Gary Macy, a professor of theology at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, told attendees at a Monday night lecture at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, there is little room for historical doubt that women were ordained in the Catholic Church until about the end of the 12th century.
Macy’s lecture, entitled “A Higher Calling for Women? Historical Perspectives in the Catholic Church,” was given at Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus. The university’s news service described the lecture this way: “The very idea of the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church is dismissed by many as contrary to basic church doctrine. Gary Macy, the John Nobili, S.J. Professor of Theology at Santa Clara University, says historical evidence is overwhelming that for much of the church’s history, the ordination of women was a fact.”
Macy has held his post at Santa Clara University since September 2007. Before that, he taught at the University of San Diego for 29 years. “During his years in San Diego, Dr. Macy published several books and over twenty articles on the theology and history of the Eucharist and on women’s ordination,” says the Santa Clara University web site. Among his books is The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, published in 2007.
According to Macy, until about the mid-12th century, women were ordained as deaconesses, served as bishops, distributed Communion and even heard confessions. “Women were considered to be as ordained as any man… they were considered clergy,” he said. [reference]
And of course we remember some of the writings of those women priests/bishops and the historical record retains plenty of their names. This is why supporters of women’s ordination bring up plenty of facts about specific women priests and bishops. Oh wait. I do wonder about how somebody convinces themselves that this is true and then teaches it as certainty. People though can convince themselves of anything if they want it to be true.
In the past the women’s ordination movement has tried to say that a statue portrays a women bishop when in fact it is a statue of of mother of a bishop. They make this claim because this is pretty much all they have. If the historical record supported the claims of this professor at a Jesuit institution they would have been touting it for quite a while.
The idea that this was a common practice and then changed in the 12 century has a Dan Brown ring to it. This is just kind of nutty. If true we would certainly have seen some documentation about the problem this would have caused. If in the 12th century all of a sudden they said that women’s ordination was not allowed than you would have major problems with the result of priests and bishops ordained by these so-called women bishops and there would have been a lot of turmoil concerning the validity of some lines of bishops. Strangely May mentions this problem as a “theological dilemma.” Of course such a controversy does not exist in the historical record. So much for overwhelming evidence.
In fact the historical record shows something quite different. There were cases of break off heretical groups that did ordain women and there was comments about this by some of the early Church Fathers. There are also plenty of historical records and results of councils concerning deaconesses and the fact that they are not ordained.
Council of Nicaea I
Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in.this position although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity (canon 19 [A.D. 325]).
Council of Laodicea
[T]he so-called “presbyteresses” or “presidentesses” are not to be ordained in the Church (canon 11 [A.D. 360]).
It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess (ibid.).
The Apostolic Constitutions (400 AD)
A widow is not ordained; yet if she has lost her husband a great while and has lived soberly and unblamably and has taken extraordinary care of her family, as Judith and Annaóthose women of great reputationólet her be chosen into the order of widows (ibid., 8:25).
A deaconess does not bless, but neither does she perform anything else that is done by presbyters [priests] and deacons, but she guards the doors and greatly assists the presbyters, for the sake of decorum, when they are baptizing women (ibid., 8:28).
Gary Macy ends the article with the parting shot used by so many dissidents.
“The Holy Spirit is alive and well,” said Macy. “And what She wants, She gets.