Poll of Priests

The Austrians are reporting on the results of a poll of diocesan priests – not religious order priests – taken last fall before the sexual abuse/hierarchy management crisis broke. (I’ve always found the German word for these priests amusing – Weltpriester.) 59% of the Weltpriester favor elimination of mandatory celibacy, 31% favor retaining it, 10% refrained from answering. 51% affirm the suitability of women for ordination. The older the priest, the more likely he favors eliminating mandatory celibacy, up until age 75, at which age the older priests start to agree with the younger ones to retain it. Gee, I thought (and so many of us were hoping) that some desires lessen with age. Oh, but of course – it’s about generational differences in clerical worldviews.


  1. In terms of married men becoming priests, certainly this is something that is and can be, it all hinges on changing canon law and doing so for a good reason. In terms of women priests, there is no doubt from a sociological and practical point of view that women could “function” in pastoral ministry. It’s the sacrament of Holy Orders, who the priest is that prevents it, not what he does in terms of pastoral ministry, but rather “acting in person Christi” that is, Christ the High Priest, Good Shepherd and yes, Bridegroom of the Church. We all know the real reasons behind neutering God and gender for spouse, parent, sibling, etc, to eliminate the need for correct gender for these relationships and complementarity in marriage, but let’s face it in natural law a husband, father and son must be a man. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, part of the sign of the sacrament is Jesus who even in His risen, scared, glorified Body continues to be Son of Man and Bridegroom. Can a woman be a sign of that in the Sacrament of Holy Orders? Can a woman be a bridegroom in other words, in the visual, symbolic sense?

    1. Metaphors are not syllogisms. It would also help to ponder St Gregory of Nanzianzus on how whatever Christ assumed, He redeemed, and it is capable of imaging Him…and the little known fact that the Church has for centuries studiously avoided the issue of the sexing of souls.

      1. All of us, male and female can image the love of Christ and be Christ-like, especially in our relationships, in our pastoral ministry, in our administration. All the baptized, male and female live in Christ because Christ is in them; we become a part of Christ when Christ becomes a part of us. Women are Christlike in their love and show forth Christ in their actions and how they relate to the world and all who inhabit it. But the specifics of the Sacrament of Holy Orders as a sign brings the discussion to a different level, being a sign of something specific, Christ, the head of the Church, Christ, the Bridegroom, Christ the high priest and Christ the Victim of Sacrifice. These are not “Christ-like” but Christ in the sacramental sense. Christ is also Living Water, Christ is Bread from Heaven and Christ is the Gate to heaven. Gates, though, can’t be Catholic priests, nor can bread, wine or water.

      2. Fr Allan

        The implications of the anthropology/soteriology of the Cappodocian Fathers are deeper than that.

        But that is putting the cart before the horse. What you are talking about is the the reason cited by the Church for its teaching; it has been suggested in addition to what the Church cites but the Church has not addressed the implications of those issues fully.

  2. While Christ was most certainly a man, I don’t think that it was NECESSARY for him to be a man. That means, at least from my perspective, that the priest does not NECESSARILY need to be a male.

    I would also throw the sentimentality of women who have had a legitimate calling by God to the priesthood, but I imagine that argument would be shot down by academic theologians (although perhaps not the Austrian theologians.)

    1. There are a lot of things that God did that He did not necessarily have to do, yet did. The choice of the chosen people, the use of bread and wine, the choice of the Blessed Mother from among other women…Of course God did not have to come and live in the world as a man–but yet he did! I think we would all agree that these choices were deliberate, not simply “accidents of history.”

      1. The most important thing is that God was INCARNATED, not that God became “A” man or “A” woman…we are all created in God’s image, male AND female.

        The Incarnation probably has more for us spiritually than the resurrection…that God chose to become human showed us all the possibilities…showed us that Jewish law was fulfilled by Jesus, but not tossed out…we consistently negate Jesus’ Jewishness (and he was still a Jew when he died & resurrected!!)…

        And how do we know that God “deliberately chose” to become a “man”…perhaps God had already incarnated as a woman, but who in that Middle Eastern society would’ve listened or followed?? Jesus sexual identification is accidental…it does not appoint men as head of everything and everyone.

        And just how would God have been incarnated without a woman bearing God (Theotokos) until birth??? Without woman, Jesus, as human, wouldn’t have existed…yet it was woman who said a resounding “Yes” to God…who denied Jesus three times? who fell asleep in the Garden? who abandoned God at the Crucifixion? who was the first witness to the resurrection?

      2. Christ also came as a Jew, and the early apostolic Church was bold and open enough to alter that dynamic (“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us …”) for the sake of real need, and in the pattern of discernment (Acts 15). Otherwise, Christianity would have had a very different evangelical profile over these past two millennia as a subdivision of Judaism.

        I happen to believe the theological arguments in favor of a male-only priesthood are exceedingly weak. Why else do we have a gag order on their discussion?

        That said, I would say the Church is far less healthy and capable today of accurately and faithfully discerning the issue that we would have been nineteen centuries ago. Christians are too fractious, too infected with secular ideologism, the Roman hierarchy no less so than others. I just don’t think we’re capable of settling this matter without the cost of our limited unity.

        A reunified Christianity would be able to address this issue and, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, change this practice. But that day is far off, sadly. Until then, we live with the experience of a broken, sinful Church, and that handicap means that our kerygma and leitourgia is necessarily weakened by our own failings. Amazing that God still trusts us with it all, isn’t it?

  3. Of course it is possible that a married man could become a priest. Many married Lutherans, Anglicans and men of other denominations have become priests in recent years.

    What is not possible is for those 59% of Austrian “Weltpriester” to get married. The Church apparently has never allowed priests (or deacons) to marry.

    1. Tell that to all the married deacons and deacon wives all over the world…or priests up to around the 1100s…and THEIR wives and children!

  4. My humble opinion on the validity of Orders for women:

    Counter to the argument that Christ choose men only to be apostles from which we take our example for priest; Christ also chose 12 – a number the apostles attempted to preserve (Acts 1; Mathias). Why so strongly hold on to the tradition of men, while not so strongly to the tradition of the The Twelve?

    Secondly (and this, I understand points more to function over the ontology of priesthood) I understand priest to 1)Make God’s presence known in the world, primarily via the sacraments and principally in the Eucharist. 2) To declare the Good News of the Gospel. Scripture shows women performing both of these functions prior to men. Mary bore Jesus – making God’s presence known, and perhaps as a precursor to the Eucharist? And another Mary was the first to preach the good news that “he is risen!”

    Finally I believe that for the church to be catholic (that is, universal) the priesthood ought to reflect its univerality. We can have all races, nationalities, tongues, sinners, and sexual orientations in the priesthood, but not both genders? The Church is universal in all ways…except in its ordering for its ministry?

    As a disclaimer, it may be helpful to know that I write from a Reformed Protestant tradition which ordains women.

  5. Certainly many women clergy possess the intellectual and pastoral abilities necessary for Christian ministry. One of the best preachers I have ever heard happens to be a woman Anglican priest. I also have a deep respect for some women theologians and church historians. My experiences with women clergy of other denominations counter the contention that male clergy, by virtue of gender alone, hold an innate intellectual or affective superiority over women clergy. Ecclesiology and theology constitute the only difference between the Catholic/Orthodox clergy and the clergy of other Christian traditions.

    I have not investigated the theological arguments behind the restriction of major Holy Orders to men (vir). While the Vatican has officially squelched discussion of women in the diaconate and priesthood, Rome has not closed discussion on the instituted ministries. I’ve presented a paper on the possibility of the institution of women in instituted ministries through an investigation of ministeria quaedam and 1st Peter. I can’t comment on the popular reception of women as acolytes and subdeacons. Still, I’d advance that that the revision of minor orders under Paul VI might permit the inclusion of women in these ministries.

  6. I would have to guess that the new commentary/changes in Canon Law may be preliminary to ordaining women as deacons…suddenly Holy Orders is “split”…bishops & priests are to “govern” and deacons are to “serve”…that would still leave ordained women deacons out of the governing of the Church, but would keep them in their place, serving away…

  7. @ Fr. Allan
    “Can a woman be a sign of that in the Sacrament of Holy Orders? Can a woman be a bridegroom in other words, in the visual, symbolic sense?”

    Yes to the first. And, since we know essentially nothing of Jesus’ visual appearance on earth, beyond Him being male [tall/short, thin/fat, muscular/wiry, dark/pale, hair? eyes? beard? etc.], yes to the second. You might ask, “How?” That’s really very easy. The only part of Jesus’ bodily appearance we can be reasonably certain of approximating in a priest is covered by several layers of clothing whenever the priest is on duty, and I’m pretty sure that THAT won’t be changing any time soon.

  8. I’ve examined the topic of women’s ordination from a theological perspective for a few years now. It seems to me that the Church’s teaching hinges on ‘ontological capacity’ for the change that occurs in ordination. And yet, women are capable of the ontological change that occurs in EVERY sacrament, except Holy Orders. Strange. As was mentioned above, the Church is careful not to entertain the idea of ‘sexing of souls.’ Yet, isn’t that where this argument leaves us? And if so, where does that leave women if Jesus assumed a male soul? Scary.

    1. This whole soul/body dichotomy smacks of the heresy of dualism. We are who we are by virtue of body and soul both of which are redeemed in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Jesus in His glorified, risen, scared body is male. He is the High Priest. He is the Bridegroom. He is the Head of the Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary with her redeemed body in heaven is as female as they come! But the Blessed Virgin Mary is not a male, she is not a bridegroom and she is not the head of the Church and she will never be. Women cannot be men soul or body or should I say body and soul.

      1. The Church has not taught that *souls* have sex, only the body, and has avoided connecting the idea that, because body and soul are joined, so too the sex of the body gives the soul sex. Aquinas himself steps back from that one, though he explores the idea.

        It’s an area where one can assume beyond what the Church teaches. Be careful.

