Women Deacons and Romans 16:1


In Romans 16:1 St. Paul praises “Phoebe our sister who is also a minister of the church” My notes in the New American Bible go on to say that minister is from the Greek word diakonos from whence we get deacon. Why is it that we don’t have female deacons in the Catholic church?


The ordained clergy we call deacons are not the same thing as deaconesses in the early Church. Our deacons receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Deaconesses did not. Saint Clement of Alexandria did comment on a different passage Saint Paul wrote regarding the “sister-women/wives” (the word for woman and wife was the same, so I think we should interpret the relationship according to the word sister he paired it with) some Apostles traveled with and their role.

Accordingly he [St. Paul] says in a letter: “Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?” But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives/women with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused. We also know the directions about women deacons which are given by the noble Paul in his second letter to Timothy.

This is not to undermine their role as evangelists/messengers of the gospel.


I wanted to add that we have seen forms of participation develop over the centuries. For millennia we’ve had formal religious orders, and there have long been opportunities for women to enter into the religious life. Furthermore, women in some parts of the world are heavily involved with modern lay ministries. This includes assisting with the function of the mass such as being lectors, cantors (or choir), and distributing Holy Communion. They participate in bringing Holy Communion to the sick and elderly, participate in and lead educational programs, participate in and lead charitable programs, and more.


Today they are called nuns and sisters.


I’ll just add (as a wrap up to my last post) that it seems many of the duties one would expect a deaconess might have participated in, those that are still culturally relevant, seem to be represented in various modern lay ministries and religious life which women can still participate in today.


Except Phoebe was not called a deaconess, she was caled a deacon. Iirc, she was called that because of the ministry she performed, specifically bringing the letter from St Paul to the Romans.

The language of ordination may be anachronistic here, but it still raises questions about women and ministry in the early church, and in the modern church.


Yet The steward translated from diakonos serving at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee in John 2:9 weren’t ordained clerics, were they?


Hmm… you might want to re-read the notes, then. At Romans 16:1, it asks you to see the note at Philippians 1:1. There, the note mentions that, at the point in time that the ministry had been formalized, the translation becomes ‘deacon’, and prior to that time, ‘minister’ or ‘servant’ (since that’s what the word meant in everyday speech).

Therefore, it’s translated ‘minister’ because, if we want to be precise, she wasn’t an ordained deacon.

Because there have never been ordained female deacons in the Catholic Church.

There was a ministry in the Church, back in the days of full-immersion baptisms in the nude: women to be baptized would go down to the baptismal chamber, and would be ministered to by women (since it would have been highly scandalous for them to be baptized in the nude by a bishop). However, the historical documents of the early Church make the point that, although they ministered, they weren’t ordained (as male deacons were), and they didn’t partake in all the ministries that deacons performed.


Cos we have to keep wimmin in their place?


Thank you to those of you who provided patient, intelligent responses.



To add a little bit more to this, the job of the deaconess was to baptize women. Back in the early church, people were baptized naked. So a deaconess was needed to baptize the women.

That was really their only official role.

When naked baptize went away, the need of the deaconess went away.

Also, the deaconess did not receive Holy Orders like the Deacon. The deaconess “ordination” was on par with the “ordination” of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte, and/or subdeacon. Non of those “ordinations” were the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

God Bless


Notice that to this day, there are deaconesses in at least one eastern Catholic and eastern orthodox church.

“deaconess” is not the mail form of “deacon”– While they are ministries overlap, deacons are higher clergy, deaconesses are not clergy at all.

Trying to rely on English translations of Greek to draw conclusions from two words is doomed to failure…






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