The Philosophy of Woman of St. Thomas Aquinasby Kristin M. Popik Description
The first of a two-part series on St. Thomas' philosophy of woman, which is a condensation of a doctoral dissertation accepted in 1978 at the University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome. The author, Kristin M. Popik, is the first woman to receive the Ph.D. in philosophy from that institution.Larger WorkFaith & ReasonPages
16-56Publisher & Date
Christendom College Press, Winter 1978Beginning in this issue,
F&R is privileged to present a two-part series on St. Thomas' philosophy of woman, which is a condensation of a doctoral dissertation accepted this year at the University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome. The author, Kristin M. Popik, is the first woman to receive the Ph.D. in philosophy from that institution. She will present a conclusion on St. Thomas’ view of the woman’s place in civil society and the family in the spring. On the topic itself, only one point need be stressed. St. Thomas drew for some of his basic premises on the biological presuppositions of Aristotle, presuppositions, which color the presentation in a manner unfavorable to the female sex. Those parts of the presentation influenced most heavily by Aristotle are highly interesting but, especially in our time, unsettling and ultimately, unsatisfying. What is remarkable is St. Thomas’ conclusion on the role grace plays in overcoming biological deficiencies of any type and his acute understanding of the male/female relationship vis-a-vis Christ himself. Another word about the format of the article: readers will note that all quotations are in the original Latin. This change from
F&R's usual policy, and other minor shifts in appearance, are explained by the fact that the series will be published separately in Europe. Readers who do not know Latin may be assured that Dr. Popik has included all-important quoted points in the surrounding English.
25 566: "...cumque experientia nostra videamus multum quamplurimos praelatos pessime providere ecclesiis, beneficiis in temporibus sibi competentibus; si papa male in suo mense, episcopi saepissime pejus in suo, non providentes ecclesiis, sed personis, nec personis moribus, et litteris adornatis, nisi bene paucis, sed nepotibus, servitoribus et hujusmodi." Juan further stated that examples of this can be seen in the Council itself.
26 566: "Quid ergo esset, si tota ecclesiarum dispositio eorum providentia plenaria committeretur: currentibus temporibus praesentibus, et considerata dispositione mundi, salva reverentia eorum, timendum esset, quod major corruptio esset in ecclesia. Nec valet fuga quorumdam decentium, quod tunc papa posset eos corrigere; papa vero peccans non haberet corrigentem; tum primo, quia nullus esset ausus, aut paucissimi accusare apiscopos apud papam; praesertim in abusibus commissis contemplatione dominorum terrae. Item quis se vellet laboribus, periculis et expensis se exponere ad episcopos accusandum? papa autem non corrigeret nisi accusata, vel certa sibi; certa autem non possunt esse sibi mala per alios praelatos commissa lege communi, nisi per denunciationem factam, et ita correctio esset incerta."
27 567: "primo, ecclesiis pessime provisis per ordinaries, non posset commode de melioribus provideri. Tum etiam emergentibus casibus, ex quibus ecclesiae possent inferri gravamina, vel aliis causis imminentibus, ut puta ratione pacis iniendae, ratione haeresis extirpandae, ratione malitiae eligentium refraenandae, ratione violentiae principum quandoque populsandae, quandoque etiam ratione principum voluntati justae complacendi; quibus omnibus impedimentis maxima commoditas populi Christi communis esset impedita...."
28 568: "...tale decretum ex rationibus supra assignatis non cedit in commune bonum universalis ecclesiae; sed tantum videtur deservire commodis temporalibus aliquorum ordinariorum, amicorum, et familiarum suorum, qui tali decreto posito arbitrantur citius, et pinguius promoveri..."
29 568: "Gloria quidem et auxilium episcoporum est ipsa sedes apostolica."
30 580: "Si denique omnis occasio abusuum in ecclesia esset auferendae, cum nostris demeritis innumeri sint in ecclesia praelati, archiepiscopi, episcopi, abbates abutentes sua potestate; apud quem remaneret ista potestas?" 581: "Corrigantur ergo abusus per eum, ad quem spectat, et maneat intacta liberaque ipsa potestas ad bene agendum,"
31 590: "licet illud petant multi vel quia non patiuntur bene subesse, vel subalernari superiori; vel quia multi inde sperant suae cupiditati plenius satisfieri, aut quia ab ordinariis sperant, alii citius vel pinguius promoveri; alii vero habentes bonum zelum, sed existimo quod non secundum scientiam ducti, credentes per hanc viam melius ecclesiae Dei provideri."Part One: The Nature Of Woman
The first question to be settled in a discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas' philosophy of woman is whether or not he actually had a philosophy of woman. True, the Angelic Doctor never wrote a treatise On Woman,
nor is any significant section of his works devoted to the development of this topic. But he does mention women, in the universal or in particular, in hundreds of places in his writings, and when discussing a myriad of other subjects. Moreover, most of these references either reflect a definite attitude about the female sex, or, what is more, indicate part of a cohesive theory of woman, complete with substantiating arguments. In fact, although St. Thomas never apparently attempted to develop a philosophy of woman, what he says about woman in different works, at various periods of his life, and most importantly in diverse contexts, holds together as though he had worked out a whole synthetic philosophy of woman. Although he might be the most surprised to hear of it, St. Thomas Aquinas did have a philosophy of woman.
But while it is one unified theory, Thomas' philosophy of woman is two-sided, and in such a way that it might appear at first contradictory: somehow (and the determination of exactly how is the aim of this study) woman is both equal to man in nature and yet inferior; in their relationship she is subject to man but as his equal. This ambivalence is clearly not the same as that displayed by the Fathers of the Church in their writings. As a whole, patristic texts dealing with woman tend to be non-theoretical. Primarily concerned with the encouragement of virtue and the promotion of the life of perfection, the Fathers' statements about woman, depending on the audiences to which they are addressed, alternate between vile condemnations of woman as temptress and instrument of the devil, and exaggerated praises of woman and womanly virtue, especially as exhibited by Mary and the female saints. As ideal, Christian Woman is made an object of worship, and this of course encourages the women to whom St. Jerome, for example, is writing in their attempts to live up to this ideal. Woman as the source of all sin, trouble, and suffering for man is repudiated in those patristic writings addressed to monks, in order to encourage them in their repudiation of the world and women, in their celibate perfection. But St. Thomas is concerned neither with praising nor condemning woman; his writings are philosophical treatises, not pastoral enjoinders. For him woman is another part of reality to be scientifically investigated in order to discover her nature and her relation to the rest of reality.
