'Of godly men and medicine: ancient biology and the Christian Fathers on the nature of woman'

“Of godly men and medicine: ancient biology and the Christian Fathers on the nature of woman”

by Kim E. Power -- Credits

This article appeared in Woman-Church 15 (Spring 1994) pp. 26-33. Published here on the Internet with permission of the author and the editor of Woman-Church.

‘Women-Church’ can be ordered from Irene Stevens (irenes@compassnet.com.au).

The problem.

In the magisterial responses of the Catholic church to the ‘problem of women’ and their role in church ministry, the appeal has been more and more to “Tradition”,(1) as biblical scholars disallow naive and uncritical appropriation of Scripture on this issue.(2) In her study on women in Vatican documents, Nadine Foley discovers an "ontology of woman" that assumes that

women's nature has a specificity revealed through a unique set of traits evident in her behavior. . . . The familial role of woman is essential and normative.(3)

One limitation of this viewpoint is that it treats all woman as identical without allowing for cultural and individual differences, thus perpetuating the myth of the ‘universal woman.’ Foley rightly points out that the "presumed essential function of woman at the heart of the family is a critical issue for interpretation". In none of the documents is man's role given treatment separate to that of the generic human being (homo ) nor is his familial role given any extended treatises. It would appear that his major areas of responsibility are considered to be elsewhere.(4)

This ontology derived from the “Tradition”, perceives the nature of women as so distinct from that of men, that a common humanity is not enough for women to represent Christ in his salvific role.(5) The tradition has not been critically examined on these questions but appropriated in toto.

The apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem brought no changes.(6) In Mulieris dignitatem, woman's vocation is defined as that of consecrated virgin or mother; dual aspects of Mary's role which converge in the fact that both are in spousal unions, the former with Christ, the latter with a husband.(7) Women are defined by their femininity, and warned that seeking full dignity must never entail "masculinization".(8) Women can find themselves solely in loving others.(9) Although the Pope affirms the priesthood of all believers, he denies that women can stand in the person of Christ at the celebration of eucharist.(10) In archetypal terms, woman, especially Mary, represents humanity; man represents God.(11)

Two conclusions can be drawn about this Letter. One is that it is grounded in essentialist models of masculinity and femininity where stereotypical behaviours are specified for each gender.(12) The second is that if women are gaining an awareness of their full human dignity, only after two thousand years of Christianity, questions arise concerning the status of women within the ecclesia, and the Christian understanding of their nature and role during that period.

Following the curial subversion of the American Bishops’ pastoral on women in 1993, the need to subject church history and tradition to a critical scrutiny is even more imperative.(13) It is my intention to provide such a scrutiny. By providing examples of the underlying assumptions embedded in patristic texts interpreting sex and gender, I hope to expose the foundations upon which the tradition is built. I intend to examine to demonstrate that underlying the “Tradition” are assumptions about the sexed body derived from an inaccurate biological model which perceives women as ontologically inferior, the result of less perfect formation and ordering of bodily matter in the womb.(14)

Definitive discourses.(15)

In Greco-Roman antiquity the interpretation of sexual difference and social gender roles can hardly be extricated from the interests of household, religion, economy and state.(16) For interpreting sexual difference in antiquity, the definitive science was cosmology, articulated in the discourses of medicine, philosophy, and religion. These discourses do not necessarily function independently. For example, biblical exegesis is employed by the fathers to support their theological application of the ‘natural law’ they find in medicine and philosophy, which are also interdependent disciplines. To begin with medical discourse: Thomas Laqueur’s research reveals the importance of the underlying medical model in cultural interpretations of sex and gender.(17) According to Laqueur a “one-sex” paradigm emphasising a hierarchy of common humanity that had served since late antiquity was displaced in the eighteenth century by a more scientifically based understanding of reproductive processes that distinguished two opposite sexes.

