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Letter to Women

Richard of Middleton OFM

13th century

This passage 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. For the original Latin text, click here.

Translated especially for womenpriests.org from the original Latin
by Dr. Mary Ann Rossi -- credits

Paragraph numbers added by John Wijngaards for easy reference

Distinctio 25, Article 4

.Latin manuscript Richard of Middleton

§1. Three things are asked: first, whether the female sex impedes the reception of [Holy] Orders; secondly, whether young age does; thirdly, whether birth defects do.

[Arguments in favour of women’s ordination]

§2. At first I show that the female sex does not impede the reception of [Holy] Orders. It is Christ who ordains principally, but just as it is said in Gal 3: In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female; therefore a woman can be ordained as much as a man.

§3. Also in ‘Decr.dist.32 priest & women’ [= from the Decretum Gratiani]: mention is made of presbytera [= woman priest]; and in dist. 27 q 1 (?): that a deaconess ought not be ordained before the age of forty; therefore women could receive the [Holy] Orders of diaconate and presbyterate.

§4. Also, women can possess the act of prophesying. Hence Luk 2: Anna was a prophetess. Therefore, similarly, they can be ordained.

Against is: [Arguments against ordination]

§5. Decret.dist 23 ‘Consecrated’: ‘It has been reported to this See that among you women who are consecrated to God, touch sacred vessels and altar cloths, and carry incense around the altar, which as no one in his right mind will doubt deserves reprehension and condemnation’. Well, that which impedes the touching of sacred things impedes the reception of [Holy] Orders. Therefore the female sex impedes the reception of [Holy] Orders.

§6. Also, clerics need to be given the tonsure, as has been stated before. But 1 Cor. says it is a shame for a woman to shave her hair, and she should not. If she looks after her hair, it is her glory. Therefore, only clerics should be ordained, a woman ought not to be ordained.

I respond [= John Middleton’s own judgment]

§7. I answer that the female sex impedes the reception of [Holy] Orders by law by which a woman may not be ordained, and also by fact so that even if all the ceremonies that surround ordinands are applied to a woman, she would not receive [Holy] Orders. The reason for this is that sacred realities have their validity from their institution. But Christ instituted this sacrament to be conferred only to male persons, not to females.

§8. There are two reasons of congruity for this institution.

§9. The first reason is this. The office of teaching belongs to [Holy] Orders and every Order is arranged towards the priesthood, to whom this office properly belongs (Dist 16, qu. 1). We add that it also belongs to the diaconate (Decret. Dist 25, ‘perlectis’ r. 92 at ‘In facta’), which should be interpreted thus: that the priest holds the principal office [of teaching] but the deacon by delegation, or that preaching for them means reading the Gospel. But teaching in public is not proper for a woman because of the weakness of her intellect and the instability of her emotions, of which defects women suffer more than men by a notable common law. But a teacher needs to have a vivid intellect to recognise the truth and stable emotions to persist in their expression.

§10. The second reason is this that [Holy] Orders establish the ordained person in some degree of eminence, which has somehow to be signified in the eminence of nature of the person ordained. But woman possesses a state of subjection with regard to man, which also corresponds to her nature. For the female sex is naturally imperfect in comparison to the male sex.

§11. These two reasons we can also extract from the very apt statement in 1 Tim 2: Let women keep silent in church in all submission - I do not permit a woman to teach nor to rule over a man.

[Answers to the arguments in favour of the ordination of women]

§12. My answer to the first, when it is said there is neither male nor female, I say that this means, in comparison to Christ, that there is no difference between male and female as to merit, but there is as to office [= the office of Holy Orders].

§13. With regard to the second, I say that there senior widows, and not ordained women, are called ‘Presbytera’ are widows, not women who are ordained. Moreover, about those who are called ‘presbyterae’ [= ‘women priests’], the same Canon states: ‘We have decided that these should not be established as ordained women in the Church’. ‘Deaconess’ should be understood as ‘abbess’, as a gloss explains. Perhaps it is even better to say that women who received some blessing to read the homily at matins [= at morning service] are called deaconnesses, as is stated there in another gloss.

§14. To the third argument I answer that there is no similarity. Prophecy does not give a woman any power over a man. But an ordained man stands in a state of eminence over non-ordained men. Therefore, although it is not repugnant for an abbess to be over women and to force them [with authority] - [and a man could not do this] because of the danger of [women] living together with a man --, it would be ridiculous for her to an abbess of men.


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