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Ireland was evangelised by Saint Patrick, a Romano-Britain, during the second half of the 5th century.

It is clear that he both imported some customs from the Romano-British Church he knew and he adapted the Gospel to the typical Gaelic culture he found in Ireland. Ancient documents indicate that both these sources implied a special openness to the position of women.

One example is the unique position held in the Irish Church by Brigid of Kildare. It is not impossible that she was ordained a bishop in the sense of her having the jurisdiction over monks and priests.

The Catalogue of Irish Saints which we will quote from below, is a Latin document written in Ireland between 700 and 750 AD. It seems quite accurate in describing various ecclesiastical periods. It is likely that the note about the ministry of women during the first period is based on historical fact. Details of what this ministry entailed can be found elsewhere.


From "Catalogus sanctorum Hiberniae secundum diversa tempora". Source: A.W.Haddan-W.Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Oxford 1878, II 2, p. 292.

A catalogue of Irish saints during various periods

Primus ordo catholicorum sanctorum erat in tempore Patricii. Et tunc erant episcopi omnes, clari et sancti et Spiritus sancto pleni, CCCL numero, ecclesiarum fundatores. Unum caput Christum et unum ducem Patricium habebant ; unam missam, unam celebrationem, unam tonsuram ab aure usque ad aurem sufferebant. Unum pascha, quarta 20 decima luna post aequinoctium vernale, celebrabant; et quod excommunicatum esset ab una ecclesia, omnes excommunieabant. Mulierum administrationem et consortia non respuebant; quia super petram Christi fundati, ventum tentationis non timebant. Hic ordo
sanctorum per quatuor duravit regna."
"The first period [lit. 'order'] of Catholic saints existed during the time of Patrick. Then all [ministers] were bishops, famous and holy and filled with the Holy Spirit, 350 in total, the founders of churches [= parishes]. They had one head namely Christ and one leader namely Patrick. They only tolerated one kind of Mass, one celebration, one tonsure from one ear to the other. They celebrated one Easter, on the 14th moon after spring equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, was excommunicated everywhere.
They did not despise the ministry of women nor marriages with women; because since they were founded on the rock of Christ, they were not afraid of the wind of temptation.
This period of saints lasted for four reigns (= 442 - 543 AD).
Secundus ordo catholicorum presbyterorum. In hoc enim ordine pauci erant episcopi et multi presbyteri, numero CCC. Unum caput Dominum nostrum habebant; diversas missas celebrabant, et diversas regulas: unum pascha quartadecima luna post aequinoctium, unam tonsuram ab aure ad aurem. Abnegabant mulierum administrationem, 30 separantes eas a monasteriis. Hic ordo per quaterna adhuc regna duravit.
The second period [order] consisted of Catholic priests. For in that period few were bishops and many were priests, numbering 300. They had one head namely our Lord; they celebrated different kinds of masses and kept different kind of rules: one Easter on the 14th moon after the equinox, one tonsure from ear to ear. They rejected the ministry of women, separating them from their monasteries. This period lasted by another 4 reigns ( = 543 - 599)."


Ministries of women in the West

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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.

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