Romans 11

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1[I] say therefore, God did not push away his people,some manuscripts: inheritance [did he]? Would that it not come to be; for also I am an Israelite, out of [the seed] of Abraham, of [the] tribe of Benjamin.a 2God did not push away his people,b whom [he] foreknew. Or do [you] not know in Elijah, what the writing says, how [he] meets with God against(concerning) Israel? 3“Lord, [they] killed your prophets, [they] razedThe etymology of this word evokes an image of tearing something to the ground and then digging up its foundation. your altars, and I alone was left remaining and [they] seek my life.”c 4But what does the decree(oracle / negotiation) say to him? [I]or [they] left seven thousand men for myself, whoever did not bend [the] knee to Baal.”d 5Therefore thus also in the now-time(present) a remnant has come about according to a choice of grace;e 6but if by grace,Because no verb is supplied, one must be assumed; we may think ἐκλογέω (choose, from ἐκλογὴν in v5) or καταλιμπάνω (leave behind, from κατέλιπον in v4); in either case, the usage is probably the instrumental dative (the dative of means), specifically as a standard of judgment. no longer out of works, for otherwise grace becomes grace no longer.some manuscripts add: for otherwise the work is no longer a work; others: but if out of works, [it] is no longer grace, for otherwise the work is no longer a workf 7What therefore? What Israel was seeking, [she] did not attain,here and elsewhere, (reach) but the choiceHere and in verses 5, 28, not those chosen, but the act of choosing attained [it];g but the remaining [ones] were petrified,(hardened) 8just as [it] has been written, “God gave to them a spirit of bewilderment, eyes not to see,here and in the next clause, as well as in verse 10, are articular infinitives of negative purpose ears not to hear, until the today-day.”h 9And David says, “Let their table become [on a particular occasion] a trap and a hunt and a snare(scandal) and a repayment to them, 10let their eyes be made dark not to seei and their back [be made] bent [down] through everything.”j

11[I] say therefore, [they] did not stumble in order to fall,ἵνα + subjunctive purpose clause [did they]? Would that it not come to be; but the salvation for their blunder [was given] to the peopleshere and throughout, (nations)k in order to provoke them to jealousy.articular infinitive of purpose with εἰςl 12But if their blunder [is the] wealth of [the] cosmos and their loss [is the] wealth of [the] peoples, how much more their fulfilment [is wealth].

13But [I] say to you, to the peoples: therefore, for as much as I am an apostle of peoples, [I] magnify my service, 14if in some way [I] shall provoke my flesh to jealousy, [I] will also save some oflit. out of them. 15For if their rejection [is the] reconciliation of the cosmos, what [is their] acquisition if not life out of [the] dead [ones]? 16And if the firstling [is] holy, also the [whole] mixture [is];m and if the root [is] holy, also the branches [are].

17But if some of the branches were completely broken off [on a particular occasion], but thou, being a wild olive, were graftedhere and throughout, lit. pricked / stuck in among them and, partaking of the root of the fattinesssome manuscripts: of the root; others: of the fattiness; others: of the root and of the fattiness [thou] came to beThis verb could go with any of the genitives (of-phrases) in this verse, just as “partaking” can; though I have rendered it the most sensible way in English, it can mean that by partaking of all these things, you become of them all. of the olive tree,n 18do not boast over the branches; but if [thou] boast, thou do not lift up the root, but the root [lifts] thee [up].o 19Therefore [thou] will say, “Branches were completely broken off in order that I may be grafted in.” 20Wonderful; [they] were completely broken off by [their] disbelief,here and throughout, (lack of faith) but thou have stood by [thy] belief.(faith) Do not be high-minded,lit. think high [things]p but fear;(be afraid) 21for if God did not spare the [ones who were] branches according to their nature,here and throughout, lit. origin neither will [he] spare thee, {not in any way}.some manuscripts omit these words; their presence is still disputed 22Behold, therefore, [the] goodnesshere and throughout, (kindness) and severity of God; on the one hand, severity upon the [ones] having fallen [on a particular occasion], but on the other, [the] goodness of God upon thee, if [thou] remain in the goodness;r otherwise thou also will be cut out.q 23But also those [men], if [they] do not remain in disbelief, [they] will be grafted in; for God is ablelit. powerful to graft them in again. 24For if thou were cut out of the wild olive, [the one] according to [thy] nature, and [thou] were grafted against [thy] nature into the garden olive, by how much more will these, the [ones] according to [their] nature, be grafted in the same olive tree.some manuscripts end this verse as a question

