Early Church canons and women


Whenever this topic gets discussed it gets analyzed as to the reasons why, etc, but I’m just wondering about these canons :slight_smile:

I know in various Eastern Orthodox churches, there are times when women don’t receive Communion (ie their menses). There could be Catholic women who follow this tradition too.

There’s a quote by St Pope Gregory the deals with this: (question 8 ccel.org/ccel/bede/history.v.i.xxvi.html)

However, an Orthodox poster on another thread mentioned some canons such as: Canon 17 of St. John the Faster, Canon 2 of St.Dionysios and Canon 7 of Timothy. I have not looked them up yet but according to them, a woman shouldn’t touch anything for 7 days and if she approaches the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) she can’t receive Communion for 40 days as a penance.

My question is: have these canons been abrogated? Does anyone know?

I’m not really asking about this topic, more about the particular canons :slight_smile: this topic has been discussed soo much on various forums. I’m also looking more into the history, rather than personal views on this custom.

thanks! :slight_smile:


I looked up the canons:

St John: 17. As for women occupying a separate seat, let them not touch holy things for as many as seven days, the second Canon of St. Dionysius, but in particular the seventh Canon of Timothy bids. This is also what the old Law ordered, but neither did it permit them to have any sexual intercourse with men; for it happens on this account that the seeds sown become weak and evanescent. Hence it was that divine Moses ordered the father of a defective to be stoned to death, on the ground that on account of his intemperance he failed to await the purification of his wife. But as for a woman who has been so scornful of the same uncleanness during this period and has touched the divine Mysteries, they bid her to remain communionless for forty days.


The present Canon decrees that those women shall not participate in the divine Mysteries who are having their usual trouble of courses and menstruation, or what are commonly called “monthlies,” for at least seven days, just as c. II of Dionysius also decrees, and c. VII of Timothy commands. This same prohibition is found in the old Law, which does not permit such women to have sexual intercourse with their husbands so long as they are having their monthlies, because even the children that are sown and conceived in women who are in such a condition become in consequence weak and defective for the most part. It was for this reason, too, that the Law commanded that the father of a defective child be stoned to death, since on account of his wanton lust he did not have the fortitude to wait for his wife to be purified from monthlies, but slept with her while she was having them, and thus the child sown in her became defective. But if a woman having her monthlies scornfully disregard this fact and partake of the divine Mysteries, they command that she shall not commune again for forty days. Read also c. II of Dionysius.

St Dionysius: 2. Concerning menstruous women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I opine, not even they themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the body and blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured. There is no objection to one’s praying no matter how he may be or to one’s remembering the Lord at any time and in any state whatever, and petitioning to receive help; but if one is not wholly clean both in soul and in body, he shall be prevented from coming up to the Holies of Holies.


When asked about this too, as to whether women in their menses ought to enter the temple of God, the saint replied that there is no need of asking the question, since if the women themselves have a proper reverence for things divine, they will be inhibited by it from daring ever to approach the Holy Table and to partake of the Lord’s body and blood when they are in such a state of their menstrual affairs. For they can recall that woman who had an issue of blood and who on account of the flux of her blood did not dare, because of her great reverence, to touch the body of Christ, but only the hem of His garment. None of them is forbidden to pray, whatever be her predicament (whether she be at home or in the pronaos of the church), by imploring God and asking Him for help and salvation. One is forbidden, however, to go near the Holies of Holies, which is the same as saying to partake of the sanctified portions (i.e., the Eucharistic species) when he is not clean in soul and body, like women who are taken with their menses.

Timothy: 7. Question: If a woman finds herself in the plight peculiar to her sex, ought she to come to the Mysteries on that day, or not?

Answer: She ought not to do so, until she has been purified.


Likewise as in the above Canon, the present Canon decrees that a woman must not partake of the divine Mysteries on the days on which she is troubled by the plight pertaining to her sex, but only to partake thereof when she has been purified from it. See also c. II of Dionysius.

Source: holytrinitymission.org/books/english/canons_fathers_rudder.htm


I’m not familiar with the canons, but if you are also interested in the history - that sound to me like a carry-over of the tradition of the OT:Say to the people of Israel, If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. … And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement for her; then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean." (Lev. 12:2-3,6-8)


What the heck is this?!!! Does the church have a problem with women?!!! I am seriously weirded out by this!!!


The Church teaches that the greatest, most pure, most holy, most venerable, most Christ-like of all God’s creatures is a woman - the Most Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary…so no, the Church does not have a problem with women :). I will leave the “why” of these ancient canons to others who may have better insights, but rest assured that these canons no longer apply to modern Catholic women…we are bound only by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which makes no mention of such restrictions. The Church has the power of binding and loosing, which allows her to alter Church discipline to best address the needs of a particular time and place.



This is why one needs to defer to the Magesterium, and refrain from one’s own idiosyncratic interpretations of canon and Scripture.


Thanks for this!


[quote="martininthefiel, post:6, topic:299798"]

This is why one needs to defer to the Magesterium, and refrain from one's own idiosyncratic interpretations of canon and Scripture.


Thanks "Martin in the Fields!" I do think that what the Magisterium says is most important and it helped me to know from the post above that we are only bound to the canon from 1983.



Could you point me to the forums that explain the “why?” of this old canon? It is really enough for me to know that it doesn’t apply now. Just wondering if it was just incomplete or poor understanding of biology or the dignity of women, or what…


Of course they’ve been abrogated!

As time passed and the understanding of human anatomy and physiology advanced, humans began to realize that a woman’s menstrual cycle was normal, healthy, and not unclean. They also learned that a woman’s period is not “free-flowing blood”, but an elimination of a collected lining within the uterus- she had no chance of her uterus “spilling” the Blood of Christ after receiving communion.

Some people choose to stick to old ways because of ignorance or ( like some churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition) stick with certain traditions because it “just was that way”, or because they feel they are holier than others.

I wouldn’t go looking for trouble or ways to be scrupulous. We have enough confused Catholics and potential Catholics reading this forum - we don’t need to bring up archaic traditions or canons no longer in effect and run the risk of having them leave the Church because they think that good Catholics still do these things, think that way, or that the Church still teaches things like that. Enough Catholic women and those looking to be Catholic feel like they’ve been shoved aside by the Church- let’s not give them any more reasons tp use for leaving the Church. Let’s start showing how the Church really does honor and respect women. This isn’t FE or CathInfo- so let’s show them the True Church!


Excellent post. God made us all and there is nothing unclean about a woman’s period. There is also the not insignificant point that without this biological process,
there would be no children born.


Are you sure about that, can you please provide a reference?

I think that the canons have not been abrogated but I am also quite sure that the eastern orthodox faithfuls look at the canons from a different point of view of the Latin Catholics. A rough statement could go as: the Catholic canons are the minimum set to be obeyed while the eastern canons are the final goal but because of the economia they faithfuls are not bound to them in absolute manner. If you follow that logic than you see that there is really no need to abrogate the older canons, they could just fall into oblivion.

Probably this thread should be moved to the Eastern Catholics forum.


I still find the existence of these canons troubling, even though they don’t apply now. I guess they are a matter of discipline more than of faith and morals. None-the-less I think that I understand why some people might get the impression that the Church looks down on women if this is part of the Church’s past. I guess even some of the saints had views of women that did not uphold our dignity.


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