Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Orthodox Orders

"Women....." -St John Chrysostom
"The divine law excluded women from this ministry, but they forcibly push themselves in, and, since they can do nothing personally, they do everything by proxy. They have got such power that they appoint and dismiss priests at will."

So writes Saint John Chrysostom in chapter nine of his third book on the priesthood. The Golden Mouth's books on the priesthood focused a Lenten book reading between myself, another Catholic, and some Orthodox friends with varying views towards Latin Catholicism. Saint John wrote his dialogues, if they can even be called that, on the priesthood after he and his friend, Basil, were elected bishops of their respective cities and John deceived Basil into receiving while fleeing the same fate. After some face-saving protestations, the Saint lays down the timorous duties of a "priest," by which he really means a bishop.

Priest is a word which has numerous meanings in ancient times. The one-time Patriarch of Antioch and Constantinople meant it as a bishop, which the older Pontificale Romanum preserves in calling the episcopacy the "second order of priesthood." In the time of Saint Cyprian of Carthage some meant it merely to denote those who sat on the bishop's council for the administration of the local church, whether that person was ordained or not (cf. Allen Brent's introduction to the S. Vladimir Press books). And, of course, it meant men who were ordained to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in places where the bishop could not be present, which it almost universally meant by the time of Nicaea and which it still means today.

It was in giving this context to the term "priest" that I adduced the above quote and presumed aloud that we were all in perfect agreement on its meaning. One Orthodox conversant asked how broadly I would like to apply the idea that women cannot enter the priesthood. In turn yours truly suggested that if women cannot inherently enter one stage of Holy Orders then how could they logically enter any. Then the real tumult turned.

"I guess it goes back to the energies versus essence debate."

"No," I replied. "No, it doesn't really."

"I guess if you're going to call them 'Sacraments' instead of 'Mysteries' then you really need to reduce them to something simple that you can count."

"How would you have us understand the effects of Ordination? Is the Church's blessing and laying of hands in any ministry to be understand as a kind of Holy Order?"

"Yes! That is exactly what it is!"

"What of deaconesses?"

"Yes, they're ordained, just like an abbot or abbess, or a male deacon. Their roles are just different."

"But you don't think a woman could become a priest? There have been deaconesses, but the extent of their roles outside of Baptism is highly debated."

"They can be Sacramental deaconesses, but they cannot be bishops. We don't know yet if they cannot be priests. Orthodoxy must not be afraid of this question."

Initially this remark reminded me of Church World Mission by Alexander Schmemann, wherein the priest condones the idea that any encounter with God could be a Sacrament, a holy thing wherein God touches someone by His grace. The problem comes in assuming this must always be the case.

Deaconesses are a tricky matter. They certainly existed in most of Christendom up to and including the fourth century, but they never seem to have been very common in the city of Rome. In northern Italy and places under Byzantine influence they assisted in the full-immersion Baptism of female catechumens; at the Hagia Sophia they were permitted to take Communion at the altar; then again so was the Emperor, who was also allowed to perform certain incensations. In Armenia the order has died and been revived in several stages throughout history, including quite recently; the Armenian Apostolic Church permits them to read the Gospel at Mass, but I do not know if this has always been the case. Wikipedia declares them fully Sacramental and our Orthodox interlocutor declares anything hierarchically blessed a Sacrament, so why can we Latins not simply accept that women once upon a time had a separate-but-equal place in Holy Orders? Should they again?

Then again perhaps a blessing for work and the bestowal of a place doing something for the Apostles' successors is not always the same thing, even if it often is. Separate-but-equal ministries sound fine until you realize that the Church has the power to make or unmake these offices. The priesthood in the modern sense is an extension of the priesthood Christ gave the Apostles to be used only when the Apostles' successors are not presents; this came about some time after the Apostles invented the diaconate before our eyes in Acts. In the lifetime of some readers Paul VI eliminated three traditional Orders in the Latin Church: porter, exorcist, and subdeacon. If the power to create Orders for the Apostles' ministry rests with the Church then the Church has the power to confer them as it sees fit. Women cannot be divinely barred from one step of a created Order while admissible to another. If the Church can give women a fully Sacramental (or "Mysterious", if our book club friend is to be believed) place, why can she not have a higher rung at a later point?

This cannot be chalked up to Church discipline or tradition. There is no inherent reason why a married man with twenty children cannot be a bishop. It is a matter of strongly corroborated tradition and experience that he ought not be, but if he receives the laying of hands then he will become a bishop according to all Churches, East and West. No Apostolic Church, however, believes laying hands on a lady is anything other than an invitation to a bar fight or accusations of "micro aggression." If Providence has decided she cannot take the fullness of the Apostolic role there is no reason to think she could only have a particular part of it, the unique tradition of the Armenians not withstanding.

