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 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 (such as the “temple over a sewer” remark), attributed to men such as Tertullian, Jerome, Boethius, 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! So I only include quotations below that I have seen for myself in primary sources. 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 or by a low view of the value and capabilities of women.
Theologian and Greek Father, 2nd–3rd centuries
“Men should not sit and listen to a woman … ‘For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly,’ no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.”
Fragments on 1 Corinthians 74 (Read it here.)
“What is seen with the eyes of the Creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.”
Selecta in Exodum (Fragments on Exodus), Patrologia Graeca 12, Column 296–297 (Latin and Greek, my translation) [See footnote 4 for context.]
Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon), Theologian and Heresiologist, 130–c. 195.
In a discussion about why Miriam was punished more harshly than Aaron when they both criticised Moses, Irenaeus states that “both nature and the law place the woman in a subordinate condition to the man.”
Irenaeus, Fragment 32 (Read it here.)
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.)
Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, 4th century
“The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he says, 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.”
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.)
Bishop of Salamis and Cyprus, Heresiologist, c. 310–403
While denouncing the female prophets Quintilla, Maximilla, and Priscilla, Epiphanius makes this remark: “Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”
Panarion (also known as, Against Heresies) 79.1.6 (Read it here.)
Another translation which is often quoted is, “In very truth, women are a feeble race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence.” (Source)
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 is 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.”
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 speaks 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.)
More on Aquinas’ views on women, here.
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.)
French theologian, pastor, and Protestant Reformer, 1509–1564
Regarding 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. (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).”
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.”
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.
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.)
Ambivalent Views of Church Fathers Towards Women
Not everything these men have said about women is derogatory. Some also said wonderful things and 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. The Cappadocian Fathers mostly spoke respectfully about women.
Tertullian who ended up as a Montanist (a Christian group where women were 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 are equal.
These men quoted above did have some low views on women, but overall they held to ambivalent, contradictory views.
Elizabeth Clark writes,
The most fitting word with which to describe the Church Fathers’ attitude towards women is ambivalence. Women were God’s creation, his good gift to men—and the curse of the world. They were weak in both mind and character—and displayed dauntless courage, undertook prodigious feats of scholarship. Vain, deceitful, brimming with lust—they led men to Christ, fled sexual encounter, wavered not at executioner’s threats, adorned themselves with sackcloth and ashes.
Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld suggest the discrepancies apparent in the writings of the Fathers “may represent an inner conflict, perhaps between [their] theology and experience. … [And] what the Fathers wrote is not necessarily a true reflection of the kind of Christian women they actually knew.”
In churches today we still see that many Christians hold ambivalent and conflicting views about the nature, capabilities, and potential of women, and a disturbing few even harbour low views of their sisters.
 I’ve spent countless hours looking for the statement “woman is a temple built over a sewer” in the surviving works of Tertullian, Jerome, and Boethius, but with no success. According to Ebenezer Rojt, it originates with a man named John Bromyard, and the full sentence is “A beautiful woman is a temple built over a sewer” (Latin: Mulier pulchra templum est aedificatum super cloacam). Bromyard attributes the statement to the Cynic philosopher Diogenes (c. 404–323 BCE).
In an article on attitudes to phlegm, blood, bile, faeces, etc, within the human body, Rojt explains,
In the fourteenth century, the Dominican preacher John Bromyard added another memorable phrase on this subject. And because he placed them in a kind of preacher’s lexicon with extensive indexes (a novelty in information processing at that time!), this sentence will be repeated and paraphrased for centuries with all sorts of false attributions (Socrates, Tertullian, St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Bernard. …). Perhaps you too have heard it: “A beautiful woman is a temple built over a sewer” (Ioannes Bromiardus, Summa praedicantium omni eruditione refertissima explicans praecipuos catholicae disciplinae sensus …, part II, printed by Domenico Nicolini, Venice 1586, chapter XIV: ” Pulchritudo,” page 280r: Mulier pulchra templum est aedificatum super cloacam). [Google Books]
Bromyard himself attributes the saying about the woman-temple over the sewer to the philosopher Diogenes (Quia sicut dicit Diogenes philosophus), probably the barrel man who was said to have pissed in public and committed other abominations, so it is probable that such a brusque (and cynical!) remark would have been made by him. But that’s also just imagination.
And because the next sentence reads: Et sicut dicit Bernardus, less attentive readers sometimes believe that the author of this saying was (at least according to Bromyard) Bernard. Of course, the most famous one from Clairvaux. Susan Haskins, for example, thinks so (Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, Riverhead Books, New York 1995, footnote 53 on page 422). However, she has unnecessary omissions in the quotation and confuses the chapter number. Maybe she copied it from somewhere?
On the other hand, café intellectuals like Simone de Beauvoir no longer bother to cite at all, but ex cathedra announce that it is Tertullian:
“All Christian literature seeks to heighten the abhorrence that a man can feel towards a woman. Tertullian calls her Templum aedificatum super cloacam.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Volume I: Facts and Myths, translated by Gabriela Mycielska, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1972, p. 254).
Source: https://kompromitacje.blogspot.com/2021/08/inter-stercus-et-urinam.html (Translated from Polish.)
 Roger Pearse has a helpful discussion, here, on the statement, “[For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.” This statement has been attributed to Clement of Alexandria and is sometimes cited as being from book 2 of the Paedagogus. (Paedagogus 2.33.2 to be precise). But you won’t find it there or in any of Clement’s surviving work. It was not written by a church father and may have originated in the 1970s. Roger Pearse notes that the earliest record of the statement in Google Books is in the 1970s.
 The English translation I’ve quoted is from Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam I ad Corinthios (Fragments from the Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians), English translation from Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press, 1976), 28–29. (Internet Archive)
The Greek text is published in Claude Jenkins, “Documents: Origen on I Corinthians. Part 4,” in Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909): 41–42.
I discuss different lines from Origen’s Fragment 74 of 1 Corinthians in a reply to Taylor, here.
 Origen’s statement about “the eyes of the Creator” is at the end of a paragraph about Exodus 23:17, a verse which reads, “Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD.” His statement comes from a surviving fragment of a lost sermon or commentary. Here’s the whole paragraph so we can get some sense of context.
“I will speak about this statement (Exod. 23:17). What we do is either feminine (lit: female) or masculine. If what we do is feminine, it is bodily or fleshly. For when we sow in the flesh, we produce the female fruit of the soul, not male fruit; rather, we produce feeble, tender, and underdeveloped fruit. If however, we look at eternal things and have our minds set towards better things, we will bear the fruits of the Spirit, and all our fruit/ produce is male. Accordingly, the things that are offered in the presence of God, and things that will be seen by the Creator’s countenance, are masculine, not female. For God does not deign to look upon feminine or fleshy things (Οὐ γὰρ τὰ θηλυκὰ, καὶ τὰ σωματικὰ ἀξιοῖ βλέπειν ὁ Θεός).”
(My translation. I could not find an English translation so had to do it myself. The Greek, plus Latin and German translations, are in the comments section below.)
 Elizabeth A. Clark, Women in the Early Church. Message of the Fathers of the Church (Collegeville, MN: Glazier, 1983, 1990), 15. (Google Books)
 Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1987), 90.
Augustine in his study by Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio (1502) (Wikimedia)
Chrysostom on 5 Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
Tertullian on Equality and Mutuality in Marriage
Various interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:7 are quoted here.
Man and woman as the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Is Complementarianism a Traditional Belief of the Church?
Three Scholars with Two Views of Eve’s Role as Helper
Women, Eve, and Deception
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.