Apropos of today’s news that Pope Francis has appointed members to a commission to study the question of the possibility of deaconesses (aka deaconettes – so much easier to say), I bring your attention to a recent offering at Crisis O my prophetic soul) by the scholar Fr Regis Scanlon, OFM CAP.
Some of the piece, which you should definitely read over there in its entirety, given how timely this is.
Remember: While most people don’t care about deaconettes, and, of the few who do, most of them dismiss the notion as zany, someone might engage you in conversation about this topic. Reading good material like this will help you.
Women Deacons? A Matter of Authority
Pope Francis recently called for a commission to study the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate in the Catholic Church. This might seem to be disturbing news because it suggests that the pope has opened up the possibility of ordaining women to the hierarchical and sacramental diaconate—a role which, throughout the history of the Church, has been expressly forbidden.
However, since we know this pope likes to open up topics for discussion without any intention of changing Church teaching, we have to believe that is what he is doing here. [The ITC study of some years ago had a leaning, but it left the question open. I’m confident that this is a terminal commission.] Furthermore, we know that, historically, a diaconate role has already been open to women. Since the early Church, women have been admitted to a non hierarchical and non sacramental diaconate. These women—”deaconesses”—played an essential role in ministering to women when it was clearly not appropriate for men to do so, for example, when preparing women for full immersion baptism. Much has been written on this subject by many authors, including myself when the subject of women deacons last reached a full boil in 1996.
Today, there is no need to rehash those arguments. The definitive answer to the question of admitting women to a hierarchal and sacramental diaconate need not be lengthy. If the pope’s call for discussion does get underway, we must hope and pray that he will effectively teach what is grounded in Scripture and in the Church.
One has only to understand the nature of the diaconate and St. Paul’s teaching in his letter to Timothy. First, deacons occupy “the lower level of the hierarchy” and as administers of the word, the sacraments, and parishes, [NB] they have official Church authority over men, women, and children as they serve in this capacity. [NB] But, St. Paul says to Timothy: “For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was in sin” (1 Tim. 2:12-14).
Obviously, since St. Paul recognized that women can prophesy during public worship with head covered (1 Cor. 11:5) and since women were able to teach doctrine unofficially in the early Church (Acts 18:26), St. Paul’s statement, that “I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men,” referred to official teaching in the Church and to official Church leadership. While women could be charismatic leaders and teachers in the Church, as was St. Catherine of Siena, they could not be official leaders of men.
There have been attempts to probe this statement of St. Paul looking for a way to discredit it or to reinterpret it so as to open up a way to ordain women as hierarchical and sacramental deacons, but to no avail. Some have tried to say that this statement was conditioned by the culture or situation of the time but these were easily refuted. [blah blah blah] For example, it has been suggested that the rules or ordinances of St. Paul about women speaking in churches should be treated as a custom, just like St. Paul’s statements saying that women should have their heads covered when praying in churches (1 Cor. 11:2-6). [The Latin Church eliminated the law that required women to cover their heads when in Church. And yet Paul’s words remain. I’m just sayin’.]
But the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithdistinguished between these two Pauline ordinances for women when it explained St. Paul’s rule for women to cover their heads and St. Paul’s rule for not speaking in churches. After pointing out that the requirement to wear a veil on the head (cf. 1 Cor. 11: 2-6) was based on a custom of minor importance, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated: “However, the Apostle’s forbidding of women ‘to speak’ in the assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:12) is of a different nature…” And the reason is that “For Saint Paul this prescription is bound up with the divine plan of creation (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; Gen. 2:18-24); it would be difficult to see in it the expression of a cultural fact.”
What all of this boils down to is this: women can have ministries in the Church—even administering the sacraments in some cases and conducting administrative rules as deaconesses. But “they cannot have authority over men.” It is a question of authority. This is the basis of why women cannot be ordained as sacramental and hierarchical deacons in the Catholic Church.
So, the possibility of women being included in the hierarchical diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church hinges on the question: Is St. Paul’s rule in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 (“For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men”) a divine law? For, if it is a divine law, the Church’s rule, which excludes women from the diaconate, cannot change because the divine law is “eternal” and “unchanging.” And, as mentioned earlier, it is quite clear that St. Paul based his rule in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 on the divine law, because he explicitly appealed to the divinely revealed teaching of Gen. 2:18-24 as the basis for his rule. Thus, those who want to change the present ruling of the Church to permit women deacons must attack 1 Tim. 2:11-14 itself by challenging its authenticity as inspired Scripture.