25For [I] do not wish you to miss,(be ignorant of / not perceive) brothers, this mystery, in order that [you] may not be wise {among}some manuscripts use a different word to mean the same thing; others: with respect to yourselves,s because hardness from heritage comes about for Israel to the uttermost where the fulfilment of the peoples came int 26and thus all Israel will be saved,u just as [it] has been written, “The [one] rescuing will have come out of Zion, [he] will turn back impieties from Jacob. 27And this [is] the covenant from me for them, v that [I] take away their errors.”w 28On the one hand, according to the gospel [they are] hated throughhere and in the next clause, (because of) you, but on the other hand, according to the choice [they are] beloved through the fathers; 29for the graces and the calling of God [are] not to be repented of.(repentant) 30For just as you were disobedient to God then, but now [you] have been shown mercy for the disobedience of these [men], 31thus also these [men] now were disobedient for your mercy, in order that [they] themselves also may {now}some manuscripts: afterward; others omit; the presence of this word is disputed be shown mercy. 32For God enclosed all [men] into disobedience in order that [he] might show mercy to all [men].x

33O [the] depth of wealth of both wisdom and knowledge of God; how unexaminable [are] his judgments and inscrutable [are] his ways.y 34“For who knew [the] mind of [the] lord? Or who became his counselor?z 35Or who has prepaid him and will be repaid by him?”aa 36Because out of him and through him and unto him [are] all [things];ab to him [be] the glory unto the ages, amen.

a I am an…tribe of Benjamin: cf. Philippians 3:5
b God did not…away his people: cf. I Samuel 12:22; Psalm 94:14
c verse 3: 1 Kings 19:10, 14
d [I] left seven…knee to Baal: 1 Kings 19:18
e verse 5: cf. Romans 9:27
f verse 6: cf. Galatians 3:18
g What Israel was…choice attained [it]: cf. Romans 9:31
h God gave to…until the today-day: Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10
i Let their table…not to see: cf. Psalm 69:22-23
j their back [be…[down] through everything: cf. Psalm 35:8
k the salvation for…to the peoples: cf. Acts 13:46
l in order to…them to jealousy: cf. Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19
m And if the…[whole] mixture [is]: cf. Numbers 15:17-21; Nehemiah 10:37; Ezekiel 44:30
n verse 17: cf. Ephesians 2:11-19
o thou do not…[lifts] thee [up]: cf. John 4:22
p Do not be high-minded: cf. Romans 12:16
q verse 22: cf. John 15:2, 4
r if [thou] remain…in the goodness: cf. Hebrews 3:14
s in order that…wise {among} yourselves: cf. Romans 12:16
t the fulfilment of…peoples came in: cf. Luke 21:24; John 10:16
u all Israel will be saved: cf. Matthew 23:39
v The one rescuing…me for them: Isaiah 59:20-21; cf. Psalm 14:7
w that [I] take…away their errors: cf. Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34
x verse 32: cf. Galatians 3:22; I Timothy 2:4
y inscrutable [are] his ways: cf. Isaiah 45:15; 55:8
z verse 34: cf. Isaiah 40:13 (LXX); Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18; I Corinthians 2:16
aa verse 35: cf. Job 41:3
ab out of him…[are] all [things]: cf. I Corinthians 8:6

Swimming the Tiber 25: The Queen Mother

When I first heard the title “Queen of Heaven,” I must admit that I was troubled. In the limited context in which I grasped monarchy (and divine relationships), I said something like, “So Mary is supposed to be the spouse of Joseph, but she’s really the spouse of the Father (as the Father of Jesus) or the Holy Spirit (as the one who ‘overshadowed’ Mary), and now she’s the spouse of Jesus (the King)?”

