Did early church fathers loathe women?


#1

I’m asking this on behalf of brethrenboy. He deserves a solid answer on this one so I decided to make a whole new thread on it.

The website here: shc.edu/theolibrary/resources/women.htm
has a bunch of quotes from early saints that seem to portray women as wicked, worthless and vile creatures.

How did the church truly feel about women in these times? Are these quotes bogus? Are they being misrepresented. I of course hope they are, yet for someone who wants to convert to catholic (bretherenboy) I think that they could sway a person in the other direction if misunderstood. Here’s a few of the quotes, and please look at the website too.

St. John Chrysostom
“The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food… If you consider what is stored up behind those lovely eyes, the angle of the nose, the mouth and cheeks you will agree that the well-proportioned body is merely a whitened sepulcher.”

St. John Chrysostom, On Priesthood, VI, ch. 8
“There are in the world a great many situations that weaken the conscientiousness of the soul. First and foremost of these is dealings with women. In his concern for the male sex, the superior may not forget the females, who need greater care precisely because of their ready inclination to sin. In this situation the evil enemy can find many ways to creep in secretly. For the eye of woman touches and disturbs our soul, and not only the eye of the unbridled woman, but that of the decent one as well.”

St. Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians, III ch.5
“As long as a woman is for birth and children she is different from man as body is from soul. But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman, and will be called man.”

Petrus Cantor (d. 1197)
“Consider that the most lovely woman has come into being from a foul-smelling drop of semen, then consider her midpoint, how she is a container of filth; and after that consider her end, when she will be food for worms.”

St. Albert the Great, Quaestiones super de animalibus XV q. 11
“Woman is less qualified [than man] for moral behavior. For the woman contains more liquid than the man, and it is a property of liquid to take things up easily and to hold onto them poorly. Liquids are easily moved, hence women are inconstant and curious. When a woman has relations with a man, she would like, as much as possible, to be lying with another man at the same time. Woman knows nothing of fidelity. Believe me, if you give her your trust, you will be disappointed. Trust an experienced teacher. For this reason prudent men share their plans and actions least of all with their wives. Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison with his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she herself cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil… In evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.”


#2

That web page makes no apparent effort to take in other points of view. For all I know, the author of the web page may have known of more favorable writings and excluded them.


#3

I found this great article on the subject of sexism and the early church theologians. It even includes an apology from Pope John Paul II. It’s amazing how the devil perverts even the most pious of believers. All Saints, Pray For Us!

focusequip.org/discover/apologetics/church-history/does-the-catholic-church-hate-women.html


#4

All people, men and women, Saints and Sinners are the product of their times, their cultures and their education. I do no look for my Christ or His Church in the writings of its Saints and do not seek to find the doctrines of the Church always completely reflected in any writings outside of the Bible explained through the valid exegesis of the Church and the Catechism, supported by the dogmatic statements and encyclicals of the Popes and the Councils.

If you look for fodder to feed bias in any writings you will find it.


#5

I would say “Ouch!” if those comments weren’t so :rotfl:

But, seriously, perhaps these gentlemen felt it necessary to blame someone outside of themselves for sexual sins. Even the fathers of the Church were human.


#6

I hope brethrenboy does not fault the Church for a very common line of thinking concerning women both on and off spiritual paths, past and present.

1 Cor. 7:1 - Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

It just doesn’t get much plainer than that. I have found other quotes along the way from men (and a woman) who don’t have “St.” before their names. It’s a spiritual matter, not about the beliefs of a particular religion.

The Bible is brimming over with commentary on the nature of women (including quotes of Jesus) - and even a couple of the ‘hailed women’ were conniving sexually in the OT.

I thought to be born a woman was to be born cursed since I was a child (I had three older brothers) - and have had friends with similar feelings. I never understood why there was an undercurrent of contempt for women; I sensed, experienced, and saw/heard it everywhere.

One of the most liberating days of my late-life spiritual journey was to hear an Orthodox Jew say: We men thank God every day that we weren’t born a women. Finally! I had confirmation!

Granted, some of the quotes you sent sound like they come more from a heart of bitterness over a female encounter than from Spiritual Understanding, but there are several men of the metaphysical bent who have a little more finesse - the point is still plain but their intent is not to be cruel. The vehemence behind some of the quotes posted is more striking than the content itself - hate is a sure sign of a spiritual blind spot/no true Understanding (on that issue - not discounting other Healed areas of writing).

The way I found to keep going on this spiritual path after my first ‘stunning’ encounter with ‘the deeper dys-theology of woman’ was to look for Hope in the New Testament. One was Peter raising Dorcas (female) from the dead (but that one was kinda iffy because Dorcas did a lot of good works - not a sinner like me ;)) and the other was the woman who said to Jesus, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table”. And He helped her. That one was my ‘hook’, my way ‘in’…keep eatin’ them Blessed Crumbs.

I don’t know if the sayings you sent, or others that I have read, actually refer to the OT period only or still apply in some way today. What I do know is that something changed when Jesus came - and women are as eligible as men to discover Forgiveness. I know, from experience.

Would I still like to know what it’s all about? Sure. But I don’t actively seek the answer anymore as it isn’t a prerequisite for Redemption and there are too many other things to study that are.

As a side note…Gospel of Thomas has a similar saying about ‘female making herself male’ … I’m sure it isn’t a surgical procedure, but neither has anyone started calling me “Bubba”, so I don’t know. Gonna have to look for some Popeye spinach ‘crumbs’, eh? :smiley:


#7

If you look for fodder to feed bias in any writings you will find it.

I agree, God Bless, Memaw


#8

The best thing to do is to find the context of the remarks. Often, they are not disparaging women, but are only saying that women can’t be priests, or that women are physically weaker than men, or something like that.

Here’s a list of positive quotes re: women from the Church Fathers and the Scholastics:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=817448

Some examples:

In Stromateis, Book 4, Chapter 8, Clement of Alexandria taught that women were equal to men spiritually, but unequal physically, and thus explained their different social status. The chapter is called “On [the] Equality and Inequality of the Sexes.”

Ambrose of Milan promoted imitation of female leadership by citing the example of women leaders in the Old Testament: “[Deborah] showed that [women] have no need of the help of a man. … A widow, she governs the people. A widow, she chooses generals. A widow, she determines wars and orders triumphs. … It is not sex, but valor which makes strong.”

St. Jerome - “I know that I am often much criticized because I sometimes write to women and seem to prefer the more fragile sex to the stronger.” “[But] Aquila and Priscilla educate[d] Apollo, an apostolic man learned in the law, in the way of the lord. If to be taught by a woman was not shameful to an apostle, why should it be [shameful] to me afterwards to teach men and women?” “This and its like I have touched on briefly, to ensure that you [women] should not be penalized because of your sex.” (Jerome, Letter to Principia, 397 A.D., quoted in Abelard, Letter 9, 1137 A.D.)

St. John Chrysostom taught that the woman is fully equal to the man: “[She is] of his kind, with the same properties as himself, of equal esteem, in no way inferior to him.” (Homily 15.1-3 on Genesis 2:20ff, as quoted in Hill, Robert C. The Fathers of the Church, Volume 74. 1992. Washington, D.C.: CUA Press.) However, he says that this condition was somewhat changed by the fall, because, he says, woman became more frail as a result of Eve’s sin and was put under the dominion of her husband for protection. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t be interpreted as a destruction of her original moral equality with man.

565 A.D. - Emperor Justinian dies in this year. His reforms of the laws of the Byzantine empire revolutionized the status of women in Christendom, explicitly acknowledging their equality and giving them equal property rights with men. (Justian, Novel 21) “It shall no longer be true [among the Armenians], as is the custom of barbarians, that men only can inherit the property of their parents, brothers and sisters and other relatives, but women also shall be able to do so. … [O]ther nations, too, have contempt for nature, and a low regard for women, as if the latter were not made by God, and had no part in the procreation of children, but were creatures to be despised and not worthy of any honor. … We accordingly ordain by this imperial law that…no difference shall be made between male and female. … For as [the Armenians] belong to our empire and owe obedience to us, and along with other nations enjoy all that we have, women shall not be deprived by them of the equality which they enjoy among us, but our laws shall apply equally to all.”

643 A.D. - In Spain, the Catholic king Chindasuinth passes the Visigothic Code into law and includes equal-rights provisions such as: “A woman shall inherit, equally with her brothers, the property of their father or mother, of their grandparents, on the paternal and the maternal side, as well as of their brothers and sisters.” (Book IV, Title II, Law IX) “Husband and wife shall inherit from each other, respectively, when they leave no relatives nearer than the seventh degree.” (ibid., Law XI) “A [woman] shall have full power to dispose of her entire dowry, in any way she pleases, when she leaves no legitimate children or grandchildren. [And when she does leave legitimate children or grandchildren:] Three fourths of it shall be left, without question, to [them].” (ibid., Title V, Law II)

650 A.D. - St. Sigebert III, one of the kings in France at this time, reforms the French laws so that they treat women more equally. He does this out of an explicit religious conviction that daughters and sons should be equal. He said, “An ancient but unjust custom is observed among us [which] directs that sisters [should] have no part of the paternal estates with their brothers. But I, considering this an injustice and knowing well, my dear children, that the Lord gave you to me [so] that I should love you with equal love, I institute you, my dearest daughter, my legitimate heir with your brothers [in order] that you should have a part no less than theirs in my land and goods.”

