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The Ordination of Women

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Overview of the official Vatican position

Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter on May 22, 1994 entitled "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" in which he stated that the Church is not authorized to ordain women, and that such a position is to be definitively held as part of the deposit of faith. This letter briefly reiterated arguments articulated in more detail under the authority of Pope Paul VI in a document issued October 15, 1976 entitled "Inter Insigniores". The basic arguments set forth in these letters are as follows:

The current teaching is not part of the deposit of faith

"Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" is not an exercise of ex cathedra papal authority, and therefore its content, cannot be known to be part of the deposit of faith. The CDF’s October 28, 1995 Responsum Ad Dubium regarding this letter confirmed this position. A subsequent letter issued by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that the non-infallible authority of the Holy Father witnessed to the infallible authority of the ordinary universal magisterium.  Under Canon 749.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a doctrine cannot be understood to be defined infallibly according to the ordinary universal magisterium unless this has been “manifestly demonstrated.” There is no evidence that pope John Paul II consulted with the college of bishops for a carefully considered opinion on the matter before issuing Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

What was the example of Christ?

The arguments set forth most strongly in "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" and "Inter Insigniores" indicate that current teaching is primarily based on Christ's manner of acting in selecting the Twelve as a model for ordained ministry. Special emphasis is placed on the presence of the Twelve at the Last Supper, yet it is implausible that only the Twelve were present at the Last Supper. In other words, the gospels paint a plausible picture of the Last Supper as a banquet more akin to a wedding feast foreshadowing that heavenly wedding banquet where we will eat and drink with the Master with the Father. Perhaps the Twelve sat at the head table, but it plausible that others were present.

What was the example of the Apostles?

The Holy See has asserted that the New Testament provides no guidance for the ordination of women, since women were not included among the Twelve. The Twelve function as representatives of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel [Mt 19:28], and were not the sole ministers of the New Covenant in the early Church. In the post resurrection New Testament period, Paul assumes the title of Apostle, and as many as 500 witnesses to the resurrection may have shared this title [1 Cor 15: 6 & 9], [Book 1.12 of Eusebius’ History of the Church]. Many other ministries are initiated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament period. Some of these ministries included women.
There are 3 notable instances of the use of the name “Junia”:
  1. Plutarch [c. 50-120AD],
  2. Epiphanius [315-403AD], the Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus,
  3. St John Chrysostom [347-407AD].
In the first and last instance, “Junia” is assumed to be female. Epiphanius, however thinks it is male.
    “To be an Apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the Apostles: just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They [Andronicus and Junias] were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of Apostle!”  [St John Chrysostom]
Origen’s commentary on Romans also assumes that “Junia” is male. At any rate, there are seventeen references to Junia prior to the 13th century, all but one of which [the apparent quote in the translation of Origen] make her to be a woman. Others who also understand “Junia” to be female, include:
  1. Jerome [340-419AD],
  2. Hatto of Vercelli [924-961AD],
  3. Theophylack [1050-1108AD], and
  4. Peter Abelard [1079-1142AD].
It appears that Aegidius of Rome [1245-1316AD] was the first to refer to both Andronicus and Junia as “honourable men”, prompting many later scribes to mistake the name for a man's. [Haaike Barnard]
Exhortations to silence placed on women in [1Cor 14:33-35] cannot be understood as absolute since Paul offers women instruction for prophesying in the same letter [1Cor 11:5]! Furthermore, [1Cor 14:28] instructs for men to be silent in certain circumstances.

Nor can the theology of [1Cor 11:2-16] be used against women's ordination. Paul backs away from an argument that seems to be implying female inferiority by using the word choris in verse eleven to distinguish women from men. This word is sometimes translated as “independent”, but more accurately simply means “different from” or “distinct from”. Thus, the statement should read, “A woman is not different from a man” rather than, “A woman is not independent from a man”. Such a reading is consistent with Paul's view of the equality of the sexes [Gal 3:28].

