Pope Francis’ call for a discussion of reestablishing women deacons in the church has understandably renewed interest in the history of women deacons. Three very important questions are being asked:
- First, were there ever women deacons in the church?
- Second, if there were women deacons, what did they do? Was it the same as male deacons?
- Finally, and most urgently, was the ordination of women deacons an ordination to a major order, that of the diaconate, or was it merely a blessing establishing women in a minor order or role?
First, there is no question that there were women deacons in the past, both in the Eastern and in the Western churches. I refer to “women deacons” in this article, not “deaconesses.” Though historical sources use diacona (women deacon) and diaconissa (deaconess) interchangeably, there were not two groups, only one. Using the one term removes any ambiguity.
That said, there is ample evidence for women deacons in Christian history. Starting with Phoebe, the only deacon named as such in Scripture, numerous references to women deacons appear in epigraphs, letters, chronicles and, most importantly, ordination rites for women deacons in the Western and Eastern churches.
Source: National Catholic Reporter