Therefore, to call into doubt the veracity of 1 Tim. 2:11-14 is a very grave matter for which one risks his eternal salvation. Surely the pope’s intention is to draw out the argument for the ultimate purpose of silencing Church activists once and for all, and to declare the Church’s teachings once again. For we know that Jesus said: “For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul” (Matt. 16:26).
Yes, some choose to lose their souls to gain the whole world. But for women deacons?
“The red dragon…”.
Of course we are now living in a world in which increasing strident voices harp on the loony notion that men can be women and women can be men depending on their choice and, I suppose, mood.
“Of course we are now living in a world in which increasing strident voices harp on the loony notion that men can be women and women can be men depending on their choice and, I suppose, mood.”
Oh Father, you just put an awful thought/speculation into my head:
What if a… *confused* woman has a transgendered moment (going through the complete… um, change) and then, unbeknownst to proper authorities, is admitted to seminary and eventually… “ordained”?
Oh boy. The Fishwrappers would have fun with that.
As a woman, I agree with what Fr. Z. has written here, completely. Belief in what has always been considered truth as revealed by Christ and passed down by the Catholic Church as doctrine and tradition is what makes me Catholic. If I feel as if I have moved past doctrine and tradition and those things no longer apply to me or my view of the world, then I should seriously consider whether I am Catholic at all, and consider if I should find some other church and faith to take as my own.
Those who continue to believe in Catholic doctrine and tradition have a responsibility to defend it from any innovators, no matter where they are. This is a duty and a privilege.
Did the Latin Church really eliminate the law requiring women to cover their heads in church? Because if so, I would like to see the source document for it.
Did the Latin Church really eliminate the law requiring women to cover their heads in church? Because if so, I would like to see the source document for it.
I would like to see that source as well.
Bourgja, the 1983 Code of Canon Law simply refused to mention it, but veiling was abandoned decades earlier when it was still required. This laywoman’s interpretation is that Scripture still binds her conscience to veil, whether or not Canon Law specifically mentions it as the 1917 Code did.
I don’t know if the Eastern Rites’ Code of Canon Law requires head-covering, but I do see women who do it.
The source document is the code of canon law itself, which says that anything not specifically mentioned in the new code has been abrogated.
I have to confess, the chapel veil thing baffles me. How is it that a custom can be expressly called for by St. Paul in scriptures, confirmed by numerous Church Fathers, enforced by various official Church decrees, and even elevated in the 1917 code of Canon Law, but then after 20 years of a bunch of Western women deciding to ditch the veils, of their own volition and contrary to the actual law in force at the time, the entire custom disappears without ever being formally abrogated? It’s not specifically mentioned in the 1983 code. It’s not, from what I gather, specifically abrogated in the new liturgical norms. Basically, women just decided they didn’t want to wear them anymore (perhaps it symbolizing a woman’s submission to a man played a part? It was the 60s, after all), and the Church let it go at that. Is it any wonder that we’re STILL arguing over the deaconettes thing? Give it another year or two, and I’m sure we’ll be arguing about women priests again.
I understand there are some mysteries in this life we can never fully comprehend (the Holy Trinity, Free Will vs. Predestination, Time in Eternity, personal culpability of others with regard to sin . . .etc.), but for goodness sake, can’t we get chapel veils squared away? Would it kill the Vatican to just issue a plain, non-obfuscatorial statement on the status of chapel veils? I think a custom enshrined by previous codes of law, Tradition, Scripture, and over a thousand years of use throughout the entire Latin Rite merits that much courtesy, no?
Maybe Cardinal Sarah can invite women to start wearing veils again starting this Advent? He seems to be the fellow who can get things rolling. And mark my word, if you think folks are upset about the priest possibly turning ad orientem, people will throw a screaming, frothing, wildcat stampede of a hissy fit if the idea of chapel veils being mandatory is even mentioned. And by people I mean women. I promise. And if that doesn’t say something about the significance of that custom, I don’t know what does.
Pace to the many wonderful women who still keep this custom, and pace to the many wonderful women who would not object to embracing this custom. I’m guessing those are also not the women who are clamoring for deaconettes.
But it is abrogated in the code of canon law. It wasn’t “elevated” in the old code of canon law, it was put in to underline that there was a social norm of church dress. One doesn’t need permission to do it but it is not required any longer.
There is not much overlap between people who would not choose to wear a veil and those who want deaconesses, you are conflating two different things. I would feel silly wearing a veil.
Every time I see deaconettes I think of a song by The Rays. Where’s the WDTPRS troubadour when we need him?
“[The Latin Church eliminated the law that required women to cover their heads when in Church. And yet Paul’s words remain. I’m just sayin’.]”
