Fr. Ripperger, FSSP, on the Ordination of
Women to the Catholic Priesthood
A Fraternity of St. Peter Priest tackles the issue of Women’s Ordination and Definitively Answers the Question
It is clear that the early Church DID NOT ORDAIN WOMEN to the diaconate. The Canon Law Society of America has published a document titled “The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Deaconate” and Fr. Ripperger has written a response to that document.Most emphasis mine. Used with permission. Footnotes to this paper here.
The Unity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders
Fr. Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2006
According to Aimé Mortimort, there does exist conclusive historical evidence of the existence of a deaconess 1 who has received the sacrament of Holy Orders. 2 However, one thing does emerge clearly from the historical evidence is that there were deaconesses who performed a liturgical role in the rite of Baptism, 3 who stood at the entrances to seat people by separating them out, 4 as well as other functions, but they were never ordained to serve at the altar. 5 While the question of the historical existence of deaconesses is a necessary aspect of research, there is one aspect of the discussion of the restoration of deaconesses which is tacitly ignored, viz. the dogmatic question about the nature of Holy Orders. 6 For this reason, this article will concern itself not with the historical considerations, 7 but with a doctrinal consideration which seems to be of the utmost importance in regards to whether a woman is capable of receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The Canon Law Society of America
Recently, the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) published a report by an ad hoc committee which supported the restoration of deaconesses. In its document, The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Deaconate, the CLSA tends to side with Gryson’s historical interpretation. However, the document does not simply state that ordination of women to the diaconate, historically speaking, is clearly demonstrated. What it tends to do is to discuss the existence of deaconesses and their functions without a clear discussion of the doctrinal considerations. 8 Stress tends to be laid on four things, viz. the lack of historical evidence that deaconesses were not ordained to the diaconate, 9 the fact that Paul VI restored the permanent diaconate for men, 10 the idea that the cultural milieu would support the restoration of deaconesses 11 and finally that the canonical requirements could be altered. 12 In the final analysis, the CLSA views the restriction of receiving the diaconate to men as one of purely ecclesiastical regulation 13 and not one of divine positive law. This is based on a twofold argument; the first is the discussion of the position provided in the previous paragraph and the second is on an imprecise assertion about the Church’s power over the sacraments. The document states:
Thus, the Church has power over the sacraments to determine what is necessary for their valid and lawful celebration, and to provide for their ready availability to all God’s people. …Thus over the centuries Church authorities have modified the celebration of certain sacraments, including the determination of what is necessary for their valid celebration. …In light of what the Church has determined in the past, it is within the competence of appropriate Church authorities to determine who may be ordained a permanent deacon. … Similarly, in light of past experience, it is within the competence of supreme Church authority to determine that women may be ordained to the permanent diaconate…14
The formulation of this argument is erroneous because it is imprecise. While it is true that the Church has power over the sacraments, it is not true that the Church has power over what constitutes validity for all of the sacraments. 15 With some sacraments, the Church is not at liberty to change the matter and form 16 nor the necessary qualities required of the subject of the reception of the sacrament. 17 Therefore, the CLSA document has not clearly established that the Church is in a position to alter the subject or recipient of the sacrament of Holy Orders since they have not demonstrated clearly that historically deaconesses received the sacrament nor have they demonstrated theologically (i.e. doctrinally) that the Church can change the required qualities of the subject of the sacrament of Holy Orders. 18
On May 22nd, 1994, John Paul II promulgated the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” stating:
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of our ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 22:32), we declare that the Church has no capacity whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be
definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. 19
This document, in our present discussion, enunciates three vital points. The first is what is obvious, viz. that the Holy Father has stated that the Church cannot confer priestly ordination on a woman. The second is that the Church herself knows and sees that she does not possess absolute power over the sacraments and that this extends to the ordination of women to the priesthood. 20 Therefore, with respect to the subject of the recipient of the sacrament of Holy Orders to the degree of the priesthood, a woman is incapable of its reception. The third is perhaps the most important in light of the current discussion, viz. the wording selected by the Holy Father. He specifically said that priestly ordination cannot be conferred on women. In other words, some have read this document as saying that women cannot receive the priesthood but they could receive the diaconate. 21 It is this wording that has lead the CLSA and others to assert that women are not completely closed off from receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, since they could receive it to the degree of the deaconate.
