Art. VII. “That Baptism be ministered only on Sundays and Holydays in the Church. So that no Liberty or Occasion be offered unto Women to Baptize.” — (1560), in Strype, Annals of the Reformation, ch. xvii (1709), p.204.
“Women may not speake ordinarily in the congregation, nor challenge any suche function unto themselves” —, The defense of the aunsvvere to the Admonition (1574)
“Although the Apostle forbid a woman to speake in the congregation, yet if she be learned, she may write, and privately instruct her family. ” —, Of the diuerse degrees of the ministers of the gospell (1590)
It is desirable clearly to define the purpose and limitations of this article. There is no intention to disparage or undervalue the work of women in the Church; nor to deal here with the distinct question of their participation in councils of the Church, whether parochial, diocesan or other. The question to be considered is whether they are admissible to Holy Orders.
I. Authority might be thought to settle the question. St. Paul’s words are certainly applicable: “We have no such custom, neither the Churches of God.” (1 Cor. xi.16.) The Committee appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to consider The Ministry of Women in their report, contained in a book bearing this title, say: “We find no evidence for the admission of women to the priesthood. Save among heretical or obscure sects, there have been no Christian priestesses.” Montanists apparently allowed a woman to celebrate the Eucharist; but Tertullian’s testimony to the practice of the Church (A. D. 200) is clear: “It is not allowed to a woman to speak in church, nor yet to baptize or offer, nor to claim a share in any work of men, to say nothing of the sacerdotal office.” Again, the Committee make this summarizing statement:
The terms of reference to this committee, appointed in 1917, were “The sanctions and restrictions which govern the ministrations of women in the life of the Church, and the status and work of deaconesses.” Those signing the Report were Bp. Ryle (Dean of Westminster), Bp. Talbot (Winchester), Bp. Burge (then of Southwark, now of Oxford), Bp. Paget (then of Stepney, now of Chester), Dr. Armitage Robinson, Dr. Frere, Dr. A. J. Mason, Dr. J. P. Whitney (now Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge), Dr. Weilbreght Stanton, Mr. F. C. Eeles and Miss Alice Gardner. Appendices are published along with the report, each dealing with a special department of the subject, the contributors, in addition to members of the committee, being the late Bp. Collins (of Gibraltar), Bp. Maclean (of Moray), Prof. C. H. Turner, Mr. Hamilton Thompson, Prof. Cooper (of Glasgow), and Deaconesses Siddell and Barker (of England), and Sanford (of America).
“The Twelve Apostles were men; and the Seventy who were sent forth to preach the Kingdom were men. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the presence of the Apostles only. The Apostlic commission recorded in John xx. 19-23 was delivered to men. The Evangelistic charge narrated in Matt. xxviii. 16-20 would appear to have been delivered to ‘the eleven disciples.’ These facts taken together are proof that there were functions and responsibilities which at the first our Lord assigned to men and did not assign to women. As regards spiritual privilege there was entire equality between the sexes. As regards religious vocation and public duties there was no such identity. All branches of the Church have hitherto interpreted this testimony of the Gospels to mean that the government of the Church and the responsibility for the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments were entrusted to men.”
In face of these admissions it may well be asked whether a national Church (whatever exactly that may be) has the right on its own authority, or acting by itself, to make such an innovation on the general practice of the Catholic Church, as admitting Women to Holy Orders would be. Whether it has the right or not, it is certain that such action on the part of the Anglican Communion would make an insuperable bar to reunion with “other historic branches of the Catholic Church” which the Committee of the Lambeth Conference urges we should do nothing to retard. That this would be the effect of such action is made abundantly clear in letters from representatives of the Greek and Russian Churches in England, printed in The Church Times for December 31, 1920. The Archimandrite of the Greek Church wrote: “My answer to the questions cannot but ground itself on the Canons of the Church, which explicitly forbid women to take any active part in ministrations in Orthodox churches during the Liturgy or any other religious service performed in the presence of a mixed congregation of the faithful.”
2P. 19. 3See Swete’s Essays, pp. 273 and 293. 4De Virg. Veland., 9. 5Pp. 2 and 3.
