. Joe O'Leary

    Of course Ste Thérèse knew her aspiration to priesthood was unrealistic but the facts quoted by Soline are still very striking. She suffered from not being able to be a priest, so much so that she took the fate of dying instead as a divine consolation.

    “priestly terminology, if not the term itself, is used by Him in reference to them” . “We know He spoke in terms of Shepherd, Sacrifice and Service which are the hallmarks of his new Ministerial and Cultic(cf Jn 6:53, 10:10 & the Institution of the Eucharist) Priesthood.” The only specifically priestly note here is sacrifice, and there is NOTHING in the NT about a sacrificial priesthood; “Do this in memory of me” is addressed to all disciples, not just to the Apostles. The idea that the Apostles were “priests” and the other disciples “laity” is unhistorical.

    “He chose men to be his ministerial Priests (probably what St Paul meant about weak and foolish in 1 Cor 1:27)” — Paul makes no references to priests in this chapter, and indeed the verse you quote is addressed to all the faithful of Corinth: “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; 27 but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption”.

  25. Darlene Starrs

    Dear Pew View:

    The “energy of the resurrected Christ” may be passed from the Lord to a man or a woman. When we speak of the “incarnate Christ today”, we are not speaking of only men. The debate of whether women will receive orders, is probably going to be settled when the circumstances of the Church are such that there is no other recourse. I don’t know what the Lord plans, but if the current bastian of “stubborn” thinking remains, then, history and life will resolve the issue. We will be prepared because the scholarship has been done. What we also should recognize that no authentic vocation in Christ for whatever mission, is ever, unfulfilled. The “gates of hell never prevail against the Lord’s beloved and anointed”.

  26. Diffal

    @Joe O’Leary: Actually the Good Shepherd saving the lost sheep is deeply symbolic of Priesthood in the Bible, a task Christ gives to his Apostles(cf Jn 10:11;Mk 6:34 Mt 9:36-7;10:6 etc.). It is also often used in describing the Relationship of God to His Chosen people. Likewise Service is taken by Christ and made a mark of His ministry as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah -the servant of God and Humanity. Christ’s entire Mission and Priesthood was and is Sacrificial in Nature, The words “do this in memory” were addressed in a particular way to the Apostles at the Last supper, the beginning of Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice which culminated on calvary. Scripture only mentions Jesus and the twelve at the Last Supper and it was here that he instituted the beginnings of the new covenant, the Eucharist and the new priesthood. Christ had of course been forming them in a particular way prior to this institution, as the distinction between the twelve (with Peter as their head), and the rest of the disciples running through scripture shows. His choosing the twelve in itself is significant, historical and should not be overlooked, indeed that the twelve are named in scripture out of the multitude of disciples is itself also significant. That Christ prayed before initially choosing the twelve(cf Mk 3:13, Lk 6:12-13), that he chose who He wanted with complete freedom(cf Mk 3:13, & Jn 6:70;15:16) presupposes a particular ministry for them which was brought to fulfilment during the Last Supper in Christ’s farewell Discourse(Jn 14-17) and in particular His High Priestly prayer(Jn 17). Scripture only mentions the twelve(well eleven by this point in Jn) as being present. This is sending them into the world as ministerial priests, in a similar fashion to the way He was send by the Father into the world to be High Priest and Spotless Sacrifice of the New covenant. The Apostles and their successors are neither High priest nor sacrifice but rather sharers in a particular way in Christ’s Ministerial Priesthood re-presenting(making present again for us now) His single and eternal Sacrifice.

    Re 1 Cor 1:27: Apologies, I didn’t mean that to be an attempted proof text for the Priesthood. It is sometimes difficult to get across puns and gags in written texts, with this in mind I will put up **Pun Warnings** the next time I put down my fellow men-folk and their abilities, using St Paul or indeed any other source. I will most likely do so using lol’s or smiley faces 🙂 . The intention was to say neither Priesthood nor any other Christian vocation is based on ability or merit, Christ chooses who He does for reasons best known to Himself.

  27. Joe O'Leary

    Yes, the Apostles are a core group and Jn 17 is a deep meditation on their role. But they are not called priests or presented as priests offering sacrifice. Hebrews had ample opportunity to refer to Christian priests but significantly did not do so.

