A Chronology of the Diaconate


33 - Deacon Stephen martyred in Jerusalem.

258 - Deacon Laurence martyred in Rome.

304 - Deacon Vincent of Saragossa martyred in Valencia.

325 - The Council of Nicaea reduced and restricted the work of the order of deacons and elevated the presbyterate. However, most non-parochial clergy (archdeacons, chaplains to princes and bishops, and ecclesiastical administrators) remained in deacon's orders.

451 - The Council of Chalcedon specifically recognized the ordination of women deacons when it lowered the mandatory age for such ordination for women. (Some women continued to be ordained deacons in both the Eastern and Western church, but by the end of the first millennium they were restricted almost entirely to religious communities, i.e. nuns. To this day Roman Catholic Carthusian nuns are ordained deacons when they take their life vows.)

556 - The Cardinal Deacon Pelagius, confidant of the Emperor Justinian, was made the Bishop (Pope) of Rome, per saltum.

790 - Deacon Alcuin of York made head of Charlemange's "Palace School."

1073 - Deacon Hildebrand was made Bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory VII, per saltum.

1198 - Deacon Lothair was made Bishop of Rome, Pope Innocent III, per saltum.

1379 - Deacon Gerhard de Groote founded the Brethren of the Common Life.

1502 - Deacon William Warham was made Archbishop of Canterbury, per saltum.

1524 - The Church of Sweden formally broke its relationship with the Roman Church, but retained the vocational Diaconate which continues in that Church to this day.

1536-1559 - John Calvin's Institutes proposed, and Calvin began to put into effect in Geneva, a restoration of a ministry of service, of the distribution of alms and care of the sick and poor. Ministers of such service were called "deacons." Since then, churches in the Calvinist tradition have usually had "deacons" or "boards of deacons", but they are not considered clergy.

1545 - Deacon Reginald Pole appointed by the Pope as one of the presidents of the Council of Trent (Pole was still a deacon when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1557.)

1550 - Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in the first English Ordinal, envisioned the diaconate as a distinct order not necessarily prerequisite to the priesthood.

1562 - The 23rd Session of the Council of Trent recognized Only the transitional diaconate.

1571 - The Puritan Admonition to Parliament repudiated the order of deacons altogether and demanded its abolition. (Richard Hooker refuted this in the "Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity", but did not seriously advance the idea of the vocational diaconate.)

1626 - Nicholas Ferrar, founder of "Little Gidding," was ordained deacon by Archbishop William Laud. There was some effort in the Church of England to continue the vocational diaconate.

1662 - The Ordinal in the Restoration Prayer Book, Church of England, provided only for transitional deacons.

1784 - John Wesley attempted to revive the order of vocational deacons in the Anglican Church by his directions to the American leaders of "The Methodist Society." Later, Methodists sometimes appointed functional deacons and deaconesses, but they were not ordained. Also, Methodists sometimes have used the term "deacon" to refer to one who is in a probationary period before ordination, but they have no true diaconate.

1833 - A Lutheran pastor named Wickner in Germany organized a school for training social workers and youth workers for the slums of the cities. They were called "deacons ".

1836 - German Lutheran Pastor Theodor Fliedner founded the Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth, a group which recruited, trained, and provided nurses, teachers, and other kinds of care-givers for children and the infirm. Within the century sister organizations were founded in Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Cairo. It was the Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth who trained Florence Nightingale.

1852 - William A. Muhlenberg organized a group of Episcopal deaconesses, the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion, who served as nurses in St. Luke's Hospital, NYC.

1855 - Bishop Whittingham of Maryland ordained deaconesses at St. Andrews, Baltimore, to serve destitute women and orphans.

Russian Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna led a movement of restoration of the order of deaconesses in the Russian Orthodox Church.

1860 - The Anglican "Mildmay Deaconesses," a missionary order of teachers and nurses, was founded in London by William Pennefather. Within the year Bishop Tait of London had boldly revived the Order of Deaconesses in the Church of England.

1861 - Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, was ordained deacon.

1864 - Bishop Richard H. Wilmer of Alabama ordained three deaconesses to teach and care for children orphaned by the Civil War in Tuscaloosa - later these women founded Wilmer Hall for Orphans in Mobile.

1872 - American Deaconess Society founded by Bishop Abram N. Littlejohn of Long Island NY.

1881 - Ordination of David Pendelton Oakerhater, Deacon/Missionary to Native Americans.

1889 - General Convention passed first American canon governing deaconesses (women deacons).

1897 - The Lambeth Conference "recognized with thankfulness" the revival of "the office of deaconess" in the Anglican branch of the Church.

1911 - Greek Bishop Nectarios (Saint Nectarios) revived the order of deaconesses in Greek Orthodox Church.

1920 - The Lambeth Conference mandated the formal and canonical restoration of the vocational diaconate for women, but not for men.

1947 - The constitution of the new Church of South India provided for ordained, permanent, vocational deacons, as well as for probationary or transitional deacons.

1952 - Episcopal Church's canons were revised to allow for the ordination of "permanent", non-transitional deacons, men only.

1964 - Vatican II published Lumen Gentium which advocated the restoration of the vocational diaconate in the Roman Church, but for men only. Later the apostolic letter, Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, implemented this restoration.

1968 - The Lambeth Conference recommended to all the provinces of the Anglican Communion the restoration of the vocational diaconate for men and women.

1970 - Episcopal Church's canons were revised to permit the ordination of both men and women in the vocational diaconate.

1979 - The revised American Book of Common Prayer provided for the ordination of vocational deacons.

1988 - Publication of The Portsmouth Report to the General Synod of the Church of England on "Deacons in the Ministry of the Church".

A statement of advocacy for women in the diaconate was published by the Inter-Orthodox Consultation in Rhodes.


Presented to the Deacon Formation Program by the Rev. Canon David Veal, December 6, 1997.


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