Anglican Tradition and Women Priests

Ruth Gledhill had an interesting post on her blog this weekend about new evidence that the Church ordained women up until the 12th Century--putting in doubt the notion that women priests are contrary to tradition:

This morning, on Today, US theologian Professor Gary Macy was explaining his theory that the Church ordained women up until the 12th century and that women had episcopal authority until much later. Earlier this week he sent me his entire paper on the subject. I've also put a couple of extracts below.

Macy writes:

'Women in the Middle Ages played a far larger role in the life of the Church than they would in later centuries. In the early Middle Ages, they performed both sacramental and administrative functions that would be reserved to men after the thirteenth century. They celebrated the Mass, distributed communion, read the Gospel, heard confessions and preached. Some abbesses also exercised episcopal power, and indeed, a few were considered bishops. The powerful Abbess of Las Huelgas in Spain continued to wear her miter and exercise administrative episcopal power until 1874. This paper will discuss the evidence for these claims.'

'The Council of NĂ“mes, held in 394, noting that “women seemed to have been assumed into levitical service,” ordered that “such ordination should be undone when it is effected contrary to reason. It should be seen that no one so presume in the future.” It is quite likely that the ministry of women to the Eucharist was being discussed here, although some scholars have argued that it was the diaconate rather than the presbyterate that the Council intended to forbid. Ninety years later, in 494, Pope Gelasius in a letter to the bishops of southern Italy and Sicily also spoke out against bishops who were allowing women to serve at the altar. Gelasius had heard that “women are confirmed to minister at the sacred altars and to perform all matters imputed only to the service of the male sex and for which women are not competent.'

The full essay, Women and the Shaping of Catholicism, is to be published by Liguori Press in December later this year.

Read it all here.


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