Then again cosmetic surgical procedures and adoption can aid some in embracing delusions of maternity, but it will not make men into mothers.


  1. Wow, everything's up for grabs outside Apostolic decree, huh?

  2. "If Providence has decided she cannot take the fullness of the Apostolic role there is no reason to think she could only have a particular part of it" - by what reasoning?

    To take your own illustration, turning men into mothers. To think that surgery and hormone treatment might turn men into mothers is delusory, yes, but men can (o me miserum) in fact carry out some of the maternal role, e.g. change nappies.

    Priesthood is the delegation of the fullness of the sacrament of orders from the Apostles to others, but the diaconate is a sharing in the sacrament of order purely as service to the bishop. It implies not a relation to the bishop of delegation of tasks proper to the fullness of the priesthood, but rather an assymetrical relation of service to, & assistance of, the bishop's sacramental and priestly acts.

    Ordaining women to the diaconate is like asking a man to change the nappies, not pretending that he can carry babies and give birth.

    In the realm of sacramental sign there seems to me to be no utterly clear reason why incorporation into Christ as Head (holy orders) doesn't allow for a further differentiation within the sacrament, such that orders can be possessed by women - viz. the diaconate - so that the signification of the sacrament is not vitiated, but cannot be possessed in another manner - viz. the priesthood - without destroying its meaning.

    I am not sure what I believe about this myself, I am simply concerned that this particular argument contra women deacons is a non sequitur. And I hesitate to pass a definite judgment on an ancient practice that has persisted in some places.

  3. I just had to bring this post up, to see a pretty good debate about all this here:

    William Tighe makes a number of excellent points, I believe.

  4. Nicea: Canon XIX.

    Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

    Why do men agitate for the inclusion of women in men only vocations?

    Dunno, but is easy observable that most men have been infected by feminism to one extent or another

  5. ABS earlier referenced a Canon of Nicea, to be foiling in William A. Juegens "The Faith of the Early Fathers' and in that text, Jurgens observes about women in the Paulianist sect : Apparently there is, within the ranks of the deaconesses, something of the same arrogant spirit which called forth the preceding canon 18, against an arrogant spirit among the deacons. As if to reprove those deaconesses who take too much upon themselves, the canon points out that although their names are enrolled in the register of the clergy, this is by a sort of convenient but not entirely consistent practice. They are not deaconesses by virtue of any rite of ordination, and therefore are not actually clerics at all, though they be enrolled in the register of the clergy, but belong really to the lay estate.

  6. Paul, thanks for the link to the debate and Wm Tighe's comments. I confess myself uncertain and can't claim to have read anything scholarly about it.

    A great deal of the problem seems to be terminology. On the one hand, women were sometimes enrolled as clergy without ordination; but then so were men. The imposition of hands on some deaconesses may often have been a kind of distinct "minor-orders-for-women" for certain roles; but then there seems to be no very clear ritual differentiation between diaconal ordination of men and women in a few cited cases. I personally don't see the relevance of the Nicean Canon cited by ABS above as it seems to refer to deaconesses who hadn't been "ordained" and has nothing to say about those who in other cases did certainly have laying on of hands.

    I agree that there is 0% support in tradition for women deacons with a role at the altar. But I note a tendency in the "against" camp, which is to cite the indefinite nature of the terminology about deaconesses and laying on of hands in the ancient sources to cast doubt on the idea that women were ever considered to be sacramentally ordained to the diaconate in the same way as men. But... the same vagueness of language can be found to apply in some cases to the nature of the (male) diaconate as such, mainly because the notion of holy orders and the nature of sacraments hadn't yet taken on the definite shape that it has since. I would therefore want the same kind of scholarly caution that is being applied to the ancient sources on deaconesses to be applied to the ancient sources on deacons, otherwise one isn't playing an even game.

    If in the 5th C deaconesses weren't understood to be sacramentally ordained in the same manner as deacons are nowadays, then perhaps also deacons weren't understood to be sacramentally ordained in the same manner as nowadays.

