Examining Light Novels: On Female Deacons

Feminists have proposed the idea of female deacons in the Catholic Church on the basis of scriptural references to them.

Volume thirteen stands as the most interesting of Isuna Hasekura’s three “Side Colors” volumes of Spice and Wolf so far.  This volume features a novella about the shepherdess Nora and her dog Enek.  From her adventure with Lawrence at Ruvinheigen in volume two, she gains the capital necessary to enter a seamstress apprenticeship program.  However, her wanderings from town to town reveal no openings among the local guilds.

At last, her journey brings her towards the town of Kuskov, which recently had an outbreak of the plague.  Like in Europe’s medieval world, such outbreaks cause labor shortages of benefit to the survivors.  In England, certain laws tying peasants to the land were loosened or ignored.   Due to the high wages laborers could demand, the government even instituted wage freezes.

Let’s return to the story.  On the way to Kuskov, Enek saves a bishop and one surviving bodyguard from some brigands.  This earns Nora the bishop’s gratitude and affection.  The townspeople of Kuskov expect this bishop to aid in obtaining a favorable trade agreement with a rival town.  Yet, the bishop’s wounds from his encounter with brigands prevent him from fulfilling this function.  After being denied entrance in Kuskov’s seamstress’s guild (Amusingly, the plague also destroyed their clientele and ability to acquire material), the townsfolk enlist Nora to take the bishop’s place in the negotiations by becoming their deacon.

The above brings us to the question of female deacons.  Feminists have proposed the idea of female deacons in the Catholic Church on the basis of scriptural references to them.  Pope Francis recently created a commission to study the question.  What does Medieval Otaku think about this topic?  Creating female deacons must be impossible, because the magisterium has declared the ordination of priestesses to be against Catholic doctrine.  Or, as St. John Paul II put it, the Church has received no authority to ordain women.

“But,” you say, “the proclamations of the pope and the magisterium pertain to the priesthood.  Aren’t deacons of a different order?”  No, deacons are the first level of the clergy.  Holy Orders is the only sacrament to include levels to it: deacon, priest, and bishop.  The order of deacons had become defunct prior to the Middle Ages, and modern councils revived it.  Today, we have permanent deacons (i.e. married men) and transitional deacons (i.e. single men studying to become priests).  If a permanent deacon’s wife dies, his vow of chastity forbids him to marry again.  The bereft deacon would likely opt to enter the next level of Holy Orders: the priesthood.  Since deacons find themselves on the same continuum as priests, women can’t be deacons.

What about the deaconesses mentioned in Scripture?  Διακονος (διακονη in the feminine I presume) translates to “servant.”  Though deacons after the Apostolic Age numbered among the clergy, there is no reason to assume earlier deacons were.  Otherwise, clerical deaconesses would have existed contemporaneously with clerical deacons.  In a definite sense, we have many διακοναι with us as I imagine the ancient Christians would have known them: nuns, sisters, altar servers, and Eucharistic ministers.  All count as servants to the Church, and I might also mention how women serve as catechists, administrative personnel, and teachers.

The Church has become abundantly feminine.  So much so that the greater problem for modern Christians of most denominations lies in keeping men going to church.  The man of working age sees Church as the province of women, children, and elderly persons.  Of course, one might find young fathers accompanying their families to Mass; yet, what a rare sight are single men on a Sunday!  The congregation looks upon a churchgoing, single man in his 20’s through 40’s as a candidate for Holy Orders almost without exception!  Worse, the “candidate for Holy Orders,” usually someone of thoughtful and quiet way of life, tends not to exemplify the masculine virtues but rather the decent ones.  This state of affairs only encourages the more robust and sanguine of the male population to see religion as effeminate.

(Such is the stereotype; however, the seminary is also remarkable for candidates at the opposite end of the spectrum.  During my brief time there, we had people hailing from the Air Force, Navy, and Army.  One career soldier turned seminarian last served in the role of drill sergeant.  A navy man had been shot at many times during his career, including during his time acting as an interpreter in Iraq.  A member of the Air Force ardently sought the role of military chaplain and now serves National Guard troops in the Middle East.  However, a Southern gentleman, fencer, and big game hunter, with whom I became excellent friends, once shouted his exasperation with the seminary in the following words: “Have you ever been to such an emasculated place!?”)

