Historical Woman and the Catholic Church


Note before I begin my thread,
This is not a thread to debate female ordination. It may be of significance to the discussion at one stage, and it may be profitable to bring up, but we will not go into the doctrinal basis for the prohibition on female ordination. Roma locuta est, causa finita est.

Today I had a Historical and Cultural Studies lecture and tutorial at uni (I’m studying music at the Conservatorium, but they’re getting us to do history… go figure…)
This semester, we are discussing European history from 500-1000 AD.
Today, medieval women as the topic of learning.

Basically, the lecturer and the students who gave a presentation during the tutorial afterwards blamed the Catholic Church for the extreme subordinate attitudes towards women during this period.

They quoted scripture (Genesis and 1 Corinthians) to further their claims that the Catholic Church supported gross female subordination, and that the Christian faith in itself is inherently misogynist. They said that by these quotes, and other quotes by various bishops and theologians (even St Thomas Aquinas), the Church felt justified to permit such a society to continue.

I voiced my opinion during the tutorial, saying that the Catholic Church has never taught that females were inherently inferior to males.
They wouldn’t hear a word of it.

Thoughts, anyone?


No, the Church has never “taught” that BUT those with the power have made absolutely sure that no female has ever had direct magesterial influence so that the ultimate decisions on all doctrines, dogmas, and binding teachings are restricted to males.


I’d suggest history books by Regine Pernoud. She’s a French historian, a Catholic, and a good author.

You probably won’t be able to counter their bigotry.

Actual examples of powerful female women, such as Elanore of Acquitaine and others, will probably not put a dent in their ideology.

It is ideology they are after here, not history.


one thing that I always say to statements like that, is that while there was a disparity between men and women in any kind of leadership, you can’t possibly believe that women were seen as grossly inferior to men. I mean, Catholics call Mary (a WOMAN) the chiefest of all saints. she is the most venerated of all the saints. That’s even over all the male saints. :slight_smile:


The Catholic Church actually upheld the dignity of women more than other religions.

Women and men had a common initiation rite: Baptism.
It was not expected and taken for granted that a woman had to marry .
No ritual prostitution, etc.
Women were honored as martyrs, etc. just as men.
Women could come to Mass along with men.

Sounds pretty good to me.


I recently attended a lecture on female ordination by Sr. Sarah Butler at St. Joseph’s Seminary in NY. She originally supported female ordination, but through her studies came to agree with the magisterial teaching.

Her key finding was that, from the earliest days, the principal, binding reason the Church can not ordain female priests was Christ’s decision in choosing the 12 apostles. All other theology speaks to this decision being fitting (i.e. the priest acting in persona Christi, etc.). But the key factor is Christ’s choice.

This is especially striking b/c Christ did not discriminate against women in his ministry, and women played many crucial roles, e.g. the Blessed Mother, the three Mary’s at the Cross, women being the first to discover the Ressurection, the important role of Mary Magdalene.

Given his inclusion of women, we must take the fact that Christ did not ordain any as priests (even his Mother who is without sin) as an active choice on His part, and binding.

As to defending the Church against charge it is anti-female, you can point to the existence of many female Saints, 2 Doctors of the Church (St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena), and especiall the fact that the most perfect human in history was female (the Blessed Mother).

Good Luck!


Has anyone responded to this yet? I would be interested.



Whenever someone makes a statement about anything it is up to him to back it up with solid documentation. Mere statements are not arguments, so it is up to patg to prove his/her point.


Do you have any evidence to support this claim?

The funny thing is that Mary was mentioned many times in the course of the day. They said that despite the fact that Mary is the highest and most revered saint (even going so far as to saying that, according to sculpture above church doorways, the Church considered her on par with her son… I fumed…), women were still treated like dirt, and somehow this was the church’s fault…


Sure - all the official teachings are made by the magesterium, the magesterium is made up of the pope and all the bishops (see the catechism), the bishops and popes are all priests, and women are denied the priesthood - therefore no women may participate directly in the decisions involving doctrine, dogma, or magesterial teachings.

Thus denying the priesthood to women is much more than denying the ability to minister the sacraments. Where is the great theological reasoning that says women can’t be part of the magesterium either?

