Women deacons in Anglo-Saxon England

Anne Inman

For some time, there has been a significant body of evidence that women were once ordained as deacons in the Christian Church. Anne Inman lectured in Theology at Birkbeck College, London and St Mary’s University, Twickenham

As I write at the end of November 2016, the first round of meetings of the papal commission is taking place, to examine the ministries undertaken by women in the early Church, with particular reference to the diaconate. In the early medieval period, Latin words like ordinare, and ordo were common in connection with the commissioning of women to a variety of ministries. The discussion turns on whether the same words mean something different when applied to a woman. So, for example, a woman is ‘blessed’, while using the same word, a man is ‘ordained’. The way in which the history of the first millennium has been written is littered with examples of the way in which women’s participation in the mission of the Church has been similarly downgraded.

Women’s ordination and hierarchy
To be ‘ordained’ in the proper sense, traditionally there must be the laying on of hands. Norman Tanner compares Canon 19 of the Council of Nicea, 325, with Canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon of 451:

Canon 19 regulates, among various matters, the role of deaconesses.

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