IN DEFENSE OF THE MALE PRIESTHOOD
THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE TEACHING ON THE MALE ONLY CLERGY
The Catholic Church has spoken authoritatively on the subject of female ordination, saying not only that the She would refuse to ordain women, but that the She has no power to do so, since the sacraments are a gift from God, and thus the Church is care taker and not master of them. In his Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II taught that the reservation of priestly ordination for men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church. This is further reinforced by the Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, Inter Insegniores, of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved, confirmed, and published on the order of Pope Paul VI. In this declaration it states,
“The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: This innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church.”
This declaration cites the works of St. Irenaeus, St. Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Origen, and St. Epiphanus. Pope John Paul II repeats this injunction in his aforementioned encyclical by stating: “I declare 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.” His Holiness found it necessary to make this statement in order to respond to the erroneous idea that the practice of a male only priesthood was merely a discipline of the Church. Therefore, it would appear that Pope John Paul II meant the relevant statement in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as a dogmatic definition, especially since He states, “This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” In light of the command in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI to assent to the teachings of the Bishops on faith and morals, and to assent in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, one recognizes that the reservation of the priesthood to men, is an infallible position of the Catholic Church. Interestingly enough, this was the position taken in 1995 by then prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his letter concerning the CDF reply regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.
Now, some would argue that the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger thinks such a pronouncement as infallible does not mean it actually is, but in light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s ascendance to the papacy, this argument surely cannot stand, for what good is the power to define things infallibly, as he held as Pope, if one does not know what has already been so defined? The fact that His Holiness believes that a former Pope has infallibly defined the teaching against female priests is sufficient for us to know that it is so infallible. Therefore, unless anyone would like to advance the argument that Pope Emeritus Benedict the Magnificent has changed his mind since writing the CDF reply regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, one would have to conclude that the teaching against female priests is infallible.
Therefore, merely by trusting in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church established by Christ with the charge to reveal the will of God to the nations and to evangelize the Gospel, one can see that the priesthood is meant to be reserved for men, and that no further evidence is necessary to attest to this fact.
THE DESIRE FOR HERMENEUTIC JUSTIFICATION
Despite the fact that no further evidence is necessary to attest to this fact, hermeneutic justification is desirable in order to render better pastoral guidance to those who struggle with this teaching, and better evangelize this truth to those who would otherwise question its validity. For while we recognize that the above justification shows us how this teaching is true, it does not tell us why this teaching is necessary. In that sense, to say that a male only clergy is part of the tradition of the Catholic Church does not tell us why it is part of the tradition. Therefore, to the person who wishes to understand why God established a male only priesthood, to say the Church says God established it that way is only a partial answer.
Unfortunately, it would appear that most common arguments explaining the male only priesthood are partial answers as well. For example, when asked why the Catholic Church does not ordain women, some have responded by saying that since Christ had only men present at the Last Supper when he established the priesthood, He only intended for men to be priests. (Matthew 26:17-30) The argument goes that since it would have been natural, in fact, practically expected for Jesus’s female followers to be with Him at the Last Supper, and there was apparently nothing preventing them from attending, their exclusion must have been deliberate, and must have been in order to make clear that the priesthood would be reserved for males, for if Jesus intended females to be a part of the priesthood, surely He would have extended the priesthood to His mother, Mary Magdalene, or at least one other of His female companions. Their absence, it is claimed, is justification for excluding women from the priesthood. Whether this argument is sufficient or not to show that Jesus did intend the priesthood to be reserved for men is beside the point, for it fails to address the question of why Jesus would desire a male only priesthood in the first place.
A further justification is sometimes offered, that Christ being a man himself, can only be properly represented in the economy of salvation by men, and that therefore, a natural resemblance between the priest who steps in persona Christi and Christ himself necessitates a male priesthood. This is in fact one of the justifications offered in Interi Insigniores: “The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.” This justification is complete in that it fully answers the question for why only a male can be a priest: Because Christ was male and that in order to stand in persona Christi, one must be male as Christ was male.