Be that as it may, Nora’s election as deaconess seems not to involve ordination at all.  She is required to know Church terminology, procedures, and ritual, but no one mentions the need for a sacrament.  The reader never learns how well she fills the role or negotiates terms with the rival town, which makes for a disappointing tale.  Still, I can’t help but wonder whether Hasekura imagines the role of a deaconess more accurately than some moderns.

Medieval Otaku is essentially a bookworm. His greatest loves are writing, anime, literature, history, religion, and foreign and ancient language, especially Japanese, Latin, and French. He hopes to become a full-time novelist one day, though each day offers endless ways to distract him from this happy goal.
12 Comments on this post.

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  • projectedrealities
    18 January 2017 at 6:26 pm

    The unfortunate counter-point to this is that anecdotally I have heard of a somewhat reversed scenario happening, where some women become alienated by Christianity because they see themselves as having no place or a lesser status within it.

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    • medievalotaku
      20 January 2017 at 7:10 pm

      I have heard that too. The Catholic Church looks like that one the surface because the priesthood is all male. But, when one looks at which gender is more important in running the Church community (at least in Europe and America) and that only a female saint, St. Mary, is accorded hyperdulia (the reverence owed to the saints (dulia) but to a higher degree), which translates to all practicing Catholics (and Orthodox Christians for that matter) seeking her help and intercession, ones sees that women have a very important role in the Church. I might also add that all the must important and influential private revelations except one (Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego) were issued to women.

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  • Murasaki Lynna
    19 January 2017 at 2:28 am

    Interesting perspective. I personally support female ordination in most denominations, so long as it’s not done for the sole purpose of going along with modern culture. However, as I am not a part of the Catholic church, it’s up to them to go with their own interpretation of scripture. However, one of the things I actually really like about Catholicism is that historically Nuns often had the opportunity to serve in a way that women sometimes didn’t have the opportunity to otherwise.

    That being said, I grew up in a church where all the elders/leadership were men and the roles of women were rather limited, and a teacher once spoke about how women should not have any leadership roles in the church (and even though I think he was trying to be sensitive I found it kind of insulting). Do you know how many young single men went to our church? None. In fact, I am not 100% sure if there were any single men in that church at all (besides my brother, I suppose?) This and similar experiences lead me to believe that the lack of single men in churches had nothing to do with the amount of women who attend, the amount of women who serve, and I’m kind of doubtful as to whether if it would matter if a woman was in leadership. The problem is much more likely with our culture, which says that religion is something only for the weak, and a man must never show vulnerability, and so naturally no man wants to darken a church door. (Of course, the part about weakness is partially true– we must accept that is not through our strength that we are saved. But I think if men knew that it was also about God empowering us to do things, they might start to see Christianity a little differently.)

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    • medievalotaku
      20 January 2017 at 7:32 pm

      With Protestant Christianity, I always thought it a shame that the veneration towards the Mother of God declined after the Reformation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and even Ulrich Zwingli all professed great affection for her, while modern Protestants as a whole seem to be leery of showing the same affection lest they be accused of Mariolatry. The veneration of Mary provides a very feminine touch to Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

      Sadly, young men do neglect religion altogether. Like you said, much of the reason for this has to do with the culture. The West has many unfortunate connections to the Roman Empire, and one of those is that religion is for the weak. Men often become disconnected from the Church when they enter adulthood, and the only thing which brings them back is marriage and the duty to baptize and provide religious instruction for their children. If not for devout Christian women, many more men would go to hell. That is for sure!

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  • Luminas
    19 January 2017 at 3:21 pm

    “The Church has become abundantly feminine. So much so that the greater problem for modern Christians of most denominations lies in keeping men going to church. The man of working age sees Church as the province of women, children, and elderly persons.”

