New Research Suggests that Women Served as Priests in the Early Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has long resisted ordaining women priests based, in part, on the argument that they had never served that role in the Church. There is no definitive basis in the bible for their stance; it has just been their position that priests and bishops must be men because of Church tradition and because Christ and his disciples were men. However, there is research suggesting that women were ordained in the early Catholic Church and that their exclusion today has little to do with tradition or scripture.
Earlier this month, Ally Kateusz of the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research presented a paper to the International Society of Biblical Literature that strengthens the argument that women served as clergy within the early Catholic Church. Her argument is based on a study of ancient Christian art which depicts women serving in official liturgical roles.
National Catholic Reporter: "According to Kateusz, author of Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership, the artworks "illustrate that early Christian women routinely performed as clergy in orthodox churches."
... "One of the artifacts she bases her findings on is an ivory reliquary box dating from around A.D. 430 that depicts a man and a woman standing on either side of an altar, each raising a chalice. The altar is that of Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The gesture of raising a chalice is recognized as a liturgical act performed by priests."
"Two other artifacts also depict women at altars: One is a sixth century ivory pyx of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and the other is a stone sarcophagus front from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which dates from around A.D. 430 and shows a male and a female figure standing on either side of the altar, holding their arms up in the orans pose."
"Kateusz believes that the images are significant because they show women and men in parallel roles, their bodies and gestures mirroring one another, and she suggests that this parallelism is indicative of their equality in their liturgical roles."
Professor Kateusz's evidence is compelling, but she is receiving push-back from other Church historians who argue that the women portrayed in the art could have been deacons rather than priests. Kateusz admits that her findings are not conclusive, but add to the growing body of research suggesting that women served as clergy within the early Catholic Church.
By Don Lam & Curated Content
Photo credit: Ally Kateusz, Wijngaards Institute of Catholic Research