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The Teaching Office of the Church from 'Women Priests in the Catholic Church?' by Haye van der Meer

The Teaching Office of the Church

Women Priests in the Catholic Church?
by Haye van der Meer, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 90-105.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

After all the foregoing, the question naturally arises whether the Church may have expressed itself on our thesis through its magisterium. As a matter of fact, authors quote fairly many texts from ancient synods, popes, and so on. In this chapter we shall pursue these statements and investigate what they have to tell us.

It is amazing that there is no formal declaration of the extraordinary magisterium of the Church in reference to the question of the priesthood for women. There has of course always been an unchanging constant tradition and practice: the position of the male was always uncontested (and thereby the thesis too); but the heretical group which admitted women to office, the Montanists,(1) had at the time of the first ecumenical council still not become insignificant. For this reason it is noteworthy that the Fathers did not address the subject at all. The Fathers at the Synod of Constantinople, the canons of which are always quoted as canons of the ecumenical council, apparently found other aspects of Montanism more important — for example, the validity of Montanist baptism.

Luther of course called all women priests inasmuch as they are baptized,(2) but he did not desire actual women priests. In the exegesis of the first commandment he even designated women, because of their susceptibility to superstition and secret remedies, the priests of the evil spirit, who are not qualified for God’s priesthood.(3) The Council of Trent thus reacted only to Luther’s starting point for mentioning the priesthood for women — that is, to his thesis that all Christians are priests and thus the officebearers are not distinguished in essence from the laity. Against this the council confirmed the existence and the divine origin of the hierarchy as differentiated from the laity.(4) (This is not the place to investigate exactly to what extent the council reproduced the precise meaning of Luther’s assertions. That may be left aside here.) In any case the council’s statement signifies nothing for the question of whether a woman can be ordained as a priest. The council determined only that the laity, and thus also women, cannot simply on the basis of the royal priesthood of believers preside at the anamnesis celebration of the congregation and make the Word of God present sacramentally and verbally — that is officiate as a hierarchical priest.

There is thus no formal statement of the extraordinary magisterium. And the authors who demonstrate the thesis of the “incapability” of woman for sacerdotal ordination have never appealed to any statement of that sort.

Obviously the case with individual synods and nondogmatic papal statements is different. The most detailed overview in recent times was given by Santiago Giner Sempere in the Revista Española de derecho canónico,(5) But he did not differentiate between forgeries and authentic sources.

As the first statement of the magisterium he quotes a prohibition of Pope Sixtus (c. 120), in which it is said that no one except males who stand in God’s service may touch the holy vessels:

Only by hallowed men [males] consecrated to the Lord may they be touched. . . . For it is highly unbecoming that the holy vessels of the Lord ... be touched by others than by men who stand in the service of the Lord and are consecrated to him.(6)

Sixtus does not explicitly exclude women, but obviously is thinking only of men. The text is a forgery.(7) It would thus be better to situate it in the later context of the Gallic opposition to deaconesses. Moreover, it possesses no conclusiveness in and of itself.

Giner Sempere next mentions Pope Soter, who speaks on women in reference to the same material. It had been thought this text was an immediate reaction to Montanist tendencies.(8) But apart from the fact that here again it is a matter of a later forgery (9) it would still be very questionable because Montanism began only in 172; the pontificate of Soter is usually given as 166-74. G. Bardy believes that Montanism was first known in Lyons in 177. The first pope who was acquainted with Montanism would have been Eleutherius, the immediate successor of Soter.(10) Quasten says very decisively that Pope Soter did not write against the Montanists.(11)

According to the wording of the forgery, Soter wrote to the Italian bishops:

That women consecrated to God or nuns touch the holy vessels or consecrated eucharistic linens and carry the incense around the altar has been reported to the Holy See. That this it full of every reprehension and vituperation is not doubted by any right-thinking person. For this reason we believe on the basis of the authority of the Holy See that you should put a stop to these actions entirely and as soon as possible: and so that this plague does not spread further through all provinces, we command that it be abolished with all haste.(12)

This text is taken up by Gratian in the first part of his decree.(13)

To interpret this text one must know precisely what is meant by the words “to touch the sacred vessels and consecrated linens.” Does it refer to a touching during the liturgical celebration, thus to an active participation, perhaps by deaconesses, in the liturgical celebration? The words “to carry incense around the altar” seem to allude to this. In that case this forgery forbids something which elsewhere encountered much less opposition.(14) Or does it refer merely to the touching of the holy vessels outside of the sacred service? If so, then this prohibition has already long been outdated in the practice of the church.(15)

In the actual chronological sequence, the Council of Laodicea (between 343 and 381) stands first: in canon 44 it says, “It is not permitted women to enter the altar area.” (16)

Even up to the present day this prohibition remains the most often quoted. We shall later see that it is not at all so isolated and apodictic; it is just that the other canons, as far as we know, are never quoted.