    This is…interesting, to say the least. Because as projectedrealities pointed out, many U.S. women anyway feel like Christianity is the opposite— A way of life that is out of touch with their needs and values. And that seems to disdain women or grant them a lesser status. (Granted, this latter bit has a lot more to do with cultural Christianity than anything the Bible actually says.) And where men tend to feel as if the religion has grown too “soft,” women tend to feel it has grown pointlessly punitive and harsh. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes of transgender people who go to their (Granted mostly Protestant) pastor for answers are told not that they’re sinning, but that they’re monsters who should kill themselves. I’ve heard of gay women treated much worse than adulterers for essentially the same offense morally. An autistic woman I know found her church hostile to her because of behaviors she has no ability to control and that don’t compromise the church service. She’s still Christian, but not thrilled with churches.

    I think that the Catholic Church is considerably better on most of these fronts than the Protestant, simply because very few become Catholic priests who are not willing to submit themselves to the rigors of a religious education and humbling process. But it’s still interesting that women find some forms of Christianity pointlessly cruel and men find Christianity a religion of passive emasculation and femininity.

    They’re both wrong, I’d say. : p

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    • Medieval Otaku
      23 January 2017 at 1:09 pm

      The Catholic priest is certainly very unique: “The priest is not his own,” as the saying goes. Every sacrament he performs is in the Person of Christ, so he is an instrument in the hands of God for dispensing grace and reconciling sinners. Under Canon Law, he is accountable for the salvation of not only his parishioners, but every soul in his parish. The unique way the priest is conformed to Christ usually makes him much more gentle towards sinners and penitents, especially inside the Confessional. Every sinner is told both that they must change and can change with the help of God–even if it takes a very long time and hundreds of visits to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sins, even venial sins, are terrible things; but God considers the loss of a sinner more terrible by far, and priests adopt this attitude.

      It is curious that men and women stay away from Church for different reasons. For men, many will stay away from Church until the prospect of eternal torment hits them in middle or old age or they form a family. The weight of responsibility to wife and children and the sacrifices inherent in maintaining these relationships often draw them to God.

      Women, from my experience, usually have stronger religious sentiments from the beginning. That Christianity would seem pointlessly cruel to them, I find surprising. Though, I remember that some have found the demand that gays and transgenders need to change or to not follow their inclinations as a cruel proposition. If one believes that homosexuality or transgender status is essential to their humanity, I can definitely see why one would find it cruel. But, the Faith sees these inclinations–like all sinful dispositions–as accidental to their humanity. Still, sins of the body, whether sloth, lust, or gluttony, do cling tighter to the soul than sins of the spirit. The process of divesting oneself of them is naturally cruel and harsh; so, I do understand where they are coming from.

      There is a balance to justice and mercy. One must maintain that balance lest mercy become permissiveness and justice cruelty. And, I suppose we all need to become either more just or more merciful lest we view justice as mere cruelty or mercy as mere permissiveness.

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      • Luminas
        25 January 2017 at 3:51 pm

        “Though, I remember that some have found the demand that gays and transgenders need to change or to not follow their inclinations as a cruel proposition. If one believes that homosexuality or transgender status is essential to their humanity, I can definitely see why one would find it cruel. But, the Faith sees these inclinations–like all sinful dispositions–as accidental to their humanity. Still, sins of the body, whether sloth, lust, or gluttony, do cling tighter to the soul than sins of the spirit. The process of divesting oneself of them is naturally cruel and harsh; so, I do understand where they are coming from.”

        It’s not that, exactly. What I’m asking is: Do you really believe that someone who is gay or transgender is more monstrous, more sinful than a man who has sex with someone who isn’t his wife? Because it seems as though people who have these inclinations aren’t just asked to get rid of them: They’re hated. And it is that hatred they receive that I believe really poisons them to Christianity, and not Christianity’s request that they resist their compulsions. There are those who weren’t poisoned at the start who state that they have become celibate gay Christians. So there’s proof that there is a less stupidly cruel way to do this.

