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The Ordination of Women and the Force of Tradition by Gilbert Ostdiek, from 'Women and Priesthood: Future Directions'

The Ordination of Women and the Force of Tradition

by Gilbert Ostdiek, O.F.M.

from Women and Priesthood: Future Directions, pp. 85-102.
edited by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

GILBERT OSTDIEK, O.F.M., Professor of Doctrinal Theology, holds the doctorate from the Pontifical Athenaeum Antonianum, Rome. Work with early leaders in the deaconess movement in the 1960's triggered his interest in the question of women in ministry. Since then, he has actively engaged in workshops and theology programs preparing women for ministry at the Catholic Theological Union, where he served as dean for six years, and at St. Bonaventure University.

The publication of the Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15, 1976 marked a new phase in the development and current discussion of that question.

Recent years have witnessed a dramatic upsurge of books, articles, conferences, and various forms of public action in the Roman Catholic Church directly addressed to the question of women in ministry, especially the ordained ministry. All too often the participants in this discussion seem to have formed two isolated groups. One camp advocates a firm retention of the traditional exclusion of women from ordination to the ministerial priesthood. Those in the other camp fight for a reconsideration of the binding force of that tradition, and many among them call for a bold new tradition admitting women to ordination. As P. Lakeland has noted, the two camps seldom engage each other directly, content to carry on their separate soliloquies.(1)

This Declaration marks the first official Roman intervention in the present discussion. The Declaration itself notes that there has been no previous intervention representing a solemn exercise of the extraordinary magisterium: “The Church’s tradition in the matter has thus been so firm in the course of centuries that the Magisterium has not felt the need to intervene....” (2) In issuing this Declaration the teaching authority in the Church has now directly engaged itself in the discussion on a non-solemn or non-infallible level.(3) In so doing it has happily offered a focal point for common discussion which may finally provide the occasion and spur to move the discussion from simultaneous soliloquies and monologues to partnership in a true dialogue.

To be sure, the stated intention of the document, echoing an earlier statement of Pope Paul VI who mandated and approved the Declaration, is “to recall that the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord Jesus, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination” (par. 5). In alerting the participants in the discussion to the Church’s constant tradition and the reasons behind it the Congregation clearly envisions that the tradition in force until now will not be changed. Is that to be taken to mean an official closure of all discussion, so that there will be no new discussion?

As K. Rahner has observed in a finely balanced commentary on the Declaration, classical methods of establishing the theological qualifications of a Roman document lead one to conclude that this document is an authentic, i.e. an authoritative but not definitive, intervention of the magisterium. In virtue of the form used, then, the document is reformable and in principle it is possible that it be in error.(4) By choosing to intervene on a less than solemn level the teaching authority has provided the opportunity for further study of the question. Rahner then goes on to draw the implications for theologians debating this question. The Declaration calls them to treat the stated traditional position with a respect which is not measured solely by the value of its theological arguments but which is due to it as an official church pronouncement. It also leaves them the freedom and duty to critically study that position and its supporting reasons. The discussion must therefore continue.(5) All partners in the dialogue can share with the Congregation its hope that there will be a “deepening understanding of the respective roles of men and women.”(6)

Using the Declaration as such a focal point, this chapter will investigate the following areas: 1) the constant tradition; 2) the reasons behind the constant tradition; 3) these reasons revisited; and 4) the normative value of a constant tradition.


The exclusion of women from ordination to the priesthood and episcopate within the Roman Catholic Church is an acknowledged fact.(7) This practice has enjoyed long periods of peaceful and uncontested acceptance in our Church and is readily accorded the status of a constant tradition. Although the alternate practice is to be found in christian tradition, it has not been accepted as an “orthodox” part of our received tradition.(8) This constant history of factual exclusion remains the single most dominant and critical factor in the discussion for both sides of the debate. That constant practice is the heart of the “unchanging tradition” cited by those who wish to see the status quo maintained. Its significance and unchangingness must be explained by those who advocate the ordination of women. It will be well to begin our consideration there, as does the Declaration.

Chapter one of the Declaration, entitled “The Church’s Constant Tradition” (Traditio perpetuo ab Ecclesia servata), begins with the words: “The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women.” (9) An attentive reading of this and similar phrasings used throughout the document suggests that three aspects are fused together when the phrase “constant tradition” is used. The first of these is the constant practice itself (a traditional praxis). The second is the teaching presumably implied in the continuance of this practice (an implicit doctrinal tradition).(10) And finally there is an abiding, generalized awareness in the Church embodying the conviction that this constant practice must be maintained if the Church is to be faithful to the Lord’s example. This third aspect seems to be the key factor in the constant tradition in that it grounds the constant practice in the absence of an explicitly articulated doctrinal tradition or principle. I believe the discussion would profit greatly from a more nuanced attention to these three facets of the constant tradition.

In regard to the first aspect, the history of the praxis has been sufficiently mapped that startling new data is not to be expected. Re-examination of the known data, however, might well have much to contribute to the discussion. Current understandings of tradition, of the historical character of the Church’s existence, and of the appropriate methods of interpretation would have to shape the project.(11) Such a study would also have to take fuller account of the cultural images and status of women in the various periods of the Church’s history and the ways in which these influenced the Church’s understanding and practice.(12) Such an enterprise is beyond the scope of this chapter. The cultural aspects are treated elsewhere in this volume, particularly in chapters 2 and 3, as well as in chapters 8, 9 and 10.

As to the second aspect, a doctrinal tradition can not be invoked to settle the issue as long as it remains implicit. Whether or not the present discussion will (or should) lead to a more explicitly and solemnly formulated doctrine as its end product and what that doctrine will be remain to be seen. Hopefully the discussion will at least help the Church test its reasoning and clarify the conviction that now roots the constant practice. In as much as chapters two and three of the Declaration represent the Congregation’s first attempt to formulate theologically the teaching implied in the traditional practice, we will turn to those chapters in the next two sections of this study.

The third aspect may not be immediately evident and merits closer inspection. The Declaration flags this third aspect when it habitually prefaces its statement of the constant tradition, saying that the Church “considers . . .”, “feels . . .”, “intends . . .”(13) If one follows out the analogy from personal experience implied in these phrases, the Congregation’s wording suggests that the Church takes its stance with a certain measure of self-consciousness, perhaps even of reserve; yet, at the same time, the Congregation speaks as though in possession of the Church’s conviction. This combination of diffidence and certainty suggests further that the Church possesses a generalized awareness of a course of action to be taken, but an awareness that has not yet been objectively investigated and clearly stated. This does not mean that the conviction is groundless, a mere subjective persuasion without foundation. The phrases cited above refer variously to the example of the Lord, the type of ministry willed by him, and God’s plan for the Church. If the Church continues to exclude women from ordination, it is because the Church is convinced that it must act in this manner to be faithful to the Lord, even if its reasons are not totally clear and compelling.

