Women have been ministers as long as there have been ministers. And while there has been much discussion of the ordination of women as a whole, most recently in the question of whether Catholic women should be allowed to become priests, consider the question through the lens of Ecclesiastes:
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us.”
I am suggesting that the question of women in ministry, should women serve as ministers?, is moot. As long as there has been Christian ministry, there have been female ministers. And there always will be so long as there are Christian women on the face of the earth. Women, before they could minister to men, ministered to each other in the face of oppressive patriarchy as sisters in Christ and servants of the religion, and as men were to love their wives, so women, in serving their husbands, ministered to them. Minister comes from the Latin, meaning inferior, meaning servant. If women haven’t been looked at as inferior in the history of humankind, I don’t know who has!
“Just because I am a woman, must I therefore believe that I must not tell you about the goodness of God, when I saw at the same time both his goodness and his wish that it should be known?” – Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
True Christian visionaries, like Julian of Norwich, ministered to men and women alike, but we shouldn’t forget that some of the earliest Christian martyrs were women, and that they were the seeds of the early faith. As St. Francis supported the ministry of St. Clare, so there have been men who were aware of the spiritual gifts of women through the centuries. Women have been recognized for their spiritual gifts and canonized for ages as models for male and female religious devotion alike.
So where’s the rub? Ecclesiastes enlightens us: “The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.” To which I would add, especially the women!
History for centuries was recorded by men, for men. Think of all the women in ministry who have gone before us unrecognized by the male historical frame but crucial to the Christian life that men and women and all genders in-between share to this day, in part, because of the women who supported early Christianity in its initial blossoming!
Christianity may have been interpreted and dictated by a male dominated society for a male dominated, but Christianity itself is bigger than patriarchy. It must be. St. Paul himself motions toward such a move in Galatians 3:28 when he writes that “there is no longer male and female.”
In I Corinthians 11:11, St. Paul states that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.” As humans we are in this together. We minister to each other.
Women have been ministers as long as men have been ministers, the only difference is that in some contexts, even women can be ordained. For centuries, however, before it could be made official, this was their livelihood and function. Women being ordained is still, in the scheme of the revolution that is the incarnation and the resurrection, nothing new under the sun.
(The above is a pic of my brother with me. He is one of those men who supports women in everything and I love him very much.)