Deaconesses, really ordainable?


#1

Wait! Before you jump on me and tell me its heresy, let me explain.

I know of the claim that deaconesses were just to help women be baptized, and I accept that women can never be priests.

I accept, fully, as a faithful Catholic, that women can never recieve SACERDOTAL orders. That is, they can never be priests, niether presbyters nor bishops.

But though I consider it highly unprobable, because of the unity of the Sacrament of Orders, Rome has not made a definitive pronouncement on diaconal orders for women like it has made for priests.

I am not arguing for women deacons, I am undecided on the issue until a definitive pronouncement is made, but I can see several arguments for women deacons, truly ordained, that could be used:

Priests act in persona christi…they must be male. But deacons do not act in persona christi, so they need not be.

Only Christ on the Cross was the sacraficing High Priest of Calvary, so priests must be male like Christ. But the symbolic “deacons” on Calvary, by which I mean those who assisted with the sacrafice, include men and women (John, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimethea), therefore, deacons can be both.

Christ’s maleness is important because masculinity represents the Active force, and Christ is the active force in our salvation…whereas the Church is the feminine, or Passive, which recieves salvation. God is portrayed as a male because he is the Active force in creation, whereas creation is the feminine passive. Priests must be male because they represent the actively sacraficing and saving Bridegroom, whereas the congregation of the Church is the passive Bride awaiting her salvation. Men were the hunters, and were the ones who killed animals; the Sacrafice of the Mass is the fullfillment of the animal sacrafices of the Old Law and only men can symbolically kill animals, because men were the hunters, and the strong, and the active. Deacons, however, do not need to fullfill this symbolism, as they cannot actually celebrate mass or act as an image of Christ.

Ordination as a sacrament has two effects: it imprints an indelible character into the soul, and (in the priestly grades) gives sacramental and judicial powers. It could be argued that while the powers can only be given to men (because they represent the masculine active force), the character conforming one to Christ, and the graces, can be given to women as well. It could be argued that a deacon recieves the indelible character, and the priest recieves no more character but the second grade of the sacrament simply adds powers to the character, and the third grade of the sacrament adds powers and judicial authority…but with no addition to the character.

Deacons themselves have no sacramental power, so even if women could not truly be ordained, it would not put in danger the validity of any sacraments.

The wife of a priest is traditionally called “priestess” when priests can marry, it does not mean a “woman priest” because there CANNOT be women priests. The wife of a presbyter is “presbytera” and the wife of a bishop is “bishopess”. But deacons wives are not called “deaconesses” because that was regarded as a seperate and individual title and office, not simply someone’s spouse.

The bible does mention deaconesses, even though it doesn’t specify whether they were ordained.

Historically, unlike women priests, the ordination of women deacons is rather ambiguous.

Women, though they cannot symbolically take on masculine sacramental powers or judicial authority, are just as spiritually capable of taking on the graces and the character of ordination. So they could be deacons (who don’t have sacramental powers) but not priests.

It can be said that though the sacramental character, given in ordination, resides in the soul forever…the powers are dependent on the body…because the body is required for manipulation of matter and priests, once they are dead, can no longer provide sacraments. So it can be argued that the Character of ordination is given once and for all at the diaconate, and that the other grades of ordination do not imprint any further character…they simply give additional powers to the male, and the episcopate contains the fullness of every power which the sacrament can give. This would help to better explain why it is said that the three grades are one sacrament, and not three seperate sacraments.

Although it is easy to concieve of Mary not having Sacramental Powers because she was a woman…it is less easy to imagine that her soul (and souls are genderless remember) would not have had every possible perfection and character. If we admit women can become deacons and get the sacramental character, but not priests and so cannot get the power, this difficulty is solved.


#2

Also we know that many Saints (like St. Francis) refused the priesthood, but accepted the diaconate. An explanation could be that while they did not want the power and authority because they were humble…they still wanted the graces and the sacramental character to help them to conform to Christ.

