A Petition addressed to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican Council II concerning the place of woman in the Roman Catholic Church (English version).
To the Preparatory Commission of Vatican Council II Vatican City
A number of articles in the press, especially the Symposium of the periodical Wort und Wahrheit, published by the firm of Herder in Freiburg, prompt me to submit this petition directly to the Preparatory Commission of the Vatican Council. I write as a woman of our time. Long years of participation in the feminist movement enable me to speak of the needs and problems of women. I am turning to you in the hope that my petition will receive the attention I think it deserves. In giving expression to my thoughts I feel that I am the sister of all women. I want this petition to point an accusing finger as it were, for half of mankind, the feminine half which has been oppressed for thousands of years. By its wrong concept of women the Church has aided and abetted in this oppression, and it still does, in a way that grievously offends the Christian conscience.
I. The Influence of Thomistic Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church
There are a number of formal pronouncements of the Church referring to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas as a whole. They are upheld to this day, and their binding force has never been rescinded by decrees of equal authority.
a) Thus Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris refers to his predecessors who had extolled in singular fashion the wisdom of St. Thomas:
'Furthermore, Our predecessors in the Roman pontificate have celebrated the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas by exceptional tributes of praise and the most abundant testimonials. Clement VI, Nicholas V, Benedict XIII, and others bear witness that the universal Church was enlightened by his admirable teaching; while St. Pius V acknowledge that heresies, confounded and convicted by the same teaching, were dissipated, and the whole world daily freed from fatal errors; others affirm with Clement XII that most fruitful blessings have come over the whole Church from his writings, and that he is worthy of the honor which is bestowed on the greatest doctors of the Church, such as Gregory and Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome; while others have not hesitated to propose St. Thomas as the exemplar and master of the academies and great lyceums, whom they may follow with unfaltering feet. . . The ecumenical councils also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor.
b) On the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas the Church prays: O God, Who enlightenst the Church with the marvellous learning of Thy confessor, blessed Thomas, and givest it the fruit of his works; grant, we pray, that our minds may understand what he taught, and that our imitation may complete what he did.
No other Doctor of the Church has earned similar praise in the liturgy.
c) Furthermore the Code of Canon Law in canon 1366 § 2 provides:
Philosophiae rationalis ac theologiae studia, et alumnorum in his disciplinis institutionem professores omnino pertractent ad Angelici Doctoris rationem, doctrinam et principia, eaque sancte teneant. According to this provision the study and teaching of rational philosophy and theology must follow exclusively the method (ratio), doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor. With regard to the varied and sometimes contradictory interpretations of Thomas let me only refer here to the very revealing work of Robert Markovics, Grundsatzliche Vorfragen einer methodischen Thomasdeutung. To the broad spectrum of private interpretations, which range from dogmatically maximal to critically selective, Markovics contrasts the directives of Pope Pius XII. This view is found in various allocutions, but especially in those to the Dominican Fathers (AAS 38, p. 387 ff.) and to the Gregorian University (AAS 45, p. 684 ff.). He does not point out, however, that the allocution of a Pope is not a formal ecclesiastical pronouncement of the same rank as an Encyclical, a liturgical prayer, or a church law. It must be stated with all possible emphasis that among Thomass teachings is his teaching on man, and that even according to the address of Pope Pius XII to the Gregoriana, these teachings must be heeded. It is not at all clear however to what extent St.Thomass teaching on women, of which more will be said here later on, belongs to that teaching on the nature of man which is to be heeded in all respects. The view of St. Thomas concerning women which has been proven wrong by modern science, has led to a great many sociological, philosophical, and theological conclusions which became a part of Thomistic doctrine and in a broader sense of Thomass concept of man.
II. The Thomistic Theory of Woman
There can be no doubt that St. Thomas on the basis of pseudoscientific premises, of probabilities which bespoke the development of the time, evolved a theory of woman which, because of the formal acts cited above, must still be regarded as the implicit official doctrine of the Church concerning woman and which even today represents the decisive thought-heritage concerning the legal and liturgical position of woman in the Church. In the present state of research these probabilities turn out to be scientifically wrong, but they led Thomas to conclusions which are most damaging to woman in her spiritual nature and in her human dignity. It is strange that St. Thomas does not carry his teaching about man in general, built on the premise of a spirituality independent of the body, to its logical conclusion in the case of woman.
The pertinent passages in the Summa Theologica show clearly that St. Thomas had no scientific knowledge of the process of human generation. He did not know that in the generation of human beings the woman supplies the ovum with a contingent of chromosomes corresponding to the male contribution. St. Thomas lived from 1225 to 1274, whereas the scientific explanation of the generative process belongs to very recent times and is not a closed issue even today. Borrowing from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas understands the generative process, whose true nature he did not know, in concepts of form and matter. According to him man provides the form. He is considered active in generation and therefore superior. In this theory the woman supplies only the baser matter. She is passive, receptive. For Thomas matter is not the living organic matter found in the basic cell of a human being. Matter is a purely philosophical concept which does not exist at all in the science of the physicists, chemists, or biologists of our time. From his theory of generation St. Thomas develops his theory of woman as a whole. For example, II. II, 26, 10:
Strictly speaking, however, the father should be loved more than the mother. For father and mother are loved as principles of our natural origin. Now the father is principle in a more excellent way than the mother, because he is the active principle, while the mother is a passive and material principle. Consequently, strictly speaking, the father is to be loved more.
Ad 1. In the begetting of man the mother supplies the formless matter of the body, and the latter receives its form through the formative power that is in the semen of the father. Though this power cannot create the rational soul, yet it disposes the matter of the body to receive that form.
