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The Church Fathers from 'Women Priests in the Catholic Church?' by Haye van der Meer

The Church Fathers

Women Priests in the Catholic Church?
by Haye van der Meer, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 46-89.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

The texts from the Fathers are, without exception, quite uni-vocal on the question of whether a woman may be a priest. A woman may not be a priest. But on the question of whether she can be ordained — that is, on the “validity” — there was no speculation. Among the Fathers the universal view prevailed that Paul forbade it once for all time and that, moreover, according to the Divine Will, woman should occupy an inferior role. She is already by her nature, but even more by the Fall, unfitted for a leading role in the Church and in secular society. If it were permitted for a woman to baptize and to preach, then Jesus and the apostles would certainly have sent women forth, for there were so many good and holy women in their midst, and so forth. In brief: the Fathers reject the idea that a woman is capable of holding an office almost as if this were an atrocity.

Yet immediately several things must be added. The fullness of texts is not as great as might be expected.(1) Montanism as well as Priscillianism in Spain recognized women as priests. Despite this, one finds, for example, in P. de Labriolle’s book Les sources de I’histoire du Montanisme,(2) in which various texts relating to Montanism have been collected, only 9 out of 229 items which explicitly go into the woman question. That could of course mean that, even right after the death of the Montanist prophetesses Maximilla and Priscilla, the problem was no longer a real one. But from the statements of someone like Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 375) one rather gets the opposite impression;(3) he is too vehement in his rejection for this. However, the Synod of Constantinople in 482, which still treated Montanism as an existing movement, apparently found other controversies far more important, such as whether and how “the Montanists, who are called Phrygians," should be rebaptized if they convert to orthodoxy.(4) Thus it must not be assumed that just about all the Fathers spoke out against the priesthood of women. There are but relatively few passages on the subject, and these were mostly in commentaries on the letters of Paul or as a reaction against the heretics.

The texts which are cited again and again are the same for all authors: Epiphanius, the Didascalia, Tertullian, Ambrosiaster— occasionally Irenaeus and Augustine.(5)

Because many of these texts occur in a very defined context which is not always taken into proper consideration, I shall sometimes have to be very detailed in my citations. The passages themselves are very clearly against a female priesthood — this neither can nor may be denied — but when cited in context they often lose their harshness.

1. The Decisive Texts

Epiphanius of Salamis is without doubt by far the most important witness. He makes a distinction between the Montanists and the Pepuzians or Quintillians or (Cata-) Phrygians. In reality, however, these are all the same heretics. Thus I cite the relevant texts without distinction.

He confirms that these heretics permit women “to be leaders and priests.” (6) Speaking of the Montanist prophetesses Maximilla and Priscilla, he especially reproaches Maximilla for asserting that she was the last prophetess.(7) He tells of the Phrygians that they ascribed to Eve a special grace because she was the first to eat from the Tree of Knowledge; they call Miriam, the sister of Moses, a prophetess as a precedent for their own women clergy. The same is said of the daughters of the deacon Philip. Among these heretics women are bishops, presbyters, and so on. For, they say, there is no difference between man and woman, and on this point they cite Gal. 3, 28. Epiphanius however refutes them with the following texts: Gen. 3, 16; 1 Cor. 14, 34; 1 Cor. 11, 8; and 1 Tim. 2, 14.8 Contrary to the heretics, who repudiate the gospel according to John and the Apocalypse, he demonstrates that the Apocalypse is certainly a part of Holy Scriptures, for an authentic prophesy can be found within it, namely, concerning Thyatira: “Nevertheless, I have a complaint to make: you are encouraging the woman Jezebel who claims to be a prophetess, and by her teaching she is luring my servants away” (Ap. 2, 20). This prophecy, Epiphanius says, refers to the prophetesses Maximilla and Priscilla, who later actually did appear.(9)

The locus classicus, however, comes from Adversus Collyridianos. After Epiphanius has written against the Antidicomarianites, who do not honor Mary sufficiently, he turns his attention to a group who show Mary divine honor. Who perpetrates this disorder? Who else but women! “For the female sex is easily seduced, weak, and without much understanding. The devil seems to vomit out this disorder through women.” Among other things they offer bread “to the name of Mary.” He begins his refutation like this: “We wish to apply masculine reasoning and destroy the folly of these women.” Never from eternity forward has a woman occupied the priestly office. Not even Eve, who of course committed the transgression, attempted this, nor did her daughters. Then follows a long list of male priests from the Old Testament, “and nowhere did a woman serve as priest.” Moving to the New Testament, he immediately starts out: If God had enjoined the priesthood or “the administration of any kind of office” in the Church on women, then Mary would have had to be a priest. “But He did not will it.”

Even baptism was not entrusted to her; for in that case Christ could better have been baptized by her than by John. Then follows a long list of apostles and bishops: “And nowhere is a woman introduced among them.” Philip of course had four daughters who were prophetesses, but they were not priests. Likewise Anna was not a priest, but a prophetess, for Joel 2 must be fulfilled. There are deaconesses in the church, though not to fulfill sacerdotal functions but for the sake of propriety in baptisms and so forth. Beyond this he cites 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2. From where did this new myth, this “female folly” arise? Let us examine the words of Job and also say, “You speak like a foolish woman” (Job 2, 10). Then he proceeds on to his chief concern, the false worship of the mother of God. Which of the prophets has ever commanded that a human being be worshiped? To say nothing of the worship of a woman! God did not become human of the virgin Mary so that she might be worshiped, nor that many generations later women might be priests. Nor did God will that Mary herself be a priest; he did not enjoin her to baptize, nor to bless disciples, nor to rule on earth. And then he gives a list of women in the gospels, none of whom were priests. And the point of the entire exposition is that Mary should be held in honor; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should be worshiped. But no one should worship Mary. In conclusion a few more citations from Proverbs on the evil woman are produced and repeated: every heresy is an evil woman, but how much more these heresies of women! Eve should be honored but not imitated.(10)

Lafontaine(11) should be read on the justice of Epiphanius’ statements on the Collyridians. Information can also be found there on the offerings of cakes to the feminine deity (Ishtar, Venus?) by all the Semitic peoples (cf. Jer. 7, 18; 44, 19). More details on the Philomarianites are also included. Lafontaine should also be consulted on the reliability of Epiphanius’ statements on the question of whether the Montanists did or did not have female priests.(12)

More can be read in Epiphanius about Eve and woman in general: The devil, completely unable to direct thoughts of the male, who gets his strength from the knowledge of God, from the truth, turned to the woman — that is, to the ignorance of humanity. And he seduced those who were in ignorance. The ignorant, people without firm ideas — that is the feminine in humanity.(13)

John of Damascus, who is clearly dependent on Epiphanius, presents similar ideas.(14)

What can be said to all this? Certainly Epiphanius is a witness to the idea that there have never been women priests and that they were not thought desirable. We have seen that he did refer to what was according to him a universal principle: there have never been women priests, even Mary was not a priest, Paul has forbidden it; but his chief concern was to demonstrate how great an offense it is to worship Mary. The reader is left with the unavoidable impression that in his mind, “female priests in the Church” must inevitably lead to the adoration of a female deity, or vice versa. Thus his rejection of a female deity forced him also to repudiate women priests. But that, in our opinion, makes his witness rather weak, for it can immediately be objected: If it is a fact that these two questions are necessarily connected, then there must be no female priests. But if it is not so — and the burden of proof lies in this case upon those who believe that Epiphanius’ ideas can be adduced as a basis for the repudiation of a female priesthood — then Epiphanius is eliminated from the chain of Patristic witnesses.

But the argumentation of the text from Epiphanius has the same weakness we pointed out earlier in reference to Paul: Is he really speaking on the same subject as we are when we talk about woman? Has not woman, or at least her position, become something else? Yes, we too can now and again speak of the “weaker” sex, of its talkativeness, and so on. But we cannot say any longer in all seriousness, “The female sex is easily led astray, weak, and without much intelligence.” Obviously Epiphanius was correct in excluding women, who at that time were “without much intelligence” (or whom he then judged to be so), from office. But we can no longer ascribe these characteristics to the sex as such. And who of us still seriously believes that Satan began with the woman with good reason because woman as such is frailer and the man has received his strength from the knowledge of God? (We will later see more texts in which woman’s being an “image of God” and therefore also her knowledge of God are denied.) One dogmatic theologian of our time still agrees with Epiphanius in this respect, but what he says will appear to most other people as pure fantasy:

The devil tempted Eve, not Adam, because she — although both possessed the gift of integritas— could fall more easily than the man; for she — prescinding from the more abundant grace which Adam doubtless was given — was more easily led astray and weaker in resistance.(15)

Is that true only of Eve? In that case it might be asked how Sagüés knew that. Or is it true for all women? That would be just as difficult to prove; in any case it must not be presumed, but must be demonstrated.

The feminine is not to our way of thinking the archetype of ignorance, of humanity without firmness of mind. Were that true, males might again pray the Jewish blessing which Paul rejected in Gal. 3, 28.

The Didascalia and Apostolic Constitutions are not especially friendly to women. These writings are concerned with, among other things, widows, who at that time filled some ecclesiastical functions. I am working here with the German translation of the Syriac Didascalia made by Achelis and Flemming.

A widow should not concern herself with anything but praying for her benefactor and for the entire Church. And if she is asked anything by anyone, she should not respond immediately, unless it is a matter only of justice and faith in

God, and she should send those who would learn to the authorities. . . . But on the matter of the destruction of idols and the fact that there is but one God, on torment and peace, on the kingdom of Christ’s name and on his Lordship, no widow and no layperson is obliged to speak. For inasmuch as they speak without knowledge of the teaching they bring calumny upon the Word. ... If the heathens who are converted hear the Word of God, unless it is proclaimed to them in an orderly fashion as is proper for the building of eternal life, especially if it is taught to them by a woman how our Lord was clothed in a body and about the passion of Christ, they laugh and jest instead of praising the word of teaching, and each makes himself guilty of the great Judgment. It is thus not necessary or even urgently demanded that women be teachers, especially in reference to the name of Christ and the Redemption by his passion. For you women and especially you widows are not installed to teach but to pray and to entreat the Lord God. For he, God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, sent forth us twelve to teach the people and the heathens. There were women disciples with us: Mary Magdalen . . . ; nevertheless he did not send them with us to teach the people. For if it had been necessary that women teach, then our Teacher would have commanded them to instruct with us.(16)

Concerning woman, we advise her not to baptize or to be baptized by a woman, for that is a transgression of the commandment and very dangerous for her who baptizes and her who is baptized.

