Voices from the Past: understanding why women can't be clergy

Brothers & sisters,

Coming from a somewhat Anglican-inclined background, I waver in this issue. Wishing to be loyal to the Gospel in the Church, my intent here is to find ancient examples of Rome’s refusal of women clergy: from history, the fathers, the doctors, and the Scriptures.

Right now, I am only looking for sources from antiquity (before ~AD 500). So far, there are a few:

1 Corinthians 14:32-37

And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints. Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak but to be subject, as also the law says. But if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God come out from you? Or came it only unto you? If any seem to be a prophet or spiritual, let him know the things that I write to you, that they are the commandments of the Lord.

  1. Where does the Law say that women must be silent?
  2. Not so sure about this quote regarding women clergy, since the specific context is prophecy, not necessarily ministry.


1 Timothy 2:5-15

there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times, whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle (I say the truth, I lie not), a doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention. In like manner, women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire: But, as it becomes women professing godliness, with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed; then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman, being seduced, was in the transgression. Yet she shall be saved through child bearing; if she continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety.

This is very strong context indeed. Just as there is one God and one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, so men pray openly in every place with hands uplifted. Women, on the other hand, do not have the public ministry even of outward prayer, let alone being lectors and clergy! Their sanctification is clearly in the home and in subjection - a glorious truth of God’s love for family life.


1 Timothy 3:1-4

If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires good work. It behoves therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality, a teacher, not given to wine, no striker, but modest, not quarrelsome, not covetous, but 4 one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all chastity.

Notice that the injunctions for bishops to be 1. husbands of one wife, and 2. rulers of their own houses, both come immediately after the commandment for women to be subject (i.e. ruled by) their husbands in chapter 2!


St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church, Intro to the Catechetical Lectures paragraph 14 (speaking about baptismal procedures)

When the Exorcism has been done, until the others who are being exorcised
have come, let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark: in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet had things been suitably arranged. If
the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women: lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction.
Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. Further,
let the men when sitting have a useful book; and let one read, and another listen: and if
there be no book, let one pray, and another speak something useful. And again let the party of young women sit together in like manner, either singing or reading quietly, so that their lips speak, but others’ ears catch not the sound: for I suffer not a woman to speak in the Church.

Not only does Cyril teach (as a priest with his bishop’s permission in the AD 340s) that women cannot be lectors or clergy, he even says that their prayers should not be heard in the Church at all. Sometimes I wonder if the Fathers go too far in their interpretations. :slight_smile:

Thank you for taking the time to read this thread. Please contribute if you wish!

Christ chose Apostles as the foundation of the Church, and they were all men. From there, they chose those to be their successors.

But Christian women provided us with tremendous witness of faith that baffled many men.

And women can be readers of the Word of God since Vatican II.

The aim we have to always remember is what our real and greatest vocation is in life, be it pope, religious or lay…and that is the mission of holiness.

Thank you for the reply KathleenGee,

I have often wondered why Rome allows female lectors, since it’s exactly contrary to what Paul commands in 1 Corinthians 14. Is there some reason for this? :slight_smile: I hope it isn’t a step toward abandoning the ancient doctrine of separation and the dignity of each sex.

Outside that, there are many beautiful, glorious female souls who have given us much love, comfort, and Christ-like joy in the world. Thanks be to GOD!

You can interpret the Bible to support pretty much anything you want.

I am slowly starting to become of the mind that only men are welcome in the church.

Notice how its mostly men over the ages who don’t want women clergy? I really believe that God makes no distinction of persons. But the Bible was written by humans who although divinely inspired were not in of themselves infallible. The Bible at one time was even used to condone slavery. The Bible says, “Slaves obey your masters.”

The argument that Paul uses to say women are not at the same level with men are faulty. He says because women was created for the man and because the man was created first.
If we use the first argument than animals would be greater than man. And yes, the women may have been created for the man but also the man was also for the woman. It was to be an equal partnership totally.

Paul had ambivalent sayings in the Bible about women because he was very much a man of his day however he recognized very much that in God there is no respecting of people that is why he said, "There is no male nor female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, but we are all one in Christ.

Even though I think this, I can still respect the Church position even though I think it is a flawed one. Besides, if we had women priests they’d probably take over the Church and it would become all female. Not a good thing IMO. We do have a voice in the Church and we can serve God better without a title.

One can own slaves and be good to them, especially if they are Christians. People tend to object to slavery only because it was always a cruel thing. Were slavery not managed and executed cruelly, there would be nothing wrong with it. The Bible doesn’t have our modern, post-Civil War obsessions. :thumbsup:

Not sure how you can be a full Roman Catholic, Michelle, and believe that Paul’s argumentation & conclusion are “faulty”. Men may not be infallible of themselves, but the LORD is Infallible for He Is Truth, and He inspired the human writers infallibly for the time that they wrote.

