The Roman Catholic leadership still refuses to ordain women officially or even to recognize that women are capable of ordination. But is the widely held assumption that women have always been excluded from such roles historically accurate?
In the early centuries of Christianity, ordination was the process and the ceremony by which one moved to any new ministry (ordo) in the community. By this definition, women were in fact ordained into several ministries. A radical change in the definition of ordination during the eleventh and twelfth centuries not only removed women from the ordained ministry, but also attempted to eradicate any memory of women's ordination in the past. The debate that accompanied this change has left its mark in the literature of the time. However, the triumph of a new definition of ordination as the bestowal of power, particularly the power to confect the Eucharist, so thoroughly dominated western thought and practice by the thirteenth century that the earlier concept of ordination was almost completely erased. The ordination of women, either in the present or in the past, became unthinkable.
References to the ordination of women exist in papal, episcopal and theological documents of the time, and the rites for these ordinations have survived. Yet, many scholars still hold that women, particularly in the western church, were never "really" ordained. A survey of the literature reveals that most scholars use a definition of ordination that would have been unknown in the early middle ages. Thus, the modern determination that women were never ordained, Macy argues, is a premise based on false terms.
Not a work of advocacy, this important book applies indispensable historical background for the ongoing debate about women's ordination.
Gary Macy is John Nobili, S.J. Professor of Theology in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University.
Read a review.
"Here is a truly groundbreaking book, essential reading for anyone interested in the complex story of how the ministry of women has been valued (and devalued) within the Christian church. Gary Macy convincingly demonstrates that in the early church women were ordained into various roles, but in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a new definition of ordination was rigorously applied, which served to exclude them. This study is of crucial importance not only for an understanding of the development of medieval Christianity but also for the material it brings to contemporary debate on the ordination of women." --Alistair Minnis, Yale University
"Careful scholarship based on solid historical method and backed up by 97 pages of dense Latin citations and documents drawn from a bibliography consisting of five pages of primary sources and thirteen pages of secondary material make this book definitive on the question of women's ordination in the early middle ages. ...[P]ainstakingly written and worthy of equally painstaking study." --Catholic Books Review "Exceptional in its thoroughness and thoughtfulness both in addressing the state of the question in the medieval period and in challenging Rome's tradition-based theological position." --Anglican Theological Review
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