Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
John Duns Scotus. Quotation from a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard

John Duns Scotus

1266 - 1308 AD

John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar, was one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in the Middle Ages. He lectured at Cambridge, Oxford and Paris. In the post-scholastic age (16th - 18th centuries) his followers among Catholic theologians outnumbered those following St. Thomas Aquinas.

The text here quoted is from Scotus’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, printed in the Duns Scoti Opera Omnia, ed. Vives, Paris 1894, vol. 24, ‘Reportata Parisiensia’, Liber 4, Distinctio 25, Quaestio 2, pp.367-371. For Latin original, click here!

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

Paragraph numbering by John Wijngaards, for easy reference

Book IV, Distinctio XXV. Question II.

Whether the female sex or a youthful age should impede the taking of Orders.

Reasons why not [= why the female sex or youth should not impede].

§1. First negative argument. In Galatians 3 it is written: ‘In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, slave nor free’; therefore neither sex nor condition seems to impede the reception of Orders. And in the same place it is said that it is mainly Christ who ordains; therefore, etc. Next, other sacraments do not discriminate, so that each sex can truly receive them. It is clear by this logically that all [sacraments] can be equally administered to women as well as to men.

§2. Second negative argument. Also in Canon Law (Distinct. 32, last chapter, ‘Presbytera’; and first chapter ‘women priests’, and Distinct. 27, quest. 1.) it is said that a “diaconissa” [woman deacon] should not be ordained before she is forty. Therefore women can receive major Orders, such as the Diaconate and Presbyterate.

§3. Third negative argument. Also, that young age should not impede the reception of Orders is shown in this that young children can receive other Sacraments that imprint a character, such as Baptism and Confirmation; therefore also the Sacrament of Orders, which also imprints a character.

§4. Fourth negative argument. Also, someone ordained to minor orders under the years of discretion, may not be reordained later, just as it is held, except for a cleric promoted by a leap [= by omitting an intermediate order]. And this should not be the case unless he had truly received those Orders at the time.

On the other hand: [= arguments to show the female sex and young age impede]

§5. First positive argument. The fact that the female sex impedes the taking of Orders, is clear in the Decrees [of Gratian], distinc. 23. We do not permit women consecrated to God, or nuns, to touch the sacred vessels or the sacred palls, or to carry incense around the altar, etc., because—there is no doubt to any wise person— all such ministries [of women] are filled with reprehension and condemnation. But what impedes the handling and touching of the sacred objects, impedes much more the reception of Orders. Therefore if sex impedes in the first [case], then also in the second.

§6. Second positive argument. Also, it is forbidden to a priest to cultivate his hair, because he needs to be given the tonsure, or be shaved to his glory (dist. 13 on clerics. And besides on the life and hon. cler. ‘If someone’) but about women it is found: (1. Corinth. 11) It is base for a woman to be shaved, for if she grows her hair it is to her glory. Therefore since she cannot be ordained without first being shaved, such a tonsure would be to her ignominy, and not to her glory.

§7. Third positive argument. Also, that age impedes, is held in distinct. 77. The subdeacon may be ordained not earlier than twenty years of age, and in the following chapter: the Canon says It was agreed that Deacons may not be ordained, nor may virgins be consecrated, nor may lectors address the public before the age of twenty-five.


§8. First statement: Boys lacking reason are ordained irreverently, because they are not able to receive [Orders] with reverence.

§9. Secondly: Boys having reason are ordained licitly to minor orders, but not to sacred orders up to a certain age; which is 22 for the Subdeaconate, 23 for the Deaconate, and 25 for the Presbyterate, but it suffices for that year to have begun.

§10. Thirdly: Sacred Orders may be conferred validly on each of these, unless the lack of reason is an obstruction. (D. Thom. here quest. 2, art. 2, D. Bonavent. art. 2, quest. 1 Richard. art.9. quest. 2. Palud. quest. 2. Gabr. quest. 1. Sot. quest.1.art.2.)

§11. Fourthly: Women are incapable of Orders by divine law , and if they are ordained, it means nothing. The contrary is recorded as heresy by Ambros. in 1.Timoth.3.Epiph. haer.49. August.haer.27. Those who hold that minor orders have been instituted by the Church would not deny that they can be conferred upon women; on which point see Vasquez d. 245. cap.2.and disp.297.cap.2.23.

