The Best of Keefe: “Sacramental Sexuality and the Ordination of Women” [1976]

Sacramental Sexuality

and the Ordination of Women

Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.



In a paper presented at an ITEST conference held at Fordyce House

two years ago, a theology of sexuality was sketched as a basis

for the consideration of the moral questions posed by the

fertilization “in vitro” of human ova. Such a theology could not

but carry over into other fields of considers e ecumenical

concern. A contemporary focal point for that concern is the much

discussed issue of the ordination of women. If the further

development of that theology in the present essay is to be kept

within reasonable bounds, it must be understood to require as its

preface the Proceedings of the October, 1974 ITEST Conference,

and particularly the article in which its scriptural ground, or

perhaps support, was proposed.(1) Even so, the sum of the present

article cannot amount to more than an introduction to the

questions which such ordination raises and a pointer to the

direction in which their solution lies.

In broadest outline, that earlier paper tied the transvaluation

of cosmic or nonhistorical sexual symbolism,(2) e.g., that of the

Babylonian mythology, to a conversion to the worship of the Lord

of history, a worship which is integral with faith in the

fundamental goodness of creation. More precisely, such faith

causes or is constituted by this transvaluation. The cosmic

religions expressed their ambivalent experience of the universe

in terms of an ambivalent relation between the sexes, a relation

whose liturgical expression variously required priests who were

kingly, and priests who were castrate; virgin guardians of the

temple, and temple prostitutes. The metaphysical expression of

this experience oscillated between a dualist alienation of the

principles of transcendence and immanence, and their monist

identifications.(3) Its supreme poetic integration is the

tragedy,(4) in which human futility and human dignity are found

implacably and eternally opposed.

That cosmic ambivalence found the feminine principle, in all its

manifestations, irreconciliable with that of masculinity; the

exaltation of the one is inevitably the suppression of the other.

Human existence thus experienced and a cosmos thus structured

cannot be called good; their salvation must come from their

dissolution, from the elimination of those antagonisms which are

encountered universally.(5) The experience of all qualification

of reality and of all differentiation as injustice, as strife and

pain puts limits upon what salvation can mean. From this cosmic

point of view, the escape from evil, from the fallenness of

things, is by deliverance from all qualitative differentiation.

The religious, and later the theoretical, explorations of this

salvation found that two modalities were possible to it: the

masculine one of absolute transcendence, the transcendence of an

unqualified self, and the feminine one of an absolute immanence,

the immanence of the absolute community. In either mode an utter

serenity, an unqualified consciousness is attained; the past is

concluded and the future foregone in an intuition of the real

which refuses value to whatever is resistant to undifferentiated

unity. This vision has been competitive with Christianity from

its beginnings, and continues to be in our own day.(6)

The faith of the covenanted people of Yahweh in the goodness of

historical creation, in the goodness of the covenanted history of

Israel, was simultaneously a refusal to accept the cosmic

conflict between transcendence and immanence, between God and his

creation. This faith was identical with an experience of order in

history under Yahweh’s lordship. Within this covenant experience

evil was not encountered as a blind inevitability in the

universe; rather it was experienced as the result of a free

refusal of Yahweh’s good creation. Such a refusal could not avoid

a return to the cosmic religion, lived out in a pagan use of

sexual symbols. No longer expressive of the good creation, such a

use was seen as unholy, as whoring and fornication, and at the

same time as idolatry. The prophetic condemnation of this

infidelity to Yahweh condemns it as adultery, for Yahweh is

understood to be in a marital relation to his people, to the good

creation formed by his continual presence to it as the Lord of

history. By this marital presence, which knows no primal

ambivalence, Yahweh affirms the immanent good of his creation in

a word which the New Testament knows to have been irrevocably

given and uttered into the good creation.(7) That word is his

covenant, the definitive institution of a free people whose

freedom is their history, their worship of the Lord of history.

In this worship they are delivered from slavery to the cosmic

powers through the continual offer of a future which transcends

their past, and in which they can be sustained by him alone. His

word is not uttered in vain; it evokes the created response which

is wisdom, the splendor and fulness of his creation. This

response the Old Testament recognizes to be feminine; by this

insight the cosmic notion of the feminine is transvalued, and the

new realization enters, through the appropriation process which

is the worship of Yahweh, into the reassessment of the marital

relation itself.

This process is impeded by the fallenness of the covenanted

people, who hesitated then as now before the demands of

historical existence. Their fallenness is portrayed in the

prophets by the imagery of a woman unfaithful to her marriage

vows who turns away from Yahweh, the giver of life, toward

sterility and death. But the prophetic protest against Israel’s

and Judah’s sin, however concerned with the threat of divorce and

abandonment by Yahweh, concludes in the later books with the

assurance of his forgiveness and the final consummation of

Yahweh’s covenant with his bridal people. Out of this struggle

emerged a consciousness of the strict connection between the good

creation, the covenant, and the marital relation: all of these

involve the same conversion, the same transvaluation, the same

historical existence, the same faith.

Thus baldly summarized, the Old Testament symbolism announces a

reversal of the pagan assessment of the masculine-feminine

polarity: that polarity is now the structure of the creation

which is good, and the bisexuality which once signalized the

ambivalence of the finite world becomes the symbol of the

reciprocity of God’s love for the people he has made his own, and

their love for him. As this is seen to be the meaning of the

holy, so also the marital relation is transformed, to become a

religious sign and realization of the covenant which grounds

it.(8) In this transformation, the world ceases to be an

ambivalent reflection of masculine value and feminine disvalue;

that ancient antagonism is concluded. The masculine henceforth is

so by a creative and life-giving love, not by isolation from or

supression of a destructive femininity, while the feminine is so

by her mediation of that love, not by subordination to an alien

power. Nor is this symbolism dispensable, as peripheral to

Judaism, for it is integral to the revelation itself; Yahweh is

known only in his election of his people, and that elective love

is marital.(9)

This Old Testament use of marital symbolism is given its highest

development in the Pauline letters, particularly in Ephesians,

whose marital doctrine is rooted in Gen 2:24, “Therefore a man

leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and

they become one Flesh.”(10) In this letter Paul integrates the

First and Second Adam theme of Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15, the Church as

Body theme of 1 Cor 15, the tangled intimation of the sexual

bipolarity of the human image of God which we find in I Cor 7 and

11, and the passing reference in 2 Cor 11 to the Church as the

Bride of Christ in an unexplored comparison to Eve. His struggle

to express the truth he had received culminates in a contrapuntal

theology of the New Creation, the New Man and the New Bride whose

Head purifies her by the sacrifice of his body and blood, by

which sacrifice he is “one flesh” with his body.(11) In this New

Creation Christ is the incarnate image of the unseen God; the

letter to the Colossians puts him at the center of the universe

and of humanity. But he is thus Image and Creator as Head of the

Church, his Bride; he is Image as sacrifice, as priest, as the

second Adam to her whom the patristic reflection designated the

second Eve. By this bipolarity Christ is incarnate, and Image.

