Those who would deny women full access to the sacred office of the ministry have argued that there are some deep and significant reasons “in the very nature of things” why men, and only men, should be ministers in the church of Christ. These reasons, whether elaborated in a Roman Catholic or in a Protestant frame of reference, finally reduce to three: the nature of woman, the nature of the ministerial office, and the nature of God himself.

Serious debate over women’s right to the holy office of the Christian ministry is a relatively modern phenomenon. Throughout Christian history it has been assumed—more or less—that women should not be admitted to the ranks of the ordained clergy for the obvious reason that they are women and are therefore subject to the limitations of womanhood. At its meanest, this assumption has been little more than an instance of the misogyny that has marred Christian thought since the days of the early church fathers, a prejudice that occassionally can still be read between the lines of the ongoing discussion, though it is no longer an explicit part of the argument against the ordination of women.

Some cite the erotic stimulus aroused in the male by the female presence. They are careful, of course, to state that this is a matter of male weakness, not female perversity. E. L. Mascall, for example, quotes with approval the argument of N. P. Williams that “men as such are very less likely to be an involuntary cause of distraction to women, under the circumstances of public worship, than women are to men; and that this is a permanent fact of human nature which can no more be abolished by modern progress than the law of gravitation can be abolished by human progress” (Women and the Priesthood of the Church, ...

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