I, 118, 1, ad 4. In perfect animals, generated by coition, the active force is in the semen of the male, as the Philosopher (Aristotle) says, but the foetal matter is provided by the female.
Commentary on the Sentences, 52,4 b: The one generated receives from the father determining, perfecting, and shaping form, from the mother the material substance of the body.
It is understandable that from such wrong premises it was possible to derive no better than a negative theory of womanhood. In generation, in which man alone is active, Thomas thinks that generation of a female is not really intended. She is the result of a weakness in the man, of an unfavorable circumstance of the matter to be received, or ultimately of a humid south wind! With St. Thomas dampness is quite generally responsible for the defective operation of the higher principle.
I,92, 1 ad 1 .... for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; the production of a woman comes from a defect in the active force, or from material indispositions, or even from some external influence, such as a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes.
See also the parallel thought in I, 92, 2 on the effect of moisture. Similar statements are the following:
I, 99, 1. Therefore it is natural because of the high humidity of the brain in children that the nerves which are instruments of movement should not be apt for moving the limbs.
ad 2. The fact that some animals have the use of their limbs immediately after birth is due, not to their superiority, since more perfects animals are not so endowed, but to the dryness of the brain.
I, 101, 1. Now children are hindered in the use of these powers because of the humidity of the brain; wherefore they have perfect use neither of these powers nor of reason
St.Thomas Aquinas must admit, of course, that woman, thought she is not intended as the product of any single act of generation, is intended nevertheless in the overall schema of nature as well as Gods. Thus the passage cited above (I, 92, 1 ad 1) goes on to say:
On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in natures intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, who is the universal author of nature. Therefore in producing nature God formed not only the male but also the female.
The fact remains, however, that in St Thomass interpretation of woman as the bearer of matter she in imperfect, base, a mere principle of determinability and receptiveness. This evident from the concept of matter in Thomas which we have already mentioned and which is described in a general way in I, 105,5:
For the less perfect is always for the sake of the more perfect; consequently, as matter is for the sake of the form, so the form which is the first act, is for the sake of its operation which is the second act; and thus the operation is the end of the creature.. In order to make this clear we must observe that as there are few kinds of causes,matter is not a principle of action, but is the subject that receives the effect of action.
This doctrine applied to woman by the Thomistic method leads to the conclusion, evident in countless passages, that in comparison to man woman is imperfect, base, defective, and weak. Nothing is ever said about her possible advantages over the man or their complementary functions. A woman, according to Thomas, has her function in the work of generation. She is in the first instance a being with sex and in generation she represents the principle of matter, of passive reception.She is also bound to her husband as the keeper of the house. All other views on woman are lacking. As a result he interprets the position of woman as one of complete subjection to man. This subjection, to his mind, is derived not from positive law, but from the natural law, supplemented by the divine curse on woman in Genesis. See, for example, I, 92, 1:
My answer is that is was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a helper to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works, but as a helper in the work of generation.
Suppl. 64, 5. My answer ist that...... equality of quantity is that oberseved between two quantities of the same measure... Accordingly... husband and wife are not equal in marriage, neither as regards the marriage act, in which the more noble part is that of the husband, nor as regards household management, in which the wife is ruled and the husband rules.
Suppl. 81, 3, ad 2. Woman is subject to man on account of the frailty of her nature as regards both vigor of soul and strength of body.
Thomas goes so far as to explain man as the principle of woman and her end, as God is principle and the end of all creation.
I,93, 4, ad 1. The image of God in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found in both man and woman. Hence after the words, To the image of God He created him, there is added; Male and female He created them. (Gen. 1, 27). Moreover them is plural, as Augustine remarks, lest it be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in the man, not the woman, for man is the beginning and end of woman, as God is the beginning and end of every creature.
III. The Thomistic Doctrine of the Rational Soul
This degradation of woman to the level of a being of lesser spiritual worth is all the more astonishing in view of the fact that St Thomas must acknowledge that the man in his generative act cannot create the soul. For according to his teaching the rational soul is immaterial and is created directly by God. Generation merely prepares the matter to receive the immaterial, rational. and essential form. Ultimately the mans part in generation is also a material one, for according to Thomas matter is influenced by the power of the semen not beyond the activity of the sensitive or brute soul. The interpretation of form (which is supposed to come from the man) as spirit fails in human generation, for the rational soul, according to St Thomas, is immaterial, bound to no organ and dependent on none. Its creation and orgin lie completely outside the process of human generation. See, for eample, I, 118, 2, ad 4:
Man begets his like, forasmuch as by his seminal power the matter is disposed for the reception of a certain species of form.
Ibid. My answer is that it is impossible for an active power existing in matter to extend its action to the production of an immaterial effect. Now it is manifest that the intellectual principle in man transcends matter; for it has an operation in which the body takes no part whatever. It is therefore impossible for the seminal power to produce the intellectual principle.
Ad 2. We must therefore say that since the generation of one thing is the corruption of another, it follows of necessity that both in man and in other animals when a more perfect form supervenes the previous form is corrupted, but in such a way that the supervening form contains the perfection of the previous form and something besides. It is in this way that through many generations and corruptions we arrive at the ultimate substantial form, both in man and in other animals. This is apparent to the senses in the case of animals generated from putrefaction. We therefore conclude that the intellectual soul is created by God at the end of human generation, and this soul is at the same time sensitive and nutritive, the pre-existing forms being corrupted.