Well, first of all, the Incarnation lacks the vulgar carnality of Zeus’ conquests. There was nothing sexual about the entire arrangement (after all, we know that Mary remained a virgin, or else there would have been no virgin birth). We also know that Mary was the spouse of Joseph (he did not break off their engagement, and he raised the Son of God as his own son).1

But the real crux of this question was in Mary’s relationship to the King. As an ignorant American, I had very little experience with the methods and manners of monarchies. All I knew was that England had kings and queens and sometimes they were spouses and sometimes a king or queen had a bunch of lovers (instead of spouses) to avoid sharing power. There was probably also an element of taking fairy tales at their word: if you marry a prince, you get to be queen when he becomes king.

But I never knew the concept of the queen mother. The queen mother is not the ruling monarch (Queen Elizabeth is a queen and a mother, but not the queen mother), but rather the spouse of the ruling monarch’s father. That is to say, she was married to the king, and then the king died, and her son became king. This is the context in which Mary is the “Queen of Heaven.” With Jesus as King, his mother holds a special place in Creation.

The concept of the queen mother can be found in a few places in Scripture. First, there’s the place in 1 Kings 2:13-21, where Adonijah goes to Bathsheba (the queen mother of King Solomon) to request her aid. When she goes on his behalf to Solomon, we see that Solomon sets up a throne for her, and she sits at his right hand. We see that the queen mother has authority and respect and influence (since she is sought to make this request of Solomon).

We see, in a way, a reflection of this event in John 2:1-11. Mary comes to Jesus to intercede on behalf of those hosting the wedding–“They have no wine.” Unlike Bathsheba, she has not been deceived by those requesting something of her (Adonijah is trying to steal the throne by marrying one of King David’s wives), and unlike Solomon, Jesus does not make promises that he fails to deliver on (in the verses following those referenced above, Solomon goes on to kill Adonijah and anyone who supported his claim to the throne). Instead, we see Jesus express his desire not to participate, but Mary’s request (as the queen mother) has influence, so he performs his first public miracle. (This incident, combined with the reality of intercessory prayer that I talked about a couple of weeks ago, is behind almost all Catholic devotion to Mary as an intercessor, someone who can pray on our behalf and ask for our aid.)

The prophet Jeremiah also mentions the queen mother in Jeremiah 13:18; 22:26; 29:2. The idea of a queen mother is also a thing that still exists. (It’s entirely possible that my own ignorance of this throughout my youth is an isolated incident, and most people know what a queen mother is.)

To further connect Mary to Jesus as the queen mother, we see Luke 1:43 (Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, “the mother of my lord”). We also see John use frequent royal language about Jesus in John 18:33-37; 19:2-5, 10-15, 19-22. When we get to verse 25, we’re well aware of Jesus’ kingship (mostly because of John’s excellent use of irony).

And [they] stoodlit. had been made to stand before the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the [one] of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Jesus, therefore, having beheld the mother and the disciple standing nearlit. having stood near, whom [he] loved, [he] says to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then [he] says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own [things].

– John 19:25-27 (my translation)

The full importance of this moment involves a position for Mary that we’ll discuss later, but we clearly see Jesus’ mother being identified in a special way in the midst of his crucifixion, at which point we’re acutely aware that he is the King. Her status as queen mother is reinforced here.

There is one final passage to look at: Revelation 12:1-6. Here we see Mary “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” How do we know this is Mary? Because she’s pregnant, and the devil sought to consume her child as soon as he was born (recall Matthew 2:16-18, compare Exodus 1:15-16). We see that this child is to rule (literally shepherd) all the nations (compare Matthew 25:31-36; John 10:1-18), and that he is taken at birth to the throne of God.

