Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, March 13, 1989

Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity

Osservatore Romano 13th March 1989, page 3

Official Introduction

The faithful called to exercise an office in the Church’s name are bound to make a profession of faith, according to the form approved by the Apostolic Sea (see Canon 833). In addition, the obligation of especial oath of fidelity concerning particular duties inherent in the office to be assumed, previously prescribed solely for bishops, has been extended to the categories mentioned in Canon 833, 5-8. Therefore it became necessary to prepare suitable texts for the purpose of updating them as regards style and contents to bring them more into line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent documents

For the formula of the profession of faith, the first part is taken in full from the preceding text in force since 1969, and containing the Nicene -Constantinopolitan Creed (see AS 59 1967, p. 1058). The second part has been modified and sub-divided in three paragraphs in order to distinguish better the type of truth and the relative assent required.

The formula of the oath of fidelity on taking up an office to be exercised in the Church’s name is intended to compliment the profession of faith. It is prescribed for the categories of the faithful listed in Canon 833,5-8. It is a new composition; in it certain variations of paragraph four and five are envisaged for its use by major superiors of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life ( see canon 833,8).

The text of the new profession of faith and the oath of fidelity come into force from the 1 March 1989.

The Profession of Faith

(This is the formula which will now need to be used in cases in which it has been prescribed by law to make the profession of faith).

‘ I,...., with firm faith believe and profess everything collectively and individually which is contained in the Symbol of Faith, namely:

I believe in the one God and almighty Father, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible, and in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who was born from the Father before all ages, God from god, Life from life, true God from true God, born not made, consubstantial with the father through whom all has been made. Who because of us human beings and of our salvation descended from heaven and was made flesh through the Holy Spirit from the virgin Mary and became a human being; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. He rose again on the third day according to the scriptures and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the father and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his reign will have no end. I also believe in the Holy Spirit the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the father and the son, who with the father and the son is adored and glorified, who has spoken to the prophets. And I believe in the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come amen.

I also believe with firm faith all those things which are contained in God’s written word or in tradition and which have been proposed by the Church in a solemn judgment, in either the ordinary or universal magisterium as Divinely revealed and to be believed.

I also firmly embrace and keep everything collectively and individually which with regard to the doctrine of faith and morals is definitively proposed by the same authority.

I also adhere with a religious obedience of will and mind the doctrines which either the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops pronounce when they exercise the authentic magisterium even though they do not intend to proclaim them in a definitive act.

The Oath of Fidelity to be taken when undertaking an Office in the name of the Church taking up this office promise to always maintain communion with the Catholic Church either in words that i will speak or in my way of acting.

With great diligence and fidelity I will fulfil the tasks which I hold the duties which I have with regard to the Church, whether it is the universal church or the particular church in which I have been called to exercise my service according to the prescripts of the law.

In the fulfilment of my task which has been committed to me in the name of the church, I will keep the deposit of faith undiminished, I will hand it on faithfully and defend them. I will avoid whatever doctrines are contrary to them.

I will follow the common discipline of the whole church and I will promote the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially of those which are contained in the code of canon law. With Christian obedience I will fulfil whatever the sacred pastors, as the authentic doctors of faith and teachers declare or which the governors of the church state and I will give faithful service to the diocesan bishops in order that the apostolic action in the name and the mandate of the Church to the exercise will be fulfilled in communion with that church.

May so God help me and his holy Gospel which I now touch with my hands.

Commentary from Dr. John Wijngaards of

Are bishops, parish priests, theologians, etc. still bound by the ‘oath of fidelity’ if they come to realise that the arguments against ordaining women are invalid?

No, they are not. In that case, the oath ceases ‘ab intrinseco’ [from within] at least with regard to the ordination of women.

Catholics who are not academically trained may fear that bishops who have promised not to promote the ordination of women as a condition of their admission to the episcopacy, will not be able to change their position once they realise that the ban against women priests is based on faulty evidence.

Bishops, priests and theologians, however, know from their study of moral theology that a promise, even if made under oath, ceases to be valid if substantial error affected their knowledge regarding the object of the promise, or if an error affected the purpose of the promise (e.g. what is good for the Church), or if the promise was made under fear, or if the object of the promise has become impossible or harmful.

The promise ceases ab intrinseco, as Thomas Aquinas taught:

'Whatever would have been an impediment to the making of a promise if it had been present, also lifts the obligation from a promise that has been made.'

Scriptum super IV libros Sententiarum dist. 38, q.1, sol. 1 ad 1; D. M. Prümmer, Manuale Theologiae Moralis, Freiburg 1936, vol. II, 'De Voto', pp. 326-348.

- John Wijngaards 

See also The Secret Examination of New Bishops

See also Version published in 1998

Code of Canon Law, 1983

Code of Canon Law, 1983

Source:The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, ed. J.A.Coriden, T.J.Green and D.E.Heintschel, London 1985; quoted here as CCLTC.

with thanks to John Wijngaards, for compilation and commentary:

Duties of the faithful regarding the magisterium

Canon 212, § 1. The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.

Canon 212, § 2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.

Canon 212, § 3. In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.

The academic freedom of theologians

Canon 218. Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the magisterium of the Church.

Only men can be installed as lectors or acolytes

Canon 230, §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications determined by decree of the conference of bishops can be installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte in accord with the prescribed liturgical rite; the conferral of these ministries, however, does not confer on these lay men a right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

Commentary from Dr. John Wijngaards of ‘Note. ‘Installation on a permanent or stable basis in these two ministries is limited to men and to those who have reached the age specified by the conference of bishops. In the United States that age is eighteen. A special liturgical rite is to be followed. Installation, however, is not an order. Episcopal orders are not required to install lay men validly in these ministries; this is to be done by the bishop or the major superior of a religious order. By installation a minister does not acquire any claim to financial support in the Church; he does not become a cleric (c. 266, §1).’ CCLTC, p. 167.

Another problem encountered since 1972 is the restriction of installation in these ministries to men. The basis for this restriction has been questioned throughout the process for revising the Code. These are truly lay ministries, are not intended as steps toward sacred orders, and the restriction to males appears an unwarranted discrimination. The limitation, however, has been retained in the canon. The difficulty in practice is that many of the functions installed lectors and acolytes are to perform have already been entrusted to women as well as men.

 Women are authorized to proclaim the readings before the gospel, and in some countries such as the United States the conference of bishops has permitted them to read from the same location inside the sanctuary where the gospel will be proclaimed. Women are authorized in many dioceses to distribute the Eucharist as extraordinary ministers. What would be the impact on the community if some who provide these ministries were to be installed but others, equally qualified and experienced, were to be denied installation merely on the basis of sex? It would seem to belie the provisions of canon 208 on the equality of the baptized.  CCLTC, p. 168.

By ‘temporary deputation’ lay persons, including women, may be readers, Mass servers, cantors, preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism and communion

Canon 230, §2. Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation; likewise all lay persons can fulfill the functions of commentator or cantor or other functions, in accord with the norm of law.

Canon 230, § 3. When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of law.

Commentary from Dr. John Wijngaards of womenpriests.orgRecognizing the practical facts and being faithful to the possibilities in Sacrosanctum Concilium 29, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (nos. 68-70) has provided for lay persons of either sex and without canonical limitation on age (although clearly they must be old enough to do the service appropriately) to supply some of the same services as installed rectors and acolytes. These additional roles are classified in the pre-Code documents as liturgical ministries; although the canon does not employ the same terminology, these services may still properly be termed “ministries.” CCLTC, p. 168.

‘The 1917 Code restricted ministry at the altar to males (CIC 813). The revised Code does not retain that canon; in virtue of canon 6, §1 it ceases as Code law. However, canon 2 specifies that liturgical law remains in effect. The provisions of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (no. 70) permit women to be appointed to ministries performed outside the sanctuary. They may also be permitted to perform some that are carried on inside the sanctuary; proclaiming the readings before the gospel is explicitly mentioned (no. 70) and distribution of the Eucharist is referred to, implicitly admitting women to the sanctuary (no. 68). Although a subsequent instruction indicated that women are not allowed to serve as altar servers, the Code no longer states this prohibition and the force of this later instruction ceases. The provisions of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal need to be interpreted in keeping with conditions of particular churches.’ CCLTC, p. 168.

The extent of infallibility in the magisterium

Canon 749, § 1. The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, possesses infallible teaching authority when, a supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, whose task is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith and morals is to be held as such.

Canon 749, § 2. The college of bishops also possesses infallible teaching authority when the bishops exercise their teaching office gathered together in an ecumenical council when, as teachers and judges of faith and morals, they declare that for the universal Church a doctrine of faith and morals must be definitively held; they also exercise it scattered throughout the world but united in a bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter when together with that same Roman Pontiff in their capacity as authentic teachers of faith and morals they agree on an opinion to be held as definitive.

Canon 749, § 3. No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.

Levels of Response to the Magisterium

Canon 750. All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith; it is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths.

Canon 752. A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.

The Teaching Authority of the Bishops

Canon 753. Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul.

Only Men Can Receive Holy Orders

Canon 1024. Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination.

Commentary from Dr. John Wijngaards of womenpriests.orgThe question can be raised whether discrimination based on sex is justified within the Church both because of the scriptural warrant and because of the need for the Church to be consistent in practising what it preaches if it is to be credible in its social magisterium.’

An earlier version of the listing of rights included a canon based on Gaudium et Spes stating that the obligations and rights common to all Christians apply without discrimination on the basis of, among other factors, social condition or sex. This has not been retained in the final listing. There has been, however, a genuine effort in the 1983 Code to eradicate many expressions of sexual discrimination found in the former one. For example, there is no longer discrimination on the basis of sex relative to domicile (c. 104), transfer of rite (c. 112), precautions clerics are to take to protect continence (c. 277, §2), regulations concerning the confessional (c. 964) or the place of marriage (c. 1115) or burial (c. 1177). In cases of converts, polygamists and polyandrists are treated alike (c. 1148, §1). The law concerning religious applies equally to men and women unless the text or nature of the matter evidences otherwise (c. 606). The most notable exception is the regulation on papal cloister, which applies only to monasteries of nuns (c. 667,. §3). Women may serve in tribunals even as judges (c. 1421, §2), may be authorized to preach in churches (c. 766), and may be called to exercise pastoral care of local communities (c. 517, §2). ’

The major discrimination in the Code is between clergy and laity, rather than between men and women. Two exceptions are the restrictions to lay men of formal installation as lectors or acolytes (c. 230, § 1), and the impediment of abduction that can be incurred only when a man abducts a woman and not vice versa (c. 1089).

There remains, however, the exclusion of women from ordained ministry (c. 1024), and therefore from the offices, functions, and ministries that are restricted to clerics. Not all of these entail an exercise of the power of orders. For example, only the ordained are capable of exercising the power of governance in the Church (c. 129, §1), and offices that entail the exercise of that power are restricted to clerics (c. 274, §1).

This does not exclude women from creative, active roles in the Church. To implement the new way of thinking characteristic of the revised Code will take time and effort, providing ample opportunity for all in the Church to explore the full implications of the canons on equality, obligations, and rights. There is need for further theological clarification of the relation between ordained ministry and the power of governance, especially in light of the restriction regarding women being ordained. It must also be admitted, however, that the continued discrimination, even based on theological arguments, may be discouraging to many in the Church.’ CCLTC, p. 141.

Read also:

CDF Commentary on Inter Insigniores, January 27, 1977

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

Published in L'Osservatore Romano on Thursday 27 January 1977 and in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis 69 (1977) 98-116

Numbering of  paragraphs by John Wijngaards of

Circumstances and origin of the Declaration ‘Inter Insigniores’

1. The question of the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood seems to have arisen in a general way about 1958, after the decision by the Swedish Lutheran Church in September of that year to admit women to the pastoral office. This caused a sensation and occasioned numerous commentaries.(1)

2. Even for the communities stemming from the sixteenth century Reformation it was an innovation: one may recall, for example how strongly the Confessio Fidei Scotiae of 1560 accused the Roman Church of making improper concessions to women in the field of ministry.(2) But the Swedish initiative gradually gained ground among the Reformed Churches, particularly in France where various national synods adopted similar decisions.

3. In reality, the admission of women to the pastoral office seemed to raise no strictly theological problem, in that these communities had rejected the sacrament of order at the time of their separation from the Roman Church.

4. But a new and much more serious situation was created when ordinations of women were carried out within communities that considered that they preserved the Apostolic succession of order:(3) in 1971 and 1973 the Anglican bishop of Hong Kong ordained three women with the agreement of his synod;(4) in July 1974 at Philadelphia there was the ordination in the Episcopal Church of eleven women-an ordination afterwards declared invalid by the House of Bishops.

5. Later on, in June 1975, the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada, meeting in Quebec, approved the principle of the accession of women to the priesthood;(5) and this was followed in July by the General Synod of the Church of England: Dr Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, frankly informed Pope Paul VI ‘of the slow but steady growth of a consensus of opimon within the Anglican Communion that there are no fundamental objections in principle to the ordination of women to the priesthood.’

