Credo in Unum Deum

I Believe in One God

On Why Priests Must Be of the Male Gender

What follows is a hastily composed (slightly touched-up) response to a private email that was sent by Credo, yours truly (synchronouslycontingentdunce), and a mutual friend of ours. Though originally intended as a contribution to a purely private exchange of emails, upon Credo and our friend’s’ encouragement, I have decided to humbly submit, for the pleasure and edification of the of readers of “Credo in Unum Deum,” some of my thoughts on “why a male only priesthood.” This post contains no scholarly citations, most likely suffers from lacunae (both factually and logically), and, therefore, it makes no grandiose claims to any effect (excluding that last phrase, of course). (This post was partially prompted by Credo’s affirmation of the same thesis on this same venerable blog—though his thoughts were expressed in a more theological-positivistic mode, and, hence, failed to provide much in the way of argumentation or rationale that would be persuasive to non-Catholics.)

First, one must not conceive of Jesus’ person and sacrifice as an abstraction. Jesus was essentially a man, and, in offering the sacrifice of himself, he offered necessarily as a man.
The priesthood is a sacrament which mediates the mysteries of the life of Christ to his faithful. The priest, when offering Christ’s Sacrifice, offers in persona Christi. A woman is incapable, by nature, of such an action. Surely she can still worship God in Spirit and in truth, but this is not the issue. Moreover, if the worship of God were the deciding factor then Mary (from a Catholic perspective) would have been the proto-Priestess par excellence. Surely the angels also worship God. So, the question pertains primarily to the economy of salvation which presupposes the natural, created order; I believe that a God-woman would be an anthropological mistake. God is the masculine principle; all his creatures are in this respect feminine. But within creation there are feminine and masculine principles which can embody sacramentally (and, I believe, axiologically) the relationship of the creature to its Creator.

All the false religions extant in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry had their sacred priestesses because (at least partly) they had divinized creation (e.g., mother nature/earth), thereby ruling out any concept of a truly transcendent deity who was essentially fully active, lacking no perfection. But Christ, as a man, came and embodied the masculinity of the fully active deity who lavishes his gifts upon his faithful, his Bride (both men and women).

Why can’t men be mothers, why can’t the Church be our father? Because one is strictly impossible, and the other is anthropologically unintelligible. Christ in his masculinity represented the activity of God, who the Christians and Jews call “Father.” But in his creature hood, Christ was feminine in relation to God, and could therefore receive all that the Father lavished upon him. The Church is our mother, God is our Father, Jesus is our Groom, and we (all of us) are his Bride, who receives the gifts of divine grace.

I, then, would contend that a women could not have represented the transcendent activity of God, and Jesus was a man because of this. But on the other hand the Church could not be thought of as masculine because she is the active recipient of Divine Grace.

But, again, such metaphors, typologies, analogies, etc., are not to be strictly equated in all cases. Though I must say that with Jesus we may have a unique case. If the male incarnation is not strictly necessary (an affirmation which I don’t think that anyone could philosophically prove), it is the best, most fitting, and possibly the only conceivably intelligible incarnation. Christ is simultaneously groom, God, and creature. As God and groom it seems that it is best that he is male, and as creature (i.e., his created humanity) he must be male in that he represents the transcendent activity of God (but again, it seems that at this level we are dealing with a metaphor, but it is a luminous and intelligible metaphor), but, on the other hand, he is also, as creature, feminine in that he receives from God.

For a priest to offer in the person of Christ means for that priest to offer as a man, for the person of Christ is essentially male. On the other hand, in response to the question of why a male-only priesthood, one might, as Anscombe did, start naming off Christ’s own choices: “Peter…. James…. John, etc”– all those whom Jesus chose to be his priestly ministers. As to why God willed such an economy one might as well ask for the cause of God’s will, the ultimate cause of all things. (Nods here to Augustine, Scotus, et al.)


July 6, 2007 - Posted by | Religion


  1. …a women [sic] could not have represented the transcendent activity of God, and Jesus was a man because of this.

    Seems like something of a non-sequitur to me. Maybe I’m the dunce. How does (b) follow from (a)? Isn’t Jesus — the incarnate — Son of God and Son of Man a result of the immanent “activity of God”?

    Women in a unique way participate in the creative activity of God by virtue of human conception and birth. True, man provides the seed, but it’s the woman who carries out the bulk of the “activity” of generating new life. And it’s hard work: just ask any mother. God rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done, and so does a mother who has just given birth…at least until the infant starts crying, then it’s back to work. 🙂

    Comment by neitherhotnorcold | September 17, 2007

  2. Neither…nor,

    The statement that you quoted pertains to the age-old notion that the male represents the active principle in the fecundation of new life, while the female’s role is more clearly (actively) receptive. (Notice in my quote the term “activity,” and then consider the rest of my argument in light of this. My meaning may then become clearer to you.) The active nature of masculinity, insofar as it is active, is a more adequate type of God’s relation to creation. God is pure act. But as I think I stated in my post, this argument is not demonstrative. It merely shows a sort of fittingness.

    I’m unclear about the meaning of your second paragraph and your last paragraph isn’t directly pertinate to my argument so I will refrain from commenting on them.

    Comment by Duns | September 19, 2007

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