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From a Non-Fact to a Permanent Norm?

The Argument from a Non-Fact

Questions Christ did not decide

There are many important aspects of Christian doctrine and practice about which Christ did not make not any explicit decisions.

It may be useful to enumerate some of these Non-Facts involving Christ:

Note well: I am not arguing against the legitimacy of these institutions. I am only showing that the NON-FACT of Jesus' non-involvement with such institutions does not prove his deciding against them.

In the same way the NON-FACT of Jesus not having chosen women among the Twelve Apostles does not prove that he decided against them for ever.

The Non-Fact of not choosing women

Why did Christ not choose a woman for the college of apostles? G. R. Evans, Bishop of Denver and member of the USA Bishops' Subcommittee on Woman in Church and Society, writes (1972):

'The sociocultural pattern of his time has to be kept in mind. Why did Christ not choose a slave for the apostolic college? Such a choice would have halted the practice of the Church refusing to ordain slaves for a long time. Why did not Christ choose a gentile for the college? Such an action could have more easily avoided much bitter debate in the early Church. A matter of fact need not be a matter of right. One cannot draw conclusions as to the rights involved from the mere observation of the state of affairs.' G. R. EVANS, 'Ordination of Women,' Homeletic and Pastoral Review 73 (1972), no. 1, pgs 29-32.

The non-fact of Christ not having selected women should not be seen as expressing Christ's mind and will.

'If Jesus had lived in a society in which the cultural status of the two sexes had differed from that of his own time, would he not have made a different choice? A choice that was already beginning to show itself in the completely new approach which he adopted toward women in a patriarchal society?' .H. M. LEGRAND, 'Views on the Ordination of Women,' Origins, Jan. 6 1977. Reprinted in Briefing 7 (1977), no. 6, pgs 22-35; here pg 27.

'To have gone further and called six men and six women to make up the twelve would have outraged his contemporaries to the point of destroying his work from the outset.'. G. O'COLLINS, 'Ordination of Women,' Tablet 288 (1974) pgs 175-76; 213-15.

'There is just this fact: Jesus chose only men to be his apostles. We are left to discern why. And I would contend that it is gratuitous to assert that this was because it is the will of God that for all time only males be chosen for the role of apostle or bishop or priest, i.e. for the ministry of leadership in preaching the gospel and celebrating the liturgy and governing the community. Rather I would argue that it is much more cogent to surmise that Jesus chose only men to be his apostles simply because only men could then function in such a role of leadership due to the cultural conditions of the age. However, it is quite obvious that such cultural conditions can pass; and so with them can pass also the rationale for limiting this ministry of leadership to men only.' E. C. MEYER. 'Are there theological reasons why the church should not ordain women priests?' Review for Religious 34 (1975/76), pgs 957-67.

"Tradition must never be used to decree that because something was never in our past it cannot be in our future. Given the sexism of Western society and culture we might well expect that women would be excluded from priesthood". Groome, T.H. (1981-82), Signs of Hope Series: Section 4 "The Struggle Against Sexism" in Pace 12, St Mary's Press, Minnesota, p. 64.

The number of theological studies confirming this trend of thought increases year by year. To restrict myself to a few examples from the seventies, in chronological order: J. L. Acebal, J. J. Begley-Armbruster, R. Gryson, I. Raming, J. M. Ford, R. Metz, F. Klostermann, J. M. Aubert.

"Here we can do no more than mention some of the reasons why many reputable Catholic biblical scholars have not found this argument (from Jesus' selecting only men) convincing. They question the suppositions

Since Jesus left the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make many decisions on its own regarding the organization of its ministry, scholars judge it very doubtful that he intended to lay down such a particular prescription regarding the sex of future candidates for ordination. The majority of exegetes hold, instead, that Jesus' choice of only men for the Twelve was determined by the nature of their symbolic role as "patriarchs" of restored Israel." From a Document on the Question of Women Priests, endorsed by the Catholic Theological Society of America on 6 June 1997 .

Read also: “The twelve apostles were men - -” by Ida Raming, Orientierung 56 (1992) pp. 143-146.

John Wijngaards




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

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