The contexts of [1 Tim 2:7-15] is likely aimed at new converts, rather than mature women of faith. The permission spoken of in verse 12 in regards to a woman's right to teach is from the Greek, epitrepsein, which is a word that could be more accurately translated as “I do not permit for now…” Again, there is no prohibition against women's ordination in this passage when it is understood within its historic context. Scripture finds stronger justification for slavery within the New Testament than condemnation of women's ordination.

What does tradition say?

The Holy See insists that there is no historic precedence for the ordination of women. If the arguments from ambiguity were directed as much against men as they are against women, it would be difficult to argue that Christ or the Apostles ordained anyone, or that ordination ever occurred prior to the second century.

The Holy See quotes the Apostolic Constitutions as forbidding the ordination of women. Yet, the Apostolic Constitutions 3.16 and 3.19 provide justification for women's ordination to the diaconate, and command it of the bishop for specific incidences.

"Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. Thou shalt therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism of women, the deacon shall anoint only their forehead with the holy oil, and after him the deaconess shall anoint them...
Thou therefore, O bishop, according to that type, shalt anoint the head of those that are to be baptized, whether they be men or women, with the holy oil, for a type of the spiritual baptism. After that, either thou, O bishop, or a presbyter that is under thee, shall in the solemn form name over them the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and shall dip them in the water; and let a deacon receive the man, and a deaconess the woman, that so the conferring of this inviolable seal may take place with a becoming decency. And after that, let the bishop anoint those that are baptized with ointment." [Apostolic Constitutions 3.16]

"Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; in number according to the largeness of the Church, that they may minister to the infirm as workmen that are not ashamed. And let the deaconess be diligent in taking care of the women; but both of them ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve..."
[Apostolic Constitutions 3.19]

The texts sited by "Inter Insigniores" from the Apostolic Constitutions 3.6 refer to a separate role of widows. Indeed, many texts quoted as evidence of an early prohibition to women's ordination are taken out of historic context, and probably do not refer to women's ordination at all:
  • Irenaeus’ ["Adversus Haereses" 1,13,2] condemns Gnostic women involved in superstitious magic. There is nothing in the text to indicate that Irenaeus opposed women's ordination rather than the practice of superstition.
  • Tertullian's ["De Praescriptione Haereticorum" 41,5] objects to women teaching and baptizing, but they are permitted to exercise these functions today!
  • The [Didascalia Apostolorum 15] also seems to object to women preaching and baptizing. Yet, Chapter 16 contains instructions for the ordination of women to the diaconate.
  • Firmilian is quoted in a letter to Cyprian (no. 75) as being opposed to heretical baptisms and Eucharist performed by women. However, his concern is focussed on the fact that they are heretics under demonic influence rather than that they are women.
  • Origen argues against women preaching in the Church ["Fragmenta in I Cor." 74]. However, the practice of women preaching in the Church is permitted in certain circumstances today.
  • Only in Saint Epiphanius writing in the late fourth century do we begin to find clear opposition to women's ordination to the priesthood [Panarion 79,1.6]. Yet Epiphanius earlier admits of women deaconesses [Panarion 78, 13].
  • In 494 AD Pope Gelasius wrote a letter to the bishops of three regions of southern Italy complaining about the practice of women presiding at the liturgy:
  • "Nevertheless we have heard to our annoyance that divine affairs have come to such a low state that women are encouraged to officiate at the sacred altars, and to take part in all matters imputed to the offices of the male sex, to which they do not belong."
    we may infer from an analysis of Gelasius's epistle that at the end of the fifth century, some women, having been ordained by bishops, were exercising a true and proper ministerial priesthood in a vast area of southern Italy, as well as perhaps in other unnamed regions of Italy.
    [Otranto "Notes on the Female Priesthood in Antiquity, Section 2" http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/otran_1.asp]
  • Finally, the passage from Saint John Chrysostom quoted by the CDF argues against the ordination of a woman to the episcopate (possibly just the papacy) because of the greatness of the task. It says nothing of ordination of women to the presbyterate, and its argument presumes that women are inferior to men: a notion rejected by the Church today.
  • None of these passages come from sources of decisive authority. What we see in these passages is a gradual devaluation of women that resulted in their being prohibited from entering the ministerial priesthood. This evidence does not explain why women are excluded, and suggests that this exclusion was not the original practice of the Church.
     
