Women Deacons: An Exploration

In 786 Pope Adrian I had sent a sacramentary to Charlemagne to be used in all dioceses of his vast Frankish-Saxon kingdom. Five copies of this Hadrianum as it is known have been preserved to this day. They were originally used in Paris, Cambray, Tours (all in France), Baden-Württemberg (Germany) and Exeter (England). They contain the ‘prayer to make a woman deacon’ (diacona). Imposing his hands on her head the bishop said: “Hear, O Lord, our petition and send down on this your maidservant here the Spirit of your ordination. Since you have conferred on her your heavenly office, may she obtain favour with your majesty and present to others the example of a good life.” Moreover, even more elaborate ordination rites for women deacons could be found in Byzantine sacramentaries used in Greek-speaking Catholic parishes and monasteries of Rome, Nemi, Bari you name it, down all the East coast of Italy and into Sicily. All these rites were substantially identical to that conferred on male deacons.

But Bonaventure chose to be blind. Accepting the perceived wisdom of the time, he stated: “Deaconesses were women who assisted the deacons in reading the homily. They received some kind of blessing”. It is true that in some ancient Latin ordination texts the word ‘blessing’ (benedictio) is used to denote ‘ordination’. But this applied equally to bishops, priests and male deacons. Ignoring such evidence, Bonaventure concludes: “Therefore, in no way should it be believed that there ever were women promoted to sacred orders in harmony with the canons [= with the laws of the Church].”

Source: The Tablet

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