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Women (and Men) in the Diaconate?

Despite a somewhat ambiguous draft document from the International Theological Commission saying that early female deacons in the church are not to be compared with “the sacramental diaconate,” no final decision has been made about the possibility of ordaining women deacons. The decision will be left to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. If previous history is any indicator, the odds for women deacons in this Papacy seem long indeed.

In the meantime, respected theologian John Wijngaard has just published a new book on the subject which points to a different conclusion. In No Women in Holy Orders?: The Women Deacons of the Early Church, (Canterbury) Wijngaard includes the original texts of all the important documents with accurate translations of sensitive terms (deacon, deaconess, ordination etc.) given in the original Greek. Reviewing Wijngaard’s book in the British Catholic journal, The Tablet, Margaret Hebblethwaite writes: “What are to be the criteria for ‘full sacramental ordination?’ If it is a matter of being public, solemn, and lifelong, with the laying-on of hands, the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the placing of a stole, then clearly women’s ordination qualifies. If it is a matter of admitting a woman to a ministry called the diaconate then again it is clear that women were deacons. But if it is a matter of admitting women to the same ministry as we now mean when we talk about the diaconate then it is not quite so clear. Why, not even the male deacon’s ministry then was the same as it is today, for then they were not allowed to baptise (cf. Apostolic Constitutions)

Winter 2003



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