The Church has eliminated the law, yet women who cover their heads when in Church remain!
Maybe not the majority but… just sayin’…
I think it might have to do with women in the 1960s [not the best of decades] gradually not wearing hats or gloves for that matter. These days only the Queen habitually wears hats in public, but I happen to know she doesn’t wear them ‘off duty’ because she hates them!
Having seen where this path leads across multiple Protestant denominations, I can report that this move is entirely about getting the foot in the door. Paul’s language about deacons and bishops in the Pastoral Epistles is largely parallel. If, the argument will go (because that’s how it has gone over and over again), that a woman can be a deacon the same sort of way that a man can be a deacon, then a woman can be a bishop the same sort of way that a man can be a bishop, and therefore a priest, and on and on. Ignore the pleas of “slippery slope” and “we would never do X, we just want Y.” Once that train of “the sexes are interchangeable” leaves the station, it doesn’t stop until it dismantles the entire sacramental system.
While there are plenty of exceptions, I’ll stand by my prediction. If it was announced tomorrow that all women have to wear veils at Mass, many a fang would be bared and claw unsheathed. And I’m willing to bet a steak dinner that many of the most upset are also supporters of deaconettes.
My point about the canon law issue is that it’s not mentioned. Not even a little bit. The 1983 code just ignores it completely. It seems strange to me, non-lawyer that I am, for a centuries old tradition that was endorsed by St. Paul, Church Fathers, and the previous code of canon law, to just disappear without any specific mention. Had the 1983 code specifically said, “chapel veils are no longer required” or “canon 1262 is abrogated” there would be no question at all. I would still argue it was imprudent (as imprudent as turning the priest towards the people – things can be legal and still be imprudent), but at least there would be some undeniable clarity.
The way it happened it very much seems like women decided on their own to quit wearing the veils (Scripture, Tradition, and Canon Law be danged, we just don’t wanna wear no veils), and the Church meekly allowed it by not saying anything. Remember, the 1917 code was very much in force until 1983, and women stopped wearing veils long before then.
Granted, many women today have grown up without them and don’t think twice about it. However, it is a long standing tradition that was praised by many Church Fathers and had specific symbolic meaning. Is it wise to just toss it away as if it’s some sort of old fashioned custom we need no longer care about? I would argue it would be equally inappropriate for men to wear hats at Mass. Everything in salvation history, from the Old Testament through the New and on into the history and tradition and liturgy of the Church has made it clear that the symbolic purpose of what we wear is not insignificant (just look at Fr. Z’s quest for beautiful vestments and birettas). For us to toss out something so rich in tradition and meaning – eh, I would just like to have a firmer basis than “Women got tired of it and the Church didn’t want to be bothered.”
But there is no question, the code of canon law says that anything in the old code that is not specifically mentioned in the new has been abrogated. Read it for yourself. There are far more important things to deal with and we do well to read why it was in the 1917 code in the first place.
If you want to follow the 1917 code, you should not sit with your wife in church.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law. canon 1262, stated,
Note that even the 1917 code did not require a veil, simply a “covered head.” From my own observation, that often meant a small bit of facial tissue clipped on by a hair pin.
Aparently CofE Lady Vicars go “episcopal purple” when referred to as priestesses.
I wonder how “Dearkins” would go down.
If you take the position that the 1917 code ESTABLISHED the law regarding chapel veils, then, yes, the 1983 abrogation of the 1917 code completely does away with it. However, I have seen others make the case that the law regarding chapel veils pre-exists the 1917 code (in Scripture, Tradition, and universal custom as practiced throughout the Church for centuries) and as such it’s canon 5 of the 1983 code that applies:
Can. 5 §2. Universal or particular customs beyond the law (praeter ius) which are in force until now are preserved.
However, I am NOT saying this is the case. I am NOT a canon lawyer. And it appears that most folks in the Church today (folks I respect greatly, like Msgr. Pope and Cardinal Burke) do NOT believe there is an obligation for women to wear veils (even though guys still can’t wear hats). However, I don’t think anyone can credibly say that this change was done well or made explicitly clear. Perhaps it’s a timing thing (these changes occurred in the miasma of Post Vatican II insanity where so many other things changed that should not have, regarding liturgy, religious life . . .etc.). Whatever the case, the change smacks of “let’s please the world and do away with anything that might be unpalatable” which is also known as “aggiornamento.”
Like having priests turn to face the altar, I think the reintroduction of veils would be a powerful liturgical symbol. A reconnecting, contra the modern culture, with our identity, our traditions, our symbols, and our past. No one will champion this cause, though. However, I know many mothers and daughters who wear veils, and have even noticed them at Novus Ordo Masses, so maybe, much like its abrogation, the restoral of this custom may rise up from the hearts and wills of the women.
