Deaconesses in Europe - and their Lessons for America
by Jane M. Bancroft
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Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church

"No life Can be pure in its purpose and strong in its strife, And all life not be purer and stronger thereby."













The Author has aimed to present an accurate and concise statement of the deaconess cause as it exists at the present time.

In all cases where it was possible, original sources of information have been consulted.

Many friends, both in Europe and America, have given invaluable aid, for which words of thanks are an inadequate recognition.

The excellent Index at the close of the volume was kindly prepared by the Rev. J. C. Thomas.

Acknowledgments are also due to Mr. Gillett, Librarian of the Union Theological Seminary, and to Mr. C. H. A. Bjerregaard, of the Astor Library, for putting not only the facilities of the library, but their personal assistance, at the service of the writer.





Compassion a Christian virtue—Brotherhood of all men in Christ—Foreign Missions—Home Missions—Service of ministering compassion gives rise to the diaconate—Diaconate of women—Its qualities—Field of labor Page 9



Little knowledge of early Church—Pliny's letter—Apostolic Constitutions—Deaconesses, widows, and virgins—Duties of the deaconess—Chrysostom, Olympias—Deaconesses in Western Church—Decline in importance—Extinction—Influences that led to decay 18



Beguines—Characteristics—Duties—Gerhard Groot—Sisters of the Common Life—Obligations—Duties—Waldenses—Bohemian Brethren—Luther—Calvin—Reformed Church at Wesel— Deaconesses in Amsterdam—Damsels of Charity—Mennonites and Moravians 34



Efforts for the restoration of the office of deaconess made by Kloenne—Amalie Sieveking—Von Stein—Count von der Recke— Fliedner—His childhood—Youth—Student life—Pastorate and travels—Marriage—First prison society—Founding of refuge— Need of training schools—Rhenish-Westphalian Deaconess Society 46



Opening of hospital training-school—Gertrude Reichardt—The Home-life—Normal school—Fliedner's wife—Publishing house— Orphan asylum—Insane asylum—Dispensary—Farm—"Salem"—House of Evening Rest—Extension of work—Berlin—Foreign lands Jerusalem—Beirut—Smyrna—Bucharest—Florence—Rome 61



Two classes of deaconesses—Nurses—Teachers—Qualifications— Probationers—Duties—Service of consecration—Conferences— Table of results—Instances of work—Duisburg— Schleswig-Holstein war—Austrian war—Franco Prussian war 79



House at Strasburg—Muelhausen—Marthashof at Berlin— Neudettelsau—St. Loup—Riehen—Zuerich—Gallneukirchen— Characteristics of institutions—Countries where they exist 93



Origin of Bethany Society—House at Frankfort—Hamburg— Berlin—St. Gall—Zuerich—Sister Myrtha—House of Rest—"God's Fidelity"—House regulations—Training—Results 110



Deaconess Home on Rue de Reuilly—Situation—School— Hospital—House of Correction—Preparatory school— Instruction—Prison mission—Mademoiselle Dumas—Expenses of house—Its founders—Deaconess house on Rue Bridaine— Character of work—Duties of the Sisters—Their consecration— Importance of parish deaconesses 120



Early beginnings—The Puritans—Cambridge Platform—Southey's complaint—Mrs. Fry—Fliedner—Florence Nightingale—Agnes Jones—Distinction between "sister" and "deaconess"— Institutions in Church of England—Garb—Ceremonies— Self-denying lives—Dr. Laseron's institutions and others— Prison mission of Mrs. Meredith—The Sisters of the People 142



Rev. W. Pennefather—Sketch of his life—Building of hall and deaconess home at Mildmay—Conference hall—Nursing hall— Mission and hospital at Bethnal Green—The deaconesses—Their training—Expense—Expenses of institution 166



Church of Scotland—Organization of woman's work—Report of committees—Scheme—Adoption—Women's Guild—Women-workers' Guild—Deaconesses—Training—Syllabus of lectures— Presbyterian Church of England and Ireland Page 189



German Lutherans—Fliedner visits America—Philadelphia— Mother-house of Deaconesses—Deaconesses in the Episcopal Church—Among the Presbyterians—The Methodist Episcopal Church—Deaconess-home in Chicago—Action of General Conference—Fields of work 204



Advantages of the Home and Training-school—Field of work—In hospitals—Insane asylums—Infant-schools—Teachers—The Home-mission deaconess—Her work in London—Similar work needed in cities of the United States 228



Objection that deaconesses resemble Catholic nuns—Their influence—Numbers in different orders—Order of Charles— Objection to garb—Its advantages—Objection to the life answered—Opinion of Bryce concerning American women—Women of Methodism—Advice to candidates—Associates—The Church commended by its deeds 247


How far, and in what form, ought woman's work in the Church to be organized? What was the deaconess of St. Paul's epistles? What light on this subject do the primitive and the mediaeval Churches yield us? Can "sisterhoods" be established without weakening the sense of personal responsibility in those Christian women who are not thus wholly set apart to charitable and spiritual work? Can they be multiplied without danger of introducing into Protestant communions the evils of the conventual life? Are there modern instances of safe and successful organizations? What good have they achieved, and what further good do they promise? In what relation should such organizations stand to the authority and fostering care of the Church? What should be their scope, spirit, methods? What regulations are fundamental and indispensable? What perils are real and possibly imminent?

To answer these, and other questions associated with them, this book is written. Its authoress is a gifted daughter of the Church, well known in literary and educational circles. During a protracted sojourn in Europe she enjoyed unusual facilities for studying the deaconess work as carried on in many places, and particularly in the institutions founded by Pastor Fliedner at Kaiserswerth in Prussia, and in those at Mildmay in England. She has also made a thorough and discriminating study of the subject as developed in the early centuries of the Church and in the Middle Ages.

The book itself will amply reveal these facts, and cannot but contribute largely to the guidance of the newly revived interest of the American churches in the far-reaching question how Christian women may best serve their Lord in serving the humanity which he has redeemed.

It appears at an opportune time. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, at its session in May, 1888, inserted in the law of the Church a chapter on deaconesses, defining their duties and providing for the appointment and oversight of them through the Annual Conferences. This action was the natural outcome of a wide and increasing appreciation of the service of Christian women in many departments of Church work; and it was greatly furthered by the advocacy of Dr. J. M. Thoburn, now the devoted and honored missionary bishop of India and Malaysia. But it had not been the subject of any considerable previous discussion in the periodicals of the Church, and there was not in the Church a widely diffused or an accurate knowledge of the history, scope, possibilities, or perils of such an organization. The promptness, however, with which the provision thus made by the General Conference has been seized upon by the Church in several of our large cities, indicates that the time was ripe for the movement. But information is still scanty; ideas concerning the aim and place of the deaconess work are crude; methods have been very little digested; the foundations of local homes evidently may come to be very imperfectly laid; and the movement may easily come to naught.

This book, it is hoped, will do a twofold work. It will awaken a lively interest in a movement already arrived at large proportions in some parts of European Protestantism; and it will guide those among us who are studying how best to organize, against the sin and suffering of the world, the practically unlimited resources of Christian women. Whenever any one shall in some good degree apprehend what helpfulness for the lost as yet lies undeveloped in the hearts and hands of the daughters of the Church, and what honor may yet come to Christianity by the rightly directed use of this power, he will welcome a volume which, like the present one, offers such guidance as history, observation, and earnest reflection yield on the question at issue.





In the ruins of the old cities of Greece and Rome we find buildings that were used for public purposes of all kinds—forums, theaters, amphitheaters, circuses, and temples of worship. Every provision was made for the entertainment of the people, and for their political and intellectual needs. But nowhere do we find the ruins of structures, belonging either to the public or to private individuals, indicating that any attempt was ever made to care for the feeble-minded, the insane, the deaf, the blind, the sick, or the aged; those that in every nation of modern times are the wards of the State and the definite objects of religious ministrations.