Then comes the Council of Saragossa, which was convened to oppose the Spanish Priscillians. In its first canon it had the following regulation:

Let all faithful women of the Catholic Church be separated from men for reading and gatherings; and let them neither come together with those who read to others, nor for study, either teaching or learning. For the apostle ordered this.(17)

Hefele-Leclercq reads in this only that “all Christian women must keep away from ‘gatherings,’ conventicula.” But Lafontaine translates:

Faithful women of the Church are instructed to take no part in the reunions of strange men; they are forbidden to come together with women who give lectures to instruct and educate themselves. That is proscribed by the apostle.(18)

According to him that would mean:

The council . . . lays blame on the public teaching given by women.(19)

That would be something more. But Giner Sempere is correct in saying that one still has no clear definition of the “incapacity” of women to receive priestly ordination.(20) The council had as its primary goal the condemnation of the Spanish Priscillians. And it is, if not completely certain, yet very probable, that these Priscillians recognized women as priests. We know from Sulpicius Severus that many women followed Priscillian,(21) and that they were ordained appears to follow from a canon of the Synod of Nimes (394), which likewise was convened against the Priscillians :

In opposition to apostolic order and although it has been unknown until our time, certain people have suggested that women — in a place unknown to me — are seen performing priestly service; obviously church order does not permit this, because it is indecent; and such an illegal ordination should be annulled.(22)

Hefele-Leclercq (23) as well as Lafontaine (24) concludes from this canon that the Priscillians actually conferred ordination on women, and thus permitted women more than what the church otherwise gave to deaconesses. With this we have the first prohibition of the consecration of women in major orders.

For the period of about 418 to 422 we still have a prohibition, attributed to Pope Boniface I, rejecting the active participation of women in liturgical affairs. But here too we are dealing with a forgery.(25)

A further case of the same prohibition, in which, however, there is no doubt about authenticity, we find in Pope Gelasius who wrote in the year 494:

As we have perceived with vexation, such a contempt of divine truths has occurred that even women, it is reported, serve at holy altars : and everything which is entrusted exclusively to the service of men is performed by the sex to which it does not belong.(26)

In the second half of the sixth century, the Collected Chapters by Martin, Bishop of Braga, repeat canon 44 of Laodicea: “Women are not permitted to enter the altar area.” (27) But, more worthy of note, the Council of Tours II (567), after it first of all forbids the access of the laity in general to the altar, says:

For prayer and for the reception of the eucharist the holy of holies is accessible to the laity and women, as is the custom,(28)

Hefele-Leclercq explains the “praying” as private prayer outside the liturgical celebration. Thus it is definitely false to say, as does Giner Sempere:

In the year 567 the Council of Tours II issued regulations in canon 4 that segregate woman from the altar.(29)

There is certainly some regimentation, but this does not remove woman from the altar area. This regulation from Tours was moreover not universally valid. Besides the provision of Laodicea, which was often repeated by other synods, there can be found for example in the thirteenth disciplinary canon of the Council of Braga II (563) the following prohibition:

Only the clerics and not the laity return to the sanctuary of the altar to receive communion.(30)

The Second Council of Macon (585), however, says again in the fourth canon:

Every Sunday the faithful, men and women, must offer bread and wine at the altar.(31)

This is the same council at which, according to Gregory of Tours, a bishop appears to have said that a woman could not be designated as a human. For an estimate of this story — which was later often rejected — one can compare Hefele-Leclercq on the passage. It is not, in any case, possible to find a trace of this incident in the canons. And the interpretation of that bishop’s expression is too disputed to be able to conclude from it that he or many others of that time had doubted that a woman is a human being. Perhaps — but we have no proof for this — it is an echo of the assertions of Pseudo-Augustine and of Ambrosiaster (cf. above in chapter III) that a woman is not “an image of God.”

It appears that Jungmann does not know the canons which permit access to the altar area: he mentions merely the prohibition. But he shows that where offertory processions occur today, no distinction is made regarding women.(32) The canons forbidding admission to the altar area are thus first of all not valid everywhere and secondly are already outdated in practice.