Time will tell.
While we’re quoting 1 Timothy how about:
Similarly, deacons must be respectable, not double-tongued, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money.
9 They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10 They are first to be examined, and admitted to serve as deacons only if there is nothing against them.
11 Similarly, women must be respectable, not gossips, but sober and wholly reliable.
12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife and must be people who manage their children and households well.
13 Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and an authoritative voice in matters concerning faith in Christ Jesus.
So are we to believe that Paul is discussing the qualities of deacons and then suddenly he decides to throw in a line about women in general before once again continuing to talk on the qualities of deacons?
Not to mention Romans 16:1
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church in Cenchreae. [“deaconess” is not the favored translation in most English language versions.]
Now I fully believe that Christ limited ordination to men, as is the teaching of the Church throughout the ages, but if one insists upon using scripture to support their position one must expect others to do the same.
I also fully believe that in a century the Church might be ready to reestablish the non-ordained order of deaconess to carry out ministry to women in a way that we men will never be capable of doing (because men and women though equal are not the same.) [The Church would do better to focus first on restoration of the (non-ordained) Order of Widows.] But now is not the time and place to have this conversation, which almost certainly will be used and misused by those seeking ordination of women to the priesthood.
I hope our esteemed host is right and this is the holly stake to the heart of this notion for at least a couple of generations, until society is once again mature enough to discuss this absent of the notion of ordaining women.
you’re creating an artificial position and putting me in it. not there.
EVERYONE: The issue of women’s head coverings and Canon Law really isn’t the point, is it? Did you all read that whole thing at the top?
There is a distinction between what Paul said about head coverings and what he said about women not speaking in Church. THAT’s the issue and at the core of Scanlon’s piece, above.
So, wrap it up re: head coverings.
I don’t have Perseus loaded right now to check, but I would imagine the title for Phoebe is not unlike the title “Presbytera” that our Orthodox brethren use for the wife of the priest. Thus, Phoebe was the wife of a deacon. (If you’ve never used the Perseus Project over at Tufts’ website, Father, I highly recommend it, one Classicist to another).
But Father, But Father: Doesn’t Paul refer to the head coverings as a matter of “nature” , which is itself divinely established in 1 Cor 11:14 (“Nec ipsa natura docet vos,…”) I’m not aware of appeals to human nature being a reducible to custom.
I’m not trying to be cheeky and I know you want don’t want ongoing long discussions about whose wives wear head coverings on this post, but I am really curious how there is a distinction between Paul’s appeal to nature for women to cover their head and the appeal to Genesis (Eve happened to be deceived first) about speaking in the assembly? I mean to me, arguments from nature are usually pretty strong Catholic arguments. I really don’t see it.
I have an acquaintance in the local diaconate program. His wife is a big gossip and focused on money. She didn’t realize that people would look at her differently knowing her husband is in the program, nor did she anticipate a lifestyle change so she’s struggling.
Well, women can baptize, in emergencies, without being deaconesses. So can men. I fail to see the issue. No woman, ever, in the history of the Church, as far as I know, however, did anything involving sacrifices and altars. Men are raised to the altar for many reasons, among which is that males bring forth new things through instrumentalities, while women do so through nature. St. Paul may be referring to this aspect of Nature in 1 Tim 2 (see, especially, 1 Tim 2:25) and 1 Cor 14. Things get complicated in 1 Cor 14 because it is situated in the middle of a discussion of spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor 12 and 13) and in 1 Cor 14, prophecy, in particular. Earlier, in 1 Cor 11, St. Paul seems to be letting women prophesy (with covered had), but, now, he is not. This is a complicated issue, but let me see if I can shed some light. First of all, the understanding of the term, “prophecy,” or, “prophesy,” as it was used in the First-century Church has been colored by the experience some people have of the phenomenon going by this name in the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movements. Prophesying back then was a more general term that could encompass meditations on Scripture or exhortations, or supernatural utterances. Prophesy was part of the virtue of wisdom and was considered a type of teaching function, even being considered, in some cases as an office.