    Archaeology
    Deaconesses
    Literary sources have left us many records of ordained Deaconesses in different parts of the Byzantine Empire, for example. Constantinople's main cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, counted among its clergy 6o Priests, 100 male Deacons and 40 Deaconesses [Justinian, Novella 3.1]. We even know some of their names by virtue of their connection with Church Fathers:
    1. Olympias in Constantinople, ordained by Bishop Nektarios;
    2. Theosebia, wife of St. Gregory of Nissa;
    3. Anonyma: who ministered in Antioch during the persecution of Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD);
    4. Macrina, sister of St. Basil the Great, and her friend and Deaconess Lampadia;
    5. Procula and Pentadia, two Deaconesses to whom St. Chrysostom wrote letters;
    6. Salvina whom St. Jerome knew and who later became a Deaconess in Constantinople;
    7. Anastasia whom Severus, Bishop of Antioch, mentions in his letters,
    and many other examples. [Haaike Barnard]

    An examination of ordination rituals for male and female deacons reveals some local distinctions in the functions and authority of deaconesses compared to deacons, but no substantial difference in the matter and form of a gesture that appears in every way sacramental. Of particular interest is the Manuscript Barberini gr. 336 [also known as the Nicolai Manuscript, or as the Euchologion of St. Mark] on the Ordination of Women Deacons in the Byzantine/Greek Tradition. It was written around 780AD. An extract from this Rite reads:

    “Holy and Omnipotent Lord, through the birth of your Only Son our God from a Virgin according to the flesh, you have sanctified the female sex. Lord, Master, you do not reject women who dedicate themselves to you and who are willing, in a becoming way, to serve your Holy House, but admit them to the order of your ministers [leitourgôn]. Grant the gift of your Holy Spirit also to this your maid servant who wants to dedicate herself to you, and fulfil in her the grace of the ministry of the Diaconate, as you have granted to Phoebe the grace of your Diaconate, whom you had called to the work of the ministry [leitourgia].
    Give her, Lord, that she may persevere without guilt in your Holy Temple, that she may carefully guard her behaviour, especially her modesty and temperance. Moreover, make your maid servant perfect, so that, when she will stand before the judgement seat of your Christ, she may obtain the worthy fruit of her excellent conduct, through the mercy and humanity of your Only Son.

    After the ‘Amen’, he [= the ArchBishop] puts the stole of the Diaconate [to diakonikon horarion] round her neck, under her [woman's] scarf [maphorion], arranging the two extremities of the stole towards the front.

    When [at the time of Communion] the newly ordained has taken part of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood, the ArchBishop hands her the chalice. She accepts it and puts it on the Holy Table [of the Altar].

    Denying the sacramentality of the rite of ordination to deaconesses
    calls into question the validity of the male diaconate
    as a sacramentally ordained ministry.

    It seems that the ordination of women was actively suppressed only around the late fourth and fifth century. For example, the local synods of Laodicea, Nimes and Orange in the West prohibited women's ordination in the late fourth and early fifth century.

