Women in Relation to Orders and Jurisdiction
by Katherine Meagher S. C.
from Sexism and Church Law
edited by James A. Coriden 1977, pp. 21-42.
published by Paulist Press, New York/Ramsey, N.J./Toronto
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions
While the status of women in the Codex luris Canonici and the new perspectives on women that can be gleaned from the documents of Second Vatican Council and post-conciliar legislation, may give a fairly comprehensive understanding of woman’s current juridic condition in the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps a more specific understanding of woman’s position may be gleaned by limiting the issue to “Women in Relation to Orders and Jurisdiction.” In some ways, changes in the area of orders and jurisdiction may even be considered as the “heart” of the problem of sex relations within the Church.
The main thrust of the paper will be to explore some of the changes that have occurred in regard to orders and jurisdiction over the centuries and where possible to emphasize the trends that may be of significance for women today. To this end, a few historic perspectives will be recalled, (1) the Codex will be examined to focus on the canonical base from which we are currently operating, and pertinent conciliar and post-conciliar documentation will be reviewed to assess the changes that may have taken place concerning orders and jurisdiction. From this, a few observations on the current issue of the ordination of women will be proposed.
In ancient Rome, the term ordo was used to denote a definite social body as distinct from the people, the plebs; and Christians used the term to denote a special place of clergy within the people of God. The Theodo-sian Code made it official by speaking of the ordo ecclesiasticus (Cod. Theodosianus 16.5.26). With time, the word came to stand for the different degrees within the ordo itself, such as the ordo episcoporum and ordo presbyterorum. The change from the collective to the “hierarchic” sense of ordo, seemed to reflect a change in concepts. In the ancient collective term, the emphasis was on “reception” into the order; as the emphasis was shifted to the “receiving” of a specific order, there came a resultant distinction among the various degrees and powers of the clergy. (2)
Besides the changes in the meaning of ordo, changes in the rituals for ordination also occurred over the ages. In the earliest rituals, such as those of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 215 A.D.), the neighboring bishops, clergy and people assembled; the bishops imposed hands on the bishop-elect and a consecratory prayer was read asking the Holy Spirit to grant to the elect, the power to shepherd the flock, to fulfill the office of priesthood in a blameless manner, and to offer sacrifice and forgive sins. This rite remained substantially the same in the East, but in the West changes occurred from the seventh to the fifteenth centuries, mainly denoting a change from the “ordination” to the “consecration” of bishops. This seemed in accord with a shift from the concept of a bishop entering another class (ordo) from the priest, to a concept of the bishop as consecrated for certain functions or jurisdiction within the priesthood. In line with this, it was also during these centuries that the symbols of office began to be used in the rites; for example, the ring and staff as symbols of the bishop’s jurisdiction were used at Seville in the early seventh century, and in the twelfth century the Papal Pontifical introduced the imposition of the Gospel Book on the head of the bishop-elect with the admonition to preach to the people committed to his care. (3)
In the rituals of ordination for priests and deacons, the imposition of hands and the consecrating formulas were fairly constant. In ancient practice, the ordinations took place with the presbyterium and the faithful assembled with the bishop; and from the sixth to the ninth centuries a ratification for the ordinand was asked from the people. In the West, around the tenth century, the rite for the priestly ordination emphasized the handing over (porrectio) of the instruments (chalice and paten), with the prayers stressing the power to preside at the Eucharist. With time, the tradition of instruments came to be regarded as the essential rite in the West. However, in 1947, Pope Pius XII, in the constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, placed the essential rite in the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons, in the laying-on of hands. (4)
In all three rituals of bishops, priests, deacons, a change was seen from ancient times in which the community of the faithful participated in some way, to the gradual elimination of the people after the tenth century. Even more significantly for the topic of orders and jurisdiction, it would appear that on occasion, episcopal consecration was “conferred on candidates who were not yet priests, but merely deacons, readers, or even laymen,” and that the practice appeared so normal in the eighth and ninth centuries that “it is officially provided for by a Roman Ordo of the eighth century.(5)
But besides the ritualistic changes already noted, the evolution of the offices of bishop, priest, deacon also indicates changing concepts. The title of bishop (episcopos) is found in the New Testament though the word did not have the precise meaning it afterwards came to have. The bishops seem to be the overseers of the Christian communities (1 Tim. 3:5). The title between bishop and presbyter is not clearly expressed, though it seems to be the presbyterium, with the power of laying-on of hands together with the apostle, that institute new ministers (1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 13:3). However, in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Apostolic Tradition, the pattern begins to emerge of a single bishop surrounded by a presbyterium as his council to help in governing and on occasion to be delegated for the eucharistic celebration. The superiority of <he bishop over the priests was expressed in other ways than jurisdiction: for a long time the word sacerdos signified only the bishop and the presbyter was designated as sacerdos secundi ordinis, a priest of the second rank. (6) While the authority of the bishop was not questioned, in the West some came to hold that at the sacramental level there was no difference between the bishop and the priest, the distinction of the two degrees of hierarchy being based only on a difference of jurisdiction. The problem of the “distinctions” of the hierarchy seemed to begin around the end of the fourth century, and included in time the three ranks of bishops, priests, deacons.