If according to Thomistic doctrine the rational soul is created by God, then we may conclude that it is independent of the process of generation. For this rational soul is the form of the human body. It is immaterial, not composed of matter and form. The rational soul is also the rational principle of knowing and the principle of rational activity. It is also synonymous with reason and understanding. All these varied concepts are used synonymously; they point to different aspects of one and the same thing. See, for example, I, 75, 2:
My answer is that it must necessarily be allowed that the principle of intellectual operation which we call the soul is a principle both incorporeal and subsistent. For it is clear that by means of the intellect man can have knowledge of all corporeal things. Now whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature, for that which is in it naturally would impede the knowledge of anything else . . . Therefore it is impossible for the intellectual principle to be a body. It is likewise impossible for it to understand by means of a bodily organ, since the determinate nature of that organ would impede knowledge of all bodies; as when a certain determinate color is not only in the pupil of the eye but also in a glass vase, the liquid in the vase seems to be of that same color. Therefore the intellectual principle which we call the mind or intellect has an operation essentially apart from the body.
I, 75, 5. My answer is that the soul has no matter. We may consider this question in two ways. First from the notion of the soul in general, for it belongs to the notion of a soul to be the form of a body . . . Secondly, we may proceed from the specific notion of the human soul in as much as it is intellectual. For it is clear that whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient. Now a thing is known inasfar as its form is in the knower. . . But the intellectual soul knows a thing in its nature absolutely. For instance, it knows a stone absolutely as a stone, and therefore the form of a stone absolutely, as to its proper formal idea, is in the intellectual soul. Therefore the intellectual soul itself is an absolute form and not something composed of matter and form.
Ad 1. Now the receptive potentiality in the intellectual soul is other than thereceptive potentiality of first matter, as appears from the diversity of the things received by each. For prime matter receives individual forms; whereas the intelligence receives absolute forms.
I, 76, 1. My answer is that we must assert that the intellect which is the principle of intellectual operation is the form of the human body. . . . For the soul is the principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement, and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body ...
And thus it is clear from the rational activity itself that in man the body is the determinable factor, and whatever there is in man of actual determination, therefore of actual being, has its basis in the rational soul as in the form determining and forming it from within.
But the human soul is the noblest of all the essential forms of matter. It rises so far above all matter that it has an activity and a power that stands up entirely without any material organ, and this power is called the faculty of reason.
The human soul is not the essential form in the body in such a way as to be dominated and encompassed by matter. It is too perfect for that. Therefore it can well possess a power which does not function by reason of its attachment to a corporeal organ, even though the human soul in its nature is the constitutive essential form of the body.
I, 77, 5. Now it is clear from what we have said above that some operations of thesoul are performed without a corporeal organ, as understanding and will. Hence the powers of these operations are in the soul as their subject.
I, 90, 2. On the other hand, the rational soul is the subsistent form, as explained above. Therefore it is competent to be and to be made . . . we must conclude that it cannot exist except by creation.
Reason thus described and designated by various synonyms makes man the image of God. Blessedness is found in the operation of the soul. In Thomistic doctrine it is the vision of God. For God is the principle and end of the rational creature. See, for example, I, 93, 6:
My answer is that while in all creatures there is some kind of likeness to God, inthe rational creature alone we find a likeness of image, as we have explained above; whereas in other creatures we find a likeness by way of a trace. Now the intellect or mind is that whereby the rational creature excels other creatures. Therefore this image of God is not found even in the rational creature except in the mind, while in the other parts which the rational creature may happen to possess we find the likeness of a trace, as in other creatures . . .
I, 3, 1, ad 2. Man is said to be according to Gods image not as regards his body but as regards that in which he excels other animals ... Now man excels all animals by his reason and intelligence; hence it is according to his intelligence and reason, which are incorporeal, that man is said to be according to the image of God.
I, 12, 1. For as the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of the intellect; if we suppose that the created intellect could never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude or its beatitude would consist in something else besides God. .. For the ultimate perfection of the rational creature is to be found in that which is the principle of its being, since a thing is perfect inasfar as it attains to its principle.
It is abundantly evident that Thomass teaching on the rational soul, created by God, in its manifold connotations as reason, understanding, form, principle of knowledge and of operation, completely contradicts his teaching about woman which arises from his misunderstanding of the process of generation. As we have mentioned when speaking of his teaching on the rational soul, the generative process for both partners moves on the level of matter, for the form of man is simply the rational soul itself. Corporeal generation only prepares the material substratum; it does not touch the creation of the rational soul. God Himself creates the rational soul, that of each individual. He does so also for the woman. And since the soul created at the end of generation is the form of man, God also willed the birth of each individual woman. Her birth is not the result of some weakness in man, or of the inadequacy of matter, or of a humid south wind! Since the rational soul is incorporeal, a womans body does not degrade the spiritual qualities of her soul. A mans body is matter as well as a womans, as compared to the form of the rational soul.
In the face of the passage cited above (I, 12, 1), For in God is found the ultimate perfection of the rational creature, just as God is its principle of being, the other passage (I, 93, 4), For the man is the principle and end of the woman as God is the principle and end of all creation, has no justification whatsoever. The latter passage is an offense and an insult to the spiritual nature of woman.
