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Durandus a Saint-Pourçain. Why women cannot be ordained priests

Durandus a Saint-Pourçain

1270 - 1334 AD

Born in Auvergne, France, Durandus was a Dominican friar who wrote influential books on philosphy and theology. He also lectured theology at Avignon when the Pope resided there. He became successively bishop of Limoux, Le Puy and Meaux. Durandus disagreed from Thomas Aquinas on the function of reason in philosophy and theology.

Why women cannot be ordained priests

A brief analysis of his arguments

Our analysis will be based on a text from Durandus’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, printed in the In Petri Lombardi Sententias Theologicas Commentarium, Venice 1571, vol. 4, Dist. 25, Quaestio 2, f 364-v. Read here the original Latin text or its translation into English. Marginal numbers and paragraph numbers in this analysis refer to that translation.

Reasons why women cannnot be ordained:

  1. Christ himself has excluded women from Holy Orders. Main reason (see no 6,§2; no 10)
    Durandus bases this conclusion on the following arguments:
    a. Christ ordained only men at the Last Supper (see 6,§3). But consider the social and cultural reasons of the time.
    b. He did not even ordain his own Mother (see 6,§4). But Tradition considered Mary as possessing the priesthood equivalently.
    c. It MUST have been Christ’s own decision. Otherwise excluding women would constitute real discrimination (see no 6,§6). But this is a circular argument! We know that the Church has often been guilty of discrimination in the past.
  2. Paul forbids women to teach (see no 6,§5).
    Response. 1 Timothy 2,11-15 is understood out of context. It may not be interpreted as implying a general rule, prohibiting women from teaching for all time to come. Modern Church Law allows women to teach in church.
  3. Women are inferior to men (no 6,§7) Durandus enumerates the prejudices of his time: women have an imperfect intelligence and a weak body. They are in a state of subjection. Holding an eminent position is not fitting for women.
    Response. This kind of prejudice underlies all medieval thinking and makes it impossible to imagine that women too could be priests. The theological reasons given are rationalizations to justify the prejudices.

Scotus’s replies to objections:

  1. What about women’s receiving all other sacraments? Durandus says the other sacraments concern spiritual needs which are common to men and women. Holy Orders gives eminence and rank, which do not become women (see no1; no 9).
  2. Don't men and women possess the same human nature? Durandus says that this is so, but the ordaining Bishop is restricted in his powers by Christ who holds the main authority (see no 2 and 10).
  3. What about ‘presbyterae’ (women priests) and ‘diaconissae’ (women deacons) in tradition? Durandus dismisses these terms as not referring to women who were ordained to Holy Orders. (see no 3, no 11). However, today we know better. Women deacons were sacramentally ordained, as the ordination rituals of early centuries show. In some parts of Europe women were also ordained as priests.

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