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The Philosophy of Woman of St. Thomas Aquinas

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The Philosophy of Woman of St. Thomas Aquinas
by Kristin M. Popik

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 Work
Faith & Reason


Publisher & Date
Christendom College Press, Winter 1978

Beginning 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.1

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 as men.22 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...25

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 Dei.95

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.  Propter quod raro inveniuntur mulieres sapientes et fortes. Et ideo non simpliciter possunt dici continentes vel incontinentes.101

Again in the Summa Theologiae Thomas explains woman's natural incontinence as a result of her instability of reason, which in turn results from her weak temperament. The cause of incontinence is the failure of the reason to resist passion: "Et sic relinquitur quod per se causa incontinentiae sit ex parte animae, quae ratione passioni non resistit."102 The type of incontinence called weakness is the result of man's not following his reason, through his holding only weakly to reason's judgment: "...quando non permanet homo in his quae consiliata sunt, eo quod debiliter est firmatus in eo quod ratio iudicavit: unde et haec incontinentia vocatur debilitas."103 This weakness type of incontinence is common among women who because of their weak temperaments generally hold to things weakly, have not the firm judgment of reason, and are vacillating, unstable of reason, and easily led to follow their passions:

...quia femina secundum corpus habet quandam debilem complexionem, fit ut in pluribus quod etiam debiliter inhaereat quibuscumque inhaeret, etsi raro in aliquibus aliter accidat, ....Et quia id quod est parvum vel debile reputatur quasi nullum, inde est quod Philosophus loquitur de mulieribus quasi non habentibus indicium rationis firmum: quamvis in aliquibus mulieribus contrarium accidat. Et propter hoc dicit quod mulieres non dicimus continentes, quia non ducent, quasi habentes solidam rationem, sed ducuntur, quasi de facili sequentes passiones.104

Because they are lacking in the continence with which one resists concupiscence, women, like the young, have greater necessity of the sobriety which helps restrain concupiscence and make up for lack of continence and strength of mind. "Sobrietas maxime requiritur in iuvenibus et mulieribus.... in mulieribus autem non est sufficiens robur mentis ad hoc quod concupiscentiis resistant."105

In these texts the facts that women are uncourageous and incontinent, that they are led by their passions instead of ruling them, and that they are relatively unable to order their actions with reason, are attributed to their weakness of reason or lack of wisdom, which in turn is the effect of their weak or inferior bodies on their souls and their operations.

At other times Aquinas explains some moral imperfection in women directly from the weakness or imperfection of her body, without referring to her ineptness in higher reasoning. The reason given for woman's being less persevering and constant than man is the weakness of her bodily complexion and the frailty of her temperament: "...ex naturali dispositione: quia videlicet habent animum minus constantem, propter fragilitatem complexionis. Et hoc modo comparantur feminae ad masculos..."106 Effeminacy is the name given to the vice which opposes by deficiency the virtue of constancy or perseverence, since women are generally lacking in this virtue.  That is why some men are called effeminate, because they are soft and womanish, because like women they yield readily instead of persevering against difficulties.107

In his treatment of the first human sin, Thomas reveals other ways in which woman is inferior to man in the moral sphere. The order in which the devil tempted Adam and Eve indicates that the woman is weaker than the man and more able to be deceived. As principal agent of the act of tempting, he tempted the woman first, both because she was weaker and easier to deceive and because he wished to use her as an instrument in the temptation and downfall of the stronger man, whom presumably the devil was less confident of being able to seduce alone. actu tentationis diabolus erat sicut principale agens, sed mulier assumebatur quasi instrumentum tentationis ad deiiciendum virum. Tum quia mulier erat infirmior viro: unde magis seduci poterat. Tum etiam, propter coniunctionem eius ad virum, maxime per eam diabolus poterat virum seducere.108

The devil attacked mankind through the woman, the weaker part of humanity, because he saw that in her wisdom ruled and shone to a lesser degree: "Diabolus igitur...aggrediens hominem ex parte debiliori, tentans feminam, in qua minus vigebat sapientiae donum vel lumen."109

To explain the passage in I Timothy, which says that Adam was not seduced but that the woman was, Thomas says that Adam was not seduced first, because he was the stronger; rather the devil started with the weaker and seduced her in order to seduce him. "Unde dicit Adam non est seductus, scilicet primo, quia fortior erat, sed tentator incepit a debiliori, ut facilius seduceretur fortior."110 Even the sin of Adam was more grievous than that of Eve, since he was the more perfect: "Sed ille qui melius debet facere, si peccat, gravius consideremus conditionem personae utriusque, scilicet mulieris et viri, peccatum viri est gravius; quia erat perfectior muliere."111

For St. Thomas then, the bodily differences between men and women affect their souls and result in differences in reasoning and moral abilities. The differences both in relative perfection between masculinity and femininity and in relative physical strength and bodily complexion between men and women help to make women less able to do higher reasoning than men, less able to direct their acts by reason, rule their passions, avoid temptation and persevere in difficulty; in general woman is weak in reason, and weak in moral strength.

Exceptions And The Effect Of Grace

It is very important to note, in this discussion of woman's relative rational and moral inferiority, that this inferiority does not hold true for all women.  Aquinas frequently mentions that woman's being weak of reason is only generally true, that exceptionally strong, persevering, constant, continent and wise women are found.112 Besides usually mentioning the existence of exceptions when he claims that women are in general not perfected in wisdom or moral strength, Aquinas also on occasion discusses particular exceptions to his rule. In his Commentary on St. John's Gospel, he commends Mary's correctness of reason, and says that she symbolizes the contemplative life.113 Since he teaches that women are defective in reason and unfit for the contemplative activity of higher reason, it is clear that Mary's perfection in reason and in contemplation is an exception and that he recognizes it as such in his praise of her.

It is manifest that Aquinas also considered the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus conversed at the well lo be exceptional in reasoning ability. He commends her understanding and her diligence in seeking truth, and contrasts her with most women who when idle are merely curious about the future, and about worldly things and other people's affairs.114

Thomas admires the constancy of the women who remained at Christ's cross, and of Mary Magdalen who remained at His tomb, even when all the disciples had left;115 this constancy which he commends so highly is certainly an exception to his theory that women are lacking in constancy.

But how can St. Thomas at one and the same time contend that women are inferior rationally and morally to men by nature, that is, because of the effect of their feminine inferior bodies, and yet admit that this is only generally true, that there are exceptions. Certainly all women, even the exceptions, possess the nature of femininity, and the inferiorities that are part of that nature. If souls are all proportioned to their bodies and if all female bodies have the relative imperfection of femininity, then it would seem that all female souls must be affected by this imperfection and must hence be weak of reason.

Within St. Thomas' philosophy there are a number of ways of explaining these exceptions, a number of ways by which individual women might excel beyond the others and attain exceptional heights in reasoning or in moral virtue. The most basic solution to this problem lies in remembering that the argument for the inferiority of women's souls as a consequence of their bodily inferiority is in fact the argument for individual differences among human beings in general. Not only the sexual character of bodies affects souls, resulting in the differences between men and women: but other bodily conditions also affect the souls, resulting in individual differences between any two human beings. Health of the body, habits, the hardness or softness of the flesh, physical strength, the temperaments, the perfection of the sense organs, and other bodily dispositions also affect the soul's reasoning abilities and its control over the body.116 In his Commentary on Aristotle's Ethics, after establishing that the imperfect nature of the feminine body causes a lessening of rational ability in woman's soul, Thomas explains that the same result may be noticed in a person of either sex because of illness, diseased temperament, or bad habits. This is the same place that he admits that wise women can be found on, occasion; he mentions together, then, the possibilities both of some women being more perfected in wisdom, and of some men being less perfected than is normal.117

It is perfectly logical then to expect that some men's bodies, despite the perfection of their masculinity, will be less strong and in other, non-sexual, ways less perfect than some women's bodies, which despite the imperfection of their femininity may contain other perfections to a greater degree. While masculinity is a greater perfection than femininity, and hence in general masculine bodies are more perfect than feminine ones, the range of individual differences based on factors other than just sexual characteristic is such that this relative perfection of masculine bodies over female ones is not always the case. While men's souls in general would be more perfect than women's souls because of the perfection of masculinity over femininity, between the individual souls of any given man and woman the relative perfection may be reversed. The man's soul might be less perfect and strong than the woman's due either to some bodily imperfection on his part or to any special bodily perfection on her part, either of which would overcome the greater perfection of his masculinity.

In some places where he discusses intellectual inequalities between individuals, St. Thomas does not even mention sexual difference as a determining characteristic, naming only other bodily factors such as disposition of the body, of the sense organs, and softness of flesh.118

In his article on the effect of the body on the soul's continence or incontinence, it is clear that for St. Thomas the weakness of bodily temperament, which is found in females, is only one of the bodily conditions, which could cause instability of reason and consequent rule by the passions.  Either quickness or vehemence of passion can cause a man to act without the counsel of reason; acting against the counsel of reason because he holds to reason only weakly can be caused in a man by softness of temperament (as is often the case with women), and by a phlegmatic temperament.119 The weakness of the soul and of the reason which is characteristic of women then is caused not only by femininity but also by other bodily conditions; and hence it is not universally or even exclusively true of women that they are defective in reasoning, or weak in virtue.  Considering only the masculine-feminine difference without these other factors, men would always be superior to women in reason and in moral virtue; but since there are other determining factors which might cause individual women to be exceptionally perfected or individual men to be exceptionally unperfected in reasoning, the intellectual superiority of men because of their masculinity is often in reality countered by these other bodily differences between individuals. Although Thomas does not ever explain the exceptional woman this way, he does give this argument to explain why some men have less reasoning ability than others, and why they control their passions with less reason.  Furthermore, he directly says that the imperfections of women's souls caused by their femininity can also be caused by other bodily factors; certainly then a greater perfection of these other factors in women would result in their having exceptional reasoning abilities, especially compared with men whose other bodily factors counteract their masculinity and result in their being less perfected in reason.