IV Antiquated Thomistic Opinions
But the observation that there are contradictions within the Thomistic teaching between the theory of the rational soul in general and of the woman in particular is by no means the end of the affair. Modern science has shown that St. Thomass principal premise for his teaching on woman is false. As mentioned earlier, our modern science does not recognize any matter in the Thomistic philosophical sense, of which the woman would be the bearer and which she would contribute to the generation of new beings in procreation. Rather, modern science has established, by its own methods of research, that the human body consists of billions of living cells, and that its whole development goes back to the fertilized ovum. The female contribution in generation the ovum with its full complement of chromosomes is fully equivalent to the male sperm and it does not resemble the matter of the aforementioned philosophical theory, either in its composition or in its experimentally established content. In addition, the woman contributes the whole bodily structure of the child. If the generative process is to be the starting point for the theory of man and woman, then the scientific facts point to conclusions entirely different from the Thomistic ones, which are seven centuries old and influenced essentially by Aristotle, deduced from false premises long before the beginning of modern scientific research.
A modern man might well smile at other notions of St. Thomas Aquinas which have proved scientifically wrong. He can pass over the supposed anti-intellectual influence of the humid south wind, or the notion that animals arise from rotting matter, or that imperfect animals are generated through the power of the heavenly spheres without the agency of the semen (I, 91, 2). But the wrong interpretation of the generative process found in the Thomistic body of doctrine is a slur on the value and dignity of half of mankind and a sore wound to their spiritual dignity. There is question here not of an outdated opinion of a medieval philosopher and theologian, but of a doctrine still found in formal ecclesiastical pronouncements and which must still be considered the official teaching of the Church as long as it is not clearly repudiated by contrary formal pronouncements. In the face of this one fact it means nothing that contemporary Catholic theologians have made some effort to interpret woman in a different light. Since the situation is circumscribed by the formal pronouncements mentioned, the Church alone can lay the foundation of a different concept of woman. It is the urgent duty of the Church to do so. Its task is to promote the spirit, not to oppress and tread it under foot.
That the time is long since ripe for a new concept of woman is shown in the numerous addresses of Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, in which Catholic women are encouraged to take part in public life. Some hundred years ago progressive women of the world, because of the need of the times, first demanded a place in public life, and as far as possible actually entered it. Their outcry and their action stirred up a worldwide movement which represents a great step in the development of mankind. Throughout the world they were supported by men who recognized the human countenance in woman and saw the need of cleansing the human image in woman of the debasement with which the men of earlier times had sullied it.
It is obvious enough that womans participation in public life, political, social, and vocational, will hardly find support in the Thomistic doctrine of the unconditional subjection of woman to man, in the doctrine of her low status, her defectiveness, and her general inferiority to man. A woman who wants to be active in political life has to represent the interests of her sex, if necessary even against the opposition of men. The woman engaged in public activities must perforce fight, because of the purblindness of men, against evils which are often caused by the inadequacies of social and political life affecting women and children more deeply than men. The career woman, whether she runs a business or holds other prominent positions, must give orders and assume responsibility. In public life today the relationship of the sexes cannot be resolved on the premise of the subjection of woman. This premise handed down from past times confronts the woman of today with untold obstacles which retard her development in public service and which destroy her happiness in her life and work. In private life also the principle of the subjection of woman to man is a thing of the past. To whom is the single woman subject, when she makes all her decisions herself and owes no man an account of what she does or is allowed to do? The time is forever past when a woman must accept the authority of some man or other from cradle to grave. Not even the relationship of the wife to her husband can be regulated according to the outmoded principle of subjugation, for she has proper interests of her own to consider, as well as those of her children. Finally the very destiny of mankind depends on the readiness and joy of women in giving life to new human beings. For the great service of love which they perform as mothers they are grossly depreciated by the Thomistic theory that the man is the active and superior principle in the generation of children while the woman is merely the material principle, receptive, base, and inferior. The Thomistic teaching on woman is wrong not only in its scientific premises, but also in the sociological and philosophical conclusions which have become intolerable and senseless in this day and age. It hampers and confuses the modern womans development in the understanding and consciousness of herself which she needs to fulfill her duties. I do not hesitate to say that the Thomistic doctrine can even cause in the soul of modern young women serious psychological disturbances and even suicidal complexes.
If the Church clings to Thomism as her official teaching despite contradicting modern scientific insights, she should at least draw the logical conclusions about women from the statements of St. Thomas Aquinas concerning the rational soul, the intellective principle, the rational principle of action, reason, understanding form, etc. For this rational soul with all its aspects lives in the woman in the same way as in the man. It is the incorporeal form of both. A theory of man based on this idea of the rational soul will have to reject as false and contradictory the theory of woman based on a misunderstood generative process. Finally, speaking of obvious errors, we may point to I, 85, 6:
... hence properly speaking the intellect does not err concerning the quiddity of a thing; but the intellect can err concerning those things which surround the essence or quiddity, when it refers one thing to another, in composition or division, or even in ratiocination. Therefore it cannot err concerning those propositions which are understood as soon as the quiddity of the terms is understood, as is the case with first principles, from which follows the infallibility of truth about conclusions, with the certitude of knowledge.
V Woman as Bearer of the Rational Soul
Since Thomas concedes that the rational soul under its various aspects of reason, principle of knowledge, principle of operation, etc., is the form of woman, there is no reason at all why she should be subordinate to man. For according to I, 96, 2, reason has the character of dominion, not of subjection. We must also note the Thomistic teaching on the will, its operation, and the doctrine of human perfection that is directly related to it. The will is also seated in reason and is bound to no bodily organ for its operation.
I, II, 9, 5. For the will, as stated in De Anima iii, 9, is in the reason. Now the reason is a power of the soul not bound to a bodily organ; and it follows that the will is a power absolutely incorporeal and immaterial. It is evident that no body can act on what is incorporeal, but rather the reverse; for things incorporeal and immaterial have a power more formal and more universal than any corporeal thing.