It all started in Rome during the pontificate of St. Damasus (366-384 A.D.) where the deacons acquired positions of such importance that they regarded themselves as superior to the priests. St. Jerome vigorously protested this claim, and even considers that in the primitive Church there was no distinct episcopate and that it was the presbyters who collectively governed the local churches. Such ideas gained ground, and while the traditional teaching of the bishop as possessing the fullness of the priesthood was maintained, many famous theologians considered the episcopate as only a dignity or higher jurisdiction. (7) Finally, the Council of Trent, in the twenty-third session on the “Sacrament of Orders,” declared that bishops not only belong in a special degree in the hierarchy of orders, but that on this level they are superior to priests. The Council also recalled that orders as a sacrament is an outward sign conferring grace. What is the grace of the episcopate? Tradition has, on the whole, seen this as the charisma of leadership. St. Irenaeus described it as “a definite charism of truth,” and St. Thomas Aquinas holds that “the episcopate is a separate order, an external sign conferring grace and special sacramental powers: it is the fullness of the priesthood.(8)
It would appear, then, that in the primitive Church the sacerdotal aspect was seen mainly in the bishop, and the presbyters (while often delegated to preside over the Eucharist in place of the bishop) had their main role in assisting the bishop in governing. With the multiplication of urban and rural churches, priests were assigned to them and in time the priest habitually offered the Eucharist in the absence of the bishop. In the first centuries, also, it was the bishop who reconciled penitents to the Church; but here, too, the help of presbyters was needed in increasing numbers. In time, theologians came to consider that the power of consecrating and absolving was given to the priest at ordination (not through delegation). But the power required “matter,” that is, a Christian under his jurisdiction. The matter, apt for absolution, is given to the priest by the bishop who has his own power as head over the Mystical Body. (9)
In the early writings, it would seem that priests by their ordination became members of the priesthood, helpers of the episcopal body in its own function of feeding and guiding the people of God. With the passing of time, the theology of order concentrated more and more on the sacramental powers conferred, in particular on the powers related to the Eucharist. The priest as sacerdos increased in importance. By the time of Sacramentum Ordinis, in the ordination to the priesthood, the imposition of hands is required, and the prayer refers to “the dignity of priesthood,” received in the office “of second rank,” which they receive from God. (10)
The diaconate has also undergone changes over the centuries. There are clear references to deacons in the New Testament (1 Tim, 3:8-10, for example). Theologians, on the whole, have agreed that the diaconate is a degree of the sacrament of orders, and this was attested by Pius XII in Sacramentum Ordinis. Originally connected with the service of the table, the aspect of service has always been associated with the diaconate. Hip-polytus designated deacons as not ordained to the priesthood, but for “the service of the bishop,” In time, with their confidential office close to the bishop, deacons came to exercise a sort of control over public morals and were often charged with important official missions (St. Gregory sent the deacon Castorius to inquire into the conduct of bishops and priests—Letters 5, 28, and 32). In time, also, deacons came to be assigned to priests. As a sign of the sacrament, the deacons were ordained to represent Christ in his serving mission and as Mass could not be celebrated by the priest without a deacon “to serve,” deacons were needed in every parish. These deacons were often married. While they could not celebrate the Eucharist, they could distribute communion, preside over prayers, preach, baptize, settle questions, assist the poor, prepare catechumens. Why, then, did the order of deacons begin to die out in the Western Church in the fifth century? (11)
Joseph Lecuyer, on the topic of “The Diaconate,” proposes several reasons: With the introduction of private masses in the West, with the stress on the Eucharistic celebration by the priest, some felt that the diaconate as a permanent office lost its justifications; the prohibition against marriage (or its use) was extended to deacons in the fourth century, and recruitment became more difficult; as theology concentrated more and more on the sacramental powers conferred, and the diaconate did not confer the sacral power for the administration of the main sacraments, the importance of the diaconate diminished. The diaconate became a temporary office leading to the priesthood and diaconal tasks were performed by priests and laity. (12)
The three orders considered so far (bishops, priests, deacons), have shown certain developments in the history of the ministry of men in the Church. What developments occurred in the history of the ministry of women?
In the primitive Church, women had at least two offices: they functioned as an order of widows and as deaconesses (1 Tim. 5:9; Rm. 16:1), and as prophets they were accorded recognition in public worship (1 Cor. 11:5). There seemed to be a controversy that centered on women as official teachers and preachers of the Word to the congregation (I Cor. 14:34-35; I Tim. 2:11-12). At all events, these passages were interpreted as meaning that women could not teach authoritatively; they were thus denied the privileges of presiding in the congregation and of offering the Eucharist. By the third century, the order of widows had become an institution. Clement of Alexandria (Paed. 3:14, 97), lists widows after the three male orders, as do many other early writers. The establishment of widows up to the end of the fourth century is attested by St. John Chrysostom (Horn. 66 on Matthew), but it is on the wane. As it disappears, another institution, that of the deaconess, came to take its place. (13)
The Apostolic Canons show deaconesses with an important role to play. They are mentioned immediately after the deacons, are numbered among the clergy, and receive an ordination by the laying-on of hands. The importance of deaconesses in the East in the fourth and fifth centuries is confirmed by extant literature. In the West, the institution of deaconesses did not appear before the end of the fourth century, and then it seemed to be an honorary distinction.
In his research on deaconesses in “The Ministry of Women in the Early Church,” Jean Danielou concludes, “I would say then that I see none of the duties of the minor orders which, so far as the female aspect of them is concerned, cannot be, and in fact, have not been undertaken by women.” He also remarks that in the West, the Church has always opposed conferring a definite status of ministry on women, that it was the “nuns” who inherited the chief works of the deaconesses and widows, and in later centuries it was the religious women who “provided the answer to the needs.” This leads Danielou to affirm: “We have thus three possible ways of ordering the ministry of women: lay, clerical, religious. It can be said that all three are equally tradition.” (14)
The main historic perspectives in regard to jurisdiction in the Church may be seen to center around the papal formula of “plenitudo potestatis” the fullness of power vested in the pope. Jurisdiction, as distinct from the power of orders, or the administrative duties of temporal matters in the Church, is hard to verify before the thirteenth century. In a letter to his vicar, Anastasius of Thessalonica, Leo I (440-461 A.D.) insisted that the vicar was called merely in partem sollicitudinis, non in plenitudinem potestatis; that is, had not received the full powers which Leo could have granted him. Around 1076, Bernold of Constance interpreted the texts of Leo I, as authority for the assertion that the Roman Pontiff is the universal ordinary, holding universal and primary power over the subjects of bishops as well as over all bishops. From Gregory IV to the time of Gra-tian, the term plenitudo potestatis was found in several canonical collections. To some, it meant a limitation of the powers of papal legates; to others, that metropolitans were called only in partem sollicitudinis, not to the fullness of power enjoyed by the pope. The “scientific” understanding of the distinction of ecclesiastical powers was to be found in Gratian and his commentators, though Gratian himself was concerned with the office of primate which pertains to government and not to orders. (15) It is still Gratian, however, who is credited with providing the substance and the technical language which provided the decretists and others with the later doctrine of plenitudo potestatis, and the power of jurisdiction.(16)
In his article on the “Power of Jurisdiction,” S. E. Donlon argues from the need of jurisdiction, to the presence of the power within the Church. As the service of God and the cult of worship require the cooperation of others, “inevitably these concrete, divinely established relationships will entail the presence and the intervention of a recognized agency with social power to assign tasks and adjudicate differences.” (17) It might seem, then, that the power of jurisdiction does not have the same substantial backing in tradition that is manifest in the historic perspectives on the power of order.
