Pro Unione

Very Brief Observation on the Great and Holy Council


The Russian Orthodox are the last of four local churches to withdraw from participation in the Great and Holy Council, the Pan-Orthodox Synod, set to begin tomorrow – Pentecost Sunday in their calendar. Their reason given that as consensus was adopted as the model for any and all work of the Council, and that at least one local church had withdrawn, consensus was no longer possible.

The timeline of last-minute withdrawal from the Council:

  • 1 June – Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • 6 June – (Greek) Patriarchate of Antioch
  • 10 June – Georgian Orthodox Church
  • 13 June – Russian Orthodox Church

As I see it, consensus to hold the Council now, under the presented procedures, and the promise to attend by each local church was achieved in March 2014 and affirmed just a few months ago, at the January 2016 Synaxis of Primates. The Churches themselves committed to hold the Council, to attend, and to participate.

Therefore, now is too late to back out. Common sense would dictate that after having committed to the Council, if you back out, you lose your voice and vote, but the decisions are still binding upon you and consensus depends on those who are actually present and participating. You forfeit your right to vote, you do not get a veto, by backing out. If you want to object to some document, you have to be participating to do so.

In other words, dear Bulgaria, et al., you do not have to agree, but you do have to show up.

Of course, this is a moral obligation, there is no juridical, binding power that would compel otherwise. One could argue that failure to participate in a general council to which unanimous consensus compels you to attend is tantamount to excommunication – to me, non-participation in the Council seems a far more serious breach of communion that disagreements over the calendar, over jurisdiction in Bahrain, or over who can grant the Americans autocephaly.

To be sure, some of the objections of the local churches are valid and should be considered. Some are nonsense. But I admire far more the Serbian Orthodox Church, who, while deeply concerned about several aspects of both process and content, are still committed to exercising synodality. You cannot claim to be a church who takes synodality seriously, over and against what you perceive as excessive papal primacy in the Catholic Church, and then fail utterly to even organize yourselves into a regular exercise of that synodality on a universal level.

You go to a Council to resolve issues, to raise new ones, to practice being Church together even in disagreement. Unity cannot be achieved by putting off meeting. True, we should see this as the beginning of a lengthy process, not a stand-alone event. Vatican II was eight months of meetings spread over four years allowing generous time for research and consultation. And it had only been ninety years since the last attempt at a general council, only 400 years since the last complete council. The Orthodox have three times as much time to make up for – a real council could be expected to take a full year of meeting together. One week is nowhere near enough.

But at the end of the day, it is hard to respect anyone who claims “we have not had enough time to get ready” or “let’s postpone procrastinate some more.” Seriously? 1229 years since the last general council, 115 years since the first call for this one, and 55 years since the planning commissions started meeting, even by the glacial ecclesial standards, this is absurd.

Still, we can be grateful that the leaders themselves seem to have more patience with childishly manipulative behavior than I do, as telling the Russian (or Bulgarian, Georgian, or Antiochene) Patriarch he has just been demoted to the bottom of the table for skipping a required meeting probably would not do much to actually get him to show up next time he promises to do so. But since they do seem so concerned about seating arrangements, maybe that would work better than appeals to common sense and episcopal responsibility…

Patriarchs and primates in Crete, 18 June 2016

Very Brief Observation on Continents

Pertinent both to the Pan-Orthodox Synod and yesterday’s post on the “Doctrine of Discovery”, albeit obliquely, is the concept of ‘continents’. I was first intrigued by international disagreement on this seemingly obvious issue during the Great Jubilee of 2000, when the logo was presented:

Within a sphere formed by black capital letters which read “Iubilaeum A.D. 2000”, on a background of a blue circle, representing the earth, there is a cross sustaining humanity on the five continents represented by doves of different colours. The cross is made up of the same colours as the doves to indicate the mystery of the Incarnation: Christ takes on our human condition, “becoming like us”. [emphasis mine]

Now, as any American elementary school pupil can tell you, there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

But since the cross is sustaining humanity, the doves are meant to reflect the inhabited continents, excluding Antarctica (though i think that white dove would represent perfectly the home of the penguins). That still leaves one out.

Instead, the Vatican tends to take the position of the Latin Americans, that “America” is a single continent from Nunavit to Tierra del Fuego.

In deference to this ideology, in Italian, as in many romance languages, people from the United States are not called “Americans” (and the afore mentioned latinoamericanos would insist “we are all Americans!”), but are statunitense, literally, “UnitedStatesians”, which clearly does not work at all in English. However, Mexico is also a “United States”, as well as a dozen other countries which have been, at one point in their recent history, also officially called the “United States of Somewhere”, including Brazil. Only one country in the world has the word “America” in it’s name, however, so “American” is actually more specific to a country than is “United Statesian” – though i tend to avoid it now for diplomatic reasons.

If we take the definition offered by most dictionaries: “large landmasses separated by others by oceans or seas” it seems obvious, but it gets complicated, and explained succinctly and humorously by the internet’s great “explainer of things”, CGP Grey:

One thing is clear: there is no justifiable reason to treat Europe as a separate continent from Asia, as there is no water separating them (as there is between the Americas, and between Africa and Eurasia, or Eurasia and Australia, etc). At minimum, if you are going to combine the Americas, you cannot possibly consider Europe anything other than a subcontinent or a political-cultural identity.

So, there are clearly six: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

Now, how does it relate to ecclesiology? Well, Vatican II considered it a possibility to establish new patriarchates – really new particular ritual churches – and the Orthodox have already done so. Consider some of the ancient patriarchates, like the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, etc. Why not a patriarch of Los Angeles and All North America, of São Paolo and All South America, etc.? At the least, it makes for a fun thought-exercise.

Calls to revoke the “Doctrine of Discovery”

What is the “Doctrine of Discovery”?

First of all, it is not a Christian doctrine – this term is used in its legal sense. This is already confusing for some people. There is no Christian teaching by this name, and anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching of the last 125 years knows the value of universal human dignity, religious freedom, opposition to slavery, etc. It comes as no surprise then that most Catholics, most Christians, and even those in positions of authority in the Church, might have no idea what you were talking about if you raised the question.

In full disclosure, I do not recall ever hearing the term “Doctrine of Discovery” before this year. It probably came across my radar in the last couple years but did not catch my attention since I am neither a legal scholar nor an historian of European imperialism per se.

In primary school history classes I remember learning about the Age of Discovery; the European maltreatment, enslavement, and even genocide of indigenous peoples; the Papal Line of Demarcation that assigned points west to Spain and points East to Portugal; and so on. So, the idea is not entirely new, but it did come as some surprise when a Canadian friend asked if Pope Francis was planning to rescind the doctrine.

From the beginning it struck me as a bit fishy – certainly there is, nor was there ever, any Catholic doctrine known by such title. It is rather a reference to U.S. legal doctrine, an 1823 codification of international law and European mores that

…gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it, not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell. (US Supreme Court, Worcester v. State of Georgia, pg 31, US 544)

What has that to do with the Catholic Church?

More broadly, it has come to be understood to mean, basically, “finders keepers” – and only if the finders were European. Though the term, and the concept, of a “doctrine of discovery” was coined by John Marshall during the legal preceding quoted above, protests today focus on the “Judeo-Christian” and papal origins of the body of decisions and laws that came to be associated with the idea. For example, the opening paragraph of the site

Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The papal bulls that contributed to this line of thinking – and its consequence of unjust and inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples by European explorers – are generally cited to be the following:

Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1452) – Issued in an effort to gain Portuguese support in defense of Constantinople against the Ottoman Empire, it offered Portugal exclusive land and trading rights in newly-discovered parts of West Africa, granting him permission to seize lands of and enslave any local “Saracens, pagans, and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ”.

Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex (1455) – Confirmed the Portuguese rule over the African coast, and forbade other nations from engaging in trade with the Saracens (Generally, Muslims. Specifically, it seems, the Seljuk [Turkish] empire, as distinct from “Moors”, Berbers of North Africa and the Fatimid Caliphate).

Alexander VI Borgia, Inter Caetera (1493) – Issued immediately after Christopher Columbus returned from the West Indies, established the Line of Demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese exploration 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Azores. The purpose of the bull was to spread Christianity to the natives there, who were thought to be positively disposed based on reports from Columbus, and its intent seems to be to regulate missionary activity in the Americas, rather than land rights.

The Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), conducted without any participation from the papacy, moved the line of demarcation west a few hundred miles and was clearly more focused on land claims. This was eventually ratified by Julius II in 1506.

There is no question that Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other explorers invented justifications for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and the conquering of their lands (inasmuch as the land would be said to ‘belong’ to anyone), for example, by claiming that non-Christians could not own land, or could be enslaved, using as justification portions of the above bulls.

Over the next three centuries, European powers expand and develop these conjured excuses to lay claim to the New World and its resources. The American republic takes the ball and runs with it, yelling “Manifest Destiny!” Over these centuries, the loss of human life, of property, and the degradation of humanity is long, it is horrific, and it is utterly unchristian.

Modern interest in the “Doctrine of Discovery”

LexisNexis turns up under 1000 references to the ‘doctrine of discovery’ going back to 1949, and almost all of these are legal cases, law reviews, or legal news outlets. It is only recently that it seems to have become an item for attention in religious circles, and is of particular interest in Canada, who often takes the lead in addressing past or present injustices against First Nations.

Since 1984, there have been petitions to the popes to “rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”. As we will soon see, when there is a cause du jour, memories are short – but first the current context of the cause.

It seems recent interest has been sparked by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, originating in a 1998 Statement of Reconciliation between ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians’, which sought to “put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”

In December 2015, the Commission published its Final Report, and a set of Calls to Action. Articles §48 and §49 call on all religious denominations and faith groups to formally adopt and comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to formally “repudiate concepts such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

Pre-emptive responses came from a number of groups, such as the Society of Friends (2013), the World Council of Churches (2012), the Unitarian Universalist Association (2012), and the Anglican Church of Canada (2010).

In 2013, several Catholic organizations petitioned the pope to formally revoke the bulls mentioned above, which are claimed to provide the basis for the “doctrine of discovery”. This included Pax Christi International and representatives of more than 40 religious congregations. In May of 2016 there was called a Long March on Rome to ask Pope Francis to revoke the “Papal Bulls of Discovery” [sic].

It was already two months too late, however. The Catholic Church in Canada also complied with the Commission’s request, and issued a formal rejection of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and a number of related ideas condemned as “errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’”. (CCCB, The Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Catholic Church: A Catholic Response. 19 March 2016)

But what about the calls on the pope to revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493?

Well, it seems he already has.

Or rather, his predecessors have, several times, over the last 500 years. At least, the ideas have been repudiated, rejected, and expunged from Church teaching.

Already there were objections to and retractions of these claims within the Church at the time they were being made by “Christian” monarchies and their explorers, for example:

Francisco de Vitoria, On the Indians (1532) – who used ‘the law of the nations’ (international law) and Inter Caetera to argue that “the barbarians [sic] possessed true public and private dominion. The law of nations expressly states that goods which belong to no owner pass on to the occupier/discoverer, but since the goods in question here had an owner, they do not fall under this title ‘by right of discovery.’”

In fact, the first petitions to the pope to repeal the teachings of these papal bulls were not in 1984, but 450 years earlier. They received a powerful response.

Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537) – Begins by declaring unequivocally that God so loved the whole human race that he gave all people the ability to know God and come to faith in God. It then responds directly to the claims – not present in previous papal teaching – that the native peoples were subhuman and that they could be enslaved or their property stolen. In fact, he refers to this idea as a lie perpetuated by Satan! In a clear and authoritative revocation of anything to the contrary previously promulgated:

We define and declare . . . that . . . the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession [dominio] of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

That is about as clear as it gets, and those key words “we define and declare” put this at a rather higher level of authority than the so-called ‘bulls of discovery’.  The Church had already rejected the core ideas of the doctrine of discovery three hundred years before anyone would even call them that.

Moreover, there are multiple papal and conciliar documents that reject the ideas, in whole or part, of the so-called ‘doctrine’. These include, but are not limited to:

1537 – Paul III, Sublimus Dei
1591 – Gregory XIV, Bulla Cum Sicuti
1639 – Ruling of the Inquisition against slavery
1741 – Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum
1839 – Gregory XVI, In Supremo Apostolatus
1890 – Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae
1963 – John XXIII, Pacem in Terris
1965 – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes; Dignitatis Humanae

Finally, just in case those were not clear enough, popes have explicitly asked forgiveness of indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in supporting imperialism during the age of discovery, most notably:

1992 – John Paul II in Santo Domingo – on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing there, confessed and begged forgiveness for the sins of the Church and the Spanish conquistadors.

