Why Jesus did not choose a woman among the apostles
Case study on Matthew 10,1-4; Mark 3,16-19 and Luke 6,13-16
Enlarged reflection in the light of principle 7: the growth of understanding of what God really wants
The Declaration [Inter Insigniores of 1976] concludes that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.” To its fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ’s way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: “The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology– thereafter always followed by the Church’s Tradition–Christ established things in this way.”
In my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem [of 1988], I myself [Pope John Paul II] wrote in this regard: “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behaviour, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.”
In fact, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God’s eternal plan: Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mark3:13-14; John 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, “through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf.Luke6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood, the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord’s way of acting in choosing twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf.Revelation 21:14) . . .
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf.Luke22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 22 May 1994.
What to say about this?
It is good to recall the observations we have already made during our first analysis of the appopintment of the twelve:
Conclusion: The appointment of the original twelve cannot be legitimately claimed to establish a permanent norm excluding women from the priestly ministry.
The ministry of women is an issue for the Church in which the full intention of Jesus is only being realised during our own time.
Whole books have been written about this. I recommend my own books: The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church and The Women Deacons of the Early Church. Here I present a short historical overview, comparing the women’s issue with racial equality and human rights.
Stage One. JESUS’ SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION
During the three years of his public ministry, Jesus’ words and deeds brought about a revolutionary new reality, the extent of which could not be realised during his life time.
Stage Two. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE PRINCIPLE
The apostolic communities tried to live up to the changes brought by Christ. Equality and equal rights were acknowledged in principle. The full social implications remained large unfulfilled.
Stage Three. CHRIST’S REAL INTENTIONS OVERSHADOWED AND OBSCURED
The Fathers of the Church frequently misread Scripture in the light of the Greek and Roman cultures. Their thinking was formalised by the theologians of the Middle Ages and – worst of all – enshrined in the emerging codes of church law.
Stage Four. TIME OF DISCERNMENT AND REALIZATION
Under pressure of widespread social reform and improved scriptural and theological studies the Church is gradually waking up to reconsider enshrined practices. The true implications of many Gospel principles are being rediscovered.
It is understandable why the election of the twelve was looked upon as excluding women in the cultural climate of past days. The time has come for the Church to re-examine the scriptural evidence and formally accept that Jesus’ electing only men as apostles did not constitute a permanent norm.
© John Wijngaards
The texts in our course Interpreting Scripture Correctly were written by John Wijngaards in 2009. Part of the contents is based on his earlier publications, in particular:
Illustrations in the video clip by Jackie Clackson.