        And the disabled often find themselves rejected by their churches just because they don’t physically “act” like good churchgoers. Not because of anything they can control. Again, there’s a poisoning of a group of people who could potentially really benefit from the Gospel….

        …..if they were just accepted as part of the body of Christ the way they were.

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        • Luminas
          25 January 2017 at 4:00 pm

          Similarly, women often have fundamentally different experiences than men, but the Bible tends to talk about sin from a male perspective. It talks about what the good woman acts like, but as if you could potentially be her husband and not like you actually were her.

          When a woman starts to ask the more complicated questions about sin and desire (For instance, many women lust after imaginary men rather than any real man they can see, who cannot possibly measure up to the woman’s Godlike desire. Who are they committing adultery with? What if the man they seem to be lusting after probably does exist, but isn’t human? Can you commit adultery in your heart with an archangel?) the Bible has no answer to them. (Another infamous one is “I virtually never get angry or wrathful, but why is that a sin and anxiety and depression aren’t? Those two are more common in women. All three of those come out of personality flaws.”) Or all the many questions about how feminine you’re supposed to be and whether it’s okay to be a tomboy who loves Jesus, etc. (The former two are mine. The latter belongs to my sister.)

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          • Medieval Otaku
            27 January 2017 at 3:01 pm

            The Bible often takes a man’s point of view, but it does feature important women and gives their motivations at times. I can think of three books where a woman plays the main role: Ruth, Esther, and Judith. The Gospel of Luke gives St. Mary’s point of view in the drama of the Incarnation and Jesus’ youth. And, fortunately for us, the private revelations of St. Julian of Norwich, Bl. Catherine Emmerich, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Melchtilde, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Brigid of Sweden, St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Faustina of Kowalska and others all enrich the Faith. But, a practicing Catholic like me knows where to find the feminine influences in the Church, and from the perspective of the outside looking in or from the poor state of Catholic religious education, it can look like an ironclad patriarchy.

            The interesting thing about sexual desire in human beings is that it has a spiritual component. I think that the spiritual component is stronger in women than men on the whole, which would cause lust to appear differently in men and women, i.e. women are as stimulated by ideas as men are by images. (Thus many Roman women ardently loved scarred and disfigured gladiators!) I ran across an amusing article recently where a dozen non-human cartoon characters were described as eminently desirable (Disney’s Robin Hood topped the list), and the attraction can only be laid to the spiritual component—namely, that that sort of masculine personality is eminently desirable.

            Usually, a woman finds a real lover by seeing in that person certain qualities of her ideal man and then imagines him as her white knight. Through this filter, his real faults are often obscured or readily pardoned until disillusionment sets in at some point after marriage. (I’ve read the process takes three years.) At this point, women either humbly accept that their husband is imperfect or become bitter and divorce. Instead of undertaking married life, many woman have resolved to become brides of Christ and love Him with a chaste love. The Ven. Fulton Sheen once put it: “In this beautiful ecstasy of love, if the human heart can so thrill me, what must be the heart of God; if the spark is so bright, what must be the flame?”

            As for when sexual desire becomes sinful, the desire must always be directed towards what is forbidden. As long as one desires an ideal sort of person without giving way to erotic imaginings, it is not irrational and sinful but rational and good. (Even if it excites the concept of “lonely sadness” contained in the Japanese word for romantic love: koi.) That is how I understand the matter!

            Depression actually is a capital sin like anger, only it got kicked off the list of originally eight capital sins and became associated with sloth. Monastic writers refer to it as “acedia,” which can range from spiritual torpor to a hatred of existence and rejection of one’s true self. There’s an interesting book about it called “The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times,” which I reviewed on Medieval Otaku.

        • Medieval Otaku
          27 January 2017 at 1:49 pm

          Well, adultery and homosexuality are especially bad sins of lust. While fornication between two unattached individuals may be laid solely at the feet of lust, adultery is not only lustful but arrogant in that one adds the sin of betrayal. Homosexuality also is lust tainted by pride because it is not according to the nature of sex, by which the sexes are joined for reproduction. Also, homosexuality especially perverts the nature of one individual of the relationship, because a man plays the part of a woman, which is how Scripture condemns the act, Lev. 18:22. Even in pagan cultures which practiced it, the role of catamite was held in dishonor. (For example, such activity happened among the Vikings, but someone insulted as a catamite or “rassragr” could kill the one who called him that without legal repercussions.)

