Can Women Be Deacons?

The Ordination of Women, Pt. II

Just recently, I came across a well-written entitled Catholic Women Deacons seeking to make a case for the restoration of the female diaconate. The author, a professor of Religious Studies, makes her case by drawing largely upon the historical evidence of deaconesses in the early Church and during the Patristic era.

The presence of a female diaconate in the church is a matter of historical fact. While it is clear that the role of deaconesses in previous times differs drastically from the role of deacons today, the question remains about the nature and status of their position—whether it was an ordained ministry or a celebrated and respected non-ordained position in Christian communities.

From my knowledge of church history, sacramental theology, and ecclesiology, particularly as it relates to the Latin and Greek traditions of the Church, the author is inquiring within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. The position, in favor of a female diaconate, as far as I know, is legitimately an orthodox position; this does not mean, Catholics of good faith, cannot contradict this position. Admittedly, I do not fully embrace her view.

She makes the case quite well using history and theological tradition:

“The question of women deacons has been before the commission for at least 20 years. The original study on women deacons, requested by Pope Paul VI, was suppressed. While that document remains unpublished, an article published in Orientalia Christiana Periodica in 1974 by then-commission member Cipriano Vagaggini concluded that the ordination of women deacons in the early church was sacramental. What the church had done in the past, he suggested, the church may do again. Other scholars, before and after Vagaggini, have reached similar conclusions, but the current document only refers to the debate and strenuously avoids concluding that women ever received the sacrament of holy orders.”

“As time and practice accrued, women were ordained to the diaconate in rituals identical to those used to ordain men to the diaconate. The ordination ritual of the Apostolic Constitutions for women deacons, codified by the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (421) begins: “O bishop, you shall lay hands on her in the presence of the presbytery.” Perhaps the oldest known complete rite of ordination for women deacons, a mid-eighth century Byzantine manuscript known as Barbarini 336, requires that women be ordained by the bishop within the sanctuary, the proximity to the altar indicating the fact of a true ordination.”

“Echoing the Council of Trent, the commission finds that the majority theological opinion since the 12th century supports the sacramentality of the diaconate and says this finding must be considered in propositions regarding women deacons.”

“The study notes that the documents of the Second Vatican Council presuppose the sacramentality of both modes of the diaconate (permanent and transitional). It then devotes considerable space to distinguishing between how the priest acts in persona Christi capitis (“in the person of Christ, head [of the church]”) and a new term this document uses to describe how the deacon acts, in persona Christi servi (“in the person of Christ servant”).”

“As for the diaconate, the universally accepted theology of the diaconate shows the deacon acting in the name of Christ in his church, as opposed to in the person of Christ, head of the church.”

“In 1985 the late Basil Cardinal Hume, archbishop of Westminster and president of the episcopal conferences of Europe, told an Italian journal he would be very happy if the church decided to ordain women deacons. Women already exercise the diaconate, he said, and the diaconate is not part of the sacerdotal priesthood.”

  • “St. Paul called Phoebe a deacon (not a deaconess) of the church at Cenechrae.” – presupposing this is a woman, though, the name is feminine.

“The church has given reasons why women, although ontologically equal to men, may not be ordained to the priesthood, but the judgment that women cannot be ordained priests does not apply to the question of whether women can be ordained deacons. Women are now called and have been called in the past to the diaconate. There are stronger arguments from Scripture, history, tradition and theology that women may be ordained deacons than that women may not be ordained deacons. Women have continually served the church in diaconal ministry, whether ordained to such service or not. The ordained ministry of service by women is necessary to the church.”

As is stated in the article, any answer to the question about a female diaconate must answer a series of questions. The author creates such a list for us: “1) What did women deacons do? 2) Were women deacons ever sacramentally ordained? 3) Does the ordained diaconate share in the sacrament of order? 4) Does the ordained diaconate share in the sacrament of order in such a way that it is part of the sacerdotal priesthood?”

