Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu

The Ministry of Deaconesses

Excerpt of From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, International Theological Commission, 2003, pp. 20-27; full text published by the Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. The original French version of the Commission’s Report was published in La Documentation Catholique no. 2284 (19.1.2003) pp. 58-107.

In a study on the diaconate, the International Theological Commission has devoted a few pages to the women deacons in the Early Church (till 1000 AD). This is a crucial section, and it is this section that concerns us here. The findings of the commission are ambivalent. They do not reflect recent research on this very important topic in the discussion on women and holy orders.

The International Theological Commission is at present an advisory body, totally under control of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An examination of the Commission’s statement shows:

The paragraphs in the Commission’s texts have been subtitled and numbered by John Wijngaards to facilitate discussion.

International Theological Commission

Our Commentary

§ 1. St. Paul

In the apostolic era difference forms of diaconal assistance offered to the Apostles and communities by women seem to have been institutional.

Thus Paul recommends to the community at Rome “our sister Phoebe, servant (he diakonos) of the Church at Cenchreae” (cf. Rom 16:1-4). Although the masculine form of diakonos is used here, it cannot therefore be concluded that the word is being used to designate the specific function of a "deacon"; firstly because in this context diakonos still signifies servant in a very general sense, and secondly because the word "servant" is not given a feminine suffix but preceded by a feminine article. What seems clear is that Phoebe exercised a recognised service in the community of Cenchreae, subordinate to the ministry of the Apostle. Elsewhere in Paul's writings the authorities of the world are themselves called diakonos (Rom 13:4), and in 2 Cor 11:14-15 he refers to diakonoi of the devil.


Diakonos denotes a very ancient ministry. It was instituted by the apostles even before presbuteroi or episkopoi were. Diakonoi were properly ‘ordained’ by the imposition of hands and the invocation of God’s Spirit (Acts 6:1-6). Paul mentions ‘bishops and deacons’ in one breath (Philippians 1:1). In the early Christian communities everyone knew that diakonos, no less than episkopos, indicated a person with an ‘ordained’ ministry. It is therefore highly significant that Paul calls Phoebe not only a ‘diakonos’, but, as the text says literally: ‘(also) being the deacon of the church in Cenchreae’.

Read more here

Exegetes are divided on the subject of 1 Tim 3:11. The mention of "women" following the reference to deacons may suggest women deacons (by parallel reference), or the deacons' wives who had been mentioned earlier. In this epistle, the functions of the deacon are not described, but only the conditions for admitting them. It is said that women must not teach or rule over men (1 Tim 2:8-15). But the functions of governance and teaching were in any case reserved to the bishop (1 Tim 3:5) and to priests (1 Tim 5:17), and not to deacons. Widows constituted a recognised group in the community, from whom they received assistance in exchange for their commitment to continence and prayer. 1 Tim 5:3-16 stresses the conditions under which they may be inscribed on the list of widows receiving relief from the community, and says nothing more about any functions they might have. Later on they were officially "instituted" but "not ordained";[58] they constituted an "order" in the Church,"[59] and would never have any other mission apart from good example and prayer.

Note 58. " Traditio Apostolica 10; SCh 11(2), 67.

Note 59. " Cf. TERTULLIAN, To his wife, 1, 7, 4; SCh 273; Exhortation to chastity 13, 4; SCh 319.


The text omits to mention that the early Greek Fathers understood the text as referring to women deacons.

For instance St. Chrysostom says: “The women likewise. Paul meant the women deacons [tas diakonous]. There are those who think he was talking about women in general. No, that is not the case. He was referring to those having the dignity of the diaconate.”
Homily 11.1

§ 2. Pliny the Younger

At the beginning of the second century a letter from Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, mentioned two women who were described by the Christians as ministrae, the probable equivalent of the Greek diakonoi (X 96-97). It was not until the third century that the specific Christian terms diaconissa or diacona appeared.


We have already seen the use of female diakonos in Paul (see above). The term also occurs with Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and Origen (185-255). The text in Pliny therefore confirms its very early use!

§ 3. Extent of Women Deacons’ institution

From the end of the third century onwards, in certain regions of the Church' [60] (and not all of them), a specific ecclesial ministry is attested to on the part of women called deaconesses (61). This was in Eastern Syria and Constantinople.

