Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Misogynistic Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers

misogynist Calvin Luther Knox Tertullian Saint Augustine Origen Aquinas

Here are some misogynistic quotations from well-known church leaders and theologians that do not in any way reflect what the Bible says about women. I’ve provided links, where possible, to free online sources so that you can read their words in context.

On social media, as well as in some books and articles, there are several frequently-shared misogynistic statements (like the “temple over a sewer” remark), attributed to men such as Tertullian, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nazianzus that I have not been able to find in their respective bodies of works. And I’ve looked hard! I only include quotations below that I have seen for myself in original sources: commentaries, sermons, and treatises. I can verify that the following are genuine.

I have provided these quotations to show that faulty interpretations of scripture that unjustly discriminate against women have long been a feature of the church. Thankfully, many scholars are looking afresh at the scriptures without being influenced by past misogynistic interpretations.

ORIGEN

Theologian and Greek Father, 2nd-3rd centuries 

“Men should not sit and listen to a woman . . . even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since it came from the mouth of a woman.”
Fragments on 1 Corinthians

TERTULLIAN

The Father of Latin Christianity, 155-245

”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. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?”
De Cultu Feminarium (On the Apparel of Women), Chapter 1 (Read it here.)

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, 4th century 

“. . . the [female] sex is weak and fickle . . .”
Homily 9 on First Timothy (1 Timothy 2:11-15) (Read it here.)

“Man was first formed, and elsewhere he shows their superiority.”
Homily 9 on First Timothy (1 Timothy 2:11-15) (Read it here.)

“God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of life into two parts, and assigned the more necessary and beneficial aspects to the man and the less important, inferior matter to the woman.”
The Kind of Women who ought to be taken as Wives (Read a longer quotation from this treatise here.)

“Hearken about the women of old; they were great characters, great women and admirable; such were Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Deborah, and Hannah; and such there were also in the days of Christ. Yet did they in no case outstrip the men, but occupied the second rank.”
Homily 13 on Ephesians (Ephesians 4:24) (Read it here.)

AUGUSTINE

Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church and Latin Father, 354-430

“I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?”
De Genesi ad literam (The Literal Meaning of Genesis) 9.5.9 (Read it here.)

“. . . woman was given to man, woman who was of small intelligence and who perhaps still lives more in accordance with the promptings of the inferior flesh than by superior reason. Is this why the apostle Paul does not attribute the image of God to her?”
De Genesi ad literam Book 11.42 (Read it here.)
[My article on the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:7, here.]

“. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of 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 the woman too is joined with him in one.”
On the Trinity, 12.7.10 (Read it here.)

“Watch out that she does not twist and turn you for the worse. What difference does it make whether it is in a wife or in a mother, provided we nonetheless avoid Eve in any woman?
Letter to Laetus (Letter 243.10) (Read it here. A discussion on the letter is on page 164 here.)
A different translation of the second sentence is: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman.”

THOMAS AQUINAS

Doctor of the church, 13th century

“But woman is naturally of less strength and dignity than man . . .”
Summa Theologica, Volume 1, Question 92, Article 1, Objection 2. (Read it here.)

Aquinas agrees with the philosopher Aristotle: “As regards the individual 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 a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence. Such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes” (On the Generation of Animals 4.2). ” However, Aquinas adds, “… as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation.”
Summa Theologica, Vol. I, Q. 92, Art. 1, Reply to Objection 1. (Read it here.)

Aquinas speak about two kinds of subjection for women: “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.”
Summa Theologica, Vol. I, Q. 92, Art. 1, Reply to Objection 2. (Read it here.)

MARTIN LUTHER

German priest, theologian and Protestant Reformer, 16th century

“For woman seems to be a creature somewhat different from man, in that she has dissimilar members, a varied form and a mind weaker than man. Although Eve was a most excellent and beautiful creature, like unto Adam in reference to the image of God, that is with respect to righteousness, wisdom and salvation, yet she was a woman. For as the sun is more glorious than the moon, though the moon is a most glorious body, so woman, though she was a most beautiful work of God, yet she did not equal the glory of the male creature.”
Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 2, Part V, 27b. (Read it here.)

JOHN CALVIN

French theologian, pastor, and Protestant Reformer, 1509-1564

On the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to women rather than to men: “I consider this was done by way of reproach, because they [the men] had been so tardy and sluggish to believe. And indeed, they deserve not only to have women for their teachers, but even oxen and asses. . .  . Yet it pleased the Lord, by means of those weak and contemptible vessels, to give display of his power.”
Commentary on the Gospel of John (John 20) (Read it here.)