One would think the female viewpoint just might be of some value when issues are decided affecting the spiritual and moral direction of the Church (including women) but apparantly the leadership feels comfortable ignoring the input of half the flock - why would the Spirit speak to them anyway?


Except women do participate in developing our understanding of dogma. Women teach theology, women raise all these men. Many times women have more freedom than men.

If you think that deepening our understanding of dogma is a one way thing, then that is wrong. The assumption made is the magesterium develops dogma. Not only would you be ruling out all women, but most all men as well. In reality the magesterium meerly tests theology brought to them by the rest of the church. It wasn’t until there is a crisis over the trinity, rending the ancient world, when the magesterium as a council confronted it. It wasn’t until after the protestant reformation and questions were raised to as whether was Mary immaculately conceived when the magesterium confronted it.

Do you think it was by papal fiat that we cannot use birth control? The pope who issued Humane Vitae conviened many groups of theology experts to study the issue which consisted of both men and women. He ultimately took this issue raised by the laity, weighed arguments raised by both men and women theologans, tested it against scripture and tradition, before he even thought about conversing with the bishops about writing Humane Vitae.

What is in error is the top-down model of church governance. Its not a one way street.


All the official teachings are made up by the head of the Church - Jesus. The magisterium is simply tasked with protecting the doctrines. The Magisterium and the Laity have the same amount of power to change dogma - none.


That sounds really nice BUT that’s not what the Catechism says:

**88 **The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.


It is too patently absurd on every level to merit a response. One could compile a documentable litany of women who have had overt influence on doctinal development as well as those who have fundamentally contributed to the spiritual progress of the Church. One could also point out that nearly everyone, including members of the ordained hierarchy, were first formed in the faith by a woman. But you can’t reason someone out of an unreasonable position.



Yes, that is what I think of the church’s position on the value of women.

One could compile a documentable litany of women who have had overt influence on doctinal development as well as those who have fundamentally contributed to the spiritual progress of the Church.

Yes, one could but comparing the doctrines and teachings defined by women vs. those made by men would be even more ridiculously embarassing to the church.

One could also point out that nearly everyone, including members of the ordained hierarchy, were first formed in the faith by a woman.

Yes and its funny that’s that is the last time in their lives women had any power over spiritual teachings.

But you can’t reason someone out of an unreasonable position.

Exactly my feelings about the church and those who support its treatment of women.

Of course you still can’t provide a single supportable argument as to why women should have no participation in the magesterium - just the usual pointless polemic rhetoric.


So unless a woman has ‘power’ she is nothing? That is a very narrow and worldly point of view, not a Christian one.

I thought that Jesus came to us as servant. If one looks at Christianity that way, the ones with the ‘least’ power or standing or ‘decision making’ (funny you don’t mention the Holy Spirit is the one who ensures that decision making, not any ‘man’) like the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak, and the humble are ‘better’ off than the ‘powerful’, closer to God.

Here’s a thought, patg. And as you probably remember, I"m a woman myself.

Why did Eve fall? Not from being ‘less’ than Adam. . .but from pride. Pride in wanting to be equal not just to Adam (which she was) but in wanting to be like God. . .herself.

Why did Adam fall? Not from pride in his case. . .from SLOTH. From just ‘accepting’ what Eve had done–not standing up for right, not trying to make amends, but in his case, NOT being the leader, not taking the responsibility.

Thus men ‘need’ to have responsibility. They need to protect. To keep themselves from continuing on with Adam’s innate tendency toward the sin of sloth, they need, not the sin of pride, but the virtue of FORTITUDE and the cloak of responsibility.

Women, to keep themselves from continuing with Eve’s innate tendency toward the sin of pride, need the virtue of humility. Not humiliation, mind you, but humility. Not striving for a false equality --equality with God, equality of ‘role’, equality of ‘body’, etc., but a mindful, humble, prayerful obedience.


The Church is characterized by essential dualities-- she is human and divine, visible and invisible, objective and interpersonal. If one is blind to one sort of reality or the other, one’s perspective will be hopelessly distorted. Those who choose to see only the human, visible, objective dimensions of the Church invariably judge her by human, visible, and objective standards. This approach is useful in evaluating clubs, bureaucracies, governments, and so forth but falls disastrously short as a means of understanding the Body of Christ.

