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The Female Diaconate in the early church
By J. M. Ludlow, an article in Good Words

Much has been written and said of late years on the subject, of “Deaconesses,” of “Sisterhoods,” in the Protestant Churches. The “Blue Flag of Kaiserswerth” has had its history recorded ere this in the pages of Good Words. There is a growing knowledge of the fact that “Deaconesses” formed part of the economy of the early Church; that “sisterhoods” have done much of the good that has been done by the Church of Rome. Yet few people perhaps have asked themselves whether the female diaconate of the early Church, the Sisterhood of the Roman Catholic, the Deaconesses’ Institute of the Protestant, represent the same or different ideas; in what they agree, in what they differ; what may be the outcome of each. The subject is one which has long been of deep interest to me; and perhaps the following pages, taken from notes gathered many years since, may at this time prove to be of some interest.

“I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. xvi. 1). If the Greek word here translated “ servant,” had been rendered as in the 6th chapter of Acts, the 3d of the 1st Epistle to Timothy, and in many other passages of the apostolical writings, the verse would have run thus : “ I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a deacon of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Reserving therefore all questions as respects the functions of the persons whom the word designates, but adhering to the form which is nearest to the Greek, we may say that undeniably there is mention of female “deacons” in the New Testament. The deacon Phoebe must moreover have been a person of some consideration. St. Paul begins with her name the list of his personal recommendations or salutations to the Roman Church, and recommends her at greater length than any other person. “ That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” Evidently this “servant of the church,” this “succourer” of apostles, could have been no mere pew-opener, no filler of a purely menial office.

Turn now to the 3d chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, where the apostle gives successively those noble pictures of the Christian bishop, of the Christian deacon. “A.bishop,” he says, “must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; . . . one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.” Proceeding next to the deacons: “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre... Even so must their wives ” (so says our translation) .“be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own house.”

Many no doubt will have been struck by the circumstance, that whilst the deacons’ wives are •mentioned in the above passage, there is no parallel injunction as to the wives of bishops, although the former are treated obviously as married men and fathers of families, in precisely similar terms; whereas if the example of a deacon’s wife be of sufficient moment to deserve a special apostolic exhortation, that of a bishop’s wife must need it far more. Accordingly, Calvin and some others have held that the word rendered “their wives” means the wives of the bishops as well as of the deacons,—an interpretation which would itself do violence to our text, and which certainly accuses St. Paul of hasty and slovenly writing. For, if he had meant this, surely he would more naturally have inserted the verse at the end of the whole exhortation, after the present ver. 13, than have “thrown in”—to use an expression of Chrysostom’s in a comment to be presently referred to—something about bishops’ as well as deacons’ wives at once in a passage referring to deacons, both before and after. This interpretation, at all events, seems to have been entirely foreign to the early church. Two meanings only appear to have been put upon the passage till the Reformation : one which referred it to women generally; the other, which referred it to the female diaconate.

Both these senses rest indeed upon the literal text. It will be observed that the word “their,” in ver. 11, is printed in italics, indicating insertion at the hands of our translators. The Greek word, on the other hand, translated “wives,” signifies primarily “women.” Literally, therefore, the verse might run thus: “Even so must women be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” Accordingly, the Latin Vulgate translates by the equivalent for “women,” not for “wives;” our own Wycliffe following in its wake, and writing, “ also st bihoveth wymmen to be chast,” etc. Upon this construction Chrysostom, in his homilies on this epistle (the 11th), observes as follows :—“ Some say that this is spoken of women generally; but it is not so. For why should he have thrown in something about women amongst the things which he has been saying? But he speaks of those that have the dignity of the diaconate.” If, therefore, “ women-(deacons)'' are meant, the sense is plain. Just as the men-deacons must be grave, not double-tongued, etc., even so must the women-deacons be grave, not slanderous, etc. Thus, to sum up the argument, if the wives of the deacons be intended, the omission of all mention of bishops’ wives seems unaccountable; if the wives of bishops and deacons alike are meant, the reference to the former is strangely thrown in amidst injunctions specially referring to the diaconal office; if women generally, the injunction is thrown in still more strangely; but if “women-deacons” be really meant, instead of either an unaccountable omission or an illogical insertion, we have a command strictly sufficient, strictly logical, and in strict accordance, as I shall presently show, with the facts of Church history.

