Feminists in the Church have been looking for historical figures in the Church to “prove” an inclusive deaconate, priesthood and episcopate of both men and women. They may look to Saint Phoebe or Saint Theodora for example for such a topic.
The history should be noted. She was the mother of Saint Paschal I, pope and bishop, who built the Church of Praxedis the Martyress in Rome for her. There are no historical records of her having any liturgical role over priests and deacons. For centuries prior the Church Fathers already spoke against the invalid ordination of women. The term episcopa could have been given to affiliate her with her importance similar to that of a bishop, or to her biological connection to the bishop of Rome, or the fact that she was the “episcopa” (literally: “overseer”) of a tremendous church project which became one of Rome’s basilicas. Either way, the term episcopa cannot be taken in the liturgical sense as a validly ordained priestess and bishop. It should be noted that during the time a mosaic was made of her, it was already typical for mosaics to depict bishops with mitres, pallia, ophomors or zucchetti; the mosaic of Saint Theodora has none of the episcopal symbolism depicted.
Saint Phoebe is mentioned as having “devoted her services to the church” (cf. Romans 16:1). Not only is the term diakona not used but diakonon — meaning service — but deacons did not have the liturgical role they do now. Back then deacons were servants who gave collections to poor Christians. The role of deacons is seen in Acts 6:1 as when the “widows were neglected in the daily ministration”. The Church of Jerusalem appointed six deacons to care for the needs of the local Church.
The Council of Laodicea stated, “Presbytides, as they are called, or female presidents, are not to be appointed in the Church” (Canon 11). Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, “Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, [Marcus the Gnostic heretic] contrives to give them a purple and reddish color. . . . [H]anding mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence” (Against Heresies 1:13:2). Tertullian wrote that “the heretical women . . . make bold to teach, to debate, to work exorcisms, to undertake cures” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 41:4-5). He also added they cannot validly hold priestly office nor offer the Eucharist by saying, “It is not permitted for a woman . . . to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say sacerdotal office” (The Veiling of Virgins 9). Saint Hippolytus of Rome stated, “Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy” and “Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy” (Apostolic Traditions 11). The First Council of Nicaea decreed that “in regard to the deaconesses, . . . although, not having been in any way ordained, . . . are certainly to be numbered among the laity” (Canon 13).
Women have always had an important role in the Church, no doubt about that, but they have never been able to be validly ordained. Any attempt on the part of a man, even a validly ordained bishop, to ordain a woman automatically constitutes for an invalid Sacrament. Any attempt on the part of a woman to consecrate the Eucharist, absolve sinners, ordain men or women, or anoint Christians with the Holy Spirit would automatically constitute for an invalid Sacrament.
For more information: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/women-and-the-priesthood