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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

6 Die Weibliche Diakonie in ihrem ganzen Umfang


There are other minor causes that aided in the downfall of the order; the abuses that arose in some cases; the changes in the ceremony of baptism by which the aid of women was not so indispensable, and especially the fact that since the time of Constantine the care of the sick and poor was placed under the charge of the State.[17]

These causes combined removed from the life of the Church a powerful agency for good, and for centuries deprived it of the pre-eminent gifts of ministration which belong to Christian women.

[5] _Woman's Work in the Church_, J. M. Ludlow, p. 21. [6] _Die Weibliche Diakonie in ihrem ganzen Umfang_, Theodor Schaefer, 3 vols. Stuttgart: D. Gundert, 1887. Vol. i, p. 45. [7] _Der Diakonissenberuf nach seiner Vergangenheit und Gegenwart_, Emil Wacker. Guetersloh: E. Bertelman, 1888. p. 33. [8] Neander, _Hist. of Chr. Religion and Church_, vol. i, p. 188; Schaff, _Hist. of Chr. Church_, vol. iii, p. 260; McClintock & Strong's _Encyclopaedia_, art. "Deaconesses." [9] J. M. Ludlow, _Woman's Work in the Church_, p. 17. [10] Neander, _Hist. of Chr. Rel. and Church_, vol. i, p. 188; Schaff, _Hist. of Chr. Church_, vol. iii, p. 260. [11] _Sancti Johannis Chrysostomi opera om_, t. ii, pp. 659, 662. Paris, 1842. [12] Chrys., _Op._, vol. ii, p. 658. [13] _Die Weibliche Diakonie_, Theodor Schaefer, vol. i, p. 8. [14] Chrys., _Op._, vol. ii, p. 600. [15] Schaff's _History of Chr. Church_, vol. iii, p. 260. [16] _Denkschrift zur Jubelfeier_, J. Disselhoff, Kaiserswerth, 1880, p. 5. [17] Herzog's _Protestantische Real Enc._, vol. iii, p. 589.

CHAPTER III.

DEACONESSES FROM THE TWELFTH TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURIES.

During these seven centuries whenever there arose a reviving spirit of true love to God, whether within the Church of Rome or in any of the churches formed from reforming elements that separated from it, then we find traces of the diaconate of woman assuming some form of devotion to Christ and work for him. One of these movements well worth our study originated in Belgium while the last of the Greek deaconesses were still daily walking the arched pathway that led to their church in Constantinople. Toward the close of the twelfth century great corruption of morals and open abuses prevailed in society, and also in the Church. One of those who protested against the evils of the times was the priest Lambert le Begue, as he was called, meaning the stutterer. He lived at Liege, in Belgium, and just without the city walls owned a large garden. He determined to make use of this to found a retreat for godly women, where they could lead in common a life of well-doing. Here he built a number of little houses, and in the center a church, which was dedicated to St. Christopher in 1184. Then he presented the whole to some godly women to be used and owned in common. His earnest words of rebuke brought persecution upon him from those whose consciences he disturbed, but he went to Rome and appealed to the pope, who not only protected him from his assailants, but made him the patriarch of the order he had founded. Only six months after his return, however, he died, and was buried before the high altar of the church he had erected in 1187. Whether he was indeed the founder of the Beguine houses has been called in question. Be that as it may, fifty years after his death fifteen hundred Beguines were living around St. Christopher's Church,[18] and Beguine courts were found throughout Belgium, in the Netherlands, south along the Rhine, in eastern France, and in Switzerland. The Crusades made many widows, and both widows and young girls sought shelter in the community life of the Beguines. As a rule they lived alone, in separate small houses built closely together and surrounded by a wall. Each house bore on its door the sign of the cross, and with every Beguine court there were invariably two large buildings--a church and a hospital; the one for the worship of the sisters, the other the field of their self-denying ministrations. At first they were in no wise distinguished in their dress from other women, but in time they wore a habit which varied in color with each establishment, but was generally blue, gray, or brown. The veil was invariably white. The sisters had to earn, or partly earn, their own livelihood. In the time remaining they rendered essential service in performing acts of charity. They received orphans to bring up and educate, taught little children, nursed the sick, performed the last offices for the dead, and bound themselves by good deeds closely with the lives of the people. They were in no sense isolated from the world, but lived busy, useful lives in the midst of the world. They could leave the community at any time, and after severing their connection with it were free to marry. They also retained control of their own property.


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