Note 60. "It is at the Eastern limits of the Roman Empire that deaconesses finally make their appearance. The first document to refer to them, which is in some sort their birth certificate, is the Didascalia Apostolorum... known since the publication in 1854... of its Syriac text..." A. G. MARTIMORT, Les diaconesses. Essai historique, Rome 1982, 31.

Note 61. The most ample collection of all the testimony about this ecclesiastical ministry, accompanied by a theological interpretation, is that of John PINIUS, De diaconissarum ordinatione, in Acta Sanctorum, Sept. I, Antwerp, 1746, I-XXVIL Most of the Greek and Latin documents referred to by Pinius are reproduced by J. MAYER, Monumenta de viduis diaconissis virginibusque tractantia, Bonn 1938. Cf. R. GRYSON, Le ministère des femmes dans PÉglise ancienne (Recherches et synthèses), Gembloux 1972.


Women Deacons are documented for the whole Eastern part of the Church: Asia Minor, Bithynia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Constantinople, Macedonia, Achaia and Cyprus.

We have identified more than 110 women deacons by name. Click here to see the names and full documentation on each.


§ 4. The Didascalia Apostolorum

Towards 240 there appeared a singular canonico-liturgical compilation, the Didascalia Apostolorum (DA), which was not official in character. It attributed to the bishop the features of an omnipotent biblical patriarch (cf. DA 2, 33 - 35, 3). He was at the head of a little community which he governed mainly with the help of deacons and deaconesses. This was the first time that deaconesses appeared in an ecclesiastical document. In a typology borrowed from Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop held the place of God the Father, the deacon the place of Christ, and the deaconess that of the Holy Spirit (the word for "Spirit" is feminine in Semitic languages), while the priests (who are seldom mentioned) represented the Apostles, and the widows, the altar (DA 2, 26, 4-7). There is no reference to the ordination of these ministers.

The Didascalia laid stress on the charitable role of the deacon and the deaconess. The ministry of the diaconate should appear as "one single soul in two bodies". Its model is the diakonia of Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples (DA 3, 13, 1-7). However, there was no strict parallelism between the two branches of the diaconate with regard to the functions they exercised. The deacons were chosen by the bishop to "concern themselves about many necessary things", and the deaconesses only "for the service of women" (DA 3, 12, 1). The hope was expressed that "the number of deacons may be proportionate to that of the assembly of the people of the Church" (DA 3, 13, 1).[62] The deacons administered the property of the community in the bishop's name. Like the bishop, they were maintained at its expense. Deacons are called the ear and mouth of the bishop (DA 2, 44, 3-4). Men from among the faithful should go through the deacons to have access to the bishop, as women should go through the deaconesses (DA 3, 12, 1-4). One deacon supervised the entries into the meeting-place, while another attended the bishop for the Eucharistic offering (DA 2, 57, 6).

Deaconesses should carry out the anointing of women in the rite of baptism, instruct women neophytes, and visit the women faithful, especially the sick, in their homes. They were forbidden to confer baptism themselves, or to play a part in the Eucharistic offering (DA 3, 12, 1-4). The deaconesses had supplanted the widows. The bishop may still institute widows, but they should not either teach or administer baptism (to women), but only pray (DA 3, 5, 1-3, 6, 2).

Note 62. This norm is repeated in the Constitutiones Apostolorum III 19, 1. On the origins of the professionalisation of the clergy, cf. G. SCHÖLLGEN, Die Anfänge der Professionalisierung des Klerus and das Kirchliche Amt in der Syrischen Didaskalie (JAC. Erg.-Bd. 26), Münster 1998.


The Didascalia was just a private document. It is obviously interesting as an early record of what may have been the practice in a few local communities. It describes the functions of women deacons in those communities.

However, the document may not be used to disprove the validity of the official ordination rites that have been used by the Church from at least the 5th to the 10 the centuries (see below).