One great cause of the obscurity in which the history of the female diaconate has been involved has been the existence in the early Church, from the apostolic age, of another class of women in later times frequently confounded with female deacons. “Honour widows that are widows indeed,” says St. Paul (1 Tim. v. 3, et seq.); “but if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. . . . Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works ; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. ... If any man or woman that believeth hath widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.”

What does the picture here given amount to? Surely it is that of the almswomen of the primitive Church ; persons free from all family ties (“if any widow have children or nephews”), and at the same time destitute of all family support (“ she that is a widow indeed, and desolate” ... “if any man or woman that believeth hath widows, let them relieve them”), who, after a life of Christian usefulness (“ well reported of for good works,” etc.), were thought worthy of being provided for by the Church (“let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed”) in their old age (“let not a widow be caken into the number under threescore years”), being released from all duties of active benevolence (“she that is a widow indeed . . . continueth in supplications and prayers night and day”). Now, the details of this picture are very much the reverse of what is implied in the word deacon, i.e., man or maid-servant. As the primary function of the deacon was one of a purely ministerial nature, to “serve tables”—and let it be remembered that the very necessity for the office arose from the neglect of the Greek “widows” in the “daily ministration” (the original Greek word is “diaconate”)—so we may at once assume that the female deacon’s duties must have been active ones. We can hardly suppose, for instance, that a widow of sixty, such as St. Paul describes, would, like the deacon Phoebe, have undertaken a long journey under all the difficulties of ancient navigation, charged, if a tradition accepted by our translators speaks true; with the care of the epistle in which she is mentioned. And shall we be far from the truth if, judging from St. Paul’s commendation of Phoebe, we conjecture that the female deacon was what the widow had been, a bringer-up of children, a lodger of strangers, a reliever of the afflicted, a diligent follower of every good work? If so, it would easily follow that aged female deacons would be adopted into the class of widows; that women who had actively ministered to the Church during the working-time of their lives should in turn be ministered to by the Church in their old days, and allowed to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation. And thus the two ideas might in time run into one.

Not only the Church widows, however, but a class of persons dating from a scarcely later age, and who may be considered to have grown up out of a forced application of' 1 Cor. vii. 25, the Church virgins, as well as the female elders or presbyters of some schismatical churches, and a class of “sister-women,” a mere corruption of later days, have more or less been confounded with the female deacons at some time or other by the views or practice of particular churches, and the so-called labours of commentators; and the history of the true female diaconate has to be disentangled from a mass of misconceptions and misapplications of texts, wilful, stupid, or ignorant, filling the pages of the best books of reference, repeated without inquiry from author to author, till they seem to borrow something of the weight of each, almost incredible to any one who has not traced passage after passage to its source. And I here warn any student who should wish to examine the subject for himself, never to allow the most appalling array of modern names, with or without Latin endings, to have any influence with him against one single text of Scripture, or of an early authority.

Let us now turn to a work of which many varying judgments have been held by men of learning and weight—for some a clumsy forgery, for others a precious and genuine relic-—the so-called “Apostolical Canons” or “Constitutions.” Observe that, if they be forgeries, they are forgeries of an early age, and as such, possessed of real historical value. For every literary forgery must bear the impress of the time at which it was got up; it must look backward always, never forward; some vestiges of past reality must linger in it, and ? by those vestiges we may often complete a subsisting fragment of reality itself. Now, in the “Apostolical Constitutions,” the female Deacon or Deaconess, the Widow, the Virgin, all come before us as distinct types; the first as invested with an office; the second as the object of affectionate regard and support; the third of religious commendation. Of the Deaconess (as I shall call her henceforth) it is provided, that she shall be “a pure virgin,” or otherwise “a widow once married, faithful and worthy;” a very natural provision, since the cares of a family would prevent a married woman from concentrating her whole energies on her diaconal functions. At service, whilst the “door-keeper” was to stand and watch at the men’s entrance to the church, the deaconess was in like manner to stand at the women’s entrance (a function which indeed, in a constitution of the. eighth and latest book, is ascribed to the sub-deacon), and was, moreover, to act in the same manner as the male deacon with respect to placing females in the congregation, whether poor or rich. She was also to fulfil the duties of a male deacon in those cases where “a man-deacon cannot be sent to some houses towards women on account of unbelievers,” i.e., to prevent scandal. Lastly, her most important offices were those relating to the baptizing of women, the necessity for which has been obviated in later times by the discontinuance of the practice of baptism by immersion, or the practice of immersion under a form which the early Church would not have recognised as valid. It is even provided that “no woman shall approach the deacon or the bishop without the deaconess.” And it is said generally, in a constitution concerning the deacons, that “the woman” (an expression strongly recalling 1 Tim. ii. 11, and affording additional ground for construing it as relating to the deaconesses) “should be zealous to serve women;” whilst “to both pertain messages, journeys to foreign parts, ministrations, services.” The traditional journey of Phoebe to Rome with St. Paul’s Epistle would thus be strictly within the limits of her functions.

