Gary Macy and the Hidden History of Women's Ordination.

Gary Macy, professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University with a doctorate from
Cambridge, has written a book published by Oxford titled, "The Hidden History of Women's Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West." He also sent a paper to Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London that reflects his thinking. You can read her post HERE and I have the full text on Anglican Communion Redux HERE.

The essay is very interesting and I think the book will be an important addition to the materials that argue for the ordination of women not as a new thing but as a return to an old one. Given the British scrap of the moment it might be an important read there. We shall see. Go read it.

The blurb on book:

"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. "

Well, at least for some there is no debate left. The Episcopal Church ordains women. Period. Clarity has its moments.


  1. Thanks for pointing out this new resource. Your ending comments say it all!

  2. it's a bait and switch routine. if one uses an expansive defn of ordination, then women were ordained, but not to the ministries of bishop or presbyter or deacon.

    the question isn't really whether the order of virgins (for example) is a "real order" with "real ordination", but whether women were ordained to the offices from which they are now (in the RC church) excluded.

    there is no real post-nicene evidence of their ordination to *those* offices, and it's *those* offices that the fight is about.

  3. In the late 1950s/early 60s, a circle of RC scholars surrounding Karl Rahner, SJ were examining the arguments for and against Women's Ordination in the pre-Vatican II RC Communion. Many of the sources referred to by the American scholar in his recent book published by OUP surfaced back then. However, Pope Paul VI got cold feet on the WO issue and historical research in that particular field stopped in the post-Vatican II era.

    John Henry

  4. Mr Bushnell:

    If you take the time to read Macy's book, you'll find that there is plenty of evidence for post-Nicene ordination of women as deacons, priests and even bishops.

    W H Campbell


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