§ 5. The Apostolic Constitutions

The Constitutiones Apostolorum, which appeared in Syria towards 380, used and interpolated the Didascalia, the Didache and the Traditio Apostolica. The Constitutiones were to have a lasting influence on the discipline governing ordinations in the East, even though they were never considered to be an official canonical collection. The compiler envisaged the imposition of hands with the epiklesis of the Holy Spirit not only for bishops, priests and deacons, but also for the deaconesses, sub-deacons and lectors (cf. CA VIII 16-23).[63] The concept of klèros was broadened to all those who exercised a liturgical ministry, who were maintained by the Church, and who benefited from the privileges in civil law allowed by the Empire to clerics, so that the deaconesses were counted as belonging to the clergy, while the widows were excluded. Bishop and priests were paralleled with the high priest and the priests respectively of the Old Covenant, while to the Levites corresponded all the other ministries and states of life: "deacons, lectors, cantors, door-keepers, deaconesses, widows, virgins and orphans" (CA 1I 26, 3. CA VIII 1, 21). The deacon was placed "at the service of the bishop and the priests" and should not impinge on the functions of the latter [64]. The deacon could proclaim the gospel and conduct the prayer of the assembly (CA 1157, 18), but only the bishop and the priests exhorted (CA II 57, 7).

Deaconesses took up their functions through an epithesis cheirôn or imposition of hands that conferred the Holy Spirit,[65] as did the lectors (CA VIII 20. 22).

The bishop pronounced the following prayer: "Eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, creator of man and woman, who filled Myriam, Deborah, Anne and Hulda with your spirit; who did not deem it unworthy for your Son, the Only-Begotten, to be born of a woman; who in the tent of witness and in the temple did institute women as guardians of your sacred doors, look now upon your servant before you, proposed for the diaconate: grant her the Holy Spirit and purify her of all defilement of flesh and spirit so that she may acquit herself worthily of the office which has been entrusted to her, for your glory and to the praise of your Christ, through whom be glory and adoration to you, in the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen."'[66]

Note 63. "' The compiler was attentive to the nuances of vocabulary. At CA 11 11, 3 he says, "we do not allow the priests to ordain (cheirotonein) deacons, deaconesses, lectors, servants, cantors or door-keepers: that belongs to the bishops alone". However, he reserves the term cheirotonia to the ordination of bishops, priests, deacons and sub-deacons (VIII 4-5; 1617; 21). He employs the expression epitithenai tèn (tas) cheira(s) for deaconesses and lectors (VIII 16, 2; 17, 2). He does not seem to wish to give these expressions a different meaning, since all these impositions of hands are accompanied by an epiclesis of the Holy Spirit. For confessors, virgins, widows, and exorcists, he specifies that there is no cheirotonia (VIII 23-26). The compiler additionally distinguishes between cheirotonia and cheirothesia, which is simply a gesture of blessing (cf. VIII 16, 3 and VIII 28, 2-3). Cheirothesia may be practiced by priests in the baptismal rite, the re-integration of penitents, or the blessing of catechumens (cf. II 32, 3; 1118, 7; V1I 39, 4).

Note 64. ' Cf. CA 11120, 2; VIII 16, 5; VIII 28, 4; VIII 46, 10-11.

Note 65. ' Can. 19 of the Council of Nicaea (325) could be interpreted not as refusing the imposition of hands to all deaconesses in general, but as the simple statement that the deaconesses from the party of Paul of Samosata did not receive the imposition of hands, and "were anyway counted among the laity", and that it was also necessary to re-ordain them, after having re-baptised them, like the other ministers of this dissident group who resumed to the Catholic Church. Cf G. ALBERIGO, Les Conciles oecaméniques, Les Décrets, vol. B, 1, Paris 1994, 54.

Note 66. Constitutiones Apostolorum, VIII, 20, 1-2; SCh 336; Metzger, 221-223.


The Apostolic Constitutions contain a very early ordination rite - imposition of hands and calling down of the Holy Spirit.

The ordination of the woman deacon is substantially identical/parallel to that of the male deacon.