Man as such according to Thomas is operative only in rational behavior. His will is moved to action by the final cause.
I, II, 1, 1. My answer is that among actions done by man those alone are properly called human which are proper to man as man. Now man differs from irrational animals in this that he is master of his actions. Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence the free will is defined as the faculty and will of reason. Therefore those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will.
ad 1. Although the end be last in the order of execution, yet it is first in the order of the agents intention. And it is in this way that it is a cause.
Ibid. 2. Every being which possesses reason moves itself to the end, for by the power of free choice which belongs to the will and the reason as a faculty, they are masters of their actions .. . and thus it is a distinctive property of rational nature that it strive toward an end as determining or guiding itself toward the end. Irrational nature acts toward an end as determined and guided by another outside itself.
If the man were the principle and end of the woman, as Thomas claims in the I, 93, 4, then the woman would be incapable of producing an independent action of the will from her reason. The man, seen as the final cause of the woman, would direct and determine her from the outside. In this case the woman would be determined to operation in a way analogous to irrational nature and not according to the principles of St. Thomas concerning the operation of the incorporeal will inherent in beings endowed with reason. Ultimately woman is also accepted by Thomas as a being endowed with reason, for he says: In man the principle thing is the rational spirit (I, II, 29, 4). And this spirit, this reason or rational soul, has the singular capacity of moving man to activity through the inherent incorporeal will. In this operation alone lies the ultimate factualness of man and thus his perfection, his beatitude.
I, II, 3, 2. In so far as mans happiness is something created, existing in him, we must say that it is an operation. For happiness is mans supreme perfection. Now each thing is perfect in so far as it is actual; since potentiality without act is imperfect. Consequently happiness must consist in mans last act. But it is evident that operation is the last act of the operator, wherefore the Philosopher calls it second act, because that which has a form can be potentially operating, just as he who knows is potentially considering. And hence it is that in other things too each one is said to be for its operation. Therefore mans happiness must of necessity consist in an operation.
Beatitude, then, is the perfection of man and his noblest operation is the vision of God.
I, II, 3, 5. ... If mans happiness is an operation, it must be mans highest operation. Now mans highest operation is that of his highest power in respect to its highest object. His highest power is the intellect, whose highest object is the divine good, which is the object not of the practical but of the speculative intellect.
VI The Faculties of the Soul and the Sacramental Character
In the teaching of St. Thomas distinction is made between the essence of the soul by which it exists, and the faculties of the soul through which it operates and moves a man toward his end. As we saw in the last quotation, the reason itself is a faculty. The essence of the soul, therefore, in the framework of Thomistic teaching, may be described as a bare form. For if the reason is already counted among the faculties, the will inherent in reason is even more so. The essence of the soul is the abstract seat of all these faculties; it is knowable only indirectly through activation of the faculties in rational knowledge and behavior. The knowing faculty is the seat of faith. This knowing faculty is also bearer of the sacramental character imprinted on man through the action of the sacraments. This sacramental character is described by Thomas Aquinas as a certain spiritual force added to the natural faculties. Through it, according to St. Thomas, the soul is fitted out to receive or to impart something pertaining to divine cult. But since this sacramental character enters the natural faculty from without, it does not achieve its perfection here. The sacramental character is perfected only in the priesthood of Christ, from which power emanates to the faculties of man as an instrument.
III, 63, 4. My answer is that, as stated above, a character is a kind of seal by which the soul is marked, so that it may receive, or bestow on others, things pertaining to divine worship. Now the divine worship consists in certain actions; and the powers of the soul are properly ordained to actions, just as the essence is ordained to existence. Therefore a character has as its subject not the essence of the soul but its power.
Ad 2. The essence of the soul is the subject of the natural power, which flows from the principles of the essence. Now a character is not a power of this kind but a spiritual power coming from without. Wherefore just as the essence of the soul, from which man has his natural life, is perfected by grace from which the soul derives spiritual life, so the natural power of the soul is perfected by a spiritual power, which is a character. For habit and disposition belong to a power of the soul, since they are ordained to actions of which the powers are the principles. And in like manner whatever is ordained to action should be attributed to a power.
Ad 3. As stated above, a character is ordained unto things pertaining to the divine worship, which is protestation of faith expressed by exterior signs. Consequently a character needs to be in the souls cognitive power where faith is also.
5, ad 1. For grace is in the soul as a form having complete existence therein, whereas the character is in the soul as an instrumental power . . . and thus a character exists in the soul in an indelible manner, not from any perfection of its own, but from the perfection of Christs priesthood, from which the character flows like an instrumental power.
In III, 64, 1 Thomas argues that the action of the sacraments originates in God alone without help from the human faculties in the rational soul, and that the man fitted out with the sacramental character is a mere instrument and not a partner in the action of the sacraments. He says:
My answer is that there are two ways of producing an effect: first, as a principal agent; secondly, as an instrument. In the former way the interior sacramental effect is the work of God alone; first, because God alone can enter the soul wherein the sacramental effect takes place, and no agent can operate immediately where it is not; secondly, because grace which is an interior sacramental effect is from God alone, as we have established in the Second Part, while the character which is the interior effect of certain sacraments, is an instrumental power which flows from the principal agent, God.
VII Woman and Baptism
The first sacrament administered to man is Baptism. Its effect is described in III, 63, 6:
The sacramental character of Baptism consists in a manner of receiving by which man receives the power to receive all the other sacraments, for Baptism is the door to the sacramental world.