The Fathers, then, do not exert much direct influence on Thomas’ philosophy of woman; they contribute some help with the exegesis of Scriptural texts concerning woman, and they define some truths of the Faith which in turn influence St. Thomas, but it is not what they say about woman per se
that influences Thomas. The two most important influences on Thomas’ thought about woman were his Faith and his "Philosopher", Aristotle. No doubt also influenced, as we all are, by contemporary culture—by the attitudes of his day and the actual role of woman in medieval society—Thomas nevertheless substantiates his statements about woman almost exclusively by references either to Aristotle or to Sacred Scripture, by arguments from his revealed Faith or from Aristotle's biology and philosophy.
It would not be correct, however, to assume that these two influences on the mind of St. Thomas are each solely responsible for one of the halves of his ambivalent theory about woman. While it is true that Thomas inherits from Aristotle the femina est mas occasionatus
formula and much of his argumentation for woman's inferiority, it is the same Aristotle whose arguments Aquinas uses to substantiate the fundamental specific equality of men and women as humans, and on whose political and economic philosophy Aquinas bases his theory that the woman is subject to the man as an equal
in the household and civil society. And while it is undeniable that Christianity contributed greatly to the position of woman in both the theoretical and the practical orders, and that it is his Christian faith that marks Thomas off from Aristotle, Aquinas is nonetheless well-supplied with Christian teachings and arguments that woman is inferior and subject to man, notably those of St. Paul. As is the case with the whole of Thomas' philosophy, his theory of woman is correctly if perhaps simplistically characterized as a Christian Aristotelianism, but that does not mean it is merely a softening of Aristotelian misogynism with the Christian liberation of the woman: it is a complex synthesis of the two traditions, in both of which are found elements popularly believed to exist only in the other.
The first part of this study will concentrate on the nature of woman for St. Thomas, what femininity is and how woman compares with man in nature. Left for the second part is the question of how woman relates to man: her position in relation to man and in society. Essential Equality Of All Humans
A study of the nature of woman for St. Thomas must begin with his theory of the essential or specific equality of all human beings For him woman is not a species inferior to man; both belong to the same species and have the same nature: they are essentially equal. This is seen in the works of Aquinas in his theory of the rational soul (possessed by both men and women) as the substantial form of all humans: in his description of sexual difference as something that pertains not to the form but to the matter or body; in his assertion that both men and women have the image of God by virtue of their common intellectual nature; by his argument for the necessity of woman to complete human nature; and by his teaching that men and women have the same supernatural end and the same means to attain that end.
For Aquinas as for Aristotle, man is a composition of soul and body and yet one substantial unit; the relationship between the soul and the body is the act-potency relationship of form and matter. The human soul as form actuates the body, making it alive and making it a human body, comprising with the matter or body one supposit, man. Although simple, immaterial, subsistent, and incorruptible, the human soul differs from other subsistent forms by its own nature which is to form and be united with a human body; the human soul then is both subsistent thing and substantial form, it is the first act of the body, and gives the body its act of existing, its mode of existing, and being simply
But the form of a thing determines its nature or essence, gives the thing its definition, and makes it part of a species.2
What a thing is, then. is determined by the form of that thing, not specifically by its matter. Since men and women both have the same substantial form of rational soul, they have the same human nature, they are essentially equal and belong to the same species.3
In his Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics
Thomas directly discusses this question of woman being in the same species as man. Although male and female are contraries, and specific difference always has the nature of conrareity, Thomas agrees with Aristotle that women do not differ specifically from men. Only the kind of contrareity that pertains to form causes difference between species; since the contrareity of male and female pertains not to form but to matter, it is incapable of differentiating species: "Unde relinquitur quod masculus et femina non differant secundum formam, nec sunt diversa secundum speciem."4
Men and women then have the same substantial form making them be what they are. Hence they are the same type of being; they are equal in essence.
This fundamental equality of men and women in their nature as humans is confirmed by St. Thomas in his discussions of the image of God, which is in all men. The image of God chiefly consists in intellectual nature: it is with respect to the soul of man (in which there is no difference of sex), not with respect to his body, that he is made in the image of God.5
Since all men, both males and females, are formed by a rational soul, they all have the image of God by reason of their intellectual nature.6
The image of God in man, Thomas explains, consists in the ability of man's intellectual nature to imitate God precisely in God's understanding and loving of Himself. There are three degrees of this imitation: all men are the image of God by possession of their intellectual nature; further, the just men imitate God to a greater degree through grace; and lastly, in the state of glory the blessed imitate God's love and knowledge of Himself perfectly.7
It is clear that women are excluded from none of these three degrees of imitating God: they share the same intellectual nature as man, they can benefit from the same grace, and through it, attain the state of the blessed.8
To the objection that not all men have the image of God since woman, who "is an individual of the human species" is said by St. Paul to be the image not of God but only of man, St. Thomas answers that the intellectual nature which is the "principle signification" of the image, and the cause or condition of all three ways of being in the image of God, is found both in men and in women.9
Only when "the image of God" is defined in a secondary or accidental way can it be seen to be participated more perfectly by men than by women. Since God is the beginning and end of every creature, and man is the beginning and end of woman (who is made of him and for him), there is seen in this analogy an accidental way in which man is the image of God and woman is not.10
But since here the image of God does not refer to the essence of men and women, but to some accidental characteristic of men, its being denied of women does not signify an essential but merely an accidental difference between men and women.
In his Commentary on St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians,
in direct answer to Paul’s saying that while man is the image and glory of God, woman is the glory of man, Thomas refers to Galatians 3:28 in his assertion that the image refers to the soul wherein there is no distinction of sex, and hence that the image cannot be applied to men more than to women:
Sed contra hoc obiicitur, quia imago Dei attenditur in homine secundum spiritum, in quo non est differentia maris et foeminae, ut dicitur Col. 3:11 [Gal. 3:28], Non ergo magis debet dici, quod vir dicitur imago Dei, quam mulier.11
Here again Aquinas admits that man alone and not woman can be said to be the image of God as long as the image refers to some accidental characteristic of man and not to his nature, as for example his being the principle of his species as God is the principle of all being, or his possession of stronger rational faculties than woman ("in eo ratio magis viget").12
But he is careful to reaffirm immediately that the image, which principally refers to the intellectual nature of man, is had by both men and women. He cleverly distinguishes between image and glory, noting that while Paul said that woman is the glory
of man, he did not say that she is the image
of man: this shows that Paul is not denying that both are the image of God.
Sed melius dicendum est quod Apostolus signanter loquitur. Nam de viro dixit, quod vir imago et gloria Dei est: de muliere autem non dixit, quod esset imago et gloria viri, sed solum quod est gloria viri, ut detur intelligi quod esse imaginem Dei, commune est viro et mulieri: esse autem gloriam Dei immediate proprium est viri.13
St. Thomas’ judgment that the image of God is equally seen in men and women shows more than just the fact that for him they are equal in this honor; it also confirms that they do not differ specifically but rather have the same nature. The image of God is equally predicated of men and of women because of their intellectual nature or their souls: they have the same intellectual nature or essence conferred by the same substantial soul as form. That this is so for St. Thomas is especially apparent when he attempts to "save" the teachings of St. Paul which appear to deny the image of God to women: Thomas must redefine the image of God to refer to some accidental characteristic in order to avoid either contradicting St. Paul or denying the essential equality of men and women.
In his treatments of the creation of the first humans and their condition before the fall,14
St. Thomas further evidences the essential equality between men and women, this time from the point of view of the necessity of woman to human nature and her inclusion in the original Divine intention. In opposition to some of the earlier Fathers who see as consequences of sin not only human copulation, but also sexual differentiation, the female sex, and even human bodies, Thomas teaches that man was originally created bisexual and that generation by copulation would have been natural before the fall.15
These are natural to man, and what is natural is neither acquired nor forfeited by sin.16
Since it is part of human nature that it be bisexual, woman is necessary for the common good, and intended as an essential part of human nature.
Necessarium fuit feminam fieri, sicut Scriptura dicit, in adiutorium viri: non quidem in adiutorium alicuius alterius operis, ut quidam dixerunt, cum ad quodlibet aliud opus convenientius iuvari possit vir per alium virum quam per mulierem; sed in adiutorium generationis.17
This passage is sometimes interpreted to suggest that woman is no more than a slave or tool used by man: since men can be better assisted by other men in all things except generation women exist only to help men in generation. But Thomas is not in this article attempting a definition of woman's role; he is attempting to prove that woman is absolutely necessary for human nature, and that it was therefore fitting that she be created along with man from the beginning. Against those who say that woman is a mistake, and that she arrived only after sin caused nature to be defective, Aquinas must find some basis for her necessity to human nature and hence for her being originally intended and created by God. He finds this basis in generation, for which, it is true, woman is absolutely necessary, unlike other activities for which one sex does not need the other. In fact sexual distinction is ordained to generation, and this distinction is a perfection of human nature. Aquinas is proving that it was part of God's intention that mankind be so perfected, that it be bisexual; since the man was made first, the question is asked in terms of the necessity of woman. The answer is given that she was necessary to human nature, originally intended by God and not a mistake, originally created by Him in the first production of things, and that her creation perfected human nature which was until that time incomplete and imperfect.18
In a similar vein, Aquinas argues that women as well as men would have been generated by human reproduction before the fall, if such reproduction had taken place.
Nihil eorum quae ad complementum humanae naturae pertinent, in statu innocentiae defuisset. Sicut autem ad perfectionem universi pertinent diversi gradus rerum, ita etiam diversitas sexus est ad perfectionem humanae naturae. Et ideo in status innocentiae uterque sexus per generationem productus fuisset.19
Although some had argued that the generation of a female is the result of some defect and hence would not have occurred in the state of innocence which was free from defects, Thomas answers that woman, that is the existence of both sexes, completes and perfects human nature; hence humans of both sexes would have been generated naturally before the fall.
If woman is originally intended by God as a necessary part of human nature, and if the addition of her existence to the man's perfects and completes human nature, it is evident that for St. Thomas she equally with him is part of human nature. Human nature is not just masculine human nature, to which the woman is either a specifically different addition or an inferior afterthought; human nature is bisexual and men and women share the same nature.
All of St. Thomas' teachings on the supernatural end of men and women, and on their equal access to the grace which makes possible that end, confirm that they are equal in nature. The end of man is the perfect happiness, which is found only in the knowledge and love of God, and both men and women are directed by their same nature to that same ultimate end. 20
Women as well as men are made by God precisely for the eternal happiness of the beatific vision; and since for St. Thomas God never confers any power for operation without conferring also those things necessary for the exercise of the operation,21
women have the same potestatem in gratia
They have the same title as men do to receive divine grace as the means to salvation and the same aptitude to attain eternal beatitude.
Both are saved by the grace of Christ, before which there is no distinction between male and female:
Neque vir est sine muliere in Domino, scilicet in gratia Domini nostri Iesu Christi, neque mulier sine viro, quia uterque per gratiam Dei salvatur, secundum illud Ga. 3:27: Quicumque in Christo baptizati estis, Christum induistis.
Et postea subdit: Non est masculus, neque femina, scilicet differens in gratia Christi.23
In his commentary on this passage from Galatians,
Aquinas makes it explicit that sex makes no difference as far as sharing in the effect of baptism is concerned, and that this is the meaning of "In Christ there is neither male nor female." All Christians, male and female, form part of the Mystical Body of Christ.24
In explaining the Pauline passage that states woman will be saved through childbearing if she perseveres in faith, love, holiness, and sobriety, Thomas says that this refers to two different salvations. Woman's temporal salvation (her being saved from the annihilation justly demanded by her sin) is on account of her necessity in generation: her eternal salvation, however, is achieved through the persevering in faith, love, holiness, and sobriety.
