Biblical Commission Report Can Women Be Priests ?
http://www.womenpriests.org/classic/append2.asp APPENDIX II from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 338-346. Republished on our website with the necessary permissions
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.
PART I WOMAN’S PLACE IN THE FAMILY
(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.
PART II THE SOCIAL CONDITION OF WOMAN ACCORDING TO BIBLICAL REVELATION
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).
PART III ECCLESIAL CONDITION OF WOMAN 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. » THE GOSPELS 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. » ACTS AND PAUL 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.
PART IV REPLY TO THE QUESTION ABOUT THE EVENTUAL ORDINATION OF WOMEN TO THE PRIESTHOOD
(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.
[The voting is reported on in detail by John R. Donahue.] PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL COMMISSION’ 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. A Tale of Two Documents by John R. Donahue from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 25-34. Republished on our website with the necessary permissions John R. Donahue, SJ, Associate Professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School, received his Ph. D. from the University of Chicago and has taught at Woodstock College. He is the author of Are You the Christ? The Trial of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. He has been a member of the Executive Board of the Catholic Biblical Association and was at the time a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Biblical Literature. For those Catholics concerned about ordination of women for the ministerial priesthood the period from July, 1976, through January, 1977, was the “best of times” and the ‘’worst of times. »
Advocates of such ordination were encouraged by published reports in late June of some results of the April, 1976, meeting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
(1) Most startling to some observers were the three votes attributed to the Commission:
(1) a unanimous (17-0) vote that the New Testament does not settle in a clear way and once and for all whether women can be ordained priests,
(2) a 12-5 vote in favor of the view that scriptural grounds alone are not enough to exclude the possibility of ordaining women and
(3) a 12-5 vote that Christ’s plan would not be transgressed by permitting the ordination of women.
(2) For those opposed to the ordination of women the “best of times” came on January 27, 1977, with the publication by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Declaration (Inter Insigniores) on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood which declared Catholic teaching to be that “the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.”
(3) Catholics and non-Catholics, lay people and scholars alike, are therefore confronted by an apparent coflict between an official Roman statement (hereafter, referred to as the Declaration) and the report of an official Roman Commission. Where the Biblical Commission says that the New Testament leaves the question open, the Congregation states that it is precisely the will of Christ as attested in the New Testament which determined early Church practice and subsequent tradition. Independent of one’s judgment about which view is more faithful to the New Testament and also independent of one’s sympathies, in order to understand the difference between the two documents some comments must be made about the Vatican offices which issued the documents. The Biblical Commission and Its « Report » The Pontifical Biblical Commission, the oldest of the formal commissions of the modern papacy, was established by Leo XIII on October 30, 1902, in order to oversee proper biblical interpretation and to foster biblical studies.
(4) In the early decades of its history it was associated with a series of responsa or decrees which were in opposition to modern trends of biblical interpretation. It has also issued instructions, of which the most famous is the 1964 Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels.
(5) Prior to 1971 the only formal members of the Commission were the 10 or more Cardinals, even though from its inception the Commission employed for its deliberations consultors or experts in biblical studies. On June 27, 1971, in his Motu Proprio (Apostolic Brief), Sedula Cura, Paul VI promulgated a new set of regulations for the Commission.
(6) In place of the Cardinal members, the Commission was to be composed of a Cardinal-President, a Secretary proposed by the President, and twenty formal members who were to be “scholars of the biblical sciences from various schools and nations.”
(7) In its recognition of the need for trained scholars in the discussion of biblical questions and in its “internationalizing” of a Vatican office, the reorganization was seen as a progressive move. At the same time the re-organization weakened whatever independent status the Biblical Commission possessed. The Cardinal President was to be the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Franjo Seper). The Biblical Commission itself was to be in effect a sub-commission of this same Congregation and whatever conclusions it reached were to be transmitted “for the use of the Congregation on Doctrine.”
(8) The Biblical Commission could no longer issue any independent reports; its only formal vehicle of communication was through the Congregation on Doctrine. In this light the apparent ignoring of the Biblical Commission’s report by the Congregation of the Doctrine makes some sense, even if it does not evoke much assent. In the mind of the Congregation the work of the Biblical Commission is merely advisory. It is not seen as a consultative body of experts which may arrive at unexpected or unhoped for conclusions which would be normative in any discussion.
