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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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That the order of Deaconess existed in the Christian church, even in apostolic days, is evident from : 'I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, which is a servant (a deaconess) of the church which is at Cenchrea.' The earliest Fathers of the church, moreover, speak of the same order of persons.

Certain qualifications were necessary in those who were taken into this order.

1. It was necessary that she should be a widow.

2. No widow, unless she had borne children, could become a deaconess. This rule arose out of a belief that no person but a mother can possess those sympathizing and tender feelings which ought to animate the deaconess in the discharge of her peculiar duties.

3. The early church was very strict in exacting the rule which prohibits the election of any to be deaconesses who had been twice married, though lawfully, and successively to two husbands, one after the other.

It is a disputed point with some learned men whether deaconesses were ordained by imposition of hands. However, the fifteenth Can. of the Council of Chalcedon expressly declares that deaconesses were so ordained, and this is fully confirmed by the author of the Apost. Constitutions, viii. 19. Still, deaconesses were not consecrated to any priestly function. Some heretics, indeed, allowed women to teach, exorcise, and to administer baptism; but all this he sharply rebukes as being contrary to the apostolic rule.

5. One of the peculiar duties of the deaconesses was to assist at the baptism of women.

6. Another duty the deaconesses had to perform was to instruct and prepare the catechumens for baptism.

7. In times of danger and persecution it was the duty of the deaconesses to visit the martyrs in prison, because they could more easily gain access to them, and with less suspicion and hazard than the deacons.

8. The deaconesses stood at the entrance of the church in order to direct the women as to the place each one should occupy during divine service.

How long this order continued in the Christian church is not quite certain. It was not however discontinued everywhere at once, and it was not till the tenth century that it was wholly abrogated.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Deaconess'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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