    There seems to be an "under-theorised" understanding of the diaconate at the back of all this that I haven't got straight in my head. Is it (1) a sharing in the bishop's sacramental role through ordained service (i.e. an essentially malleable role that fits around what the bishop needs to be done to support his priestly acts) or is it (2) a sharing in some sacramental state of existence similar to a bishop and a priest? If (1) then the definition of the diaconate is essentially a matter of the service undertaken to the bishop, but obviously men (by serving at the altar and preaching) will serve the bishop's sacramental acts much more closely than women, but I can't see (at the moment) a reason to doubt that women can be deaconesses through imposition of hands for a particular role. If (2) then I have yet to read a satisfactory account that explained the ingredient X that bishops, priests and deacons have in common through holy orders. "Ontological change" is not a phrase that conveys anything meaningful to me.

    1. To your earlier question, Timothy, I would answer that the problem with this line of thought (which crossed my mind as I wrote the article) is that since the Orders below the episcopate have a somewhat arbitrary origin, delegation based on sex would have to be just as arbitrary. The question is not necessarily whether or not deaconesses can exist with the blessing of the Church—they have—but whether we are to look at them as belonging to the Sacramental order of things along the lines of the Orthodox interlocutor.

      Referring to ceremonies can be helpful; it can also be confusing if their context does not survive to us. For instance, in a thousand years a scholar may well see that at Mass the Preface tone is used in the consecration of the Eucharist, in the blessing of water for Baptism, in the Ordination of clergy, and in the dry Mass for Palm Sunday. The historian may well then, rightly by his information but wrongly on the whole, conclude that prior to Trent the branches distributed on Palm Sunday were considered Sacraments.

  7. In the lifetime of some readers Paul VI eliminated three traditional Orders in the Latin Church: porter, exorcist, and subdeacon

    Thanks be to God, 30 years ago the Pope permitted the FSSP complete use of the 1962 Roman Missal and so they ordain their priest under the old (real) ordination Rite and they have all the old orders.

    As for the Orthodox (ABS is restraining his own self so as not to cause tumult) let them go their merry way.

    Who cares?

    But as for Catholics, it'd be deadly stupid to continue to try and be more like the proddies as we have already established The Lil' Licit Liturgy in imitation of them and look at all of the destruction and ignorance that has caused.

    Prots have the habit of leaping back over more than a millennia of Tradition to try and "restore" some pristine (Puritan/Purified) past and so the idea we should do this with Debby Deacons is a patent absurdity sure to cause additional anger and depression and more schisms, especially because the evidence (if there is any at all) that they were ordained (like a man is ordained a priest) at all doesn't exist

    ABS knows that Pope John Paul II said the church ought to breathe with two lungs but it makes absolutely no sense to undertake an operation that would result in the implantation of a deadly diseased lung.

    Besides, the Body of Christ already has two lungs two legs, two arms etc etc

    Let's celebrate Diversity by remaining Catholic and let the Orthodox be...whatever

  8. I would argue that Paul VI reconstituted lector and acolyte so significantly as to make them new orders.

  9. Another problem in this discussion is the conception of theology that has gained currency among the Orthodox, especially in the 20th century with Bulgakov, Lossky, Romanides, etc., and remains the dominant narrative. Even though none of them agreed among themselves on various points of Orthodox theology, they were unanimous in their condemnation of "scholasticism", Western "rationalism", and the alleged Scholastic captivity of Orthodox theology, as it was taught in the seminaries and in schools. Florovsky took a rather different approach to the above-mentioned and had positive things to say about the Latin tradition, Augustine in particular. Against the dry, rationalistic, humanistic Western scholastic theology, our Neo-Orthodox oppose a supposedly pure, untainted patristic, mystical theology. The fortunes of a theology derived from such a vision can either take a conservative (note: not traditional) root or a modernist one. The reliance of the latter trend on German idealistic philosophy and Romanticism (through the Slavophiles) is patent and should induce the Orthodox to turn back to their own scholastic tradition (in which Palamas and Evgenikos were steeped) and all that is good in it. Otherwise, what with their Vassas, Kallistoses, Johns, etc., with the outside support of the Tafts of this world, they may be heading towards to the breakers.

    1. Not the first time Bulgakov's name has appeared in the context of odd theology:

      I did not take this person's Sacramental theology as indicative of anything other than contemporary Orthodox thought. The Greeks in particular have an excellent dogmatic theology tradition that is currently out of fashion in favor of the Russian clerics educated in Paris during Hemingway's day.

    2. Unfortunately, the tradition of anti-intellectualism is shared both by those within a monastic and neo-patristic mindset, and those who want to imitate the current degenerate West. I have listened to the current Rector of the Russian Seminary in Paris talk about the liturgy and liturgical reforms - he was full of the tropes that one finds in Vagaggini, Botte and Jungmann; which means that not only is the Roman Church still clinging to this outdated tripe but that it also exporting it.