Rationale for Women’s Exclusion from the Priesthood
Assuming that these historic perspectives present some of the facts, it would seem that while there is a tradition for women in the diaconal order, minor orders and ministries, yet the evidence points to the fact that women were excluded from the sacramental-priesthood strictly so-called; that is, the order of priests and bishops. To try to give justification for this exclusion is another research in itself. Here, only a few possibilities are offered.
1. The Sacral-Sacramental Argument
In the words of Rene van Eyden, in his study on “The Place of Women in Liturgical Functions,” after pointing to the shift from ministry as service and charism, and the emphasis from the proclamation of the good news as the main function of bishop or priest to that of a sacral priesthood with distinctive powers, “From the beginning of the third century onwards, the person of the minister and his liturgical actions came to be regarded as sacral.” Since sexuality was thought to be unclean and improper in this sacral sphere, “the priest had to be unmarried and women were exluded from sacral functions because of their periodic cultic uncleanness.” (18)
2. The Philosophic Argument
An example of the philosophic argument may be found in the writings of St. Augustine. He describes “man” as created to the image of God (that is, with the powers of reason and understanding) on account of which he was set over all irrational creatures, and “as in his soul there is one power which rules by directing, another made subject that it may obey, so also for the man a woman was corporeally made, who, in the mind of her rational understanding should also have a like nature; in the sex, however, of her body should be in like manner subject to the sex of her husband, as the appetite of action is subjected by reason of the mind to conceive the skill of acting rightly.” (19) The spiritual equality of women and men is thus proclaimed, but Augustine and his followers, also asserted the “inferiority” of the female sex to the male sex. The rationalizing for the exclusion of women in the official ministry of the Church is closely linked to woman’s “natural” incapacity.
3. The Subordination Argument
St. Thomas Aquinas seemed to assume the biological inferiority of women. Under the heading of impediments to orders (q. 39, a. 1), the first article deals with the impediment of “female” sex. Aquinas argues that a woman cannot be a priest because she has a subordinate status, that she is incapable of receiving the tonsure required “as the first step to ordination (1 Cor. 11:6).” The supporting scripture passage reads: “In fact, a woman who will not wear a veil ought to have her hair cut off.” Saint Paul had just said that it would be a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off. Does Aquinas see in this, a command from scripture that women could not receive the tonsure? In reality, his argument is not built on this point of tonsure. Aquinas seemed to assume (and firmly accept) the Aristotelean concept of women as the passive element in generation, the male as the sole possessor of “seed,” and the active and directive force. Aquinas thus seems to reason that a subordinate status, of its nature, is incapable of rising through the various “orders” of the hierarchy.
4. The Sociological Argument
The exclusion of women from the priesthood is linked by some to the beginnings of the Christian Church when the general status of women in society was inferior. Some degree of anti-feminism, very obvious in a Tertullian, which one often finds in the Fathers of the Church and authors of the Middle Ages, may have been derived from a somewhat contemptuous attitude towards women, sociologically and culturally speaking. Such attitudes certainly had the effect, at certain periods, of putting restrictions upon even the legitimate ministries of women.
5. The “tradition” Argument
This argument is often given by Code commentators. The words of Stanislaus Woywod are typical: “St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 14:34, and 1 Tim. 2:11, is absolutely opposed to the ministry of women in the Church. Several of the early Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Irenaeus, St. Epiphanius, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine) call it an heretical error to admit women to the office and dignity of the priesthood.” (20)
6. The Ecclesiastical Law Argument
Some authors attest that the exclusion of women from orders is of divine law and can never be changed; others feel that the exclusion is of ecclesiastical law and change is possible. One author who seems to uphold the “ecclesiastical law” argument is Raoul Naz in a commentary on canon 968. Naz claims that both the order of widows and the order of deaconesses occupied a place in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Granting that women did receive even one of the sacramental orders at some time in the history of the Church, it follows, to Naz, that the exclusion from the sacrament of orders is an ecclesiastical (not a divine) law, (21)
7. The Hierarchic Argument
While Yves Congar has reassessed some of his earlier opinions as expressed in Lay People in the Church, (22) still his thinking on the hierarchical “order” of creation is still around. In this concept Congar sees the economy of God on earth as patterned on the same hierarchical structure as “the eternal mystery of God.” He applied the same principle to the man-woman relationship: “We are told in Genesis that man was made in God’s image. The woman is made in the image of the man, for she is derived from him, dependent on him, and, so to say, his ‘opposite number,’ his fellow creature and his partner . . .” and he sees in this relationship (mirrored also between God and man), the law of divine economy “whereby a principle of help and fulfillment is joined to a principle of authority or hierarchy.” (23) Such a theory fits in beautifully with a static notion of creation, a notion which seems to be no longer acceptable even to Congar himself.
In summary, the seven theories presented (and many others could be given) are not all mutually exclusive. They reveal at least one thing: the issue of woman’s exclusion from orders is not a minor issue; it touches the very heart and structure of the ecclesiastical Church, and rationalizations have been forthcoming from every quarter.
