Monday, September 26, 2011

Can the Catholic Church Ordain Female Deacons?

explained last week the basic reasons that the Catholic Church can't ordain female priests.  In response, Tess asks,
Joe, what are the Catholic Church's reasons for not allowing women to be permanent deaconesses? Deaconesses seem much more justifiable both scripturally and by early Tradition. Are different arguments used against them, or the same (ie that the Twelve were all men)?
This is a good question, and after responding, I realized it was probably one that other Christians struggle with. After all, doesn't St. Paul describe Phoebe as a "deaconess" in Romans 16:1?  So here are the basics of what you need to know.
  • The Apostles restricted the diaconate to men only:  The office of deacon is created in Acts 6:1-6.  And the Apostles give clear instructions in Acts 6:3 -- “brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”  The seven chosen are all men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas (Acts 6:5).  That's not a coincidence.

  • Scripture is clear that the diaconate is male-only: In addition to the above, St. Paul lays out the requirements for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, and says things like “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12).  As has been discussed before, that's a one wife limit, not minimum.  But Paul's requirements presuppose that the deacons are all men.  Not only would the one wife limit not apply to female deacons, but female deacons wouldn't be called to rule over their own houses (Ephesians 5:23). If God wanted (or permitted) women to serve as deacons, then 1 Timothy 3 would seem to be wrong.  Obviously, we can't conclude that Scripture was wrong, so it must be the push for a female diaconate that's wrong.

  • The Greek word for deacon isn't always a clerical title:  The Greek word here literally means servant or server.  That's because the first job of the deacons involved the daily distribution of food to widows (Acts 6:1).  So when St. Paul refers to Phoebe as a diakonos, he might be calling her a deaconess of God, but he might also be calling her a servant of God.
  • There were deaconesses in the early Church:  Whatever St. Paul may have meant in Romans 16:1, there's no question that there were women referred to as deaconesses in the early Church.  They were tasked with things like women's adult Baptisms (since Baptisms at that time were done in the nude).  But what's also clear is that they had different requirements than the requirements for deacons, and were considered part of the laity (see below).  Once these sex-specific roles were no longer needed, the job of deaconess disappeared.
  • The Council of Nicea ended any controversy: Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea (the same Council giving us the Nicene Creed), said in relevant part: “Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.”  That's incredibly clear. But just in case it wasn't, the Church addressed this issue in later Ecumenical and regional Councils, as well.  (Update: more on that point here).
Given all of this, we should recognize that the “deaconesses” were laywomen who served as servants of God, and assisted the clergy.  Holy women? Absolutely.  Female deacons?  Absolutely not.  

Proponents of women's ordination to the diaconate pit themselves against the Apostles' clear instructions in Acts 6:3, St. Paul's description of the qualifications needed to become a deacon in 1 Timothy 3, and the explicit teaching of the First Council of Nicea.  But if the Apostles, St. Paul, Scripture, and the Council of Nicea are wrong on this point, why trust them on any point?  Why bother keeping First Timothy in Scripture, or praying the Nicene Creed?  

If you want the Christianity of the Apostles, that includes a male-only diaconate.  If you want something else, there are bigger problems then women's ordination that need to be addressed.

43 comments:

  1. Funny, one never hears about restoring the order of widows or the order of virgins--both also prominent women's bodies in the early Church. The reason? They are not bootstraps to ordination to the higher orders--as the restoration of the deaconesses seems to be.

    My opinion is that the early women's orders died out and were subsumed into the monastic movement--and that women's monastic orders became the primary outlet for women's charisms, as has been the case ever since.

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  2. The "Order of Virgins" has indeed been restored. Go to the website of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins. There are consecrated virgins who do not belong to the U.S.A.C.V. living in the United States and all over the world. In fact, Pope Benedict invited consecrated virgins from all over the world to come to Rome in 2008 for a Congress and private meeting with him. Cardinal Rode and Cardinal Burke spoke at our conferences. There were about 500 consecrated virgins from over 50 countries represented. This vocation is not the Monastic Vocation of consecrated virgins, but rather consecrated virgins living in the world, just as the early virgins of the Church did. Many do not know of this vocation so we are trying to Educate Pastors about this in order that they are better able to provide this information to women who seek to follow Christ in this way., Florence Sundberg, Waterbury, CT.

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  3. Ms. Sundberg, thank you for the clarification! May God bless you for your humble and faithful witness to the Gospel.

    Mr. Ladenson, a good point indeed. Hard to not see an un-Catholic, un-biblical agenda at work there, buoyed by (at best) half-truths and distortions. In my understanding, to expand upon Mr. Heschmeyer's post, deaconesses also referred to the wives of Deacons.

    One point I would add to the list of reasons concerns the very nature of Holy Orders. Holy Orders is a Sacrament instituted by Christ to which only men may be admitted. You have stated why Bishops and Priests can only be male; it would be impossible for females to receive a degree of a Sacrament but be incapable of receiving the other degrees of the Sacrament.

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  4. LOL, I find it somewhat amusing that Traditionalist justifying the new translation of the Creed in the Mass going back to “… us men and our salvation …” insist that there is nothing gender exclusive that “men” includes male and female yet then turn around and unashamedly dismiss that argument to insist then “men” means “men only” elsewhere.