Unless I am mistaken, the author is precisely correct that there is historical evidence that women were actually ordained as deacons, using the same, or very similar, formulas and prescriptions as used presently for the ordination to the diaconate. The attempt to gloss over this to preserve the integrity of an exclusively male priesthood is admirable in its intention, but intellectually dishonest.

Historically speaking, Eastern Christianity more often than the West made use of the female diaconate and had more women in the diaconal ministry, at least, until the ninth century. This would make much sense since the East is predominantly of Greek influence and biblically-speaking, at the time of Christ, many pagan religions had women priestesses and a greater respect for the idea of female prominence, at least, in this sense. In the twentieth century, Eastern Orthodoxy began to renew this practice by ordaining women to the diaconate starting in the 1950s (and perhaps still continuing – I’m not sure), but mainly in monastic, contemplative settings.

Personally, I am convinced theologically and historically of the author’s case. A side, but tangent note, I am quietly a supporter, even if limited, of married priests. I understand wholly and entirely the Church’s reasoning for celibacy and I believe that it is admirable and will be the case until such a time the Holy Spirit deems otherwise through the Magisterium. I love the theological richness of the married priests in the East and their wives called “presbyteras” not because they are thought to be female priests, but rather their vocation to marriage has called them to be “one flesh” with their husband (who is a priest) and has caused them to  accept, as it were, a richer call, as was the original woman in Genesis, to be a “helpmate” to her husband in his priestly ministry. Again, this is a matter of theological opinion in regard to discipline. I just happen to be a huge fan of the earlier tradition preceding priestly celibacy, which I believe is a wonderful tradition as well. I think the former, however, would contribute in the short-term to our ongoing dialogue with both the Eastern Orthodox and Protestants.

As it happens, however, I am not sure a transition to a married priesthood should be welcomed so swiftly. Quite apart from what seems to be historically the case, it seems that the role and function of deacons have changed since the Patristic era and I don’t think considering the tasks now assigned to the diaconate that it would be appropriate to restore a female diaconate. In terms of pastoral prudence, it would produce quite a bit of confusion among the laity and may raise false hopes that it is one step in the direction of women becoming priests.

Dare I say, the Church, in my view, should make the prudential judgment even if it is theologically permissible not to do it at this point in history because it could cause a tremendous crisis in the Church while we are in an age struggling with issues of masculinity, femininity, sexuality, and gender roles—and as much as I hate to admit it, our struggle with these issues, may be reason enough to not allow married men to pursue the priesthood in the Latin rite.

46 Responses to Can Women Be Deacons?

  • Eric,

    Nice post. It’s an issue I’ve dealt with from time to time. Yes, there were ordained women deacons. One of the problems is that Westerners were not used to the Eastern approach, and it is quite clearly, early on, there were two different types of women deacons, and the Western experience, combined with the loss of communication with the East, made for a history where the real ordained ministry of the women deaconesses was forgotten. Plus, the role of the deacon, not just the deaconess, differed in the two. In the West, it was eventually used as a rank one has in preparation for the priesthood (until modern times), and in the East, only much later was this the case (and it was not exclusively the case, just very rare for any other kind). Historically, it seems there were female deacons in the East into the modern world; and we do know there are those now (Greek and Coptic). But again, the role of the deacon is different — the help with the services, but they do not do anything which is sacramental– thus a deacon in the East cannot ever marry a couple (if I got married, it would have to be via a priest or bishop). I do think women deacons would be a good idea for many reasons, but I also think, though a good, it would take a couple years prep to help get people to know what it means and what it doesn’t mean (ie., no priesthood).

  • Henry K.

    do we not have enough confusion about women and priesthood already?

  • Two points:

    First, how do we know that the “ordained” deaconesses of antiquity were validly ordained? How do we know that they weren’t precursors to the modern Womenpriest movement, just local people wrongly claiming the authority to ordain women?

