Deaconesses, Never Deacons, Never Priestesses

last supper

Some revolutionaries, who want the Church to attempt to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on women,  point to this verse from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church which is at Cenchrea.” (Rom. 16:1)

The Greek word they translate as “deaconess” is diakonos, which meant “servant.” It is from this Greek word that we get today’s “deacon.”

These revolutionaries present other arguments for disobeying Jesus’s Command about His priesthood and for rejecting almost two millennia of Church doctrine and tradition. Christ gave us this sacrament at the Last Supper on the first Holy Thursday with no one other than His Apostles present. No female has ever received the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Why cannot the Church change this, in the same way that it can change the personnel rule about priestly celibacy or the meatless Friday rule?

The Command Of The Lord

None of the attempted ostensible conferrals of Holy Orders on a woman, even by a validly ordained bishop, have ever resulted in her ordination.  Why are all such attempts futile, ineffective, sacrilegious, and blasphemous?

The answer is incredibly simple. It is the same answer that has been given, magisterially and infallibly, for almost two thousand years. In creating His sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ did not give His Church power to ordain women. This gift of Holy Orders preceded His Church. Christ’s Church was born about a month after that first Holy Thursday when He instituted the Sacrament. He gave power to ordain men in Holy Orders; He gave no power to ordain women. Over the centuries, His  “rules” for this Sacrament have been described, correctly, as the “Command Of The Lord” about His priesthood.  Among other instances in Holy Scripture, God had those inspired by Him write this about Jesus’s Command:

“Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor 14:36-38).

Scholarly Treatment 

One of the best  in-depth discussions of this Command is Fr. Manfred Hauke’s “Women In The Priesthood?” published in 1986. Hauke exhibits voluminous citations to back up his conclusions; e.g., he refers to an early work called the Apostolic Constitutions: “A deaconess does not bless and performs none of the duties carried out by a priest or deacon, she is only a doorkeeper and assists the priests in administering baptism for the sake of decency.” Other sources include

Eamon Keane’s The Ordained Priesthood, at; and

Mark Lowery, The Male Priesthood the Argument From Tradition,

Arguments For Priestesses Fail

There are those who want Jesus’s Holy Catholic Church to change, jettison, ignore, deny, alter, or disobey Christ’s Command.  Certain protesting denominations claim Jesus gave this Command, but it has simply outlived its time. Others put forth arguments based on the following:  female/male equality, the functionality of priestly duties, some notion of “divine justice,” the biblical mention of “deaconesses” or the historical existence of deaconesses in the Church and their alleged “ordination.” All these arguments fail.

The Church has no power to do what these revolutionaries want it to do. Pope Pius XII,  echoing the Council of Trent, stated, “The Church has no power over the substance of the sacraments, that is to say, over what Christ the Lord, as the sources of Revelation bear witness, determined should be maintained in the sacramental sign.” (Sacramentum Ordinis, No. 5).

But, Women  Deacons & Priestesses Could Do Anything A Man Can Do

This has the ring of truth: “Anything a man can do as an ordained priest, a priestess could do.  For example, say the words, “This is My body;” absolve someone who has confessed their sins;  officiate at  the exchange of matrimonial vows;   read the Gospel at Mass; and preach to the faithful.  Women can do all these things.

This attempt at logic, the “functionality  argument,”  however, goes too far. A robot can say words and raise its hand in a blessing. A computer programmed to produce sounds of the English language could scan the printed page and say the Gospel message at Mass.  It is also possible for a non-ordained person, male or female, to do all those actions and say all those words. Is that all there is to the  Sacrament Of Holy Orders and the sacramental priestly power it confers? There are several denominations for whom everyone is a priest, of equal rank, of equal office, and of equal ecclesial ability and power. The Catholic Church is not, will never be one of those. There must be something more to being an ordained priest than performing these functions.

Only validly ordained priests act in persona Christi as Head of the Mystical Body – and the “Person” of Jesus is not simply spirit or soul.  A person is an embodied soul, an ensouled body. Those who would say that females can do all that Jesus does ignore the fact that they cannot be all that He is. He is, at this moment, a man. True, He is the God/man, but He is a man. Those who clamor for priestesses  simply  ignore the fact that they are not, cannot choose to be, and cannot be male – and being a male  is part of the  sacramental reality of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The functionality argument also either ignores the Command Of The Lord or urges disobedience of it.