...duplex est salus, scilicet temporalis, et haec est communis etiam brutis; alia est aeterna, et haec est propria hominum.....Utramque autem salutem mulier non amisit.
Non temporalem, quia statim non privatur sexu muliebri propter generationem prolis. Nec aeternam, quia secundum animam capax est gratiae et gloriae. Et ideo quantum ad primum dicitur salvabitur,
id est, non extirpabitur, et hoc per generationem filiorum,
ad quam est a Deo ordinata. Quantum ad secundum dicit si permanserit
The reason why women exist as females
is for childbearing: there is no other purpose to femininity. Thus woman was "saved" from annihilation because of this role. But the end of every woman as human, as a person, is her eternal happiness; she is equal to the man in having this end, in ability to gain the grace necessary for this end, and in the requirements of virtue in order to attain it.
St. Thomas interprets many aspects of Christ's life as reflecting this notion that women can be saved equally with men. It is proper he says that Christ's birth was announced to men of all conditions, rich and poor, men and women, Jew and Gentile, in order to show that no condition of man excludes him from Christ's redemption. This announcement in fact is a "foreshadowing" of the salvation effected by Christ which concerned all sorts and conditions of men.26
Similarly Thomas defends as "most becoming" that Christ should be born of a woman in order to ennoble the entire human race. As Christ liberated the nobler sex by assuming human nature in the male sex, so too he liberated the female sex by being born of a woman "lest the female sex should be despised."27
Thomas explains that Christ appeared first after his Resurrection to women instead of to men as an indication that women can benefit by salvation; they are not to be despised because of the sin of Eve. The announcement of the Resurrection to women signified woman's absolution from ignominy, the removal of the curse brought on her by Eve's sin: it signified that woman too is saved by that Resurrection. (28)
Furthermore, this reward for woman's greater love refers to our future reward, which women may obtain equally with men or even to a greater degree. The women to whom Christ appeared loved him more than the apostles did and thus they were rewarded by the announcement: so too if women display greater virtue and greater love for Christ, they will attain greater glory in heaven.29
Women, then, for Aquinas are essentially and fundamentally equal to men: they have the same substantial form, which determines them specifically and essentially, and their difference arises from their bodies not their souls: both participate the image of God because of their nature; woman is necessary to the completion and perfection of human nature, and is directed equally with man to the same supernatural end, concerning which there is neither difference nor discrimination because of sex. Sexual Differentiation And Feminine Inferiority
As has been indicated, the difference between men and women for St. Thomas arises not from their souls or substantial form, but from their bodies or matter: the difference is a physical one, accidental and not specific.30
Thomas considered women to be less strong physically than men: references to the "weaker sex" and to the "frailty" of the female body are found in his writings.31
Women are of a frailer complexion and have weak temperaments, he says.32
But this relative weakness is not the primary difference between men and women; in fact, it is a consequence of their sexual or biological difference.
Sexual differentiation is ordained to generation: indeed the whole reason why mankind is divided into male and female, why there are two sexes, is for generation. (33) Thus it is to the activity of generation, to the roles, which males and females play in generation, that Aquinas looks in order to determine the natures of masculinity and femininity and how they are related to each other. Like Aristotle, Thomas identifies the male as the active principle in generation and the female as the passive principle, given the necessity of both an active and a passive principle in every act of generation. "In omni enim generatione requiritur virtus activa et passiva"34
is his starting principle, and since animals (unlike plants) are divided into two sexes, it seems that the sexes correspond to the two principles required: "Animalibus vero perfectis competit virtus activa generationis secundum sexum masculinum, virtus vero passiva secundum sexum feminimum."35
No doubt the observed activity of males compared to the relative passivity of females in the sexual act influenced this identification of the male with the active and the female with the passive principles of generation itself, of the generated being, given that all generation or change occurs as the actualization of a potency.
Natura non distingueret ad opus generationis sexum maris et feminae, nisi esset distincta operatio maris ab operatione feminae. In generatione autem distinguitur operatio agentis et patientis. Unde relinquitur quod tota virus activa, sit ex parte maris, passio autem ex parte feminae.36
As passive principle of the generated being, the female supplies the matter or passive element, thought to be menstrual blood; the male seed as active principle supplies the form, actualizes the matter, and in fact does the generating with the matter supplied by the female:37
"Habet autem hoc naturalis conditio, quod in generatione animalis femina materiam ministret, ex parte autem maris sit activum principium in generatione."38
The supplying of the matter is all that is required for motherhood for Thomas, and the extent of the female's role in the generation of offspring.
For St. Thomas, it is through the active or male generative principle that original sin is transmitted, hence he concludes that if Eve only had sinned, we would not have inherited the sin, since she as the merely passive principle cannot have passed it on, and Adam could not have conferred what he himself did not have.39
The male seed then does all determination in generation; the female contributes the matter but plays no active part.
From this definition of the masculine and feminine sexes as the active and the passive principles in the generation of any offspring, it is obvious that Aquinas is constrained to see masculinity as the superior perfection to femininity, since activity is superior to passivity.40
Since generation is the one activity in which males and females cooperate precisely as males
and as females,
it is their respective roles in this activity, which indicate the relative perfection of masculinity and femininity. Since the male as active principle does
the generating of the offspring, forming the matter supplied by the female, conferring on it its soul, and actualizing it as a new living being, the masculine sex as active is superior to the feminine, which plays no role other that merely supplying the blood which gets transformed and actualized by the male seed. Men, then, as possessors of the superior masculine quality, are superior to women who lack this masculine active quality and are merely passive: "Sed mulier naturaliter est minoris virtutis et dignitatis quam vir: semper enim honorabilis est agens patiente..."41
It is the definition of the female as the passive principle in generation, which leads to the celebrated Aristotelian "femina est mas occasionatus." Since the active force in the male seeds tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex, the production of a female must arise because of something going wrong in generation, and hence she is defective, accidentally begotten, a misbegotten male.42
Following Aristotle, Thomas suggests that ineptness of the matter, a defect or weakness of the active form, or even the direction of the wind might interfere with the natural course of generating a male and result in an imperfectly generated offspring, a female.43
The intention in any generative act is to generate a male, since the active principle tends to a perfect likeness of itself, and that active principle is the male. The generation of a female then is accidental, unintended and defective since she is the result of some defect.
