Summary of Cardinal Ratzinger's Commentary on 'Ordinatio Sacerdotalis'

Author: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Summary of Cardinal Ratzinger's Commentary on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

This is a summary of Cardinal Ratzinger's commentary on Pope John Paul's letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which appeared in the 2 July issue of La Civilta Cattolica a theological journal published by the Jesuits in Rome.

I. Seeing the document in the context of recent magisterial teaching

The pope is not proclaiming some new doctrine. Rather he is confirming what the entire Church East and West has always known and lived in faith. The Church has always seen and recognized the Twelve as the normative model for the entire priestly ministry
and the Church has been subject to this model from the beginning. These twelve men are tied to the mystery of the Incarnation in such a way that they were ontologically changed to truly be real and living images (icons) of Christ.

Two factors in our era have led to the ever-increasing questioning of the Church's certainty in this matter: (1) Reading Scripture independently of the living tradition of the Church in a purely historicist manner and (2) the symbolic clarity of the body of our human nature, is being replaced by a functional equivalence of the sexes. The former factor has placed the question of the institution of the priesthood simply as an historical question with no clear original will or intent and which could therefore be seen as developing in a substantially different manner. Thus the criterion of the institution of the priesthood loses its validity and a functional criterion can be substituted. The latter factor sees the question only as a
matter of discrimination against half of humanity rather than looking at it as a matter of a bond with the mystery of the priesthood's origin.

The essential contents of the Tradition are contained in the declaration from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores, published 15 October 1976, with the approval of Pope Paul VI. (1) The Church does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination. The believing Church reads and lives the Scriptures not in some historicist construction, but rather, in the living community of the People of God of all times. She knows herself to be bound by a will which preceded her to an institution. This will, which preceded her, is the will of Christ, expressed in the fact of the choice of the Twelve. (2) In Mulieris Dignitatem pope point out that Christ acted thus in free and sovereign manner. (3) In Christifideles laici, the pope reiterates that in not ordaining women the Church has always seen the free and sovereign will of Christ in calling only men to the priesthood. (3) The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up the same doctrine that the Church has called only men (viri) in forming the college of the twelve Apostles and the Apostles did the same when they chose their successors and collaborators. The Church sees herself bound to the will of the Lord.

II. The reason for this new intervention of the magisterium

The pope intervened again because of the ever increasing doubts and discussions being voiced about this question. These never-ending doubts and discussion are linked to a unilateral conception of infallibility as the only binding form of decision in the Church and the documents cited previously have been relativized. The popes letter has an explicit finality: to remove all doubts. The priesthood according to the Catholic Faith is a sacrament, that is, not something invented for pragmatic reasons, but something coming from the Lord, which the Church is bound to.

III. The fundamental reason for the doctrine expounded and some
aspects relative to its ecclesial sense

There are two levels in the Church's position: (1) The objective doctrinal foundation of the truth is to be found precisely in the will and example of Christ, which resulted in His choice of the twelve Apostles, the fruit of a night of prayer with the Father and therefore a gift of the Father. {Footnote 1 (p.63) cites an article by W. Beinert.Dogmatishce Uberlungen zum Thema Priestertum der Frau, in the Theologische Quartalschrift 173 (1993) pp.186-204, which attempts to relativize this choice of the Twelve by the Lord. Cardinal Ratzinger responds to the arguments of this article. Beinert seeks to demonstrate actions of Jesus which were not normative:(a) Although Jesus was very human, he did not free from servitude the servant of the centurion. Cardinal Ratzinger responds that because Jesus omitted to free the servant cannot be put on the same level as the positive choice of Jesus to call the Twelve, which is one of the primary acts of the Lord in the New Testament. Mutatis mutandis, analogically one would give the same response to Beinert's claim that while Jesus championed celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, he chose the married Peter to lead His flock.}

(2) The second level of the Church's doctrinal position is the fact that the will of Christ is always the will of the Logos, a will with meaning. It is not something positivistic or arbitrary. The new document of the pope limits itself for the most part to
the first level without dismissing the importance of the second.

The Church has something to learn from the modern understanding of human nature, but the modern world has to again learn from the wisdom which in the tradition of the Faith is conserved and which cannot be done away with simply by labeling it an archaic patriarchalism. Where one loses the link with the will of the Creator and thus within the Church the link with the will of the Redeemer, functionality easily becomes manipulability. The new attention to the women's movement which is the justified point of departure ends quickly in despising the body. Sexuality is no longer seen has an essential expression of human corporeality, but is presented as secondary characteristic which ultimately has
no meaning.

To return to the first level, the pope is the guarantor of the Church's obedience to the will of the Lord. Bishop Leonard of the Anglican communion noted four developments in Anglicanism which dissolve the essential structure for a dialectic of an Anglican concept of Church. The fourth of these developments was the power given to the General Synod of the Church of England to determine questions of doctrine and morals by majority vote as if
in such matters truth can be determined in this way. The Church of England rejects the doctrinal authority of the pope, but the Synod seeks to exercise a magisterial function which theologically has no foundation and which in practice pretends to be infallible.

