Tuesday, February 22

I should explain.....

Not sure why I'm blogging about this, precisely, other than I'm seeing a whole bunch of well-meaning misinformation out there.

Lemmie 'splain.  No, it take too long, lemmie sum up.

Colkoch wrote about an article by Jamie Manson and reply by Tony Equale regarding wimminz-priests.  I see great value in the questions and conclusion that all three discuss, but there are some really important and large factual, historical errors that Equale's substantive rejoinder that motivates me to go on about this.  I was going to talk about this on her blog, but the comment was as long as a post and I figured I shouldn't clutter up her airwaves with my static.

The main thrust (if you'll pardon the fencing pun) of Equale's argument is summed up in his statement here:
"I claim that the institution of the 'sacramental' priesthood as we know it in our times, is a greco-roman elitist innovation that did not exist until well into the 2nd century, a hundred years after the founding of the church.  It was designed precisely to eliminate christian egalitarianism, create a hieratic caste, mystify the ordinary people and concentrate power in the hands of the upper class."

The first part I would dispense of is the word sacramental in regard to priesthood.  That is a wholly 20th century invention which took hold in the wake of Vatican II.  Full. Stop.  Don't believe me?  Read the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia.  Read Aquinas. Read as far back as you please. 

Yes, the development of elders (presbyters) occurs in the second century and one sees the development of metropolitans and bishops during the 3rd-4th century, but these positions are chosen by the laity they are to oversee. It isn't until the late 5th-early 6th century do we see those individuals being chosen from above. Read the Desert Fathers about this, in particular John Chrystosom and Augustine.

Priests were not required for the validity of the sacraments until the 13th century (made in response to the Waldensian and Cathar heresies) and that wasn't formalized at Council until Trent (mid 16th century). Further, what rites are and are not sacraments wasn't even vaguely described until the 8th century  and wasn't explicitly defined until Peter Lombard in the 12th century. Of course there were rites performed from the Apostolic era forward, but the express definitions as to what they are, what they mean and how they are done happens a LOT later than what is being intimated or outright expressed.

There is substantive evidence (by Irvin, Eisen and others) which shows that there were women as deacons, priests and even bishops up through the 9th century.  When Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica, one of the requests by the Vatican (his sponsor) was to explicitly define why women could not be ordained as priests.  Aquinas replied that there was nothing in Scripture or Tradition which would prevent this.  He then goes on to say that, nonetheless, they shouldn't be ordained because Aristotle said that women are 'lesser, imperfect creatures' than men. 

In the wake of V2, the Papacy asked the Pontifical Biblical Commission to study the matter in depth and, like Aquinas, give the Vatican ammunition against the ordination of women.  They, like Aquinas so many years before, could find no reason in Scripture and Tradition to bar the ordination of women and since medical science had advanced since Aristotle and Aquinas, the argument that women are inferior by virtue of their sex was....wanting.  When the CDF hi-jacked the results, over 2/3 of the commission resigned.  The resulting document is the basis of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

Thus, to bring us full circle.... Equale's conclusion that the priesthood has been turned into a hieratic order designed to concentrate power with the side effect of marginalizing the laity is fundamentally correct.  He's just off by 1500+ years.


  1. Tim thanks for this. I did not know that Aquinas was tasked with defining why women could not be priests. That's very interesting.

    I disagreed with Tony in that I actually feel it was at Trent where the priesthood really got diverted. I agree with him though, that the bishopric got co opted much earlier and like him would lay the start of that at the feet of Constantine--at least in those areas under the direct control of Rome.

  2. Thank you for the feedback.

    I'll agree with you that the lead-up to Trent (culminating with the doctrinal institution of the priest as requirement for sacraments) is when things start to go a bit pear-shaped, though the sacerdotal 'thing' is 20th century. Sorry, but after hearing multiple times that "its always been that way" and such, I'm rather put out with Magisterial misinformation.

    Also, I agree that the episcopate (as in bishops up to the Pope), are, on average, more secularized than the front-line clergy...a possible confluence of familiarity->contempt and with power comes pretty toys. I see it as an oversimplification to lay things at Constantine's feet, but it is an academic argument at best.

    More important is to see that it has happened, and not just once. The battle against the corruptive influence of secular power and money within the clergy is one of the key drivers of the Clunaic reform in the 11th century, the 13th century Dominican/Franciscan reforms and the Magisterial (Lutherian protestant) reforms and their Trentian counterparts in the 16th century.

    Much is made of the reforms at the priestly level, but the effects run deeper and broader.
    Obviously, the higher one goes in the hierarchy, the harder it is to see the 'ground' floor where the naked, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying are.

    You know....where Christ is.