  9. Throughout most of Church history, it was obvious to most people that only a man could be a priest. The reason given (eg Aquinas) was the natural inferiority of women. The Church no longer uses this as an argument – recent Popes have explicitly rejected it. Arguments about gender symbolism are pretty recent, because only recently have we needed new arguments since the old ones don’t work. The new arguments seem unpersuasive to lots of people, including myself. Perhaps in time stronger arguments will come forth to support the perennial tradition. Many theologians, without necessarily advocating women’s ordination, have argued quite persuasively that the gender symbolism arguments don’t work. A Cardinal who worked on the drafting of the Catechism of the Catholic Church stated publicly that such a major change could only be made by an ecumenical council in his view. If he is right, the door is at least slightly open for a future change, if the theological discussion leads the Church to discern so. This is the state of the question as I see it.

    1. If the pope alone or the pope and bishops in an ecumenical council decided in favor of female priests, Catholics would have to accept that or form their own separated denomination. However, it seems pretty clear that the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium have no authority to change this, thus a limit on the power of the Church which is pretty healthy when it comes to our doctrines and dogmas. So if we are to believe that it won’t change and we certainly can’t and shouldn’t say women are inferior, we have develop what is present in the sign of the Sacrament of Holy Orders that the priest in our incarnational and thus non-dualistic theology is a sign of the male Christ who redeems us as the High Priest and Victim and is for us the Bridegroom of which we, in the generic sense, are His Bride, the Church collectively in the feminine. The sign of the Sacrament of Matrimony which women along with men can receive is also the sign of the Church in their male and femaleness, bridegroom and bride, head and membes. To some the incarnational aspects of our sacraments and of our Lord are a scandal for obvious reasons especially in terms of gender roles of males and females in the sacrament of Holy Orders and also Holy Matrimony. And should men be offended that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the sign of the Church? Why isn’t Saint Joseph seen on the same level?

      1. Fr Allan

        The gender symbolism idea is very recent, and not dogma as employed here. The reasons the Church currently cites are much more limited (exclusively, it simply cites feeling bound by the example of Christ, and no other reason).

        There’s a theological problem with relying on the symbolism idea in this way, as I’ve alluded to; fortunately, the Church has not yet relied on it in a definitive way. But the questions remain to be developed and responded to. Fr Ruff is quite right. As fashionable as the symbolic argument has become in some circles, some treat it, unnecessarily, as authoritative teaching when it’s not.

    2. Thanks Father for bringing up the “argument from gender”. An ecumenical council might discover formidable roadblocks strewn along the path to women’s ordination. John Paul II has used gender symbolism to a very great extent in the Theology of the Body. Now the bride/bridegroom analogy encompasses the laity as well. I’ve read that seminary discernment has incorporated an idea of the “priest/pastor as father to his congregation.” The ever-complex gendered linkages that some theologians and at least two Popes have advanced through the seminal documents humanae vitae and TOB now entwine the clergy and the laity through a complex web of arguments.

      I couldn’t make an argument for or against ordinatio sacerdotalis and related statements given my very limited theological education. I suspect, however, that a challenge to the root arguments that gird papal pronouncements against women’s ordination would also challenge modern Church teachings on contraception, sexual orientation, and idealized spousal relationships. Perhaps Catholics have not developed the language necessary to articulate alternate gendered bonds within the Body of Christ. I do not see any changes in Vatican policy within a strong alternate model for gender relations that respects historical theological developments and doctrinal orthodoxy.

  10. Father Allan,

    That sounds a bit too much like reasoning backwards from a predetermined conclusion, although I know you are not presenting the argument as your original work. And, you brought up the body/soul issue when you asked about a woman being a bridegroom in a visual sense, so it’s not quite fair for you to complain about it later.

    1. I think the only way that Orthodoxy and Catholicism could ever ordain women as priests is to become protestant, do away with the sacramentality of the ordained. This has greatly influenced the Episcopal debate where ordination is more heavily influenced by Protestant theology rather than Catholic/Orthodox, although certainly there is some Catholicism there. But I would suggest the whole reason that the Episcopal Church is moving toward same gender marriage is that they no longer accept the “Bridegroomness” of Christ or the “brideness” of the Church. They prefer a neutered approach to both ordination and marriage for politically correct reasons.

  11. Fr. Allan – Let’s consider the duality of male humanity vs. female humanity. That is, after all, what the Church stands on as it’s main argument against women’s ordination. But, Jesus had to have assumed something which he shares with women or women are not saved, if we are to take Gregory Nazianzus’s axiom seriously. What, then, can the Church say he assumed that women have a share in? Certainly not a woman’s body. And, avoiding the dualism of body vs. soul, we have to say he did not assume a woman’s soul because he was a man. What then did he assume that women have a share in? This seems to leave women out of salvation, much less the priesthood.