For if it were permitted to be baptized by a woman, then our Lord and Master would have been baptized by his mother Mary; but he was baptized by John. . . . Bring then no danger upon yourselves, brothers and sisters, by behaving as though you stand outside the law of the gospel.(17)

Prescriptions follow that a deaconess should assist at the baptism of a woman. And there are houses to which one cannot send a deacon and therefore sends a deaconess.(18)

Thus we see that even the apparently universal and principled assertions on women of the Didascalia and the Apostolic Constitutions, if they are quoted individually, do have a very definite context. Women should not give information on religion to the heathens: it is presupposed as obvious that they lack the knowledge. The prohibition of baptism is clearly merely for the sake of decency: the person to be baptized was completely naked. And in the special material of the Apostolic Constitutions the Greek female deities emerge: thus here too, as in the writings of Epiphanius, the female priesthood is considered bound up with the veneration of female deities. Beyond this, as Achelis points out, the widows in their spiritual functions (teaching, baptizing, visiting the sick and sinners) were out for money(19) and thus in this way were in competition with the bishops. He believes that the deprecatory attitude of the author (who was himself a bishop) stems at least in part from that fact, as does the warning that they should merely remain at home and pray.(20) But Achelis does perhaps push too far when, without further proof, he adds: “The principle ‘Let the woman be silent in the Church’ held true almost nowhere in the Church. They exercised all rights which were reserved to the charismatics; they taught, baptized, celebrated the Eucharist, forgave sins. There were certainly many congregations which were ruled only by a woman or by women.” (21)

In the case of Tertullian it is known that a distinction must be made according to the period from which the pertinent text comes. It is quite clear that in his Montanist period he was not as vigorous in excluding women from the area of charismata, although he never did completely lose his misogyny. For the dating of his works I am following Bardy in DThC.(22)

From his Catholic period:

And even the heretical women, how bold and indecorous they are! They dare to teach, to argue, to undertake exorcism, to promise healings, perhaps also even to baptize.(23)

De Baptismo. He amplifies:

That a poisonously swollen adder from the heretical party of Caius, who recently resided here, seduced very many through her teachings in which she rejected baptism. Completely according to her nature! For according to the law of nature the adders, vipers, and basilisks seek out the dry and waterless places. But we, the little fishes, in accordance with our Ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in water and are saved only if we remain in water. Therefore that monster, who never had a proper right to teach, understood very well how to kill the little fishes by taking them out of the water.(24)

Speaking later in this same work about who has the right to dispense baptism, he says:

The highest priest, who is the bishop, has the right to impart it, and after him the priests and deacons, though not without the permission of the bishop. ... In other cases even the laity have the right.

The laity however baptize only in emergencies, in which case it is also an obligation. Women alone are not permitted to baptize, even in emergencies:

The arrogance of women who presume to desire to teach will, let us hope, not also appropriate the right to baptize, lest perhaps a new beast similar to the earlier mentioned one should arise, so that, just as she abolished baptism, in similar fashion another woman would of herself confer it.

If women believe that they can refer to the Acta Pauli et Theclae (in which it is told how Thecla herself baptized), they are to be told that the document is forged. For how could it be believed that Paul permitted something like that:

How probable is it that he [Paul], who consistently denied women permission to learn, would have granted them the power to teach and to baptize? “They should be silent,” he expressed himself, “and ask their husbands at home.” (25)

From his semi-Montanist period we quote from “De Virginibus velandis.” In what precedes he had spoken on the question of whether everything which is predicated of the word “woman” (mulier) is also true of “virgin” (virgo).

We wish to consider whether . . . the prescriptions on church discipline for the woman also hold for virgins. It is not permitted to the woman to speak in the church, nor to teach, to baptize, to present [the offering], nor to pretend to any kind of function reserved to man, to say nothing of the sacerdotal office [sacerdotalis officii sortem sibi vindicare]. We wish to inquire however whether something of the above may be permitted to virgins.

The answer is clear: of course not! Did she take the veil in order to play the most important role once again? None of these is proper for her.(26)

In Adversus Marcionem, he shows his Montanist tendencies. Speaking of the charismata, he says:

In precisely the same manner, when enjoining on women silence in the Church, that they speak not for the mere sake of learning (although that even they have the right of prophesying, he has already shown when he covers the woman that prophesies with a veil), he goes to the law for his sanction that woman should be under obedience. Now this law, let me say once for all, he ought to have made no other acquaintance with, than to destroy it.

And further on he invites Marcion to prove the authenticity of his teaching;

Prove to me that even a single woman from among his specially saintly women prophesized.(27)

In De exhortatione castitatis he approves of an idea which “was proclaimed by the holy prophetess Prisca.”(28)

Thus Tertullian in his Catholic period rejected any cultic activity for women. But what was his understanding of this creature he thought necessary to repel on the basis of its sex? His misogyny is famous enough that we wish only to present one illustration. In De cultu feminarum he writes:

If there existed upon earth a faith in proportion to the reward that faith will receive in heaven, no one of you, my beloved sisters, from the time when you came to know the living God and recognized your own state, that is, the condition of being a woman, would have desired too attractive a garb, much less anything that seemed too ostentatious. I think, rather, that you would have dressed in mourning garments and even neglected your exterior, acting the part of mourning and repentant Eve in order to expiate more fully by all sorts of penitential garb that which woman derives from Eve — the ignominy, I mean, of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race. “In sorrow and anxiety, you will bring forth, O woman, and you are subject to your husband, and he is your master.” Do you not believe that you are [each] an Eve?

The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And you still think of putting adornments over the skins of animals that cover you? (29)

How extreme his exaggeration is can be seen in his admonition to expiate for Original Sin (cf. Denz. Schönm. 2319 for a contrary opinion); Jesus died on account of her sin; and emergency baptism was forbidden a woman. For this reason he could not understand that a woman is a full member of the Church and can be an instrument of Christ in baptism. Thus he proceeded logically in holding that a woman might not “sacerdotalis officii sortem sibi vindicare.” But whether that reflects the authentic tradition of doctrine is in itself the question.

In the text Adversus Marcionem, nothing of course can be concluded from the phrase “prophetandi ius,” because this writing comes from his Montanist phase.(30)

The statements of Ambrosiaster leave nothing to be desired as far as clarity is concerned. From his commentaries on Paul, I cite a passage on 1 Cor. 11:

Although man and women are of the same essence, nevertheless the man, because he is the head of the woman, should be given priority, for he is greater because of his causal nature and his reason, not because of his essence. Thus the woman is inferior to man, for she is a part of him, because the man is the origin of woman; from that and on account of that the woman is subject to the man, in that she is under his command. . . . The man is created in the image of God, but not the woman. . . . Because sin began with her, she must wear this sign [the veil]; as she may not let her head remain uncovered in the church out of reverence for the bishop, so too she should have no power to speak; for the bishop assumes the place of Christ.(31)

He does not in any way recognize the prophetic role of woman, who must only pray silently to herself.

On 1 Cor. 14 he writes:

Now he states that which he [above] passed over, when he commanded that the women should veil themselves in the congregational assembly; now he shows that she should be silent and reticent. . . . For if the man is the image of God but the woman is not, she is on the basis of the law of nature subordinate to him. How much more must she be subordinate in the church on account of the reverence for him who is the ambassador of him who is also the head of the man: “For they are not allowed to speak, but must be silent, even the law says.” What does the law say? “You should turn to your husband, he will rule over you.” This is a special law; because of it Sarah called her husband Abraham “Lord,” and because of it they should be silent. ... If she also is one flesh [with the man], she should, moreover, be subordinate for two reasons: first because she came from the man, and then because through her sin came [into the world]. . . . For it is shameful for women to speak in church. It is shameful because it is contrary to discipline that in the house of God, who has commanded that they be subordinate to their husbands, they should presume to speak on the law.(32)

On 1 Tim. 2 he writes:

He placed man over the woman because he was created first so that the woman is inferior [to him], because she was created after and out of the man. He adds a second reason, that the devil seduced not the man but the woman.(33)

On 1 Tim. 3, 11:

Because the apostle addressed women after the deacons, the Cataphrygians seized the opportunity for error and hold with baseless arrogance that deaconesses should also be ordained, although they know that the apostles chose seven males as deacons. Was it that there were no suitable women to be found, when we read that holy women accompanied the twelve apostles? But as the heretics appear to base their reasoning on the words rather than on the meaning of the law, the words of the apostle strive against the meaning of the apostle; thus, although he commands that woman shall be silent in the church, they on the contrary claim for her an authority of ministry in the church.(34)

On Col. 3, 11:

Woman is the image of God only as she is redeemed, not through Creation.(35)

Because Ambrosiaster obviously was familiar with the Montanist heresy with its women priests, it must be asked whether in his battle with the heretics he did not with one sweep throw away something good together with the false. More about this later. In the chapter on Scripture we have already seen that his interpretation of 1 Cor. 14 is false: Paul in 1 Cor. 11 is not speaking about soundless prayer which women should perform veiled in order to treat the authentic teaching on women’s speaking later in 1 Cor. 14. And what Ambrosiaster says of 1 Tim. 3, 11 — that it is a “vain presumption” to consecrate deaconesses — is certainly no witness to a “unanimous teaching of the Fathers,” but merely a witness to his vast ignorance of what was happening in his own time. The popes permitted the consecration of deaconesses up into the eleventh century! Finally, Ambrosiaster’s general attitude toward women makes no sense to us. It is understandable that he thought that a woman should not be a priest, for she was according to him not an “image of God” by nature but only subsequently by the Redemption. If it is going too far to say that woman has altered her state (like money, cf. chapter II), it is yet true that our insight into the essence of woman has altered. Should not the view of what a woman can become change at the same time? In any case a proof accomplished with the help of passages from Ambrosiaster has an ambivalence in the use of the word “woman.”

The Irenaeus passage, which is quoted copiously,(36) is not especially significant. In statements on the heretic Mark, Irenaeus tells how these women were permitted to fulfill some kind of eucharistic procedure, and he disapproves in fairly indefinite general terms.

Augustine calls upon Epiphanius in his passage on the Pepuzians and Quintillians in De haeresibus, and then relates that these heretics have women priests.(37)

Praedestinatus likewise refers to Epiphanius and says the same, word for word, as Augustine.(8)

These last passages signify very little. Naturally they reject, along with the heresy, the heretics’ custom of ordaining women. But here arises the question of the criterion which we must apply to see clearly where the Fathers, in their battle against the heretics, brought a matter of faith to the level of consciousness, and where they were merely conservative and more time-bound than the heretics. The latter possibility obviously is not an implicit reproach against these Fathers. It is completely legitimate to let the temporal circumstances be a factor in the battle against over-hasty sectarians. But it is the task of later researchers to go into the question of what was time-bound and what was supratemporal.

These are the Patristic passages customarily cited by the dogmatic theologians to demonstrate their thesis that a woman cannot be a priest. A few more could be added:

Firmilian of Caesarea says in an anti-Montanist writing:

Here suddenly there arises a woman who fell into ecstasy and pretended to be a prophetess and behaved as though she were full of the Holy Ghost. . . . This spirit had also duped one of the presbyters, by name of Rusticus, and still another man, a deacon, so that they were involved along with this woman. . . . But that woman had also been so bold as frequently to do the following: amid an in no way contemptible invocation she affected to sanctify the bread and celebrate the Eucharist and offered the sacrifice to the Lord, [not] without the mystery of the usual customary words; and she undertook many baptisms with the use of the customary and proper formula of questions, so that she seemed not to deviate at all from the ecclesiastical rule.(39)

John Chrysostom, in his commentary on 1 Tim., Homily 9, says, after an elucidation of the text, that in Paul’s time the women were in fact silent, but now there is much noise, more than in the marketplace or in the baths. But Paul said not only that the women should be silent on day-to-day affairs but also on spiritual affairs. In order to cut off any possibility of speech, he further said that they should not teach. Through their silence, women show their subjection. “For somehow the [female] sex is given to chatter; therefore he does not permit it to utter a single word.”