“On this account, all women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior in consequence to the superiority of the male sex.”
Commentary on 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11) (Read it here.)

“. . . there is no absurdity in the same person commanding and likewise obeying when viewed in different relations. But this does not apply to the case of woman, who by nature (that is, by the ordinary law of God) is formed to obey; for γυναικοκρατία (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach. Accordingly, he bids them be “quiet,” that is, keep within their own rank.”
A different translation of the last line is, “He therefore commands them to remain in silence; that is, to keep within their limits and the condition of their sex.”
Il commande donc qu’elles demeurent en silence; c’est a dire, qu’elles se contiennent dedans leurs limites, et la condition de leur sexe.
Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon (1 Timothy 2:12) (Read it here.)
[My article 1 Timothy 2:12 in a Nutshell is here.]

“Now Moses shews that the woman was created afterwards, in order that she might be a kind of appendage to the man; and that she was joined to the man on the express condition, that she should be at hand to render obedience to him. (Genesis 2:21) Since, therefore, God did not create two chiefs of equal power, but added to the man an inferior aid, the apostle [Paul] justly reminds us of that order of creation in which the eternal and inviolable appointment of God is strikingly displayed.”
Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon (1 Timothy 2:13) (Read it here.)
[My article The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell, is here.]

JOHN KNOX

Scottish clergyman and Protestant Reformer, 16th century

“Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man . . .”
The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. (Read it here.)

“Nature I say, paints [women] further to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish: and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment [or, leadership].”
The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. (Read it here.)


Not everything these men have said about women is derogatory. Some also said wonderful things and they had close female friends and colleagues whom they loved and admired. For example, Jerome had Marcella and Paula, Chrysostom had Olympias, Luther had his wife Katherine.

Tertullian (who ended up as a Montanist, a Christian group where women could be leaders and prophets) used strong words to make whatever point he wanted to make at the time. So, even though in one treatise he called women “the devil’s gateway,” in another he said that husbands and wives were equal.

These men quoted above did have some low views on women, but overall they held to ambivalent, contradictory views. In churches today we still see that too many Christians hold to ambivalent views about the nature, capabilities and potential of women.

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Image Credits

(1) Augustine in his study by Vittore Carpaccio (1502) (Wikimedia)
(2) An 11th-century miniature of church fathers, from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany (Wikimedia)


Related Articles

Chrysostom on 5 Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
Tertullian on Equality and Mutuality in Marriage
Various interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:7 here.
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Man and woman as the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
Is Complementarianism a Traditional Belief of the Church?
Three Scholars with Two Views of Eve’s Role as Helper
Women Eve, and Deception

Further Reading

Woman seen as a ‘Problem’ and as ‘Solution’ in the Theological Anthropoloqy of the Early Fathers: Considering the Consequences, by Dr Marie-Henry Keane O.P., here.

22 thoughts on “Misogynistic Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers

  1. Sounds like the ideas of Wayne Grudem et al – even though they cloak their misogyny in softer language.

  2. “It seems that power is not in God. … the first agent–namely, God–is devoid of power.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

    Quotations that include “…” make me nervous.

    1. That’s fair enough, George. In most cases I’ve included online sources so that people can read the quotations for themselves, with the missing words and in context.

      I’ve read many “quotations”, along the lines of the ones above, that are freely circulating on the net, but they have been taken out of context, or they weren’t written by a particular author as is claimed, or they are seemingly fabrications.

      A degree of scepticism or “nervousness” is a good thing in this regard.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply, Marg, and God bless you!

        The Christian tradition, and the Church Fathers and Reformers, are wide and deep, as your impressive credentials have surely made you aware. I am grateful for you calling attention to the fact that even the greatest saints were people, much like you and I in more ways than we sometimes care to admit, who had prejudices and shortcomings. For me, your article is a testimony of hope. Christ’s love perfects, but it doesn’t require perfection from us, at least not at first.

        It seems certain that in the future, people will quote us in a similar way as you have quoted the Church Fathers and Reformers. Perhaps, for example, modern ideas about inclusivity and the LGBTQ community will seem self-evidently wrong to them. Perhaps not. In any case, this is an important reminder to exercise humility in stating our opinions about how the world should be.