Now, attend: it is likely that at that time in Corinth, the assemblies (there were no dedicated Church buildings, per se) were, most likely in private homes, large buildings or even outdoors – this was Corinth, a Greek city, after all – but it is likely that women and men were, at least for part of the assembly, separated, as was the custom in the Temple (in 1 Cor 14 St. Paul makes reference to the Law). Now, when the women were separated from the men, it would have been natural for them to pray and prophesy to each other (with covered heads), since they were of equal stature and nature. Likewise, the men, with uncovered heads, would be doing the same. This would be the situation in 1 Cor 11. In 1 Cor 14, however, a different situation exists, because St. Paul says that they have come together (1 Cor 24:26), so, now, there is a heterogeneous mixture of men and women, so that, for the purposes of right order, men hold the prophetic office, by nature, in this situation and the women are to be subordinate. One must not confuse this situation with the Mass, however, because the language in 1 Cor 14 is not Eucharistic. Many things were done in the assembly when the early assemblies met, not just the Mass. 1 Cor 11, which was mentioned, earlier, is much more Eucharistic in its language, but, as in the case of 1 Cor 14:26, this would be a case where, after separation of the sexes (separate prayers and prophesies for men and women), everyone came together for the agape meal.
This practice was known at least through the time of St. Cryil of Jerusalem, who wrote:
“Let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark: in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet had things been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women : lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. Further, let the men when sitting have a useful book; and let one read, and another listen: and if there be no book, let one pray, and another speak something useful. And again let the party of young women sit together in like manner, either singing or reading quietly, so that their lips speak, but others’ ears catch not the sound: for I suffer not a woman to speak in the Church. And let the married woman also follow the same example, and pray; and let her lips move, but her voice be unheard, that a Samuel may come, and your barren soul give birth to the salvation of God who has heard your prayer; for this is the interpretation of the name Samuel (Protocatechesis, 14, NPNF, s. 2, v.7).”
Now, interestingly enough, in the Second Temple, men and women were separated by a screen called a mechitza, which was first introduced for modesty sake during the Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, which would find its parallel with using women, for modesty sake, to baptize other women.
So, I don’t see a contradiction between women prophesying and, yet, being silent in the Church, of baptizing, but being part of the laity.
Of course, the whole issue, in my opinion, was rendered moot when women religious came onto the scene, as early as the Third century, because they took over any role that had been assigned to deaconesses in the prior centuries.
Why, then are we even having this discussion? If women want to do what deaconesses did, let them become a sister or nun. I don’t know what else they expect to do that they aren’t already doing.
@Midwest St. Michael, the screening process for most dioceses for potential seminarians (they are fairly standard) requires (among other things) both a physical and a psychological evaluation–both of which were extremely thorough. It would be nearly impossible for a diocese to not know that a seminarian “used to be” a woman.
If women want to do what deaconesses did, they don’t even need to become a religious sister or nun. The harvest is plenty, and actually, so are the laborers. Much to be done, and many, many women just doing it– religious and lay, veiled and unveiled…
This Pope creates nothing but confusion.
Most of his true believers haven’t graced the door of a Catholic church in a very long time. Most of his headlines are seen (and believe) in the NY Times, the Huffington Post and other journals of that ilk.
I still pray for him.
To whom can we direct the suggestion to restore the Order of Widows? This new commission? His Holiness? Cardinal Sarah?
Aren’t nuns and sisters what Biblical deaconesses used to be? All these women wanting to be Deaconesses should just join the convent.
The quote from St. Cyril of Jerusalem may be found, here:
I realize that the screening process is thorough. It just seems that – under the current pontificate of mercy and inclusiveness – there could be a door of possibility.
Catherine Beier, Sisters who work with the poor and the ill and the disabled are certainly doing what the deaconesses used to. Cloistered nuns are not doing that, they are busy praying for everybody else.
If women want to do what deaconesses did, let them become a sister or nun.
Genuine religious life involves—to a degree few not called to it can begin to imagine—humility, self-surrender, self-forgetfulness, and conforming oneself to the image of Christ. None of those is on the “spirit of Vatican II” agenda, which (as can be seen at the average Novus Ordo which supposedly suffers from a lack of “deaconesses”) stresses pride, self-assertion, self-promotion, and attempting to conform Christ to the image of us.
Men and women who genuinely imitate the examples of Christ, of the early Christians, and of saints down through the ages, are (with unintended irony) being shamed and derided by 21st-century Modernists for being “divisive,” just as they were by 20th-century Modernists in the years after Vatican II. We are nonetheless called to be such Christ-formed men and women, and as confirmed Christians can proceed with confidence. But let us not deceive ourselves: to wait for official reinforcements or prelatial support may well be fatal, for the hermeneutic of rupture is again in the ascendant. It is vital that we frequent the Sacraments, seek guidance from clergy faithful to the perennial Magisterium, and never tire of supporting one another if we are to emerge on the side of the victors.
More on the topic at hand, I note that one of the members of the commission appointed by the pope to study this issue is Phyllis Zagano, famed nemesis of Fr. Z.
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