The Catholic Encyclopedia say:

“The principal effect of the sacrament is the character (q.v.), a spiritual and indelible mark impressed upon the soul, by which the recipient is distinguished from others, designated as a minister of Christ, and deputed and empowered to perform certain offices of Divine worship (Summa, III, Q. lxiii, a. 2). The sacramental character of order distinguishes the ordained from the laity. It gives the recipient in the diaconate, e.g., the power to minister officially, in the priesthood, the power to offer the Sacrifice and dispense the sacraments, in the episcopate the power to ordain new priests and to confirm the faithful. The Council of Trent defined the existence of a character (Sess. VII, can. 9). Its existence is shown especially by the fact that ordination like baptism, if ever valid, can never be repeated.”

It also says:

"All agree that there is but one Sacrament of Order, i.e., the totality of the power conferred by the sacrament is contained in the supreme order, whilst the others contain only part thereof "

Therefore, if the character can only be recieved once, if one recieves it at ordination to the diaconate, one cannot recieve it again at the priesthood. At the priesthood, one must simply be recieving new powers.

So it could be argued that while women, because they lack the masculine symbolism, cannot recieve the powers and authority given in the higher grades of ordination…could still recieve the graces and character given without power in the lowest grade of ordination, for their own spiritual benefit.


#3

[quote=Struggling]Historically, unlike women priests, the ordination of women deacons is rather ambiguous.
[/quote]

One consequence of this is that the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church has not infallibly taught that women cannot be ordained to the diaconate. Thus, if Rome wished to infallibly rule out this possibility forever, it would require an ex cathedra proclamation.


#4

There is one very important thing to understand.

While yes, in the early Church there were Deaconesses, they were not female Deacons. They had a very different role in the Church.


#5

[quote=Catholic2003]One consequence of this is that the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church has not infallibly taught that women cannot be ordained to the diaconate. Thus, if Rome wished to infallibly rule out this possibility forever, it would require an ex cathedra proclamation.
[/quote]

Not necessarily, this could be taken care of within an Ecumenical Council.

One could argue very successfully that a wome is incapable of recieveing Holy Orders becuase she can not be a priest. As the priest and the deacon are really extensions of the office of the bishop, seeing that a women can not be a priest or a bishop, then she could not be a deacon.

And before you say it, a deaconess is not a female deacon.


#6

[quote=Catholic2003]One consequence of this is that the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church has not infallibly taught that women cannot be ordained to the diaconate. Thus, if Rome wished to infallibly rule out this possibility forever, it would require an ex cathedra proclamation.
[/quote]

It has been the constant teaching of the Church throughout history that only men can receive Holy Orders. There have never been female deacons. It didn’t take JPII’s encyclical to make “no female priests” infallible.


#7

[quote=ByzCath]Not necessarily, this could be taken care of within an Ecumenical Council.
[/quote]

This is true. I had discounted this possibility because I don’t see another ecumenical council in the Church’s near term future.

[quote=ByzCath]One could argue very successfully that a wome is incapable of recieveing Holy Orders becuase she can not be a priest. As the priest and the deacon are really extensions of the office of the bishop, seeing that a women can not be a priest or a bishop, then she could not be a deacon.
[/quote]

Should the magisterium decide to rule out the possibility of female deacons, I think this is the argument that they will use. As a counter argument, Vatican II states (in Lumen Gentium):

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.”

This could be taken as an indication that deacons need not possess the eligibility to be a priest. This is why married deacons are allowed in the Latin Rite, even though married priests are not.

[quote=ByzCath]And before you say it, a deaconess is not a female deacon.
[/quote]

This is certainly true. But the big issue is the ordination of women. The particular duties or roles of ordained females is a secondary issue.


#8

[quote=Catholic2003]Should the magisterium decide to rule out the possibility of female deacons, I think this is the argument that they will use.
[/quote]

I would ask that you discontinue using that term, “female deacon”, as there has never been such a thing in the Church.