Then he speaks further on the subjection of woman. The male sex is of higher honor, for the man was created first; once woman did instruct man, and she brought everything to confusion; and she brought him to disobedience. Therefore God made her subject, because she had misused her preeminence — or better, her equal value. Thereupon he explained how Paul could say that Eve was seduced, but not Adam. For the Old Testament states that Eve said “The snake seduced me,” but Adam said, “She gave me to eat, and I did eat.” Moreover Eve was deceived by a lower being, Adam by a free being. And it is not written of Adam that he saw that the fruit was good to eat. He was thus not seized by sensual desire. Then he proceeds: the prohibition on teaching is intended for all women, even now; “For the sex (as such) is weak and frivolous.” And Paul does not say that Eve was seduced, but that the woman was seduced.(40)

Origen, in his Commentary on Isaias, allegorizes the washing of the feet; he explains it as “instruction.” Then he mentions the widows who wash feet (1 Tim. 5, 19) and also quotes the Pauline passage: The older women are to teach what is good and so train the young women to be chaste (Tit. 2, 3 f.). Then he says:

The widows have earned ecclesiastical honor for they wash the feet of the saints through the word of spiritual teaching — not, however, the feet of holy men, but of holy women. For it is not permitted that woman teach or rule over man. He desires that the women teach good by training young women, but not young men, to purity; for it is improper that a woman be the teacher of a man.(41)

Augustine says that although Eve was not yet created, God already spoke to Adam in the plural: “You should not eat.” And that was correct, for the Lord’s command was delivered to the woman through the man. “The apostle defended this order in the Church when he said: But if they desire to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home.”(42)

2. No Accord on Woman

Earlier we raised the question of the criterion to be used to decide in which points the Fathers in their battle with the heretics had raised a matter of faith to the conscious level, and in which points they rejected material from the heretics that was useful of itself. In any case one thing is clear: there was not much accord either in the Patristic period itself or later on. The Fathers, for example, in their battle against the Montanists rejected several notions which we today hold as justified and which even in their own day had long existed legitimately elsewhere in the church. And that refers not only to certain customs concerning woman, but also to ideas on woman. Thus even on that there was no unanimity.

We must confront the various opinions with one another in a fairly explicit manner, in order to show that it can scarcely be said that there was a moral “unanimity” among the Fathers on the questions of what a woman is, what she may do in the Church, and what her essence is. And on some points on which a moral unanimity seemed to exist among the Fathers, their concepts were abandoned in later times.

Of course there was one point on which there has been unanimity through all times and in all places: a woman should not be a priest. But even if the problem and the evidence are limited to this, all the questions on “the same subject” and on the contrasting situations of woman in the secular and in the religious-official areas still return.

Here, however, we shall first discuss the diverging opinions on woman.

Origen does not wish women to speak “in the church”; they may speak elsewhere and even before a public which consists only of women (we quote here the translation of de Labriolle):

Everyone speaks or would be able to speak, if he receives a revelation, except women who should remain silent in the church, the Apostle says. This is a prescription which is not obeyed by the followers of women, those who allow themselves to be instructed by Priscilla and Maximilla. . . . Let us respond to those objections which carry conviction. “Philip the evangelist,” they say, “had four daughters and they prophesied.” We are going to resolve the objection. . . . The daughters of Philip prophesied, but in no case did they speak in the church; we see nothing approaching it in the Acts of the Apostles. ... A woman can have license to be a prophetess, but that can not give her permission to speak in the church. When the prophetess Miriam spoke [cf. Exodus 15, 20] she was at the head of a certain number of women.(43)

But Irenaeus says without qualification:

In his letter to the Corinthians he spoke expressly of the prophetic charism, and he mentioned men and women who prophesied in the church.(44)

We have already seen in chapter II that Paul does not actually say that women should be silent especially in the church, at least not in 1 Cor. 11 and not in 1 Cor. 14, at most in 1 Tim. 2. Even Chrysostom still testifies that in Paul’s time women spoke publicly: “There are men and women who spoke prophetically, for women too at that time had this charism, as the daughters of Philip, like others before and after them,” as Joel (2, 28) and Peter (Acts 2, 17f.) (45) have said.

Eusebius even used the fact that after the death of Maximilla the Montanists no longer had prophets and prophetesses as proof that they did not possess the Holy Spirit.46

Certainly those writers who asserted that women were not permitted to write books under their own name restricted too many of the rights of women in their battle against Montanism. From a debate between a Montanist and an Orthodox Christian we gather the following;

The Montanist defends female prophets with an appeal to the daughters of Philip and to 1 Cor. 11, 5. The Orthodox responds that he has nothing against prophetesses — Mary prophesied in the Magnificat: all generations shall call me blessed etc. — but they must not speak “in the congregational assembly,” not “lord it over men so that they even write books under their own name”: for they must not prophesy with uncovered head, and if they do perform such a forbidden act, they dishonor their head, i.e., the man. Mary could certainly have written books, but for that reason she did not do it. The Montanist: Is writing books then the same thing as prophesying with an uncovered head? The Orthodox: Yes! The Montanist: When Mary said, “All generations shall call me blessed, etc.,” did she have her head covered? Orthodox: She had the evangelist as a veil, for the gospel was not signed with her name.(47)

We find the same ideas also in Didymus of Alexandria.(48)

On the prohibition of baptism by women there is in any case no accord in tradition. Tertullian, the Didascalia, and Epiphanius do of course mention it (see the texts above) and doubts on the validity of a baptism dispensed by a woman still appear to have existed in the eleventh century, for Pope Urban II had to speak on this expressly;49 but on this point these writers were certainly no witnesses of an authentic tradition but were only vehement anti-Montanists.

The persuasive power of the tradition that Mary Magdalen was not commissioned to preach, which we have seen in Epiphanius and in the Didascalia, runs aground on another tradition — that Mary and Martha were apostles to Provence.(50) Whether or not this second tradition is historically tenable does not matter in this context, for it exists as a tradition and thus contradicts the first.

It is often emphasized by the Fathers that woman is subject to man and bound to silence in the congregation because she is not the “image of God,” especially in connection with 1 Cor. 11.

Cyril of Alexandria: Woman is indeed created according to the image and likeness of God, but “only through the man, so that in a way she is distinguished a little [from him] in reference to nature.” (51)

The excessively clear and almost harsh statements of Ambrosiaster on this we have already quoted above. We find the same idea in Pseudo-Augustine:

How does it happen that, although man and woman are one flesh, the man is the image of God but the woman is not? In any case man and women are of one essence in spirit as in body, but in rank the man is higher, because the woman is from him, as the Apostle says: the head of the woman is the man. The fact that he was the original being, not his essence, gives the man a higher rank. For in a body there are more important and less important members, not according to nature, but according to class.(52)

Rabanus Maurus is already somewhat more nuanced:

The man is greater on the basis of his original being and his mind, not on the basis of his essence. Woman stands beneath man, for she is a part of him. The man, but not the woman, is created according to the image of God; on the other hand only the human mind, which clearly not only men but also women possess, is capable of perceiving and contemplating eternal ideas.

Nevertheless woman is not the image of God in “that part of the mind which is concerned with leadership in secular affairs.” (53)

In the same spirit Peter Lombard writes:

The man is the head of the woman, just as the spirit rules the realm of the senses. For man is created according to the image of God, but not woman. In man understanding by nature rules much more than in woman, The woman is of course also created according to the image of God, but only in reference to the understanding, in which there exists no distinction between the sexes. The human being is as spirit the image of God; the man is so entirely; the woman, however, only insofar as she holds firmly to inalterable truth. For woman is a creature of the senses, because in her sensuality has precedence. It is a deplorable family situation where the woman rules over the man.(54)

In another passage he writes, “Woman is the type of the flesh. Adam is the type of understanding.”(55)

That woman should not be called the “image of God,” or is so only in her spirit, is, at least for us today, hardly believable as part of the traditional deposit of faith. In any case it is certainly a point which would have to be demonstrated, because it does not obviously proceed from 1 Cor. 11. Pius XII oftentimes said that woman is the image of God (cf. the papal addresses which are quoted in chapter IV).

But it is not only for us that woman is the image of God. On this point other Fathers too have spoken very differently than those just cited.

Basil in his homily on the martyr Julitta says:

Still she told the women surrounding her not to shudder weakly in the face of suffering for the faith, not to hide behind the frailty of their nature. “We are,” she said, “of the same stuff as men. Like them, we are created according to the image of God. The female sex is made receptive to virtue by the Creator, just as the male is. How? Are we not related to men in all things? It was not merely flesh that was taken from him for the creation of woman, but also bone of his bone. For this reason we owe the Lord as much constancy, robust courage, and patience as do the men.”(56)

Quite remarkable, and certainly not unanimously accepted in the church, is the comparison which we find in both Origen and Augustine: the higher portion of the soul is compared to the man, the lower part of the soul to the woman. Augustine expresses himself as follows:

Woman is, it is said, created as a helper [adiutorium] to man . . . while he rules, she obeys; he is guided by wisdom, she by the man. For the head of the man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man. . . . Moreover it implies that the body occupies a subordinate position, which accounts not only for the fact that the soul governs the body, but also for the fact that the masculine reason subordinates to itself its ensouled part through whose help it commands the body. As an example of this, woman was created, who in the order of nature is subordinate to the man, so that there can also be observed in one person what appears even more clearly in two, that is, in man and woman: Just as the spirit [mens interior], like the masculine understanding, holds subject the appetites of the soul through which we command the members of the 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.(57)

In another passage he allegorizes the words from Gen. 2, “bone of bone and flesh of flesh” and explains them as the virtues of bravery and moderation. And these two virtues belong to the “lower part of the soul.”(58)

Origen writes in the same vein:

As man and woman he created them; and that is “according to allegorical exegesis”: our inner person consists of spirit and soul. The man is called spirit, the woman can be called soul. . . . These two parts beget as sons good thoughts and useful considerations through which they fulfill the earth.(59)

Who goes along with this today? He would have had to have read a more convincing proof ahead of time!

Or how must one understand the following: the woman is equal to the man in the spirit but subject to him in the body?

Augustine says:

We see how in the soul [of people] there dwells a power which rules through judgment, and another which subjects itself in obedience; so too is woman according to the body created for the man. Although according to the spirit she possesses the same rational knowledge as the man, through her sex she is subject to him, as the impetus for practical matters subordinates itself to reason, in order to receive from it the capacity to act correctly.(60)

But even these are the most favorable references. In other passages one scarcely can avoid concluding that the man is simply identified with the spirit, and the woman with the flesh. Augustine in his Commentary on John 1, 13, “Not out of the urge of the flesh,” states:

Flesh stands for woman, because she was made out of a rib. . . . The apostle has said: Who loves his woman loves himself; for no one hates his own flesh. Flesh thus stands for the wife, as sometimes also spirit for the husband. Why? Because the former rules, that latter is ruled; the former should govern, the latter serve. For where the flesh governs and the spirit serves, the house is upside down. What is worse than a house where the woman has governance over the man? But that house is proper where the man commands, the woman obeys. So also is that person rightly ordered where the spirit governs and the flesh serves.(61)

In the same way, Origen in one passage simply calls good acts masculine, and bad acts feminine:

What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine; for God does not vouchsafe to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.(62)

This reflects an understanding of woman which makes it quite comprehensible how these Fathers in their time could not admit any female priests, but we are not bound to this latter conclusion unless we arrive at it on the basis of some other evidence.