    Second, I don’t believe that anyone really wants female deacons. No one. What the people calling for female deacons want is female ordination, and they think that by having female deacons first, they can eventually get priestly and even episcopal ordination for women. They think that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis left them a loophole on deacons, and they mean to exploit it. We’ve seen this in the Anglican Communion, and I’ve no wish to see it in the Catholic Church.

  • 1) because of how the tradition, councils, saints and doctors of the church refered to them. Moreover, how the Orthodox continue to have them and use them — in today’s world. T

    2) no one wants them? Then why do Coptics and Greeks have them? Seriously, Paul, this is incorrect. Many people do want them. I want them. I am someone. I’m not for female priests. Your whole argument comes from ignorance on point 1 and so using it to justify your own fears in point 2. Illogical to say the least. Just because some people want to use it as an abuse does not mean it is wrong — people wanted the Bible in English, doesn’t mean it was wrong when many of them wanted it for Protestant theology.

  • Matt

    Since this is a historical reality, and it exists, the confusion comes from people like you who try to hide the reality. So yes, we have enough confusion. Lighten up and follow the Church.

  • Henry, slight change of subject, but since you banned me from Vox Nova, I have no other place to raise this:

    Note that on the “useful idiots” post, Gerald Campbell commented, “By leaving the decision about abortion to rest with one’s conscience, it prevents the state from taking measures that are tyrannical.”

    Now if you have any sense in your head at all, you’ll recognize that someone who describes pro-life legislation as “tyrannical” and who defends leaving the abortion decision to individual “conscience” is pro-choice. No question about it.

  • Hence, you ought to have the balls to confront Gerald if you want to have any credibility as to your admonition to “follow the Church.”

  • Henry,

    I’m not sure if this is what Matt meant by his comment, but it seems to me there could certainly be a valid argument that it would not be a wise decision for the Church at this time (because of the pressure on the Church to ordain women as priests, which it simply cannot do, and because this would undoubtedly be seen as a half-way step to that) to return to the ancient and Eastern custom of women deacons.

    Eric actually highlights that question in his piece, I think.

    Further, there is, as Eric points out, the question of whether the understanding of deacons in the early Church is actually the same as the modern Roman Rite understanding of deacons, and thus whether ordaining women to the deaconate would be appropriate in the modern West.

    On can hardly encourage someone to “follow the Church” on the issue when the Church has not yet made a decision whether it would be possible and/or appropriate to have female deacons at this time.

  • This is off topic but I will respond only once to the troll-bait known as SB:

    There are many different ways anti-abortion laws could be enacted; the fact that someone said they could be tyrannical is indeed an indication of someone saying the truth. The issue is not just trying to make the laws, but making the right laws, with the right kinds of consequences. Just because something outlaws abortion, doesn’t mean it will be right — for example, if we said a woman who has an abortion ends up losing her life and 10 closest family members would be thrown in jail, that would be wrong, though it would be against abortion. So again, Gerald’s words are not invalid. But I suspect you already knew that, but want to create more controversy.

  • DC

    I would point out that the Orthodox are Church, and as such the Church does have ordained women deacons. Secondly, there are many factors, such as justice to women, which explains why it is even more a necessity now. Just because some might want to use it to push for something wrong does not make it wrong. In my mind, not allowing it, in today’s day and age, causes confusion.

  • But that makes no sense. If Gerald Campbell were really concerned with passing the “right laws, with the right kinds of consequences,” then he would have said so. He has never done that, not here, not anywhere. Instead, he says that abortion must be left to the individual “conscience.” News flash, Einstein, if abortion is left to the individual “conscience,” that doesn’t mean “pass the right laws against abortion,” it means don’t pass anti-abortion laws.

    What do you get out of inventing these defenses that not even Gerald would put forth on his own behalf? Is he somehow blackmailing you into shilling for him?