  28. Darlene Starrs

    He is the Vine and We are the Branches…..Thank you very, very, much Diffal for your words: “Christ chooses who He does for reasons best known to Himself.” The Old and New Testaments as the story of salvation, is replete with vocation after vocation, of men and women, who had specific, beautiful, and powerful missions and lives of testimony to God. And while the Church born from the spirit of Christ, has not always I’m sure behaved, as Christ would have wanted, and as our current challenges with the CDF and the Vatican indicate, we have always had what I call our little “s” saints and our big “S” saints who have secured the Church for Christ. Yes, as a woman, who has lived her life for and with Christ, I resonate with all the women and men of the story of salvation and I “know” by the assurance of Christ, that every single vocation, for women and men, called by Christ, has, is, and will be fulfilled, as His Word Never Returns To Him Empty. It is indeed, the Lord’s Church and He continues to prepare it and us for change, as He has always done. And “Praise Be God, Who In Jesus Christ, Always Leads Us In Triumphal Procession”.

  29. Soline Humbert

    The papal theologian, Fr Wojcieh Giertych OP, has just commented on why women couldn’t be priests. Some of his views are, let’s say, rather revealing… Reflecting on differences between the sexes, Father Giertych suggested other reasons that men are especially suited to the priesthood. Men are more likely to think of God in terms of philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms, he said, a quality valuable for fulfilling a priest’s duty to transmit church teaching. Although the social and administrative aspects of church life are hardly off-limits to women, Father Giertych said priests love the church in a characteristically “male way” when they show concern “about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordat between the church and the state.” Father Giertych acknowledged that a Catholic woman might sincerely believe she is called to the priesthood, but said such a “subjective” belief does not indicate the objective existence of a vocation. None of which means that women hold an inferior place in the church, he said. “Every baptized person, both male and female, participates in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of baptism, drawing the fruits of the paschal mystery to one’s own soul,” he said. “And maybe in some sense we could say that, in this, women are more apt to draw from the mystery of Christ, by the quality of their prayer life, by the quality of their faith.” Women are better able than men to perceive the “proximity of God” and enter into a relationship with him, Father Giertych said, pointing to the privileged role played by women in the New Testament. “Women have a special access to the heart of Jesus,” he said, “in a very vivid way of approaching him, of touching him, of praying with him, of pouring ointment on his head, of kissing his feet.” “The mission of the woman in the church is to convince the male that power is not most important in the church, not even sacramental power,” he said. “What is most important is the encounter with the living God through faith and charity.” “So women don’t need the priesthood,” he said, “because their mission is so beautiful in the church anyway.” This special relationship, the theologian said, is essentially related to Jesus’ maleness. “I remember once a contemplative nun told me, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be horrible if Jesus were a woman?’ And it dawned on me that, for a woman, the access to Jesus in prayer is easier than for us men, because he’s male,” Father Giertych said. “The relationship of love, of attachment, the spousal relationship to Christ is easier for the woman.”

  30. Carol Brady

    Delighted to read this hopeful news-on this the first day of Spring !

    Thanks be to God !

    Carol Brady
    Dublin 15

  31. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Soline for the above entry………I think, the answer, to knowing where he’s coming from is in your first sentence……..”The Papal Theologian”……Walter, as his english name would be has very nicely defined, at least, in his own head, how maybe, the Institutional Church can sidestep the issue of women’s ordination, by making things look right and just as they are. Really? I do think, that, this new age in the world, has had one very valuable teaching and that is, we are in a time, when, being right brained and left brained with balance is preferable, and I believe that is so, because the “feminine” which has been subordinated all over the world, and not just in the Church, needs to come to the fore and be in right relationship with the masculine, which I think is not equal, but different, but interrelated……..I in You, You in Me

  32. Darlene Starrs

    Further to my thoughts above, I once wrote a reflection, in which I said, that is hard for the Catholic Psyche to image Christ in a woman. We haven’t had this dimension well developed and modeled.
    However, I think, it is because we look too much at this from a human point of view. We are focused on the “genitals” rather that the “spiritual heart”. The “Immaculate Heart of Mary” and the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” are virtually the same spiritual heart and I would suggest that Mary and Jesus possess both spiritual hearts within them. Actually, if you want to understand, what is the Church, it is, “The Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus” and they are not separate, but again, I in You and You in Me. There is no gendre limitation to the indwelling of these hearts, which are essentially the Church. We need to view our physical realities from the Divine perspective, otherwise, we cannot rise above, our current debates and discussion and find that union with the mind and heart of Christ.