That women must not touch the holy objects is again enjoined in Antisidiorense (578 or later) in the 36th and 37th canons:

A woman may not with naked hand receive the eucharist; a woman may not take hold of the altar cloth [palla dominica] with her hand.(33)

According to DuCange, Augustine also recognized this prohibition.(34)

The collection of canons ascribed to St. Isidore of Seville repeats old rules without adding anything new.(35)

In the chapters of the Frankish kings, who formed the ecclesiastical and secular laws at the same time, we find for example two repetitions of canon 44 of Laodicea.(36) We find there the Capitula Ecclesiastica of Bishop Haito of Basle (807-23):

Everyone should take care that women do not approach the altar; even women consecrated to God may not intrude into any kind of altar service. If altar linens must be washed, they should be removed by clerics, given at the altar rails, and also be taken back there. And likewise offertory gifts, if they are brought by these women, are received by priests there and brought to the altar.(37)

That these prohibitions were not always adhered to is proved by the relatio of the bishops to the emperor Hludowicum (829) :(38)

We have sought by all possible ways to prevent the illicit admission of women to the altar.(39) We have learned through a report of trustworthy people that in some provinces, in contradiction to the divine law and to canonical instruction, women betake themselves into the altar area, impudently take hold of the sacred vessels, hold out the priestly garments to the priests and — what is still worse, more indecent and unfitting than all this — they give the people the body and blood of the Lord and do other things which in themselves are indecent [quae ipso dictu turpia sunt]. Therefore, we have sought to prevent this, so that further liberties are not taken. But that women must not enter the altar area is written in the Council of Chalcedon(40) and in the decrees of Pope Gelasius.(41)

In this relatio, chapter 45 from the Council of Paris (likewise 829) is clearly quoted. But there we find an interesting expansion. After the words “which themselves are indecent,” there follows:

It is most amazing how this practice, unpermitted in the Christian religion, could creep in; that is, how women, to whose sex it is in no way befitting to do what is contrary to the divine law, could ever allow themselves to do what is forbidden to secular males. Doubtless it occurred through the carelessness and negligence of some bishops. Therefore woe to us priests into whose hands the burdens of that priest have passed as they are described in Macch. 2: For they have indeed disregarded their duty which was delegated to them for the cult, and, while God’s temple was without holy service, given themselves to carnal passions and illicit actions, so that women, without anyone preventing them, betake themselves into consecrated houses and therein have been able to introduce unpermitted things.(42)

One would be almost inclined to think when reading this that the actual reason for the statement “to whose sex it is in no way befitting” lies in the danger of “carnal passions and illicit actions.” As a basis for the exclusion of women that would not be exactly convincing.

The reason adduced in the chapter of Theodulf, bishop of Orleans, is also remarkable; there, in the sixth chapter, we read:

When a priest celebrates the Mass, women in general should not approach the altar but remain in their places; and the priest should accept their gifts there in order to bring them afterwards to God; for the women should be conscious of their own weakness and the weakness of their sex; and therefore they must scrupulously guard that they do not touch anything consecrated to the service of the Church. The male laity must also scrupulously be on guard lest they endure the punishment of Uzza, who, because he wished to touch God’s ark in extraordinary circumstances, perished by the hand of God.(43)

The reason is worth noting. The warning to women “to remain in their places” is either irrelevant to the question of the priesthood for women, wishing merely to ensure respectability, or it is characteristic of the Old Testament, an allusion to the arrangement of the forecourt in the old temple. In the latter case we know from Gal. 3, 28 that that is past.

In the same line as the respectability motif lies an amplification in the decretal of Pope Gregory IX to a canon of the Council of Mainz (888). The council forbids a priest to live in the same house with any woman, even his sister, because even in that case sins occurred (moreover the synods customarily say: live only with mother, sister, wet nurse).(44) This is very clearly a prescription aimed at celibacy. The decretals of Gregory IX continue immediately, without transition:

Also care must be taken that no woman presume to walk to the altar or to minister to the priest or to stand or to sit within the chancel.(45)

Both regulations are well known; but the immediate placement alongside one another seems to indicate that at least one of the reasons why it was thought that a woman should not be a priest was the danger of sin. Thomas also says this when he speaks ex professo on this matter. In the article “Does the grace of preaching wisdom and knowledge extend even to women?” he explains that women are not permitted to teach publicly, and he presents as a second argument; “So that the spirit of the men will not be seduced to sensuality.”(46)

Hildegard Borsinger also explains it in this way; in reference to the prohibition of the ordination of deaconesses by the Gallic councils she says;

Explanations for this tenacious battle of the Frankish Church against an institution which was well developed in other places and worked blessedly are, in our opinion, to be found in the extravagances which arose in certain sects (e.g., Priscillianists), and further in the abuses of Syneisaktentum, the custom in the primitive Church of unmarried males living together with consecrated virgins, which degenerated more and more and induced the Church to make energetic attack against clerics and virgins living together in the same house.(47)

It might be noted in passing that the present writer often found the first reaction of people who discovered the topic on which he was writing to be: “So you too want some pretty collaborator in the rectory?" In other words, it seems to be very common to see a danger to celibacy in a female priesthood. That might under some conditions be a reason not to ordain women priests. But is it also a basis on which to say that a woman is “incapable”?

