John WIJNGAARDS, Women Deacons In The Early Church: Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006. pp.226. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8245-2393-0.
Reviewed by Michael J. TKACIK, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida 33574

The strength of the book is its compendium of textual evidence which comprehensively surveys and analyzes the question of female deacons throughout Christian history. Primary source materials ranging from apostolic and patristic writings, to canons of the early ecumenical councils, to Eastern imperial and legal codes are provided, enabling one to sift through the plethora of sources which shed light on the presence and role of women deacons throughout the Christian Tradition. Allowing the sources to speak for themselves compensates for the tendency to overly polemicize the author’s disagreements with and disdain for the works of Aimé-Georges Martimort and Gerhard Ludwig Muller which disavow the possibility of women deacons due to their “hermeneutic” and “ systematic bias” which see diaconal ordination inextricably linked to service at the altar and a step toward priestly ministry, respectively—ministries that are deemed by Martimort and Muller to lie outside the reach of women (p.127).

Wijngaards effectively utilizes the wealth of historical and textual evidence, as well as the pervasive practices of the Eastern Church throughout the first millennium of church history to proffer a counter argument to Martimort and Muller. The strength of Wijngaards’ opposing position comes from his legitimization of the sacramental nature of orders received by women deacons. Careful examination of codices contained in episcopal rituale/euchologion reveal “remarkably uniform” descriptions of ordinations of women deacons revelatory of an ancient tradition painstakingly preserved among Byzantine bishops of the first millennium (p.24). Analysis of the codices indicates that “women deacons were ordained in the early Catholic Byzantine Church by means of the same ordination rite as male deacons” (p. 30), with “the time and place of the ordination indicating that we are dealing with a major order” (p.34). Furthermore, the public election of the candidates, lying on of hands, prayers, intercessions, epiclesis, investiture, etc. which are the same for male and female deacons indicate that it is the selfsame sacramental status that each received. Although their ministerial service/tasks may have differed (women deacons primarily ministering baptism and anointing of the sick to women), the sacrament they received did not. Herein lays yet another contribution of the text, namely the preservation of the integrity and authenticity of the singular sacrament of orders exercised by bishops, priests and deacons—both male and female.

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