(9) The report of the Biblical Commission which was made public July, 1976 is not really an official or finished document but the unofficially leaked portions of sections of the Commission’s deliberations. The question of the ordination of women occupied the Biblical Commission prior to and during its plenary sessions of April, 1975 and 1976. Given the time spent and the high quality of scholarship represented by members of the Commission, one could have hoped for a more thorough and adequate biblical statement on women. The Report cannot be read with this expectation. Its introduction and four sections comprise answers to specific questions, rather than organic parts of a finished piece. Because of the secrecy which surrounds the work of all Vatican Offices, the actual questions posed are unknown. Like the problems behind Paul’s letters, the questions must be deduced from the often cryptic answers to them.
(10) At the same time the Report does summarize major aspects of the best New Testament scholarship on women. Also the significance of the Report is not in the cogency or polish of the public statement but in the votes which accompanied it. In spite of its official status as a subcommission of the Congregation on Doctrine, and in face of public and clearly articulated statements about what was and was to be the official teaching on women’s ordination, the Commission arrived at a conclusion different from that of the Congregation.
(11) Whatever the ecclesiastical status of the report, the conclusions and the votes of the Commission are signs of an emerging pluralism in Catholic thought as well as of a changing relationship between the official Magisterium and theologians.
(12) The Congregation and Its Declaration The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under whose direct authority the Declaration was issued has a long and important history. It was founded by Paul III in 1542 as “The Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition,” was later called the Holy Office, and, on December 7 1965, was re-organized by Paul VI and given its present name.
(13) Though at this time some of the more harsh juridical procedures of the Congregation were mitigated, it still functions as a overseer of orthodoxy. Given the history and juridical status of this Congregation and given the public statements of Paul VI over the past three years, the conclusion of the Congregation should have come as a surprise to no one. From all indications it was sometime in early 1975 that Paul VI mandated the Congregation to prepare a statement on women’s ordination.(14) From this same period onward the position of Paul VI became increasingly clear. On April 18, 1975, he stated that “women did not receive the call to the apostolate of the twelve and therefore to the ordained ministry.
(15) In the exchange of letters with the Archbishop of Canterbury, especially in the letter of November 30, 1975, Paul VI expressed, in brief form, what was to be the substance of the argument in the Declaration: the example of Jesus in choosing only men is determinative of Church doctrine and practice.
(16) The only new elements in the final Declaration are certain expansions of this statement and the addition of the theological argument on the natural resemblance between Christ and the minister of the Eucharist. All of this suggests that during that very period when the Biblical Commission was studying the matter, the conclusions, the general shape of the argument and perhaps the actual formulation of the final Declaration of the Congregation were nearing completion. In this light a discrepancy between the Commission’s Report and the Congregation’s Declaration is not surprising. What is, however, a bit surprismg is the apparent absence of any formal participation in the deliberations by the Secretariat for Christian Unity. The initial contacts on the issue between Anglicans and Catholics took place through this Secretariat. However, when the Declaration was released there was no one present representing this Secretariat, and the Swiss Journal Orientierung reports that the Declaration hit the Secretariat members “like a bolt from the blue. »
(17) Such an apparent lack of communication between Roman offices dealing with a critical issue is surprising in view of the regulation of Paul VI in his 1967 reform of the Curia that when business falls under the province of a number of departments, it is to be discussed ”on the basis of consultation of the departments concerned.
(18) This glance at the offices involved and at some of the events of the past few years suggests that the Declaration of January 27 cannot be seen as the end product of serious and sustained reflection and study on the part of a wide representation of the Magisterium.
(19) Just as the Biblical Commission’s Report cannot be read as the best discussion of the scriptural evidence bearing on the question, the Declaration of the Congregation can not be read as if it were the best presentation of the available considerations either against or for the ordination of women. Two Documents Compared While it is impossible to know whether and how the Report of the Biblical Commission was used by the Congregation, there are a number of places where common material is treated. We will attempt to describe some of the areas of common concern and indicate points of agreement as well as significant difference. I. The Attitude of Jesus The basic argument of the Declaration is that in his call of the twelve men Jesus was not influenced by any cultural prejudice against women and deliberately did not entrust “the apostolic charge” to women, not even to his mother. The Declaration also rejects the view that Mt 19:28 (“You will sit on the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”) with its eschatological symbolism is basic to an understanding the ministry of the Twelve.