The document fails to mention that most modern scholars consider the ordination to have been sacramental. Examples:
D. Ansorge, ‘Der Diakonat der Frau. Zum gegenwärtigen Forschungsstand', in T. Berger en A. Gerhards (red.), Liturgie und Frauenfrage, St. Odilien 1990, pp. 31-65, hier pp. 46-47;
M-J. Aubert, Des Femmes Diacres. Un nouveau chemin pour l'Église, Parijs 1987, p. 105;
Chr. Böttigheimer, ‘Der Diakonat der Frau', Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 47 (1996) 3, pp. 253-66, hier p. 259;
Y. Congar, ‘Gutachten zum Diakonat der Frau', Amtliche Mitteilungen der Gemeinsamen Synode der Bistümer der Bundesrepublik Deutschlands, München 1973, nr. 7, pp. 37-41, hier p. 37;
H. Frohnhofen, ‘Weibliche Diakone in der frühen Kirche', Studien der Zeit 204 (1986) pp. 269-78, hier p. 276;
R. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, Collegeville 1976; oorspronkelijk Le ministère des femmes dans l'Église ancienne, Gembloux 1972, pp. 117-18;
P. Hofrichter, ‘Diakonat und Frauen im kirchlichen Amt', Heiliger Dienst 50 (1996) 3, pp. 140-58, hier pp. 152-4; P. Hünermann, ‘Theologische Argumenten für die Diakonatsweihe von Frauen', in Diakonat. Ein Amt für Frauen in der Kirche - Ein frauengerechtes Amt?, Ostfildern 1997, pp. 98-128, hier p. 104;
A. Jensen, ‘Das Amt der Diakonin in der kirchlichen Tradition der ersten Jahrtausend', in Diakonat. Ein Amt für Frauen in der Kirche - Ein frauengerechtes Amt?, Ostfildern 1997, pp. 33-52, hier p. 47;
D. Reininger, Diakonat der Frau in der einen Kirche, Ostfildern 1999, pp. 97-8;
A. Thiermeyer, ‘Der Diakonat der Frau', Theologisch Quartalschrift 173 (1993) 3, pp. 226-36, hier pp. 230-31

Why were these authors not consulted and quoted?

§ 6. Ranking women deacons with the clergy

The deaconesses were named before the sub-deacon who, in his turn, received a cheirotonia like the deacon (CA VIII 21), while the virgins and widows could not be "ordained" (VIII 24-25). The Constitutiones insist that the deaconesses should have no liturgical function (III 9, 1-2), but should devote themselves to their function in the community which was "service to the women" (CA 111 16, 1) and as intermediaries between women and the bishop. It is still stated that they represent the Holy Spirit, but they "do nothing without the deacon" (CA II 26, 6). They should stand at the women's entrances in the assemblies (II 57, 10). Their functions are summed up as follows: "The deaconess does not bless, and she does not fulfil any of the things that priests and deacons do, but she looks after the doors and attends the priests during the baptism of women, for the sake of decency" (CA VIII 28, 6).

This is echoed by the almost contemporary observation of Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion, in around 375: "There is certainly in the Church the order of deaconesses, but this does not exist to exercise the functions of a priest, nor are they to have any undertaking committed to them, but for the decency of the feminine sex at the time of baptism. [67]

A law of Theodosius of 21 June 390, revoked on 23 August of the same year, fixed the age for admission to the ministry of deaconesses at 60. The Council of Chalcedon (can. 15) reduced the age to 40, forbidding them subsequent marriage. [68]

Note 67. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion haer. 79, 3, 6, ed. K. Holy GCS 37, 1933, p.478.

Note 70. Cf G. ALBERIGO, Les Conciles Ecuméniques, Les Décrets, vol. II, 1, Paris 1994, 214.


How can the document say that the Constitutiones insist on women deacons not having a liturgical function? Baptism was one of the most important liturgical functions in the Church.

The document curiously omits the important Code of Emperor Justinian I (529 - 564). In that code women deacons are ranked on an equal footing with male deacons. And subject to the same penal provisions in case of them ‘disgracing their ordination’. This Code was valid in both East and West.

Full texts in: No Women in Holy Orders?

§ 7. Women deacons and nuns

Even in the fourth century the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns. At that time the woman in charge of a monastic community of women was called a deaconess, as is testified by Gregory of Nyssa among others.(69) Ordained abbesses of the monasteries of women, the deaconesses wore the maforion, or veil of perfection. Until the sixth century they still attended women in the baptismal pool and for the anointing. Although they did not serve at the altar, they could distribute communion to sick women. When the practice of anointing the whole body at baptism was abandoned, deaconesses were simply consecrated virgins who had taken the vow of chastity. They lived either in monasteries or at home. The condition for admission was virginity or widowhood and their activity consisted of charitable and health-related assistance to women.

Note 69. GREGORY OF NYSSA, Life of St Macrina 29, 1; SCh 178; Maraval, 236-237.


There certainly were some nuns who were also ordained women deacons, but the ordinary women deacons were not nuns.

Severus of Antioch (465-538) writes: “In the case of women deacons, especially in convents, ordination is performed less with regard to the needs of the mysteries than exclusively with regard to doing honour. In the parishes, however, women deacons habitually exercise a ministry relating to the divine bath of regeneration for the sake of women who are being baptised.”

