Volume thirteen stands as the most interesting of Isuna Hasekura’s three “Side Colors” volumes of Spice and Wolf so far. This volume features a novella about the shepherdess Nora and her dog Enek. From her adventure with Lawrence at Ruvinheigen in volume two, she gains the capital necessary to enter a seamstress apprenticeship program. However, her wanderings from town to town reveal no openings among the local guilds.
At last, her journey brings her towards the town of Kuskov, which recently had an outbreak of the plague. Like in Europe’s medieval world, such outbreaks cause labor shortages of benefit to the survivors. In England, certain laws tying peasants to the land were loosened or ignored. Due to the high wages laborers could demand, the government even instituted wage freezes.
Let’s return to the story. On the way to Kuskov, Enek saves a bishop and one surviving bodyguard from some brigands. This earns Nora the bishop’s gratitude and affection. The townspeople of Kuskov expect this bishop to aid in obtaining a favorable trade agreement with a rival town. Yet, the bishop’s wounds from his encounter with brigands prevent him from fulfilling this function. After being denied entrance in Kuskov’s seamstress’s guild (Amusingly, the plague also destroyed their clientele and ability to acquire material), the townsfolk enlist Nora to take the bishop’s place in the negotiations by becoming their deacon.
The above brings us to the question of female deacons. Feminists have proposed the idea of female deacons in the Catholic Church on the basis of scriptural references to them. Pope Francis recently created a commission to study the question. What does Medieval Otaku think about this topic? Creating female deacons must be impossible, because the magisterium has declared the ordination of priestesses to be against Catholic doctrine. Or, as St. John Paul II put it, the Church has received no authority to ordain women.
“But,” you say, “the proclamations of the pope and the magisterium pertain to the priesthood. Aren’t deacons of a different order?” No, deacons are the first level of the clergy. Holy Orders is the only sacrament to include levels to it: deacon, priest, and bishop. The order of deacons had become defunct prior to the Middle Ages, and modern councils revived it. Today, we have permanent deacons (i.e. married men) and transitional deacons (i.e. single men studying to become priests). If a permanent deacon’s wife dies, his vow of chastity forbids him to marry again. The bereft deacon would likely opt to enter the next level of Holy Orders: the priesthood. Since deacons find themselves on the same continuum as priests, women can’t be deacons.
What about the deaconesses mentioned in Scripture? Διακονος (διακονη in the feminine I presume) translates to “servant.” Though deacons after the Apostolic Age numbered among the clergy, there is no reason to assume earlier deacons were. Otherwise, clerical deaconesses would have existed contemporaneously with clerical deacons. In a definite sense, we have many διακοναι with us as I imagine the ancient Christians would have known them: nuns, sisters, altar servers, and Eucharistic ministers. All count as servants to the Church, and I might also mention how women serve as catechists, administrative personnel, and teachers.
The Church has become abundantly feminine. So much so that the greater problem for modern Christians of most denominations lies in keeping men going to church. The man of working age sees Church as the province of women, children, and elderly persons. Of course, one might find young fathers accompanying their families to Mass; yet, what a rare sight are single men on a Sunday! The congregation looks upon a churchgoing, single man in his 20’s through 40’s as a candidate for Holy Orders almost without exception! Worse, the “candidate for Holy Orders,” usually someone of thoughtful and quiet way of life, tends not to exemplify the masculine virtues but rather the decent ones. This state of affairs only encourages the more robust and sanguine of the male population to see religion as effeminate.
(Such is the stereotype; however, the seminary is also remarkable for candidates at the opposite end of the spectrum. During my brief time there, we had people hailing from the Air Force, Navy, and Army. One career soldier turned seminarian last served in the role of drill sergeant. A navy man had been shot at many times during his career, including during his time acting as an interpreter in Iraq. A member of the Air Force ardently sought the role of military chaplain and now serves National Guard troops in the Middle East. However, a Southern gentleman, fencer, and big game hunter, with whom I became excellent friends, once shouted his exasperation with the seminary in the following words: “Have you ever been to such an emasculated place!?”)
Be that as it may, Nora’s election as deaconess seems not to involve ordination at all. She is required to know Church terminology, procedures, and ritual, but no one mentions the need for a sacrament. The reader never learns how well she fills the role or negotiates terms with the rival town, which makes for a disappointing tale. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether Hasekura imagines the role of a deaconess more accurately than some moderns.