All this is not to say that this has been the chief reason for the exclusion of women from spiritual office. But it shows that, from early times, the need was felt to adduce more concrete, tangible reasons than merely the decision that “the sex is not competent.” Was it feared that the latter would not be very compelling?

From a later period we find Leo IVs prohibition against women singing in church. This prohibition too stands in a series of regulations on chastity.(48)

The Quinisextum from Trullanum of 692 once again forbids women to speak in church during worship service.(49)

There is still extant an explanation from three French bishops, Licinius of Tours (520), Melanius of Rennes, and Eustochius of Angiers (it could be questioned whether they belong to the third or the fourth chapter of this book, and for this reason I quote them outside the chronological sequence). The bishops wrote a letter to two priests from Brittany who permitted women to assist them in the distribution of communion. The letter says:

The complete novelty of this proceeding and the unheard-of superstition has disturbed us not a little, that such a contemptible sect which has demonstrably never existed in Gaul (until now) comes to the surface in our time, a sect which the Oriental Fathers call the Pepodian sect because Pepodius was the originator of this schism, a sect which presumes to have women associates at the divine sacrifice. We therefore command: Anyone who wishes to adhere to this error should be excluded by the Church community.(50)

According to Lafontaine there is no such decree of the Oriental Fathers. The mention of Pepodius is also an error: probably a confusion with Pepuza, the city of the Montanists. It is also clear here that the bishops are especially annoyed over the fact that the priests live together with these women and in one breath speak about the pollutio of the divine sacraments, because they are distributed by women, and utter their desire that priests live only with their mother, sister, or wet nurse.

From later times I have found nothing else official on the problem. But the most important texts cited in this and the preceding chapter have been taken into the Corpus Iuris Canonici. I have from time to time made mention of this in the footnotes, and it obviously also emerges in the glossaries and commentaries. A brief overview can be found in an article by F. Gillmann, “Weibliche Kleriker nach dem Urteil der Frühscholastik," which, however, concerns itself almost exclusively with the legal sources.(51)

The catechism of the Council of Trent for parishes has nothing to say on the matter. The canon from the new Code of Canon Law is very brief. The word “valid” is worthy of attention: “Only a baptized male [vir baptizatus] can receive the sacrament of holy orders validly” (Can. 968, § 1).

The fontes for Can. 968, § 1, all refer to the baptizatus. However, there has never been anyone in the Catholic Church who held that the ordination of a woman was valid. This canon should therefore be interpreted according to the old law, that is, in the sense that the “valid” also has reference to the word “male.” But the canon of the code in itself still says nothing about “divine law” or “ecclesiastical law.” And the church can certainly impose conditions as “ecclesiastical law” for the validity of the sacrament.(52)

In the year 1916 the Holy Office published a decree in which it said, “The image of the holy virgin Mary clothed with priestly vestments is to be reprobated.”

Certainly the intention was to put an end to several unwelcome excesses of the veneration of the Virgo Sacerdos. But as this problem comes under discussion later in chapter V, for the purpose of this chapter a mere mention of the Holy Office’s prohibition suffices. A detailed description of the entire history of the matter, before and after, is found in Laurentin.(53)

Evaluation of the Texts

What is to be said now to all this? Does it represent a sufficient proof for the thesis that women cannot be priests? At first glance that seems actually to be the case. By the prohibition of the Council of Laodicea, woman seems to be banished from the area of official cult. Pope Gelasius says so expressly and apparently gives as his formal reason: “It does not belong to the female sex to serve the holy altars.” And many synods have repeated that. Every abuse is rejected. “Be a woman even learned and holy, she nevertheless may not presume to baptize others or to teach males in the community assembly,” says Gratian,(54) and these prescriptions prevailed as conciliar decrees, for they appear as such in the so-called Fourth Council of Carthage.

But if the texts are examined exactly, the proof is not as strong as might be thought.

