From a Non-Fact to a Permanent Norm?

The Argument from a Non-Fact

Questions Christ did not decide

There are many important aspects of Christian doctrine and practice about which Christ did not make not any explicit decisions.

It may be useful to enumerate some of these Non-Facts involving Christ:

  • Christ did NOT establish the hierarchical order of bishops, priests and deacons.
  • Christ did NOT establish the present structures in the Church: the Roman curia, ecumenical councils, bishops' conferences, and so on.
  • Christ did NOT specify all the sacraments, such as marriage, confirmation, the anointing of the sick.
  • Christ did NOT order the writing of the New Testament books or determine which were inspired, which not.
  • Christ did NOT found religious orders and congregations.
  • Christ did NOT establish Canon Law, or define its provisions.
  • Christ did NOT sanction the beatification and canonization of saints.
  • Christ did NOT establish indulgences, novenas, the consecration of churches and cathedrals, priestly training in seminaries, the Imprimatur for books, etc. etc.
  • Christ did NOT abolish slavery.

Note well: I am not arguing against the legitimacy of these institutions. I am only showing that the NON-FACT of Jesus' non-involvement with such institutions does not prove his deciding against them.

In the same way the NON-FACT of Jesus not having chosen women among the Twelve Apostles does not prove that he decided against them for ever.

The Non-Fact of not choosing women

Why did Christ not choose a woman for the college of apostles? G. R. Evans, Bishop of Denver and member of the USA Bishops' Subcommittee on Woman in Church and Society, writes (1972):

'The sociocultural pattern of his time has to be kept in mind. Why did Christ not choose a slave for the apostolic college? Such a choice would have halted the practice of the Church refusing to ordain slaves for a long time. Why did not Christ choose a gentile for the college? Such an action could have more easily avoided much bitter debate in the early Church. A matter of fact need not be a matter of right. One cannot draw conclusions as to the rights involved from the mere observation of the state of affairs.' G. R. EVANS, 'Ordination of Women,' Homeletic and Pastoral Review 73 (1972), no. 1, pgs 29-32.

The non-fact of Christ not having selected women should not be seen as expressing Christ's mind and will.

'If Jesus had lived in a society in which the cultural status of the two sexes had differed from that of his own time, would he not have made a different choice? A choice that was already beginning to show itself in the completely new approach which he adopted toward women in a patriarchal society?' .H. M. LEGRAND, 'Views on the Ordination of Women,' Origins, Jan. 6 1977. Reprinted in Briefing 7 (1977), no. 6, pgs 22-35; here pg 27.

'To have gone further and called six men and six women to make up the twelve would have outraged his contemporaries to the point of destroying his work from the outset.'. G. O'COLLINS, 'Ordination of Women,' Tablet 288 (1974) pgs 175-76; 213-15.

'There is just this fact: Jesus chose only men to be his apostles. We are left to discern why. And I would contend that it is gratuitous to assert that this was because it is the will of God that for all time only males be chosen for the role of apostle or bishop or priest, i.e. for the ministry of leadership in preaching the gospel and celebrating the liturgy and governing the community. Rather I would argue that it is much more cogent to surmise that Jesus chose only men to be his apostles simply because only men could then function in such a role of leadership due to the cultural conditions of the age. However, it is quite obvious that such cultural conditions can pass; and so with them can pass also the rationale for limiting this ministry of leadership to men only.' E. C. MEYER. 'Are there theological reasons why the church should not ordain women priests?' Review for Religious 34 (1975/76), pgs 957-67.

"Tradition must never be used to decree that because something was never in our past it cannot be in our future. Given the sexism of Western society and culture we might well expect that women would be excluded from priesthood". Groome, T.H. (1981-82), Signs of Hope Series: Section 4 "The Struggle Against Sexism" in Pace 12, St Mary's Press, Minnesota, p. 64.

The number of theological studies confirming this trend of thought increases year by year. To restrict myself to a few examples from the seventies, in chronological order: J. L. Acebal, J. J. Begley-Armbruster, R. Gryson, I. Raming, J. M. Ford, R. Metz, F. Klostermann, J. M. Aubert.

  • J. L. ACEBAL, 'El laicado feminino: Missiones y ministerios,' Ciencia Tomista 98 (1971), pgs 55-71.
  • J. J. BEGLEY-ARMBRUSTER,'Women and Office in the Church,' Am. Eccl. Review 165 (1971) pgs 145-57.
  • R. GRYSON, Le ministère des Femmes dans l'Eglise ancienne, Gembloux 1972.
  • J. M. FORD, 'Biblical Material relevant to the Ordination of Women,' Journal of Ecum. Studies 10 (1973), pgs 669-94; synopsised in Theology Digest 22 (1974) pgs 23-28.
  • R. METZ, 'L'accession des femmes aux ministères ordonnés,' Effort diaconal, Jan-June (1974) pgs 21-30.
  • F. KLOSTERMANN, Gemeinde Kirche der Zukunft, Freiburg 1974, especially pgs 269-70.
  • J. M. AUBERT, Antiféminisme et christianisme, Paris 1975, esp. pgs 156-77.

"Here we can do no more than mention some of the reasons why many reputable Catholic biblical scholars have not found this argument (from Jesus' selecting only men) convincing. They question the suppositions

  • that Jesus' words to the Twelve constituted ordination as it is understood today;
  • that the Twelve are the only precursors of ordained ministers today, in light of the fluidity of ministries in the early Church;
  • that "the apostles" were coextensive with "the Twelve";
  • and that by choosing only men for the Twelve Jesus intended to express his will concerning the sex of those who would preside at the Eucharist in the future.

Since Jesus left the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make many decisions on its own regarding the organization of its ministry, scholars judge it very doubtful that he intended to lay down such a particular prescription regarding the sex of future candidates for ordination. The majority of exegetes hold, instead, that Jesus' choice of only men for the Twelve was determined by the nature of their symbolic role as "patriarchs" of restored Israel." From a Document on the Question of Women Priests, endorsed by the Catholic Theological Society of America on 6 June 1997 .

Read also: “The twelve apostles were men - -” by Ida Raming, Orientierung 56 (1992) pp. 143-146.

John Wijngaards

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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