The only time Thomas attempts an explanation of the exceptional women, he says something quite revolutionary something, which calls into question his theory that the inferiority of women's souls and reasoning powers is naturally caused by the imperfection of their bodies. After praising the wisdom of the Samaritan woman at the well, Thomas explains almost matter-of-factly that it should not be surprising that this woman was so learned, for it commonly happens in those areas where there are diverse doctrines, where these matters are much debated, that even the women and the simple people are learned in higher matters.

Hanc ergo quaestionem mulier proponit: nec est mirandum a quo docta fuerit, quia communiter contingit ut in terris in quibus diversa sunt dogmata, etiam simplices in eis sint instructi. Unde, quia Samaritani fuerant in continui iurgio cum Iudaeis, ideo mulieres et simplices in materia ista edocti erant.120

But the fact that women can become wise merely by education, by exposure to a culture where weighty topics are much discussed, does not prove that their usual lack of wisdom is the result merely of their lack of education, of their not exercising their reason. Especially in light of Thomas' numerous texts claiming that woman's inferiority of reason is caused by her femininity and other bodily conditions, this one passage, albeit the only one in Thomas' works which explains the exceptional woman, must not be taken as a contradiction of his theory that the inferiority of reason in women is natural to them, but rather as an indication that that inferiority is not so great as to be impossible of being overcome with a bit of practice, by cultural factors, and by education. Women then, because of the effect of their imperfect femininity, tend to be weak in reason, but they are not necessarily or universally so: other bodily factors could oversome the influence of their femininity and result in their being strong in reason. Also mere practice (by which naturally inferior powers are strengthened) could be the cause of some women excelling in reason.

With reference to woman's general moral weakness, the exceptionally strong woman can be explained by either of the same two ways. While women are generally weaker than men physically, there is a great range of individual difference: some women are very strong, some men are extremely weak. A woman who was exceptionally strong in perseverence or constancy would simply be one whose body was not quite so imperfect or weak as the general female body, so that her soul was not detrimentally affected to the normal degree.

Similarly, moral virtues are habits and thus can be cultivated with a resulting increase in virtue; just as a woman whose reason was undeveloped could with practice become wise, so too she could overcome her natural weakness in fighting temptation and ruling her passions by training herself in these virtues; she could strengthen herself by the conscious cultivation of those virtues in which she is by nature weak. Thomas himself suggests this when he encourages women to adorn themselves with sobriety and verecundia, both virtues which make up for natural weakness, strengthen the reason and decrease the moral weaknesses, and in short help to overcome woman's moral inferiority.121

Of course grace is also a means by which women can overcome their moral inferiority; in fact grace for St. Thomas is an equalizer, which totally transcends and overcomes the inferiority-superiority of women and men on the natural level. In his treatment of the sacrament of Confirmation, he shows that for him the grace of God knows neither male nor female, for he says that women can be the spiritual equals of men or even their superiors in virtue or moral strength.122

He admits that this sacrament confers a certain excellence, and that it is necessary for those who are to conquer, since it strengthens one for battle.123 To the objection that women are unfit for combat because of the frailty of their sex, and hence have no need of Confirmation, Thomas answers that despite their physical weakness which bars them from worldly battle, women are called upon to fight heavenly battle.

...sicut Chrysostomus mundanis agonibus aetatis et formae generisque dignitas requiritur: et ideo servis ac mulieribus, senibus ac pueris, ad eos aditus denegatur. In caelestibus autem omni personae et aetati et sexui indiscreta facultate stadium patet.124

With the admissions that strength is required for battle and that hence women lacking in physical strength are barred from physical battle, the requirement that women participate in spiritual battle certainly presupposes that they are not lacking in the spiritual strength necessary for this fight.

Thomas continues, quoting Chrysostom, to say that some women have rivaled men in the courage displayed in spiritual battle and others have even shown themselves stronger than men.

Apud Deum femineus etiam militat sexus: multae namque feminae animo virili spiritualem militiam gesserunt. Quaedam enim interioris hominis vitute viros aequaverunt in agonibus martyrum: quaedam etiam fortiores viris exstiterunt. Et ideo mulieribus hoc sacramentum conferendum est.125

The sponsor of a recipient of Confirmation is the one who trains him in the faith; he is compared to the officers who command others in earthly wars.126 When the recipient is enrolled in the army of Christ he is brought to the bishop by the sponsor, as to the commander of the army, by one who is already enrolled as a soldier.

And yet, even though the sponsor is the spiritual superior of the recipient of the sacrament and his instructor, Thomas says that women equally with men can be sponsors for Confirmation; equally with men then they can be spiritually superior and able to train others.127

To the objection that women should not be sponsors for men because this sacrament is given for spiritual strength which is greater in men than in women, Aquinas simply quotes Galatians that in Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female, and says that whether the sponsor be a man or a woman makes no difference.

Praeterea, hoc sacramentum datur ad robur spirituale. Quod magis viget in viris quam in mulieribus...Ergo ad minus mulier non debet tenere virum ad confirmationem...

Ad tertium dicendum quod, sicut Col. 3,11 (Gal. 3:28), in Christo Iesu non est masculus neque femina. Et ideo non differt utrum masculus vel femina teneat aliquem in confirmatione.128

It is clear that Aquinas, by allowing women to sponsor men, is asserting that grace overcomes the natural moral inferiority of women to men and that it is just as easy for a woman to be spiritually stronger than a man as for the reverse. This is not a denial of moral difference between men and women, but it is an assertion that grace overcomes this difference; by nature women are morally inferior to men, but grace erases this inequality. The moral inferiority of women is only in the natural sphere; it is overcome by grace, so that once grace enters the picture one cannot speak any longer of woman's inferiority to men in spiritual strength.

In some cases it might be woman's greater affective nature, which causes her exceptional virtue. Thomas praises in a number of places the constancy of women, even comparing it favorably with that of men who on these occasions displayed less perseverence.129 These women must have been exceptional for St. Thomas because he says that women are naturally so inconstant due to their weak temperament that the term effeminate or woman-like is given to men who are lacking in constancy or perseverence. The constancy of the women who remained at Christ's cross, and of Mary Magdalen who remained at the tomb is so admirable for St. Thomas precisely because it was so exceptional in women, and because the women out shown the men on these occasions. "Quod autem et mulieres stabant iuxta crucem et discipuli eo relicto fugerant, mulierum commendat devotam constantiam."130

But in his Commentary on St. John's Gospel Thomas explains that it was the more fervent and stronger affection of the women, usually so weak, which caused them to stay and show such constancy. "Secundo, constans eius mora: quia Maria stabat ad monumentum foris, plorans. Nam discipulis recedentibus, infirmiorem sexum fortior et ferventior in eodem loco figebat affectus."131

But woman's greater affective nature, which in this case caused her to display exceptional constancy, is nothing other than her tendency to be easily led by her passions. Women's general inclination to be influenced by their feelings, and to control their passions with reason less than men do, while often causing in them incontinence and a greater susceptibility to temptation, also results in their occasionally demonstrating exceptional strength and virtue, when the feelings followed are directed toward the good.

It is no doubt woman's more affective nature, her tendency to follow her feelings more readily than men do, which Thomas is referring to when he says that women are more merciful by nature and have a soft heart. "Primo ad misericordiam, quia mulieres habentes cor molle sunt naturaliter misericordes."132

Woman's affective nature causes the moral extremes noticeable in her: because of her strong affections, a pious woman is extremely pious, and a cruel woman extremely cruel. "Mulieres aliquando sunt piae, et mobilem affectum habent; unde quando sunt piae, maxime sunt piae, sed quando sunt crudeles, maxime sunt crudeles...vix enim cogitaret homo quae cogitat perversa mulier."133 Her greater affective nature then is the cause both of the woman's inferiority in virtue and of her occasional strength in virtue compared with the man.

To summarize, the imperfection of woman's soul, and her inferiority in comparison with man in ability to do higher reason and to order her acts and control her passions with reason, is the result of the influence of her imperfect and weak body on her soul and its operations. But this imperfection and inferiority is not universally true of all women, nor is it so great in the average woman as to be impossible to overcome: some women are found who excel in virtue or who have great abilities in higher reason. Not only is it possible that some women's bodies, more perfect and stronger than normal, might not have such a detrimental effect on their souls as is usual, but also that the natural imperfection and weakness of women's souls be overcome by conscious effort in the cultivation of reason and virtue, and of course by grace, which transcends the natural order in which woman is inferior to man. And lastly, the greater affective nature of women, which often causes them to rule their passions less, may in some instances be the cause of greater virtue and perseverence.

Conclusion And Comment

So the essential equality of men and women as humans, and their fundamental equality in relation to God, is countered in the philosophy of St. Thomas by a profound inequality. Not only is femininity a lesser perfection than masculinity, and consequently female bodies are of a weaker complexion than male bodies, but this inequality is also transferred to the souls, which inform those bodies with the result that women's souls also are inferior and weak in comparison with men's souls. Although women are less human than men in the sense that they are less perfected in the characteristically human difference of reason and reason's control of actions, they do not differ specifically from men. They have the same substantial form, the same nature, and the same end; but they differ in perfection of that form and its operations, and in the degree of perfection of that nature.

It is difficult to determine the degree to which St. Thomas' philosophy is based on his observation of real women, on empirical evidence of their rational abilities and their virtue. He supports his theory of the inferiority of women on purely philosophical grounds, and ultimately on Aristotle's theory of generation, but these arguments appear to be mere explanations for an inferiority, which he considered to be evident to all. And yet St. Thomas is commonly believed to have had very little contact with real women, other than his immediate family from whom he was separated at an early age and for almost all of his life. In fact the only place where real women are mentioned in Thomas' theory are as exceptions: the real women he encounters in Scriptural historical accounts, for example, are not cause for a reexamination of his theory but rather exceptions to it.