The Roman Catholic Church adheres to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who after weighing contrary arguments, including that based on the gift of prophecy to women, concludes that the male sex is required for the Sacrament of Orders, and that though all the ceremonies of ordination were performed in the case of a woman, she would not be ordained.
Are we to follow the lead of the more radical of Protestant bodies, like the Universalists in this country, concerning whom the writer was told some years ago by one who had studied at Tufts College, and had been a Universalist minister before seeking Holy Orders in the Church, (1) that practically all Universalists in New England were now Unitarian in belief, and (2) that there were more women than men in the Divinity School at Tufts? That such an innovation would be contrary to the mind of the New Testament and of the early Church, is beyond dispute. That it would be productive of further divisions and confusion, is equally certain.
6P. 100. 7 Pp. 635, 6. 8 Summa Suppl. Quest. xxxix. Compare Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia Ecc!. Angl. vol. II, pp. cvii, cviji.
II. But it is pleaded that we must not allow ourselves to be hampered by the dead hand of tradition. It is to be shewn then that Authority is not arbitrary, but based on Reason. So St. Paul bases his regulations and restrictions concerning women’s behavior in church on (a) the subordination of the female sex to the male, which is in no wise inconsistent with personal equality; (b) on the different functions of men and women; (c) on natural instinct as to what is proper and becoming.
The sexes are differently constituted, physiologically and psychologically, and by these differences they are fitted for different kinds of work in Church as in the State and in the Family. As a sex women are not fitted for positions of Rule and Government. Their emotional, affectionate, and sympathetic temperament, however valuable in other ways, is a certain disqualification for the exercise of authority. A judicial, balanced, impartial, controlled temper and attitude is required and ought to be found in those who hold the pastoral office; and these are not distinguishing characteristics of the female sex. The office of Priest and Pastor is distinctly that of a ruler. It is not chiefly concerned with speaking and preaching, nor with the mere administration of Sacraments. The “Minister of the Word and Sacraments” has a judicial office, to enforce requirements and conditions for the Church’s privileges. The faithful and wise steward whom his lord makes ruler over his household is a figure of the Church’s pastor.
‘St. Paul is sometimes charged with apparent inconsistency in prescribing in one place the dress (a veil) which women must wear when they pray or prophesy in the congregation (I Cor. xi. 5), while elsewhere, and in the same Epistle, he forbids them to speak or preach in public (1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35, comp. I Tim. ii. 11, 12). In answer it may be said: (1) The extraordinary gift of Prophecy is probably regarded as raising the recipient above general rules. A person whose spiritual gift of this kind is recognized by the faithful may deliver her message. But this is distinct from the ordinary exercise of authority in teaching. The prophetic gift, it need hardly be said was not limited to persons in Holy Orders. It was personal, and did not give any official position. We have been continually told of late that the charismatic ministry was over against the hierarchy. Or (2) it may have been, as some suppose, that I Cor. xiv represents the Apostle’s general rule, while in I Cor. xi he is dealing with an additional abuse, of women not only speaking in the congregation, but doing so while unveiled, which would be considered by all at that time as unbecoming. The distinction between a consecrated and an unconsecrated building, on which stress is sometimes laid in England, is entirely irrelevant. St. Paul’s “church” stands not for a building but for the assembly of the faithful. 101 Cor. xi, xiv; I Tim. ii. 11 Arguments from the example of a constitutional monarch have little force.
Moreover we may certainly ask, If the priesthood may be conferred on Women, why not the Episcopate? if pastorship, why not chief pastorship, the chief rule in spiritual things over all men and women? It is oftentimes by working out arrangements to their fair possibilities that their inherent unworkableness and contradiction of principle is shown.
We are referred to the institution of Deaconesses as a warrant for admitting women to Holy Orders. But the point is that Deaconesses are not in Holy Orders. They are to be regarded (historically and among ourselves) as officers or servants of the Church commissioned for special work, as persons of old in Minor Orders, superior to, but like, Lay Readers appointed and licensed rather than in the stricter sense ordained.
