by Joe Cecil
The letter below is a public petition written by Joe Cecil on May 7, 2002, and based on a private letter sent to Mr Cecil’s pastoral leader, his Eminence, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. Mr Cecil also sent a copy of this letter to his Excellency, Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops on May 7, 2002.
Cecil is a lay Roman Catholic who worships in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, in the United States of America. Mr Cecil spent six years in formation for the Roman Catholic ministerial priesthood, from 1989 to 1995. He decided to leave formation because he felt that he has a vocation to marriage. Mr Cecil was married in the Catholic Church on June 16, 2001.
While Mr Cecil confesses that he questions whether he would have been able to live celibately in chastity, he continues to feel that he may have a vocation to the ministerial priesthood that is not recognized by the Vatican. This experience of unrecognized vocation provides him with sympathy for women who also experience the feeling of a calling to ministerial priesthood and feel that the Vatican is not recognizing their vocations.
Indeed, the issuance of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on his 29th birthday, Pentecost Sunday, May 22, 1994, became a catalyst for his decision to depart priestly formation in September of 1995. Mr Cecil encourages anyone who finds the letter below persuasive to feel free to copy it without his express permission and send a copy to his or her pastor in his or her own name. Indeed, under Canon 212.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Mr Cecil believes that there exists a moral obligation for those who cannot give definitive assent to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to communicate their concerns to their bishop. Mr Cecil has circulated this letter via email to supporters of women’s ordination asking for support in his appeal. In addressing a bishop who is not a Cardinal, the greeting of Your Eminence should be changed to Your Excellency.
Friday, May 02, 2003
PETITION TO OUR HOLY FATHER, POPE JOHN PAUL II, FOR WOMEN PRIESTS
TO: His Holiness, Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.
What is my purpose in writing?
I am a lay person and a believing and practicing Roman Catholic writing under the duty of canon 212.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law to manifest to my sacred pastors my opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, with my understanding that we also have a right to make our opinion known to other Christian faithful.
The content of this letter has been sent to my parish priests, as well as his Eminence, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who is my diocesan pastor. The questions raised in this letter are also being circulated among the laity via email, inviting others to share their concerns with their respective bishop.
I am writing because I have not found a statement of the Church’s position on the ordination of women that has helped me to submit my intellect or give definitive assent to your statements in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church is not authorized to ordain women. As a lay-person struggling to understand this issue and explain it to my non-Catholic friends and to those who have departed the faith, I am confused and seek your assistance in appropriating this teaching.
Indeed, as I weigh the arguments for and against the ordination of women, I have become more convinced that perhaps the question should remain open. It appears to me that the documentary evidence of infallible or authoritative statements made by the Church strongly suggests that women may have been ordained in the past, and perhaps should be ordained in contemporary society.
Overview of the official position taken by you:
You issued an Apostolic Letter on May 22, 1994 entitled Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in which you 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.
Your letter briefly reiterates arguments articulated in more detail under the authority of your beloved predecessor, Pope Paul VI, through the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the CDF) in a document issued October 15, 1976 entitled Inter Insigniores.
The basic arguments set forth by you and your predecessor as I understand them are as follows:
- – Ministerial priesthood was instituted exclusively among the Twelve, according to tradition at the Last Supper. The Twelve were exclusively male, and we must follow Christ’s manner of acting.– The New Testament provides no guidance for the ordination of women.– Sacred Tradition is interpreted as excluding the possibility of women’s ordination due to a lack of historic precedent and a number of authoritative, though not certainly infallible statements indicating women should not be ordained.– The priest acts in persona Christi, (in the person of Christ) and therefore must be male as Christ was male.– The bishop represents God the Father to the People of God, and all ordination to lower Orders are directed toward the episcopacy.– The Church is the bride of Christ, and it is therefore fitting that ministerial priests should be male to better symbolize this reality.
Is the current teaching part of the deposit of faith?
It is my understanding that you believe that the exclusion of women from ministry is part of the deposit of faith. It is also my understanding that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is not an exercise of ex cathedra papal authority, or extraordinary papal magisterium, in and of itself. Therefore, its contents cannot be considered with certainty to be part of the deposit of faith at this time in history based on your letter alone.