        1. Thankfully, ecclesia semper reformanda est. Or at least it should be. Still, the church has been painfully slow to understand, appreciate and implement Jesus’ teaching and example. But I remain hopeful too.

  3. Hi Marg….Unfortunately, you’ve totally misunderstood what they’re saying here.
    Please study what the early church fathers were meaning with the term “woman”.
    You’re reading things in the literal understand, not the spiritual understanding, as the early church fathers all actually wrote.

    Origen even explains it here. When you see what he’s talking about, it will completely change your perspective on them! They love and care for both physical men and women, but this is not what “male and female” means to them:

    Page 67 Of Origen: Homilies on Genesis
    …. therefore, that it might be shown
    that man also is a work of God and has not been brought forth
    Page 68
    without harmony or the appropriate conjunction, therefore,
    the text says in anticipation: “Male and female he made them.”
    These things have been said on that question, which can be
    raised about the literal meaning.
    (15) But let us see also allegorically how man, made in the
    image of God, is male and female.
    Our inner man consists of spirit and soul. The spirit is said
    to be male; the soul can be called female.

    Now, when you understand this, “female” is always referring to the carnal/fleshly/worldly part of us (our soul), the one God battles with as we chase and get distracted by the things of the world instead of keeping our focus on Him.
    The other part of us is our spirit man.
    This is why Paul was against women preaching in the church. He wasn’t saying “no physical females can preach” – not at all!
    He was referring to physical men and physical women whose carnal soul (female) is wanting to preach and mislead people because its focus is on the things of the flesh and not of God and the spirit. The soul is greedy, selfish, lustful, deceitful etc
    The spiritual man (inside every physical man AND woman on earth) is the only one He (and the early church fathers, disciples and apostles) wants preaching the divine, sacred words of God to others. Otherwise they will be mislead. We can see that has already been happening in the churches in the world, to-date.
    This is also why the trinity (God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit) are all termed “Male”. Its the spiritual understanding of them. God created male and female.
    God isn’t sexist and neither am I (I have my own soulish/carnal female nature in me which my spirit man is fighting daily!).
    Neither are the early church fathers you’ve quoted but misunderstood the meaning behind what they’re saying.
    There’s serious, serious judgement against those who touch His anointed and believe me, these men were at the top (Apostolic) level. So they were going behind the veil and into the Holy of Holies and were definitely anointed. Again, its all the spiritual interpretation- they didnt go to altars and set up tents etc like the Jews mistaken still do to this day, on account of them reading the bible in the logos (or literal) way which God doesnt want us to. Its the dead letter. It kills you spiritually
    Please chat to me on facebook and we can do a skype session/facebook vid chat to expound more on this subject to correct any misunderstandings and answer any questions anyone might have.
    God bless! 🙂

    1. Hi Wes,

      I am aware that some early Christian and Jewish writers such as Origen and Philo spoke of “male” and “female” allegorically. However, I do not use quotations that contain the word “male” or “female”.

      The above quotations were not meant to be taken as allegorical, but meant to be understood literally, even if the writers deliberately used overblown language for effect. On the other hand, the quotation you’ve provided is clearly meant to be taken allegorically: “But let us see also allegorically how man, made in the image of God, is male and female. Our inner man consists of spirit and soul. The spirit is said to be male; the soul can be called female.”

      There is no spiritual hierarchy in the body of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters who have been given the exact same Holy Spirit. And there is nothing wrong with carefully pointing out the errors of our brothers and sisters, as you have attempted to do in your comment. My critique in the article is reasonable and fair.

      1. Hi Marg.
        There is definitely a hierarchy in the body of Christ.
        Just as there is in the heavenly realms (angels, arch-angels).

        God is the creator of order. If heaven has order, so will there be on earth.
        With earth, you have the 5-fold ministry (Teachers, Pastors, Evangelists , Prophets, Apostles)- in that order.
        This denotes a hierarchy.
        The Apostles were the ones spiritually ascending and descending within the Holy of Holies and receiving impartations from God on what to speak to His people. Not just anyone could do this. In fact, nobody but a High Priest (Apostle) could go into the Holy of Holies.
        Again, there is clearly a hierarchy.

        Discernment is need here in everything the ECF wrote.
        Some, however, are in the literal also (Eg: Do not murder). That’s to be taken both in the literal and the spiritual.
        The spiritual however is something that needs to be explained and opened up by an Apostle.