    Less amusing, however, is the deliberate misrepresentation of the Council of Nicea. The quotations from that Council given above were specifically referring to members of the sect Paul of Samosata who were being reconciled with the Church. Note how the Council specifically states "And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity. "; the Paulianists did not practice laying on of hands for female deacons.


    There is no doubt that female deacons within the Church went through some sort of ordination ceremony, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon - 126 years after Nicea - changed the minimum age from 60 to 40 stating "A Woman shall not receive the laying on of hands as a deaconess under forty years of age, and then only after searching examination. " The only thing that is debated among theologians is whether that 'laying on of hands' constituted sacramental ordination. A commission set up by Paul VI concluded in 1974 that it was valid ordination; a later study by the Canon Law Society of America stated that the evidence was inconclusive but that there was no clear evidence that it wasn't valid ordination so the kingpin argument against female ordination to the priesthood - that it was against Tradition - could not be applied to ordination to the diaconate.

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  5. Mairtin, thank you for your prayers. I don't understand why Mairtin is 'amused' or 'less amused' by an issue or why Mairin says there is a 'deliberate misrepresentation of the Council of Nicea' - and, 'some sort of ordination ceremony' is not an ordination ceremony. A 'vocation' comes from God and must be affirmed by the Church. We do not create our own individual, unique vocation - God assigns us a vocation. And, just as a man who wants to marry a certain woman must have her consent, so someone who wants to serve the Church must have the consent of the Church. A consecrated virgin has a special and unique relationship with Priests..the virgin is the spouse of Christ and the Priest represents Christ. The Rite of Ordination and the Rite of Consecration at the hands of the local Bishop are similar but the consecrated woman does not receivew sacred orders. We are given a unique call, a unique vocation; we can choose to accept or to reject that vocation. We can even choose to decide we want a different vocation but, in any case, the Church must affirm what we have chosen. There are men and women who have left the Church because they were not accepted into the Priesthood or religious life. A man may passionately desire to marry a certain woman, and he will suffer if that woman says no - but he should not then attempt to force her to accept him for marriage. Only when we are living fully the life and vocation that God has given us will we know full happiness and a sense of fulfillment. Mary, God's Mother, lived fully the call she was given at the Annunciation - to be the Mother of God and of His children. She did not demand to be an Apostle - this may be difficult but going against the will of God would be more difficult and would not bring peace.

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  6. Mairtin,

    I’m genuinely sorry for whatever caused you the deep-seated pain that you evinced in your comment. But I found your tone to be uncharitable: both the snark (“I find it funny”) and the imputation that there was a “deliberate misrepresentation” of the Council of Nicea. There was none, and I quoted the relevant canon – even highlighting the same sentence you did. The idea that it was only Paulianist deaconesses who weren’t recognized as having valid ordination is just wrong.

    In fact, the evidence you cite actually undermines your conclusions. You said, “the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon - 126 years after Nicea - changed the minimum age from 60 to 40.” Very true. But who set the minimum age at 60? St. Paul in 1 Timothy 5:9. And what does he say there? “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty….” So this isn’t sacramental ordination. This is plainly enrollment on the list of widows. As Florin explained to you, there’s a similar laying on of hands, but it’s not sacramental ordination.

    These older widows were some of the most vulnerable members of society (as I recently discussed here and here), and the diaconate was specifically created to take care of these women: Acts 6:1 says so. Chalcedon simply expanded the minimum age of women from 60 to 40.

    So the parallel between the early “deacons” and “deaconesses” was like the relationship between a doctor and patient, not like the relationship between a doctor and another doctor.

    Now, you’re right that men can mean “men and women” in Scripture. But here, it clearly doesn’t, both because all seven deacons were men, which would be quite a coincidence, and because St. Paul refers to them as “husbands” in 1 Timothy, and “husbands” isn’t gender-neutral. And I’m not sure what you mean by “Traditionalist” (I hope it’s not simply more invective), but if you don’t care about Tradition, why bother with this debate? Maybe I should put it this way: if you genuinely believe your own arguments, that the Tradition of the Church is on your side, why aren’t you the Traditionalist?

    God bless,

    Joe

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  7. Joe,

    I always enjoy your explorations of Scripture & Tradition on those part of the Faith that distinguish Catholics from all others. Women's ordination is definitely one of those! It is intense interest to me because my own non-Catholic wife holds this in particular against the Church, on the claim that the early Church did indeed have priestesses and deaconesses.

    I'm wondering if you can address two counter-claims that immediately spring to my mind (not, btw, that I'm clamoring for women's ordination: as far as this Catholic is concerned, Rome has spoken; the case is closed). I would appreciate your response, since I myself don't know specifically how to address them.

    1. In 1 Timothey 3:8-12, St. Paul seems to include the consideration of both men and women in his advice to Timothy as to who should be allowed to serve as a deacon. I don't read Greek, but I know enough Latin to know that "Mulieres" from the Vulgate could mean either "women" or "wives" (the latter as the KJV has it, I believe). The Douay-Rheims has it as "women." How do we know that this does not indicate that women were being considered by St. Paul for the same sort of service as men in the Diaconate?

    2. A while back I contacted the folks at www.womenpriests.org for clarification on just this question. They have assembled a large body of literature, ancient & modern, in pursuit of their quest. I noticed, going through their section on the Ordination Rituals to the Diaconate (http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/deac_ord.asp) that they included no such documentation for ordination to the presbyterate or episcopate. I email them, asking about this discrepancy, and received the following reply:

    "we do not have any real hard evidence that women were ordained to the Presbyterate or the Episcopate. The important point however is that as the Council of Trent proclaimed that the Diaconte, Priesthood and Episcopate are all part of the one Sacrament. This means that if you can ordain a woman as a deacon, then you can also ordain her as priest and bishop."