6. These are only general principles, but they might quickly be followed by practice, and this would bring a new and senous element into the dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church on the nature of the ministry.(6) It has provoked a warning, first by the archbishop for the Orthodox in Great Britain, Athenagoras of Thyateira,(7) and then, more recently, by Pope Paul Vl himself in two letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury.(8)

7. Furthermore, the ecumenical sectors brought the question to the notice of all the Christian denominations, forcing them to examine their positions of principle, especially on the occasion of the Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Nairobi in December 1975.(9)

8. A completely different event has made the question even more topical: this was the organization under United Nations’ auspices of International Women’s Year in 1975. The Holy See took part in it with a Committee for International Women’s Year, which included some members of the Commission for the Study of the Role of Women in Society and the Church, which had already been set up in 1973.

9. Ensuring respect for and fostering the respective rights and duties of men and women leads to reflection on participation by women in the life of society on the one hand, and in the life and mission of the Church on the other. Now, the Second Vatican Council has already set forth the task: ‘Since in our times women have an ever more active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various fields of the Church’s apostolate.’(10) How far can this participation go?

10. It is understandable that these questions have aroused even in Catholic quarters intense studies, indeed passionate ones: doctoral theses, articles in reviews, even pamphlets, propounding or refuting in turn the biblical, historical and canonical data and appealing to the human sciences and sociology, (11) psychology and the history of institutions and customs.

11. Certain famous people have not hesitated to take sides boldly, judging that there was ‘no basic theological objection to the possibility of women priests.(12) A number of groups have been formed with a view to upholding this claim, and they have sometimes done this with insistence, as did the conference held in Detroit (USA) in November 1975 under the title ‘Women in Future Priesthood Now: A Call for Action.’

12. The magisterium has thus been obliged to intervene in a question being posed in so lively a fashion within the Catholic Church and having important implications from the ecumenical point of view.

13. Archbishop Bernardin of Cincinnati, president of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops, declared on 7 October 1975 that he found himself ‘obliged to re-state the Church’s teaching that women are not to be ordained to the priesthood’; Church leaders, he said, should ‘not seem to encourage unreasonable hopes and expectations, even by their silence.(13)

14. Pope Paul VI himself had already recalled the same teaching. He did so at first in parenthetical fashion, especially in his address on 18 April 1975 to the members of the Study Commission on the Role of Women in Society and in the Church and the Committee for the Celebration of International Women’s Year: ‘Although women do not receive the call to the apostolate of the twelve and therefore to the ordained ministries, they are nonetheless invited to follow Christ as disciples and co-workers . . .We cannot change what our Lord did, nor his call to women.(14)

15. Later he had to make an express pronouncement in his exchange of letters with Dr Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Your Grace is of course well aware of the Catholic Church’s position on this question. She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. (15)

16. It is at his order that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has examined the question in its entirety. The question has been complicated by the fact that on the one hand arguments adduced in the past in favour of the traditional teaching are scarcely defensible today, and on the other hand the reasons given by those who demand the ordination of women must be evaluated.

17. To avoid the rather negative character that must mark the conclusion of such a study, one could have thought of inserting it into a more general presentation of the question of the advancement of women. But the time is not ripe for such a comprehensive exposition, because of the research and work in progress on all sides.

18. It was difficult to leave unanswered any longer a precise question that is being posed nearly everywhere and which is polarizing attention to the detriment of more urgent endeavours that should be fostered. In fact, apart from its nonacceptance of the ordination of women, the document points to positive matters: a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching and of the ministerial priesthood, a call to spiritual progress, an invitation to take on the urgent apostolic tasks of today.

19. The bishops, to whom the document is primarily addressed have the mission of explaining it to their people with the pastoral feeling that is theirs and with the knowledge they have of the milieu in which they exercise their ministry.

20. The declaration begins by presenting the Church's teaching on the question. This in fact has to be the point of departure. We shall see later how necessary it is to follow faithfully the method of using loci theologici.


21. It is an undeniable fact, as the declaration notes, that the constant tradition of the Catholic Church has excluded women from the episcopate and the priesthood. So constant has it been that there has been no need for an intervention by a solemn decision of the magisterium.

22. ‘The same tradition,’ the document stresses, ‘has been faithfully safeguarded by the churches of the East. Their unanimity on this point is all the more remarkable since in many other questions their discipline admits of a great diversity. At the present time these same Churches refuse to associate themselves with requests directed towards securing the accession of women to priestly ordination.’(16)

23. Only within some heretical sects of the early centuries, principally Gnostic ones, do we find attempts to have the priestly ministry exercised by women. It must be further noted that these are very sporadic occurrences and are moreover associated with rather questionable practices.

24. We know of them only through the severe disapproval with which they are noted by St Irenaeus in his Adversus Haereses, (17)Tertullian in De Praescriptione Haereticorum,(18) Firmilian of Caesarea in a letter to St Cyprian,(19) Origen in a commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians,(20) and especially by St Ephiphanius in his Penarion.(21)

25. How are we to interpret the constant and universal practice of the Church? A theologian is certain that what the Church does she can in fact do, since she has the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This is a classical argument found again and again in St Thomas with regard to the sacraments.(22)

26. But what the Church has never done-is this any proof that she cannot do it in the future? Does the negative fact thus noted

27. indicate a norm, or is it to be explained by historical and by social and cultural circumstances? In the present case, is an explanation to be found in the position of women in ancient and mediaeval society and in a certain idea of male superiority stemming from that society’s culture?

28. It is because of this transitory cultural element that some arguments adduced on this subject in the past are scarcely defensible today. The most famous is the one summarized by St Thomas Aquinas: quia mulier est in statu subiectinis.(23) In St Thomas’s thought, however, this assertion is not merely the expression of a philosophical concept, since he interprets it in the light of the accounts in the first chapters of Genesis and the teaching of the First Letter to Timothy (2:12-14).

29. A similar formula is found earlier in the Decretum of Gratian,(24) but Gratian, who was quoting the Carolingian Capitularies and the false Decretals, was trying rather to justify with Old Testament prescriptions the prohibition-already formulated by the ancient Church (25) -of women from entering the sanctuary and serving at the altar.

30. The polemical arguments of recent years have often recalled and commented on the texts that develop these arguments. They have also used them to accuse the fathers of the Church of misogyny. It is true that we find in the fathers’ writings the undeniable influence of prejudices against women. But it must be carefully noted that these passages had very little influence on their pastoral activity, still less on their spiritual direction, as we can see by glancing through their correspondence that has come down to us.

31. Above all it would be a serious mistake to think that such considerations provide the only or the most decisive reasons against the ordination of women in the thought of the fathers, of the mediaeval writers and of the theologians of the classical period. In the midst of and going beyond speculation, more and more clear expression was being given to the Church’s awareness that in reserving priestly ordination and ministry to men she was obeying a tradition received from Christ and the apostles and by which she felt herself bound.

32. This is what had been expressed in the form of an apocryphal literature by the ancient documents of Church discipline from Syria, such as the Didascalia Apostolorum (middle of the third century)(26) and the apostolic constitutions (end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century),(27) and by the Egyptian collection of twenty pseudo-apostolic canons that was included in the compilation of the Alexandrian Synods and translated into many languages. (28)

33. St John Chrysostom, for his part, when commenting on chapter twenty-one of John, understood well that women’s exclusion from the pastoral office entrusted to Peter was not based on any natural incapacity, since, as he remarks, ‘even the majority of men have been excluded by Jesus from this immense task.’(29)

34. From the moment that the teaching on the sacraments is systematically presented in the schools of theology and canon law writers begin to deal ex professo with the nature and value of the tradition that reserved ordination to men. The canonists base their case on the principle formulated by Pope Innocent III in a letter of 11 December 1210, to the bishops of Palencia and Burgos, a letter that was included in the collection of Decretals: ‘Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was of higher dignity and excellence than all the apostles, it was to them, not her, that the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’(30) This text became a locus communis for the glossatores.(31) As for the theologians, the following are some significant texts: St Bonaventure: ‘Our position is this: it is due not so much to a decision by the Church as to the fact that the sacrament of order is not for them. In this sacrament the person ordained is a sign of Christ the mediator.’(32)

35. Richard of Middleton, a Franciscan of the second half of the thirteenth century: ‘The reason is that the power of the sacraments comes from their institution. But Christ instituted this sacrament for conferral on men only, not women.’(33)

36. John Duns Scotus: ‘It must not be considered to have been determined by the Church. It comes from Christ. The Church would not have presumed to deprive the female sex, for no fault of its own, of an act that might licitly have pertained to it.’(34) Durandus of Saint-Pourcain: ‘. . . the male sex is of necessity for the sacrament. The principal cause of this is Christ’s institution. . . Christ ordained only men...not even his mother...It must therefore be held that women cannot be ordained, because of Christ’s institution.’(35)

37. So it is no surprise that until the modern period the theologians and canonists who dealt with the question have been almost unanimous in considering this exclusion as absolute and having a divine origin. The theological notes they apply to the affirmation vary from ‘theologically certain’ (theologice certa) to, at times, ‘proximate to faith’ (fidei proxima) or even ‘doctrine of the faith’(doctrina fidei).36 Apparently then, until recent decades no theologian or canonist considered that it was a matter of a simple law of the Church.

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? This problem has been brought up again very recently.

39. It was by no means unknown to the seventeenth and eighteenth century theologians, who had an excellent knowledge of the history of literature. In any case, it is a question that must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas; 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.

The attitude of Christ

40. In the light of tradition, then, it seems that the essential reason moving the Church to call only men to the sacrament of order and to the strictly priestly ministry is her intention to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the apostles. It is therefore no surprise that in the controversy there has been a careful examination of the facts and texts of the New Testament, in which tradition has seen an example establishing a norm.

41. This brings us to a fundamental observation: we must not expect the New Testament on its own to resolve in a clear fashion the question of the possibility of women acceding to the priesthood, in the same way that it does not on its own enable us to give an account of certain sacraments, and especially of the structure of the sacrament of order.

42. Keeping to the sacred text alone and to the points of the history of Christian origins that can be obtained by analysing that text by itself would be to go back four centuries and find oneself once more amid the controversies of the Reformation. We cannot omit the study of tradition: it is the Church that scrutinizes the Lord’s thought by reading scripture, and it is the Church that gives witness to the correctness of its interpretation.

43. It is tradition that has unceasingly set forth as an expression of Christ’s will the fact that he chose only men to form the group of the twelve. There is no disputing this fact, but can it be proved with absolute certainty that it was a question of a deliberate decision by Christ?

44. It is understandable that the partisans of a change in discipline bring all their efforts to bear against the significance of this fact. In particular, they object that, if Christ did not bring women into the group of the twelve, it was because the prejudices of his time did not allow him to: it would have been an imprudence that would have compromised his work irreparably.

45. However, it has to be recognized that Jesus did not shrink from other ‘imprudences’, which did in fact stir up the hostility of his fellow citizens against him, especially his freedom with regard to the rabbinical interpretations of the Sabbath. With regard to women his attitude was a complete innovation: all the commentators recognize that he went against many prejudices, and the facts that are noted add up to an impressive total.

46. For this reason greater stress is laid today on another objection: if Jesus chose only men to form the group of the twelve, it was because he intended them to be a symbol representing the ancestors of the tribes of Israel (‘You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel’: Mt. 19:28; cf. Lk. 22:30); and this specialmotive, it is added, obviously referred only to the twelve and would be no proof that the apostolic ministry should thereafter always be reserved to men. It is not a convincing argument.

47. We may note in the first place how little importance was given to this symbolism: Mark and John do not mention it. And in Matthew and Luke this phrase of Jesus about the twelve tribes of Israel is not put in the context of the call of the twelve (Mt. 1-10:1-4) but at a relatively late stage of Jesus’ public life, when the apostles have long since been given their ‘constitution’: they have been called by Jesus, have worked with him and been sent on missions.

48. Furthermore, the symbolism of Mt. 19:28 and Lk. 22:30 is not as certain as is claimed: the number could designate simply the whole of Israel. Finally, these two texts deal only with a particular aspect of the mission of the twelve: Jesus is promising them that they will take part in the eschatological judgment.(39) Therefore the essential meaning of their being chosen is not to be sought in this symbolism but in the totality of the mission given them by Jesus: ‘he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach’ (Mk 3:14).

49. As Jesus before them, the twelve were above all to preach the good news (Mk 3:14; 6:12). Their mission in Galilee (Mk 6:7-13) was to become the model of the universal mission (Mk 12:10; cf. Mt. 28:16-20). Within the messianic people the twelve represent Jesus. That is the real reason why it is fitting that the apostles should be men: they act in the name of Christ and must continue his work. It has been described above how Pope Innocent III saw a witness to Christ’s intentions in the fact that Christ did not communicate to his mother, in spite of her eminent dignity, the powers which he gave to the apostles.

