Women as deacons
John Wijngaards, letter to The Tablet, 15 February 2003
Sir, May we just dismiss Phoebe's status in the apostolic Church by saying that diakonos in Greek only means "servant", as Michael Richards tries to do (Letters, 8 February)? Does this not apply to all the words that referred to ministries in apostolic times : presbuteros (elder), episkopos (overseer) and even apostolos (delegate)? If we argue as he does, we might as well discount all such New Testament terms as having no more than secular implications.
Diakonos denotes a very ancient ministry. It was instituted by the apostles even before presbuteroi or episkopoi. 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 (Phil. 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". Would Paul use the term loosely in this context?
The early Greek Fathers certainly understood Phoebe to have been an ordained minister. St Clement of Alexandria (150-215) speaks of the "women deacons" (diakonoi gunaikes) whom "the noble Paul mentions in his letters". Origen (185-255) states: "This text (Rom. 16:1-2) teaches with the authority of the Apostle that also women are instituted as deacons in the Church." And may we omit the testimony of Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia (AD 112), who reports that he arrested a group of Christians whose two female leaders bore the title of ministrae (Latin for diakonoi)?
All this becomes more than speculation if we remember the detailed ordination rites for women deacons, just as for male deacons, that have been preserved, dating back to at least the fourth century. In those rites the bishop calls on the Holy Spirit to pour out the grace of the diaconate on the woman ordinand "as you granted to Phoebe the grace of your diaconate whom you had called to this ministry".
Please, credit this document
as published by www.womenpriests.org!
This 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.
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.