Orders and Jurisdiction in the Codex luris Canonic!
At the time of the writing of the Codex, the Church was conceived almost exclusively as a “perfect society,” with its own public order and structure. The concept of “perfect society” seems basic to the distinctions between orders and jurisdiction found in the Code. Perhaps the canons that indicate this are canons 108 and 109 at the introduction to the laws concerning the clergy; and canons 218 and 219, concerning the Roman Pontiff.
Canons 108 and 109 contain the following ideas: those who have been assigned to the divine ministry at least by first tonsure, are called clerics. They form a sacred hierarchy made up of different grades in which some are subordinate to others. The sacred hierarchy of orders consists of bishops, priests and ministers. (24) The hierarchy of jurisdiction, on the other hand, consists of the supreme pontificate and the “subordinate” episcopate. Persons who are received into the ecclesiastical hierarchy are constituted in the degrees of the power of orders by sacred ordination; they are not accepted by the consent or at the call of the people or of the secular power. In the supreme pontificate, the person legitimately elected and freely accepting the election, receives jurisdiction by the divine law itself. All other degrees of jurisdiction are received by canonical appointment.
Canons 218 and 219 are more specific about the primacy of jurisdiction received by the Roman Pontiff, who at the time of his acceptance of legitimate election receives “the full power of supreme jurisdiction by divine right.” Such bodies as ecumenical councils (canon 222), cardinals (canon 230), curial departments (canon 242), etc., share the supreme authority “by ecclesiastical law.” Bishops are described as having “ordinary power under the authority of the Roman Pontiff (canon 329).
What seems to be evident, is that there is an intimate relationship between orders and jurisdiction. Both are seen as of divine institution and for a supernatural end: the eternal salvation of souls. Jurisdiction presupposes orders (canon ! 18), and moderates its exercise (canon 879). However, their source or origin is different: order is conferred by rite of ordination (canon 109); jurisdiction is conferred by canonical mission (canon 109) except in the case of the Supreme Pontiff. Again, their particular end is different: order is to sanctify the individual; jurisdiction is to govern the faithful.
By canon 118, only clerics can obtain the power of either order or ecclesiastical jurisdiction; and by canon 968 only men may be clerics. Women, therefore, are excluded from orders which give the power to transmit to others the means of salvation, and they are excluded from jurisdiction, the power of ruling the faithful in order to attain the end of the Church. Moreover, they are excluded by canon 118 from occupying any ecclesiastical office or from receiving benefices and pensions related to clerical offices. And as the power of order and jurisdiction comprised the main ecclesiastical structure of the Church, women might be considered as having no part in the ecclesiastical structure per se.
Woman’s relationship to orders and jurisdiction has a direct bearing on her relation to all the sacraments. In particular, women (who comprise over half the membership of the Church) have the juridic capacity to receive only six sacraments; and while canon 737 describes baptism as “the door and foundation of all other sacraments,” no footnote is added that when baptizing a female the formula should read, “the door and foundation of all the sacraments except holy orders.”
In regard to the “six” sacraments and in cultic worship, a woman can be the ordinary minister of matrimony (though no canon acknowledges this power); and she can be the extraordinary minister of baptism in accord with canon 742, though “a man is to be preferred to a woman . . .” A woman may be sponsor or witness of baptism, confirmation, and matrimony (canons 764, 793, 1094), and a woman has the juridic capacity to receive all six sacraments in accord with the norms. In connection with the divine office ordained for divine cult, canon 2256 limits this to clerics. By such canons as 813 (the server at Mass) and canon 1262 (the separation of the sexes for divine services with the women “modestly dressed,”) women are not treated on a par with men as equivalent members of the laity; and it might be said that women have less proximity than men even to the “six” sacraments because of their exclusion from orders and jurisdiction.
So far, in this review of the Code, orders have been considered mainly under the aspect of power, and in relation to jurisdiction. There are still aspects to be considered under the concept of holy orders as sacrament which are significant for women.
It has already been noted that canon 968 states that sacred ordination can be validly received only by a baptized man. From the structure of the sentence, Sacram ordinationem valide recipit solus vir baptizatus, it is not clear whether it is the nature of the sacrament itself that demands masculinity; or whether it is the nature of the male that gives the capacity for orders. Few commentators do more than refer to tradition as the reason. But perhaps even more than rationale, the question of the source of the law is important. Canon 948 states that the sacrament of holy orders by Christ’s institution distinguishes the clergy from the laity in the Church for the government of the faithful and the ministry of divine worship. Here, the divine law seems responsible for the division between clergy/laity accomplished by holy orders. However, canon 968 does not mention any divine ordinance but stresses the validity of the sacrament when received by the male. The question is, whether the canons state clearly that the source of women’s exclusion is of divine law? The answer is that the canons do not state this; and in canon 968 where the male-qualification for orders is stated, there is no assertion that this qualification Js of either divine or ecclesiastical law. It may be assumed that the setting up of qualifications falls within the realm of ecclesiastical law. It would follow that if the male-qualification is of divine origin, such should be stated; especially as the prohibition affects all women and because we are dealing with an important grace-giving sacrament particularly ordained to worship and service.
Pressing the question of source still further; assuming that the prohibition against women is of divine origin, it follows that the Church possesses the power only to interpret such a law and to enjoin its observance as of obligation. Also, such a divine law would apply to all peoples, all Christian Churches, and even to all infidels. Assuming that the prohibition is not of divine, but of ecclesiastical origin, the law then would apply only to members of the Catholic Church, and dispensation would be possible.
