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A woman, as much as any man, can represent Christ's love, the essence of his priesthood

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'

A woman, as much as any man, can represent Christ’s love, the essence of his priesthood

By stressing the male sex as such an essential characteristic of the priesthood, is Rome not undervaluing the priesthood of Christ? What are the features described by Scripture itself as pre-eminent in signifying Christ's presence? If we go by the qualifications seen in Jesus, the high priest, we find the following to be of paramount importance in his priesthood:

  • to be called by God (Heb 5, 4);
  • having suffered himself, to be able to help those who are tempted (Heb 5, 1-2);
  • to be able to sympathise with people's weaknesses (Heb 4, 14-16); and
  • to be able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward (Heb 5, 1-10).

This is quite different from requiring that he be a (male!) descendant of Aaron. It is indeed a new priesthood ruled by its own law (Heb 7, 11-12).

Listening to Christ himself we hear him stress love as the sign he requires.

  • By laying down his life for his friends, Christ proved his love (John 15, 12-13).
  • It is by such love that the true shepherd is distinguished from the hireling (John 10, 11-15).
  • Readiness to serve, not the power to dominate, makes one to be like Christ (Matthew 20, 24-28).
  • Not in presiding at table alone but in washing people's feet is the Master recognised (John 13, 12-16).

One should note that we are not dealing here with love as a mere moral requirement but with an element that has sign value. 'By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples' (John 13, 35). Although elsewhere Christ spoke of love as a commandment, he is here addressing the apostles on the very occasion he is ordaining them as his priests. His 'Do this in memory of Me' presupposes pastoral love as the special sign by which his disciples should be recognised. It is such love he demands from Peter before entrusting him with the apostolic commission (John 21, 15-17).

Such considerations do not directly prove that women could be ordained priests. They demonstrate, however, that Scripture itself lays stress on values such as sympathy, service and love rather than on accidentals like being a man, even on the level of the sacramental sign.

Would we not be nearer to Christ's mind when we stipulate that a woman filled with the spirit of Christ's pastoral love is a more 'fitting' image of his presence than a man who were to lack such love?

“ It must be apparent that there are quite a number of facts about Jesus. To be sure, he was male. He also had a certain complexion and a certain stature. He was Jewish. He belonged to a certain economic class. He was of a certain blood-type. Are we then to suppose that each of these characteristics must be ‘imaged’ in every presbyter or bishop whom the Church ordains? Presumably not. In that case, however, there must be some reason why one (or more) of these characteristics of Jesus is essential in a minister, and the others, not. The mere fact that Jesus was a male settles nothing. The question - to repeat it -is that of the significance of this or that characteristic of Jesus . . .”

“Questions of significance, however, must be answered within a specified frame of reference. One must ask, ‘Significance for what?’ And this is the point at which the crucial issue arises. When the Church speaks - in proclamation, in praise, in theology - about Jesus, what in fact is the focal concern which defines its interest in him? With reference to what question do statements about Jesus appear as relevant or irrelevant, significant or unimportant? Now the answer to this query seems clear enough. Indeed, by implication at least, it has already been given in this paper. The Church is interested in Jesus as the Christ - christologically. It is interested in him as the one in whom the right relation of humanity to God is, by God’s initiative, effected. To put the matter simply, the Church, unlike the historian, the would-be portraitist, the biographer, or the psychiatrist, is not interested as such in Jesuology, but in Christology, in Jesus as the bearer of God’s salvation. When, therefore, the question of the significance of Jesus’ maleness arises, ‘significance’ means ‘importance in and for the salvific work of God in Christ’. ”

R.A.Norris, ‘The Ordination of Women and the Maleness of the Christ’, in Feminine in the Church, ed. by Monica Furlong, SPCK, London 1984, pp. 71-85; here p. 75.

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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