50. This is one of the arguments most frequently repeated by tradition: from as early as the third century the fathers present Mary as the example of the will of Jesus in this matter.(40) It is an argument still particularly dear to Eastern Christians today. Nevertheless it is vigorously reflected by all those who plead in favour of the ordination of women.

51. Mary’s divine motherhood, the manner in which she was associated with the redeeming work of the Son they say put her in an altogether exceptional and unique position; and it would not even be fair to her to compare her with the apostles and to argue from the fact that she was not ranked among them.

52. In point of fact these assertions do have the advantage of making us understand that there are different functions within the Church: the equality of Christians is in harmony with the complementary nature of their tasks, and the sacramental ministry is not the only rank of greatness, nor is it necessarily the highest: it is a form of service of the kingdom. The Virgin Mary does not need the increase in ‘dignity’ that was once attributed to her by the authors of those speculations on the priesthood of Mary that formed a deviant tendency which was soon discredited.

The practice of the Apostles

53. The text of the declaration stresses the fact that, in spite of the privileged place Mary had in the upper room after the ascension, she was not designated for entry into the college of the twelve at the time of the election of Matthias. The same holds for Mary Magdalene and the other women who nevertheless had been the first to bring news of the resurrection.

54. It is true that the Jewish mentality did not accord great value to the witness of women, as is shown by Jewish law. But one must also note that the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul stress the role of women in evangelization and in instructing individual converts.

55. The apostles were led to take a revolutionary decision when they had to go beyond the circle of a Jewish community and undertake the evangelization of the Gentiles. The break with Mosaic observances was not made without discord. Paul had no scruples about choosing one of his collaborators, Titus, from among the Gentile converts (Gal. 2:3).

56. The most spectacular expression of the change which the good news made on the mentality of the first Christians is to be found precisely in the Letter of the Galatians: ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3 :27-28).

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. 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)

58. It must be repeated that the texts of the New Testament, even on such points as the sacraments, do not always give all the light that one would wish to find in them. Unless the value of unwritten traditions is admitted, it is sometimes difficult to discover in scripture entirely explicit indications of Christ’s will. But in view of the attitude of Jesus and the practice of the apostles as seen in the gospels, the acts and the letters, the Church has not held that she is authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.

Permanent value of this practice

59. It is the permanency of this negative decision that is objected to by those who would have the legitimacy of ordaining women admitted. These objections employ arguments of great variety.

60. The most classic ones seek a basis in historical circumstances We have already seen what is to be thought of the view that Jesus; attitude was inspired solely by prudence, because he did not want to risk compromising his work by going against social prejudices. It is claimed that the same prudence was forced upon the apostles.

61. On this point too it is clear from the history of the apostolic period that there is no foundation for this explanation. However, in the case of the apostles, should one not take into account the way in which they themselves shared these prejudices? Thus St Paul has been accused of misogyny and in his letters are found texts on the inferiority of women that are the subject of controversy among exegetes and theologians today.

62. It can be questioned whether two of Paul’s most famous texts on women are authentic or should rather be seen as interpolations, perhaps even relatively late ones. The first is 1 Cor. 14:34-35: ‘The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate as even the law says.’ these two verses, apart from being missing in some important manuscripts and not being found quoted before the end of the second century, present stylistic peculiarities foreign to Paul. The other text is 1 Tim. 2:11-14: ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over men.’The Pauline authenticity of this text is often questioned, although the arguments are weaker.

63. However, it is of little importance whether these texts are authentic or not: theologians have made abundant use of them to explain that women cannot receive either the power of magisterium or that of jurisdiction. It was especially the text of 1 Timothy that provided St Thomas with the proof that woman is in a state of submission or service, since (as the text explains) woman was created after man and was the person first responsible for original sin.

64. But there are other Pauline texts of unquestioned authenticity that affirm that ‘the head of the woman is the man’ (1 Cor. 11:3 cf. 8-12; Eph. 5:22, 24). It may be asked whether this view of man, which is in line with that of the books of the Old Testament, is not at the basis of Paul’s conviction and the Church’s tradition that women cannot receive the ministry.

65. Now this is a view that modern society rejects absolutely, and many present-day theologians would shrink from adopting it without qualifying it. We may note however that Paul does not take his stand on a philosophical level but on that of biblical history: when he describes, in relation to marriage, the symbolism of love, he does not see man’s superiority as domination but as a gift demanding sacrifice, in the image of Christ.

66. On the other hand there are prescriptions in Paul’s writings which are unanimously admitted to have been transitory, such as the obligation he imposed on women to wear a veil (1 Cor. 11:2-16). It is true that these are obviously disciplinary practices of minor importance, perhaps inspired by the customs of the time. But then there arises the more basic question: since the Church has later been able to abandon prescriptions contained in the New Testament, why should it not be the same with the exclusion of women from ordination?

67. Here we meet once again the essential principle that it is the Church herself that, in the different sectors of her life, ensures discernment between what can change and what must remain immutable. As the declaration specifies, ‘When she judges that she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows that she is bound by Christ’s manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity: it can be truly understood only in this light. The Church makes pronouncements in virtue of the Lord’s promise and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to proclaim better the mystery of Christ and to safeguard and manifest the whole of its rich content.’

68. Many of the questions confronting the Church as a result of the numerous arguments put forward in favour of the ordination of women must be considered in the light of this principle. An example is the following question dealt with by the declaration: why will the Church not change her discipline, since she is aware of having a certain power over the sacraments, even though they were instituted by Christ, in order to determine the sign or to fix the conditions for their administration? This faculty remains limited, as was recalled by Pius XII, echoing the Council of Trent: the Church has no power over the substance of the sacraments.(42) It is the Church herself that must distinguish what forms part of the ‘substance of the sacraments’ and what she can determine or modify if circumstances should so suggest.

69. On this point, furthermore, we must remember, as the declaration reminds us, that the sacraments and the Church herself are closely tied to history, since Christianity is the result of an event: the coming of the Son of God into time and to a country, and his death on the cross under Pontius Pilate outside the walls of Jerusalem. The sacraments are a memorial of saving events. For this reason their signs are linked to those very events. They are relative to one civilization, one culture, although destined to be reproduced everywhere until the end of time.

70. Hence historical choices have taken place by which the Church is bound, even if speaking absolutely and on a speculative level other choices could be imagined. This, for instance, is the case with bread and wine as matter for the eucharist, for the Mass is not just a fraternal meal but the renewal of the Lord’s supper and the memorial of his passion and thus linked with something done in history.(43)

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. The functions spoken of are above all the administration of baptism, teaching and certain forms of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

72. As regards baptism, however, not even deaconesses in the Syriac-speaking East were permitted to administer it, 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 m 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. 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.

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.

78. In a more general way, attempts are being made, specially in Anglican circles, to broaden the debate in the following way: is the Church perhaps not bound to scripture and tradition as an absolute, when the Church is a people making its pilgrim way and should listen to what the Spirit is saying? Or else a distinction is made between essential points on which unanimity is needed and auestions of discipline admitting of diversity: and if the conclusion reached is that the ordination of women belongs to these secondary matters, it would not harm progress towards the union of the Churches.

79. Here again it is the Church that decides by her practice and magisterium what requires unanimity, and distinguishes it from acceptable or desirable pluralism. The question of the ordination of women impinges too directly on the nature of the ministerial priesthood for one to agree that it should be resolved within the framework of legitimate pluralism between Churches. That is the whole meaning of the letter of Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterburv.

The ministerial priesthood in the light of the mystery of Christ

80. In the declaration a very clear distinction will be seen between the document’s affirmation of the datum (the teaching it proposes with authority in the preceding paragraphs) and the theological reflection that then follows. By this reflection the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith endeavours ‘to illustrate this norm by showing the profound fittingness’ to be found ‘between the proper nature of the sacrament of order, with its specific reference to the mystery of Christ, and the fact that only men have been called to receive priestly ordination.’

81. In itself such a quest is not without risk. However, it does not mvolve the magisterium. It is well known that in solemn teaching infallibility affects the doctrinal affirmation, not the arguments intended to explain it. Thus the doctrinal chapters of the Council of Trent contain certain processes of reasoning that today no longer seem to hold.

82. But this risk has never stopped the magisterium from endeavouring at all times to clarify doctrine by analogies of faith. Today especially, and more than ever, it is impossible to be content with making statements, with appealing to the intellectual docility of Christians: faith seeks understanding, and tries to distinguish the grounds for and the coherence of what it is taught.

83. We have already discarded a fair number of explanations given by mediaeval theologians. The defect common to these explanations is that they claimed to find their basis in an inferiority of women vis-a-vis men; they deduced from the teaching of scripture that woman was ‘in a state of submission,’of subjection and was incapable of exercising functions of government.

84. It is very enlightening to note that the communities springing from the Reformation which have had no difficulty in giving women access to the pastoral office are first and foremost those that have rejected the Catholic doctrine on the sacrament of order and profess that the pastor is only one baptized person among others, even if the charge given has been the object of a consecration.

85. The declaration therefore suggests that it is by analysing the nature of order and its character that we will find the explanation of the exclusive call of men to the priesthood and episcopate. This analysis can be outlined in three propositions: (1) in administering the sacraments that demand the character of ordination the priest does not act in his own name (in persona propria), but in the person of Christ (in persona Christi); (2) this formula, as understood by tradition, implies that the priest is a sign in the sense in which this term is understood in sacramental theology; (3) it is precisely because the priest is a sign of Christ the saviour that he must be a man and not a woman.

86. That the priest performs the eucharist and reconciles sinners in the name and place of Christ is affirmed repeatedly by the magisterium and constantly taught by fathers and theologians. It would not appear to serve any useful purpose to give a multitude of quotations to show this. It is the totality of the priestly ministry that St Paul says is exercised in the place of Christ: ‘We are acting as ambassadors on behalf of Christ, God, as it were, appealing through us’-in fact this text from 2 Corinthians has in mind the ministry of reconciliation (5: l 8-20)-’you have received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 4:14).

87. Similarly St Cyprian echoes St Paul: ‘The priest truly acts in the place of Christ.’(44) But theological reflection and the Church’s life have been led to distinguish the more or less close links between the various acts in the exercise of the ministry and the character of ordination and to specify which require this character for validity.

88. Saying ‘in the name and place of Christ’ is not however enough to express completely the nature of the bond between the minister and Christ as understood by tradition. The formula in persona Christi in fact suggests a meaning that brings it close to the Greek expression mimema Christou.(45) The word persona means a part played in the ancient theatre, a part identified by a particular mask. The priest takes the part of Christ, lending him his voice and gestures.

89. St Thomas expresses this concept exactly: The priest enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration.’(46) The priest is thus truly a sign in the sacramental sense of the word. It would be a very elementary view of the sacraments if the notion of sign were kept only for material elements.

90. Each sacrament fulfils the notion in a different way. The text of St Bonaventure already mentioned affirms this very clearly: ‘the person ordained is a sign of Christ the mediator.’(47)

91. Although St Thomas gave as the reason for excluding women the much discussed one of the state of subjection (status subjectionis), he nevertheless took as his starting point the principle that ‘sacramental signs represent what they signify by a natural resemblance,’’(48) in other words the need for that ‘natural resemblance’ between Christ and the person who is his sign. And, still on the same point, St Thomas recalls: ‘Since a sacrament is a sign, what is done in the sacrament requires not only the reality but also a sign of the reality.’(49)

92. It would not accord with ‘natural resemblance,’ with that obvious ‘meaningfulness,’ if the memorial of the supper were to be carried out by a woman; for it is not just the recitation involving the gestures and words of Christ, but an action, and the sign is efficacious because Christ is present in the minister who consecrates the eucharist, as is taught by the Second Vatican Council, following the encyclical Mediator Dei.(50)

93. It is understandable that those favouring the ordination of women have made various attempts to deny the value of this reasoning. It has obviously been impossible and even unnecessary for the declaration to consider in detail all the difficulties that could be raised in this regard. Some of them however are of interest in that they occasion a deeper theological understanding of traditional principles.

94. Let us look at the objection sometimes raised that it is ordination-the character-not maleness, that makes the priest Christ’s representative. Obviously it is the character, received by ordination, that enables the priest to consecrate the eucharist and reconcile penitents. But the character is spiritual and invisible (res et sacramentum). On the level of the sign (sacramentum tantum) the priest must both have received the laying on the hands and take the part of Christ. It is here that St Thomas and St Bonaventure require that the sign should have natural meaningfulness.

95. In various fairly recent publications attempts have been made to reduce the importance of the formula in persona Christi by insisting rather on the formula in persona Ecclesiae. For it is another great principle of the theology of the sacraments and liturgy that the priest presides over the liturgy in the name of the Church, and must have the intention of ‘doing what the Church does.’