Luke adds a further modulation to this marital symbolism, in the

parallel accounts of the descent of the Spirit upon Mary, whereby

she becomes the “Theotokos,” and upon the apostles at Pentecost,

where, in what may have been a celebration of the New Covenant, a

commemoration of the body and blood of the sacrifice, the Church

comes to be.(12) The patristic meditation upon the interrelation

of these themes has found in Mary’s virginal motherhood of our

Lord the antitype of the Head-Body relation which constitutes the

Church: it is by Christ’s mission from the Father that his Spirit

inspires at once the freedom of Mary’s “Fiat” and the New

Creation within her body, a child whose masculinity was conceived

by her immaculate response to God’s elective love.(13) By Mary’s

free worship, the New Covenant is given, and the New Israel is

formed, in and to whom God is definitively present, because made

man. The masculine-feminine dialectic is identical in Acts: the

descent of the Spirit of Christ creates the Church in a moment of

ecstatic freedom whose prius is the Eucharistic immanence of the

risen Christ. The “one flesh” of Mary’s conception of her Lord is

identically the “one flesh” of the Church’s celebration of her

Head, the sacramental consummation of the New Covenant which she,

in the integral freedom of her worship, conceived.

The theological development of these themes has found in Gen 2:24

the summary of the New Creation, the New Covenant, the New Adam

and the New Eve, “Una Caro.”(14) There also, inchoate, is the

charter of all Christian sacramentalism, the revelation that

God’s creative freedom is most powerfully exercised in the

creation of our own free response to him, a creation in and of

the Church by the presence in it of His Son. This sacramental

structure of reality, of the good creation which is created in

Christ, is the warrant for Christian freedom and the basis for

Christian morality: it provides the meaning and the significance

of human life and history. This meaning, this value and truth, is

not abstract, not a matter submitted to the judgment of

scholarship and theory. It is a gift, not a necessity of thought,

and it is given concretely in the life of worship which is our

existence in Christ., our communion in the ‘one flesh’ of his

union with his Church.

Within the communion of Roman Catholicism, ordination has

traditionally been reserved to men. This reservation was first

put in question within the less tradition-oriented Protestant

communions; the question is now raised by Catholic theologians.

Because the sacramental principle is so integral with the Church,

any theological discussion of it is inevitably also an

ecclesiology. Disputes over the ordination of women tend to

become disputes over the nature of the Church, and thus to range

beyond the limits of the initial subject matter. In fact, the

ordination of women is often advocated as the implication of a

more fundamental argument.

A most instructive development of the ecclesiological and

sacramental theology which is found consistent with the

ordination of women has been presented in a recent article by

Edward Kilmartin.(15) Kilmartin has been teaching and writing in

this field for some twenty years; his theological credentials are

of a very high order. It may not be too much to say that no more

cogent statement of the theses underlying the advocacy of women’s

ordination is available in English.

The basic concern of Kilmartin’s article is the inadequacy of the

“ex opere operato” doctrine of the Eucharistic worship. He finds

this device employed in such a fashion as to disintegrate the

organic unity of Eucharistic worship; specifically, it reduces

the role of the laity in the congregation to mere passivity while

reserving to the consecrating priest the substance of the

worship. By way of corrective, Kilmartin examines the meaning of

the Church’s apostolicity, and concludes that this meaning is to

be derived from the fundamental mode of the immanence of the

Risen Christ in the Eucharistic community. Kilmartin understands

this fundamental presence of Christ to be a presence by faith.

This faith is of course caused by the gift of the Spirit, a gift

given by the risen Christ. The Spirit inspired in the apostles

that faith which is the faith of the Church; the Church is made

to be Church by this faith, the first effect of the presence of

the Spirit. The faith of the apostles is then a secondary

consequence; Kilmartin understands them to be dependent upon the

prior faith of the Church. Their  apostolic office’ is

consequently a participation in the power of the Spirit only as

this power is mediated to them by the Church: they participate

only indirectly in the priesthood of Christ, as do all other

Christians. Thus understood, apostolicity is not a ‘character’ or

an ‘office’ or a ‘power’ distinct from the one gift of the

Spirit, mediated by the Church, which is faith.

There is no question then of an ontological reality passed on

from the apostles to their successors by the sacrament of orders

in such wise that any bearer of the apostolic character is

dependent for that character upon a line of direct succession by

ordination from one of the apostles upon whom that office first

rested, whether by the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, or by

a mission from the risen Christ. Rather, office in the Church is

understood now to be a function delegated to an office holder by

the local Church in which apostolicity primarily resides. This

view of office as functional rather than as ontological removes

from it any intrinsic characteristic which the Church must

consider as visibly and historically constitutive for Eucharistic

worship and thus for the Church itself. Instead it is the

Church’s faith, seen as a spiritual “anamnesis” of the sacrifice

of the Cross, which is constitutive for the worship as for the

Church; absent this “anamnesis”-faith, there is no Eucharist, no

Body of Christ, no presence of Christ, no Church. If the

“anamnesis” is given, no particular ordination ritual may be

insisted upon as necessary for the Eucharist, for Eucharistic

presence is by faith, not by an “ex opere operato” effective

consecration by a priest of the bread and wine of the sacrifice.

The radical consequence of this theology is that the Church is

not caused by the sacramental-historical event of Christ’s

sacrificial relation to the Church in and by which he is

sacramentally present as at once priest and sacrifice. Rather,

the Church is caused, created, by the presence of the Spirit sent

by the risen Christ, who is ‘not here.’ The ontological

Eucharistic presence is identified with faith.