        (Please note, a large number of ECF’s fell away into heretical doctrines, so many aren’t to be read as a result).
        We have a list here which has been read and studied out with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This wasn’t Google’d but much fasting, prayer and seeking Yahweh through this, then painstakingly reading through book after book of ECF and also other referencing documents written during or around the same time period.

        1. Hi Wes,

          I disagree that there is to be a hierarchy in the body of Christ. See Matthew 23:8-10, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12; 12:12-31 Galatians 3:28, etc. We are all brothers and sisters, with Jesus Christ as our older brother.

          https://margmowczko.com/jesus-teaching-on-leadership-and-community-in-matthews-gospel/

          https://margmowczko.com/honour-for-underdogs-1-cor-12_12-31/

          The angels are a whole other ball game. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14 NIV)

          I agree that “a large number of ECF’s fell away into heretical doctrines” but I wonder how you can say this candidly after your previous comment about “the Lord’s anointed”. Origen says things that I regard as incorrect. And his allegorising of male and female is unhelpful and insulting to the female sex.

          (I’ve removed the links that were in your comments. I had a quick look and found the information odd. Any further comments will not be approved.)

          Also, Wes, if you’re going to appeal to “order,” at least get it right: “And [Jesus] himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11 CSB).

          1. Seeing someone else’s reply being censored and their further comments to your article being blocked makes me uncomfortable. I can make up my own mind about another person’s comments without being spoon-fed.
            The lack of free discourse now causes me to question any “wisdom” you are trying to share.

          2. Willalea, The goal of this website is to be a source of reliable information, as I see it. It is my website with my name on it and I pay a lot of money to host it on the internet. How I moderate comments is my prerogative.

            You’re only seeing a small part of what was a long and tiring conversation. Sometimes I have to call it quits.

            This is not the place where anyone and everyone can say whatever they like. Though this website is accessible to the public, it is not a public forum. I remove abusive, adversarial, and very silly comments. I also remove links to odd and angry websites. On the other hand, I welcome sensible, sane, and constructive criticism.

            Anyway, the way I moderate comments doesn’t change the content of my article. You can take it or leave it, Willalea. That is your prerogative.

          3. As you’ve blocked replying to your response to my initial reply, I’m guessing you’ll be the only one that reads this one. I don’t need a response, but I want you to hear this.
            One should always consider the source because intent matters. As a reader, whether I think I can trust your intent and judgment as a writer matters.
            I know next to nothing about you except the way you’ve written the article and the way you’ve handled yourself in the replies. It would be better to state that you are done with the conversation and stop replying than to block responses after you’ve had your last say. The latter only comes across as a well-spoken temper tantrum. Better to be disliked honestly for your opinions well-received than to have your integrity questioned because it looks like you can’t handle other’s opinions.
            Essentially referring to the website as your domain that you can exercise your lordship over is a fairly accurate portrayal, but plays again to my previous point.

          4. Ah, I will apologize for my assumption regarding the replies, as I see it was allowed through. Thank you.

            The remaining reply remains and I hope it is beneficial as an outside perspective.

          5. Willalea, I’ve listened to your opinions but I’m happy with the way I moderate comments on my website. I don’t want comments that are abusive or silly, or even comments that are just annoying or a waste of time, taking up space on my website, space that I pay for, and space that can limit the effectiveness of a webpage. So I will continue to disallow or delete certain comments as I see fit. As I said, that’s my prerogative.

            There are ways of getting to know a writer other than observing the censorship of a short section of conversation.

            Also, normal commenting etiquette requires responses to be on-topic. If you wish to leave any further comments, please make them about the article.

  4. Marg, I love your work and do not have any issues or concerns in what ever i have read.

    Whilst I have been a Christian many years, all my formal studies are technical or business related including MBA, Masters in Human Resource Management, etc.
    However, At the moment i have been doing alot of research to complete a Phd – Thesis, that the possible heading is going to be Equality and Gender Inclusion in the Kingdom
    I have spent a month or so in USA last year, researching some CoCs who have gone down the Progressive and / or egalatarian path, which was very good from my background.
    Whilst i have possibly some 500 references and around 1000, 000 words in my Draft Thesis past and will need to distill and make more concise, i have availed to reference some of your work recorded on your web sites, do you have any issue with this.

    Please let me know.

    1. Hi Gregory,

      I have no problem at all with people referencing my work. In fact, it’s usually a lovely surprise when I come across my name in print in someone else’s essay or book (especially if it’s spelt correctly).

