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A saint in favour of women priests

A saint in favour of women priests

Translation: Spanish to English of PÁGINA ABIERTA:
Una santa a favor del sacerdocio de la mujer. Oct. – Dec. 06.

From Edith Stein's book: “Woman and her role according to her own nature and God’s grace
- La mujer. Su papel según la naturaleza y la gracia
Published by (Madrid, Palabra, 1998, pages 76 – 80),
as quoted in “E. Stein, “Essential writings” - Escritos esenciales
Published by Stantander, Sal Terrae, 2003, pages 149 – 153.

Edith Stein, of Jewish origin, who was celled Teresa Benedicta de la Cruz after entering the Carmel in 1931, was born in Wroclaw in 1891(a Polish town annexed to Germany at the time). She became a phenomenological philosopher and was one of Husserls and Max Scheler‘s disciples. She died at Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. She was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

The following selection is not the only declaration by E. Stein on the question of the ordination of women to the Roman Catholic priesthood, but it demonstrates the care which she took to ponder this theme.

Before considering the matter of the ordination of both women and men into the service of God [priesthood], we must examine the following question. Are both men and women equally capable of, or entitled to, exercise all ministries and jobs in general, or are there ministries, professions and occupations which are exclusively for men and others for women? My answer is yes to the first option. This, considering the rainbow of differences between those women who have more masculine traits and those men who exhibit feminine traits. The most important thing is that those professions or jobs which are considered to be “masculine” should be available to women and vice versa. Both women and men can achieve the same degree of expertise at the same job.

Therefore I think it imperative that there should be no legal impediment on this matter. On the contrary, formation, advice and education should be our guide here. This will enable the person to choose a job according to his or her own natural inclinations and desires and vocation, without pre-empting it with other serious objections. In general this should / will lead to an ‘automatic’ election of job or profession, since the diversity of aptitudes and personal inclinations should lead the candidate to choose the correct employment for him or herself.

Were corporal energy is required, ‘intellective’ abstract activity [reasoning]; one finds those professions / jobs classed as “masculine” (science, mathematics, technology, architecture). On the other hand those careers assumed to be of a woman’s preserve are such as those that require will, intuition, empathy and the ability to adapt to change, care, understanding, education (understood as character building /formation) and other similar jobs. [The author here makes a detailed list of professions or jobs related to nurturing and caring and those to do with ‘human contact’ – Trans. note].

In times of extreme economic need, such as our own (1931), everyone is ready to accept any available job, for various reasons. This of course will impede a classification according to the ‘natural’ inclinations of the person concerned. In this case, it is imperative that one should be able to retain one‘s own ‘natural inclinations. Not only this, but also one should feel and consider oneself able to express them and integrate them to the job in had or the profession available. Take a woman who works as a mechanic, for instance. She should be able to express her ‘nature’ in being communicative, caring, and collaborative. In the case of a man, perhaps to show initiative and organisational skills. All this, of course, requires a high level of self knowledge and self acceptance in order to be able to offer the best of oneself. The best way to manage this is to view these situations and relationships as a gift from God. Work itself needs to be seen as a service to God, in which all the God given talents and graces are employed to his glory. This is valid for all professions and jobs, not only those which are separated as consecrated for God. Of course in the latter the above process is seen much more clearly.

Of priests and to the [members] of the religious orders it is said that they should be called (vocated) to do the job. This is to say that in those people there should have been a clear call form God.

Is there, here, a difference between man and woman? Throughout the ages both men and women have been called to the service of God. We can see in the multifarious variety of modalities and services offered by the various religious orders and by women‘s congregations. The only distinguishable difference is that sacerdotal / priestly (in a restricted sense) activity is exercised only by men.

Here we arrive at the very difficult and much disputed question of the priesthood of women.

If we consider our Lord‘s attitudes, we can see that he readily accept women as his friends and also as his disciples and nearest confidants. But to them he has not conferred the priesthood. Not even given to his mother, the queen of the apostles, who was elevated above the whole of the human race; in human perfection as well as in the fullness of grace.

The early church knows of women who discharged different jobs and occupations within it. Some were prominent preachers, others ordained deaconesses, others were consecrated to lead public worship. But the ordination of women to the priesthood, as such, is not known in the early church.

Further historical developments brought about the gradual and persistent elimination or exclusion of women in all these ministries, also the slow erosion of the juridical function within the church. All this, apparently, was done under the influence of Old Testament as well as Roman Rite practises.

The modern era signals a change due to the strong need for women in charitable work and also in the pastoral cure of souls. Women have rekindled the idea of having a consecrated ecclesial service in these areas, and of course it might happen that one fine day these ideas will be finally heard and accepted. The question to be asked is if this would be the first step toward the ordination of women to the priesthood.

[On this last matter, TN] As regarding the dogma, I think that there is no obstacle or prohibition for the church to carry out this unthinkable and farfetched proposition. If one were to look at the matter under a practical point of view, one could say that there could be many things in favour and many other things against it.



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.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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