An understanding of the antique paradigm is essential to interpret patristic texts, because, as Laqueur describes:

Ancient accounts of reproductive biology, still persuasive in the early eighteenth century, linked the intimate, experiential qualities of sexual delight to the social and cosmic order. More generally, biology and human sexual experience mirrored the metaphysical reality on which it was thought the social order rested.(18)

The ancient biological paradigm is as much philosophical as medical, and the dynamic interaction between medicine and philosophy and culture becomes increasingly clear as I study the texts, and it is remarkable to see it emerging consistently in texts which span over a millennium. Our own century has been marked by such rapid scientific and technological progress, and many changes of intellectual paradigms that the power of such stable belief systems is difficult to comprehend, until we look as the persistence of perceptions of woman as subordinate.

The Greco-Roman world considered that nature and substance of all created things and beings reflected the basic paradigm of the universe.(19) Thus Ambrose can describe the body as a microcosm of creation:

First, let us make note of the fact that the body of man is constructed like the world itself. As the sky is pre-eminent over air, earth and sea, which serve as members of the world, so we observe that the head has a position above the other members of our body.(20)

The medical paradigm held by both Aristotle and Galen,(21) postulated that there was one sex, but two forms -

Both male and female, . . . [Aristotle argued] are not so in virtue of its essence but in the matter, ie. the body. That is why the same seed becomes female or male by being acted on in a certain way.(22)

The ancients considered the semen to be the active principle in conception. Only men produced seed and therefore only men were responsible for procreation,(23) although male and female genitalia were seen as mirror images of one another, because they were essentially of the same kind. They taught that semen was cast into the womb as seed into the earth; indeed there is no difference between the two processes according to Galen.(24) The process of embryonic development was activated by the semen and nourished by the blood of the mother.(25) The banquet of the ten virgins offers a detailed description of the process, and it is worth noting that this description is placed in the mouth of a consecrated virgin.

When thirsting for children a man falls into a kind of trance, softened and subdued by the pleasures of generation as by sleep, so that again something is drawn from his flesh and from his bones is, ... fashioned into another man. For the harmony of bodies being disturbed in the embraces of love, as those tell us who have experienced the marriage state, all the marrow like and generative part of the blood, like a kind of liquid bone, coming together from all the members worked into foam and curdled, is projected through the organs of generation into the living body of the female.(26)

We see here how the heat of passion serves to create the semen, and so passion, and its concomitant pleasure for both men and women were considered essential to procreation. Foetuses developed their full potential, maleness, if they amassed a decisive surplus of “heat” and “vital spirit” in the early stages in utero. Females were the result of insufficient heat being absorbed by the foetus. This belief is the medical basis of Aristotle’s contention that women were “failed males”. Women’s softer, moister and colder bodies meant they were less formed and ordered by nature than men. Proof of this is women’s inability to ‘concoct’ semen from blood, as is was thought that men did. Therefore, any excess nourishment over what was needed for sustenance had to be secreted from the body so that women would not be ‘water-logged’.(27) This quotation from Aretaeus the physician demonstrates the interconnections between heat, semen, maleness and superior formation.

it is in the semen, when possessed of vitality, which makes us men, hot, well braced in limbs, heavy, well-voiced, spirited, strong to think and act.(28)

But it is not semen per se that created new life. The semen was the vehicle for the spiritual principle, the ‘vital heat’ which was the first and efficient cause of life. Aristotle taught

It is not fire or any such force, but it is the spiritus included in the semen and the foam-like, and the natural principle of spiritus, being analogous to the stars.(29)

The proof of the spiritual nature of semen was that it is white, as opposed to menstrual blood which is red.(30) Sexed bodies become symbolic of aspects of, and boundaries within, the cosmos:(31) woman’s nature is analogous to earth, and man’s to the heavens. Hence male superiority was based on an understanding of men’s optimal formation in the womb, from which flowed superior personal characteristics, and their power to procreate.(32) However, the very notion of grades of being, explicit within the social order, was a constant reminder to men that their bodies and beings were extremely malleable. Roman men feared sliding into effeminacy if they did not maintain appropriate heat throughout a lifetime.(33)

Tertullian used the dynamic relationship between spirit, body and character to argue the simultaneous creation of body and soul:

In a single impact of both parts the whole human frame is shaken and foams with semen, as the damp humour of the body is joined to the hot substance of the spirit. and then, (I speak of this at the risk of seeming improper, but I do not wish to forgo my chance of proving my case) in that last breaking wave of delight, do we not feel something of our very soul go out from us?(34)

