Dr. Marianne Schlosser on the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

Dr. Marianne Schlosser, professor of theology at the university of Vienna and member of the International Theological Commission, has seen it necessary to distance herself from the preparatory group responsible for the topic of women in the Church for the “synodal way” of the German Church, which focused too much on the issue of ordination. One of the prominent advocates for women’s ordination in the working group was Sr. Katharina Ganz, Superior General of the Oberzeller Franciscan sisters. Marianne Schlosser recently (the exact date of the letter is not indicated in the text published online yesterday, September 23, 2019) wrote the following open letter to Sr. Katharina Ganz, defending and explaining the Church’s teaching on this point. Translated by Fr. Joseph Bolin from the German original, put online by Die Tagespost (removing the headings, which appear to have been added by the press):

Dear Madam Superior General, esteemed colleague!

You recently sent me a link to your interview in the FAZ 13.09.2019.

As the topics you discuss are on concern to many people, I would like to comment on a few points and have decided to do so in the form of an open letter, because a letter to the editor would not provide the space for a differentiated opinion. I write with the awareness that I am not alone in my view, but to give a voice to many others who do not usually make themselves noticed by their vocality.

Already the headline, "Women must pose the question of power", rather unsettled me. You associate the "question of power" mainly with the sacrament of Holy Orders and see in the fact that the Roman Catholic – as also the Eastern Churches – does not entrust women with the apostolic ministry, a violation of the equal rights of men and women.

Honestly: I do not want to have anyone above me in the Church, man, woman, or collective who or which holds such a notion of "power" or of the sacrament of Holy Orders. "Christ freed us to freedom" (Gal. 5: 1). There is to be no power in the Church other than the authority of Jesus Christ – and we know what it is supposed to look like ("You know that the powerful … but with you it should not be like this …" Mark 10 , 43, Luke 22:26).

I certainly will not deny that there is a de facto abuse of office and the rank associated with it. And it is painful to me that, even to the present, religious nuns are sometimes as a matter of course treated by clerics and others as servants and do not receive the esteem due them. You do not even have to look to Africa or South America for that.

Maybe it would be "just" that not only men should be allowed to be able to abuse power. It would not, however, make the situation better.. You admit yourself that this expectation would be quite unworldly. Not to mention that de facto "power" is not exercised only by persons who hold an office … I fear that Augustine was right when he considered the hunger for power, i. e. the temptation to rule over others, to be inherent to the human being – not the male sex! As long as he / she does not convert, i.e. take on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2).

Especially in the context of the recent abuse scandal by clerics, the old question has once again come into the limelight: Does the Church (who is that?) need women as priests? Meanwhile, it sounds rather the other way around: women need access to the ordained ministry; they have a right to it.

I do not want to insinuate anything of anyone. But if someone needs an office for themselves, then the abuse of the associated position is inevitable. Anyone – man or woman – who thinks they have a right to it is, mistaken. That's why it is, in my judgment, a mistake to use the language of equal rights in this context. Gregory the Great, a truly experienced shepherd, was of the opinion that it was better not to ordain people who press for ordination. For he who is so convinced of him- or herself that he/she has never been driven to terror by fear or at least a shadow of self-doubt in the face of what lies ahead in such an office, one man doubt his / her special vocation to follow the Good Shepherd. This necessarily means, after all, a kind of "expropriation" of one's own plans and interests – which as a rule also involves resistance within oneself.

That is it which one would need to increase awareness of, so that the church grows together into a "fraternal" community. The fact that your patron saint and model, Francis, not only had a very high esteem for priests, "because of their ordination" (as he writes in his "Testament"), but could also himself be downright authoritarian, cannot, incidentally, be totally overlooked.

A position of responsibility brings with it a special danger, as the whole spiritual tradition knows. To not confuse responsibility with patronizing, patience with with indifference, modesty with submissiveness, affability with conformity, etc., requires a great spiritual maturity.

Unfortunately, the behavior of public officials is at times an anti-testimony.

But where would the suggestion you made at the end of your interview lead, to separate "the sacrament of Holy Orders" and "power"? Who should then exercise "power" with which qualification, with what right? The time of the prince-bishops, who were laymen according to canon law, is over.