  33. Joe O'Leary

    ““Women have a special access to the heart of Jesus,” he said, “in a very vivid way of approaching him, of touching him, of praying with him, of pouring ointment on his head, of kissing his feet.””

    The history of Cistercian spirituality shows that the same can be said of gay men. See also the cult of the divine prepuce, as studied by the Louvain psychologist of religion Antoine Vergote.

    Is that an argument for readmitting gays to the priesthood? Alas, no, since the alleged female psychology is an argument against excluding women.

    I suspect that the fantasies are really in the mind of their beholder.

  34. Joe O'Leary

    Darlene, the language of vocation in Scripture cannot be used to exclude those it does not explicitly mention. You could not use Jesus’ language about the call of the Twelve as an argument for querying the authenticity of Paul’s apostolic vocation.

  35. Joe O'Leary

    That the origins of priesthood are indeed murky, historically if not doctrinally, is suggested by the following (downloaded from a posting of Joseph Jaglowicz at another website):

    Much of the following information is from Kenan Osborne’s PRIESTHOOD: A HISTORY OF THE ORDAINED MINISTRY IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHUCH:

    a. Only around 200 AD do we have an ordination ritual (Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus customarily dated about 215) that can be verified. Installation from 90 to ca. 200 AD remains a matter of hypothesis, with no historical data for verification. The episkopos in this ritual is ordained for pastoral leadership and exemplarity of Christian life. Liturgical leadership — definitely mentioned — is not the primary focus of the ordination rite. In the ordination of presbyter, providing pastoral advice to the episkopos is the central focus. No mention is made of liturgical leadership.

    b. From roughly 350 to 500 AD, the Latin term ‘sacerdos’ (i.e., ‘priest’ — one who mediates between God and man and offers sacrifice to God) normally refers to the episkopos. The diversification process in which the presbyter assumes some of the liturgical functions begins in earnest between 400 and 500 AD. In the Carolingian period (751 – 987), the term ‘sacerdos’ refers as much to priest as to bishop, but most often to priest. By the 11th century, the term refers normally to priest. The presbyter, i.e., the liturgical presider in the primitive church, has become the priest.

    c. In his commentary on 1 Clement, theologian Louis Bouyer engages in the act of “foreshadowing” when he compares the Christian bishop with the Jewish high priest, the Christian laity with lower-ranking priests, and the Christian deacon with the Levites in the Old Testament. Even if one accepts this approach/interpretation, it ultimately proves nothing in terms of historical development of the Christian priesthood.

    As both Robert Egan (“Why Not? Scripture, History & Women’s Ordination” at http://commonwealmagazine.org/… and Kenan Osborne have noted, Jesus and his disciples knew only the Jewish priesthood, which disappeared after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. Available evidence describes the Twelve as healers, preachers, teachers. Osborne states, “Every study of Church ministry must begin with a study of the ministry of Jesus himself; this is the source, the model and the dynamics of all Church ministry.” Various writers have said that the ministry of the Twelve was unique and, as such, could not have been passed down in its totality to other apostles and disciples. The passing of the Twelve marked the end of a unique Christian ministry.

    According to Richard McBrien (LIVES OF THE POPES, 1997), Clement wrote his letter to the Corinthians ca. 96 AD. “In Clement’s view (one not grounded in the New Testament, however), the apostles themselves had established bishops (a term he uses interchangeably with presbyters) and deacons in all places…” According to Osborne, “The naming of Christian ministers at this time was still in flux. Clement emphasizes that the ministry is one of preaching [although] mention is indeed made of a liturgical ministry….It would, however, stretch the evidence to say apodictically that in Clement the episkopoi/presbyteroi are ‘sacerdotal’ figures….[S]ome comparison is made with…Old Testament priestly figures. It is also true that Clement uses the Greek term ‘hierus’ [priest] for the Christian minister. This seems to be the first extant occurrence of the usage.” Osborne quotes R.M. Grant: “[I]t seems hard to deny that for Clement the episcopate is analogous to the office of the high priest. But if this is so, we should expect to find presbyters the equivalent of priests, and deacons the equivalent of Levites.” Writes Osborne, “These analogies are not to be found. Moreover, presbyters and episkopoi, Grant notes, are interchangeable. The emphasis is not on the sacerdotality of the ministers, but on order.” Osborne concludes, “It is not a special ordination to ‘priesthood’ which is the root for presiding over the community; rather, it is the commission to preside over the community which allows for presiding over the eucharist.”