704 A.D. - St. Adamnan dies in this year. An early champion of women’s equality, he prayed and fasted for eight years for an end to the subjugation of women in Ireland and Britain, and eventually saw passage of the Law of the Innocents, which raised women’s status considerably in those lands. The Cain Adamnain, an ancient Irish treatise in praise of St. Adamnan’s view of women, says of him, “Adamnan suffered much hardship for your sake, O women, so that ever since Adamnan’s time one half of your house is yours; and there is a place for your chair in the other half, so that your contract and your safeguard are free.” (The Cain Adamnain 5, as quoted in “An Irish Champion of Women,” by Padraic Colum. In Catholic World, Volume 100, Paulist Fathers, 1915. p. 500.)

866 A.D. - “[When Scripture] sanctions [something] for a woman [it] is also to be understood for a man… [Just as, when] Scripture…speaks of [something for] a man…it is no less to be understood [for] a woman.” (Pope St. Nicholas I, Response to the Consultations of the Bulgars, in Kirshner & Wemple, Women in the Medieval World. Chapter 3. 1985. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell, Inc. p. 78)

See the link above for more details and sources.


#9

I’m betting that the folks who disseminate this quote (and it’s used often to demonstrate the Church’s alleged antipathy to women) don’t know where it comes from. This is one of Chrysostom’s earliest writings; when young, he and some friends embraced the ascetic life, becoming monks. One of his closest friends, Theodore, left the ascetic life for the allure of worldly pleasures; he chanced upon a pretty girl, Hermione, and was crushing on her in a big way. Chrysostom wrote to Theodore, reminding him that the pleasures of this world were fleeting and true goodness came from seeking eternal life: “corporeal beauty indeed God has confined within the limits of nature, but grace of soul is released from the constraint and bondage arising from that cause inasmuch as it is far superior to any bodily symmetry: and it depends entirely upon ourselves and the grace of God.”

So, what does Chrysostom tell Theodore in this quote? Well, essentially, all he’s saying is “beauty is only skin deep”! Is that mysogenistic? Of course not! In fact, the way the quote is presented above, you’d think that Chrysostom was railing against women per se, but that’s not what the quote truly says; rather, it’s simply asserting that beauty itself is transitory and superficial, and the things that make it up are things that we’d recoil from, if we experienced them outside of the context of a pretty face:

“if beauty, when it occurs in the body, so fascinates and excites the minds of most men, when the soul is refulgent with it what can match beauty and grace of this kind? For the groundwork of this corporeal beauty is nothing else but phlegm, and blood, and humor, and bile, and the fluid of masticated food. For by these things both eyes and cheeks, and all the other features, are supplied with moisture; and if they do not receive that moisture, daily skin becoming unduly withered, and the eyes sunken, the whole grace of the countenance forthwith vanishes; so that if you consider what is stored up inside those beautiful eyes, and that straight nose, and the mouth and the cheeks, you will affirm the well-shaped body to be nothing else than a whited sepulchre; the parts within are full of so much uncleanness. Moreover when you see a rag with any of these things on it, such as phlegm, or spittle you cannot bear to touch it with even the tips of your fingers, nay you cannot even endure looking at it; and yet are you in a flutter of excitement about the storehouses and depositories of these things?”

Call me silly, but I don’t see a single thing in that quote that points an accusatory finger at femininity or women as such! Take a look for yourself: the document can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library site; it is Chrysostom’s first letter (“An Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall”).


#10

The devil is real enough on the outside, but it’s the one on the inside of all of us that requires the Cure. Complaining about your (general) devil didn’t do a thing to dispel mine. Sure made me a drag to be around, though. I even complained about my own devil so much that I couldn’t stand me. :wink:

One of the many helpful tools I was given in AA (that only works when I use it, not just think about it) was: The blame game stops here - all of it. It ain’t your mother’s fault, father’s, husband’s, school, religion, man’s, woman’s, God’s…if you want to know where the problem is, “Know Thyself” - look within (male or female). (Of course, the philosophers said it, too, but the very real hell of alcoholism and recovery - thanks be to God - managed to get my attention off drowning my troubles and the ‘mating game’ long enough to listen.)

