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Q8. Can a woman represent Christ?

According to the authorities in Rome, a priest acts ‘in the person of Christ’. Since Christ was a man, only a male priest can signify Christ at the Eucharist. What to make of this claim? We will first look at the origin of Rome’s argument (St. Thomas Aquinas) and then its later formulations.

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas, like other medieval theologians, believed women cannot represent Christ because ‘the female sex cannot signify eminence of degree’. This argument is flawed because it rests on ignorance and prejudice.

  1. Women were believed to be biologically inferior. Following Aristotle's view of procreation, Aquinas believed that a woman is born by some defect in the generative process. A woman is a ‘defective male’. The biologically secondary status is also clear from the belief that the male seed contains the generative power. The mother only provides a womb that gives nourishment to the seed/foetus. This view was common among the Fathers.
  2. Women were socially inferior. A woman was thought to be subject to man by nature, because human reason, though common to both men and women to some extent, was held to predominate in the male.
  3. It was believed that women were created as dependent on men. Man was created first. Though both men and women were the image of God as to their intellectual nature, Thomas considered man to be the image of God in a special sense.

Since all this reasoning is invalid, women can signify eminence of degree as much as men, and thus can equally well represent Christ.

A female representing a male?

In its latest statements, Rome has changed the focus of the old argument. It stresses that the problem lies with the gender difference itself. Jesus Christ was male, masculine. Only another man can ‘symbolise’, ‘signify’, ‘represent’ him, because Christ was a man. The argument does not hold up to scrutiny.

  1. Being the ‘image of Christ’ both in Scripture and Tradition does not refer to resemblance to Christ’s maleness, but to Christ’s personhood as Child of God.
    Women too bear Christ's image as adopted children of God.
  2. A woman too can act in persona Christi because women and men are equal in Christ.
  3. Christ has feminine traits as well as masculine traits.
    A woman represents Christ better in his feminine traits and the feminine symbolism of his life giving mission.
  4. In baptism and marriage women fully represent Christ.
    As ministers of these sacraments women already act as ‘other Christs’.
  5. The essence of Christ’s priesthood demands ‘signifying’ his love, not his male gender.
    A woman, as much as any man, can represent Christ’s love, which is the essence of his priesthood.

The conclusion is that women can represent Christ as fully, as validly and as meaningfully as men can.

If you have questions at any stage, please, let me know. Click on the envelope and send me an email!Drop me a line!

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

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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