I respond to the question [= Duns Scotus’ own judgment:]

§12. I say that for anyone to be excluded from the reception of Orders can be understood in two ways; either one may be excluded from the reception of Orders because of the correctness and appropriateness of the manner of receiving them, since such Orders should be received honestly and correctly, with due reverence; or one is excluded from the reception of Orders because of necessity, and this is twofold, either because of the necessity of precept or because of the necessity of fact.

[The impediment of young age]

§13. I say that a youthful age excludes one from the taking of Orders according to the first mode, because boys cannot receive the sacrament of Orders with due reverence, and therefore it would be conferred and received dishonorably. As to the second mode, a boy cannot receive Orders, especially Holy Orders, because he is forbidden to receive them by the necessity of Church law, just as it is clear in distinct.77 above where the age of one who is eligible to take Orders is determined; and even if that determination is not held until the years [mentioned], it must be held with regard to the age of discretion, because it is always required, by every Decree [of Church law], for the one receiving Holy Orders to be of the age of discretion.

§14. As for the other Orders, not Holy Orders, there is no Church rule that one could not receive them before the age of discretion, as is clear from above, and in ‘Extra for a cleric promoted by a leap’.

§15. But young age is reasonably excluded from the reception of Holy Orders, because the vow of chastity is attached to this act, which requires the use of reason in receive Orders, and the [power] of deliberation regarding the vow, and familiarity with writing, (Extra, regarding the time of ordination, the last chapter, ‘no Bishop’), which also speaks about the first tonsure; but a boy under the years of discretion has none of these.

§16. As to the third mode, to be sure by necessity of fact, I say that young age does not exclude the reception of any Holy Orders, since if such a person receives some Order de facto, he truly receives it and should not be reordained at another time. And the reason for this is that with respect to whatever sacrament that is not repeatable, any disposition that precedes the disposition of the sacrament is not necessarily required on the part of the one receiving [it] , such as it is in confession, but it is only required that one does not actual make or place an obstacle. The proof for this is that someone can receive the grades, or the character, or the power of Orders, before he carries out the act of that Order, and the same for the character of Baptism, or of Confirmation. But Orders, or ordination, is a sacrament of this kind that is not repeatable; therefore the only thing required on the part of the recipient of Orders is that there is not contrary action; a young person receiving Orders is not disposed in a contrary manner because he does not have the use of reason, nor the deliberation of will; therefore, etc.

[The impediment of the female sex]

§17. But as for the sex, I say that the sex of a woman simply impedes the taking of Orders, and this as much from integrity as from the necessity of precept and fact; for it is not honorable for women to minister in any way in such a sacrament.

§18. They are also excluded from taking Orders by the necessity of precept and by the necessity of fact, not only of the Church or by the precept of the Apostles. Because I do not believe that by the institution of the Church or by the precept of the Apostles there was removed any useful degree [= ecclesiastical grade?] towards salvation from any person, and much less from a whole sex in life. Therefore if neither the Apostles nor the Church are able to remove from any one person, and much less from the whole female sex, any useful degree towards salvation, unless Christ, who is their head, intended that it be removed, then it must be that Christ, who instituted this sacrament, laid it down by precept.

§19. First Congruence. There can be a twofold congruence to this. One is this: Every Order is received towards the priesthood and teaching. But teaching belongs chiefly to priests, as it is held in dist. 16. quaest. 1 we add; and not to Deacons, unless by commission, when a sermon or an instruction is regarded as the reading of the Gospel, which it is fitting for deacons to read. But that deed is prohibited to women, 1. Timoth. 2. ‘Let the women learn in silence’, and ‘I do not permit them [women] to speak or to teach’, where a gloss [reads], ‘not only I but also the Lord does not permit it’;and this is so because of the weakness of their intellect, and the mutability of their emotions, which they commonly suffer more than men. For a Teacher ought to have a lively intellect in the recognition of truth, and stability of emotion in its confirmation.

§20. Therefore, whatever is added from the Decrees [of Church law] or precepts of Paul, for excluding women from receiving [Holy] Orders, are nothing else but supplements Christ’s teaching about this, or rather expressions of it; for the Mother of Christ was most worthy and most holy and nevertheless power of this kind was not conferred upon her.

§21. And if you argue about Magdalene, who was an Apostle, and a preacher, and put in charge of all women sinners, I answer that she was a singular woman, and singularly accepted by Christ, and such personal privilege follows a person, and is extinguished with that person. See (Extra de reg. juris, in 6.lib and elsewhere) those who are outside the common law may by no means be drawn to prove the opposite (in the same place).

§22. Second Congruence. The second congruence could be this: [Holy] Orders, as was said above, represents some degree of eminence over other people in the Church, and for an excellent action which in some way ought to be signified by an eminent condition and position in nature. Woman however possesses a [state of] natural subjection with respect to man. Therefore she ought to have no degree of eminence over any man, because as much by nature as by condition and nobility women are more ignoble than any man; whence after the fall, the Lord subjected her to the rule and power of the man. But if she were able to receive some [Holy] Order in the Church, she would be able to preside over and to have authority, which is contrary to her condition. Therefore the Bishop in conferring Orders on a woman, not only does wrong, because it is against Christ’s precept, but rather does nothing, nor does she receive anything, because she herself is not material capable of receiving this sacrament. Because Christ instituted that this sacrament be conferred only upon an individual of the human species and the masculine sex. It is clear from the authority of the Apostle,in Timoth.2.


§23. But against this an objection is made: When there is an agent and a receiver of the same species, there is an effect, since the effect does not depend upon others, nor does the diversity depend upon the diversity of anyone of them, (12. Met. text. com.18.). But the Bishop conferring the sacrament of Orders upon a woman, is an agent of the same species as the receiver, because the nature of the species is not dependent upon sex; therefore with the same nature the ensuing effect is of the same nature on a woman ordained, as on a man.

[Reply to the objection]

§24. I say that the major [the first part of the argument] is this true of a natural agent, and when there is no impediment on the part of the receiver; but if the principal agent was a voluntary agent, and the instrumental agent acts only in virtue of the principal agent, because he is completely determined by the Superior agent for the carrying out of some determined action, just as is it in the position of the Bishop with respect to God, who has placed an impediment on the part of one receiver, and not on the other, even though of the same nature, because of the different make up of the sex, -- then it does not follow that if those receiving are of the same nature, the effect would be of the same nature. For if the Bishop confers Orders upon a woman, he would do nothing as to that sacrament, because he is not the principal agent impressing the character of Orders, but only the secondary and instrumental one; and therefore he only impresses the character in such material receiving Orders, as has been determined for him as suitable by God, who is the main agent to impress the character. And that material which is not impeded by the condition of sex, is only the male of the human species.

[Reply to the first argument] (see §1)

§25. As to the first argument that opposes my conclusion, when it is said: ‘In Christ there is neither male not female, slave, nor free man’, I say that although with regard to salvation and eternal life there is no difference between male and female, slave nor freeman, there is nevertheless a difference between them with regard to possessing office and eminent position in the Church, because in this a man is preferred to a woman, as it has been said. But as for the taking up of other sacraments, women are capable.

[Reply to the second argument] (see §2)

§26. As for the second argument about ‘Presbytera’ [woman priest], I say that the term Presbytera is applied not to a woman ordained in Holy Orders, but an elderly widowed woman, about whom it is presumed that she has been tested and found holy among women. ‘Presbyterae’ can also be used for the wives of priests of Greece, so named from the offices of their husbands. Hence in Law ‘presbyterae’ do not signify ordained women, as you might reasonably suppose, because Canon. distinct. 27.c.1. says: We have decreed that those women ought not to be established as ordained in the Church, It doews not signify those among good women that are outstanding in their lives, like priests, but some good matron widows, or those who ought to surpass others in their lives and manners. But ‘ Diaconissa’ [Deaconess] means Abbess, according to the gloss there. But it might be better say that Deaconesses can be understood to be women who have the task by an ordination of the Abbess or of the community to read the homily of the gospel at [the prayer of Matins], which is not the action of any [Holy] Order.

[Reply to the third argument] (see §3-4)

§27. As for the other argument, when it is said that young age impedes according to the Canons [of Church law], I say that in antiquity the time of life for receiving Orders was later than now, because now men are more quickly capable of trickery than they were then, and therefore one is not so limited now as earlier, and because men now are prone to evil, it is good, to forestall this evil, to instruct them in their youth so that they may be able to receive this sacrament worthily.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.