          But, gay persons do deserve pity. With the current zeitgeist saying nothing is wrong with homosexuality, it is far easier for a person’s conscience to become confused than in, say, 1500. Not having direct knowledge of any gay person’s culpability—or most sinners’ culpability for that matter, one should always be clement and encouraging, especially if the sinner comes to one for help and the desire to be in conformity with God’s will. It is surely a great sin to drive anyone to despair of their salvation! Christ would surely agree. According to one anecdotal story of a priest who was very harsh with a penitent during confession, the priest later heard a voice from a crucifix say: “It was not you who died for him!”

          C. S. Lewis once famously wrote that one’s greatest enemies in staying Christian or converting to the Faith are often the people in one’s church. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is half human and half divine. The all too human members are often every bit as narrow-minded, prejudiced, vicious, mean, greedy, and otherwise sinful as non-believers. There can be no excuse for harassing or acting ungenerously towards the disabled; yet, people act against their Christian morality and do these things! We have the example of Christ and the saints before us however, and by the Blood of the former and prayers of the latter one hopes for all people to be good Christians by the end.

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          • Luminas
            30 January 2017 at 4:02 pm

            This is a fairly interesting series of responses! First off:

            “Depression actually is a capital sin like anger, only it got kicked off the list of originally eight capital sins and became associated with sloth. Monastic writers refer to it as “acedia,” which can range from spiritual torpor to a hatred of existence and rejection of one’s true self. There’s an interesting book about it called “The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times,” which I reviewed on Medieval Otaku.”

            Neat! That makes a great deal more sense. The sins toward which one skews is often affected by a variety of other factors in their lives. You do have your fair share of ladies who go wrathful, but a lot of us tend to skew more toward anxiety and depression. Fear and loathing of oneself so great it drives one to inaction and distorted self-perception. In the case of any sin, however, it’s an uphill battle trying to fight the proclivity alone. That is why we need the aid of God to be our “real selves,” our humble and fulfilled selves, before His eyes.

            “Instead of undertaking married life, many woman have resolved to become brides of Christ and love Him with a chaste love. The Ven. Fulton Sheen once put it: “In this beautiful ecstasy of love, if the human heart can so thrill me, what must be the heart of God; if the spark is so bright, what must be the flame?” ”

            This doesn’t surprise me either. If you can’t find anyone who could possibly match what you desire, what you’d die for, and you’d do someone a disservice by attributing it to them, your recourse is basically to avoid marriage and fall to the grandeur and euphoria of worship. But most people ultimately reconcile that that shining spark they saw in the other was indeed real (Being that we are at our best reflections of God) but that the person is flawed, and that they can grow closer to it together.

            As for homosexuality, I have in my time felt potent feelings of equal strength for both men and women, although neither manages to outrank my love for someone else. (Ironically I consummated neither, as neither was in person for long and one was straight! ). I don’t think I’ll ever entirely come to terms with one being a sin and not the other in Christianity (They were of exactly the same kind so far as my mind was concerned), but it’s useful to know that it is of a similar weight to adultery.

            Also, female Catholic saints. :} <3

  • MarzocchiZ1
    31 January 2017 at 8:33 am

    Medieval Otaku, I’m kinda interested in your take on female altar servers and the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday by Pope Francis (some who are non-Christian and females). The former since women I believe did not play a major role in altar services until recently (with even St Paul hinting against it in some of his letters) and the latter since the washing of feet was reserved by Jesus for His 12 Apostles for the purpose of the Great Commission. No prejudice intended of course; just a matter on the Catholic Church’s technical operations =).

    For myself, I don’t have qualms with her current ruling on female deacons and altar severs, but the washing of feet I feel should be kept at least for those who the Church would send out to the world to proclaim the Good News.

    God bless!

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