This post was inspired by an article in Reuters about a woman in Kentucky who was recently “ordained as a Catholic priest.” Part of the article mentions women who were deacons, priests and bishops in the early Church.
I couldn’t resist responding to the article both in the comments section and here.
I do expect some large push back in the comments section of Reuters – but that’s part of being Catholic…
Who were the early Church deaconesses? What did they do? Were they ordained via Holy Orders?
Catholics, or anybody else, who are waiting for the Catholic Church to change its teaching on the male priesthood have an extraordinarily long wait ahead of them. The Church has not changed doctrine in over 2000 years of existence, and that will not change in anybody’s lifetime.
As far as the early Church having women priests, deacons and bishops claim, that is a falsehood. Disciples, yes – all who follow Jesus are His disciples.
But “deaconesses” were not an ordained station.
Aside from that, the title of this article makes it clear that she has NOT been ordained a Roman Catholic priest, since the act was made “in defiance of Roman Catholic Church.”And, sadly, she does not have to worry about the Church excommunicating her because she has already excommunicated herself.
As a practicing Catholic, I pray that she, as well as the other “150” women in the world who have been so “ordained” will act to repair their relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.
…The fact that women in various ancient Christian communities were called “deaconesses” is indisputable. Yet this does not mean that deaconesses held holy orders in the Church. In the earliest centuries of Christianity, the words “deacon” and “deaconess” were used as imprecisely as “minister” is used today. Some called deaconesses were simply the wives of deacons; others were female monastics or abbesses.
The specific roles assigned to deaconesses in ancient documents such as the Didascalia Apostolorum comprise charitable services for women, the instruction of female catechumens, and the anointing of women at baptism. In other words, deaconesses ministered strictly to women, fulfilling functions that are best performed by women rather than by men, if scandal is to be avoided. Another early Christian document, the Apostolic Constitutions, prescribes: “A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons.” Deaconesses manifestly did not have a role at the altar during Eucharistic celebrations. As the ITC states in the study mentioned above, “This ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate.” Those advocating a “restoration” of women deacons must be clear about what they wish to restore, since their arguments are based on historical models…
And from the early Church Fathers and councils:
“It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church [1 Cor 14:34–35], but neither [is it permitted her] . . . to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say sacerdotal office” (The Veiling of Virgins 9 [A.D. 206]).
“When a widow is to be appointed, she is not to be ordained, but is designated by being named [a widow]. . . . A widow is appointed by words alone, and is then associated with the other widows. Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy; but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all” (The Apostolic Tradition 11 [A.D. 215]).
Council of Nicaea I
“Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity” (Canon 19 [A.D. 325]).
Council of Laodicea
“[T]he so-called ‘presbyteresses’ or ‘presidentesses’ are not to be ordained in the Church” (Canon 11 [A.D. 360]).