Man and woman receive Baptism in the same way: therefore both are prepared in exactly the same way for the reception of the other Sacraments. The effect of Baptism is the same in both, as we read in III, 69, 8:
My answer is that the effect of Baptism is twofold, the essential effect, and the accidental. The essential effect of Baptism is that for which Baptism was instituted, namely, the begetting of men unto spiritual life. Therefore since all children are equally disposed to Baptism, because they are baptized not in their own faith but in that of the Church, they all receive an equal effect in Baptism. But adults who approach Baptism in their own faith are not equally disposed to Baptism, for some approach with greater, some with less devotion. Therefore some receive a greater, some a lesser share in the grace of renewal...
VIII Woman and Priestly Ordination
Even though men and woman in Baptism receive in the same way the power to receive all the other sacraments, the Catholic Church has refused until now to ordain women to the priesthood. The opposite conclusion should have been reached from the Thomistic doctrine on the faculties of the human soul and the sacramental character. For the sacramental character has its seat in the faculty of knowing, and this faculty is in woman in the same way as in man, inherent in the incorporeal reason. Furthermore the faculties of the human soul are not the cause of the effect of the sacraments, the effect being brought about by God as the principal agent working with an instrument. The Thomistic teaching does not maintain, and it can scarcely be proved by Thomistic methods, that the knowing faculty of woman is not just as good an instrument of this principal agent as that of a man, which is made in the same way. The personal qualifications which St. Thomas lays down, namely, that a candidate must know enough to perform the duties of the priesthood fittingly, can be fulfilled by a woman as well as by a man. This is adequately demonstrated by the female scholars who are earning academic degrees in all faculties of modern universities. St. Thomas insists that preaching is on a higher plane than meditation. The Churchs exclusion of women from the word clearly means that she is not allowed to exercise adequately a faculty of the soul which she shares equally with men. A mere faculty without actuation, according to Thomas, does not reach perfection, does not impart the beatitude which men are to achieve. Furthermore Thomistic doctrine admits that a woman can be a prophetess. These facts call for analogous conclusions concerning the priesthood. For like the sacramental character, the gift of prophecy is granted by God over and above any natural faculty. This gift rests on a much greater and more special grace than the mere endowment with the sacramental character. It is therefore impossible to understand why the intelligence of a woman can be the recipient of the very rare and precious gift of prophecy and not of the ordinary sacramental character of the priesthood. Now under no circumstances is the prophetess or a woman endowed with any other extraordinary spiritual gift to subordinate what is of God in her to what is of God in another. This Thomistic principle is violated if a woman endowed with spiritual gifts is restricted to merely private activity and excluded from public activity in the Church. Finally, in line with the Thomistic categories, the sacrament of the priesthood is distinguished into matter and form. St. Thomas considered the matter of the sacrament the giving of the chalice with wine and the paten with bread. However, according to the Apostolic Constitution of Pius XII of November 30, 1947, on the ordination of deacons and priests and the consecration of bishops, the imposition of hands is the only matter of the sacrament. According to this Constitution the form consists of the words which complete the meaning of this matter, expressing clearly the sacramental effects, namely, the powers and the grace of the Holy Spirit imparted by the sacrament, words thus understood and used by the Church (Neuner-Roos, Der Glaube der Kirche, p. 367). Neither the rational soul of a woman nor her spiritual faculties offer any grounds why the matter and form of priestly ordination cannot be fulfilled in her or why the sacramental character cannot be given to her. Let us see what St. Thomas has to say on this proposition:
Suppl. 36, 2. My answer is that for any human act to be rightly ordered there must be the direction of reason. Therefore for a man to exercise the office of an order it is necessary for him to have as much knowledge as suffices for his direction in the act of that order.
II, II, 188, 6. Accordingly we must say that the work of the active life is twofold.One proceeds from the fulness of contemplation, such as teaching and preaching.Wherefore Gregory says that the words of Ps. cxliv, 7, They shall publish the memory of. . . Thy sweetness, refer to perfect men returning from their contemplation. And this work is more excellent than simple contemplation. For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so it is better to give to others the fruits of ones contemplation than merely to contemplate.
II, II, 173, 2. My answer is that, as Augustine says, prophetic knowledge pertains most of all to the intellect. .. Now the gift of prophecy confers on the human mind something which surpasses the natural faculty in both these respects, namely, as to the judgment which depends on the inflow of intellectual light, and as to the acceptance or representation of things, which is effected by means of certain species . . . But it is the first of these two that holds the chief place in prophecy.
Ibid. 3. My answer is that, as stated in the foregoing article, the prophetic revelation takes place in four ways: namely, by the infusion of an intelligible light, by the infusion of intelligible species, by the impression or coordination of pictures in the imagination, and by the outward presentation of sensible images
.Ibid. 4, My answer is that in prophetic revelation the prophets mind is moved by the Holy Spirit.
II,II,172,4. My answer is that, as stated above, prophecy in its true and exact sense comes from divine inspiration... Now we must obseve that as God Who is the universal efficient cause requires neither previous matter nor previous disposition of matter in His corporeal effects, for He is able at the same instance to bring into being matter and disposition and form, so neither does He require a previous disposition in His spiritual effects...
II, II, 161, 3. ... Wherefore every man, in respect of that which is his own, ought to subject himself to every neighbor, in respect of that which the latter has of Gods. But humility does not require a man to subject what he has of Gods to that which may seem to be Gods in another. For those who have a share of Gods gifts know that they have them . . . Wherefore without prejudice to humility they may set the gifts they have received from God above those that others appear to have received from Him ...