  5. Thank you. Marg, if your up in Brisbane / Sunshine coast way, give me a call. would like to catchup. Will be out of action overseas from 22 March to 29 June 2019, otherwise would like to catchup where your up to, especially how churches can transition to Equality and gender inclusion – do’s and dont’s, what do you see as the major challenges.

    My proposed Phd ends with how best to initiate and manage a transition, and would like to know if you have any info on the stumbling blocks and root causes why Churches will not change, and or why some members in the churches/denominations are left behind, and what you expect and/or experienced are the churches / denominations which are hardest to influence change in its members.

    Happy to email off line if gets too serious,

  6. Hi Marg,

    I am sorry to say this but in my reading of these sources I have found your most quotations taken out of the broader context in which they appear and are misrepresenting the views of the Church Fathers and the Reformers. For example, Calvin in the same section of his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11 points out that both genders bear the image of God and are equal in Christ (referring to Gal. 3:28) while also explaining why Paul only call the man as God’s image and glory in this passage.

    And let’s face it, since the Church Fathers and the Reformers were all complimentarian in their understanding of genders, it will be reflected in their writing. But, in no way, they ever degrade women. I do accept that some of them are more influenced by the Greek philosophical ideas of gender and were wrong in how they viewed genders to some extent (e.g. Augustine,). But they also refer to the creation passages in Genesis 1-2 to base their conclusions. Aquinas is an exception and I would not count him as sound.

    1. Hi Vijai,

      I’ve framed the article fairly, and my conclusion is that these men held to ambivalent and contradictory views on women. But I strongly doubt that any of them were complementarians. That is, I doubt most of these men, in their heart of hearts, truly believed that women (as a group, and not the exception) are completely equal with men (as a group) in intelligence, discernment, self-control, and in other virtues and capabilities that do not require physical strength.

      These men, overall, believed that men are superior to women, and this is not what most complementarians teach. Complementarianism is a relatively new ideology. Interestingly, many classic theologians saw a profound equality between man and woman in Genesis 2 and they pinned their patriarchal views on Genesis 3:16. Again, this is not what most complementarians teach.

      I have read all the quotations in their broader context and, in most cases, I provide links where readers can check the context for themselves. I have not misrepresented what these men have themselves stated. There are many more quotations from these Christian leaders, and others, which disparage women that I could add to this page. Many.

      That’s not to say that some of these men did not also say some nice things about women. Your example of Calvin is a good one. But it doesn’t change that he went on record and said the things I’ve quoted.

      I say nothing, one way or the other, about Calvin’s view of men and women being made in the image of God in this article. But I gladly acknowledge in this comment that he does state, “For both sexes were created in the image of God, and Paul exhorts women no less than men to be formed anew, according to that image.”

      That’s great! But many of his other ideas about women are belittling. Here is another quotation from Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:

      “There is no doubt that the woman is a distinguished ornament of the man; for it is a great honor that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, and has made her subject to him as the body is to the head. For what Solomon affirms as to a careful wife — that she is a crown to her husband (Proverbs 12:4), is true of the whole sex, if we look to the appointment of God, which Paul here commends, showing that the woman was created for this purpose — that she might be a distinguished ornament of the man.”

      Calvin is mistaken. Women are not the ornaments of men, distinguished or otherwise. We are the equal partners of our brothers. And it is no more an honour for a woman to be the partner of her husband than it is for a man to be the partner of his wife.

  7. Hello Marg,

    Thanks for your work here. As I see it, the church fathers had a consistent (though incorrect) view of women. Mutualists also have a consistent (and I think correct) view of women. But modern “complementarians” have an inconsistent view: women as equal in value and gifts alongside functional hierarchy.

    (I put “complementarian” in quotes because I have never been successful in finding out from any who hold to this what exactly is complementary in their view of women. As I understand their view, women are forbidden from doing certain things, irrespective of gifting and desire, but I have never been able to find out what it is that men are forbidden from doing, irrespective of gifting and desire.)

    One tiny typo: “Il commande done qu’elles demeurent en silence” should be “Il commande donc qu’elles demeurent en silence”.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Jonathan. And thanks for picking up that typo.

      It really doesn’t make sense to prohibit a woman from doing something she is perfectly capable of doing. And it doesn’t make sense to force a man to be a leader if he is ill-suited to it and then claim it his defining trait of masculinity.

  8. I just want to thank you for your work. I discovered Project Junia today and I have been so buoyed by it.

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