The CDF’s October 28, 1995 Responsum Ad Dubium issued with your approval regarding this letter did clarify that my interpretation is probably correct. The Responsum appealed to the authority of the ordinary and universal magisterium, rather than your own authority.
A subsequent letter issued by his eminence, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, on the same day stated that the “non-infallible” authority of your office witnessed to the infallible authority of the ordinary universal magisterium, which I understand to be the carefully and deliberately considered consensus of the entire college of bishops, such as when they gather in council, according to LG 25.2. 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.”
At the very least, I would humbly ask if you requested the opinions of your brother bishops regarding their carefully considered reflections on the matter before issuing Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, as demonstrated in the example of your predecessors of happy memory, Pius IX and Pius XII did prior to invoking extraordinary papal magisterium in defining the Immaculate conception and the Assumption of our Blessed Mother?
What was the example of Christ?
The arguments set forth most strongly in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and Inter Insigniores seem to indicate that our current teaching is derived from 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. It seems to me that it is at least plausible that there were others than the Twelve present at the Last Supper, and that Christ permitted women among those he selected for Apostolic ministry:
- – It seems implausible that Christ, whose attitudes toward women were so shocking in their day, would not have permitted women to serve him in priestly ministry (see John 4:27).– In Mark 14: 20, Jesus advises someone at the Last Supper that “one of the Twelve” will be his betrayer. To whom was he speaking when he said “one of the Twelve”?– In Mark 14: 47-52, an unnamed bystander runs from the garden of Gethsemane naked. Tradition holds that this was Mark, himself, who was not a member of the Twelve. If he were present in the garden, was he not also present at the supper? This is suggestive that others than the Twelve were present at the Last Supper.– The number of soldiers that come arrest Christ in John’s gospel is estimated at 600 soldiers which is too large for a small band of twelve men. This is also suggestive that a larger group than twelve was present at the Last Supper. (see Jn 18:3 footnote 3 of the NAB)– Luke 10:1-2 indicates that Christ ordained 72 people other than the Twelve. Eusebius also interpreted Luke 10:1-2 in this same fashion in Book 1.12 of The History of the Church.– Likewise, Luke 24:13-35 indicates that a disciple named Cleopas recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread on Resurrection Sunday. It would seem that Cleopas was present at the Last Supper as the condition for the possibility of this recognition in a clear Eucharistic reference.– If our Blessed Mother was at the foot of the cross in Jerusalem on Good Friday, it seems plausible that she shared the paschal feast the prior evening with her own son in this city so far from home.– Likewise, it has been suggested by many contemporary popular writers that there were women who cooked and served the meal.
– Mary Magdalene and other women were the first to come to faith in the resurrected Lord, and they witnessed to the Eleven in all resurrection accounts.
– In both Scripture, and the Eucharist prayers of the Church, it is written that the disciples were present at the last supper, while no exclusive reference is made to the Twelve or to those called Apostles.
– Our Blessed Mother was present in the upper room when the Church was born (Acts 1:14).
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 and with the Father, in the Spirit. Perhaps the Twelve sat at the head table, but it seems likely many others were present. Throughout his public ministry, our Lord showed a deep reverence and respect for women that lead me to believe it is possible that Christ ordained them.
What was the example of the Apostles in the New Testament?
Your office has asserted that the New Testament provides no guidance for the ordination of women, since women were not included among the Twelve. However, the Twelve function as representatives of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes Israel (Mt 19:28), and were not the sole ministers of the New Covenant in the early Church. Indeed, Mt 10:1-4, Mk 3:13-19, and Lk 6:12-16 cannot even agree on their names, and John does not name all Twelve. This indicates the possibility that there were larger group than Twelve who were considered members of Christ’s inner circle.
In the post resurrection New Testament period, Luke calls Paul and Barnabas Apostles in Acts 14:14. They have charge over presbyters in Acts 11:30. Paul assumes the title of Apostle and clearly intends it as a title in 1 Cor 12:28-29. He seems to include as many as 500 witnesses to the resurrection may have shared this title (1 Corinthians 15: 6 and 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.
- – Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as his co-workers in Romans 16:3.– Paul also calls Phoebe a deacon in Romans 16:1-2, and the term is usually translated in English as “minister” rather than “deacon”. Paul uses the same gender and case that is applied to Christ in Romans 15:8, implying the word as title, rather than a functional description. This is an ordained ministry in Catholic theology, and I have seen no convincing arguments why the contemporary Church does not recognize Phoebe’s ministry as an ordained ministry. Indeed, canon 3 of the Council of Trent on Holy Orders seems to indicate all lower orders are directed to ministerial priesthood.– Paul also calls a woman named Junia by the title of “Apostle” in Romans 16:7. I have not seen any convincing arguments that the original Greek texts do not refer to a woman in this passage, or that Paul does not use the term Apostle as a title, as he so frequently does elsewhere. Indeed, no comentator prior to the thirteenth century rendered the passage as a man, or denied this referred to an Apostle. Junia is significant since Paul always seems to use the word as a title for one with authority.– In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, the term presbyteress is used, typically translated as elder women. The young men and young women of the same verses are neoterous and neoteras respectively, indicating a role somewhat like a novice. In verse 17 of the same chapter, it is clear that the term “presbyter” is a title. Verse 17 is referenced in Lumen Gentium no. 28 footnote 183, in a usage implying priesthood. Indeed, 1 Timothy 4:14 is referenced in footnote 155 of LG 20,21 in statements on apostolic succession. So, it seems that the word “presbyter” was applied to women in an identical fashion to men.– Titus 2:1-5 uses the term “presbyter” in reference to women, and the young women in these verses are “neas”, which are women of marriageable age (different from the novices of 1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Exhortations to silence placed on women in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 cannot be understood as absolute since Paul offers women instruction for prophesying in the same letter in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Furthermore, verse 28 of the chapter 14 provides instructions for men to be silent in certain circumstances. Rather than an absolute prohibition to women speaking in Church, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is addressing the issue of orderly worship within the context of a highly charismatic community, clarified already in chapter 13.
Nor can the theology of 1 Corinthians 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 11 to distinguish women from men. This word is sometimes translated in English 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 outlined in Galatians 3:28, and allows for women prophesying in Church as outlined in verse 5 of the same passage.
Likewise, the contexts of 1 Timothy 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…”
We see this word used as a temporary rule in passages such as Matt 8:21, Mark 5:13, John 19:38, Acts 21:39-40, 26:1, 27:3, 28:16 and 1 Cor 16:7. This rendering of 1 Tim 2:7-15 would make sense of the following verses in 1 Tim 2:13, that states Adam is first, but then Eve in temporal order.
Again, there is no prohibition against women’s ordination in these passages when they are understood within its historic context. Scripture finds stronger justification for slavery within the New Testament than condemnation of women’s ordination. So, it seems to me highly probable from the New Testament witness that women were considered ordained, either by Christ, or his immediate disciples.
What does tradition say?
Your office indicates a lack of historic precedence for the ordination of women. Yet, the Apostolic Constitutions 3.16 provide justification for women’s ordination to the deaconate, and command it of the bishop for specific incidences. The opposing texts sited by Inter Insigniores from the Apostolic Constitutions 3.6 refer to a separate role of widows.
Indeed, many texts quoted from Inter Insigniores as evidence of an early prohibition to women’s ordination seem to be taken out of historic context, and probably do not refer to women’s ordination at all, as indicated in a Catholic Theological Society Association (CTSA) Resolution in America on 6 June 1997. I have read the primary sources of these citations, and find myself in basic agreement with these observations.