2000 – John Paul II during the Great Jubilee, in Rome – during a mass of reconciliation, asked forgiveness for any Catholics in history who “had violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and for showing contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”.

2015 – Francis in Bolivia – “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against Native peoples during the so-called conquest of the Americas”

To be sure, it never hurts to repeat oneself. Just in case you were not heard the first time. Or the last time. God knows that if the people you agree with do not know they agree with you, the people who disagree might also be in the dark.

David Close & Pope Francis

From Long March to Rome

Honoring the Council Fathers: A Modest Proposal

CardinalsWe are in the midst of an extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, called at the end of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, capping commemorations that started with the Year of Faith. For the last four years, the Church has marked this anniversary in a number of ways.

In October 2012, Pope Benedict presided over a solemn liturgy commemorating the opening of the Council, with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Rowan Williams in places of honor at his side. Also honored during the event 16 Council Fathers, any of the approximately 3000 bishops who participated in at least one of the four sessions of the Council. (At the time, there were several dozen still living).

They were joined by eight Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, 80 Cardinals, 191 Archbishops and Bishops participating in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, together with 104 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from throughout the world.

Today, a few months after celebrating the anniversary of the close of the Council, there are about 35 living Council Fathers; 19 of whom lived through all four sessions.

In this Jubilee of Mercy, i repeat a proposal i first made during the Year of Faith:
Make the remaining Council Fathers members of the College of Cardinals.
At the least, those who were Council Fathers for all four sessions.

The senior-most, Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, CICM, of Inongo, Congo has been a bishop for more than 62 years. The junior of those present throughout the Council is Seattle’s Archbishop emeritus Raymond Hunthausen, ordained bishop mere weeks before the opening of the first session. (Full disclosure: Hunthausen confirmed me)

Of the 35, four are already cardinals, Francis Arinze, Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, Serafim Fernandes de Arujo, and Sfeir (of those, only Arinze was not at all four sessions of the Council).

So, that means 15 new cardinals, if only those from all four sessions, or 31 if all of them.

All are over 80, so none would be voting. This is not about who selects the next pope or appointing people whose work lies in the future.

This would be an honorary step, something to mark a half-century of episcopal ministry and leadership in the rarest and most solemn exercise of their ministry of governance over the universal church. This is about honoring the Council, and the entire church. A small, but symbolic gesture.

Most likely, most would not be able to attend a consistory to receive the red hat and ring, but simpler may be better.

I think it would be a nice way to close out the Year of Mercy, a final way to mark the 50 years of blessing brought by the Holy Spirit through the universal and extraordinary magisterium of the Church, expressly in a spirit of synodality.

Granted: any credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, covering up the same, or other similarly grave matters should be excluded. 

Full list of those surviving Council Fathers from all four sessions, via:

Years as Bishop Name Current Title
25 Mar 1954 62.13 Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, C.I.C.M. Bishop Emeritus of Inongo, Congo (Dem. Rep.)
28 Aug 1955 60.71 José de Jesús Cardinal Pimiento Rodriguez Archbishop Emeritus of Manizales, Colombia
9 Sep 1955 60.68 Bishop Dominik Kalata, S.J. Titular Bishop of Semta
22 Sep 1957 58.64 Archbishop José Maria Pires Archbishop Emeritus of Paraíba, Paraiba, Brazil
27 Apr 1958 58.05 Archbishop Bernardino Piñera Carvallo Archbishop Emeritus of La Serena, Chile
7 May 1959 57.02 Serafim Cardinal Fernandes de Araújo Archbishop Emeritus of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
21 Jun 1960 55.90 Archbishop Arturo Antonio Szymanski Ramírez Archbishop Emeritus of San Luis Potosí, México
25 Jul 1960 55.80 Bishop Eloy Tato Losada, I.E.M.E. Bishop Emeritus of Magangué, Colombia
16 Apr 1961 55.08 Bishop Mario Renato Cornejo Radavero Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Lima, Peru
22 Apr 1961 55.06 Bishop Albert-Georges-Yves Malbois Bishop Emeritus of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes, France
16 Jul 1961 54.83 Nasrallah Pierre Cardinal Sfeir Patriarch Emeritus of Antiochia {Antioch} (Maronite), Lebanon
24 Aug 1961 54.72 Bishop William John McNaughton, M.M. Bishop Emeritus of Incheon {Inch’on}, Korea (South)
8 Sep 1961 54.68 Bishop José de Jesús Sahagún de la Parra Bishop Emeritus of Ciudad Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, México
15 Oct 1961 54.58 Bishop Andrés Sapelak, S.D.B. Bishop Emeritus of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires (Ukrainian), Argentina
29 Oct 1961 54.54 Archbishop Antônio Ribeiro de Oliveira Archbishop Emeritus of Goiânia, Goias, Brazil
6 Jan 1962 54.35 Bishop José Mauro Ramalho de Alarcón Santiago Bishop Emeritus of Iguatú, Ceara, Brazil
19 Mar 1962 54.15 Bishop Roberto Reinaldo Cáceres González Bishop Emeritus of Melo, Uruguay
25 Jul 1962 53.80 Bishop Jacques Landriault Bishop Emeritus of Timmins, Ontario, Canada
30 Aug 1962 53.70 Archbishop Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle, Washington, USA