  • Henry,

    I do think women deacons would be a good idea for many reasons,

    does not follow from:

    Since this is a historical reality, and it exists, the confusion comes from people like you who try to hide the reality. So yes, we have enough confusion. Lighten up and follow the Church.

    You are proposing a change to the practice in the West which Holy Mother Church has not seen fit to implement for obvious reasons, including that which I have stated.

    To avoid confusion, if that’s really what you want, the Deacons of the Roman Church are NOT the same as female deacons of the East, period. Permanent and transitional deacons in the Latin rite recieve an ordination and provide service which women are NOT eligible for. These are two different animals, even if they are known by the same name.

    I am reminded of the confusion about dolphin sea creatures.

    dolphin-fish are tasty eating, and quite popular restaurant fare in the US.

    dolphins are very intelligent and social creatures that most of us would abhor to eat.

    Darwin,

    that’s exactly what I meant.

    On can hardly encourage someone to “follow the Church” on the issue when the Church has not yet made a decision whether it would be possible and/or appropriate to have female deacons at this time.

    to be clear the Roman Church has made the decision hundreds of years ago NOT to have female deacons, that decision MAY not be final, but it is the current state.

  • I’ve said nothing about a “change to the standard of the West.” I’m talking about the Church. The West is not one and the same as the Church.

  • Your whole argument comes from ignorance on point 1 and so using it to justify your own fears in point 2.

    Actually, Henry, I didn’t make an argument at all. I asked a question, and I stated an opinion.

    Your generous inclusion of our Coptic and Orthodox brethren as “Church” notwithstanding, I don’t believe that any churches in union with the Bishop of Rome ordain women to any degree. Until and unless the Holy See says otherwise, I mistrust those who advocate for such a change.

  • Henry,

    I would point out that the Orthodox are Church, and as such the Church does have ordained women deacons.

    The Orthodox are a part of the Church, yes, though currently a separated one which does not acknowledge Rome. However, leaving that aside, you of all people (as a member of an Eastern rite) should understand that having the practices of one rite forced upon another without due consideration is a very, very bad idea.

    Secondly, there are many factors, such as justice to women, which explains why it is even more a necessity now.

    Actually, I’m not at all sure that’s a very good reason to change at this time. As Eric pointed out in his previous post (quoting the pope) no one has a right to orders. To reinstate the female deaconate specifically as a matter of “justice to women” would seem to suggest the opposite.

    In my mind, not allowing it, in today’s day and age, causes confusion.

    I certainly can’t dispute that this is your mind, but I do think that you are probably wrong on this. While in certain abstruse circle the current status quo as regards the deaconate my cause “confusion”, I think it’s pretty clear that starting to ordain women deacons now would cause far more confusion among the general laity than not. There are times when making sudden, large changes (however justified) sends the wrong cultural message. We in the Roman Rite certainly discovered this with liturgical reform in the 60s and 70s — mostly very good reforms, but done at a time and in a way that caused untold damage to the Church.

    SB,

    I certainly share your view, as just about any serious Catholic must, that Gerald’s statements on the issue are utterly indefensible. However, I think we’ve pretty well established that some of his cobloggers are willing to twist and squirm as much as necessary in order to save the appearances of what he’s saying. Hammering it doesn’t really do anyone any good.

  • Talk about trolls: Henry is the blogger who has graced the world with 1) the notion that McCain was a Manchurian candidate programmed by the Vietnamese; 2) the notion that passing more anti-abortion laws would somehow make the abortion rate go up, because teenagers would then see abortion as forbidden fruit; 3) the notion that it’s “nominalist” to think that God’s handiwork can be detected in nature as suggested by Romans 1; 4) the notion that it was somehow a violation of “religious liberty” for the Catholic League to call for a protest outside of a hotel in which Ahmadinejad was having a dinner; 5) the claim that Flannery O’Connor is “of the spirit of Vox Nova itself”; 6) the claim that mocking the messianic tone of Obama supporters was really “mockery of Jesus”; 7) the accusation that Sarah Palin was guilty of “apostasy” because her parents left the Church when she was a young child. I could go on and on, but I don’t have all day.