The ruins cannot be found because such buildings never existed. No provision was made for those suffering from bodily infirmities, because so far as the State could control circumstances they were not allowed to exist. Children who were defective in any way were put to death. In Sparta this measure was carried out under government supervision. Even Plato in his model republic has all children of wicked men, the misshapen, or the illegitimate put out of existence, that they may not be a burden to the State.[1]

With the coming of Christ new elements were introduced into the civilization of the world; elements of kindliness, of compassion, of sympathy of man toward his fellow-man, that up to this time had not been known. There was a new revelation of the brotherhood of all men in the fatherhood of God: "We are all one in Christ Jesus."

This spirit of compassion and of sympathy has grown with every century in the Christian era, and at no time has it been stronger in the history of the world than it is to-day. Well has one American historian said:

"To a generation which knows but two crimes worthy of death, that against the life of the individual and that against the life of the State; which has expended fabulous sums in the erection of reformatories, asylums, and penitentiaries, houses of correction, houses of refuge, and houses of detention all over the land; which has furnished every State prison with a library, with a hospital, with workshops, and with schools, the brutal scenes on which our ancestors looked with indifference seem scarcely a reality. Yet it is well to recall them, for we cannot but turn from the contemplation of so much misery and so much suffering with a deep sense of thankfulness that our lot has fallen in a pitiful age, when more compassion is felt for a galled horse or a dog run over at a street-crossing than our great-grandfathers felt for a woman beaten for cursing, or a man imprisoned for debt."[2]

The spirit of Christ has penetrated even where his rule is not acknowledged, and the humanitarianism of the present day is simply the leaven of Christian love working among the masses of men.

In the Christian world the effort to realize the brotherhood of all men in Christ is producing large results. Treasures of money, and infinitely more precious treasures of men, are every year devoted to this one object. The cause of Protestant foreign missions is not yet a century old, but the latest available statistics tell us that the following sums are being contributed annually for this great work:[3]

32 American societies contribute $3,011,027 28 British " " 5,217,385 27 Continental " " 1,083,170 — ————— 87 societies contribute $9,311,582

With this large sum American societies are employing 986 men, and 1,081 women; British societies, 1,811 men, and 745 women; Continental societies, 777 men, and 447 women. Total, 3,574 men, 2,273 women.

Visible results of faithfulness in work:

Members in American societies 242,733 " British " 340,242 " Continental " 117,532 ———- Total membership in foreign lands 700,507 Children in the Sunday-schools 626,741

The subject of home missions is to-day attracting greater attention than ever before. "Die Innere Mission" of Germany, the various forms the work assumes in England, the many societies in the United States occupied by the questions of city evangelization, work among the Mormons, the treatment of the Indians, care for the colored race, and other phases of home work show that Christians are fully understanding that it is wise to build over against our own house.

Certainly the reproach cannot justly be made that the Church of Christ is neglectful of the precept, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men."

This is genuine service of man to man, and the motive of the service is love to God. Every revelation of God is of ministering love and compassion, and the efforts of his disciples to imitate the divine love have indelibly stamped upon modern civilization the Christian impress.

The service of ministering compassion is so clearly one of the duties of Christ's Church that of necessity there must be ordinances touching the exercise of this duty. So in Acts vi, 3, we read of the appointment of the deacons, "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom," to see that the service of the tables was not neglected.

But Christian women have ever had special gifts in caring for the poor and sick and helpless, and the women of apostolic times must necessarily have had their part in these services of love. In addition to the diaconate appointed by the apostles recorded in the sixth chapter of Acts, we must look for a female diaconate as an office in the Church. This we do not fail to find. In Rom. xvi, 1, we read: "I commend unto you Phebe, a deacon of the church which is at Cenchrea." Such at least would have been the form of the verse if our translators had rendered the Greek word here translated servant as they rendered the like word in the sixth chapter of Acts, the third of the First Epistle to Timothy, and in other passages of the apostolic writings.

"That ye receive her in the Lord as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also." These words of St. Paul are especially valuable as an apostolic witness for the existence of the office of deaconess at the time when he wrote. They are even more than that. They are an apostolic commendation of the office addressed to the Christian Church of all times to accept the deaconess in the Lord, and to assist her "in whatsoever business she hath need of you."

Whether Priscilla, spoken of with Aquila as "my helpers in Christ Jesus," or Tryphena, Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis, who "labored much," or Julia and Olympas, all mentioned in the same chapter, were or were not deaconesses we have no means of knowing.

Outside of this chapter we do not find other references to the order in the New Testament, unless it be in 1 Tim. iii, 11. In the midst of a lengthy description of the qualifications of deacons is interjected the exhortation: "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." Now the word wives has no authority from the Greek word, which is simply women. Bishop Lightfoot remarks, in his book on the authorized version of the New Testament, "If the theory of the definite article (in the Greek) had been understood our translators would have seen that the reference is to deaconesses, not to wives of the deacons."

Many eminent scholars are of the same opinion, among whom are Chrysostom, Grotius, Bishop Wordsworth, and Dean Alvord. Dean Howson adds: "It should be particularly noticed in connection with this that in the early part of the chapter no such directions are given concerning the wives of the bishops, though they are certainly as important as the wives of the deacons; so that it can scarcely be thought otherwise than that the apostle's directions were for the deaconesses, an order which we find in ecclesiastical records for some centuries side by side with that of deacons."[4]

Those mentioned in Tit. ii, 3, and in 1 Tim. v, 9, cannot be considered as holding the office of a deaconess. They belong distinctively to the class of widows, who held a position of honor in the Church. St. Paul had clear conceptions of the administrative needs of the Church, and it is not probable that he would set apart to the service of deaconesses, which had many difficult duties, those who were already sixty years old.

The many names of faithful women mentioned in his letters as helpers in the Church are important witnesses for the great apostle's appreciation of woman's co-operation in the work of the Church, although his judgment was necessarily limited in some directions by the influence of the times in which he lived.

Let us examine the requirements for the diaconate of the early Church. The word diaconate means service; helpful service. We use the word to designate service for the Church of Christ; service that more particularly concerns itself with administering the charities of the Church and performing its duties of compassion and mercy. The men who were selected for this office were to be men of "honest report." They must have led a blameless life. Those who had repented of wrong-doing and reformed their lives were excluded from the office, because they had lost a good report "of them which are without." Pre-eminently they must be men of spiritual experience, proven Christians, "full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom." They were also to have practical gifts that would make them efficient and capable in the duties of every-day life. 1 Tim. iii, 8.

These are some of the qualifications spoken of as belonging to the diaconate, and are the same in application to either sex. The woman deacon must, however, besides possessing the above qualities, be unmarried or a widow. The married woman has her calling at home, and cannot combine with that an official calling in the Church, although she may be a valuable lay helper.

The field of labor of the women deacons of apostolic times and of the present is essentially the same. The conditions of society and of the Church, however, are totally dissimilar. We must, therefore, look to see new adaptations of the same useful qualities. In other words, we shall not expect to take the female diaconate of the days of the apostles and transport it unchanged, into nineteenth century environments. We shall rather expect to see the invariably useful qualities of the diaconate of women adapted to the needs of the sinful, sorrowing, ignorant, and helpless of the age in which we live.

[1] Heidenthum und Judenthum, von Doellinger, p. 692. Regensburg, 1857. [2] MacMaster's History of the United States, vol. i, p. 102. [3] Statistics from North American Review, February, 1889, "Why am I a Missionary?" [4] Deaconesses, Rev. J. D. Howson, D.D., p. 236.



