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Male Collaboration Against the Female Sex in the Early Church from 'Woman as Priest, Bishop and Laity in the Early Church to 440 A.D.' by Arthur Frederick Ide

Male Collaboration Against the Female Sex in the Early Church

Woman as Priest, Bishop and Laity in the Early Church to 440 A.D.
by Arthur Frederick Ide, Ide House 1984, chapter six, pp. 61-102.
Published here with the kind permission of the author .

With few exceptions, the Fathers of the Early Church were anti-feminists and anti-women. An unjust double standard was in effect in all areas of the early Christian community: economic, political, sexual, social, and theological. Paul’s dicta “there is neither male nor female” in the eyes of God was forgotten by men who believed that “woman was created not in God’s image” like man, but “created for man”. To entrench this blatant chauvinism, the Fathers of the Church who were supposedly “men of God” turned to the State for support, strength, and enforcement of their preposterous stands against woman and womanhood. This became the credo and the law with few changes until the sixth century.(1) Women who were not ordained to the ministry of God were commanded to spin, make and bake bread, clean the house and barn, tend animals and fowl, slaughter and clean that which was needed to “fill the husband’s table”, to accept with little emotion their husband’s sexual advances (provided that it was experienced in “anticipation of being fruitful and bringing into this world one more soul”) while disavowing any sexual needs of their own, and to admonish, correct, and raise children according to their husband’s law and rule. Women were to be silent, meek, mild, and without a mind, personal or psychological needs, sexual needs or desires, or any degree of independence or concept of self-worth.

Male attitudes were shaped for the most part by first and second century theological speculation on what the Apostles had meant in their various writings. When select writings did not fully agree with current values and directions.

St. Paul’s writings were most heavily called upon to justify the anti-woman stand of the early Church Fathers. To subordinate women who were not ordained but congregational believers, the passage “Women must keep quiet at gatherings of the church They are not allowed to speak; they must take a subordinate place, as the Law enjoins. If they want any information let them ask their husbands at home; it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35) was paraded before the congregation by male ministers. To keep woman from attempting to gain equality with her husband at home, early theologians were gleeful to drag out 1 Cor. 11:7-15, which cried out for woman to “keep her head” covered; and that critical line in Colossians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands; that is your proper duty in the Lord.” (3:18) which is similar to Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” so that the male would dominate. But are these passages truly Pauline? Was Paul truly anti-woman as the ancient Fathers argued?

Paul wrote a great deal on and about women. He used feminine imagery to describe himself (1 Thess. 2:7: “But we were gentle when we were with you, like a nursing mother [trophos] taking care of her children.” and Gal. 4:19: “I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again, until Christ is formed in you.”). He was emphatic in his denial of sexual distinctions: “All [are] baptised in Christ, you have clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28, cp. Col. 3:11). He was an egalitarian (1 Cor. 7:10-16). Therefore what of these verses that the early male clergy and male theologians brought to support their arguments against women? Are they valid? Are they Pauline?

In nearly every case the passages cited have been either questioned as to their authenticity, or the arguments used have been drawn out of context. For instance, the statement of Paul, in 1 Cor. 11:10, that a woman should have her head covered, actually reads “the woman ought to have a sign of submission (exousia) on her head”. The Greek word exousia has a basic meaning of power or freedom of action—it doesn’t mean “submission” in the sense of being less than, or enslaved to: instead it is a statement of woman being subject to God and for God: it, or the head covering, in this case, is a statement of a symbol of power submitted to by a woman—very much like the “veil” worn by a rabbi reading the Torah. The “veil” or “head covering” in this case is a symbol of woman’s spiritual power exercised in an assembly. Far from this line being one that is negative about woman, this statement elevates woman and indeed places her on par with men who officiate for and have power over the congregation!(2) In this regard she can “pray and prophesy”—and since she is dia tous angelous (“in the company of angels”) she is in a privileged position which requires her to have on her head a sign of grace and a sign of power—both of which she receives from Christ.(3) The fact that she is dia tous angelous shows that woman is considered within the company—or, better yet, a part of the company of those angelous, which can be read as angels but should be understood as “elect”: not only in the meaning that they are chosen by God for heaven, but also that they are the present and/or future clergy—which again makes her at least diakonos if not presbyteras or even possibly episkopas. That this can be the only valid interpretation comes in review of a previous verse (vs. 5) which permits and indirectly encourages woman to pray and prophesy. This is supported by the letter to Titus in which the Pauline author encourages older women who are clergy to teach: “Bid the older women (prebytidas) , . . to teach (kalodi-daskalous) what is good.” (Titus 2:3).

At the same time, for a woman to prophesy requires an auricular action—she must do it out loud so that her prophesy may be heard. This is a partial clarification of what can be thought of as a “direct refutation” of 1 Cor. 14:33-35, which demands that married women be silent in church(es) (it says nothing about single women or widowed women). This could mean either that women clergy, of any rank, were supposed to be single—or, if a bishop, “married to but one wife”: the church if they were to “pray and prophesy”.

As for Paul’s injunction to “wives” being silent in church, it was undoubtedly a statement for convert women- be they Hellenistic Gentiles or proselytized Jews: women who were for the most part illiterate and thus would want to have the new faith and its adiaphora in the agape celebration explained. The same is true with the author(s) of the Pauline epistles intent on the other “anti-woman” passages: they are directed to wives or to non-teaching, non-ordained women who would “gain” their salvation by childbearing and child-rearing (2 Tim. 1:5).

To keep peace within the community and order within the church, the authors of the various epistles in the New Testament lay down a chain of command. The author of 1 Peter enjoins the faithful to be obedient to all civil authorities (2:13-17)—so that there can be peace, the faithful live without fear, and order be maintained. This line will support later ecclesiastical alliances with the state, not only to further the faith, but to suppress women. What did these men say, and how has their chauvinism not only hurt but regressed the rights of women?

The majority of the early Fathers clung to the word aner in the Pauline letter to the Corinthians (11:17). Most interpreted it to mean that God created man in his image, while woman was “created from the image of man for his pleasure and company.”(5) Furthermore, various Fathers have argued, since woman was not created in the image of God, she received no authority similar to the authority received by man from God “and thus is not equal to man.”(6) “If woman is not equal to man, then she must be subordinate to man, to man’s will, to man’s pleasure; she is for man’s purpose.”(7) John Chrysostom seemed to speak for the vast majority when he pontificated: “Man commands, woman obeys, as God said to her at the beginning: Your desire will be after your husband and he will lord it over you.”(8)

Once the male chauvinists of the clergy were dominant in the Church Militant, women were lashed out at with viperous tongues, labeled as “destroyers,” “bringers of evils,” “begetters of demons,” “the downfall of man,” “the friends of the Devil,” “witches and Devils,” and the like.(9) Why was this?