The Unity of Holy Orders
The theologians of the past in their discussion of the sacrament of Holy Orders generally did not discuss the notion of women becoming deacons as a real possibility. For them, women were excluded from orders and there were no distinctions made between the possibility of a woman becoming a priest and her possibility of becoming a deacon; they were merely excluded from all Holy Orders. The reason why women were considered to be excluded from being a deacon if they could not be considered a priest is because the sacrament of Holy Orders comprises a single sacrament. The theologians do not provide a lengthy discussion of the matter but usually just state the principle outright:
Diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate are sacramental grades of Order. However, they are not three distinct sacraments, but conjointly form the one Sacrament of Order. The priestly power is found in its whole fullness in the episcopate, in a lower grade of perfection in the presbyterate; the lowest grade of the participation in the priestly power as found in the diaconate. 22
Ott merely states that, while there are different orders, there is only one sacrament. The Church has formally defined that there are (only) seven sacraments of the New Law. 23 If one were to say that they were distinct sacraments, then there would be nine sacraments and not seven. 24 Such a teaching has never been part of doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Some of the theologians refer to Saint Thomas Aquinas in this regards noting the following passage from his commentary on the Sentences: 25
The distinction of orders is not of the entire whole into the parts, nor of the universal whole, but of the whole of powers; of which its nature is such that the whole is in one according to its complete nature (rationem); in others, however, it is some participation of it; and so it is here; for the full whole of this sacrament is in one order, namely, the priesthood, but in others it is a certain participation in orders; … and therefore all orders are one sacrament.. 26
Saint Thomas has noted that Holy Orders comprises one sacrament in which there are degrees of participation in the one order which is complete or whole in one order, viz. the priesthood. In other words, there are not three sacraments of Holy Orders but one sacrament of Holy Orders.
A close analysis of the text is quite fruitful in order to understand the sacrament. He says that the distinction of orders is not of the entire whole into the parts; in other words, the whole of the sacrament is not divided into the various parts. So there is not one sacrament of Holy Orders in which the deacon gets one part, the priest another and the bishop a third. Moreover, orders is not “of the universal whole.” In other words, each part does not contain the entire whole as such; so a Deacon (i.e. the part) does not possess the fullness of the priesthood (i.e. the whole) and each, viz. the priest, deacon and bishop, are not individual parts each having the whole of the thing. This is a bit difficult to understand and the analogy of the Eucharist is quite useful in showing this type of division of the whole into the parts. In the Eucharist, each part which is broken off from the Host contains the whole of Christ; Saint Thomas is saying that the Sacrament of Holy Orders does not function this way.
What Saint Thomas is saying is that the Sacrament of Holy Orders comprises a single sacrament of which each part participates in the whole according to degree. 27 In other words, orders has to do with powers and the bishop possesses more powers than the priest, who possesses more powers than the deacon. Each have powers but one to a lesser degree than the another. So a bishop who has the fullness of the priesthood 28 has the sacrament of Holy Orders in its fullness, i.e. in the greatest degree. Whereas a priest or a deacon likewise has the same Sacrament of Holy Orders but to a lesser degree. Hence, the sacrament is the same in each but they are distinguished according to the degree of the sacrament which they possess which, in turn, determines their powers or what they can do. Therefore, there is one Sacrament of Holy Orders but varying degrees of that one sacrament.
In fact, in all Church documents and among the theologians, this sacrament is always referred to in the singular and not in the plural. 29 Moreover, when they refer to the exclusion from the sacrament of Holy Orders for women, it is always done in such a way that there is no distinction made between exclusion from a particular degree; it is always made as an exclusion from this entire sacrament. The reason this follows is that if masculinity is necessary for the reception of this sacrament in any degree, then it must be in all degrees; for the sacrament of Holy Orders is essentially one, i.e. it is the same in a deacon, priest and bishop. What differs is their fullness of possession of the sacrament. In other words, the requirements which are essential for the sacrament are the same for all of the degrees since they are essentially the same sacrament. If it is of divine law that one must be male to receive the priesthood, then it is of divine law for the diaconate as well, because they are not different sacraments.
The operative principle here is that of non-contradiction: one cannot be capable of receiving Holy Orders and not receiving Holy Orders in the same time and in the same respect. “Degree” does not constitute a “respect” or the way one looks at the sacrament since it is accidental and not essential. If degree were essential to Holy Orders, then there would be three sacraments; for there would be three essentially different things of which the specific difference would be the degree. Therefore, degree cannot be the criteria upon which one bases the valid reception of the sacrament by a particular subject. 30 In other words, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one sacrament comprising a whole. If one is to receive it (regardless of degree) one must be male, for masculinity is necessary for the sacrament in se, i.e in general or in itself.
This brings us back to the Holy Fathers wording of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. When the Holy Father said: “I declare that the Church has no capacity whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women” the term “priestly” here would encompass the entire sacrament in all its degrees. While it is not entirely clear exactly what the Holy Father’s intention is regarding the term “priestly” here, 31 one should not infer that therefore women can be ordained to the diaconnessate. However, this does not exclude the theological (as well as historically based) possibility of having deaconesses who are fully functional 32 like a deacon but they would not have the sacrament of Holy Orders. Such action on the side of Church would be disastrous, for it would increase the confusion about the nature of the priesthood which is already a serious difficulty. 33 Moreover, it would increase the widening gap between doctrine and practice which has already become a serious problem in the Church. If only a male can be ordained which is fundamentally ordered to the service of the sacrifice of the altar, then to allow women to be deaconnesses, would imply that the congruity between service at the altar and orders is not important. Moreover, we must ask ourselves whatever happened to the holy approach of the Church in the past which heeded the monitions and advice of the saints? Are the divinely inspired writings of Saint Paul with regards to women in the Church to be totally ignored without suffering some ill effects?Footnotes