Kilmartin draws a number of conclusions from this notion of

apostolicity; they are those already familiar to the Christianity

of the Reformation. They are (1) Priestly character can no longer

be considered the power to consecrate, for the functional nature

of the priesthood excludes such a power; (2) Apostolic office is

required, not for the Church’s liturgy, nor because the power of

orders makes the priest the direct representative of Christ,

“alter Christus,” but because the priest must be linked

historically to an office instituted by Christ for stewardship

over the faith; (3) The role of the priest in the Eucharistic

liturgy is the ritual expression of the faith of the Church;

apart from this faith there is no Eucharist; (4) There can be no

ordination except to a function in a local Church; all absolute

ordination to the Church at large is excluded; (5) The priest

cannot distribute the fruits of the Mass, because he is not an

“alter Christus”; (6) Protestant Eucharists cannot be judged

invalid for failure of valid orders; they must be judged only in

terms of the relation they signify and symbolize between “the

comprehensive ecclesial reality” and the Eucharist; (7) There can

be no basic objection to the ordination of women, since priests

represent directly not the Christ but the one Church which,

according to Gal 3:28, transcends all masculine-feminine

distinction; (8) The pope is not the vicar of Christ in the sense

of effectively playing the role of Christ.

The logic of Kilmartin’s reasoning is unassailable; once the

original concession is made, the conclusions he arrives at are

inevitable, as are others which he does not pursue. When the

presence of the risen Christ to the Church, by which the Church

is created, is understood to be a presence by faith, there is in

view an ecclesiology completely different from that which

understands the Church to subsist and be caused by the immanence

in her of the risen Lord as the unfailing consequence of her

visible and historical worship. In the technical language of

classical sacramental theology, Kilmartin’s theory denies the

infallible efficacy of the sacramental sign (“sacramentum

tantum”) and as a necessary consequence denies the infallible

effect (“res et sacramentum”) of that sign. All saving efficacy

of the Cross is now detached from any free human activity save

that of Jesus on the Cross, and even the efficacy of the Cross is

no longer referred to any contemporary historical event or

structure. The Christian’s worship is now reduced to an absolute

simplicity: that “anamnesis” of the Cross which is without any

identifying characteristics which might distinguish it from

non-worship. The refusal of the “ex opere operato” efficacy of

the sacramental sign (i.e., the denial of the distinct reality of

the “res et sacramentum,” whether the baptismal or priestly

character, the event of absolution, the sacrifice of the Mass as

the re-presentation of the Cross — in brief the denial of the

reliable historicity of Christian worship) rejects the intrinsic

value of all human and historical reality. Any alternative

inevitably tends toward a vainglorious theology of the Church

triumphal, a theology which does not understand how the

significance of the Cross must include the denial of our own


For Kilmartin then,, the reformation of Catholic Eucharistic

worship requires its being telescoped: the sacramental sign

(“sacramentum tantum”) is dispensable because without any

intrinsic significance and without any spiritual and creative

efficacy; it then follows that there is no sacramental effect of

such a sign, an effect which itself signifies and causes union

with Christ but is not itself that union (i.e., no “res et

sacramentum”). All that remains is the Cross of Christ and the

salvation which it causes. Christ’s deed empties human history of

meaning, instead of filling it with meaning; His deed is

discontinuous with all of ours in this life, doomed as our lives

are to complete inefficacy, for without him we can do nothing,

and he is not here but in his Kingdom, the only “res sacramenti.”

The denial of the good creation which this theology entails is

obvious. We should not then be surprised that attached to it is

the refusal of the marital symbolism by which the Old Testament

and the New have known and uttered the goodness of creation.

The union of the faithful with Christ can no longer be understood

in Kilmartin’s theology as the union of the Head and the Body,

for such a comprehension, native to the classical theology, rests

upon the supposition that marriage is a sacrament, a historical

sign of worship whose unfailing effect, the marriage bond (“res

et sacramentum”), is a sign of the greater mystery to which it

can only point, the union of the faithful in Christ. That the

marriage bond, with its exclusivity, its indissolubility, its

sexual bipolarity, is a sacrament means at a minimum that Christ

is to his Body as bridegroom to bride. The classical theology

reinforces this relation by its insistence upon the historical

immanence of the sacrifice of Christ in the historical Church.

The marital dialectic of the Eucharistic ‘one flesh’ is

eliminated with the elimination of all concrete presence of the

sacrificed and sacrificing Christ to his Body, to the Bride for

whom the sacrifice is offered and by which she is created through

the gift to her, in her history, of the Spirit. That dialectic

falls within the condemnation of “ex opere operato” historical

efficacity of all sacramental signs, whether marital or

Eucharistic. Head and Body are now blended in a unity

transcending all masculinity and femininity (we are referred to

Gal 3:28), a unity which must become a logical identity as soon

as the inability of any historical and intrinsically

differentiated symbol to signify it sacramentally is seriously

accepted. Of this Christ-faithful union the most complete union

fallen humanity knows has nothing to say, being utterly

transcended by it. Sacramental signs have been reduced to a

pragmatic gesturing, of some social and psychological value, but

without any intrinsic relation to our salvation, for that faith

has no historical expression which may be relied upon. This

isolation of ritual from any significance, from any efficacy, is

the hallmark of the decadent scholasticism of the 14th and 15th

century; its rejection of all secondary causality prepared the

way for the ‘total corruption’ pessimism of the Reformation: the

road is a well-travelled one.

As Kilmartin observes, his ecclesiology requires that the one

Church “transcend all masculine-feminine distinction.” Once the

sacrifice of the Mass is dismissed by the reduction of the

presence of Christ in the Church to a presence by faith, all

concrete qualification of historical human existence loses

religious value, because every such qualification stands in

contradiction to the ineffable “Una Sancta,” the Church which has

no immanence in the historical humanity it utterly transcends:

absent the Head, absent also the Body. The antihistorical cosmic

salvation is restored, again androgynous, the nullification

rather than the fulfillment of creation in the Image of God.(17)

Such an ecciesiology makes of the Christ an “Uebermensch” whose

transcendence is rationalized; no longer in mysterious union with

his immanence, his transcendence is controlled by an inexorable a

priori logic which forbids such immanence. His unique sacrifice

submits to the same logic, to become the nullification rather

than the sustenance and support of our historical significance,

our worship. Once the proposition is accepted that the sacrifice

of Jesus the Christ on the Cross admits no representation in the

Mass, this cosmic nullification of history is already in effect.