Origen, On the Apparel of Women, Chap. 1:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too…”

Today, I am willing to accept that “as Eve”, I made the first wrong move way back when. I did not go through life with any awareness of this, however. Neither do most men on a conscious level - but I think a great many aggressive acts toward women reflect an ‘inner knowing’/frustration of some sort. Perhaps it went something like this:

God says, “Okay, Adam, I made you a wife. I could only use a small part of your Substance but if she always looks to you, all will be fine and her bitty portion will increase over time.”

But Bitty’s still-bitty mind couldn’t keep focused and locked eyes with the devil one sad day.

Adam said, “See what that woman you gave me did?! I’m done with her!”

God said, “Now Adam, that won’t work. You have to go rescue her.”

“No way! I treated her like a Princess in the Castle of Paradise - and she does THAT?”

God says, “Adam, Adam, Adam. Nineveh needs you. Heaven won’t rest until Bitty comes back. When she offers you the poisoned apple, you must eat. Just keep your eyes on Me and all will be well.”

“Oh, all right. How hard can it be, really?”

God said, “Heh…I mean…that’s the Spirit!” “Uh, one more tiny thing. You can’t just snatch her back or ‘help’ her directly. She must ask for your help first. Nothing has changed that way…she must look to you first and be willing to divorce the devil.”

Jesus said, “Can’t I do anything to catch her attention?”

God said, “Well, there is One Thing that would do the trick…but, hey, let’s not talk about that right now…time’s a’wastin’. Talk to you soon!”

Four thousand years later, Adam finally figured out how to phone home again without ‘static’ being on the line from the apple he’d eaten - and God told Him what that One Thing was…

Thanks, “Adam”. My itty-Bitty eyes and ears have grown a bit and I’m keeping them both on You. I’m not completely out of the Dark yet…so I still Feed Hope with the Bread Crumbs You left behind and the ones You send through Your brothers who have reconnected.

That just reminded me of an Arabian proverb…“If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” Well, it only took me 45 years or so to get my nose in, but my camel must have a really, really long neck cuz I still feel like the biggest part of me is still outside the tent. Trudge, trudge.

I bristled for years before I finally came to ponder: God is the head of man, man is the head of woman. Why wasn’t God my ‘head’, too? Well, when I ran off with the devil, Adam and I kinda lost touch so I couldn’t ask him. :frowning:

Maybe that’s why Paul said women weren’t to talk in church…the Adams of the world needed at least one place where they didn’t have to listen to the devil use our mouth to speak devil-talk. Today, there are women who have ‘turned back’, but it’s probably still rather risky to make it open season for women in the pulpit. I, for one, am now content to be His helpmeet and just share the “reason for the Hope that is in me”.

Please Note: Story aspects are not doctrinal. It is just helpful for me to use visuals/various frameworks to keep moving in a steady direction.


#11

Thanks - this is really good. His confidence on the subject doesn’t change, but this sure removes the diatribe quality of the partial quote.


#12

Here are a few more positive ones.

*It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess, nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess. (St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies ca 374 A.D.)

[F]or in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned—of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life. (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, ca 380)

When therefore you see an harlot tempting you, say, My body is not mine, but my wife’s. The same also let the woman say to those who would undermine her chastity, My body is not mine, but my husband’s. (John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on 1 Corinthians, ca 400)

For this expression marks the multitude of their sins, and their state of disorder and confusion; led away with various lusts. He does not accuse nature, for it is not women simply, but such women as these, that he blames. (John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on 2 Timothy, ca 400)

How is this? A woman again is honored and proclaimed victorious! Again are we men put to shame. Or rather, we are not put to shame only, but have even an honor conferred upon us. For an honor we have, in that there are such women among us, but we are put to shame, in that we men are left so far behind by them. But if we come to know whence it comes, that they are so adorned, we too shall speedily overtake them. Whence then is their adorning? Let both men and women listen. It is not from bracelets, or from necklaces, nor from their eunuchs either, and their maid-servants, and gold-broidered dresses, but from their toils in behalf of the truth. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 31 on Romans, ca 400)
*


#13

One important thing to note about Chrysostom: earlier in his life – that is, in his ascetic days – he railed against everything “of the flesh” as being bad; in fact, he wasn’t too strong a supporter of marriage (since it would tend to pull people in the direction of their bodily needs and desires rather than the needs and desires of their spirits). But, later in life, having seen the good that comes from marriage – not only corporeal good, but spiritual good! – he changed his position and praised the institution of marriage! (Note that he died in 407AD, and the quotes that MarcoPolo provided us are from the end of his life… :wink: )


#14

In some cases (particularly St. Jerome–where you could find even more interesting quotes), the views express the incorporation of Platonic/neoplatonic philosophy into Christianity—wherein one achieves spiritual perfection through denial of body desires–especially sexual desires but also via extreme fasting and other disciplines. Women were not only seen as a potential danger on the path to one’s spiritual perfection but were in a sense seen as sources of emotions, the emotions being pitted against rationality–a trait associated with males. These twin factors result in a lot of bad press for women in late Antiquity and the Medieval period.