Suppl. 37, 5. The conferring of power is effected by giving them something pertaining to their proper act. And since the principal act of a priest is to consecrate the body and blood of Christ, the priestly character is imprinted at the very giving of the chalice under the prescribed form of words.
IX The Subjection of Woman in its Thomistic Foundation
The exclusion of women from the priesthood and the prohibition for them to speak which has burdened them for nearly two thousand years cannot be rationalized in Thomism from any reasons flowing from the rational human soul or from the nature of the sacramental character. It is based simply on the subjugation of women, which in St. Thomass time was based on:
1. The misunderstanding of the generative process already discussed.
2. The legal dependence by which every woman throughout the course of her life was placed under the tutelage of her father, her husband, or some other male guardian.
3. The Book of Genesis.
Concerning each of the arguments we may observe:
1. As already pointed out, several centuries passed after the time of St. Thomas Aquinas before the generative process came under scientific investigation, and there is more to learn even today. But it is now clear that in generation the woman provides not some base, formless matter, but a contribution equal to that of the man, and the physical structure of the child besides. But even in the Thomistic view the soul is created by God in each case, for its origin does not lie in the sexual activity of the man.
2. The unmarried woman, who as long as the law of celibacy stands is the only one to be considered for the exercise of the priesthood, is capable of engaging in business enterprises and is therefore legally independent in all progressive nations of the world today.
3. It escaped the notice of St. Thomas Aquinas as well as of many other Catholic authors that the standpoint of the New Testament is one of completed redemption; the Old Testament has been reduced to the status of something overcome. If we look at Genesis as a work of literature, it is evident that it must be understood according to the historical facts of the time of its origin, and that it has been handed down to us in its modern form through various versions whose dependability often is problematic. To appeal to Genesis for reasons to subjugate women is to ignore not only the Christian present of accomplished redemption, but also the fact of historical development. The life of a man nowadays does not consist in pulling out thorns and thistles, and neither does the life of a modern career woman consist in being subject to a man. Nevertheless, reflections about woman, her position and worth, remain essentially influenced by the Old Testament conceptions. The Christian consciousness of accomplished redemption should be freed of the patriarchal thought-heritage concerning women and at last take an affirmative attitude toward the realities and demands of our own time.
The further reasons of St. Thomas for excluding women from the priesthood and the word are not very important. The fear of an increased eroticism in life is easily assuaged, for the very activity of the educated woman in public life makes the relationship of the sexes much more free and relaxed. In view of the existing educational possibilities there is no basis for the opinion that the educated woman is commonly not perfected in wisdom.
In addition to the Thomistic texts already cited which try to justify the exclusion of women from the priesthood and from preaching, there are these others:
Suppl. 39, 1. My answer is that some things are required in the recipient of the sacrament by necessity of the sacrament, and if they are absent one cannot receive either the sacrament or the substance of the sacrament. . . It must be maintained that the male sex is required for the reception of orders not only in the second way but also in the first, so that even if everything were done to a woman that is done in the sacrament, she would not receive orders, because since a sacrament is a sign there is required not only the thing but also the signification of the thing, as we have pointed out for extreme unction, where someone must be sick if there is to be signified the need of cure. Since therefore in the feminine sex there cannot be the sign of a degree of eminence, since the woman is in the status of subjection, therefore she cannot receive the sacrament of orders.
II, II, 177, 2. My answer is that a person can use the word in two ways: One way is privately to one or a few, speaking familiarly. In this sense the grace of the word can belong to a woman. The other way is in addressing the whole Church publicly, and this is not granted to women. The first and principal reason is the condition of the feminine sex, which must be subject to the man, as is evident from Genesis 3. To teach and persuade publicly in the Church is the part not of subjects but of prelates. Men who are subject can do somewhat more by commission, since they do not have this subjection by their natural sex, as do women, but for some accidental supervenient reason. The second reason is that the minds of men should not be tempted to lust; for we read in Eccli ix, 11: Her speech inflames like fire. The third reason is that ordinarily women are not perfected in wisdom so that public teaching could be properly committed to them.
X. The Expectations of the Christian Woman of our Time in the Church
From the doctrine that the inner effect of the sacraments depends solely on God, that in administering them man takes the part of an instrument only, the correct conclusion is drawn concerning Baptism, in III, 67, 4:
My answer is that it is Christ who baptizes as the principal, according to John 1, 88: He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and abiding, he it is who baptizes. In Col. III we read that in Christ there is neither masculine nor feminine. Therefore as a layman can baptize as a minister of Christ, so a woman can also.
Ad 3. ... But in spiritual generation neither acts on his own power but only instrumentally through the power of Christ, and thus both man and woman can baptize in case of necessity, one as well as the other.
