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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

From 1582 lists of deaconesses were kept


to another great reformer, Calvin, we find not only references to deaconesses as filling a "most honorable and most holy function in the Church," but in the Church ordinances of Geneva, which were drawn up by him, there is mention of the diaconate as one of the four ordinances indispensable to the organization of the Church.

In the Netherlands several attempts were made to revive the ancient office. The General Synod of the Reformed Church at Wesel, in 1568, first considered the question. A later synod, in 1579, expressly occupied itself with the work and office of the deaconess, but the measures taken were not adapted to advance the interests of the cause, and it was formally abandoned by the Synod of Middleburg in 1581. In the city of Wesel, however, there continued to be deaconesses attached to the city churches until 1610. In Amsterdam local churches preserved the office still later than at Wesel. Already in 1566 we read that in the great reformed Church not only deacons but deaconesses were elected. The terrible days of the Spanish fury swept away all Church organization for a time, but when it was restored in 1578 both classes of Christian officers again resumed their duties. From 1582 lists of deaconesses were kept, showing at first three; later, in 1704, twenty-eight, and in 1800 only eight. At the present time there are women directors of hospitals and orphanages in Amsterdam who are called by the title of deaconesses. The helpless,

sick, and neglected children are now gathered in institutions instead of being cared for individually as was formerly the custom, and women having positions of control in these institutions are designated by the name formerly applied to those who had the personal care of the same needy classes.

It is interesting to note that there was one association of women in the century of the Reformation that bears close resemblance to the Beguines and the Sisters of the Common Life. These were the Damsels of Charity, established by Prince Henry Robert de la Mark, the sovereign prince of Sedan in the Netherlands. In 1559 he, together with the great majority of his subjects, embraced the doctrines of the Reformed Church, and instead of incorporating former church property with his own possessions, as did so many princes of the Reformation, he devoted it to founding institutions of learning and of charity. These latter he put under the care of the "Damsels of Charity," an association of women which he had instituted. The members could live in their own homes or in the establishments, but in either case they devoted themselves to the protection and succor of the poor and sick and the aged. While taking no vows, they were chosen from those not bound by the marriage vow, and were subject only to certain rules of living. The Damsels of Charity have been held by some to be the first Protestant association of deaconesses, although not called by the name.[24]

There are two evangelical societies, small in numbers, but one at least powerful in influence, which have retained deaconesses from their origin to the present time. These are the Mennonites or Anabaptists, and the Moravians. It was among the Mennonites in Holland that Fliedner saw the deaconesses, who so interested him in their duties that he obtained the convictions which in the end led him to devote his life to their restoration in the economy of the Church. Among the Moravians, deaconesses were introduced at the instance of Count Zinzendorf in 1745, but only as a limited form of woman's service, by no means measuring up to the place accorded them to day in Germany.

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