To understand the position of the deaconess with respect to the modern Church we must know something of the relation in which she stood to the early Church. Concisely as may be we must recall the story of the intervening centuries to the present, that we may learn the true position of deaconesses in modern times.

We have very little knowledge of the early Church. During the first century and the first half of the second century continued persecution compelled the religious communities of the new faith to live in almost complete seclusion. For the same reason little has been left on record of those years, and it is impossible to form clear conceptions of Church history during the period. The first trace which we find of the existence of deaconesses after the times of the apostles comes to us from an entirely outside source—from the official records of the Roman government. Shortly after the close of the first century the Emperor Trajan sent the younger Pliny as prefect to Bithynia in Asia Minor. At the imperial command he began a persecution of the Christians, but interrupted it for a time to obtain further instructions from the emperor. His letter and the reply still exist. In the course of what he wrote Pliny says that he had sought to learn from two maids, who were called "ministrae" ("ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur," Book x, chap. xcvii), or helpers, the truth of what the Christians had said, and had even deemed it necessary to put them to torture, but could obtain evidence of nothing save unbounded superstition. Here is independent testimony of singular interest that deaconesses, followers of Phebe, were found in Christian communities of Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century, and that they kept the faith, when put to cruel martyrdom.

The clearest conceptions of the characteristics and duties of deaconesses of the early Church we obtain from the Apostolic Constitutions, a collection of ecclesiastical instructions that gradually grew up in the Eastern Church, and were gathered into one work in the fourth century. These instructions were of unequal antiquity, ranging from the earliest usages to the rules and practices last determined upon. Whether the Apostolic Constitutions have all the authority that some claim for them is a question not here to be decided. If not genuine, they must have been written at a very early time, and from that fact possess a historical value of their own. "They prove beyond a doubt that there was a time in the history of the Church when a clear idea was held by some writer of the office of the female deacon as essential to the discipline of the Church."[5] From them we learn of three distinct types of women connected with the administration of the Church—deaconesses, widows, and virgins. Deaconesses and widows date from apostolic times, the Church virgins from a somewhat later period. The distinction between widows and deaconesses was not at first clearly maintained. By some Church fathers widows were called deaconesses, and deaconesses widows. It was only after the lapse of time that we find the classes clearly distinguished, and when that time is reached the deaconesses have become exalted in office, being regarded as belonging to the clergy,[6] while the widows have lost somewhat the honorable position first accorded to them. The deaconesses are active ministering agents, caring for the necessities of others; the widows have passed the period of active service, and having won the respect and protection of the Church are supported in old age from a fund set apart for that purpose. In the Apostolic Constitutions the order of deaconesses stands forth independently, its many official activities are mentioned, and the importance of its service emphasized.

By combining the different references we obtain a tolerably clear picture of the deaconess and her duties. She must be a "pure virgin," or "a widow once married, faithful, and worthy" (Book vi, chap. xvii). Her special duties were as follows:

(a.) She was a door-keeper at the women's entrance to the church. This was an ancient service, dating back to the oldest times.[7] Ignatius died a martyr's death not long after the beginning of the second century, and in a letter which bears his name is written, "I greet the doorkeepers of the holy doors, the deaconesses who are in the Lord."

This guardianship was maintained not only in times of persecution, but as a matter of order and discipline in times of peace.

(b.) She showed women their places in the congregation, being especially bound to look after the poor and strangers, giving each due attention.

(c.) She instructed the female catechumens. She also visited the women's apartments, where male deacons could not enter, carried messages to the bishops, and acted as a missionary. Teaching was an important part of the duties of the early deaconesses.

(d.) The deaconess had certain duties in connection with the baptism of women that were considered important and indispensable.

(e.) In times of persecution she visited those who were oppressed or in prison, and ministered to their bodily and spiritual needs. She seems to have been less endangered in performing these acts than were men. Lucian alludes to the service of these devoted women in prisons. She also cared for the sick and sorrowing, being especially "zealous to serve other women."

(f.) On occasion she was a mediator when there was strife in families, or among friends. Both to deacons and deaconesses "pertain messages, journeys to foreign parts, ministrations, services." The ever-to-be-remembered journey of Phebe to Rome, when a whole system of theology was committed to her keeping, was quite within the sphere of her duties. It has also been said that to them was given the safe-keeping of the holy books in periods of persecution. The enumeration of these principal duties implying so many lesser details helps us to understand that "deaconesses are needed for many purposes" (Book ii, chapter xv). The deaconess was ordained to her work, as is attested by a great number of authorities.[8] "It was because men felt still that the Holy Ghost alone could give power to do any work to God's glory that they deemed themselves constrained to ask such power of him, in setting a woman to do Church service."[9]

The following beautiful prayer of ordination, attributed to the apostle Bartholomew, bears within it certain proofs of the very early existence of the ceremony, as well as of the order of deaconesses:

"Eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man and women, who didst fill Miriam and Deborah and Hannah and Huldah with thy Spirit, and didst not disdain to suffer thine only-begotten Son to be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle and temple didst appoint woman-keepers of thine holy gates, look down now upon this thine handmaid, who is designated to the office of deaconess, and cleanse her from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, that she may worthily execute the work intrusted to her to thine honor, and to the praise of thine Anointed, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and adoration forever. Amen."

The allusion to the creation of man and woman, to the women in the Old Testament who were called to special service, as well as to Mary, the mother of the Lord, while no reference is made to the women of the apostolic Church who were so highly commended, and held in veneration as worthy of all imitation, go to prove that the origin of this prayer was so near the time of the apostles as to be almost contemporary with them.

The office of the deaconess, as described by the Apostolic Constitutions, fitted into the needs of the Eastern Church and the requirements of Greek life. It was in the East that the diaconate of women originated, and here that it attained its greatest growth. In the West custom did not demand the careful separation of the sexes as in the East, and church relations were less bound by social usages; consequently we meet with fewer references to deaconesses in the works of the Latin fathers, and the diaconate of women is not so deeply rooted in the affections of the church communities as we have found it in the Greek Church.[10]

The fourth century was the blossoming period of woman's diaconate, when it attained its highest importance. All the leading Greek fathers and Church authorities of the age make mention of it. The office is spoken of as worthy of all honor, filled by women of rank from noble families, and those of wealth and ability. It found its special advocate and protector in Chrysostom, "John of the Golden Mouth," who was Bishop of Constantinople from 397 until 407 A.D. He seems to have had the ability, rare for that age, of understanding the value of the services of Christian women, and through his wise guidance and encouragement had over them almost unbounded influence. Forty-six deaconesses were under his direction—forty attached to the mother church at Constantinople, and six belonging to a small church in the suburbs. A number of these were closely identified with his history, either as relatives or friends, and through his writings their memory is preserved. Of these are Nicarete, of a noble family of Nicomedia. We are told she was of a modest, retiring nature, and would not take places of responsibility when urged to do so by Chrysostom. We note a strong tendency toward the later celibate life of the nuns when we read that she was extolled for "her perpetual virginity and holy life." Sabiniana was the aunt of Chrysostom. To Amprucla the bishop wrote two letters still extant.[11] They are filled with words of consolation for the religious persecution she has undergone. In one of them he says: "Greatly did we sympathize with your manliness, your steadfast and adamantine understanding, your freedom of speech and boldness." "Manliness of soul" seems to have held a high place in the bishop's favorite qualities. In another place, writing to the same deaconess, he praises "your steadfast soul, true to God; yea, rather, your noble and most manly soul."