96. Could one say that the priest does not represent Christ, because he first represents the Church by the fact of his ordination? The declaration’s reply to this objection is that, quite on the contrary, the priest represents the Church precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the head and shepherd of the Church. It indicates several texts of the Second Vatican Council that clearly express this teaching.

97. Here there may well be in fact one of the crucial points of the question, one of the important aspects of the theology of the Church and the priesthood underlying the debate on the ordination of women. When the priest presides over the assembly, it is not the assembly that has chosen or designated him for this role. The Church is not a spontaneous gathering. As its name of ecclesiaindicates, it is an assembly that is convoked. It is Christ who calls it together. He is the head of the Church, and the priest presides ‘in the person of Christ the head’ (in persona Christi capitis).

98. That is why the declaration rightly concludes ‘that the controversies raised in our days over the ordination of women are for all Christians a pressing invitation to meditate on the mystery of the Church, to study in greater detail the meaning of the episcopate and the priesthood, and to rediscover the real and pre-eminent place of the priest in the community of the baptized of which he indeed forms part but from which he is distinguished because, in the actions that call for the character of ordination for the community he is-with all the effectiveness proper to the sacraments-the image and symbol of Christ himself who calls, forgives, and accomplishes the sacrifice of the covenant.’

99. However, the objectors continue: it would indeed be important that Christ should be represented by a man if the maleness of Christ played an essential part in the economy of salvation. But, they say, one cannot accord gender a special place in the hypostatic union: what is essential is the human nature-no more assumed by the word, not the incidental characteristics such as the sex or even the race which he assumed. If the Church admits that men of all races can validly represent Christ, why should she deny women this ability to represent him?

100. We must first of all reply, in the words of the declaration, that ethnic differences ‘do not affect the human person as intimately as the difference of sex.’ On this point biblical teaching agrees with modern psychology. The difference between the sexes however is something willed by God from the beginning, according to the account in Genesis (which is also quoted in the gospel), and is directed both to communion between persons and to the begetting of human beings. And it must be affirmed first and foremost that the fact that Christ is a man and not a woman is neither incidental nor unimportant in relation to the economy of salvation.

101. In what sense? Not of course in the material sense, as has sometimes been suggested in polemics in order to discredit it, but because the whole economy of salvation has been revealed to us through essential symbols from which it cannot be separated and without which we would be unable to understand God’s design. Christ is the new Adam. God’s covenant with men is presented in the Old Testament as a nuptial mystery, the definitive reality of which is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

102. The declaration briefly presents the stages marking the progressive development of this biblical theme, the subject of many exegetical and theological studies. Christ is the bridegroom of the Church, whom he won for himself with his blood, and the salvation brought by him is the new covenant: by using this language, revelation shows why the incarnation took place according to the male gender, and makes it impossible to ignore this historical reality. For this reason, only a man can take the part of Christ, be a sign of his presence, in a word ‘represent’ him (that is, be an effective sign of his presence) in the essential acts of the covenant.

103. Could one do without this biblical symbolism when transmitting the message, in contemplating the mystery and in liturgical life? To ask this, as has been done in certain recent studies, is to call into question the whole structure of revelation and to reject the value of scripture. It will be said, for example, that ‘in every period the ecclesial community appeals to the authority it has received from its founder in order to choose the images enabling it to receive God’s revelation.’ This is perhaps to fail even more profoundly to appreciate the human value of the nuptial theme m the revelation of God’s love.

The ministerial priesthood in the mystery of the Church

104. It is also striking to note the extent to which the questions raised in the controversy over the ordination of women are bound up with a certain theology of the Church. We do not of course mean to dwell on the excessive formulas which nonetheless sometimes find a place in theological reviews. An example is the supposition that the primitive Church was based on the charisma possessed by both women and men.(51)  Another is the claim that ‘the gospels also present women as ministers of unction.’(52) On the other hand, we have already come across the question of the pluralism that can be admitted in unity and seen what its limits are.

105. The proposal that women should be admitted to the priesthood because they have gained leadership in many fields of modern life today seems to ignore the fact that the Church is not a society like the rest. In the Church, authority or power is of a very different nature, linked as it normally is with the sacrament, as is underlined in the declaration. Disregard of this fact is indeed a temptation that has threatened ecclesiological research at all periods: every time that an attempt is made to solve the Church’s problems by comparison with those of states, or to define the Church’s structure by political categories, the inevitable result is an impasse.

106. The declaration also points out the defect in the argument that seeks to base the demand that the priesthood be conferred on women on the text Galatians 3:28, which states that in Christ there is no longer any distinction between man and woman. For St Paul this is the effect of baptism. The baptismal catechesis of the fathers often stressed it. But absolute equality in baptismal life is quite a different thing from the structure of the ordained ministry. This latter is the object of a vocation within the Church not a right inherent in the person.

107. A vocation within the Church does not consist solely or primarily in the fact that one manifests the desire for a mission or feels attracted by an inner compulsion. Even if this spontaneous step is made and even if one believes one has heard as it were a call in the depths of one’s soul, the vocation is authentic only from the moment that it is authenticated by the external call of the Church. The Holv Office recalled this truth in its 1912 letter to the bishop of Aire to put an end to the Lahitton controversy.(53) Christ chose ‘those he wanted’ (Mk 3:13).

108. Since the ministerial priesthood is something to which the Lord calls expressly and gratuitously, it cannot be claimed as a right, any more by men than by women. Archbishop Bernardin’s declaration of October 1975 contained the sound judgment: ‘It would be a mistake . . . to reduce the question of the ordination of women to one of injustice, as is done at times. It would be correct to do this only if ordination were a God-given right of every individual; only if somehow one’s human potential could not be fulfilied without it. In fact, however, no one, male or female, can claim a “right” to ordination. And, since the episcopal and priestly office is basically a ministry of service, ordination in no way “completes” one’s humanity.’(54)

109. The declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ends by suggesting that efforts in two directions should be fostered, efforts from which the pastors and faithful of the Church would perhaps be distracted if this controversy over women’s ordination were prolonged.

110. One direction is in the doctrinal and spiritual order: awareness of the diversity of roles in the Church, in which equality is not identity, should lead us-as St Paul exhorts us-to strive after the one gift that can and should be striven after, namely love (1 Cor. 12-13). ‘The greatest in the kingdom of heaven are not the ministers but the saints,’ says the declaration. This expression deserves to be taken as a motto.

111. The other direction for our efforts is in the apostolic and social order. We have a long way to go before people become fully aware of the greatness of women’s mission in the Church and society, ‘both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true countenance of the Church.’ Unfortunately we also still have a long way to go before all the inequalities of which women are still the victims are eliminated, not only in the field of public professional and intellectual life, but even within the family.


Note 1. Note especially: J. E. Havel, La question du pastoral feminin en Suede, in Archives de sociologic des religions, 4, 1959, pp.207-249; F. R. Refoule, Le probleme des femmes-pretres en Suede, in Lumiere et Vie, 43, 1959, pp.65-99.

Note 2 No. 22 (W. Nisel, Bekenntnisschriften und Kirchenordnungen . . ., Munchen 1939, p.l11): ‘quod...foeminis, quae Spiritus sanctus ne docere quidem in Ecclesia patitur, ilk (papistae) permittunt ut etiam Baptismum administrarent.’

Note 3. The position of the Catholic Church on this point was made clear by Leo XIII in the Letter Apostolicae Curae of 13 September 1896 (CTS H 311).

Note 4. Earlier, in 1944, his predecessor Bishop Hall called a woman to the priesthood, but she had to refrain from exercising the ministry because of the energetic intervention of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, who for ecumemcal motives repudiated the action of the Bishop of Hong Kong.

Note 5. Letter of 9 July 1975 to the Pope. See ch. 3 below.

Note 6. Cardinal Willebrands stated this to some United States Episcopal Bishops in September 1974, according to the account published m Origins-NC Documentary Service, 9 October 1975.

Note 7. Italian translation published in L’Osservarore Romano, 16-17 June 1975.

Note 8. Letters of Paul VI to Dr Coggan, 30 November 1975 and 10 February 1976.  See  . ch. 3 below.

Note 9. At the WCC’s Assembly in New Delhi in 1961, the Department on Faith and Order was asked to prepare, in collaboration with the Department on Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family and Society, a study on the theological questions raised by the problem of women’s ordination (cf NouvelleDelhi 1961, Neuchatel, 1962, pp.166, 169). On the discussion of the problem at the Nairobi Assembly, see E. Lanne, Points chauds de la VAssemblee mondiale du Conseil oecumenique des Eglises a Nairobi..., in Revue theologique de Louvain, 7, 1976, pp.197-199: Les Femmes dans l’Eglise.

Note 10. Second Vatican Council Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 9.

Note 11. This intrusion of sociology into hermeneutics and theology is perhaps one of the most important elements in the controversy. This has been rightly stressed by B. Lambert, L’Eglise catholique peut-elle admettre des femmes a l’ordination sacerdotale? in Documentation Catholique 73, 1976, p.774: ‘en corrigeant dans I’interpretation de la Tradition et de l’Ecriture ce qui etait lie a des formes socio-culturelles, historiquement necessaires et conditionnees, mais aujourd’hui depassees, a la lumiere de [‘evolution de la societe et de l’Eglise.’

Note 12. The very phrase (reported in Le Monde of 19-20 September 1965) used by J. Danielou during the Council at a meeting of the Alliance Internationale Jeanne d’Arc. He returned to the subject, introducing perhaps more shades of meamng, in the interview he gave at the time of his promotion to Cardmal, L’Express, 936, 16-22 June 1969, pp. 122, 124: ‘11 faudrait examiner ou vent les vraies raisons qui font que l’Eglise n’a jamais envisage le sacerdoce des femmes.’

Note 13. Origins - NC Documentary Service, 16 October 1975: ‘Honesty and concern for the Catholic community . . . require that Church leaders not seem to encourage unreasonable hopes and expectations, even by their silence. Therefore I am obliged to restate the Church’s teaching that women are not to be ordained to the priesthood.’

Note 14. AAS 67 (1975), p.265.

Note 15. Letter of 30 November 1975: See ch. 3 below

Note 16. Cf., for example. the theological conversations between Catholics and Russian Orthodox at Trent, 23-28 June 1975:L’Osservatore Romano, 7-8 July 1975; Documentation Catholique, 71, 1975, p.707.

Note 17. 1, 13, 2: PG 7, colt 58()-581; Harvey edition 1, 144-122.

Note 18. 41, 5: CCL 1 p.221.

Note 19. In the Letters of Saint Cyprian, 75: CSEL 3, pp.817-818.

Note 20. Fragments published in Journal of Theological Studies, 10 (1909), pp.41-42 (No. 74).

Note 21. Panarion, 49, 2-3: GCS 31, pp.243-244: 78, 23 and 79, 2-4; GSC 37, pp.473, 477-479.

Note 22. St Thomas, Summa Theol., 2a 2ac, q. 10, a.12; 3a pars, q. 66, a. 10; q. 72. a.4 anda.l2;q.73.a.4;q.78,a.3 and a.6;q.80,a.12:q.82,a.2:q.83,a.3 and a.5: -cf. In IV Sent Dist 20, q I,a 4,qa I ff ; Dist 23, q I,a 4,q a I, etc

Note 23. St Thomas, In IV Sent. Dist. 19, q. 1, a.1, qa 3 ad 4-um; Dist, 25, q. 2, a. I, qa 1; cf. q. 2, a. 2, qa 1, ad 4; Summa Theol., 2a 2ac, q. 177, a. 2.

Note 24. Dictum Gratiani in Caus. 34; q. 5, c. 11, ed. Friedberg, t. 1, co’’. 1254; cf. R. Metz, La femme en droit canonique medieval, in Recueil de la societe Jean Bodin, 12, 1962, pp. 59-113.

Note 25. Canon 44 of the collection called after the Council of Laodicea: H. T. Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum . . .t. 1, Bertolini, 1839, p.78; St Gelasius, Epist. 14, ad universos episcopos per Lucaniam, Brutios et Siciliam constitutos, 11 March 494, No. 26: A. Thiel, Epistolae Romanorum pontificum..., t. 1, Brunsbergae. 1868. p.376.

Note 26. Chap. 15: ed. R. H. Connolly, pp.133 and 142.

Note 27. Lib.3, c.6,nn. 1-2;c.9,3-4;ed. F.X. Funk, p.191.

Note 28. Can. 24-28;-Greek text in F. X. Funk, Doctrina Duodecim Apostolorum, Tubingen, 1887, p.71; T. Schermann, Die allegemeine Kirchenordnung. . ., t.1, Paderborn, 1914, pp.31-33;-Syriac text in Octateuque de Clement, Lib. 3, c. 19-20, Latin text in the Verona ms., Bibl., capit, LV, ed. E. Tidner, Didascaliae Apostolorum, Canonum Ecclesiasticorum. Traditionis Apostolicae Versiones Latinae, Berlin, 1965 (TU 75), pp.111-113. The Coptic, Ethiopian and Arabic versions of the Synodoshave been translated and published chiefly by G. Homer, The Statutes of the Apostles or Canones Ecclesiastici, Oxford University Press, 1915 (=1904).

