We have shown in previous posts (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) that a solid theological argument can be made in favor of a male-only priesthood. Only a man can truly act in persona Christi; only a man can be conformed to the masculine spiritual identity of the High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth. But some Christians attempt to propose competing theological arguments in favor of women priests. These arguments are less rigorous than what we have seen in favor of male-only ordination. They tend to rely on the "common priesthood" of all believers and the fact that men and women are equally afforded the grace of salvation. They usually ignore the distinct roles of men and women in the community, the correlation between marriage and Christ's relationship with His Church, and the historic role of a male sacrificial priesthood especially in the Old Testament. Christianity has a long history of male-only priests and this fact of history ought to weigh heavily on our understanding of Holy Orders in the Christian context.
Beginning with Jesus' call of the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19), we see men selected from among the disciples to receive special training and positions of leadership within the community. To these men he gave the authority to preach and the power to cast out demons. The Twelve accompanied Jesus wherever He went and He imparted knowledge to them that He withheld from the crowds. These men were obviously being prepared for a special purpose in the Church. Most importantly, they were with Him at the Last Supper where He instructed them to "do this in remembrance," and it is these Twelve men who received the Spirit for forgiveness of sins, and the charge to baptize.
These Twelve men beheld the risen Christ, received the Holy Spirit from Him, and were sent out into the world to establish the Church. It was these men who, through the laying on of hands, ordained the first deacons (Acts 6), and in like manner chose the man who would replace Judas, the betrayer (Acts 1:18-26). These Twelve male Apostles recognized Paul (another man) as chosen by God to be an Apostle like them; and together they went out into the world and establish local churches, ordaining men as elders (bishops) to lead the congregations. Paul instructed his congregations to choose upstanding men as their elders and deacons (1Timothy 3:1-13), but he warned against women even speaking in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34).
Now all of this may seem derogatory toward women. It may seem that Christianity is patriarchal, anti-woman, and chauvinistic. This is not the case.Women and womanhood are highly regarded in the Catholic Church. Many great women have been declared Saints and Doctors of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Hidegard of Bingen, and the list goes on. All of these holy women embody the best of what it means to be Christian, and they stand as examples to both sexes of how to live out the faith. Jesus included women among His close circle of friends, most notably Mary Magdalene, who was the first to see the risen Lord. And of course there is Mary, his own mother, who is honored above all Saints, enthroned above the angels as Queen of Heaven. How can the Church that honors Mary be called anti-woman?
But the role of women is different than the role of men. This is true of marriage, child rearing, and life in general, and it is true of our spiritual roles as well. It is not anti-woman to say that men and women are called to different vocations. The history of the Church bears this out - a history going back to Jesus Himself. If Jesus intended women to be a part of the priesthood He could have called six men and six women to be a part of the Twelve. Why not Mary Magdalene? Why not His own mother? The Blessed Virgin bore Christ's flesh and blood in her womb...she was the sinless tabernacle of the Lord...who would be a more fitting priest to hold His flesh and blood at the altar? Yet, she was not called to the priesthood. Nor was any woman in the ancient Church. There is no example of women being ordained into the priesthood until recent Protestant denominations introduced the practice.
The strongest argument that can be made in favor of such female ordination are references to deaconesses (female deacons) in ancient Christian writings. On this rests the claim that the early Church ordained women. How solid is this claim? Is this enough to demolish our argument in favor of male-only ordination? We will examine this claim next...