This dual quality of certainty and reserve which marks the Church’s conviction raises the question to be taken up in the final section. Might it not be possible for the Church to change this conviction, the keystone in the constant tradition? That conviction is now facing its stiffest test. The final answers, theological and official, are not yet in on the permanent value and unchangeableness of the tradition. In the meantime, the reasons on which the conviction is based need to be studied more fully.


In chapters two and three the Declaration sketches the main lines of its argumentation and lays out the reasons behind the constant tradition. Further illustrative arguments are elaborated in chapters five and Six.(14) The line of reasoning used is quite similar to the reasoning of those who advocate maintaining the traditional exclusion and can serve well as our illustration of that point of view.

We will summarize the salient points of the Declaration as background for our own discussion of the tradition.

The starting point of the argument is the practice of Jesus, who “did not call any woman to become part of the Twelve” or “entrust the apostolic charge to women.” (15) His free association with and acceptance of women in other circumstances, contrary to established Jewish customs concerning the role of women, are cited to establish that this withholding of the call was a free choice on his part and not determined by the socio-cultural context. However, “it is true that these facts do not make the matter immediately obvious..... In order to reach the ultimate meaning of the mission of Jesus and the ultimate meaning of Scripture, a purely historical exegesis of the texts cannot suffice.”(16) The document therefore cites as a “convergent indication” the fact that Jesus did not invest his mother Mary with the apostolic ministry, a traditional argument first elaborated by the Fathers and still favored by many current theologians.

The argument then moves to the practice of the Apostles, stressing that the apostolic community chose a man to replace Judas, that the proclamation of the Gospel was carried out by men (Peter and the Eleven), and that the Apostles and Paul did not confer ordination on women. As above, the Apostles’ freedom of action in this matter is established by referring to their willingness to break with Mosaic law and Jewish customs in other matters and to the more favorable climate concerning the role of women found in the non-Jewish cultures into which the young Church spread.

The argumentation is completed by recounting the evidence of the continuing practice in subsequent church history. Special attention is given to the anti-ordination statements of the Fathers occasioned by the ordination of women among the heretical sects and to the reasons offered by medieval theologians for excluding women. This segment of the argumentation had already been developed in chapter one of the Declaration.

The conclusion is thus reached that the exclusion of women from ordination is an unbroken and therefore unbreakable tradition which can be traced back to the will of Christ as expressed in his manner of acting and to the Father’s will or plan for the Church. The Declaration will later note, in chapter four, that the Church is not free to change this dispensation because she has no power over the substance of the sacraments.

Finally, the argument is further illustrated by additional theological reasons in chapters five and six. The first of these reasons is that priests and bishops in exercising ministry, especially in celebrating the Eucharist and presiding over the christian assembly, act “in persona Christi” and represent him. Extending the dictum of St. Thomas that “sacramental signs represent what they signify by natural resemblance”(17) to the person of the minister, the Declaration concludes that “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.”(18) The second illustrative reason is drawn from the mystery of the Church, its distinctiveness from human social structures, and the full and equal baptismal dignity which all share as members of Christ and his priestly people.(19)

This entire line of argumentation had already been subjected to extended discussion and assessment within the ranks of those who promote the admission of women to ordination or call for an open consideration of the question. They too admit the long historical practice in force until now, but question whether it is a binding, unchangeable tradition. They conclude rather that the exclusion may be or actually is a practice historically conditioned by its socio-cultural context and therefore capable of being changed. They are led to this conclusion by a number of reasons.

First, both Jesus’ manner of acting towards women and the text of Gal 3:28 seem to offer evidence of an original attitude of total equality and non-exclusion of women on the part of Jesus and the early community.(20) In this reading the adoption of contemporary socio-cultural attitudes towards women was the work of the subsequent community when the forms of ministry were being shaped to meet new community situations.

Further, scholarly study of the historical process by which ordained ministry has taken on its present structure indicates that the process was much more nuanced and culturally conditioned than the Roman document seems to allow.(21) Consequently any easy move from the exclusion of women from the Twelve or from apostolic ministry to their exclusion from ordained priesthood and episcopate is suspect.

Further, when seen in the light of such historical study, the roles played by women in the ministry of Jesus and in the apostolic ministry take on a more important significance, as does the later rise of deaconesses.

Finally, to many critics the representation argument seems at best less than persuasive and possibly even theologically faulty.

From considerations such as these, writers in the second camp are increasingly calling for a re-interpretation of the data. Has the long history of exclusion, they are asking, resulted from inescapable sociocultural influences or from the inner needs of God’s plan of redemption. Their conclusions are usually stated in a negative form, to the effect that the data from Scripture, history, and theological tradition do not exclude the possibility of the ordination of women and leave the issue unresolved.( 22)

And so the argument returns to its starting point, the accepted fact of the tradition itself and the question as to whether or not there is an adequate rationale for the Church’s conviction and its retention.


As indicated above, the Declaration is not to be interpreted as closing the discussion as far as theology is concerned. Rather, it may have providentially furthered it in providing a common meeting ground for the discussion.(23) The reasons behind the tradition need to be submitted to further critique and development before the issue can be resolved.(24) Toward that end it may be of help to pose some questions and alternate lines of thought in four areas: 1) the intention of Jesus and the apostolic church to exclude women from ordination to priesthood; 2) the case of the Blessed Virgin; 3) the representation argument; and 4) the question which the order of deaconess can raise about the exclusion of women. The arguments on both sides need to be as fully and critically developed as possible and attention ought to be directed to related theological areas which have a bearing on these arguments. As the Declaration itself observes, “As we are dealing with a debate which classical theology scarcely touched upon, the current argumentation runs the risk of neglecting essential elements.”(25)

First, great care must be exercised in drawing conclusions about the will of the Lord (or of the apostolic church) implied in a certain manner of acting. The fact noted in an earlier chapter in this book, that the argument from the will of Christ did not appear for the first 250-300 years,(26) already hints that it may not have been that clearly perceived or decisive in early church development of ministerial structures. This type of argument is not unlike an argument from silence in the absence of an express declaration of intention. To be fully effective it has to pass muster on a series of steps such as the following. First, Jesus (and the early Church) did not call women to ministry. Second, Jesus deliberately broke with established Jewish customs concerning the status and role of women in other matters, thus establishing the presumption of sufficient awareness and freedom to do so. Third, Jesus ought to have and would have included women in the call to ministry if he could have. Fourth, since Jesus did not, therefore he could not, and therefore women as such are to be excluded from ordination.