The event of the Cross then has the mythic quality of an event

“in illo tempore,” a moment entirely discontinuous with our

fallen futility.

Whether such a theology as Kilmartin has offered is always and

everywhere satisfactory to those who advocate the ordination of

women may be doubted; certainly some would consider their

ordination consistent with the traditional notion of the

priesthood. But it is upon notions such as his that most

systematic justifications for the ordination of women rest;(18)

at a minimum they play down the sacrificial aspect of the

priestly office as the corollary of the contention that the

priestly role is not that of an “alter Christus,” and therefore

not limited to men. Rather, the priest should be understood as

“alter ecclesia,” as Kilmartin has suggested; sometimes one hears

“alter Spiritus.” With whatever accent the redesignation is

proposed, the meaning of the Catholic worship is transformed: the

Mass, the Eucharistic celebration becomes a faith-response to the

Event “in illo tempore” which voids history of significance, the

event of the Cross. The response which is fit is thereby

problematic, for it can be annexed to no effective sign: the new

notion of worship cannot permit sacramental efficacy. We begin to

hear again echoes of the late medieval dissolution of all

experienced meaning by means of logical analysis, a dissolution

which so separated the elements of reality as to deprive the

created world of immanent value as of transcendent significance,

and so of mediation of God. Upon this we cannot delay, save to

observe that the decision to reduce all worship to faith can rest

only upon a reduction of all human life in history to

insignificance. If this be the remedy for such exaggerations as

have been foisted upon the sacramental worship of Roman

Catholicism, one cannot but wonder at the diagnosis.

That Kilmartin does not push the logic of his reworking of the

Eucharist to its cosmic extremity is clear enough; neither did

the “sanior pars” of the Reformation, but the objections to such

extrapolation are themselves irrational, as the Calvinists

pointed out to the Lutherans, and the sacramentarians to the

Calvinists. When theology does not find its unity in the

historical tradition of the Church, by which the revelation is

mediated, that unity will be found in the ideal immediacy of

God.(19) Only the former position is Catholic; the latter is

cosmic, founded upon the logical isolation of God from man which,

in default of the historical revelation, is understood to be

ontological as well. Between the Catholic and the cosmic there is

no bargaining space. When it is urged that the theological

principle which travels under the tag of “ex opere operato” has

served only to corrupt the Eucharistic worship of the Church, the

appropriate therapy would appear to be the renewal of the primacy

of the reality which is to be understood over the speculative

devices by which theologians have managed to misunderstand it.

One cannot reasonably abandon the ecclesial tradition because it

has been misunderstood by theologians or liturgists; to do so is

to make the same mistake against which the original complaint had

been lodged. It is really not possible to restore the true

function of the lay congregation in the Eucharist by unfrocking

the priest if the reason for so doing is that his performance is

a nullity in any event: what is left to be presided over? Are

women then to be ordained on the grounds that they are no more

futile than men?

The most immediately appealing objection to the restriction of

orders to men is that it is unjust, that it entails a religious

subjugation of women, and their ontological subordination: in

brief, that this practice, however time-honored, amounts to an

indignity. The charge is a serious one, but its correctness is

not self-evident, except on grounds of a cosmic egalitarianism.

These have been found wanting, not applicable to the human

reality; the good creation by whose goodness justice is given its

Christian meaning, is a rejection of the egalitarian cosmos in

which all differentiation is accounted unjust.(20) If we are to

take the charge of injustice with that seriousness which it

merits, we must place it in a Christian frame of reference, that

of the Eucharistic celebration.

This is the celebration of the definitive presence of the Lord of

history in his people, the liturgical promulgation of the Good

News of the definitively Good Creation whose goodness is by the

Trinitarian mission of the Son and the Spirit into the world.

This sending of the Son by the Father, and the Spirit by the

Father and the Son, is not distinct from the creation of the

world. If we are truly to understand what it is we celebrate, it

is necessary to rid our imaginations of the exaggerated reading

of Anselm which later theology accepted in the distinction

between a “natural” creation by the One God, and a subsequent

Trinitarian presence in the world simply “propter peccatum.”(21)

The mistake of this theology was that it made the Incarnation of

the Son merely incidental to the world of man and to his history,

and reduced the role of the Spirit to one of repair, rather than

admit the creativity the liturgy has affirmed of Him. But the

Christocentric theology which began with Scotus finds it

impossible to maintain the distinction which Thomas accepted

between a natural creation “ad imaginem,” and a supernatural

“recreatio”: the Creator and the Christ are one God: as

incarnate, Christ is also his Image, the adequate utterance into

creation of the truth of God. This truth is not information about

an abstract deity, but the truth of God’s relation to his

creation. This truth is the revelation, concretely uttered into

the world at the moment of Mary’s acceptance. But truth and

reality cannot be distinguished: if the truth of creation is

concrete in the Christ, so also is the reality of creation: His

lordship, His revelation and his creation are the some, his

headship and his imaging.

The good creation which is actual in Christ is not then to be

thought of as an object or thing “placed outside its causes” as

an older theology expressed it in quite nominalist terms. The

victory of Christocentrism is required by the doctrine of Mary’s

Immaculate Conception, in which Christ’s grace is understood to

be effective in history prior to the Incarnation, and effective

precisely as creative. His Lordship transcends all time, and all

time is meaningful, historical time only by that Lordship,

through which its discrete moments are unified and valorized. His

lordship is similarly transcendent to space, making it a world;

to humanity, making it the people, the Church; in all its

exercise, his transcendence is effective by his immanence. He is

the creator-redeemer, present in his creation as Image, by a

communication which is “ex nihilo,” without any antecedent

possibility. His presence is so total as to be in personal

identity with himself, not the suppression of any human being by

its subordination to his divinity, but the constitution of his

own humanity in the evocation of the integrally free affirmation

of it in that acme of worship which is Mary’s conception of her

Lord. Her affirmation is constitutive for his imaging; precisely,

it is the constitution of his masculinity, which was not imposed

upon her, but conceived by her in untrammelled freedom as the

total expression of the perfection of her worship, as her

femininity is that in which the Good creation worships, the

wisdom and loveliness by which it glorifies God in the joyful

celebration of the presence of the Lord.

