St. Bonaventure was a major theological contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas. As minister general of the Franciscan order and Cardinal bishop of Albano he also had a wide pastoral experience.
Bonaventure generally pursued a more mystical approach to theology than Thomas Aquinas.
If we analyse Bonaventures reasoning, there are five principal reasons why women cannot be ordained in his view:
Argument 1. Women are inferior to men.
Reply. Bonaventure shares the general theological prejudices of his time against women.
- Women need to have their heads veiled and so cannot wear the tonsure.
- Women do not bear the image of God.
- A woman cannot be the head of a man.
Conclusion. The argument is invalid for is based on the general prejudices of the time and on a wrong interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11,2-16.
Argument 2. Women cannnot hold power.
Reply. Bonaventure had absorbed the old Roman principle that women cannot hold any public office, a principle also integrated in medieval Church Law.
- A woman is not capable of such power.
- In Orders there is a concentration of power which many reasons show to be not at all suitable for women.
Conclusion. This reason too is based on the general prejudices prevailing at the time, as well as on a wrong interpretation of 1 Timothy 2,11-15.
Argument 3. Popes have forbidden women to touch sacred objects.
Reply. Bonaventure here quotes an excerpt from the Decretum Gratiani which obviously is a major argument for him. However, he does not know that it concerns a forged letter presumably by Pope Soter which, via the socalled False Decretals, found its way into the law book of the Church!
Conclusion. The argument has no basis.
Argument 4. Deaconesses were not validly ordained to the sacramental diaconate.
Reply. Bonaventure recognises the importance of this question, implying that a valid ordination of women deacons would settle the question of women's valid admission to Holy Orders (even if it would leave the question of legitimate ordination open).
However, it is clear from his answer that he did not have accurate information about deaconesses: It is gathered that the women who communicated with the deacons in reading the homily were called deaconesses. They received some kind of blessing. Therefore in no way should it be believed that there were ever women promoted to sacred orders according to the canons [=laws of the Church].
Conclusion. If he had known the ordination rites and ministry of women deacons, he would certainly have judged differently.
Argument 5. Since Christ the Mediator was male, he can only be signified by the male sex.
Bonaventure does not clearly and in detail explain the reason why only men can signify Christ in the paragraph where he states this argument. However, it is clear from the rest of the text that women cannot represent Christ in his view because they have an inferior status and cannnot exercise spiritual power (see no 1 & 2 above!).
Conclusion. This argument is influenced by his bias against women's status.
Overall Conclusion: If Bonaventure had known what we know now, especially if he had realised how women did function as validly ordained deacons in the Church, he would have admitted the capacity of women for sacramental ordination.
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