Everything that was said earlier, in the chapter on the Fathers, is valid here. One must consider also how many provisions of ancient synods simply do not obligate us any more. Then how do we know that these in particular continue as valid?

Especially noteworthy is the “proof from the magisterium”; careful observation shows that many of the texts quoted actually refer to something completely different, to things which are in fact no longer forbidden. How can such material be used to construct a proof for keeping women away from spiritual office?

The touching of holy vessels and blessed cultic linens, entrance into the sacrarium during sacred service, removal of the altar linens for laundering outside the service, presenting the priestly vestments — all of this is now permitted without objection.

Thus, there is but little to be found which is relevant, and what there is consists merely of prohibitions which we have long considered outdated. Giner Sempere, especially, insinuates with his long series of quotations that there is a large body of convincing texts. In reality there is, besides a few pertinent texts (especially Gelasius), only a quantity of uninteresting material which only witnesses to the fact that in clerical circles women were not held in very high esteem.

Or is there — behind these now no longer valid and no longer convincing prohibitions, which of themselves can prove nothing — a basic view which is still obligatory: that woman is not suitable for hierarchical office?

The chapter on the Fathers already documented that at least one thing lay behind all this: a judgment on woman, her nature, which to a great extent—if not essentially — differs from the understanding which our times have of woman. Thus, before anyone should jump to the conclusion that a proof has been found, it must first be explained why it is believed that the basic conception of the Patristic and synodical times includes an authentic insight of the Faith in reference to woman which is actually different from their time-bound views. In other words, it should be demonstrated that this understanding of woman which we found in the quoted synodical and papal statements is more profound and more Christian than that which we found in the other contemporaneous passages on women and presented in the previous chapter,

In addition, texts such as that of Pope Gelasius or of the Council of Nimes treat the subject of deaconesses.(55) And it is certain that, not only now but even at that time in other places, much of what is here forbidden was permitted as legitimate, especially for deaconesses. We have already mentioned access to the altar area for laywomen. Testimony of this for the deaconesses is also given in the “Testament of the Lord.”(56) There were places where the deaconesses might dispense Holy Communion; it was certainly not merely an abuse, as Jungmann says.(57) In the “Testament of the Lord” it is even their duty to bring Communion to sick women.(58) K. H. Schäfer mentions that deaconesses in the West brought Communion to women and boys up into the sixth century. Until 829 (the Council of Paris) “female holders of benefices” brought Communion to the faithful.(59) Of course one can say that that was abolished; it was an abuse. Naturally that may be the case. But not everything which is abolished by synods is eo ipso an abuse; there must be a careful investigation of what the synods intended to abolish and why this happened and what was abolished right along with it. If there was merely or mainly a concern for the danger to celibacy, these suppressions stand in a completely different context, particularly as we have seen that much of what was abolished by the synods (the touching of holy vessels, etc.) has been reintroduced by us.

Even an expression like “a woman although learned and holy” startles us. The “although” could of course indicate that the prohibition is intended as universal and for all times and circumstances. If merely “a woman . . . may not presume” were said, it could be thought that it was meant only for the women of that time, who were not so learned (and not so holy?). But because it expressly says that this is true even for holy and learned women, it is also true for other circumstances. So it could be argued. But against this argumentation it can be objected that the very words “although learned and holy” point to a time limitation. In a time where women are just as learned as men, such a specification need not be added. Thus it can be concluded that the women of that time were considered in general as too stupid and not holy enough to exercise spiritual office, to “teach males in assembly.” And it can be imagined that under these circumstances it would be thought better to exclude all women, even the few who might by chance have been capable. If this were true, the words “although learned and holy” would in the first place signify for our problem that the relevant sentence really treated of another subject than that which a contemporary statement on the situation presupposes.

A sentence like “The women must be conscious of their own weakness and the feebleness of their sex" is likewise acceptable only with great difficulty to present-day sensibility. And the statement which this expression is supposed to support loses much of its weight!

A conciliar decision like the following also places the attitude of the first centuries in the Church in a questionable light. The Council of Compiegne (757) says in its twentieth canon:

If someone has taken a woman and lived with her a long time and if the woman says that he has never had intercourse with her, and the man says he has, then the truth should be decided on the basis of the man’s statement, because the man is the head of the woman.(60)

A contemporary ecclesiastical judge would not believe the woman immediately either, but only because the marriage is presumed to be consummated and not because the man is the head of the woman and therefore apparently more credible than she. Behind this there lies the rabbinic understanding of the witness of woman! In the same way Pseudo-Augustine also thought that woman could bear no witness.

