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Thomas Netter of Walden
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Thomas Netter of Walden

c. 1370-1430

Data published by John Hilary Martin, O.P. , ‘The Ordination of Women and the Theologians in the Middle Ages’, published in Escritos del Vedat 16 (1986) 87-143, here pp. 116-117; also in , A History of Women and Ordination, Volume 1, The Ordination of Women in Medieval Context, ed. by Bernard Cooke and Gary Macy, the Scarecrow Press, London 2002, pp. 94-6, 149, 150, 151,167 here pp. 83-84, 138

Information on the author

Thomas Netter of Walden studied at Oxford, where he learned of the doctrines of Wyclif at close hand. An initial interest turned to implacable hostility when he became convinced that Wyclif was interpreting the Scriptures in an arbitrary fashion to favor his own point of view. Netter's work, the Doctrinale Antiquitatum Fidei Catholicae Ecclesiae, edited in three parts (Venice, 1757-1759), was written to refute Wyclif and his followers.

Latin Text

Selections (paragraph numbering by John Wijngaards)

§ 1. "...statim ad ingressum huius tractatus laqueum paraverunt pedibus Wyclevistae terrentes catholicos gemina quaestione. Prime sit circa suscipientem ordinem. Secunda circa ordinantem. Prima movet de sexu: si exigitur de necessitate virilis. Ipse Wicleffus non erubuit lib. suo, De (Potentate) Papa pluries laborare pro foemina, ut sit apta sacerdos ecclesiae, episcopus, sive Papa... sic enim nionet libro suo, De [Protestate] Papa, ch. ix, Wycliff. Subtiliantes in dei potentia absoluta dicunt quod sicut deus potest communicare nedum laico, sed et foeminae, ac animali irrationali potentiam conficiendi ac ministrandi quaelibet sacramenta..."
Doctrinale Antiquitatum Fidei Catholicae Ecclesiae, Tit. 7, ch. 58 (Venice, 1759), III 371.

" . . . right at the beginning of this tract, a pair of questions prepared a snare for the feet of the Wyclifites who are alarming the Catholics. The first concerns the reception of orders: The second concerns those to be ordained. The first is occasioned by sex; if the masculine is required by necessity. Wyclif himself was not embarrassed to labor frequently on behalf of the feminine in his book, On the Power of the Pope, so that [a woman] might be a suitable priest of the church, or bishop or even Pope .... Thus Wyclif clearly teaches in his book, On the Power of the Pope, chapter nine. Constructing a clever argument on the absolute power of God, they say that as God he is able to confer the power to confect and administer any sacrament (sacramentum) not only to laity, but to females and to irrational animals . . . "

§ 2. "Ad argumentum Wicleffi probantis foeminas sacerdotes fieri, quia de lege dei a sacerdotio proprio non sunt oxortes [= exortes?] ... Sed perfunctorio quodam motivo utitur. Wycliffus pro sacerdotio foeminarum in respondendo ad quod- dam argumentum praedicto, capite ix, De (Protestate] Papa. Oportet, inquiens, esse Christum et suos apostolos, immo omnes sacerdotes sacramentales, et devotum populum -Sequitur- De quibus Apostolos Petrus ait: 'Plebs sancta, et regale sacerdotium'. [I Pet. 2: 9] 'Et idem ait Chrysostomus. Ex istis patet primo quod foemina est sacerdos..."
Doctrinale Antiquitatum Fidei Catholicae Ecclesiae, Tit. 7, ch. 59 (Venice, 1759), III 374.

"As to the argument of Wyclif proving that females can be priests because they are not excluded from the priesthood by the law of God . . . .This is based on.a somewhat careless theme. Wyclif says in defence of a feminine priesthood in response to some argument in the aforementioned chapter nine of On the Power of the Pope: 'Christ and his apostles and indeed devote people must all be sacramental priests. It follows from that which the Apostle Peter said, 'A holy people and a royal priesthood.' [2 Pet 2:9] And Chrysostom said the same. From these texts it is clear in the first place that females are priests."

§ 3. "Tu dicis Augustinum testari populum devotum in sacramentales sacerdotes assumptum: unde exclamans, patet, inquis ex his, quod foemina est sacerdos... in illo loco scilicet, De Civitate Dei, [lib. 20, ch. 10] ...sic scribit Augustinus. 'Erunt sacerdotes dei, et Christi, et regnabunt cum eo mille annis'. Non utique de solis episcopis et presbyteris dictum est qui proprie iam vocantur in ecclesia sacerdotes, sed sicut omnes Christianos dicimus propter mysticum chrisma: sic omnes sacerdotes quoniam membra sunt unius sacerdotis'.De quibus Apostolus Petrus, 'Plebs, inquit, sancta, regale sacerdotium'. Haecine est authoritas, unde dicas: Foemina est sacerdos?"
Doctrinale, Tit. 7, ch. 59, ed. cit., III; 376-377.

"You say that Augustine witnessed that devote people are included in the sacramental priesthood from which you exclaim that it is clear from this that females are priests . . . in that place, namely, The City of God, [bk. 20, chapt. 10] . . . .So Augustine had written 'They will be priests of God, and of Christ, and will reign with him for a thousand years. And not only of bishops and priests alone who are already called priests in the church is this thus said, but we say it of all Christians according to the mystical chrism: so are all priests for they are members of one priesthood.' Of which the Apostle Peter said: 'A people, a royal priesthood.' Is this not the authority whereby you say 'females are priests?' "

§ 4. "Ipse Wycleffus non erubuit lib. suo De [potestate] papa pluries laborare pro foemina, ut sit apta sacerdos Ecclesiae, episcopus, sive papa. Pudet rem dicere de viro Christiano, quae Judaeis agnita, erit irrisio fidei, et scandalum Saracenis; sed a contrario tantae voraginem foeditatis occultare formido: maxime cum ex hoc loco sectatores ejus putem auctoritatem sumpsisse ordinandi foeminas sacerdotes, missas et sacramenta caetera celebrates [=celebrantes?], lectrices utique Scripturarum et praedictrices in coetibus Lollardorum."
Doctrinale, ed. cit., III: 371.

"Wyclif himself was not embarrassed to frequently argue in favour of women in his book, On the Power of the Pope, insinuating that [a woman] might be a suitable priest of the church, or bishop or even Pope. It is a shameful that something is said about a Christian man which once known will be mockery to the Jews and a.scandal to the Saracens. But on the other hand, I fear to hide an abyss of such foulness. Most especially when I suspect that based on this position his followers have assumed the authority to ordain women as priests, as celebrators of mass and the other sacraments (sacramenta), as readers of scripture and preachers in the Lollard assemblies."
Doctrinale, tit. 7, ch. 59 (Bassanesius 3:371).

§ 5. "Mira res, quod Christus primus Pontifex sic pharisaice seductus est, praeponderans signum visibile humanitus institutum, ne Matrem suam praedestinatam, et virginem, in Sacerdotem eligeret, sed potius elegit Judam masculum conjugatum, tanti peccati monstruositate perditum, et praescitum. Mirum item, quod Synodus Apostolorum plenaria nullam foeminarum instituit, cum septem viros Diaconos ordinavit. Quantum item gloriosus Paulus contra hanc ordinationem foeminarum omnium laboravit, quando omnem ordinandum ad viri sexum indispensabiliter limitavit: 'Oportet episcopum, inquiens, irreprehensibilem esse, unius uxoris virum': non dixit, 'unius viri uxorem', sed, 'virum, sobrium, ornatum, pudicum': et diaconi sint, 'unius uxoris viri, in expositione Ambrosius'. Rom. 16: 13 [Commentaria in Epistolam ad Romanos, ch. 16, PL 17: 180]. 'Salutare Rufum electum in Domino, et matrem eius, et nostrum'. Ideo istum praeposuit Matri propter electionem administrationis gratiae, in qua mulier locum non habet. Electus enim erat, id est, promotus a Domino ad res eius agendas. Matrem tamen tam sanctam habuit, ut Apostolus suam quoque Matrem hanc vocaret. Ecce Mater Rufi quia mulier erat, locum non habuit in administratione sacerdotii, cum tamen adeo sancta fuerit, ut Apostolus eam adoptaret in Matrem."
Doctrinale, ed. cit., III 372-373.

"Extraordinary thing that Christ, the first pontiff was thus pharisaically led astray, that when considering a sign visibly instituted for humanity, he would never chose his own mother, predestined and a virgin, for the priesthood, but rather chose Judas, a married male, lost in such monstrous sins and known beforehand to be so. Extraordinary again that the plenary synod of apostles instituted none of the women when it ordained seven males as deacons. In respect to the same issue, the glorious Paul labored against this ordination of all women when he indispensably limited all those to be ordained to the male sex: 'A bishop ought to be', he said, 'beyond reproach, a man of a single wife'. He did not say 'a wife of a single man', but 'a man, temperate, accomplished, virtuous', and deacons should be 'men of a single wife' as in the exposition of Ambrose on Romans 16:13 [Commentaria in Epistolam ad Romanos, ch. 16, (PL 17:180)] 'I greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother, and ours'. Therefore, he [Paul] put him [Rufus] ahead of his mother because of his election to the administration of grace, in which his mother had no place. For he [Rufus] had been chosen, that is, promoted by the Lord to do those things of his that needed to be done. The Apostle held his mother, however, to be so holy that he called her also his own mother. Observe how the mother of Rufus, because she was a woman, had no place in the administration of the priesthood, even though she was so very holy that the Apostle adopted her as mother."
Doctrinale, tit. 7, ch. 59, (Bassanesius 3:372-3).

§ 6. "Colligas igitur a peritis istis duas causas insignes. Prima est, generalis turpitudo contra legis ordinem et naturae. Secunda est ineptitudo ejus ad recte docendum, et ad seducendurn facilitas, quam nec protoplatus in ratione naturalis discursus sincerissimus noverat praecavere. Allicit enim blanda voce et illicit species muliebris, et tandem in rete verbi dulcis volvitur intellectus. Super dictum locum ad Tim. in expositione, Haimo [ Haberstadt, PL 117: 790-1]. 'Idcirco non permittitur ei docere, quia fragilior est sexu quam viri. Et cavendum, ne sicut per serpentem seducta mortem attulit mundo, ita etiam facile ad errorem lapsa, alios ad eumdem errorem pertrahat'. Haec ille. Et in annotationibus ibidem, Anselmus. 'Si loquitur magis ad luxuriam irritat et irritatur'. Haec ille."
Doctrinale, ed. cit., I 638.

"You may conclude, then, two points from these experts. The first is: [ordaining women would be] an overwhelming atrocity against the order of the law and of nature. The second is: her [woman’s] ineptitude to teach correctly and her facility to seduce against which the first man had not taken [sufficient] precautions, however sincerely committed he was to the reflection of natural reason. For [a woman’s] alluring voice truly entices and the species of woman inveigles and in the end the intellect is spun around in a net of sweet words. As in the words of Haimo [of Halberstadt PL 117:790-1; citation is unclear] on the place in Timothy, 'For this reason she is not permitted to teach because in gender she is a weaker than a male. And one should watch lest as seduced through the serpent she brought death to the world, so likewise easily falling into error herself, she would lead astray others to the same error.' And Anselm [says] the same in the Annotations. 'When she speaks, she inflames to excess and is inflamed.' Thus Anselm."
Ibid. (Bassanesius I 638).

§ 7. "Sed cur non audis, '...non ut episcopi aut presbyteri, qui iam in Ecclesia vocantur proprie sacerdotes...', quomodo alias abusive cum populo? Sed si hac lege communi sunt foeminae sacerdotes, quia tunc erunt secundum vaticinium Joannis, 'sacerdotes Dei, et Christi'; numquid hac item lege sunt omnes viri et parvuli laici Sacerdotes? Non, inquit, 'nisi ordinentur...' ."
Doctrinale, II: 377-378.

"But why do you not hear [the whole text of Augustine when he says] ' . . . not as bishops or priests who now in the church are properly called priests . . . .' how [he calls] others [women] improperly [priests] as part of the people [i.e., the common priesthood of all of the faithful, the 'royal priesthood']? But if by that common law women are priests since they would be according to the prophecy of John, 'priests of God and of Christ', would by this same law not all lay men and children be priests? No, he [Augustine] says, 'unless they were ordained'. "
Ibid. (Bassanesius'2:377-78).

§ 8. "Et tamen in Lege ipsis foeminis sacerdotalis familiae interdictum est propter sexum comedere de oblatione quacunque, vel sacrificio pro peccato tantum; et non licuit foeminis tunc quod licuit maribus: 'Omnis oblatio, et sacrificium, et quidquid pro peccato, atque delicto redditur mihi, et cedit in sancta sanctorum, tuum erit, et filiorum tuorum. In sanctuario comedes illud: mares tantum ex eo edent, quod consecratum est'. [Num. 18:. 9] De quo homil. IV in Lev. Origines. In Leu. Homilia IV, ch. 8, 'Illud observari voluit, ut soli. masculi edant ex eo, foemina nulla contingat'. Haec ille. Sicut ergo femina ex sexu reddebatur tunc inepta sacerdotio; quia non poterat ut masculi de sacrificio edere; ita in Novo Testamento: quia non potest in Ecclesia loqui, sed tacere."