The third step is the weak link in the argument. It is not necessarily implied in step two. To establish this third step it is necessary to exclude all other possible explanations; only then can we be sure that Jesus ought to have included women in the call to ministry. The possibility of an inescapable socio-cultural influence is precisely the point at issue. It must be disproved if the argument is to be conclusive.(27)

We can only mention in passing another serious problem with the argument. That is the implicit equation of apostolic ministry in the New Testament church with ordained ministry as later found in the three-fold hierarchy of orders: bishop, priest, and deacon. As Robert Karris brought to our attention in chapter 3 of this book, it is questionable whether this equation can stand the test of current biblical and historical research on the structuring of ministry in the early Church.

The reasoning based upon the fact that Jesus and the early apostolic community did not call Mary to a place among the Twelve also seems to contain a number of hidden assumptions. Let me state the case as strongly as I can, well aware that this argument serves a highly symbolic function. One of the favored texts cited in this argument is that of Pope Innocent III: “Although the Blessed Virgin Mary surpassed in dignity and in excellence all the Apostles, nevertheless it was not to her but to them that the Lord entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (28) The argument seems valid only on the assumption that God has graciously and fittingly chosen to bestow all possible dignity and excellence on Mary in an unsurpassed degree, that the absence of priesthood, if priesthood had been possible for her, would have constituted a loss of the dignity and excellence she ought to have possessed, and that therefore it was not possible for her, or any women, to be ordained a priest for no other reason than the precise fact that she was a woman. Hence in Mary all women have been excluded from ordination.

This reasoning seems to contradict a later insistence in the Declaration that “The priesthood is not conferred for the honor or advantage of the recipient, but for the service of God and the Church; it is the object of a specific and totally gratuitous vocation.”(29) As Pope Innocent intimated, Mary’s all-surpassing dignity and excellence had already been established by her vocation to be the Mother of the Savior; her excellence and dignity could have been neither enhanced nor lessened by a calling to priestly ministry and hence the question of dignity is not germane to her exclusion from ministry if, with the Declaration, ministry is conceived as service.(30) Mary had already received her unique call to service. Finally, if the service of ministry is the “object of a specific vocation,” Mary’s case cannot be made a universal statement of exclusion for all women.

Let us turn, thirdly, to the representation argument and focus on the liturgical-sacramental aspect of the argument, leaving aside other promising lines of re-examination in the areas of christology(31) and theological anthropology.(32)

The classical formula used in theological and ecclesiastical documents to describe the relationship between Christ and the ordained priest is that in ministering the priest acts “in persona Christi.”(33) The understanding behind this phrase is that the ministering priest represents Christ, taking his place and acting in his name, so that the effective power of the action flows from Christ and not from the priest. The priest’s representation of Christ, however, goes beyond the causality and effectiveness of the action. In keeping with the classical theological dictum that sacraments cause by signifying, there is also another dimension to the relationship in the sense that the sacramental action images Christ’s own action and the priest images Christ himself by a “natural resemblance.” (34) As the Declaration puts it:

The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and center of the Church’s unity, the sacrificial meal in which the People of God are associated in the sacrifice of Christ: the priest, who alone has the power to perform it, then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi, taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.(35)

This understanding of the relationship of Christ to the priest in the act of sacramental ministry needs to be re-thought in the light of current sacramental theology and some alternate data from theological tradition. Contemporary sacramental thought is making an ever greater use of the model of symbolic action/interaction found in the experience of human relationships. This model is supplementing and in some ways replacing the aristotelian model of causality in describing the sacraments.

The capital theological point still remains that sacraments are the personal saving actions of Christ in a very real sense.(36) Would it not follow then that the minister of every sacrament truly takes the place of Christ and represents him in a visible fashion within the liturgical assembly? Thus the formula “in persona Christi” could be applied to each case of sacramental ministry.(37) If we then keep in mind the theological traditions which admit valid administration of baptism and marriage by women,(38) we have already implicitly admitted that women do and can represent Christ. This also means that we can retain the representational (imaging) character of the ministerial act, and of the person of the minister, without reducing the iconic character or figurative quality of the sacramental symbol to that of an image (icon) or representation taken in a completely literal sense in all its concrete, empirical details. In other words, the maleness of Jesus and the minister would no longer be considered essential to either the act of ministry or the recipient of the sacrament of orders.

A fourth area which might well merit re-examination is that of the nature and implications of the female diaconate. The traditional teaching of the Church holds that diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate together form one sacrament of orders, received in varying degrees of fullness. If it be acknowledged that at least some deaconesses received ordination in a true sense of the word,(39) would it not follow that the admission of women to the diaconate conferred on them the first degree of the sacrament of orders and thus implies the possibility of their admission to the remaining degrees? “Because of the underlying unity of Church office, admission to one office implicitly affirms the theological possibility of admission to any of them.”(40)

What is the value of such theological considerations? The classical distinction between the force of an authoritative teaching of the magisterium (now being invoked in the question of women’s ordination) and that of its supporting theological arguments lead one to acknowledge that the theological debate alone will not be able to determine the future of the traditional practice. That determination will occur only within the sensus fidei of the church under the guidance of the magisterium. However, that debate can serve two more modest purposes. It can successfully establish that the scriptural and theological arguments are inconclusive and unfinished, thereby opening the way for further discussion of the traditional practice. It can also serve to clarify the issues involved in the tradition and thus prepare the way for a more thoughtful determination of future practice.

And so we are brought back once again to the constant tradition of the Church and the Church’s conviction that this tradition has a normative value. Let us take up that question in the final section.


The heart of the Congregation’s position is found in chapter four of the Declaration which takes up the critical question of the binding force of the constant tradition. It begins by asking: ‘"Could the Church today depart from this attitude of Jesus and the Apostles, which has been considered as normative by the whole of tradition up to our own day?" 41 It first answers two arguments against the normative value of the tradition, namely that Jesus and the Apostles acted out of an anti-feminine prejudice under the influence of their milieu and that Paul’s prohibition of women from speaking in the assembly was a transitory ordinance inspired by the culture and customs of the times.

Next the document turns to the question of the Church’s power to change the sacraments. The Declaration recalls the teachings of Trent, Pius XII, and Paul VI that the power of the Church over the sacraments is limited and does not extend to the substance of the sacraments.(42) It then states that the Church’s decisions concerning what can or can not be changed are made in the light of her knowledge that she is bound by Christ’s manner of acting. It concludes in answer to the opening question:

This practice of the Church therefore has a normative character: in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men, it is a question of an unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West, and alert to repress abuses immediately. This norm, based on Christ’s example, has been and is still observed because it is considered to conform to God’s plan for his Church.(43)

The fundamental issue is thus made clear: an unbroken practice which goes back to the Lord’s manner of acting has normative value and can not be changed because it reflects his will and that of the Father for the Church.

The normative value of tradition, it seems to me, is determined by one’s concept of tradition. In the remaining pages I draw attention to the differing approaches to tradition(44) and what normativeness means for each. By way of illustration there will be a brief development of three cases from tradition which can serve as useful analogies for the case of the ordination of women.