It might appear that this characterization of females in general as unintended defects contradicts Aquinas' saying that woman was originally intended by God as a completion and perfection of human nature. The objection is raised 44
that since God originally made nothing defective, perhaps it was not fitting for God to have created woman in the first production of things; furthermore, how could He have intended her to exist and made her exist if she is unintended, accidental and occasionata,
if her existence is a mistake? Aquinas answers that the female is occasionata
or unintended according to particular nature but that she is intended by universal nature. God as the efficient cause and author of nature intends both that there be females in order to perfect the species, and that in a certain number of individual cases generation results in the production of females. But how this intention is carried out is by the frustration of the general tendency in the male principle as formal cause to form the offspring as a male. Femininity in general is not unintended, nor is the generation of individual females against the intention of God. In fact, that the tendency of the male active principle in generation to produce a male be frustrated in about one-half of the cases is intended by God, the author of nature, whence the tendency of the nature of a species as a whole derives. The female then is occasionata,
accidental or unintended in that her generation is against the natural tendency of generation. She is not accidental or unintended in the sense of a mistake, one who is not intended to exist but does.45
With this distinction Aquinas saves both the Aristotelian notion of the male as the active principle of generation, always tending to the production of a male, and his belief that women as well as men are intended by God as essential and perfecting parts of human nature.
But while they are not unintended "mistakes" females nevertheless are generated accidentally; they are females instead of males precisely because of some defect or interference with the natural tendency in generation. Hence Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that women are occasionatae
or accidental insofar as they are generated against the tendency of nature; he disagrees however, with the conclusion that they are for this reason unintended to exist and a mistake.
Aquinas also disagrees with the characterization of femininity as a defect. Unlike Aristotle, Aquinas must make his theory coincide with his belief in an original state of innocence in which no defect was present but women were. Aquinas admits that females do not necessarily result from an error or defect, saying that they could also be generated as the result of some totally exterior condition, even the will of the parents.46
But while they are not defects or unintended mistakes for Aquinas, women are generated accidentally, they are the result of some interference with the natural tendency to produce males, and this is for him further evidence of the inferiority of the female sex.
The primary reason, then, for the inferiority of women to men is the inferiority of femininity to masculinity. Femininity is inferior because it is passivity in relation to masculine activity, and because it is occasionata:
the female is generated accidentally or against the tendency of nature. Hence within any species the female is inferior to the male. "Sexus masculinus est nobilior quam sexus femineus."47
Because the female is an imperfect animal, only male animals were allowed by the Old Law for use in the sacrificial holocaust, the most perfect of sacrifices. (48) Because of the superiority of the male sex, it was this sex, which Christ assumed instead of the inferior female sex.49
And most importantly for this study, the inferiority of the female sex transfers to the human species as an inferiority of women to men. As humans men and women are equal; insofar as they differ, that is as males and females, the men are superior to the women because the masculine sex is more perfect that the feminine sex.
But St. Thomas must not be interpreted as defining femininity as a lesser degree of the same perfection, which in its fullness is masculinity. Aristotle had described femininity as an impotence or a lack of the ability to concoct the seed which is the active generative principle.50
The male seed is concocted from the same substance as menstrual blood, and masculinity consists in the ability to concoct from surplus blood the seed which is the active principle in generation. Females are impotent to concoct seed and hence unable to be active generators; their surplus blood is either expelled from the body or used for matter by the male seed when it generates. Hence femininity is a lesser degree of the same quality as masculinity: females are those deprived of the ability to concoct seed.51
Aristotle's description of the generation of females confirms his conception of the female as a deformed or not-quite-perfectly-masculine male. He lists the various degrees of failure that the active principle in generation may exhibit, from a male offspring who resembles his mother, through a female offspring, all the way to a "monster" who resembles his father in no way,52
definitely suggesting that for him femininity is a lesser degree of masculinity. In generating a female, the father simply activates the matter to a lesser degree; he as active principle exercises over the matter less control and hence is unable to confer on it the full degree of masculine perfection or likeness to himself.53
The female for Aristotle is literally a deformed or defective male.54
But for Aquinas femininity is not a mere privation; it is a perfection, although a lesser perfection than masculinity. Imperfect and deficient in comparison with the male, the female quality is not defined as an imperfection and a deficiency, but rather as a less noble perfection, merely a lesser perfection than masculinity. It must be remembered that for Thomas the female sex is necessary for the completion and perfection of mankind: since it perfects human nature, femininity is a perfection. Since women would have been generated even in the defect-free state of innocence, femininity is not a defect or mistake. In the Summa Contra Gentiles
Aquinas refers to both masculinity and femininity as perfections: "...tali perfectione, puta perfectione masculi, ille autem perfectione feminae."55
In his treatment of the sex of resurrected bodies, Aquinas shows most clearly that for him femininity is a perfection and not a defect or privation. He admits the principle that the resurrection restores the deficiencies of nature, but instead of designating femininity a deficiency which would be restored by the resurrection to full masculine perfection, he uses the principle to argue that females will rise as females. Nothing that belongs to the perfection of nature will be lacking in the bodies of the risen, and since femininity belongs to the perfection of nature, its absence (if female bodies were "restored" to "full masculine perfection") would itself be a deficiency. (56) In other words, femininity is not a deficiency or privation but a perfection; the lack of femininity is a privation or deficiency, and since the resurrection restores instead of causes deficiencies, females will rise as females. This article is a clear indication not only that women are necessary to complete and perfect human nature but also that the feminine quality is considered a perfection, not a defect in need of perfection (masculinization) as Aristotle would have it.