Women Deacons in the Catholic Church: Quick Facts and Thoughts

womendeaconiconYou have probably heard by now that, while addressing 900 women religious (i.e., sisters) in Rome for the meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis was asked to study the question of women in the diaconate. He responded in the affirmative: He said understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear and agreed it would be useful to set up a commission to study the question.

You may know my doctoral research is on the diaconate, through the lens of receptive ecumenism. So, while others, like Phyllis Zagano, Gary Macy, Aime Georges Mortimort, and Cipriano Vagaggini, have explored the topic of women deacons more directly, I do have something more than gut instinct to offer. Some quick facts and reflections

In Scripture:

  • The diaconate is the oldest order of ministry in the church, especially if you count the Seven in Acts 6 as deacons. They preexist both bishops and presbyters.
  • The Seven in Acts 6 are not deacons, however. At least, not according to the Scriptures themselves. It was not until Irenaeus (c.130-202) that they are identified as such, perhaps by this analogy. At most, we can see in the Seven a prefiguring of the diaconate inasmuch as we see in the Twelve a prefiguring of the episcopate.
  • In the New Testament, while diakonia/diakonos are used several times, there are various meanings. Only three times is it clear that we are talking about an office of ministry in the Church: Romans 16.1, Philippians 1.1, and 1 Timothy 3.8-12.
  • In two of those three, women are clearly included as deacons.
  • In those cases the same word, diakonos (s.) or diakonoi (pl.), is used for both men and women. The use of deacon for men and deaconess for women comes later, in the early to mid third century. (see below)
  • Phoebe in Romans 16.1 is the first person named as a deacon in Scripture.
    (Stephen, protomartyr, is never called a deacon in the New Testament!)
  • 1 Timothy 3 details the qualities of bishops and deacons (no reference to presbyters/priests). Male and female deacons are both addressed in vv.8-13.
  • Diakonia is ministry. Not “service” – at least, not if you mean “serving at tables”. “Service” works only if you recall that service is leadership, according to Jesus at the Last Supper. Diakonia is a ministry of servant-leadership,  which is why it is a quality of bishops and deacons both.

Select Patristic sources:
(By no means exhaustive)

  • “The bishop is the image God the Father; the deacon stands in the place of Christ the Son; the presbyterate succeeds the role of the senate of God or the assembly of apostles.”(Ignatius, c.110)
  • The first mention of “deaconess” – a gender-differentiated term rather than just including women as deacons – as noted in the International Theological Commission’s 2002 study on the Diaconate, is in the Didascalia Apostolorum (c.250):
    • “The bishop sits for you in the place of God Almighty. But the deacon stands in the place of Christ; and do you love him. The deaconess shall be honored by you in the place of the Holy Spirit…”
  • The Apostolic Constitutions apply the concept of cleros (clergy) to the following, in order: bishop, deacon, presbyter, deaconess, subdeacon, cantor, reader.
  • Jerome is famous for his disdain of deacons, complaining that they should not see themselves as more important than the presbyterate, the council of elders who advise bishops. However, he acknowledges that the reason for this misconception lies in the fact that deacons are paid more than presbyters, and have more responsibility in assisting the bishop.