§ 8. Ordinations in the Byzantine churches

At Constantinople the best-known of the fourth-century deaconesses was Olympias, the superior of a monastery of women, who was a protégée of St John Chrysostom and had put her property at the service of the Church. She was "ordained" (cheirotonein) deaconess with three of her companions by the patriarch.

Can. 15 of the Council of Chalcedon (451) seems to confirm the fact that deaconesses really were "ordained" by the imposition of hands (cheirotonia). Their ministry was called leitourgia and after ordination they were not allowed to marry.

In eighth-century Byzantium, the bishop still imposed his hands on a deaconess, and conferred on her the orarion or stole (both ends of which were worn at the front, one over the other); he gave her the chalice, which she placed on the altar without giving communion to anyone. Deaconesses were ordained in the course of the Eucharistic liturgy, in the sanctuary, like deacons.[70]

Note 70. Byzantine Ritual of ordination of deaconesses: Euchologe du manuscrit grec Barberini 336, in: Vatican Library, If 1698-17/v. Quoted by J.-M. AUBERT, Des femmes diacres (Le Point Théologique 47), Paris 1987,118-119.


We know the rite of ordination from many ancient manuscripts. By relating them to a common source, we can reconstruct the original rite as it was in the 5th century AD.

All the symbolism surrounding the imparting of ordination to the women signified its being a real sacrament:

  1. its setting in the heart of the eucharist,
  2. the presence of the clergy and the faithful,
  3. the proclamation of divine election through the hallowed ‘Divine Grace’ formula,
  4. the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit on the ordinand
  5. and the addition of the second, ekphonese prayer of ordination.

Read about all this here!

§ 9. A woman deacon’s access to the altar

Despite the similarities between the rites of ordination, deaconesses did not have access to the altar or to any liturgical ministry. These ordinations were intended mainly for the superiors of monasteries of women.


Women deacons distributed communion to the sick, and occasionally in Church.

Baptism too was a liturgical ministry.

Moreover, a difference in function does not constitute a difference in ordination. Many priests exercise different functions today. Their ordination is the same.

§ 10. Women deacons in the West

It should be pointed out that in the West there is no trace of any deaconesses for the first five centuries. The Statuta Ecclesiae antiqua laid down that the instruction of women catechumens and their preparation for baptism was to be entrusted to the widows and women religious "chosen ad ministerium baptizandarum mulierum".[71] Certain councils of the fourth and fifth centuries reject every ministerium feminae [72] and forbid any ordination of deaconesses.(73) According to the Ambrosiaster (composed at Rome at the end of the fourth century), the female diaconate was an adjunct of Montanist ("Cataphrygian") heretics." In the sixth century women admitted into the group of widows were sometimes referrred to as deaconesses. To prevent any confusion the Council of Epaone forbade "the consecrations of widows who call themselves deaconesses".[75] The second Council of Orleans (533) decided to exclude from communion women who had "received the blessing for the diaconate despite the canons forbidding this and who had remarried".[76] Abbesses, or the wives of deacons, were also called diaconissae, by analogy with presbyterissae or even episcopissae.[77]

Note 71. " Cf. can. 100 (MUNIER 99). In addition, it is expressly forbidden to women, "even well-instructed and holy" ones, to teach men and to baptize (cf. can. 37. 41; ibidem, 86).

Note 72. Council of Nimes (394-6), can. 2. Cf. J. GAUDEMET, Conciles gaulois du IV' siècle (SCh 24 l), Paris 1977, 127-129.

Note 73. Council of Orange 1 (441), can. 26.

Note 74. Cf. ed. H. 1. VOGELS, CSEL 81/3, Vienna 1969, 268.

Note 75. Council of Epaone (517), can. 21 (C. de CLERCQ, Concilia Galliae 511-695, CCL 148A, 1963, 29). Blessings of women as deaconesses had become widespread because the ritual did not provide a blessing for widows, as was noted in the second Council of Tours (567), can. 21 (ibidem, 187).

Note 76. lbidem, 101.

Note 77. Cf. II Council of Tours, can. 20 (ibidem, 184).


It is true that the women’s diaconate was not widely accepted in the West. This was because of the prejudice of Latin culture against women. Though it is significant that so many local synods issue decrees against women deacons. It shows the practice existed!

For a full & true picture of women deacons in the West, see here!


See also the ordination rite for women deacons in the West.