    1. He assumed our humanity, He became a human being, body and soul. That’s what males and females have in common–our humanity. But if He had not died for us, we wouldn’t have been saved by the incarnation alone. We are saved by God in salvation history. This includes all that preceded the incarnation as well as the incarnation, but also His public ministry, also is sacrificial suffering and death and also His resurrection. It also includes His ministry to us through the Holy Spirit and through the Church He founded and instituted with sacraments to show forth who He is and who God is and who we are in relation to God. Even the Song of Songs depicts God as a lover or Groom looking for His beloved, His Bride, the Chosen People. And our salvation won’t be complete until the Second Coming and the resurrection of the Body. I can’t wait.

  12. Precisely. He took the form of our shared humanity. He shares everything with us to save us. He gives us every grace to live as the body of Christ and proclaim Christ to the world. What could women possibly lack? Better yet, what more could men possibly possess? It is the same grace that saves us which is present in the sacrament of Holy Orders, an outward sign of an inward reality of the total gift of Christ to the world. Surely, our God could not withhold the grace of Christ with us because of our male and female forms.

    1. Just because a man cannot give birth to a child as a woman does, does this mean that God has withheld something of salvation from men? I think you are reasoning from a “predetermined conclusion” to quote a famous person. For the salvation of the world, Baptism is what I believe is necessary, not Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders, not everyone is called to these two wonderful sacraments that show the entire world the spousal relationship of love that God has with His people. And as the sacrament of matrimony enables a man and women to give birth to children in the natural order, so too does the marriage of Christ, the Bridegroom to His bride the Church give birth to children by water and the Holy Spirit. The priest presiding at Mass along with the laity is a wonderful sign of the matrimonial relationship of Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride as well as Christ the Head and Christ His Body. It’s quite visible at Holy Mass and in a sacramental way. This theology has never needed to be explicitly taught by the Church because it is so implicit, just as the Divinity of Christ is implicit in Scripture and the Holy Trinity is implicit. These are not explicit in Sacred Scripture, but it sure is there implicitly.

      1. But they are not (at least yet) the reasons the Church now gives for its teaching on this matter.

      2. Karl what the Church does teach is that only men can be ordained because Jesus only selected 12 men and the Church has never ordained women. It is part of Tradition with capital “T”. Pope John Paul II made it very explicit that it is also to be held by Catholics as a part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church that women cannot be ordained priests and as such the pope has no authority to change this practice handed onto us from Christ. By extension of this, neither does an ecumenical council. Do you like this explanation better? I prefer it myself.

      3. Fr Allan

        Thank you for now stating what the Church teaches in this regard.

        The Church itself, however, has not embraced the symbolism arguments asa reason for its teaching. That was my point, not the validity of what the Church teaches. I was drawing a careful distinction between what the Church teaches and what some would like for the Church to also teach.

  13. The Church has changed her hard-line theology before, there is no reason why she can’t change it again.

    Further, what constitutes the Church? The Magisterium or the Body of Believers?

    1. In a word–both are one and the same (at least they should be). Those who spout their “we are Church not the hierarchy” would do well to re-read (or read) what Vatican II said about the Church. It is interesting with the generational gap on many issues. “old” and young priests generally do not have a problem with this, many in the middle are still fighting battles.

      1. That’s no good, Fr. Costigan. We must clearly go beyond the patriarchal and traditionalist re-reading of the documents of Vatican II, and see what the Spirit really wanted to say. In fact, Vatican II was “forced” to repeat the party line on so many issues, like Latin, marriage, the papacy, etc.

        Don’t for a second believe that Vatican II was serious when it uses phrases like “Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries” (LG 18), “divinely established ecclesiastical ministry” (LG 28), “apostolic office of bishops was instituted by Christ the Lord” (CD 20). Those were put in the documents to appease the old male bishops. The Church — by which I mean, the Body of Believers, not the Magisterium — doesn’t believe a word of it.

        It’s best if you let the experts — that is, the “Body of Believers” — tell you what really happened. Let them tell you what the Catholic faith is.


      2. Fr. Costigan, I haven’t seen any Roman Catholics say that only “we” and “not the hierarchy” are the church – can you please cite a source so we don’t think you’re making things up?
        I just hope you don’t start quoting Vatican II where it says that Our Lord established an absolute monarchy when he instituted the Roman Curia – because that would cinch your argument. I wish everyone would accept THAT part of Vatican II! 🙂

      3. Dom. Ruff, are you looking for quotes which deny outright that the Magisterium/hierarchy is part of the Church?Here’s what I’ve found/read:

        “I learned a long time ago a lesson that ‘we’ are the Church not the clergy.” (src)

        “We are the Church not the Pope and the hierarchy!” (src)

        “We are the Church; not the bishops, not even the Pope.” (src)

        “We are the Church, not the Pope or the Vatican or the priests.” (src)

        Now, whether these men and women meant exactly what they said, or if they meant “ALL of us are the Church, not JUST the hierarchy”, I don’t know for sure.

        I know the Church is not just the hierarchy. But I also know that just because I am a member of the Church, that doesn’t mean I’m the same member — or type of member — as a bishop. St. Paul taught me that in 1 Cor 12.