Pentadia and Procla were closely associated with Olympias. In a letter to Pentadia, Chrysostom writes: "For I know your great and lofty soul, which can sail as with a fair wind through many tempests, and in the midst of the waves enjoy a white calm."[12] Reading such words of appreciation, words that in other places approach dangerously near to adulation, we better understand the influence Chrysostom exercised over the women of his time, and their steadfast devotion to him. They had the conviction that all their efforts met with his sincere and profound appreciation and quick responsive acknowledgment.

Pre-eminent among the friends of the great bishop was Olympias, of whom Dean Howson said, "She is the queenly figure among the deaconesses of the primitive Church." To understand her life we must recall the scenes by which she was surrounded and the age in which she lived.[13]

In the great capital of the Eastern Empire, where the luxuriance and magnificence of the Orient combined with the keen, quick intellectual life of the Greeks; in the circle of the imperial court, with its intrigues, its fashions, its favoritisms; at a time when outwardly much respect was paid to the forms of religious life, but when the great and vital dogmas of the Church were made the sport of witty sophistical disputations; when those who endeavored to lead an earnest Christian life met with nearly as much to oppose them as in periods of active persecution; such were her environments. They were little favorable to the strength of mind, the fixedness of purpose, the self-denial and Christian devotion that marked this noble deaconess. Born in 368 A.D. of a heathen family of rank, owing to her parents' early death she was educated a Christian. In her seventeenth year she married Nebridius, the prefect of the city, but after a married life of twenty months he died, leaving her at eighteen years a widow, rich, beautiful, and free to decide her future. The Emperor Theodosius desired her to marry one of his kinsmen, but she refused, saying, "Had God designed me to lead a married life he would not have taken my husband; I will remain a widow," and shortly after she was consecrated a deaconess by Bishop Nectarius. The emperor, angered at her refusal, took from her the use of her large fortune, and put it under the care of guardians until she should be thirty years old, whereupon she only thanked him for relieving her of the heavy responsibility of administering her estate, and begged him to add to his kindness by dividing it between the poor and the Church.

Shamed out of his anger, the emperor soon restored her rights, and when Chrysostom came to Constantinople her lavish and often unwise generosity was felt in every direction, being compared to "a stream which flows to the end of the world." He reproved her unbounded liberality, and advised her to administer alms as a wise steward who must render an account. This counsel guided her into safer paths. Finally, when Chrysostom was driven forth to banishment, by his advice she remained in the city, and became a support for his followers and those who had been dependent upon him. She met contemptuous treatment and judicial persecutions, but continued her works of charity, and outlived the man whose mind and heart had so influenced hers by eleven years. Chrysostom wrote her many letters, of which seventeen are extant.[14] They plainly show the estimate he set upon the diaconate of women, and his endeavor to wisely cherish it. Unfortunately, they also show exaggeration of compliment and praise which detract from his words of sincere and honest admiration. Too often, also, he gives undue value to works of mercy, and exalts acts of ascetic self-denial.

The question of the age at which deaconesses could be received is a vexed one. The confusion of apprehension touching deaconesses and widows led to differing enactments at different times and places. The restriction of age, however, must now have lost its force, as we find Olympias a deaconess when not yet twenty years of age, and Makrina, the sister of Gregory of Nyssa, was ordained when a young girl. Deaconesses retained control of their property. In truth, a law of the State forbade them to enrich churches and institutions at the expense of those having just claims on them. Deaconesses also existed in the Church of Asia Minor. Ignatius mentions them as at Antioch in Syria. They were in Italy and Rome. The Church of St. Pudentiana, in the Eternal City, keeps alive the memory of two deaconesses whose house is said to have stood on this site; Praxedes and Pudentiana, the daughters of a Roman senator, who devoted themselves, with all they had, to the service of the Church. Deaconesses also penetrated to Ireland, Gaul, and Spain, lingering in the last named country many years after they had passed out of knowledge elsewhere.

We find very little about this order of Christian workers in the Western Church. There is a passage of Origen in a Latin translation which speaks of the ministry of women as both existing and necessary, but in the great Latin fathers, the contemporaries of Chrysostom, scarcely a mention occurs. From the last half of the fifth century the diaconate of women declined in importance.[15] It was deprived of its clerical character by the decrees passed by the Gallic councils of the fifth and sixth centuries. It was finally entirely abolished as a church order by the Synod of Orleans, 593 A.D., which forbade any woman henceforth to receive the benedictio diaconalis, which had been substituted for ordinatio diaconalis by a previous council (Synod of Orange, 441). The withdrawing of church sanctions made the deaconess cause a private one. But as such it existed for hundreds of years, often under the patronage and protection of those high in authority. About the year 600 A.D. the patriarch of Constantinople, godfather of the Emperor Mauritius, built for his sister, who was a deaconess, a church which for centuries was called the "Church of the Deaconesses." It is still standing and, only slightly changed, is now used for a Turkish mosque.[16]

In the twelfth century there were still deaconesses at Constantinople. Balsamon, a distinguished professor of Church law, writing at the time, says that deaconesses were still elected in that city and took charge of conferences among women members, but in other places the order had passed completely away.

There was no historian of the diaconate of the early Church. We learn of it only from isolated and occasional references in works devoted to other subjects. Yet these references are sufficient to enable us to affirm that deaconesses were a factor in the life of the Church for from nine to twelve centuries, or two thirds of the Christian era.

The same influences led to its decay that affected the entire life of the Church during these centuries. The superior sanctity attached to the unmarried state, that brought about the celibacy of the priests, gradually changed the active beneficent existence of the old-time deaconesses into the cloistral life of nuns. Statutes were passed forbidding her to marry. Gradually grew up the dangerous superstition of the marriage of the individual soul with Christ, that made of the nun the Bride of Christ in an especial sense. It was this false conception that led the vow of the nun to be regarded as the vow of marriage, and to be guarded from infringement in the same way as the human marriage tie, and like it to be lasting for life. The glorious doctrine of justification by faith was replaced by ascetic mortifications of the flesh based upon the belief in meritorious works. The cell of the monk and the nun were esteemed more sacred than the family circle, and in the darkness of mediaeval times that settled down upon the life of the Church we lose sight of the busy, active ministrations of women deacons, who had once been esteemed so needful to her usefulness.

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.



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.

There were certainly many points of resemblance between these women who were so active in the sphere of Christian charity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the deaconesses of Europe to-day. The most prosperous period for the Beguines was the first half of the thirteenth century, when they were numbered by thousands.[19] Gradually persecution was directed against them. The nuns looked upon them with disfavor, and the pope withdrew his protection. In the Netherlands many became Protestants at the time of the Reformation, but the Beguines of to-day, changed in many respects from the original type, and now, closely resembling the other sisterhoods of Catholicism, are frequently to be seen in the cities of Belgium and north-eastern France.

A new current of spiritual life swept over the church in the fourteenth century, and again we find women living together in community life, and devoting themselves to common service in good deeds, and known as the Sisters of the Common Life. There was also a Brotherhood of the Common Life, as there were Beghards, communities of Christian men corresponding to the Beguines. The Brotherhood and the Sisterhood of the Common Life honored as their founder Gerhard Groot, of Deventer, who was born in 1340. Of a singularly attractive personality, a creative mind, and an ardent, enthusiastic nature, he was born to influence and command. He was already known as a priest of eloquence and wide learning when, in 1374, he met with a deep spiritual change, and from that year dated his conversion. Henceforth, with every power of a rarely gifted nature, he sought to lead those who heard him to lives of purity and holiness. Gradually there grew up about him a circle of like-minded friends, occupied in writing books to spread his ideas, and aiding him as they could. His friend Florentius proposed that they live together and form a community. "A community!" answered Groot. "The begging orders will never permit that." But Florentius, the planner and organizer, persisted, offering his own house as a home, and held to the advantages of his plan until Groot yielded, and said, "In the name of the Lord begin your work."