By applying his own principles, St. Thomas shows the validity of Baptism administered by a woman, and the same conclusion can be reached for woman in the service of the priesthood and the word. It is altogether incomprehensible that these basic principles so far have not been applied in this way. There are surely no logical reasons for this failure. The time is long overdue for the Church to put aside as official doctrine by a formal pronouncement those time-conditioned elements of Thomistic teaching which are such a heavy burden on the spiritual consciousness of modern woman. The UN, every civilized nation, and innumerable organizations of progressive men have made it their purpose to eliminate the ancient discrimination based on sex. When the Church in the Encyclical Aeterni Patris, in the liturgical prayer on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, and in Canon 1366 § 2, implicitly clings to the above-mentioned doctrine on women as official, then she stands opposed to the best and most human endeavors of our time. She is closing her eyes to the fact that without her and often in opposition to her and her official teaching mankind has made great progress in recent centuries in the most varied areas of life. With regard to man himself the view of corporeal properties which St. Paul, all of antiquity, the Middle ages and St. Thomas looked upon as firmly established in natural law has collapsed entirely. The subjugated peoples deprived of rights in earlier centuries have achieved political rights as citizens. The Church herself often sought to protect their interests in public life through parties that functioned according to her mind, and often through her spiritual leaders she influenced the citizens of a nation in the exercise of their political rights. The liberation of women from their subjection to men, their legal capacity to act, their vocational and public activity are part of a human movement which cannot be measured by the standards of the thirteenth century.
In Catholic public worship and in the reception of the sacraments women regularly make up more than half, and perhaps two thirds of the assembly. By their fidelity, their profound religious aspirations, and their service in the education of children, women are an essential support to the Church. Whether they could continue to show such devotion if the official teaching of the Church on women were known to them is a question. With the modern specialization of knowledge and all the vocational demands made on her it is a rare woman who can acquire a knowledge of the official teaching of the Church on women. But we may easily suppose that a better and more widespread knowledge of this official teaching would have a disenchanting effect on modern women in their attitude toward the Church.
For the talented religious woman the exclusion from the priesthood and the word over the past two thousand years is a human tragedy of enormous dimensions. It is impossible to imagine the spiritual suffering which this exclusion must have caused through all of these centuries to the best and deepest feminine natures. In a woman like the great St. Theresa of Avila we can get some idea of how her religious genius felt hemmed in and crushed, for her unmistakable complaints are obvious in her autobiography, which has never lost its interest for modern man. Was it really Gods intent that after creating man and woman and giving of His fullness to the spiritually gifted woman, she should lament all her life that she was born a woman?
The fact is that the spiritually gifted Catholic woman, the religiously gifted woman in the Church, have little left but this lament. For the Church offers no prospect of proper fulfillment to the woman who feels a call to specifically religious work. Care of the sick and charitable activities in the wide sense occupied the religious orders in earlier centuries. They were the pioneers in such work. But in civilized countries of our day these activities now are principally the responsibility of public, semipublic, and social organizations. The religious orders can offer only the special missions available to them; their vocational activities can be handled just as well by secular organizations. Furthermore these charitable activities lack the specifically charismatic content that forms the meaning and essence of the priesthood.
St. Thomas Aquinas directs the woman with the gift of wisdom and knowledge to express her gifts in private life only (II, II, 177, 2). He lived before the invention of the printing press and could not imagine how the effect of the printed word would reach far beyond the private domain. A publication can be circulated over the whole world. The spoken word, however, is heard in church by a few hundred people at most. Printing and publication have given the writings of St. Theresa of Avila a worldwide circulation. What she has to say about mystical experience is so original and genuine that it has never been surpassed. Here is the judgment of the Roman Rota: The most distinguished theologians of all orders have examined these books and are amazed at the wisdom of St. Theresa and her facile way of explaining the mystic state. They consider it a rare privilege of wisdom that a virgin has put the erstwhile obscure expressions of the Fathers on mystical theology into clear and orderly language.
It is apparent that in explaining the mystical state and in clarifying obscure expressions of the Fathers in her world-renowned writings Theresa of Avila was not deploying her gifts in private channels. The same is true of other mystic women writers. It is hard to understand why the religious woman should be denied the spoken word in Church when what she writes can be circulated far and wide. Still harder to understand is the fact that Theresa of Avila and other mystic women are quoted in sermons while they themselves were never allowed to speak. As we think of the outstanding and highly developed spiritual life of these women we are reminded again of the Thomistic and therefore official ecclesiastical doctrine which regards woman only under the viewpoint of matter, as base and deficient, who for this reason and because she is subject to man cannot be entrusted with official teaching.
Any modestly gifted man who is able to assimilate the prescribed theological knowledge is ordained and permitted to speak in the Church. All women, even the most intellectual, whose writings may be widely known and respected, are excluded from the priesthood and from the word in Church. In the earliest days of the young Christian Church there were beginnings for an altogether different development, but they were suppressed. The writing and therefore the public activity of the great mystic women should be reason enough for the Church to allow women to speak. For in these women the word as the expression of the life of the spirit has long been an actuality. Their word has been simply directed to the public and the Church has recognized its importance. Thomism as the official doctrine of the Church contains adequate principles on the rational soul, the faculties of the soul, the sacramental character, etc., from which to draw the logical conclusions in favor of women, their spiritual worth, and their vocation to the priesthood and to preaching, and to correct in content and form conclusions reached from premises that are scientifically wrong and long outdated.
I conclude this petition in the hope that I have succeeded in pointing out what is offensive and debasing in the evaluation of the status of women, of half the human race, in the official teaching of the Church, and how very much that half of humanity is now hampered in its development, activity, and expression. I write without a mandate but, as mentioned in the beginning, as a sister of all women in the urgent desire to do what the hour demands.
To the Holy Father and the 2nd Vatican Council I wish the blessings of Christ, and I greet them with the expression of Christian love.
Zurich, May 23, 1962
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Our emblem - based on a 14th century illustration - shows Sophia, "Wisdom", in action. She was known to have been God's designer who danced at creation (Proverbs 8,12-31). In the image she is teaching geometry to medieval scholars.
We chose this for our emblem because it shows both respect for exact science and a recognition that the Spirit of God is at the root of all human research.