      4. Jeffrey – thanks for these quotes. Let us hope they meant your second interpretation – but I’ve found you can’t assume anything when dealing with the general public. I was thinking more of mainline and progressive sources with trained theologians – I don’t hear them saying that only laity are the church.

      5. The “we are Church” and not the priests arguments normally come from those who say that everything that the current Holy Father has done has “gone against Vatican II” and that if everything were in their control nothing bad would ever happen. These generally are your Voice of the Faithful/Call to Action/ American Council crown you would see with picket signs outside Churches on Sunday mornings.

  14. Eph. 5:21-33 seems to me to address both the question of marriage and priesthood.

    Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride. That’s clear male-female terminology.

    Paul quotes Genesis, as did Jesus: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Neither Paul nor Jesus spoke of two men leaving their fathers and mothers and becoming one flesh, nor of two women, nor of three or more people doing so.

    And then Paul said that “this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” So if marriage is a “mystery” in which the husband an image of Christ and his wife is an image of the Church, then it seems to me that a marriage that is not made up of a man and a woman does not refer to Christ and His Church.

    As far as priestly ordination goes, then, if a priest really receives an indelible (do I need to translate that into trautspeak?) mark on his soul, if the sacrament (is it a sacrament instituted by Jesus?) really enables a priest to act “in the person of Christ the head”, then it seems fitting and proper for the priest to be a man, as the Church is female.

    As much flak as the concept of the priest as “married to the Church” gets, if a priest is participating in the one priesthood of Christ (to a different degree than the laity), then doesn’t he also participate in the one “marriage of Christ”?

    1. But don’t you know that Paul was just a sexist who was writing based on his own sexist times?

      1. No, but by the same token, nor was Paul explaining why the Church cannot confer Orders on women.

      2. Fr. Costigan, I hope you’re not denying that cultural influences played a role in the formation of the Scriptures… especially since the Church teaches that they did.

      3. Dom. Ruff, even if Fr. Costigan were, might I ask why you would take him to task for it and yet numerous other assaults on things the Church teaches go unchecked and uncountered by the editorial staff of this blog?

        For the record, I don’t think Fr. Costigan was denying the cultural influences. He was simply denying (via sarcasm) that Paul’s writings are sexist/misogynist. Surely the Church doesn’t teach that they are, does she?

      4. Hi Jeffrey – OK, do call me on it when you think I’m not being even-handed. I suppose I jump too readily on inconsistency coming from the Right, especially when it’s from someone who otherwise constantly cites authority at us. But when it’s something from the Left, even if I disagree with it, I don’t see logical inconsistency because the person disagreeing with the magisterium isn’t otherwise claiming to be a model of obedience to it.
        As for sexism of the times influencing Paul and others, let me first say that I’m not a Scripture scholar. But my sense from the relevant Roman documents – and there are some wonderful documents, especially the 1994 PBC doc on interpretation – is that there shouldn’t be much problem in admitting sexist influence. The PBC has stated explicitly that some statements attributed to our Lord were not said by him, so sexist influence on Paul seems rather easy to concede. I hope Scripture scholars out there can tell us more about the specifics of this.
        Thanks for your comment and question,

      5. Dom. Ruff, I’m sorry if I come across as jumpy or touchy, but it is precisely that non even-handedness that I wish could be avoided. The idea that a person who regularly disobeys the magisterium has carte blanche to disagree with its decisions (and insult its members, too?) seems overly permissive to me. It consistently puts the “Right” or “conservative” or “traditional” contributors on the defensive.

        I read “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” a couple of years ago, when I was making my way through a number of Church documents touching upon Sacred Scripture: Providentissimus Deus (1893), Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), Sancta Mater Ecclesia (1964), Dei Verbum (1965), “The Interpretation…” (1993), and the lineamenta (Historia Salutis) from the 2007 Synod on the Word of God.

        Could you point me to the PBC’s statement that Jesus didn’t say what the Scriptures said He said? I don’t recall reading that in “The Interpretation”, and I see a different sentiment in Sancta Mater Ecclesia (aka “De historica evangeliorum veritate”).

        Oh, and Sancta Mater Ecclesia was the last document put forward by the PBC as an organ of the Magisterium. The PBC as it stands today is merely a consultative body. I wish the PBC’s older documents were available in English. Although I suppose they present in exercise in translation to me.

    2. ««Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride. That’s clear male-female terminology.»»

      No, it’s metaphoric terminology…

  15. I think even on the local level in the good old ’70’s when we were trying to develop pastoral councils and include the laity in the decision making processes of the parish/diocese that a mentality arose that this should be a “democratic” process and often there was a bitter divide between the “people” and the “priest.” Please note that the “people” did not include the priest as though he was from Mars. Certainly there are those who think that the voice of the faithful does not include the clergy and that the voice of the faithful should call the shots. Today though, at least in my neck of the woods, pastoral councils seem to be much more collaborative and non-confrontational, must be my good example. 🙂

  16. I think the bridegroom/bride argument falls on its face if we read this metaphor incorrectly. In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Bernard writes that the soul, any soul, is the bride to Christ’s bridegroom. Now we have male brides. Any ordained or celibate man or woman is also considered a “bride of Christ.” Do you see where this is problematic? This argument does not appreciate the wide range of the use of bride/bridegroom images.