Yet not all the Fathers thought this way. A few actually recognized that a woman can be even more gifted than her husband and that she then should guide him.

Gregory of Nazianzus wrote of his dead mother:

To my father the woman whom God had given him was not only a helpmate . . , , she was also a guide. . . . She believed it was best to accommodate herself to the law of marriage and thus to subordinate herself to her husband, yet she was not ashamed to offer herself as a teacher in religious questions . . . through remonstrance, instruction, intercession, discretion.(63)

Chrysostom: in 1 Cor. 7, 12 ff., where Paul proceeds from the idea that the believing woman can save the unbelieving man — and that means, says Chrysostom, “if she teaches and instructs” —he asks how that may be permitted, for the woman should not “teach.” Does Paul here raise the woman “to the professorial chair”? Yes! For the woman should not teach because she was seduced, whereas the man was not seduced (in paradise). But the believing woman is not seduced, just because she is believing; and the unbelieving man is seduced. And therefore what is valid elsewhere for women is valid in this case for him: “He should learn.” (64)

Jerome: “The man should love [his] woman, but the woman should fear [her] man. For love is fitting for the man, but fear for the woman.” But it is also notable that there are many women who are better than their men. “Whether these [women] should govern or fear their men, I leave to the judgment of the reader.”(65) If then Augustine, as we hear, calls out, “Sad and perverse home, where the man lets the woman govern,” it is not at all to be understood as a firm conviction of the Fathers, but only as illustrative material for the real assertion, namely, that the spirit should govern in people.

When Augustine says that the woman could come to “knowledge of God” outside of paradise only on condition that the man be made her lord (which was her punishment), he is certainly alone. He asks whether Adam, who was spiritualis in spirit but not in body, could indeed have believed the deceptions of the snake. No, he could not, for he was “gifted with a spiritual disposition.” Perhaps this is why he was given the woman (a variant text: the snake went to the woman), “who had a limited understanding and perhaps as yet lived according to the dispositions of the flesh, not according to the dispositions of the spirit.” Is that the reason why the apostle does not recognize her as an image of God? Not that she was not capable of an existence as an image of God, for the apostle says that in grace we are neither woman nor man; but perhaps because “she had not yet received what occurs in the knowledge of God, and what she would receive only by and by through the leadership and guidance of the man.” (66)

In another passage he does see woman in paradise, and thus without the governance of man, as capable of the knowledge of God and thus also of an existence as an image of God:

Just women are not excluded from the grace of renewal and restoration as the image of God — although in their female bodies it takes a somewhat different form, for which reason it is said that only the man is the image and glory of God — so also had she in the original state of humanity (in which woman was also a human) her reason and her understanding on the basis of which she too is said to be created in the image of God.(67)

We have already mentioned that there was no unanimity on the deaconesses. Ambrosiaster rejected them (or at least their ordination), as later, for example, also did the first Council of Arausicanum.(68) But even the most eager fighter against women in office, Epiphanius, permits deaconesses.

Other Fathers too recognize women “in apostolic service.” Origen writing on Rom. 16, 1, says: “And this passage teaches with apostolic authority that even women [can] stand in the service of the church.” (69)

Jerome comments on the same passage from Paul:

Likewise here the apostle shows that not [only] man may be accepted or chosen, but also woman, for he sends the Romans a letter through a woman. In this same letter he offers his greetings to other women. So today too among the Orientals, for example, deaconesses publicly assist persons of their own sex in their baptism or stand in the service of the Word, for we perceive that women have taught in the household circle, like Priscilla whose husband was called Aquila.(70)

Rabanus Maurus quotes precisely the passage from Origen(71) that was reproduced above.

In the fourth chapter we shall see prohibitions from the old synods, for example, that women may not enter the sanctuary. In other places, however, it was expressly permitted.

Old canons forbid women to hand the holy vestments to the priests and to touch the holy vessels. The latter, at least, is now superseded (for citations see the next chapter).

A few Fathers forbid women to pray aloud and sing in the congregational assembly. Cyril of Jerusalem, for example, says that virgins should pray the psalms in silence or read in silence in their meetings; they should speak only with the lips so that nothing can be heard; “for I do not permit the woman to speak in the church.” Other women should act likewise.(72)

Gregory of Nazianzus, in the eulogy on his mother, says, “It is to be added that her voice was never audible in sacred assemblies.” (73)

The Council of Auxerre (578) likewise forbids choirs of virgins.(74)

But Gregory of Nyssa mentions virgins’ choirs in liturgical celebrations without opposing them. They should merely stand separate from the men.(75)

Odo Casel sees the reason for the various prohibitions against women singing in church in the reaction against the heretics who granted too much to women.(76) And still later, in 1784, the Propaganda Fide forbade the leading of singing in the church by women.(77) The prohibition of women singing in the church was enjoined still more by Pius X on the grounds that women could not be admitted to real liturgical functions.(78) Pius XII, as is well known, again permitted it, though with the stipulation “outside the presbyterium or the altar rail.” (79)

So it is evident that the Fathers did not consciously create inalterable concepts in their battle with the heretics — and that something like this could continue to operate for hundreds of years and could be altered again too.

It is not necessary to explain further that the Fathers said many things which no longer obligate us today. Just one more example will be presented, which is also extremely interesting because it shows at the same time an anti-Montanist exaggeration.

Eusebius of Caesarea quotes an ancient writer (Apollonius) who reproached the Montanists:

Does all Scripture seem to you to prohibit a prophet from receiving gifts and money? When, therefore, I see that a prophetess has received gold and silver and expensive clothes, how shall I not reprove her? . . , For, although the Lord said: “Do not possess gold, nor silver, nor two coats,” [prophetesses] in complete opposition have offended by possession of these forbidden things. . . . Does a prophet lend money at usury? (80)

Thus we must conclude: there was no unanimity on the position of woman, nor have we a clear criterion to distinguish where the Fathers have consciously formulated dogma in their argumentation with the heretics and where variable time-bound concepts have prevailed. But — and this must always be kept in mind — there was certainly a moral unanimity on the idea that no woman may be a priest. No one doubted that. Nevertheless we must inquire further. For we have already noted in many of the texts previously cited that the Fathers had almost a different subject before them than we have when we speak of woman.

3. The Other Subject of the Patristic Statements

Applicable perhaps for some of their contemporaries, but certainly not for us, are many statements on woman in general which show to what a great extent the Fathers thought in a time-conditioned way and thus how greatly their repudiation of the priesthood of woman arose from a remarkable — to say the least — conception of woman; thus we are justified in asking whether they were not actually speaking of a completely different subject.

An excellent example is Augustine, who very categorically and expressly asserts that woman was created only for the reproduction of the human race and that in all other matters a male can be more “congruently” helped by another male.

But if it is asked why this help [woman] was created, it is probable that there is no other reason than for the generation of children, just as the earth is a help for the seed. . . . For if woman were not created as such a help for man, to produce children, for what other help would she be made? If also to till the earth, it must be answered that there was no laborious task for which man needed her help, and if there were, a man would be a better helper. The same can be said of companionship if the man perhaps were bored with his solitude. For how much more fitting for common life and conversation would it be if two male friends rather than a man and woman lived together? But if they should live together so that the one commanded and the other obeyed, so that no contradictory decisions disturbed the peace of those living together, then — for the sake of this relationship — the order is not out of place according to which the one is created earlier, the other later, most especially if the later be created from the earlier, as occurred in the creation of woman. Could anyone say that God was able to create only a woman from man’s rib, and not a man — had he so wished? Therefore, I cannot see how woman should be made a help to man except by childbearing.(81)

If that is true, men would also perform their priestly work better if they were supported only by one another. But who would have the courage to assert that Augustine was actually correct in this? When he says, “The same can be said of companionship if the man perhaps were bored with his solitude,” he is certainly not speaking on the level of classic ecclesiastical teaching on the “secondary end of matrimony.”

We find the same ideas in Thomas: according to him too woman was created only “as an aid to generation.”(82) Here Augustine and Thomas are as rabbinic in their reference to women as the rabbis were only in their worst moments.

Ambrose too thought in a very “Old Testament” way about women when he wrote that a raped woman should remain in the power of the man if her father received money in compensation. Such an idea however was not at all universal: raptus soon became a ground for excommunication and later for even further punishments.(83)

Lactantius forbids women to participate in civil elections: “Plato even opened the city hall to women, and made war service, offices, and positions of command accessible to them. How great must the misfortune of a city have been in which the women take upon themselves the obligations of men.”(84) He adds ironically, in another passage: If Plato allotted weapons and horses to women, then he should assign the wool and child-bearing to the men.(85)

Chrysostom says in the same vein that because our life consists of two spheres, the public and the household, God has imparted to each sex its own — to the women the care of the household (τα πολιτικα και ιδιωτικα πράγματα), and to the men all concerns referring to the city and the agora, administration of justice, strategy. The woman cannot throw a spear or shoot an arrow, but she can sew and spin. She cannot vote in the city council, but can act in household affairs. She cannot order the affairs of the people. So God has neatly divided everything; no one is superfluous, no one can be proud as though he were capable of both roles. The more necessary and honorable God has given to the male, the slighter and less honorable to the female. Thus the man, because he is needed, will be the more diligent, and the woman through the inferiority of her service will not be rebellious toward her mate.(86)

It may now be said that Lactantius and Chrysostom are speaking here on a different subject from what we are talking of today. And, pity for Chrysostom, women have become rebellious, despite the neat regulations of God (were they really intended by God for all times?) and have wanted to become involved in the government of city and state. And the Church has not hindered them from it. In the contrary: since Pius XII, the Church has expressly pointed out to women their obligations in this respect (cf. Pius XII’s addresses cited in the next chapter).

And Epiphanius’ prescription for women, that when they receive guests, they must of course serve them with their own hands, but out of modesty should not show their face to the men, which instruction he borrows from the biblical passage “Sara laughed within the house” (87) — perhaps this instruction holds true for certain Muslim moralists, but certainly not for our women. Epiphanius’ use of Scripture occurs in a remarkable context! He can of course adduce Gen. 18, 6-10 for his concept, but if we were fair, he would have to quote Luke 10, 38-42 as well. There it is said that Mary chose the better part!

“It is against the order of nature or of law for women to speak in an assembly of men,”(88) says Jerome. Here he is really speaking about another natural order, or about other women.

And the opinion that a woman can bear no witness, or at most only in a very limited measure, seems to us to speak of another being.

Nevertheless Pseudo-Augustine says clearly (and Gratian accepted it in his collection of laws):

Woman certainly stands under the lordship of man and possesses no authority; she can neither teach nor be a witness, neither take an oath nor be a judge.(89)

The idea that a woman is inferior before the court can be found in still another place in the second part of the Corpus Juris Canonici of Gratian,, where it is rather naively said that women could indeed be judges in the Old Testament (like Deborah) but not in the New Testament because the New Testament is more perfect than the old.(90) In the contemporary Code of Canon Law these ideas are already eradicated, as is the Augustinian opinion accepted in the Corpus Juris Canonici that a man is to be punished less for a false accusation than a woman.

In general it was held that whoever accuses someone falsely is subject to the same punishment as one guilty of the accusation; but this legal principle did not hold if the man accused a woman of something for which she must be stoned. For such a false accusation the punishment for a man was lighter:

Therefore it is sufficiently clear in what way the law wishes to subject women to men and see the wives almost as slaves.(91)

It can be seen to what extent also the Fathers almost without thinking handed on certain Old Testament and rabbinic concepts on woman without asking themselves whether these had perhaps been replaced by the basic Christian viewpoint. In addition, these pronounced rabbinic currents in the Fathers also corroborate our hypothesis at the end of the second chapter. This hypothesis is predicated on the fact that in the ancient Church there was much preaching in the rabbinic spirit (for it is scarcely credible that the Fathers themselves read the rabbinic writings, except perhaps Ambrosiaster, which would be in keeping with the hypothesis that he was a converted Jew). But if there was preaching in the rabbinic mentality, then it is also easy to explain how rabbinic social rules were taken over, certainly in reference to woman. And the concepts as well as the practice were continuously handed on since the time of the early Church.

One must not be offended by the Fathers, for it was probably in their time still a matter-of-fact and practical attitude, just as slavery could not and should not be done away with without prelude all at once. Grace does not make a leap — nor does nature.

But quotations must be used with care if something is to be proved for our times.

4. The Fathers Themselves Progress Beyond Their Own Principles

The Fathers often argue in a remarkable way. On this point they do not act differently from Paul. Thus the fact that Eve seduced Adam is adduced by very many Fathers as an argument for their thesis that a woman may not be a priest. We have already seen such a passage in Chrysostom. Theodore of Mopsuestia,(92) Theodoret of Cyrus,(93) John Damascene,(94) Oecumenius,(95) speak in the same spirit; we have also already heard Tertullian and Ambrosiaster on the subject; further passages might be presented from Jerome,(96) Primasius,(97) or Sedulius Scotus.(98)

Such argumentation is in my view quite extraordinary, but it could be thought nevertheless that something correct must lie in this direction; the underlying passage from 1 Tim. 2 is at least somewhat pertinent.

But then it is completely incomprehensible how the Fathers in other passages say expressly and baldly that the guilt of Eve and the female sex is completely canceled.

Ambrose says this in his Exposition of Luke 24, where he says women were the first to receive the report of the resurrection from the angel and were told to tell the news to the apostles:

As in the beginning the woman was the author of the guilt of the man, but the man was the executor of the Sin, so also she who tasted death earlier than the man now likewise was the first to see the resurrection; the first in the succession of guilt and in salvation. And in order that she not bear the reproach among men of an eternal guilt, she who had handed on to man the guilt also gave him grace; and the calamity of the ancient Fall she paralleled with the announcement of the resurrection. Death once entered through the mouth of a woman, life is restored through the mouth of a woman. But because the endurance necessary to proclaim the gospel was inadequate, because the female sex is too weak for effective action, the office of proclamation was given to men. For as through Jesus not only was the guilt of woman dissolved, but also grace was to be multiplied, so that she who once had deluded a single man now gives counsel to many, so also should the man who once trusted blindly again receive the bestowed office, in order that he who was too ready to believe for himself be ordained to proclaim for others."

Origen had said that death was come into the world not through woman but through man; (100) but here we find the same result: the guilt is erased.

Gregory the Great too had the same idea. He says of the same gospel text:

See, the guilt of the human race is annihilated where it arises. For because in paradise the woman gave the man death to eat, the woman proclaims from the grave life to the men; and she who had spoken the words of the death-bringing serpent spoke the words of the one that brought her life. [And it is] as if the Lord said to the human race not with words but in deed: From that hand the drink of death was given to you, now take from it the cup of life.(101)

The same ideas we found in Haymo.(102)

Augustine speaks very clearly on this:

Women brought the message to men. And what is written? What have you heard? In their eyes this story seemed crazy (Luke 23, 11). O great human misfortune! When Eve spoke what the serpent said, it was heard quickly. When the woman lied, she was believed, and so we died; when women spoke the truth by which we live, they were not believed. If women were not to be believed, why did Adam believe the woman? If women are to be believed, why did the disciples not believe the holy women? Thus the good guidance of our Lord must be considered here. That is, the Lord Jesus Christ arranged matters in such a way that the female sex first proclaimed that he was risen. Because mankind fell through the female sex, it should also be renewed through her; because the Virgin bore Christ, the woman announced that he was risen. Through woman came death, through woman came life.(103)

Indeed it can even be said that Eve was an apostle; Hippolytus in Canticles writes (translated from the Slavonic):

Christ himself sent [Mary Magdalen], so that even women become the apostles of Christ and the deficiency of the first Eve’s disobedience was made evident by this justifying obedience. O wondrous adviser, Eve becomes an apostle! Already recognizing the cunning of the serpent, henceforth the tree of knowledge did not seduce her, but having accepted the tree of promise, she partook of being judged worthy to be a part of Christ. . . . Now Eve is a helpmate to Adam. O beautiful helpmate through the gospel! Therefore too the women proclaimed the gospel [from here on the Armenian translation has a few differences; see below]. But the basic fact was this, that Eve’s custom was to proclaim lies and not truth. What’s this? For us the women proclaim the resurrection as the gospel. Then Christ appeared to them and said: Peace be with you. I have appeared to the women and have sent them to you as apostles.

The differences in the Armenian translation:

Therefore women too proclaimed the gospel to the disciples. Therefore, however, they believed them mistaken. . . . What kind of new thing is it for you, O women, to tell of the resurrection? But that they might not be judged mistaken again, but as speaking in truth, Christ appeared to them and said: Peace be with you. Wherewith he showed it as true: As I appeared to the women, sending them to you, I have desired to send them as apostles.(104)

Origen simply parallels the beginning of sin and the beginning of salvation:

As sin proceeded from a woman and then passed over to the man, so too the beginning of salvation took its starting point from women, so that other women as a result of abrogation of the frailty of their sex also imitated the life of those holy women who are especially clearly portrayed now in the gospel.(105)

Ambrose said:0

Death once entered through the mouth of a woman, life is restored through the mouth of a woman. [See note 99.]

Cyril of Alexandria:

The woman, once a servant of death, is now released from her guilt, as she serves the voice of the holy angel and is the first to proclaim aloud the sublime and venerable mystery of the resurrection. Therefore the female sex succeeded in ending its disgrace and abolishing its ignominy.(106)

It must be said that the first understanding of Eve, as the one who was the first to sin and therefore could no longer teach, is thus now no longer valid. For Ambrose, who apparently sensed this, there remained nothing to say but that it is because women have not the necessary constantia that preaching is incumbent only on men. He had already said elsewhere in the commentary on Luke that “fickleness” rather than a “perversity of being” was responsible for the sin of the woman.(107) Well, the matter is certainly plain, but not exactly convincing.

Female weakness, stupidity, loquaciousness, instability are brought forward by many Fathers.

Chrysostom writing on 1 Cor. 14 says that Paul is treating the confusion which, is brought about by women and cuts off their ill-timed chatter. Why has he reduced her to subjection? “Because woman is somehow weaker, more fickle and frivolous.” (108) Damascene says exactly the same as Chrysostom,(109) as do Oecumenius(110) and Theophylactus.(111) For Cyril of Alexandria it is quite easy to explain why Mary Magdalen did not understand immediately that she was speaking with Jesus: “Somehow the woman [Mary Magdalen] or rather the female sex as a whole is slow in comprehension.”(112) In other passages he says that women are uneducated and cannot easily understand difficult matters; much less can they grasp the miracles which surpass the spirit.(113)

Cassiodorus believes that Paul forbids women in 1 Cor. 14 to speak in church simply “on account of the infirmity of their sex.”(114) Gregory the Great also considers woman something weak, even sickly. In reference to the passage from Job, “Man born of woman is short of life and full of woe” (Job 14, 1), he says:

In Holy Scripture [the word] “woman” stands either for the female sex (Gal. 4, 4) or for weakness, as it is said: A man’s spite is preferable to a woman’s kindness (Sir. 42, 14). For every man is called strong and clear of thought, but woman is looked upon as a weak or muddled spirit. . . . What then is designated in this passage by the word “woman” but weakness, when it says: Man born of woman? Just as when it is said even more clearly: What measure of strength can he bear in himself who is born from weakness? (115)

We have seen earlier a similar utterance from Epiphanius. Ambrose considers it proper that the man dominate the woman, else she would only fall, as she once fell in paradise.(116) Irenaeus held it proper that Miriam, Aaron’s sister, was correctly punished more harshly than Aaron himself, although both had committed the same sin, for the sin of the woman was greater: nature as well as the law made the feminine subject to the masculine(117) (thus when she rose up against Moses it was more wicked than in the case of the man Aaron).

Not only stupidity, weakness, and so on are ascribed to women by Jerome, but even depravity. If women are included in religious questions, only “iniquity” results:

What do these wretched sin-laden hussies want! . . . Simon Magus founded a heretical sect with the support of the harlot Helena. Nicholas of Antioch, the contriver of everything filthy, directed women’s groups. Marcion sent on to Rome before him a woman to infatuate the people for him. Apelles had Philomena as companion for his teaching. Montanus, the proclaimer of the spirit of impurity, first used Prisca and Maximilla, noble and rich women, to seduce many communities by gold, and then disgraced them with heresy. . . . Even now the mystery of sin takes effect. The two-timing sex trips everyone up.(118)

But on the matter of this weakness and iniquity of women there are also Patristic passages which undermine this kind of thinking. Basil has the martyr Julitta say that women are not formed from the weak flesh of man but from the rib of man, that is from strong bone (see note 56). Augustine believes that woman is “bone of bone and flesh of flesh,” and that these are virtues which belong to the lower part of the soul, but fortitude is nevertheless fortitude and not weakness (see note 58). And on John 4, 6 (Jesus, weary from his journey) he meditates:

What does “weary from his journey” mean but weariness in the flesh? Jesus was weak in flesh, but be you not weak; in his weakness you should be strong.

That was already figuratively presented in the creation of Eve. God should have taken flesh from Adam for the weak sex rather than bone. And why did God replace in Adam not a rib but flesh:

The woman, the church, was, so to speak, in the rib made strong; Adam was, so to speak, in the flesh, made weak; that is Christ and the Church; the weakness of Christ is our strength.(119)

Here Augustine has progressed beyond his own concepts of woman. Now suddenly the woman is the stronger, the rib is strong; and the man is weaker, flesh is weak. If he were logical, he could now say that the man is lacking a rib, that he is therefore weak, and that woman offers him precisely what he lacks: she is indeed his missing rib. She is thus the necessary complement of man, without which he is not entirely strong.