    “Deaconesses should by no means be ordained. If there are already some, let them bow their head during the blessing given to the people.”  [Orange I, canon 26]
    These rulings were however overturned by the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
    Canon 15 of the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon provides instruction for ordaining women, using the same word that is used for men (cheirotonia).
    "No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. If after receiving ordination and spending some time in the ministry she despises God's grace and gets married, such a person is to be anathematised along with her spouse."
    It can be argued that Canon 15 of Chalcedon must be read in light of the earlier Canon 19 of Nicea; however, this deals specifically with the case of readmission of Paulinist heretics to the Catholic faith. Nicea counts the Paulinist "deaconesses" among the laity precisely because they received no imposition of hands from a bishop. Chalcedon requires that deaconess be ordained by imposition of episcopal hands. There is no reason why the Paulinist "deaconesses" should have been ordained as a group on their readmission to Catholic Unity, and the fact that they were not in no way indicates that women in general cannot be ordained.
    Many years later, the local Council of Trullo (692AD) uses the term “cheirotonia” for the Ordination of Deaconnesses, the very same word that is used for the Ordination of men to the Priesthood and the Episcopate!
    “Let the Canon of our holy God-bearing Fathers be confirmed in this particular also; that a Presbyter be not ordained before he is thirty years of age, even if he be a very worthy man, but let him be kept back. For our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized and began to teach when he was thirty. In like manner let no Deacon be ordained before he is twenty-five, nor a Deaconess before she is forty”.
    The female diaconate persisted for a long while in the Eastern Church, but was largely discontinued in the Western. Nevertheless, there is evidence that it was not easily eradicated from the Western Church. The Synod of Epaon, 517AD; 2nd Synod of Orleans, 533AD; 2nd Synod of Tours, 567AD all testify to this fact. Furthermore, the prohibitions themselves imply that some bishops were ordaining women. This is contrary to the notion that the ordinary universal magisterium has always and everywhere held to the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood. Pope Gelesius expressed his concern over this matter. While he placed a stop to further ordinations of women in the West, there is nothing in his statements that can be interpreted as a nullification of past ordinations or an infallible prohibition against future ordinations for all times.

    Even the prohibitions against women's ordination in the West during the fourth and fifth century
    indicate that there were orthodox bishops who were ordaining women.
    Why else would a local prohibition be passed?

    Priests and Bishops
    Regarding the use of the terms "episkopos" or "presbyteros": we have no examples of women in the New Testament being titled by these; however, there are no men labelled that either, except for Peter and the self-designation of the author of 2 and 3 John!  But, there is some historical basis for this use.
    1. An early mosaic (from the 4th century AD) in a Roman Basilica portrays a living figure titled “Episcopa Theodora”.
    2. At a burial site on the Greek island of Thera there is an epitaph for a woman Epiktas, named as a presbytis in the 3rd or 4th century.
    3. A Christian inscription from 2nd or 3rd century Egypt reads: “Artemidoras...fell asleep in the Lord, her mother Paniskianes being an elder [Presbytera]”.
    4. Bishop Diogenes in the 3rd century set up a memorial for Ammion the Elder [Presbytera].
    5. A 4th or 5th century epitaph in Sicily refers to Kale the Elder [presbytis].

    6. [Haaike Barnard]
    In summary, the exclusion of women from ordained ministry is not rooted in early Church practice. Rather, the practice of ordaining women hinted at in the New Testament gradually eroded over time.

    Why should women be ordained?

    In his 29 June 1995 letter to women at the Beijing Conference, pope John Paul II admitted to a sinful and progressive growth of sexism that even effects the Church. This is similar to his earlier admission of anti-semiticism within the Church. His eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his commentary on Dei Verbum has admitted that there exist a distorting, as well as a legitimate, tradition, such that tradition needs to examined both affirmatively and critically (Ratzinger, 185 quoted in the CTSA Resolution of 6 June 1997). Guadium et Spes 29 states that it is contrary to God's will to deny a woman a state of life based on gender alone. Nevertheless it must be recognized that nobody has a right to the priesthood and that the hierarchy has the duty to test any vocation externally.

    In our secular world, an analogy can be drawn to occupations. Not all applicants for a particular occupation have a right to the specific job. Yet, the best candidate does have a kind of "right" to the job, and it is morally wrong to deny someone a job on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, creed, and so forth. In like manner, according to GS 29, it is morally wrong to deny a state of life to person based on gender.

    Are there theological reasons for women's ordination?

    The argument is not one of human rights, but of the nature of the sacraments themselves. The Holy See has set forth the argument that because the ministerial priest acts in the person of Christ, he must be male. However, Lumen Gentium 10 indicates that through baptism, all the faithful - male and female - share in the unique priesthood of Christ.