    1. I’d be curious whether people like Bernard saw the soul as feminine, as its grammatical gender in Latin suggests. In older English works the feminine pronoun is used to refer to the soul – I don’t know if this is because of the grammatical gender of ‘anima’ or of the German to which ‘soul’ is related, ‘die Seele.’ There certainly are a lot of historical differences and changes in all this – which tends to weaken the case for the latest gender symbolism argument to support supposed eternal truths.

    2. As a baptized member of the Church, the priest as well as the laity are collectively feminine and perhaps the “soul” symbolism in the feminine “anima” is quite appropriate in our relationship to God either individually or collectively. Keep in mind that even though the ordained priest acts in the “person of Christ” liturgically at Mass, he still is a part of the Church feminine. In a sense, men and women are complete in the marriage act of becoming one in Christ. Just as the Church is complete with the Bridegroom and Bride, Head and members. I don’t think you should discount the Sacrament of Matrimony or separate it from the Sacrament of Holy Orders both being signs of the completeness of who we are and who the Church is.

      1. As someone trained in psychology, I find it fascinating that the ordination of women as priests (which as a sociologist I view as very unlikely for at least 50 years) provokes so much reaction among people who affirm that it is the unchangeable doctrine of the church. They should be absolutely sure that it won’t happen even 100 years from now, a 1000 years from now. I would not worry about it even if I were against it.

        Could it have something to do with living in what some have called a monarchical church (I like to think of it as an industrial church, but I am not an employee). Is there some vague concern that after the next puff of white smoke from the Sistine chapel, this doctrine may also go up in smoke?

        As a psychologist I wonder about this new found vision of the priesthood as bridegroom. Why do people fill the need of this? I have always thought the priesthood was about the Eucharist, not about masculinity. Are women as leaders really so frightening that we have to make the priesthood be about maleness? I have spent the last twenty years in senior management positions with roughly equal men and women; my best boss was a women. I had a lot to do with getting her that position. Relax the world will not end!

        As in all other theologies and catechesis, I suggest unbiased studies of what people’s reactions are to bridegroom theology. Somehow I don’t think it will be a winner, especially among MEN.

      2. I too tend to consider the soul as having predominantly feminine characteristics — that’s feminine, not female… I’m using “feminine” and “masculine” in the way C.S. Lewis uses them in Perelandra, although I could also be completely out of my element here!

        The feminine aspects of the soul are to receive Christ (spiritually and sacramentally) and to give birth to Him in a way, making Him present in the world. We are members of His Church which is His Bride.

        God — or specifically the Son — has the masculine aspects in this relationship, of giving Himself to His Bride, in whom new life is created.

        Again, I see Ephesians 5 as the backdrop for this.

      3. Just to mix things up: in an Aristotelian/Thomist frame work, the soul is the form, and therefore the “act” of the body, and would in this sense be “masculine,” with the material body being “feminine.”

        These matters, being at the end of the day matters of metaphor, can be sliced and diced in any number of ways

    3. This conversation reminds me of the delicious scene in “Shadowlands” (1993) where CS Lewis introduces Joy Gresham to Prof. Christopher Reilly.

      The scene starts at the 5:15 mark, ends at the 7:28 mark; those wishing to jump to the pertinent bit can start around the 6:45 mark.


      Any time the subjects of different modes of discourse, or the meaning of anima, arise, I think back to that scene. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit….

      PS: It’s too bad Debra Winger has made so few films after Shadowlands, though she did a great turn in “Rachel Getting Married” last year.

  17. On the sociological likelihood of woman’s ordination:

    Disagreement with “Men make better political leaders than women” is the item that correlates most strongly with all the socio-economic and values changes that take place in the transition from agrarian to industrial to postindustrial societies.

    IF the world economy does well and in the next 50 to 100 years most societies make the transition to postindustrial economies, values will be very favorable to women’s ordination throughout the world. Islam, our main competition, currently is notable for opposing at least in some countries value changes toward women’s equally, and may become disadvantaged in a postindustrial religious world. Catholic countries have only been mildly resistance to women’s equality.

    HOWEVER, the strong correlation that predicts a favorable values future for women’s ordination also says that the present is very unfavorable not only in agrarian but even in industrial societies since most progress in women’s equality occurs in postindustrial economies.

    Even through surveys of Catholics in postindustrial societies regularly put married priests and women priests as a majority view, most of the time there are still strong minorities who are strongly against women priests.

    Ordination of women to the deaconate (which currently flourishes only in some countries) might be a way to take care of postindustrial economies now as well as prepare for a postindustrial world future.

  18. Fr. MacDonald writes, “it seems pretty clear that the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium have no authority to change this, thus a limit on the power of the Church which is pretty healthy when it comes to our doctrines and dogmas.”