In the first of these approaches, the one which seems to underlie the Declaration, tradition is understood to be the Spirit-guided transmission of the deposit of revelation (the “faith”). Revelation is pictured primarily in the model of word/teaching/message which was completed with Christ and closed after the apostolic church’s final recording of the message in the Scriptures. This message of revelation, consisting of all that Jesus taught explicitly or implicitly in his words and manner of acting, has been entrusted to the Church’s teaching authority as a deposit which the Church is to preserve and faithfully hand on under the guidance of the Spirit. It is this Spirit which enables the entire Church, believers and magisterium, to grow in their understanding of all that was implied in the original deposit through a process of explicitation.

This classical approach to tradition is often allied with an “essentialist” attitude toward truth; it also normally presumes an undifferentiated historical consciousness. In that view truth is objective and absolute, free from the vicissitudes of history. The divinely inspired human forms of thought and language in which revelation and tradition are contained have a perennial validity. Thus this approach logically sees the unbroken practice stretching back to Christ as the revelatory expression of his will. The traditional practice is unbreakable and normative for all times and excludes the development of any contrary practice.

The contrasting approach is more insistent on the living, historically situated character of tradition. The typical starting point would be an understanding of revelation such as that found in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum. Revelation, which occurs in both word and event, is completed and summed up in the Word Incarnate, who accomplished this “by the totalfact of his presence and self-manifèstation—by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth.”(45) Thus it is Jesus in his person, as well as his words and works, who is the revelation to be received and handed on. Correspondingly, the Church made one with its living Lord through the abiding gift of the Spirit becomes the living tradition of the Lord who is revelation. “In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she is, all that she believes.”(46) The Church is tradition in the concrete sense, whether tradition is conceived actively as the ecclesial process of transmitting or passively as the content transmitted.

Up to this point the second approach does not differ from the other in insisting on the inner role of the Spirit as well as the external elements of tradition.(47) The second approach, however, does differ in shifting emphasis from the verbal model of communication to a model drawn from our experience of interpersonal relationships. In those relationships we express and communicate ourselves not only in word, but also and more importantly in all bodily actions and expressions, in the total fact of personal presence and self-disclosure. In this model communication moves beyond a sharing of knowledge to full self-disclosure and selfoffer. It is in this sense that the Church in perpetuating itself is the living tradition (act and content) of the presence of the Lord.(48) This approach, in working from a model of personal presence and self-communication, is also more alert to the dialogical character of revelation and tradition as the living address of God which becomes such only when it is heard in faith by those addressed.

This approach is also increasingly allied with a differentiated historical consciousness. It recognizes that all human life and forms of expression are inescapably conditioned by their historical setting. These forms, taken from and always bound to human culture in all its historical particularity and changeableness, are the only forms in which the Church can express and realize itself under the guidance of the Spirit. This approach logically concludes that living adaptation and change are both expected and necessary in changing life-contexts. In major new sociocultural situations, whether personal or societal, the change has to be major if continuity and authenticity of life are to be maintained.(49) Conversely, to preserve past forms literally in such a new situation could prove to be infidelity and discontinuity.(50) In this view, then, change and adaptation are a normative part of a normative tradition.(51)

The question would then be, is it not possible that the Church may have to change its unbroken practice to remain faithful to the will of the Lord and his Spirit in a major new socio-cultural situation? Such a course of action is not without precedent in the history of the Church.

By way of analogy, allow me to briefly sketch three parallel cases to illustrate how new socio-cultural situations have occasioned notable changes in official church teachings and positions.

The first of these examples concerns the ruling conception of christian marriage in recent catholic tradition and practice. The chief, though not the only understanding of marriage in recent catholic theology stressed the exchange of consent, often described in terms of contract. That consent concerns rights proper to the married state and the three ends or blessings of marriage: offspring, conjugal fidelity, and indissolubility. This framework of reference has determined much of the canonical and ethical norms and practices in our recent tradition.

Starting in the 1940’s a gradual shift occurred in the vocabulary used by the magisterium. That development culminated at Vatican II. There the language of community, covenant, and a conjugal love that is eminently human, i.e., bodily-spiritual, came into official prominence alongside that of contract and ends. This fresh conciliar perspective takes on added significance when seen in its context. The Council elaborated its teaching on marriage in part two of Gaudium et Spes, only after it had “set forth the dignity of the human person” in part one.(52)

In effect, a more biblical and personalist anthropology was called into service to meet the new needs of married christians facing a sociocultural situation where marriage had been cut free, sometimes violently, from al1 the supports and secondary definitions of its previously assumed place in the structure of society. As a result of this elimination of all other secondary relationships, the primary reality of marriage was clearly disclosed to be that of a marital love-relation between man and woman.(53) Norms and theoretical traditions, in some cases representing radical departures from previous tradition, are being gradually built up in both jurisprudence and ethics on the basis of this fresh understanding of the Council. The change taking place in our tradition thus flows from a new understanding of person and the personal nature of the marital relationship.

In parallel fashion, a new understanding of the full personhood of woman is also being forged in our culture. It, too, will require modifications and changes in our traditional practices.

A second analogy can be worked out from the development of our tradition concerning slavery. The text of Gal 3:28 so prominent in the discussion of the ordination of women also taught the full equality of slaves and free persons who had been baptized. Despite this firm profession of the religious liberation and equality of slaves, the sociological practice of slavery was accepted during the biblical period and remained a constant practice well into modern times. One finds only occasional and seemingly ineffective reprobation of the practice by the magisterium of the Church in the last four centuries. Yet a little more than a century after the violent struggle that led to the abolition of the practice in U.S. civil law, Vatican II in a matter-of-fact manner describes slavery as an “offence against human dignity” and unhesitatingly includes it among its list of crimes against that love of neighbor which is commanded by Christ.(54)

The key factor in this example also is the full development, spurred by changes in the sociological structures, of an understanding of the personal dignity and freedom due to every person and of the sociological consequences that necessarily flow from such an understanding.(55) It is an instructive parallel to the ordination of women not only because of the text of Galatians and patristic texts comparing the status of women to that of slaves, but especially because of its witness to a long coexistence in the Church of a principle and a contrary unbroken practice. This same dichotomy between religious principle and sociological practice seems to many to be the heart of the matter in the ordination question.

A third analogy can be drawn from the recent development of our tradition on religious liberty. These few paragraphs will only attempt to highlight some of the aspects that make it a pertinent analogy.(56)

The condemnation of religious freedom and freedom of worship, promulgated by Gregory XVI in his Mirari Vos (1832) and by Pius IX in his Quanta Cura and the accompanying Syllabus of Errors (1864), are well known data of modern Catholic church history. On the face of it how different that nineteenth century position is from the one officially adopted by Vatican II!