- – 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 does seem to object to women teaching and baptizing, but these are functions permitted of women by the Church in certain circumstances today. Furthermore, Tertullian’s orthodoxy has always been questionable, and his view of women as the gateway to the devil is notoriously mistaken.– The Didascalia Apostolorum 15 also seems to object to women preaching and baptizing, though these functions are permitted in certain circumstances today. The authorship of the Didascalia Apostolorum is questionable, and the work was lost for centuries. Yet, even in chapter 16 of the Didascalia, we do find instructions for the ordination of women to deaconate.– Firmilian is quoted in a letter to Cyprian (no. 75) as being opposed to heretical baptisms and Eucharist performed by women. However, his concern seems to be more that they are heretics under demonic influence than that they are women. It is also interesting that Firmillian and Cyprian were opposed to the Pope’s readmission of these heretics to the Catholic faith, indicating that some of Firmillian’s views about these women may have been mistaken.– Origen does argue against women preaching in the Church in Fragmenta in I Cor. 74. However, the practice of women preaching in the Church is permitted in certain circumstances today, and Origen’s orthodoxy is at times as questionable as Tertullian’s.– Only in Saint Epiphanius writing in the late fourth century do we begin to find clear opposition to women’s ordination to priesthood by a source considered orthodox (Panarion 79,1.6). Yet, in Panarion 78, 13, Epiphanius admits of women deaconesses, without clarifying how they are not sacramentally ordained.– Finally, the CDF’s quotation of Saint John Chrysostom argues against women’s ordination to the episcopate (possibly referring specifically to the papacy) based on the greatness of the task. This passage really says nothing of ordination of women to the presbyterate, and is based on a notion that women are inferior to men. The argument of female inferiority is rejected by you today.
None of these passages are recorded in sources that would be considered to carry infallible authority. What we see in these passages is a gradual devaluation of women in the Western Church that provides a historical understanding of how women came to be prohibited from ordination to ministerial priesthood. However, this evidence does not explain why women are excluded, and seems to indicate that this exclusion was not the original practice of the Church.
Canon 15 of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon provides instruction for ordaining women, using the same word that is used for men (cheirotonia). While an argument is sometimes made that Canon 15 of Chalcedon must be read in light of Canon 19 of Nicea, it seems clear to me that Nicea was dealing specifically with a case of the readmission of Paulinist heretics to the Catholic faith. Indeed, it seems that Nicea justifies counting the Paulinist deaconesses among the laity precisely because they received no imposition of hands from a bishop, where the bishops are instructed to lay hands on the deaconess in Chalcedon’s Canon 15. It is valid to ask why the Paulinist deaconesses were not re-ordained at Nicea. However, this question does not prove that women in general cannot be ordained, since it seems to be contradicted by Chalcedon and dealt specifically with a heretical sect.
Furthermore, in light of the later development in sacramental theology at the Council of Trent (Canon 3 on Holy Orders) we see all lower orders, even those below deacon, are directed at ministerial priesthood. Thus, a deaconess would seem to have potency for ministerial priesthood.
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. Indeed, it seems to me that denying the sacramentality of the rite of ordination to deaconesses calls into question the validity of male deaconate as an ordained ministry.
It seems possible that the ordination of women was actively suppressed only around the late fourth and fifth century through actions that nobody would argue are infallible taken by them selves. 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. We already saw that the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon would seem to overrule these local councils in 451 AD. F urthermore, the prohibitions themselves imply that some bishops were already ordaining women. This practice of orthodox bishops would seem to militate against the notion that the ordinary universal magisterium has always been opposed to women’s ordination.
Your beloved predecessor, his Holiness, Pope Saint 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. In other words, even the prohibitions against women’s ordination in the West during the fourth and fifth century indicate that there were validly ordained and orthodox bishops who were ordaining women. Why else would a local prohibition be passed?
It does not seem that the exclusion of women from ordained ministry was rooted in early Church practice.
Rather, the practice of ordaining women hinted at in the New Testament gradually eroded under growing patriarchy, lack of educational opportunities in secular society for women, and non-infallible actions of local synods, especially in the West. In other words, the Church’s attitudes about women gradually shifted in a similar manner to our attitude towards Judaism, until it reached a point where it could be deemed sinful.
Why I believe that we should ordain women?
In your 29 June 1995 letter to women at the Beijing Conference, you recently admitted to a sinful and progressive growth of sexism that even effects the Church. This is similar to your recent admissions of anti-Semitism 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).
Gaudium et Spes 29 states that it is contrary to God’s will to deny a woman a state of life based on gender alone. Nobody has a right to the priesthood, per se. Certainly, it would be silly to argue that all women should be ordained. The Church has a right to test a vocation externally and confirm or deny it through the bishops. However, it would appear contrary to God’s will to deny a qualified person with a desire to serve at the altar the opportunity to do so based on gender alone.