    This is perplexing to me. I'm a catechist, and my understanding is and always has been that the Diaconate is quite limited in regards to the types of ministry it includes, and is therefore distinct from the Presbyterate and Episcopate. It is, however, clearly a sacramental order. Given the evidence of ordination rituals for deaconesses, is it possible that there was indeed a sacramental order of deaconesses that was, like our permanent diaconate today, distinct from the presbyterate and espiscopate?

    The ordination rituals are worthy of serious consideration, I believe, given the importance that we Catholics place on the sufficiency of matter and of form in the Sacraments. It was a lack of formal sufficiency, among other considerations, that led Pope Leo XIII to declare Anglican Orders "null and void" --- in other words, how do we account for liturgical evidence of what really does look like a sacramental order being bestowed on women?

    At the risk of saying too much, I would add that if the Church can cease ordinations to the permanent diaconate for a millenium (our current permanent diaconate dates only to 1967), then if women were part of such an order prior to the Middle Ages, there's no reason that the Church couldn't restore a male-only diaconate. If we can do with none, we can also do with male-only; a point deriving from the distinction between the diaconate and the higher orders. But if this were the case, then the argument for retaining a male-only diaconate today would change: it's basis in Tradition is more nuanced at the least.

    Sorry, to hit you with so much---I look forward to your response!

    Yours in Christ,

    Chris Yarsawich

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  8. Chris,

    Great questions.

    (1) In 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul is almost certainly talking about the wives of the deacons. If Paul meant “deaconesses,” he could have said so. Instead, as you noted, the word he chose means “women” or “wives.” This is exactly what we would expect if he meant the deacons’ wives, and not what we would expect if he meant deaconesses.

    Reading this as about the deacon’s wife also makes more sense contextually, since in the very next verse, he says, “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”

    Reading those two verses together, Paul’s point appears to be that a married deacon needs to have a stable family: no gossipy wives (he warns against wives who are “malicious gossips” in v. 11), no ex-wives, no unruly children. As a Kansas City native, I can sympathize: the current mayor's son is routinely in the news for legal problems, and the last mayor's wife was the subject of routine scandals and bad press. Family dysfunction has partially undermined both men's ability to lead. St. Paul seems worried about the same thing.

    The alternative interpretation is very strained, since it requires believing that verses 8-10 and 12 lay out requirements for deacons, while in v. 11, Paul randomly interjects the sole requirement to be a deaconess. It turns verse 11 into a tangential parenthetical, rather than an additional requirement.

    It also requires believing that Paul has very high standards for male deacons, while the only requirement to be a deaconess is to be not gossipy. So yeah, that’s a bizarre reading of the passage.

    I’ll go ahead and point out that St. Paul does address the order of widows (who were sometimes called “deaconesses”) in his First Letter to Timothy, but it’s not until Chapter 5. Otherwise, we’d have to say that he lays out one set of requirements in 1 Timothy 5, and a contradictory (sole) requirement in 1 Timothy 3:11. It’s just all-around bad exegesis.

    (2) Florin’s comment above says everything that needs to be said, from someone who is actually part of the order of virgins: “The Rite of Ordination and the Rite of Consecration at the hands of the local Bishop are similar but the consecrated woman does not receive sacred orders.” The order of widows has something similar. Read 1 Timothy 5:1-16. In it, St. Paul says:

    “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, […] But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.”

    So St. Paul is clearly talking about a formal religious pledge tied to enrollment in the order of widows. What the womynpriests folks are talking about are the forms those pledges took. But there’s no serious question that these women weren’t deacons, or the female equivalents of deacons (see my last comment above for more on that).

    The folks at womynpriests are right that “if you can ordain a woman as a deacon, then you can also ordain her as priest and bishop,” and they’re also right that there’s no evidence “that women were ordained to the Presbyterate or the Episcopate.” Ever, in two thousand years, no evidence.

    Use that logic in reverse: since we can say quite clearly that women are not called to the presbyterate or the episcopate as formed by Christ and His Apostles, we can say just as clearly that they are not called to the diaconate.

    God bless,

    Joe

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  9. I'm a little annoyed at some of this discussion. I mean, the end of the article has a little zing to it already, which is surprising to me since I'd think that an article written by a man about women's ordination might be a little gentler in talking about the subject, since you SHOULD be trying to win hearts, not create division. And then I don't really see why you had to jump on Mairtin like that - she verbalized a thought that I had: the author calls Acts 6:3 "CLEAR instructions" - but that's a bit of a jump to say it's clear. Luke didn't say "only men shall be deacons." That would be clear. I think her comment was perfectly justified. And then for you to say that there's some "deep-seated pain" behind her comments! Unreal!!! You're assuming that she's embittered and wants women's ordination just because she challenges a poor argument, but she raises a valid point with legitimate evidence to back it up.

    I reiterate the comment above: there will be no women's ordination, "case closed." I am NOT bitter about this fact. But let's calm down and recognize the fact that just because some women ARE bitter about this fact doesn't mean that ALL women are, and if you're trying to evangelize and not just preach to the choir, you should probably be a little gentler in the way you talk about it. Give me a break.

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  10. Steph,

    Fair enough -- sorry if I've offended either you or Mairtin.

    I certainly don't believe that “because some women ARE bitter about this fact doesn't mean that ALL women are.” Tess, the woman who started this conversation, is one of the most irenic people I've encountered since starting this blog -- and I can say this despite the fact that we've been talking a lot about the things dividing us.

    When I suggested that Mairtin's comment came from a place of pain and hurt, it wasn't because she was a woman, or because we disagreed . It was because she was generally sarcastic, imputed bad faith to me (that I'd deliberately misled about the Council of Nicea), and lumped me in as a "Traditionalist," meant negatively. She seemed to be lashing out less at me or what I'd written, then "Traditionalists" generally. I genuinely felt bad for her.

    But you're right. I want to win hearts, not create division. And if my response to her was divisive (or even unhelpful), I sincerely apologize. And I'm grateful to you for calling me on it.

    God bless,

    Joe

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  11. One notes that the English "men" translates two different words in Greek.

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  12. Florin: The thing that is missing here is that one must have a degree of humility to submit to God's Will. It is then that we will find our true vocation and true peace. I am a Benedictine sister. I choose to wear a full habit. I choose to pray the Monastic Divine Office. I choose to live in community. I choose to obey the Church and her tenets. I choose to submit to the Church and her infinite Wisdom. I could choose to become a pumpkin or a ferret, but the likelihood of that happening is nil. I could dress up in orange and be round and plump, or grow claws and fur, but I will never, ever become a pumpkin or a ferret. Why? Because it is not in my power to do so, and that is because it is not God's Will. Submission is very difficult for many, many people, especially in this day and age. We have a false sense of freedom. What we think is freedom is really self-imposed slavery. I often chuckle when I hear political pundits going on and on about our freedoms and our rights.

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  13. What the apostles institute the apostles can change. You have made a good case for the fact that the apostles intended the diaconate for males only, and that early deaconesses were not female equivalents. However, there is no reason - since the diaconate is not a sacrament instituted by Christ - that the diaconate could not be changed to include women. You have also made a good case that deaconesses were not clerics but deacons were. That too can change. There were other clerical orders that were reduced to the lay state. If clerical means "participating in the presbyterate" (which may or may not be so), then deacons, who are ordained for a purpose of service, and who do nothing that laity cannot do by designation, can be made lay. Lay people can baptize and can be official witnesses of marriage if appointed to be such. The only "ordination" type thing that deacons do is preach, and that was specifically what they were NOT ordained for in the beginning - they were ordained to free up the apostles to preach! Net result: there is lots of room for change.

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  14. First of all, I am not a woman and am somewhat puzzled as to where you drew that conclusion from – perhaps the same illogic that told you that I was in some sort of pain.

    In regard to the accuracy of what you said about the Council of Nicea, here is exactly what you said –
    ‘The Council of Nicea ended any controversy: Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea (the same Council giving us the Nicene Creed), said in relevant part: “Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.” ‘
    Here is what Canon 19 actually says (my emphasis added):
    Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.”

    You presented only part of the Canon out of context and by preceding it with a reference to the Nicene Creed, and stating that the Council “ended any controversy “, you implied that the Canon was about deaconesses in general and that it was a dogmatic declaration. Your misrepresentation may not have been deliberate, in which case I apologise, but misrepresentation it certainly was.

    In regard to your insistence that your interpretation is categorically correct, do you regard yourself better qualified to judge this than Cipriano Vagaggini, appointed by Pope Paul VI to lead the study into whether female deacons were ever ordained and came to the opposite conclusion to you? Or better qualified than the Canon Law Society of America who decided in 1995 that the matter was inconclusive? Or better qualified than those who carried out the study approved by the International Theological Commission in 2001 which also came up with an inconclusive answer?

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  15. Joe said:
    if you don’t care about Tradition, why bother with this debate?

    Actually, I care very deeply and passionately about Tradition but I understand Tradition as the Church states what it is – more in depth understanding of what Christ taught than what is expressed in the New Testament, handed down from the Apostles and the Church Fathers, not “traditions” introduced through the following centuries, often for far from spiritual reasons.

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  16. Mairtin, Joe has been nothing but charitable to you, which you have not shown him in kind since your first post. I also find it interesting that you attack him when it was Steph who began implying you were female. It is understandable that in replying to Steph he made the mistake of using the pronoun 'she' that Steph had introduced, not giving it any thought at the time.

    What Joe has been expressing is from the official teaching of Christ's Church, which is protected through divine assurance and hold's the keys of the authority of Christ Himself. The official teaching of the Christian Church is that at no time has there been any ordination of women, and that it can not ordain women based on the deposit of faith Christ left it, protected through the Holy Spirit. It has been declared infallibly so to be held by the universal Church. The matter of ordaining women is eternally closed. Putting forth claims of "inconclusive" (that have no magisterial weight) is meaningless, when put up against officially declared and unchangeable teaching which by all clear indications apparent has been held straight back to Christ Himself.

    Joe has been kind enough and patient enough to try and help you work through and understand these things that many find hard to accept (for many varied reasons), and I think the only thing he asks is that you return that same charity and patience. Having read this blog for about a year now, I can say that Joe tops the list in charity, patience, and good will of anyone I have personally read on the internet. If anything, I envy these virtues I have been amazed to witness from him in response to many who post here.

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  17. Hi Joe,

    I have never been called 'irenic' before! (I had to look it up).


    Accordingly, I'm more worried about the mild antagonism arising in this thread than the discussion itself, which has been very interesting indeed, and thrown several insights my way I had no idea about prior to your post. I did not know about this argument that 'deaconesses' could also mean 'registered widows' or 'wives of deacons' and so on. So thank you indeed.

    I did think Mairtin made a good point when he challenged your use of a passage specifically against Paulinists to generalise against deaconesses as a whole, because the reading in context was (I think you must admit?) not nearly as conclusive as the part of the quote you lifted to support your case.

    I am however always impressed by the Catholic Church's ability and willingness to demonstrate how all its dogmatic conclusions have been reached, and where I disagree it does tend to be from ignorance on my part. The Catholic position 'makes sense' in the sense that I can always (eventually, with help) see how it has reached its conclusions.

    Nevertheless one has to admit that some arguments are unwieldy, such as the tendency for those against inclusive language to say that 'men' means 'men and women' when it suits them, while others (and often the same people) argue that 'men means men' in other places, as required to support their argument. They may of course be entirely right in every case, but it has an unfortunate taste of having it both ways to those who are not already 'on board'.


    I think that overall I take the part of 'aka Cassandra' in feeling that ultimately it comes down to whether 'the church' has authority to change its mind on this issue. Anglicans in generally feel freer to innovate (or restore early church practice, depending on one's view of the evidence).

    I do disagree with the view that supporters of a female diaconate are all sneakily trying to get a foot in the door with a view to further progression. Some, I think, really just have a passion for pastoral parish work and/or preaching and would like some way to serve the church in a full time capacity. I'm aware that women can be spiritual directors in the Catholic Church, and of course there are many apostolic religious orders, and perhaps it is indeed right that women should humble themselves and take these more hidden roles as the church directs. There is certainly much virtue in submitting to what seems like a natural injustice against half the population. I agree that for some women the issue of ordination has become a 'women's rights' issue, and I think that (as you say), this is to miss the point of the humility and servanthood required of clergy - which they do not always embody of course.

    I will always remember the reply of one Anglican priest friend who, when I asked him whether he felt women should have been ordained in our church, replied that most of the men certainly shouldn't have! :)

    with love.

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  18. From Freeman Dyson, with some small alterations (with reference to your suggestion at the end, that those who ordain women should also throw out the Nicene creed):

    What are we who are not Christians, or we Christians who are not theologians, to make of all this? We are in the position of anthropologists observing the rituals and liturgy of an alien culture. As anthropologists, we try to understand the alien way of thinking and we try to enter into the alien culture as far as we can. We make friends with individual members of the alien culture and listen to their stories. We respect them as human beings, struggling in their own way to deal with the mysteries of life and death, sharing with us our common weaknesses, fears, passions, and bewilderments. We respect their faith in the love of God, whether or not we share it. We observe them with a sympathetic eye, but from a distance. We do not for a moment imagine that their detailed vision of a world to come, with heaven and hell and eschatological verification, the vision that they find emotionally satisfying or intellectually compelling, is actually true.

    I am myself a Christian, a member of a community that preserves an ancient heritage of great literature and great music, provides help and counsel to young and old when they are in trouble, educates children in moral responsibility, and worships God in its own fashion. But I find Heschmeyer’s theology altogether too narrow for my taste. I have no use for a theology that claims to know the answers to deep questions but bases its arguments on the beliefs of a single tribe. I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension. When I listen to Heschmeyer describing who God may or may not ordain, I think of God answering Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?… Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding…” God’s answer to Job is all the theology I need. As a scientist, I live in a universe of overwhelming size and mystery. The mysteries of life and language, good and evil, chance and necessity, and of our own existence as conscious beings in an impersonal cosmos are even greater than the mysteries of physics and astronomy. Behind the mysteries that we can name, there are deeper mysteries that we have not even begun to explore.

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  19. Having studied Greek, I might be able to help a little here... Acts 6:3 indeed uses the word for adult males. Choose men (=male), etc. However, 1 Tim 3:8 uses adjectives only, "Deacons should be dignified, not double-speaking, not often given to wine, etc." "Dignified" rendered as "man (=male) of dignity" could only be inferred from Acts 6:3 as the grammatical construction taken on its own could mean "person of dignity."

    The rest of your argument makes sense.

    By the way, women can do something that men cannot. They can give themselves - in a sense - as "in persona Ecclesia" to Jesus as his bride. Now, we know that the Lord is the "spouse of our souls" but this is something very hard for a man to understand or submit to. Yet a woman can live it in a radical way and make it apparent in her whole person, body and soul, in a way men cannot because of their being male. If women can be priests/husbands, then men can be nuns/brides, right? A woman cannot be (and thus cannot symbolize) a husband and father so necessary in priestly ministry. This is not a matter of discrimination, because a man cannot be a wife and mother, either, so necessary in the apostolate of religious sisters.

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  20. Excellent post and comments. After reading through it all I might offer that Sister Terese Peter, OSB's comment of 9/26/11 and the final paragraph of Authentic Bioethics 9/27/11 9:26am comment succinctly state what I feel is the greater issue here. May God bless all who come here seeking His Truth.

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  21. Just jumping in here a bit. I don't have the grasp of Church Tradition that Joe does. However from a more sociological perspective I humbly submit that a lot of these difficulties come more from the cultural misunderstanding of the meaning of equality than any misinterpretation on the part of the Church. Modern men and women seem to have forgotten that equal does not mean identical. The word equal denotes value, while identical denotes characteristics. So men and women may be perfectly equal in value to the Church while remaining in non-identical roles.

    It's pretty obvious that we (men and women) are designed to be complementary beings. So it only makes sense that we would have different roles within the church. My own parish is rife with women in every ministry imaginable. They are able to teach in the parish school of religion, to comfort the sick and the dying in the ministry of the sick, etc and so on. And none of these women is "subservient" to the men of the parish. They simple cooperate and compliment the work of the men. And thank God for them, else the parish would likely cease to function!

    So, while women cannot be priests and deacons, they still serve extremely valuable roles within the parish. I know that the modern world tell us (rather relentlessly) that we are only equal if we are doing identical things but this really is a false assumption and, in my opinion, unfairly denigrates the wonderful work that so many women do within the Church.

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  22. Let me start by making two important points that haven’t been made yet, and then move on to specific points raised (given the number of comments, I’ll surely miss some important points – sorry!):

    (1) Ordination -- any ordination -- is a two way process. The candidate discerns a vocation, but to be accepted, the Church must discern that vocation as well. So the Church has not only the right, but the duty, to determine who can and cannot validly become a bishop, priest, or deacon.

    (2) Can. 1024 of the Code of Canon Law says: “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” That this includes the diaconate is obvious from Can. 1025, which mentions it by name. Note that attempting to ordain a woman to the diaconate isn’t illicit: it’s actually invalid. That is, the attempted ordination doesn’t do anything. The Church can change the licitness of a sacramental act, but She cannot change the act’s validity. This, I believe, is the answer to the point “aka Cassandra” raises, as well.

    (3) Tess and Mairtin, I addressed the issue of Canon 19 of the Council of Nicea in a separate post for today: here. Now that it’s mentioned, I can see the reading you two have taken. But I don’t think that it stands up to careful scrutiny, because it would make Canon 19 redundant and misleading, and it doesn’t explain why the Council permitted the reordination of men but not women to the diaconate.

    (4) Pace the inestimable Professor Dyson, the issue isn't “who God may or may not ordain,” but who the Church may or may not ordain. She cannot, by Her nature and Her constitution, go against His revealed Will. The Catechism puts it beautifully, in the context of Baptism: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1257). This is true of Holy Orders and all other sacraments as well. This isn't the arrogance of second-guessing God, condemned in Job. This is the humility of the people of God obeying the limits He placed.

    I also think that describing this as “narrow” misses the point. Saying that “four” is the only correct answer to “two plus two” is narrow. A much less narrow view might allow anything from three to eight. The important question is: is it true?

    (5) Mairtin, you ask if I regard myself “better qualified to judge this than Cipriano Vagaggini, appointed by Pope Paul VI to lead the study into whether female deacons were ever ordained.” With all due respect, this is a misguided appeal to authority. Couldn't you just as easily say, “Billy Graham is a Baptist. Are you really saying you know more about Christianity than Billy Graham?”

    The authority worth following by virtue of Her authority is the Magisterium. And if you're going to hold up the appointment of Pope Paul VI, it would seem to me that honesty should compel you to also mention that Pope Paul VI suppressed the commission’s results. If you’re wanting to think with the mind of the Church, that sends a clear signal.

    (end part I)

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  23. (part II)


    (6) Mairtin, I’m pleased to hear that you “care very deeply and passionately about Tradition.” Can you point to any places where the Church has given identical requirements for deacons and “deaconesses”? Because it seems to me that if what these women were undergoing was identical sacramental ordination to the same clerical state as their male counterparts, we’d expect them to have the same (or at least similar) requirements, right?

    (7) Authentic Bioethics, good catch on the grammar in 1 Timothy. I’ll fix that.

    (8) Zimmerk, thank you. I really appreciated that.

    (9) I think that Mrflibbleisvryx, StBlog and Sr. Terese Peter, OSB do a good job of getting to the heart of the matter.

    (10) Tess, you are irenic! As for the argument from grammar in Acts 6, it’s true that while the word generally means “men” or “husbands,” it’s sometimes got a broader meaning of “people” (of course, this is true in English, as well: we’ll speak of “man v. machine,” e.g.). But in the specific context of Acts 6, each of the seven people chosen was a man. The odds of that occurring randomly would be 1:128 (assuming an equal likelihood of the Holy Spirit choosing a woman as a man). So I think that the immediate context of Acts 6 shows that “male” was intended, and understood.

    Thanks to everyone who’s commented so far. The discussion has been lively and insightful. God bless,

    Joe

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  24. zimmerk said:

    What Joe has been expressing is from the official teaching of Christ's Church, which is protected through divine assurance and hold's the keys of the authority of Christ Himself. The official teaching of the Christian Church is that at no time has there been any ordination of women ...

    Please don't misquote Church teaching. The Church teaches that there she "has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women", she has no stated position on the ordination of women to the diaconate.

    Joe isn't giving Church teaching - and he never claimed to do so - he is giving his personal opinion which he is fully entitled to give but which anyone else is perfectly entitled to challenge.

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  25. Joe, in response to some of your points:

    (1) ... So the Church has not only the right, but the duty, to determine who can and cannot validly become a bishop, priest, or deacon.