The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others.(57)

The history of this changing practice is an intriguing study in the development of doctrine.

To our way of thinking the nineteenth century theory and practice seem so inimical to the basic biblical heritage—according to the Scriptures God has a loving regard for each individual, his Word can be accepted only in freedom, and the kingdom of heaven is not a political one —that the origin and meaning of that practice need an explanation.

The context in which this position took shape was influenced by a number of historical factors. In the course of the medieval development of church-state union in the form of the ‘“confessional state,” the Church came to accept both the practice and a theory of church-state union which put aside an earlier church insistence on the distinction between the political and religious spheres. The reformation conflict sharpened and confirmed the Catholic Church’s conviction that it enjoyed in an unique fashion the certain possession of revealed truth, “objective and absolute, free from the vicissitudes of history.” We have already discussed this “classical” or more static idea of tradition earlier in this chapter. The Church, therefore, could not tolerate religious neutrality or indifferentism, since this would be tantamount to acknowledging that one religion is as good as another. This implied that the confessional state ought to be Catholic.

Later in the nineteenth century this ideal was formulated into the thesis that in such a nation the Catholic Church alone ought to be recognized with full right of public worship and propagation, with official state intolerance of all other religions. This was commonly expressed in principles to the effect that truth enjoys primacy over freedom and that only truth, and not error, has the right to exist.(58) This ideal of intolerance was normally softened by the acceptance of a practice of tolerance (the hypothesis) to meet the real situation of religious pluralism in most states.

Additional historical factors behind the condemnation of religious freedom are to be found in the Enlightenment and the movement toward secularization of the European states. The Enlightenment glorified human reason and goodness, often to the detriment of religion and the supernatural. The secularization movement harbored a strong, overt anti-religious bias and strove to separate the state from the church. The attack on established religion easily became an attack on religion itself.

It was in that context that Gregory XVI and Pius IX condemned freedom of conscience and freedom of cult, since these were ideological formulas in which was inherent “the moral judgment that the individual conscience is absolutely autonomous, and the further theological-social judgment that religion is a purely private affair, irrelevant to any of the public concerns of the political community.”(59) The proscription of errors in the Syllabus thus inculcates a practice of religious intolerance, a practice theologically motivated and politically implemented.(60)

A number of developments had already been set in motion that would soon lead to a complete reversal of this position. John Courtney Murray cites two such nineteenth century movements. First, there was the movement from the sacral concept to the secular concept of society and state. Leo XIII met this development by reviving the ancient christian distinction between the religious and political realms. This distinction was developed to mean not just two separate powers in one state, but two distinct societies, each with their own laws and powers. Second, there was the movement from classicism to historical consciousness.(61) Outside the pale of express church interests, the fact of religious pluralism in most modern states continued to have its impact, particularly in the widespread adoption of civil and constitutional provisions for religious freedom.(62) Finally, the rise of the dictatorial and totalitarian states focused the attention of the Church on the question of the dignity and freedom of the individual human being.(63)

It was the interweaving of these developments which set the stage for Vatican II’s declaration on religious liberty which completed the radical reversal of the official church position of a short century before. The critical factors seem to have been the emergence of a new understanding of freedom and a desire for it in the personal and public realms, in religious as well as in secular matters. Such freedom was seen as the inherent right of all persons in society. In the Church there was a corresponding reflection “on true human dignity,” the highly symbolic opening phrase of the Council’s declaration,(64) and on the nature and role of the state in that light. H. Schlette describes this process well when he writes:

From the point of view of the history of ideas, and also from that of intrinsic coherence, religious freedom, like freedom in general, is founded on biblical anthropology, soteriology and eschatology, and on the resulting positive fundamental esteem for the individual as such. But various developments in history and the social order . . . had to take place before the basic religious and theological convictions as to the dignity of the individual, of conscience, of freedom, of equality before God, of love (especially love of enemies), of brotherliness, etc., could have full play. It was only at the end of a long evolution that theologians grasped the full scope of the rights of the individual and of religious groups outside the Church, and hence the civil, political and finally the theological desirability of religious freedom.(65)

This analogy is instructive for the case of the ordination of women from several aspects. The new socio-cultural situation made it necessary for the Church to formulate a new official position. The key element in that change centers on the new understanding of our God-given personal dignity as necessarily involving religious freedom. Each person has the right to exercise that freedom in private and in public. Finally, one needs only to recall the heat of the conciliar debates on this topic to realize that the Council Fathers clearly had to face the question of retaining or radically changing a traditional position that was rather deeply ingrained. That same intensity of feeling seems to mark the ordination question. Hopefully, as in the case of religious liberty, that will not block an open consideration of the newly developing understanding of the personhood of woman and the radical revision of church practices this may entail.


A series of brief statements will serve to summarize this chapter and express my own deep convictions in the matter.

The issue of the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood remains an open question; the Declaration has not resolved it definitively.

One of the most fruitful responses to the Declaration will be for proponents of both sides of the question to use the document as the common focus for a true dialogue.

The theological discussion will not of itself be able to resolve the issue. The arguments do merit further critical development so as to provide a fund of supporting, well-refined theological understandings for that final resolution. The debate ought to be carried on with more attention to related questions in other areas of tradition and with a respectful awareness of the “risk of neglecting essential elements” always present in an argumentation that has not yet undergone extensive development.(66)

The critical factor in the whole question is the constant practice of excluding women from ministerial priesthood and the meaning and normative value of such a practice.

The question of the normative value of a tradition is pre-determined by the understanding one has of tradition and of revelation. Accordingly, it is urgent that all who take part in the discussion reflect on the understandings they presuppose. One of the best results of the Declaration may well be to trigger consideration of this neglected point. If we adopt a priori the stance that “tradition must change” or that “tradition can’t change,” then we are once again exiling ourselves back to the fortified camps, viewing one another from a hostile distance.

The understanding of tradition accepted by the writer of this chapter follows the second line of approach described in the last section. Tradition is simply the living Church bound to its crucified and glorified Lord in the abiding gift of the Spirit, just as the Lord Jesus is himself the living revelation. And just as that original Word was authentically Incarnate, so too the Church, the People of God on pilgrimage through history, must find full and authentic embodiment in “the mentality and character of each culture.”(67) Major changes in the forms of a culture will then demand major changes in the forms assumed from that culture by tradition, but in that process continuity and fidelity must be preserved. We are not without recent precedents to illustrate such adaptation and major change in long-standing, constant traditions. This does not necessarily militate against continuity and fidelity to the Spirit and the will of the Lord. Tradition is normative; change and adaptation are a normative part of that normative tradition.