(20) The Report also stresses the newness of Jesus’ attitude toward women which is “in striking contrast to the contemporary usages of the Jewish world.” While the Report admits the fact that Jesus chose a group of twelve men, it stresses that these are chosen “who, after the fashion of the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament, would be leaders of the renewed people of God.” Though the Report recognizes the masculine character of leadership in the early Church, it does not root this in the intention of Jesus, and asks, “Must we conclude that this rule must be valid forever in the Church?” The Report never alludes to the question of the ordination of Mary since there is not enough evidence in the New Testament even to address this question. Finally, the Report stresses the eschatological framework of Jesus’ total ministry, as well as of his choice of the Twelve, when it says, “Jesus inaugurates in the framework of the present world the order of things that constitutes the final horizon of the kingdom of God.” The Report therefore exercises exegetical reserve in regard to the intention of Jesus. The argument of the Declaration that Jesus was free of certain cultural prejudices in regard to women and therefore consciously excluded them freely from leadership suffers from both poor logic and poor exegesis. The accounts of the call and the mission of the Twelve simply do not provide the kind of information required to arrive at the intention of Jesus.
(21) Likewise the overlooking of the eschatological significance of the Twelve is a serious defect of the Declaration. If the choice of “the Twelve” is dictated by the eschatological consciousness of Jesus that the end is near, then his choice can scarcely be seen as prescriptive for a long period of Church history.
(22) II. Practice of the Early Church The Declaration holds that the apostolic community remained faithful to the attitude of Jesus in excluding women. Though women worked with St. Paul, he never envisaged “conferring ordination” on these women, and he clearly distinguished between “my fellow workers” and “fellow workers of God” who participated in the “official and public proclamation of the message.” Paul’s prohibitions in 1Cor 14:34-35 and 1Tim 2:12 are not the expression of cultural fact but of a different nature and concern “the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly.” The Report differs on almost all of these points and also adds a fuller picture of ministry in the New Testament. The Report does not use the anachronistic language of “conferring ordination” in describing ministry in the early Church, nor does it gives the impression that the different forms of ministry arose in continuity with the explicit intention of Jesus. It mentions the choice of the Twelve and states that, upon leaving the earth, “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.” This group is the basis of a community which has continued the work of Christ, but there is no statement that this group explicitly determined the shape of ministry in the early Church. The report gives a much fuller picture of the role of women in the early Church. They participate in the work (kopian) of evangelization. Phoebe is not described in the weak language of the Declaration, “in the service of the Church,” but as a deacon. the Report mentions the possibility that the Junias of Rom 16:7 who is ranked with the apostles may be a woman, and it alludes to the significant role of women in the Gospel of John.
(23) The Report does not make the dubious distinction between “my fellow worker” and “fellow worker of God.”(24) Finally Paul’s prohibitions of 1Cor 14:34-35 are evaluated in the following way. “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.” In comparing what the two documents say about the early Church it is clear that the Declaration is selective in its description of the roles of women in the early Church and that when it does mention them, it minimizes them. III. The Use of Nuptial Imagery Both documents call attention to those texts in which Christ is related to the Church as bridegroom to bride. The Declaration then goes on to make a theological extension of this image not found in the New Testament: the priest represents Christ the groom and therefore must be male. In the New Tcstament the image is used only of Christ and the Church and never extended into the area of ministry.
IV. Principles of Exegesis The Report begins with a number of cautions on addressing the question of the ordination of women:
(1) woman does not constitute the principal subject of biblical texts,
(2) the very posing of the question in terms of “priesthood » and celebration of the Eucharist is “somewhat foreign to the Bible” and derives from a perspective of a later conception of the priesthood, and
(3) the Church is now in the process of broadening its concept of the priesthood beyond that of the eucharistic ministry. With these exegetical cautions the Report is rather tentative in its conclusions, suggesting in different ways that the New Testament provides a background for theological reflcction and questioning whether all New Testament practices can be directly normative for present Church life. The Declaration also admits the limitation of the data provided by the New Testament; however, it responds to this limitation not with the exegetical reserve of the Report, but with the statement that a purely historical exegesis of Scripture cannot suffice to reach the ultimate meaning of the mission of Jesus and the ultimate meaning of Scripture, and that “it is the Church through the voice of her Magisterium that, in these various domains, decides what can change and what can remain immutable.” While Catholic exegetes would agree that the ultimate meaning of Scripture is beyond the province of exegesis and would recognize the authority of the Magisterium in articulating authentic tradition, Catholic exegetes would also recall the hermeneutical guidelines of par. 12 of the Vatican II Degree on Revelation which stress the need for scientific and historical exegesis in order to fnd what the sacred writers really intended.