    d. About ten years later, Ignatius of Antioch, en route to Rome to face martyrdom, sends letters to various Christian communities in western Asia Minor. He describes a clearly monarchical episcopacy under which are presbyters and deacons. According to Osborne, “Because [the episkopos] is the leader over the community, he is also the leader over the liturgical worship. In other words, his leadership is not attributed to an ‘ordination.’” Presbyters function in an advisory role to the bishop. In his THE CHURCH IN ANCIENT SOCIETY (2001), the late Henry Chadwick writes, “Ignatius uses sacrificial language for the eucharist but, for the minister, he never uses the term ‘hiereus,’ priest….The priesthood of the whole Church ‘as one person’ would be stressed by Justin in the ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ (116.3): they are the ‘high-priestly race’ offering pure sacrifices as prophesied by Malachi. ‘And God accepts sacrifices from no one other than his priests.’”

    In contrast to the Ignatian letters, Osborne notes that the gospel of Matthew (ca. 95 AD), “seemingly of Antiochene origin, [has] no mention of a Church leader beyond the Twelve and the apostles.” Likewise, the seven churches mentioned in Revelation (ca. 95 AD?) do “not seem to [have] an established Church structure as we find in the Ignatian letters.” Yet these communities are, at most, perhaps 200 or so miles west of Antioch.

    e. In Matthew 9:13 and again at 12:7, Jesus tells his followers, “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” Given their Jewish background that seems (to me) to have stressed ritual worship and other formalities, Jesus appears to be expressing a radical wish: Get down to basics, i.e., reach out in God’s name to others in need and give them the Good News.

    f. Osborne suggests that when we discuss church ministry, it helps to be mindful of the timing of the church’s beginning, i.e., what he calls the “ecclesiological presupposition.” According to him, “A view of a Church, instituted by Jesus during his lifetime, with the eucharist in a central position of such a Church, cannot avoid making the eucharist central to an interpretation of ministry. A view of a Church, coming into being after the resurrection, with leadership, not eucharistic presidency, as the dominant ministerial activity, will shade the interpretation of ministry quite differently.”

    In this regard, the words of Paul are apropos: “Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If that is true, it means that Christ was not raised, and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe…..[I]f Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins. It would also mean that the believers in Christ who have died are lost. If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world” (1 Co 15:12-14, 17-19).

    If Jesus had founded the church during his lifetime but had not been raised from the dead, his disciples’ faith would have been in vain. There would have been no reason for them not to disperse and resume their previous labors. Given the resurrection, however, and the consequent credibility of Jesus’ message, the disciples would need to exercise leadership to spread this news and get nascent Christian communities off and running. As Osborne has noted, liturgical leadership was predicated on this organizing and community leadership.

    g. In his FROM APOSTLES TO BISHOPS: THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EPISCOPACY IN THE EARLY CHURCH (2001), Francis Sullivan writes: “We must conclude that the New Testament provides no basis for the notion that before the apostles died, they ordained one man as bishop for each of the churches they had founded. The only person in the New Testament whose role resembles that of a bishop is James the ‘brother of the Lord,’ who was most likely designated for his position of leadership in the Jerusalem church by his relationship with Jesus and the special appearance with which he was favored by the risen Jesus. It seems extremely unlikely that he was ‘ordained’ as bishop of Jerusalem by St. Peter. Nor does the New Testament evidence support the idea that Peter, Paul or any other apostle became bishop of any one local church or ordained one man as bishop of any local church. One looks in vain to the New Testament for a basis for the idea of ‘an unbroken line of episcopal ordination from Christ through the apostles down through the centuries to the bishops of today.”

    h. Some folks contend that while there is no Christian minister identified as a priest in the New Testament, there is still an ordination ritual as the Pastoral Epistles make clear (laying-on of hands).