In most every, case the anti-woman Father had had a traumatic experience before he exercised the authority of a Church spokesperson. The earliest was Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215), who was probably born in Athens, but moved to Alexandria, Egypt, following his conversion to Christianity. At first,quite tolerant for his day, he admitted women into his lectures and spoke occasionally of their equality of nature and capacity for wisdom.(10) From A.D. 193 to A.D. 235 the Severi held Rome, beginning their rule with war (the Second War of the Legions). With the increase of bloodshed, assassination, and murder, Severus invaded Mesopotamia, and Egypt feared it would be attacked next. When Byzantium fell, after holding out against the emperor, its garrison was slaughtered and the citizens properties confiscated. Since many women had urged the leaders of Byzantium to hold out against the Severi, men elsewhere questioned “the power of the woman’s voice to lead us into doing that which will hurt us all." The argument against women was based on sex—the belief being that since the woman did not have either a penis, scrotum, or facial and body hair, she was incapable of fighting, defending, or preserving the city, state, or religion. This sexism was carried over in the writings of Clement, who argued that the only strong person was a man:(11)

“[because] his beard then is the badge of a man and shows him unmistakably to be a man. It is older than Eve and is the symbol of the stronger nature. By God’s decree, hairiness is one of man’s conspicuous qualities, and at that, it is distributed over his whole body. Whatever smoothness or softness there was in him God took from him when he fashioned the delicate Eve from his side to be the receptacle of his seed, his helpmate both in procreation and in the management of the home. What he left (remember he lost all traces of hairlessness) was manhood and reveals that manhood. His characteristic is action; hers, passivity. For what is hairy by nature is drier and warmer than what is bare; therefore, the male is hairier and more warm-blooded than the female; the uncastrated, than the castrated; the mature, than the immature. Thus it is a sacrilege to trifle with the symbol of manhood.

That woman “worshipped the male member [the erect penis as seen in the ceremonial statuary of ba’al(12) ] ”proved" that woman could not “do without man” - and was therefore subject to man “if he is to meet her needs.”

Using this same analogy, other Fathers went on, the woman is subject to the man since she was “created inferior [she did not posses the penis, the scrotum, or body hair] to man.” Clement’s student, Origen (A.D. 185-254) continued in this same vein: “What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.”(13) Origen had many personal problems—most of which he could neither overcome nor forgive himself for. When he was young, Roman soldiers took away many Christians to be martyred in the arenas. Since many of the Alexandrian Christians who were martyred were women,(14) he had a hard time reconciling his own inability to face “the final test.” To avoid martrydom Origen not only had his mother hide his clothes, but castrated himself (literally, I suppose, applying Matt. 19:12) which made the soldiers avoid him since he was “no longer a man.” Since he had not only been shamed “by a woman,” but was, following his self-castration, unable to consumate a heterosexual relationship with a woman, he was distinctly and tartly anti-woman and anti-feminist. Everything that connotated feminine was to be eschewed, and everything coming from a woman was to be avoided: “It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”

Origen was succeeded by Dionysius (A.D. 190-264) “the Great”, who became bishop of Alexandria in A.D. 247. Strongly influenced by Hebraic prohibitions on and against women, he feared any touch with a woman due to her menstruation which he misunderstood and termed as “internal bleeding” “a sign that God will not heal her because of her impurities”. Rigidly he lived the command of Leviticus 12:2-5: “When a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be unclean for seven days; as in the period of her impurity through menstruation. , . , The woman shall wait for thirty-three days because her blood requires purification; she shall not touch anything which is holy, and shall not enter the sanctuary till her days of purification are completed. If she bear a female child, she shall be unclean for fourteen days as her menstruation and shall wait for sixty-six days [the birth of a female child who was believed to be menstruating from conception, was seen as a double uncleanliness, while the birth of a male child who did not menstruate, was seen as unclean only because he “passed through the opening from which the menstrual blood flowed in her uncleanliness”]" To this Dionysius responded in kind: “The one [a woman] who is not entirely pure in soul and body must be stopped from entering the Holy of Holies.”(15)

The third century also had its share of anti-feminists, with Epiphanius (A.D. 315-403) in the forefront. A native of Palestine, he became, first, the bishop of Cyprus, and, later, of Salamis. He was an advocate of strict monasticism, and condemned all who were “found of the flesh”: arguing the any sensation “known by the flesh” was a sensation that could cost the soul’s immortality. Since men had been taught to be “rough and rugged” “to eschew pain” as was the common theme in Greece since the days of Sparta where manhood was determined by a male’s ability to withstand all forms of stress, Epiphanius lashed out against women since “they feel too much” and thus “made themselves the weaker sex.” He wrote(16) “. . .the female sex is easily seduced, /because she is / weak, and without much understanding the Devil seeks to vomit out this disorder through women.” Rome was in serious straits with numerous riots, revolutions, coups, and the like since A.D. 235, with little recovery of peace until A.D. 285. Most of the revolts occured because of the ambitions of the officer class of soldiers, abetted by the greedy and undisciplined spirit of the professional soldiery. As the disorder became chronic it permeated all branches of the military and filtered through to the rest of society. Loss of loyalty to the empire was seen in the rise of provincialism and attempts for local independence. Women were demanding more rights, and non-Romans demanded, in many towns similar rights. As the disorder spread and increased, the empire began to give way to a provincilization which began to demand its own loyalties. In a desperate attempt to lessen the rising dissatisfaction with the empire citizenship was virtually granted to all subjects in 212. Coupled with this near-blanket grant of citizenship, the army was opened to most men who inhabited the empire: while specifically excluding all women—this, in turn, gave “justification” to the idea that only men could serve their state in a military capacity, and in doing so “deserved” a superiority above women. With the Severan policy of emphasizing the degree of authority the military could exercise, the soldiers felt an increasing vested interest in their occupation—and less of a loyalty to the state. To assure their rise the military demanded increasing sums of money and land donations; the state budget increasingly became more military oriented, and with each addition to the military appropriation, social programs were cut or ended and the citizen suffered. When conscientious citizens protested such a tyrannical expenditure of their tax dollars to the ever growing military menace which falsely postured itself as the custodians of the peace which in truth it destroyed: soldiers wantonly plundering both peasants and townfolks.

As the situation became increasingly politically unsettled, so too did the situation in the Church and the early Christian community. Rival religious forces pulled at the heart, mind, and purse strings of the faithful and those not so faithful. It was during this period that the influence of Mithraism was at its highest and most powerful pinnacle. Mithras was worshiped widely as the Sol Invictus, being especially popular among the army and favored by the Emperors who rose from its ranks. It was only beginning to be challenged by Neo-Platonism, founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas (?-c. 245), and, later, Plotinus (205-270), who settled in Rome around 244. After Plotinus, the leadership of this movement passed to Porphyry (233-304), which gave a mystical pantheistic interpretation to Platonic thought, arguing that God is simple, absolute existence, all perfect, from whom all lower existences come. It is from this school that the thoughts of Origen developed—and became the foundation for his theology and attitudes towards women and the future of humankind. It was upon this thinking that Origen argued that women were less than man “so that they will fit into the heirarchy” of creation. It was also from this school that Origen developed his idea of mysticism and the renunciation of the flesh if the soul is to “fly” to the Godhead. The morals of Neo-Platonism, like those of later Greek philosophy, was generally ascetic, and emphasis was placed upon contemplation rather than upon physical involvement with the world or the people who inhabited the earth. Augustine of Hippo would draw heavily from this well in filling his bitter cup of what he blessed as Christian theology.

Another movement also affected the psychology of men in the early Christian church. This was Manichaeism, founded by Mani (born in Persia about 216), who began his preaching in Babylon around 242, and was martyred in the year 277. Exceedingly syncretistic, Manichaeism was strongly based on the old Persian dualism. Mani incorporated elements from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, recognizing each as a preparatory step in the universal message he proclaimed: a message which declared that light and darkness, good and evil, men and women were eternally at war. This war would not end until light, good, and men conquered their opposing force. To end this war the “Father of Goodness” sent various messengers, including Jesus and Mani himself, to liberate man from his bondage which in turn would liberate good and light. This liberation would occur when men would eschew women and the “lusts of the flesh conjured up by women”. Out of this thought developed later Christian monasticism. In Manichaeism Christianity had its real rival, for its spread throughout the empire was faster than was Christianity, absorbing not only many of the followers of Mithraism, but also the remnants of the Christian-Gnostic sects, many orthodox Christian communities, and other early heresies. Its growth was to be so great in the fourth and fifth centuries that its influence was to be felt till late in the Middle Ages through various sects which were heirs to its teachings—such as the French Cathari, or Italian Waldenese. The fact that Manichaeism offered women an opportunity to regain some stature—if they eschewed the pleasures of the flesh—led numerous Christian Church Fathers to call out for a holy war against its adherents, and to further decry and denigrate the status of women in the Christian community; this would be carried out savagely in the “Christian wars” against the later sects (such as the Cathari), where all the religious women of the sect would be branded, mutilated, and/or put to death as a symbol to other women “to follow the lead of their Christian husbands”.

The real struggle within the state and the Christian Church did not end until after Diocletian became Roman Emperor in 284. The son of slaves, he had a distinguished career in the army, and was raised to the imperial dignity by his fellow soldiers. He surprised nearly every one—being not only a gifted military man, but an able civil administrator. Reorganizing the military, he brought order out of chaos.

Diocletian’s reforms in the civil sector were no less sweeping. Becoming an autocrat in the later Byzantine sense, Diocletian redivided the empire, abandoning Rome as his capital, and making Nicomedia in Asia Minor his customary residence. This was to give a new persective to the empire “and bring about a new order.”

To achieve this “new order” Diocletian set about reorganizing the internal affairs of the empire as well. The hierarchically ordered Christian church presented a serious political problem: it appeared as a state within the state, its leaders frequently commanding more allegiance and respect than he did—or felt he did—and because of this Diocletian feared an uprising by the Christians against his rule, even though Christianity had held remarkably aloof from politics. Diocletian saw his only resource to be to break the Church and submit it to his rule. In February, 303, by a series of three edicts passed in rapid succession, the churches were ordered destroyed, sacred books confiscated, clergy imprisoned and forced to sacrifice to the emperor by torture or put to death; in 304 a fourth edict required that all Christians offer sacrifice to the emperor. Instead of breaking the back of the Christian community, in general, it became stronger—especially under the leadership of its women clergy, the majority of whom instilled a martyr-fervor in the hearts of their congregations by joyfully entering the arenas of torture and readily surrendering their lives—unlike many of the male clergy who apostacized. This, when the reign of terror subsided, caused the male clergy a great loss of face among the faithful, which led to an increased hatred for women clerics and women in general among the male clergy and especially among the leading male Church leaders.(17)

When Diocletian retired, and Maximian was forced to abdicate in 305, persecutions practically ceased in the West Empire, while they continued with increased severity in the East. This did not abate until April of 311, when Galerius, in conjunction with Constantine and Licinius, issued a decree of toleration to the Christians “on condition that nothing be done by them contrary to discipline.”(18)

The Edict of Milan in 313 permitted Christians full freedom to exercise their religious beliefs in public. It did not make Christianity the religion of the realm. It did, however, order the full restoration of church property confiscated during the recent persecution—church property which women clergy had, like the rare St. Lawrence earlier had done, voluntarily surrendered if it was real estate in order to safeguard the “true treasures of the church”: the sacred books and the congregations.

The Christian church did not realize full freedom from persecution until 323, when Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman world. However true full freedom was an illusion, for with Constantine’s elevation to sole power came also Constantine’s decision to control the Christian church—a fact few women clergy accepted or tolerated, but which most male clergy applauded, believing that only with the union could the Christian church become the “sole faith” of the empire. Women clergy argued that such a union could lead only to “feigned conversions” which in time could be apostacized when an emperor unfriendly to Christianity came to power as occured when Julian the Apostate ruled. The male clergy in general did not have this foresight, but instead looked only at their possible rise in power and prestige; again they argued, women were jeopardizing their future; again, they argued, women had to be silenced.

The male clergy were gratified by their support of the emperor who awarded them special honors and exemptions. In 319, by law, the clergy were exempted from public obligations;(19) while in that same year private heathen sacrifices were prohibited.(20) In 321,the Christian clergy received the right to inherit legacies, and the privileges of the church as a corporation was acknowledged;(21) at the same time Sunday work was forbidden by law to the people of the cities.(22) The church became increasingly political, called itself “Catholic” (universal), and set out to persecute those who were not of the same interpretation of Christian dogma as the Church Fathers and who were against the Church-state union; those who were outside of mainstream male dominated theosophic theology were labeled “heretics” and a new persecution instigated - this time within the Christian community. This “cleansing” was justified, according to male apologists, on the ground that if Christianity was to be an uniting factor in the empire, the Church had to “be one”. Constantine agreed. The church had been divided a half century earlier, and the division had weakened the empire, Constantine believed.

When Donatus the Great came to the bishopric of Carthage another split occurred. Donatus, was the successor of Majorinus who had split with the original see of Carthage when Caecilian had been installed as bishop, being ordained by a fellow bishop who was accused of living in mortal sin for having surrendered copies of the Scriptures during the recent persecution. A majority of the clergy of Carthage held Caecilian’s ordination to be invalid, and elected a counter-bishop, Majorinus. Majorinus was succeeded in 316 by Donatus (“the Great”). This split began to present new problems to the empire, for the emperor frequently spoke through the bishop—and now there were two bishops. Which bishop should the faithful listen to and believe and obey. Siding with the Caecilian faction which pledged support to the emperor, Constantine made grants of money to the “Catholic” clergy of North Africa.(23) The Donatists did not share in these grants, and appealed to the Emperor. A synod was held in Rome the same year—and decided against the Donatists since the group did not recognize the official hierarchial structure of the church and thus jeopardized the entire unity, it was declared, of the Christian commonwealth and the state. The Donatists did not give up but continued to quarrel with the church, which caused Constantine to call a general council of the Church to meet at Aries in southern Gaul in 314. There the Donatists were condemned, ordination was declared valid even at the hands of a personally unworthy cleric, heretical baptism was recognized, and the Roman date of Easter approved.(24) The Donatists appealed to the Emperor again, but Constantine went against them once more, seeing in them a decisive devisive force that could injure the unity of the empire. To end this threat Constantine closed their churches and banished their bishops. Now Christians openly persecuted Christians—however, the Donatists did not disappear until centuries later when they were washed from the earth in the Islamic flood.

The Donatists were only the tip of the problem of “unorthodoxy,” for other groups of various opinions and beliefs appeared with regularity. Each of these groups threatened the unity of the Church and the empire. As each group appeared the dominant male clergy who called itself “Catholic” became restless, fearing a renewed persecution, for Constantine only tolerated the Christian church—he did not become a Christian until he was on his death bed, but even then his conversion was more of a political move, to assure himself of immortality, for Christ was but one god to him who had grown up and lived throughout his life a pagan.

Women remained a major threat, for women had a strong control on the hearts and minds of the faithful. Frequently the compassion of women threatened the staid dicta of the male clergy who wished everything to be ascetic and impersonal. To this end they wrote with increasing vigor against the priesthood of women.


Tertullian (fl. 197-220) was among the most hostile of the early Church Fathers, having little time for women. Beginning a career of literary activity in defense and explication of Christianity, he was the first ecclesiastical writer of prominence to use Latin, and deserves the title of Father of Latin Theology. He was seldom fair to opponents, and like a good lawyer sought victory of his ideas regardless of cost—frequently contradicting himself and sometimes within the same argument being totally inconsistent. His thoughts were based on the Apologists, Irenaeus, and on Stoic teachings and legal conceptions. He saw Christianity as “a great divine foolishness”, yet wiser than the highest philosophical wisdom of men. To Tertullian Christianity is primarily knowledge of God, and is best expressed in detailed authority seated in the Roman Catholic Church which alone possesses truth, and alone has the right to use the Scriptures.(25) That Rome had the absolute control over the teachings and law of the Church, Tertullian argued, came with it being the depository of apostolic succession and tradition as based on Matthew 16:18-19.

To Tertullian, women were the source of all evil. There was nothing good about women in general or any woman in particular. Through women came pain, suffering, sin, and corruption both of the mind and body, and resulting corruption in the home and state.

Woman’s body was singularly sinful, bad, and ugly, Tertullian argued. To gaze upon a woman was tantamount for any man to consigning his own immortal soul to hell. Thus man, Tertullian continued, was to guard himself against woman—for if he gazed upon a woman or lusted after a woman he was doomed never to see the favor of God or enjoy the security of heaven after death.(26)

Men were the innocent victims of the wiles and evils of women. In his Prescription Against Heretics (De praescriptione haereticorum 41:5), Tertullian acknowledged that women were active in the Church and spread the message of Christianity with zeal, winning countless converts—but at what cost? The lessening of the dignity of man! He complained, further, that women disputed, performed exorcisms, were physicians (both spiritual and physical), performed the sacraments (at least baptism), and were ministers of the faith—and then lamented that these were tasks for men! In his The Veiling of Virgins (De virginibus velandis 9:l),Tertullian admits that it was not uncommon to find women teaching and baptising in the church, and that women were even found to be offering the eucharist, and “taking upon herself any male function” including that of the “priestly office”. Women were not priests only to other women, Tertullian laments, but “ministered to all of the faithful”. Part of his objections, reviewing the arguments of Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses (1:13.2), was that such actions were equal to those of the Marcosian Gnostics, and thus gave credence to concern “lest the orthodox faith fall into the same heresy.”(27) (An interesting note inasmuch as later Tertullian will renounce the orthodox Christian faith and enter the Montanist religion.) Another part of his objection was centered around the fact that women clergy frequently dressed more elaborately than did male clergy (as did women dress more fashionably and colorfully than did men), which he saw as a sign of sin:(28)

[women should wear somber clothing] walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve—the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition. “In pains and anxieties dost thou bear (children), woman; and toward thine husband (is) thy inclination, and he lords it over thee.” And do you know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.


Cyprian was Tertullian’s intellectual heir—a man he called Master. Born around the year 200 in the city of Carthage in North Africa, Cyprian spent the rest of his life in that city, becoming a man of great wealth and education, winning the distinction as a teacher of rhetoric. About 246, he converted to the Christian faith, and within two or three years after his conversion was elected bishop of Carthage. He was a great administrator, but not a devout Christian, as can be seen in his flight in 250 to escape persecution. His flight, however, was a watershed in his life both as a man and as a Christian. He became increasingly more concerned about his soul, was contrite about his flight, and willingly accepted martyrdom in 258, affirming the faith he had previously been unwilling to stand for. Cyprian is the strongest advocate for the concept of the Catholic church, arguing that the church is the visible orthodox community of Christians: “There is one God, and Christ is the one, and there is one church, and one chair (episcopate) founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord.”(29) “Whoever he may be and whatever he may be, he who is not in the church of Christ is not a Christian.”(30) “There is no salvation outside of the church.”(31) Quoting Matthew 16:18-19, he referred to the Roman Church as “the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source.”(32) Paradise was assured to those who forsake money, wine, and sex.(33)

Cyprian argued that “good women” sought out a life of perpetual virginity, spending all of her time and effort in prayer and good works, praising God in all things. She was to dress with recognizable simplicity. For, Cyprian argued, “a virgin should not only be [a sexual virgin], but be known as, and believed to be a virgin [in all things] ,”(34) She was to give up all luxury and display: she was to renounce cosmetics, the wearing of any jewelry, and keep away from wedding feasts and public baths; she was not to mingle with men—or be “too intimate” with women— and to maintain “a strict continence.”(34)

Part of the reason for Cyprian’s antipathy to hostility towards women was because of his own earlier experiences with women. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Cyprian was prominent in the social circles of upper-class Carthage where most of the “public women” were feted and sought out. These “public women” were both courtesans and prostitutes, who were distinctively recognizable by their cosmetic make-up and their elaborate clothing and use of jewelry. They had little concern for anything but personal pleasure, and were quick to drop a courtier or male client if another came along who had more money or was far quicker in spending what he possessed. Some women were known to be “above price” inasmuch as few had the resources to maintain their existence for very long. “Simple women” were the quiet women of the day - the housewives, peasants and minor labor force. “Their purity astounds the eye. . .not trained to look upon the natural countenance of the face and form not hidden with great colors and ointments”. At the same time mingling with “common women” was looked down upon by the rich and educated who believed that “common women do not rise above their lot because they have little time or interest in improving that which they were born with.” For this reason many “common women” found a special place in the Christian community where they were no longer “looked down upon” but seen as members of a community.


Irenaeus was among the earliest Christian theologians. Born in Asia Minor in the first century (c. 115/142), he saw and heard Polycarp, before he moved on to Lugdunum (Lyons, France), where he was chosen to succeed the martyred bishop Pothinus. He held this post until his death (c. 200).

Remaining tied to the traditions of Asia Minor, Irenaeus was intensely anti-Gnostic, and therefore, at least partially anti-woman. Affirming the basic goodness of man, he declared that it was woman who cost man his salvation - a salvation which was offered again to man through Christ’s passion and death, and which would remain with man if he kept woman subservient to his needs. Woman, however, was not completely damned by Irenaeus, for the bishop argued that what the Virgin Eve had lost through her “unbelief and betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden, was restored to all women by the Virgin Mary.(36) (This is one of the earliest evidences of the exaltation of the Virgin which was to play so large a part in Christian history, and which, at the same time, made many men wince at the thought of the exaltation of any woman.)

Irenaeus argued that women could become “another Mary” (inasmuch as they too could assume a special place in heaven) if they would only keep “themselves pure”. This purity was conditional, however—they had to refrain from all social intercourse with men, be “meek and mild and submissive to their husbands” and not take part in any church function “of which a man is to perform”: from that of deacon to priest and bishop. This statement was the result of Irenaeus’ involvement with the priest Marcus who was accused of using magic and the employment of women. In his Contra Haereses (1:13.1-5), Irenaeus writes: “Moreover, that this man Marcus, with the intention of degrading their [the women’s] bodies administers love-potions and aphrodisiacs to some of these women, even if not to all of them, they have frequently confessed after they have returned to the church of God, and that they were physically abused by him, and that they had loved him with violent passion."

Passion was not “Christian”- if “passion” meant sexual exhileration and excitement, Irenaeus argued. The only acceptable passion was that passion and exaltation experienced in witnessing for Christ either in a public ministry (confession of faith) or in a civil ministry of personal physical martyrdom.

Clement of Alexandria

Clement (?-C.215), as introduced on page 66 (above), had similar problems with women—most of which he gained because of his own bad experiences with women when he was a teenager and a young man. Clement was very much pro-male in all of his writings, which reflect a certain amount of Gnosticism—which has led many church historians to argue that Clement was a Christian Gnostic, So much of this is apparent in his Exhortation to the Heathen which is not only a catechism, but a history of the mystery religions, detailing much of their ritual and philosophy; his Instructor, which is the first treatise on Christian conduct as defined by men; and, his Stromata (or Miscellanies), which are a collection of random thoughts on religion and theology.

Clement interprets Christianity into scientific dogmas. To him Jesus was the source of all true philosophy, and the highest good was knowledge which led to the knowledge of God. Clement had no real interest in the earthly life of Jesus, nor in any earthly thing or experience and thus he eschewed all actions, thoughts, and realities which were in any way earthly or physical. He accepted the physical reality of sex only as long as sex was used “to fulfill God’s purpose”: to procreate “new souls”. If people abstained from sex for fear of it, or if they engaged in sex “for pleasure” it was not only bad but damned by God, Clement argued. Furthermore, if abstinence was to be a part of any individual’s life, Clement continued, it was good only if it was undertaken from the motivation of the love of God and with a determination to devote all waking hours to the praise and work of God—while constantly acknowledging total dependence upon his strengthening help to remain “pure”. Reliance upon the strength of God brought to the abstainer from sex the rare Stoic ideal of apatheia (freedom from passion). This was the reward when one forgot (or ignored) their own sexuality, and if male, disavowed any interest in women if they pledged their life to God. Any involvement with or recognition off women or “femaleness” smacked of Gnosticism which was soundly denounced and condemned by Clement.(37) He wrote:(38)

how is it possible to become like the Lord and have knowledge of God if one is subject to physical pleasures? ... We must not live as if there were no difference between right and wrong, but, to the best of our power, must purify ourselves from indulgence and lust and take care for our soul which must continually be devoted to the Deity alone. For when it is pure and set free from all the evil the mind is somehow capable of receiving the power of God and the divine image is set up in it. ...

To attain the knowledge of God is impossible for those who are still under the control of their passions. .... It is absolutely impossible at the same time to be a man of understanding and not to be ashamed to gratify the body. . . .

If by agreement marriage relations are suspended for a time to give opportunity for prayers (1 Cor. 7:5), this teaches continence. . . . .Whether a man becomes a celibate or whether a man joins himself in marriage with a woman for the sake of having children, his purpose ought to be to remain unyielding to what is inferior. If he can live a life of intense devotion, he will gain to himself great merit with God, since his continence is both pure and reasonable. ....


Clement was joined in his praise of virginity by the ascetic Jerome, who was probably the ablest scholar that the ancient Western church could boast. Born in Strido in Dalmatia (Yugoslavia) about 340, he studied in Rome, where he was baptized by Pope Liberius in 360. He later made his home in Aquileia where he became a friend of Rufinus (? - 410), the translator of Origen.

Eager to know the religious world, he set out on a pilgrimage of the Roman empire, visiting the cities of Gaul from 366 to 370. Later, arriving at Antioch, he was overtaken by a severe illness, during which time he believed he had a vision of Christ who reproached him for his devotion to the classics. So shaken was he with this vision that he turned to the Scriptures, studied Hebrew, and lived as a hermit from 373 to 3 79.

Ordained a presbyter in Antioch in 379, he studied in Constantinople under Gregory Nazianzus. He returned to Rome in 382, where he won the support of Pope Damasus (366-384), preaching on the merits of the monastic life. He soon had a large following—mostly women of great social position who had little company with their husbands and fathers and who longed to escape the insecurity of the world.

When the pope died Jerome returned to Antioch. He was soon joined by a large number of his Roman converts led by Paula and her daughter Eustochium. He traveled with them through Palestine, and to the chief monastic communities in Egypt. Returning to Bethlehem in 386, Paula built several nunneries and a monastery for men. Jerome became the head of the monastery which he made his home until his death in 420. It is interesting to note that the monastery would not have been founded or funded without the interest, labor, and origination of a woman. Furthermore, it was Paula who made Jerome the abbot.

Jerome was not as anti-female as other male clerics. In fact he was plagued throughout his lifetime with visions of dancing girls.(39) He had certainly known women sexually,(40) even though he would be one of the foremost advocates of the celibate life in fourth-century Christendom— partly because of his own loss which he lamented: that he had “forfeited the crown of virginity” in his youth, and because he had discovered the masochistic rewards of denying his body physical comforts and pleasures which he sincerely believed would win him a life of peace after death.(41)

Jerome was definitely a misogynist. Incorporating pagan anti-feminist tradition derived from such authors as Juvenal and Horace into his own literary works,(42) he became the misogynistic example for later medieval theologians.

In his letter to Eustochium, Jerome paints the blackest picture of marriage, while using highly sexual metaphors to describe the relationship a virgin could experience if she maintained her virginity until her death when she would be united to the heavenly bridgegroom: Jesus Christ: “Let the seclusion of your own chamber ever guard you; ever let the Bridegroom sport with you within. If you pray, you are speaking to your Spouse; if you read, He is speaking to you. When sleep falls upon you, He will come behind the wall and will put His hand through the hole in the door and will touch your flesh. And you will awake and rise up and cry: “I am sick with love”(Song of Solomon 5:8/ And you will hear him answer: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song of Solomon 5:8) . . . He reminds Eustochium of the dangers of marriage: “Your sister Blesilla, superior to you in age but inferior in firmness of will, has become a widow seven months after taking a husband. How luckless is our mortal state, how ignorant of the future! She has lost both the crown of virginity and the pleasures of wedlock.”

Jerome’s love affair with virginity is best seen in his works Against Jovinian, and Against Helvidius. The former became a best seller, while the later championed the perpetual virginity of Mary the Mother of God. In each Jerome saw virginity as better than marriage but marriage better than lust and wanton sexual abandonment—a part of life he had experienced earlier in his youth which brought to him only sexual frustration without any permanent sexual partner. In part it was Jerome’s own lack of a meaningful interpersonal sexual relationship with a woman which made him praise virginity over marriage as being “what fruit is to the tree, or grain to the straw. .... For he who maintains all to be of equal merit, does no less injury to virginity in comparing it with marriage than he does to marriage, when he allows it to be lawful, but to the same extent as second and third marriages.” He justifies his arguments, reasoning.

But you will say, “If everybody were a virgin, what would become of the human race?” Like shall here beget like. If everyone were a widow, or continent in marriage, how will mortal men be propagated? , „ , You are afraid that if the desire for virginity were general there would be no prostitutes, no adulteresses, no wailing infants in town or country. Every day the blood of adulterers is shed, adulterers are condemned, and lust is raging rampant in the very presence of the laws and the symbols of authority and the courts of justice. Be not afraid that all will become virgins: virginity is a hard matter, and therefore rare, because it is hard: “Many are called but few are chose ” Many begin, few persevere. If all were able to be virgins, our Lord would never have said (Matt. 19: 12): “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it: and the Apostle would not have hesitated to give his advice, (1 Cor 7:25) ”Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord." Why then, you will say, were the organs of generation created, and why were we fashioned by the all-wise creator, that we burn for one another, and long for natural intercourse? . . Are we never then to forego lust, for fear that we may have members of this kind for nothing? Why then should a husband keep himself from his wife? Why should a widow persevere her chastity, if we were only born to live like beasts’" Or what harm does it to me if another man lies with my wife? For as the teeth were made for chewing, and the food masticated passes into the stomach, and a man is not blamed for giving my wife bread: similarly if it was intended that the organs of generation should always be performing their office, when my vigor is spent let another take my place, and if I may so speak, let my wife quench her burning lust where she can, But what does the Apostle mean by exhorting to continence, if continence be contrary to nature? What does our Lord mean when He instructs us in the various kinds of eunuchs (Matt 18:12). Surely (1 Cor. 7:7) the Apostle who bids us emulate his own chastity, must be asked, if we are to be consistent, Why are you like other men, Paul? Why are you distinguished from the female sex by a beard, hair, and other peculiarities of person? How is it that you have not swelling bosoms, and are not broad at the hips, narrow at the chest? Your voice is rugged, your speech rough, your eyebrows shaggy. To no purpose you have all these manly qualities, if you forego the embraces of women, I am compelled to say something and become a fool: but you have forced me to dare to speak, Our Lord and Savior (Phil. 2:6-8), Who though He was in the form of God, condescended to take the form of a servant, and become obedient to the Father even unto death, yea the death of the cross - what necessity was there for Him to be born with members which He was not going to use? He certainly was circumcised to manifest His sex. Why did He cause John the Apostle and John the Baptist to make themselves eunuchs through love of Him, after causing them to be born men? Let us then who believe in Christ follow his example, . . , . to marry for the sake of children, so that our name may not perish, or that we may have support in our old age, and leave our property without dispute, is the height of stupidity. For what is it to us when we are leaving the world if another bears our name, when even a son does not all at once take his father’s title, and there are countless others who are called by the same name. Or what support in old age is he whom you bring up, and who may die before you, or turn out a reprobate? Or at all events when he reaches mature age, you may seem to him long in dying. Friends and relatives whom you can judiciously love are better and safer heirs than those whom you must make your heirs whether you like it or not. Indeed, the surest way of having a good heir is to ruin your fortune in a good cause while you live, not to leave the fruit of your labor to be used you know not how,

Based on Jerome’s words the monastic communities grew and thrived. Sex was no longer necessary to find completion—in fact many eschewed human sexuality and all other forms of sexual expression for fear that it would tie their souls to the earth and deny them heaven. Unfortunately many male theologians and other men believed that sexual thoughts, interest, and expression were initiated, generated, and completed when a woman was present, being sexually evil - and yet at the same time not being capable of experiencing the same fullness of sexuality as did man. Sex quickly became a point for discussion and debate and rose to become a main problem in the early and medieval Christian church and community.


Augustine of Hippo is the culmination of misogynist theology and thought in the early Christian church in the West, although his influence in the East was to be relatively slight. Western Christianity has been under the anti-feminist yoke of Augustine for more than 1500 years, and continues to suffer his curse in the persons of contemporary theologians who base their anti-feminist arguments on his, as did the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, and the Cistercians of the twelfth.

Augustine was born in Tagaste in Numidia, now Sulk Ahras in the Department of Constantine in Algeria, on 13 November 354. Patricius, his father, was a heathen who had a little property, some money, a good social position, and enjoyed life to the fullest, being easy going, of worldly character, and disinterested in religion until his last days when he embraced Christianity out of fear that there was an afterlife. Monica was Augustine’s mother and the greatest influence on his life. She was an ambitious Christian woman who pushed him in his studies so that he might achieve prominence and recognition. Augustine incorporated both parental perspectives into his own single divided nature: from his father he adopted a strong sensual self; he was scholarly and eager to learn the truth, a model of his mother.

His father’s influence had the greatest hold when he was young. At the age of seventeen Augustine took a mistress who quickly became his concubine, bearing (in 372) Augustine a bastard son they called Adeodatus (“gift of God”). He loved his concubine dearly, and stayed with her for fourteen years. However, two years after he took his concubine Augustine began to change psychologically. While studying Cicero’s Hortensius, Augustine discovered prayer and began to consider God as being important in his life. He turned to the Christian Scriptures, but, as he wrote later, “they appeared to me unworthy to be compared with the dignity of Cicero.”(43) and so put aside Christianity in quest of something “greater.” He turned to Manichaeism which seemed to offer him spiritual and intellectual comfort in its syncretistic, dualistic system. For nine years Augustine was a Manichaean follower, writing poetry (for which he was crowned with laurels in Carthage’s theatre), studying and teaching both in Carthage and Tagaste. Augustine surrounded himself with friends, and when they urged him to meet the highly respected Manichaean leader, Faustus, he went eagerly—only to be disappointed in the inadequacies in Faustus’ expositions. Although Augustine remained a Manichaean outwardly, inwardly he became a sceptic. In 383 he moved to Rome, and in 384 obtained from the perfect, Symmachus, a government appointment as a teacher of rhetoric at Milan where he met the city’s Christian bishop, Ambrose.

Augustine’s mother soon joined him, accompanied by his close friend Alypius. Under his mother’s dominance, Augustine became betrothed to a “woman of station,” sadly and with great pain dismissed his concubine, in preparation for a wedding which did not occur because of the youth of the woman. Alone, “without the comfort of a woman,” Augustine soon entered into another illicit relation with a woman - this time with less credibility than the last, and without love. It appeared to him that this was the lowest point in his moral life, and he began to question his very existence. Coming in contact with Neo-Platonism, through the translations of Victorinus, Augustine discovered the world of the spirit. No longer was he concerned with the materialism and dualism of Manichaeanism, for suddenly he believed that evil was no positive existence, as with the Manichaeans, but it was negative, the lack of good, an alienation of the will of God and thereby, when adopted by an individual, brought pain and suffering - both mental and physical. It was at this juncture that Augustine accepted Christianity, and with the direction and guidance of Ambrose, embraced the Catholic faith, declaring, “I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”(44)

Augustine’s final conversion came in late summer of 386. Partly on account of illness, he resigned his professorship, and with a few friends retired to the estate called Cassisiacum, to await baptism—a Christianized Neo-Platonist! Along with his son and best friend, Augustine was baptized into the Church by Ambrose at Easter season 387.

Accompanied by his mother, Augustine left Milan for his birthplace, and a new career. Monica died in Ostia, on the journey home—a death which directly affected Augustine’s life and teachings.(45) He returned to Rome for several months of study, and then in autumn of 388 set out for Tagaste, where he met with some friends to study. When his son, Adeodatus, died shortly afterwards, he thought he would establish a monastery to quit the world; the place he selected to found the monastery was the city of Hippo (near modern Bona, in Algeria). This was accomplished in 391, the same year he was nearly forcibly ordained to the priesthood, and where, four years later he was ordained colleague-bishop of Hippo. When his aged associate, Valerius, died, Augustine gained full episcopal control, and quickly founded the first monastery in that part of Africa. It soon became a training-school for the clergy, and where he frequently lectured.

Much of Augustine’s remaining years was in perfecting his concept of Christianity. He was plagued both by failing health and the bitter memories of the deaths of his mother and son. When the Vandals began to beseige the city of Hippo in 430, his world appeared as if it was about to collapse. On 28 August 430, while the Vandals were camped about his city he died.

A prolific writer for his day, Augustine had much to say about sin, sex, and women, which were usually coupled together. Much of his writing was influenced both directly and indirectly by his mother.

Augustine’s “proper wife” and the “role of a proper wife” was a mirror of his mother’s life. Augustine tells us that Monica was a “proper wife” who was always serving her husband, openly he admired his mother’s willingness to accept the role of a humble female submissive to a dominate male, remarking that it was her submissiveness and extraordinary patience that helped her to escape being beaten by her husband, whereas more assertive women “reaped the rewards” of “curses and blows” from their irate spouses.(46)

Augustine seldom stressed or addressed the joys of family life. In his Confessions he asserts that having a wife and family inhibits contemplation, study, and friendships which men might be able to enjoy together if they are left alone.(47)

If a man was to marry, he was to marry for the sole sake of procreating children. The children would be the man’s penalty for being weak enough to marry, for the children would burden the man with countless responsibilities and prevent him from developing fully his mental and spiritual capacities.

When a man did not fully develop his mental and spiritual capacities, he was prone to sin. The quickest way to sin was through sex. Sex, regardless of how it was used or for what purpose it was engaged in was always sinful since it transfered the curse of Original Sin on to each additional generation.(48)

Although Augustine had little time for sex, he did defend marriage—unlike Jerome; in fact Augustine himself tells us that he felt impelled to write about marriage and human sexuality since no one had ever given a satisfactory answer to Jovinian - not even Jerome!(49)

Unlike Jerome who railed at and mocked women, Augustine presented the philosophy of his day: that women were naturally inferior to men.(50) Sex was only a part of woman, he argued, and it was only after Eden that sex and woman became increasingly evil (Augustine hypothesized that there had been sex in the Garden of Eden—and that it was good, since it was void of lust; lust, Augustine argued further, was the product of sin which came with the eating of the “forbidden fruit”—an aspect of human sexuality which did not plague Adam or Eve in their initial days together when they “enjoyed” sex (51).

Sex could be good, again, Augustine continued, as long as it was engaged in for the sole reason of procreation. If procreation occured,then the embryo was to be allowed to develop into an infant, and the infant was to be born and helped to live to maturity. Augustine had no time for either birth control or abortion, giving twentieth century Roman Catholic theology its source for its stand against both birth control and abortion. In “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” (book 1 of The City of God), Augustine wrote:

The union, then, of male and female for the purpose of procreation is the natural good of marriage. But he makes a bad use of this good who uses it bestially, so that his intention is on the gratification of lust, instead of the desire of offspring. .... Wherefore all parents who do not beget children with this intention, this will, this purpose, of transferring them from being members of Christ, but boast as unbelieving parents over unbelieving children—however circumspect they be in their cohabitation, studiously limiting it to the begetting of children—really have no conjugal chastity in themselves. For inasmuch as chastity is a virtue (even those whose operation is by means of the body) have their seat in the soul, how can the body be in any true sense said to be chaste, when the soul itself is committing fornication against the true God? Now such fornication the holy psalmist censures when he says: “For, lo, they that are far from Thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that they go a whoring from Thee” (Ps. 73: 27). There is then, no true chastity, whether conjugal or vidual, or virginal, except that which devotes itself to true faith. For though consecrated virginity is rightly preferred to marriage, yet what Christian in his sober mind would not prefer Catholic Christian women who have been even more than once married to, not only vestals, but also to heretical virgins?

Augustine did not forget his days of married life—even if he was never “officially” or “legally” married - and a child did result of his union with his concubine. It is contradictory inasmuch as he never married again, this can be only partially explained by remembering that he was nearly forced into the priesthood shortly after his son died, for clergy were not yet forbidden to marry. He continues his arguments in book 1, chapter 16, arguing that a degree of intemperance is to be tolerated in the case of married persons, even though the use of matrimonial sex for mere pleasure is sinful, but declares that the sin of nuptial lust is only venial and not a major sin:

But in the married [state], as these things are desirable and praiseworthy, so the others are to be tolerated, that no lapse occur into damnable sins, that is, into fornications and adulteries. To escape this evil, even such embraces of husband and wife as have not procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence, are permitted, so far as to be within range of forgiveness, though not prescribed by the way of commandment (1 Cor. 7:6): and the married pair are enjoined not to defraud one another, lest Satan should tempt them by reason of their incontinence (1 Cor. 7:5). For thus says the Scriptures: “Let the husband render unto his wife her due; and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise, also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud you not one the other; except it be with consent for a time, that you may have leisure for prayer; and then come together again, that Satan may not tempt you on account of your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” (1 Cor, 7:3-6).


It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful, it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin. For although propagation of offspring is not the motive for intercourse, there is still no attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong desire, or evil appliance [birth control]. They who resort to these, although called by the name of spouses, are really not such; they retain no vestige of true matrimony, but pretend the honorable designation as a cloak for criminal conduct. Having also proceeded so far, they are betrayed into exposing their children, which are born against their will. They hate to nourish and retain those whom they were afraid they would beget. This infliction of cruelty on their offspring so reluctantly begotten, unmasks the sins which they had practised in darkness, and drags it clearly into the light of day. The open cruelty reproves the concealed sin. Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or, if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born. Well, if both parties alike are so flagitious, they are not husband and wife; and if such were their character from the beginning, they have not come together by wedlock but by debauchery.

Sex once more became the means of determining the status of woman. She was the bearer of the child who was sewn into her womb by a man over her. Sex was the determining factor in her demeanment and relegation to an inferior status. She was expected to be proud to be a possible parent and maintain any child conceived in her womb even if it developed there without her consent or will. If she did not wish to have the child or attempted to rid herself of the unborn embryo she was labeled a murderess, a debauchee, a sinner. By the employment of ecclesiological arguments woman was badgered into accepting an inferior status, to be subject to her husband’s will, and to have no say of her own. Regardless of the often quoted Apostole’s injunction that she, too, was to have power over her husband’s body, to attempt to gain the same power as he exercised over hers, was seldom accepted and frequently physically refused and rebuffed. Woman was to become secondary with the rare patina of theological and ontological arguments—arguments which she was increasingly denied to help formulate, interpret, pronounce, or concur with.

Augustine consistently argued about the grace of God coming to man—seldom did he talk about the grace of God coming to a woman, unless it was dispensed through a man. Chauvinism was pregnant in his theology. Part of this can be explained with his own personal sexual dissatisfaction; part of it is lies with his previous alliance with Manichaeanism. The two were mutually exclusive. Sexual desire was a psychological disorder motivated by sin, as he wrote in his Soloquies 1.10: “I feel that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the fondling of woman and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.”

For all of his apparent concern with women,as seen in select passages from his City of God, the true Augustinian thought on woman comes out clearly in his On the Trinity in which he declares boldly that woman was not created in God’s image, contrary to 1 Corinthians 11:2-12), but only man is (7.7, 10):

How then did the Apostle tell us the man is the image of God and therefore he is forbidden to cover his head, but that the woman is not so, and therefore she is commanded to cover hers? Unless according to that which I have said already, when I was treating of the nature of the human mind, that the woman, together with her husband, is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image, but when she is referred to separately in her quality as a helpmate, which regards woman alone, then she is not in the image of God, but, as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.

Woman is born for the good and pleasure of man. She is of no value by herself. She is inferior and without substance. These are the themes Augustine carries in his sermons on the soul. The soul is masculine; all that come to the soul, being less than the soul and subordinate to the soul, is feminine. He wrote:(52)

Just as the spirit (metis interior), like the masculine understanding, holds subject the appetites of the soul through which we command the members of this body, and justly imposes moderation on its helper, in the same way the man must guide the woman and not let her rule over the man; where that indeed happens, the household is miserable and perverse.