Note 29. De Sacerdotio 2, 2: PC 48, 663.

Note 30. Decrelal. Lib. V. tit. 38, De paenit., can. 10 Nova A. Friedberg, t. 2, colt 886-887: Quia licet beatissima Virgo Maria dignior et excellentiorfuerit Apostolis universis, non tamen ilk, sed istis Dominus craves regni caelorum commisit.

Note 31. e.g., Glossa in Decretal. Lib. 1, tit. 33, c. 12 Dilecta, Vo lurisdicuani.

Note 32. In IV Sent., Dist. 25, art. 2, q. 1: ed. Quaracchi, t. 4, p.649: Dicendum est quad hoc non venit tam ex institutione Ecclesiae, quam ex hoc quod eis non competit Ordinis sacramentum. In hoc sacramento persona quae ordinatur significat Christum mediatorem.

Note 33. In IVSent., Dist. 25, a. 4, n. 1; ed. Bocatelli, Venice, 1499 (Pellechet-Polain, 10132/9920), f 177-R: Ratio est quod sacramenta vim habent ex sua institutione: Christus autem hoc sacramentum instituit conferri masculis tantum, non mulieribus.

Note 34. In IV Sent., Dist. 25, Opus Oxoniense, ed. Vives, t. 19, p.140; cf. Reportata Parisiensia, ed. Vives, t. 24, pp.369-371.Quod non est tenendum tamquam praecise per Ecclesiam determinatum, sed habetur a Christo: non enim Ecclesia praesumpsisset sexam muliebrem privasse sine culpa sua actu qui posses sibi licite competere.

Note 35. In IV Sent., Dist. 25, p.2; ed. Venice, 1571, f 364-v: . . .sexus virilis est de necessitate sacrament, cuius causa principalis est institutio Christi. . . Christus non ordinavit nisi viros. . . nec matrem suam. . . Tenendum est igitur quod mulieres non possum ordinari ex institutione Chrisu.

Note 36. Details of these theological notes can be found in E. Doronzo, Tractatus Dogmaticus de Ordine, t. 3, Milwaukee, Bruce, 1962, pp.395-396; Cf. also F. Haller, De Sacris Electionibus, 1636, quoted in J. P. Migne, Theologiae Cursus Completus, t. 24, colt 821-854; many present-day objections are surprisingly anticipated in this work, which goes so far as to qualify as periculosa in fide the opinion that would admit women’s ordination in general, and as haeretica that which would admit them to the priesthood, colt 824; cf. also H. Tournely, Praelectiones Theologicae de Sacramento Ordinis, Parisiis, 1729, p.185, notes as an error contra fidem this assertion with regard to episcopate, priesthood and diaconate. Among canonists: X. Wemz, lus Decret., t. 2, Romae, 1906, p.124: Iure diving (he quotes several writers); P. Gasparri, Tractatus Canonicus de Sacra Ord inatione, t. 1, Parisiis, 1893, p.75; Et quidem prohibentur sub poena nullitatis: ita enim traditio et communis doctorum catholicorum doctrina interpretata est legem Apostoli: ed id eo Patres inter haereses recensent doctrinam qua sacerdotalis d ignitas et of ficium mulieribus tribuitur.

Note 37. St Bonaventure, In IVSent., 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 possum de lure, verum etiam non possum defacto.

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: uncle nec officium ordinum exercere possum . . . nec ord inatur haec: sed fund ebatur super eam forte aliqua bened ictio, ex qua consequebatur aliquod officium speciale, forte legend) 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.

Note 39. Cf. J. Dupont, Le Logion des douze bones, in Biblica, 4s, 1964, pp.35s-392.

Note 40. The documents cited in notes 26-28 above. Note also the curious Mariale falsely attributed to Albert the Great, quaest. 42, ed. Borgnet. t. 37, pp.80-81.

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

Note 42. Council of Trent, sess. 21, c. 2 and Pius Xll Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, 30 November 1947, quoted in the Declaration.

Note 43. Cf. Ph. Delhaye, Retrospective et prospective des ministeres femininsdans l’Eglise, in Revue theologique de Louvain3, 1972, pp.74-75.

Note 44. Epist. 63, 14: ed. Hartel, CSEL t. 3, p.713: sacerdos vice Christi vere fungitur.

Note 45. St Theodore the Studite, Adversus Iconomachos cap. 4; PG 99, 593; Epist.

Note 46. Summa Theol., 111 q. 83, a. I, ad 3-um

Note 47. Above, note 32: persona quae ordinatur significat Christum mediatorem.

Note 48. In IV Sent., Dist. 25, q. 2, a. 2, qa 1, ad 4-um: signa sacramentalia ex naturali similitudine repraesenten t.

Note 49. Ibid. in corp. quaestiunculae: Quia cum sacramentum sit signum, in eis -quae in sacramento aguntur requiritur non solum res, sed significatio rei.

Note 50. II Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Liturgy no. 7 (CTS Do 386); Pius XII, EncyclicalMediator Dei. 20 November 1947.

Note 51. Cf. Concilium iii, 1976, La femme dans l’Eglise, French edition, pp. 19, 20, especially 23: ‘Au temps de Paul, les fonctions de direction etaient reparties et reposaient sur l’autorite charismatique.’

Note 52. Theological Studies 36, 1975, p.667.

Note 53. AAS 4, 1912, p.485.

Note 54. In Origins-NC Documentary Service, 16 0ctober 1975.

Inter Insigniores 1976

Inter Inisigniores is the October 15, 1976 document where for the first time ever, the Vatican tries to justify the exclusion of women from sacramental priesthood.  Inter Insignores was delivered in the form of a Declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Vatican office formerly known as The Office of the Inquisition.)  Note that Inter Insigniories was released just one year after the Pontifical Biblical Commission's conclusion that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not be justified on the basis of scripture.





The Role Of Women In Modern Society And The Church

Among the characteristics that mark our present age, Pope John XXIII indicated, in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris of 11 April 1963, “the part that women are now taking in public life... This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture”.1 Along the same lines, the Second Vatican Council, enumerating in its Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes the forms of discrimination touching upon the basic rights of the person which must be overcome and eliminated as being contrary to God's plan, gives first place to discrimination based upon sex.2 The resulting equality will secure the building up of a world that is not leveled out and uniform but harmonious and unified, if men and women contribute to it their own resources and dynamism, as Pope Paul VI recently stated.3

In the life of the Church herself, as history shows us, women have played a decisive role and accomplished tasks of outstanding value. One has only to think of the foundresses of the great religious families, such as Saint Clare and Saint Teresa of Avila. The latter, moreover, and Saint Catherine of Siena, have left writings so rich in spiritual doctrine that Pope Paul VI has included them among the Doctors of the Church. Nor could one forget the great number of women who have consecrated themselves to the Lord for the exercise of charity or for the missions, and the Christian wives who have had a profound influence on their families, particularly for the passing on of the faith to their children.

But our age gives rise to increased demands: “Since in our time women have an ever more active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various sectors of the Church's apostolate”.4 This charge of the Second Vatican Council has already set in motion the whole process of change now taking place: these various experiences of course need to come to maturity. But as Pope Paul VI also remarked,5 a very large number of Christian communities are already benefiting from the apostolic commitment of women. Some of these women are called to take part in councils set up for pastoral reflection, at the diocesan or parish level; and the Apostolic See has brought women into some of its working bodies.

For some years now various Christian communities stemming from the sixteenth-century Reformation or of later origin have been admitting women to the pastoral office on a par with men. This initiative has led to petitions and writings by members of these communities and similar groups, directed towards making this admission a general thing; it has also led to contrary reactions. This therefore constitutes an ecumenical problem, and the Catholic Church must make her thinking known on it, all the more because in various sectors of opinion the question has been asked whether she too could not modify her discipline and admit women to priestly ordination. A number of Catholic theologians have even posed this question publicly, evoking studies not only in the sphere of exegesis, patrology and Church history but also in the field of the history of institutions and customs, of sociology and of psychology. The various arguments capable of clarifying this important problem have been submitted to a critical examination. As we are dealing with a debate which classical theology scarcely touched upon, the current argumentation runs the risk of neglecting essential elements.

For these reasons, in execution of a mandate received from the Holy Father and echoing the declaration which he himself made in his letter of 30 November 1975,6 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judges it necessary to recall that the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination. The Sacred Congregation deems it opportune at the present juncture to explain this position of the Church. It is a position which will perhaps cause pain but whose positive value will become apparent in the long run, since it can be of help in deepening understanding of the respective roles of men and of women.

1. The Church's Constant Tradition

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 unacceptable in the Church.7 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.8

The same conviction animates medieval theology9, even if the Scholastic doctors, in their desire to clarify by reason the data of faith, often present arguments on this point that modern thought would have difficulty in admitting, or would even rightly reject. Since that period and up till our own time, it can be said that the question has not been raised again for the practice has enjoyed peaceful and universal acceptance.

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. But each time that this tradition had the occasion to manifest itself, it witnessed to the Church's desire to conform to the model left her by the Lord.

The same tradition has been faithfully safeguarded by the Churches of the East. Their unanimity on this point is all the more remarkable since in many other questions their discipline admits of a great diversity. At present time these same Churches refuse to associate themselves with requests directed towards securing the accession of women to priestly ordination.

2. The Attitude of Christ

Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. If he acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of his time, for his attitude towards women was quite different from that of his milieu, and he deliberately and courageously broke with it.

For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3).

In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection.

It is true that these facts do not make the matter immediately obvious. This is no surprise, for the questions that the Word of God brings before us go beyond the obvious. In order to reach the ultimate meaning of the mission of Jesus and the ultimate meaning of Scripture, a purely historical exegesis of the texts cannot suffice. But it must be recognised that we have here a number of convergent indications that make all the more remarkable that Jesus did not entrust the apostolic charge10 to women. Even his Mother, who was so closely associated with the mystery of her Son, and whose incomparable role is emphasized by the Gospels of Luke and John, was not invested with the apostolic ministry. This fact was to lead the Fathers to present her as an example of Christ's will in this domain; as Pope Innocent III repeated later, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, “Although the Blessed Virgin Mary surpassed in dignity and in excellence all the Apostles, nevertheless it was not to her but to them that the Lord entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.”11

3. The Practice of the Apostles

The apostolic community remained faithful to the attitude of Jesus towards women. Although Mary occupied a privileged place in the little circle of those gathered in the Upper Room after the Lord's Ascension (Acts 1:14), it was not she who was called to enter the College of the Twelve at the time of the election that resulted in the choice of Mathias: those who were put forward were two disciples whom the Gospels do not even mention.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled them all, men and women (Acts 2:1, 1:14), yet the proclamation of the fulfillment of the prophecies in Jesus was made only by “Peter and the Eleven” (Acts 2:14).

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 civilisation impelled them to break with Mosaic practices, sometimes regretfully. They could therefore have envisaged conferring ordination on women, if they had not been convinced of their duty of fidelity to the Lord on this point. In fact the Greeks did not share the ideas of the Jews: although their philosophers taught the inferiority of women, historians nevertheless emphasize the existence of a certain movement for the advancement of women during the Imperial period. In fact we know from the book of Acts and from the letter of Saint Paul, that certain women worked with the Apostle for the Gospel (Rm 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 (Acts 18:26); Phoebe, in the service of the Church of Cenchreae (Rm 16:1). 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.

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 of “God's fellow workers” (1 Cor 3-9; 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. 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.

4. Permanent Value of the Attitude of Jesus and the Apostles

Could the Church today depart from this attitude of Jesus and the Apostles, which has been considered as normative by the whole of tradition up to our own day? Various arguments have been put forward in favour of a positive reply to this question, and these must now be examined.

It has been claimed in particular that the attitude of Jesus and the Apostles is explained by the influence of their milieu and their times. It is said that, if Jesus did not entrust to women and not even to his Mother a ministry assimilating them to the Twelve, this was because historical circumstances did not permit him to do so. No one however has ever proved- and it is clearly impossible to prove- that this attitude is inspired only by social and cultural reasons. As we have seen, and examination of the Gospels shows on the contrary that Jesus broke with the prejudices of his time, by widely contravening the discriminations practiced with regard to women. One therefore cannot maintain that, by not calling women to enter the group of the Apostles, Jesus was simply letting himself be guided by reasons of expediency. For all the more reason, social and cultural conditioning did not hold back the Apostles working in the Greek milieu, where the same forms of discrimination did not exist.