Clement of Alexandria was just as specific:

Is it not accompanied by weakness following the great loss of seed? “for a human being is being born of a human being and torn away from him’ [Democritus frag. 32]. See how much harm is done: a whole person is torn out with the ejaculation that occurs during intercourse. “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” Scripture says.[Gen.2;23] By spilling his seed a man loses as much substance as one sees in a body, for what has been expelled is the beginning of a birth. Moreover, the shaking of the body’s material substance disturbs and upsets the harmony of the whole body.(35)

These texts offer significant insights into the antique mind-set: Firstly, the overlapping categories of heaven, spirit, heat, and maleness construct women as ontologically less spiritual than men. Men are symbolically heavenly, spiritual, rational and fertile as opposed to women who are earthly, bodily, irrational and infertile. The biological basis of the anthropology makes these symbolic identifications appear inherently natural, grounded in the nature of the sexed body. Secondly, it is men who procreate through the body of a woman, and men who suffer loss.

These descriptions of male orgasm depict it as both fulfillment and loss, which the fathers further tied to the potent myth of Eve’s creation, where Eve’s birth is through Adam’s loss.(36) Augustine queried why God would use a rib rather than flesh, which would have been more appropriate "for the formation of the woman who belongs to the weaker sex";(37) this use of the rib made Woman strong, because she was strengthened by Man's bone, "but he was made weak for her sake because in place of his rib it was flesh, not another rib that was substituted".(38) Referring to conception Methodius invokes this allusion in a way that strengthens the sense of male loss and emphasises woman’s birth from man, whilst underlining that it is the father who procreates and that his goal is the image of the father in the son:

. . . and probably it is for this reason that a man is said to leave his father and mother, since he is suddenly unmindful of all things when united to his wife in the embraces of love, he is overcome by the desire for generation, offering his side to the divine creator to take away from it, so that the father may appear in the son.(39)

One danger of intercourse was that men might lose some of their precious heat and become effeminate, or even die.(40) Certainly, much gynecological study was undertaken so that men might procreate without too much loss of the spiritual essence that connected them to the divine.(41) This loss of spiritual essence was also at the basis of Roman and Judeo-Christian attitudes to ritual purity, whereby the priest must abstain from intercourse before sacrifice, so avoid pollution and vitiation of spirit. It is arguable that these ancient assumptions, embedded in theological doctrine and law, underlie canons such as Canon 277 which states that

Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.(42)

However, the gap between the cultural paradigms and Christian experience of womens’ fortitude, courage, faith and leadership qualities, particularly during persecution, caused major problems in the fourth century. These women had publicly displayed all the characteristics previously attributed to men, in numbers large enough to challenge the cultural assumptions about women. Furthermore, the Acts of the martyrs had immortalised certain of these women as symbolising the salvific role of “the One who was crucified for them.”(43)

The post-Constantinian church needed to account for the manner of this transformation from weakness to power.(44) The solution was grounded in the cultural assumption that men and women shared the same human essence. In the essence was identical, then matter could be reformed into a fuller human being. So, as the difference of women was that of matter, not of kind, women could remoulded by spiritual “heat”. Therefore, the efficacious heat of divine Logos, called the “immaculatum semen” by Ambrose(45) and “the blessed seed” by Methodius, reformed women.

An example from the De institutione virginis illustrates this position.(46)

Before she received the Word of God, she was winter, unsightly, and without fruit. When she received the Word of God, and the world was crucified to her, summer was created. At last, infused with the heat of the holy Spirit, she began to flower and to breathe forth the perfume of faith, the fragrance of chastity, the sweetness of grace.(47)

Thus, the Word of God could reform women into virile or manly creatures. However, she who is not a believer, remains merely woman.(48)

In the same way as the spermatikos Logos infuses a new image into the soul, it infuses life into the church. Christ/Logos as Bridegroom fertilizes the womb of the virgin church, his spouse/body daughter.(49) The texts of Methodius present a most complex web of symbolism where the creation of Eve through Adam’s loss is the paradigm for all human birth and the creation of the church from Christ’s side. In each case a daughter-spouse is born of the bridegroom's body: in the former case a sleeping body, in the latter case a dead body. Methodius argues that Eucharist recreates the sleep of Adam in the“trance” of Christ’s passion; his death enables the church to conceive believers, spiritually born in the baptismal waters.