Towards fulfilling these duties, the deaconess is represented as receiving an ordination from the bishop, under a simple and beautiful form of service attributed to the Apostle Bartholomew:—

“Touching the deaconess, I Bartholomew do thus ordain: 0 bishop, thou shalt lay on her thy hands, in the presence of the presbytery, of the deacons, and of the deaconesses, and thou shalt say:—

“0 everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man and woman, who didst fill with Thy Spirit Mary and Deborah, and Hannah and Hulda: who didst not disdain to cause Thine only-begotten Son to be born of a woman ; who didst admit into the tabernacle of the testimony and into the temple the women guardians of Thy holy gates: Thyself look down even now upon Thy servant now admitted into the diaconate, and give to her Thy Holy Spirit, and cleanse her from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, that she may worthily fulfil Thy work thus intrusted to her, to Thy glory, and to the praise of Thy Christ, with whom to Thee be glory and worship, and to the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Some may feel shocked at the idea of the ordination of a woman, of the Holy Ghost being invoked upon her. A distinction has even been made by some Protestant, as well as Romish writers, between the imposition of hands as a ceremonial benediction and a real ordination. The original word certainly affords not the slightest ground for such a distinction, which other writers, like Bingham, wholly repudiate. But it seems to me that the laying on of hands upon a deaconess was eminently characteristic of the faith of early times. It was because men felt still that the Holy Ghost alone could give power to do any work to God’s glory, that they deemed themselves constrained to ask such power of Him, in setting a woman to do church work. Nor did such ordination in the least interfere with any needful distinctions of office. “The deaconess,” it is said, “does not give the blessing, nor does she fulfil any of the functions of the presbyters or of the deacons, beyond the guarding of doors, and the supplying the. place of the presbyters in the baptizing of women.” In other words, she was ordained not to preach, not to bless, exactly as others were ordained to preach and to bless. From other provisions, it may be seen that the deaconess ranked after the presbyter and deacon, and at least on a par with, if not before, the subdeacon. Very different is the language of these Constitutions respecting widows, of whom it is said expressly in one place: “The widows should be grave, obedient to the bishops, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and also to the deaconesses and it is specifically stated, in a constitution attributed to Lebbeus son of Thaddeus, that “the widow is not ordained.” Of the Church virgin (who is, however, now treated as having dedicated hersdf, not as having been dedicated by others—as in 1 Cor. vii.—to Christ) it is specifically stated that she is “not ordained.” The contrast between the ordained deaconess and the nonordained widows and virgins, illustrates well the typical, universal character which belongs to the offices of the Christian Church. Deaconesses were ordained, because the Diaconate was the type of that universal duty of serving one another, which our Lord so specially inculcated in the washing of His. disciples’ feet. Widows were not ordained, because widowhood and virginity are not offices, but mere conditions of life; because they have nothing of a universal character, but are merely exceptional in their nature. The teachings of the Apostolical Constitutions on this subject, I must say, appear to me quite in accordance with the view now perhaps most generally entertained, that they represent the condition of the Greek Church at some period of the second century.