Another objection is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value. However, the Apostle's forbidding of women to speak in the assemblies (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Ti 2:12) is of a different nature, and exegetes define its meaning in this way: Paul in no way opposes the right, which he elsewhere recognises as possessed by women, to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:15); the prohibition solely concerns the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly. For Saint Paul this prescription is bound up with the divine plan of creation (1 Cor 11:7; Gen 2:18-24): it would be difficult to see in it the expression of a cultural fact. Nor should it be forgotten that we owe to Saint Paul one of the most vigorous texts in the New Testament on the fundamental equality of men and women, as children of God in Christ (Gal 3:28). Therefore there is no reason for accusing him of prejudices against women, when we note the trust that he shows towards them and the collaboration that he asks of them in his apostolate.

But over and above these objections taken from the history of apostolic times, those who support the legitimacy of change in the matter turn to the Church's practice in her sacramental discipline. It has been noted, in our day especially, to what extent the Church is conscious of possessing a certain power over the sacraments, even though they were instituted by Christ. She has used this power down the centuries in order to determine their signs and the conditions of their administration: recent decisions of Popes Pius XII and Paul IV are proof of this.12 However, it must be emphasized that this power, which is a real one, has definite limits. As Pope Pius XII recalled: “The Church has no power over the substance of the sacraments, that is to say, over what Christ the Lord, as the sources of Revelation bear witness, determined should be maintained in the sacramental sign.”13This was already the teaching of the council of Trent , which declared: “In the Church there has always existed this power, that in the administration of the sacraments, provided that their substance remains unaltered, she can lay down or modify what she considers more fitting either for the benefit of those who receive them or for respect towards those same sacraments, according to varying circumstances, times or places.”14

Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the sacramental signs are not conventional ones. Not only is it true that, in many respects, they are natural signs because they respond to the deep symbolism of actions and things, but they are more than this: they are principally meant to link the person of every period to the supreme Event of the history of salvation, in order to enable that person to understand, through all the Bible's wealth of pedagogy and symbolism, what grace they signify and produce. For example, the sacrament of the Eucharist is not only a fraternal meal, but at the same time a memorial which makes present and actual Christ's sacrifice and his offering by the Church. Again the priestly ministry is not just a pastoral service; it ensures the continuity of the functions entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and the continuity of the powers related to those functions. Adaptations to civilizations and times therefore cannot abolish on essential points, the sacramental reference to constitutive events of Christianity and to Christ himself.

In the final analysis it is the Church through the voice of the Magisterium, that, in these various domains, decides what can change and what must remain immutable. When she judges she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows she is bound by Christ's manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity: it can be truly understood only in this light. The Church makes pronouncements in virtue of the Lord's promise and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to proclaim better the mystery of Christ and to safeguard and manifest the whole of its rich content.

The practice of the Church therefore has a normative character: in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men, it is a question of unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West, and alert to repress abuses immediately. This norm, based on Christ's example, has been and is still observed because it is considered to conform to God's plan for his Church.

5. The Ministerial Priesthood in the Light of The Mystery of Christ

Having recalled the Church's norm and the basis thereof, it seems useful and opportune to illustrate this norm by showing the profound fittingness that theological reflection discovers between the proper nature of the sacrament of Order, with its specific reference to the mystery of Christ, and the fact that only men have been called to receive priestly ordination. It is not a question here of bringing forward a demonstrative argument, but of clarifying this teaching by the analogy of faith.

The Church's constant teaching, repeated and clarified by the Second Vatican Council and again recalled by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Declaration of 24th. June 1973, declares that the bishop or the priest in the exercise of his ministry, does not act in his own name, in persona propria: he represents Christ, who acts through him: “the priest truly acts in the place of Christ”, as Saint Cyprian already wrote in the third century.15 It is this ability to represent Christ that Saint Paul considered as characteristic of his apostolic function (2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:14). The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and centre of the Church's unity, the sacrificial meal in which the People of God are associated in the sacrifice of Christ: the priest, who alone has the power to perform it, then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi,16 taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.17

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 perceptible18 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 Saint Thomas, “represent what they signify by natural resemblance.”19 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.

Christ is of course the firstborn of all humanity, of women as well as men: the unity which he re-established after sin is such that there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal.3:28). Nevertheless, the incarnation of the Word took place according to the male sex: this is indeed a question of fact, and this fact, while not implying and alleged natural superiority of man over woman, cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation: it is indeed in harmony with the entirety of God's plan as God himself has revealed it, and of which the mystery of the Covenant is the nucleus.

For the salvation offered by God to men and women, the union with him to which they are called - in short, the Covenant - took on, from the Old Testament Prophets onwards, the privileged form of a nuptial mystery: for God the Chosen People is seen as his ardently loved spouse. Both Jewish and Christian tradition has discovered the depth of this intimacy of love by reading and rereading the Song of Songs; the divine Bridegroom will remain faithful even when the Bride betrays his love, when Israel is unfaithful to God (Hos.1-3; Jer.2). When the “fullness of time” (Gal.4:4) comes, the Word, the Son of God, takes on flesh in order to establish and seal the new and eternal Covenant in his blood, which will be shed for many so that sins may be forgiven. His death will gather together again the scattered children of God; from his pierced side will be born the Church, as Eve was born from Adam's side. At that time there is fully and eternally accomplished the nuptial mystery proclaimed and hymned in the Old Testament: Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church his Bride, whom he loves because he has gained her by his blood and made her glorious, holy and without blemish, and henceforth he is inseparable from her. This nuptial theme, which is developed from the Letters of Saint Paul onwards (2 Cor.11:2; Eph.5:22-23) to the writings of Saint John (especially in Jn.3:29; Rev.19:7,9), is present also in the Synoptic Gospels: the Bridegroom's friends must not fast as long as he is with them (Mk.2:19); the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who gave a feast for his son's weeding (Mt.22:1-14). It is through this Sciptural language, all interwoven with symbols, and which expresses and affects man and women in their profound identity, that there is revealed to us the mystery of God and Christ, a mystery which of itself is unfathomable.

That is why we can never ignore the fact that Christ is a man. And therefore, unless one is to disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of Revelation, it must be admitted that, in actions which demand the character of ordination and in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom, the Head of the Church, is represented, exercising his ministry of salvation - which is in the highest degree the case of the Eucharist - his role (this is the original sense of the word persona) must be taken by a man. This does not stem from any personal superiority of the latter in the order of values, but only from a difference of fact on the level of functions and service.

Could one say that, since Christ is now in the heavenly condition, from now on it is a matter of indifference whether he be represented by a man or by a woman, since “at the resurrection men and women do not marry” (Mat.22:30)? But this text does not mean that the distinction between man and women, insofar as it determines the identity proper to the person, is suppressed in the glorified state; what holds for us also holds for Christ. It is indeed evident that in human beings the difference of sex exercises an important influence, much deeper than, for example, ethnic differences: the latter do not affect the human person as intimately as the difference of sex, which is directly ordained both for the communion of persons and for the generation of human beings. In Biblical Revelation this difference is the effect of God's will from the beginning: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

However, it will perhaps be further objected that the priest, especially when he presides at the liturgical and sacramental functions, equally represents the Church: he acts in her name with “the intention of doing what she does”. In this sense, the theologians of the Middle Ages said that the minister also acts in persona Ecclesiae, that is to say, in the name of the whole Church and in order to represent her. And in fact, leaving aside the question of the participation of the faithful in a liturgical action, it is indeed in the name of the whole Church that the action is celebrated by the priest: he prays in the name of all, and in the Mass he offers the sacrifice of the whole Church. In the new Passover, the Church, under visible signs, immolates Christ through the ministry of the priest.20And so, it is asserted, since the priest also represents the Church, would it not be possible to think that this representation could be carried out by a woman, according to the symbolism already explained? It is true that the priest represents the Church, which is the Body of Christ. But if he does so, it is precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the Head and the Shepherd of the Church. The Second Vatican Council21 used this phrase to make more precise and complete the expression in persona Christi. It is in this quality that the priest presides over the Christian assembly and celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice “in which the whole Church offers and is herself wholly offered.”22

If one does justice to these reflections, one will better understand how well-founded is the basis of the Church's practice; and will conclude that the controversies raised in our days over the ordination of women are for all Christians a pressing invitation to meditate on the mystery of the Church, to study in greater detail the meaning of the episcopate and the priesthood, and to rediscover the real and pre-eminent place of the priest in the community of the baptized, of which he indeed forms part but from which he is distinguished because, in the actions that call for the character of ordination, for the community he is - with all the effectiveness proper to the sacraments - the image and symbol of Christ himself who calls, forgives, and accomplishes the sacrifice of the Covenant.

6. The Ministerial Priesthood Illustrated by The Mystery of the Church

It is opportune to recall that problems of sacramental theology, especially when they concern the ministerial priesthood, as is the case here, cannot be solved except in the light of Revelation. The human sciences, however valuable their contribution in their own domain, cannot suffice here, for they cannot grasp the realities of faith: the properly supernatural content of these realities is beyond their competence.

Thus one must note the extent to which the Church is a society different from other societies, original in her nature and in her structures. The pastoral charge in the Church is normally linked to the sacrament of Order; it is not a simple government, comparable to the modes of authority found in the States. It is not granted by people's spontaneous choice: even when it involves designation through election, it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of the successors of the Apostles which guarantee God's choice; and it is the Holy Spirit, given by ordination, who grants participation in the ruling power of the Supreme Pastor, Christ (Acts 20:28). It is a charge of service and love: “If you love me, feed my sheep” ( Jn.21:15-17).

For this reason one cannot see how it is possible to propose the admission of women to the priesthood in virtue of the equality of rights of the human person, an equality which holds good also for Christians. To this end, use is sometimes made of the text quoted above, from the Letter to the Galatians (3:28), which says that in Christ there is no longer any distinction between men and women. But this passage does not concern ministries: it only affirms the universal calling to divine filiation, which is the same for all. Moreover, and above all, to consider the ministerial priesthood as a human right would be to misjudge it's nature completely: baptism does not confer any personal title to public ministry within the Church. The priesthood is not conferred for the honour or advantage of the recipient, but for the service of God and the Church; it is the object of a specific and totally gratuitous vocation: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you...” (Jn.15:16; Heb.5:4).

It is sometimes said and written in books and periodicals that some women feel that they have a vocation to the priesthood. Such an attraction however noble and understandable, still does not suffice for a genuine vocation. In fact a vocation cannot be reduced to a mere personal attraction, which can remain purely subjective. Since the priesthood is a particular ministry of which the Church has received the charge and the control, authentication by the Church is indispensable here and is a constitutive part of the vocation: Christ chose “those he wanted” (Mk.3:13). On the other hand, there is a universal vocation of all the baptized to the exercise of the royal priesthood by offering their lives to God and by giving witness for his praise.

Women who express a desire for the ministerial priesthood are doubtless motivated by the desire to serve Christ and the Church. And it is not surprising that, at a time when they are becoming more aware of the discriminations to which they have been subjected, they should desire the ministerial priesthood itself. But it must not be forgotten that the priesthood does not form part of the rights of the individual, but stems from the economy of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The priestly office cannot become the goal of social advancement: no merely human progress of society or of the individual can of itself give access to it: it is of another order.

It therefore remains for us to meditate more deeply on the nature of the real equality of the baptized which is one of the great affirmations of Christianity; equality is in no way identity, for the Church is a differentiated body, in which each individual has his or her role. The roles are distinct, and must not be confused; they do not favour the superiority of some vis-a-vis the others, nor do they provide an excuse for jealousy; the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love (1 Cor 12-13). The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints.

The Church desires that Christian women should become more fully aware of the greatness of their mission; today their role is of capital importance, both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery of believers of the true face of the Church.

His Holiness Pope Paul VI, during the audience granted to the undersigned Prefect of the Sacred Congregation on 15 October 1976, approved this Declaration, confirmed it and ordered its publication.

Given in Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 15 October 1976, the feast of Saint Theresa of Avila.

Franjo Cardinal Seper


Jérôme Hamer, O.P.

Titular Archbishop of Lorium

1. AAS 55 (1963), 267-268.

2. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 29 (7 December 1965):AAS 58 (1966), 1048-1049.

3. Cf. Pope Paul VI, Address to the members of the Study Commission on the Role of Women in Society and in the Church and to the members of the Committee for International Women's Year, 18 April 1975; AAS 67 (1975), 265.

4. Second Vatican Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 9 (18 November 1965), AAS 58 (1966), 846.

5. Cf. Pope Paul VI, Address to the members of the Study Commission on the Role of Women in Society and in the Church and to the members of the Committee for International Women's Year, 18 April 1975: AAS 67 (1975), 266.

6. Cf. AAS 68 (1976), 599-600; cf. ibid., 600 601.

7. Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1, 13, 2: PG 7 580-581; ed Harvey, I, 114-122; Tertullian,De Praescrip. Haeretic. 41, 5: CCL 1, p. 221; Firmilian of Caesarea, in Saint Cyprian, Epist., 75: CSEL 3, pp. 817-818; Origen, Fragmentum in 1 Cor. 74, in Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909), pp. 41-42; Saint Epiphanius, Panarion 49, 2-3; 78, 23; 79, 2-4; vol. 2, GCS 31, pp. 243-244; vol. 3, GCS 37, pp. 473, 477-479.