Unless Christ, . . . as I said, through the recapitulation of his passion, , should die again, coming down from heaven, and being “joined to his wife”, the church, should provide for a certain power being taken from his side, so that all who are built up in him should grow up, . . . receiving of his bones and his flesh, that is, of his holiness and glory.(50)

In another passage Ambrose links his understanding of the divine Logos as heat, to a symbolic representation of menstrual blood as sin:

You, too, my daughter, touch the hem of his garment. The flow of worldly passion will be dried up in the abundant heat of the saving Word. But you must approach with faith, with deep devotion grasp the hem of the divine Word.(51)

In the context of this passage, the analogy for the virgin woman is the woman with the flow of blood healed by touching Jesus’ garment. Passion is symbolised by the woman’s blood; such potential sinfulness, indicated by the definition, worldly, implicitly reinforces the cultural construction of woman’s body/nature as inherently less virtuous and gives it religious legitimation. As the bleeding woman was healed of bodily illness so the spiritual infirmity of women will be healed by Christ. The remedies for sin had physical as well as spiritual repercussions. If women fasted strenuously, then as their bodies lost body fat, they would cease to menstruate. There in the body was physical ‘proof’ of the reformative power of the Word. It is less surprising then that patristic writers spoke of virile women, whose faith had raised them in the hierarchy of being.

In this formative period, the chaste ideal incarnated by the virgin was the lodestar of perfect faith. The acetic program she modelled integrated all behavior into a cohesive system for achieving perfection. Abstinence from food cooled the body so that the faithful could remain chaste, and indeed we have seen a physiological relationship between food and sexual function. If sexuality is subdued, then there is no need for fine clothing to attract or impress others; clothings’ function as an indicator of status is replaced by humble garb as the vestment of holiness. Prayer and study were prescribed to replace any more public role for women, although evidence of women’s pilgrimages and their roles as public benefactors indicates that they may not have been as isolated as their male mentors would prefer. The whole of daily life was mapped and structured, with strict criteria for progress.

Thus it is clear that the assumptions of late antique biology promulgated by philosopher’s and medical texts were embedded in the foundational doctrinal texts of Christianity. What was perceived as the natural order of creation in philosophic texts gained the force of divine law in the Christian exegesis of Genesis, where the ‘natural order’ expresses God’s will and right order as manifested in ‘form’. As he was more formed, ie harder in body and more rational in mind, the one being a reflection of the other, the human male was the paradigmatic expression of creation and a microcosm of creation.(52) It becomes clear that the chain of binary oppositions usually attributed to philosophic dualism - male/female; spirit/body; mind/body; reason/emotion; subsumed in order vs disorder, were logically grounded within the medical model, and were the extremes of a hierarchical chain of being rather than intrinsically opposed opposites.(53) It was a paradigm where an active, heavenly masculine, spiritual principle orders the passive, earthly feminine sense material to produce ideally, the imago patris in a son.(54) This paradigm symbolically represents the ascendancy of mind over senses, order over disorder, legitimacy over illegitimacy, and of course, man over woman.(55)

The agenda behind so much of this philosophical and medical reflection was not, and is not today, objective exploration of the boundaries of sex and gender but cultural constructions of power, legitimacy and fatherhood.(56) In antiquity, these constructions legitimated asymmetrical power relationships, the division of labour, dress codes, access to resources, and the restriction of women from public life.(57) Pater, patrius, patria - from father to fatherland, the language constructed the Roman identity in terms of relationships to a social and sexual role, fatherhood, which in turn, reflects the true home of the soul, the celestial Fatherland.(58) A model taken directly into Christianity by Ambrose and Augustine who speak of God as a paterfamilias, and heaven as our true patria.(59)

Such is the “tradition” churches appealed to by the Magisterium, and the theologians of “male headship”.(60). But the “Tradition” is built on sand. The sand of fear, and false assumptions, and error: Built on the fear of women’s power to destroy men’s “defining characteristic”, Reason, through desire, and fear of the loss of male potency in intercourse: built on false assumptions about the essentialist nature of gender, and most particularly, false assumptions about women’s ontological inferiority, because they are grounded in patristic doctrines based on biological error. It is neither good theology, nor just praxis to appeal uncritically to such traditions to define woman’s nature, her means of fulfillment and her capacity for ministry, especially ordained ministry.