    The only plausible theory is that Henry is the one trying to be a “troll” in the original sense: someone who posts unbelievably stupid ideas just to fool people into wasting their time responding.

  • Paul,

    The Vatican calls the Orthodox as Church, and recognizes their orders and sacraments. That’s not generous, that is basic ecclesiology.

  • Darwin

    The “there is no right to orders” point is about particiular people. No one has said any particular person has that right. But there are other ways to discuss rights, within certain contexts, just as Paul did with Peter in the exclusion of the gentile converts from the common table. That is the kind of right and justice. The same thing that “no one has a right to communion” in one sense, doesn’t mean we can overcome justice on the other.

  • Henry K,

    The Vatican calls the Orthodox as Church,

    I think your grammar checker is malfunctioning. I challenge you to find a statement as such from the Vatican.

    I love the hoops that liberals jump through… “being Church”, give me a break.

  • ‘Being church': manipulating language to change meaning

    Once you take away the definite article from “church”, you cease to define the Body of Christ as a visible, organised society. “Church” becomes a process or an experience, a phenomenon which may be whatever you want it to be. When you cease to define anything by the definite or indefinite article you also adopt a kind of pop existentialism, for example, “We are family” or “I am woman”. A universal reality is absorbed by a particular person or group. That person or group is saying, in effect, “We matter more than that big concept!” The net result is a narrow vision of the Church, sincere, no doubt, but limited. It may well be an attempt to express the joy and vitality of the community life of the Church, which we all value and which must develop and grow. But it fails to convey the true mystery of the Church set out by Vatican II.

  • http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html
    FOURTH QUESTION

    Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term “Church” in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

    RESPONSE

    The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”[13], they merit the title of “particular or local Churches”[14], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.[15]

    “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature”.[16] However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.[17]

    On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.[18]

  • HK,

    thanks for proving my point:

    The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”[13], they merit the title of “particular or local Churches”[14], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.[15]

    “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature”.[16] However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.[17]

    On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.[18]

    so you can see, the Vatican never referred to the orthodox in the manner you have:

    calls the Orthodox as Church

  • The Vatican calls the Orthodox as Church, and recognizes their orders and sacraments. That’s not generous, that is basic ecclesiology.

    Are they Catholic, or not?

    Somewhere I read that the Primacy of the Roman See was a defining characteristic of Catholicism. Am I wrong about that? Or was the Great Schism of the 11th century just a little misunderstanding, due to be adjusted next month sometime?

    It seems to me, Henry, that you’re twisting words to make them mean what you want to make a “they do it, why can’t we?” argument. But as they used to say over at the SOVII blog, that’s not Church.

  • There are many different ways anti-abortion laws could be enacted; the fact that someone said they could be tyrannical is indeed an indication of someone saying the truth. The issue is not just trying to make the laws, but making the right laws, with the right kinds of consequences. Just because something outlaws abortion, doesn’t mean it will be right — for example, if we said a woman who has an abortion ends up losing her life and 10 closest family members would be thrown in jail, that would be wrong, though it would be against abortion. So again, Gerald’s words are not invalid. But I suspect you already knew that, but want to create more controversy.

    Henry, I won’t be patronizing and preface my comments with “all due respect”, because that is perhaps one of the lamest things I have ever read. It begs how low a person is willing to go to defend an error.

    What evidence or reason do you have to believe that anyone is calling for penalties as such? What reason do you have to believe that proscription of abortion would invalidate the constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment? In our society we have witnessed people perform incredibly monstrous crimes (a la Jeffry Dahmer, etc.) and we have never sunk to such barbaric forms of punishment.

