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Antioch in Syria; Constantinople; ca. 344 - 407 AD

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St. John Chrysostom

Antioch in Syria; Constantinople; ca. 344 - 407 AD

Translation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers. For a complete electronic copy, visit the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, the New Advent Library. Italics in the text by John Wijngaards.

The task of the priesthood goes beyond the powers of the whole female sex

Concerning the Priesthood, book II, § 2. “Will you, then, still contend that you were not rightly deceived, when you are about to superintend the things which belong to God, and are doing that which when Peter did the Lord said he should be able to surpass the rest of the apostles, for His words were, "Peter, lovest thou me more than these?" Yet He might have said to him, "If thou lovest me practise fasting, sleeping on the ground, and prolonged vigils, defend the wronged, be as a father to orphans, and supply the place of a husband to their mother." But as a matter of fact, setting aside all these things, what does He say? "Tend my sheep." For those things which I have already mentioned might easily be performed by many even of those who are under authority, women as well as men; but when one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also; and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others, and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature: or rather far more. For in this case let me not take the height of shoulders as the standard of inquiry; but let the distinction between the pastor and his charge be as great as that between rational man and irrational creatures, not to say even greater, inasmuch as the risk is concerned with things of far greater importance. He indeed who has lost sheep, either through the ravages of wolves, or the attacks of robbers, or through murrain, or any other disaster befalling them, might perhaps obtain some indulgence from the owner of the flock; and even if the latter should demand satisfaction the penalty would be only a matter of money: but he who has human beings entrusted to him, the rational flock of Christ, incurs a penalty in the first place for the loss of the sheep, which goes beyond material things and touches his own life: and in the second place he has to carry on a far greater and more difficult contest. For he has not to contend with wolves, nor to dread robbers, nor to consider how he may avert pestilence from the flock. With whom then has he to fight? with whom has he to wrestle? Listen to the words of St. Paul. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Do you see the terrible multitude of enemies, and their fierce squadrons, not steel clad, but endued with a nature which is of itself an equivalent for a complete suit of armor. Would you see yet another host, stern and cruel, beleaguering this flock? This also you shall behold from the same post of observation. For he who has discoursed to us concerning the others, points out these enemies also to us, speaking in a certain place on this wise: "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, adultery, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults," and many more besides; for he did not make a complete list, but left us to understand the rest from these. Moreover, in the case of the shepherd of irrational creatures, those who wish to destroy the flock, when they see the guardian take to flight, cease making war upon him, and are contented with the seizure of the cattle: but in this case, even should they capture the whole flock, they do not leave the shepherd unmolested, but attack him all the more, and wax bolder, ceasing not until they have either overthrown him, or have themselves been vanquished. Again, the afflictions of sheep are manifest, whether it be famine, or pestilence, or wounds, or whatsoever else it may be which distresses them, and this might help not a little towards the relief of those who are oppressed in these ways. And there is yet another fact greater than this which facilitates release from this kind of infirmity. And what is that? The shepherds with great authority compel the sheep to receive the remedy when they do not willingly submit to it. For it is easy to bind them when cautery or cutting is required, and to keep them inside the fold for a long time, whenever it is expedient, and to bring them one kind of food instead of another, and to cut them off from their supplies of water, and all other things which the shepherds may decide to be conducive to their health they perform with great ease.”

Paul orders women to keep silent in church because they are subject to men

Homily 37.1 Corinthians chapter 14, verse 34. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law.

“Having abated the disturbance both from the tongues and from the prophesyings; and having made a law to prevent confusion, that they who speak with tongues should do this in turn, and that they who prophesy should be silent when another begins; he next in course proceeds to the disorder which arose from the women, cutting off their unseasonable boldness of speech: and that very opportunely. For if to them that have the gifts it is not permitted to speak inconsiderately, nor when they will, and this, though they be moved by the Spirit; much less to those women who prate idly and to no purpose. Therefore he represses their babbling with much authority, and taking the law along with him, thus he sews up their mouths; not simply exhorting here or giving counsel, but even laying his commands on them vehemently, by the recitation of an ancient law on that subject. For having said, "Let your women keep silence in the churches;" and "it is not permitted unto them to speak, but let them be in subjection;" he added, "as also saith the law." And where doth the law say this? "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Genesis chapter 3, verse 16) Seest thou the wisdom of Paul, what kind of testimony he adduced, one that not only enjoins on them silence, but silence too with fear; and with as great fear as that wherewith a maid servant ought to keep herself quiet. Wherefore also having himself said, "it is not permitted unto them to speak," he added not, "but to be silent," but instead of "to be silent," he set down what is more, to wit, "the being in subjection." And if this be so in respect of husbands, much more in respect of teachers, and fathers, and the general assembly of the Church. "But if they are not even to speak," saith one, "nor ask a question, to what end are they to be present?" That they may hear what they ought; but the points which are questioned let them learn at home from their husbands.”

Women are subjected because they are weaker beings and lightminded.

Homily 37, cont. Ver. 35. "And if they would learn any thing, let them ask their own husbands at home." Thus, "not only, as it seems, are they not allowed to speak," saith he, "at random, but not even to ask any question in the church." Now if they ought not to ask questions, much more is their speaking at pleasure contrary to law. And what may be the cause of his setting them under so great subjection? Because the woman is in some sort a weaker being and easily carried away and light minded. Here you see why he set over them their husbands as teachers, for the benefit of both. For so he both rendered the women orderly, and the husbands he made anxious, as having to deliver to their wives very exactly what they heard.”