    Osborne devotes some attention to this issue. Inter alia, he offers the following for consideration:

    + “In all of the passages on New Testament ministries, we have no clear indication of any ordination rite. There are, of course, instances of a laying on of hands in the early Church, particularly in Acts and in 1 Tim 4, 14; 2 Tim 1, 6 (cf. also 2 Cor 8, 19 which speaks of an election). What this laying on of hands in each case of these New Testament passages might clearly indicate is arguable. Ordination, as we understand this term, does not seem to be the intent of these situations, and to read an ‘ordination’ ritual, such as one finds from the time of Hippolytus onward, would be clearly an ‘eisegesis.’”

    + “Very little Old Testament data for a laying on of hands as an installation ritual is available, and this dearth of evidence does not bolster the view that a true ‘ordination’ ritual can be found in the New Testament passages. When one realizes that between the few New Testament indications mentioned above and the ritual of Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century there is absolutely no documentary evidence for ordination, then the conjectural status of any statement on ordination prior to Hippolytus becomes even more apparent, cautioning us to avoid any apodictic approach.”

    + “In themselves, phrases which include the words ‘laying on of hands’ do not essentially include an appointment to office or ministry. A laying on of hands, in both Old and New Testaments, can be found for blessings, healings, receiving the Spirit, reconciling. In other words, ‘laying on of hands’ in itself is not a technical term for an ‘ordination.’”

    i. In THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION: A COMMENTARY (2002), Paul Bradshaw, Maxwell Johnson, and Edward Phillips state, “The oldest explicit reference to presbyters sharing in the priesthood of the bishop occurs in Tertullian [ca. 155 – 225], who says that they belong to the ‘ordo sacerdotalis’ (De ex cast. 7). Cyprian [b. 200, bishop of Carthage 248 – 258 AD] similarly understood them to participate in the episcopal ‘sacerdotium’ (see, e.g., Ep. 1.1.1; 61.3.1).”

    As mentioned earlier, the oldest known ordination ritual is “The Apostolic Tradition,” customarily dated ca. 215 AD. Only the ordination for episkopos includes priestly/sacerdotal language. (The ordination ritual for deacon includes some rather odd phraseology, to wit, “…because he is not ordained to the priesthood but to the service of the bishop…” Osborne surmises that this language was “placed in the text to preclude diaconal encroachment into presbyteral tasks, as also to clarify the distinctive rites.”) The ordination for presbyter, per Osborne, “has no mention of offering a sacrifice.”

    In their commentary, Bradshaw et al write, “[Marcel] Metzger has argued that [The Apostolic Tradition’s] lack of unity or logical progression, its frequent incoherences, doublets, and contradictions, all point away from the existence of a single editorial hand. Instead, it has all the characteristics of a composite work, a collection of community rules from quite disparate traditions…” Bradshaw et al also suggest that the contents of the Apostolic Tradition date from perhaps as early as 150 to as late as 350 AD.

    They continue, “We believe that Metzger’s general approach is correct, and would take it even further. Because of the features to which he has drawn attention and others that we have observed, we judge the work to be an aggregation of material from different sources, quite possibly arising from different geographical regions and probably from different historical periods, from perhaps as early as the mid-second century to as late as the mid-fourth, since none of the textual witnesses to it can be dated with any certainty before the last quarter of that century. We thus think it unlikely that it represents the practice of any single Christian community, and that it is best understood by attempting to discern the various individual elements and layers that constitute it.”

    j. Several New Testament passages reveal the earliest understanding of Christian priesthood:

    + Ro 12:1
    Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.
    This is the true worship that you should offer.

    + 1 Pt 2:9
    But you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen
    to proclaim the wonderful acts of God.

    + 1 Pt 2:5
    Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where
    you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus

    + He 13: 15-16
    Let us, then, always offer praise to God as our sacrifice through Jesus, which is the offering
    presented by lips that confess him as Lord. Do not forget to do good and to help one
    another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.

    + Phil 2: 17-18
    Perhaps my life’s blood is to be poured out like an offering on the sacrifice that your faith
    offers to God; if that is so, I am glad and share my joy with you all. In the same way, you
    too must be glad and share your joy with me.

    + Rev 1: 5-6
    He loves us, and by his sacrificial death he has freed us from our sins and made us a
    kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father.

