From the perspective of Catholic Tradition

PRIESTHOOD AS SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD

 

 

The basis for male priests only. 

 

in Sheehan's Apologetics

 

The priest must be a man because he represents a man, Jesus Christ, and by his ordination acts in persona Christi Capitis, in the very person of Christ the Head, who is the Bridegroom of His Bride, the Church.  Here we see why the ordination of the Blessed Virgin would not make sense: she represents the Church as Bride, not the Church’s Head and Groom.  The ultimate reason for ordination of men only to represent Christ as Head, lies, therefore, in the fact that God the Son became a man and not a woman.  He became a man in order to be the Husband of the Church and at the same time the perfect image of the Fatherhood of God.  A woman cannot be a Christian priest, because she cannot be a husband and father.  This leads us to the question of why God is called Father.

 

First, let us keep in mind how children stand in relation to their father and mother.  The child is conceived and grows outside the father and is clearly distinct from him.  The child is conceived and grows within the mother.  God has revealed that He is to be called Father, for a father more than a mother is an image of the transcendence and might of God.  A woman, on the other hand, more than a man, is an image of those other immanent and tender qualities of God in His relations with the human race.  These various divine qualities have been demonstrated in the Incarnation and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

 

In human generation, the man is the  (1) initiating, (2) self-giving and (3) fecundating partner;  the woman, correspondingly, is receptive, co-creative and fruitful.  The man is the life-giver;  the woman, the life-bearer.  In the relationship between God and man, God is the  (1) Initiator  (2) who gives Himself and  (3) is the Lord and Life-Giver.  Hence, He is most appropriately called Father, is represented by Christ, and described in male terms.  The responsive, co-operating fruitful Church is most appropriately called Mother, is represented by the Virgin Mary, and described in female terms.  A woman cannot become fruitful of herself, without man;  the human race cannot by itself become spiritually fruitful or holy without the grace of God. Nature is an image of grace, and grace does not destroy but perfects and elevates nature.

 

But if the First Person of the Trinity is given a female title, then God will be reduced in men’s minds to an immanent world-spirit that is barely distinguishable from the world itself.  Thus it is that those who call God “Mother” very soon degenerate into Earth-worship.  The God-Man, Adam-Eve, Jesus-Mary, Christ-Church couplets are primordial in the Christian religion.  It is impossible to reconstitute them without denying Revelation and changing the religion itself.

 

 

deaconesses.  St Paul says to the Romans, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae … for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.”  While this is the first use of the word deaconess, the ecclesiastical institution of deaconess as a state of life did not arise until much later, i.e., after 200 A.D.  The word deaconess until then could mean a servant or helper in a broad sense.  There were deaconesses in several of the churches of the East from the third century on.  They were officially instituted or commissioned to assist in the instruction and baptism of women, and visiting of sick women who needed bathing and desired Holy Communion.  In other regions, some religious, especially abbesses, were made deaconesses.  The Apostolic Constitutions c. 400 A.D. says, “A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons, but is only to keep the doors, and to minister to the presbyters in the baptising of women, for the sake of decency.”  The priest anointed the head or forehead of a woman after Baptism, but for decency’s sake, the deaconess used to perform the additional anointings that followed.

 

The office and meaning of deaconess varied greatly from one church to another and one region to another.  Some regions never had them at all:  deaconesses were unknown to the church in Egypt, to the Maronites and the Slavs, and they appeared only belatedly among the Armenians.  The Latin Church had no deaconesses in the first five centuries. Deaconesses in the east and west gradually declined in numbers until they disappeared some time probably in the 11th century.

 

The rank of deaconess was an ecclesiastical institution not part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  This is seen by the essential diversity of ways of instituting deaconesses, by the wide variation in their functions, and by the differing explanations regarding them—for whatever pertains to the essence of a Sacrament is essentially the same in matter, form and doctrine throughout the Church.  What was uniform was that deaconesses never taught or preached in public, and administered no sacraments, except that they sometimes gave Holy Communion to the sick or in convents.  We have seen above that a woman cannot receive ordination.  That a woman cannot be a deacon follows from the fact that the diaconate is a part of Holy Orders.  A deaconess was not a female deacon, therefore.