Why are women not ordained?
St. Albert the Great (1200 – 1280 AD)
From Mariale Super Missus Est (written at ca. 1245 AD), published in Alberti Magni Opera Omnia, ed. Borgnet, Paris 1890-1899, vol. 37, pp. 62 – 246. Here Question 42, pp. 80-81.
Translated especially for www.womenpriests.org from the original Latin
by Dr. Mary Ann Rossi
Why are women not promoted to sacred orders?
Further to this is the question why women are not promoted to sacred orders?
If it is said that this is because of the beginning of guilt transmitted through Eve, it does not seem that this can stand; because the blessed Virgin has made satisfaction for that guilt. Therefore a twofold tribulation will not arise, and God will not judge the same sin twice.
But if it is said that this done because of the unworthiness of her sex and her nature, this cannot be said; because the indignity of guilt is greater than that of nature and yet mortal sin does not form an impediment for a man to be promoted [to Holy Orders], though it is illicit.
Again, if this should be on account of the inferiority of the sex, then certainly for this reason women ought not to receive communion, since it is a greater act to receive this sacrament than to give it to another person.
Also it is asked, since the Lord nowhere seems to prohibit women from the sacrament of [Holy] Orders, in what way has the Church dared to invent this by herself?
But that the blessed Virgin should not have any [Holy] Orders is proved in this way:
1. When the Lord gave his body to his disciples at the supper and conferred on them the power of consecrating it, it is not expressed that he was giving it to any others but his disciples; however, in such matters what is found conceded to one, is prohibited to others. Therefore the power of consecrating [the Eucharist] was conferred only upon his disciples and their successors.
2. Also, when the Lord said: I shall give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens[Math., xvi, 19], Peter responded for all; and the Lord, responding to Peter, conferred upon him the power of binding and dissolving. Therefore the power of [Holy] Orders is only in the Apostles and their successors.
3. Also, Ambrose says: “The fact that women do not receive orders is from the impediment of their sex and by the decision of the Church.”
4. Also, the Blessed Virgin is at present above all the ranks of Angels in the Church triumphant. Therefore here she was above all in the Church militant.
5. Also, all the [Holy] Orders of the Church are for the ministry; whence they are called pastors, about whom it said by the Prophet: I have set you today above the nations and kingdoms [Jerem. I, 10]. But the blessed Virgin was not drawn into the ministry by the Lord, but into partnership with him and to his assistance, according to the text: Let us make a helper for him, like unto him [Genes. II, 18]. But if this is so, she need not have any rank [=‘order’]; for the highest in rank in the Church is the Pope, who is the vicar of Jesus Christ. But the blessed Virgin is not just the vicar, but the helper and ally, partner in the kingdom as she was a partner in his sufferings for the human race. When all the disciples and ministers were fleeing, she alone stood steadfast by the cross, and she took in her heart the wounds which Christ bore on his body, so that then the sword transfixed her heart. [Note: For the solution of the objections, see after quest 43, par. 1 ff.].”
The remarkable thing is that St. Albert in this case totally omits to give his own judgment [=solution to the objections] as he does after other questions or groups of questions! Perhaps he grasped that, somehow, in Mary the ‘obstacle of her sex’ had been overcome! See Albert’s solution.
It is also significant that, right from the start, he rejects the common prejudices of his time, namely that the ban against women arises from the guilt incurred by women or the inferiority of their sex. St. Albert here greatly contradicts other medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and Bellarmine.
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