Ecumenical Considerations:

While we all know that the Anglicans, Lutherans, and other churches and ecclesial communities born from the Reformations ordain women, even to the diaconate, many Catholics would be sadly uninterested because of the fact that while we recognize the real and effective nature of their ministry, we do not recognize the sacramental validity vis a vis apostolic succession in a juridical sense. This is insufficient reason to dismiss the reality or ecumenical importance of this practice in itself, but, for the sake of brevity, I will look East to where there is an undisputed view of the validity of orders: The Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Assyrian Church of the East.

Surely they would laugh at us for even discussing the ordination of women?
Apparently not.

  • First, the Orthodox are clear on the distinction between ordination (cheirotonia) for “major orders” and consecration/blessing (cheirothesia) for “minor orders”.
  • Ordination (cheirotonia) is conducted inside the sanctuary, while the blessing or consecration (cheirothesia) of minor orders (cantor, reader, subdeacon, etc.) was conducted outside the sanctuary.
  • The deaconess is clearly ordained (cheirotonia), and conducted within the sanctuary. Not only is she ordained, properly speaking, but it is a major, not a minor order.
  • The Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Japan all currently have, or have recently had, ordained deaconesses.
  • Due to early medieval development of the office, especially in the East, Deaconesses are now generally found in monastic communities (not unlike Orthodox bishops, who always come from monastic priests).
  • In fact, even in the west, vestiges of this conflation of the offices of deaconess and abbess remain in that some orders of nuns are still invested with diaconal stole and other symbols of the office (e.g., Carthusians).

Contemporary Catholic Considerations:

  • Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, made it clear the Church cannot possibly ordain women to the episcopate or the presbyterate, because women cannot be configured to act in persona Christi capitis. In this case, acting “as Christ the head [of the Church]” narrowly means “priesthood” – presiding at Eucharist – not the more broad understanding of a ministry of ecclesial governance or pastoral leadership. He deliberately excluded the diaconate from this prohibition.
  • Pope Benedict XVI opened the door for the ordination of women by changing Canon Law in 2009, with his motu proprio Omnium in Mentem. Following the logic above, he changed canons §1008 and 1009 to exclude the diaconate from being one of those ministries “configured to the person of Christ the Head”. This eliminates, or appears to eliminate, the need to be configured to the maleness of Jesus, as well.
  • As the current prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, wrote in his book Priesthood and Diaconate, it is the unity of the three orders of ministry that would prevent women from being ordained to any one if forbidden from the other two. A clear demarcation – say, by developing a theology of sacramental priesthood that includes two orders and excludes the third – opens the door to different theologies of who can be ordained.
  • Since we know little of the duties of a deaconess beyond the liturgical, principally assisting the bishop at full-immersion baptism and initiation, Müller and others object to the pastoral need for that exact same ministry today. In part, this is an objection to the compromise proposals of theologians like Walter Kasper, who suggested re-instituting the order of deaconesses as a non-ordained ministry, along the lines of the revival of consecrated virgins.
  • One significant discussion is whether “deaconess” and “woman deacon” are the same thing. A popular post on the topic notes that both pope and prefect know that “the deaconesses of history ‘were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.'” Though this is not necessarily helpful, as women are not “purely and simply equivalent” to men, either. That makes them no less equal.
  • Resulting questions include, are women ordained to the same order of diaconate as men, or are they ordained to a distinct order? If distinct, does that mean we have four ordained offices in the Church, not three? Were there historically two different realities: ordained women deacons and merely consecrated deaconesses (essentially a society of apostolic life, in contemporary terminology)?
  • A critique to the Müller objections, however, is that he seems to suggest that deaconesses would have to be identical to their patristic-era form. But of course, this is contrary to the reality of all other ministries. If we went back to the earliest forms, with all three orders together, without historical development, it might look like this:
    • The bishop would be mega-parish pastor and the only minister allowed to preside at Christian Initiation and Eucharist;
    • The deacons (and deaconesses?) would be the senior (possibly, only) paid staff assisting the bishop, most likely to succeed him, and the career-path of choice for the ecclesial-minded;
    • The presbyterate would be a consultative council of mostly older, married men whose career was secular and whose only responsibility is advising the bishop and his deacons.

