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The devil's gateway

The devil’s gateway

Chapter 6 in Freeing the Feminine by Elspeth and Gordon Strachan,
Labarum Publications, Dunbar 1985, pp. 117-137.

Republished on our website with permission of the authors

Although we live in what many term a post-Christian era, even those in the west who utterly deny any Christian affiliation cannot escape the effects of two thousand years of ecclesiastical influence. The west today reflects Christendom of old and at the heart of many of society’s traditions and taboos there often lurk strains of archaic church doctrine and practice. This is particularly true with regard to women. The great Latin Christian father, Tertullian, called women ‘the devil’s gateway’ because of Eve’s allurements, and warned that ‘God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and his punishment weighs down upon you.(1) Many women today still feel the weight of this judgment, especially from the churches, but are unaware of the history behind its projection of guilt.

As we have seen, women have long been identified with the earth rather than heaven, with matter rather than spirit, body rather than mind. In many religious traditions this has been painfully explicit through the labelling of women as ‘unclean’ because of their bodily functions of menstruation and childbirth. (The release of all bodily fluids, from female or male, was considered unclean, of course, but those appertaining to these particular, and purely female, functions were especially so.) The most extraordinary superstitions have surrounded a menstruating woman, for at this time her rhythms appeared to be magical, much closer to the rhythms of nature. Giving birth to a child was also considered unclean, and the patriarchal prejudice comes through clearly when we read in the Old Testament that a woman was considered less unclean if she gave birth to a boy than a girl! She had to stay away from society for fourteen days if her child was female, and only seven if it was male. Woman’s nature was considered alien to ‘normal’ humanity, and as such it has been the subject of much philosophical and religious debate. The writings of the church fathers, reflective as they were of the times and conditioning in which they lived, graphically reveal a deeply dualistic view of soul and body, God and nature, male and female.

Christian teaching has been profoundly influenced by Greek and Latin philosophy, particularly the works of Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, Greek philosophers have been used to answer questions which the scriptures did not cover and in that sense have supplanted the bible on a number of matters. One of the early church’s greatest scholars, Jerome, translator of the bible into the Vulgate, devoted himself so obsessively to the Greek and Latin classics that he had a vision of Christ, advising him to spend more time on the bible! Jerome’s fascination with philosophy was reflected in his extreme asceticism. Martin Luther wrote of Jerome that, ‘I know none among the teachers whom I hate like Jerome, for he writes only of fasting, of victual, of virginity, etc. He teaches nothing either of faith, of hope, or of charity, nor of the works of faith.(2) Much of the blame for our Christian alienation from the body and nature must be laid at the feet of fathers such as Jerome and their philosopher-guides. Plato and Aristotle were completely absorbed into Christian doctrine, inextricably bound up with its history, yet both were deeply misogynist, women representing what they saw as the inferior sphere of existence. People are often ignorant of the extremes to which they and their followers went in their anti-feminist feeling, but it has left a deep mark.


Plato believed in the superiority of spirit and mind over the body. He encouraged ‘platonic love’ rather than physical love, and set his hopes on life after death, despising the material, transient side of earthly existence. Although he appeared at times to give women equality with men, his dualistic thinking always represented them as inferior or as failed men. They had no status as women: ‘. . . it is natural for women to take part in all occupations as well as men, though in all women will be the weaker partners.(3) He associated women with the earth, saying that in fertility it was women who learned from nature, not vice-versa. He saw women as at best, a sort of second-rate man, and his most profoundly misogynist comment came in the Timaeus where he wrote that: ‘. . . he who should live his appointed span well should travel back to the abode of his consort star and there spend a happy congenial life; but failing of this, he should change at his second birth into a woman . . .’ (4)

In the Laws he wrote: ‘Woman - left without chastening restraint - is not, as you might fancy, merely half the problem; nay she is a twofold and more than a twofold problem, in proportion as her native disposition is inferior to man’s’. (5)