Even in the Lutheran Church in Germany there is opposition to majority decisions regarding church matters practically declared necessary to salvation forgetting that the magnus consensus the Reformers declared as the supreme instance of consensus consisted in doctrinal agreement with Scripture and the Church catholic. (See R.Slenczka, Diakrisis 14 (1993) p.187.

IV. Methodological presuppositions and the authority of the text

At this point other objections are advanced: for example, Scripture does not teach this doctrine clearly. One can go back to different practices which seem to relativize or annul this conviction of the Tradition. In Paul's Letter to the Romans, 16:7, a female Apostle Junia is named along with her husband Andronicus. Or there is the deacnoness Phoebe. Cardinal Ratzinger responds by saying that these assertions are hypothetical and have limited relation to the truth. The real question is: "Who interprets Scripture?" Where do we get our certainty about what it means? If we just look to a purely historicist interpretation and nothing more we cannot get ultimate certitude. The conclusions of historical research are by their very nature always hypothetical: none of us were present. The Scriptures can become a foundation of a life only when it is entrusted to a living subject, the same living subject from which the Scriptures were born. They have their origin in the People of God guided by the Holy spirit, and this subject has never ceased to exist. The Second Vatican Council has expressed all this in the following manner: The Church draws her certitude from everything revealed and through Sacred Scripture alone. (Dei Verbum, n.9) According to this vision Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are not to be considered as three separate realities but the Scriptures read in the light of the Tradition and lived in the faith of the Church.

The Tradition of the Church has always recognized in the choice of the Twelve the act of Jesus which gave birth to the priesthood in the New Testament, seeing in the Twelve and in the Apostolic ministry of the Twelve the normative origin of the priesthood.

With respect to the doctrinal weight of the pope's letter, the Cardinal points out. In the letter it is explicitly said that which is affirmed has to be held definitively in the Church. The
pope is not proposing a new dogmatic formula, but he is confirming a certainty which in the Church has been continually lived and affirmed. In technical language one would have to say: one is treating here of an act of the authentic ordinary Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff, of an act therefore not definitive or solemn ex cathedra, even if the object of this act is the declaration of a doctrine taught as definitive and therefore not reformable. This means—as the Note of the Presentation of the document underscores—that it is proposed not as prudential teaching nor as a more probable hypothesis, nor as an operative suggestion, nor as a simple disciplinary disposition, but precisely as certainly true doctrine.

V. The present context of the teaching

The pope points out that it is necessary to avoid all discrimination in the Church between men and women recalling the fact that the Blessed Virgin was not ordained. This certainly
does not mean she enjoyed any less dignity or any type of discrimination with respect to women. To say this credibly there has to be a further clarification on the nature of the
priesthood. In the present cultural context ordination is understood as decision-making-power. If in fact this was the essence of ordination it would be difficult to understand why the exclusion of women from decision-making and therefore from "power" in the Church would not be an act of discrimination. The "power" of the priest is not as decision-maker exercising veto-powers in faith and morals against the will of the majority. The power of the priesthood is to fix the point where the will of the majority ends and obedience begins: obedience in confronting the truth, which does not come from voting. Anyone who reads the New Testament carefully will find that nowhere is the priest described as decision-maker. Such a view of the priesthood can only come from a purely functional society in which everything is determined by us. The reception of the sacrament is renunciation of self for the service of Jesus Christ. The logic of worldly power-structures is not sufficient to understand the priesthood.

Of course, we have to examine our conscience. Unfortunately there are not only holy priests but also equivocators in whom the reality of the priesthood seems to be reduced to decision-making and power. Here is necessary the great responsibility of education in the priesthood and spiritual direction. Where one's life does not render witness to the word of faith, but rather disfigures it, the message will not be understood.

Certainly men and women are equal especially in the universal call to holiness; all the rest exists in the Church as a means to holiness. What has to be avoided is any type of Manicheism which reduces the body to something irrelevant, something purely biological, thus depriving sexuality of its human dignity, its specific beauty, seeing the human as some kind of asexual abstraction.

This cannot seriously be seen as an obstacle to ecumenism. The pope's letter expresses the obedience of the Church to the biblical word lived in the Tradition and it precisely defines the limits of the Church's authority. The teaching guareentees the integral communion with the Oriental Churches in understanding the Word of God and in the sacrament which builds up the Church. This is no new controversy with the communities originating with the Reformation. The conviction of the Catholic Church and the orthodox churches hurts no one. Rather this should draw attention and reflection on urgent problems: the relation between Scripture and Tradition, the sacramental structure of the Church itself, and the sacramental character of the ministerial priesthood.