by Phyllis Zagano
The question of women deacons continues to be discussed in the Catholic Church, and questions about women are again in the news. Whether the discussion is about priestly celibacy or about ordaining women to the diaconate, the common denominator is that women are unclean. In the Roman Catholic Church, marriage is a diriment impediment for priestly orders and women cannot be ordained as deacons. The below is excerpted from Chapter 3, “Altar Service” in Phyllis Zagano’s forthcoming Paulist Press book Women: Icons of Christ, which traces the development of the diaconal ministries performed by women, ordained and not ordained as deacons.
BARRED FROM THE SACRED
What is the problem with women at the altar?
We can begin with a view from the fourteenth century. Matthew Blastares was a Byzantine monk, theologian, and canonist. Around 1335, he published a work known as the Syntagma, a compilation of then-known ecclesiastical laws….Blastares’s alphabetically arranged work cites canons from the Nomocanon, and it became well-known and well-used, as it presented Church law and civil law where applicable in twenty-four cross-referenced divisions.
As a commentator on laws, Blastares has something interesting to say about women deacons. Continue reading
by A. A. J. DeVille
In researching my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, which features extensive discussion of Orthodox and Anglican ecclesial structures, I came across a curious tranche of letters and legislative documents from Anglican churchmen in my native Canada in the pre-confederation period. In the 1850s, these men, having tasted freedom in the colonies, found it de trop and began writing to London begging the mother of Parliaments to centralize all nascent Anglican structures throughout the empire and to severely restrict any local powers that were then emerging, including the power of local synods to elect their own bishops rather than having one appointed by the Crown and sent from England. A series of bills putting these restrictions into effect came before Westminster but were—mirabile dictu—ultimately voted down, leaving the locals free once more to design a system of synodal election and accountability in the Diocese of Huron (the Anglican jurisdiction in southwestern Ontario where I grew up) that was utterly novel at the time, but is now normative throughout most of the Anglican Communion.
Many of us might find the request of proto-Canadian Anglicans to be ruled yet more strictly by England very strange indeed. And yet as scholars working in the areas of colonial theory and Christianity, including George Demacopoulos and Daniel Galadza, have recently shown, this is not nearly so odd nor so rare as we might expect. Sometimes the subaltern becomes an uber-imperialist. Continue reading
by Jared Ortiz
Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have an unfortunate habit of thinking that deification is somehow the exclusive provenance of the Orthodox. This claim is unfortunate not only because it has no basis in reality, but because it blinds us to the riches to be discovered in the tradition and because it slows down ecumenical progress.
The Reformed theologian Carl Mosser has done the most interesting work on how we all came to adopt such an odd prejudice (see his essay here). The details are too complicated for a short post, but let me summarize briefly. Many people know that Adolf von Harnack, the great Protestant historian of dogma at the turn of the twentieth century, proposed a theory about the development of Christian doctrine which cast the tradition primarily as one of decline. Starting from the simple moral teachings of Christ, Christian doctrine became corrupted due to the pernicious influence of Greek philosophy. What many people don’t know is that Harnack argued that the main culprit in this decline was the doctrine of deification which early Greek Christians imported from the pagans. While the west was only mildly infected with this doctrine, it became, he claimed, the defining feature of eastern Christianity. Continue reading
by Matthew Briel
If we follow Augustine’s and John Henry Newman’s line of thought, the Church is fundamentally the body of Christ, with Christ as head and the faithful as the body. In Newman’s conception, the faithful consists of the entire Church, hierarchy and laity. The laity thus have an essential role to play in all aspects of the Church. The most recent rounds of sex abuse scandals have brought Catholics’ attention again to the question of the role of the laity in church life.
Indeed, Catholics’ anger at bishops in the past month has not been directed so much at the abusers as at those who facilitated this abuse, what some are calling the “second abuse.” Bishops and chancery clerics allowed this abuse to continue because their primary concern and attention was directed towards their fellow priests and not the abused laity.
Catholics know the reality of sin. We live in a fallen world and the rate of abuse among Catholic priests is comparable to that in other branches of Christianity, in our public and private schools, and in the scouts. What’s different about the Catholic abuse crisis, and what infuriates the laity above all, is the cover-up of abuse and the contempt not just for the victims of the abuse, but for the laity as whole. Continue Reading…