#15

Thank you for your outstanding contributions in this thread. :o


#16

:blush:

thanks!


#17

=FormerXCatholic;11712305]

St. John Chrysostom, On Priesthood, VI, ch. 8
“There are in the world a great many situations that weaken the conscientiousness of the soul. First and foremost of these is dealings with women. In his concern for the male sex, the superior may not forget the females, who need greater care precisely because of their ready inclination to sin. In this situation the evil enemy can find many ways to creep in secretly. For the eye of woman touches and disturbs our soul, and not only the eye of the unbridled woman, but that of the decent one as well.”

Can some one help? I just couldn’t find the above statement in that article.


#18

It looks somewhat different over at CCEL, but:

“For many are the circumstances in society which have the power to upset the balance of the mind, and to hinder its straightforward course; and first of all is his social intercourse with women. For it is not possible for the Bishop, and one who is concerned with the whole flock, to have a care for the male portion of it, but to pass over the female, which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins. But the man who is appointed to the administration of a Bishopric must have a care for the moral health of these, if not in a greater, at least in no less a degree than the others. For it is necessary to visit them when they are sick, to comfort them when they are sorrowful, and to reprove them when they are idle, and to help them when they are distressed; and in such cases the evil one would find many opportunities of approach, if a man did not fortify himself with a very strict guard. For the eye, not only of the unchaste, but of the modest woman pierces and disturbs the mind.”


#19

Just some quick research findings.The title translated to English: Questions Concerning Aristotle’s On Animals. Yes, it is a Biology book. Let me reproduce Book 15 contents page:
Question 1: Whether sex is necessary for the generation of animals. 439
Question 2: Whether nature intends the generation of a female. 441
Question 3: Whether male and female diversify species. 442
Questions 4–5: Whether male and female co-exist in one and the same thing. Why a male whose generative members have been cut off can become effeminate, whereas a female does not become virile. 444
Question 6: Whether the male is hotter than the female. 447
Question 7: Whether a man has to be larger than a female. 448
Question 8: Whether a male or female has a longer life span. 449
Question 9: Whether the male’s flesh is softer than the female’s flesh. 450
Question 10: Whether the male is better nourishment than the female. 451
Question 11: Whether the male is better suited for proper behavior [mores] than the female. 453
Question 12: Whether sperm comes forth from the entire body. 455
Question 13: Whether the sperm is of the nature of parts or of some superfluity. 457
Question 14: Whether sperm is derived more from one part than from another. 459
Question 15: Whether sperm is a superfluity of the last food. 461
Question 16: Whether sperm is generated immediately from blood. 463
Question 17: Whether one who has a defect in some part necessarily generates an animal that is defective in the same part. 464
Question 18: Whether sperm is necessary for the generation of animals. 465
Question 19: Whether females produce sperm. 467
Question 20: Whether sperm is a material part of the fetus [conceptus]. 470

Question 11 is the one handpicked to show Church Fathers “loathing” of women. It is a science book reflecting the medieval science and medicine of the day. One can not seriously tout this as anti-women while wearing a 21st century hat. Albert is lecturing Aristotle’s stuff on animals, not anti-women propaganda.

Translators Irven M. Resnick and Kenneth F. Kitchell Jr. said that “Albert did not himself write down these lectures that form QDA, and this presents the historian with an interesting problem. Although attributed to Albert the Great, the work is in fact a reportatio; that is, it contains what Albert taught about Aristotle’s books on animals in Cologne in 1258, but the QDA itself represents the notes of Albert’s student, Conrad of Austria, who heard Albert teaching. A few years later these questions were collected and redacted. Albert the Great can be considered the author of the work, but his imprint on the work is indirect rather than direct, and is mediated by Conrad of Austria. This means that one cannot properly distinguish the words of Albert from the words of the one reporting them.”

I think the person with an anti-Church agenda has scoured through all writings of the past 2000 yrs and cherry picked the ones that will support his agenda while ignoring comments which would negate the impact. Well, I think a few more properly researched articles should be able to rubbished the rest of this evil agenda.


#20

I couldn’t find Petrus Cantor listed as a Church Father or as a Saint. Can someone provide me with the link please? If he is neither, why is he on the list then?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.