Misogynist Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers

Misogynist Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers

Appalling Misogynist Quotes from Church Fathers and Reformers

Here are some misogynist quotations from well-known church leaders and theologians that do not in any way reflect what the Bible says about women.

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.)

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 2:11-12) (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.)

AUGUSTINE

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

Misogynist quotations from Church fathers and reformers

“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 literatum (The Literal Meaning of Genesis) 9.5-9

“. . . 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 literatum 11.42 (More about the passage in Paul’s letters which Augustine refers to 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, Book 12 7.10 (Read it here.)

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.)

“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.”
Summa Theologica, Vol. I, Q. 92, Art. 1, Reply to Objection 1. (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.)

JOHN KNOX 

Scottish clergyman and Protestant Reformer, 16th century

“Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man . . .”

“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 of them even had close female friends and colleagues whom they loved and admired. For example, Jerome had 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.

Image Credits

(1) An 11th-century miniature of church fathers, from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany (Wikimedia Commons)
(2) The earliest known portrait of Augustine in a 6th-century fresco in Lateran, Rome. (Wikimedia Commons)


Related Articles

The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Is Complementarianism a Traditional Belief of the Church?
Women, Eve, and Deception
Three Scholars with Two Views of Eve’s Role as Helper
Tertullian on Equality and Mutuality in Marriage

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.

About The Author

Marg

Marg Mowczko lives north of Sydney, Australia, in a house filled with three generations of family. She strongly believes that if we are in Christ we are part of the New Creation and part of a community where old social paradigms of hierarchies and caste or class systems have no place (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:28). Marg has a BTh from the Australian College of Ministries and an MA with a specialisation in early Christian and Jewish studies from Macquarie University.

9 Comments

  1. Grainne

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

    Reply
  2. George

    “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.

    Reply
    • Marg

      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.

      Reply
      • George

        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.

        Reply
        • Marg

          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.

          Reply
  3. Wes Nicholson

    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! 🙂

    Reply
    • Marg

      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’m the only person to use the word “female” in this article. I do not use quotations that contain the word “male” or “female”.

      The above quotations were not meant to be taken as allegories, 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.

      Reply
      • Wes

        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.

        Reply
        • Marg

          Hi Wes,

          I disagree that there is to be a hierarchy in the body of Christ. See Matthew 23:8-10 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
          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.)

          Reply

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