(1) Congregation for the doctrine of the faith. "Declaration on the question of the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood." (Inter Insignores) in The Furrow. 28, no. 3, March, 1977, pp. 174-175; 179.

(2) Biblical commission report, 1976. "Can women be priests?" Appendix 1, Sexism and church law: equal rights and affirmative action. Ed. James Coriden. New York: Paulist Press, 1977, p. 172. Since 1977 a great deal of work has been done which illuminates women's roles in the Gospel and the early Christian communities. The report's assertion that women never held leadership roles in the early church is now untenable.

(3) Nadine Foley, "Woman in Vatican documents 1960 to the present" in Sexism and church law: p. 98. Foley's interpretation is supported by Francine Cardman, "The church would look foolish without them: women and the laity since Vatican II" in Vatican II: open questions and new horizons. ed. G. Fagin. Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1984, pp. 105-133, especially pp. 119-124.

(4) Foley, "Woman in Vat. doc." p. 100.

(5) Inter Insignores, pp. 179-183.

(6) One issue worthy of comment is that although women are included in the addressees of the letter, the English translation uses exclusive language when speaking of both men and women.# 9. p. 4.

(7) Mulieris dignitatem, #7, 21, pp. 4, 10.

(8) Mulieris dignitatem, #10, p. 5. Femininity is largely undefined but appears to entail a responsive love and nurturing qualities. Masculinization is totally undefined. The document assumes that woman/feminine and man/masculine are co-terminus. If women allow their nature to be defined thus by male perception and experience, such generic terms can provoke great anxiety as women try to live by non-specific norms.

(9) Mulieris dignitatem, #24; 30-31, pp. 11; 13. Cf #14, p. 7.

(10) Mulieris dignitatem, #26, pp. 11-12. Pope John Paul II concentrates exclusively on Bride/Bridegroom imagery for the relationship between Christ and the church as the basis of his argument.

(11) Mulieris dignitatem, #4. p. 2.

(12) None of the sources quoted in the footnotes of this Apostolic Letter on the nature and experience of women are by women, or derived directly from women's experience, not even for the description of women's experience of motherhood and their capacity to love.

(13) Cardman, "One treasure," p. 123, argued in 1984 that the Christian theological anthropology of the Council and Vatican documents worked to hold back change in personal and structural relationships between men and women.

(14) A more detailed and academic study of this biological model as it applies particularly to Ambrose of Milan will be published as “Philosophy, medicine and gender in the ascetic texts of Ambrose of Milan” Proceedings of Ancient history in a modern university: In honour of Edwin A. Judge, (forthcoming).

(15) My argument here takes its cue from T. Laqueur, Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge Mass. 1990. See also P. Willem Van der Horst, “Sarah’s seminal emission: Hebrews 11:11 in the light of ancient embryology,” in Greeks, Romans and Christians: Essays in honor of Abraham Malherbe, Eds David L. Balch et al. Minneapolis 1990, pp.287-302; J. Aubert, “Threatened wombs: aspects of ancient uterine magic,” GRBS 30, 3, 1989, pp. 421-449. For the influence of the model on Ambrose in particular see Power, “Philosophy.”

(16) Aristotle, Politics, 1-5, 13, Great books of the western world, vol. 9, ed. in chief Robert Maynard Hutchins, Trans. Marcus Dods, Chicago: William Benton, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pp. 445-447, 454-455. Hereafter referred to as GB plus volume number. On the intersection of culture and nature in sexual concerns see Eric Fuchs, Sexual desire and love: origins and history of the Christian ethic of sexuality and marriage. Trans Marsha Daigle. Cambridge: James Clark & Co, 1983, p. 9

(17) Thomas Laqueur, Making sex: Body and gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990 and Peter Brown, The Body and Society, London: Faber & Faber, 1990, p. 1 on the plasticity of the body as derived from what Laqueur calls a “one sex” medical model of sexual difference.