We have seen how in several passages, and especially in Gal. 3, 28, Paul breaks through his otherwise rabbinically tinged ideas on woman and considers woman as equal to man in Christ. This was true, as we saw, only for the reception of salvation, and not directly for salvific service. But in any case it was presumed that woman has access to God not merely through man. The Fathers obviously do not deny woman salvation in Christ, but they waver on whether that occurs through the man or unmediated. In other words, they do not always see the woman with unequivocal logic as of equal value in the religious area (we are not speaking here of the area of religious office). One is almost inclined to formulate the opinion of many Fathers in this way: as a baptized person the woman is of equal value to the man, but as woman she is not. Thomas later formulated that most clearly (naturally in philosophical terminology):

With reference to that wherein chiefly the essence of the image lies, that is, with reference to the spiritual nature, an image of God is found in woman as well as in man. . . . With reference to something of second rank the image of God does not exist in woman. For the man is the origin and goal of the woman, as God is the origin and goal of every creature.(120)

The Fathers did not pursue to their conclusion the ideas that on the one hand the entire woman is baptized and on the other hand the whole woman is woman, including the “rational mind, where there is no sex” (Lombard, see note 54). We say it explicitly: the Fathers did not think this through to its conclusion, for they already knew it. Indeed they even said expressly that if a woman believes, she becomes completely equal to man. They put it this way: “She has become a man.” We would rather say that she is as woman of equal value to a man, for being a woman is not something that a woman should strip off in order to become a man in the end. But the Fathers did not mean this either.

To them being a woman implied some kind of blemish which woman loses if she believes. The following quotations from Ambrose and Jerome are very neat and clear in this respect. It seems to us that the significance of these texts can scarcely be overestimated.

Ambrose in his commentary on Luke refers to John 20, 14 (a reference to Mary Magdalen, who did not yet believe that Jesus was risen):

And finally you read thus: Jesus says to her: Woman. Whoever does not believe is a woman, and she is still addressed with her physical sexual designation; for the woman who believes is elevated to male completeness and to a measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; then she no longer bears the worldly name of her physical sex, and is free from the frivolity of youth and the talkativeness of old age. Thus Jesus says, Woman, why do you weep? (Afterward Mary had expressed her belief.) Only after these words is she no longer woman but called Mary; for the general designation customary among the people is one thing, the special name of one who follows Christ is something else. And if she is also still not a witness of perfect faith, she is nevertheless sent as a messenger to the disciples. Nevertheless she is forbidden to touch Jesus because she had not yet comprehended, as Paul had, that in Jesus the fullness of divinity dwelled incarnate. . . . What does it mean: don’t touch me? Do not lay hands on the greater, but go to my brothers, that is to the more perfect — for he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is brother, sister and mother to me. Because the resurrection can be comprehended only by the more perfect, the prerogative of this faith is also reserved for those who already have a more established position. I therefore do not permit the women to teach in the congregational assembly; they should ask their husbands at home. She is therefore sent to husbands and receives mandatory tasks.(121)

Ambrose thus says immediately, after he explains that woman by faith “is elevated to male completeness,” that she nevertheless may not proclaim salvation, for that is for “husbands.” Here he stands again completely in the current of his age; nevertheless he knows that in the kingdom of God woman no longer stands below man, for what else can he mean with the words that she becomes a man? In this context he uses the words “man” and “woman” in their time-bound sense, that is, as though woman were something of lesser value, but in what he really intends to say he has already left this concept far behind.

Jerome in his Commentary on Ephesians 5 says:

But because in metaphorical language we have named men “soul” and women “body,” so the soul should love the flesh, as Christ the Church, . . . especially because it knows that the flesh must be saved in the resurrection and will show forth God’s salvation. The man has Christ as his head . . . and if he humbles himself for the salvation of the flesh and becomes one flesh with his wife, he thereby draws her up to the spirit.

As long as woman lives for birth and children, there persists between her and man the same difference as between body and soul; but if she wishes to serve Christ more than the world she will cease to be a woman and will be called “man,” because we desire that all be elevated to perfect manhood.

It is commanded us that we should foster and care for our women, that is, that we should provide maintenance and such things. ... If we express this in a metaphorical way, we must say that the soul should love, foster, and care for that flesh which will show forth God’s salvation. . . . Souls care for their bodies, so that the transitory puts on immortality. We should thus both as men care for our women and as souls care for our bodies, so that our women are made into men and bodies into souls. And in no way should there be a differentiation of sexes: but as there is among the angels neither man nor woman, neither should there be among us, who will be like angels; already now we wish to begin to be that which is promised us for heaven.(122)

Jerome thus meant that the coming age, in which there would be no distinction of sexes, is already breaking through into this world in believing people who wish to serve Christ more than the world.

Of course a large number of questions raised here are still far from resolved. Will there really be neither men nor women in the coming age? Will sexuality really be completely without significance there? That is true, of course, at least for sexuality as a biophysical organ for reproduction. Jerome can certainly be believed that such will no longer exist in the eschaton. These texts give food for thought. But at the same time clarification of the questions has begun.

On the basis of her faith, woman is equal to man and stands behind him in nothing. These two texts from Ambrose and Jerome say more than Gal. 3, 28, says explicitly and directly. Not only is the difference between man and woman in the religious area denied here, not only is it said as in Gal. 3 that both can participate in salvation, both are members of the people of the covenant; no, here more is said. Even if woman too can be participant in salvation, she can still be considered inferior (that is not excluded by Gal. 3). But in these two Fathers woman is elevated to the level of man: she loses her sex, it is said; i.e., she overcomes the inferior position of her sex. In other words, these Fathers have already surmised and said that woman is more than an embodiment of family, more than the mother of man’s children, thus more than is cutomarily read into Eph. 5 and 1 Cor. 11. Jerome especially indicates this when he expressly says:

As long as woman lives for birth and children, there persists between her and man the same difference as between body and soul; but if she wishes to serve Christ more than the world she will cease to be a woman and will be called “man.”

A side remark: these words “as long as woman lives for birth and children” need not only be understood as a phase in the life of an individual woman! There are also collective changes.(123) The woman of today is no longer constantly pregnant during the most important years of her life, as was often the case in earlier times. And she no longer feels herself intended primarily for motherhood. But we cannot go farther into this.

There is of course no possible way to leap immediately from these two Patristic passages to the priesthood of woman. But these texts put those other texts on women which are always used in the argument against the priesthood of women in another light. In any case someone beginning to question carefully whether a woman can perhaps be a priest after all cannot immediately be stopped with a peremptory argument that the Fathers have always seen woman only as subject to man. The Fathers have of course often done that, but there are other opinions as well.

The same is true for Thomas. In chapter V we will hear a few negative statements from Thomas on women. But he too knew better! Motivated by the Pauline text “It is a shame for a woman to have her hair cut off” (1 Cor. 11, 6), Thomas objected: “On the contrary, it would seem to be proper for nuns to have their hair cut off.” And he replies to this:

Precisely because she takes the vows of the widowed state or virginity and thus betroths herself to Christ, she is raised to the worth of man so that she is freed from subordination to the man [liberatae a subjectione virorum] and bound immediately to Christ.(124)

Through the bridal union of the holy nuns with Christ, says Thomas, they no longer have their relationship to Christ mediated only through man, as before, but rather they have an immediate relationship. Thus they are also no longer subordinate to men but participate in “manly dignity.” One notices that Thomas speaks here not only of inner salvation but also outer; indeed he sees sociological realities. We will see in the fifth chapter how the “middle term” in the Thomistic argument against the priesthood of woman is precisely this “state of subjection.” One might ask, if nuns are thus “liberated from subjection to men,” what still blocks the way? But in the customary argument there are still many problems to be overcome. Nevertheless, several things seem to indicate that one can say that the woman becomes man, the bride becomes the bridegroom. As Jerome puts it:

If a man humbles himself for the salvation of the flesh and becomes one flesh with his wife, he thereby draws her up to the spirit.

But we will speak of Thomas, and of the Church as bride and simultaneously the priestly church, in chapter V.

5. Slaves

In concluding this chapter it may be useful to say a few things on the attitude of the Fathers toward slavery simply because several Fathers themselves considered the subjection of slaves and that of women to be on the same level. The attitude is also significant because it shows once again how the theologians changed their theology and exegesis as soon as the sociological structure changed. Earlier we saw something similar in reference to the question of lending money for interest. Here we will use the same example.

It is obviously impossible in the framework of this book to give even a superficial overview of the teaching of the Fathers on slavery.(125) I shall limit myself to a few ideas from Chrysostom and Augustine to show that it is no overstatement to draw a parallel to the question of the priesthood of woman. This will prove that from this perspective too it is necessary to place the opinions of the Fathers more precisely in their temporal context.

Chrysostom wishes to investigate how many kinds of slaverysin has given rise to. For slavery came about only through sin. The first is the slavery by which men rule over women. After sin that was necessary. Before sin woman was equal in value (̀ομότιμος) to man. Chrysostom demonstrates this from the texts of Genesis, especially from the words “a helpmate who corresponds to him” (Gen. 2, 18), which is not said of the animals. After sin however it was said: He will rule over you. Thus God says: I have created you equal, but you have not used your ruling position well; descend to subjection. You have not borne freedom; accept slavery. You were unable to rule; then become one of the ruled, acknowledge the man as lord. Then Chrysostom cites the famous Pauline text and asks further: Why is woman subjugated, why may she not teach? Once she taught Adam falsely, once she dominated. And for that reason God removed her from the seat of teaching. God has indeed moderated the slavery: Men, love your wives (Eph. 5), but you women should not direct your attention so much on that but rather on the fact that the nature of slavery was brought about through sin.

The second kind of slavery is that of the slaves under their master, the third that of underlings beneath the prince. The second was brought about by the sin of the son of Noah, Chain. On account of his sin his descendants are slaves (Gen. 9, 25-27). (126)

In the following sermon Chrysostom says that a woman who believes may instruct her husband, although Paul wishes it otherwise in his letters, where it is said that a woman may not teach. In a mixed marriage, however, the roles are turned about: there the wife instructs her husband. Thus it follows that the slavery of a woman arises not from her nature but from sin. Therefore it is true also of slaves (in the narrower sense): if they believe, they are no longer slaves, but freed men of the lord. In that case “slave” is from now on an empty word (ψιλον ̀ονομα). Therefore Paul too says (1 Cor. 7, 21): if you can be free, then “rather remain so,” which means “remain rather in slavery.” So even as it was a much greater miracle to protect the three youths unharmed in the furnace than to quench the furnace fire, so too is it a much greater miracle to attain freedom while slavery endures.(127)

It is well known that there are two tendencies among the Fathers in the explication of 1 Cor. 7, 21. The one says: if you can become free, use this opportunity. The other: even in such a case, rather be a better slave.(128) Chrysostom follows here the second explication, as he does in his homily on 1 Cor. 7, where he says that he knows well that other people interpret differently, but he himself rejects the first meaning.(129)

Thus Chrysostom too held that whoever believes is no longer a slave, just as we hear Ambrose say that whoever believes is no longer a woman. In these cases “slave” and “woman” are now only empty words. Chrysostom himself thought that the slave should remain a slave, that it is of no significance. Later times, however, have thought differently and believed that this “religious conquest” should have sociological consequences as well; they thought that it was necessary to equate the slaves with the free in the sociological realm too. Will a later generation also draw consequences for the sociological realm as well from the fact that “woman” is now only an empty word and that in Christ woman is equal to man?

For Augustine too this subjection derived only from sin:

Gifted with intelligence, created in the image of God, the human should rule only over irrational beings, not over humans, but over animals. . . . For one is right in accepting that slavery is a condition laid only upon the sinner. . . . Thus guilt, not nature, causes these names. . . . But of his nature, inasmuch as God originally created mankind, no one is the slave of another or of sin.(130)

Although it is prescribed for a Hebrew slave that he should serve six years and then be set free, lest Christian slaves impetuously demand the same from their masters, apostolic authority commands that slaves should be subject to their masters.(131)

Slavery is defended by natural law:

Penal servitude is ordained by that law which commands that the natural order be protected and forbids us to disturb it.(132)

In another passage:

That one human is the slave of another human is a result either of iniquity or of adversity: iniquity, as it was said, cursed be Cain, he shall be a slave to his brother; adversity, as happened to Joseph, namely, that he was sold by his brothers, a slave to a foreigner. ... It is also the natural order among humans that the women serve the men and the children their parents; for there too it is right that the weaker intellect serve the stronger.(133)

This little may suffice. Both Fathers put the subjection of woman on the same level as that of the slave. Both are willed by God, even if not in the beginning, nevertheless as “penalty” for sin.

The existence of slavery is also supported with arguments from Scripture, especially Gen. 9, 25-27, just as the subjection of woman (and the rejection of a female priesthood) was supported with arguments from Scripture. This is the case not only with the Fathers. Until well into the eighteenth century there were still attempts to legitimize slavery with the aid of Scriptural passages!(134)

The Fathers of course consoled the slaves, fought for their liberation, urged the lords to better treatment (just as they said to husbands “Men, love your wives”), but they did not in any way see the human disgrace of slavery as such. They were aware that slavery as a matter of fact often led to degrading treatment, and that they deprecated. But they did not recognize slavery in itself as a scandal against natural law. On the contrary, Chrysostom and Augustine, for example, simply believed that Scripture commanded slaves to remain slaves. The judgment upon Cain was interpreted like that upon woman in Gen. 3,16.

The Fathers, in imitation of Paul himself, attempted to give a religious sense to slavery by beautiful and rich speculations;

Every just slave is a free Christian, every master who is a sinner is a slave. Christ himself made himself into a slave in order to free us (1 Cor. 7, 21 ff.) etc.

But despite all this they remain conservative. They took pains to abolish hard treatment and other abuses, often even to move masters to set their slaves free — but slavery as such seemed to them an obvious fact not in contradiction to Christianity: they themselves had slaves.(135) In the circumstances of those times anything else was scarcely possible.

Nevertheless, theology gave up these ideas as soon as the sociological and economic situation had altered. The parallel to the question of the priesthood for women is quite evident.

It should not be thought that slavery was tolerated by the Church for only a short time because nothing else was possible, though the Church itself had already long before accepted a much better point of view. In that case the parallel to our problem would actually be much less rigorous. But that is not so. The better insight won out only gradually, and in fact much later than is customarily believed.(136)

In the New Testament, slavery is presumed and accepted, and thus nowhere made a problem or condemned as unjust. The possibility of its elimination, which would have meant a socioeconomic revolution, was not within the field of vision of the New Testament. Freedom was not claimed as a right, nor was the freeing of the slaves by the owners made a duty. In the ancient Church, freeing did become a Church concern, but a general principle did not arise from this. There was, moreover, no lack of theological justifications presenting slavery as a result of original sin which would endure until the end of the world.

The Middle Ages adhered to this understanding. Thomas expressed it clearly! (137) Of course, after Constantine the holding of Christian slaves and especially their sale to non-Christian peoples was often forbidden, and individual synods directed their attacks against the continuing dealing in humans. But on the other side even popes and ecclesiastical institutions like monasteries possessed their slaves.

Explorations and conquests created a new age of slavery. To mention only one example, Pope Nicholas V gave the Portuguese king the right:

to attack, to impress, to capture, and to subjugate kingdoms, dominions which are in the possession of Saracens, heathens, and unbelievers, and to make their inhabitants slaves at all times.(138)

There are just as many papal statements which forbid dealing in slaves, but an “accepted author” like Billuart could still write:

Slavery is not forbidden by any law: not by natural law, for the person has a right to use his body; not by divine law, as can be clearly seen from the Old Testament and the New Testament; and not by human law, which follows clearly from various statements on ecclesiastical and secular law. By the reordering of law any further slavery among Christians is forbidden, with the exception of America, where up to the present the Europeans have Africans as slaves.(139)

Here it must be feared that later generations will pass judgment on our theology exactly as we do on Billuart’s theology of slavery. Of course that is not certain. But in reference to woman it is not sufficient to think: the Fathers and later theologians have spoken so clearly; what can we change? An over-careful, dogmatic theologian at the time of the abolition of slavery might have said the same thing. The Fathers and theologians were indeed clear enough on that question. Nevertheless the change came about.

Finally it must be noted that “slavery” was and remains an “impediment to ordination.” But it was seen as a purely ecclesiastical law; an ordination performed despite this was still valid. But perhaps it is not going too far to say that the “impediment of slavery” is also “by divine law.” For the Church always did assert that by the fact of ordination the slave was in fact free.(140) Priesthood and slavery just do not go together. So if a slave is ordained, then he becomes free.

Did not Ambrose say that woman already through her faith loses the blemish of womanhood and that, if she believes, she is by that fact a “man”? Would not ordination perhaps be able to free a woman just as much from the “blemish of womanhood” as it released slaves from their blemish?

This is of course no assertion, but merely a question on the level of parallel argumentation.

6. Afterword on Deaconesses

The problem of deaconesses does not, as such, belong to the scope of this work.(141) It is simply a fact that there were such things in the ancient Church and that they — and their successors, the abbesses of the canonesses’ foundations (not those of monastic cloisters) — did much in the ecclesiastical and cultic area which is now forbidden to women. We will be speaking of this later. The real problem is whether they received an actual sacramental consecration — rather than merely a benediction — and whether this consecration also imparted to them the sacramental character as did that of the deacon. This problem is still not resolved. But it does not appear to be decisive for the question of a female priesthood.

It would certainly be interesting if it were established that the ancient Church had actually seen deaconesses as incumbents in a hierarchical office which was a major order, as members of the hierarchy. It would be a clear proof that the church had already overcome its low interpretation of woman. But it is not decisive. For no matter how high the position of deaconesses can be fixed, the fact still remains that no one among the orthodox Catholics at that time had the remotest idea that a woman could be ordained a priest. And this book is concerned only with that.

Naturally we can amplify all the positive statements on woman we have gathered from old texts with what is known about deaconesses and ecclesiastical widows and virgins (the distinction is often very obscured in the sources). We have already done that in part. But as it is impossible to exhaust the subject within the framework of this book, and as a cross section suffices for my purpose here, I have avoided a detailed account of the texts on deaconesses, because that would have brought with it its own very specific problem. The few texts from Origen and the Didascalia which have been quoted speak about the activity of the deaconesses or widows. But they were quoted only insofar as deaconesses too are women, not insofar as they possessed any kind of ecclesiastical office.

In the next chapter we shall see that several prohibitions of popes and synods concerning women refer to deaconesses. Here it is important to note that although they present official statements on the status of woman in the cultic area, they certainly do not remain uncontradicted. In other places deaconesses were officially admitted and much was permitted them: to read the epistle and the gospel, to lay on incense, to give communion, to wear a stole. Their ordination in the eleventh century was not merely similar to that of the deacon, but completely identical with it.(142)

According to K. H. Schäfer, up until the last century it was the custom in the cloisters of the female Carthusians for the abbesses to sing the gospel during Holy Mass on high feastdays. At their consecration the Carthusian nuns received stole and maniple. Now a nun sings only the epistle, but the stole indicates that the gospel was sung by her earlier. At the investment with the maniple the bishop says to the virgin: “Act manfully.”(l43)

Thus there is after all one circumstance in the question of deaconesses which is important for us. Because the interpretations were by no means unanimous (and they are still not, among historians), either on their official character or on their authority, it becomes even clearer that the citing of individual restrictions and condemnations of and by themselves say nothing on the question of whether the Fathers or the magisterium exclude woman from the priestly office. Careful investigations must study how things were ordered, which abuse each prohibition was intended to meet, which statements are isolated cases, which are contradicted by other practices and other statements, what was permitted in the East but condemned in the West, and so on.

Nicea seems not to count deaconesses among actual clergy;(144) Chalcedon on the other hand does.(145) Chalcedon and later synods establish a minimum age for the ordination of deaconesses; Arausicanum 1(146) and the Synod of Epaon(147) forbid the ordination of deaconesses. Thus before the prohibition on ordination is quoted as a witness that the Church desired no women in office, there remains the task of investigating with care what these synods intended by the prohibition, and whether other synods held the office of deaconess so important that they protected it with practical measures against immature incumbents. And in all this citation of restrictive measures it must never be forgotten that popes permitted the ordination of deaconesses and even performed such ordinations themselves up into the eleventh century.(148)

To put it briefly: contemporary scholarship finds that nothing decisive, either for or against the priesthood of women, can be derived from the institution of deaconesses. Just one thing: that we must be very careful in citing the various statements.

In conclusion, one more short comment on the chapter on the Fathers. Nowhere in the entire Patristic literature on the priesthood of woman did we meet any deliberation that rejected the priesthood of woman on essential grounds. We found only considerations such as these: apostles sent forth no women; Mary did not baptize Jesus; Eve was seduced; woman did once teach man — in paradise — and nothing but damnation came from that; Paul forbade it; and so on. Only two reasons can refer to essential structures: the lower status of woman, and an apparently assumed connection between a female priesthood and female deities.

Now the first is far outdated by temporal conditions, and the second we would rather see proved than assumed.

Thus, the yield from the Fathers is at this point only slightly relevant theologically. Naturally, if the Fathers give a correct interpretation of Paul in this connection, their witness is certainly relevant. But this does not advance theological reflection. And that is what concerns us here. The Fathers have shown nothing that would give us an indication that we should see essential structures in manhood and in office which would exclude the possession of office by a woman. And that seems significant to me. For in that case no connection with dogma is present, at least not in the concept of the Fathers. And that would leave room for a further development.


1. Joseph A. Wahl declared that it was, stating that the matter was too clear to require much discussion. However, he has not convinced me. See above, chap. I, n. 1.

2. P. de Labriolle, Les sources de I’histoire du Montanism, textes grecs, latins, syriques (Fribourg-Paris, 1913).

3. PG 41, c. 880.

4. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, p. 35. In general cf. DThC 10, cc. 2355-70, article on Montanism.

5. For example, Wahl, pp. 39 ff.; Lercher (see chap. II, n. 37, above), p. 316; Diekamp-Hoffmann (see chap. II, n. 4, above), pp. 426-27; P. Gasparri, Tractatus canonicus de sacra Ordinatione, vol. 1 (Paris, 1893), pp. 75ff.; S. Many, Praelectiones de sacra Ordinatione (Paris, 1905), pp. 176-94.

6. PG 41, c. 848; GCS 31, p. 211.

7. PG 41, c. 858.

8. PG 41, cols. 880-81.

9. PG 41, cols. 948-49.

10. PG 42, cols. 740 ff.; GCS 37, pp. 475 ff.

11. P. H. Lafontaine, “Le sexe masculin, condition de 1’accession aux ordres, aux IVe et Ve siecles,” Revue de I’Université d’Ottawa, Section spéciale 31 (1961), p. 143, n. 12.

12. Ibid., pp. 145 ff.

13. PG 41, c. 643.

14. PG 104, c. 706.

15. I. F. Sagüés, Sacra Theologiae Summa, BAC 90 (Madrid, 1952), vol. 2, p. 887.

16. H. Achelis and J. Flemming, Die syrische Didaskalia (Leipzig, 1904), pp. 76 ff.; F.-X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutions Apostolorum, vol. 1 (Paderborn, 1905), pp. 188 ff.

17. Achelis and Flemming, p. 81; Funk, pp. 198 ff.

18. Achelis and Flemming, p. 85; Funk, pp. 208 ff.

19. Achelis and Flemming, p. 80.

20. Ibid., p. 276.

21. Ibid., p. 279.

22. DThC 15, pp. 134-35.

23. PL 2, c. 56; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (hereafter cited as CSEL) (Vienna, 1866-), vol. 70, p. 53; CChr series latina 1, p. 221.

24. CChr series latina 1, p. 277.

25. Ibid., 1, pp. 291-92.

26. Ibid., 2, p. 1219. For English see The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, 1885), vol. 3, p. 446.

27. CChr series latina 1, p. 688.

28. Ibid., 2, c. 1030.

29. CSEL 1, p. 343. For English see The Fathers of the Church, vol. 40 (New York, 1959), pp. 117-18.

30. Cf. DThC 15, pp. 134-35.

31. PL 17, c. 253.

32. Ibid., c. 273.

33. Ibid., c. 494.

34. Ibid., c. 496.

35. Ibid., c. 460.

36. PG 7, cols. 580 f.; cf. ibid., c. 592.

37. PL 42, c. 30.

38. PL 53, c. 596.

39. PL 3, c. 1164; for the text correction “non sine Sacramento solitae,” instead of “sine sacramento solitae,” see CSEL 3 b, c. 818, and de Labriolle, pp. 63 ff.; and for the interpretation cf. Lafontaine, p. 142, n. 11, and Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 2d. ed. (hereafter cited as BKV) (Munich, 1928), vol. 60, pp. 379ff. For English see Library of the Fathers (Oxford, 1843), vol. 15, pp. 69 ff.

40. PG 62, cols. 543 ff.

41. PG 13, c. 242; cf. PG 14, c. 772.

42. PL 34, p. 387.

43. Quoted in de Labriolle, pp. 55-56; cf. the edition by J. A. Cramer (Oxford, 1841), p. 279.

44. PG 7, c. 891.

45. PG 61, cols. 216-17.

46. PG 20, c. 473.

47. Quoted in de Labriolle, pp. 105 ff.

48. PG 39, cols. 988-89.

49. Corpus Juris Canonici, c. 4, C. 30, q. 3; Emil Friedberg, Quinque compilationes antiquae nec non collectio canonum Lipsiensis (Leipzig, 1882), 1, pp. 1101 f.; cf. Ph. Jaffe, Regesta pontificum Romanorum ad a. p. ch. n. MCXCVIII (Leipzig, 1851), vol. 1, p. 696; PL 151, c. 529.

50. Daniélou, “Le ministère des femmes” (see chap. II, n. 50, above), p. 80.

51. PG 74, c. 881.

52. CSEL 50, p. 51.

53. PL 112, c. 100.

54. PL 191, cc. 1630-31.

55. PL 192, c. 340.

56. PG 31, cc. 240-41.

57. PL 34, cc. 204-5.

58. Ibid., c. 206.

59. PG 12, c. 158.

60. PL 32, c. 866.

61. PL 35, c. 1395.

62. PG 12, cc. 296-97.

63. PG 35, cc. 993 ff.

64. PG 54, c. 600.

65. PL 26, cc. 536-37.

66. PL 34, cc. 452-53; for text correction cf. CSEL 28, cc. 376-77.

67. Ibid., c. 293.

68. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, p. 446.

69. PG 14, c. 1278.

70. PL 30, c. 714.

71. PL 111, cols. 1605-6.

72. PG 33, c. 356.

73. PG 35, c. 997.

74. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 3, p. 216; J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio (Florence, 1757-98). New edition and continuation under the title, Collectio conciliorum recentiorum ecclesiae universiae (Paris, 1899-1927), vol. 9, p. 913.

75. PG 46, c. 993.

76. Odo Casel, Jahrbuch für Liturgiewissenschaft 10 (1930), review of Johannes Quasten, Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und christlichen Frühzeit (Münster, 1929), p. 293.

77. “Instructio ad Vic. Ap. Sutchuen,” in Codicis luris Canonici Fontes (Vatican, 1939), 4598, vol. 7, p. 139.

78. “Motu proprio De musica sacra instauranda 1903,” in, ibid., vol. 3, p. 613.

79. “Instructio de musica sacra,” in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Rome, 1909 ff.), vol. 48 (1958), p. 658.

80. PG 20, c. 476; for English see The Fathers of the Church, vol. 19 (New York, 1953), pp. 323-25.

81. PL 34, cc. 395 ff.

82. Summa Theologiae I, q. 92, a. 1.

83. CSEL 32, p. 325; Corpus luris Canonici, c. 9, C. 36, q. 2; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1291. For the excommunication see canon 27 of the Council of Chalcedon; Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, pp. 814-15; Corpus luris Canonici, c. 1, C. 36, q. 2; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1290. For further punishments see Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 34, C. 27, q. 2; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1073.

84. PL 6, c. 1046.

85. Ibid., c. 421.

86. PG 51, cc. 230-31.

87. PG 43, c. 88.

88. PL 30, c. 732; cf. also c. 878.

89. PL 35, cc. 2244; cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 17, C. 34, q. 5; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1255.

90. Corpus Iuris Canonici, C. 15, q. 3, Gratianus; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 750.

91. CSEL 28, p. 395; cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 14, C. 33, q. 5; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1254.

92. PG 66, c. 938.

93. PG 82, c. 310.

94. PG 95, c. 1005.

95. PG 119, c. 156.

96. PL 30, c. 878.

97. PL 68, c. 664.

98. PL 103, cc. 232-33.

99. PL 15, cc. 1936-37; cf. CSEL 23, 3, pp. 514 ff.; CChr series latina 14, pp. 390 ff.

100. PG 14, cc. 1009-10.

101. PL 76, c. 1194.

102. PL 118, cc. 481-82.

103. PL 38, c. 1108.

104. GCS 1, 1, pp. 354-55.

105. PG 13, c. 1819.

106. PG 72, c. 941.

107. PL 15, c. 1629; CSEL 23, 3, pp. 167-68.

108. PG 61, cc. 315-16.

109. PG 95, c. 685.

110. PG 118, cc. 857-58.

111. PG 125, cc. 38-39.

112. PG 74, c. 689.

113. Ibid., c. 692.

114. PL 70, c. 1338.

115. PL 75, cc. 982-83.

116. CSEL 32, 1, p. 153; cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, c. 18, C. 34, q. 5; Friedberg, vol. 1, p. 1255.

117. PG 7, c. 1245.

118. PL 22, cc. 1152-53.

119. PL 35, c. 1513; cf. CChr series latina 36, p. 153; BKV 8, pp. 256-57.

120. Summa Theologiae I, q. 93, a. 4, ad 1.

121. PL 15, cc. 1844 ff.; CSEL 23, 3, p. 514; CChr series latina 14, pp. 390 f.

122. PL 26, cc. 531 ff.

123. One should compare this, for example, with the dates from paleontology, which indicate the oldest prehominid forms gave evidence of a much more outspoken sexual dimorphism. P. Teilhard de Chardin, Der Mensch im Kosmos (Munich, 1958), p. 196.

124. Expositio super 1-am epist. ad Cor. cap. 11. lectio 2, cura R. Cai O.P., 8th ed. (Turin-Rome; Marietti, 1953), vol. 1, p. 347.

125. Cf. DThC V, cc. 457-520; still important is H. Wallon, Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité, 2d ed. (Paris, 1879), esp. part 3, pp. 256-388.

126. PG 54, cc. 593 ff.

127. PG 54, cc. 600 ff.

128. K. H. Rengstorfs article on δούλος in Kittel, vol. 2, p. 272; cf. E. B. Allo, St. Paul (see chap. II, n. 26, above), p. 173; DThC V, p. 463; A. Steinmann, “Zur Geschichte der Auslegung von I Kor 7, 21,” Theologische Revue 16 (1917): 340-48. The second interpretation has the context in its favor, for in this chapter Paul says every time: remain in the condition in which you were when you came to believe. Most exegetes now opt for this interpretation. It remains nevertheless true that the exegesis of μάλλον χρήσαι in this case is not simple. “Be a better slave” would imply an asceticism, a moralizing mentality, which one does not easily expect in Paul.

129. PG c. 156. It is therefore not clear how Allo, p. 173, can reckon Chrysostom with the other direction.

130. PL 41, cc. 643-44.

131. PL 34, c. 624.

132. PL 41, c. 644.

133. PL 34, c. 590.

134. For documentation see DThC V, pp. 463 ff.

135. Wallon, pp. 318 ff.

136. For the consequences cf. H. D. Wendland’s article “Sklaverei und Christentum,” in RGG (3d ed.), vol. 6, pp. 101 ff. Bibliography is included. Cf. also DThC V, pp. 463-64.

137. One need only consult indices under the terms servitus and servus; for example: Indices in Summa Theologiae et in Summa contra Gentiles, extractum ex tome XVI editionis leoninae (Rome, 1948), 324b, 675b, 676a.

138. DThC V, p. 486.

139. Quoted in ibid., p. 515.

140. Ibid., p. 475.

141. A very good overview is found in A. Kalsbach’s article, “Diakonissin,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (1941- ), vol. 3, pp. 917 ff.; cf. Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 2d ed. (1930- ), vol. 3, p. 327; DThC IV, pp. 685 ff.; Lafontaine, pp. 156-82; Daniélou, “Le ministère des femmes,” passim; F. Gillmann, “Weibliche Kleriker, nach dem Urteil der Frühscholastik,” Archiv für Katholisches Kirchenrecht 93 (1913): pp. 239-53; Many, pp. 176-84, 188-94; Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, pp. 446 ff. (as far as Arausicanum I); Santiago Giner Sempere, “La mujer y la potestad de orden,” Revista española de Derecho Canónico 9 (1954): pp. 851-59.

142. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, pp. 446 ff., n. 1.

143. K. H. Schäfer, “Kanonissen und Diakonissen,” Römische Quartal-schrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 24 (1910): 60ff.; cf. E. Martène, De antiquis Ecclesiae ritibus (Antwerp, 1736-38), vol. 2, pp. 197 ff.

144. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 1, pp. 615 ff. Daniélou denies this of course, but he has Kalsbach, who is very authoritative in this matter, opposed to him; Daniélou, p. 86.

145. Hefele-Leclercq, vol. 2, pp. 803-4.

146. Ibid., pp. 446 ff.

147. Ibid., p. 1039.

148. Ibid., p. 452.

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