    What is the nature of these pretty healthy limits? For we do not come to know that the magisterium has no authority to change this unless the magisterium itself says so. The magisterium sets the limits of the magisterium.

    Until the magisterium says so, all we have is a theological opinion, not an authoritative teaching that limit x exists. How can we be sure that such a set up is pretty healthy unless the magisterium teaches us that it is pretty healthy?

    Is there true obedience to God without magisterial positivism? I cannot see how I could ever learn about such an alternate form of true obedience were it to exist. I can only learn what true obedience to God is through the magisterium, and no non-magisterial agent can check and see whether this or that magisterial statement is correct.

    I feel like I’m trapped inside a sham. Yet to know for sure I need a magisterial teaching that I am actually trapped inside a sham. But when teaching arrives, it’s still not enough. I fear that in trusting it I will be a sucker, like pre-VII Catholics relying upon Quanta Cura. That one seemed pretty heavy, but it turned out that by 1965 we knew people back then just had the “wrong interpretation” of it. Que sera, sera. “War is the father…

  19. Karl,

    Yes, thank you.

    In this crisis, I have returned to the early 20th century Catholic apologetics texts that first nudged me into surrendering to the Roman Catholic set up several years ago. Summing up, in these texts the “motives of credibility” for taking it to be the case God has actually revealed that the magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches you his supernatural revelation include reason alone taking the Gospels to be historical records reporting the historical Jesus establishing and structuring the church with Petrine primacy and a college of bishops from day one. But across confessions Bible scholars reject this view. How did I fall for it?

    I wonder if the rate of retention for converts is higher for those brought in on Nice Internal Feelings or on the arguments presuming the supernatural existential and then showing Christian doctrines answer the question you are, a kind of mystagogy, etc., than for those of us brought in on the old stuff.

    I rejected the other paths. The first I rejected as unreliable and the second as circular, though I now admire the transcendental approach and the thinkers associated with it. But the old stuff put its rhetorical hooks into me because it linked circular arguments to credulity and chastised credulity as immoral. I resonated, thinking “yep, here are people I can trust.” LOL. This is the final faith meltdown comment. Sorry. May it help DREs. Somehow I probably believe. And I hope.

    1. Squishy as it sounds, and I don’t mean it in an anti-intellectual way, it’s more important to love than believe in an intellectual way, though for some people intellectual belief can lead to love.

      In the words of the otherwise not very memorable Clement XI, in his Universal Prayer:

      Volo quidquid vis, volo quia vis, volo quomodo vis, volo quamdiu vis.

      I want to do what You ask*, in the way You ask, for as long as You ask — because…You…ask. [format my own for emphasis on meaning]

      * The Latin verb “will” – which gives an alliterative pun to this passage in Latin – is often translated here as “ask” to convey something that invites rather than commands a response, and that strikes me as faithful to the real meaning of this passage, which is a response from the Beloved to the Lover.

      1. This translation would never pass the strictures of Liturgiam Authenticam! Changing the order of phrases? Dear me! Karl’s order is much stronger (and nicer) than the original.

  20. Responding to Karl and Kip, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time Old Testament reading from Second Samuel portrays the prophet Nathan as an “external conscience” to King David who has committed adultery with the wife of his friend and then has his friend murdered. Evidently, internal conscience alone, was not good enough for David, it was flawed or malformed. He needed the prophetic prodding of Nathan to move him to repentance and pardon, although his sin still has consequences. His conscience alone would not do the trick. The Magisterium is prophetic in the areas of faith and morals, but it does take faith to believe this and submit, just as it took faith for David to submit to Nathan’s prophetic oracle about his sin. The same is true for the woman in today’s Gospel who adores our Lord as God and acknowledges that He alone could forgive her, pardon her. Do we trust the Scriptures and what is implied in Jesus forgiving her? Or are we like Simon, just in a casual relationship with Jesus and the Church, befuddled and faithless, but amused by the ones before him and their actions?

    1. Fr Allan

      I don’t disagree. I was merely pointing out the limits of a syllogistic approach in this area. There are those who only feel confident and safe when such an approach is being relied upon, and they too have to act in faith and love more than intellect at some point, and it’s actually a point very early on, earlier than many people realize. It’s why the personal and ontological dimensions are so much more important that we functionalist and intellectualized Americans typically admit.

    2. Fr. McDonald and Karl,

      Thanks for giving it a shot. I will take up 2 Samuel.

      Whenever Roman Catholic teachings disturbed someone else, my conscience was clear. This was so because I believed that the disturbed person would quit being disturbed once they comprehended the arguments from the old fashioned apologetics for the “motives of credibility.”

      But now, seeing that those arguments don’t work so well, everything’s different. Now if someone else is paralyzed with fear because she learned that the Church teaches you go to hell for eternity if you consent for one milisecond to one impure thought followed by a brain aneurism, I feel like a jerk. I feel like a jerk because all I’ve got to say now in favor of the RCC’s position is “well, I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable with burning in hell for an unconfessed impure thought, but that’s how it is, there’s no parvity of matter on sexual sins, and I know it with certainty because of a special feeling I have that tells me I can trust the teaching authority. Because I have this special feeling, you need to live in dread of an eternity of hell fire torment. I know it hurts you, but I’m absolutely certain. I know it on faith. The bishops say it, I believe it, that settles it.”

