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by Catherine Frakas 17 Jun 2002

Women as Deacons QUESTION from Debbie Kelly February 5, 1999 We were reading 1 Timothy as a result of browsing a question on your website, and found the passage 1 Timothy 3:11. Does this passage indicate that women can be deacons/deaconesses? I didn't think that was the case.
If you want to expand on the issue of women and the priesthood, that would be great, especially with regard to scriptural authority as I don't believe this is right and have met some people who disagree with me. Also, I am friends with a Catholic deacon who thinks that women should at least be allowed to serve as deacons.
Debbie Kelly
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on February 9, 1999 Dear Debbie:
Liberals tend to use this passage, as well as others, and references to deaconesses mention by early Church Fathers as proof that women were once in Holy Orders. This is a lie.
Women have NEVER be admitted to Holy Orders. The ordination (a word that merely means to ‘set aside’) of women as deaconess was NOT ordination to Holy Orders.
Women never have, are not now, and will never be ordained into Holy Orders. Holy Orders is reserved to men as affirmed by Christ and His Church.
In the early Church there were women serving in a role of deaconess – though we really don’t know the full extent of their formation.
However, as explained by the Catholic Encyclopedia:
There can be no doubt that in their first institution the deaconesses were intended to discharge those same charitable offices, connected with the temporal well being of their poorer fellow Christians, which were performed for the men by the deacons. But in one particular, viz., the instruction and baptism of catechumens, their duties involved service of a more spiritual kind. The universal prevelance of baptism by immersion and the annointing of the whole body which preceded it , rendered it a matter of propriety that in this ceremony the functions of the deacons should be discharged by women. The Encyclopedia continues…. The Didascalia Apostolorum (III, 12; see Funk, Didascalia, etc., I,208) explicitly direct that the deaconesses are to perform this function. It is probable that this was the starting point for the intervention of women in many other ritual observances even in the sanctuary. The Apostolic Constitutions expressly attribute to them the duty of guarding the doors and maintaining order amongst those of their own sex in the church, and they also (II, c.26) assign to them the office of acting as intermediaries between the clergy and the women of the congregation; but on the other hand, it is laid down ( Const. Apost., VIII, 27) that the deaconess gives no blessing, she fulfills no function of priest or deacon, and there can be no doubt that the extravagances permitted in some places, especially in the churches of Syria and Asia, were in contravention of the canons generally accepted. The 19th canon of the Council of Nicaea, specifically says that deaconesses are lay persons and that they receive no ordination properly so called (Hefele LeClercq, Conciles, I, 618). The Encyclopedia states:
In the West there seems always to have been considerable reluctance to accept the deaconesses, at any rate under that name, as a recognized institution of the Church. The Council of Nismes in 394 reproved in general the assumption of the levitical ministry by women, and other decrees, notably that of Orange in 411 (can. 26) forbid the ordaining of deaconesses altogether. It follows from what has been said that the Church as a whole repudiated the idea that women could in any proper sense be recipients of the Sacrament of Order. None the less in the East, and among the Syrians and Nestorians much more than among the Greeks (Hefele LeClercq, Conciles, II, 448), the ecclesiastical status of deaconesses was greatly exaggerated. Were there women performing functions they weren’t suppose to? Yes. That is true today, too. But the mere fact that in history some people did what they weren’t suppose to do is not a proof in favor of doing it.
The Syrian and Nestorians did appear to cross the line, but as the Encyclopedia states, such abuses have been exaggerated.
Regardless, from early on, among the first centuries of the Church, as noted above, the Church did make comment about this – in light of abuses – that deaconess were in fact lay people and did not have Holy Orders.
The full article from the encyclopedia is found at:
The Church may restore the order of deaconess. The functions of deaconess will likely be similar to what is was in the early centuries -- which was NOT the same as the deacons.
But regardless of how the Church might restore deaconesses, if she does at all, and regardless of what functions the Church may assign to deaconesses, one thing is ABSOLUTELY certain -- the restored office of deaconess WILL NOT be in Holy Orders and her functions will not be any function reserved to Holy Orders (even that of deacon who has certain functions by virtue of Holy Orders).
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