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Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua

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Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua

Historical Note

The Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua was a collection of 102 canons on church discipline, which are given in the Collectio Hispana (Isidoriana)—which was for a long time the only source of our knowledge of the Statuta—under the title of a council of Carthage (the fourth) in the year 389 AD.

However the results of research has proved that the Statuta cannot be attributed to the fourth Council of Carthage —supposedly held in A.D. 398, although there is no evidence that it ever took place—nor to a later Council of Carthage (A.D. 418). The source of the Statuta has really nothing to do with any council. They are rather the work of an anonymous author, or compiler, who probably was the Presbyter Gennadius of Marseille (late fifth cent.). The collection was brought together between 476 and 485 (A.D. 418) from many source materials, some ancient, some recent.

The Statuta became part of the Pseudo-Isidorian collection (The ‘False Decretals’; 850 AD)—by way of the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis—which in turn served as source for medieval canon law collections, especially Gratian’s Law Book. In this way the Statuta became widely known and, what is more decisive, were for a long time considered to be regulations of the fourth Council of Carthage.

Ch.Munier, Les Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, Paris 1960.

Widows (women?) may not teach

Chapter 37. “We do not permit our "women to teach in the Church," but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not want such. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself had first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For "if the head of the wife be the man," it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head. Let the widow therefore own herself to be the "altar of God," and let her sit in her house, and not enter into the houses of the faithful, under any pretence, to receive anything; for the altar of God never runs about, but is fixed in one place.”

This chapter of the Statuta was taken from the Apostolic Constitutions III, no 6.

Women may not baptize

Chapter 41. “About baptizing by women we want you to know that those who presume to baptize bring themselves into no small danger. So we do not advise it, for it is dangerous, yes, even forbidden and godless. That is to say, if man is the head of woman and he is promoted to the priesthood, it militates against divine justice to disturb the arrangement of the Creator by degrading man from the preeminence granted to him to the lowest place. For woman is the body of man, has come from his rib and is placed in subjection to him, for which reason also she has been chosen to bear children. The Lord says, ‘He will rule over her.’ Man has lordship over the woman, since he is also her head. But if we have already forbidden women to preach, how would anyone want to permit them to enter the priesthood? It would be unnatural. For women to be priests is an error of heathen godlessness but not of Christ’s way. But if women are permitted to baptize, then Christ would surely have been baptized by his mother and not by John and he would have sent women with us to baptize also, when he sent us out to baptize. But now the Lord never made any such arrangements nor left us with any such scriptural admonition, since he as creator of nature and founder of its order knew the gradations of nature and what is proper.”

This part of the Statuta was taken from the Apostolic Constitutions III, no 9.

How women who assist at baptism should instruct catechumens

Chapter 100. “Widows or nuns, who are chosen to the ministery of the women that need to be baptized, should be so instructed to this office that they can teach unskilled and rural women with clear and sound words, both as to how to respond to the questions put by the baptizer at the moment of baptism and how to live after the reception of baptism.”

Note. The Statuta never mention deaconesses. The function had disappeared in Gaul in the second half of the fifth century. Also the Church widow is no longer included in the Church hierarchy. Widows are directed to prayer (c. 102), excluded from any official teaching function (c.37) and from baptizing (c.41).

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