While the early Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church today, had/have deaconesses, a deaconess is not (and never was) a female deacon.

This could be taken as an indication that deacons need not possess the eligibility to be a priest. This is why married deacons are allowed in the Latin Rite, even though married priests are not.

As this is a purely disciplinary matter, and one you get wrong as there are married priests in the Latin Church today, I think this point does nothing for the arguement.

It also ignores the rest of the Church where a married priesthood is alive and well (and even being restored in North America).


#9

[quote=ByzCath]As this is a purely disciplinary matter, and one you get wrong as there are married priests in the Latin Church today, I think this point does nothing for the arguement.

It also ignores the rest of the Church where a married priesthood is alive and well (and even being restored in North America).
[/quote]

A slight hijack:

Correct me if I’m wrong: a married man can become a priest, but a priest cannot marry in any rite, correct?

Are deacons allowed to marry after they have been ordained.


#10

[quote=Genesis315]A slight hijack:

Correct me if I’m wrong: a married man can become a priest, but a priest cannot marry in any rite, correct?

[/quote]

That is correct and it must be noted that it is only the secular (.diocesean (Latin Church) or eparchial (Eastern Church)) who are allowed to be ordained after marriage. If they later become widowers or the marriage ends for some other reason (I have not heard of any that this has happend with though) then they would take the promise of celibacy as they would not be allowed to remarry. The religious (or monastic) priesthood has always been celibate.

Are deacons allowed to marry after they have been ordained.

As the diaconate is part of major Holy Orders, no they are under the same rules as priests in this regards.

Which is another point against female deacons. As it is considered major Holy Orders. It would be hard to argue that one can recieve one of the major Orders while being uneligable for the other two for reasons of dogma/theology rather than just a disciplinary rule like not having enough education.

But then again, a deaconess is not a female deacon.


#11

[quote=Genesis315]It has been the constant teaching of the Church throughout history that only men can receive Holy Orders.
[/quote]

Historical evidence would indicate otherwise. In the first four centuries of Church history, there was no clear theological distinction between ordination and institution. Once this distinction became defined, the word for “ordaination” was used in reference to deaconesses.

[quote=Genesis315]There have never been female deacons.
[/quote]

Until 1975, women weren’t allowed in the sanctuary during Mass. Until 1983, female altar servers were not permitted. Just because the Church has never done something doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.

[quote=Genesis315]It didn’t take JPII’s encyclical to make “no female priests” infallible.
[/quote]

That’s because the Church’s teaching on “no female priests” truly has been constant, not only that women can’t be ordained to the priesthood, but also that this prohibition comes from divine law.


#12

I’m relatively new to Catholicism so I would like to be sure I am correct on terms. Is the sanctuary literally the place where we sit for mass each day?


#13

[quote=Lazerlike42]I’m relatively new to Catholicism so I would like to be sure I am correct on terms. Is the sanctuary literally the place where we sit for mass each day?
[/quote]

No. It’s where the altar and tabernacle are.


#14

[quote=ByzCath]I would ask that you discontinue using that term, “female deacon”, as there has never been such a thing in the Church.
[/quote]

I do not use the term “female deacon” to refer to historical deaconesses. I’m using the term to refer to a new role analogous to what male deacons do today. I acknowledge that there has never been such a thing in the Church; the question is whether there ever could be.

[quote=ByzCath]While the early Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church today, had/have deaconesses, a deaconess is not (and never was) a female deacon.
[/quote]

Agreed. A more interesting question is whether deaconesses were ordained.

[quote=ByzCath]As this is a purely disciplinary matter, and one you get wrong as there are married priests in the Latin Church today, I think this point does nothing for the arguement.

It also ignores the rest of the Church where a married priesthood is alive and well (and even being restored in North America).
[/quote]

The main point is that deacons and priests have very different ministries, with very different qualifications. This goes against the idea that one must meet the eligibility requirements for the priesthood in order to be ordained to the diaconate.