Except in the Apostolical Constitutions, up to the latter end of the fourth century, there is little of real moment, less of real interest, to be found in Eastern Church writers respecting our subject, although Hermas, as once mentioned by Principal Tulloch in Good Words, indicates the existence of women who seem to have had authority over the widows and orphans. The epistles falsely attributed to Ignatius, whilst referring to the deaconesses as “keepers of the holy gates,” bear witness of their later date, by the far greater prominence they give to virgins,—treating them as “ priestesses of Christ,”—holding them up to veneration,—and confounding them, according to one text at least, with the widows. Not to speak of a doubtful passage in Clement of Alexandria, writing towards the end of the second or beginning of the third century, Origen, an Egyptian writer of slightly later date (184-253), in commenting on Phoebe and her mission, speaks of the ministry of women in the Church as both existing and necessary.

If we turn now to the Western Church,—a remarkable passage from the letters of the Younger Pliny, writing for advice to Trajan, how to deal with the Christians, shows that it was upon two deaconesses that the elegant letter-writer—the Chesterfield of antiquity—sought to prove by torture the truth of those strange confessions of the Christians, “that they were wont on a stated day to meet before dawn, and repeat among themselves in alternate measure a song addressed to Christ, as to a God; and by their vow to bind themselves, not to the committing of any crime, but against theft, and robbery, and adultery, and breach of faith, and denial of trust, after which it was their custom to depart, and again to meet for the purpose of taking food. In the Latin Church, however, the distinction between the deaconess and the churchwidow, and between the latter and the churchvirgin, appears to have become early obliterated. Neander, indeed, shows well that the more stringent separation of the sexes in the Eastern Church created a more permanent necessity there for the peculiar services of the deaconess, whilst more exalted notions of priestly privileges tended in the West to impart a something offensive to her position as a recognised member of the ordained clergy. Tertullian (150-226, or there female diaconate amongst the Paulianist heretics, and by implication also in the Church itself, although it has been strangely interpreted to forbid altogether the ordination of deaconesses. A canon of the Council of Laodicea (360 to 370) has been still more strongly pressed into this service, although it only forbids the appointment of female elders in the Church. In the Fourth Synod or Council of Carthage (whose canons have been considered to be, in fact, a collection of those of many African Councils) we find, again, passages which have been used, without the slightest testing of their weight, as authorities in treating of the female diaconate, whilst in fact they only show us widows and consecrated virgins invested with some of the functions of the deaconess. By the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century, however, references to the female diaconate, and notices of individual deaconesses, become frequent in the writings of the leading Greek fathers.

Theodoret tells of a deaconess in the time of Julian, how she “evangelized " the son of a heathen priest, encouraged him to stand fast under persecution, sheltered him from his father’s wrath. He subsequently gives a chapter to the story of “Publia the deaconess, and her godly boldness who being with the choir of the perpetual virgins,” and “the Emperor chancing one day to pass, they began more lustily with one accord to sing forth, deeming the wretch worthy of all contempt and ridicule; and chiefly they sang those psalms which deride the impotence of idols. . . . The Emperor, hearing these songs, and being thereby stung to the quick, bade them be silent while he passed. But she, holding cheap his commands, filled the choir with greater boldness, and again, as he passed by, bade them sing, ‘ Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered.’ When he, bitterly wroth, bade the mistress of the choir be brought before him, . . . and showing neither pity for her grey hairs, nor respect for her virtue, ordered one of his guards to strike her on both cheeks, covering his hands with her blood. But she, taking this shame for sovran honour, withdrew into her cell, and still continually pursued him with her spiritual songs,” as David was wont to still the evil spirit of Saul, adds the author; an odd comparison, seeing that, by his own account, Publia irritated Julian’s evil passions instead of soothing them. The function of the deaconess, as head of the church-virgins, is referred to in other contemporary authorities.

Not to dwell on Epiphanius, who in two separate passages sets forth specifically (in general accordance with the Apostolical Constitutions) the institution and certain of the principal functions of the deaconesses, taking at the same time occasion to point out that the Church “never established elderesses or priestesses,” the history of Chrysostom is essentially interwoven with that of the female diaconate, through the names of several deaconesses, his devoted followers.

