THE LADY WAS A BISHOP by Joan Morris

THE LADY WAS A BISHOP

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The rather flippant title disguises a work on an esoteric aspect of church history: the canonical status of women with respect to episcopal and priestly functions. What the author demonstrates, in a word, is that women, particularly during the Middle Ages, exercised a sacramental jurisdiction virtually indistinguishable from that of males in Holy Orders. Lady abbesses, for example, wielded an authority no less than that of bishops. There are examples of abbesses hearing the confessions of their nuns and granting absolution. And there is some evidence that women were permitted to consecrate the Eucharist. Miss Morris knows her sources very well and uses them to best advantage in pressing her ultimate point, which is that, from a canonical and traditional standpoint, there is no reason why women should be barred from Holy Orders. If there is a defect in her reasoning, it is that her scrutiny is limited to too narrow a field -- a limitation which does not nullify her conclusions, but places them in a different light. It is perfectly demonstrable, for instance, that during the Middle Ages, laymen in general were sometimes allowed to grant absolution for sins and to consecrate the Eucharist. A more properly stated conclusion, therefore (and one to which ecclesiastical historians tend), would be that laymen and laywomen alike were once allowed to exercise offices which today are restricted to those in Holy Orders. The lessons of medieval history are ammunition not for fem-lib, but for lay-lib.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1973
Publisher: Macmillan