12 Luke xii, 42. 13The word “ordained” may be used in a wider sense than that of admitting to Holy Orders. It stands for a solemn form of commission and benediction for any kind of ministry. This may naturally be accompanied by the laying-on of_hands, which sign again is not restricted to the conferring of the Holy Orders of Deacon, Priest, or Bishop. The Roman Pontifical under De Ordimbus conferendis includes services for admission to Minor Orders, de clerico faciendo de ordinations ostiariarum, lectorum, exorcistarum, acolythorum, before De Saeris Ordinibus. Dean Howson recognized this in his early book on Deaconesses (1862), where he says (p. 243): “The very same technical term (Ordination) is applied [in the Apostolic Constitutions) to Readers, Doorkeepers, and Singers, as well as to Deaconesses,” and this with laying-on of hands. “The imposition of hands had a wider range in the Early Church than it has with us; and distinctions must be drawn with regard to the import of the ceremony on different occasions. In the case of the Bishop and the Presbyter it is a solemn consecration. In the case of the Deaconess it is only an official blessing.”
The position and functions of Deaconesses in the Primitive Church were uncertain, and they gradually disappeared as special needs for their assistance diminished, at the Baptism of women or in visiting those secluded from contact with men. Professor Cuthbert Turner (than whom there is no higher authority on early Church History) has thus summed up the evidence concerning Deaconesses in early times:
“1. No woman ever undertook a public function in the face of the Church, i.e. in a mixed congregation.
“2. No order of women ministers was ever universal, and an order of limited currency cannot be regarded, and has never in fact been regarded, as on a level with the orders universal in the Church. In other words deaconesses were not in ‘Holy Orders.’ ”
Bishop John Wordsworth in his Ministry of Grace, says:
“The practical development of Deaconesses was confined to the East, and more particularly to such centers as Antioch and Constantinople, though it appears elsewhere. There is scarcely any mention of the office in the West in the first four centuries, and when it is afterwards noticed, it is usually with disfavor. . . The first mention of it at Rome seems to belong to the 8th century.”
With these limitations we can entirely accept what is said in the Report of the Archbishop’s Committee:
14 Church Times, September 10, 1920. 15 Canons of several local councils with specific prohibitions of various irregularities of this kind are cited in The Place of Women in the Church, p. 85. 16P. 277. 17Bp. Wordsworth continues (p. 281): “The duties of a Deaconess as historically described do not appear to have been very considerable. They had (to use Dr. Bright’s words) (1) to assist in the instruction and attend the baptism of female catechumens; (2) to take messages from the Bishop to Churchwomen; (3) to look after them in church. Their duties in visiting the sick and in connection with the Eucharist are less frequently mentioned. We have here, however, the germ of all that is now desired for our modern Deaconesses, including their special relation to the Bishop, to whom they are attached much in the same way as the Deacons were.” 18 P. 20.
“Notwithstanding local variations of practice and long disuse, it is beyond all question that the diaconate of women had a very real existence. There has been no decision of the Church as a whole against it. No council of importance has condemned it. And it is impossible to maintain that the disuse has been of so complete or decisive a nature as to render the revival of the order incompetent to any part of the Church.”
This was the line really taken by the Lambeth Conference, even if accompanied by some unfortunate suggestions concerning the ministrations of Deaconesses. These recommendations, it should be noted, were adopted by a small majority of the Bishops present at the time (117 votes to 81), this majority being a minority of the members of the Conference (252). The Conference distinctly refused to endorse the proposals of its Committee on the subject. In direct divergence from the Report of the Committee, which said that the Ordination of a Deaconess confers upon her Holy Orders, and that she received the “character” of a Deaconess, in the resolutions of the Conference the term “Holy Orders” was avoided in connection with Deaconesses (not only was it not used, but it was discarded); authority to minister the chalice at a sick Communion was refused to them; and any further advance beyond the Diaconate was explicitly denied to women. Resolution 48 declared, “The office of a Deacon is for women the only Order in the Ministry which has the stamp of Apostolic approval, and is for women the only Order of the Ministry which we can recommend that our branch of the Catholic Church should recognize and use.”