In any case, the restoration of the diaconate called for at Vatican II (LG, 29) “reestablished the principle of the permanent exercise of the diaconate and note one particular form which the diaconate had taken in the past.” (ITC, Diaconate Study, 73). Moreover, this restoration is a work in progress:

  • We still have a transitional diaconate to be suppressed. (Historically understandable, it makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates).
  • We still have people who think the main difference between deacons and presbyters is marriage and celibacy, respectively. I have heard people complain because the deacon kissed his wife while still in vestments/clerical suit; others still refer to a “lay diaconate” because, clearly, celibacy is the mark of clergy, not ordination!
  • We still have people who think that the nature of the diaconate is to be a volunteer ministry performed by retirees.
  • We still have people who think diakonia means “menial service” and forbid deacons from exercising their vocation to leadership in the church, even participating in governance in the offices that were once (in other titles) theirs exclusively, i.e., vicars general, episcopal, and forane.
  • We still have a wide variety of formation programs for deacons, from requiring an S.T.B. or M.Div. (equivalent to formation for presbyters) to little less than certification for Sunday school catechist.
  • We still have dioceses where deacons are not allowed to preach, or where deacons are forbidden from wearing clerical clothing (while seminarians are allowed to do so?).

And so on. We have a lot of theology left to work out. More importantly, a lot of theology in hand has yet to be put into practice, codified into law, or supported by structures. If this conversation and study of women in the diaconate helps with that, so much the better!

Armenian Women Deacons

Women Deacons in the Armenian Apostolic Church


Theology Jokes 2016


Q: What do you call a sleepwalking nun?

A: A Roamin’ Catholic!


A father and a son are seated at dinner having a steak on a Lenten Friday, when the boy makes a realization and says, “Some people don’t eat meat on Fridays because there is a separation of Church & Steak!”


Q: How does Moses make his coffee?

A: Hebrews it.


A man walks up to God ands says: “God, how long is a million years for you?”
God answers, “Oh… about a minute.”

Man: “And how about a million dollars?”

God: “About a penny.”

Man: “In that case, Lord, may I borrow a penny?”

God: “Give me a minute.”


A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit discover the real tomb of Jesus, only to find his mortal remains still inside. Horrified, they each react differently.
The Franciscan says, “This changes our whole ministry, we cannot tell anyone!”
The Dominican says, “This changes all of our doctrine, we should not tell anyone!”
The Jesuit says, “Well, I’ll be damned, He did exist!”


“Knock Knock!”

“Who’s there?”


“Jesus who?”

“Jesus, get your butt out of bed! Morning mass starts in 5 minutes!”


If Eve sacrificed the future of the whole human race for an apple… what would she do for a Klondike bar?


A new monk arrives at an ancient monastery and sees all the monks copying texts. He goes to the abbot, slightly confused and asked him why the copy the copies rather  than the original, because they could be copying the same mistakes.

The abbot , recognizing he has a point, goes to the storage room to find the originals. A few hours later, he is still gone, and the new monk sets out to look for him. He finds the abbot in the basement, holding one of the most ancient manuscripts in his hands, sobbing.

“What’s wrong? What happened?” the young monk asks, worried.

The abbot replies, tearfully, “The word is celebrate. Celebrate!”


A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?!” (Insert laughter here)


Q: What made the priest giggle?

A: Mass Hysteria!


There are three things that even God does not know about the Church:
1) How many congregations of religious women are there?
2) How much money do the Franciscans have stashed away?
3) What do the Jesuits really think and what are they going to do next?


Three famous theologians have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.

The first to go in is Walter Kasper, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face.
He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”

The second is Hans Küng. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he is shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled.
He says to himself as he leaves: “I cannot believe I was wrong about so many things!”

The third is Joseph Ratzinger. He goes in with a portfolio of lecture notes penned while in retirement. He is in there for days. Finally, the doors open and St. Peter comes out, saying “I cannot believe I was wrong about everything!”


Pope Francis’ prayer, “O Cross of Christ”

Thanks to Cindy Wooden over at Catholic News Service, here is the Vatican’s English translations of Pope Francis’ prayer last night at the conclusion of the Via Crucis service at Rome’s Colosseum:

Source: Pope Francis’ prayer, “O Cross of Christ”

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,843 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 115,408 hits


%d bloggers like this: