[John Saward has previously been Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the International Theological Institute (a Papal institute of graduate theology in Gaming, Austria). Born in Middlesex in 1947, he is married with three daughters. Having read Philosophy and Psychology at St John's College, Oxford, from 1965 to 1968, he went on to study Theology and to train for the Anglican ministry at St Stephen's House, Oxford. He was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1972. In 1973 he was awarded a M. Litt. in theology, for which he had submitted a thesis on 'The Theology of Death' under the supervision of Father Cornelius Ernst OP of Blackfriars, Oxford.

After two years as a curate in Lancashire, Saward returned to Oxford in 1974 as Chaplain and Junior Research Fellow in Theology at Lincoln College. In 1979 he and his family were received into the Catholic Church at Campion Hall, Oxford. From 1980 to 1992 Saward was Lecturer in Dogmatic Theology at Ushaw College and from 1992 to 1998 Professor of Systematic Theology at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, USA.

Saward is the author of eight books and many booklets, articles, and contributions to collected works.

Saward was ordained deacon on 21st June 03 and was ordained priest (for the Archdiocese of Birmingham) later in the year.]


In most parts of the Anglican world the theological debate on the purported ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate was short lived. Many observers – even from outside the Church – remarked that opponents tended to argue theologically from within the categories of revelation, while the proponents did so sociologically from “self evident” norms derived from a secular (and feminist) culture.

Very early on, it became clear to the innovators that theological argument would not win over those Church of England people who believe that the formularies of our Church commit us to believing in the three-fold ministry as a gift of God to the whole Church Catholic of which, according to those same formularies, we are merely part. At the very least, we believe it is not possible to make such an alteration to the sacrament of Order on our own and be confident that it right.

So the whole saga became a political exercise, playing for the hearts of a handful of “swinging voters” at various levels of synodical government, together with ingenious manipulation of legislation and senior appointments in the Church so as to ensure that real Catholics and real Evangelicals were in the end defeated.

In the end, however, in order to get the legislation for women bishops through the General Synod, provision had to be promised for parishes and clergy who on theological grounds require it in order “to flourish”, scant though that provision is. We must now recognise the importance of studying again the basic theological arguments, and introducing a new generation of Anglican Catholics to them. We’ve not had to use those arguments for a very long time. They were admirably brought together in Consecrated Women (edited by Jonathan Baker ten years ago).

A generation ago, two of the most significant contributions to the debate, frequently quoted ever since, were papers written by John Saward, who is now a Roman Catholic priest. They were published by the Church Literature Association (of the Church Union) in 1975 and 1977.  Saward’s reliance on the nuptial imagery of Scripture as undergirding our sacramental practice will be less popular now (for obvious reasons) than it was when he wrote the papers. But it is at the heart of the wider Church’s teaching on why women priests and bishops are impossible in the Catholic tradition (see Inter insigniores), and, as such, needs to be part of the thinking of the faithful.

So, these papers are reproduced here for the sake of those who now need to think more theologically about the issues.  They are: