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WOMEN CAN BE PRIESTS
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Opponents to the Sacramental Character of Women Deacons

Among the theologians of the early Middle Ages there was frequent discussion about the meaning of the ‘ordination’ given to ‘deaconesses’, an institution they only knew from references in the Fathers and ecclesiastical canons. They showed abysmal ignorance in the matter, generally dismissing ‘deaconesses’ as:

When discussing Holy Orders in his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) does not even bother to mention ‘deaconesses’.

When scholars such as Goar (in 1647 AD), J. Morinus (in 1695 AD) and Joseph Assemani (in 1721 AD) had published ancient oriental manuscripts that brought out the ordination of deaconesses in detail, a first theological response was aroused.

The best, serious study was by S.Many, in Praelectiones de Sacra Ordinatione, Paris 1905, pp. 176 - 194. He utterly rejects the possibility of women being either ordained priests or deacons, for the same arguments now adduced by Rome. With regard to the historical question of women deacons, he gives as his main reason that “women have always been repulsed from ministry at the altar” which, he claims, “is essential to the sacramental diaconate”. He admits that “there is no universally valid, written law in the tradition of the Church by which this can be proved”, but he then turns to the decisions against the diaconate by local councils.

Other theologians of the day followed Many's conclusions, hardly spending more than one or two pages to the argument, since ‘the incapability of women for holy orders’ seems so obvious to them.

A more recent study that concludes against the sacramentality of women's diaconate was by Aimé Georges Martimot, Les Diaconesses. Essai historique, Rome 1982. Martimot rightly focusses on the ordination ceremony itself, but concludes that it did not stand on a level with that of male deacons. His reasons, in brief:

Martimort states: ‘However great the pomp that surrounded the rite of ordination, and the external similarity with the diaconate of men, the Byzantine deaconess is no deacon. This is a completely different ministry’ (p. 155). However, his conclusion is wrong:

Ernst Dassmann (‘Witwen und Diakonissen’, in Ämter und Dienste in der frühchristlichen Gemeinden, Bonn 1994, pp. 142-156) follows Martimort. Many other theologians have come to the conclusion that the deaconess's ordination belonged to the sacrament of holy orders.


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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Read also: ‘The diaconate - a ministry for women in the Church’, by Ida Raming, Orientierung 62 (1998) pp. 8-11.

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