Friday, October 22, 2010

Why is Paul accepted as an apostle but not Mary Magdalene?

An apostle (one who is sent) is different from a disciple (a follower). The Catholic Church considers ordained clergy to be apostles while laity and avowed religious nuns and brothers are disciples. 

According to church teaching, to be an apostle, one must be baptized and then receive "laying on of hands" from another apostle.  This is the foundation of the church's apostolic succession, tying apostles all the way back to the original twelve appointed by Jesus.   Also according to church teaching, people cannot just declare themselves apostles through the authority of their relationship with God.  They must become an apostle by the Holy Spirit working through another apostle who can be traced back to the original twelve.  Doing otherwise would break apostolic succession. 

Here's what puzzles me about Paul.  He was not one of the original twelve apostles.  He did not meet Jesus until after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.  His meeting was a spiritual/mystical post-ascenscion encounter with Jesus.  Also, Paul received "laying on of hands" before he was baptized.  Furthermore, Ananias did the "laying on of hands" but Ananias was a disciple not an apostle.  The "laying on of hands" was done for healing purposes rather than as a commissioning (Acts 9:1-30). 

Paul declared himself an apostle based upon his direct interactions with Christ (Gal 1:1) rather than through the action of any human.  Lest someone think this is my own interpretation of scripture, please be aware that the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops' website indicates the following in the biblical commentary for this passage, "because of attacks on his authority in Galatia, Paul defends his apostleship. He is not an apostle commissioned by a congregation or even by prophets but through Jesus Christ and God the Father."  The official church acknowledges that Paul was not "ordained" by an apostle.  He represents a break in apostolic succession. Based upon Paul's writing and biblical commentary, we see that many people were concerned about Paul's authority because he did not follow apostolic succession.

I raise this question because Mary Magdelene was also directly sent by Jesus (the definition of "apostle") (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:10).  She was sent to be the first bearer of the gospel's "good news" of Jesus' resurrection.  However, church leaders call her an "apostle to the apostles" (Mulieris Dignitatem) rather than accept her as a full fledged apostle because scripture doesn't indicate she received laying on of hands from an apostle.  Well, neither did Paul.

The eleven remaining apostles did not believe Mary, though she was sent as an apostle by Jesus. "When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe." (Mark 16:11) Perhaps church leaders' continued refusal to acknowledge Mary as an apostle ties to the original eleven's disbelief.  However, Jesus chastised the eleven apostles for their reaction to Mary, "... later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised." (Mark 16:14)

Why is Paul's apostleship accepted as valid despite breaking all the "rules" while Mary Magdalene's apostleship is reduced to some non-descript junior grade apostleship of "apostle to the apostles"?  Is the pope's pronouncement about female ordinations just a perpetuation of the original eleven male apostles' disbelief and hardness of heart for which Jesus rebuked them?

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