The reason why St. Thomas, having admitted that not all women exhibit the inferiority which is natural to them, did not apparently either reconsider his theory or do more empirical investigation of real women to determine whether or not they were in fact inferior in general to men lies probably in the fact that his explanation of this inferiority is so tightly argued that it functions as evidence for this inferiority. That is to say, it is impossible for St. Thomas that woman not be inferior to man in reason and in reason's control of human acts if in fact femininity is inferior to masculinity and souls are proportioned to their bodies. Given Aristotle's theory of generation as done by males, St.  Thomas could have (and no doubt would have) concluded that women are inferior to men in the rational operations of their souls even if he had never seen a woman or heard that they were considered by all to be so inferior. The dependence of St. Thomas' philosophy of woman on the generative biology of Aristotle, then, cannot be overestimated. As evidence for her inferiority, this biological theory argues the necessity of that inferiority. In other words, while St. Thomas appears to accept the inferiority of women in reason and virtue as something given in experience (either his or the common experience of men) and to offer his arguments as mere explanations of this inferiority, those arguments, once given the truth of Aristotle's biology, conclude so necessarily to woman's inferiority that he could presume that inferiority to be verified by experience.  If some of St. Thomas' conclusions about the nature of woman are not true, the fault lies not in his philosophical reasoning, but in his acceptance of Aristotle's biology as his starting principle.

So given that the male is the active principle in generation, that females do not participate actively in generation but merely supply the matter, and hence that femininity is a lesser perfection than masculinity, that females are generated accidentally, and that female bodies are less perfect than masculine bodies, Thomas concludes that women are less perfected than men in their souls, in higher reasoning, and in those virtues which require reason's direction of actions. As will be shown in the second part of this study, this inferiority is the reason why the woman is subject to the man in domestic, civil, and ecclesiastical societies.

  • S.T. I, 75 and 76.
  • In Met. Exp. II, 4.
  • S.T. I, 93, 4, ad 1.
  • In Met. Exp. X, 11.
  • S.T. I, 93, 3; Q.D. de Anima XIV.
  • S.T. I, 93, 4, ad 1.
  • Ibid, c.
  • Ibid, ob. 1.
  • Ibid, ad 1.
  • Ibid.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 2, 607.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. I, 92,1; 98, 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1 and 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. I, 99, 2.
  • S.T. I-II, 2, 8; 3, 8.
  • S.C.G. IV, 74, 5.
  • In lad Cor. XI, 3, 615.
  • Ibid.
  • In ad Gal. III, 9.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 3, 85.
  • S.T. III, 36, 3.
  • S.T. III, 31, 4.
  • S.T. III, 55, 1, ad 3.
  • Ibid.
  • In Met. Exp. XX, 11, 2134; S.T. I, 93, 6, ob. 2.
  • In Job XIV, 1; In Io. Ev. Exp. XX, 2, 2491.
  • S.T. II-II, 156, 1.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1; 98, 2.
  • S.T. I, 98, 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1.
  • S.T. III, 32, 4.
  • S.T. I, 118, 1 and 2.
  • S.T. III, 31, 5.
  • S.T. I-II, 81, 5.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1; II-II, 26, 10.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1, ob.1.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1, ad 1.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid, c.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. I, 99, 2. ad 2.
  • S.T. III. 31, 4, ad 1.
  • S.T. I-II. 102, 3, ad 9.
  • S.T. III, 31, 4. ad 1.
  • De Gen. An. I, 18-20, esp. 728a15; S.T. III, 31, 5, ad 3.
  • De Gen. An. I, 18-20.
  • Ibid, IV, 3 (767bl-10).
  • Ibid, IV, 2 and 3.
  • Ibid, II, 3 (737a30).
  • S.C.G. III, 94. 11.
  • S.C.G. IV, 88, 1.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 3, 83.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 3. 611.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 1, 588; 3, 615-6; In I ad Tim. II, 3, 85.
  • S.T. I, 93, 4; In I ad Cor. XI, 2, 607.
  • S.T. I, 76, 1.
  • In Met. Exp. VIII, 10; VIII, 3; XII, 10; In I Sent. VIII, 5, 2, 6; S.C.G.  II, 81.
  • In I Sent. VIII, 5, 2, 6.
  • Ibid.
  • S.C.G. II, 81.
  • In II Sent. XXXII, 2, 3.
  • Ibid.
  • In II de Anima, 19, 483 and 485.
  • Q.D. de Pot. III, 9, 7.
  • S.T. I, 85, 7.
  • Ibid.
  • In II Sent. XXXII, 2, 3, 6.
  • S.T. I, 85, 7, 3.
  • Q.D. de Spir. Creat., 8, 8.
  • Victorino Rodriguez Rodriguez, "Diferencia de las Almas Humanas a Nivel Substancial en la Antropologia de Santo Tomas," Doctor Commnnis 1971, pp. 25-39.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 1, 588.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 2, 75. Notice that this solitary reference to woman's softness of flesh as the reason for her weakness of reason seems to contradict the many statements in which Thomas follows Aristotle in saying that softness of flesh (and the, consequent perfection of the tactile sense) results in greater mental aptness. See note 87 below for example. But greater mental aptness is not necessarily incompatible with weakness of reason if the latter refers to the strength with which reason controls the passions and directs one's actions, and thus softness of flesh could cause both. But there is still a problem in Thomas' saying that women are soft of flesh and yet denying them the aptness of mind which elsewhere is attributed to soft flesh; and with his always saying that men are superior both in reason about higher things and in reason's control of the passions; softness of flesh which causes the first would (according to the present text) also cause in them a lessening of reason's control instead of a strengthening of it. There is no solution to the dilemma.
  • De Reg. Prin. IV, 5.
  • In Eth. Exp. VII, 5, 1376.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 3, 79.
  • In I ad Cor. XIV, 7, 880.
  • S.T. II-II, 177, 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 70, 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 82, 3.
  • S.T. I, 85, 7.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 1, 590.
  • S.T. I, 79, 9.
  • S.T. II-II, 182, 4.
  • S.T. I, 79, 9; I-II, 74, 7.
  • S.T. II-II, 182, 4.
  • In Io. Ev. Exp. IV, 2, 6, 590.
  • Ibid; also 9, 597.
  • Ibid.
  • In Eth. Exp. VII, 5, 1376: S.T. II-II, 156, 1, 1.
  • S.T. I, 79, 9.
  • S.T. II-II, 45, 3.
  • Ibid, ad 3: also 82, 3.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 2, 75.
  • In Eth. Exp. VII. 5, 1376.
  • S.T. II-II, 156, 1.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid, ad 1.
  • S.T. II-II, 149, 4.
  • S.T. II-II, 138, 1, ad 1.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. II-II, 165, 2, ad 1.
  • Comp. Theol. I, 189, 366.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 3, 83.
  • S.T. II-II, 163, 4.
  • S.T. II-II, 156, 1; 177, 2; In Eth. Exp. VII, 5. 1376.
  • In Io. Ev. Exp. XI, 4, 8, 1510, and 1519-20.
  • Ibid, IV, 2, 9.
  • Ibid, XIX, 4, 2438 and XX. 2, 2491-4: S.T. III, 55, 1, ad 3.
  • In Eth. Exp. VII, 5, 1376; S.T. I, 85. 7; II-II, 156, 1, ad 2.
  • In Eth. Exp. VII, 5. 1376.
  • S.T. I, 85, 7.
  • S.T. II-II, 156, 1.
  • In Io. Ev. Exp. IV, 2, 10, 598.
  • S.T. II-II, 149, 4: In I ad Tim. II, 2, 75.
  • S.T. III, 72.
  • Ibid, art. 8.
  • Ibid, ad 3.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid, art. 10.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid, ob. 3 and ad 3.
  • In Io. Ev. Exp. XIX, 4. 2438: XX, 2, 2491; S.T. III, 55, 1, ad 3.
  • In Io. Ev. Exp. XIX, 4, 2438.
  • Ibid, XX, 2, 2491.
  • In I ad Tim. V, 2, 198.
  • In Matt. Ev. Exp. XIV, 1, 1228.


The Philosophy of Woman of St. Thomas Aquinas

By Kristin M. Popik

Appeared in Spring 1979, Vol. V, No. 1 Download the PDF here.

In this second part of a two-part condensation of her dissertation on St. Thomas' philosophy of woman, Kristin Popik takes up the question of the woman's position in marriage, the family, and society as a whole.  For a complete philosophical background to St. Thomas's conclusions here, the reader is referred to F&R IV, 4, in which Dr. Popik treats the Thomist-Aristotelian biological theory of female inferiority in reason and moral virtue.  Perhaps the Scriptural assertion of' male leadership reflects rather the reality of man's more active or aggressive nature as opposed to the greater passivity or gentleness of the woman, a psychological distinction which might be interpreted as reflective of ultimate biologically sexual differences.  Such an interpretation would preserve the notion of the male's obligation to create external conditions suitable to family life and the woman's duty to order and harmonize the family's domestic affairs within the conditions delineated by the male.  Here the roles would arise from differences rather than fundamental inequality.  In any case, a study of Aquinas' thought on this and other aspects of the problem serves to clarify the issues and remind us of certain basic principles which are generally obscured in the current feminist debates.  As always, subscribers who do not read Latin may be assured that the substance of the offset quotes appears in the the surrounding English text.  This method of quotation, and other typographical features peculiar to this issue, are explained by the two-part series' projected distribution under separate cover to a European audience.

Part Two: The Role of Woman

An understanding of St. Thomas' theory of the subjection of woman to man requires not only a knowledge of his teachings about the nature of woman, but also a familiarity with his political philosophy. The woman's subjection to the man is natural for St. Thomas not only because of her inferiority but also because the nature of any society, including the family, demands that it have a ruler to whom all other members are subject. In addition, Aquinas' political theory of the society, the state, and civil rule is necessary to understand the nature of woman's subjection, its limits, and its distinction from other types of subjection, for example those of the slave and the child.

St. Thomas follows Aristotle in distinguishing societies into three types on the basis of the needs supplied by each. The domestic or economic society of the household supplies daily needs and exists for the sake of sharing daily acts such as eating and warming oneself at the fire: "Nihil aliud est domus quam quaedam communitas secundum naturam constituta in omnem diem, idest ad actus, qui occurrunt quotidie agendi."2 The neighborhood or village, made up of many households, exists for the sake of performing non-daily acts together, such as buying things; and the city or state, formed of many villages, provides all the things sufficient for life and for living well; it is the properly political society, it aims at the highest good and is ordered to the virtuous and political life of its members. Since by themselves men cannot supply all the things which they need for life, it is natural for men to live together these three types of society in order to do together the acts necessary for life and in order to live well (4). Because every society is directed to a common good, it is necessary for every society that it have a ruler, someone who directs the acts of the individual members to the common good. By himself, each member considers and works towards his own good; so if the members are to work for the common good (which is necessary even to have a society), there must be a director who thinks of the common good and directs the members towards it:

QuoteSocialis autem vita multorum esse non posset, nisi aliquis praesideret, qui ad bonum commune intenderet: multi enim per se intendunt ad multa, unus vero ad unum. Et ideo Philosophus dicit, in principio Politic., quod quandocumque multa ordinato ad unum, semper invenitur unum ut principale et dirigens (5).

The naturalness of rulers in every society is argued by St. Thomas also from the fact that some men are naturally fitted for rule: ". . . si unus homo habuisset super alium supereminentiam scientiae et iustitiae, inconveniens fuisGset nisi hoc exequeretur in utilitatem aliorum. . . ."(6) Since a ruler is required by the very nature of society, Aquinas says that there were rulers and subjects even before the fall in the original state of innocence. Domination and subjection are not the result of sin, but are natural to man as a social being. Man by nature lives in social groups and social groups require rulers; rulership and subjection then are part of human nature and intended as part of the human condition and necessary to it. (7)

But this natural type of political rulership of a society must be distinguished from the mastership of a lord over his slave, which is not part of human nature and which does result from sin. The free man who belongs to a society and thus is subject to a ruler still has disposal of himself — he exists because of and for himself, he is free.

 A slave on the other hand is ordered to the benefit of another, his master. All of his actions are done not for himself but for his master. The ruler of free men in a society directs them to their own good or to the common good of the society; the master of a slave rules the slave for his own (the master's) good. The subjection of slaves, and the lordly dominion over others for one's own good, are the result of sin and are hence not natural to man in that respect. The dominion of a ruler of a society and the civil subjection of free men in a society to his rule is for the common good of the whole, and hence is part of the nature of man.

Dominium accipitur dupliciter. Uno modo, secundum quod opponitur servituti: et sic dominus dicitur cui aliquis subditur ut servus. Alio modo accipitur dominium, secundum quod communiter refertur ad subiectum qualitercumque: et sic etiam ille qui habet officium gubernandi et dirigendi liberos, dominus dici potest. Primo ergo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini non dominaretur: sed secundo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini dominari potuisset.

QuoteCuius ratio est, quia servus in hoc differt a libero, quod liber est causa sui, ut dicitur in principio Metaphys., servus autem ordinatur ad alium. Tunc ergo aliquis dominatur alicui ut servo, quando eum cui dominatur ad propriam utilitatem sui, scilicet dominantis, refert. Et quia unicuique est appetibile proprium bonum, et per consequens contristabile est unicuique quod illud bonum quod deberet esse suum, cedat alteri tantum; ideo tale dominium non potest esse sine poena subiectorum. Propter quod, in statu innocentiae non fuisset tale dominium hominis ad homine.

Tunc vero dominatur aliquis alteri ut libero, quando dirigit ipsum ad proprium bonum eius qui dirigitur, vel ad bonum commune. Et tale dominium hominis, ad hominem in statu innocentiae fuisset . . .(8).

The rule which a master has over his slave, for the good of the master himself, is called despotic rule, while the rule of free subjects for their own good or for the common good is called political rule. The subjection which a slave has to his master, according to which he is subject for the master's own good, is called servile; the subjection of a free man to political rule is called economic or civil subjection: "economic" refers to the subjection of free members of a household society to the head of the family, and "civil" to that of free citizens to the political rule of the head of the state or city. In St. Thomas' own words:

QuoteDuplex est subiectio. Una servilis, secundum quam praesidens utitur subiecto ad sui ipsius utilitatem: et talis subiecto introducta est post peccatum. Est autem alia subiectio oeconomica vel civilis. secundum quam praesidens utitur subiectis ad eorum utilitatem et bonum. Et ista subiectio fuisset etiam ante peccatum: defuisset enim bonum ordinis in humana multitudine, si quidam per alios sapientiores gubernati non fuissent. (9).

If all societies naturally and necessarily have a ruler who directs the members and their actions to the common good of that society, so too for St. Thomas the familial or domestic society must have a ruler, since he regards it as a true society. It exists not only for the performance together of those daily activities directed to preservation of individual life, but also for the generation and upbringing of offspring which preserves the life of the species (10). The two relationships of master-slave and of husband-wife exist within the household society for these two types of activities:

QuoteComunio domesticarum personarum ad invicem, ut Philosophus dicit, in I Polit., est secundum quotidianos actus qui ordinatur ad necessitatem vitae. Vita autem hominis conservatur duplicitur. Uno modo, quantum ad individuum, prout scilicet homo idem numero vivit: et ad talem vitae conservationem opitulantur homini exteriora bona, ex quibus homo habet victum et vestitum et alia huiusmodi necessaria vitae; in quibus administrandia indiget homo servis. Alio modo conservatur vita hominis secundum speciem per generationem, ad quam indiget homo uxore, ut ex ea generet filium. (11)

For St. Thomas man is by nature a social animal: since by himself he cannot supply all of the necessities of life, it is natural for him to live in societies (12). But to live together in domestic society is even more natural to man than to live in civil society: man is a "conjugal" animal by nature even more than he is a political animal. Domestic society is antecedent to political society; it is more necessary than the civil society because it is ordered to acts which are more basic to life, and because the generation of offspring to which it is ordered is common to all animals (13).


As a real society then the family must have a ruler to direct the actions of all of its members to the good of the whole. Since men, according to St. Thomas, excel beyond women in the wisdom, virtue, reason, strength, and nobility which make them naturally fitted for command, the man is the natural superior of the woman and the ruler of the domestic society. The good order of the family demands that it be governed by the member most perfected in wisdom and virtue, who is the man; also since men are thus more perfected, it is fitting that they use their abilities for the direction of those less wise and virtuous.

QuoteDefuisset enim bonum ordinis in humana multitudine, si quidam per alios sapientiores gubernati non fuissent. Et sic ex tali subiectione naturaliter femina subiecta est viro: quia naturaliter in homine magis abundat discretio rationis. (14)

Aquinas compares the relationship between man and woman to that between male and female in other animal species, showing that among humans the relationship is a true society. They are united not only for generation, but also for the purpose of a common domestic life, in order to form what is a true society. They not only generate together, but also each has his particular duties in the household which contribute to their living together; their union is not only to generate offspring, but also to cooperate in these other tasks which form the basis of their union as a society. (15). It is in these household tasks, the activities which make their union a real society, that the man must direct the woman: it is in the performance of her portion of the duties which found the society that the woman needs direction by the man so that her acts will tend to the good of the society as a whole. Thus it was fitting, Thomas says, that the first woman was made from the first man as from her principle, to show that he is the head of the woman, even though in other animal species (who do not form a society) the female was not made from the man:

Quote. . . mas et femina coniunguntur in hominibus non solum propter necessitatem generationis, ut in aliis animalibus; set etiam propter domesticam vitam, in qua sunt alia opera viri et feminae, et in qua vir est caput mulieris. Unde convenienter ex viro formata est femina, sicut ex suo principio. (16)

The first woman was made from the rib of the first man to signify this subjection, and not from his head, since she should have no authority over him. (17).

 The Supplement to the Summa Theologiae argues from the distinction of these household tasks into appropriately male and appropriately female duties to the naturalness of the man-woman society. It is most fitting then for men and women to unite in the familial society in which they each perform for the other the tasks to each by reason of his sex, and in which tasks the woman is directed by the man as ruler of the household (18).

Once given the necessity of a ruler for the domestic society, St. Thomas never doubts that it must be the man instead of the woman who commands. The man is prior according to nature and more perfect, and thus fitted to command the inferior and imperfect (19). He is the head of the woman because lower reason, to which the woman compares, must always be ruled by higher reason, in which the man excels and to which he is compared. The woman is subject because of her deficiency of reason, and because she is related to the man as to her principle and her end, since Eve was made from and for the sake of Adam. In commenting on St. Paul's injunction to Timothy that women must be subject and silent, Aquinas gives as one of the reasons the fact that Eve was originally seduced and was instrumental in the downfall of Adam. (21). It is probable that he takes this sequence of events as indicative of woman's moral inferiority and susceptibility to deception and temptation, from which he concludes that she must be subject to the direction of the morally stronger man for her own good.

But it is also possible that he is arguing that the woman's subjection is her punishment for being deceived and for leading the man to sin. In fact, Thomas admits, the subjection of woman to man is given in Genesis as the woman's particular punishment for her role in the original sin. But how can woman's subjection be a punishment for and a result of sin if it is natural subjection which existed before sin because of the nature of society and the inferiority of women? "Subiectio mulieris ad virum consequitur perfectionem virilis sexus et imperfectionem muliebris."22 Woman was always subject to the man, even before sin (when that subjection would not have been burdensome); as a punishment for her sin, however, woman now has to obey her husband even against her own will. (23).

The subjection of woman to the rule of her husband is not only a right which he enjoys; it also benefits the woman, who as weak and deficient in reason has need of the man for governance. Thomas argues in defense of the permanence of marriage that it would be an injustice against the woman if the man were to leave her without his direction when he is tired of her. (24).  In effect he is defending the woman's right to be subject to, and to benefit from, the man's governance, and by so doing he clearly illustrates that the subjection of woman to man is natural not only because it is required by the nature of every society, but also because it is required by the nature of woman herself, by her inferiority to the man who is naturally fitted to provide her with the guidance and direction she needs.

Besides distinguishing the woman's subjection from that of the slave by his analogy between the husband- wife relationship and that of the ruler and free citizen (which is the opposite of the slave-master relationship) and by his further arguing the necessity of the husband's rule over his wife on the basis of the requirement that every society have a director to guide the actions of all members to the common good (which shows that his rule is political, not despotic), Aquinas also explicitly states that the woman's subjection is not servile but rather economic, akin to civil subjection. (25). The rule of the husband over the wife is distinguished not only from that of a master over his slave, but also from the rule of the father over the child, because the father has full power over his children, unlike the husband whose rule over the wife is limited by the laws and nature of marriage, and by her being a free person:

Vir enim principatur mulieri, et pater filiis, non quidem sicut servis, sed sicut liberis: in quo differunt hi duo principatus a principatu despotico. Secundum est quod hi duo principatus non sunt uniusmodi; sed vir principatur mulieri politico principatu, idest sicut aliquis quis qui eligitur in rectorem civitati praeest: sed pater praeest filiis regali principatu; et hoc ideo, quia pater habet plenariam potestatem super filios, sicut et rex in regno: sed vir non habet plenariam potestatem super uxorem quantum ad omnia, sed secundum quod exigit lex matrimonii; sicut et rector civitatis habet potestatem super cives secundum statuta. (26).

While the rule of the parent over the child is a type of monarchy, and that of the master over the slave is a tyranny, the rule of the domestic society corresponds to aristocracy, since both husband and wife share in the administration of the household, each according to his dignity and worth. When either one or the other of them takes full charge and leaves the other in charge of nothing, he is ruling out of accord with his dignity; his authority does not arise from his excellence but rather from wealth or power, which is oligarchy, the perversion of aristocracy.

Principatus quo vir et uxor dominantur in domo, est aristocraticus; quia vir habet dominium et curam circa ea quae pertinent ad virum secundum suam dignitatem, et dimittit uxori illa quae pertinent ad eam. . . . Ponit duos modos respondentes oligarchiae. Quorum unus est, quando vir vult omnia disponere et nullius rei dominium relinquit uxori. Hoc enim non secundum dignitatem nec secundum quod melius est. . . . Vir enim, quia melior est, praeficitur uxori: tamen vir non praecipit ea quae sunt uxoris. (27).

In commenting on St. Paul's passage to the Ephesians "Let women be subject to their husbands as to a lord,"28 Thomas explains that the husband is similar to a lord only in that they both rule. In fact their types of rule differ since the husband does not employ his wife in whatever is profitable to himself. Aquinas sees in the fact that St. Paul says "as to a lord" a clear indication that the husband is not in fact a lord over his wife, and thus interprets Paul's passage according to his own theory. (29).

While the first woman was formed from the rib of Adam, and not from his head, as a sign of her subjection, Aquinas also notes that she was not formed from his foot which would have signified that she was his slave.(30). It is true that when he describes the needs which slaves and women supply to the man, Thomas appears to be equating their roles, since they are both needs-suppliers. For food, clothing, and the life he has the slave, and for generation he has the woman. (31) But he is distinguishing, not equating, the positions of slave and woman. The slave fulfills needs which pertain to the individual good of the man, and the woman is needed for generation, which is not ordered to his good but to the good of the species; it is precisely this difference which contrasts the woman's subjection to that of the slave. The woman does not merely supply the man with some personal needs of his as a slave does; he needs her in order to generate offspring, which is for her good as much as for his.

Nor does Aquinas consider the wife to be the possession of the husband, as a slave is. In discussing the nature of theft, he gives as a requirement that the thing taken be a real possession, not either a part of the body or a related person. The taking of another's wife then is not theft because she is not possessed. (32). He explains that the verb "to have" properly refers to real possessions over which we are absolute masters, although it has been extended in use to refer to things we do not possess, such as wives and health. (33)

 Thomas further distinguished the slave from the woman in his treatment of justice, which in the proper or unqualified sense of political justice exists between free and equal men. But between those who are not equal, as between a subject and his superior, there is not justice in the unqualified sense, but only a similitude of justice or a peculiar type of justice. (34). However, justice is more properly found in the relation between husband and wife than in the relation of slave and master, because the man and wife, although ruler and subject, much more closely approximate equality than the slave and master do. Justice or injustice cannot exist in a man with regard to himself or to those things which belong to him. Since a slave is chattel and a son is in a sense part of his father, there is no justice or injustice absolutely speaking towards a slave or a son. But a wife is different from a slave or a son. She is not part of her husband nor owned by him, and she is less subject than either a son or a slave. Thus the relationship between husband and wife more closely approaches an equality than either of the other two relationships, and hence it has more of the nature of justice:

QuoteQuia uxor minus est subiecta viro quam servus domino, vel filius patri; ideo plus habet de ratione iusti illud quod est viri ad uxorem quam illud quod est patris ad natos, idest filios, et domini ad possessiones idest servos. (35)

Husband and wife are equally subject to the law as free citizens, but since they are united and related not only as fellow citizens, but also in their union in their own domestic society, the justice between them is not justice simply or political justice, but economic justice.

QuoteEt ideo inter virum et uxorem plus est de ratione iusti quam inter patrem et filium, vel dominum et servum. Quia tamen vir et uxor habent immediatam relationem ad domesticam communitatem; ideo inter eos non est etiam simpliciter politicum iustum, sed magis iustum oeconomicum. (36)


But for St. Thomas the woman's subjection to the man is not only distinguished from servitude: it is also combined with a certain equality with the man. In their marriage relationship the woman is the man's equal, not subject to him. In fact when mentioning together this equality and woman's subjection in household affairs, Thomas makes it clear that the subjection is something that needs to be stressed while the equality is taken for granted as already known or accepted by all: "Quamvis enim mulier sit aequalis in actu matrimonii, tamen in his quae ad dispositionem domus pertinent vir caput est mulieris."(37) The treatise on matrimony in the Supplement to the Summa Theologiae explicitly presents the marriage relationship as a permanent one between two equals who contract themarriage by their free consent. (38). Marriage is not the acquisition of a wife by a man, and in fact it cannot be contracted against the will of the woman; that is, she must freely consent and hence can enter into matrimonial union only insofar as she is a free person and equal partner in the bond. (39).

Thomas' own treatments of the indissolubility of marriage and of the mutual obligations of husband and wife confirm this view of the marriage relationship as one between two equal and free persons, neither of whom solely contracts the marriage, has power over the bond, or enjoys all the rights.

In a curious argument in the Summa Contra Gentiles Thomas concludes to the indissolubility of marriage both from woman's subjection to man and from her equality with him. First he establishes that the woman would not be able to put away her husband because she is subject to him and it is not within the power of a subject to free himself from his subjection. But if the wife cannot put away her husband neither can he put her away, since they are equal with the same things permitted and denied to each. If he were able to divorce her but not she him, she would in effect be a slave, but since in fact the wife is not a slave but equal to her husband, he cannot have a power which she does not have, and hence neither can divorce the other.

QuoteManifeste apparet inconveniens si mulier virum dimittere posset, quum mulier naturaliter viro subiecta sit tanquam gubernatori. Non est autem in potestate eius qui alteri subjicitur ut ab eius regimine discedat. Contra naturalem igitur ordinem esset si mulier virum deserere posset. Si ergo vir deserere posset mulierem, non esset aequa societas viri ad mulierem, sed servitus quaedam ex parte mulieris. (40)

The wife then is not subject to her husband as regards their marital relation, since he is as powerless as she is to dissolve the bond. Against polygamy and polyandry, Aquinas presents a similar argument which confirms that husbands and wives have equal rights with respect to their relationship. He first shows that a woman's having more than one husband is wrong, because it would be impossible to determine the fatherhood of offspring, and this would go against the natural desire of all parents to know their own offspring. But if a woman cannot have more than one husband, it would be contrary to their equality if the husband could have more than one wife.

 In addition, the friendship of a wife for her husband who had many wives would not be free and equal but rather servile. St. Thomas states the case as follows:

QuoteAmicitia in quadam aequalitate consistit. Si igitur mulieri non licet habere plures viros, quia hoc est contra certitudinem prolis, liceret autem viro habere plures uxores, non esset liberalis amicitia uxoris ad virum, sed quasi servilis. Et haec etiam ratio experimento comprobatur, quia, apud viros habentes plures uxores, uxores quasi ancillae habentur.

Praeterea, amicitia intensa non habetur ad multos. . . . Si igitur uxor habet unum virum tantum, vir autem plures uxores, non erit aequalis amicitia ex utraque parte. Non igitur erit amicitia liberalis, sed quodammodo servilis. (42).

In his treatment of adultery, Thomas makes it clear that the husband and wife are equal not only as regards the relation itself, but also in the fidelity that they both owe each other and the exclusive right which each has to the body of the other. He does not define adultery, as others before him have done, as merely a sin of injustice against a husband, as the stealing of another's wife. It is a sin against chastity, and an injustice in that it breaks the faith that is due between husband and wife. As a sin of injustice, then, it can be committed both against the husband and against the wife, since both have equal rights to each other. (43).

 If a married man has intercourse with a woman other than his wife, even if she is not married, his sin is not merely fornication but rather adultery, and an injustice against his wife's exclusive right to him. In marriage each partner receives the exclusive right to the other's body; marriage involves the surrender of one's power over one's body to the spouse. (44). Adultery then consists in giving one's body,

 which no longer belongs to oneself but to one's spouse, to someone else. Adultery is especially opposed to matrimony, Thomas says, because it breaks the faith which is due between both of them; they both equally owe this fidelity to the other: "Adulterium autem specialiter matrimonio contrariatur: inquantum violat matrimonii fidem quam quis coniugi debet."(45)

While the wife then is subject to the husband as to a ruler in matters concerning their domestic society, with regard to their relationship as man and wife they are equal, or as the texts often put it, they are mutually and equally subject to each other. In an almost humorous text commenting on the I Corinthians passage "it is good for a man not to touch a woman,"(46) St. Thomas describes marriage as a type of slavery of the man to the woman, showing that he certainly thought of the two as both subject to the other in their relationship. He explains that while generation is good for man considered as the species, it is good for a man as individual to refrain from marriage for three reasons. One is the good of the soul, which is distracted from contemplation by sexual contact; another is the fact that a married man must work to provide for his wife and children. But the third reason is that by matrimony a free man becomes a slave and is under the power of the wife. "Vir subiicit per matrimonium potestati uxoris, se ex libero servum constituens. Servitus autem haec prae omnibus aliis est amara."(47) The bitterness of servitude then is given as an argument against marriage; but it shows that Aquinas did think of the man as subject to the woman in marriage, as she is subject to him.

St. Thomas further discusses the equality between husband and wife in his treatment of the virtue of friendship, which requires equality between the two persons loving even more than justice does between the two parties related. (48) Friendship consists in an equality, (49) and there cannot exist true friendship between greatly unequal persons, for one would be loved more than the other, making the friendship somewhat servile. (50) But between husband and wife there is the greatest friendship, for they are united not only in generation but also in domestic life, and for their entire lives. (51). Hence the husband and wife are equal, since theirs is the greatest of friendships, and friendship requires equality. Aquinas uses this equality of friendship between husband and wife as a principle from which he concludes that marriage must be permanent and monogamous, and the partners faithful. (52).

But for Aquinas the equality between husband and wife extends beyond their relationship in matrimony and into the area of their domestic life together. Not only are husband and wife equal partners in the forming of the marriage bond, equally powerless over that bond and its dissolution, equal in their friendship and love, in their obligations of fidelity and payment of the marriage debt; they are also equally bound to each other in the performance of the household duties which pertain to each of them. An article in the Supplement to the Summa Theologiae explains that the equality between husband and wife is one of proportion, not of quantity. Man and woman differ in perfection, and also in the contents of their mutual domestic obligations. But in both the marriage act and the management of the household, they are equally bound to each other in the things pertaining to each.

QuoteSed quantum ad secundam aequalitatem sunt aequales in utroque: quia sicut tenetur vir uxori in acto coniugali et dispensatione domus ad id quod viri est, ita uxor viro ad id quod uxoris est. Et secundum hoc dicitur in littera quod sunt aequales in reddendo et petendo debitum. (53)

Wives must be subject to their husband's direction of the household and fear them "with the fear of reverence and submission."(54) Husbands have a corresponding duty to love their wives even as they love their own bodies, and as Christ loves the Church. (55). The obligation of the husband to cleave to his wife and to love her is shown in the first woman's being made from the man: thus would he love her more and cleave to her more, knowing that she was made from him. (56).

The husband must direct domestic affairs, provide for the necessities of the domestic life, (57) solicitous for the care of his wife and children and for the temporalities which serve for their upkeep. (58). To the husband then pertains the business outside the home, (59) and working for the acquisition of the riches necessary for the life of his family. (60). The wife is responsible for the preservation of the household wealth which the man acquires, (61), she concerns herself with activities within the household, with its management, with sewing and other domestic occupations. (62). The fact that the woman is subject to her husband in household affairs does not mean that she is without authority in the home. It has already been seen that Aquinas likens the husband's and wife's rule of the family to aristocratic rule, in which each of them has responsibility over matters pertaining to them both. Although she is ultimately subject to her husband's direction, the wife is the manager of all the internal affairs of the household. In an argument against holding wives in common, Thomas says that without particular wives there could be no households, since there would be no one to run them: the men are out working in the fields. The woman does not merely work in the household as the slave does, she manages it and such management is proper to her: since no one else could do this particular, wives are necessary for the existence of households. (63).

In the education and upbringing of children, both husband and wife cooperate, and the need for both of them is used to argue the permanence and indissolubility of marriage in treatments of fornication, divorce, polygamy, and concubines, all of which prevent cooperation between mother and father in the education of the children. (64). The husband must help the wife with this upbringing, and remain with her for life in order to do so, for she is not able to perform the task alone. (65). His strength is needed for correction and his wisdom for instruction. (66). It is evident that Aquinas did not consider this education as primarily the husband's task: his abilities are also needed, and thus he must help her in this upbringing. In his prohibition of women teaching publicly, Thomas allows and even requires them to teach within the home; their responsibility in teaching their children is especially mentioned. (67).

It is evident then that in Aquinas' view the relationship between man and woman in the domestic society is not that of master and slave, nor is it as simple as the relationship between civil ruler and citizen. The husband's rulership and the wife's subjection is combined with a certain equality between them. In the marriage act they are equal partners, equal too in the obligations of love and fidelity to each other and in their right to the love and fidelity of the other. Although the husband has direction over the wife in household affairs, he is subject to her in his household obligations no less than she is to him. Not only are the rights and duties of one partner equal to those of the other for Aquinas; it also seems that there is a balance within each partner between his or her own rights and duties. While the woman must work within the household and be subject to her husband in her management of the household, even against her own will as a result of sin, she also enjoys the right to be provided for by her husband's outside work since this is his obligation. The husband enjoys rulership over his family, yet his rulership is balanced by his obligation of providing the necessities of life for the society he rules; his punishment for sin is the responsibility and difficulty of his toil. (68).

It must also be remembered that since the husband's rule of his wife is for the common good of the familial society, it is limited to those matters which affect that common good. The wife's personal life remains untouched by her husband's authority; morally and religiously she is a free person as he is. She can assent to the faith, convert, and be baptized without her husband's permission, although children subject to their parents may not be baptized without parental consent (69).  If a wife makes an oath in a matter which comes under her husband's authority, he may annul that oath; but only when the oath concerns a matter in which the wife is subject to him, a matter pertaining to annul that oath; but only when the oath concerns a matter in which the wife is subject to him, a matter pertaining to the good of the society he directs. (70). Obviously then there are matters in which she does not come under his authority, and in which she is free to make her own binding agreements.

In an interesting article on the ability of subjects to give alms, St. Thomas gives valuable insight into his view of the wife's position in the home and the balance between her subjection and her independence. The principles from which he argues are twofold: no one can give that which belongs to another, and no one can act without the permission of his superior in those matters in which he is subject. Monks, then, cannot give alms except as directed by their superiors, nor children or slaves without the consent of their parents or masters. Wives can give alms from the household monies with the express or presumed consent of their husbands; this consent is necessary because he is the head in domestic matters. In addition, wives may give, without their husbands' consent, alms from their own property which they earn or acquire in other lawful means:

QuoteSi uxor habeat alias res praeter dotem, quae ordinatur ad sustentanda onera matrimonii, vel ex proprio lucro vel quocunque alio licito modo, potest dare eleemosynas, etiam irrequisito assensu viri: moderatas tamen, ne ex earum superfluitate vir depauperetur. Alias autem non debet dare eleemosynas sine consensu viri vel expresso vel praesumpto, nisi in articulo necessitatis. . . . Quamvis enim mulier sit aequalis in actu matrimonii, tamen in his quae ad dispositionem donum pertinent vir caput est mulieris. (71)

Thomas' answer presumes that almsgiving is a household task, and that as such it pertains to the wife, who must then have at her disposal funds for the running of the household. Of course she cannot give alms from this money against the wishes of her husband, but the reason given by Thomas is not that the money is his, but that he is the head of the domestic society. The fact that she can give alms with only his presumed consent means that this money is not his exclusive property, but the common property of both of them. No one can give that which belongs to another, and the wife can give alms from the household funds as long as her husband does not object. Monks, slaves and children do not have property themselves, and hence they can only give the property of another, with his permission. But the wife requires only presumed permission, and that only because the man is the head of the family, not because what she is giving is his property. It seems that the household money which the wife may dispose of with only the husband's presumed consent belongs not to him but to the domestic society, to the both of them. (72).

The situation in which the woman may give alms without her husband's consent is revealing of an even more surprising element of Thomas' thought about the role and position of wives. She may give alms out of her own property, which means that married women can own property and dispose of it themselves. This property does not include her dowry, which although remaining the woman's possession, is intended for the support of the burdens of marriage; the use of it belongs to the husband as head of the family society. (73). Thomas says she may give alms out of property which she has gained by her labors or by other lawful means. (74). The wife then is not only able to own property, but also to work in her free time and to dispose of the money earned herself. As subject to the man in her actions connected with the household society, the wife cannot make a vow, since she may be promising something which would interfere with her household tasks in which she is subject to her husband. (75). As her director in domestic matters he has a right to her time. But when she is not occupied with these things, she is free to employ herself in gainful occupation and the money earned is hers to dispose of. She must not give to the poor so much, however, that she impoverishes her husband, Thomas adds, indicating that the wife's earnings like those of the husband are normally contributed to household funds. (76).

It is evident that the subjection of the wife to the husband is not absolute for Thomas. He has direction over her within the household and for the good of the domestic society, but in other areas and in her free time she is not subject to him. She may employ herself and earn money, she may own property and dispose of it. The wife then enjoys a certain autonomy and independence from her husband with respect to her own time and her possessions, and a certain power and authority within the home, since she has power to act and to spend their common household money on her own, although ultimately only with the approval of her husband.

The wife's subjection to her husband then is not in her personal affairs but in the matters which concern their living together as a society. Even within the household, however, his authority is not absolute. They rule the society together, cooperating in the tasks of the household for the good of the whole family and in the work of caring for and educating their children, which is their common end. In these areas the husband is the ultimate head of the woman, but she enjoys a certain autonomy and authority in the things that pertain to her, the internal affairs of the home. The family life then is not formed by the absolute domination of the husband and the servile submission of the wife; although the husband has a certain preeminence, the unity of the home results from the harmonization of the powers of both marriage partners.


St. Thomas' treatment of woman's place outside the domestic society is not as extensive as his description of the position of the wife: he rarely mentions single women, and does not elaborate on the role of woman in civil and ecclesiastical societies. Yet what he does say is essential for a full understanding of his philosophy of woman.

First of all, it must be noted that Thomas never states as a starting principle that all women must be subject to some man. As has already been seen, the reason for the wife's subjection to the husband is her belonging to their domestic society which must have a ruler; Aquinas does not first argue that all women must be ruled, and then conclude that the particular ruler in the case of a married woman is her husband. This would suggest that unmarried women are not subject as wives are. In fact, it is by her entry into domestic society with her new husband, through her own free consent as an equal marriage partner, that the woman becomes subject; since she cannot be married against her will, she is certainly not subject before her marriage. Likewise, Aquinas considers widows to be under the rule of no man: they are not connected with any other person, and do not even have anyone to whom to turn for relief. (77). And yet Thomas never mentions single women except those who are virgins and under the care and rule of their fathers, and those who are harlots. Simple fornication is distinguished from adultery and seduction according to whether the woman is subject to any man or not. Simple fornication occurs between a man and a woman both of whom are unmarried; adultery and seduction occur when the woman is under the authority of someone, a husband and a father respectively. (78). In a following article Thomas clarifies seduction as the violation of a virgin, and fornication as intercourse "with harlots, women, namely, who are no longer virgins."(79) A synthesis of these two articles would suggest that all unmarried women are subject to the authority of their fathers, but only as long as they are virgins; the loss of their virginity frees them from their fathers' rule and causes them to be classed as harlots. But the non-subjection of harlots is of less interest than the subjection of maidens to the rule of their fathers, and it is clear that all unmarried virgins come under their fathers' care and authority. (80).

For St. Thomas the parents' authority over the child and the child's subjection decreases as the child progresses in age and reason, and this progression is marked by seven-year periods. Before the age of seven a child neither understands by himself nor is able to learn from another; he can neither bind himself in any promise for the future nor act on his own. Between the age of seven and puberty (14 for boys, 12 for girls) a child begins to learn, but since he is incapable by himself of understanding, he cannot bind himself by perpetual obligation. Any vows or oaths he attempts can be annulled by his parents. He may, however, make simple promises for the future, as betrothal promises or simple religious vows, but these are not binding. At the end of his second seven years a child is able to consider by himself as regards those things having to do with his own person and his state of life, and hence he can bind himself in religious vows or in matrimony. (81) "Post annoys autumn pubertatis, possunt iam se Soto religionis obligare, vel simplici vel solemni absque voluntate parentum."82 Unlike a slave who does not have free disposal of his own person, a son or daughter is free in that which pertains to his state: "Post annos pubertatis quilibet ingenuus libertatem habet quantum ad ea quae pertinent ad dispositionem sui status."(83) A daughter is not subject as a slave is, but rather she is under her father's authority for her education, and has free disposal of her own person. She may enter religion or bind herself in matrimony even against her father's will. (84).

But even while sons and daughters are free with regard to the disposition of their persons and the choice of their state of life, they are not sufficiently developed in reason before their twenty-first year to be able to consider things outside their own persons or to dispose of property on their own. So even after they are free to make their own decisions to contract marriage or enter religion, children are still subject to their parents in financial an household matters. (85). The property of children belongs to their parents and hence they cannot give alms or dispose oftheir property except under the direction of their fathers. "Ea quae sunt filiifamilias sunt patris. Et ideo non potest eleemosynam facere (nisi forte aliquam modicam, de qua potest praesumere quod patri placeat): nisi forte alicuius rei esset sibi a patre dispensatio comissa."86 A child is subject in domestic affairs to the head of the household, his father, and cannot vow or contract anything concerning the household economy without the consent of his father.

QuoteEx quo homo venit ad annos pubertatis, si sit liberae conditionis, est suae potestatis quantum ad ea quae pertinent ad suam personam: puta quod obliget se religioni per votum, vel quod matrimonium contrahat. Non autem est suae potestatis quantum ad dispensationem domesticam. Unde circa hoc non potest aliquid vovere quod sit ratum, sine consensu patris. (87).

But in all of these conditions there seems to be no difference between sons and daughters in their subjection to their fathers. The subjection of the daughter however is greater for St. Thomas than that of the son. The daughter's subjection is mentioned more frequently, as an example of subjection in general, than the son's.  (88). And a daughter is more under the care of her father than is a son, for the purpose of the preservation of her virginity. She is withheld from the wanton life by her father's care and authority, lest she lose the seal of virginity and be set on the road to this wanton life.

QuoteIn virgine autem sub custodia patris existente quaedam deformitas specialis occurrit si corrumpatur. Tum ex parte puellae, quae, ex hoc quod violatur, nulla pactione coniugali praecedente, impeditur a legitimo matrimonio consequendo, et ponitur in via meretricandi, a quo retrahebatur ne signaculum virginatis amitteret. Tum etiam ex parte patris, qui de eius custodia sollicitudinem gerit: secundum illud Eccli. 42:11: Super filiam luxuriosam confirma custodiam, nequando faciat te in opprobrium venire inimicis. Et ideo manifestum est quod stuprum, quod importat illicitam virginum deflorationem sub cura rapentum existentium, est determinata luxuriae species. (89).

Thomas says nothing about single women beyond these treatments of their relative subjection to and freedom from parental authority, suggesting that he considered single women to be those who, because they had not yet entered either religion or matrimony, were still under their fathers' care until they selected one or the other of these states. In fact, when St. Thomas gives examples of the states of life which daughters may freely choose, he names only these.

He probably did not consider the single state either a common or a normal enough condition for discussion. But even in this sketchy treatment of the condition of unmarried daughters, it is seen that this subjection, like that of the wife, depends on Thomas' theory of the domestic society as requiring a ruler, be he husband or father. Younger daughters are subject to the care and authority of their fathers for their protection and for their education; but as they grow older they become free persons, with full power to decide and act on their own as regards their own persons. The wife too is free with regard to her own person, but both daughters and wives, as long as they belong to the domestic societies ruled by their fathers or husbands, are subject in all matters pertaining to the household.

Within civil society, women, according to Aquinas, have no public role. Since their proper sphere of activity is the internal affairs of the household, they must not concern themselves with external affairs. They must abstain from civic activities,(90) from warfare, (91) and even from being lawyers, since public disputation is shameful in a woman just as public teaching is. Women are unfit to be civil rulers because of the weakness of their reason:

QuoteNihil differt utrum ipsae mulieres principentur; vel ipsi principes sub mulieribus regantur, quod eis subiecti sunt propter insolentiam mulierum. Idem enim accidit utroque modo, ut scilicet civitas male regatur quia mulieres deficiunt ratione. . . . Earum indicia in rebus civilivus, item perniciosa est et nocua. (93).

Aquinas explains Aristotle's statement that the rule of women is the corruption of the city by saying that reason is the most necessary requirement for rulers, so women, who are deficient in reason, must be subject and not rule. (94). The Supplement, however, mentions that women may have temporal rule although they are denied spiritual rule. (95). Thomas himself corresponded with women rulers, advising them on matters about which they questioned him. His Letter to the Duchess of Brabant "On the Government of Jews" in its tone and address suggests nothing but respect for the "illustrious and pious Lady (Domina)" who is addressed as "Your Excellency."(96) Thomas does not treat her as though she were either weak in reason or unfit for rule. Rather, he respectfully answers her questions, advises her to seek the counsel of others more knowledgeable than he, and wishes her a long reign: "Valeat dominatio vestra per tempora longiora."(97).

Because women do not participate in the ruling activities of civil society, they are not citizens absolutely speaking. While all those who live in a city or come under its jurisdiction may sometimes be called citizens, only those who have full rights of citizenship are properly called citizens, for example those who can debate or vote in popular assembly, or those on whom deliberative or judicial functions can be conferred. But Thomas says that women are not citizens simpliciter, but only secundum quid, like others who merely dwell in the city but do not have the capacity to exercise functions that directly pertain to the community: old men, children, and so on. (98).  The woman is a citizen, however, in that she is a subject of the laws and the rights of the city, even if she does not have full power of citizenship; she has civic rights and duties to the law, but she does not participate in the directing activity of the city. (99).

In the Church the woman's position is analogous to her place within civil society. She is a full member of the Church with equal religious obligations and benefits, but she does not enjoy an active role in the teaching, ministerial, or governing activities of the Church. The function of a priest includes ruling or presiding, so women cannot receive Holy Orders since they are in the state of subjection and are incapable of rule. It is a perversion of the city's rule that it be under a woman; woman then has neither the key of order nor that of jurisdiction.

QuoteMulier, secundum Apostolum, est in statu subiectionis. Et ideo ipsa non potest habere aliquam spiritualem iurisdictionem; quia etiam secundum Philosophum in VIII Eth. corruptio urbanitatis est, quando ad mulierem dominium pervenit. Unde mulier non habet neque clavem ordinis nec clavem iurisdictionis. (100).