One very interesting discussion of the limited non-sacramental role of women servants – “deaconesses” –  in the early Church is found in  Seven Ecumenical Councils, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. Schaff et al at pp. 41-42, in the  section by a Protestant scholar  entitled “Excursus on the Deaconess of the Early Church.” Here is an excerpt from this work:

This whole matter is treated clearly by St. Epiphanius who, while indeed  speaking of deaconesses as an order (tagma), asserts that “they were only women-elders, not priestesses in any sense, that their mission was  not to interfere in any way with Sacerdotal functions, but simply to  perform certain offices in the care of women” (Haer. lxxix., cap. iij).   It is erroneous to equate “the laying on of hands” which the deaconesses received   to that by which persons were ordained to the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate at that period of the church’s history. It was merely a solemn dedication and blessing and was not looked upon   as “an outward sign of an inward grace given.”  For further proof of this, I must refer to Morinus, who has treated the matter most admirably.  (De Ordinationibus, Exercitatio X.)

Father Hauke’s book states that:

. . Rather there was always a clear line of separation drawn between the male and the female diaconates; in particular, deaconesses were always kept away from preaching, distributing Communion and serving at the altar. The reason for this probably lies in the fact that the just- mentioned male diaconal tasks are oriented toward priestly office, but those of a deaconess are not  .  . .   (Hauke, p. 443; references omitted).


In the future, if someone claiming recent enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, even someone in cardinal scarlet or papal white, were to declare that baboons and rocks can be baptized, or that two men who love each other can be “married,” they would be told that none of this is within the power that Jesus gave His Church in instituting the Sacraments. No proclamation nor attempt at magisterial “development,”  by anyone with an office in the Church can change this reality of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Someone in the hierarchy of the Church merely saying Hell is not everlasting does not, and cannot, change the reality of Hell, and the words of Our Lord that Hell is everlasting. The same is true concerning the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  No one can change the Command of The Lord that only males may validly receive this Sacrament.

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25 thoughts on “Deaconesses, Never Deacons, Never Priestesses”

  1. I have one idea to share to this conversation, one that I’ve never heard anyone speak before. It is that Jesus called God “Abba,” Father. Most of us think of God as Father, right? Not “mother.” As a female, I’m not about to criticize my own gender, for we are very special and have our own abilities and talents, but being “father” is not one of them. Priests act “in persona Christ” and that is a male, fatherly role that no woman can play. Our culture does not value fathers in general rightly. We need to think. When I was a kid, the eldest of 7, my mother could rant and rave and threaten and punish to get us to behave – and all it took from dad was a word or a look (most of the time) to get results quickly. Was it fear? no. Our mother was actually more scary. Men have some type of authority or power that women simply do not have. I have lived a good many years and have seen this in every walk of life: men having some authoritative power than women simply do not have. I think it is beyond cultural and beyond a matter of “equality. ” And I’m thinking lack of respect for men as fathers in all aspects of American life is one reason for the waywardness of today’s youth and our out of balance society.

  2. You begin by pointing out that Paul referred to Phoebe as a deaconess, and then the rest of your essay is about how women can never be deaconesses. You never say that Paul was wrong or that the passage was mistranslated.

    1. He says we get the word “deacon” from the word Paul used to describe Phoebe. He then cites (much) later, non-authoritative author who says deaconesses can’t do things while deacons can. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever said women can’t do things that men can.

    2. Neither said nuclear war was wrong either, so I guess it’s okay. But Jesus did say that he founded a Church and it has authority and guidance to act in his name. You simply don’t like what Jesus did and think you know better. You sound very much like a certain serpent in a certain garden.

  3. Truth is unmovable and can be hard for most of us to accept. The spirit of the age is against God and will be until the second coming. It seems that humble perseverance is called for now, just as it was in the earliest days of Christianity. May God give us faithful shepherds and the grace to follow Him.