    Together, we comprise the body of Christ. In baptism, we are immersed in the death of the Lord to rise with Him cleansed of sin as a new creation. The liturgy of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives of faith, towards which all our activity is directed, and from which all grace flows. The ministerial priesthood is ordered to the common priesthood, to call the community together: to become who we are. We become what we receive in the Eucharist. Christ offers himself to us, as we offer ourselves to him, and all is offered to the Father.

    St Thomas teaches that the sacraments cause grace by signifying grace. The Eucharist signifies God's self-offering to us, as we offer ourselves with Christ. When the Church refers to the Eucharistic meal as a symbol, She does not mean a sign pointing beyond itself to another reality. She knows that this symbol is its own reality.

    The Trinity is three persons in one being, forming their personhood in relationship with one another. The persons of the Trinity derive their personhood in their eternal relationships with one another. A person, as a philosophical category, is an identity that is formed and completed on the very basis of relationship to another. Thus, we image God most fully in community. It is in this sense that Saint Augustine could ask “How can you who receive the body and blood of Christ in your hands so reverently, then turn and drop your brother, who is the body of Christ?”

    The Mass continually invites us into this reality of divine relationship encountered in the persons around us, so adequately expressed to humanity in the symbol of a common meal. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ: by God's initiative. The Eucharistic symbols remind us of the inner reality that they now mediate: Christ's broken body, and the blood He shed for us on the cross. In receiving the Eucharistic Gifts, we ourselves are transformed. We come to share in the very inner life of the Trinity: a life of relationship.

    In another example of symbol as reality, our bodies are symbols of our personhood. Individual personhood has infinite depth and meaning in the mind of God, who created each of us in finite time in his image. This is the meaning of the incarnation. By becoming human, God ratified the infinite value of human beings. Christianity is the ultimate form of humanism. The human being is the finite that is capable of the infinite, both male and female. Every human being is an image of God. Woman is just as much an image of God as is Man [Genesis 1:26-27], and denying that a woman can act in the person of Christ is a denial that she images the divine.

    The entire Church is the body of Christ. The Community of the Church is constituted indifferently of men and women, and Christ is just as much spiritually present in the Church's female members as Her male members. Just as non-Jews have their full personhood affirmed through the ordination of select non-Jews to the Apostolic Ministry, women should find their personhood affirmed through the ordination of select women to the Apostolic Ministry. The argument for excluding women from ministerial priesthood makes no more sense than an argument for excluding gentiles from ministerial priesthood such as might have been proposed in the first century.

    The exclusion of anyone from the Apostolic Ministry based on an ontological reality, must indicate that this ontology is not able to image Christ and not fully participate in the divine life of the Trinity. Hence, the practice of excluding women from ministerial priesthood leads inexorably to the manifest heresy that women are not saved as women.

    Can God be imaged as a female?

    Nevertheless, the Holy See maintains that the ordination of women would undermine the symbolism of a bishop as a representative of the love of God the Father. Scripture itself uses female images or feminine words to describe God. Likewise, there is traditional piety that applies motherly images to God and even to Christ, such as the writings of Julian of Norwich in the fourteenth century. Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God can legitimately be called Mother:
    “God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. ,…, We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.”
    [CCC #239]
    In any case, [Gen 1:26-27] indicates that we image God both as male and as female and Paul tells us [Gal 3:28] that, due to our baptism in Christ, we are spiritually no longer male and female.

    Finally, the maleness of Christ cannot be assumed to be indicative of God's intent for ordination. The incarnation is only significant for all humanity if it is Christ's general humanity that is significant. The significance of Christ's maleness, as maleness, lies in its communication of God's condescension and self-emptying. Had Christ come as a female, it is doubtful that men would have understood the moral demands of a gospel that holds what are typically thought of as feminine traits to be virtuous. In the patriarchal Greco-Roman world and the context of first century Judaism, who would have noticed if a woman turned the other cheek and prayed for forgiveness for those who injured her? Similarly, the example of men and women sharing decision-making and spiritual authority equally will reinforce the message of the Gospel.