The Church binds the delegation of authority and special responsibility to criteria, including a lengthy education and an examination of the character and religious qualifications of a candidate in order to minimize risks. And the rite of consecration expresses confidence in believers’ prayer that the Holy Spirit will not remain idle.

Is this just a spiritual castle in the air, far from reality, an all too power-filled reality?

As long as the office of leadership ("munus regiminis") – even if that were just a distant ideal! – is dialectically connected with the "diakonia Christi" (Jn 13: 13-16; Lk 22,27), that is to say, with the alienation of oneself, if need be unto the giving up of one’s life, there is at least hope that some, many, if possible all of them – hope that one will not lose sight of the summit, even if one were to relapse. If, on the other hand, you declare the summit non-existent, you will remain in the fog of the valleys.

As for the possibility of women's access to Sacred Orders, especially to the priesthood, you assume that John Paul II's "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" does not the degree of ultimate binding force expressly claimed by the document itself (n.4), that it lacks the formal explanation pronouncement as dogma.

However, it has now been repeatedly explained (most recently by Cardinal Ladaria on May 29, 2018) that, and why!, this letter is binding as an expression of the ordinary Magisterium.

(1) Response ad propositum dubium concerning the Teaching Contained in “Ordinatio sacerdotalis”, 28 October, 1995; (2) Concerning the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Teaching Contained in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 28 October 1995, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19951028_commento-dubium-ordinatio-sac_en.html; (3) In response to certain doubts regarding the definitive character of the doctrine of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 29 May 2018., Luis F. Ladaria, S.I., Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/ladaria-ferrer/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20180529_caratteredefinitivo-ordinatiosacerdotalis_en.html)

By no means everything that is "de fide", that is to say to be accepted in faith, is formally dogmatized. But if some circles insist on it, they might achieve just that …

That would at any rate be easier than the opposite way. For that would not only rescind a document of the papal Magisterium (which could scarcely be formulated more emphatically!), but abdicate a tradition of the whole church, which was not merely practice, but a practice that had undergone reflection.

In such a case one would have to in my opinion even ask the question, whether a church that had for 2000 years discriminated half of the faithful – and the more fervent half at that! – can be really the church of Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. Of course, the question is relevant only if one maintains – and I believe we both do – that the Church together with its basic structure is built on the will of Christ – otherwise it would not matter anyway; in that case nobody needs something like a sacramental ministry.

You then declare frankly that certain theological arguments do not convince you.

I do not deny that in the course of reflection on the sacrament of Holy Orders and its recipients, less judicious or viable arguments were brought into play. For good theologians (like Thomas Aquinas) they were however never the main reason.

But fundamentally: what degree of persuasiveness can theological arguments achieve in so far as they rest on the historical revelation of God? If there really is revelation, if the eternal truth of God has become man in Jesus Christ, then this is given to us as an event. In other words, that and how God acts in the history of salvation cannot be demonstrated with "conclusive reasons," because this action is rooted in the freedom of God. The theological arguments can only show the inner coherence, the connection with the whole of revelation. There will always be leeway for assent to the argument. This also applies to the question under discussion here.

You ask why the representation of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, that is to say, of his actions, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist, cannot assumed by a woman, since men are also present in the pews. Literally, challenged by your interviewer's provocative question, you said, "Why should sexual masculinity be a necessary condition to represent the man Christ when, conversely, the church is to be the bride of the Bridegroom of (sic) Christ? Then the church should consist only of women. "

Yes, if that were the church's argumentation, I would also not find it convincing! For one thing, the sacramental representation of Christ does not simply depend on nature, "the Y chromosome." Otherwise every man, qua man, could represent Christ.

Secondly, there seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the notion of representation, a probably widespread misunderstanding.

In the "symbolic" language of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, the people of God as such, composed of men and women, is "feminine" (in the sense of "receiving") in relation to God, and all together form the "body", none of the members is the head. Moreover, every creature is receptive in relation to God, every soul – as the mystics of both sexes say – is the "bride of the word of God," which must first be received so that mortal man may "bear fruit that remains."

This also applies to those members of the Church who are ordained to the priesthood. Even a priest is and remains "receiving" in relation to God, remains a member of the body of Christ. One can also say with Pope Francis that he must not forget the "Marian" dimension of Christianity, which is the first and fundamental vocation of the Church, the "Prae" before the "Petrine" vocation. Therefore, only a baptized person can be ordained, and ordination cannot replace baptism.