Nevertheless it could be said with justice that the ordinary magisterium has never desired women priests. And the dogmatic theologians can call upon the constant practice of the church, upon various texts presented above, upon the Corpus of Canon Law and its commentary, upon the present Code of Canon Law, and upon one another — that is, upon various dogmatic theologians and canon lawyers. The designations in the manuals indeed diverge from “theologically certain” to “a matter of divine faith” (the latter of course depend heavily on the Pauline texts), but the content of the thesis remains the same: It is (at least) theologically certain that women by divine law cannot be priests, and thus are “incapable.”

But it must really be asked, as we have often already, whether the word woman in the sensibility of our time still has the same content as it had in those texts which express the opinion of the magisterium. Of course it should not be denied that, possibly according to God’s will, until recently women could not be ordained priests. But has woman remained the same? Does God also forbid it for the contemporary woman? Can texts from other times serve to prove that the woman of our time cannot become a priest?

It should be noted, in this connection, that the problem of the priesthood of women has never been acute until very recently. The Montanists were really anachronistic. Only for the past thirty to fifty years has a woman been able to become a physician, a lawyer, a judge, a minister of state, and so on. Rondet reports how even in 1909 an ecclesiastical book censor had deleted from a Cours de semaines sociales a sentence which advocated suffrage for women.(61) In a time in which women were thought of in this way the question of the priesthood for women, even if it was recognized in theory and existed in the manuals, was not yet really asked. All the texts of the magisterium and authors refer to a different problem from ours.

Since the problem — partly through developments in the Protestant camp — was first raised among Catholic dogmatic theologians, there have been no new statements of the magisterium. That seems to us to be quite remarkable. Certainly popes, Roman congregations, bishops, and so forth have not changed their opinion in this respect. But they have not found it necessary to express their opinion with new definiteness. The 1913 condemnation of the Marian image with priestly vestments clearly stands in the “climate” of opposition to woman’s suffrage that we have just mentioned. This decision certainly does not contribute anything to the contemporary discussion of the problem.

Even Pius XII in his addresses to women, in which he expressly emphasized that the woman should not live only in the family but also might and should participate in public life in offices and professions, did not speak of denying the priesthood to women. One example is his address of 9 October 1945.(62)

On the 28th of August, 1949, he said:

Woman has left the reserve and the self-effacement of domestic life and to a large extent has made her own the places, functions, responsibilities, and rights which earlier were reserved exclusively for men. . . . Having reached her majority and become independent and possessed of the same rights as he, she is today the equal of man in the economy and in work, in science and art, in the liberal professions, in public employment and in the political and administrative affairs of the state and the community.(63)

On the 14th of October, 1956:

If at another time the work of the woman was limited to the house and its surroundings, today it expands into ever wider circles: into social and public life, the parliament, the courts, journalism, the liberal professions, the world of labor. May woman carry into all these fields her work of peace.(64)

Of course the Pope does not say “also in the sacerdotal office.” But he does not forbid it. The ordinary magisterium thus in the recent decades in which the problem has become a real one has not spoken out against the priesthood of women, even in places where it could be expected.(65)

For the dogmatic theologians the task therefore lies in proving whether, why, and to what extent woman should occupy a different status in the ecclesiastical from in the secular world; or in proving that the old statements still have an obligatory character even in the altered circumstances.

One cannot help but recall how many opinions which were looked upon as unambiguous judgments of the ordinary magisterium nevertheless were altered later. This can be noted in recent sacramental theology. The point of view that the Church can decide on the validity of the sacraments and that the conditions for the validity of the dispensing of the sacraments were not specifically established by Christ has prevailed. Yet in these points too, dogmatic theologians thought for centuries that everything existed “by divine law” and was therefore unalterable. Did not the ordinary magisterium believe for centuries that a person could be reconciled to the Church only once in his life? Was not — to mention an example from another tractate of theology — the creation of Adam from the dust of the earth, and of Eve from the rib, stated by the magisterium? The prohibition on lending for interest was also a statement of the magisterium— until money took on another function in the economy. Is something similar perhaps true of woman, who now fulfills other sociological and psychological functions in society?