In the Eastern Rites, can married priests be elevated to the episcopate after they become widowers?


#15

[quote=Genesis315]Correct me if I’m wrong: a married man can become a priest, but a priest cannot marry in any rite, correct?
[/quote]

A priest can marry with permission of the Holy Father. Such permission has never been given unless the priest has been laicized.

[quote=Genesis315]Are deacons allowed to marry after they have been ordained.
[/quote]

This also requires permission of the Holy Father. Such permission (without requiring laicization) is occasionally given to married deacons who have lost their wives.


#16

[quote=Catholic2003]I do not use the term “female deacon” to refer to historical deaconesses. I’m using the term to refer to a new role analogous to what male deacons do today. I acknowledge that there has never been such a thing in the Church; the question is whether there ever could be.

[/quote]

Then you are causing great confusion and hijacking this thread for your own agenda as the title of this thread shows that it is about deaconesses.

There was no reason to bring up the issue of female deacons.

As for deaconesses, they were “instituted” by a rite that many believe was an ordaination, but before you hijack that for the female deacon issue, keep in mind that the minor orders can be said to be ordinations also.

It was not part of the major Holy Orders.

We in the Byzantine Churches still have the minor order of Sub-Deacon. One can still get married while they are a Sub-Deacon.

All of our diaconate candidates and priestly candidates are ordained to the sub-diaconate before their ordination to the diaconate.


#17

Quote:
Originally Posted by Genesis315
It has been the constant teaching of the Church throughout history that only men can receive Holy Orders.

Historical evidence would indicate otherwise. In the first four centuries of Church history, there was no clear theological distinction between ordination and institution. Once this distinction became defined, the word for “ordaination” was used in reference to deaconesses.

You are misinterpeting the evidence. It is the constant teaching of the Church. newadvent.org/cathen/04651a.htm It is clear that that women were never ordained. The words used in the installation were different than those used for men.

Until 1975, women weren’t allowed in the sanctuary during Mass.

While this was generally true there was one exception when the woman married another Catholic.

Until 1983, female altar servers were not permitted.

I think you have a wrong date it was March 1994. Although there were female altar servers before that date in disobedience before the permission was granted. I believe that sisters and nuns use to assist priest all through the years when they said Mass at their convents and of course had no altar boys available. I am not sure of that but I seem to remember the sisters at my school telling this to a class.

Just because the Church has never done something doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.

True as long as it is not a matter of faith but of Church discipline.


#18

[quote=Struggling] But though I consider it highly unprobable, because of the unity of the Sacrament of Orders, Rome has not made a definitive pronouncement on diaconal orders for women like it has made for priests.
[/quote]

Rome does not need to because the council of Nicea already made this decision.


#19

[quote=jimmy]Rome does not need to because the council of Nicea already made this decision.
[/quote]

Please show proof, what canon from the Council of Nicea does this?

Not that I doubt you, I just wish to add this to my notes for the next time this issue comes up.


#20

[quote=ByzCath]Then you are causing great confusion and hijacking this thread for your own agenda as the title of this thread shows that it is about deaconesses.

There was no reason to bring up the issue of female deacons.
[/quote]

The opening post uses the term “women deacons” twice, as well as referring to women being “deacons” in several other places. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that the entire topic of a thread must be jammed into the title.

[quote=ByzCath]As for deaconesses, they were “instituted” by a rite that many believe was an ordaination, but before you hijack that for the female deacon issue, keep in mind that the minor orders can be said to be ordinations also.

It was not part of the major Holy Orders.
[/quote]

Again, the major/minor or ordained/instituted distinction was not fully present in the early Church. When this distinction became theologically defined, certainly from the beginning of the fifth century on, deaconesses were consistently classified as “ordained” (cheirotoneim) and not merely “instituted” (kathistasthai).


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