But while femininity is not formally defined by Aquinas as a privation but rather as a perfection, it is a lesser perfection than masculinity; it is a defect or deficiency when compared with masculine activity. But it is not only in Aristotle's biology that Aquinas finds evidence for the inferiority of femininity in relation to masculinity. The Sacred Scriptures, especially in the genesis accounts of creation and in the epistles of St. Paul, teach that the man is more noble than the woman because he is her principle and end, because she was made from him and for him. Even the fact that the man was made first indicates a greater perfection in him, for nature always begins with the more perfect. The perfect precedes the imperfect in time and in nature; (57) the facts that the woman was made after the man and also from the man both bespeak her imperfection in relation to him. "Haec igitur est ratio quare mulier producta est ex viro, quia perfectior est muliere..."58
But woman is not only made after and from man, she is also made for man; man is not only her principle but her end. Potency is for the sake of act and matter for form; so too the woman is created for the sake of man, in order to help him in generation. As her end, he is more perfect than she. "[Vir] perfectior est muliere, quia finis est perfectior eo quod es ad finem: vir autem est finis mulieris."59
With references to Thomas' agreement that woman is made from man and for the sake of man two important points must be made. The first is that woman's subordination to man as her end fits perfectly with Aristotle's biological conception of femininity as existing for the sake of masculinity. Since the male is the active principle of generation, it is he who does the act of generation. The female exists as female for the sole purpose of assisting him in this (his) activity by supplying the matter, which he forms. Certain members of a species are females precisely in order to help males with generation; hence femininity exists for the sake of masculinity. Each of the sexes exists for and is ordained to its respective role in generation; but since the female role is merely to assist by supplying matter and does not include any activity, the female sex exists for the sake of, and is ordained to the assistance of, the male sex. St. Thomas definitely interpreted St. Paul's "the woman is made for the sake of the man" in terms of Aristotle's biology according to which the female exists for the sake of the male.60
Secondly, Thomas' agreement that the man is the principle and the end of the woman does not involve a denial of God as the ultimate principle and end of woman as He is of man. As we have already seen men and women share the same essence and are both directed by that nature to the same end, which is God. And Thomas states that while the woman is from man, both of them are from God; both were created by Him, both have His image, and both are saved by the same grace. Thomas' distinction between the two salvations of woman, eternal and temporal, is analogous to the distinction between her two ends. As human, woman equally with man has God as her end; as female woman's end is man insofar as femininity is ordained to its generative role of assisting the male.61
But although man's being the principle and the end of woman does not mean either that she does not come from God or that she does not have the same eternal end as man, it does bespeak a profound preeminence of the man over the woman for St. Thomas. Since the man was created first, and since the woman was made from the man, and since she exists as female
for his sake, he as her beginning and end is seen as more perfect.62
So while men and women are fundamentally equal as humans, insofar as they differ sexually they are unequal in perfection. Women are inferior in bodily strength and in strength of temperament and constitution; as females they are inferior because femininity is an inferior quality compared with masculinity; they are inferior because they are generated accidentally or against the tendency of nature, while males are generated according to that tendency; they are inferior because the first woman came after the first man and was made from him; lastly, they are inferior because they are made for the sake of the man insofar as femininity exists for the sake of masculinity. Intellectual And Moral Differences
But while originating in their bodies and not their souls, this sexual difference between men and women and the relative inferiority-superiority that goes with it do not remain on the physical or bodily level. The souls of men and women are affected by the perfections and imperfections of their bodies with the result that men are generally more perfected in reason and in certain moral virtues than women are, according to St. Thomas. The souls of men are generally more perfect than those of women, and yet all of them are substantially human souls; somehow the souls of men and women differ in perfection without making men and women specifically different.
Before examining the intellectual and moral differences between men and women it is necessary to investigate this relation between the body and the soul in order to determine how souls can differ in perfection and yet be specifically equal. The soul and body are related according to form and matter: the soul forms and actualizes the body which is the material part.63
Since matter is the principle of individuation, the body individuates the soul or form, causing the multitude and individuality of human souls.64
For St. Thomas "in anima non est aliquid quo ipsa individuetur;"65
therefore the soul must be individuated by the body; "Et dico quod non individuatur nisi ex corpore."66
The souls are diversified by the body, since each soul is proportioned to this body and not to another:
Non tamen ista diversitas procedit ex diversitate principiorum essentialium ipsius animae, nec est secundum diversam rationem ipsius animae; sed est secundum diversam commensurationem animarum ad corpora; haec enim anima est commensurata huic corpori et non illi, illa autem alii, et sic de omnibus.67
Since each soul is proportioned to its own body, the soul is more or less perfect depending on the perfection of the body to which it is commensurated.
Cum anima non habeat materiam partem sui, oportet quod diversitas et distinctio gradus in animabus causetur ex diversitate corporis: ut quanto corpus meius complexionatum fuerit, nobiliorem animam sortiatur,
cum omne quod in aliquo recipitur per modum recipientis sit receptum.68
Between different genuses the souls differ according to the diverse complexions of the bodies; the soul is more noble when the body is of more noble complexion. But also within a genus the diversity of bodies causes a diversity of souls, so that some souls are more perfect than others.69
Among men, grades of intelligence are caused by the different complexions of their bodies. More specifically, the relative hardness and softness of the flesh and the consequent perfection of the tactile sense results in the inequalities between more and less perspicacious minds.
Qui enim habent duram carnem, et per consequens habent malum tactum, sunt inepti secundum mentem; qui vero sunt molles carne, et per consequens boni tactus, sunt bene apti mente.....Ad bonam autem complexionem corporis sequitur nobilitas animae: quia omnis forma est proportionata suae materiae. Unde sequitur, quod qui sunt boni tactus, sunt nobilioris animae et perspicacioris mentis.70
Thomas uses this theory of human souls being individually proportioned to their bodies to explain the inheritance of psychological traits, refuting the explanation that the souls of offspring are generated by the souls of parents. Bodily traits, perfections and imperfections which affect the souls of parents and cause psychological characteristics are inherited by the offspring and affect the souls of offspring in similar ways.