Such was the origin of the Brotherhood of the Common Life, and from its circle proceeded that immortal book, the Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, keeping alive in the hearts of choice spirits of every generation the thoughts and sentiments of the men of whom its author was the interpreter. For a community of women of similar aims and purposes it needed only that Groot should make a few changes in the house that he had already set apart from his paternal inheritance as a home for destitute women, and the first sister house began. Like the Beguines, the Sisters of the Common Life took no obligations binding them to life-long service, but they differed from them in living more closely together in one family, and had a common purse. They wore a gray costume, and also worked for their own support. The special virtues they inculcated were obedience to those above them in authority, humility that would not shun the meanest task, and friendliness to all. Their charitable duties were much the same as the Beguines; they cared for children, nursed the sick, and often acted as midwives. In the first half of the sixteenth century there were at least eighty-seven sister-houses, mostly in the Netherlands.[20]

It will be noticed that these freer communities of religious women, that bear so much closer resemblance to the deaconesses of the early Church than to the sisterhoods of nuns contemporary with them, mostly existed in the great free cities of Germany and the Netherlands, which were the cradles of political and religious liberty, the centers of commerce and of civilization at that time.

Among the Waldenses, the Poor Men of Lyons, who were already prominent in the last half of the twelfth century, we find there were deaconesses. We learn of them again, too, among the Bohemian brethren, the followers of Huss. With deep Christian faith they endeavored to form a Church after the apostolic model, and in 1457 appointed Church deaconesses. "They were to form a female council of elder women, who were to counsel and care for the married women, widows, and young girls, to make peace between quarrelers, to prevent slandering, and to preserve purity and good morals,"[21] aims which keep close to the apostolic definition of this office.

Luther, the great master-mind of the Reformation, was too clear-sighted to fail to appreciate the importance of women for the service of the Church. Speaking of the quality which is an inherent part of the diaconate of women, he says: "Women who are truly pious are wont to have especial grace in comforting others and lessening their sorrows." In his exposition of 1 Pet. ii, 5, he uttered truly remarkable words, for the age in which he lived, concerning women as members of the holy priesthood. He says: "Now, wilt thou say, Is that true that we are all priests, and should preach? Where will that lead us? Shall there be no difference in persons? shall women also be priests? Answer. If thou desirest to behold Christians, so must thou see no differences, and must not say, That is a man or a woman, that is a servant or a lord, old or young. They are all one, simply Christian people. Therefore are they all priests. They may all publish God's word, save that women shall not speak in the church, but shall let men preach. But where there are no men, but women only, as in the nuns' cloisters, there might a woman be chosen who should preach to them. This is the true priesthood, in which are the three elements of spiritual offerings, prayer, and preaching for the Church. Whoever does this is a priest. You are all bound to preach the Word, to pray for the Church, and to offer yourself to God."[22]

There is no mention in Luther's writings, however, of the diaconate of women. It would be more natural that he should have tried to adjust the lives of the monks and nuns as he knew of them to the new relations arising from the Reformation rather than to bring to life an office of which he had no personal knowledge. This was what he did when he wrote to the burghers of Herford in Westphalia. In their new zeal they wanted to drive the inmates from the religious houses, although the latter had been the means of teaching them the reformed doctrines. In his letter of January 31, 1532, Luther says: "If the brothers and sisters who are by you truly teach and hold the true word it is my friendly wish that you will not allow them to be disturbed or experience bitterness in this matter. Let them retain their religious dress and their accustomed habits which are not opposed to the Gospel."[23]

Certainly Luther would have seen no harm in allowing deaconesses the protection of a special garb.

Passing 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.

We have now reached the nineteenth century, and from the early Church to the present time we find successive if sporadic attempts to incorporate into the Church the active diaconate of women. These constantly recurring efforts imply a consciousness, deep, if unexpressed, of the need to utilize better the especial gifts of women in Christian service. We have reached the moment when this consciousness is to take a suitable and enduring form; when the Church machinery, long defective in this particular, is to be re-adjusted and made complete.

[18] Die Weibliche Diakonie, vol. i, p. 67. [19] Woman's Work in the Church, Ludlow, p. 117, note. "Matthew Paris mentions it as one of the wonders of the age, for the year 1250, that in Germany there rose up an innumerable multitude of those continent women who wish to be called Beguines, to that extent that Cologne was inhabited by more than a thousand of them." [20] Die Weibliche Diakonie, Schaefer, vol. i, p. 70. [21] Der Diakonissenberuf E. Wacker, p. 82. [22] Denkschrift zur Jubelfeier, J. Disselhoff, p. 5. Guetersloh, 1888. [23] Die Weibliche Diakonie, vol. i, p. 73. [24] Histoire de la principaute de Sedan, Pasteur Pegran, vol. ii, chaps. i, ii.



The first years of the present century were sad years for Germany. There was a life-and-death struggle with an all-powerful conqueror to preserve existence as a nation. The Germans still call this "the war for freedom." Immediately thereafter followed a period of religious awakening, and this proved to be the hour when the diaconate of woman rose again to life and power. When the fullness of time arrives for a cause or a movement to take its place among the forces of society, many hearts become impressed with its importance. So, between the years 1820 and 1835, there were four several attempts to awaken the Christian Church to an enlightened conscience in this matter, the last of which obtained a wide and an enduring success. The first was made by Johann Adolph Franz Kloenne, pastor of the church at Bislich, near Wesel. Stirred to admiration by the activity that the women's societies had shown in the Napoleonic wars, he lamented the fact that the associations had dissolved, and complained that they had not taken a permanent form, in which the members might have performed the duties for the Church that deaconesses had done in the early years of Christianity. In 1820 he published a pamphlet entitled The Revival of the Deaconesses of the Primitive Church in our Women's Associations. This he sent to many persons of influence, trying to win their co-operation for the cause. He received a great many answers in reply, among them one from the Crown Princess Marianne. But while in a general way his project met with approval, no one could suggest a practical method by which his thought could be realized.

A distinguished woman, Amalie Sieveking, attempted the same task of utilizing the labor of Christian women as deaconesses in the Church. She belonged to a well-known patrician family in the old free city of Hamburg, and was well known for her philanthropic views and her generous deeds. "When I was eighteen years old," she relates, "I first learned about the charitable sisterhoods in Catholic lands, and the knowledge seized upon me with almost irresistible power. Like a lightning's flash came the thought, What if you were appointed to found a similar institution for our Protestant Church?"[25] The thought stayed by her, and disposed her to receive willingly a similar suggestion coming from the great Prussian minister Von Stein, the Bismarck of Germany during the first quarter of this century. He had been favorably impressed by what he had seen of the Sisters of Mercy in the camp and in hospitals. He consulted with one of his councilors about increasing their number, so that they could be employed in all the Hospitals, Insane Asylums, and Penitentiaries which had women inmates. To another minister he complained with warmth that the Protestant Church had no such sisterhoods by which the beneficent stream of activities among women could be directed into well-regulated channels. "The religious life of Protestantism suffers from the want of them," he said. These words were repeated to Amalie Sieveking and stirred her to make the endeavor to fulfill her own long-cherished wishes, which were those of Stein. Just at this time, in 1831, the cholera broke out in her native city. She took this as a providential opening, by means of which deaconesses could begin their work, and went at once to one of the cholera hospitals, offered her services as a nurse, and at the same time issued an appeal for sister-women to join her. But no one came. The only outcome of her effort was a woman's society which she formed to care for the sick and the poor of her native city, and to work for this she devoted the remainder of her life. Stein and Amalie Sieveking had in mind an order of women closely resembling the Sisters of Charity. That their efforts were not crowned with success seemed to the evangelical Protestant promoters of the deaconess cause in later times providential.[26]

Shortly after, in 1835, Count von der Recke, already well known as the founder of two charitable institutions, issued the first number of a magazine called Deaconesses; or, The Life and Labors of Women Workers of the Church in Instruction, Education, and the Care of the Sick. Only a single number appeared, but his earnest plea for deaconesses, and the elaborate plan he devised for an institution and officers, aroused wide attention, and brought him a letter of warm commendation from the crown prince, afterward King Frederick William IV. Evidently the idea was ripening, and a near fruition could be anticipated. But neither to minister of state, count, nor prince—to no one among the distinguished of the earth—was the honor given of reviving the female diaconate. It was to a humble pastor of an obscure village church that this work was committed.

