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Bonaventure 1217 - 1274 AD

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1217 - 1274 AD

From Commentarium in IV Libros Sententiarum Magistri Petri Lombardi by Bonaventure, 1251-1253 AD; published in Opera Omnia, Quaracchi 1882-1902.

Division XXV. Article II. Question I

Translated from the Latin by Mary Ann Rossi -- credits

Paragraph numbers have been added to the text for easy reference



§a. Consequently, as to the second article, which investigates the possibility of taking up Orders, there are four questions. First, insofar as Orders can be received, whether the male or female sex can receive them. Second, whether the use of reason is necessary for the reception of Orders. Third whether the inseparability of the flesh is necessary. Fourth, whether the condition of liberty is necessary.


Whether the male sex is required for the reception of Orders

As for the first, then, that the male sex is required, it is shown:

[Bonaventure now sums up the arguments to show that the male sex is required]

§b. 1. First thus: that Orders cannot be conferred upon one who does not have a natural capability or aptitude for them; no one has a capability for Orders who does not have the aptitude for a tonsure and crown; and no one has a natural aptitude for this for whom it is fitting always to have the head "veiled." If, then, it is fitting for men alone to pray with head unveiled, but women with head veiled, as is said in the eleventh of the first letter to the Corinthians, and which nature itself teaches, therefore etc.

§c. 2. Likewise, no one is capable of taking up Orders who does not bear the image of God, because in this Sacrament man in a certain way becomes God, or divine, while he is made a participant in divine power. But man by reason of his sex is "imago Dei", the image of God, just as it is said in the eleventh [chapter] of the first [letter] to the Corinthians. Therefore in no way can a woman be ordained.

§d. 3. Likewise, in Orders spiritual power is given to the ordained; but a woman is not capable of such power, as is said in the second [chapter] of the first [letter] to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach in the church or to rule over man; therefore [she is not capable] of Orders.

§e. 4. Likewise, some orders are preparatory to the episcopate, if someone is directed towards them. But the bishop is the bridegroom of the Church; therefore since the woman cannot be advanced to the episcopate, but only man, in another way she is not the bridegroom of the Church.

§f. Therefore only men can be promoted to the preceding Orders.

[Here Bonaventure sums up the arguments showing that the male sex is not required:]

§g. AGAINST: 1. In the fourth [chapter] of Judges it is read that Deborah judged Israel and was in charge of it. Hence it seems that judiciary power belonged to a woman, especially when she was overflowing with grace; there [she could have] also sacerdotal power.

§h. 2.Likewise in the New Testament we see abbesses, to whom assemblies are entrusted to be ruled; therefore it seems that the power of absolving and binding [=jurisdiction] ought to be entrusted to them. Hence it seems by equal reasoning that sacerdotal orders ought to be conferred upon them.

§i. 3. Likewise, sacerdotal Orders and other Orders regard the soul and not the flesh. But as for the soul, there is no distinction of sex, rather the woman is as much the image of God as the man; therefore she is equally as capable of taking up Orders.

§j. 4. Likewise, there is no greater perfection than the status of religious life, nor greater fortitude than in the endurance of martyrdom. But women are admitted as much to religious life as to martyrdom. therefore they ought to and can be admitted to sacred orders.


§k. Women cannot either by law or in fact receive Orders

I respond:

[Bonaventure now gives his own arguments]

§l. It ought to be said that common opinion holds this, that women should not be admitted to sacred orders. For it is expressly stated with clarity in the twenty-third [in the Decree of Gratian]: "It has been conveyed to the Apostolic See that women consecrated to God or nuns in possession of sacred garments or sacred vessels have approached you and carried incense around the altar, all of which actions are full of censure and blame, as there can be no doubt for any who are wise. Therefore on the authority of this holy See, lest this plague be spread abroad more widely, we order that it be wiped out most speedily throughout all the provinces."

[Are women capable of Orders?]

§m. And thus they all agree that women ought not to be promoted to Orders; but as to whether they are capable [of Orders], there is doubt. Clearly it was the opinion of certain people, called Cataphrygians, that women are capable, and they not only rely on authorities of past times, but they adhere to the authorities of the canons and bring them out to support themselves, canons in which it is shown that women of old had received Orders. For it states in the twenty-seventh Cause Question 1 [canon 23 of the Decree of Gratian]: “We have decided that a deaconess should not be ordained before the age of forty”. And in the same Question, “If anyone ravishes or disturbs a deaconess”, and similarly in Distinction thirty-two [of the Decree of Gratian], mention is clearly made of a presbytera [which could mean ‘female priest’ in Latin].

§n. [It is rejected] But surely if we pay attention to what is said in Distinction thirty-two, Presbyteram, etc., it is shown there that widows and older women, and matrons were called presbyteras; and from this 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].

§o. By way of Conclusion] Moreover, according to the saner and wiser opinion of the learned, not only should they not [take up Orders], but they are incapable by law (de iure) and incapable in fact (de facto).

Ratio [Reason]

§p. And if the reason for this should be asked, it must be said that this comes not so much from the institution of the Church as from this fact, that the Sacrament of Orders is not suitable for women.

§q. For in this Sacrament the person who is ordained signifies Christ the Mediator, and since the Mediator was only of the male sex, he can [only] be signified by the male sex. Therefore the capability of receiving Orders is suitable only to men, who alone can naturally represent [Him] and by the reception of the chracter [of Holy Orders] in deed bear His sign. And this [latter] position is more probable and can be proved by many authorities [=quotations] of the Saints [=the Fathers of the Church].

[Solution of the arguments that opposed the conclusion.]

§r. 1. Therefore to the objection that was raised about Debbora, it must be said that it concerned temporal power, not spiritual power. It is allowed, however, for women to dominate temporally, but not with spiritual dominion, which dominion implies a sign that he who dominates bears the type of head of Christ. Since, then, a woman cannot be the head of a man, therefore she cannot be ordained.

§s. 2. Regarding the objection about abbesses, this must be said: that they do not have the position of ordinary praelature [as Bishops do], but they are substitutes, taking the place of the abbot, on account of the risk of cohabiting with men; hence they cannot ordinarily [=as a Bishop] absolve or bind . But sacerdotal office, or indeed the office of any Order, to which that ordinary power or Order are given, has a signification which does not belong to women, although ruling as such might belong to women.

§t. As for the objection that Orders regard the soul, it must be said that it does not regard only the soul; but the soul, since it is conjoined with the flesh, and, by reason of the signification that consists of the visible sign, also consists of the body; and the execution and practice of Orders regards this conjunction. Since neither the signification of Orders nor their dispensation belong to woman, as was shown above, therefore [the conclusion] is clear.

§u. 4. To the objection concerning the perfection of religious life and martyrdom, it must be said that it is a perfection which has to do with sanctifying grace, and woman is equally capable of receiving this as a man. But there is also a perfection of state, which concerns something given gratis, and this can belong to one sex, but may not belong to the other; because this regards not only what is interior, but what is exterior. Such is the perfection of Orders, in which there is a concentration of power, which many reasons show to be not at all suitable for women.

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