In our secular world in America, an analogy can be drawn to hiring practices in worldly occupations. Not all applicants for a particular occupation have a right to the specific job. Yet, the most qualified candidate does have a right to the job over and against corporate cultural bias. It is morally wrong to deny someone a job on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, creed, and so forth. In like manner, it seems to me that it may be morally wrong to deny a state of life to person based on gender according to GS 29. The enforcement of an exclusively male ministerial priesthood seems to undermine the moral authority of the Church to speak to issues of gender discrimination.
Are their theological reasons for women’s ordination?
Yet, the argument is not simply one of human rights, but of the nature of the sacraments themselves. Certainly, it is not my intent to insult the intelligence of you and your office by offering a theological treatise on the nature of ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist, or baptism. At the same time, my basic understanding of the theology of the sacraments and my understanding of your position may help your office to articulate a response that will help those of us who favor women’s ordination to understand and receive joyfully what you are trying to communicate to the people of God.
Your office has set forth the argument that the ministerial priest acts in the person of Christ, and must, therefore, be male. Lumen Gentium 10 indicates that through baptism, we all share in the unique and singular universal priesthood of Christ. This sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed through a vocation to either the common priesthood, or the ministerial priesthood.
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 activity is directed, and from which all grace flows (SC 10 of the Vatican II decrees). 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. In a very real sense, there is only one Mass offered throughout all time, including the Last Supper and every Mass said throughout history in one divine event. It is true that there is a distinction between the different actions of each individual Mass said in concrete historic existence, while maintaining the unity of the one sacrifice across all times. Each action permits unique graces, such that each Mass in time and space is an individual source of grace to the believer. Yet, in asserting the unity of the various actions expressed throughout all time as a singular sacrifice, I am affirming our substantial unity with Christ. What I am saying is this:
God the Father, as the creator of time, is eternal. God transcends time in a constant “now” with no past or future. Yet, in his omnipresence, God is throughout all time (God can do anything, so it is not impossible for him to be in two modes of time at once). In eternity, the Father receives all Masses as one offering of the whole body of Christ in that heavenly banquet which we taste each time we participate in the local and historically conditioned action of the Church. The Mass is not simply a play reenacting past events. It is an eternal act of worship whereby each baptized Catholic Christian offers her or his very self to God in Christ.
In Jesus Christ, the Trinity offers the perfect self-revelation of God in concrete historicity – in finite time. By becoming human, God revealed the incomparable value of the human person. In effect, God says to us, “Stop looking for me in the heavens. Look around you at your neighbor.”
The Trinity is three persons in one being, forming their personhood in relationship with one another. We image God in our relationships with one another, including our gender relationships. 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.
By referring to the meal as a symbol, I do not mean a sign pointing beyond itself to an absent reality. Such a notion would deny real presence, and affirm a real absence. I am saying that symbol is reality. The concept of “symbol” provided by Saint Augustine is a sign that points to its self and is layered with multiple meanings. Thus, we never exhaust exploring the meaning of the Eucharist.
In another example of symbol as reality, our bodies are symbols of our personhood! Individual personhood has infinite depth and meaning to God, who created each of us in finite time in his image. This is the meaning of the revelation of God’s incarnation in human nature! As the Cappadocian Fathers said: “What is not assumed is not saved.” Christianity is the ultimate form of humanism, and we should be ashamed when secularists hold themselves to higher standards of humanism than we use to measure ourselves. When institutions deny the full personhood of the individual, structural evil is promoted.
To say that the individual has an infinite depth and meaning to God does not make us equal to God. By analogy, just as the set of all even numbers is smaller than the set of all whole numbers, so the infinity of individual personhood is smaller than the infinity of God. So, I am not arguing for some pantheistic or polytheistic concept that we are gods equal to The God. Rather, we are finitum capex infinitum, the finite capable of the infinite. We are the image of God, as affirmed in Genesis 1:26-27. Woman is an image of God, and denying that a woman can act in the person of Christ is a denial that she images the divine.