The little village of Eppstein lies in a beautiful country, full of high mountains and deep-lying valleys, about a dozen miles from Wiesbaden. At the village parsonage of the little hamlet was born, January 21, 1800, a son, the fourth of a family that numbered twelve children. The pastor, whose father before him had filled a like office, was a favorite among his people for his pleasant speech, sound advice about every-day matters, and his faithfulness in instructing the children in the Bible and the catechism, and caring for the sick and the afflicted.

The little boy proved to be a strong, healthy child, and as he grew older developed a liking for books. His father taught a class composed of his children and some boys in the neighborhood, and when Theodor became old enough to join it he soon outstripped the rest, giving his father no little pride by his fluent rendering of Homer. Theodor Fliedner was not quite fourteen years old when the sudden death of the father changed the whole life of the family, and left the mother with eleven children to maintain and educate. Now began for Fliedner a struggle to complete his education. The simple, kindly hospitality that had been so generously exercised in the village parsonage met its reward. Friends came forward to offer help, and at the beginning of the New Year Fliedner and his brother went to the gymnasium at Idstein. Here he was obliged to live sparingly, and earned his bread by teaching, but he was happy and contented, and found in study his great delight. He was fond of reading books of travel and the lives of great men, which stirred him to emulation. In 1817 he went to the University of Giessen. Here he kept aloof from the political agitations among the students. Neither was he affected by the rationalistic teachings of the professors. His shy, retired nature aided him in this course, and his leisure hours were passed in reading the writings of the Reformers. The jubilee festival of the Reformation occurred in 1817, and the lives of the heroes of the faith were brought freshly home to him. Their strength of faith shamed him, but he had not yet learned the secret of their power. He was yet without a deep, spiritual life. From Giessen he went to Goettingen, where he devoted himself to a year's study of history, philosophy, and theology. During the holidays, as is the custom with German students, he made repeated pedestrian tours. In this way he visited the great free cities of the north, Bremen, Hamburg, and Lubeck. From Goettingen he and his brother went to the theological seminary at Herborn, where the following summer he passed with credit his theological examination. He was now ready to enter God's great school of practical life to be further fitted for the mission he was to accomplish. In September he went to Cologne and was employed in the house of a wealthy merchant as a private tutor. This was a great change for the quiet youth of country habits. He took great pains to accommodate himself to his surroundings, and to acquire the truly Christian art of becoming all things to all men. In after life, when speaking of this period and its usefulness to him, he wrote: "It is a great hinderance to a man, even to his progress in the kingdom of God, not to have been brought up in gentle and refined manners from his childhood." Although a faithful and devoted teacher his life-work was not forgotten. He constantly sought to widen his knowledge and experience, was made assistant secretary of the local Bible society, and formed friendships which led to his appointment to the pastorate at Kaiserswerth. This was a Catholic town formerly of some importance. The ruins of an imperial palatinate are still to be seen there, but in Fliedner's time it had become a little village of workmen dependent on a few manufacturers. On January 18, 1822, alone, and on foot, to save his poor society the expense of his journey, Fliedner entered the town where his life was henceforth to be centered. He was to share the parsonage with the widow of a previous pastor, and his sister was to be his housekeeper. His income was one hundred and thirty-five dollars a year. Only a month after his arrival the great firm of velvet manufacturers who provided the work-people with employment failed, and the little church community seemed about to be dispersed. The government offered him another and better appointment, but he felt that he must be a true shepherd, and not a hireling, and would not leave his people. He decided to make a journey to collect money to form a permanent endowment for his church. A journey over sixty years ago, to a young German of quiet habits, was a very different matter from a similar trip taken in this day of railroads and steamboats. To Fliedner it seemed a very important matter; and so it was in its results, which reached far beyond the little congregation he served. With great hesitation he began at Elberfeld, a town near at hand. A pastor of the city, to encourage him, accompanied him to friends, and on parting gave him a friendly suggestion that, in addition to trust in God, such work required "patience, impudence, and a ready tongue." Before starting on the longer journey to Holland and England he returned to his congregation and encouraged them by the sum of nine hundred dollars that he had so far secured. He was now absent for nine months, and during that time obtained an amount sufficient to put the little church in a position where a certain, if modest, annual allowance was assured. The pastor had also, in serving others, greatly strengthened and broadened his own faith. As he says, "In both these Protestant countries I became acquainted with a multitude of charitable institutions for the benefit both of body and soul. I saw schools and other educational organizations, alms-houses, orphanages, hospitals, prisons, and societies for the reformation of prisoners, Bible and missionary societies, etc., and at the same time I observed that it was a living faith in Christ which had called almost every one of these institutions and societies into life, and still preserved them in activity. This evidence of the practical power, and fertility of such a principle had a most powerful influence in strengthening my own faith, as yet weak." It was while in Holland that he wrote to Kloenne concerning the deaconesses, whose duties he had observed among the Mennonites. After his return he applied himself with zeal and success to his pastoral duties. Work was a delight to him, and his energy and force of character were constantly seeking new ways by which to make his church services more attractive, and to increase his influence over each member of his congregation. "He never asked himself what he must do, but always what he might do."[27] But, work as industriously as he would, his small society left him time for other activities. While in London he had been profoundly impressed by the noble labors of Elizabeth Fry in the prisons of England. It was this woman's hand that pointed out the way for Fliedner in Germany. The prisons in his own land had remained untouched by any spirit of reform. The convicts were crowded together in small, filthy cells, and often in damp cellars without light or air; boys, who had thoughtlessly committed some trifling misdemeanor, with gray-headed, corrupt sinners; young girls with the most vicious old women. There was no attempt at classification of prisoners. Some of them might be innocent people waiting for trial. Neither was there oversight, save to keep the prisoners from escaping. No work was provided, and as for schools, where the larger number of convicts could neither read nor write, no one thought of such a thing.[28] That such idleness, the beginning of all vice, was here especially pernicious and corrupting can be readily seen. But few knew of this state of things, and those few left it for the government to provide a remedy.

Fliedner, however, could not rest in this indifference. He says: "The smallness of my charge left me more leisure than most of my clerical brethren, and the opportunities I had enjoyed on my travels of at once collecting information and strengthening my faith imposed a more urgent obligation on me to try to make up by the help of our God for our long neglect." He tried to obtain permission to be imprisoned a few weeks in the prison at Duesseldorf, that he might view prison life from within the walls, but his request was refused. He then obtained leave to hold services every other Sunday afternoon in the prison at Duesseldorf. The efforts that he put forth succeeded in waking the interest of a great many persons, and at last there was formed by his efforts the first society in behalf of prisoners in Germany.

It was while engaged in this work that he met his wife, Frederika Muenster, who was occupied in bettering the condition of the prisoners in the penitentiary at Duesselthal. He married her in 1828, and she became a helpful, inspiring co-worker with him in all his undertakings.