    Ironically, even if the penalty for the mother and the provider was death, it would at least be a far more just law than currently. They are guilty (as opposed to their victim) and will be provided protections and due process, and won’t have to undergo near as violent of a death as their victim. I’m not advocated capital punishment here, but it would certainly be far more just than allowing a whole class of innocent be killed and calling a good or a right.

  • I always hae me douts about incomplete documents leaked to the media. There is about the discussion of deaconesses just that air which surrounded HUMANAE VITAE before it was issued.

  • Matt

    Your words indicate how poorly educated you are on ecclesiology. The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church itself is a COMMUNION OF CHURCHES. That you point out the word “churches” in the response as if it proves what I said was wrong says much; the whole point is that only those who are Church can be called Churches (vs. ecclesial communities). Moreover, the opening line said the term is Church. Thus, the whole point is that your inability to read is shown — the document indeed says what I said, the Orthodox are seen as Church. Plain and simple. It’s not a liberal/conservative thing; it’s a theological thing. Learn it. Study it.

  • Paul

    The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. The point is we call the Orthodox as Church, not ecclesial communities. We are in imperfect communion with them (they can take our communion, we can take theirs). That says something if you know ecclesiology.

  • Rick

    With your inability to show any respect, it is clear you need to hear Jesus before I respond further.

  • Oh, btw Paul, I AM EASTERN. Don’t forget that. Talking about the historical practice of the female diaconate in Constantinople relates to ME. It’s not a “they” as if something separate from myself. It’s my tradition, my ecclesial tradition, perfectly respected by Rome.

  • Indeed, Henry.

    The Catholic Church consists of over 20 “Rites” — all of whom are Churches by their priesthood and commitment to a sacramental life. The Roman Church recognizes the majority of the East to be valid in apostolic succession and identify them as schismatic rather than heretical.

    This is why Pope John Paul II reiterated that the Church breathe with both her “lungs,” that is the East and the West.

    Hence, the validity of Eastern theological and liturgical traditions.

  • Henry are you a Byzantine Catholic? I often attend one of the Byzantine Catholic churches in Houston. I love the Eastern liturgy and I love that the Byzantine liturgy prays for Pope Benedict XVI several times throughout the liturgy.

  • Henry,

    With your inability to show any respect, it is clear you need to hear Jesus before I respond further.

    There’s no particular reason why Rick should show your defense of Gerald’s pro-choice remarks any respect. If you have a substantive response you can certainly make one, but doing the whole passive-aggressive “you need to hear Jesus before I respond” routine is does you little credit and your argument less so.

  • DC

    Rick said he had no respect for me. He said he has no ability to respect people, people who differ in their interpretation of facts. Once he does that, it’s clear I can’t communicate with him. He needs to learn how to respect people first. That’s Christian. That’s something I think many people need to learn.

  • Talking about the historical practice of the female diaconate in Constantinople relates to ME.

    Fair point. At the same time, and especially given the suffering caused by Western Catholic trying to force Eastern Catholics to adopt Western practices, it seems you ought also to understand that simply because something is an accepted practice in the East does not necessarily mean that it should be rolled out in the West without thought.

    For instance, I would assume that you would not be in favor of us insisting that the East move to a completely celibate priesthood.

    In the same sense, simply asserting that because the Orthodox have returned to the practice of having female deacons (have any Eastern Catholics actually done so, or is it only Orthodox?) does not demonstrate that it would necessarily be a good idea in the West at this time.

  • Eric

    Yes, I am Byzantine (Ruthenian). So I always look at things within the greater context and not merely the Western tradition. I point out that when we talk about the Church, we need to remember not to reduce it to one way of being Church, especially since the Church doesn’t think it is needed. I am for a diversity of practices; of course, not all would be acceptable, but that rarely is the issue.