To declare the prohibition as of divine origin, there would be some difficulty with early ecumenical council legislation; for instance canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon stated, “A woman is not to be ordained deaconess before she is forty years of age, and then only after a careful examination.” There would be difficulty, too, with the Eastern tradition in which deaconesses were ordained and constituted an ecclesiastical order. There would be difficulty for the ecumenical goals in the acceptance of traditional and current practices of ordaining women in other Christian Churches. To declare the prohibition as of ecclesiastical law, recalls the dictum that by natural law every human being is capable of enjoying certain inalienable rights which are not subject to direct remission by positive law. And to summarize this examination of canons 948 and 968, it is clear that until the Church makes a declaration on the matter, it is at least an ecclesiastical law that women are excluded from holy orders. However, the theological questions remain open as to the source of the exclusion, and even the Church’s authority to attach invalidating ecclesiastical restrictions should any human right be in question.
New Perspectives: Second Vatican Council and Post-Conciliar Documentation
The conciliar documents teach the basic equality of men and women and the dignity of each human person; they affirm a dynamic-evolutionary perspective on humanitas in which men and women find self-actualization in mutuality and communion; they proclaim that while God makes the future possible, men and women are made jointly responsible for that future. The main traits of the human person, that must be respected in order to contribute to the dignity of each man and woman are the dignity of the mind, the dignity of the moral conscience, and authentic freedom.25 Whatever should be affirmed for the male in these areas, should (in like manner) be affirmed for the female.
Many of the ideas presented so far, while retaining a certain validity, are presented in the documents of Second Vatican Council and in post-conciliar legislation from new perspectives. Some of the new trends have deep meaning in the life and mission of the laity and for women. Among the concepts that have undergone development must be numbered those connected with the Church as perfect society, the hierarchy, orders and jurisdiction. The perfect-society concept has given place to the Mystery of the Church, a community of faith, hope, and charity expressed in a visible structure through which Christ communicates truth and grace to all (cf. L.G. n. 8). The hierarchy as sole guardian of the “deposit of faith,” has given place to the hierarchical communion which is found in a juridical form in the episcopal body (L.G. n. 22) but extends to the presbytenum which “requires hierarchical communion with the order of bishops,” (P.O. n. 7); and extends also to the whole people of God for “since the priestly ministry is the ministry of the Church itself, it can be discharged only by hierarchical communion with the whole body,” (P.O. n. 15).
The Church is still considered as society in the conciliar documents, but the perspective is different. In Lumen Gentium the doctrine of the nature of the Church is first set forth as Mystery: “the Church or in other words the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visible in the world through the power of God,” (L.G. n. 3). The Church, then, is both community and structure, but it is the structure that serves the community. As a more comprehensive recognition is given to the role of the “hierarchic community,” a more realistic concept of power and jurisdiction will emerge, especially with the deepening awareness that the body of the faithful as a whole, “cannot err in matters of belief,” (L.G. n. 12). This recognition of a totally integrated community “of faith, hope, and love,” begins to take shape in Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium, “The Hierarchical Structure of the Church.” However, there appears to be one slight oversight: the women of the Church do not seem to appear in the structure.
Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium deals with the ordained ministers in the Church and contains important doctrinal affirmations of the sacramen-tality of episcopal consecration and the collegiality of bishops. The Council teaches that the bishop is not just a priest with greater powers of jurisdiction, but that he receives through sacramental consecration the fullness of the power of orders involving power to sanctify, teach, and govern (L.G. n. 21). The main doctrinal point is set forth in Article 22. AH bishops who are united to the pope and their fellow bishops by hierarchical communion, constitute a collegial body enjoying supreme power in governing the Church. Such supreme power is exercised not only when the college is united in an ecumenical council but also through other forms of appropriate collegiate action which is not specified, though the episcopal synod is seen as an example. The Council makes it clear that the canonical mission by which a bishop is assigned to a particular task or diocese need not in every case come by the positive activity of the pope (L.G. n. 24), although in the Latin Church this is the normal procedure. The priests, as “prudent cooperators” with the episcopal order, as well as its “aids and instruments,” are called to serve the people of God (L.G. n. 28). At a lower level of the hierarchy are the deacons, upon whom hands are imposed, “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service,” (L.G. n. 29).
Article 29 goes on to make provision for the restoration of the diac-onate as a permanent grade in the churches of the Latin rite and for the eventual ordination of married deacons of mature years. It is in the last paragraph of this Chapter that the exclusion of women at the diaconate level is mentioned: “With the consent of the Roman Pontiff this diaconate will be able to be conferred upon men of more mature age (vim ma-turioris aetatis\ even upon those living in the married state,” and it may also be conferred upon suitable young men (iuvenibus idoneis).
It would seem that the “Hierarchical Structure of the Church” is totally male-oriented. Though the theory of hierarchical-communion is used throughout the Chapter, it is the adjective “hierarchical” that becomes the determinant of the structure, not the noun, “communion.” The strict division between clerics and laity has been maintained under more pastoral language. And among the laity, the males are at least open to the call of service in the structure; the females are still “more radically” excluded than the lay men of the Church.
From the positive side, jurisdiction and orders (though distinct) are no longer seen as having two principles but are rooted in the pneumatic oneness of the Church; a pneumatic oneness that in theory extends to the whole People of God.
The Second Vatican Council has opened up many new doctrinal perspectives. Among these is the clear teaching that the assumption of the subordination and inferiority of women (evident in the Codex Iuris Canonici) is no longer tenable. A review of the conciliar documents shows that the theory of non-discrimination is strongly affirmed and that sex-discrimination is specifically mentioned in most of the affirmations. There are at least seven strong declarations to this effect in Gaudium et Spest and several in Lumen Gentium; and to quote but one: “Hence, there is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28, Greek text; cf. Col. 3:11),” (L.G. n. 32).
With the doctrinal base of the pneumatic oneness of the Church and the principle of non-discrimination of sex seen as the characteristic of Christ and the Church, it yet remains to transform these theories into structural realities.
In the decade following Second Vatican Council there has been an abundance of ecclesial documentation affecting nearly every area of the life and mission of the Church. Here, the references will be limited to documents which are affecting the ministry of women:
Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist
The question of “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist,” has been chosen to illustrate one manner of implementing the conciliar doctrine of non-discrimination in sex used during the past decade.