8. Didascalia Apostolorum, ch. 15, ed. R. H. Connolly, pp. 133 and 142; Constitutiones Apostolicae, bk. 3, ch. 6, nos. 1-2; ch. 9 3-4: ed. F. H. Funk, pp. 191, 201; Saint John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio 2, 2: PG 48, 633.

9. Saint Bonaventure, In IV Sent., Dist. 25, art. 2, q. 1 ed. Quaracchi vol. 4, 649; Richard of Middleton, In IV Sent., Dist. 25 art. 4, n. 1, ed. Venice, 1499, f 177r; John Duns Scotus, In IV Sent., Dist. 25: Opus Oxoniense, ed. Vives, vol. 19, p. 140; Reportata Parisiensia, vol. 24, pp. 369-371; Durandus of Saint Pourcain, In IV Sent., Dist. 25, q. 2, ed. Venice, 1571, f° 364V.

10. Some who also wished to explain this fact by a symbolic intention of Jesus: the Twelve were to represent the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30). But in these texts it is only a question of their participation in the eschatological judgment. The essential meaning of the choice of the Twelve should rather be sought in the totality of their mission (cf. Mk 3: 14): they are to represent Jesus to the people and carry on his work.

11. Pope Innocent III, Epist. (11 December 1210 to the Bishops of Palencia and Burgos, included in Corpus Iuris, Decret. Lib. 5, tit. 38 De Paenit., ch. 10 Nova: ed. A. Friedberg, vol. 2, col. 886-887; cf. Glossa in Decretal. Lib. 1, tit. 33, ch. 12 Dilecta, v° Iurisdictioni. Cf. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 27, a. 5 ad 3; Pseudo-Albert the Great, Mariale, quaest. 42, ed. Borgnet 37, 81.

12. Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, 30 November 1947: AAS 40 (1948), 5-7; Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Divinae Consortium Naturae, 15 August 1971: AAS 63 (1971), 657 664; Apostolic Constitution Sacram Unctionem, 30 November 1972:AAS 65 (1973), 5-9.

13. Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinisloc. cit., 5.

14. Session 21, chap. 2: Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum 1728.

15. Saint Cyprian, Epist. 63, 14: PL 4, 397 B; ed. Hartel, vol. 3, p. 713.

16. Second Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33 (4 December 1963): " the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ..."; Dogmatic ConstitutionLumen Gentium, 10 (21 November 1964): "The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, moulds and rules the priestly people. Acting in the person of Christ, he brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people..." 28: "By the powers of the sacrament of Order, and in the image of Christ the eternal High Priest… they exercise this sacred function of Christ above all in the Eucharistic liturgy or synaxis. There, acting in the person of Christ..." DecreePresbyterorum Ordinis, 2 (7 December 1965): "...priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are marked with a special character and are so configured to Christ the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head"; 13: "As ministers of sacred realities, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, priests represent the person of Christ in a special way"; cf. 1971 Synod of Bishops, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali I, 4; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaratio circa catholicam doctrinam de Ecclesia, 6 (24 June 1973).

17. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 83, art. I, ad 3: "It is to be said that [just as the celebration of this sacrament is the representative image of Christ's Cross: ibid. ad 2]. for the same reason the priest also enacts the image of Christ, in whose person and by whose power he pronounces the words of consecration".

18. "For since a sacrament is a sign, there is required in the things that are done in the sacraments not only the 'res' but the signification of the 'res"', recalls Saint Thomas, precisely in order to reject the ordination of women: In IV Sent., dist. 25, q. 2 art. 1, quaestiuncula 1a. corp.

19. Saint Thomas, In IV Sent., dist. 25 q. 2, quaestiuncula 1a ad 4um.

20. Cf. Council of Trent, Session 22, chap. 1: DS 1741.

21. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 28: "Exercising within the limits of their authority the function of Christ as Shepherd and Head"; Decree PresbyterorumOrdinis, 2: "that they can act in the person of Christ the Head"; 6: "the office of Christ the Head and the Shepherd". Cf. Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei: "the minister of the altar represents the person of Christ as the Head, offering in the name of all his members": AAS 39 (1947), 556; 1971 Synod of Bishops, De Sacerdotio Ministeriali, I, 4: "[The priestly ministry]...makes Christ, the Head of the community, present...".

22. Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, 3 September 1965: AAS 57 (1965), 761.

Report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission: 1975

This report by the Vatican's owned specially commissioned international group of Catholic Scripture scholars concluded , after intensive indepth study, that the ordination of women cannot be ruled out on the basis of Scripture!  The Vatican has ignored their own assessment!

Pontifical Biblical Commission Report on the Question Posed: Can Women Be Priests?


from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 338-346.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission was asked to study the role of women in the Bible in the course of research being carried out to determine the place that can be given to women today in the church.

The question for which an answer is especially sought is whether or not women can be ordained to the priestly ministry (especially as ministers of the eucharist and as leaders of the Christian community). In making this biblical inquiry, one must keep in mind the limits of such a study.

1. In general the role of women does not constitute the principal subject of biblical texts. One has to rely often on information given here and there. The situation of women in the biblical era was probably more or less favorable judging from the limited data that we have at our disposal.

2. The question asked touches on the priesthood, the celebrant of the eucharist and the leader of the local community. This is a way of looking at things which is somewhat foreign to the Bible.

A) Surely the New Testament speaks of the Christian people as a priestly people (1 Peter 2, 5.9; Apoc.1, 6; 5, 10). It describes that certain members of this people accomplish a priestly and sacrificial ministry (1 Peter 2, 5.12; Rom 12, 1; 15, 16; Phil 2, 17). However it never uses the technical terms hiereus for the Christian ministry. A fortiori it never places hiereus in relationship with the eucharist.

B) The New Testament says very little on the subject of the ministry of the eucharist. Luke 22, 19 orders the apostles to celebrate the eucharist in memory of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 11, 24). Acts 20, 11 shows also that Paul broke the bread (see also Acts 27, 35).

C) The pastoral epistles which give us the most detailed picture of the leaders of the local community (episkopos and prebyteroi), never attribute to them a eucharistic function.

3. Beyond these difficulties resulting from a study of the biblical data from the perspective of a later conception of the eucharistic priesthood, it is necessary to keep in mind that this conception itself is now placed in question as one can see in the more recent declarations of the magisterium which broaden the concept of priesthood beyond that of eucharistic ministry.



(1) "In the Beginning."

In Genesis, the "beginning" serves less to present the beginning of history than the fundamental plan of God for mankind. In Genesis 1, man and woman are called together to be the image of God (Gen. 1, 26f ) on equal terms and in a community of life. It is in common that they receive rule over the world. Their vocation gives a new meaning to the sexuality that man possesses as the animals do.

In Gen. 2, man and woman are placed on equal terms: woman is for man a "helper who is his partner" (2, 18), and by community in love they become "the two of them one body" (2, 24). This union includes the vocation of the couple to fruitfulness but it is not reduced to that.

Between this ideal and the historical reality of the human race, sin has introduced a considerable gap. The couple's existence is wounded in its very foundations: love is degraded by covetousness and domination (3, 16). The woman endures pains in her condition as mother which nevertheless put her closely in contact with the mystery of life. The social degradation of her condition is also related to this wound, manifested by polygamy (cf. Gen. 4), divorce, slavery, etc. She is nevertheless the depository of a promise of salvation made to her descendants.

It is noteworthy that the ideal of Gen. 1 and 2 remained present in the thought of Israel like a horizon of hope: it is found again explicitly in the book of Tobias.

(2) The Symbolism of the Sexes in the Old Testament

The Old Testament excluded the sexual symbolism used in Eastern mythologies, in relation to the fertility cults: there is no sexuality in the God of Israel. But very early, the biblical tradition borrowed traits from the family structure to trace pictures of God the Father. Then also it had recourse to the image of the spouse to work out a very lofty concept of the God of the covenant.

In correlation with these two fundamental images, the prophets gave value to the dignity of women by representing the people of God with the help of feminine symbols of the wife (in relation to God) and of the mother (in relation to the human partners of the covenant, men and women). These symbols were used particularly to evoke in advance the eschatological covenant in which God is to realize his plan in its fullness.

(3) The Teachings of Jesus

Considering the social and cultural milieu in which Jesus lived, his teaching and behavior with regard to women are striking in their newness. We leave aside here his behavior (cf. the following reports). Questioned about divorce by the Pharisees (Mk. 10, 1-12), Jesus moves away from the rabbinic casuistry that, on the basis of Deut. 24, 1, discriminated between the respective rights of men and women.

Reminding the Pharisees of the original plan of God (Gen. 1, 27 and 2, 24), he shows his intention of establishing here below a state of things that realizes the plan fully: the reign of God, inaugurated by his preaching and his presence, brings with it a full restoration of feminine dignity. But it brings also a surpassing of the ancient juridical structures in which repudiation showed the failure of marriage "by reason of the hardness of hearts." It is in this perspective that the practice of celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19, 12), for himself and for those "to whom it is given" (19, 11) is understood. His attitude toward women should be examined from that point of departure.

Thus Jesus inaugurates in the framework of the present world the order of things that constitutes the final horizon of the kingdom of God: that order will result, in "a new heaven and a new earth," in a state in which the risen will no longer need to exercise their sexuality (Matt. 21, 31). Consequently, to represent the joy of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus can properly use the image of the virgins called to the wedding feast of the bridegroom (Matt. 25, 1-10).

(4) From the Mother of Jesus to the Church

Considering the historical existence of Jesus, son of God sent into the world (Gal. 4, 4 etc.), one might take a look at his beginnings.

The evangelists, Matthew and especially Luke, have made clear the irreplaceable role of his mother Mary. The value proper to femininity that the Old Testament presented are recapitulated in her, so that she accomplishes her unique role in the plan of God. But in the very accomplishment of this maternal role, she anticipates the reality of the new covenant of which her son will be the mediator. In fact she is the first one called to a faith that concerns her son (Luke 1, 42) and to an obedience in which she "listens to the word of God and puts it into practice" (Luke 11, 28, cf. 1, 38).

Moreover, the Spirit who brings about in her the conception of Jesus (Luke 1, 35, Matt. 1, 18) will make a new people spring up in history on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Her historic role is therefore linked to a resumption of the feminine symbolism used to evoke the new people: from then on, the church is "our mother" (Gal. 4, 20). At the end of time, it will be the "spouse of the Lamb" (Apoc. 21). It is by reason of this relationship between Mary, concrete woman, and the church, symbolic woman, that in Apoc.12 the new humanity rescued from the power of sin and death can be presented as giving birth to Christ, her first born (Apoc.12, 4-15), expecting to have as posterity "those who keep the word of God and have the testimony of Jesus."

5 Woman in the Church

Nuptial symbolism is specifically taken up again by St. Paul to evoke the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5, 22-33). But it is first of all the relationship between Christ and the church, his body, which casts light on the reality forming the basis for Paul's approach.

Despite an institutional framework which implies the submission of women to their husbands (cf. Eph. 5, 22; Col. 3, 18; 1Pt. 3, 1), Paul reverses the perspective to emphasize their mutual submission (Eph. 5, 21) and love (5, 25.33) for which Christ's love is the source and model: charity (cf. 1Cor. 13) becomes the measure of conjugal love. It is through it that the "original perfection" (that is to say the fullness of the plan of God for the human couple) can be attained (cf. Eph. 5, 31 citing Gen. 2, 24). That supposes between man and woman not only an equality of rights and duties explicitly affirmed (1Cor. 7, 3-4), but also an equality in adoptive sonship (Gal. 3, 28, 2Cor. 6, 18) and in the reception of the Spirit who brings about participation in the life of the church (cf. Acts 2, 17-18).

Marriage, having thus received its full meaning, thanks to its symbolic relationship with the mystery of Christ and the church (Eph. 5, 32), can regain also its indissoluble solidity (1 Cor. 7, 10-12; cf. Luke 16, 18).

At the heart of a sinful world, maternity has a saving value (1 Tim. 2, 15). Outside conjugal life, the church grants a place of honor to consecrated widowhood (1Tim. 5, 3) and it recognizes in virginity the possible meaning of eschatological witness (1Cor 7, 25-26) and of a more complete freedom to consecrate oneself to "the business of the Lord" (1 Cor. 7, 32ff.). Such is the background against which theological reflection on the place and function of women in society and in the church takes place.



I. The Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches very clearly the equality of man and woman in the spiritual domain (relationships with God) and in the moral area (relationships with other human beings). But the problem of the social condition of woman is a sociological problem that must be treated as such:

1. In terms of the laws of sociology: physical and psychosomatic data of feminine behavior in an earthly society;

2. In terms of the history of the societies in which the people of God lived during and after the composition of the Bible;

3. In terms of the laws of the church of Christ, his body, whose members live an ecclesial life under the direction of a magisterium instituted by Christ, while belonging to other societies and states.