    Comments from a Catholic Postgraduate Theology Student

    Dear Pharsea, I have appreciated what you have had to say on the subject [of women priests], one that continues to concern me. My problems with the current position coming out of the Vatican have been twofold.

    Firstly, I have never heard anyone who supports the current position explain what ecclesial roles can be performed solely by women in the same way that supposedly holy orders can only be conferred on men. There is lots of patronizing waffle about the "feminine genius" and "the unique calling of women" and so on, but all the things that are listed as supposedly "feminine", on closer inspection turn out to be also performable by men (the contemplative life etc.), and thus not dependent on an actual biological female body in the same way it is asserted that holy orders depend on an actual biological male body. It seems that, in the current position, the finally definitive thing about the deacon, presbyter, or bishop, is that he has a penis. I strongly suspect that had we continued offering the eucharistic sacrifice ad orientem this point would not be being urged so strongly: the gender of a person is not so immediately obvious when viewed from behind! If the penis is so important that it is the sine qua non of valid matter for the sacrament of orders, why not celebrate the Eucharist naked so we can all see this absolutely necessary sign of likeness to Christ, and reassure any doubts that the person at the altar is not a tomboy pretending to be a man? The obsession with biological motherhood as THE role for women (something that is not specifically ecclesial, and indeed not even specifically human), arises out of an awareness of this whole problem, because it is something that, after all, men cannot do. If vocations to the female religious life dry up in Catholic neo-con circles after several decades of insistent urging that biological motherhood is THE ecclesial role for women, I for one will not be surprised!

    The second area where I have problems is that it is asserted that Christ must be male because the Son is the perfect image of the Father, who is also "male", because, it is asserted, the moment you allow maternal language to be used of God then pantheism somehow becomes inevitable, as though "Mother" was the mark of pantheism and "Father" was the mark of [mono]theism. This all gets asserted with such vehement rhetoric that it exposes me to the sin of anger I'm afraid. It stems ultimately from a confusion of metaphors of origin with metaphors of care.

    Paternal and maternal language used of God refers to metaphors of care, not metaphors of origin. Furthermore, we do not confess a monadic God, who we address as "Father" in preference to "Mother" in order to make clear our rejection of pantheism. Rather we worship Trinity in Unity, Unity in Trinity, and address the First Hypostasis of that Trinity as Father because we are united to the Second on the power of the Third, and know ourselves (male and female alike!) as "sons in the son", crying out Abba! in the power of the Spirit as we are more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ, and become more fully human. God is Father, Son, and Spirit, but we only know God as such insofar as we are caught up in the economy of salvation (although there are of course intimations of God's trinitarian character in the history of Israel (they were not proto-Muslims as the Qu'ran claims!) and among the nations alike).

    In relation to creator the God is Creator not "Father" just as God is Creator not "Mother". The God of Israel creates not procreates: the Fatherhood of God is entirely internal to the Godhead, and God draws into that. Israel certainly rejects the notion that, Mythically speaking, the cosmos is born from, or contained within, the womb of a Mother Goddess who pathenogenetically conceives it, and is homoousios with it. But Israel also rejects other mythically expressed notions too:

    1. A Father God and a Mother God procreate the cosmos together sexually.
    2. A solitary Father God masturbates alone and ejaculates the cosmos (a horrible image I know but it was the central motif of a major Egyptian cosmogony).
    3. A solitary Father God violently overcomes a Mother Chaos and creates the cosmos out of her remains once she is subdued and brought to heel.
    In opposition to all this "Moses" proclaims creation by fiat (although explicit formulation of this as ex nihilo does not come until later of course, e.g. in 2 Maccabees). He does not say "hey folks, you've got the gender all wrong: God is really "male" not "female" and once you've got the gender right your metaphysics will fall into place". Moses does not see a divine phallus but a burning bush and hears a metaphysical proclamation, "I Am He Who Is." It is this that frees Israel from all pantheistic notions, not a preference for masculine metaphors over feminine ones.

