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Eric Bergerud wrote:

Hi, guys —

I converted to the Church three years ago and am on the orthodox side of the intra-Church culture wars. I also teach history for a living and know a bit about the Early Church. I do understand the idea of "form" and "matter" and do understand the importance of tradition, as well as Scripture, however, I do not understand the Church's position on women priests.

The tradition is based, as I understand it, upon the example of Christ's use of the Twelve Apostles, however, in the Gospels there is precious little in the way of a definition of an Apostle; it only implied that the Twelve have something to do with the tribes of Israel.

As I understand it, Paul is considered an Apostle by the Church, even though he may have never seen Jesus, nor do the Gospels or Acts really describe the unique role of the Twelve in spreading the Word. Indeed, a much larger number of disciples seem to have been involved, perhaps including the authors of the Gospels.

  • How do we arrive at the impossibility that none of the Twelve Apostles were women, seeing it is almost impossible to argue that all Apostles were men according to Early Church writings?

I agree that one could argue that Peter had a special role and his position as "Bishop of Rome" is solid. I certainly agree with Apostolic succession but that still says nothing about gender except that Paul wanted women to be quiet in Church and wear some kind of hat. When I was a kid, women always wore something on their heads.

I sometimes attend a very conservative parish and the women there seem to have forgotten them and I doubt the matter comes up in Confession. Even celibacy takes some creative reading. Christ was celibate, but we know nothing about the Twelve, other than that Peter was married and his wife accompanied him as He spread the word. If any of the Apostles were celibate, except Paul,
it is not stated in Scripture.

It is the nature of tradition that it changes. In the last century, the Church has ceased making the categorical claim that salvation can be found only inside the Vatican's embrace. Considering the special role of the women so prominent in the Gospels, it is a far greater change than arguing,
for instance, for the ordination of women.

  • If the Church is serious about unification with the Eastern Rite, what will be done about married priests there?
  • Is this not also a question of "form and matter"?

The re-orientation of gender roles has so profoundly changed in the last two hundred years that it is difficult to believe that the process is part of the social poison that has caused so much damage in the industrial world since the 1970s. As Pope Benedict commented in Light of the World, it is vital for the Church to understand what components of the modern world:

  • to embrace
  • which to investigate and
  • which to oppose.

I'd sure put a female priesthood in the second category minimum. Surely, the Holy Spirit understands demographics. We need more priests and somehow I doubt the female parishioners, who make up well over half of the attendees to Mass, would oppose receiving the sacrament from a woman who commits herself totally to the Church. I certain would not.

I realize that Scripture is not the only basis for Church teaching but surely foundational teachings, as is the case with the Incarnation, Baptism and the Eucharist, should have Scriptural support.

I don't see it in the Church's position on women and the priesthood.


Eric Bergerud

  { Can you help me understand the Church's position on reserving the priesthood for men? }

Mary Ann replied:


I would say that the Scriptural support for the Church's teaching about a female priesthood is something that runs through Scripture in terms of the nature of the priesthood and the acts of Christ.

As to the first, the priest is a mediator. In the New Law, there is one priest, Christ, who is the Bridegroom of the Church (Revelations and all of Old Testament), and the Head of His Body.

The priest is to be transparent to Christ, representing only Him, not himself. Well, women can't do that. Try as we might, when we stand up we are seen for ourselves, as sources of life (fertile with external sex characteristics meant to speak of the Bridal quality).

Spiritually, we can represent Christ, of course, but in our bodily "there ness", no. That relates also to the fact that the woman is bride, not bridegroom, and can't represent the groom, either in nature or in function, to lay down his life in service for the woman and child that he serves.
If we have lost this fundamentally human vision of the family, then we might as well be bugs.

As for the second reason, it is that the words and deeds of Christ are constitutive of the sacraments. They are the extension of His will in action. What He did was to ordain men.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Eric —

You said:
It is the nature of tradition that it changes. In the last century, the Church has ceased making the categorical claim that salvation can be found only inside the Vatican's embrace.

We have to separate tradition with a small "t" and Tradition with a big "T".

Traditions with a small "t" can change. They include traditions like:

  • local customs
  • personal disciplines
  • devotionals
  • parish customs and disciples and
  • yes, celibacy.

  • Could the disciple on celibacy change? <Yes>; is it likely too? <No, for good reasons.>

Just ask any married Protestant minister. He'd tell you that the Church would be crazy to change its disciple on celibacy. Who does the minister serve first?

  • His physical family and their physical and spiritual needs, or
  • His spiritual parish family, where he has to celebrate all the sacraments for the faithful.

He certainly wouldn't have time for both.

Traditions with a big "T" cannot change because they make up the Deposit of Faith. We receive the Deposit of Faith from three sources:

  1. Written Tradition, the Scriptures and
  2. Oral Tradition, with
  3. the Magisterium guiding us on issues of faith and morals when new moral issues arise from generation to generation

Oral Tradition is passed down to us by the Apostles by words; see Luke 10:16, and
2 Thessalonians 2:15

This portion of the Catechism may help you to understand why Holy Orders is reserved for men alone:

1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:

It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).

God's grace builds on nature, it doesn't destroy it. Since Jesus was a man, and the ministerial priest represents Christ at Mass, he has to be a man.

Only men can be ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The reasons are set forth in Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It concludes, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

I also sense you have a grave misunderstanding of what happened over the previous centuries on the Church's Teaching that "Outside the Church there is no Salvation". This is still a Teaching of the Church and always will be. The Church never dropped this teaching, but rather clarified its meaning for the faithful and the world. This posting should help you understand how the Church interprets this doctrine:

In addition to what my colleague Mary Ann has said, I think you'll find the following postings helpful as well:

Hope this helps,


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