Religion Booknotes

Women Deacons in the Early Church

Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates

John Wijngaards

Crossroad, $24.95, 240 pp.

Originally published in Great Britain in 2002, this American edition of John Wijngaards’s study of women deacons is a work of polemical scholarship. Its basic thesis is that for nearly a millennium women in the Eastern Church were ordained to the deaconate, but that shortly before the end of the first millennium the practice ceased. The fact that women were called “deaconesses” in the early church is not in dispute: Pliny the Younger referred to them as such in a letter to the Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the second century. The argument concerns whether or not deaconesses were ordained in the sacramental sense of the term.

The first part of this volume mounts a strong argument, supported by a cadre of liturgical scholars and historians, that women were ordained in the strict sense of the term. Wijngaards analyzes the surviving sacramentaries of the early Byzantine Church and compares the ordination rites for men ordained to the same office. He uses parallel columns to display the...

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About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.