It is this dialectic within creation, now a fallen creation, that

Ephesians 5:22ff describes. Christ’s lordship, his presence in

creation, is his submission to sin and death, and the sacrifice

of the Cross, at once the triumphant vindication of his creative

mission from the Father, of his obedience and of his Lordship,

and the pouring out of his Spirit upon his Bride, the second Eve,

the Church itself, “societas qua inhereamus Deo,” caused by the

offering of his body and his blood. As Mary is intelligible only

within the masculine-feminine polarity by which she is

“theotokos,” the Church is intelligible only through the polarity

by which she is “Sponsa Christi,” continually redeemed by his

sacrifice, continually rejoicing in, celebrating the Good News of

the Good Creation which is in his Image. The reality of his

presence is her food and drink, her daily bread. As Christ is the

Christ by his total self-giving, the Church is Church by her

response to the gift, the worship by which she mediates the more

abundant life he died to give us. In this mediation, the

distribution of the bread of life, she is the second Eve, taken

from the side of Jesus on the Cross, the second Adam. It is as

priest and as sacrifice that Christ is present to the Church; it

is by his sacrifice that the Church is designated the Body of

which he is the Head. The Eucharistic Body which the Church

distributes and by which it lives is the one flesh of her union

with her Lord. If we admit the historicity of this union, we must

admit the historicity of its polar elements, and recognize with

Paul that it is in this union that the full value of human

sexuality is to be found; this is what the sacramentality of

marriage means. Nothing in the relation between Christ and the

Church is unjust, for both exist by their total affirmation of

the other; in this mutuality the Good Creation is actual in its

imaging of God.

Does the Eucharistic worship in which this relation is concrete

require the altereity between Church and alter Christus which the

classical view of apostolicity supposes to be essential to the

Eucharist? Does it require a sacramental representative of the

Head, in order that his sacrifice be sacramentally offered, and

his,Body sanctified by communion in one flesh with him? The

affirmative response which the sacrificial and event-character of

the Eucharist requires does not at first glance force the

conclusion that women should not be ordained, however much it may

suggest it. If Christ’s masculinity is inseparable from his

relation to the Church, it is evidently appropriate that the

priest who stands in his place in the Eucharistic celebration

should be male. But is it necessary? Does masculinity enter into

the very sign-value of the Eucharistic consecration, of the words

of institution, by which the sacrifice of the Cross is

re-presented? To assert such an integration of masculinity with

the priesthood is to assert also that human sexuality, masculine

or feminine, is integral with the personal existence in Christ

which is personal participation in the Church’s worship. This

integration is the fundamental assertion of Eph 5:21-33, an

assertion not in tension with that of Gal 3:28.(22) The latter

speaks of the full equality of all human beings in Christ; to

construe this as removing all religious significance from

masculinity and femininity is to presuppose that our unity in

Christ is unqualified, undifferentiated, which Paul notoriously

denies. Whatever heretofore undiscovered meanings exegesis may

find in Gal 3:28, Paul’s enlistment in unisex will not be among

them. But it is in the Letter to the Ephesians that the

sacramentality of our sexual bipolarity is assured, by the

discovery of the meaning and significance of sexual love in the

relation between Christ and his Church. This Pauline

understanding of marriage is grounded in the ‘one flesh’ of Gen

2:24;(23) it does not at all depend upon the sentence passed on

the fallen Eve. For Paul, the full meaning of Gen 2:24 is found

in the relation of Christ to his Church; in this relation,

marriage has its ground, as from it masculinity and femininity

draw their value and significance. These are indispensable to the

New Testament as to the Old, to the good creation in the image of

God, and to the New Creation in Christ.

The citation of Gen 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31 establishes the

continuity of Paul’s theology of marriage with that of the Old

Testament, wherein it was seen to be holy with that holiness

which belongs to the unfallen condition of humanity: sexual

bipolarity belongs to the Good Creation.(24) Paul merely takes

this insight and adapts it to the New Creation in Christ: the

relation of Christ, the Head, to his Body which is the Church

reflects the Old Testament covenantal relation between Yahweh and

his people. What was there implicit is now explicit: the meaning

of marriage, in which the truth of sexuality is given its

concrete and historical expression, is a matter of mystery, to be

discovered in its wellspring, the mutuality of Christ and the

Church, in which the full meaning of masculinity and femininity

is given, and given in the Revelation whose truth is

appropriated, not by human cleverness, but only in worship. Only

thus is its mystery respected, and the full significance of human

sexuality realized into history.

Paul has no difficulty in expressing the sacrificial nucleus of

Christ’s marital relation to his Body, the Bridal Church. He has

no difficulty in asserting the full equality of husband and wife;

