Monday, February 20, 2017

Customs of Primitive Churches, deaconesses

Of deaconesses

XIV. The office of deaconesses is of divine original and perpetual continuance in the church. It is the same in general with the office of deacons, only it is chiefly limited to the care of the sick, miserable, and distressed poor. The scriptue marks of their office are, shewing mercysuccouring, &c. The way they are put in the office is by choice of the people, ordination, and other forms as in case of deacons. Their qualifications are laid down negatively and positively by the apostle Paul. Their reward is honour and maintenance. Their number should be proportionable to the need of the church. Their manner of performing the office is, with cheerfulness. Rom. xii. 8.

1. The divine institution of this office appears from the following texts. Phebe our sister--a servant [Gr. deaconessof the church which is in Cenchrea. Rom xvi. 1. The deacons must be grave &c. Even so must women [to be deaconesses] be grave &c. This is the obvious sense of the text. Our translators refer it to the deacons wives; and in order to make it sense have unnecessarily englished the original word by wives rather than women; and have foisted in the word their. But why should the deacons wives be described when nothing is said of the wives of the bishops? The learned Grotius translates the words thus, Even so must the deaconesses be grave &c. Rom. xii. 8 refers to this office. He that showeth mercy, with dilgence. The exception to this passage is, the word is he and not her; but many examples of the kind occur where no such exception takes place; neither can it here, because there is no officer in the church to which the words may be applied except the deaconesses. I am inclined to think that the neglect of the widow of the grecians in the daily deaconry (mentioned Act. vi. 1) is rightly account for by Salmasius, quoted by Dr. DuVeil viz. "that the hebrew women were preferred to the deaconry, and the greek women refused the honour." This [account] is approved by Cornelius a Lapide, Erasmus, &c. If it be just, it follows that there were women in the office before man.
2. Their office, like that of the deacons, hath the poor and helpless for its objects, but is chiefly confined to those things wherefor men are less fit. The helpless poor must be kept clean, and fed. The sick must be nursed, and tended, &c. for which, women are the most proper; therefore they are described as succourers Rom. xiv. 2. shewers of mercy Rom. xii. 8.
3. Their qualifications are described, Even so must the women [to be deaconesses] be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things, I Tim. iii. 11. to which may be added, a merciful, and relieving temper. Rom. xii. 8. ch. xvi. 2.

We cannot give any biblical narrative of the ordination of deaconesses, as no such transaction hath fallen under our notice. But think the history of the ordination of deacons may serve for a pattern, only varying some words. There is in the apostolical constitution (which according to Whiston are as ancient as the gospel) an account of such ordination, and the prayer that was used at the time. Book viii. ch. 19.[30]. Frequent mention is made of deaconesses in ancient church history.

Customs of Primitive Churches, pages 42-43

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