      That’s all I’ve got now. I’m a fundamentalist. This is devastating. But it’s my problem.

      I’m weak. Pray the Holy Father doesn’t define the Dogma of the Aerial Adventures of the Holy House of Loretto.

  21. When Fr. Anthony pointed out that the word soul in Latin is “anima” and thus feminine (not necessarily female), it intrigued me in terms of our discussion of the Christ as Bridegroom and Church as Bride and the two natures of feminine and masculine found in humans, individually and collectively as well as the priest at Mass as a sacramental sign of the masculine Christ but a member of the feminine Church. A website called “Asked a Latin Teacher” shows the roots of anima and animus:

    “The Latin roots anima and animus have overlapping meanings, both with the basic meaning soul or spirit.
    The difference is that the feminine form, anima, has the root meaning breath, air, life force, while the masculine form, animus, has the root meaning mind or intellect.
    While the Latin root animus does mean spirit, it has a secondary meaning of passion or wrath. (Think of the English word spirited.) So in English, our words animus and animosity are derived from this secondary meaning of the Latin root animus.
    Animus in English means a strong dislike, but also an intention or a purpose. In Jungian psychology it means the masculine nature found in a woman.
    Anima in English means life force or soul. In Jungian psychology it means the feminine nature found in a man.”

    In Italian, “the man has a good soul” is “Quest’uomo ha una buona anima.” Even though it is a man’s soul, the feminine for soul is used with the feminine adjective for “good.”

    Feminine and masculine are to be found combined in a man, a woman, in Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Church collective; interesting and with great implications. You can see why the politically correct in the Church fear these implications and prefer a neutered, generic approach to the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony as well as Church and Christ.

    1. Feminine and masculine are to be found combined in a man, a woman, in Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Church collective; interesting and with great implications.

      But not in God?

      1. If the Church is Christ and His members, what does that imply especially if we call the Church she? Christ is not separated from us, He make us a part of Himself. And certainly there are feminine characteristics of God and can be described as a Mother who nourishes her children.

      2. If you argue for the feminine in Christ, why would you oppose have a woman model Christ at the Eucharist?
        If the Bridegroom encompasses both feminine and masculine, why can’t he be represented by both males and females?
        I am just trying to sort out the imagery you are presenting — I have my own very different ideas on these issues, eg Ephesians 5 asks men and women to be mutually submissive, neutralizing many of the arguments based on it.

      3. Why not then have two men marry, or two women? It’s the sacramentality of the issue, what the “sign” value of the priest at the consecration, “acting in persona Christi” is pointing toward, the Risen Christ, Bridegroom, Victim and High Priest. Does Jesus present Himself after the resurrection as anything other than what He was prior? His maleness is important in the Biblical scheme of things and in the sign value of Who and What He accomplishes in fulfillment of O.T. expectations.. His maleness is no accident. The Incarnation and thus Catholic and Orthodox sacramentality are based on the value of the sign that is used to show forth what is intended. That’s scandalous for Christians who think the spiritual is better than the physical, dualism. Do away with the Sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders such as the Protestant reformers did, and then you don’t have the issues that prevent any kind of arrangement you want in marriage or in who presides at Holy Communion. The Incarnation and our sacramental system makes things messy doesn’t it?

    2. I am certainly not politically correct, and I have long argued against a nuerted, generic approach as you describe it. Far from it in fact. My points stand.

    3. I am not the one who said Feminine and masculine are to be found combined in a man, a woman, in Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Church collective; interesting and with great implications. If that is the case, why not an ordained woman or same sex marriages?

      I agree that Jesus is the same after the Resurrection as before, ie a unity of male and female, human and divine, priest and victim, etc. So how do you justify exclusivity in ordination or marriage? I could understand you if you thought that Jesus was exclusively masculine, but you lose me when you start saying he is a unity of masculine and feminine.

      Sacramental representation of Jesus ARE challenging!

  22. Why not simply create a new faith that makes use of the same liturgy but discards the hierarchy above the level of Bishop (thus getting rid of that pesky Rome), then allow the ordination of married men, and women. Such a faith should be perfect, no? What problems could possibly result? We could call it….hmmm?? What should we call it? Anyhow, I’m just amazed that nobody has thought of this…

    1. Oh, bishops need to go too, as a pastor I would prefer to do whatever I please with no higher authority. Business incorporation would be great and turning the ministry into a family enterprise! 🙂

    1. Oh definitely get rid of those! My poor Southern Baptist minister friends would concur wholeheartedly as they reserve their wrath for their “board of deacons” like priests do for their bishops.

      1. Historically, it does. Or, rather, the call came via the people. And having to answer to some other authority is generally a good check on misuse of power. In this case, temporal authority to check temporal power.

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