Restoring to women their sacramental ministries. An exploration of the constant tradition

Anne Inman

The Church’s history has many examples of women monastics from the early medieval period occupying ministerial roles. These ministries must be recovered, writes Anne Inman, a retired lecturer in Theology.

The constant tradition of the Church from the beginning cannot be reduced to those periods of Christian history after women had been excluded from all but secondary roles in the Church’s mission.

When pressed on the matter of women’s ordination in late 2016, Pope Francis referred to the 1994 document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the apostolic Letter of John Paul II to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on reserving priestly ordination to men. This document states that ‘priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone.’

Historical research over the last several decades has increasingly called into question this reading of the constant tradition, yet ingrained male bias means that even now the practice of downgrading women’s place in the tradition continues.

This article falls into three parts. First I shall demonstrate the way in which current historical theology remains heavily laden with male bias. Secondly, I will show how the monastic reforms which began in the late seventh century closed down the teaching, sanctifying and governing ministries which had been the responsibilities of leading women monastics. Thirdly, I will narrow the focus to reveal how research has provided a glimpse into the sanctifying responsibilities of early medieval women, and how these sanctifying responsibilities were related to or are synonymous with the seven sacraments of the second millennium.

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