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Richard of Middleton OFM. 13th century. An analysis of why, he claims, women cannot be ordained priests

Richard of Middleton OFM

13th century

An analysis of why, he claims, women cannot be ordained priests

Richard’s passage that concenrns the ordination of women can be found in Ricardus de Media Villa [= Richard of Middleton] Super Quarto Sententiarum [= commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sententiarum vol. 4] Dist. 25, a. 4, n. 1; ed. Bocatelli, Venice, 1499 (Pellechet-Polain, 10132/9920), f 177-R. Read here the original Latin text or its translation into English. Paragraph numbers refer to this text.

Arguments against the ordination of women

1. Women were forbidden to touch sacred objects (§5). Therefore all the more they should not be ordained priests.

Answer. The argument is obviously invalid. It shows the unfortunate influence of early local synods on medieval Church Law.

2. Women cannot receive the tonsure which is required for minor orders because it would not be becoming (§6). Therefore they cannot be ordained.

Answer. The argument is simply ridiculous.

3. Christ has instituted Holy Orders to be conferred only to men, not to women (§7).

Answer. Middleton does not prove that Christ has imposed this restriction. He simply assumes it. And here the scholastic principle applies: ‘Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur’ = What is asserted without reason, may be denied without reason.

4. [His own first main reason] Priests have to teach. But women cannot teach because of their weak intellect and emotional instability (§9).

5. [His own second main reason] Ordination requires eminence of nature which women lack. Because women are subject to men (§10).

Answer. This kind of prejudice underlies all medieval thinking and makes it impossible to imagine that women too could be priests. They are the real reason why women were banned from ordination. Other theological reasons given are rationalizations to justify the prejudices.

6. St. Paul confirmed this by saying that women should not teach in public (§11).

Answer. 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. The Church acknowledges this interpretation. Modern Church Law allows women to teach in church.

Middleton’s replies to the arguments in favour of women’s ordination.

a. Paul’s text that there are no longer male or female in Christ (Galatians 3,27-28), applies only to merit, not to holding ordained office in the Church (see §2 and 12).

Answer. Paul does not speak about merit in Galatians 3,27-28, but about a real equality of status in Christ. Women therefore have the same eminence as men, and can be ordained.

b. There never were ordained women in the past. ‘Presbytera’ refers to a senioir widow, ‘diaconissa’ to ‘abbess’, or someone blessed to read the homily at matins (see §3 and 13).

Answer. Middleton shows his ignorance of history. 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.

c. Women were prophetesses, but a prophetess has no authority over men. But ordination would give women such authority and that is incompatible with their status of subjection (see §4 and §14).

Answer. Prejudice surfaces again! Like his contemporaries Middleton considers women inferior to men.


Richard Middleton's arguments for excluding women from the priesthood are invalid.

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