Founding Fathers of the Church: Quotes

Origen (2nd-3rd centuries)

The writings of Origen were formative in establishing the theology of the early church. He is historically considered “the greatest teacher of the early church after the Apostles.” His view of women? Faltering at best, with quotes such as the following found in his commentary of 1 Corinthians:

“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.”–Origen (d. 258): Fragments on First Corinthians, 74

Augustine (4th-5th centuries)

Augustine is considered, apart from Jesus and the Apostle Paul, the most influential figure in the history of Christianity. Augustine was such a formidable force that his writings stood, and still stand, as a defense of orthodoxy in the Church. He shares his view of women in his commentary on Genesis:

“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?”

“… 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, than 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.”

Thomas Aquinas (13th century)

In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively, becoming one of the most important personages in Western civilization as he developed the idea of what or who God is. Aquinas’ works continue to this day to form much of the theological base of the Church worldwide. His thoughts on womanhood?

“…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 defect in the active force…”

Martin Luther (16th century)

Martin Luther is credited with founding the Protestant Reformation and the foundation of all Lutheran des today. He shares his thoughts on women in his commentary on Genesis.

“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.”

John Calvin (16th century)

Calvinism, named for the Christian practice and theology based off of Calvin’s teachings, is followed by all Reformed denominations (e.g. Presbyterian). In his commentary on 1 Corinthians he says,

“On this account, all women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior in consequence to the superiority of the male sex.”

And in his commentary on the Gospel of John referencing 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.”

And in our day, well, I won’t call-out names, but it doesn’t take long to find degrading and demeaning quotes from Christian leaders about the abilities, worth and calling of women. Sometimes this bias shows itself obviously, other times it’s more subtle like women in Scripture being ignored or their stories interpreted through a male-only lens.