II. The biblical experience shows that the social condition of woman has varied, but not in a linear manner as if there were continual progress. Ancient Egypt experienced a real flourishing of woman before the existence of Israel. The Israelite woman experienced a certain flourishing under the monarchy, then her condition became subordinate once more. In the time of Christ the status of woman appears, in Jewish society, inferior to what it is in GrecoRoman society where their lack of legal status is in the process of disappearing and in which "women handle their business themselves" (Gaius).

In relation to his contemporaries, Christ has a very original attitude with regard to woman which gives renewed value to her situation.

III. Christian society is established on a basis other than that of Jewish society. It is founded on the cornerstone of the risen Christ and is built upon Peter in collegiality with the twelve. According to the witness of the New Testament, especially the Pauline epistles, women are associated with the different charismatic ministries (diaconies) of the church (1Cor. 12, 4; 1Tim. 3, 11, cf. 8): prophecy, service, probably even apostolate . . . without, nevertheless, being of the twelve. They have a place in the liturgy at least as prophetesses (1Cor. 11, 4). But according to the Pauline corpus (1Cor. 14, 33-35; cf. 1Tim. 2, 6-15) an apostle such as Paul can withdraw the word from them.

This Christian society lives not only on the government of the twelve who are called apostles in Luke and elsewhere in the New Testament, but also on the liturgical sacramental life in which Christ communicates his spirit as high priest no longer according to Aaron but according to Melchisedech, king and priest (Heb. 8; cf. Ps. 110).

Sociologically speaking, in Jewish society, therefore for Christians until the break, the consecrated priesthood of Aaron (Lev. 9) assured an authentic liturgical and sacrificial life in the temple of stone. But Christ is the true high priest and the true temple (John 2, 21). He was consecrated and sent (hagiazein, apostellein) by the Father (Jn. 10, 26), and he consecrates himself in order to consecrate the apostles in the truth that he himself is (Jn. 17, 17.19). It is a fundamental characteristic of the society that is the church in the midst of other societies, that it dispenses eternal life through its own liturgy.

IV. The problem is to know whether in Christian society ruled by the apostles - the twelve, Paul, Titus, Timothy - and by their successors (bishops, presbyters, higoumenes) women can be called to participate in this liturgical ministry and in the direction of local communities, as the queens of the Old Testament, especially widows, were called to participate in the royal functions of anointed kings. In fact in the New Testament no text formally supports this hypothesis, even though one may note the role of widows in the pastoral epistles (1Tim. 5) and what Luke says of Anna in the Temple (latreuein). This study is no longer a matter of sociology, but of the labors of our third section (condition of woman in cult).



Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the Yahwist religion was not reserved to men alone, as is said elsewhere. Women as well as men could have sacrifices offered, participate in worship. Nevertheless, contrary to the customs of the contemporary pagan peoples, the worship of the second temple was exclusively reserved to men of the tribe of Levi (not only the function of priests, but also that of cantor, potter, etc.).

Moreover, there are women who bore the name of prophetess (Maria, Deborah, Huldam, Noiada), while not playing the role of the great prophets. Other women exercised an important function for the salvation of the people of God at critical moments of this people's history (for example, Judith, Esther) (cf. section 2).

(Amendment of Father Wambacq:) "In the Old Testament, the Yahwist religion was not a religion in which women were excluded, as is sometimes held. Women as well as men could participate in worship. Contrary to the usages of the contemporary pagan peoples, the official exercise of the temple worship was reserved to men, in the second temple to those of the tribe of Levi."


In striking contast to the contemporary usages of the Jewish world, we see Jesus surrounding himself with women who follow him and serve him (Luke 8, 2-3). Mary of Bethany is even described as the examplary disciple "listening to the word" (Luke 10, 38-42). It is the women who are charged with announcing the resurrection "to the apostles and to Peter." (Mark 16, 7).

The fourth gospel stresses this role of witness attributed to women: the Samaritan woman, whose mere conversation with Jesus had astonished the apostles, goes carrying her witness to Jesus to her fellow citizens. After the resurrection, the evangelist emphasizes the role of Mary Magdalene whom tradition will call "the apostle of the apostles."


As Christianity spread, women took a notable part. That again distinguished the new religion sharply from contemporary Judaism.

Some women collaborated in the properly apostolic work. This is shown at numerous points in the Acts and the epistles. We shall limit ourselves to a few of them.

In the establishment of local communities, they are not content with offering their houses for meetings, as Lydia (Acts 16, 14-15), the mother of Mark (Acts 12, 12), Prisca (Rom. 16, 5), but, according to Phil. 4, 2, for example, Evodia and Syntyche are explicitly associated with "Clement and the other collaborators of Paul" in the community. Of the 27 persons thanked or greeted by Paul in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, nine or perhaps 10 are women. In the case of several of them, Paul insists on specifying that they have tired themselves for the community, using a Greek verb (kopian) most often used for the work of evangelization properly so called.

The case of Prisca and her husband Aquila whom Paul calls "his collaborators in Christ" and of whom he says that "to them are indebted not only himself but all the churches of the Gentiles" (Rom. 16, 3-4), shows us concretely an example of this "collaboration": their role in the story of Appollo is well known (Acts 18, 24-28).

Paul mentions explicitly a woman as "deacon" (diaconos) of the church of Cenchrees, who "was also," he says, "for many Christians and for himself a protectress" (Rom. 16, 1-2). In the pastoral epistles, the women indicated after the bishops and the deacons probably had a status of diaconos (1 Tim. 3, 11). Also notable is the case of Junias or Junio, placed in the rank of the apostles (Rom. 16, 7), with regard to whom one or another raises the question of whether it is a man.



(1) The Ministry of Leadership According to Jesus and the Apostolic Church

In establishing the kingdom of God, Jesus, during his ministry, chose a group of 12 men who, after the fashion of the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament, would be the leaders of the renewed people of God (Mk. 3:14-19); these men whom he destined to "sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt. 19:28) were first sent to "proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 10:7).

After his death and resurrection, Christ confided to his apostles the mission of evangelizing all nations (Mt. 28:19, Mk 16:5). These men would become his witnesses, beginning at Jerusalem and reaching to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, Lk. 24:47). "As my Father sent me," he told them, "I also send you" (Jn. 20:21).

Upon leaving the earth to return to his Father, he also delegated to a group of men whom he had chosen the responsibility to develop the kingdom of God and the authority to govern the church. The apostolic group thus established by the Lord appeared thus, by the testimony of the New Testament, as the basis of a community which has continued the work of Christ, charged to communicate to humanity the fruits of his salvation.

As a matter of fact, we see in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles that the first communities were always directed by men exercising the apostolic power.

The Acts of the Apostles show that the first Christian community of Jerusalem knew only one ministry of leadership, which was that of the apostles: this was the urministerioum from which all the others derived. It seems that, very early, the Greek community received its own structure, presided over by the college of seven (Acts 6:5). A little later there was a question for the Jewish group about a college of presbyters (ibid. 11:30). The church at Antioch was presided over by a group of "five prophets and teachers" (ibid. 13:1). At the end of their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas installed presbyters in the newly founded churches (ibid. 14:23).

There were also presbyters at Ephesus (ibid., 20:17), to whom were given the name of bishop (ibid. 20:28).

The epistles confirm the same picture: There are proistamenoi in 1 Thess. 5:12 (cf. 1Tim. 5:17 "hoi kalos proetotes presbyteroi"), of Christian presbytery (1Tim. 5:1, 2, 17, 19; Titus 1, 5; James 5, 4; 1Pet. 5:1, 5), of episkopoi, of hegoumenoi(Heb. 13:7, 13, 24. cf. Lk. 22:26).

1Cor. 16:16 recommends "submission" to Christians regarding those of the "house of Stephanas" who were sent for the service of the saints.

Whatever this last designation may be, (verse 17 speaks of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaikos), all that we can know of those who held a role of leadership in the communities leads to the conclusion that this role was always held by men (in conformity with the Jewish custom). (N.B. The “presbytides” mentioned in Titus 2:3 were elderly women, and not priestesses.)

The masculine character of the hierarchical order which has structured the church since its beginning thus seems attested to by scripture in an undeniable way. Must we conclude that this rule must be valid forever in the church?

We must however recall that according to the gospels, the Acts and St. Paul, certain women made a positive collaboration in service to the Christian communities.

Yet one question still always be asked: What is the normative value which should be accorded to the practice of the Christian communities of the first centuries?

(2) The Ministry of Leadership and the Sacramental Economy

One of the essential elements of the church's life is the sacramental economy which gives the life of Christ to the faithful. The administration of this economy has been entrusted to the church for which the hierarchy is responsible.

Thus the question is raised about the relationship between the sacramental economy and the hierarchy.

In the New Testament the primordial role of the leaders of the communities seems always to lie in the field of preaching and teaching. These are the people who have the responsibility of keeping the communities in line with the faith of the apostles.

No text defines their charge in terms of a special power permitting them to carry out the eucharistic rite or to reconcile sinners.

But given the relationship between the sacramental economy and the hierarchy, the administration of the sacraments should not be exercised independently of this hierarchy. It is therefore within the duties of the leadership of the community that we must consider the issue of eucharistic and penitential ministry.

In fact there is no proof that these ministries were entrusted to women at the time of the New Testament. Two texts (1Cor. 14:33-35 and 1Tim. 2:11-15) forbid women to speak and to teach in assemblies. However, without mentioning doubts raised by some about their Pauline authenticity, it is possible that they refer only to certain concrete situations and abuses. It is possible that certain other situations call on the church to assign to women the role of teaching which these two passages deny them and which constitute a function belonging to the leadership.

Is it possible that certain circumstances can come about which call on the church to entrust in the same way to certain women some sacramental ministries?

This has been the case with baptism which, though entrusted to the apostles (Mt. 28:19 and Mk. 16:15f) can be administered by others as well. We know that at least later, it will be entrusted also to women.

Is it possible that we will come to this even with the ministry of eucharist and reconciliation which manifest eminently the service of the priesthood of Christ carried out by the leaders of the community?

It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.

However, some think that in the scriptures there are sufficient indications to exclude this possibility, considering that the sacraments of eucharist and reconciliation have a special link with the person of Christ and therefore with the male hierarchy, as borne out by the New Testament.

Others, on the contrary, wonder if the church hierarchy, entrusted with the sacramental economy, would be able to entrust the ministries of eucharist and reconciliation to women in light of circumstances, without going against Christ's original intentions.

For the votes of the Commission, see above, p. 25.


President: Franjo Cardinal Seper, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith

Secretary: Msgr. Albert Deschamps, Titular Bishop of Tunis

Members: Rev. Jose Alonso-Diaz, SJ
Rev. Jean-Dominique Barthelemy, OP
Rev. Pierre Benoit, OP 
Rev. Raymond Brown, PSS
Rev. Henri Cazelles, PSS
Msgr. Alfons Deissler 
Rev. Ignace de la Pitterie, SJ 
Rev. Jacques Dupont, OSB 
Msgr. Savatore Garofalo 
Rev. Joachim Gnilka 
Rev. Pierre Grelot 
Rev. Alexander Kerrigan, OFM
Rev. Lucien Legrand, MEP
Rev. Stanislas Lyonnet, SJ
Rev. Carlo Martini, SJ 
Rev. Antonio Moreno Casamitjana 
Rev. Ceslas Spicq, OP
Rev. David Stanley, SJ 
Rev. Benjamin Wambacq, OPraem

Technical Secretary: Rev. Marino Maccarelli, OSM

1. Annuario Pontificio, 1977, p. 1073.

Excerpts from Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963

The question of women's ordination was not explicitly discussed at Vatican II.  Despite this, the Council's documents make clear several things:

  • a recognition of rights within the Church
  • a rising awareness of a new sense of women in the Church and in the world.

Some relevant excerpts from the Encyclical, Pacem in Terris are here.

 [Note: Highlighting of text is our's.]



APRIL 11, 1963

15. Human beings have also the right to choose for themselves the kind of life which appeals to them: whether it is to found a family—in the founding of which both the man and the woman enjoy equal rights and duties—or to embrace the priesthood or the religious life.(12)

Characteristics of the Present Day

39. There are three things which characterize our modern age.

40. In the first place we notice a progressive improvement in the economic and social condition of working men. They began by claiming their rights principally in the economic and social spheres, and then proceeded to lay claim to their political rights as well. Finally, they have turned their attention to acquiring the more cultural benefits of society.

Today, therefore, working men all over the world are loud in their demands that they shall in no circumstances be subjected to arbitrary treatment, as though devoid of intelligence and freedom. They insist on being treated as human beings, with a share in every sector of human society: in the socio-economic sphere, in government, and in the realm of learning and culture.

41. Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

42. Finally, we are confronted in this modern age with a form of society which is evolving on entirely new social and political lines. Since all peoples have either attained political independence or are on the way to attaining it, soon no nation will rule over another and none will be subject to an alien power.