(18) Laqueur, Making sex, p. 11.

(19) Marcus Aurelius, c. 121-180.,Meditations, 7.23, 24, Trans. George Long, GB 12, p. 281 a. Cf. Plotinus, 204-270 CE, Second ennead, 1,1, Third ennead, 5, 1-4, GB 17, pp. 35; 100-103.

(20) Ambrose, Hexameron, 9.55; FC p. 268. Cf. Plotinus, Second Ennead, 1,3, GB 17, p. 36.

(21) This covers a period of over 500 years from Aristotle’s death in 322 B.C. to Galen- 130-200 C.E. See Galen On the natural faculties, 2. 3, GB 10, trans. Arthur John Brock, p. 185 b.

(22) Aristotle, Metaphysics, 9, 1058 b, GB 8, trans. W. D. Ross, p. 586.

(23) Lucretius, On the nature of things, 4. 1037, trans. H. A. J. Munro, GB 12, p. 57 B.

(24) Galen, On natural faculties, 1, 6. GB 10, p.169; cf. 2, 3, pp.185-186.

(25) See the Wisdom of Solomon, 7:1: “I also am mortal, like all men a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of the mother I was moulded into flesh, within the the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of man and the pleasure of marriage”. Dated by the RSV as belonging to the intertestamental period, p. viii.

(26) Methodius, The banquet of the ten virgins, 2. 2, trans. William R. Clark, The writings of Methodius, ANCL, 14, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1969 p. 13; cf. Lucretius, On the nature of things, 4. 1037, GB 12, p. 57.

(27) Aristotle, On the generation of animals, 4. 1. 765 b [5-20] cf. 1. 19-20, translated Arthur Platt, GB 9, p. 306 B; 266B-269 B.

(28) Aretaeus, Causes and Symptoms of chronic diseases 2.5 in F. Adams trans. The extant works of Aretaeus the Cappadocian, London: The Sydenham Society, 1856, cited in Peter Brown, B&S, p. 10. See also Galen, On natural faculties, 2, 3-4, cf 2, 8, GB 10, pp. 186-187, 193 .on the relationship between heat, blood and action.

(29) Aristotle, GA, 2. 3. 735a [30-35] - 4. 737 a [1-10, 34] GB 9, pp. 276 A-278 A277 B.

(30) Aristotle, GA, 2. 2 735 b[30] -736 a[20], GB 9, p. 276 AB.

(31) Laqueur, Making sex, p. 55. According to Laqueur, Aristotle used the same words to describe the superior rational power of the male citizen and the strength of the sperm, whilst lack of political authority and women’s biological incapacity are described by the same adjective.

(32) See Epictetus, Discourses, 2. 10, GB 12, pp. 148-150.

(33) Brown, B&S, pp. 10-11. Both Epstein and Straub, “Introduction”,pp. 19-21, and Elizabth Castelli, “I will make Mary male” pp. 29-49, in Bodyguards: The cultural politics of gender ambiguity, eds., Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub, New York & London: Routledge, 1991, explore the plasticity of sex/gender in antiquity and the ambiguities it raised.

(34) Tertullian, De anima 27.5. In J. H. Waszink, ed. CC 2: 823.

(35) Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2. 94, trans. David Hunter, Marriage in the early church, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, p. 44.

(36) Lucretius, On the nature of things, 4. 1037-1287, GB 12, pp. 57-61; in this section of his treatise Lucretius uses the same imagery of chains that Augustine uses in the Confessiones; Virgil, Ecologues, 6; Georgics, 3. 244-283; trans. James Roade, GB 13, pp. 19-21; 73-74; For the literary and philosophical sources which kept placing the model before educated Romans see John O’Meara, “Virgil and saint Augustine: The Roman background to Christian sexuality” Augustinus, 13, 1968, pp. 307-326.

(37) Augustine, De gen. ad litt. 9. 13. 23,.PL. 34. 402, ACW 42, p. 86

(38) Augustine, De gen. ad litt. 9.18. 34. PL. 34. 407, ACW 42, p. 94.