Aristotle categorised women with slaves and non-Greeks and saw them as naturally servile. There was some question about whether in procreation they helped to provide the soul of an embryonic child or only its body. He believed that in a perfect world all humanity would be male, for ‘. . . the female, in fact, is female on account of inability of a sort . . . and we should look upon the female state as being as it were a deformity . . .(6) Far from ridiculing such an outrageous statement Aristotle’s follower, Thomas Aquinas, restated and expanded it. He was deeply impressed by the works of Aristotle, brought them into his own theology at every opportunity and called him simply, ‘the Philosopher’. He too believed that woman was a defective male who only appeared in the world as the result of some dreadful accident to the male seed:

As regards the particular nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex, while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external change, such as that of the south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes.(7)

When answering the question ‘whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?’, Aquinas gave the reassuring answer that ‘[God] can direct any evil to a good end’! He had no doubt that it was man who was God’s ideal for humanity, ‘. . . that just as God is the principle of the whole universe, so the first man, in likeness to God, was the principle of the whole human race.(8) So, according to the great Aristotle and Aquinas, woman was deformed, misbegotten, defective.

The picture of woman as only a second-class human being was of course reinforced by the second account of creation and the fall in Genesis. Paul made much of the chronological sequence of creation in Genesis, using chapters 2 and 3 as the prime reason why a woman should never have authority over a man: ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor’ (I Tim. 2:12-14).

It is surprising that Paul should have relied so exclusively on this account of creation for, as we have seen, there were two accounts and it was the later one (in Genesis I) that was generally considered to be more theological. In it both man and woman were created simultaneously and equal. Even in the second account it was not only Eve who became a transgressor; Adam also sinned and fell. Yet Paul ignored the first account and interpreted the second as proving woman’s inferiority! Moreover, he went further, implying that woman was not even in the image of God, again basing his argument entirely on Genesis 2 and 3: ‘A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man’ (I Cor. 11:7-8).

We would do well to note psychologist Erich Neumann’s observation that ‘Unnatural symbols and hostility to the nature symbol - e.g., Eve taken out of Adam - are characteristic of the patriarchal spirit. (9) Paul’s loose arguing around this point has done untold harm to women. Augustine spotted Paul’s omission of any reference to the first account of creation and tried to reconcile the two, getting himself - and thereby Christian doctrine - into very deep water:

. . . we must notice how that which the apostle says, that not the woman but the man is the image of God, is not contrary to that which is written in Genesis, ‘God created man: in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them: and He blessed them.’ For this text says that human nature itself, which is complete in both sexes was made in the image of God; and it does not separate the woman from the image of God which it signifies.(10)

All well and good. However, Augustine then goes on to explain when a woman is not in God’s image:

. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred to separately in her quality as help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when woman too is joined with him in one.(11)

Thus Augustine, the greatest of church fathers, spelled out the implications of Paul’s teaching: man alone is the glory and image of God; woman is only in his image if she is married! This teaching was crystalised into orthodox Christian doctrine, so that the twelfth century system of church law, the Decretum stated categorically: ‘The image of God is in man and it is one. Women were drawn from man, who has God’s jurisdiction as if he were God’s vicar because he has the image of the one God. Therefore, woman is not made in God’s image.’ (12)


Many things have militated against the equality of men and women, not least the centuries of vitriolic abuse hurled at women in written and oral form. The relegation of women to the inferior, creaturely, abysmal side of life has caused those who felt obliged to reject their own bodies as shameful to reject women as shameful too. The following attitude was very common in Greece, and can still be heard today echoing round the remaining male-monopolised corridors of power.

Protogenes, speaking in Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love comments,

I certainly do not give the name ‘love’ to the feeling one has for women and girls any more than we would say that flies are in love with milk, bees with honey or breeders with the calves and fowl they fatten in the dark .... Love inspired by a noble and gifted soul leads to virtue through friendship, but desire felt for a woman leads at best to nothing more than the fleeting enjoyments and pleasures of the body . . . there is only one genuine love, that which boys inspire . . . (13)

For Protogenes, woman was not a noble or gifted soul with whom friendship could be inspiring and uplifting, still less on the basis of virtue! She was only a sexual being and as such unworthy of the superior man’s consideration. This view of woman has not only largely excluded them from the decision-making classes and hierarchies of power, but has led to the degradations of sexual abuse such as rape, pornography and prostitution. Such ‘schizoid’ and non-Christian rejection of the physical creates the paradoxical problem of being out of touch with the health-giving rhythms of the body, while at the same time it frequently leads to over-indulging its desires.

The long tradition behind fear and disgust towards the flesh and its representative, woman, is clearly illustrated in many other writings of the church. One eleventh century French monk felt compelled to compare woman to a dung heap in order to produce the desired attitude of nausea:

If her bowels and flesh were cut open, you would see what filth is covered by her white skin. If a fine crimson cloth covered a pile of foul dung, would anyone be foolish enough to love the dung because of it? . . . There is no plague which a monk should dread more than woman: the soul’s death. (14)

Although this was a very extreme way of putting it, it reflects how women were seen as a special threat to the soul, since, according to the church, their very essence was carnal. Many of the early Christians were ascetic and women presented a great temptation to them. Origen was so agonised by this that (following Matt. 5:29f; 18:9) he castrated himself. Even Tertullian, who did marry, wrote letters to his long-suffering wife praising the great virtues of celibacy and asceticism. Heaven and earth were not united in his theology: ‘But we read that the flesh is weak, and this serves us as an excuse for pampering ourselves in a number of ways. We also read, however, that the spirit is strong . . . . The flesh is of the earth, the spirit is of heaven . . . . Should not the things of earth yield to the things of Heaven ? (15)

Jerome neurotically avowed that ‘a clean body signifies a dirty mind’. He found all aspects of sexuality abhorrent, encouraged his flock to act against nature if at all possible, and while in the body to live as if out of it. The slimy river-bed of marriage only offered one speck of gold dust to Jerome: ‘I praise marriage, I praise wedlock, but I do so because they produce virgins for me, I gather roses from thorns, gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell. (16)

These attitudes may have been understandable in men who were attempting celibacy, but even within marriage Augustine advised his followers to hate the flesh. A man should love his wife in the same way as Christ commanded him to love his enemy. He wanted there to be no physical pleasure in loving one’s wife, and in moments of intimacy he suggested the partners should try to dissociate themselves from their bodies, ‘Thus it is characteristic of a good Christian to love in one woman the creature of God whom he desires to be transformed and renewed, but to hate corruptible and mortal intimacy and copulation - that is, to love the human being in her, but to hate that which makes her a wife.’(17)

We can only feel pity for both the husband and wife who tried to follow Augustine’s instructions! However, as he believed that sin originated when a man was aroused by a woman, this false attitude to marriage was perhaps logical. Augustine was undoubtedly influenced by his own sexual adventures before becoming a Christian, and by the dualistic Manichean heresy to which he then adhered.

In many religious orders, the celibacy of both monks and nuns was required, although by no means always achieved. Women could gain some independence and even spiritual authority by joining an order and being a virgin in Christ. Those who won recognition in the eyes of their male spiritual leaders were given the highest accolade - they were called ‘brother’! But not all women religious gained this approval. The following 13th century Premonstratensian charter declared,

[seeing] that the iniquity of women surpasses all iniquities which are in the world, and that there is no wrath greater than that of a woman, that the poisons of vipers and dragons are healthier and less harmful for men than familiarity with women . . . we shall receive under no condition any more sisters for the increase of our perdition, but rather we shall avoid accepting them as if poisonous beasts. (18)

It is only when we remember that women symbolised the body and transfer this vitriol against women to vitriol against the flesh that views such as these can in any way be explained. They cannot be excused.

Reformers such as Calvin and Luther were deeply critical of some of these worst excesses of the church fathers and their followers. Luther warned his people to ‘. . . read the Fathers with distinction, considerately. Let us lay them in the gold balance; for the Fathers stumbled oftentimes, and went astray: they mingle in their books many impertinent and monkish things.’ (19) Many wise and sensible things were said by them, particularly regarding the importance of married and family life. In this they brought a great deal more respect to woman than previously. There was still a catch however, for according to them a woman’s status lay in her role as wife and mother, not as a spiritual equal. She had even less spiritual autonomy than her catholic sisters who had considerable authority as nuns. Heaven and earth were still not one. As Calvin warned: ‘If women usurp the right to teach it will be a mingling of heaven and earth.’ Such a thing was obviously unthinkable. Martin Luther believed that a woman’s physical build equipped her only for bearing, feeding and nursing children, governing their education and running the kitchen. He did not want to see her going off to church on her own, and fasting or praying too frequently. The place of women was in the home, whilst men ran the world: ‘The husband rules the house, governs the state politic, conducts wars, defends his own property, cultivates the earth, builds, plants etc. The woman, on the other hand, as a nail driven into the wall, sits at home. (20)

Sadly, John Knox, one-time colleague of Calvin, though happily married, really vented his spleen against the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ who had the audacity to teach and even govern men. In a torrent of hysterical outrage Knox accused women of the most exotic crimes which proved them incapable of government:

I might adduce histories, proving some women to have died for sudden joy, some for impatience to have murdered themselves, some to have burned with such inordinate lust, that for the quenching of the same, they have betrayed to strangers their country and city: and some to have been so desirous of dominion, that for the obtaining of the same, they have murdered the children of their own sons . . . (21)

He continued page after page in the same vein, warning that although a man may be blind in many other matters, in this he sees very clearly,

For who can deny but it repugneth to nature, that the blind (i. e. women) shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong, and finally that the foolish, mad and frenetic shall govern the discreet and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? (22)

It is to Calvin’s eternal credit that he was deeply embarrassed by Knox’s outburst, and in a letter to Sir William Cecil tried to dissociate himself from Knox whose ‘thoughtless arrogance’ might have undone all his good work in Geneva and elsewhere, especially England. However, it appears that his own private views about the government of women were not so far removed from Knox’s, he was simply more diplomatic about them: ‘Two years ago John Knox asked of me, in a private conversation, what I thought about the Government of Women. I candidly replied, that as it was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, it was to be ranked no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man. (23) Calvin admitted that God did occasionally endow women such as Huldah, Deborah and the then Queen of England with special licence to rule, but this was only to’, teach men a lesson; it was not a natural occurrence.

Attitudes such as these do not merely belong to history. The twentieth century reformed theologian Karl Barth also believed that any attempt to make men and women equal was spiritually misguided. Barth saw man as ruler of woman in the same way as he saw God as ruler of man, masters rulers of slaves, and parents rulers of children: ‘Like children in relation to parents, slaves to their masters, the younger to the elder, Christians to the powers that be, women are exhorted and invited to accept their subordination to men not merely as a given fact but in clear self-consciousness, with free will and full responsibility. (24)

According to Barth, a woman must always be ‘B’ to man’s ‘A’. She could not walk side by side with him: she must walk behind: ‘Properly speaking, the business of woman, her task and function, is to actualise the fellowship in which man can only precede her, stimulating, leading and inspiring . . . . To wish to replace him in this, or to do it with him would be to wish not to be a woman.’(25) Barth’s assumption of woman’s subordination to man and the ‘given fact’ of her inferiority should not of course surprise us, for as we have seen, there have been many arguments over the centuries ‘proving’ why this is so. (26)


One of the most bizarre and shameful episodes in European history was the witchcraft craze, an episode in which both Protestants and catholics alike took part and which seemed to be based on a total transference of the sins of the world, the flesh and the devil on to women. This transference began to take place in earnest around the thirteenth century when the traditionally male figure of the devil, prince of the world, became a woman Frau Welt. In literature and sculpture, the worm-eaten, aristocratic male gradually turned into a worm-eaten and beautiful female, often accompanied by that symbol of fleshly lust, the goat. The thinking behind such a transference of devilish evil from a male to a female figure was to have devastating consequences. As historian Eleanor McLaughlin says, Frau Welt was ‘a public symbol of the high medieval Christian association of the feminine with the evils of sensuality and self-indulgence, for in Frau Welt the woman personifies worldly evil, that “materiality” and “fleshiness” which the theological tradition had identified with womankind.’(27) So despised were women during this period that the Latin word for ‘woman’ femina - was interpreted as meaning ‘lacking in faith’. This fanciful play on words reflected a very much more sinister suspicion of women which found practical expression in the atrocities of the witchhunt.

The European witchcraft craze reached its peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the same time as great spiritual strides were being made in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and during the supposedly enlightened period of the Renaissance, tens of thousands of mainly harmless women were burned, drowned, beaten and tortured as witches. It is estimated that about one million witches were put to death by both catholics and protestants during the witchhunts - a period which stretched from the later middle ages to the seventeenth century. One Lutheran witch hunter named Benedict Carpazov proudly boasted of having seen to the burning of twenty thousand witches himself.

This was a complex and shocking episode in European history. Many attempts have been made to explain its causes. Some see it as a remnant of Greco-Roman paganism, some as a consequence of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death; some see witches, along with Jews and other ‘heretics’, as scapegoats for the misery of the period. But one aspect which has at times been overlooked by traditional historians (although not by feminist ones!) is the fact that most of the victims were women. Not all were women, for it was accepted that the devil could seduce men as well, but the vast majority of alleged witches were female. In the Malleus Maleficarum, that great encyclopaedia of demonology, the reasons were most lucidly expounded:

As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sex rather than among men . . . . The first reason is, that they are more credulous . . . . The second reason is, that women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit .... The third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow women those things which by evil arts they know .... they are feebler both in mind and body . . . as regards intellect, or the understanding of spiritual things, they seem to be of a different nature from men;

But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations . . . . To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.(28)

So there we have it: credulity, passiveness, infirmity of body and imbecility of mind apart, the natural and prime reason for women becoming witches was their carnality. Despite the fact that so many of the accused were harmless old women who perhaps knew something about herbalism and natural remedies, the chance to indulge in fleshly lust was considered to be the main attraction of witchcraft. The Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of the Witches was an exceedingly popular and highly regarded document. Written by two Dominican priests, Kramer and Sprenger, it was published in 1486, following a papal bull on the same subject in 1484. Between then and 1520, it went through fourteen editions and lay on the benches of judges and magistrates of both catholic and Protestant faiths during the period of the craze. Amazingly, the high acclaim which this document received has not been limited to that time alone. Its modern translator, the Reverend Montague Summers admitted to being deeply impressed by it. As he commented in his introduction of 1946: ‘It is not too much to say that the Malleus Maleficarum is among the most important, wisest, and weightiest books of the world .... What is most surprising is the modernity of the book. There is hardly a problem, a complex, a difficulty, which they have not foreseen and discussed, and resolved.’ (29)

Presumably, Montague Summers agreed with Sprenger and Kramer that woman is ‘but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil . . . an evil of nature.’ He certainly did not seem to be put out by this as he eulogised the work for its wisdom and modernity, describing it as being ‘argued with unflinching logic, and judged with scrupulous impartiality.’ For those who are inclined to dismiss the anti-feminist feelings described in this chapter as ancient idiocies, let Montague Summers be a warning. Such feelings are still abroad today and still deprive women of their personhood.

In his controversial analysis of the European witchcraze, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper attributed much of the blame to a dualistic doctrine in the church. According to him, the inevitable corollary of Thomas Aquinas’s exhaustive systematisation of God’s kingdom, his Summa Theologica, was a systematisation of the devil’s kingdom, the Malleus Maleficaruni Aristotelian cosmology was behind both systems and Trevor-Roper says, ‘St. Thomas Aquinas, the guarantor of the one was the guarantor of the other.’(30) The simplistic division of life into light and darkness, good and evil, easily became a polarisation between ‘those for us’ and those ‘against us’. According to this thinking heretics were witches and witches were heretics. Thus Jews, Albigensians, Moors, all those who did not conform to the ‘norm’, were heretics and witches, scapegoats for all evils. Catholics were witches to protestants and protestants were witches to catholics. The religious wars of this period helped to fan the fire of the witch-pyres just as religious bigotry fans the fires of terrorism in Northern Ireland today.

