Arthur Middleton on The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus in which he cautioned those who claimed to have a superior form of ministry

Evidence for early rites of ordination in ante-Nicene literature is sparse because a theoretical

treatment of the Christian ministry is not found before St Augustine and the Donatist controversy. A better starting-point is The Apostolic Tradition of St Hippolytus of Rome, c. AD 215, who opposed the current official innovations in discipline and practice, publicly appealing in a corrective pamphlet to older custom, which greatly influenced the East. In Syria and Egypt it was known as The Egyptian Church Order.

Fr Frere cR pointed out that it contains two closely connected works, Concerning Ordinations, and On Charismata. In the latter, Hippolytus does not depreciate those with special spiritual gifts but cautions them against boasting superiority over those with ordinary spiritual gifts and against those with special gifts of the ministry.

Montanism allowed prophets to absolve and women to celebrate the Eucharist. Not until Epiphanius (fourth century) were there reports of female clergy in an offshoot of the sect. These women were active as presbyters, and their ordination was justified by the text of Galatians 3.28 dismissing gender as irrelevant for in Christ Jesus, there is neither male nor female.

Appeal to Paul

Today this same argument is a password in feminist writings. What Epiphanius and Firmilian describe reflects a milieu that has its roots in Phrygian Montanism and Epiphanius elaborates sources from the origins of the sect. Epiphanius counters their Pauline justification with relevant statements by the Apostle combining 1 Corinthians 14.34 with 1 Timothy 2.12, and makes reference to the Pauline statements on the order of creation in 1 Corinthians 11.8.

Like other early Church authors Epiphanius also cites the Yahwist’s account of the Fall: ‘Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ Thus, the deciding argument for the refusal of female priesthood is the appeal to Pauline directives, supplemented with an important consideration, that if women were to have priesthood conferred on them then why not Mary who would have been more eminently suited than any woman? Furthermore, it was John, not Mary, who baptized Jesus.

The female priesthood of the ‘Quintillians’ is connected with a theology that regards Christ as androgynous. Epiphanius records a vision Priscilla, the prophetess had, at the founding of Montanism: ‘In the form of a woman Christ came to me in radiant garb, inspired me with wisdom and pronounced this place [the Phrygian village Pepuza] holy.

The socio-cultural context of Montanism influenced this movement where in Phrygia, women participated in public activities. In Phrygian paganism, the god-mother Cybele was central to its worship, which may have subconsciously influenced Priscilla’s vision. Jerome claimed that Montanus, the founder of Montanism, had been a priest of Cybele. This created a new hierarchy with new claims, a prophetic succession over against the Episcopal succession. It claimed to be a new revelation to bring new gifts lacking in the Church’s ministry. It depreciated the apostolic hierarchy and its apostolic tradition.

Re-evaluating the tradition

Are there parallels here to the present day? Is it an action replay? Today’s new revelation emanating from the sociological, political and psychological gnosis of the present wants to re-evaluate that same apostolic tradition with ‘gifts’ that only gender can provide. Feminism will make good the deficiency of gifts it sees necessary to the fullness of apostolic order, creating as it has in Anglicanism a new revelation, a new hierarchy, a new succession derived from the new revelation and rejecting the Catholic hierarchy and its apostolic tradition.

The claim to a new revelation and more specifically to a superior kind of ministry is treated as novelty by this apologist for apostolic order. He argues that the whole apostolic tradition negates such novel claims. To many that tradition is well known, and they only need to be reassured about it in view of the novel errors. Those who have the right belief will also, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, have the right tradition, and will know how it is to be carried on by the rulers of the Church. This apostolic order is an ordinance, which is handed on, as well as a ministry of divine grace. ND