In 1832 he was commissioned by the government to revisit England, to furnish a report on the various charitable organizations, especially those connected with prisons and alms-houses. This brought him into closer relations with Elizabeth Fry, as well as with many other noble men and women of all ranks who were caring for the poor and neglected of England. He extended his journey to Scotland, met Dr. Chalmers, and found his heart strangely touched by what he saw. His spiritual experience had deepened with the years, and while here he wrote to some friends, "The Lord greatly quickens me."

His heart became still more open to works of mercy and love, and he gathered rich experiences which were afterward utilized in his work.

Fliedner had now attained a certain reputation of his own as a friend to prisoners and outcasts. It was not surprising, therefore, that a poor female convict, discharged from the prison at Werden, should have taken the weary six miles' walk to Kaiserswerth September 17, 1833, to ask the good pastor for help. There stood in the parsonage garden a little summer-house twelve feet square, with an attic. This was offered to the convict Minna as a temporary refuge, and she became the first inmate of the Kaiserswerth institutions. She had arrived at an opportune moment. In the previous spring Count Spee, the President of the Prison Society, had urged the founding of two institutions, one Lutheran and one Catholic, to receive discharged female convicts. Fliedner, who had seen such refuges in England, declared himself ready for the plan, and tried to induce the pastors of the larger and wealthier communities in the neighborhood to locate the Protestant asylum in some one of these cities. No one responded to his appeal. His wife, whose courage was often greater than his own, urged him to make a beginning in the little village where he lived, unpromising as the conditions seemed, and after a little hesitation, seeing no one was ready to assume any responsibility in a matter that he took so deeply to heart, the good pastor decided to follow her advice. The old parsonage was for rent, and he secured it on low terms.

Frau Fliedner had a friend of her school-days and early youth, now a woman of experience and ability. She sent for her to come and visit them to see if she would become the superintendent of the refuge, but shortly after her arrival she was taken sick, and her friends sent letters of expostulation urging her to return. Just now, when affairs were in rather an untoward state, appeared the first inmate. Let Fliedner tell the story:

"We at first gave her lodging in my summer-house, and the necessity of attending to her did more good to the poor, distressed superintendent than all her quinine and mixtures. Countess Spee, the wife of our president, had prophesied that our inmates would never remain with us a month, they would certainly run away. So when the first month was over I marched over to Heltorf and triumphantly announced, 'Minna is yet there.' Minna was followed by another, and the garden-house became too small."

Finally Fliedner obtained possession of the house he had hired, after some delay on the part of the former tenants, and the asylum was opened. The number of inmates increased, and Fraeulein Goebel soon had more than she could manage. She must have an assistant. The need of trained Christian workers, who could care for these poor women, grew daily more apparent.

Fliedner's thoughts constantly dwelt on the subject; they gave him no rest. He had discovered with joyful surprise in 1827 the traces of the apostolic deaconesses among the Mennonites, and two years later he wrote:

"Does not the experience of this our sister Church, do not the women societies in our last war, does not the holy activity of an Elizabeth Fry and her helpers in England, and the women's associations of Russia and Prussia formed after their model to care for the bodies and souls of women prisoners—do all these not show what great power God-fearing, pious women possess for the up-building of Christ's kingdom as soon as they have opportunity to develop it?"[29]

His practical experience with the work he had in hand brought him to the same conclusion; namely, that there must be training-schools where Christian women, especially set apart for such service, could have instruction and practice in the duties they had undertaken. As a consequence there were drawn up in May, 1836, and signed by Fliedner and a few friends, the statutes of the Rhenish-Westphalian Deaconess Society.

Fliedner had now reached the work that was henceforth to be his life mission; that is, the restoration of deaconesses to the Christian Church of the nineteenth century.

[25] Denkschrift zur Jubelfeier, J. Disselhoff, Kaiserswerth, 1886, p. 8. [26] Schaefer, Die Weibliche Diakonie, vol. ii, p. 86; Denkschrift zur Jubelfeier, p. 9. [27] T. Fliedner, Kurzer Abriss seines Lebens, p. 43. [28] T. Fliedner, Kurzer Abriss seines Lebens, p. 48. [29] Kurzer Abriss seines Lebens, p. 60.



Fliedner saw clearly that if the office of deaconess were to be planted in the Church there must be soil suitable to nourish it: in other words, there must be an institution founded which could furnish not only instruction, but practice in their duties, and a home for those who should offer their services for this office. "But," he says, "could our little Kaiserswerth be the right place for a Protestant deaconess house for the training of Protestant deaconesses—a village of scarcely eighteen hundred people where the large majority of the population were Roman Catholics, where sick people could not be expected in sufficient numbers for training purposes, and so poor that it could not help defray even the yearly expenses of such an institution? And were not older, more experienced pastors than I better adapted for this difficult undertaking? I went to my clerical brethren in Duesseldorf, Dinsberg, Mettmann, Elberfeld, and Barmen, and entreated them to start such an institution in their large societies, of which, indeed, there was pressing need. But all refused, and urged me to put my hand to the work. I had time, with my small congregation, and the quietness of retired Kaiserswerth was favorable to such a school. The useful experiences I had gained on my journeys had not been given me for naught, and God could send money, sick people, and nurses. So we discerned that it was his will that we should take the burden on our own shoulders, and we willingly stretched them forth to receive it. Quietly we looked around for a house for the hospital. Suddenly, the largest and finest house in Kaiserswerth was offered for sale. My wife begged me to buy it without delay. It is true it would cost twenty-three hundred thalers, and we had no money. Yet I bought it with good courage, April 20, 1836. At Martinmas the money must be paid."

It is not possible to give here in detail the occurrences by which loans were made, and the money that was needed obtained at the required time. God gave friends for the cause, and through them provided the means. The house was furnished with a little second-hand furniture which had been given him, and October, 1836, was opened as a hospital and training school for Christian women. Services of praise and thanksgiving consecrated this deaconess home yet without deaconesses, this hospital without patients. Both, however, soon became inmates of the building. The first deaconess was Gertrude Reichardt, the daughter of a physician. She had assisted her father in the care of the sick, and had become experienced in looking after the welfare of the poor and the destitute. She was an invaluable helper in the new enterprise, and shared with the doctor the duty of giving instruction in nursing and hospital duties. Fliedner's wife was the superintendent. She had the oversight of the house, gave the deaconesses practical direction in housekeeping, and in their early visits to the sick and poor accompanied them from house to house. Fliedner was the director, and took upon himself the religious instruction of the sisters. Every effort was taken to make the house a home in which a cheerful, loving spirit should prevail. Nearly every evening Fliedner or his wife would go over to the home, and read to the sisters, or tell them interesting facts outside their lives. When he went away on his journeys he would write in full every thing pertaining to the interests of the common cause, and the letters would be read aloud. This was to be a home in every sense of the word, in which the members were to feel themselves belonging to one great family, bound together by the common tie of unselfish devotion to others "for Christ's sake." The spirit of the founder has permeated the institution even to the present time. Those who know any thing of Kaiserswerth testify to the strong affection for the common home, the "mother-house," as they beautifully term it, felt by all its children. Every pains is taken to preserve it. There is correspondence, frequent and regular, from here to every sister. No matter in what distant land she may be, her birthday is remembered, and she is taught to look to this as a waiting refuge for the days of trouble, sickness, and old age.

There was soon arranged a series of house regulations and instructions for work which became the basis for after regulations in nearly all existing institutions.

Almost contemporary with the mother-house arose the normal school for infant-school teachers. It had first started as a child's school, and afterward young women who had taste for the care of children were received to be taught their duties. Fliedner took great interest in the instruction of children. He devised little games for them, and arranged stories to be told. His simplicity and his child-like nature led him to disregard formalities, and to think solely of the end he had in view. On one occasion, when picturing the combat of David and Goliath, reaching that point in the narrative when the young shepherd lad slings the stone that brings the giant to the ground, he cast himself headlong, to the great delight and amazement of his little audience, who enjoyed to the full this object-lesson that made the story so vivid to them.