‘Olympias, the most prominent of all, was an orphan of good birth, who had been married when young, but whose husband had died twenty months after, and whom the emperor Theodosius had sought in vain to marry a second time to one of his own kinsmen. She was, when still young in widowhood, ordained a deaconess. Her unbounded liberalities drew upon her the reproof of Chrysostom, who exhorted her to moderate her alms ; and this counsel is assigned as one of the motives of the deep hatred borne to Chrysostom by the greedy priesthood of the metropolis. Of her stanch adherence to Chrysostom on his expulsion from the episcopate, her “manly” conduct under persecution, as well as of that of the deaconess Pertadia, who “knew nothing but the Church and her room,” details will be found in Sozomen. The relation of Chrysostom to Olympias was peculiarly intimate, so that she looked after his daily food when he was in Constantinople. Eighteen of his letters are addressed to “My Lady the Deaconess Olympias, most worthy and beloved of God.”

After saying that he will not dwell on her almsgiving, “whereof thou boldest the sceptres, and didst bind on the crown of old,” he proceeds: “For who should tell thy varied, manifold, and many-sided endurance, and what speech should be sufficient for us, what measure for our history, if one should enumerate thy sufferings from thy earliest age until now : those from members of thy household, those from strangers, those from friends, those from enemies, those from persons connected with thee by blood, those from persons in nowise connected with thee, those from men in power, those from the prosperous, those from the rulers, those from the common people, those from men reckoned in the clergy. . . . But if one should turn also to the other forms of this virtue, and should go through no more thy sufferings received from others, but those which thou hast contrived for thyself,—what stone, what iron, what adamant shall he not find conquered by thee r For having received a flesh so tender and delicate, and nourished up in all kinds of luxury, thou hast so conquered it by various sufferings, that it lies no better than slain, and thou hast brought upon thyself such a swarm of diseases as to confound the physician’s skill, and the power of medicine, . . . and to live in perpetual fellowship with pain.

“For thy self-control as respects the table, and thy continence, and thy steadfastness in night watchings, if any should choose to set it forth at length, how many words will he need! Rather we must seek out some other much greater name for these virtues. For we call that man continent and self-controlled, when he is pressed by some desire and conquers it; but thou hast not what thou mayest conquer; for having blown from the first with great vehemence upon the flesh, thou hast extinguished all its desires. . . . Insensibility alone remains to thee. . . . Thou hast taught thy stomach to be content with so much food and drink as not to perish. . . That desire being quenched, the desire to sleep was quenched with it; for food is the nourishment of sleep. And indeed thou didst also destroy sleep in another way, having from the beginning done violence to thy nature, and spending whole nights without sleep; latterly, by constant custom, making a nature of the habit. For as sleep is natural to others, so is watching to thee. . . . But if any should examine the time, and how these things took place in unripe age, and the want of teachers, and the many that laid stumbling-blocks, and that from an ungodly house thou hast come now of thyself to the truth in thy soul, and that thine was a woman’s body, and one delicate through the nobility and luxury of thy ancestors, how many seas of wonders will he find opening out at every point! . . . Willingly would I tarry over these words, and sail over a boundless sea, or seas rather, following the manybranched tracks of each virtue of thine, whereof each track should bring forth a sea again, if I were to dwell on thy patience, and thy humility, and thy many-shaped almsgiving, which has stretched to the very ends of the world, and on thy charity, that hath outdone ten thousand furnaces, and on thy boundless prudence, full of grace, and surpassing the measures of nature. . . . But I will endeavour to show the lion by his claw, by saying a few words of thy dress, of the garments that hang simply and at haphazard around thee. This indeed seems a lesser achievement than others ; but if any should view it diligently, he will find it very great, and needing a philosophic soul, which tramples upon all the things of life, and takes flight to the very heaven. . . . For I do not only marvel at the unspeakable coarseness of thy attire, surpassing that of the very beggars, but above all at the shapelessness, the carelessness of thy garments, of thy shoes, of thy walk; all which things are virtue’s colours.”

He then says that his object has not been to praise, but to console her, in order that, “ceasing to consider this man’s sin and that man’s fault, thou mayest bear in mind perpetually the struggles of thy endurance, thy patience, thy abstinence, thy prayers, thy holy night-long watches, thy continence, thine almsgiving, thy hospitality, thy manifold and difficult and frequent trials. Reflect how from thy first age until the present day, thou hast not ceased to feed Christ when a-hungered, to give Him drink when thirsty, to clothe Him when naked, to take Him in when a stranger, to visit Him when sick, to go unto Him when bound. . . . Be proud, and rejoice in the hope of these crowns and of these rewards.”

