The Women Deacons of the First Millennium

Lines of research as follows – see

How many women deacons of the first millennium do we know by name?

FINDING. We know more than 100 by name with, at times, details about their lives:

Were these women deacons sacramentally ordained?

FINDING. The ordination of female deacons was essentially identical to that of male deacons. The ordination rite, especially in the Catholic Greek-speaking East, shows all the hallmarks of a full sacramental ordination.

Has the text of the original ordination rite for women deacons been preserved?

FINDING. Yes it has. We find it in all the main euchologia of the Catholic Church in the East open for inspection in libraries such as:

What about the West? Do we know how women were ordained in the Latin-speaking part of the Catholic Church?

FINDING. We do. Historical data show that a truly sacramental ordination existed during the first nine centuries, then the rite degenerated into a mere initiation ceremony. See the overview here.

Have the Latin rites for ordaining women been preserved in manuscripts?

FINDING. Indeed. The original rite can be found in these sacramentaries:

Other Pontificals contain a fully elaborated liturgy:

What were the tasks of the women deacons?

FINDING. They had important roles in the local parishes.

  • They instructed female catechumens and anointed them at baptism;
  • They cared for the sick and needy in the parish;
  • They had functions in the sanctuary and at the altar;
  • They had a supervisory role in the Christian assembly.
  • Were there other ministries of women during the first millennium?

    FINDING. Yes, there were. In particular we note the following:

    Did Church Councils recognise the diaconate of women?

    FINDING. Indeed. They are mentioned in the Council of Nicea I (325 AD), the Council Chalcedon (451 AD) and the Council of Trullo (692 AD), whose relevant extracts are available here.

    Did Popes during the first millennium recognise the diaconate of women?

    FINDING. They did. This applies also to key Popes such as Leo I (440-461), Gregory the Great (590 – 604) and Adrian I (772 – 795).

    We welcome any contributions to our lines of inquiry, whether in the form of observations, critiques, submission of new material or the suggestion of other topics for research.

     . deacons2sNo Women in Holy Orders? The Ancient Women Deacons, by John Wijngaards, Canterbury Press, London 2002; USA edition:Women Deacons in the Early Church. Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates, Herder & Herder Crossroad, New York 2006; Dutch edition:Vrouwen tot diaken gewijd. Historische feiten en actueel debat, Herne Heeswijk 2006 (Netherlands) and Altiora Averbode 2007 (Belgium).
    The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church’s first Millennium, by John Wijngaards, new and expanded edition, Canterbury Press December 2011.