Having stated that symbol is reality, we can say that bread and wine are symbols of the real and substantial presence of Christ on the altar. Another way of saying this is to phrase it as a question: Why bread and wine? Why not some other objects?
Bread and wine mean something to us, and God is ‘aware’ of that (analogically speaking). Thus, Christ selected symbols that would have significant value to human persons to become the substances that he would change into his very self-offering unto us. Aquinas said that the sacraments cause grace by signifying grace. The Eucharist signifies God’s self-offering to us, as we offer ourselves with Christ.
The substance we call bread and wine becomes the substance we call body and blood of Christ – for us, by God’s initiative. The broken bread and poured wine remind us of Christ’s broken body and shed blood on the cross as a total self offering to the Father for the remission of our sins. However, we need to be careful to avoid reifying the Eucharist. We do not receive an inanimate object in the Eucharist. We receive a living person! In receiving this substance, we can speculate that we ourselves are transubstantiated. We come to share in the very inner life of the Trinity – a life of relationship.
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 in our relationships. 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?”
Tying all this together with the issue of women’s ordination, the entire Church is the body of Christ. Christ is substantially present in the Church, just as he is under the accidents of bread and wine on the altar. When I say this is real and “substantial”, I am answering the question “What is it?” as this question is applied to the Church. We are the mystical body of Christ, as your predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII taught.
At the same time, I am not saying that the substantial presence of Christ in the Church is a physical presence, like we have in the consecrated bread and wine on the altar, or the physical human body that hung on the cross approximately 2,000 years ago. Substance, as a category, can be applied to non-corporeal beings: such as angels, or Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father, etc…. The category of substance refers to the answer to the question “What is it?” and can be defined as the underlying reality of a thing.
If Christ is truly and really present in the Church, then I am calling this substantial presence as I have defined it. Moreover, it would seem logical that if Christ is substantially present in the Church, the entire body could, would, and should find expressions of the vocation to ministerial priesthood among the various people being brought into this divine relationship. Christ is substantially present in women!
In other words, just as non-Jews have their full personhood affirmed through the ordination of select non-Jews who serve as ministerial priests, women who are called to the common priesthood of the faithful would find their personhood affirmed in the symbol of some women being called to ministerial priesthood. The argument for excluding women from ministerial priesthood seems to make no more sense than an argument for excluding Gentiles from ministerial priesthood posed in the first century.
Exclusion of anyone from ministerial priesthood based on an ontological reality, would seem to symbolize that this particular ontology is not fully united to the universal priesthood of Christ – not able to be an image of Christ – not fully a participant in the divine life of the Trinity – not fully an image of God – not fully admitted to the divine relationships formed in the community – not fully saved! In other words, the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood leads one naturally and logically into the heresy that women are not saved as women.
At the same time, admitting the difference between the sexes admits of the reason that it is imperative that the discipline of exclusively male celibate ministerial priests needs to be revised. If the differences between the sexes are not expressed among the body of ministerial priest, we are saying that only one sex images Christ and only one sex is saved!
If women complement or complete men, as you have recently indicated, then the ministerial priesthood is an incomplete representation of salvation to humanity without women ministerial priests.
This would appear contrary to the intent of Christ!
I believe that you have been clear that women are saved in Christ. At the same time, I do not see how the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood can lead us to that conclusion. On the other hand, inclusion of women in ministerial priesthood would affirm the salvation of women. As stated above, Genesis 1:26-27 indicates that we image God as male and as female. Women image the divine, and ordaining women would perfectly symbolize this. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28 that we are no longer male and female due to our baptism in Christ. It would seem that from what we have said that men and women are one and totally equal. I need the assistance of your office to not only clarify the level of authority with which the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood should be accepted. I need the assistance of your office to understand how this exclusion does not deny the salvation of women.
Can God be imaged as a female?
Your office and its supporters maintain 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, as did your predecessor of happy memory, His Holiness, Paul VI.