Trevor-Roper very harshly condemns both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as the founders of demonology and fathers of the witch-craze. Aquinas he accuses of being tainted by Aristotelian cosmology and Augustine by Manichean heresy. It was the influence of their theology with its concentration on the divisions of lift which, according to Trevor-Roper, led to the atrocities of self-righteousness, bigotry and cruelty during the craze. It is highly significant (although like most historians Trevor-Roper does not comment on it), that it was mainly women who represented darkness, evil, supernatural wickedness, fleshly lust and who were burnt at the stake. As Kramer and Sprenger said, they were ‘an evil of nature’. Perhaps they represented ‘evil nature’? The church fathers including Aquinas and Augustine taught much that was deeply spiritual and wise: they also taught much that was body-alienated and foolish. They and the Greek philosophers have left a legacy of dualism which still haunts the Christian church.


Augustine wrote that a woman was in God’s image in her body only if she was married. A single man was in God’s image in both mind and body whether married or not. Although Genesis 1 categorically states that Elohim made humanity in the image of the transcendent deity - male and female, the church has been unable to accept the radical equality this has granted to women. Our patriarchal ecclesiastics have portrayed God not only as masculine, but male. In the Roman Catholic Church the priest is considered to be God’s unique representative, his vicar on earth. A masculine God can only be represented by a man, so the argument goes. The man is the bridegroom; the woman represents the subservient earthly bride, the church of God. While God is confined to masculine imagery alone, the ordination of women to the catholic priesthood will be impossible. As early as 1963, Pope John XXIII warned that women will no longer tolerate being refused their rights as human beings:

Since women are becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity, they will not tolerate being treated as mere material instruments, but demand rights befitting a human person both in domestic and public life . . . Human beings have the right to choose freely the state of life which they prefer, and therefore the right to follow a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. (Pacem in Terris, 1963)

Unfortunately, the situation has become less, rather than more, tolerable for Catholic women under the present Pope.

The Church of England is also full of anomalies on this issue. Despite a decision of the 1975 Synod which ruled that there is no fundamental theological objection to the ordination of women, the church has consistently refused to grant them that right. In an historic vote in 1978, the motion to ordain women was defeated by the Church of England clergy who voted overwhelmingly against the motion, although the majority of bishops and laity were in favour. Many women were devastated. As Una Kroll cried from the spectators’ gallery, ‘We asked for bread and you gave us a stone!’ Some Anglican priests seem to have a profound and irrational fear of women in their ranks. In 1973 the Bishop of Exeter made the extraordinarily abusive comment that the admission of women to the priesthood would herald a subtle shift towards the old pagan religions, and would threaten the church’s witness ‘in a sex-obsessed culture.’ (31) Such utter nonsense is not only ignorant but deeply insulting, especially to those ordained women of other denominations who have not indulged in the orgiastic rites of the old pagan religions! There is something seriously amiss in a church where such sentiments can be given voice. (Happily, this state of affairs has been changed in the historic decision of the Synod of the Church of England which, in November 1984, voted in favour of women priests.)

Although many presbyterian churches do allow women into the ministry, many of the women themselves feel regarded as surrogate men. The emphasis is still very much on masculine dominated structures, a masculine God, leaving to women the serving roles. Equality in theory may have been given, but its reality is still far off. This is more or less true of the whole range of activities open to women. In our masculine, ‘yang’ dominated society, with its traditionally male-monopolised churches, the feminine, women themselves, nature, the earth, the intuitive and the holistic view of life have been relegated to the ‘repressed, subjugated and dreaded “abysmal side of man”.’(32)