    + He 7: 26-27
    Jesus, then, is the High Priest that meets our needs….He is not like other high priests; he
    does not need to offer sacrifices every day for his own sins first and then for the sins of the
    people. He offered one sacrifice, once and for all, when he offered himself.”

    k. In his FROM SYNAGOGUE TO CHURCH: PUBLIC SERVICES AND OFFICES IN THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES (1992), James Burtchaell writes that “well before” the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, “[t]he local synagogues had already chosen to deny priests any special privileges or position….The priesthood had anciently been associated, not simply with sacrificial worship, but with the interpretation of the Torah and with judicial discipline….[I]n the villages and towns and cities, where priests in plenty dwelt and were available, a totally lay synagogue organization had long since decided it needed no legitimacy which the priests could give….[As a result], priests were not officiants at any synagogue activity. There were still some rituals explicitly assigned to them by the Law, and these they presumably retained: receiving the five-shekel redemption money for each first-born son, reciting certain blessings at worship services, receiving tithes on produce, and performing certain purification rituals. The ‘kohanim = hiereis’ = priests would form a cadre of identifiable members in any synagogue, to whom biblical imperatives reserved certain ritual actions, but to whom no further deference on the part of the community is in evidence. They had minor hereditary prerogatives but cannot be considered officers of the community. Jerusalem, as it turned out…, was not merely the only place where priests might preside at sacrifices; it was the only place where they presided at anything.”

    Burtchaell adds that “[t]he New Testament analogizes many Jewish institutions which in their literal reality were being left behind: sacrifice, kingship, nationhood, race, temple. The title of ‘hiereus = levitical priest is not applied to officers of the church, but it is applied to Christ and to the church itself. It is the language of oblation which, when applied to the eucharist especially, will leave open the possibility of a later analogical understanding of ministry as a priestly role.

    “The Christians are, as a whole, a priestly people. Their faith is a sacrifice; so is the self-discipline of their bodies, and so too are their financial contributions to the widows and orphans or to preachers of the gospel. Paul looks on his missionary work as an act of sacrifice. Ignatius understands his impending death as a desired sacrifice…

    “Nowhere, however, despite the range of freedom early Christians felt to draw on the traditions of the temple, priesthood and sacrifice by way of illustration, precedent and analogy, is there a willingness to accord Jewish priests any community prerogative, or to suggest any real continuity with their present officers and rites. The word ‘hieron’ = temple never once appears, for instance, in this period after the New Testament. It is not that there are no longer any priests; there are no longer any who are not priests. Priesthood is no longer the identity of a clan or a tribe, but the name of an entire people” (Burtchaell, pp. 322-323).

    l. In light of the close relationship between sacred orders and worship in the Catholic Church, it helps to acknowledge the fundamental changes in, and popular understanding of, the liturgy that occurred in the first millenium. Liturgical change would be accompanied by changes in popular understanding of the role and identity of presider/priest. Nathan Mitchell, in his CULT AND CONTROVERSY: THE WORSHIP OF THE EUCHARIST OUTSIDE MASS (1982, 1990), summarizes this development: “Worship changes because people do, [but] the fundamental shape of the eucharist has survived: we still take, bless, break, and give bread and cup.” Gradually, these “ritual verbs” would be “inserted into a new liturgical genre (drama instead of meal, allegory instead of symbol) [and] absorb different meanings and inspire different interpretations [that would] come into conflict with one another. This happened, surely, when the ancient symbols of dining together, obviously intended as invitations, to ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ at the eucharist, gave way to ‘ocular communion’ — the desire to ‘see’ the host. The bodily symbolism of ingestion and nourishment was all but overpowered by the visual symbolism of ‘gazing at the Beloved.’”

    m. In his COMMONWEAL article, Robert Egan suggests that “[i]f evidence of ‘Jesus’ way of acting’ were to be consistently normative, it’s hard to see how we could justify having a priesthood at all.”

    n. Osborne has a brief section in his book on “Leo XIII and the Question of Anglican Orders” (beginning at p. 294). One cannot do justice to his observations in this thread. Suffice it to say that perhaps the old expression “People in glass houses should not throw stones” might be appropriate in our considering the Catholic Church’s official condemnation of Anglican orders.

    o. Felix Just, SJ, PhD provides a nice outline of ancient church ministry on his website. In particular, you may wish to visit the following:

    + “Ministry and Leadership in Early Christianity”

    + “Disciples and Apostles in the New Testament”

  36. Darlene Starrs

    Sorry, Father Joe, I’m not understanding your point. Maybe because it’s 8:10 a.m. here! Would you clarify?