§ 11. Conclusion regarding existence of the ministry

The present historical overview shows that a ministry of deaconesses did indeed exist, and that this developed unevenly in the different parts of the Church. It seems clear that this ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate. At the very least it was an ecclesial function, exercised by women, sometimes mentioned together with that of subdeacon in the lists of Church ministries.[78]

Note 78. Many commentators have followed the model of Ambrosiaster in his Commentary on 1 Tim 3:11 (CSEL 81, 3; G. L. MULLER (Ed.), Der Empfänger des Weihesakraments. Quellen zur Lehre and Praxis der Kirche, nur Mdnnern das Weihesakrament zu spenden, Würzburg 1999, 89): "But the Cataphrygians, seizing this opportunity of falling into error, uphold in their foolish rashness, under the pretext that Paul addressed women after deacons, that it is also necessary to ordain deaconesses. They know however that the Apostles chose seven deacons (cf. Acts 6:1-6); is it to be supposed that no woman was found suitable at that point, when we read that there were holy women grouped around the eleven Apostles (cf. Acts 1:14)? (...) And Paul orders women to keep silence in church (cf. I Cor 14:34-35)." See also JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, In I Tim horn. 11; PG 62, 555; EPIPHANIUS, Haer 79, 3 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 88); Council of Orange (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 98); Council of Dovin (Armenia, 527): "Feminis non licet ministeria diaconissae praestare nisi ministerium baptismi" (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 105); ISIDORE OF SEVILLE, De Eccl. Qff. 1I, 18, 11 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 109); Decretum Gratiani, can. 15 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 115); MAGISTER RUFINUS, Summa Decretorum, can. 27, q. 1 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 320); ROBERT OF YORKSHIRE, Liber poenitentialis, q. 6, 42 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 322); THOMAS AQUINAS, In I Tim 111, 11 (G. L. Müller, Quellen, 333); etc.


The conclusion understates the facts. Women’s diaconate existed alongside the diaconate for men. Although some functions differed, it was given by the same ordination rite.

The quotations from medieval scholars are also misleading. They were almost totally ignorant of the women’s diaconate as had existed for nine centuries in the Eastern part of the Church.

§ 12. Controversy regarding sacramentality?

Was this ministry conferred by an imposition of hands comparable to that by which the episcopate, the priesthood and the masculine diaconate were conferred? The text of the Constitutiones Apostolorum would seem to suggest this, but it is practically the only witness to this, and its proper interpretation is the subject of much debate.[79]

Note 79. Cf. VANZAN, Le Diaconat permanent féminin. Ombres et lumières, in: Documentation Catholique 2203 (1999) 440-446. The author refers to the discussions which have taken place between R. Gryson, A. G. Martimort, C. Vagaggini and C. Marucci. Cf. L. SCHEFFCZYK (ed.), Diakonat and Diakonissen, St. Ottilien 2002, especially M. HAUKE, Die Geschichte der Diakonissen. Nachwort and Literaturnachtrag zur Neuauflage des Standardwerkes von Martimort iiber die Diakonissen, pp.321-376.


This is an extremely misleading statement.

The sacramentality can be proved not only from the text in the Constitutiones, but from the general ordination rite which, from copious early manuscripts, can be proved to have been widespread throughout the East and in general use for many, many centuries from at least the 5th century!

Calling the sacramentality ‘controversial’ is misleading when mainly scholars opposed to sacramentality are quoted, or only a few defending scholars from the past. Modern scholarship is ignored.

§ 13. The question of sacramentality

Should the imposition of hands on deaconesses be considered the same as that on deacons, or is it rather on the same level as the imposition of hands on sub-deacons and lectors? It is difficult to tackle the question on the basis of historical data alone. In the following chapters some elements will be clarified, and some questions will remain open. In particular, one chapter will be devoted to examining more closely how the Church through her theology and magisterium has become more conscious of the sacramental reality of Holy Orders and its three grades. But first it is appropriate to examine the causes which led to the disappearance of the permanent diaconate in the life of the Church.


It is simply not true to say that this question cannot be resolved on the basis of the historical evidence. There is plenty of evidence for a fully sacramental ordination rite.

Since men and women were ordained through parallel rites, if the women were not sacramentally ordained deacons, neither were the men!

Return to Women Deacons - Overview?

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.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.


Introduction? Overview? Manuscripts? Search?
Full documentation on all the ancient
Women Deacon Texts
is now available in print!