Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium/The Church's Other Half: Women's Ministry

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium/The Church's Other Half: Women's Ministry

Article excerpt

The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium. By John Wijngaards. (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002, 2011, Pp. 246. £18.99); The Church's Other Half: Women's Ministry. By Trevor Beeson. (London: SCM Press, 2011, Pp ix, 277. £19.99.)

Readers seeking fresh information on women in the ministry, both at the beginning of the Jesus movement and in the modern era, will benefit from this pair of histories. While limited in their scope - John Wijngaards focuses on women's roles in the Roman Catholic Church and Trevor Beeson treats evidence primarily from the Church of England - the authors nonetheless present lucid evidence to bolster the arguments of the past several decades in favor of women's ordination and leadership in the church.

Wijngaards, a Dutch theologian, has promoted the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church for decades, and confronts head-on the church hierarchy's resistance to ordain them deacons. The church maintains that women cannot be ordained deacons now because they were not ordained under "holy orders" in the early church; rather, the argument goes, the rites for women deacons were significantly different from those for male deacons; women did not serve at the altar as men did, and women were not given a sacrament but only a blessing. Using documents and texts from a range of ancient sources, as well as recent work of (mostly European) scholars, Wijngaards deftly discredits the opposing arguments. He argues that the female diaconate, especially in the East, was almost completely parallel to the male order for centuries, the main deviations resulting from propriety issues in the culture. The words of the ordination liturgies were nearly identical in dozens of manuscripts: bishops performed the laying on of hands for both women and men; women, like men, received communion from the bishop, and then distributed it to the laity. The texts refer to three holy orders - bishop, priest, and deacon - and refer to New Testament texts regarding Phoebe and Priscilla, deacons known to Paul, as examples. Wijngaards critiques the work of Aimé-Georges Martimort, who published anti-ordination studies as late as 1986. …

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