- – In Proverbs chapter 1, starting at verse 20, divine Wisdom is portrayed as a woman crying in the streets. This feminine divine image continues throughout Proverbs, especially in chapter 8.– Paul uses the image of divine “Sophia” (Wisdom) to describe Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:24.– In Luke 13:34, Jesus compares God the Father to a mother hen.– The Hebrew words most typically associated God’s love, mercy, or compassion in the Old Testament are “hesed” and “rehumim” which are rooted in the notion of a woman in labor pains.– On Saturday of every third week of the Liturgy of the Hours, priests around the world pray during Lauds from the Book of Wisdom:
God of my fathers, …, Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men, if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him, he shall be held in no esteem. Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure. (New American Bible: Wis 9:1,6,9-10)
In Scripture, Wisdom is female, and with God at creation – coeternal with the Father. Sophia is either identical to the Logos (as Paul seems to indicate), or Sophia is the Holy Spirit!
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. The image of Mary in the Church is also interpreted by many to be a representation of our Catholic intuitive sense of the divine nature being revealed through a woman, even though we do not admit that Mary herself is divine.
Traditionalists sometimes argue that God must be Father in order to impregnate Mary. However, this line of reasoning is not supported by theology. God can create ex nihilo and does not need to be either male or female to conceive a child in Mary’s womb. Jesus entered the womb of Mary as an entering into the fullness of the human condition, since we are all born of woman. However, God the father did not have sexual relations with Mary. The notion of gods having sex with women is only found in pagan myth.
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, authorized in your own tenure in the papacy, states that God can legitimately be called Mother:
Paragraph 239 …, 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.
It would seem that the maleness of Christ should not 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 the communication of God’s self-emptying and divestment of power for the empowerment of others.
Had Christ come as a female, it is doubtful that men would have understood the moral demands of a gospel. Many values in the Gospels were culturally considered feminine traits that men did not seem so virtuous. In the patriarchal Greco-Roman world and the context of first century Judaism, who would have noticed that a woman turns the other cheek and prays for forgiveness for those who injure her? We have seen this in women who endure abusive spouses throughout history. Only a man behaving this way could overturn the system of male patriarchy that resulted from original sin.
So, men sharing decision-making and spiritual authority equally with women in a collaborative ministerial effort will continue the example of the Master. I almost feel that Catholics should feel a certain shame that our Protestant and Jewish siblings have seen this truth ahead of us, and I am left unable to respond to those who do not accept your position.
Conclusions on the bridal imagery of the liturgy and the issue of women’s ordination:
Given the arguments above, and the fact that the statements by your beloved predecessor, his Holiness, Paul VI and yourself can be demonstrated to be of non-infallible authority, I believe that it is of grave necessity that the Church continue to keep the issue of women’s ordination open. It would seem that bishops and theologians and historians should be able to speak freely as they inquire into this subject, without facing authoritative statements that call their orthodoxy into question. If further research leads the Church towards a decision to permit women’s ordination, this should be seen as a response to the signs of the times under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, if God truly does not wish women to be ordained, we can have faith that open inquiry into the subject without authoritative guidance will ultimately clarify the reasons for this exclusion.
You have encouraged theologians to reflect more deeply on the bridal imagery of Christ’s love for his Church as an appeal to popularize the current discipline. While the Biblical groom and bride metaphors proposed by your office in response to the issue of women’s ordination has some poetic appeal, the metaphor does not seem to capture the true sense of the faithful on this issue. Paul always uses this metaphor to point to the deeper reality of the Church as the Body of Christ. Indeed, carried to its logical extreme, it would almost seem that this metaphoric language would imply no place for celibate priests. Likewise, it appears that the Church has not probed deeply enough into the implication that all male members of the common priesthood of the faithful are ontologically feminized under too literal rendering of this metaphor. It seems to me that this metaphor is stretched to far at best, and a rationalization for injustice at worst. The real meaning of this metaphor lies in our eschatological hope for a personal union with God as intimate as the marriage bond, and it is in this sense that it is in the sacrament of marriage that so many of us encounter a foreshadowing of this mystery. In the Eucharist, it is not the priest who symbolizes this union. Rather, the reception of the consecrated bread and the hearing of the Word of God penetrating our hearts symbolizes God’s union with us most fully.