I do not wish to soften one line of this most painful picture, which might be developed to almost any extent, as the “sea” of Chrysostom’s panegyric, to use his own favourite image, flowed again and again. The days are gone when Phoebe travelled forth from land to land in charge of an apostle’s letters. The days are gone when the deaconess went from house to house, carrying the good tidings into the seclusion of the women’s apartments. The demon of ascetic self-righteousness has entered in, and is fostered by the preachings even of one of the greatest men, the most exemplary prelates of the age. The deaconesses, we are told, do not “depart from the Church.” Profuse in almsgiving they may be, but how little can they be effectual “succourers of many,” when by their austerities they ruin their health, when it is one of the features of Chrysostom’s panegyric of Olympias, that she has brought upon her such a swarm of diseases as to defy all means of cure? No wonder that Epiphanius, Chrysostom’s contemporary, mainly dwells upon that one duty of theirs, of assisting in the baptizing of women. Such easy, stay-at-home functions were the only ones now fit for them. No wonder that he adds a third to the classes from which the deaconesses are to be selected. They are to be, he says, either continent, by which he means virgin wives, once-married, or once-married widows, or perpetual virgins. The Apostolical Constitutions know of no such monstrosity as voluntary virginwives. They do not say that the “pure virgins ” who may be made deaconesses are to be perpetual ones.

There has grown up, moreover, a real analogy of character, if not of position, between the deaconess and the apostolical widow. I say the apostolical widow; not by any means the person known by that name in the age of Chrysostom, one of whose achievements was the reform of the Church widows, and from whose writings it is palpable that this class, instead of having been raised to the level of the deaconesses, had, on the contrary, fallen far below its own original station; that the respectable almswoman had degenerated into the clamorous prayer; nay, that the still greater abuse had crept in of allowing the young and well-to-do to usurp the place of the aged and the destitute. The true pattern at this period of the apostolical widow, continuing in supplications and prayers day and night, was obviously exhibited by deaconesses such as Olympias or Pertadia. Nothing was more natural than that the laity at least should confound the two, and shotdd endeavour to impose upon the latter all the restrictions—as to age for instance— which St. Paul laid down for the former. A struggle for this purpose now takes place between the State and the Church; the State (in the Theodosian Code, 438) seeking to subject the institution to the disabilities of actual monachism. On the other hand, a canon of the Convent of Chalcedon, almost contemporary with the promulgation of the Theodosian Code (451), enacts, that “the deaconess shall not be ordained before her 40th year, and this with the utmost deliberation; but if, receiving the imposition of hands, and remaining some time in the ministry, she gives herself over to marriage, doing despite to the grace of God, let her be accursed, together with her paramour.” By the time of Justinian, the State, after endeavouring for awhile to split the difference (at 50) as to the age of ordination of the deaconess, finally gives in. The distinction between widows and deaconesses is recognised; the number of deaconesses in the church of St. Sophia is fixed by law (80, to 100 male deacons). If the deaconess leave the ministry to enter into marriage, or choose any other mode of life, she is made subject to the penalty of death, as well as her husband or seducer, with confiscation of property for both. These are but a few instances out of many which occur in Justinian’s legislation refering to the institution.

At this period, therefore (first half of the sixth century), the office of deaconess in the Eastern Church has become purely sacerdotal, forming a sort of connecting link between the secular and the regular clergy. She is even included, in the heading of one law, under a name (sanctimonialia) which in later days is synonymous with “nun”. So nearly does her condition approach to that of actual monachism, that the punishment, as we have seen, for the marriage of a deaconess is death against both parties, the legislator not being ashamed to quote as an authority the Pagan one of the Vestal Virgins,—though indeed the repeated provisions on this head seem to show that there was considerable difficulty in enforcing these ascetic rules on the deaconesses. There are now, moreover, two classes of deaconesses, those residing in convents or asceteries (the “skeets” of contemporary Russia), and those attached to churches and living alone. The former must obviously have become almost identified with the nuns among whom they lived; the latter alone could have answered in somewise still to the old Church deaconess, “ servant” of the Church.