they are to be mutually submissive, each seeking the good of the

other, without any ontological superiority on either side. Nor is

there much difficulty today in seeing that the covenantal

relation which must govern the Church’s bridal response to the

Christ is also the norm for the wife in marriage; her virtue,

like her husband’s, is covenant virtue. Our whole problem lies in

language, in finding words responsive to the truth of the marital

relation thus derived. All our language is tainted by its cosmic

origins, and by our penchant for rationalization. Paul’s language

can be understood only when one keeps firmly in mind that its

meaning is governed not by ordinary usage or by ordinary common

sense; these are not in service of the revelation which he

serves. Paul’s use of such antagonistic words as fear, submission

and the like, to describe the appropriate reaction of the

Christian wife to her husband is entirely misunderstood when it

is forgotten that we do not know what this language means in any

adequate sense.(25) We do know that Paul is neither a dualist nor

a monistic egalitarian; he insists at once upon the full

equality, the full human dignity, of both sexes, and also insists

upon their difference and irreducibility. This is simply

incomprehensible to our ordinary and quite pagan way of thinking,

as the history of theology shows quite plainly. There is no room

here for an examination of the history in the Old and New

Testaments of Paul’s language; it is evident enough that such

words are used in relation to the old Israel and the New without

any consequent demonization of Yahweh or of his Messiah, although

this use involved a complete reassessment of their meaning. One

may then assert the real difference in the masculine and the

feminine modes of worship in the Church without placing a greater

ontological value in one than in the other; only in a cosmic

religious context does qualitative differentiation imply


Nor is this qualitative differentiation between man and woman of

only occasional significance; it characterizes our creation and

our existence. It is not simply by a violation of the marriage

bond that one profanes the sacramental significance of one’s

sexuality, but by whatever expression of sexuality that

contravenes the meaning which is revealed in Christ’s relation to

the Church, and the Church’s reciprocal relation to Christ. This

is the foundation of Paul’s condemnations of promiscuity; it

the “Pauline privilege” as well. We are members of the

Body as masculine or as feminine, not as members of a

qualitatively indifferent fellowship; there is no aspect of our

worship, or of our existence “in Christ” which is neuter, in

which our sexuality is without significance and sacramentality.

If it be true that masculinity and femininity are thus

sacramental, and that all human existence is engaged in this

signing, it must follow that the only paradigms by which the

mystery, the meaning, of masculinity and femininity may be

approached are those provided by the marital relation between

Christ and his Church, between the Head and the Body, a polarity

intrinsic to the New Covenant, to the New Creation, to the

imaging of God. The appropriation of this sacramental truth is

identical to the worship of the Church, for in and by this

worship the Good News which is preached and celebrated is no more

or less than the truth of humanity which is revealed in Christ.

No one can enter into this worship except as a man or as a woman,

as the bearer of an existential meaning which is holy, and whose

affirmation is inseparable from one’s prayer. The content of this

affirmation is the self, which is uttered, not to a neutral and

merely reciprocal Thou, but to another mystery by whom one’s own

is itself affirmed in an utterance which is not repetitive but

responsive to oneself. In this mutuality, that of the Covenant,

the meaning of masculinity is complete in Christ’s sacrificial

relation to the Church, and the sacramentality of every masculine

existence is tested by its conformity to that model. The meaning

of femininity is complete in the Church, and the sacramental

truth of all feminine existence and worship is tested by its

conformity to that model. There has been very little attention

paid to the historical content of this sacramentality, even in

Catholic theology, and it is evidently not possible to make up

for that neglect by any less strenuous device than a thorough

re-examination of the entirety of the Catholic tradition:

scriptural, patristic, liturgical, and also cultural. But short

of that endeavor, we are not entirely ignorant, not entirely

controlled by stereotypes. The Catholic insistence upon the

sacramentality of masculinity and femininity rests upon the

Catholic faith in the historical actuality of the Head-Body

relation of the sacrificing and sacrificed Christ to the Church

in the event of the Eucharistic worship. If this sacrificial

Head-Body relation is not actual in the here and now of our

worship, then the marital relation has nothing to signify, and

sexuality becomes religiously unimportant, deprived of

sacramentality, as all our worship is deprived. Reduced to faith,

no expression of our worship has any intrinsic historical

importance, and no problem exists with regard to the ordination

of women, or indeed with regard to anything else, insofar as

intrinsic structure and value are concerned. Much of contemporary

moral theology is already embarked upon this path. But if we

reject this nihilism, admit the transcendent importance of being

a man or a woman, then the other consequences of sacramental

realism “ex opere operato” also follow; they are in brief the

negatives of those which Kilmartin s drawn and to which we have

already referred. Particularly, the sacramentality of feminine

existence and worship is that of the historical Church, “alter

ecclesia,” which cannot be identified with or assimilated to the

worship of the consecrating and sacrificing priest, “alter

Christus,” in the Eucharistic celebration; the alternative is

that merger of Christ and his Church which would make of them one

nature, “mia physis.” But between this monophysitism and the “una

caro” of the marital symbolism which celebrates rather than

supresses the dignity of sexuality, there is all the difference

which separates the Judaeo-Christian faith in the goodness of the

historical creation from all its counterfeits and from their

devaluation of the humanity which God made in his image, as of

the history through which the good creation is redeemed. Many

voices now urge this devaluation, not least those advocating the

ordination of women to the priesthood. If as seems to be the

case, such a devaluation of human sexuality and human history is

integral to that advocacy, it must follow that such ordination

cannot take place within the Catholic Church.


1.   D. Keefe, “Biblical Symbolism and the Morality of “in vitro”

Fertilization,” Proceedings, ITEST Conference on Fabricated Man,

Oct., 1974; reprinted in “Theology Digest” (Winter, 1974)


2.   M. Barth, “Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters

4-6” (Anchor Bible, vol. 34a) Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden

City, New York, 1977, 687.

3.   P. Tillich, “Systematic Theology,” 3 vols., University of

Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill., 1951-63, I, 23lff.

4.   Werner Jaeger, “Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture,” 3

vols., tr. Gilbert Highet, Oxford University Press, New York,

1965, 1, 237-2-85; Tillich, op. cit., III, 92.

5.   Werner Jaeger, Op. cit., 110, 156f wherein appears a

commentary upon Anaximander’s famous dictum, “It is necessary

that things should pass away into that from which they are born.

For things must pay one another the penalty and compensation for

their injustice according to the ordinance of time.”

Anaximander’s discovery of a cosmic order of justice is a

liberation from the mythic notion of fate by the substitution for

it of a no less fatal physical necessity, the remote anticipation

of the iron laws of thermodynamics.

6.   The universal solvent for all problems, difficulties, and

suffering, from this point of view, is always a return to the

lost primal unity; only thus is the spectre of injustice

exercised. This solution to the problems posed in contemporary

theology is well known in ecumenical circles; it seeks for the

primal unity of Christians in a least common denominator of

doctrine, liturgy and morality. The temptation posed to Catholic

participants in such discussions is considerable, for they also

are frequently against injustice. A fair example of the Catholic

discovery of injustice in the non-ordination of women is George

Tavard’s “Woman in Christian Tradition,” University of Notre Dame

Press, 1973, whose axial theme is the equation drawn between

injustice and the admission of religiously significant sexual

differentiation. This equation is founded upon an egalitarian —

and cosmic — reading of Gal 3:28, which, if taken seriously,

simply puts an end to the sacramental worship of Roman

Catholicism. See esp. pp. 77 and 96.