However, this answer is still incomplete, for it raises the question of why the sex of Christ is the characteristic the priest must model, instead of for example, Jesus’s height and weight? Why can men of all different sizes be priests when we know for a fact that Christ was only one size, and therefore, many of these men would not appear to show a ‘natural semblance’ to Christ in height or weight? Or perhaps, for example, why isn’t the race of Christ a factor? Why is it that the priesthood must be reserved for men because Christ was a man, and not for those of Middle Eastern descent even though Christ was of Middle Eastern descent. (There are some conflicting theories of Jesus’s race, with some scholars retaining the 19th century idea of an Aryan Jesus and some advancing possibilities of an African Jesus. For the purpose of this hypothetical, it will be assumed that Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent.) If women cannot be priests because Christ was not a woman, then should not non-middle Eastern men be similarly excluded for the reason that Christ was Middle Eastern? Some would respond by noting that while race can be thought of as a social construct, sex is clearly based on a definite biological difference. Others might question whether this distinction is significant enough to justify the difference in which the two characteristics are treated. While this discussion is interesting, it also seems to side step the major questions which must be answered in order to attempt to understand the justification for reserving the priesthood to men. Those questions are: “Is Christ’s ‘maleness’ a relevant characteristic of His Paschal sacrifice?” Essentially, “Is there some theological quality or perfection achieved in the Passion and Crucifixion that could not be achieved if Christ were female?” Most importantly, “Is there biblical evidence for such a claim?”
Now, it should be noted that the Pontifical Biblical Commission responsible for the “Biblical Commission Report Can Women Be Priests” claimed that the New Testament alone does not seem to settle in a clear way whether women could ascend to the presbyterate or not. However, no great theological truth can be revealed in its completeness by the New Testament alone, but only by the interpretation of the New Testament as the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. Therefore, it should not surprise us that we cannot justify reserving the priesthood to men by relying only on the New Testament. I contend that only by understanding the fall of man as related in Genesis, and more specifically the different curses placed on man and woman as represented by Adam and Eve can we understand the significance of the sex of Jesus in the Passion and Crucifixion. By understanding that, I believe a conclusive justification can be arrived at from scripture for the reservation of the priesthood for men.
GENESIS AND PURPOSE OF SUFFERING
Man was made without sin, and as long as man remained sinless, the world remained without suffering. (Genesis 1:26, 31 2:25) But through the sin of man, suffering entered the world. It should be noted that there appears to be two forms of suffering that entered as a result of man’s sin. The first is what could be called “direct suffering,” which is a direct result of having sinned. An example of this direct suffering would be the shame felt by Adam and Eve once they realized they were naked. (Genesis 3:10) This form of suffering is not the form that concerns us currently. Rather, it is the second form of suffering that entered the world, which can be called “indirect suffering,” the suffering God appeared to give as punishment to Adam and Eve for their transgression which is described in Genesis 3:16 – 19.
Some might question whether such a division between “direct suffering” and “indirect suffering” is warranted. I believe such a division is warranted, because the two types of suffering are categorically different for two reasons: First, because direct suffering is generated from the sin itself while indirect suffering is generated by an outside force (God) acting as an exterior force in response to the sin. One might come to understand the difference between the two by imagining a burglar, who after robbing a house feels remorse and shame for his actions, and is then caught and put in jail by the police. There is a direct suffering caused by the shame of having sinned by robbing the house, and indirect suffering caused by the actions of the police in response to the burglar’s transgression. Second, while direct suffering affects man and woman not only equally but also identically, indirect suffering manifests itself differently for the different sexes. Both Adam and Eve felt shame at their nakedness directly resulting from their sin, and they both reacted in a similar manner, sowing fig leaves to make loin coverings and hiding themselves from God. (Genesis 3:7-8) However, the indirect suffering given by God discriminates between man and woman. In woman, the pains of childbirth are increased, while man is cursed by now being made to labor for sustenance instead of receiving it without labor. This distinction is important, because it lays the groundwork for a sex related difference between the roles of men and women, and therefore, is the first step to understanding why the priesthood must be reserved for men.