(25) Conclusion The documents discussed reveal not only different conclusions on the admission of women to the priesthood; they reveal different ways of looking at the biblical material. In the Declaration the exegesis is selective and is marshalled to support the current teaching of the Magisterium.
(26) Such exegesis will convince no one who is not disposed to agree with the Declaration on grounds other than the strength of its exegesis. The Report of the Biblical Commission is necessarily tentative and limited by the questions posed to it. Both documents leave an unfinished agenda. The mainly negative conclusion of the Biblical Commission (there is nothing in the New Testament which prohibits the ordination of women) can be supplemented by positive considerations not simply by biblical scholars but also by theologians, especially in the area of ecclesiology.
(27) One relatively untapped area of biblical and theological reflection will be to ask how the different forms which ministry assumed in the early Church were in response to different social and religious demands of the emerging communities. From its very beginning the Church embodies a principle of sacramental adaptation. The question can then be raised as to what forms ministry must take today in response to different social and religious demands.(28) The Declaration of the Congregation also leaves an unfinished agenda. In its call for attention to the symbolic dimension of scriptural language “which affects man and woman in their profound identity and through which the mystery of God is revealed” the Declaration implicitly calls for the use in theology and exegesis of not only the tools of historical method and critical reflection but also for engagement in anthropology and the phenomenology of symbol and of psychology as a way to sound the depths of what Scripture says about the mystery of man and woman and how they are to minister to the body of Christ in the world. The Report of the Biblical Commission and the Declaration of the Congregation are not the end but the beginning of a task of study and reflection which will continue to engage the whole Church.
(29) Notes 1. “Biblical Commission Report. Can Women Be Priests?” Origins Vol VI, No. 6 (July 1, 1976), pp. 92-96. For press reports see National Catholic Reporter, Vol. Xll, No. 34 (July 2, 1976), p. 15; John T. Muthig Our Sunday Visitor, Vol. LXV, No. 3336 (June 27, 1976), p. 3. 2. The questions voted on comprise the final three paragraphs of the report. 3. The National Catholic Register (Los Angeles), February 13, 1977, contained the headline, « Women Priests Ban Acclaimed. » Cardinal William Baum of Washington, D.C., stated: “I thank our Lord for the firm and clear guidance which the Holy Father has given to us in approving and confirming the teaching of this declaration.” Origins Vol. VI, No. 34 (Feb. 10, 1977), p. 548, published also in L’Osservatore Romano, English edition (Feb. 24, 1977), p. 7. 4. B.N. Wambacq, “Pontifical Biblical Commission,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, pp. 551-554; Enchridion Biblicum (Rome: A. Arnodo, 1961), pp. 64-68; Rome and the Study of Scripture (St. Meinrad, Indiana: Grail Publications, 1962), pp. 33-34. 5. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XXVI (1964), pp. 299-304 (Latin Text); pp. 305-312 (English Text). 6. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. LXIII (1971), pp. 665-669, Origins Vol. 1, No. 8 (July 29, 1971), pp. 149-151; D. Stanley, “Pontifcal Biblicai Commission,” New Catholic Encyclopedia: Supplement, 1967-1974, Vol. XVI, pp. 357-358. 7. Sedula Cura, No. 3. A list of the members can be found in the Annuario Pontificio (1973), p. 1036. 8. Ibid., No. 10. Stanley, op. cit., p. 358. Vatican watchers can observe the reduction of the Commission’s official standing by noting that prior to 1972 the Biblical Commission was listed first among the “Commissioni e Comitati Permanente” (Annuario Pontificio , p. 1069). Affer the reorganization it (along with the International Theological Commission) was listed as a sub-committee of the Saered Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith and no longer appears first in the list of commissions, but inconspicuously in the middle. 