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Paul's Attitude to Women

Paul's Attitude to Women


(Italics in the text by John Wijngaards)

Arms of John Paul II

15. When they (the Apostles) and Paul went beyond the confines of the Jewish world, the preaching of the Gospel and the Christian life in the Greco-Roman civilization impelled them to break with Mosaic practices, sometimes regretfully. They could therefore have envisaged conferring ordination on women, if they had not been convinced of their duty of fidelity to the Lord on this point. In the Hellenistic world, the cult of a number of pagan divinities was entrusted to priestesses. In fact the Greeks did not share the ideas of the Jews: although their philosophers taught the inferiority of women, historians nevertheless emphazise the existence of a certain movement for the advancement of women during the Imperial period. In fact we know from the book of Acts and from the Letters of St Paul that certain women worked with the Apostle for the Gospel (cf. Rom. 16:3-12; Phil. 4:3). Saint Paul lists their names with gratitude in the final salutations of the Letters. Some of them often exercised an important influence on conversions: Priscilla, Lydia and others; especially Priscilla, who took it on herself to complete the instruction of Apollos (cf. Acts 18:26), Phoebe, in the service of the Church of Cenchreae (cf. Rom. 16:1). All these facts manifest within the Apostolic Church a considerable evolution vis-a-vis the customs of Judaism. Nevertheless at no time was there a question of conferring ordination on these women.

16. ln the Pauline Letters, exegetes of authority have noted a difference between two formulas used by the Apostle: he writes indiscriminately ‘My fellow workers’ (Rom. 16:3; Phil. 4:2-3) when referring to men and women helping him in his apostolate in one way or another, but he reserves the title 'God’s fellow workers’ (1 Cor. 3:9; cf. 1 Thess. 3:2) to Apollos, Timothy and himself, thus designated because they are directly set apart for the apostolic ministry and the preaching of the Word of God. In spite of the so important role played by women on the day of the Resurrection, their collaboration was not extended by Saint Paul to the official and public proclamation of the message, since this proclamation belongs exclusively to the apostolic mission.

For the full text, see: INTER INSIGNIORES.

From the Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter Insigniores:

Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

54. It is true that the Jewish mentality did not accord great value to the witness of women, as is shown by Jewish law. But one must also note that the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul stress the role of women in evangelization and in instructing individual converts.

55. The apostles were led to take a revolutionary decision when they had to go beyond the circle of a Jewish community and undertake the evangelization of the Gentiles. The break with Mosaic observances was not made without discord. Paul had no scruples about choosing one of his collaborators, Titus, from among the Gentile converts (Gal. 2:3).

56. The most spectacular expression of the change which the good news made on the mentality of the first Christians is to be found precisely in the Letter of the Galatians: ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3 :27-28).

57. In spite of this, the apostles did not entrust to women the strictly apostolic ministry, although Hellenistic civilization did not have the same prejudices against them as did Judaism. It is rather a ministry which is of another order, as may perhaps also be gathered from Paul’s vocabulary, in which a difference seems to be implied between ‘my fellow workers’ (synergoi mou) and ‘God’s fellow workers (Theou synergoi).(41)

Note 41. I. De La Potterie, Titres missionnaires du chrétien dans le Nouveau Testament (Rapports de la XXXIème semaine de Missiologie, Louvain, 1966). Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1966, p.29-46, cf. pp.44-45.

58. It must be repeated that the texts of the New Testament, even on such points as the sacraments, do not always give all the light that one would wish to find in them. Unless the value of unwritten traditions is admitted, it is sometimes difficult to discover in scripture entirely explicit indications of Christ’s will. But in view of the attitude of Jesus and the practice of the apostles as seen in the gospels, the acts and the letters, the Church has not held that she is authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.

see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.

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