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Women too bear Christ's image as adopted children of God

Image of Christ

Women too bear Christ's image Women reflect Christ's feminine traits Women too can act as another Christ Women too represent Christ's love Women are equal 'in Christ'

Women too bear Christ's image as adopted children of God

Women too share in the human nature Christ assumed at the Incarnation

Rome attributes special theological meaning to Christ having been incarnated as a man, as a male person.

“ Christ is of course the firstborn of all humanity, of women as well as men . . . . Nevertheless, the incarnation of the Word took place according to the male sex: this is indeed a question of fact, and this fact, while not implying an alleged natural superiority of man over woman, cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation: it is, indeed, in harmony with the entirety of God’s plan as God himself has revealed it, and of which the mystery of the Covenant is the nucleus.” Inter Insigniores § 28

This is a dangerous statement from a theological point of view as Elizabeth Johnson has pointed out. The crucial role of Jesus's maleness in Rome's argument places the notion of representation in the heart of the Incarnation itself. However, this has consequences according to the Church's orthodox Christological tradition .

The Cappadocian rule of faith "what is not assumed [into Christ's humanity] is not saved" defined the proper understanding of the human persona in the fourth-century controversy on the humanity of Christ. Any notion of the humanity of Christ that excluded anything essentially human from his existence was judged an inadequate notion according to this rule, since the excluded human dimension would not share in the hypostatic union and so not enjoy the union's saving effects. "If maleness is constitutive for the incarnation and redemption," Johnson observes, "female humanity is not assumed and therefore not saved."

Giving Jesus' maleness a privileged status as Inter insigniores does, particularizes the human notion of persona in a way that puts it at odds with the ancient rule of faith, thus destroying both the Christian notion of human person implicit in the rule and any possibility of its legitimate representation, even and perhaps especially if the object of representation is the person of Christ. “An egalitarian anthropology that holds that women and men are equally created in the image of God, and are equally one in Christ through the waters of baptism offers a more adequate resource for considering the issue of priestly ordination.”

Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Crossroad, New York 1992, p. 153.

Women can ‘image’ Christ because they share the same human nature

Most Catholics instinctively feel that the notion: ‘only a male priest can represent Christ’ offends against women's shared humanity with Christ, leave alone their sharing in his spiritual life.

“When the pope writes [in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis] that he also embraces the "other theological arguments" of Inter insigniores, it is unclear whether he means to include the assertion in Inter insigniores that women are not and cannot be ‘in persona Christi’: since women cannot bear a natural (sexual) resemblance to Jesus Christ, women cannot be a sacramental sign of Christ. I have written elsewhere of my suspicion that the authors of Inter insigniores might wish they had never made this argument, since it is patently inconsistent with the church's own sacramental theology and prior tradition . It is also the argument that has generated the greatest amount of pain, frustration, and cognitive dissonance for so many Catholics. My undergraduate students, hearing this argument after spending three months learning about the riches of the doctrine of the Trinity for theological anthropology, were dumbstruck and deeply dismayed. Given the deliberate continuity of the pope's apostolic letter with Inter insigniores, does the Vatican intend to claim still that women are not in persona Christi? If not, this would be a very significant correction to Inter insigniores and should be made explicit. But if so, then the Vatican is still declaring that it is God's will for women that women may never sacramentalize Christ, never represent Christ, never stand in the person of Christ, at the Eucharist!”

Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ‘Women's ordination’, Commonweal 121 (July 15 '94) p. 10-13. LaCugna is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and author of God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (HarperCollins, 1991).

“This declaration has clearly lost sight of the crucial theological question, that is whether the minister's resemblance to Christ resembles one's sexuality, or one's humanity. Obviously when this declaration was made no reference was made to Galatians Ch.3, nor to the fact that the minister's resemblance to Christ resides in one's humanity and not in one's sexual gender as the basic requirement for being a minister of the Church.”

Yuri Koszarycz , ‘Ethics and Feminism’.

“ Is Inter insigniores saying that having women at the altar would be the equivalent of using pizza instead of bread, or Coke instead of wine? Are we being told that the sign-value would be defective because women are of a fundamentally different nature than men, and therefore of Christ? Are we to understand that a woman cannot resemble Christ sufficiently for the faithful to see Christ in her, for her to become a sacrament of Christ? Surely that is not what is being suggested. I say surely, because any denial of the power of Christ through his passion, death, and Resurrection to transform a believer into his image is irreconcilable with the Tradition . What would be the reaction if one said that a particular race or nationality could not adequately image Christ? And yet in another age and among certain groups, this too would have been acceptable. The sacramentality of the priesthood cannot demand a male presence in the same way that the celebration of the Eucharist requires the elements of bread and wine. Christ is the destination and ultimate identity of each human being, and all are called to be remade in his image. Thus women are not called to be lesser images of Christ than are men.”

Rose Hoover, ‘Consider tradition. The case for women's ordination’, Commonweal 126 no 2 (Jan. 29, 1999), p. 17-20. Hoover is on the retreat staff of the Cenacle in Metairie, Louisiana.

To insist on Christ's sex in his representation, is to reduce a symbol to a stereotype

This has been explained very well by Thomas More Newbold.

“The ‘natural resemblance’ of a ‘natural symbol’ does not require that the symbolic person or function or object be a literal copy of the person, function or object symbolized. As Jung has pointed out, the symbolic manifestation or expression of an archetype loses both vigor and viability, meaning and vitality if it becomes a stereotype. To understand the ‘natural resemblance’ of ‘natural symbol’ in this reduced sense would impoverish its meaning and threaten its viability, making it a stereotype that fails to represent the full range of both meaning and possibility. Thus, it is certainly a fact, as the Declaration asserts, that Christ the Lord, in His male Personhood, is the archetypal symbol of priesthood; but to conclude that this fact requires an exclusively male priesthood is stereotypical reductionism when considered in the context of the symbolism of human sexuality and personhood.”

“Before all else, a man is a male PERSON and a woman is a female PERSON. This means that both men and women have always in common that capacity for full humanness and for the full range of symbolic action and function that the primacy of personhood involves. The value and validity of the symbolic approach to human sexuality lies precisely in this: that it never denies the anatomical destiny of being male and female, but at the same time it never loses sight of the primacy and meaning of PERSONHOOD in both men and women. To cherish that value and respect that validity require, therefore, that the symbolism of sexuality be applied to ministerial status and functions, not within the limited sexual-anatomical perspective but within the larger and more adequate context of the personal.

Thomas Newbold, ‘Symbolism of Sexuality: Person, Ministry and Women Priests’, in Women and Priesthood. Future Directions, Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1978, pp. 133-141; here pp. 138-139.


John Wijngaards




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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