9. In a press conference on June 28, 1976, a Vatican spokesman made the following statement: “The proper agencies of the Holy See follow and study all those major questions which are significant, among which must be included the question of the ordination of women. It should be noted that the fact a question is studied in no way signifies that a change is foreseen. In the case of the priesthood for women, the study bears solely on the manner of presenting the traditional teaching and practice of the Church as it has been clearly recalled by the Holy Father on many occasions. » Documentation Catholique, Vol. LXXIII, No. 1704 (Sept., 1976), p. 770. 10. A major problem facing anyone writing about Vatican statements is the practice of secrecy which surrounds the workings of all Vatican offices. This secrecy extends often not only to matters of necessary confidentiality but to the most mundane matters of when a cetain study was begun, who was consulted, who participated in the drafting, etc. The Biblical Commission’s Report is a “leaked” document made public “after a source unrelated to the commission made it available to the press” (Origins, Vol. Vl, No. 6, p. 92). It is directed not to the general public but to those who mandated the study, presumably the Pope or the Congregation on Doctrine. 11. The ordination of women has become a topic of intense research and discussion in Catholicism only in the past decade. See Ann E. Patrick, “Women and Religion: A Survey of Significant Literature, 1965-1974,” Theological Studies, Vol. XXXVI (Dec., 1975), pp. 737-765 (also published in Women: New Dimensions, ed. Walter Burghardt, S.J. [New York: Paulist Press 1976] pp. 161-189). With the emergence of reflection on the possibility of women’s ordinations official Church statements which earlier had not addressed the question became increasingly negative on the possibility; see E.J. Kilmartin, S.J., “Full Participation of Women in the Life of the Catholic Church ” in Sexism and Canon Law, ed. James Coriden (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) pp. 109-135, and Nadine Foley, O.P., ..Woman in Vatican Documents 1960 to the Present, » ibid., pp. 82-108; H.M. Legrand, O.P., “Views on the Ordination of Women, » Origins, Vol. VI, No. 29. (Jan. 6, 1977), pp. 459-468. Infra, Notes 14-16. 12. R. A. McCormick, S.J., “Notes on Moral Theology,” Theological Studies, Vol. XXXVIII (March, 1977), pp. 84-100 has a superb summary of the recent literature on this topic. 13. U. Beste, “Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for the,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, pp. 944-946. The decree of reorganization(Integrae Servandae) is found in the Acta Aposto/icae Sedis, Vol. LVII (1965), pp. 952-955 = The Pope Speaks, Vol. XI (1966), pp. 13-16. 14. See the report by Desmond O’Grady, National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 4, 1977, p. 17, who states, “In mid-1975 Pope Paul asked the Doctrinal Congregation to prepare a statement.” 15. Address to the committee studying the Church’s response to the International Woman’s Year. Origins, Vol. IV, No.45 (May 1, 1975), pp. 718-719. 16. Origins, Vol. VI, No. 9 (Aug. 12, 1976), pp. 129-132. 17. A. Ebneter, “Keine Frauen im Priesteramt,” Orientierung, Vol. XLI, No. 3 (Feb. 15, 1977), p. 26. 18. “Reorganizing the Roman Curia,” Apostolic Constitution, Regimini Ecclesiae Universalis, Aug. 15, 1967. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. LIX (1967), pp. 885-928 = The Pope Speaks, Vol. XII (1967), pp. 393-420, No. 13. 19. As noted serious study of the question of the ordination of women is relatively recent in Catholicism. Legrand and Patrick (supra,n. II) mention some of the recent studies; see also, A.M. Gardner, S.S.N.D. (ed.) Women and Catholic Priesthood (New York: Paulist Press, 1976), esp. the bibliography on pp. 199-208; compiled by Donna Westly and R. T. Barnhouse, M. Fahey, S.J., B. Oram and B. Walker, O.P. “The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: An Annotated Bibliography, ‘ Anglican Theological Review, Supplementary Series, No. 6 (June, 1976), pp. 81-106. Though the press reported that members of the theological Commission, bishops, other theologians and women were consulted, no specifics were ever made available about who was actually consulted and how they were consulted. See, Report of Interview with Fr. Richard Malone of the NCCB staff, The Baltimore Catholic Review, (Feb. 4, 1977), p. B-2. The International theological Commission never formally considered the question nor did the Papal Commission on Women. See, M-T