The burden of proof that this is not so, I believe, lies on those who try to defend the usual thesis against the priesthood for women. Another parallel must likewise be noted. Theology has always thought that only wheat bread and grape wine could be “valid matter” for consecration. And this has been considered proved with binding demonstrations from the ordinary magisterium, exactly like the subiectum validum for sacerdotal consecration. However, H. Bouesse, for example, has already asked whether that is a conditio sine qua non for all times and places.(66) Schillebeeckx too speaks in very nuanced manner, although he inclines more to assume that this point was indeed established by Christ for all times.(67)

In conclusion: a view held universally by dogmatic theologians is binding on individual dogmatic theologians only if it is put forward as binding by all other theologians or if it is presented as so bound up with certain teachings of the faith that to deny it also endangers the underlying teaching of the faith. The first is not the case in our problem. Many dogmatic theologians call this thesis only “theologically certain,” thus, to be precise, not binding as a teaching of the faith.(68) And no one proposes any teaching of the faith which would fall if this thesis were denied.

This, then, is our conclusion:

1. There are certain texts which justify our saying: the ordinary magisterium has until now been against the priesthood for women.

2. But, seen from a scholarly-theological viewpoint, it is not at all certain that this still has an obligatory character for our time. That may be the case, but it is not proved.


1. P. de Labriolle disputes St. Epiphanius’ claim that the Montanists ordained women; cf. P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (Paris, 1913), pp. 510-11. G. Bardy, however, thinks it did happen; cf. DThC X, p. 2368. For a discussion of the whole matter see Lafontaine, “Le sexe masculin” (see chap. Ill, n. 11, above), p. 145, n. 22.

2. D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar, 1888), vol. 6, p. 407. Cf. E. Hertzsch, “Das Problem der Ordination der Frau in der Evangelischen Kirche,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 81 (1956): 380.

3. Quoted in RGG (2d ed.), vol. 2, p. 722.

4. Denz.-Schönm. 1768, 1776.

5. Giner Sempere, “La mujer” (see chap. III, n. 141, above), pp. 841-69.

6. PG 5, c. 1078; cf. Jaffe, Regesta (see chap. III, n. 49, above), vol. 12, p. 6; Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum (see chap. III, n. 74, above), vol. 1, p. 653.

7. Cf. Jaffe.

8. Cf. Mansi, vol. 1, p. 690. Likewise, Giner Sempere, p. 848.

9. Jaffé, 12, p. 9.

10. DThC X, p. 2360.

11. J. Quasten, Patrology (Utrecht-Brussels, 1950-53), 1, p. 279.

12. PG 5, c. 1136; cf. Jaffé, op. cit., 1(2), p. 9; Mansi, pp. 689-90. The Council of Laodicea forbade the same to subdeacons. However, according to Hefele-Leclercq that is not a general prohibition but is applicable only in the case of a solemn entrance. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 1, p. 1011; cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, D. 23, c. 26; Friedberg (see chap. III, n. 49, above), vol. 3, p. 86.

13. Corpus Iuris Canonici, D. 23, c. 25; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 86.

14. See above, end of chap. III, and below, this chap., “Evaluation of the Texts.”

15. Canon 1306 stipulates absolutely no limitations; current canon law, therefore, thinks otherwise.

16. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 1, p. 1020; Mansi, vol. 2, pp. 571, 581.

17. “Ut mulieres omnes ecclesiae catholicae, et fideles a virorum alienorum lectione et coetibus separentur; vel ad ipsas legentes aliae, studio vel docendi vel discendi, conveniant. Quoniam hoc apostolus iubet.” Hefele-Leclercq, p. 987; Mansi, vol. 1, pp. 633-34.

18. “II est present aux femmes fidèles a l’Église de ne prendre aucune part aux réunions des hommes étrangers; il leur est interdit de se joindre aux femmes qui font des lectures, pour s’instruire et enseigner elles-mêmes. Cela est défendu par l’Apôtre.” Lafontaine, p. 150.

19. “Le concile . . . s’en prit à1’enseignement public offert par les femmes.” Ibid., p. 149.

20. Giner Sempere, p. 844.

21. PL 20, c. 155; CSEL 1, pp. 99-100.

22. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, p. 93. Mansi was not aware of the canons of Nimes; cf. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, pp. 91 ff.

23. Ibid., p. 93, n. 9.

24. Lafontaine, p. 150.

25. L. Duchesne, ed., Liber pontificalis, 2 vols. (Paris, 1886, 1892), vol. 1, p. 227.

26. PL 59, c. 55; cf. PL 67, c. 309; Jaffé, 12, p. 85; Mansi, vol. 8, p. 44.

27. Mansi, vol. 9, p. 855.

28. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, p. 186; Mansi, vol. 9, p. 793.

29. Giner Sempere, p. 849.

30. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, p. 180.