    Nobody's disputing that, the interesting thing is that she has chosen to state no position on the female diaconate.

    (2) Can. 1024 of the Code of Canon Law says: “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”That this includes the diaconate is obvious from Can. 1025, which mentions it by name.

    Canon 1024 does, as you point out, refer to the "baptised male" but Canon 1025 does not mention gender at all, it switches to talking about "the candidate". Do you seriously not see any significance in that?

    (5) ... Couldn't you just as easily say, “Billy Graham is a Baptist. Are you really saying you know more about Christianity than Billy Graham?”
    There is nothing wrong with an appeal to authority if the authority deserves respect; I'm somewhat taken aback that you should put one of the Church's most respected clerics, selected by the Pope personally to carry out a major study, on the same level as Billy Graham.

    And if you're going to hold up the appointment of Pope Paul VI, it would seem to me that honesty should compel you to also mention that Pope Paul VI suppressed the commission’s results. If you’re wanting to think with the mind of the Church, that sends a clear signal.

    I'm sorry but I don't buy into the idea that Church teaching should be settled with a nudge and a wink. I also don't agree with your conclusion, I think that the Curia (not the Pope) buried the report because it would might lend weight to the argument about ordaining women to the priesthood.

    (6) ... Because it seems to me that if what these women were undergoing was identical sacramental ordination to the same clerical state as their male counterparts, we’d expect them to have the same (or at least similar) requirements, right?

    That's my point exactly - we simply don't know either way, the evidence is inconclusive.

    You come down on the side that women weren't ordained, for what it's worth, I come down on the other side, but neither of us can claim to be categorically right. My reason for intervening in this debate wasn't to argue that deaconesses were ordained, it was to correct your statement that the Council of Nicea definitely decided the matter - I think I have shown that that is simply not right.

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  26. Tess said:
    ... I'm more worried about the mild antagonism arising in this thread than the discussion itself ...

    I think you need to bear in mind that the appearance of antagonism is because people here care passionately about their Faith, there's nothing wishy washy about it as you might find in ... ahem ... some other denominations :)

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  27. Mairtin,

    If I may begin with your response to (2), and then address your other responses:

    (2) Canon 1024 does, as you point out, refer to the "baptised male" but Canon 1025 does not mention gender at all, it switches to talking about "the candidate". Do you seriously not see any significance in that?

    I (seriously) do see significance in that: Canon 1024 tells us who can be a candidate. Canon 1025 talks about other requirements for the candidate. Canon 1025 doesn't contradict Canon 1024. And in any case, Canon 1025 refers to the candidate as a “he.” You're trying to find ambiguity where there is none. Canon 1024 settles the matter, even if you reject that Nicea does.

    Without any such ambiguity, your claim of the “interesting fact” is similarly falsified. When the Church, in Her Code of Canon Law, declares that it is invalid (and not just illicit) to ordain women to the diaconate, what’s left to debate?

    Likewise, I don't really see the evidence as inconclusive: I see no evidence of an ordained diaconate consisting of men and women exercising interchangeable ministries anywhere in the history of the Church. That you likewise can't find any evidence doesn't make the matter “inconclusive.” It's strong evidence against your own view. (Likewise, if I claimed that Paris was the original Apostolic See, the absolute dearth of evidentiary support wouldn't mean the evidence was merely “inconclusive.” It would mean that I was wrong.).

    So the simple fact that recent declarations against women’s ordination have addressed only women’s ordination to the presbyterate and episcopate is an argument from silence: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis also didn’t address the issue of abortion, but that doesn’t mean we’re invited to reopen debate on the matter. That line of argumentation is the very sort of “nudge and a wink” that you claim you won’t follow as Church teaching.

    So instead of mere insinuation, can you spell out why you think there's still ambiguity, in light of Canon 1024?

    God bless,

    Joe

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  28. So instead of mere insinuation, can you spell out why you think there's still ambiguity, in light of Canon 1024?

    Because I don't agree with your analysis that Canon 25 flows from it.

    It all comes down to my central point that the whole issue is as clear as mud, nothing is clear cut about it in the way you try to assert.

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  29. Forget Canon 1025, then. Here's Canon 1024 in its entirety:

    “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”

    What could be clearer?

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  30. "This isn't the arrogance of second-guessing God, condemned in Job. This is the humility of the people of God obeying the limits He placed."

    Again, I must say, in sympathy to Dyson, that I also feel like the anthropologist, who when he questions the rituals of a far-away and very alien culture, finds that they believe that the gods have made it thus.

    Do I now think upon what my own culture says as the superior way? It is better, I think, to abide by that bit of theology in Job, and believe that how or whom God calls is that sort of mystery that, like the foundations of the earth, is beyond my ken.

    If a particular tribe interprets the signs in a very narrow way, I can only imagine that they are too narrow in the matter to see the actual truth of the matter: that much of this is too complex to be understood.

    Of course, I must be open to the possibility that the tribe has read the signs well and has some sort of spiritual insight or revelation that does mark the truth of their beliefs, however narrow.

    But time will show who is right, and maybe the real difference, what definitely separates me from the narrow tribes, is that I admit the possibility of being wrong. I admit the possibility of the impossibility of the women's diaconate. And the possibility of the literal truth of the Nicene Creed. Among many other things.