Despite these two differences between direct and indirect suffering, they both exist to serve the same purpose, that is, to move the sinner from sin to virtue and return the sinner to God. In the same way society might punish a one who commits a crime in order to reform him and return him to society, God caused man to suffer for his sins, so that man might recognize the harm of his sins, and strive to restore his relationship with God. One can recognize this if one considers the man who sits on a hot stove and is moved from the stove by the suffering that is inflicted upon him. In that way, suffering exists in such a proportion that man suffers as much as is necessary to move him from the state that is causing him suffering. Therefore, the suffering inflicted by God’s punishment was not a death sentence condemning man, but rather a promise of hope that despite man’s sin God wanted man to reunite themselves to His will. Suffering is a God given tool to encourage mankind to overcome its sins to do so. Therefore, once we understand that suffering has purpose, we understand that the difference between the indirect suffering man and woman received from God for their transgressions is not an arbitrary literary embellishment, but rather central to the mystery of salvation. We also understand that this difference in the indirect sufferings translates into very real differences into how men and women enter into that mystery of salvation.
THE BIRTH AND CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST AS THE SANCTIFICATION OF SUFFERING AND THE FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE OF HOPE IN GENESIS 3:16-19 AND ITS RELATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
After understanding the suffering man and woman each endure because of the Fall as purposeful and ordered towards our salvation, one might wonder why Christ was necessary. For if man’s own suffering can move man from his sin, then why is it not enough to completely restore his relationship with God? The answer is purely mathematical. Because man’s sin was infinitely destructive, for he rendered the perfection of creation imperfect by his sin, it would require an infinite level of suffering to restore his relationship with God. Man, as a finite creature cannot suffer infinitely, for only an infinite being can experience infinite suffering. Therefore, an infinite being needed to become one of us, to freely offer Himself as sacrifice for our sins, and suffer in the way that we could not suffer, so that we could restore our relationship with God. God, in his infinite goodness did just that, by becoming man, and through Jesus’s crucifixion, He redeemed the world.
But He was not alone. While His sacrifice was sufficient for the salvation of all, in His wisdom He chose to be born to a woman, Mary, and through Her, perfected the act of salvation, so that just as the Peccator, Adam, and the Co-peccatrix, Eve, damned the world, the new Adam, the Redeemer, Christ, and the New Eve, the Co-redemptrix, Mary, redeemed it. Mary’s act therefore was integral to salvation, and any understanding of salvation must include an understanding of Mary’s role in salvation, a role that is relative and intrinsically connected to Christ’s role in it. This is immediately obvious, when we consider how Mary, by bearing Christ and being His Holy Mother fulfilled her role as co-redemptrix in a manner which is directly connected to the form of indirect suffering Eve faced. Mary, by redeeming the human race by bearing Christ, sanctified the suffering of pain in childbirth that Eve received from God. Mary had to be female, because she needed to be the mother to Christ, because she had to sanctify the uniquely feminine suffering God gave to Eve in a uniquely feminine manner. In the same way, Christ’s paschal sacrifice reveals that same connection to the form of indirect suffering God gave to Adam. God punished Adam by making him toil for the bread he would eat. At the Last Supper, Christ showed how He would become that bread we toiled for to eat. Christ Himself said that He is the bread of life. (John 6:35) Thus, the bread man toiled for, and the suffering from it, is sanctified by literally being transformed into the body of Christ. Thus, just as Mary had to be female because Eve was female, Christ had to be male because Adam was male.
It is from this understanding that the necessity for a male priesthood becomes apparent. If when consecrating the Eucharist the priest steps in persona Christi, and if the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ, meant to sanctify the suffering of Adam, then it becomes clear that maleness is a necessary characteristic for the celebrant in the same way that being female is a necessary characteristic for mothers, because Mary and Eve were both female. Adam fell by abandoning his masculine role through cowardice and passivity by standing by while Eve fell by abandoning her femininity by taking death instead of receiving life. Therefore masculinity and femininity were given redeeming grace through the sacrifice of Christ, which continues for eternity through the sacrifice of the mass, and the sacrifice of Mary (which we recognize as contingent on Christ’s sacrifice,) which continues for eternity in the creation, and nurturing of new life. Thus, just as the role of mother is uniquely and necessarily feminine, the role of the priest is uniquely and necessarily masculine. It is for this reason, for the salvation of mankind that the Church continues to affirm scripture and tradition by reserving the priesthood for men.