By 1966 the question of extraordinary ministers began to receive at-. tention. In the instruction Fidei Custos, norms for the obtaining of the faculty and qualifications of the minister of eucharistic communion were issued. Among the norms it is stated that the recipients of the ministry “must be of the male sex,” however in urgent need “the superior or superioress” of a religious institute is permitted to distribute the eucharistic bread to his/her fellow religious and to the lay persons present. Within a short time, the episcopal conferences of several countries applied, indicating in all cases that reputable lay men would receive the mandate. However, in 1971, the president of the episcopal conference of the United States, broadened the petition and asked the faculty for “qualified persons.” Though the word “woman” is not used, the request is made that all “mature laity” be given the opportunity. An affirmative answer was received from the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, with a few precautions added; and the stipulation that “in other matters,” the instruction Fidei ustos is to be followed. Two years later, in May of 1973, revised guidelines were approved for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and among other norms for extraordinary ministers, it is stated that “candidates may be men or women and should be, in the judgment of the pastor and his staff, exemplary Catholics.” (26)
It would seem that through a legitimate pastoral need and in accord with norms, laymen are given the privilege to be extraordinary ministers, and in some places the same privilege is extended to laywomen. The evolution of outlook in regard to women ministers, as it centers upon this privilege, might be interesting and instructive for future changes in the ministry of women. Even in Fidei Custos the superioress could obtain the privilege, so there is no question about a woman’s “capacity” to serve, and thus the subordination principle is removed. The extension of the privilege, however, is another matter, and might be considered as an educative procedure. The gradual evolution from allowing women to read certain passages of scripture from outside the santuary to functioning as extraordinary ministers of the eucharist (and that without conditions, precautions, or warnings concerning sex) is a significant change from canon 813. While the server at mass is not equated with the extraordinary minister, still there are certain similarities in duties. In 1973, the instruction Immensae Caritatis from the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, extended the privilege of extraordinary ministry to both lay men and women.
Lay Ministries in the Church—Perhaps an even more significant development for women is in regard to the institution of lay ministries in the Church. Basically, the new norms affect some of the canons from 948 to 978. In an apostolic letter Ministeria Quaedam issued August 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI suppressed the traditional orders of first tonsure, minor orders and the subdiaconate. As introduction to this change in a “longstanding discipline,” reference was made to the fact that in ancient times functions of “sacred liturgy and charity,” were entrusted to the “faithful,” although in time some of these functions came to be considered as preparatory steps for minor orders. In place of the suppressed orders, the letter established the lay ministries and readers and acolytes for those “not considered clerics or candidates for holy orders.” In addition, “the establishment of other lay ministries is left to the proposal of episcopal conferences.” Several important distinctions are made between lay and clerical ministries. The conferral of lay ministries should not be called ordination, but “installation,” and only those who receive the diaconate are considered clerics. Thus, “ministries can be entrusted to Christian lay persons with the result that they are not to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.” Then, after a more detailed description of the ministries of lector and acolyte, the much-publicized norm 7 appears:
The installment of lector and acolyte, in accord with the venerable tradition of the Church, is reserved for men. (27)
On the same date, the motu proprio Ad Pascendum was promulgated, in which “some norms concerning the sacred order of the diaconate” were established in accord with the wishes expressed by Second Vatican Council and implemented as regards the permanent diaconate in the motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem in 1967. Though there is no specific norm that states that the diaconate is reserved for men, yet “candidates for the diaconate, whether permanent or transitional, and for the priesthood, must receive the ministries of lector and acolyte.” Therefore, norm 7 of Ministeria Quaedam applies, and women are excluded from the diaconate
For women, however, the fact that ministries can now be entrusted to Christian lay persons, and that such ministries are not reserved to candidates for holy orders, is of importance; as is the fact that in addition to the offices common to the Latin Church (lector and acolyte), nothing prevents “episcopal conferences” from petitioning the apostolic see for other needed ministries. Thus despite the exclusion of women from the ministries of lector and acolyte, and with the door still closed to diaconate and priesthood, the possibility of evolution in the area of official ministries for women can be envisaged.
Pope Paul VI: Champion of Women’s Equality with Men
Although Pope Paul VI has a primary role in all post-conciliar legislation, his stand on women’s equality with men must not be lost sight of. Many examples could be given but the establishment of the special Commission to study the role of women should be noted. In 1973, at the request of the 1971 Synod of Bishops, the Pope created a Commission to study the question. The final plenary session of the Commission was held on January 31, 1976, and speaking to the members on that occasion, the Pope said that instead of thinking in terms of an end of the work of the Commission, the programs that were drawn up by the members “must now be progressively realized in deeds.” The Pope reiterated what he has said before, that “men and women are equal before God: equal as persons . . . equal in dignity, equal also in their rights.” He pointed out that authentic Christian advancement of women is not limited to the claiming of rights, for it also “obliges men and women alike to remember their proper duties and responsibilities.”(28) While questions might arise as to just what is meant by “proper” duties and responsibilities and whether sex-discrimination might not actually continue if duties and responsibilities are labelled “masculine” or “feminine,” still the affirmation of equality is unequivocal and again asserts the conciliar stance of the Church in decrying not only the subordination of women but any inferences of woman’s “inferiority.”
The special Commission was not assigned to consider the ordination of women; that task was given to a Pontifical Biblical Commission with terms of reference “to study the role of women in the Bible … to determine the place that can be given to women today in the Church.” (29) Some of the findings of the Commission about the “eventual ordination of women to the priesthood,” should provide some understanding of the current outlook on this matter. A summary of part of the report follows.
To begin with, the “masculine character of the hierarchical order which has structured the Church since its beginning,” seems attested to by scripture. But the report immediately raises the question: “Must we conclude that this rule must be valid forever in the Church?” And another question is asked: “What is the normative value which should be accorded to the practice of the Christian communities of the first centuries?” The report sees the primordial role of the “leaders” of the communities in the New Testament, in the field of “preaching and teaching.” No biblical text defines the leaders’ charge “in terms of a special power permitting them to carry out the eucharistic rite or to reconcile sinners.” But given the relationship between the sacramental economy and the hierarchy, “the administration of the sacraments should not be exercised independently of this hierarchy.” It is within this perspective that “we must consider the issue of eucharistic and penitential ministry.”
