Thomas Aquinas and Woman’s lower status
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Source: the Translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Copyright © 1947 Benzinger Brothers Inc. Electronic versions can be found for the Summa Theologica (New Advent edition) and Summa Contra Gentiles (Jacques Maritain Center edition). Italics in the text by John Wijngaards.
- The male is separate from the female because the male is more ordered to intellectual operation
- Woman is subject to man because in the male, reason predominates
- Man’s superiority over woman flows from his having been created first
- Man is the image of God in a way a woman is not
- A woman’s hair is a sign of her subjection
I answer that, It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a “helper” to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation . . . .
Among perfect animals the active power of generation belongs to the male sex, and the passive power to the female. And as among animals there is a vital operation nobler than generation, to which their life is principally directed; therefore the male sex is not found in continual union with the female in perfect animals, but only at the time of coition; so that we may consider that by this means the male and female are one, as in plants they are always united; although in some cases one of them preponderates, and in some the other.
But man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation. Therefore there was greater reason for the distinction of these two forces in man; so that the female should be produced separately from the male; although they are carnally united for generation. Therefore directly after the formation of woman, it was said: “And they shall be two in one flesh” (Gn. 2:24). Summa Theologica I, qu. 92, art. 1.
[It is said by way of objection] ‘Subjection and limitation were a result of sin, for to the woman was it said after sin (Gn. 3:16): “Thou shalt be under the man’s power”; and Gregory says that, “Where there is no sin, there is no inequality.” But woman is naturally of less strength and dignity than man . . . . ’ [But I say] Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit; and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is another kind of subjection which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin. For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. Nor is inequality among men excluded by the state of innocence, as we shall prove (96, 3). Summa Theologica I, qu. 92, art. 1, ad 2.
When all things were first formed, it was more suitable for the woman to be made from man than (for the female to be from the male) in other animals.
First, in order thus to give the first man a certain dignity consisting in this, that 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. Wherefore Paul says that “God made the whole human race from one” (Acts 17:26).
Secondly, that man might love woman all the more, and cleave to her more closely, knowing her to be fashioned from himself . . . .
Thirdly, because, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii, 12), the human male and female are united, not only for generation, as with other animals, but also for the purpose of domestic life, in which each has his or her particular duty, and in which the man is the head of the woman. Wherefore it was suitable for the woman to be made out of man, as out of her principle.
Fourthly, there is a sacramental reason for this. For by this is signified that the Church takes her origin from Christ. Wherefore the Apostle says (Eph. 5:32): “This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church.” Summa Theologica I, 92, art. 2.
The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, “To the image of God He created him,” it is added, “Male and female He created them” (Gn. 1:27). Moreover it is said “them” in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii, 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the beginning and end of every creature. So when the Apostle had said that “man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man,” he adds his reason for saying this: “For man is not of woman, but woman of man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man.” Summa Theologica I, qu. 93, art. 4 ad 1.
“The woman’s hair is a sign of her subjection, a man’s is not. Hence it is not proper for a woman to put aside her hair when doing penance, as it is for a man.” Summa Theologica Supplement , qu. 28, art. 3 ad 1.
See also Thomas Aquinas’s view on woman being a defective male.
|Documents on St. Thomas Aquinas|
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