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Priesteramt der Frau. Geschenk Gottes für eine erneuerte Kirche

Review of
Priesteramt der Frau
Geschenk Gottes für eine erneuerte Kirche

by Ida Raming, Lit Verlag Münster 2002. ISBN 3-8258-5579-1.

This very welcome book is an updated and enlarged edition of Ida Raming’s classic work: “Der Ausschluß der Frau vom priesterlichen Amt, Böhlau Verlag, Köln 1973.” For those who are not familiar with the original work, here is, first of all, a brief summary of its valuable contribution.

Raming’s original book presents a very thorough research on the ordination of women as it occurred in the Decree of Gratian and other, early, Church law books. The detail of research provided here has not been equalled since its original publication in 1973. Raming carefully documents all the passages in the ancient “Corpus Iuris Canonici” that dealt with the position of women in the Church. She describes how each of the passages was formulated in the Decree of Gratian and analyses the sources in earlier Church documents on which Gratian relied. In each single case, full references are provided to both the original publications of the ancient texts, and relevant scholarship of our own day.

Raming also examines how these passages concerning women are further treated in the early medieval commentaries on Church Law. For this she presents the work of influential early Church Lawyers such as Paucapalea, Rolandus Bandinelli, Stephen of Tours, John Faventinus and 15 others. The book presents clear evidence on the origin of the hostility towards women found in Church Law from its official codification in the 12th century. The medieval scholars and Church lawyers who composed the original collection of laws, were adversely influenced by the Fathers of the Church, by negative decisions in local Church councils and, perhaps most of all, by their acceptance of the legal principles enshrined in Roman Law that ascribed a secondary status to women. Since women had very few rights either in civil society or in their homes, it was natural to assume that women could not hold any office of responsibility in the Church either. Joined to all this was a deeply rooted cultural prejudice that considered women inferior to men and that saw menstruation as a possible source of contamination by women ministers, of the sacred precincts.

Raming successfully shows how this hostile view of women, once it had been incorporated in Church Law, could not help but become a major factor in the exclusion of women from the ministries, in particular from the priesthood.

In the ‘dogmatic part’ of the original book, Raming discusses in depth the traditional reasons for excluding women from the ministries, for instance the opinion that women are not entitled to “represent Christ”. She shows that the traditional view is untenable, on account of the faulty interpretation of the scriptural passages involved, the opinions of the Fathers and the legal presumptions of the medieval canonists. She also raises the important question of whether women should not now, in the changed circumstances of our own age, be given the full rights as equal members in the body of Christ, - rights that have been denied to them unjustly through the misconceptions of Church leaders in previous centuries.

This book, as I explained before, was originally published in 1973 and it has remained a classic ever since, on account of the precious presentation of the sources and a meticulous discussion of their meaning. However, the book has now been amplified with a new bibliography, ranging from 1973 to 2001. It also has a new introduction that places the book within the context of the latest documents from Rome and the continuing debate in the Catholic Church. Raming has also added some new material in a final section. It contains a discussion of the latest arguments brought against the ordination of women by traditionalists in the Church and sketches the development of women’s consciousness in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

This book which has now appeared in German, will shortly appear also in English. It is an absolute must for anyone who studies the ordination of women from an academic point of view. For many decades the book was, unfortunately, only available in a few limited copies. Now it is in our bookshops once more. Libraries of all major seminaries, theological colleges, adult faith formation centres and houses of religious formation should acquire a copy while they are still available.

John Wijngaards

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