Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
Tradition and Women's Ministries

Tradition and Women's Ministries


(The hyper-linked comments in italics are by John Wijngaards)

Arms of John Paul II

15. When they and Paul went beyond the confines of the Jewish world, the preaching of the Gospel and the Christian life in the Greco-Roman civilization impelled them to break with Mosaic practices, sometimes regretfully. They could therefore have envisaged conferring ordination on women [Do Paul's letters not show that social and cultural prejudides remained a reality in the Christian communities?], if they had not been convinced of their duty of fidelity to the Lord on this point [Was it nor rather that the Apostles, like Christ, could not immediately break with social custom?]. In the Hellenistic world, the cult of a number of pagan divinities was entrusted to priestesses. In fact the Greeks did not share the ideas of the Jews: although their philosophers taught the inferiority of women [Was this not an ‘inferiority by nature’?] , historians nevertheless emphazise the existence of a certain movement for the advancement of women during the Imperial period [Did the Roman laws that excluded women from all authority not remain in force?]. In fact we know from the book of Acts and from the Letters of St Paul that certain women worked with the Apostle for the Gospel (cf. Rom. 16:3-12; Phil. 4:3). Saint Paul lists their names with gratitude in the final salutations of the Letters. Some of them often exercised an important influence on conversions: Priscilla, Lydia and others; especially Priscilla, who took it on herself to complete the instruction of Apollos (cf. Acts 18:26), Phoebe, in the service of the Church of Cenchreae (cf. Rom. 161). All these facts manifest within the Apostolic Church a considerable evolution vis-a-vis the customs of Judaism. Nevertheless at no time was there a question of conferring ordination on these women [But did this involvement of women in the ministry not lead to their being sacramentally ordained as deacons?].

16. In the Pauline Letters, exegetes of authority have noted a difference between two formulas used by the Apostle: he writes indiscriminately ‘My fellow workers’ (Rom. 16:3; Phil. 4:2-3) when referring to men and women helping him in his apostolate in one way or another, but he reserves the title 'God’s fellow workers’ (1 Cor. 3:9; cf. 1 Thess. 3:2) to Apollos Timothy and, himself, thus designated because they are directly set apart for the apostolic ministry and the preaching of the Word of God. [Does this distinction really hold up scrutiny?] In spite of the so important role played by women on the day of the Resurrection, their collaboration was not extended by Saint Paul to the official and public proclamation of the message, since this proclamation belongs exclusively to the apostolic mission. [But what about the tradition that women did proclaim the message with the Apostles?]

For the full text, see: INTER INSIGNIORES.

From the Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter Insigniores:

Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

38. In some writers of the Middle Ages however there was a certain hesitancy, reported by St Bonaventure without adopting it himself (37) and noted also by Joannes Teutonicus in his gloss on Caus. 27, q. 1, c. 23,(38) This hesitancy stemmed from the knowledge that in the past there had been deaconesses: had they received true sacramental ordination? [Did this hesitancy not also stem from the realisation that only baptism is required for the valid reception of Holy Orders?] This problem (of deaconesses) has been brought up again very recently..

Note 37. St Bonaventure, In IV Sent., Dist. 25, art. 2, q. 1, ed. Quaracchi, t. 4, p.650: Omnes consentiant quod promoveri non debent, sed utrum possint, dubium est (the doubt arises from the case of the deaconesses); he concludes: secundum saniorem opinionem et prudentiorum doctorum non solum non debent vel non possunt de jure, verum etiam non possnt de facto.

Note 38. This canon deals with deaconesses. At the word ordinari, Johannes Teutonicus states: respondeo quod mulieres non recipient characterem, impediente sexu et constitutione Ecclesiae: unde nec officium ordinum exercere possunt . . . nec ord inatur haec: sed fundebatur super eam forte aliqua benedictio, ex qua consequebatur aliquod officium speciale, forte legendo homilias vel evangelium ad matutinas quod non licebat aliis. Alii dicunt quod si monialis ordinetur, bene recipit characterem, quia ordinari facti est et post baptismum quilibet potest ordinare.