  4. So men are ‘alter Christi.’ If only men can be images of Christ, then clearly only men have the complete Imago Dei. Men = Christ, Christ = God, ergo Men = God. Women = Church, Church = Human, Human < God, and of course, Women < Men. Please, just give up the stupid and insulting “equaldignitydifferentfunction” crap. You don’t mean it. You and the entire Catholic hierarchy believe that women are inferior to men. Just go ahead and say it out loud. It is obvious to everyone anyway.

    1. Just say it out loud, that you think you are God. That Jesus was wrong and you are right. Show your pride, the kind that cast the devil out of hell. It is obvious to everyone anyway.

    2. You go first: admit that you and the Catholic church believe that women are inferior to men and exist only and entirely to serve the wishes of males.

    3. Except that there is one problem with your line of thinking….the one human being who is next in glory to Christ as a human being is a female….the Blessed Virgin Mary. No other human being in the world is as honored as She is, and rightly so.

      Yet Christ, being God and having a perfect opportunity to set an ages long example for all, did not place Her, the most worthy of all humanity, as one of the Apostles of the Church.

      I get the sense that you are not Catholic and perhaps not even Christian. You don’t seem to understand the typologies that are used throughout the Bible.

    4. You are correct that I’m not Catholic. As for Mary, it is doctrine that she is entirely different from every other woman who ever existed. Nothing that Catholics believe about Mary applies to any other woman. Your church created an idol out of a few verses in the New Testament and uses that idol to beat every other woman into miserable submission.

    5. Well, that’s right because She is not like any other woman.

      1. She is the Queen of Heaven and Earth and co-regent with Her divine Son.

      2. She alone chose of Her own free-will to eschew sin. She was spotless in Her life.

      3. She is the Mother of God. What other woman can say that? That places Her in an entirely different category.

      4. She is the Mother of all who are alive in Christ.

      5. She is the New Eve who has replaced the original Eve who fell into sin in the Garden

      6. She is the Ark of the New Covenant.

      And as for Her position and our understanding of that coming strictly from the NT, that is entirely wrong. Just the title “New Eve” requires considerable extrapolation from the OT. You admit you are not Catholic and it is obvious that you do not understand the Christian faith at all. Yet you feel warranted to criticize because what we believe cuts across the way you want the world to run.

      My advice? Take it up with God. He gave us the rules and we aren’t changing.

    6. Since she is not like any other woman, she is useless as evidence against the charge that the Catholic church hates actual women.

    7. Does God hate men because they can’t have babies? Does God hate women because they are usually physically weaker than men?

      Instead of accepting that you were born woman and have certain things you can and can’t do, you want it all. You are determined to find things to be unhappy about. I’ve seen your kind before. Nothing will ever please you and you are determined to be miserable, so enjoy your miserable and sad little life.

    8. No, we won’t lie like you do. We speak the truth. You prefer lies to the truth. You want what you want, like a spoiled child. We follow Jesus, you can follow some other spirit. Go join the Episcopal church, they could use the members since they are dying off rapidly.

  5. All of the apostles were also ethnic Jews. Does this mean Jesus did not give the church authority to ordain non-ethnic Jewish men? He could have ordained a gentile if he wanted to. But he didn’t. So where does the authority come from to ordain non-ethnic Jews?

    1. Because the apostles, who heard Jesus, DID ordain gentiles. He said to them “he who hears you hears me.” But they did NOT ordain women. I trust Jesus and the apostles. You do not. You just want your way no matter what God wants.

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  7. …. post 12th century virulent misogyny, plain and simple and if Jesus was here today he would rail against it….it’s vestige of rabbinical male dominance!

    1. Jesus founded the Church and guides her, so it was and is his will. You set yourself against Jesus. As for me and my house we will follow the Lord.

    2. men and women are different and there is nothing misogynous about recognizing that. The prayer instituted by Jesus Himself is “Our Father,” not “our mother.” That sets a definite precedent (if you’re into legal terms). Priests act “in persona Christ” which is another thing women are unlikely to do – act in place of Jesus, a man? I thought of becoming a minister years ago when I was attending another church, however the woman minister I wanted to emulate got burned out rather quickly and when she got married she lost at least half of her power as a minister and pretty quickly decided she had to choose between wife and minster. Wife won. I believe most women would do the same. And I believe the same conflict and loss of power would happen for priests if the Church allowed them to marry.

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