I hope that clears up the question a little bit. Mary is the Queen of Heaven, not as the reigning monarch, but as his mother. We ask for her prayer because there is established precedent that Mary can (and does) make requests of Jesus, which he fulfills out of love for her. She is given special consideration as beautiful and regal, with her own throne (as with Bathsheba in 1 Kings) and her own crown (as in Revelation). Every aspect of this is based not on her own merit, but on the grace granted her by God through Jesus Christ.

Next week, we’ll be tackling another major point of contention about Mary: the doctrine of her perpetual virginity and just how that relates to all these “brothers” Jesus is said to have in the Gospels.

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1 It’s important to note that Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit in several places, as well as the spouse of St. Joseph. Polygamy should not be presumed here, but a mystical relationship that I will tackle a little bit more next week. Suffice it to say for now that Mary’s relationship to the Holy Spirit does involve the conception of Jesus, but does not involve a carnal act of conception.

Swimming the Tiber 23: When the Saints Go Marching in

God creates out of nothing, wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.

– Søren Kierkegaard, trans. Alexander Dru (emphasis original)

But these [men], remaining behind in confidence, inherited glory and honor and both were raised and became written by God in their memorial into the ages of the ages. Amen.

It is also necessary therefore that we be glued to examples such as these, brothers. For [it] has been written,1 “Glue [yourselves] to the holy [ones], because the [ones] being glued to them will be made holy.”

– First Letter of Pope St. Clement I to the Corinthians
between AD 95 and 97 (my translation)
With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
– Psalm 18:25-26, NRSVCE

There are, perhaps, two primary elements of Protestant argumentation against the saints. Okay, three. We’ll go with three, because there are probably more, and I don’t want to spend months on this subject.

In the first place, I used to say, Scripture uses “the saints” to refer to all Christians, not just the dead in heaven. This is plainly evident in Acts 9:13, 32, 41; 26:10; Romans 8:27; 12:13; 15:25-26; 16:2, 15; 1 Corinthians 6:1-2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:12; Ephesians 1:1, 15; 3:8; 4:12; 6:18; Philippians 1:1; 4:21-22; Colossians 1:2, 4, 26; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 5:10; Philemon 1:5, 7; Hebrews 6:10; 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 13:7, 10; 22:21.

But you know where it’s less evident? In Scripture. Specifically, in Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:18; 2:19; 5:3; Colossians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Revelation 14:12; 18:20; 19:8. Sure, it’s fewer verses, but I really only need one to point out that use of the term is not universally consistent. The word itself means “holy” or “sacred” (I translated it “holy” in the passage above by the fourth Pope, as I usually do), not merely “Christian” or even “faithful,” so that’s strike one against it being synonymous with “believer.”

These passages point out what we already know quite intuitively: we are not already saints. We are “called to be saints” (Romans and 1 Corinthians) with a “glorious inheritance” to acquire (Ephesians 1), so we may be united with (others who are called) saints (Ephesians 2); all the while we are called to a higher standard of behavior (Ephesians 5). This inheritance belongs to the holy ones in the light, to which we must gain access by God’s grace (Colossians). The saints, too, are those who will return with Jesus when he comes to us again (1 Thessalonians). The saints adhere to righteousness (Revelation 14), though we on earth only strive to do so. They are counted among those in heaven (Revelation 18), and they have done “righteous deeds” (Revelation 19).

So while we are all “saints” (Christians), we are not all “saints” (holy). Both uses of the term were common in the early Church. As time went on, the “holy” usage (technically, the original usage) won out, because we called ourselves Christians and didn’t need euphemisms for it once people stopped killing us all the time.

The second major point I made against “the saints” as a Protestant was this: “You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 10:20, NRSVCE). Because, okay, sure, maybe there are some saintly folks in heaven–but that doesn’t mean we should worship them! Talking about “venerating” the saints, “revering” them, and so on–that’s idolatry, plain and simple!

