Need help with an ongoing dispute. I say it has always been the teaching of the church that only men can be deacons is this correct?
Only baptized males can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Catechism no. 1598).
“Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity, tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop” (ibid. 1596).
Deaconesses in the early Church were never recipients of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma(pg. 459-460), Dr. Ludwig Ott says the following about Deaconesses:
“In the early Christian Church the deaconesses formed a special rank, which approached that of the clergy, and, according to the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII 19 et seq.), and the Imperial Legislation (Justinian(, they were even ranked with the clergy. They were consecrated by a rite peculiar to them, according to the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII 19 et seq.), with imposition of hands and prayer. But they were denied priestly functions….Their principal duties were to assist at the Baptism of women and to care for the poor and sick.”
Councils and Saints on Deaconesses:
St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies 79.3-4: (374-77 AD):
"… Although there is an order of deaconesses in the Church, yet they are not appointed to function as priests or for any administration of this kind, but so that provision may be made for the propriety of the female sex…" [at baptism etc.] Whence comes the recent myth? Whence comes the pride of women, or rather, the woman’s insanity?"
Council of Nimes, Canon 2 (CCL 148. p. 50, lines 14-19; c. 394 or 396 AD): “There is a report that women seem to have been, we know not in what place, admitted to the levitical ministry, contrary to apostolic discipline, and unknown until today. … an ordination of this sort must be annulled, and care taken that no one for the future be so bold.”
Apostolic Constitutions, 3.16.1-2 (c. 400 AD): “Choose as a deaconess a faithful and holy woman for the ministry of women… For we need a female deaconess for many things, first, when women are baptized, the deacon only anoints their forehead with holy oil and after the deaconess spreads it on them. For it is not proper that women be seen by men.”
8.28.6: "A deaconess does not bless or do any of the things priests and deacons do. She just takes care of the doors and ministers when women are baptized,for the sake of propriety."
COMMENT: From this we gather that the names presbytera, diaconissa, and subdiaconissa commonly meant the wives of priest, deacons, or subdeacons. Cf. also texts of Pope St. Gregory I.
First Council of Orange, c 441 AD, Harduin I.1786, Canon 15: “Deaconesses are certainly not to be ordained, and if there are some, they must bow their head under the blessing given to the people.”
Council of Epaon, Canon 21 (517 AD, Harduin II. 1049): “We entirely suppress throughout our region the consecration of widows, whom they call deaconesses.”
St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies 79.3-4: (374-77 AD): “We come to the New Testament. If women were ordained to be priests for God, or to do anything canonical in the church, it should rather have been given to Mary in the New Testament… But it was decided differently. She was not even entrusted with baptizing. [after mentioning successions of apostles and priests] but nowhere was a woman established among them. There were four daughters of the evangelist Philip, who were prophetesses, but not priests. … Although there is an order of deaconesses in the Church, yet they are not appointed to function as priests or for any administration of this kind, but so that provision may be made for the propriety of the female sex…” [at baptism etc.] Whence comes the recent myth? Whence comes the pride of women, or rather, the woman’s insanity?
Texts of Ordination of Women by Father William Most
Deaconesses: An Historical Study by Aime Georges Martimort