Geoffrey Kirk counters arguments that Jesus’ choice of Twelve men is irrelvant to the contemporary priesthood

No action of the Word-made-flesh can be insignificant. It cannot, for example, be dismissed as a merely unthinking acquiescence in the mores of a particular time. The task of the Church -the Lord’s body in the world -is to weigh the significance of his every action, and respond appropriately to its meaning and import. She has done so in the matter of the ordination of women.

The tradition of reserving priestly ordination to men is unbroken and unanimous in the Catholic Church. The tradition has been so solid and unchallenged that it has never required

an explicit dogmatic formulation. The only documentary evidence we possess of priestesses in the Early Christian period is from the condemnation of such practices by orthodox opponents of the Gnostics and Montanists. Epiphanius of Salamis epitomizes the Catholic position: ‘the Lord called no woman to be one of the twelve, nor was a woman ever appointed to succeed the apostles as bishop or presbyter’. That is to say he grounds the Church’s practice in the Lord’s own action and in its faithful continuance in the church’s life and Canonical Tradition.

Two factors come together to indicate both the importance of the Lord’s act in choosing twelve men and its significance for the Apostolic Ministry.

The first is the sovereign nature of the Lord’s choice. The Gospels do not portray a Jesus who conforms to the religious and cultural norms of first-century Judaism, but one who, in important respects, stands over against them. (‘You have heard that it was said… but I say to you.’) The choice, moreover was one considered by Jesus in earnest prayer to the Father. (‘He continued in prayer all night to God. And when it was

day he chose from them twelve, whom he named Apostles.’)

The second is the symbolism of his choice and its coherence with salvation history. He deliberately chooses, as his primary representatives in the world, a brotherhood which relates directly and symbolically to the twelve patriarchs of Israel. These are to be the foundations stones of the New Jerusalem (as the Apocalypse confirms). Clement of Rome puts the matter succinctly:’.. .the Gospel was given to the Apostles for us by the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The order of these two events was in accordance with the will of God.. .and as they set out in full assurance of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.. .they appointed their

first converts – after testing them by the Spirit – to be bishops and deacons for the believers of the future'[ I Cor. 42]

But it is not merely the initial choice of the Twelve which is significant for the priestly ministry which derives from them. The missionary mandate, or Great Commission, is given to the Twelve alone (Matt. 28:19) and upon them (together with the Mother of God) the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost. Because of this the apostolic origin and derivation of the sacred ministry has always been the distinguishing mark of a Catholic ecclesiology.

Of course it is possible to maintain, as many of the Protestant reformers did, that Christian ministry is merely another form of magistracy within the

Christian polity, different in function but not in kind from the others: monarchy, judiciary, etc. If such were truly the case, you would naturally expect it to be altered or reformed as changing social circumstances dictated. But to uphold the divine origin and dominical institution of that ministry is to acknowledge that fidelity to the thing once given alone assures both its validity and its efficacy. To change it, in any essential, is to destroy it. The maleness of the ministries of bishops and priest has been guarded by successive generations down to modern times.

The wisdom of the Christian ages, upon which we in the present age are called to ponder, has been that the maleness of that given ministry is of fundamental significance.