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The tradition of not ordaining women priests was not part of the real Tradition of the Church because of continuous, massive prejudice

About valid Tradition

Scriptural Tradition Latent Tradition Dynamic Tradition Informed Tradition Valid Tradition

The ‘tradition’ of not ordaining women priests was not part of the real Tradition of the Church because of continuous, massive prejudice

‘Traditions’ are not valid, unless they are scriptural, i.e. based on a correct understanding of Sacred Scripture, and unless they are informed, i.e. not mistaken regarding key aspects of the issue in question.

The practice of not ordaining women in the Church was not a true and valid Tradition because it rested on a three-fold prejudice against women:

  1. Women were considered inferior by nature and by law.
    According to the Greek philosophy which was adopted also by Christians, women were thought to be inferior to men by nature.
    Roman law, which became the basis for the Church's laws, granted women a low status in society. Women did not enjoy equal rights in their homes and in civic society.
    Some Christian leaders linked women's presumed inferior status to scriptural texts: only the man, they said, was created in God's image; Paul forbade women to teach in church.
    It was unthinkable that such an ‘inferior creature’ could be ordained a priest.
  2. Women were considered to be in a state of punishment for sin.
    Women were held responsible for bringing original sin into the world, and for being a continuing source of seduction.
    The biblical creation stories were interpreted as having put women in a permanent state of submission to men, by way of punishment.
    It would be wholly inappropriate for such ‘sinful creatures’ to be chosen as channels of God's grace.
  3. Women were considered ritually unclean.
    A woman's monthly flow of blood was supposed to put her regularly into a state of ritual defilement.
    Church leaders were anxious that such uncleanness might defile the holiness of the church building, the sanctuary and mainly the altar.
    In a climate that increasingly looked on all aspects of sex and procreation as tainted with sin, an ‘unclean creature’ like a woman could not be entrusted with the care of God's sacred realities.

It is clear that anyone who is under the influence of one of these prejudices, leave alone a combination of them, could not possibly entertain the idea of women's ordination! Women were thought to have been ruled out from the ministry of the priesthood by definition, simply by the fact of being a woman, that is : an inferior, low-status, unclean, dependent and sinful member of the human race!

Spread

The prejudices we enumerated above were deeply engrained in the thinking of the Church in past centuries, from the time of St. Paul to our own day.

They are found, in varying combinations, in all the major sources of socalled Church ‘tradition’:

From all this it follows that the socalled ‘tradition’ against the ordination of women is invalid. Because:

  • The reasons for the socalled ‘tradition’ were inspired by social and cultural misunderstandings. This ‘tradition’ was not informed.
  • The scriptural texts used to support the prejudices rested on misinterpretations of the inspired meaning. The ‘tradition’ of not-ordaining women also fails because it was not scriptural.

Yes, there has been an almost universal and constant practice of refusing ordination to women, but this cannot be maintained to be a valid theological source for Christian doctrine and belief.

A word about ‘prejudice’

In most human societies, men have dominated women, socially and politically. Women are still the underdogs in many countries. Prejudices are perpetuated by social ‘myths’, and by cultural practices and political structures.

Though there may be a genetic basis for some gender roles, the origin of male predominance should be sought in historical developments. The popular perceptions and cultural practices that accompany male predominance are undershored by a powerful social "myth". The "myth" of male predominance can be documented even today.

Prejudices are an important tool through which social "myths" and perceptions are sustained. The characteristic features of social prejudice have now been extensively studied. They apply very much to the age-old attitudes regarding women found in the Church.

Read also: The crumbling of the institutional Church prejudice against women


John Wijngaards



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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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