Women and the Shaping of Catholicism: Women Through the Ages

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For the Catholic believer the violence is graver still because a Catholic component can often be identified in the violence. This component is illustrated in the book by qualitative data about Catholic women who suffered incest. Employing the foundational and methodological framework of the praxis of authenticity in consciousness that Bernard Lonergan has identified, and that everyone can verify in their own experience, as well as its specifically Christian conversion component, the book provides grounds for making the situation of violence a theological matter.

Such an understanding of salvation is constructed by drawing firstly on meanings for salvation in scripture that are dialectically opposed to destructive meanings that the Catholic women, who suffered incest, referred to above received and believed concerning salvation.

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The transformative meaning for salvation is developed further by addressing the issues of the male Jesus as saviour and his violent death of redemption in ways that can serve the struggle to stop male violence against women. The book ends by drawing attention to recent documents on male violence against women by Church leaders that make specific reference to a transformative role for theologians and by calling for third level theology colleges to take account of the pertinent violence as a theological imperative and to collaborate with others in the field of concern as part of the function of theology.

Laywomen and the Church

The premise of the book is that even rather esoteric theological doctrines have a significant cultural and practical impact, in that they play a role in the shaping of attitudes, the construction of ideologies and the maintenance of social roles. Polycarp of Smyrna, both writing at the beginning of the second century, refer to consecrated virgins and widows who are dedicated to prayer and to active charitable work.

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  4. Paul himself had made reference to virgins and widows, and some scholars believe that he was speaking about these women in his passage about Phoebe and even in First Timothy. The only other possible reference to women deacons comes in a letter from a pagan. Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia, reports in A.

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    Pliny, however, is not an entirely reliable witness to Christian doctrine or practice. They can, for example, freely visit the homes of women who are sick, without causing scandal. They also played a major role in the baptism of women. In antiquity, new Christians were baptized naked, and many were baptized as adult converts. Since the clergy were male, deaconesses safeguarded the modesty of women, taking them into the water and completing the anointing that had been ceremonially begun by the bishop.

    According to some ancient texts, a screen separated the bishop from the catechumen, and he performed his actions by extending his hand through a small window. It is the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions that have proven most controversial in modern scholarship. All of the texts originated in the eastern churches.

    In the western churches, there is no trace of any deaconesses in the first five centuries of Christian history. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote, around A.

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    Indeed, in the centuries afterward, the role of deaconesses seems to have waned even in the east. The most plausible explanation is that the need had vanished with the decline of adult baptisms. By the turn of the millennium, the term was hardly ever used. The memory of deaconesses was revived in the 19th and 20th centuries, as some Protestant churches began to explore the possibility of ordaining women to ministry. Lutherans began to use the term with a corresponding office, and Anglicans followed suit.

    Catholic scholars took up the question of whether the ancient deaconesses had, like male deacons, been ordained to a degree of holy orders — or simply blessed for service, like lectors, acolytes, and others who assist at liturgy. From to the Vatican produced three major documents addressing and rejecting the admission of women to the priesthood: St.

    None of these documents mentioned the diaconate — and the omission seemed to leave the door open for discussion. But they came down on opposite sides in their answers. Reviewing the usual ancient texts, the document concluded that the evidence is inconclusive. Indeed, there are also thorny theological questions involved. Theologians have traditionally considered deacons, along with priests and bishops, as occupying three grades on a single continuum.

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    Are bishop, priest, and deacon essentially related and continuous grades? Or is the diaconate something else entirely? It was to address such difficulties that Francis established his historical commission in Among its members was Phyllis Zagano, who teaches religion at Hofstra University and has written several books on the question of women in the diaconate.

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    Zagano, who advocates the sacramental ordination of women deacons, participated in the January event at Fordham.