Woman was seen as weak, and man was seen as strong by Augustine. Uniquely he attributes woman’s weakness to her generation from the rib of man—ignoring that the rib is a strong substance, hard, hearty, and of value in its own strength, while man, according to the same Creation narrative, was fashioned out of dust which is weak and of no substance or permanence. But Augustine was not concerned with a true analysis of Scripture if it did not meet his needs to subordinate woman in keeping with the chauvinistic theology of the day, for an analysis of Scripture was less valid than a literal interpretation of a printed page which had become almost if not exactly sacred in and of itself, rather than as a record of the ideas about God thought by men who wished to subject themselves and others to that Deity. Recycling past thought on women was easier than creating new thought on women. Past thought gravitated to the sexual aspects, and since most theologians, like Augustine of Hippo had experienced various degrees of sexual frustration, it was easy to condemn sexuality and apply the blame for failed sexuality upon a group of people which had increasingly less say in the Christian church and the Christian community: women.

Sex, women, and religion became the most popular subjects of theologians and clergy to discuss, sermonize on, argue about, and condemn, with little understanding, and no input by women. Sex became the catch-all for condemnation, and yet many of the same men clandestinely sought out the same sexual comforts women afforded them which they so roundly damned.


1. See my Woman in the Apostolic Age, and analysis of the Creation narrative in my Woman in Ancient Israel Under the Torah and Talmud as cited. On the Pauline comments, a recent study has argued that the verses should be understood metaphorically; see Robin A. Scroggs, “Paul and the Eschatological Woman Revisited,” in Journal of the American Academy of Religion (September 1974), pp. 543ff. On early Christian attitudes of men, with rebuttal, see Jean-Marie Aubert, La Femme antifeminisme et christianisme (Paris, 1975), p. 39f.; and Andre Feuillet, “Le signe de puissance sur la tete de la femme, 1 Cor 11, 10,” in Nouvelle Revue Theologique 95 (1973), p. 950.

2. Aubert, loc. cit..

3. Feuillet, loc. cit.

4. See my Woman and St. Paul, p. 121.

5. Stoic-oriented Fathers, such as Clement, were quick to capitalize on this especially when commenting on Eph. 5 :21-33. See my discussion below, and cp. to the writings of Jerome.

6. Katherine M. Rogers, The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature (Seattle, WA, 1966), pp. 14-22.

7. Cf. Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 5:8.

8. Sources chretienne, vol. 138, p. 138sqq.

9. Augustine, City of God, book 18.

10. Stromateis 4, 8, 9.

11. Paedagogus 3.3.

12. Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (Chicago, 1975). Also see my Woman in Ancient Israel Under the Torah and Talmud.

13. Selecta in Exodus XVIII. 17, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 12, cols. 296f.

14. See my Woman in the Age of Christian Martyrs (Mesquite, 1980)

15. Canonical Epistle, chap. 2, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 10, col. 1282.

16. Adversus Collyridianos, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 42, cols. 740ff.

17. See my The Martyrdom of the Lady Crispina (Dallas, 1979), and my The Martyrdom of the Holy Women: Snow, Peace, and Love in Thessalonika in Greece (Dallas, 1978).

18. Eusebius, Church History, 8:17.9.

19. On the Edict of Milan, see Eusebius, Church History, 10:5; on the exemptions, see Codex Theodosianus, 9:16.2, and 16:2.2.

20. Codex Justinianus, 3.12.3.

21. Codex Theodosianus 16.2.4.

22. Codex Justinianus, loc. cit.

23. Eusebius, Church History, 10:6.

24. Ibid..

25. Prescription 7, 13-19, 32; and Apology 17.

26. Adversus Marcionem 5:8; Virginibus Velandis 1; and De Patientia 5.

27. Ibid., cp. Pedagogue 2:10-12.

28. De culta feminarum 1.1.

29. Letters, 39-43:5.

30. Ibid., 51-55:24.

31. Ibid., 72-73:21.

32. Unity of the Church, 4.

33. Thasci Caecili Cypriania: De habitu virginium XII.

34. Migne, Patrologia Latino, vol. 4, cols. 455-457.

35. Cf, “Origen on 1 Corinthians,” ed. Claude Jenkins, in Journal of Theological Studies 10 no. 74 (1908), pp. 40-42.

36. Contra Haereses 3.22.4.

37. Many Gnostics believed that a persons “salvation” or “damnation” was predetermined on the basis of whether or not the individual received the gnosis (knowledge) which was Divine, and thus not dependent upon the person’s individual or collective behavior. True Gnostics believed that they could not forfeit their salvation, no matter how reprehensible their conduct might be or appear to be to those espousing a more traditional morality. The early Church Fathers were highly suspicious and critical of this “predeterminism” of the Gnostics, arguing for freedom of will and choice. For additional information see Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 2d ed, (Boston, 1963), pp. 32f.

38. Stromateis 3; see it as “On Marriage” in Alexandrian Christianity, ed. J.E.L. Oulton and Henry Chadwick, vol. 3 in the Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia, 1954).

39. Cf. Letter 22, “To Eustochium: The Virgin’s Profession,” in Select Letters of St. Jerome, trans. F. A. Wright (Cambridge, MA, 1933): “how often did I fancy myself surrounded by the pleasures of Rome!. . . But though in my fear of hell I had condemned myself to this prison house, where my only companions were scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself surrounded by bands of dancing girls.”

40. Ibid..

41. Letter 48, 20.

42. Cf. David Wiesen, St. Jerome as a Satirist: A Study in Christian Latin Thought and Letters (Ithaca, NY, 1964), chap, 4, p, 119.

43. Confessions 3:5.

44. Adversus Ep. Manichaeus 5.

45. Confessions 9:10-12.

46. Ibid., 9:9.

47. Ibid., 6:14

48. On the Morals of the Manicheans 18.65; and, Adversus Faustus 22, 30. His concept on sin can be seen in his Enchiridion, 100, 107, and his Original Sin, 34. He would defend his concepts at a general council of the church when called upon to refute the “free will thesis” of the British monk Pelagius who argued that all men and women had total free will—which to many seemed tantamount to a reintroduction of Gnosticism. Augustine held that although Adam had been created with total free will and had possessed in the Garden of Eden the ability to keep from sinning, once he chose to sin “after his wife” he forfeited his free will when he made the wrong choice. From that time on Adam lost his ability to choose good and consigned his heirs of the future to the same bleak lot of no free will, which brought with it mortality and the need to die, and the domination of lust. Only through the sacraments, especially baptism, could the worst effects of original sin be mitigated, even though the body would remain tied to this world and subject to both lust and death, but if the mind rose above the desire for carnal knowledge, especially of a woman, then the soul would rise out of the body and join God, Christ, the Angels and Saints in Life Everlasting. Once in heaven true perfection would be attained, and there, with the blessed saints, man would no longer be able to sin, nor need to die again. See Augustine, City of God 22. 30. Selections from Pelagius can be found in translation in Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Bettenson (Oxford, 1967), pp. 52-54.

49. Retractions 2. 22.

50. Treatise on the Sermon on the Mount, Augustine encourages the “Christian man” to love his wife as he would his enemy because of the human potential she possesses within herself and not because of her sexual nature, since he is enjoined to hate her human nature as a sexual woman which “can lead” him “into sin” and thus cost him his chance for eternal life and paradise. See ibid, 1. 15,41.

51. On the Good of Marriage 2.

52. Migne, Patrologia Latino, vol. 34, col. 205.

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