But is that what veneration is? Is it “worship,” which is reserved for God alone? I would say not, and Scripture agrees with me. In the first place, most of our “veneration” is looking to the saints as examples (see the Clement quote above). We want to emulate the saints, and in so doing, emulate Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 4:15-16; 11:1-2; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; etc.). We treat them with respect and honor (which is not worship, or else we would not be commanded to do it so often – compare Romans 12:9-10; Ephesians 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:3, 17-18; 1 Peter 2:16-17). We consider them paragons of virtue and people to be admired and followed (compare Hebrews 11).

“But what about angels?” you may say, “You venerate angels, too, and Revelation 19:10 clearly says not to do that.”

On the other hand, Joshua 5:13-15 seems to have no trouble with it whatsoever. The angels, like the saints, are faithful to God, obedient to his will, serving and worshiping him always; we should be so blessed as to live as they do. (And, I say in hope, someday we shall, worshiping and praising God in that eternal day.)

There seems to be little in Scripture to suggest that properly due veneration is forbidden, but rather setting people or things at or above God’s place is. The former is appropriate, the latter is idolatry. Catholics do the former and repudiate the latter as much as anyone. We follow the saints only insofar as they lead us to God.

My third argument against the saints was about what Catholics frequently do in venerating the saints: prayer. “You can’t pray to the saints!” I said, “Even if you don’t count veneration as worship, prayer must be!”

In a profoundly anticlimactic way, I ask, “Must it?” Let me refer back to my very first post in this series, wherein I defined the term “to pray” for the purposes of this conversation. For Catholics, “praying” doesn’t mean “worship,” but it means “making a request.” We are not worshiping the holy dead, but asking them for their assistance. After all, “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NRSVCE) and, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12, NRSVCE). We know that the saints are in heaven, praising and worshiping God, and so we know that they are righteous; especially in the midst of our sin, their prayer would be effective indeed at getting us the grace and help we need.

This has nothing to do with adding a layer between us and God. Of course we can still pray to God. Catholics have more prayers to God than any other denomination.2 This is asking for help from people perfectly willing to offer it. Look at the full text of James 5:16. “Pray for one another.” Consider also Matthew 18:19-20; Romans 15:30-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; etc. We should pray to God for each other, and we ask each other for prayer. Christians of all denominations submit prayer requests to their local church or Bible study group or Sunday school. We submit these requests because we know that we are one Body in Christ with our fellow believers–but we are also one Body in Christ with all the saints in heaven; why should we not ask for their prayers as well?

Here ends my primer on the saints. I have answered the three points I thought were heavy-hitters when I was Protestant. Perhaps I have missed others, but I have confidence in the faith. Feel free to ask via comment or email if you have questions. Next week, we begin to tackle my greatest challenge yet; this one part of the Catholic faith tripped me up more than any other, but it is no stumbling block. The driving force behind my repulsion here was not sound theology or prophetic utterance, but simple emotional reactionism, couched in my ignorant youth. The topic for the next several weeks is the greatest of all the saints, Mary, Jesus’ mother.

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1Coincidentally, no one is quite sure where this is written, but Clement certainly thought highly of it.
2Probably. I mean, it’s almost guaranteed, statistically speaking. Just by the numbers.

Good Theology, Weak Conclusion

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in ScriptureA Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture by Scott Hahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another solid addition to Scott Hahn’s repertoire of theological works. The subject of the book is covenantal theology, that is, that God’s relationship with humanity is based in a series of covenants, beginning first with Adam and Eve and culminating in the new covenant through Jesus Christ. The book covers this full range, starting in Genesis and wrapping up in Revelation.

I like this, first of all, because it has a lot of useful information packed in here. It’s even better when you read the accompanying Scripture references; that can really ground what Dr. Hahn is saying and help you keep the right frame of mind. (It’s tempting with works of theology to get lost in the details or high-mindedness; more than some of Dr. Hahn’s other works, this book is prone to that temptation, but refocusing on the Bible passages, taking notes, and keeping a dictionary handy can solve that problem for the average reader.)

It also presents the cohesive story of Scripture in a way that reconciles easily with the traditional view of the Church, but isn’t something you hear in every pulpit. (It’s hard to tell the entire history of the world in this single book, much less in a single homily or sermon.)

Some things to watch out for:
(1) Puns. As with all of Dr. Hahn’s non-academic works, there are puns throughout (mostly in section and chapter titles). If you are deeply unnerved by dad jokes, steel yourself before reading.

(2) A small number of minor typos (I think I can count on one hand the number of books that did not have at least this, though, and my books are not on that list).

(3) The final chapter and especially the final few pages. In my opinion, a book is made or broken by its conclusion, and this book fell pretty hard at the end. It’s almost as if Dr. Hahn had a prescribed limit, and when he reached it, he ended the book, even though he wasn’t finished. The conclusion here is rushed at best and sorely lacking at worst.

Let me explain what I mean: the final chapter takes for granted that the Book of Revelation is about the Mass. There is a lot of evidence for this (not the least of which is in the Mass itself, where liturgy aims to resemble John’s vision of heaven), but Dr. Hahn glosses over it quickly. In part, he’s not aiming to answer that question right now (he has at least one other book about that, and this chapter is supposed to be about the Church), but I think it’s a shortcoming that he doesn’t address the elephant in the room for any Protestant that worships without the liturgy: Revelation as a prognosis for the end of the world. Even a brief amount of detail here would put more minds at ease, I think.

The final few pages in particular are where the real let-down happens for me. Up to this point, Dr. Hahn has been describing a powerful image of the eternal Church, the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem. In the last couple of pages, he turns to the question that I think should be the climax of a theological work (rather than the afterthought): how then should we live?

He writes, “It may seem that the Church John envisions is a far cry from the Church that we have experienced. We see scandal and hypocrisy, bland liturgies, false teaching, broken families, sin and sinners everywhere. Down the street a new ‘nondenominational’ fellowship may be serving up the Bible hot and spicy; its members are more rigorously observing God’s law and more devoutly praying to him. Millions of Catholic have joined so-called Bible-believing churches because in them they see greater fervor. What do we do?” (260-261)

At this point, I thought, “Alright, let’s do it! Let’s talk about the beauty of the Church, the power and transforming grace of the sacraments, the wonder of embracing the divine, the authority of Christ and the Church, the richness of our traditions, the truth of our teaching, the healing of our fellowship, and the depth of God’s mercy (even if only for a moment, since we’re almost on the last page)!”

Instead, the last page and a half can, I think, be summarized like this: “Well, the Church is the True Church, so you’ll just have to set aside your reservations and stay Catholic. Sometimes we see bad things, but we need to ignore those and focus on becoming saints.”

As a conclusion, I think it gets it about half-right: We definitely need to become holy in our whole lives, and that is a critical element in the Church. But even before we’re saints, we can work at the local, diocesan, national, and Church-wide levels, wherever we are, to continually transform hearts and conform ourselves to God’s desire, to renew a right spirit within each of us, to convert the sinner, forgive the sin, and save people.

“Don’t focus so much on sin and become a saint” sounds like very private advice, given to a private person intending to stay private, but the Catholic Church needs to embrace again her deep and abiding community. We are all united in the Mass, which is celebrated continually, every hour of every day, somewhere in the world; we should embrace that community, and as we join together with the saints and angels in heaven, we should strive always to be counted in that number–and not just ourselves, but the person next to us in the pew, in the parking lot, in class or at work, and on the street. Yes, absolutely, become a saint–but do whatever you can to make your brother a saint, too.

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Swimming the Tiber 20: The Sacraments: Holy Orders

About three months ago, I talked about the priesthood of believers. A month after that, I talked about how virginity is a virtue. I’ve also talked a few times about how Catholic priests operate in persona Christi, “in the person of Christ.”

All of this works into my examination of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Ordination is not, in and of itself, particularly controversial; almost all Protestant denominations refer to the process of naming someone a pastor as “ordination,” in no small part because it’s Scriptural (Luke 6:12-13; Acts 6:2-6; 13:2-3; 14:23; 1 Timothy 2:7; 4:14; Titus 1:5-9). Technically, the term refers to the appointment of someone to a particular office or responsibility, and so it also appears elsewhere in Scripture in that context.

Controversy comes from two places primarily. First, many Protestants are offended at the requirement of celibacy for Catholic priests, and second, many groups altogether are offended at the requirement of masculinity. These are not similar objections, for the requirement of celibacy is mutable (it is a discipline, not a doctrine), and the requirement of being male is not.

For the question of celibacy, this really should be a non-issue. Recall that virginity is a virtue, which St. Paul recommended and the Church has always admired throughout history. Second, this discipline is not set in stone. It is the way things are currently done in the Roman rite of the Church, but Eastern Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox priests) are allowed to be married before becoming ordained. Similarly, if you are a Lutheran minister or Anglican priest and are married, and you convert to Catholicism, you may be allowed to become a Catholic priest and remain married. Likewise, widowers are not prevented from becoming priests. Marriage and the priesthood are not mutually exclusive states by essential doctrine, but merely in practice.

Nevertheless, it is the practice at the current time. I think anyone seeking to change that practice would have a difficult go of it–but certainly they would have a much easier time than those opposing my next point.

Being in favor of “women’s ordination” is a fairly popular position these days. I recently watched a sermon on the subject, in fact, which outlined the “major objections” to the practice and then refuted them. Each and every argument the teacher opposed was about putting women in positions of authority, and I agreed with almost everything he said (some of his exegesis was bad, but that happens sometimes). That’s because I have nothing against putting qualified women in positions of authority, but Catholic priesthood is so much more than a position of authority.

For example, if a woman obtains the proper education, I have no objection if they teach in a seminary. I have no objection if they lead a Bible study. I have no objections, likewise, if a woman of appropriate disposition works as an administrator or counselor or in any other position in which pastors find themselves. In short, assuming basic qualifications, I have nothing against women as Protestant ministers, and as much as any man, women participate in the priesthood of believers.

But a woman cannot be the vicar of Christ.

It’s not about qualifications or education or disposition. It’s about nature. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born as a man. (Recall that priests act in persona Christi. Maleness is essential to this function.) The essential functions of the priesthood – the conveyance of the sacraments being the prime example – are reserved to men in the New Testament (to the Twelve especially, and by them to other men); only men are told by Christ or his apostles to forgive sins (John 20:22-23), to anoint the sick (Matthew 10:5-8; James 5:14-15), to baptize (Matthew 28:16-20), to share the Eucharist (Luke 22:19-20), and to ordain (Acts 1:12-26; note especially St. Peter’s requirement that the replacement be a man in verse 21).

“But,” some will say, “it’s unfair for men to be given this advantage of power over women! We should all be equal!”

Or perhaps you do not use these words, but you have some gut feeling that there is inequality here, because priests have authority which women do not have. Let us take a moment to see the advantage of power given to men in this office.

First, they must attain to a higher standard than the rest of us:

Many [of you], do not become teachers, my brothers, knowing that [we] will receive a larger judgment.

– James 3:1 (my translation)
(see also Ephesians 4:11-16; Titus 1:5-9; 2:7-8; 2 Timothy 2:14-26)

In this, they must especially be humble, not seeking power, but seeking only to serve:

When therefore [he] washed their feet {and} [he] took his clothes and [he] reclined again, [he] said to them, “Do [you] know what [I] have done to you? You call me ‘the teacher’ and ‘the lord,’ and [you] speak beautifully, for [I] am. If, therefore, I have washed your feet as the lord and the teacher, then also you are bound to wash the feet of others; for [I] have given a sign to you in order that, just as I did to you, you may also do. Amen, amen, [I] say to you, a slave is not greater than his lord nor [is] an apostle greater than the [one] having sent him. If [you] know these [things], [you] are blessed if [you] do them. [I] speak not about all of you; I know whom [I] chose; but [it is thus] in order that the writing may be fulfilled, ‘The [one] eating my breadsome manuscripts: bread with me; others: my bread with me lifted up his heel against me.’ From now on [I] say to you before the happening, in order that [you] may believe when [it] happens that I am. Amen, amen, [I] say to you, the [one] receiving whomever [I] send receives me, but the [one] receiving me receives the [one] having sent me.