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  31. Mairtin, I think you're relying on the same possible exception that I inquired about above. To rephrase succinctly: Is it possible that there was, or at least could be, a sacred ordination of women to the Diaconate in a capacity that is distinct from that of orders to the Presbyterate and Episcopate.

    I had long thought that this might possibly be true; in light of Canon 1025, I see that it is false. Whatever the title "deaconess" might have referred to historically, it could not have ever referred to a sacred order in the Church's hierarchy, or else Canon 1025 would contradict Tradition. But Canon Law elucidates and codifies Magesterial teaching, which, guided by the Holy Spirit, is the guarantor of the Apostolic Tradition.

    What we are left with, then, is the acknowledgement that the Church cannot validly ordain women to any of the three sacred orders. Although I might personally find this disappointing---I had begun to think of deaconesses as a rather attractive idea that could quell an often bitter attack the Church (without losing sight of the fact that some heresiarchs would immediately push for further concessions to their vision of what the Church should be)---ultimately, I find it comforting, along with Tess, that my budding disagreement was founded in my own ignorance. Church teaching remains well-founded and intellectually comprehensible. The task now before me it to submit to that rightful Authority with all the humility that I can muster.

    Thank you everyone for such a profitable discussion!

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  32. Paul,

    In response to your raising the flag of doubt about the truth or accuracy of the Catholic Church's teaching (on Holy Orders or anything else), and to match your penchant for weighty, intellectual, and relevant quotes, I humbly submit to you:

    The sages, it is often said, can see no answer to the riddle of religion. But the trouble with our sages is not that they cannot see the answer; it is that they cannot even see the riddle. They are like children so stupid as to notice nothing paradoxical in the playful assertion that a door is not a door. The modern latitudinarians speak, for instance, about authority in religion not only as if there were no reason in it, but as if there had never been any reason for it. Apart from seeing its philosophical basis, they cannot even see its historical cause. Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

    That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."


    ~Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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  33. Joe said

    What could be clearer?

    It's not at all clear because as you admit in response to your follow up blog, deacons are ordained to a misistry, not to the priesthood and opinion is divided among theologians as to whether or not the ordination of deacons is sacerdotal.

    How can you and others here be so certain of your opinion when even the Vatican cannot make up its mind?

    Anyway, I'm away on holiday for the next week so I won't be able to continue in this never ending circular argument. I just hope that my contributions have perhaps persuaded you to reconsider your original assertion that Nicea settled the issue for once and for all.

    Peace be with you.

    Mairtin

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  34. adventure pidgey said:
    But Canon Law elucidates and codifies Magesterial teaching, which, guided by the Holy Spirit, is the guarantor of the Apostolic Tradition.

    Canon Law is not dogma, it has changed in the past and will undoubtedly change in the future.

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  35. Mairtin said:
    "I think you need to bear in mind that the appearance of antagonism is because people here care passionately about their Faith, there's nothing wishy washy about it as you might find in ... ahem ... some other denominations :)"

    Hehe! :) Anglicans are passionate too... about not making any irreversible decisions or coming to any definitive conclusions! :)

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  36. "Fanatical moderates" or something like that - ha! :-)

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  37. adventure pidgey, thanks for the quote. Chesterton always can find his place in powerful quotations.

    I especially agree with the first paragraph, particularly where it says: "And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin."

    I think the answer is common sense! It is a tried and true method to avoid dopey philosophical questions like: "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction?" Philosophers who take this question seriously will wonder whether food is real, and will soon have fallen by the wayside due to starvation.

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  38. There are the good things and the bad things about religion.

    It is wonderful that religion points to this mystery and goodness and beauty and calls us to be humble in the face of it.

    I don't see why it also needs to connect this beauty and mystery with what I do about a bit of skin connected to my penis.

    The first part makes sense and seems overall a very good thing. The last part seems strange at best and dangerous at worst.

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  39. The debate on the Ordination of women to the Deaconate elsewhere on the interweb, now closed to comment, focused on the "need" for certain Sacramental ministry to be fulfilled where priests are lacking in number, namely Baptism, Marriage, and Communion. What those arguments failed to recognize is that none of those three Sacramental ministries requires an ordained minister. Anybody, even an atheist can validly baptise when needed. In areas where ordained ministers are lacking, such as mission territories, duly appointed members of the laity can officiate at Marriages. Likewise, duly appointed laity can act as Extraordinary Ministers of Communion during Mass, and especially for bringing Communion to the sick and shut-ins.

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    1. Post Script: To be the minister at a Solemn Baptism, one needs to be duly appointed by the bishop of the territory, as is the case for Marriage.

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    2. Btw, the photo of the statue of Archangel Michael above, looks very familiar, very familiar indeed.

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  40. Florin, don't forget that men can be Consecrated Virgins also, taking a solemn perpetual vow and NOT living or belonging in any religious community (save their own parish), but living and working in the world.

    aka Cassandra, you are mistaken to state that the Diaconate is not a Sacrament instituted by Christ. If such is true, then it is not a Sacrament; all Sacraments are instituted by Christ. " 'Adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the consensus . . . of the Fathers,' we profess that 'the sacraments of the new law were . . . all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.'31 " (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1114; footnote 31 Council of Trent (1547): DS 1600-1601)

    Not sure if this was here or elsewhere, but as concerns ministry of service or of priesthood, let us not forget that "The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood." (CCC 1120)

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