  37. Darlene Starrs

    I’m looking at 1 Timothy, chapter 3, Qualifications of Various Ministers……….verse 1….You can depend on this: whoever wants to be a bishop aspires to a noble task….A bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, of even temper, self-controlled, modest, and hospitable. He should be a good teacher. He must not be addicted to drink. He ought not to be contentious but, rather, gentle, a man of peace. Nor can he be someone who loves money. He must be a good manager of his own household……etc, etc. Deacons must be serious, straight-forward, and truthful. They may not overindulge in drink or give in to greed. They must hold fast to the divinely revealed faith with a clear conscience…..The women should be serious, not slanderous gossips..They should be temperate and entirely trustworthy. Deacons may be married, but once and must be good managers of their children and their households.

    Do you think that these were just ordinary women? Were they the wives of the bishops and the deacons? Or were they also deacons?

  38. Eddie Finnegan

    Darlene, they were widows. Some with family to support them, so not in need of ‘Church support’. Some young, advised to marry again if Mr Right happened along. Some widowed and without support, so dependent on support. Could enrol as Widows (with a capital W, so to speak)but apparently strictly vetted to make sure they didn’t run off with some toy boy, forgetting their promise of dedication. A good question: ‘Were they also deacons?’

  39. Pew View

    ‘Walter’ the papal theologian is making a lot of sense if he could be read without the feminist prejudice that insists that male and female roles are interchangeable and that both maleness (left brain) and femaleness ( right brain) are present in varying balances in every individual. While that is true there is nevertheless a fundamental and overarching feminine and masculine psyche as there is physique which the Gospels acknowledge. While non-selection at a given time does not necessarily mean exclusion a pattern repeated becomes a template that is at very least the default option. To say men and women are biochemically speaking 99.99% the same is no argument when one considers how much of our genetic composition is shared with the ape or even much lower forms of life. We are all more than the sum of our parts.
    It shows how far apart the two sides in this debate are when Darlene quotes ‘Walter’ presumably to display how ridiculous he is and those reading from the other perspective find further support for their views not less from her quotation.

  40. Joe O'Leary

    My point is only that the development of the priesthood as we know it is a highly complex matter. It cannot be reduced to “Jesus ordained priests; appointed bishops; set up Peter as pope.”

  41. Paddy Ferry

    Joe, thank you for this excellent collection of historical information on the development of the priesthood. I never really gave it much thought until very recently. I am sure many of us will keep it as a reference document.

  42. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Eddie………It seems to me……that the scripture might well be saying……these women were deacons…..because, that is the topic of verses…….the bishops and the deacons.

  43. Darlene Starrs

    It has occurred to me that I misrepresented my argument. I am not necessarily promoting the ordination of women, to the present, presbyterate. What I am stressing is that Christ can call man or woman to whatever vocation He wants and needs. As I say, Christ is the Vocation, within, the person, that He calls. The current understanding and practise of the priesthood is for sure well developed since Thomas Acquinas and since that theology is nearly 1,000 years old, I think it is long overdue to re-examine his understanding of the priest and the priests’ role at Eucharist. My concern for the priesthood and the Eucharist is broader in scope than focussing on “ordaining” any particular group, whether it be single women, or married men. I believe, the Lord is saying, “You have no shortage of priests”. “Your priests are among the faithful”. My concern, then, is that the laity are empowered to preside at Eucharist. This means, man, woman, single, married, if esteemed by the community to be of the integrity in Christ, and who are trustworthy and have theological formation……..certainly not 7 years, their names should be put forward to a bishop, who can then, install them for the service of the community as presiders.
    This installation is done with the laying on of hands, but would not be considered of the same understanding as the previous concept of ordination with some indelible seal, left on the soul.
    I don’t think, it necessarily, changes, the effect, of Christ being truly present in the bread and wine either. I’m not saying, that we will ever come to this kind of presiding, but it is a possibility. The issue for me is not whether there is someone to preside at litury on behalf of the community, but there could be a gap with the teaching and maybe even preaching, as it would depend what lay people in the community have been theologically prepared for teaching and preaching. Certainly, at the Parish Council level, there would be need to be represented: Eucharistic Meal Ministry, Preaching Ministry, and Teaching Ministry. Again, it all depends on what capabiities you have in the community, and making sure that your local bishop is involved in all these preparations and activities.

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