  • DC

    I would agree that the mere fact that the Orthodox have female deacons does not mean it should be done in the West. But the fact that they do have them indicates the possibility. That is the first step which needs to be addressed. Then the second was the issue of justice and sexism; if women can be deacons, why do we prevent them now? That’s the question. I don’t see a good reason to say, “You can’t be one.” Indeed, not only does it deal with issues of sexism, I see they would be able to contribute much, and it would really be affirming the role many Western women have had in history — roles which more or less were like deacons in function!

    I’ve not set out a proposal here to explain everything. But there are some good resources on this issue if one wants to look into them. Just search out the Orthodox discussions, and I think you will have a good foundation. Yes, they are “Eastern,” but again, questions which were raised as they worked to restore the women deaconesses I think are important for the West. And I am one who also thinks, and continues to think, the West has much for the East to ponder. It’s not for nothing that Balthasar is a key theologian for my work.

  • Well Henry, I readily admit to not listening to Jesus as I should, but in the case of unequivocally rejecting the arguments and reasoning you and Gerald are putting forth I am listening to Christ.

  • Rick said he had no respect for me. He said he has no ability to respect people, people who differ in their interpretation of facts.

    No, he said he had no respect for your argument, which he characterized as “one of the lamest things I have ever read.” He may also have no respect for you, but that’s not what he said.

    I’ve read some pretty lame stuff, so I don’t know if I’d go that far, but your defense of Gerald was at the very least “pretty darn lame”.

  • …the mere fact that the Orthodox have female deacons…

    I want to reiterate a question that someone else asked: When you are saying this, are you referring to the Orthodox Churches, which are not in union with the Holy See? Are are you referring to the Eastern Rites which are?

    If the former:

    …if women can be deacons, why do we prevent them now?

    Your use of pronouns is honestly confusing me. Who’s “we” in this sentence? Do you mean the Roman Catholic Church? Your own Orthodox Church? The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church? The various eastern Rites in union with Rome?

    My confusion stems from my understanding (perhaps mistaken) that you are saying that the Church you’re a member of does have female deacons already. Which suggests that the “we” in that sentence somehow might not include yourself.

    But if your suggestion is that the Roman Catholic Church should have female deacons, I suggest you take your own advice: Follow the Church. Don’t try to lead it.

  • Henry K.,

    deacons in the west for hundreds of years have fulfilled liturgical roles which can not be held by women, and have up until recently been principally transitional to the priesthood.

    The roles you speak of for deaconesses are already fulfilled by women in most every place.

    By granting these women the title deacon IN THE WEST there is created a massive confusion over the ordination of women.

    Please re-read my post about dolphins, you may find it instructive in understanding that whatever orthodox deaconesses are they are not simply female versions of the deacons in the Western Church.

    To propose that something is unjust because it can be and it isn’t is ludicrous.

  • I would agree that the mere fact that the Orthodox have female deacons does not mean it should be done in the West. But the fact that they do have them indicates the possibility.

    I’m not necessarily clear that it’s that simple. We’d need to understand whether the nature of female deacons among the Orthodox is in fact the same as the nature of permanent deacons as currently found in the Roman Rite.

    We’d also need to look at whether this is a valid Orthodox practice. My Episcopalian friends are constantly assuring me that because a couple Orthodox splinter groups have accepted female Episcopal ministers as priests, that therefore the Catholic Church must accept their orders as valid as well. I think we can be certain that dog does not hunt. So I would think there would need to at least be some consideration given by Rome as to whether this is the right choice on the part of the Orthodox. (This is why I was wondering if any of the Eastern Rites have also gone back to having female deacons. That would seem to be the sort of firm indication you’re looking for.)

    Then the second was the issue of justice and sexism; if women can be deacons, why do we prevent them now? That’s the question. I don’t see a good reason to say, “You can’t be one.”

    I suppose this all has to do with how one prioritizes a certan approach to gender neutrality and “justice” with what seems to be best for the Church as this time. There permanent deaconate itself is but newly revived in the West, and people are still very used to thinking of it as a stepping stone to the priesthood.

