Male-only Priesthood: Different reasonings in Early Church vs Today?


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?


It is possible we are wrong in this age.


Our modern reasoning alone (compared to early church) is wrong? Or that the male-only priesthood is wrong?

I, personally, do not find arguments such as the one from the Apostolic Constitutions very convincing, and it’s not really the way the Catholic doctrine is presented today.


Or even more, are we now in a place where we are forced to rationalize – in a sometimes awkward attempt – in order to defend the male-only priesthood?


Saint Paul said that women should not teach or something in Church and that could be a reference to the male priesthood. I also heard that the order of Melchizedek that they talked about in the psalms only had male priests and St. Paul connected this to Jesus so maybe that’s why. There are probably multiple reasons for it.


Same reasons as before and even more.

Availabilty, focus, total self-gift.


I disagree. I think the exact language might grate some today but I think the idea of male headship in the church and family is strong as ever.


Are you saying only men can give themselves completely to God?


I think we do that to a lot of difficult verses to the point where it just looks so…extra, lol. I don’t buy most interpretations because I feel like sometimes it just means exactly what it sounds but we try to make it palatable to people in order to get them to join the church or community etc.


only some men can give what God needs in His priests. God’s call and needs.


I am not understanding what you are trying to say. I do agree that only men can be priests, but I don’t agree that only men can gift themselves to God.


Oh…we all have to give ourselves TOTALLY to God, constantly, heroically, completely, until they pull the plug.

But God calls us for different purposes.

The life of the lay person should be EVERY bit as exhausting and giving and completely self-donating as the life of a priest.


Oh ok. I agree.


I’m not sure we wouldn’t go as far as repeating what was said there, since it is basically just a long-winded version of a lot of Paul said, and that is part of Scripture. However, I’d imagine we have changed our approach a bit because it’s too easy for someone to take the above and claim misogyny without considering the whole of Catholic teaching on the matter.


The Church fathers are not saying that women are inferior, they are saying that men and women, being different and not inter-changeable, each have their own roles to fulfill in the Kingdom of God. Men are leaders and should lead. Women are the nurturers that create a home and home-life for mankind. They are both important roles, but they are different because men and women are different. God has ordained it this way.


Women can’t be priests not only because man was made out of the clay first and woman was made out of his side but because nowhere in the Old Testament or New Testament is there ever a woman priest except among the Pagans.

The Gentile priest Melchizedek was a man as was Aaron the high priest and all other Levitical priests.

All the male Prophets of the Old Testament held the Priestly office if I’m not mistaken.

Finally Christ both man and God is the Eternal High Priest and his apostles also men who are in the Priestly office as the Pope and Bishop’s.

There were what was called deaconesses but those were women that have the office of baptism of other women who were in the nude.

This was done so as not to scandalize either the priest or the catechumen.


Both passages cited refer to husband and wife. How that fits into this topic isn’t for me to say.


Exactly both male and female species are sacred in God’s eyes but they each hold their own distinct capabilities and blessings.

I cannot bear a child but my wife can but I am the spiritual leader of my family.

A family needs a spiritual leader who is a husband and father as does he need his wife to be at his side as his helper and to support him in his role as both the husband and father but also to create life in her womb and build up their family.

Both man and wife are there to aid each other in attaining eternal salvation as well as the salvation of their children which forms a domestic Church.


Yes, this is a topic that slightly irritates me. I am a woman see. I am not a fan of Saint Paul, the way he writes about how women should be treated makes me believe he had issues with us. (now don’t jump on me because of this, this is a personal opinion)

Jesus didn’t seem to have issues with women, He was constantly surrounded by them. A lot of His loyal followers were women. Shoots, He even chose women to see Him first after He rose from the dead.

(Also, I believe most of his apostles were married, so I am not sure where the priests not being able to marry came from, but that’s besides the point).

I sincerely believe a lot of normal cultural practices were inserted among the “illuminated text” (again don’t jump on me, just a personal opinion), because it was the acceptable norm at that time. We just somehow inherited these traditions and believed them law.

Women were not allowed a vote at that time after all, so any “protests” would have been brushed off as if it came from a nobody.

I wonder if things would have been different if Jesus came today, instead of 2000 years ago. I really sincerely doubt any prophet from the 21th century would even dare say, “women obey your men”. :blush:

But yes, catholic as I am, I am also a very logical person, math is my thing, and we are eliminating half of our work force by following what I deem to be archaic traditions. I am also in favour of priests marrying. I also know this wont happen ever (so you can reholster your guns now), but one can hope. :slight_smile:


Ehh, as a woman I still believe the male priesthood was intentional since the old testament always had male priests. As for the wives submitting thing, either God basically insisted on a hierarchy and equality (as we know it) doesn’t really exist, or that it was basically a way to give women more rights in a time where they didn’t had any. Kind of like how slave owners were told to treat their slaves kindly even though Christianity disapproves of slavery. To avoid some sort of unnecessary tension that could have squashed Christianity? Idk, I’m not educated on scripture so this is just my opinion.

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