(39) Methodius, Banquet, 2. 2; Cf. 2. 1, pp. 12-13.

(40) Aristotle, On life and death, 478 B, trans. G. R. T. Ross, GB 8, p. 725. Cf. Meteorology, 4.11.8-15, trans. E. W. Webster, GB 8, p. 493; Death was caused by loss of heat.

(41) See Aline Rouselle, Porneia on desire and the body in antiquity. Trans Felicia Pheasant. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988, p. 59.

(42) Cited in John McAreavey’s conservative defense of celibacy in “Priestly celibacy”, Irish Theological Quarterly, ns. 59, 1, 1993, p. 37.

(43) Eusebius The history of the church 5. 1. 33-V. 1. 47, Trans. A. Louth, London, [1965] rev. 1989, pp. 144-145; cf. Perpetua, The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, trans. R. Rader in A lost tradition, women writers of the early Christian church, ed. P. Wilson-Kastner, Lanham 1981, pp. 19-32; Ambrose, De virginibus. 2. 35. PL 16. 228 C.

(44) Ramsay Macmullen, Christianising the Roman Empire, (AD 100-400), New Haven/London: 1984, p. 86, estimates that in the century after Constantine’s conversion the number of Christians grew from approximately 5 million to 30 million.

(45) Ambrose, Exp. evang. sec. Lucam, 2.56, CC 14, p.55; cf. Ps-Jerome, Ep. 6, Ad amicum aegrotum 6-7, PL 30. 82 C - 86 B.

(46) For females’ natural inferiority see also Ambrose, De viduis, 7. 37; 8. 44. PL 16. 259 A; 261 A. NPNF 2. 10. pp. 397; 398-99.

(47) De institutione virginis 1. 3. PL 16. 320 A.

(48) Ambrose, De virginitate 4. 20. PL 16. 285 B, trans. D. Callam, On virginity, Toronto 1991, p. 15. Expos. in ev. sec. Luc. 10. 161. CC 14, p. 392. See also Ep. 69. 2 to Irenaeus, PL 16. 1285. FC. 26, Ep. 78, pp. 435-437, where he defines some of the differences between men and women, assuming men’s innate superiority.

(49) Ambrose, De mysteriis 1. 56-57, PL 16 425. FC 44, pp. 26-27.

(50) Methodius, Banquet, 3. 8, ANCL 14, p. 28.

(51) Ambrose, De virginitate, 16. 100. trans Daniel Callam, Toronto: Peregrina Press, 1991 [1990], p. 40;

(52) I discuss this in detail in papers on aspects of the body in Ambrose’s Hexameron given at the North American Patristic Society in May, 1994, and the forthcoming ANZATS/AASR conference in Adelaide in July.

(53) Ps. Clement of Rome,Two epistles concerning virginity, 2.14, trans. B. L. Pratten, The writings of Methodius, ANCL 14, p. 393. On women and their identification with disorder, cf. Power, Augustine’s theology, ch. 7; O’Meara, “Virgil ”, p. 323; and Carole Pateman, “‘The disorder of women’: women, love and the sense of justice”, Ethics, 91, 1, 1980, pp. 20-34.

(54) On the meaning “son” see Epictetus, Discourses 2. 10, GB 12, 149 A.

(55) Laqueur, Making sex, p. 59.

(56) Laqueur, Making sex, p. 57.

(57) Aristotle, Politics, 2. 1852 b, GB 9, 446.

(58) Aristotle, Politics, I. 13, x-xv, GB 9, 455; Plotinus, First Ennead, 6. 8; Fifth Ennead, 1. 1. GB 17, 25; 208.

(59) Ambrose, Ep. 45. 1.16, PL. 16. 1194 connects God as father with earth as patria.; Hexameron, 1.9.33, cf. 6.8.52, FC 42, p. 38; Augustine, Civ. Dei. 19. 16. PL. 41. 644, G. B. 18, 522 a.

(60) Apart from the Vatican documents cited above, other Christian writers arguing from an essentialist position are Werner Neuer, Man and woman in Christian perspective, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1990; Stephen B. Clark, Man and woman in Christ: an examination of the roles of men and women in the light of Scripture and the social sciences, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1980.

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