Both the Early Church (eg, first 400 years) and today’s Catholic Church generally promote a male-only priesthood. I say generally because (1) I’m no expert on the early Church and (2) many have pointed out ambiguities, especially early on.
But it seems a quick study would suggest that the Early Church had a different reasoning behind the male-only priesthood — why women cannot be ordained — compared to today.
This is from the Apostolic Constitutions from around AD 400, for example:
“[T]he ‘man is the head of the woman’ [1 Cor. 11:3], and he is originally ordained for the priesthood; it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation and leave the first to come to the last part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For he says, ‘He shall rule over you’ [Gen. 3:16]. For the first part of the woman is the man, as being her head. But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them [women] to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of the priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ” (Apostolic Constitutions 3:9).
How ever wants to interpret the relevant Scriptural passages quoted here, the point is that this early document suggests that women are inferior to men and cannot, by their very nature, lead men.
Many in the Catholic Church would not go so far as this passage.
At the very least, both the Catholic Church today and the Early Church suggest that Christ never ordained women. But when it comes to the theological elaboration, the reasoning seems very different.
What should we make of this? Does it matter that the reasoning is different? If we no longer say that women are inherently inferior to men (that they are made to be under the man’s control, etc.), then are these early Christian arguments null?