From this period I am aware of but two or three scattered notices as to the female diaconate in the East. The last occurs in Balsamon, a writer of the twelfth century, as quoted by Suicer, who treats the office as nearly extinct. No deaconesses, he says, are now ordained, though some of the “ascetes” may be improperly so termed. And the way in which he speaks of them shows that the institution had become lost and stifled in female monachism. “As virgins,” he writes, “they were received by the Church, and guarded according to the command of the bishop, as consecrated to God, except that they wore the garb of the laity, . . . and at forty years old they received ordination as deaconesses, being found qualified in all respects.” Among the Jacobites, however, the institution seems to have lingered till a still later period.

If we turn now back from the Eastern to the Western Church, a curious feature presents itself. Ignored by the great Latin Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries—Jerome, for instance—who yet treat widows, as unmistakably as Chrysostom himself, as objects of charity only, the female diaconate, confounded with Church widowship, suddenly makes its appearance under its own name in the decrees of Gaulish Councils of the fifth and sixth centuries, but invariably to be denounced and prohibited. Thus the Synod of Orange, 441; the Synod of Epadne, 517, absolutely forbid the ordination of “widows who are called deaconesses,” says the latter. The Synod of Orleans, 533, enacts the excommunication of “any woman who, having received hitherto the blessing of the diaconate against the interdicts of the canons, shall have married again; ”a text which shows that, in spite of previous prohibitions, the practice of ordaining deaconesses still existed. The explanation of this prominence in Gaul of the female diaconate in the fifth century I take to be this. Southern Gaul was always one of the great battlefields between Eastern and Western feelings. Massilia-Marseilles was an old Greek colony; the relations between “the Province” and Greece, intimate in the days of Cassar, were intimate still in the early days of the Christian Church. Irenaeus, one of the earliest Greek fathers, was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. New relations were opened between the two countries in the fifth century, through the settlement in Provence of the Basilian monks, and the foundation of the great monasteries of Southern Gaul. Now the fifth century, as we have seen, was, in point of honour, the golden age of the female diaconate in the Eastern Church; and it would be almost unaccountable if, amidst the new tide of Greek influence brought in at this period into Southern Gauh the female diaconate, in its then halfmonastic state, should not have been sought to be revived or re-introduced.

At any rate, it is about this period, and even later than the last interdiction of the female diaconate, that we meet with the most interesting incident connected with it to be found in the annals of the Western Church. It occurs in the story of St. Badegund, a Thuringian princess, wife of the Merovingian Chlothar I. of Neustria, forming the fifth narrative in that most delightful of histories, most truthful of tale-books, Augustin Thierry’s Narratives of Merovingian Times. After a long period of domestic wretchedness by the side of a brutal husband, and after seeing at last her only surviving brother, a hostage at Chlothar’s court, put to death by his orders, the queen fled to St. MSdard, bishop of Noyon. As he was in his church officiating at the altar, “Most holy priest,” she cried, “I must leave the world, and change my garments; I entreat thee, most holy priest, do thou consecrate me to the Lord.” The bishop hesitated. He was called upon “to dissolve a royal marriage, contracted according to the Salic law, and in conformity with Germanic customs, which the Church, while detesting them, was yet constrained to tolerate. . . . The Frankish lords and warriors who had followed the queen began to surround him, and to cry aloud, with threatening gestures, ‘Beware how thou givest the veil to a woman who is married to the king! priest, refrain from robbing the prince of his solemnly-wedded queen!’ The most furious among them, throwing hands upon him, dragged him violently from the altar-steps into the nave of the church, whilst the queen, affrighted with the tumult, was seeking with her women a refuge in the vestry. But here, collecting herself, . . . she threw a nun’s dress over her regal garments, and thus disguised, proceeded towards the sanctuary where St. M^dard was sitting. ... ‘If thou shouldst delay consecrating me,’ said she with a firm voice, ‘ and shouldst fear men more than God, thou wilt have to render thy account, and the Shepherd shall require of thee the soul of His sheep.’ . . . He ceased to hesitate, and of his own authority dissolved Radegund’s marriage, by consecrating her a deaconess through the laying on of hands. The Frankish lords and vassals, carried away in their turn by the same feelings, durst no more take forcibly back to the royal residence one who in their eyes bore from henceforth the twofold character of a queen and of a woman consecrated to God’s service.” She subsequently formed a sort of free convent, where the pleasures of literary society, even with men, were combined with devotional exercises and good works. The above narrative points us to a startling fact, which has no parallel ' in Eastern annals, that ordination to the female diaconate in the West was by this time considered equivalent to divorce.