7.   M. Barth, Op. cit., 688.

8.   Ibid., 630, footnote 85, citing J. Pedersen’s “Israel, Its

Life and Culture,” 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1946, 1-11;

702, in which Barth expressly refers to God’s marital covenant

with Israel; Georges Azou, in “The Formation of the Bible,” tr.

Josepha Thornton, The B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis and London,

1963, proposes the same idea (60-61); John L. McKenzie’s “Aspects

of Old Testament Thought,” The Jerome Biblical Commentary,

Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968, 11,

752-753, para. 95-8 should be read in this connection. See also

K. Barth, “Church Dogmatics” III, The Doctrine of Creation,” Part

four, ed. G. Bromley and T. Torrance, Edinburgh, 1961, 197-198,

wherein Barth refers to marriage as the supreme manifestation of

God’s covenant.

9.   M. Barth, Op. cit., 707.

10.  Ibid., 615, 618, 669, 720.

11.  Ibid., 614, 618-19, 645, 723, 729ff.

12.  J. Munck, “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction,

Translation, and Notes.” Revised by William F. Albright and C.S.

Mann. (Anchor Bible, vol. 31); Doubleday and Company, Inc.,

Garden City, New York, 1967, 232. See also 0. Cullmann, “Early

Christian Worship, Studies in Biblical Theology” 10, tr. A.

Stewart Todd and James B. Torrance, S.C.M. Press, Ltd. 966, 21,

footnote 1.

13.  This meditation seems to have begun with Irenaeus, probably

in response to the gnostic use of Ephesians 5 alluded to by M.

Barth, (644-45,, op. cit.) Tavard, op. Cit., 69-70, provides an

interesting commentary upon Irenaeus’ development of these


14.  H. de Lubac, “Corpus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et L’eglise au

Moyen Age. Etude Historique.” Revue et augmentee. Aubier,

Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1949, 139-209, provides an

indispensable account of the development of the “Una Caro”

terminology in its application to the Eucharist from Jerome

onward through the 12th century. Before Berengarius, its

dialectic served to unite the  three bodies’ of the Eucharistic

worship: The Church, the crucified and risen Lord, the Body of

the Eucharistic sacrifice. The interrelation of marriage and

Eucharist was again emphasized by Bossuet; see G. Bacon, “La

pensee de Bossuet sur l’Eucharistie, mystere d’unite,” Revue des

sciences religieuses xlv, (1971) 209-239. Most recently A.

Ambrosiano has returned to the topic in “Mariage et Eucharistie,”

Nouvelle revue theologique, 98 (1976) 289-305.

15.  E. Kilmartin, “Apostolic Office: Sacrament of Christ,”

Theological Studies 36:2 (1975) 243-264. Kilmartin’s

ecclesiology, while of an evident ecumenical interest, is not

essential to that interest; see Emmanuel Lanne’s “L’Eucharistie

dans la recherche oecumenique actuelle,” Irenikon, 1975, 48:2,

201-214. The controversy within Catholic theology which surrounds

views such as Kilmartin now proposes is well illustrated by C.J.

Vogel, “Die Eucharistie heute,” Zeitschrift fur Katholische

Theologie 97:4 (1975) 389-414, responded to by Alexander Gerken,

“Kann sich die Eucharistielehre „ndern?” in the same issue.

Joseph Finkenzeller has recently addressed the same questions as

Kilmartin: “Zur Diskussion uber das Verstandnis der apostolischen

Sukzession,” Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 123:4 (1975)

321-340, and “Das kirchliche Amt und die Eucharistie,”

Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 124:1 (1976) 3-14.

16.  Gunther Bornkamm, Luthers Auslegen der Galatersbrief, Walter

de Gruyter & Co., Berlin, 1963, 277-280, provides the radical

interpretation of Gal 3:28 upon which ecclesiologies such as

Kilmartin’s rest: insofar as our justification is concerned, we

are bound to no external work whatever (nulli prorsus uni externo

operi sumus alligati). And the consequence is accepted: the man

of faith is without a name, without species or difference,

without “persona” (homo sine nomine, sine specie, sine

differentia, sine persona). Luther himself of course refused to

deduce social revolutions from his doctrine, a point of view

which is entirely consistent with its dehistoricizing thrust. The

distinction between the “volkisch” and the “religios” sense of

Gal 3:28 is still controlling in D. Albrecht Oepke, “Der Brief des

Paulus an die Galater, 2nd ed., Evangelischer Verlagsanstalt,

Berlin, 1957, 90-91.

“Da das zweite Glied unmoglisch in Sinne der Sklaven, (I KR

7, 20ff) das dritte nicht in dem der Frauenmanzipation

gemeint sein kann (I Kr 11, 7ff; KI 3, 18; Eph 5:22ff) so

ware es ebenfalls verfehit, das erste in Sinne eines blassen

Internationalismus verstehen zu wolien.” Nonetheless: “Die

Glaubigen sind  in Christus’ zu einer Person verschmolzen.

The religious unity in Christ with which Galatians is concerned

has no particular social relevance: “non alligati sumus”; between

the sacred and the secular a disjunction is set which no “works”

can bridge, which no sacramental sign   can transcend.

