Theology on a male-only priesthood

The Vatican newspaper has published essays suggesting that women should be allowed to preach at Mass.Under existing canon law, only priests and deacons are authorized to preach at …


Can anyone provide some insight into the developments in the theology of the male-only priesthood? Especially throughout history.

If you asked the question “Why can’t women be priests?” in the first millennium of Christianity, I have a strong feeling that answers would relate more to the idea of the inherent inferiority of women, or would relate to cultural understandings of the social role of women. Today, if you asked the question, the reasoning would not emphasize the division between men and women in social roles as much as it would talk about the symbolism of men (Christ was male), the relationship between the “bride” of Christ and the “bridegroom” who is Christ, etc.

I read a news piece that said the Vatican newspaper featured an article by a theologian saying women should be able to preach at Mass. Apparently, women were able to do so prior to the 13th century. It seems that allowing women to preach at Mass would help to better illustrate how the Church* is not* essentially sexist, or is not relying on out-of-date cultural norms that even the New Testament depicts (“women quiet in church…” Etc.); rather, the reasoning for a male-only priesthood has a much deeper theological basis.

But what is the history of this theology? My gut reaction would be to think this theology of a male priesthood is more of a modern justification for earlier practice, which may indeed have had a theology that was more “sexist” and patriarchal – or at least under the assumption of certain ideas about men and women in society.

We have a male priesthood **because that is what God established **in both His Old Covenant and His New Covenant.

Here is a short encyclical on the ordained priesthood by Pope John Paul II:

Another longer one from the CDF. Scroll down and start at section
" **4. Permanent Value of the Attitude of Jesus and the Apostles **"

I can’t give you an in-depth historical analysis of the theological development of the priesthood, but I can give you some other information. First the male only priesthood is an infallible teaching that can never change. Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter “Ordination Sacerdotalis” affirm this teaching of the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger would later say that the apostolic letter was an infallible teaching.

The fact is that ordination to the priesthood is a sacrament, and all sacraments require the proper form and matter for them to be true sacraments. With the priesthood the proper matter is a male. So the reason a female could never be a priest is like the same reason me, being a man, could never bear children. The male only priesthood has always been a sacrament and not just a “practice”.

Also with this idea that the Church in the early centuries and even later on was somehow sexist and means towards women is a lie that is readily accepted by a lot of people today. The Church has done much to advance the fair treatment of women. Also look at the Church’s history that is full of the veneration for many women saints (Look at the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Also Catholic Answers has a great article filled with quotations showing that the Early Church Fathers believed that the priesthood was reserved to males alone. It’s so visibly apparent that so many today reject the Church’s teachings that they feel don’t line up with the cultural norms of today’s society. When in reality we should be conforming our lives to Christ and what the Church teaches especially when it comes to religious matters since it was Christ who founded the Catholic Church.

I linked the two documents I mentioned. Take a look at them and see what you think. I hope this helps and God Bless

Here are some quotes from 189 A.D. to 428 A.D. on the subject:

If you asked the question “Why can’t women be priests?” in the first millennium of Christianity, I have a strong feeling that answers would relate more to the idea of the inherent inferiority of women, or would relate to cultural understandings of the social role of women.

First, the early Christians did not believe women are inherently inferior to men. Here are some quotes from them on female equality, including their ability to teach and preach in non-priestly roles:

Second, many of the quotes on the male priesthood are identical to the arguments we make today.

Today, if you asked the question, the reasoning would not emphasize the division between men and women in social roles as much as it would talk about the symbolism of men (Christ was male), the relationship between the “bride” of Christ and the “bridegroom” who is Christ, etc.

That’s true, and it would also talk about the fact that Jesus has female disciples but didn’t ordain them, and we’re supposed to follow His example. The same argument made in the Didascalia as can be seen in one of the above links.

One of my favorite quotes by a Church Father on female equality is this one:

~380 A.D. - St. Gregory Nazianzen - “I see that the majority of men are ill-disposed, and that their laws are unequal and irregular. For what was the reason why they restrained the woman, but indulged the man?]” “[A] woman who practises evil against her husband’s bed is an adulteress, and the penalties of the law for this are very severe; but if the husband commits fornication against his wife, he has no account to give… I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. They who made the Law were men, and therefore their legislation is hard on women… [T]hey have placed children also under the authority of their fathers, while leaving the weaker sex uncared for. God does not so; but says Honour your father and your mother…and, He that curses father or mother, let him die the death. … See the equality of the legislation. There is one Maker of man and woman; one debt is owed by children to both their parents. … Christ saves both by His Passion. Was He made flesh for the Man? So He was also for the woman. Did He die for the Man? The Woman also is saved by His death. He is called of the seed of David; and so perhaps you think the Man is honoured; but He is born of a Virgin, and this is on the Woman’s side. They two, He says, shall be one Flesh; so let the one flesh have equal honour.” (Oration 37 Paragraphs 6-7)

As I get older I have come to see that “gut instinct” can often be a product of the environment in which I was raised. Is our culture that trustworthy ?