In the case at hand the reigning socio-cultural understanding of woman and of the roles suited for her has historically argued against the ordination of women to priesthood. Yet that understanding is undergoing a cultural shift; society is recognizing ever more clearly and forcefully the full personhood of woman and her roles as distinctly woman, not simply as a substitute male. As in the analogous cases cited in this chapter, this cultural shift will be the critical factor. As this revolutionary change is accomplished in society at large, it will demand that the Church rethink and reshape her tradition on ministry and the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Should the Church delay and wait for the new understanding of woman to take final shape in our culture before she rethinks her theology and practice, then many women will be alienated from the Church and that understanding will be deprived of the leaven of the Gospel which the Church is called to witness.


1. P. Lakeland, "The Ministerial Priesthood," The Way 16 (1976) 40-41.

2. Declaration, sec.1, par. 8. For a useful summary of previous statements which might qualify as teaching of the ordinary magisterium see Haye van der Meer, Women Priests in the Catholic Church? A Theological-Historical Investigation (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1973) 90 105. The only other current statements that can be taken to bear any degree of ''official" magisterial weight concerning the official church exclusion of women from priestly ordination include Canon 986, par 1, commented on in ch 5 in this volume, and two references made in passing by Paul VI, in his "Address to the Members of the Study Commission on the Role of Women in Society and in the Church and to the Members of the Committee for International Women's Year" (April 18, 1975), and in his letter of Nov. 30, 1975 to Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury. These papal statements can be found in Acta Apostolicae Sedis [AAS] 67 (1975) 266 and AAS 68 (1976) 599 respectively. The anonymous commentary published with the USCC translation of the Declaration specifies that there has been no solemn decision of the magisterium in this regard.

3. The "theological note" or degree of authority with which the Roman document is invested has been clarified by Dismas Bonner in ch 5, sec VI.

4. K. Rahner, ''Priestertum der Frau?", Stimmen der Zeit 195 (1977) 292-293.

5. Ibid., 293-294. This would seem to hold true even in the more restrictive reading of the theologian's role as one of seeking "to define exactly the intention of teaching proper to the various formulas" and by such ''expository and explanatory additions . . . (to) maintain and clarify their original meaning," as presented by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Mysterium Ecclesiae, ch 5 (English translation: Declaration in Defense of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church against Certain Errors of the Present Day, Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1973) 8. The International Theological Commission's Theses on the Relationship between the Ecclesiastical Magisterium and Theology (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1977) provides an even more congenial role for theologians as mediating between the magisterium's authoritative presentation of the Word of God written and handed down and the faith of the People of God which is formed in concrete historical and cultural situations.

6. Declaration, Introduction, par. 5.

7. R. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1976) 112.

8. The practice of ordaining women found in patristic times among the "heretical sects" and later among the protestant churches is noted in the Declaration, Introduction, 5 and 4 respectively. The document labels the practice an "innovation" in reference to the patristic period. In 4, p.11, it calls the practice an "abuse." This question was researched by Carolyn Osiek in ch 4 of this book.

9. Declaration, sec. 1, par. 6.

10. The Declaration, sec. 1, par. 8, notes that the magisterium has never intervened to formulate this as a principle, though it does refer to the magisterium's occasional "witnessing" to its desire to remain faithful to the example left it by the Lord.

11. For an excellent discussion of tradition and hermeneutics in relation to the question of the ordination of women confer F. Cardman, "Tradition, Hermeneutics, and Ordination," in J. Coriden (ed.), Sexism and Church Law. Equal Rights and Affirmative Action (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) 58-81.

12. R. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, xv,1114.

13. Thus the Declaration, Introduction, par. 5, "the Church does not consider (agnoscere) herself authorized . . ."; Sec. 1, par. 6: "The Catholic Church has never felt (sensit) that . . ."; Sec. 1, par. 8: "the Church intends (intendit) to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus"; Sec. 4, par. 24: "this norm . . . is still considered (putatur) to conform to God's plan for his Church." Emphasis added.

14. Declaration, Sec. 2-3,5-6, par. 10-17, 25-40. In his letter to Archbishop Coggan, Paul VI summed up the reasons thus: "She (the Church) holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church," AAS 68 (1976) 599. Confer J. Begley - C. Armbruster, ''Women and Office in the Church," Amer. Eccl. Rev. 165 (1971) 145-157 for a handy summary of the data and the arguments pro and con.

15. Declaration, Sec. 2, par. 10 and 13.

16. Declaration,Sec. 2, par. 13.

17. St. Thomas, In IV Sent., dist. 25, q. 2, quaestiuncula 1a ad 4um, as cited in the Declaration, Sec. 5, par. 27.

18. Declaration, Sec. 5, par. 27; cf., par. 25-33 for the complete elaboration of the representation argument.

19. Declaration,Sec. 6, par. 34-40.

20. It is interesting to note that this argument has been coopted in the Declaration, Sec. 2-3, par. 10-17; Sec. 4, par. 19-20, to support a deliberate choice of the exclusionist position by Jesus and the early church.

21. See ch 3 by R. Karris in this volume; also E. Maly, The Priest and Sacred Scripture (Washington: USCC, 1972) 28-39, and J. Quinn, ''Ministry in the New Testament," in Eucharist and Ministry (Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue IV) (Washington: USCC, 1970) 69-100.

22. Thus the Pontifical Biblical Commission, "Can Women be Priests?", Origins 6 (1976) 96: "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 presbyterate"; J. Danielou: "As to the possibility of women priests, there is no fundamental theological objection to it," from Le Monde as quoted in G. Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1973) 217; Haye van der Meer, Women Priests in the Catholic Church?, xxii, notes that an interim progress report on a NCCB-commissioned study of priestly ministry "stated that there were no biblical or theological grounds for opposing the priestly ordination of women."

23. P.,Lakeland, "The Ministerial Priesthood," 40-41 astutely observes that the two opposing camps have to be coaxed onto common ground if the deadlock is to be broken. He writes: "Realistically, since the institutional Church leans towards the status quo, this amounts to saying that the forces desiring change must fight it out on their opponents' battlefield'' (41).

24. P. Lakeland, ibid., 47: “Perhaps it is truer to say that the principal theological problem to be solved is whether the ordination of women is a theological issue at all. There is no theological value in the statement that Jesus chose only men to be his apostles; but an examination of why he may have done so could conceivably turn up some theological point.”

25. Declaration, Introduction, par. 4.

26. See ch 4 by C. Osiek in this volume.

27. The chief of these other possible explanations would be a socio-cultural necessity for excluding women from the call to ministry in spite of a general acceptance in principle in other roles. K. Rahner has rightly called our attention to the fact that such contrary positions can be taken, "Priestertum der Frau", 296. Thus step two does not necessarily imply step three. Without wanting to seem facetious, one might also note that classical theology of ministry requires a divine call given to individual persons apart from their personal qualifications. The withholding of that call in the case of Jesus' Mother and other female acquaintances no matter how worthy does not of itself constitute a class exclusion.