    God creates by fiat all things out of nothing.

    Human beings procreate other human beings out of themselves (being two where God is one), and this is equally the act of the father and the mother.

    The hypostatic union which is the beginning of the new creation is forged in the furnace of the holy of holies of the womb of Mary by fiat, but this time a fiat not of God alone but of God and Mary together, Mary as created co-creatrix, and then the Spirit moves over the face of the waters once again as in the beginning. It is a fiat, not a sexual procreation.

    What has vanished from the consciousness of promulgators and upholders of the current position, or perhaps still is affected by outmoded Aristotelian physiology, is the awareness that conception, the production, the bringing into being of a human being is equally the role of both the father and the mother, and that in doing so they bring into being at the moment of conception a human being out of their own substance: the father does this, the mother does this, both equally.

    Likewise what has vanished is the awareness that the carrying of the baby in the womb for nine moths and the bringing of the baby into the world at birth is not the bringing of a human being into being, for this is what happens at conception, but rather simply the most profound form of care that can be bestowed on that human being (in the order of creation). The father of course is not cut off from also caring for the baby that he also brought into being during this time, but he does so indirectly, through providing his spouse with love, support, grace, humour, and understanding. After birth of course both mother and father continue to care equally for the child in their various ways.

    Maternal and paternal metaphors applied to the relationship between God and creation are metaphors of care not metaphors of origin. Supporters of the current position fail to see this: for them maternal metaphors are always metaphors of origin, but paternal metaphors are always metaphors of care, and thus, they argue, "Mother" means pantheism whereas "Father" means creation ex nihilo and providential care. With one hand they ascribe everything to the mother, with the other hand they take everything away.

    Sorry to labour on (excuse the pun!), but I have encountered this rather threadbare argument again and again in formal and informal contexts, even from people I otherwise have much time for on other matters, such as Aidan Nichols OP for example, and I fail to see how they fail to notice that it just doesn't stand up.

    The whole current position seems to represent for me a massive failure of the analogical imagination, which is for me, as a convert, the sine qua non of Catholicism along with God as esse, a participatory ontology, and the liturgical city that that is built on those foundations. When the following propositions get unwittingly put forward:

    1. Women are called to spiritual motherhood not spiritual fatherhood, so they cannot be ordained (never mind countless thousands of lay saints spinning wildly in the graves in Middle Eastern deserts at the thought that they weren't really spiritual fathers because they weren't ordained),
    2. Or Our Lord's Passion on Calvary gets compared to an ejaculatory male orgasm by von Balthasar in a desperate attempt to explain why it is so important to keep holy orders an exclusively male prerogative,
    3. Or people claim a female priest would be in a lesbian relationship with the Church while failing to explain how a lay male in the congregation is not in a gay relationship with Christ, then something is clearly seriously screwed in the Catholic imaginaire.
    I recently sent some of these points along to the fairly distinguished Pontificator blog for comment from contributors, and have so far received no feedback. I would love there to be answers to my points as it would mean that things were all fine and dandy at the top, but I fear there are no answers, and in the end the upholders of the current position will have to resort to saying "it's impossible because it's impossible, we don't know why, and we never will, so there!", which smacks of an arbitrary Ockhmamist God engaging in acts of pure will devoid of rationale and completely inscrutable. Not the God I fall down before in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

    I have valued your comments because your position is fairly similar to mine: I have problems with a few current positions, but seek to be classically Catholic, living in Tradition (which is nothing less than the Church living in the power of the Holy Spirit), and have no time for most of the more vocal supporters of women's ordination, who, frankly, are raving Modernists who ceased to be Catholic in any meaningful sense long ago.

    P.S. It is also asserted as nauseam how the male is "active" (and therefore godlike) and the female is "passive" (and therefore creaturely). Sex (like life) would be terribly dull if only men were ever active and only women ever passive. The type of sexual act that most perfectly corresponds to the wholly active and donative male and the wholly passive and receptive female is necrophilia: perhaps that is why the church is looking a bit dead at the moment!



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