If a male only priesthood is sexist, then we should look to the origins.
Christ only chose males. Was He a sexist ? Was He not capable of rising above corrupted norms of His culture ?



News reports added to thread for context.

In the ancient Old Testament world, the male head of the household was the judge, military leader and priest of his family. Every male head of household had the ability to offer sacrifice to take away the sins of his family. We see the ability to offer sacrifice in in the first Passover.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, "Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. (Exodus 12:21)

The common priesthood of the head of a family was taken away at Mt. Sinai when Israel broke the covenant they had just made with God. The priesthood was given instead to the male Levites.

The priesthood was always male, from the beginning of time. Abel and Cain offered sacrifice to God. Nowhere does a woman offer the sacrifice.


Only a deacon, priest, or bishop may give the homily. Lay men are not able to do this, either. I’m not sure I’d like to see laymen do this either, so does that mean openijg the priesthood to women? I’m not comfortable with that, either.

Saint Paul advised women to be silent in church. Wait! I’ve always wondered at that line. Women helped spread the gospel. They participated in ways at Church. Paul tells us this. So is he being contradictory? I do not think so, and I certainly don’t think there must be a silence on woman in all things of the Church, and certainly not in religion, nor in the home. But I do think here that he is referring to the role of the priest at mass, including giving the homily. Not is there any precedent or hint of any apostolic tradition of women priests, and lately I have become more concerned with preserving our traditions. I believe in further unpacking the scriptures and development of doctrine, but not in contradiction to tradition.

Paul also said that only one or two men were to speak, no more. All men except one or two were to keep silent as well.

The problem was disorder in the Church, everyone speaking at the same time, that’s all. It has nothing to do with women vs men.


Ok the Church is the Bride of Christ and the priest stands in Persona Christi. To me that explains theology of a male only ministerial priesthood pretty well

Yeah I mentioned that in my original post already – but when did this theology originate?

Yes, I think it does. To the extent that there is a ‘theology’ behind the idea of a male priesthood, it is the theology behind the idea that human beings are created male and female—beginning with Adam and Eve.

It seems pretty straightforward to me. The Second Person of the Trinity—the Divine Word—took on a human nature as a man. Priests act in the person of Christ, and Christ is a man. To ask a woman to step into the person of Christ would be a sort of impossible transgenderism.

It is only in such a sexually confused age as the present that this seems odd, because we try to reduce maleness and femaleness to mere ornamental accessory.

Well, for starters this:

Episcopalian Priest Aborted Her Baby So She Could Finish Divinity School
By Micaiah Bilger
March 2, 2016

And second, the priest acts in persona Christi. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. A woman cannot be the bridegroom.

I think woman should be able to become deaconesses.
Note: A deaconess isn’t the same as a deacon. As a deacon has holy orders, while a deaconess doesn’t. (within catholicism)
I’m not really convinced about why they shouldn’t have holy orders.
It seems clear to me they are barred from priesthood and from becoming bishop though.

There are deaconesses in orthodox churches. Or were common.

Russia, Japan, Bulgaria and Romania come to mind.

It’s true, a woman cannot be the bridegroom, which comes down to: a woman cannot be a man. Jesus is a man.

While women cannot be priests, we need to keep in mind that neither can men become mothers. While we have a male only priesthood we also have a female only motherhood.

It is a great honor to assist God in the creation of human life. Husband and wife do this when they unite as spouses to have children. A woman does this in a very special way as she carries that life inside of her for 9 months. The greatest honor ever bestowed upon a human being was bestowed on a woman, Mary, who held God incarnate in her womb for 9 months. Such is the beauty and dignity of motherhood, equaling and even surpassing that of the priesthood.

Not all men become priests and not all women become mothers but for those that do it is a great honor to be called by God.


It is within the gospels and Paul’s letters, so I’d say within Apostolic times at the latest. Jesus is presented as the Bridegroom. Paul speaks of it in Ephesians 5.

The OT also makes use of this imagery, with prophets referring to Israel as an unfaithful spouse, and God’s covenant at Sinai is largely seen as a nuptial covenant with his chosen people.

That is horrible :frowning:
However, I don’t see how it represents an answer to the question. What are you getting at?

I’ve never really understood this illustration. First of all, that women, not men, become mothers is a biological reality. That men, not women, can only be priests refers to an alleged “ontological” reality about “maleness.”

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