Dicendum quod ipsam dispositionem corporis sequitur dispositio animae rationalis; tum quia anima rationalis accipit a corpore; tum quia secundum diversitatem materiae diversificantur et formae. Et ex hoc est quod filii similantur parentibus etiam in his quae pertinent ad animam, non propter hoc quod anima ex anima traducatur.71
Since then for St. Thomas forms are always received in matter according to the capacities of the matter, the soul or form of man is proportioned to its own body, and is more or less perfect according to the perfection of its body: "Manifestum est enim quod quanto corpus est melius dispositum, tanto meliorem sortitur animam."72
Thus those with better disposed bodies have better souls as evidenced by their greater intelligence: "Unde cum etiam in hominibus quidam habeant corpus melius dispositum, sortiuntur animam maioris virtutis in intelligendo: unde dicitur in II De Anima
quod molles carne bene aptos mente videmus."73
Yet these differences between souls do not give rise to specific differences. Some men may have better or more perfect souls than others, yet all the souls are essentially equal in that they are human souls forming all the men to be specifically equal. Thomas explains that while a diversity of substantial forms that is proper to and originates in the form itself causes different species, a diversity, which originates in the matter receiving the form, gives rise to individual not specific difference or inequality.
Dicendum quod diversitas materiae potest accipi dupliciter: Vel diversitas partium speciei, idest partium specie differentium, sive formaliter ut manus, pes et huiusmodi: et talis diversitas causatur ex parte animae, quia ex hoc quod forma est talis, oportet quod corpus sit sibi sic dispositum. Est autem quaedam diversitas materialis tantum, quae ad speciem non pertinet, sed ad individuum tantum;
et ist redundat ex materia in formam, et non e converso.74
The difference of form that comes from the disposition of matter, as the difference of human souls does, does not cause a specific diversity but merely a numerical diversity within a species: "Differentia formae quae non provenit nisi ex diversa dispositione materiae, non facit diversitatem secundum speciem, sed solum secundum numerum; sunt enim diversorum individuorum diversae formae, secundum materiam diversificatae."75
Angels participate diverse forms, and thus each angel is his own species, one is specifically different from another. But humans participate the same form unequally, according to diverse modes of participation; and thus although their souls are unequal because of the inequalities of the bodies to which they are proportioned, they do not differ specifically but are rather essentially equal.76
Human souls are equal with respect to substantial-specific perfection, but they are unequal with respect to substantial-individual perfection.77
We have already seen that for St. Thomas men are superior to women in those bodily characteristics in which they differ; it is natural then that he should apply his theory of the inequality of souls proportioned to unequal bodies to the differences between men and women, concluding that the souls of men are generally superior to those of women. Men's bodies are stronger than those of women; they must therefore receive more perfect and stronger souls than the weaker feminine bodies do. Men's bodies are more perfect and noble because they are active while women's are only passive in generation: therefore the souls proportioned to
these more perfect masculine bodies are more noble and perfect than are women's souls which are more limited by the greater imperfection of the female body. Masculinity, it has been seen. is a greater perfection than femininity: masculine bodies, as more perfect, honorable, dignified, and noble, have souls which are proportioned to this greater dignity and perfection and are themselves more noble and honorable than the souls of females. "Vir est pertectior muliere, non solum quantum ad corpus....sed etiam quantum ad animae vigorem..."78
Besides saying in general that the souls of men are more perfect than those of women, Thomas also teaches that men and women differ in rational abilities, which is a power of the soul, and in such virtues as courage, continence, and fortitude, which involve the soul's direction of the body and rule of its passions. In numerous different works St. Thomas states that reason flourishes very little in women, that it is more developed in men, that women are deficient or weak in reason:
Sicut mulieres sunt mollioris corporis quam viri, ita et debilioris rationis.79
"Mulier est masculus occasionatus;" unde sicut deficit in complexione, ita et in ratione.80
...exemplum de mulieribus in quibus. ut in pluribus, modicum viget ratio propter imperfectionem corporalis naturae.81
It is to be noted that in these representative texts, Thomas gives as the reason or explanation of woman's weaker reason some bodily condition: the imperfection of her femininity, the softness of her flesh, the imperfect nature of her body, the defectiveness of her bodily complexion. In his Commentary on St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy,
Thomas supports the Apostle's admonition to women to be silent, subject, and learning instead of teaching, with arguments that woman is deficient in reason:
Circa primum tria ponit eis competere, scilicet taciturnitatem, disciplinam, et subiectionem, quae tria ex una ratione procedunt, scilicet ex defectu rationis in eis, quibus primo indicit silentium,...
Secundo ut discant, quia eorum qui deficiunt ratione proprium est addiscere...Viris autem datur quod doceant...
Tertio indicit subiectionem, quia naturale est quod anima dominetur corpori, et ratio viribus inferioribus. Et ideo, sicut Philosophus docet, quandocumque aliqua duo ad invicem sic se habent, sicut anima ad corpus, et ratio ad sensualitatem, naturale dominium est eius qui abundat ratione, et illud est principans aliud autem est subditum, quo scilicet deficit ratione.82
Again in his Commentary on Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians,
the prohibition of women teaching is explained ultimately by her inferior reason, leaching involves presiding over men, which is contrary to woman's subjection to man: but the reason why the woman is subject to the man is her deficient reason:
...hoc est officium carum, ut sint subditae viris. Unde cum docere dicat praelationem et praesidentiam, non decet eas quae subditae sunt.
Ratio autem quare subditae sunt et non praesunt est quia deficiunt ratione, quae est maxime necessaria praesidenti...83
In the Summa Theologiae,
the prohibition of woman's teaching is directly argued to from the fact that women are not generally perfected in wisdom: "...quia, ut communiter, mulieres non sunt in sapientia perfectae, ut eis possit convenienter publica doctrina committi."84
Thomas compares woman's lack of understanding or defect of reason to that of young boys and insane persons, all of whom may be rejected as witnesses on this ground: "Ex hoc vel ex defectu rationis, sicut patet in pueris, amentibus et mulieribus."85
He admits that women, like simple men, are not fit for the contemplative activity, which is the proper activity of higher reason: "devotio frequenter magis invenitur in quibusdam simplicibus viris et in femineo sexu, in quibus invenitur comtemplationis defectus."86
In his discussion of the possibility of degrees of understanding in different men Thomas mentions the effect, which the disposition of the sense powers has on the operations of the soul. He clearly states that the body can affect the soul in two ways: not only does the perfection of the body affect the perfection of the soul itself, but also the perfection of the sense powers will determine the abilities of the intellect to understand.