In speaking of the Church there is neither need nor use for rhetoric and polemic because there is no need to persuade anyone. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces concerning sin and the remedy for sin. Yet I am compelled to wonder . . . if the Church is so unjust and inhospitable toward women, how is it that at least half her considerable membership (and that, arguably, the more devoted portion) are female? Or is their witness to be denigrated? And if so, why? Surely not on account of their sex, I trust.



First, the Catholic Church gets dumped on for many things incorrectly. And many times the people doing the dumping are blind to the truth.

The lecturer disregarded your opinion because in his (or her) opinion, you are the student (hence, inferior) and they are the teacher (hence, superior). How wrong is this?? Truly great teachers are open to learning from their students.

Second, anyone can quote anything from the Bible to justify anything. The same can be said about taking quotes from bishops and theologians. And if they think they understand Aquinas good enough to misquote him… then I don’t think they really understand Aquinas…

Third, since you didn’t provide any Biblical quotes, let’s pull a couple of quotes from Genesis and Corinthians.

1 Cor 7:3-4 “The husband should give to his wife her conjual rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.”

1 Cor 11:11-12 “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”

And sticking to Genesis 1:

Gen 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Do these show women as being extremely inferior to men? Superior to men? I don’t think so… Equal but different.

Finally, I think you should request a refund for your course fee. You don’t pay these people to hear their opinion. You pay a course fee because you wish to acquire knowledge and factual truth.



Apparently I am missing something here… What is so important about participating directly in the decisions involving doctrine, dogma, or magesterial teachings? Do you think that because priests administer sacraments they are closer to heaven or to God? Do you think that members of the magisterium are any more special to God than you or I? Where is the great theological reasoning for that?

If one takes a look at two of the three most influential (i.e. powerful) Catholics of the 20th century, they are women: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mother Angelica. Are they priests? theologians? members of the magesterium? No. Why have they been so influential? Do you think that Church leaders have ignored the accomplishments of these two? Can other women follow the example of these two and become just as influential in the Church? Sure, why not?

Now, let us turn to the great theological reasoning that says woman can’t be part of the magesterium. At the Last Supper where Jesus instituted the sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Communion, the only people present in the room were Jesus and his twelve Apostles. Not Mary, Mary Magdalene, Martha, or anyone else was present. These twelve were the twelve he explicitly called by name. Why did Jesus just make these twelve the Apostles and no one else? Why didn’t he make all of his followers his Apostles? He could have if he wanted to, but he didn’t. He only chose those twelve and only those twelve were in the room at the Last Supper. (Judas had to make an early exit as he had some business to attend to…)

So I suppose if you have a problem with women being denied positions in the magesterium, you could take it up with Jesus and ask him why he wasn’t more inclusive in his selection of apostles and who attended the Last Supper.

How come Mary was excluded? One would think that Mary, of all people, would have been there. Her faith and devotion to her Son was probably stronger than all the twelve Apostles put together. Why didn’t Jesus make Mary the first Pope instead of Peter? Do you think that after the Ascencion that the Apostles ignored Mary and brushed her aside? Or do you think that Mary had considerable influence over the new Church?

Help me understand the great theological reasoning that says that women have to be part of the magesterium.


Regarding dogma, doctrine, the deposit of faith, etc., the Magisterium has the task of authentically interpreting what is found in the deposit of faith. This is done from time to time in formal definitions.

The content of the deposit of faith is not up to the Magisterium nor is it up to the laity–it is given by God to the Church. There are also certain historical and logical necessities of truths contained in the deposit of faith about which the Magisterium has the task of speaking authoritatively.

The Magisterium is protected from error both when it teaches on matters of faith and morals in the ordinary and universal Magisterium and when the pope speaks ex cathedra.

The Church’s teaching on the reservation of Orders to males only is irreformable, and was not something decided by a majority vote or what have you.

It’s a little sexist to think that the Magisterium may have been in error simply because all bishops are male. It also is immaterial since the Holy Spirit protects the Magisterium from error in this matter.

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