17.  0. Cullmann, “Baptism in the New Testament (Studies in

Theology 4)”, S.C.M. Press, London, 1950, 30, uses Col

1:24, 2 Cor 1:5 and 1 Pet 4:13 to establish that the Body of

Christ into which we are baptized, the Church, is the crucified

and risen body of Jesus; this theme had been more particularly

developed in his “La delivrance anticipee du corps humain d’apres

le Nouveau Testament,” “Homage et Reconnaissance: Recueil de

travaux publie a l’occasion du 60e anniversaire de Karl Barth,

Cahiers Theologiques de l’Actualite Protestante, Hors Serie 2,”

Delachaux et Niestle, Neuchatel, 1946, 31-40, in which he also

makes some attempt to accommodate the “mysterious identity” of

Christ-Church to the marital symbolism of Eph 5:22ff. This

attempt requires a careful avoidance of the Head-Body language of

Ephesians and Colossians, by which the duality-in-unity of Christ

and the Church as the antitype of the marital ‘one flesh’ is

affirmed, for in Cullmann’s theology there is no Christ-Church

union to be symbolized by marriage: there is only an identity,

mysterious no doubt, but still identity. Thus he understands the

‘one flesh’ of Gen 2:24 and Eph 5:31, leaving quite unresolved

the difficulty of understanding how the inherent duality of

marriage can have any reference to the much-insisted-upon

identity of Christ and his Church. In this connection, see his

“Baptism in the N.T.,” 45, note 1. Cullmann’s reading of Gal 3:28

is consistent with his reading of  one flesh’; “every difference

between men and women here disappears.” (Baptism, 65.) For

Cullmann as for Kilmartin, the active role of the congregation in

worship excludes all “ex opere operato” sacramental efficacy. In

his controversy with K. Barth over infant baptism, Cullmann

insists upon the absolute passivity of all incorporation by

baptism into the Body, which knows no moment of free becoming,

“contra” the doctrine of Eph 5:21-33, in which the Body-Church is

in a relation of freedom to the Head who is Christ. Despite

Cullmann’s well-known stress upon salvation history, his

ecclesiology is finally reducible to an eschatology: between the

Cross and the Parousia, nothing of significance is effected

through the use of historical human freedom. The parallel between

Cullmann’s development and Kilmartin’s seems clear.

18.  Paul K. Jewett, “Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual

Relationships from a Theological Point of View,” William B.

Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1975, is a fair

illustration. He assumes the anti-sacramental stance proper to

Protestant theology from its inception, with the expected


19.  Luther’s insistence upon the objectivity of Christ’s

Eucharistic presence, as forced upon him by his loyalty to

Scripture, is in a considerable tension with the theological

account of that presence, which looked upon it as a special

instance of divine omnipresence. The event-character of the

Eucharistic worship having been abandoned with its sacrificial

character, the Eucharistic presence becomes accountable for only

in non-historic terms.

20.  P. Tavard, op. cit., 184, 191, 195; P. Jewett, op. cit., has

the same difficulty as Tavard in admitting that the “submission”

language with which Paul points to the paradigmatic relation of

the Church to her Head need not and cannot be understood as

demanding the ontological inferiority of the feminine. Karl

Barth’s explanation of “submission” as existence within the order

of creation (examined in pages 69-82) is also used by M. Barth,

op. cit. 709. This coincides with the phraseology used by

Voegelin and von Rad to which reference was made in the article

to which the present one is sequel. See footnote 1.

21.  M. Barth, op. cit., 654, 731.

22.  The interpretation of Gal 3:28 which Joseph Fitzmyer has

contributed to the Jerome Biblical Commentary (11, 242a) reads:

“Secondary differences vanish through the effects of this primary

incorporation of Christians into Christ’s body through “one

Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). This verse is really the climax of Paul’s

letter.” At first glance, this language has considerable

affinities with the Lutheran phraseology cited in note 16, as

with the contemporary views of Kilmartin and Tavard. The

implications which a literalist reading of e.g. Fitzmyer’s

summary statement has for Catholic sacramentalism have been

pointed out. It is curious that even after the 1965 endorsement

by Danielou (v. Tavard’s citation, op. cit., 217, note 10) and

its later popularization via the CTSA (v. vol. 24 (1969) of the

CTSA Proceedings) in this country and the works of Hans Kung

internationally, the recent commentaries on Galatians pay little

attention to the bearing of 3:28 upon women’s ordination. Pierre

Bonnard, “L’Epitre de Saint Paul aux Galates,” 2nd ed., revue et

augmentee, Delachaux et Niestle, 1972, writes, of the distinction

between male and female, “Depasse’es et non supprimees, ces

distinctions ne sont pas abolies dans l’eglise.” (78-79) John

Bligh, in “Galatians: A Discussion of St. Paul’s Epistle,”

Householder Commentaries, No. 1, St. Paul Publications, London,

1969, writes “St. Paul is discussing, Who are the heirs of

Abraham? His answer is that the distinctions between Jew and

Greek, slave and free, male and female are irrelevant here. All

Christians are equally heirs.” (327) Franz Mussner, in “Der

Galater Brief, Herder Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen

Testament,” ix, Herder, Freiberg, Basel, Wien, 1974, writes “Der

Apostel will domit seltstverstandlich nicht sagen, dass derartige

Unterschiede 5usserlich nicht mehr bestehen — Mann bleibt Mann

und Frau bleibt Frau, auch nach der Taufe –. aber sie haben

jegliche Heilsbedeutung vor Gott verloren.” Mussner does exclude

any identification of Christ ard the faithful, but when he tries

to elucidate further what the baptismal unity might be, he falls

back upon metaphor: “Diese  Heils-sprare’ noch naher zu

bezeichnen, ist sprachlich keim moglich.” (264, 265) “Im ubrigen

redet hier Paulus von einem Mysterium, das sich begrifflich nicht

vollkommen fassen lasst, am wenigsten mit Kategorien moderner

Existenialanalyse.” (266) The categories Paul uses in Ephesians

5:21-33 evidently do not occur to Mussner as applicable here. And

this is odd. Heinrich Schlier has been more sensitive to the

issues raised by Gal 3:28; in the 13th edition of “Der Brief an

der Galater, (Kritisch-Exegetischer Kommentar Uber das Neue

Testament Begrundet von Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Siebente

Abteilung),” Gottingen, 1965, 175, he remarks, albeit in a

footnote, “Erkennt man diese Enschranking der Aussage in V.28, so

hutet man sich, aus ihm direkte Folgerungen fur die Ordnung des

kirchlichen Amtes oder auch der politisehen (sic) Geselischaft zu

ziehen. Das kirchliche Amt beruht ja nicht direkt auf der Taufe,

sondern, auf der Sendung, und die politische Gesellschaft ist

niemals identisch mit dem Leibe Christi.” (Note 4)

23.  M. Barth, Op. cit., 734; see also 641, 703.

24.  Ibid., 645.

25.  Ibid., 630-715.


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