Why has the Church Ruled and Maintained the Ruling that only Men may Serve Priests?
There is an ancient mosaic of a woman inside an old church not far from the Vatican. “The Bishop - Theodora Episcopa” – is written next to that image. (Ishimaru, p.1) Could it be possible that a woman was ever allowed to be a priest and if yes, why are women forbidden to be priests now? The question of women craving for priesthood has been largely discussed in the press and within the religious communities during the last decade. However, the answer to this dispute and its aptness is very unclear and ambiguous. In the Church’s latest statement on this matter, Pope John Paul II, stated categorically that the Church would not ordain women under any circumstances, “now or in the future”. (Bogle,18). The attitude of the Vatican is clear, however is there really a reason to keep women away from serving God? And if yes, are they momentous enough?
My essay will be a short address to the issue mentioned above. I will try to investigate the immense depths of the equal dignity but rather different roles of men and women, and the nature of the relationship between God, people and the Church. As well as I will trace back the history of Christianity to find the answer for the stirring clash.
As I have already mentioned, Christian people all over the globe have different opinions on the matter. Some people tend to believe that the Catholic Church’s persistence on a male priesthood only is an incomprehensible abnormality, which endures only because a Pope John Paul II has, in early 1990s, refused to give women the right to ordain. Others, being more conservative, consider having women priests intolerable and excruciating and just simply the breaking of the Christian law. The right approach to this complicated question is, to my mind, look at both opinions closer first, and only then, derive the conclusion, basing it on the arguments of both parties.
To begin with, I would like to look at the arguments of those people, who consider female priesthood appropriate. Nowadays, the polls suggest that a majority of Catholics all over the world support the ordination of women. It is seen that the support is stronger among younger and more educated people, and about 53-percent are in favor of the ordination of non-celibate women. (Ishimaru, p 22)
Looking back at the life of Christianity couple centuries ago it can be in fact seen that women have played a central role in the life of the Church. Women were very important figures in the Christian movement starting with Lydia in the Acts of the Apostles, Margaret of Scotland, Jadwiga from Poland and other great women of influence. This list can be continued with Englishwomen who arranged secret places for Masses during the Reformation Period. Then Edith Stein, whose quest “for intellectual and spiritual truth” led her to loosing her life at Auschwitz. (Bogle, 19-20) And this is, of course, without mentioning women who played a big role in the history of Christianity during the biblical times, such as Maria Magdalena and Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus Christ. Isn’t the mentioned above convincing enough to justify that women do have the right to be ordained?
For some people, yes, they believe that a woman has as much right to be a priest as a man does think that preventing a woman from being a priest is simply the result of a tradition of sexism and oppression. According to people of that opinion it is inappropriate nowadays, in the era of high development, to keep justifying discrimination under the excuse of “tradition” and “conservatism”. Especially as, without a shadow of doubt, a woman can feel a call to be a priest as strongly as a man can or maybe even more, considering that women tend to be more emotional and more often follow the will of their heart.
Another reason why from early ages women were never ordained is that Christian tradition, as well as most of the societies up to recent times, simply assumed the natural weakness of women and therefore their incapacity for leadership. The mentioned theory proved itself wrong because there is a great amount of wonderful leaders who are women. So it can be said that if the theory that women are weak and incapable of some particular functions did not prove itself the women must be given an opportunity to be ordained.
It is very important to remember that the Catholic Church is supposed to be an accepting Church. This means that any changes in our case, like women priests, have to get the approval from the bishops in the world. Unfortunately, some people might not like the idea of a woman saying a Mass, however there is absolutely no reason to think that she would do a worse job than man. (Chaves, 116). So according to the arguments that this group puts forward, excluding women from serving at the church only because they have different body from Christ is immoral and unreasonable. And women do have a full right to be ordained.
However, there is an absolutely opposite opinion, held by people who are strongly against women priesthood, considering it to be an act of blasphemy. This opinion has a lot of strong arguments to it that I would like to state below. A very simple one of them is that a woman cannot be a “father”, as the priests are called, representing Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. This is linked with God’s relationship with the Church, in that the Church is the Mother and God is the Father, and we are - the children.
Also Christ is the head of the Church, like the husband, or the father, is the head of the household. A priest being the representative of Jesus Christ is also a representative of His fatherhood of the Church. So from the argument it can be driven that a woman simply cannot perform the spiritual duties that were made for “a man” because only he can naturally perform the act of fatherhood.
It can also be said that those people who are for the ordination of women discount history and misapprehend the Bible. Even though it is claimed that there is no specific verse in the Bible forbidding women to be ordained, it is meant for Christian people to know that one cannot argue reasonably that point from mere scriptural silence. (Anderson, p 8)
Reading bible one may see that there are a lot of things that Bible is silent about. There are also those things that do not seem to be prohibited however, it is universally understood that those things should not be done. As an Orthodox Priest Father Anderson puts it “it is obvious in the study of church history that the idea of female priests never developed in the religious and spiritual experience of our Christian ancestors.” And if over the years women were never involved in priesthood is not that a sign that they should not be involved now?
Some may argue that women should have a right for priesthood because Jesus Christ taught the spiritual equality of men and women to the people. But this cannot make a strong point because even though Christ taught that men and women are equal in their human nature, he proclaimed they were entirely different in their human function. (Anderson, p.6)
So, as far as I can judge, the Church including only men in the priesthood is not out of sexist gender prejudice and it is not even a “justice” issue. What it is out of is the Sacrament of Holy Orders itself and the Church’s authority.
Firstly it can be said that the Church has no authority to change ordination since Jesus himself chose only men, the 12 Apostles whom also chose only men in their turn. Some would say that Jesus was only acting in the context of the Jewish society, which was patriarchal. But what we all know from the history, Jesus was usually the one to break the rules and not the one trying to adapt to them.
In conclusion I would like to say that both opinion groups have strong arguments and have it right at some point. What I think is that every church within the Christian Faith all over the world deserves to have a powerful, charismatic, holy, spiritually rich figurehead. This person should have a celestial spirit and deep connection with the Lord. This person should follow everything that Jesus Christ spiritually personified. This person should have answers to hard questions that his/her congregation members put forward regarding the Faith. This person should be someone dedicated to God with a love for standing for all what God is. Obviously, both men and women can posses these qualities and share a likeness in spirit, heart, and soul to Jesus Christ.
However, even though realizing that prohibiting women to be priests is rather unfair and discriminative, I am still rather conservative. And being conservative I think that the humanity should keep the traditions that were passed from generation to generation for ages. And as one of the traditions was to have only male priests I think it should be respected and kept.
We do not know what will happen in the future and maybe some day soon all women who desire that will be given the right to be “the women of the cloth”. It is unclear whether this change, if made, would be for worse or batter. But what we should do is just hope, that no matter what novelties are made in the gender of a pastor, he or she will be a decent and divine connection between the Lord and us - the people.
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