In spite of all prohibitions, indeed, the idea of a female diaconate seems to have lingered nearly as long, within a century or two, in the West as in the East. The canons of the Council of Worms in the ninth century repeat an earlier canon against the re-marriage of deaconesses. In the Roman Ordinal, and other rituals in use about the ninth century, will be found, it is said, a service for the ordination of a deaconess. This is especially to be remarked, as otherwise, in some of the latest mentions of deaconesses, the word might be taken to be used, as Bingham shows it to have been by one Gaulish Council, in the sense of wife of a deacon. The extinction of the office in the West must thus have nearly coincided with that great victory of the Romish system in the eleventh century, when God’s order of the family was finally expelled from the ministry of His Church. Still, a French author, writing on the Councils of the Church a few years before the outbreak of the great French Revolution, notices some vestiges of the office then yet subsisting in France.

There is surely a lesson for us in this history. Of what the female diaconate did, we know little. But knowing so little, it is sufficiently wonderfid that we should find traces of its existence, both in the East and West, for from nine to twelve centuries—about two-thirds, in fact, of the Christian era. This strange obscure persistency indicates, either that it did far more work than is recorded of it, and lived thereby, or that its title to existence was in itself so unquestionable that even its own impotency barely sufficed to extinguish it.

Why did it perish? Evidently through the growth in the Church of the false ascetic principle, and in particular of the practice of religious celibacy, to which, according to its original constitution, it must have been a serious obstacle, by which it suffered itself to be overlaid. The scope of the female diaconate in the primitive Church was, as we have seen, to afford a full development to female energies for religious purposes; to associate women, as far as possible, in rank and practices with men, while preserving to each sex its distinct sphere of activity; to the one the supremacy of the head, to the other that of the heart; to the one power, to the other influence ; to the one the office of public preaching, exhortation, relief, to the other that of private exhortation, consolation, helpfulness; yet each acting under the inspiration of that Holy Spirit who was invoked alike over the head of deacon and deaconess at their ordination. • True in this was the Church to the laws of man’s being, as displayed progressively throughout Holy Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. By a pre-ordained and eternal marriage, man and woman must be one, in order to fulfil the great destinies of humanity. Genesis shows us how it is not good for man to be alone, how woman is made a help-meet for him. The New Testament discovers to us the deep spiritual ground of this relation, by showing us Christ as the Holy Bridegroom of his hallowed Bride the Church. History confirms the lesson from age to age, from country to country, by showing how, if you deprive either sex of its free action, of its free influence over the other, the result is national sterility; the man a savage, the woman a fool. Restore Eastern women to their rights, and the whole Eastern world will rise up new-born.

Now, there is one most subtle way of sterilizing that eternal wedding. It is, without wholly debasing either sex in the other’s eyes, to teach them to live apart, think apart, love apart, for the greater glory of God and of themselves, — as if they were different species of one genus, the union of which could produce nothing but hybrids. Where thus marriage assumes in the eyes of the candidate for superhuman sanctity the shape of a fleshly pollution,—where woman ceases to be man’s earthly help-meet,—where it becomes good for man to live alone,—the familiar mingling of the sexes in the active ministrations of religion, unfettered and untrammelled, is impossible. The deaconess should be free as the deacon himself to leave her home at at any time for those ministrations ; she should be in constant communication with her brethren of the clergy. But place her under a vow of celibacy, every fellow-man becomes to her a tempter whom she must flee from. Hence the high walls of the nunnery, in which eventually we find her confined; hence the vanishing away of her office itself into monachism.
The details above given are sufficient, I think, to show that there is a wide difference between the Deaconesses’ Institute of our days and what is recorded of the early female diaconate. That was essentially individual; and the only analogy to it lies in the “parish-deaconess,” who goes forth from Kaiserswerth, or elsewhere, to devote herself to a particular congregation; although even she is far from holding that position as a member of the clergy (cleros) which is assigned to her by the records of Church history.

In the gap between the two lies the “sisterhood” of later times.

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