Why I believe I can withhold assent on this issue and remain in the Church?
There is a humorous fable told to American children of an emperor who sought a new wardrobe. He went to the greatest fashion designers in his kingdom seeking the most wonderful clothing. The top designer of the kingdom told the emperor that he would make a beautiful ensemble that would be invisible to the emperor, while looking magnificent to everyone else.
The designer explained that each person would see something different, while the emperor would see nothing. All the courtiers and all the people of the kingdom exclaimed how beautiful the kings clothing were until a small child spoke out. The child said, “The emperor has no clothes.” The child spoke the truth that others knew, but were afraid to say.
I do not mean to insult your Holiness. However, I am convinced that the arguments used to exclude women leave the Church exposed to humiliation like the fabled emperor. Being a lay-person, I realize that I may be in better position than a bishop or Cardinal to press these questions without facing reprisals from your supporters. I am inspired by the example of Saint Catherine of Sienna who offered advice to your predecessor. Even if I am mistaken in God’s eyes, I believe that I raise the issues that opponents of women’s ordination need to address more thoroughly if we, as a Church, are to gain a deeper appreciation of revelation. Thus, I feel it is my duty to share my thoughts and questions with you, my pastors, and other Christians in order to continue the discussion.
Furthermore, in Galatians 2:11, Saint Paul sets a precedent for responsible withholding of assent from non-infallible papal authority. The specific issue at hand was your beloved predecessor, Pope Saint Peter’s hypocritical treatment of Gentile Christians. While Pope Saint Peter affirmed the equality of the Gentiles in word, his deeds spoke otherwise.
I humbly confess in charitable admonition that I currently believe that your current position is similar to our first Pope’s treatment of the Gentiles. Paul made his lack of assent public in written testimony for consumption among the laity of the Church. This Spirit inspired model of responsible withholding of assent has become enshrined in Sacred Scripture. This idea of responsible withholding of assent was later affirmed in Gaudium et Spes 62, which states that “all the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, tempered by humility and courage in whatever branch of study they have specialized.”
I do not leave the Church because I love the Catholic faith. In all of my argumentation I have appealed to the Church’s own authoritative documents, her own history, her own Sacred Scripture and a sound theology of Catholic baptism, Eucharist, Church and priesthood. Many of us also believe that the ordination of women will make the saving sacraments of the Church available to more people, and alleviate the decline in male vocations to ministerial priesthood that may be a signal of the Holy Spirit’s desire to initiate change in the Church’s current disciplines. Many of also believe that women will add uniquely female insight into the interpretation of our Sacred Tradition that will draw some of the non-believers or fallen away to the sacrament of the Church. Finally, I am convinced that women will help the American clergy to remain accountable in the area of sexual misconduct, which has so plagued the Church in the United States.
I rely on the atoning merit of Christ our Lord and the prayers and intercession of the Catholic saints. To leave the Church would be to separate myself from Apostolic succession, papal primacy, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, our Blessed Mother, and the web of relationships in the community of faith that we believe forms the body of Christ. The Catholic Church remains a unified body while being the largest and most multi-cultural expression of Christianity in the world. This is important to me. My prayers for the dead would find no home in many other religious bodies. My need for the sacrament of reconciliation would go unfulfilled. My belief in the Ten Commandments and morality might fall under question if I denied our Church at it’s infallible roots, and I do not believe that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is an expression of infallible Catholic tradition. I accept the great councils as I recite the Apostles and Nicene Creed each day, and I accept the infallible doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. I realize too that other religious institutions are effected by the frailty of human sin, and that the path to reform is not to leave the body, but to prayerfully and lovingly work for change. For all these reasons, and many others, I wish to remain faithful to our Catholic heritage and faith.
Please prayerfully consider the sense of the faithful as well as the doctrinal and Scriptural points raised above in your conversations with your brother bishops and any future pronouncements on this issue.
May the peace of the Lord be with you always.
Yours in Christ!
Lay Roman Catholic
Further supporting documentation for points made above:
Is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Infallible?
Apostolic Succession: It’s Not Just the 12…
Genesis and Paul on Women
Our Mother Who Art in Heaven…God as Mother
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