That a priest can "represent" the "vis-à-vis" of the church, that is, Christ as head and bridegroom, is only possible because of the sacrament of ordination. This enables him to "re-present" something he can never become. The persons in the pew, on the other hand, do not "represent" the church – at best in the sense that the whole may be present in one part – they are it by reason of their membership in the body of Christ through baptism (cf Can. 204 – § 1).

But why cannot this sacrament of representation be conferred on a woman?

A sacrament always includes institution by Christ, i.e. the linking of a visible object or operation with a new meaning and an effect guaranteed by Christ Himself. In principle, he could have ordered it differently, he could have completely foregone the sending of the apostles, or he could have left everything (and not just a lot) to later development in the believing community. But if something is to be a "sign", then it must point to the designated content in the best possible way (significance). Oil or wine have a different significance than water. At a "wedding dinner" we think of something other than a birthday party, however lavishly it might be celebrated. This aspect is not playing around with pictures, but relevant, because the sacraments are by definition "perceptible signs" for an invisible reality.

And it seems to me very reasonable that a woman is not a significant sign for the bridegroom of the church. Likewise, a man is not a significant sign of the Church as bride. So religious women often receive a ring on the day of profession, whereas that is unusual for monks – although they both live the bridal love for Christ, they are a visible sign of it in different ways.

The reasonableness of the argument is based not only on a natural preconception – just as the sacraments are not merely religious variants of natural rites – but on the connection between the reality of creation and the historical revelation of God; One could also say that the reality of creation and its symbolism is used for the communication of salvation. Christ "interprets" creation when he establishes the sacraments. The symbols used in the Scriptures as the deposit of the self-communication of God are therefore not simply "pictures" that could be replaced as desired. Rather, they are the way the unfathomable divine mystery of Christ's love is made accessible to us. That the relationship between Yahweh and his beloved people be described as a marriage bond, that the Gospels designate Jesus as the "Bridegroom," that Paul speaks of the Bride Church (2 Cor 11: 2; Eph 5), who owes her life to the Bridegroom, or that the eschatological fulfillment, the joy without end, whose sacramental anticipation is the Eucharistic celebration, resembles a wedding feast (eg Rev 22), is not arbitrary imagery, but expresses that humanity, indeed the individual, will be wooed by God's love. Not the other way around.

That this reasoning seem strange to not a few people, because premises of thought have changed, says nothing about the truth. It could also be the premises that need testing and metanoia. The content of faith is not simply what one just finds obvious. Karl Rahner once wrote in an "open letter" (in the context of the priestly way of life): "Christianity is still a highly unfashionable thing; also in that area about which I have so long tried to write. Thank God it is. "

Greetings in Christ,

Marianne Schlosser

Newman and Chesterton on Original Sin

Newman, reflecting on the pervasive presence of evil in the world, "the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths… the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil… the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion…" (Apologia pro vita sua, 242) says that were he not certain of the existence of God, "I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world." (Apologia pro vita sua, 241). He intends this as a statement regarding his own person, and not as a critique of arguments for the existence of God. Nonetheless he seems to take the presence of evil as objective evidence in favor of either (1) the non-existence of God, or (2) the existence of original sin:

What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence…. I argue about the world; if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically {243} called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God. (Ibid., 242-243)

Chesterton also appears to take the manifest fact of evil in the world as proof that either (1) God does not exist, or (2) if he does, then that there is an original sin which accounts for the this evil:

Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin — a fact as practical as potatoes.  Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.  … The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Orthodoxy, "The Maniac")

Now, Chesterton's principal intention is to argue against the position of "certain religious leaders," naming R.J.Campbell, and thus he may not directly intend to affirm that original sin may be proven in every respect from the fact of evil. Nonetheless, the question remains, in reading both Newman and Chesterton: is the existence of God in fact compatible with evil only if one postulates original sin? Or are they making an implicit, unreasoned identification between the existence of "God" and the existence of the Christian God, with the kind of providence  that Christians believe God has for man?

James Chastek made a post a few weeks ago that touched upon the same question from another point of departure, which readers of this blog may also be interested in: Who believes in the God that the argument from evil would seek to refute?