Women speaking in public also offends against common reason and received custom

Further, because they supposed this to be an ornament to them, I mean their speaking in public; again he brings round the discourse to the opposite point, saying, "For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church." That is, first he made this out from the law of God, then from common reason and our received custom; even when he was discoursing with the women about long hair, he said, "Doth not even nature herself teach you?" (c. xi. 14.) And everywhere thou mayest find this to be his manner, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the common custom, to put them to shame.

Women have to keep silent because they are subject to men

Homily 9. 1 Timothy ii. 11-15.-"Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in [through the] child-bearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."

“Great modesty and great propriety does the blessed Paul require of women, and that not only with respect to their dress and appearance: he proceeds even to regulate their speech. And what says he? "Let the woman learn in silence"; that is, let her not speak at all in the church; which rule he has also given in his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says, "It is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Cor. xiv. 35); and the reason is, that the law has made them subject to men. And again elsewhere, "And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home." (Ibid) . . . . . To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming.”

Women show their submission by their silence

Homily 9, cont. "But I suffer not a woman to teach." "I do not suffer," he says. What place has this command here? The fittest. He was speaking of quietness, of propriety, of modesty, so having said that he wished them not to speak in the church, to cut off all occasion of conversation, he says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides. "For Adam," says he, "was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression."

Men are preeminent to women in every way

Homily 9, cont. “If it be asked, what has this to do with women of the present day? It shows that the male sex enjoyed the higher honor. Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority. "Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man." (1 Cor. xi. 9) Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards.”

Woman was subjected by God, because she wrought our ruin in paradise

Homily 9, cont. “For the woman taught the man once, and made him guilty of disobedience, and wrought our ruin. Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or rather her equality with him, God made her subject to her husband. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband?" (Gen. iii. 16) This had not been said to her before.” But how was Adam not deceived? If he was not deceived, he did not then transgress? Attend carefully. The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me." But the man did not say, The woman deceived me, but, "she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Now it is not the same thing to be deceived by a fellow-creature, one of the same kind, as by an inferior and subordinate animal. This is truly to be deceived. Compared therefore with the woman, he is spoken of as "not deceived." For she was beguiled by an inferior and subject, he by an equal. Again, it is not said of the man, that he "saw the tree was good for food," but of the woman, and that she "did eat, and gave it to her husband": so that he transgressed, not captivated by appetite, but merely from the persuasion of his wife.”

In Eve all women sinned and all women were punished with subjection

Homily 9, cont. “The woman [=Eve] taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively. For he says not Eve, but "the woman," which is the common name of the whole sex, not her proper name. Was then the whole sex included in the transgression for her fault? As he said of Adam, "After the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come" (Rom. v. 14); so here the female sex transgressed, and not the male.”

A woman's hope for salvation lies in childbearing

Homily 9, cont. “Shall not women then be saved? Yes, by means of children. For it is not of Eve that he says, "If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." What faith? what charity? what holiness with sobriety? It is as if he had said, "Ye women, be not cast down, because your sex has incurred blame. God has granted you another opportunity of salvation, by the bringing up of children, so that you are saved, not only by yourselves, but by others." See how many questions are involved in this matter. "The woman," he says, "being deceived was in the transgression." What woman? Eve. Shall she then be saved by child-bearing? He does not say that, but, the race of women shall be saved. Was not it then involved in transgression? Yes, it was, still Eve transgressed, but the whole sex shall be saved, notwithstanding, "by childbearing." And why not by their own personal virtue? For has she excluded others from this salvation? And what will be the case with virgins, with the barren, with widows who have lost their husbands, before they had children? will they perish? is there no hope for them? yet virgins are held in the highest estimation. What then does he mean to say?”

The whole female race transgressed in Eve, but is redeemed by bringing up children

Homily 9, cont. “Some interpret his meaning thus. As what happened to the first woman occasioned the subjection of the whole sex, (for since Eve was formed second and made subject, he says, let the rest of the sex be in subjection,) so because she transgressed, the rest of the sex are also in transgression. But this is not fair reasoning; for at the creation all was the gift of God, but in this case, it is the consequence of the woman's sin. But this is the amount of what he says. As all men died through one, because that one sinned, so the whole female race transgressed, because the woman was in the transgression. Let her not however grieve. God hath given her no small consolation, that of childbearing. And if it be said that this is of nature, so is that also of nature; for not only that which is of nature has been granted, but also the bringing up of children. "If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety"; that is, if after childbearing, they keep them in charity and purity. By these means they will have no small reward on their account, because they have trained up wrestlers for the service of Christ. By holiness he means good life, modesty, and sobriety.”

27) All the more so in that the argument was brought by St Paul himself (1 Cor 11, 8-9); John Chrysostom, In Epist. I. ad Cor. homil XXVI, 4, Patr. Gr. 61, 217-218.

“The deacons must be serious . . .  The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” (1 Timothy 3,8-11)

Homily 11,1. “The women likewise”.  Paul meant the [women] deacons [τας διακονους]. There are those who think he was talking about women in general. No, that is not the case. It would have made no sense to have inserted here something about women in general. He was referring to those having the dignity of the diaconate [της διακονιας].

“Let deacons be the husband of one wife.” This is also appropriately said of women deacons [γυναικων διακονων], for this [monogamy] is necessary, useful and proper to the highest degree in the Church.[1]

Reference

1. Homily 11,1 on the first Letter to Timothy ch 3; Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 62, col.553.



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