In any appeal to the authority of Lambeth, while we may regret some things that were done or said about Deaconesses, what was not done or said, though asked for and recommended by the Committee, must be taken into account.
19 Report of Lambeth Committee, p. 102.
The American Church, as I have said elsewhere, is not likely to change its stand in the matter, either in accounting Deaconesses as in Holy Orders, or by withdrawing its rule that the Deaconess must be unmarried or widowed, and that the office or appointment shall be vacated by marriage.
III. Leaving considerations of Authority and Reason, we pass to questions of Expediency.
(a) Women, it is pleaded, demand such a change in old-established discipline. A few do, some gifted, some restless and wilful, possessed with the idea that the equality of persons of both sexes involves the identity of their functions. But by the great majority of Churchwomen the idea is regarded with abhorrence. They have their own position, their own gifts and influence and opportunities, and they have no desire (perhaps at the loss of some of these) to intrude on masculine prerogatives. By no class of worshippers would such a change in our rules be more bitterly resented than by devout churchwomen.
Take a particular class of women that should not be ignored in such matters,—those specially dedicated to the service of our Lord and His Church in Religious Communities. They are constant in worship, they value highly the Sacramental life, they are diligent in spiritual as well as in corporal works of mercy. Do they desire to lead the general congregation in worship, to minister in the pulpit or at the altar, to be burdened with the charge of priesthood?
(b) And what would be the effect on Men? Would they be won or further alienated from religion and religious observances, as these took on more and more of a feminine color and tone? Is not one common, and not altogether groundless, complaint now that we need a more virile presentation of Christianity, in the pulpit and elsewhere? Will our efforts to recruit young men for the Ministry be helped or hindered by the invitation being extended to their sisters and female friends? We lament now that we do not get the strongest men: is this condition likely to be remedied by the association and competition of women with men in the Ministry?
20 Canon 23, SI.
(c) Practical inconveniences have to be faced. Already in mixed juries difficulties have arisen in the presentation of evidence of a repulsive or indelicate nature? Would women priests hear the confessions of men, or as bishops deal with cases of discipline in which sensual sins are involved?
It is impossible to avoid the question of marriage? Must clergywomen all be of a certain age? Shall they be unmarried? Unless distinctly set apart and known to be unmarriageable, grave inconveniences will arise. This is the crux with Deaconesses. Some authorities expect a Deaconess to remain unmarried, but earnestly protest against any vow or rule of celibacy, which would serve as a protection; they throw the young Deaconess into close association with young clergymen and young doctors; and then are disappointed and grieved if she abandons her intention. Is this fair to any of those concerned?
If clergywomen are married, how are the rights of a husband and family to be harmonized with the demands of the Ministry? How are the primary duties of motherhood to be fulfilled by these ordained women? Are they, as has been recommended in the case of Deaconesses,“ to be dispensed for a time—and how often—from the exercise of their office that they may bear and rear children, returning when these duties are fulfilled to the pastoral care? Surely this will not be a fresh reason and on the part of religious leaders—for the Restriction of Families ! These mere suggestions are sufficient to cover the whole proposal with ridicule.
21In the early Church forty, fifty, sixty years were fixed as the age for Deaconesses. Archbishop’s Report, p. 12. 22 Report of Lambeth Committee, p. 104.
Two arguments in favor of the innovation must be noticed: (1) the great difference in the status of women in the Apostolic age and now; (2) that the same arguments which are used above were urged awhile (and not so very long) ago against the admission of women to other professions, particularly those of medicine and surgery, of law, of politics. Now prejudice in these directions is largely overcome. In reply it may be asked (a) whether the general success of women—as distinct from a few exceptional instances—in these lines has been so marked as to encourage further ventures along other lines? (b) Do women doctors or surgeons practise to any extent among men? To have a distinct clergy for each sex would make a schism in the Body of Christ deeper than that of Jew and Gentile.
(c) Whatever may be said about women’s capacity for employment in these secular professions, the objection to their ordination to the Sacred Ministry is based not on social conventions but on deeply rooted distinctions, implanted by nature, between the sexes.