Then he took special pains that his teachers should learn to tell the stories of the Bible so as to make them clear and interesting to the youngest child. Every day a story was told in school, and each evening the teacher whose turn it was to relate the story the following day came to Fliedner and rehearsed it to him as though he were a child, afterward receiving his suggestions as to how the narrative could be improved. The work went along quietly, ever growing, ever advancing. "Among all others, and more than all others, was Fliedner's wife his best help. Her keen glance, made pure and holy by her Christian faith, preserved him from mistakes. With the household virtues of cleanliness, order, simplicity, and economy she united large-hearted compassion toward those needing help of any kind, yet knowing withal how, with virile sense and energy, to prevent the misuse of ministering love. She became a model for the deaconesses, as well as a mother to them, and her name deserves to be mentioned with honor, as one who had an important part in the Protestant renewal of the diaconate of women."[30]

In 1842 a new building was erected for the normal school for infant-school teachers. The publishing house of the institution was also started, which issues religious books and tracts. The first work sent forth was a volume of sermons, presented to the new enterprise by the late Professor Lange, which went through several editions.

The same year the Kaiserswerth Almanac appeared and a large picture Bible for schools was published. In 1848 the magazine Der Armen und Kranken Freund was sent forth as an organ for the deaconess cause, not only for Kaiserswerth, but for all the institutions that are represented at the triennial Conferences. The publishing house is an important source of income, as the institution has little in the way of endowment beside the produce of the garden land attached to it. At present about three fourths of the expense are met by the sale of publications and the fees of patients; the remaining sum is given by friends.

The financial story of Fliedner's life could form a tale of thrilling interest, if it were separated from other facts and told by itself. He constantly went forward, purchased houses, added lands, and erected new homes when he had no money in reserve, but unfailingly when the time came for payments to be made the sum was obtained in some way or other to meet them. "We have no endowment," he once said, "but the Lord is our endowment."

The same year, 1842, the orphan asylum was opened. For a very moderate sum this receives children who are both fatherless and motherless, and who belong to the educated middle class, having fathers who were pastors or professors, or the like. Fliedner hoped not only to provide a home for these girls befitting their station in life, but to develop among them those who should make a vocation of the care of children and the sick, and in this hope he was not disappointed.

In the midst of these successes the hand of God often lay heavily on Fliedner's family. Brethren and children passed away, and, sorest affliction of all to him, his wife, who had so closely and sympathetically shared all his labors, died April 22, 1842. "She was the first of the deaconesses to die," writes Fliedner. "As she, their mother, had always led the way for her spiritual daughters in life, so she was their leader into the valley of the shadow of death."[31] Not long after this a normal school for female teachers in the public schools was started, for this practical believer in woman's work was one of the first to advocate the introduction of women teachers in the public schools of Germany, against which there then existed a strong prejudice. The Board of Education looked favorably on his project, and afterward sent a government commissioner to attend the examinations and award the certificates at Kaiserswerth. At a later period provision was made for teachers of girls' high schools, as also for those who desired to become teachers but were too young to enter the normal school. Over two thousand teachers have gone forth from these schools, carrying with them a love for the institution which has brought back to it many returns in money and service. Fliedner well called them his "light skirmishing troops."

In 1849 he resigned his pastorate, and henceforth, with singleness of purpose, devoted himself to his one calling. From time to time new buildings were added to meet new needs. In 1852 an insane asylum for Protestant women was founded, as sisters were often called upon to nurse patients of this class. The building set apart for the purpose was formerly used as military barracks and was given to Fliedner by King Frederick William IV. In 1881 this, as with so many others of the original buildings at Kaiserswerth, became too small for the increase in numbers, and a new building took its place. It stands on an eminence just outside of the village, and is provided with every modern appliance. Fliedner's practical good sense and administrative ability led him to care for all the minor details that were needed for the success of so great an undertaking. He added a dispensary to the hospital, where a sister who had passed a regular examination before the government medical board made up the medicines required for the hospital. Many deaconesses have been trained to the same knowledge, which has been an especially valuable acquisition in the hospitals situated in Eastern countries. Little by little he secured land for farming operations, until there were one hundred and eighty acres in garden and meadow land, generally lying close about the various buildings, and affording means of recreation as well to the inmates. Nearly all of the vegetable and dairy products that are needed are so provided. A bakery, bath-houses, homes for laborers and officials, were added, and bakers, shoemakers, carpenters, and blacksmiths formed part of the staff of the great establishment.

Gradually every variety of institution that could furnish active practice to the deaconesses took its place here, and the whole might be denominated a great normal training-school for Christian women. The refuge for discharged female convicts, which was the starting-point of the movement, still continued its good work during all these years. The last report[32] states that nine hundred and nineteen women of different ages and different degrees of wrong-doing have been its inmates. Parents send insubordinate girls; societies forward those who profess penitence; magistrates sentence degraded creatures often too late for any reasonable hope to reform them. The old experience of the refuge is repeated in this last report: one third are saved, one third are irredeemable, and the judgment as to the remaining third, doubtful. There were two buildings erected during the later years of Fliedner's life in which he took great interest. One of these was a cottage among the neighboring hills, where deaconesses who had become exhausted by long days in the sick-room, or whose health was suffering from over-toil, could retire for a few weeks of mountain air and quiet rest during the summer months. This pleasant retreat was well named Salem. Soon afterward was laid the corner-stone of the second building, regarded with peculiar favor not only by the good pastor, but by all friends of the institution. This was the "Feierabend Haus," the House of Evening Rest, where, somewhat apart from the busy activity of the great household, those deaconesses whose best strength had been given to faithful labor in the service could pass the evening hours of life in quiet waiting for the last great change, while using the experience they had gathered and the strength still remaining in behalf of the cause they had faithfully served.

Such are the main features of the great establishment that year by year grew up in this village on the Rhine. But from this as a center had gradually branched off manifold lines of service, and many daughter-houses both in Germany and foreign lands. It was only a year and a half after the home was opened that the first appointment of deaconesses to work outside of Kaiserswerth was made.

This was an important victory for the new institution. It took place January 21, 1838, on Fliedner's birthday, when he and his wife escorted two of the sisters to Elberfeld, where they were to act as trained nurses in the city hospital. From that time to the present the hospital has continued under the management of the Kaiserswerth deaconesses.

Soon afterward sisters were sent out to nurse in private families, and in 1839 two more were sent to superintend the workhouse in Frankfort. As the institution became known there was a constant demand for superintendents, and matrons for public reformatories, prisons, and charitable establishments. Between 1846 and 1850 more than sixty deaconesses were at work at twenty-five different stations outside of the mother-house. About the same time deaconesses began to work in connection with special churches which called for their services, having the duties which in England are assigned to those called "parish deaconesses."

King Frederick William IV., from the beginning Fliedner's faithful friend and supporter, had long desired a deaconess home in Berlin. This was finally obtained, and set apart under the name "Bethanien Haus," or Bethany House, October 10, 1847, at a special dedicatory service, at which the king, with his court, was present. It was while seeking a superintendent for this home in Berlin that Fliedner learned to know Caroline Bertheau, of Hamburg, a descendant of an old Huguenot family that was driven from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He led her home as his wife in May, 1843, and she became to him a true helpmeet for his children, his home, and his institution. She is still living, having survived her husband over twenty-five years, and in an advanced age still retains a place on the Board of Direction at Kaiserswerth.

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