– John 13:12-20 (my translation, emphasis original)
(see also Matthew 20:25-28)

They will be specially targeted by the devil and evil people:

Offer yourselves also to the whole flock, in which the Spirit, the holy [one], placed you as overseers to shepherd the church of God,some manuscripts: the lord and God which [he] preserved through blood–his own. I know that, after my departure,lit. arrival grievous wolves will go in among you, not sparing the flock, and out of you yourselves [they] will rise up, prattling distorted [things] in order to tear off students after them. Wherefore be fully awake, remembering that for three years, night and day [I] did not cease, with tears, admonishing each one.

– Acts 20:28-31 (my translation, emphasis original)
(see also 1 Peter 5:6-8)

The people will not appreciate them (2 Timothy 4:1-5). They must at all times beware hypocrisy in themselves (Romans 2:21-23) and, should they err, they will be held to account, not only for their own sins, but for the sins of those who follow them:

For amen, [I] say to you: until the sky passes by, and the earth, not one jot or one serif will pass by from the law, until all [things] come to be. Whoever, therefore, releases one of these commands, [even one] of the smallest [ones], and teaches people thus, [he] will be called smallest in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does [these commands] and teaches [them], this [man] will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 5:18-19 (my translation)
(see also Ezekiel 13:8-16; Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:10-16; 2 Peter 2; 2 John 1:7-11)

And whoever welcomes one child such as this upon my name welcomes me. But whoever trips one of these little [ones], the [ones] believing in me, [it] is expedient for him that a millstone be hung around his neck and [that he] be drowned in the depth of the sea.idiom; lit. the ocean of the sea or similar Woe to the cosmos because of stumbling blocks; for [it is] a necessity that stumbling blocks come, except woe to the person through whom the stumbling block comes.

– Matthew 18:5-7 (my translation)
(see also Ezekiel 33:7-9; Luke 17:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:17-22)

The priesthood is not a privilege or a boon or power or authority or superiority. It is an act of self-sacrifice, not self-aggrandizement. It is self-giving, not taking. If it is unfair that only men may be priests, then it is unfair toward men. Women, by contrast, are held in high honor in the Catholic Church, for only a woman was deemed worthy to bear the Savior (Luke 1:30-31); only a woman was able to persuade Christ, the Lord, to perform miracles before his time had come (John 2:1-11); throughout the Gospels, Jesus treated women with respect and honor; a woman was praised for her contemplative life (Luke 10:41-42), women saw him laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55), and a woman first saw the risen Lord (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:9-10; John 20:11-18).

The priesthood is not restricted to men because women are inferior to it; on the contrary, women are treated as equal to men in the Lord (Galatians 3:28) and honored besides. The restriction, then, established first by Christ and then by his apostles, throughout the whole tradition of the Church, has that cause which I have already detailed: priests act in persona Christi, and by the command of Jesus Christ and his chosen apostles, this office is exclusive to men. God is the head of Christ, Christ the head of the Church and of men, men the head of women and the household (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). This is the order designed by God.

I’ve barely talked about the sacrament of Holy Orders, so I have likely done it a disservice. Like the other sacraments, it bestows grace on those who receive it, giving them the capacity to grow in holiness and be obedient to God. I have never had any dispute with the sacrament as such, so I felt compelled only to address (some of) the controversy about it.

Next week, I will talk about the last of the seven sacraments, after which I will return to a few more general Catholic topics. So look forward to a brief examination of the anointing of the sick/last rites/final unction when Swimming the Tiber returns!