28. Letter of Dec 11, 1210, to the Bishops of Palencia and Burgos, cited in the Declaration, Sec. 2, par. 13.

29 Declaration, Sec. 6, par. 36.

30. Not too long ago Rome reprobated a somewhat unusual theory which held that Mary was a priest. One wonders whether the motivation behind that theory was not precisely a questionable understanding that priesthood is a dignity and honor (even in the sense of an ontological perfection) and ought therefore have accrued to Mary. Confer H. van der Meer, Women Priests in the Catholic Church?, 151-153.

31. Cf. R. Norris, "The Ordination of Women and the 'Maleness' of Christ,'' Anglican Theological Review Suppl. Series #6 (1976) 69-80. There the author argues that the inclusion of ''maleness" as an essential characteristic required in a minister's representation of Christ is not only an unprecedented form of the argument found in tradition (in that the maleness of Jesus was of no special christological interest to the Fathers), but that it would inevitably lead to a false and dangerous understanding of the mystery of redemption. One might ask further whether such a need for the Word Incarnate to be male in order to be God-with-us might not also imply unwanted conclusions regarding our doctrine of God.

32. This question is closely related to the christological one since Christ is the "final Adam,'' the summing up of renewed humanity. For a fuller discussion of theological anthropology in this context see G. Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition, 187-210. Confer parallel considerations from psychology presented by T. Newbold, ch 10 in this volume.

33. Some of the more important instances of this phrase in ecclesiastical documents are: Pius XII, Mediator Dei, AAS 39 (1947) 553, Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium #33 (Flannery, 12), Lumen Gentium #10, 28 (Flannery, 361, 385), Presbyterium Ordinis #2, 13 (Flannery, 865, 887); Synod of Bishops, 1971, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali, part 1, #4, AAS 63 (1971) 905-906; and the Declaration, ch 5, pp. 11-15 passim. For a brief essay sketching the history of this formula see B.-D. Marliangeas, '' 'In Persona Christi', 'In Persona Ecclesiae', Note sur les origines et le dévelopment de l'usage de ces expressions dans le théologie latine," in J.-P. Jossua - Y. Congar (ed.), La Liturgie après Vatican II (Unam Sanctam 66) (Paris: du Cerf, 1967) 283-288. For a commentary on the Declarations’s use of the formula see A.-G. Martimort, ''The Value of a Theological Formula 'In Persona Christi'," L'Osservatore Romano (Eng. ed.) N. 10 (467) March 10 (1977) 6-7.

34. A more technical explanation would read as follows. Employing aristotelian categories of efficient and exemplar causality, standard scholastic theology saw Christ in his divinity as the principal agent of redemption and as instrumental agent in his humanity (the sacramentum coniunctum), who makes use of instrumental sacramental actions (sacramenta seiuncta) performed by human ministers according to his intention as instruments of his power. This understanding of the causal relationship between Christ and the sacramental actions is summed up in a related classical formula indicating that the effectiveness of the action comes from Christ, ex opere operato. The sacramental actions exercise their instrumental causality after the manner of a sign or exemplar cause, hence they must bear a natural resemblance to that which they signify. This exemplar relationship is then extended to the person of the ministering priest as a sacramental sign enacting the image of Christ. From the type of language used this imaging seems to go beyond a purely functional relationship to one with ontological roots or dimensions.

35. Declaration, Sec. 5, par. 26. It might be worth pointing out here that the formula "in persona Christi" is often used with a generic reference to the exercise of priestly ministry. Whenever it is specified, it is almost invariably referring to the celebration of the eucharist, as in this text, and occasionally to the ministry of reconciliation or presiding over the Christian assembly.

36. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium #7 (Flannery, 4-5); Pius XII, Mystici Corpori, AAS 35 (1943) 218.

37. A.-G. Martimort, "The Value of a Theological Formula 'In Persona Christi' ", 7, is aware of this issue in his commentary on the formula as used in the Declaration. I do not find his attempt to distinguish degrees of ''ministering'' in the place of Christ in the various sacraments that conclusive.

38. Identification of the sacrament of marriage with the exchange of marriage vows by the marrying partners has led our tradition to identify them as the ministers of this sacrament, of which the priest is simply an official witness.

39. For a brief survey of the issues involved see ch 4, section IV by C. Osiek in this volume; R. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, 109-110; C. Meyer, ''Ordained Women in the Early Church," Chicago Studies 4 (1965) 298-307. Meyer notes that "to push the argument against the sacramentality of the ordination of deaconesses too far would be in fact to deny the sacramentality of the order of deacons" (301).

40. J Begley - C. Armbruster, “Women and Office in the Church,” 151. R. Norris, "The Ordination of Women and the 'Maleness' of Christ," 78, argues in parallel fashion that woman's baptismal share in the priestly office of Christ "creates a presumption that they are also capable of representing Christ in the role of an ordained person." See also the discussion by R. Keifer in ch 7 of this book.

41. Declaration, Sec. 4, par. 18. In the title of this section and in this quotation the Latin wording primarily denotes a manner of acting (i.e., conduct or practice) rather than the inner, underlying attitude—“quae fecerunt,” “modus se gerendi.” These are translated by the word “attitude” in the USCC translation.

47. Since the Council of Trent the "substance of the sacraments'' has been a classical formula to designate that which is outside the power of the Church to change in the sacraments owing to their institution by Christ. Pius XII specified this further in Sacramentum Ordinis, AAS 40 (1948) 5, when he described it as “what Christ the Lord, as the sources of Revelation bear witness, determined should be maintained in the sacramental sign” (emphasis added). The Declaration, Sec. 4, par. 22, adds a further specification when it affirms that ''Adaptation to civilizations and times therefore cannot abolish, on essential points, the sacramental reference to constitutive events of Christianity and to Christ himself." The "substance" is interpreted by many authors, following the lead of Pius XII, in terms of sacramental significance. Though this significance must be expressed in ritual elements of action and word, these elements are not necessarily part of that "substance" in their particular historical forms and may be subject to the Church's later determination. Cf. E. Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963) 113-132, esp. 126-127 for an extended discussion of institution by Christ and the power of the Church to determine the outward shape of the sacraments.

43. Declaration, Sec. 4, par. 24. D. Bonner in ch 5, sec I of this book, notes that by this passage the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is preventing a custom, contrary to law, firom emerging in the church.

44. The classical work on tradition remains that of Y. Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical Essay and a Theological Essay (New York: Macmillan, 1966). The following briefer works are also of help: K. Rahner, "Scripture and Tradition," Theological Investigations VI (Baltimore: Helicon, 1969) 98-112; G. Tavard, "Scripture and Tradition,'' Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5 (1968) 308-325; K.-H. Weger, "Tradition," Sacramentum Mundi VI (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970) 269-274.

