Someone in Rome has said something about reviving the order of deaconesses. This has got all of the dissenters very excited.
There are a couple of points to make:
- Deaconess ≠ Deacon – the earliest statutes of the Church pretty much make it clear that deaconesses served only women and infants and their service was contingent on male deacons, priests and bishops;
- Deaconess not necessarily an ordained person – the institution of deaconesses seems to have varied from diocese to diocese in the early Church – in some diocese the deaconesses would have received the imposition of hands, in others not – and the label “deaconess” had become extinct in the western Church so long ago that we have no intelligible written witness as to their role;
- Deaconesses did not die out – in the west they just became known by other names (e.g. consecrated virgin, Abbess, etc);
- The churches that continue to have deaconesses (i) keep them as a separate order to male deacons and (ii) do not allow deacons or deaconesses to confer blessings – they cannot preside over the sacraments of matrimony or baptism in these churches (please note, I’m talking about the eastern schismatics, not the divers heretical western groups who trace their origins back to the sixteenth century);
- Deacons/deaconesses ≠ priests; and
- The people advocating this change are agitating for something new (deaconesses who could take the place of a deacon), not the revivification of the biblical order of deaconesses and they very much see this as a wedge to get women admitted to the presbyterate and episcopate, as has happened in Anglicanism.
Whatever the merits of the idea of creating a new order of deaconesses, the plain fact is that the people advocating this innovation intend to use it as a way to ease the path for the ordination of women.
Rather than get stressed about the sound and fury that the dissenters are going to generate in the press about this issue, let’s instead pray to St Phoebe, on this Monday in the Octave of Pentecost, for the good of the Church and the salvation of the silly souls of the innovators.