Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Ordination of Women: Tradition and Meaning

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Ordination of Women: Tradition and Meaning

Article excerpt

In a recent issue of this journal, I essayed a retrieval of St. Thomas's interpretation of the theological axiom that the priest, in consecrating the Eucharist, acts in the person of Christ (in persona Christi), arguing that Thomas assigns the axiom a primarily ministerial-apophatic rather than representational sense.(1) Although the main burden of the article was to combat the hierarchical interpretation of in persona Christi that dominates recent magisterial teaching, it was perforce related to the question which has triggered this interpretation, namely, the question whether women may be ordained to the priesthood.

Even as my article was going to press, Pope John Paul II issued a terse reaffirmation of the traditional ban against women priests, declaring that his judgment "that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women . . . is to be definitively held by all the church's faithful."(2) If the precise binding force of this declaration remains somewhat unclear, the pope clearly does not rule out scholarly discussion of the arguments on which it is based, as even Joseph Ratzinger has insisted.(3) The present note is intended as a contribution to this ongoing discussion, with specific reference to the distinction, and the importance thereof, between the external fact of the Church's traditional ban on the ordination of women and the inner theological meaning of this tradition.

Contemporary statements of the magisterium on this question have argued on both fronts. First and foremost, they have argued on the basis of the Church's constant and universal tradition of reserving the apostolic ministry to men. According to the magisterium, this tradition cannot be explained by the social and cultural vagaries of human history, specifically, by the historical prejudices against women, but stems from the will and institution of Christ himself, in such wise that the Church is powerless to change it: "The Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination";(4) "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."(5)

There is, however, a second and complementary argument advanced by the magisterium against the ordination of women, namely, the argument from theological meaningfulness, what Inter insigniores calls the consonance of an all-male priesthood with God's plan of salvation,(6) the light which this doctrine sheds, within the analogy of faith, on the mystery of Christ(7) and the Church.(8) Pope John Paul Il himself argues along these lines. In Ordinatio sacerdotalis, he speaks of the "appropriateness of the divine provision,"(9) makes repeated mention of God's "plan,"(10) specifically ascribes the choice of men alone to "the wisdom of the Lord of the universe",(11) and cites approvingly Paul VI's statement that in choosing only men Christ gave the Church a "theological anthropology" thereafter ever followed by the Church.(12) The anthropological argument had been specified in Mulieris dignitatem(13) 13 in terms of the nuptial mystery between Christ and the Church in a way that rehearses the central theoretical argument advanced in Section 5 of Inter insigniores, i.e. that the priest in celebrating the Eucharist represents Christ the bridegroom and acts in persona Christi.

Nonetheless, despite this affirmation in principle of the existence of intrinsic arguments, Ordinatio sacerdotalis makes no attempt to specify what these might be. In particular, the pope virtually bypasses the notion, so central to both Inter insigniores and Mulieris dignitatem, of the priest's "representation of Christ," being content with a generalized and passing reference, supported by a citation not of Inter insigniores but of Lumen gentium, to priests as "carry[ing] on the apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer,"(14) relying instead on a forceful appeal to the will of Christ in choosing twelve men as Apostles. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.