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Fortinbras Armstrong

Fortinbras Armstrong's Journal
Fortinbras Armstrong's Journal
October 16, 2012

I am extremely familiar with the Vatican's arguments against the ordination of women,

and believe that they are a load of dingo's kidneys.

You should know that the document John Paul II relied on was Inter Insigniores, a position paper on women's ordination put out by the Vatican in 1976. Had one of my students given me this, I would have sent it back with comments about shoddy reasoning.

Here is the first paragraph of Inter Insigniores

The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: This innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unnacceptable in the Church. It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavourable to woman, but nevertheless, it should be noted that these prejudices had hardly any influences on their pastoral activity, and still less on their spiritual direction. But over and above these considerations inspired by the spirit of the times, one finds expressed -- especially in the canonical documents of the Antiochan and Egyptian traditions -- this essential reason, namely, that by calling only men to the priestly Order and ministry in its true sense, the Church intends to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the Apostles. If the examples cited by in this document as the testimony of the Church Fathers are at all representative of what tradition has to offer, one must acknowledge that their testimony offers meager support for the claim that the tradition of not ordaining women was motivated primarily by the Church's intention to remain faithful to the will of Christ.

For example, Inter Insignores quotes an early Church document, the Didascalia (circa 225):

For it is not to teach that you women ... are appointed.... For he, God the Lord, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us, the Twelve, out to teach the [chosen] people and the pagans. But there were female disciples among us: Mary of Magdala, Mary the daughter of Jacob, and the other Mary; he did not, however, send them out with us to teach the people. For, if it had been necessary that women should teach, then our Teacher would have directed them to instruct along with us.

(Note that the author of the Didiscalia is speaking as if he were one of the Twelve.) However, Inter Insigniores neglects to quote the portion immediately following:

That a woman should baptise, or that one should be baptised by a woman, we do not counsel, for it is a transgression of the commandment, and a great peril to her who baptises and to him who is baptised. For if it were lawful to be baptised by a woman, our Lord and teacher himself would have been baptised by Mary his mother, whereas He was baptised by John, like others of the people. Do not therefore imperil yourselves, brethren and sisters, by acting beside the law of the gospel.

We need only to observe that today one does not regard women as incapable of teaching or baptising. Since we do not admit this inability, we cannot argue from the Didiscalia for evidence against the ability of women to receive priestly ordination.

Incidentally, the statement "It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavourable to woman, but nevertheless, it should be noted that these prejudices had hardly any influences on their pastoral activity, and still less on their spiritual direction" fascinates me. What this seems to say is that the way one thinks does not affect how one acts? If they means this argument seriously, then this is the finest piece of rationalisation since I heard my six-year-old son arguing why he should be allowed to go see Mad Max. This is nonsensical. Moreover, it is untrue.

What is happening here is that the Vatican is (a) admitting that the Fathers were prejudiced and (ii) attempting to deny that this prejudice actually means anything. To take a parallel case, many of the Fathers were also prejudiced against Jews -- John Chyrsostom and Cyril of Alexandria are particularly egregious offenders here -- and it certainly did affect their "pastoral activity", as both Chyrsostom and Cyril issued diatribes against the Jews and drove them from their respective sees of Constantinople and Alexandria.

What I suspect that what the author of Inter Insigniores had in mind was things like Jerome's letters to various women which are filled with concern and advice (note that I do not say good advice, but that is another topic for another time), despite Jerome's often-expressed distain for women in general.

No, the prejudices of of the Fathers certainly did affect their teaching, because they believed that women were, by nature, inferior to men. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologia Supplement, question 39 article 1 considers the question, "Whether the female sex is an impediment to receiving Orders?". He says that it is, for two reasons. The first is that women are inferior to men ("since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Orders&quot . The Vatican has officially repudiated this argument.

The second reason is:

Further, the crown is required previous to receiving Orders, albeit not for the validity of the sacrament. But the crown or tonsure is not befitting to women according to 1 Cor. 11. Neither therefore is the receiving of Orders.

Now, he admits that "the crown" -- by which he means the tonsure (a ritual shaving of the head) -- is not required for the validity of the sacrament. Indeed, the tonsure is not performed nowadays. Thus, this reason, which was shaky in Aquinas' day, no longer is a real objection. Therefore, the reasons given by one of the foremost theologians vanish into air, into thin air.

Inter Insigniores now tries something sneaky. It says:

The Church's tradition in the matter has thus been so firm in the course of the centuries that the Magisterium has not felt the need to intervene in order to formulate a principle which was not attacked, or to defend a law which was not challenged.

And why was this not challenged? Because everyone "knew" that women were unfit for ordination, because of their inferiority to men. Thus, as I said, the Catholic Church now teaches that women should no longer be seen as inferior to men, while still basing its argument against the ordination of women on that inferiority. This goes beyond shoddy all the way to dishonest.

For another example, which involves bad theology, one of the arguments made is that the priest must "image Christ", and since Christ was a man, then the priest must be a man. Inter Insigniores says

The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: the priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognise with ease. The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted on the human psychology: 'Sacramental signs,' says St.Thomas,' represent what they signify by natural resemblance.' The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ's role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this 'natural resemblance' which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.

Do they really think that the congregation is so stupid that they could not see Christ in a woman priest? Indeed, I daresay that the congregation would find it far more difficult to see Christ in a pedophile.

Second, and more importantly, they are bringing up a disturbing question: If women cannot represent Christ, then how can Christ represent women?

About 1800 years ago, there was a discussion about whether or not Christ was truly human. (If anyone wants me to, I can post on this discussion.) It was determined that Christ is truly human, and the principal argument was advanced by Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote Quod non assumpsit, non redemit -- "That which is not assumed is not redeemed". In other words, if Christ were not truly human, he could not have redeemed humanity. This has been the officially orthodox Christian belief ever since the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

But if Christ is only male, then he cannot have redeemed women. This is completely unacceptable to any Christian. Thus, the Vatican's statement that only men can bear a true image of Christ makes no sense theologically.

Simply put, the official arguments against the ordination of women, as put forth by the Catholic establishment, are crap.

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Suburban Chicago
Home country: UK
Current location: Suburban Chicago
Member since: Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:54 AM
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About Fortinbras Armstrong

Retired computer security expert/programmer. Married for 40 years, three sons, two dogs. Interested in history, music, religion -- mostly Catholic -- and cooking. MA in History of Religion (Harvard) and MS in Computer Science (U of Wisconsin).
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