The first article of the Nicene Creed states that ‘we believe in one God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.’ As the systematic theologian Professor George Hendry points out, this article affirms the oneness of God, the duality of his creation, and the need to refer the world in its duality to the one God who is its creator. As he says, we are all too aware today of the differences and divisions in life. Our very language draws distinctions between self and world, thought and extension, mind and matter, subject and object, spirit and nature. These divisions or dualities have become unbalanced, for we emphasise one side again and again, and devalue the other. As Hendry says, ‘it is our deepened sense of the difference between these two sides of the world that has forced us to articulate the meaning of faith in God in relation to the first term in each of these pairs, and to leave the second out of the picture.’(33) So the world, matter, the Other, and nature, are left out of God’s kingdom in our understanding of the faith. This, as Hendry points out, is heresy. Heresy literally means choosing or partiality, (the Greek hairésis was used of a school of thought). The church’s partiality for heaven, the invisible world and the masculine, has made it ‘heretical’. On this point many theologians agree.

God is both creator and redeemer of the world, but it has been his role as redeemer from sin that has been most stressed in the Christian church. The fact that he is also the creator of all things visible and invisible has been an embarrassment. Likewise the Pauline element in the doctrine of Christ, in which Jesus is given his proper dual role - creator and redeemer - has always seen the diminishing, if not the eclipse, of the former by the latter. Although attempts were made to highlight Christ as the logos or word who both created and saved the world (as in John I), they have failed repeatedly. As Rosemary Ruether has said,

this affirmation of the unity of the Christ of the end with the Creator of the beginning did not substantially modify Christianity’s commitment to an otherworldly, spiritualist view of redemption. So the two doctrines remained (and still remain) in conflict, each modifying the other in strange and incompletely defined ways.(34)

It is this failure of the church to find the equilibrium between Christ’s role as creator of the beautiful, harmonious and good world and his role as saviour of the world from sin and death, that has created such damaging ‘schizoid’ distortions in its witness. As an other-worldly, heaven-orientated religion it has not only ignored but condoned the repression, abuse and exploitation of the feminine. The medieval inability to combine spirit and matter, heaven and earth, mind and body, male and female, had led to a psychological, social and spiritual malaise which still afflicts us today. Women are still excluded from social and spiritual equality with men; they are still implicitly relegated to the ‘inferior’, material and domestic side of life; nature and the ecological crisis are still not considered to be the business of most theologians; the feminine qualities are still despised or patronised.

The church must accept its full share of the blame for society’s ills. Its inability to shed the classical rejection of the body has led to a mutilated gospel in which Christ’s humanity has been all but denied and his divinity elevated. As we have seen, Christ held together the opposites of heaven and earth, and showed the way forward through that mature spiritual balance. Yet the church has failed to teach the freedom and wholeness of that message. Psychologist Frank Lake is deeply concerned about the damage done by what he calls ‘schizoid intellectual theologians’ - the men (and women) who have tried to escape the pain and perplexities of bodily reality by splitting off into spiritual and mental abstractions. As he says,

. . . schizoid deviations . . . have distorted the Church’s life, taken the common touch from her message, seduced her theologians, sold her leadership into bondage of academic and social ‘aristocracies’, dragged her training from the streets into the schools, substituted manners for morals, neglected her historic mission, stolen a real earthly future from her hope, gone back on the birthright of her women, exalted knowledge above love and thought above action.(34)

These are serious charges. All the more so because the church’s mistakes inevitably affect society. Our schizoid world is the outcome of centuries of unbalanced thinking and psychological disorders among some of our most highly respected theologians and philosophers. As Lake has said, ‘So much that has on this pretext joined the Church’s grand parade should now be identified as pathology.’ Yet the Christian message is one of love and acceptance, not pathological fear and hatred. There should be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ. Our future depends on identifying the mistakes of the past and finding a new holistic paradigm. Just as the Great Mother Gala will no longer passively suffer the damage done to her, nor will women any more be the subservient recipients of men’s projected guilt. The way forward is not the way of stultifying reductionist polarisation, but the way of unity, wholeness and mature love.


1. Tertullian: De Cultu Feminarum, 1, 1, in Migne, Patrologia Latina (Paris 1944), cited by O’Falain and Martines: Not in God’s Image, Virago, 1979, p 145.

2.Luther’s Table Talk, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, London, 1832, p 281.

3. Plato: The Republic, Book V, 455, translated by D. Lee, Penguin Classics, p 234.

4. Plato: Timaeus, edited and translated by J. Warrington, Every man, London, 1965, 42: B, p 39.

5. Plato: Laws Book VI, 781, translated and edited by A. E.Taylor, Everyman, London, 1960, p 164.

6. Aristotle: Generation of Animals, translated by A. L. Peck, William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1943, 728a.17, p 103; 775.15, p 461.

7. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, revised by Sullivan, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Chicago, 1952, Part 1, Q 92, Article 1.

8. Ibid. Article 2.

9. Erich Neumann : The Great Mother, an analysis of the archetype, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1955, p 50.

10. Augustine: The Works of Aurelius Augustine; On the Trinity, edited by Marcus Dods, T and T Clark, Edinburgh, 1873, Book XII, chapter VII, pp 2912.

11. Ibid. p 292.

12. Corpus Iuris Canonici, edited by A. Friedberg, Leipzig, 1879-81, cited by O’Faolain and Martines, op. cit. p 143.

13. Plutarch: Dialogue on Love from the French translation by Robert Flacaliere, Societe d’Edition les Belles Lettres, Paris. 1952, p 44 ff, cited by O’Faolain and Martines op. cit. p 50.

14. Cited by O’Faolain and Martines, op. cit. p 11.

15. Tertullian: Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, To His Wife, translated by William P. le Saint, Ancient Christian Writers, volume X111, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1951, p 14.

16. Jerome: The Letters of Jerome, translated by C. C. Mierow, Ancient Christian Writers, volume XXXIII, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1963, Letter 22, p 152.

17. Augustine: The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, translated by J. J. Jepson, Ancient Christian Writers, volume V, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1948, p 51.

18. Cited by E. C. McLauglin: Religion and Sexism, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974, p 243.

19. Luther, op. cit. p 282.

20. Luther: Commentary on Genesis: The Creation, translated by Henry Cole, T and T Clark, Edinburgh, 1858, Chapter III, v 16, p 271.

21. John Knox: First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, edited by E. Arbor, English Scholar’s Library of Old and Modern Classics, London, 1880, p 14.

22. Knox, op. cit. p 11.

23. John Calvin in a letter to Sir William Cecil, 1560, cited by Arbor, op. cit. p xvi.

24. Karl Barth: Church Dogmatics; The Doctrine of Creation, T and T Clark, Edinburgh, 1961, 111/4/172n.

25. Ibid. 111/4/171.

26. See Religion and Sexism, op. cit. edited by Rosemary R. Ruether, for an excellent over-view of religious attitudes to women in the Jewish and Christian traditions.

27. E. C. McLaughlin, Ibid. p 254.

28. Kramer and Sprenger: Malleus Maleficarum, translated by M. Summers, The Pushkin Press, London, 1948, Part 1, Question VI, pp 41-47.

29. Summers: op. cit. p xiv and xvi.

30. H. R. Trevor-Roper: The European Witch-Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries, Pelican, 1969, p 114.

31. .The Times, 23 May 1973, quotes the Bishop of Exeter in an article entitled ‘Priestesses, “a Shift to Pagan Creeds”.’

32. Rosemary R. Ruether: Male Clericalism and the Dread of Women, Student Christian Movement pamphlet number 24, edited by Mary Condren, p 16. For further insight into the position of women in the Christian church, see Sara Maitland: A Map of the New Country: Women and Christianity, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1983; Susan Dowell and Linda Hurcombe: Dispossessed Daughters of Eve, SCM Press, London, 1981, and Margaret and Rupert Davies: Circles of Community, published by the British Council of Churches, 1982.

33. George S. Hendry: Theology of Nature, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1980, p 117.

34. Rosemary R. Ruether: Religion and Sexism, p 152.

35. Frank Lake: Clinical Pastoral Care in Schizoid Personality Reactions, Clinical Theology Association, ‘Lingdale’, Western Avenue, Mount Hooton Road, Nottingham, 1971, introduction.

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