The idea that women would overtake the church isn’t invalid. The Church of England tried it, and by 2010 the number of ordained women outdid men (290 vs. 273). Though overall there are 9000 male clergy and 3000 female clergy in the C. of E. now, women will probably take over. It’s the culture.

Owning another human being is never right, IMO no matter how well you treat them. Thus, the Bible in the slavery aspect shows very much the thinking of its day. Not to interpret a document in its historical context is an injustice IMO.

To be a part of an organized religion does not immediately imply full agreement. I can respect the Church’s point of view regarding this issue even though I don’t totally agree. Also the Catholic Church is not unique in this view regarding women. Many Protestant churches do not have female ministers.

It takes nothing away from Paul that his thinking was of many men of his day. That was the society of the time or else one would have to hold against him that he didn’t denounce slavery out right.

Jesus never had female disciples. Never was there a female apostle. I am sure that if God wanted women to have that specific vocation…it would have been established at the time of Christ.

Women were made to help men.

I can think of one very good reason. Imagine what would happen to a woman’s reputation if she was in a group with men. Wouldn’t tongues be wagging!:eek:

Help them do what?

The Church venerates a woman, Mary, as the crown in God’s creation, the most perfect of all creatures, higher than the angels and the saints, second only to her Son who is God.

The Church teaches that the equal but different role of women was written into the fabric of creation at the beginning of time when God created man and woman, both masculine and feminine, in the divine image.

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

The first promise of a savior (proto-evangelium) in the Bible was given to a woman. The great dignity of women is taught to us when Jesus heals the infirm woman who is bent over and cannot walk. Jesus himself teaches that the woman who put only two pennies into the treastury was more righteous than all the other people who deposited large sums of money. Women were the first to see the ressurected Christ.

The Church reminds us of all this and much more, and teaches us therefor about the great dignity of women. The Church recognizes divine revelation when it refers to itself as a woman - the Bride of Christ!

*And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; (Revelation 21:22)

**The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. *(Revelation 2:17)

Men cannot be mothers. Women cannot be fathers. A woman was chosen by God to be the Mother of God, the mother of all the faithful, and the image of the Church, and God chose men to be priests, our spiritual fathers. That’s the way God designed it. But there are women saints and women doctors of the Church. The highest person in creation is a woman. I don’t know how anyone can say that women are not welcome in the Church.

The Churches teaching about the great dignity of women and their role in the salvation history and the life and teachings of the Church can be read in Mulieris Gignitatem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.


The dignity of women is not at question here, as the excellent TimothyH points out. It is a question of doctrine about the nature of spiritual shepherding. “Jesus was a man” isn’t enough.

What always trips me up is: why should Paul distinguish between men & women keeping silence in Church, when the very same Paul says “there is now no male or female in Christ”, Galatians 3:28? No contradiction? :slight_smile:

Hmm Tim no one is saying that women are not highly respected in the Church. They are which is why I returned to the Catholic Church.

Thank you Tim.

I was very close to walking away forever. I just get so tired of the Eve-ate-the-apple thing. I am not a daughter of Eve, and if she were here right now, I would want to tell her off for ruining it for the rest of us. lol.

I am not on some crusade for women becoming priests or anything of that nature. Far from it. But when I see things in the bible that women are not supposed to speak in a church, and that we are meant only to be subject to our husbands, or learn only from our husbands it does get me a little upset. Even if attitudes were different in bible times. It makes me feel like I am working toward nothing. That God could never accept me and that it is pointless to go to church or confession ever again, all because Eve ate a stupid apple and I am guilty for being the same gender. lol.

I don’t know. This is pretty much the only subject that gets me upset. Thanks for your post though. It helped.

Oh, he posted that for me…:slight_smile:

The Church has no authority to ordain women, nor power to do so. If the Church were to perform the rite of ordaination on a woman, nothing would happen. It would not produce the desired results.

Christ chose women for many things, including the role of bringing himself into creation, but he chose men to be apostles, and therefor the Church has no authority to do otherwise.

There are many writings out there from the Early Church Fathers and early councils. Some are listed at catholic.com/tracts/women-and-the-priesthood.


The author of post number 5 said so, that women are not welcome in the Church.


Oh, I wouldnt want to be ordained. I don’t even want to be an apostle. I just want to feel like I am not some 2nd class citizen in the eyes of God or any church just for being female. :slight_smile:

By focusing on Eve, you ignored the impact of the Church’s teachings in regards to the Holy Mother.

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