"And even under the [Old Testament] Law it was forbidden to the women of the priestly family to eat of any oblation or sin; also at that time what was allowed to their husbands was not allowed to the women. 'Every offering and oblation and whatever sacrifice for sin and for crimes are given to me and taken to the holy of holies, will belong to you and to your sons. In the sanctuary you will eat it; only men may eat from that which is consecrated.' [Num. 18:9] About which the fourth homily of Origen on Leviticus [Origen, Fourth Homily on Leviticus, ch. 8, (PG 12:443-4)] says this: 'This he wished to be observed that only males should eat from it, that no woman should touch it'. Thus Origen. As therefore at that time woman was made unfit for the priesthood by her sex, since she was not allowed to eat of the sacrifice as men were; so too in the New Testament: since she is not allowed to speak in church but has to remain silent."

§ 9. "Jam vides sacerdotium populi, et ejus officium. Sibi ipsi popularis sacerdos erit vita, non obsequio deditus alieno. 'Offerre', inquit, 'debes Deo hostiam laudis, hostiam orationis, hostiam misericordiae, hostiam pudicitiae', hoc est sacerdotium populi, et viri, et feminae. Sub hoc tamen nullo usu debes appetere non concessum, quamvis Wicleffus te incitet, dicens praedicto cap. IX. Patet secundo ex dictis, quod sic omnes sancti viri, et feminae membra Christi sunt sacerdotes, quia sacrum dantes. Haec Wicleffus. Sic sunt sacerdotes ut membra, sed non sacrum dantes per officia «.Ecclesiae publica, sacerdotibus proprie designata."
Doctrinale, ed. cit., III 378.

"Well consider the priesthood of the people and its function. Such a popular [common?] priest lives for oneself, is not dedicated to the service of others. 'You must offer to God ,' he said, 'the offering of praise, the offering of prayer, the offering of mercy, the offering of chastity'. This is the priesthood of the people, of both men and women. Under which in no way you usurp [a priesthood] that is not conceded, even though Wyclif incites you to it in the aforementioned chapter nine: 'It is clear from what has been said that all holy men and women as members of Christ are priests since they offer holy things'. Thus Wyclif. Yes, they are priests as members, but not offering holy things through the public offices of the church, which are designated properly to priests."

§ 10. Bene discussit Chrysostomus [cf., In Ep. Primam ad Timotheum Commentarius, ch. 2, 11; Hom. 9] intellectum Apostoli de silentio mulierum, quod eis injunctum est communiter quoad sexum, simul et subjectionem, 'propterea', inquiens, 'subjecit eam Deus, quia non principatu, sed honoris parilitate male usa est', probatque hanc poenam sexus esse per verbum illud Apostoli 'mulier decepta est', et ibi de reliquo de natura disputat. Foemina quae hanc poenam recepit in sexu, sicut Adam secundum speciem, totam infecit naturam: salutem tamen suam procurare concessum est mulieri per filiorum educationem et partum corporeum: sicut viros filios spiritualiter parere per sacerdotis obequium. Quod simpliciter est in prima foemina, per hanc legem Pauli secundum sexum totum foeminis interdictum."
ed. cit., III 381.

"Chrysostom [cf. Commentary on the First Letter to Timothy, ch. 2, 11; Homily 9 (PG 62:545)] stated the mind of the Apostle well concerning the silence of women. that it was imposed universally on them because of their sex, together with their subjugation. 'On account of which,' he said, 'God subjugated her since she acted wrongly by the equality of honor, not by preeminence.' And he judges this to be the punishment of her sex according to those words of the Apostle. 'the woman was deceived' and he disputes here what remains of nature. The feminine has received this punishment in her sex, as Adam according to his species infected all nature. Nevertheless, it is granted to women to procure their salvation through physical birth and the education of their sons, just as spiritually to bear male sons through the gift of the priesthood. What is forbidden simply in the first female, is forbidden to all females because of their sex according to the law of Paul [1 Cor 14:34]." Ibid. (Bassanesius 3:381).

edited and translated by John Wijngaards

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