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
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 'Gods 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.
Commentary by the Sacred
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter
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
Pauls vocabulary, in which a difference seems to be implied between
my fellow workers (synergoi mou) and Gods 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 Christs 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.