31. Ibid., p. 209.

32. J. A. Jungmann, Missarum Sollemnia, 4th ed. (Vienna, 1958), vol. 2, p. 13, n. 42; p. 464, n. 3.

33. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, p. 220; Mansi, vol. 9, p. 915; Jungmann, p. 471, n. 43; p. 472, n. 47. Jungmann also cites Caesarius of Aries, PL 39, c. 2168.

34. Ch. DuCange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis, 3 vols. (Paris, 1678), vol. 3, p. 170.

35. PL 84, cc. 49, 133, 207, 581, 805.

36. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Legum Sectio 2 Capitularia regum francorum (Hanover, 1883), vol. 1 (Quarto-Ausgabe), pp. 55, 102.

37. Ibid., p. 364.

38. Ibid. (Hanover, 1897), vol. 2, p. 32; cf. PL 97, cc. 821-22.

39. The editor notes in the text: Conc. Paris, lib. I, c. 45; abbrev. Mansi 14, 565.

40. The editor notes: Laodic. 44; Mansi 2, 571, 581.

41. The editor notes: Gel. decr. 26; Mansi 8, 44.

42. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 4, p. 67; Mansi, vol. 14, p. 565.

43. Mansi, vol. 13, p. 996; cf. ibid., vol. 19, p. 705.

44. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 4, p. 691; Mansi, vol. 3, p. 167.

45. Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 1, X, de cohabitatione clericorum et mulierum, III, 2; Friedberg, vol. 2, p. 454.

46. Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 177, a. 2.

47. H. V. Borsinger, Die Rechtsstellung der Frau in der katholischen Kirche (Leipzig, 1930), p. 42.

48. PL 115, c. 681.

49. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, c. 572.

50. De Labriolle, pp. 266 ff.; Lafontaine, pp. 152-53; de Labriolle, “Mulieres in Ecclesia taceant, Un aspect de la lutte antimontaniste,” BLAC 1 (1911): 291-92; P. Browne, “Die Sterbekommunion im Altertum und Mittelalter,” Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 60 (1936): esp. p. 709.

51. F. Gillmann, “Weibliche Kleriker nach dem Urteil der Frühscholastik,” Archiv für katholisches Kirchenrecht 93 (1913): 239-53.

52. Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Rome, 1916), vol. 8, p. 146.

53. R. Laurentin, Marie, l’Église et le sacerdoce (Paris, 1952) vol. 1, pp. 521ff.

54. Corpus Iuris Canonici, D. 4, de consecratione, c. 20; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1367; cf. D. 23, c. 29 in part one; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 86. The texts in reality are from canons 99 and 100 of the so-called 4th council of Carthage: the Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua; cf. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, p. 120.

55. Kalsbach’s article on Diakonisse in, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (1941 ff.), 3, pp. 917 ff.

56. Test. Dom. 1, 23.

57. Jungmann, p. 479, n. 94.

58. Test. Dom. 2, 20; cf. Josephine Mayer, Monumenta de viduis diaconissis virginibusque tractantia, Florilegium Patristicum 42 (Bonn, 1938), p. 32.

59. K. H. Schäfer, Die Kanonissenstifter im deutschen Mittelalter (Stuttgart, 1907), pp. 31, 59.

60. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, p. 943; Mansi, vol. 12, p. 657; cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 3, C. 33, q. 1; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1150.

61. Rondet, “Eléments” (see chap. I, n. 2, above), p. 932.

62. Katholiek Archief 2 (1947-48): 53-60.

63. La documentation catholique 28 (August, 1949), cc. 1089-96.

64. Herder-Korrespondenz 11 (1956-57), p. 105.

65. Cf. also the address of 12 September 1947: ibid. 2 (1947-48), pp. 75 ff.; of 24 April 1952: ibid., 6 (1951-52), pp. 398-99; of September 1957: Katholiek Archief 12 (1957), pp. 1165-76; of 2 July 1958: ibid. 13 (1958), pp. 913-20; John XXIII’s address of 1 March 1959: ibid. 14 (1959), pp. 606-8.

66. H. Bouesse, “De la nature des sacrements chrétiens,” L’année théologique 8 (1947), esp. pp. 201-9; afterwards Bouesse repeated these thoughts in Le Sauveur du monde 4, L’économie sacramentaire. Doctrina sacra 4 (Chambéry-Paris, 1951), pp. 59-68.

67. E. Schillebeeckx, Christus, Sacrament van de Godsontmoeting, 3d ed. (Bilthoven, 1959), p. 115, n. 54.

68. E.g., Lercher, Institutiones (see chap. II, n. 37, above), p. 315.

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