...unus alio potest eandem rem melius intelligere, quia est melioris virtutis in intelligendo; sicut melius videt visione corporali rem aliquam qui est perfectioris virtutis, et in quo virtus visiva est perfectior
Hoc autem circa intellectum contingit dupliciter. Uno quidem modo, ex parte ipsius intellectus, qui est perfectior. Manifestum est enim quod quanto corpus est melius dispositum, tanto meliorem sortitur animam.....Cuius ratio est, quia actus et forma recipitur in materia secundum materiae capacitatem. Unde cum etiam in hominibus quidam habeant corpus melius dispositum, sortiuntur animam maioris virtutis in intelligendo: unde dicitur in II De Anima
quod molles carne bene aptos mente videmus.
Alio modo contingit hoc ex parte inferiorem virtutum, quibus intellectus indiget ad sui operationem: illi enim in quibus virtus imaginativa et cogitativa et memorativa est melius disposita, sunt melius dispositi ad intelligendum.87
In many places Aquinas refers to women, not as deficient in reason, but as corresponding to lower reason, while the man corresponds to the higher. Man is the head of the woman, since lower reason depends on the higher reason, which directs it:
Vet potius ratio inferior, quae inhaeret temporalibus disponendis, mulieri comparatur; viro autem ratio superior, quae vacat contemplationi aeternorum, quae caput inferioris dicitur: quia secundum rationes aeternas sunt temporalia disponenda...88
Higher and lower reason for St. Thomas are one and the same power, but they differ according to what they each consider: higher reason contemplates eternal things, while lower reason concentrates on temporal things.89
Higher reason is assigned to contemplation, and lower reason to action.90
Within the same person the higher reason must direct the lower,91
and thus in arguing that the woman must be ruled by the man Thomas compares them to lower and higher reason.
...vita contemplativa est prior quam activa, inquantum prioribus et melioribus insistit. Unde et activam vitam movet et dirigit: ratio enim superior, quae contemplationi deputatur, comparatur ad inferiorem, quae deputatur actioni, sicut vir ad mulierem, quae est per virum regenda.92
Thomas makes frequent use of this analogy in his works, often quoting Augustine's use of it. In his Commentary on St. John's Gospel
he explains, following Augustine, that Jesus' saying to the Samaritan woman at the well "Go and fetch your husband" is a reference to the woman's higher reason and a figurative way of saying "Fetch your higher reasoning powers." Jesus was warning the woman that He was about to reveal a difficult mystery and that she should get ready to think. 93
This analogy is not merely arbitrary for St. Thomas, who does say that women are more concerned with details and temporal worldly matters than are men, who tend to think of first principles and eternal things.94
Thomas expresses surprise and admiration for the Samaritan woman at the well who unlike most women, curious about the future and worldly things, questioned Jesus about God, a subject more thought about by men than by women.
In quo admiranda est mulieris diligentia, quia mulieres, utpote curiosae et infructuosae, et non solum infructuosae, sed et otiosae, non de mundanis, non de futuris eum interrogabat, sed de his quae Dei sunt; secundum illud Matt 6:33: primum quaerite regnum
Sometimes Aquinas describes woman's deficiency of reason as a lack of wisdom,96
which further indicates that this deficiency is one in higher reasoning. Wisdom is the virtue that perfects higher reasoning: "Nam superiori rationi attribuitur sapientia, inferiori vero scientia."97
Higher reasoning is the province of wisdom; 98
it is evident that a lack of wisdom is a deficiency in higher reasoning. Similarly, "defective in comtemplation" refers to woman's relative inaptitude for higher reasoning, since contemplation is the act of higher reason: "ad sapientiam per prius pertinet contemplatio."99
The deficiency in reason, which women have in comparison with men is precisely this relative inability to do higher reasoning.
For Aquinas then woman is generally less perfected in wisdom than man is, she is less able to do higher reasoning about eternal things and usually sticks to lower reasoning about temporal things; in men the reason is more developed so that they are more proficient at contemplation and wiser, and hence the man must direct the woman as higher reason directs the lower.
Closely connected with woman's relative deficiency in higher reasoning is her inferiority in comparison with the man in those virtues, which depend on the directive role of reason. Because it belongs to reason to order acts and effects, and because women are weak of reason, they are less able to order their acts; hence they have great need of the "ornaments" of virtue, especially sobriety and verecundia
which safeguard what little reasoning and ordering abilities they have, and make up for woman's natural lack of the internal beauty which results from this ordering of acts with reason:
Quia naturale est quod sicut mulieres sunt mollioris corporis quam viri, ita et debilioris rationis. Rationis autem est ordinare actus, et effectus uniuscuiusque rei. Ornatus vero consistit in debita ordinatione et dispositione. Sic in interiori decore nisi sint omnia ordinata ex dispositione per rationem, non habent pulchritudinem spiritualem. Et ideo quia mulieres deficiunt a ratione, requirit ab eis ornatum.
Item verecundia est de turpi actu, et ideo est laudabilis in illis qui facile solent declinare in actus turpes, cuiusmodi sunt iuvenes et mulieres, et ideo hoc in eis laudatur, non autem senes et perfecti...
Item sobrietatem requirit; unde sequitur et sobrietate. Quia enim in mulieribus ratio est debilis, sobrietas autem conservat virtutem rationis, ideo in mulieribus maxime reprehenditur ebrietas.100
In his Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics,
Thomas explains that the effect of the inferior feminine body on women's souls is such that they are less able to reason and lacking in courage and continence. Instead of governing their emotions with reason, women are governed by them and hence cannot be said to be continent; yet because this incontinence arises from their nature (it is the result of their being weak of reason, which in turn is the effect of the imperfect nature of their bodies on their souls), women are not to be harshly faulted for their natural incontinence: they are said to be neither continent nor incontinent.
Et ponit exemplum de mulieribus in quibus, ut in pluribus, modicum viget ratio propter imperfectionem corporalis naturae. Et ideo, ut in pluribus, non ducunt affectus suos secundum rationem, sed magis ab affectibus suis ducuntur