39. It was by no means unknown to the seventeenth and eighteenth century theologians, who had an excellent knowledge of the history of literature. [Did they not simply exclude the sacramentality of the women’s diaconate on the principle of their presumed incapability for Holy Orders?] In any case, it is a question that must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas [Do the facts not show that the deaconesses received a valid ordination?] ; hence the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that it should be kept for the future and not touched upon in the present document [Why would the question not be relevant? If women did receive the sacramental diaconate, are they not thereby proved capable of receiving Holy Orders?]

57. In spite of this, the apostles did not entrust to women the strictly apostolic ministry, although Hellenistic civilization did not have the same prejudices against them as did Judaism. [Were the prejudices in Hellenistic society, both on account of Greek thinking and Roman law, not as bad as in Judaism?] It is rather a ministry which is of another order, as may perhaps also be gathered from Paul’s vocabulary, in which a difference seems to be implied between ‘my fellow workers’ (synergoi mou) and ‘God’s fellow workers (Theou synergoi).(41) [Can such a difference really be demonstrated from the scriptural text?]

Note 41. I. De La Potterie, Titres missionnaires du chrétien dans le Nouveau Testament (Rapports de la XXXIème semaine de Missiologie, Louvain, 1966). Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1966, p.29-46, cf. pp.44-45.

71. It has likewise been remarked that in the course of time the Church has agreed to confer on women certain truly ministerial functions that antiquity refused to give them in the very name of the example and will of Christ. [But did the early Church not admit women deacons to the sacrament of the diaconate?] The functions spoken of are above all the administration of baptism, teaching and certain forms of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. [Did women deacons not baptise, teach and have pastoral responsibilities, just like their male colleagues? and Did the exclusion from these functions in later time not derive directly from the three-fold prejudice against women?]

72. As regards baptism, however, not even deaconesses in the Syriac-speaking East were permitted to administer it [Does the Didascalia not indicate that women deacons did not only anoint but perform the actual immersion at baptism?], and its solemn administration is still a hierarchical act reserved to bishop, priest and, in accessory fashion, deacon. When urgently required, baptism can be conferred not only by Christians but even by unbaptized people whether men or women

73. Its validity therefore does not require the baptismal character still less that of ordination. This point is affirmed by practice and by theologians. It is an example of this necessary discernment in the Church’s teaching and practice, a discernment whose only guarantee is the Church herself.

74. As regards teaching, a classical distinction has to be made, from Paul’s letter onwards. [Is the prohibition of women teaching in Church not based on a misreading of 1 Timothy 2,11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14,34-35? and Was this misreading not perpetuated through a faulty argument in the Church Orders?] There are forms of teaching or edification that key people can carry out and in this case St Paul expressly mentions women. These forms include the charisma of ‘prophecy’ (1 Cor. 11:15).

75. In this sense there was no obstacle to giving the title of doctor to Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena, as it was given to illustrious teachers such as Albert the Great or St Laurence of Brindisi. Quite a different matter is the official and hierarchical function of teaching the revealed message, a function that presupposes the mission received from Christ by the apostles and transmitted by them to their successors. [Was and is the exclusion from this form of teaching not based on the presumed inferiority of women, still enshrined in Church law?]

76. Examples of participation by women in ecclesiastical jurisdiction are found in the Middle Ages: some abbesses (not abbesses in general, as is sometimes said in popularizing articles) performed acts normally reserved to bishops, such as the nomination of parish priests or confessors. These customs have been more or less reproved by the Holy See at different periods: the letter of Pope Innocent III quoted earlier was intended as a reprimand to the Abbess of Las Heulgas.

77. But we must not forget that feudal lords arrogated to themselves similar rights. Canonists also admitted the possibility of separating jurisdiction from order. The Second Vatican Council has tried to determine better the relationship between the two; the Council’s doctrinal vision will doubtless have effects on discipline.

For the full text, see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.

Please, credit this document
as published by www.womenpriests.org!

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.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.