van Lunen-Chenu, ‘La Commission pontificale de la femme,” Etudes, Vol. CCCXLIV (June, 1976), 879-891 20. Mt 19:28 (Lk 22:30) is mentioned only in note 10 which says that in these texts it is “only a question of their participation in the eschatological judgment.” The importance of this text cannot be so minimized. It is the only place in the New Testament where “the Twelve” is on the lips of Jesus in giving a mandate to the disciples (Mk 14:20, the sole other place where Jesus speaks of “the Twelve,” is a prediction of Judas’ betrayal). See R. Brown, Priest and Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1970), p. 55; and R. H. Fuller, “Pro and Con: The Ordination of Women,” in Toward a New Theology of Ordination, ed. M. H. Micks and C. P. Price (Alexandria: Virginia Theological Seminary, 1976), p. 2; and the essay by Elisabeth Fiorenza, pp. 114-122. 21. It is generally admitted that Mk 3:13 where it says Jesus called those “whom he wanted” is a redactional comment of the Evangelist. These words are not found in the Matthean (5:1) nor the Lukan (Lk 6:13) parallels. The literal historicity of the call narratives is also disputed. the following authors agree that Mk 3:13-14 are mostly redactional, i.e., due to the Evangelist, and can not be used as a historical description of Jesus’ intentions. R. Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, Part I, Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Freiburg: Herder, 1976), pp. 202-209, Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 229, says, “The narrative appears to have been constructed ad hoc on the basis of existing tradition”; D. E. Ninehan, Saint Mark (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963), p. 116. In its exegesis the Vatican Dcclaration does not always seem aware of the different levels of the traditions about Jesus as they are described in the 1964 Instruction (supra, n. 5). 22. Fuller, op. cit., p. 2. 23. R. E. Brown, “Roles of Women in the Fourth Gospel,” Theological Studies, Vol. XXXVI (Dec., 1975), pp. 688-700 (also in Women New Dimensions, pp. 112-124). Brown is a member of the Biblical Commission. 24. For a more extended critique of this distinction see, J. R. Donahue, “Women, Priesthood and the Vatican,” America, Vol. CXXXVI (April 2 1977), pp. 286-287. 25. “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” in The Documents of Vatican II , ed.Walter Abbott (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), par. 12. In his commentary on this section Alois Grillmeir notes that “the determinata adiuncta. the particular circumstances, the situation from which the sacred writer speaks or in which the text has grown, » must be the starting point of exegesis, “and he further notes: ”This must all be established by historical critical methods. Divino aff1ante firmly urged this. » Commentary On The Documents Of Vatican II, ed. H. Vorgrimler (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), Vol. III, p. 221. 26. The understanding of the relation of theology to the Magisterium which seems to be at work in the Declaration is that expressed in the 1950 encyclical of Pius XII, Humani Generis: « It is also true that theologians must always go back to the sources of divine revelation; for it pertains to their office to show how (qua ratione) the teachings of the living Magisterium are contained, either explicitly or implicitly, in the Sacred Scriptures and divine Tradition. » No. 21, in The Encyclical “Humani Generis” trans. A. C. Cotter (Weston, Mass: Weston College Press, 1952), also in Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchridion Symbolorum (Freiburg: Herder, 1962), No. 3886. 27. For recent New Testament studies see the surveys by, A. Lemaire, “The Ministries in the New Testament,” Biblical Theology Bulletin, Vol. III (1973), pp. 133-166; and R. Schnackenburg, “Apostolicity: the Present Position of Studies,” One Christ, Vol. VI (1970), pp. 243-273. 28. See Anne Carr, “The Church in Process: Engendering the Future,” in Women and Catholic Priesthood, pp. 66-88. 29. McCormick, op. cit., p. 99, writes: “Finally—and this is delicate— something must be done to liberate Roman congregations from a single theological language and perspective…. More radically, one can wonder whether congregations as such should be involved in doing theology.” The Declaration on Women, published after McCormick wrote these words, confrms his view.