45. Vatican II, Dei Verbum #4 (Flannery, 752).

46. Ibid. #8 (Flannery, 754). Cf.K. Rahner, "Scripture and Tradition," 98-112, esp. 99-103.

47. Cf. Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions, 338-346; G. Tavard, ''Scripture and Tradition," 308-325, who describes Tradition as "the active presence of the Spirit in the Church" (319).

48. This implies an important, if not primary role of orthopraxis over orthodoxa. See also the helpful remarks of E. Schillebeeckx, The Understanding of Faith(New York: Seabury, 1974) 63-70 on orthopraxis as a criterion for theology.

49. Vatican II, Ad Gentes #22 (Flannery, 839) speaks in another context of the enculturation which must occur as the Church carries the message of the Gospel into the "great socio-cultural regions."

50. This is effectively illustrated in regard to the use of ''person'' in trinitarian theology by K. Rahner, The Trinity (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970) 103-115. Cf. also the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae, ch 5, pp. 7-8, which admits the historical conditioning of the expressions of revelation and tradition.

51. For a fuller comparative discussion of the implications of this understanding of tradition for the way in which change and adaptation occur in the Church see J. O'Malley, ''Reform, Historical Consciousness and Vatican II's Aggiornamento," Theol. Studies 32 (1971) 573-601, esp. 589ff. For an application to the theological task see K. Rahner, ''The Historicity of Theology," Theological Investigations IX (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972) 64-82. Considering the question and retranslation and continuity in the handing on of the original message, L. Monden, Faith: Can man still believe?(New York: Sheed and Ward, 1970) 169, defines tradition as "the history of the encounter between the faith of the Christian community and the Christian message." One should note that this retranslation process ought not naively be envisioned as an unwrapping and rewrapping of the internal core of revelation. Revelation is found only in historically conditioned forms of expression. Thus K. Rahner, " The Historicity of Theology," 71, writes: ''This saving truth is the same within history, but while remaining the same, it has had and still has a history of its own. This 'sameness' communicates itself to us continually, but never in such a way that we could detach it adequately from its historical forms, in order thus to step out of the constant movement of the flow of history on to the bank of eternity, at least in the matter of our knowledge of truth. We possess this eternal quality of truth in history, and hence can only appropriate it by entrusting ourselves to its further course. If we refuse to take this risk, the formulations of dogma wrongly claimed to be 'perennial' will become unintelligible, like opaque glass which God's light can no longer penetrate." In this framework the Church's fidelity to the original message is much more clearly the work of the indwelling Spirit than of a literal repetition of the same formulations or expressions. Chapters 2 and 3 of this book investigated the tradition of religious leadership in biblical times and its continuous sensitivity to historical circumstances.

52. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes #46 (Flannery, 948); cf. #47-52 (Flannery, 949-957) for the complete conciliar statement on marriage.

53. For a brief introductory statement of these sociological and structural changes see E. Schillebeeckx, Marriage. Human Reality and Saving Mystery (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965) xv-xxx.

54. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes #27 (Flannery, 928). A full history of the developments on slavery can be found in J. Dutilleul, "Esclavage," Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique V (Paris: Letouzey, 1913), columns 457-520. H. van der Meer, Women Priests in the Catholic Church?,81-86 has drawn the parallel between the cases of slavery and the exclusion of women.

55. Recall again that the first part of Gaudium et Spes, in which the reference to slavery occurs, develops the Church's teaching on the dignity of the human person in response to the situation of humankind in today's world.

56. For a full account and commentary see the following works: E.-W. Böckenförde, “Religionsfreiheit als Aufgabe der Christen," Stimmen der Zeit 176 (1965) 199-212; R. Coste, Théologie de la liberté religieuse. Liberté de conscience—liberté de religion (Gembloux: Duculot, 1969); J. Hammer-Y. Congar (ed.), La Liberté religieuse (Unam Sanctam 60) (Paris: du Cerf, 1967); E. McDonagh, Freedom or To/erance? The Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II (Albany: Magi Books, 1967); J. C. Murray, "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," in F. Böckle (ed.), War, Poverty, Freedom. The Christian Response (Concilium 15) (New York: Paulist Press, 1966) 3-16, J. C. Murray, "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," in J. Miller (ed.), Vatican II: An Interfaith Appraisal (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966) 565-576; J. C. Murray, The Problem of Religious Freedom (Woodstock Papers No 7) (Westminster: Newman, 1965); J. C. Murray (ed.) Religious Liberty: an End and a Beginning (New York: Macmillan, 1966); H. Schlette, "Religious Freedom," Sacramentum Mundi V (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970) 295-298.

57. Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae #2 (Flannery, 800).

58. E.-W. Böckenförde, "Religionsfreiheit als Aufgabe der Christen," 203. This position persisted as late as the allocution of Pius XII on tolerance, Ci Riesce, in 1953. See AAS 45 (1953) 794-802. Leo XIII had earlier recovered what seems to be the important issues behind these principles, that the sovereign freedom of God and his mastery over history must be respected and that freedom in relation to all human civil power is indispensible to the Church for it to carry out the will of its founder. See R. Coste, Théologie de la liberté religieuse, 336.

59. J. Murray, "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," in J. Miller (ed.), Vatican II, 568.

60. The errors proscribed include, for example, the freedom to embrace and profess that religion which the individual judges to be true (#15), that Church and state are to be separated (#55), that it is no longer fitting for the Catholic religion to be the sole religion of a state to the exclusion of other religions (#77), and that immigrants into a Catholic state be allowed to exercise their worship publicly (#78). See H. Denzinger-H. Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum (Rome: Herder, 1963) nn 2901-2980 for the complete list.

61. J Murray, "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," in F. Böckle (ed.), War, Poverty, Freedom, 3-16. In regard to the first area, Leo XIII initiated the papal rethinking of the idea of the state which was to culminate in John XXIII's Pacem in Terris, in which full attention has been given to the individual persons within the state, especially their freedom. See also J. Murray, The Problem of Re/igious Freedom, 47-84. In regard to the second area, it is the judgment of E. McDonagh, Freedom or Tolerance?, 12, that it was the work of theologians like Murray and their “insistence on the historical nature of previous Church-State relationships and of papal documents . . . (which) proved to be the solution to many difficulties.” Emphasis added.

62. R. Coste, Théologie de la liberté religieuse, 145-148.

63. R. Coste, ibid., 338-343; J. Murray, The Problem of Religious Freedom, 69.

64. Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae #1 (Flannery, 799): “Contemporary man is becoming increasingly conscious of the dignity of the human person.” Emphasis added.

65. H. Schlette, ''Religious Freedom," 295-296.

66. Declaration,Introduction, par. 4.

67. Vatican II. Ad Gentes #22 (Flannery, 841).

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