    I’m certain that, even if all attempts at right catechesis were made, many, many people inside and outside the Church would become convinced this was a promise that women priests were right around the corner. (And frankly, many people wanting “equal rights” wouldn’t be satisfied by anything other than all orders being opened to women anyway.) There would need to be consideration if the damage to the faith would be less than the damage caused by the “injustice” of not having female deacons.

  • I’m certain that, even if all attempts at right catechesis were made, many, many people inside and outside the Church would become convinced this was a promise that women priests were right around the corner.

    as evidenced by the fact that allowing altar girls, lectresses and extraordinary minstresses of Holy Communion have created that very problem already.

  • I have heard some traditional-minded people argue that the only reason “deaconesses” existed in the early Church was to assist with the full immersion baptism of women, for reasons of modesty. They say these were NOT ordained clergy in the sense we understand deacons today. Is this accurate?

    The term “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant.” The first mention of deacons is in Acts 6, and it’s obvious that those deacons had far different duties from those of deacons today. (They were appointed to oversee the distribution of food and other goods to the needy of the Christian community.)

    At this point in Church history, no one is yet referred to as a “priest” or “bishop.” Probably because at the time Acts was written, “priest” (hiereus) and “bishop” (episkopos, or overseer) were still pagan terms. (The Church borrowed a lot of pagan terminology; for example, a “diocese” originally referred to a political subdivision of the Roman Empire, and a “basilica” was simply a large public building.)

    My point is that we can’t assume that just because someone is referred to as a “deacon” in a 3rd or 4th century document, it means that they were a “deacon” in exactly the same sense we understand it today. The same, I presume, is true of deaconesses.

  • Elaine Krewer raises a very good point.

    EXCERPT:

    The Understanding of ????????? in the Early Church

    Starting with St. Ignatius (in his letters) in the early second century (only a few decades removed from the compositional date of 1 Timothy) the classic three-fold episcopalian form (bishop/priest/deacon) was already well known and defended. This understanding the ecclesial governmental form was world-wide (the Catholic Churches throughout the Roman Empire) and uncontested (there is no record of any rival forms or debates concerning this matter). [9] Thus, while this historical phenomena reveals how the early Church viewed this ecclesial position, this does not in itself help us understanding a correct translational decision in this particular situation.

    SOURCE: http://web.me.com/aguirrerick/paradoseis/paradoseis/Entries/2009/5/2_(Paradoseis_11)_%CE%95%CF%80%CE%B9%CF%83%CE%BA%CE%BF%CF%80%CE%B7%CF%82_in_1_Tim_3%3A1%2C_by_Alvaro_Raymundo.html

  • While I am away from home, I don’t have all my books, with the ceremonies and rites with me, so I thought I would offer these scholarly resources which should help answer Elaine.

    The history: http://www.philosophy-religion.org/diaconate/chapter_7.htm

    Order for the Ordination: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/woman_deacon.htm

    The restoration in Coptic Egypt: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/479/spec1.htm

    And books on the topic:
    Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church
    Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald
    Holy Cross Orthodox Press

    The Female Diaconate: An Historical Perspective
    Matushka Ellen Gvosdev
    Light and Life Publishing Company

    Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy
    Eva Catafygiotu Topping
    Light and Life Publishing Company

    Holy Women of Russia
    The Lives of Five Orthodox Women Offer Spiritual Guidance for Today
    Brenda Meehan
    Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press

    The Deaconess in the Armenian Church
    A Brief Survey
    Fr. Abel Oghlukian
    St. Nersess Seminary Press

  • “Women were ordained to the diaconate in rituals identical to those used to ordain men to the diaconate.”

    This is not entirely accurate. Just to point out one significant difference: the rite of ordination for women does not refer to the “service of the Mysteries”, while the rite of ordination for men does, an not insignificant difference in regard to the question of sacramentality. (“The Mysteries” having particular reference to the Eucharist.)

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