The report states that two texts (1 Cor. 14:33-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15), “forbid women to speak and to teach in assemblies.” However, the report continues, “without mentioning doubts raised by some about their Pauline authenticity, it is possible that they refer only to certain concrete situations and abuses.” Thus it is possible that “certain other situations call on the Church to assign to women the role of teaching which these two passages deny them and which constitute a function belonging to the leadership.” This raises the question for the Commission: “Is it possible that certain circumstances can come about which call on the Church to entrust in the same way to certain women some sacramental ministries?” They point out that this has already been the case in regard to baptism which, though entrusted to the apostles (Mt. 28:19 and Mk. 16:15 f.), can now be administered by women. Is a similar evolution possible for the ministry of the eucharist and reconciliation, “which manifest eminently the service of the priesthood of Christ?”
The crux of the report is that it “does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all, the problem of the possible accession of women to the presby-terate.” The two outlooks that might stand in the way of the possibility of women’s ordination are then given: “Some think that in the scriptures there are sufficient indications to exclude this possibility, considering that the sacraments of eucharist and reconciliation have a special link with the person of Christ and therefore with the male hierarchy as borne out by the New Testament.” And others wonder “if the Church hierarchy, entrusted with the sacramental economy, would be able to entrust the ministries of eucharist and reconciliation to women in light of circumstances, without going against Christ’s original intentions.” (30)
It would seem that the rationale against the ordination of women has been reduced to two: the priest as symbolic of the “male” Christ; and the argument of the “will of God.”
The last documentation to be considered is concerned with the ecumenical ramifications of ordaining women to the priesthood. A series of four letters (July 9, 1975 to March 23, 1976) between Anglican Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury and Pope Paul VI seems to add a few insights into the ecumenical issue,31
The correspondence was released by the Anglican primate during a general synod of the Church of England held in July at York, England. The series began when Archbishop Coggan wrote to Pope Paul as well as to Orthodox and Old Catholic leaders, to inform them “of the slow but steady growth” of a consensus within the Anglican Communion that there are “no fundamental objections in principle to the ordination of women to the priesthood.” In his reply Pope Paul said that the position of the Catholic Church is “that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons.” These reasons are here summarized:
- 1. The example of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men.
- 2. The constant practice of the Church which has imitated Christ in choosing only men.
- 3. The living teaching authority in the Church has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accord with God’s plan for his Church.
The letter ends with appreciation expressed that “the fundamental theological importance” of the question is mutually acknowledged. In reply. Archbishop Coggan reiterated his adherence to “the goal which we jointly seek,” which is “that visible unity of the Church for which Christ prayed.” He then states, “We believe this unity will be manifested within a diversity of legitimate traditions because the Holy Spirit has never ceased to be active within the local churches throughout the world.” The response of Pope Paul VI on March 23, 1976, recalled the ardent hopes that had been experienced in the past, that the Holy Spirit “would lead us along the path of reconciliation,” and “this must be the measure of the sadness with which we encounter so grave a new obstacle and threat on that path.”
From this correspondence, it would appear that in the mind of Pope Paul VI, the question of the ordination of women is of such grave moment that the great advances towards reconciliation between the Anglican and the Catholic Church are imperilled. It is also to be noted that the rationale given against the ordination of women by the Pope may be reduced to the imitation of Christ and the argument of God’s will.
Jurisdiction in Post-Conciliar Documentation
The important changes in jurisdiction as set forth in Lumen Gentium, Articles 21 and 22 have been noted. Here, jurisdiction in relation to orders is based in the pneumatic oneness of the Holy Spirit operating in the Church, and the episcopal consecration in hierarchical communion integrates the power of order and jurisdiction without obliterating the distinction. In general, in post-conciliar legislation, there seems to be a trend to speak of the “social authority” in the Church, and former distinctions between the so-called dominative power of superiors or religious women (see canon 501) and jurisdiction are not maintained. There are also examples of jurisdiction being granted to lay men to act as judges in ecclesiastical tribunals; (32) and to lay persons to preach. In regard to the office of preaching, the Sacred Congregation of Clergy in November of 1973, in reply to the bishops of the German Federal Republic, allowed experimentation for lay persons, in accord with norms, to preach in the Church and in extraordinary cases, to give the homily at Mass.” (33) The designation throughout the documentation is for “lay persons,” so women are included.
Recapitulation and Current Issues
In approaching the question of “Women in Relation to Orders and Jurisdiction,” a brief historic perspective was attempted. The point stressed was that concepts of order and of jurisdiction have evolved over the ages. This evolution was not seen as a steady progress and clarification of the two concepts; but at different times in history the very understanding of the functions and missions of bishops, priests, and deacons underwent substantial changes. Changes were also perceived in concepts of jurisdiction; especially in the understanding of the source of jurisdiction and in the relationship of jurisdiction to the sacrament of orders. In regard to the ministries of women in the Church, there is a tradition of the Eastern Church attesting the laying-on of hands in the ordination of deaconesses; and the Western Church has a tradition of ecclesiastical institutions of widows and of deaconesses, at least in the early ages. In the West, however, the ministries of women have remained largely un-institu-tionalized.
The Codex luris Canonici states that holy orders can be received only by a baptized man, and as only clerics can receive jurisdiction, women are exluded from both order and jurisdiction. A survey of the Code reveals that while no canon per se states that sex is a juridic fact, and that women because of their sex are “subordinate and inferior,” nevertheless the canons that relate to women are based on an assumption of women’s subordination. And even within the status of laity, women are not accorded equivalence with men; and this to such a degree that the inferiority of women is implied.
The documents of Second Vatican Council place great emphasis on the dignity of the human person, and non-discrimination on the basis of sex is strongly affirmed. These teachings are so emphatically asserted that the assumption of the subordination and inferiority of women can no longer be maintained.
In post-conciliar documentation, Pope Paul VI emerges as a champion of human rights and the equality of men and women, though he seems to maintain that women have a “proper” role in life which bespeaks a differentiation rather than a basic mutuality of rights and duties in respect to both men and women. On the question of the ordination of women, Pope Paul strongly affirms the exclusion of women to the priesthood, in accord with the “plan of God” for his Church. The Biblical Commission, appointed by Pope Paul to look into the issue of women’s ordination from a biblical stance, concludes that the New Testament by itself does not permit the question to be settled in a clear and definitive way.
This summary may help to single out at least some of the current issues connected with the ordination of women in the Catholic Church today. Here, mention will be made of only five such issues in need of further research and development.
1. Discernment in Scriptural Norms
This issue centers on Christ’s will to have/not to have, women in the priesthood. Research in this area would build on the findings of the Biblical Commission already noted and deal with the significance of the “masculinity” of Christ in the Christian message and dispensation, as well as the normative value that can be attached to actions of Christ in the absence of any positive divine ordinance against the ordination of women.
2. The Source of Law in Canon968
The canonical issue of the source of the male qualification for the validity of the sacrament of holy orders, whether of divine/ecclesiastical law is important. Should the source be seen as ecclesiastical, the further problem would arise of the right of ecclesiastical authority to attach invalidating restrictions for a sacrament solely on the basis of a person’s sex.
3. Distinctive Charisms of Office
The theological issue of clarifying the essential aspects, qualifications, and/or functions of the priest as distinct from those of deacon/lay minister, is basic for an understanding of long-standing divisions in the Church: clergy/laity, and the male/ female division in the public life of the Church. Here, the origin and evolution of the offices are to be recalled, as well as the new perspectives on the lay person (priest, prophet and king) with a mandate to mission from Christ himself.
4. The Authenticity Issue
There is a question as to whether the male-oriented orders and ministries (as sacramental signs of inner reality) give authentic expression of the Christian reality in which there is neither “male nor female,”
5. The Dimorphic Issue
Should Christianity be dominantly conceived and structured from the male outlook? From the female outlook? Do women (in general), need or want to express their life and mission in the traditional male-oriented orders and ministries? Or, to state this more positively, how best can dimorphic humanities (male and female) respond to God’s call to holiness and transcendence of nature, and thus in partnership and mutuality, set about the task of renewing the face of the earth?
While these five issues might indicate that both men and women have a long road to travel before Christ is manifested through the ordained ministries of men and women (signs of the “new creation” in Christ), still the future is hopeful if assessed from today’s vantage. It took but ten short years to change the “subordination” of women (maintained for over nineteen hundred years) to a recognition of women’s equivalence with men. We may look forward with confidence in the Holy Spirit.
1. Historic References used: W. J. O’Shea, “Ordinations in the Roman Rite,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 10, p. 727-734; R. J. Banks, “Jurisdiction, Canon Law,” in N.C.E., 6, p. 61-62; S. E. Donlon, “Power of Jurisdiction,” in N.C.E., 6, p. 62-63.
2. See W. O’Shea, “Ordinations in the Roman Rite,” op. cit., p. 727, 728.
3. Ibid., p. 728, 729.
4. Ibid., p. 729, 730; Also Joseph Lecuyer, C.S. Sp., What is a Priest? London, Burns & Gates, 1959, p. 30.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
7. Ibid., p. 32.
8. Ibid., p. 33.
9. Ibid., p. 42, 43.
10. Ibid.,cf. p.48,49.
11. Ibid., p. 52; 56-60.
12. Ibid., p. 64-67.
13. See J. Danielou, “The Ministry of Women,” in La Maison Dieu, 61(1960), p. 10, 17, 19.
14. Ibid., p. 22, 30, 31.
15. See Robert L. Benson, “Plenitude Potestatis: Evolution of a Formula,” in Studia Gratiana, IV, p. 196.
16. Cf. A. M. Stickler, Ius Canonicum, XV/29, p. 45-74.
17. S. Donlon, “Power of Jurisdiction,” in N.C.E., 6, p. 63.
18. See Rene van Eyden, “The Place of Women in Liturgical Functions,” in Concilium, 4(1968), p. 75.
19. Witney J. Gates, ed., Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, New York, Random House Publishers, !948; see “The Confessions,” 13:XXXII, p. 253-254.
20. Stanislaus Woywod, ed., A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, New York, Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1957, p. 578.
21. Raoul Naz, ed., Traite de Droit Canonique, III, p. 230.
22. See Yves Congar, “My Path-Findings in the Theology of the Laity and Ministries,” in The Jurist, 1972, p. 169-188.
23. Yves Congar, Lay People in the Church, Westminster, Maryland, Newman Press, 1965, p. 284.
24. The term “ministers” is not defined in canon law; but commentators tend to limit the term to the diaconate.
25. See especially Gaudium et Spes, no. 12 to 22.
26. James O’Connor, ed.. Canon Law Digest, 7, New York, Bruce Publishing Co., p. 645-652.
27.Ibid., p. 694.
28. See “Pope Paul VI: Women/Balancing Rights and Duties,” in Origins, Feb. 19, 1976, p. 549-552.
29. See “Biblical Commission Report: Can Women be Priests?” in Origins, July 1, 1976, p. 92-96.
31. See “Women’s Ordination: Letters Exchanged by Pope and Anglican Leader,” in Origins, Aug. 12, 1976, p. 129-132.
32. See Canon Law Digest, canon 1573, “Lay Persons on Ecclesiastical Tribunal” (Sig. Apost., 11 July, 1968, Private, p. 929 f.)
33. See Canon Law Digest, Supplement through 1974, c. 1342, “Preaching by Lay Persons,” S.C. Cler., 20 Nov., 1973, Private, p. 1-4.
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