But it is not only unlawful for a woman to receive orders — it is impossible.(101). Every sacrament is a sign which sanctifies man (102), a character or imprint which both effects the reality of the sacrament and manifests or expresses that reality. (103). Thomas compares the sacraments of Extreme Unction and Holy Orders to show that the male sex is a necessary condition for reception of the latter sacrament. Since Extreme Unction is a spiritual healing which is signified by a bodily healing, it can be conferred only on those who are sick and hence "competent to receive bodily healing." In similar fashion women are not competent to receive holy orders, since it is not possible for the female sex to signify eminence of degree, since woman is inferior and in the state of subjection. In all sacraments not only the thing but the signification of the thing is required, hence women are not apt subjects for this sacrament since they cannot symbolize the eminent dignity which is necessary for orders. (104).

As a sacrament, orders differs from gifts such as prophecy, which require only the thing and not the signification. Also, the gift pertains to the soul where women do not differ from men. Thus women may receive prophecy and other gifts equally with men, but not orders. The symbolism is essential to the sacrament, and since in the case of the "ordination" of a woman the symbolism is not possible, there is no sacrament realized by the rite of ordination. (105).

As seen above, Thomas also denies to women the power of jurisdiction. (106). The reasons are of course the same as those which prohibit woman from being ordained: her natural state of subjection, and the risks of a woman's assuming power. (107). But what about the women abbesses who in fact enjoyed jurisdictional power in Thomas' day? They do not have this power, Aquinas says, but merely the use of it in order to correct the women under them, and that only because of the dangers which would ensue from a man living in the women's monastery. "Sed mulieri committitur aliquis usus clavium, sicut habere correptionem in subditas mulieres, propter periculum quod imminere posset si viri mulieribus cohabitarent."( 108)

Preaching and public teaching are also denied to women, because of their lacking in the wisdom required. (109). Teaching involves presiding and pertains not to subjects but to those who are over subjects, thus women may not teach publicly in Church. They may however teach privately, and here there is no qualification of the sex of the hearers; (111) they are permitted and even required to instruct their children both in religion and in other matters (112); women may even preach publicly to audiences composed of women, as in monasteries. (113) But preaching to men or teaching them in Church is shameful for women who must be subject to men. (114).

But while they may not take part in any of the teaching or ministerial activities of the rulers of the Church, women are nonetheless full members of the Church. With the exception of Holy Orders, they may receive all the sacraments equally with men. Even Confirmation is not denied them, for the spiritual superiority conferred and signified by that sacrament is not of the body but of the soul, where there is no difference of sex. (115). Women can baptize in an emergency is not of the body but of the soul, where there is no difference of sex. (115) Women can baptize in an emergency, although it is not fitting that they do so if there is a man present who can do it. (116).

In both civil and ecclesiastical societies then it would seem more precise to speak of woman's secondary role than to say that she is subject to the man. The positions of male and female lay persons within the Church are equal, as are those of male and female citizens. As in civil society the woman enjoys the same benefits and is subject to the same laws as the man, so too in the Church she has equal religious obligations and the same access to spiritual benefits. In both of these societies the difference between men and women is that the woman cannot be in the position of ruler but the man can. As long as a man is not a priest or civil ruler, he is not less subject than the woman in either society; but her subjection is permanent and his is not: he can be both a priest and a ruler, but she must always be a subject.


It is essential to note that in St. Thomas' theory of the woman's subjection in familial, civil, and ecclesiastical societies it is not all women as a class that are subject to each and every man. He does not consider women to be, as they have been in many non-Christian cultures, subject as a group to the men. It is quite clear that the reason for woman's subjection is Aquinas' theory of society as requiring the subjection of all members to the ruler of that society. Women and non-ruling men equally are subject to the rulers of any society, but those rulers must always be men. The reason for the wife's subjection to the husband is the same as the reason why women cannot be rulers of any type. Women are inferior in reason and not fit for directing or commanding; in fact they are natural subjects, since they have need of direction. Men are superior and hence the natural rulers of any society, be it domestic, civil, or ecclesiastical. While in domestic society the woman is subject to the man, in the city and the Church the women and most of the men are subject to the few men who rule; but the ruler of any society must be a man because women are unfit for rule and men are by nature fitted for it. So outside of the domestic society as within it, the woman is subject, and the ruler is always a man.

St. Thomas shows indirectly but clearly that he did not think women were as a class subject to men in an article discussing matrimony between close relatives. He argues that one cannot marry one's parents since it is not fitting to be conjugally united with a person to whom one is naturally subject: "Inconveniens est ut illis personis aliquis socialiter coniungatur quibus naturaliter debet esse subiectus."117 Since it would be impossible to argue from this principle and still maintain that women (who are most fittingly conjugally united with men) are by nature subject to men in general, it is evident that the woman's subjection to the man is within the domestic society, and because of that society. Just as women are not essentially inferior to men, so too they are not as a class subject to each and every man. The inferiority of woman is combined in Aquinas' theory with a certain equality, in human nature and in grace; in his theory about woman's position, her subjection is described as merely civil subjection, and it is combined with a certain equality between the man and the woman in their marriage relationship.

In fact, Thomas' main contribution to the philosophy of woman is his teaching on the equality of men and women in marriage, his synthesizing woman's subjection with her equality to the man. Aristotle had well established the inferiority and subjection of woman; in this area Thomas did little more than repeat his arguments, although as has been seen he did view femininity as a perfection and not merely a lack of the perfection of masculinity as did Aristotle. And the essential equality of men and women was well argued by Christianity and by Aristotle; again Thomas merely develops the arguments he inherited. But the equality of men and women in their relationship had not been previously substantiated. Christianity had taught this equality but had not explained it; a basis for it existed in Aristotle's philosophy but he had neither developed arguments nor expressly taught it. Aquinas not only taught that husbands and wives were equal in their mutual subjection, but he also justified this teaching philosophically and synthesized it with the subjection of the woman to the man in the domestic society. Even the Patristic Tradition, which often taught a certain equality between men and women, had usually limited it to their equality in the eyes of God, to their equality with respect to salvation; the Fathers had taught a certain mutuality of marital rights and obligations, but they had concentrated on the woman's subjection to the man and had not developed a theory of their equality in marriage.

It is Aquinas then who develops this notion of the equality between the husband and wife, and synthesizes it with the woman's subjection. He not only explains how it is possible that the man and the woman are both essentially equal and unequal in nature, he also explains how they are related both as subject and ruler and as equals. He probes the marriage and domestic relationship in such a way as to save both the character of marriage as a free and equal relationship between persons, and the nature of the domestic society as a real society that requires a ruler for its direction to the common good.

It is worthwhile in this reflective look at Thomas' philosophy of woman to notice the degree to which his theory of woman's subjection depends on an erroneous conception of generation. The inferiority of woman is solidly based on the Aristotelian biological theory of femininity as passivity, as defective in comparison with masculine activity and perfection. Without this foundation, the only ground of woman's inferiority for St. Thomas is her physical weakness and a few Scriptural passages, which are clearly used only as supportive arguments in his writings. It is interesting to speculate about what Aquinas might have thought about woman's nature and position had he not been so formed by Aristotle's generative theory: certainly woman's being smaller and weaker than man, and her having been created after him, would have looked different had they not been viewed through a notion of woman already developed from Aristotle's femina est mas occasionatus. Of course the nature of the household as a real society would still have required that it have a ruler, who still would probably have been the man, on the basis of these supportive arguments. But how would the woman's subjection have differed if she had not been thought of as naturally inferior by the very fact of her femininity? What would St. Thomas have said of woman's rational powers and virtue, had he not been sure that the imperfection of her femininity made her inferior to man in these areas? Without woman's natural inherent inferiority as feminine, without her being defective in reason and morally weaker than the man, perhaps he would have talked less of her subjection and more of her sharing with her husband in their aristocratic rule of their household. But in fact St. Thomas was strongly influenced by this theory of generation, which colors all he says about woman.

In light of the strength of this biological influence it is remarkable that Aquinas was as moderate as he was in his teaching about woman's inferiority and subjection. The notion of femininity as imperfect and subordinated to masculinity could quite easily have led to the conclusion that woman's inferiority makes her less human than man, that women are so deficient in reason and virtue and perfection that the man's rule is absolute, and that women are chattel owned and used by men for their own good. But Thomas everywhere avoids this conclusion and argues against it. Despite her natural inferiority, the woman is equally human as the man; there are exceptions to the general rule that women are less able to reason and less virtuous; the man rules the woman only for her own good and that of the community; the woman shares in the administration of the household, she is subject only in some areas and totally in her own power in others, and she is equal to the husband in their relationship as married persons. In fact a study of Thomas' statements about woman gives the impression that he himself was torn between the biologically-based inferiority and subjection of the woman and his desire to affirm that she is equal to the man in essence, perfection, abilities, and their relationship. Of course men and women are not the same, and even without Aristotle's biology Thomas no doubt would have concluded to some form of inferiority and subjection in woman's nature and position. But such a theory would have differed from that which Aquinas did in fact develop on the basis of Aristotle, and one gets the impression that St. Thomas might have been quite happy to modify his theory had he been told that generation was not what the Philosopher had said it was.

  • In Pol. I, 1.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. I, 96, 4.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1, ad 2.
  • S.T. I-II, 105, 4; Suppl., 41, 1; In Eth. Exp. VIII, 12, 1721. 11S.T. I-II, 105, 4.
  • Suppl., 41, 1.
  • In Eth. Exp. VIII, 12, 1721.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1, ad 2.
  • In Eth. Exp. VIII, 12, 1721; S.T. I, 92, 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 2.
  • S.T. I, 92, 3.
  • Suppl., 41, 1.
  • In Pol. I, 10.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 3, 79; In I ad Cor. XI, 1, 590; S.T. II-II, 182, 4. 21In I ad Tim. II, 3, 79-83.
  • S.T. II-II, 164, 2.
  • Ibid.
  • S.C.G. III, 123, 3.
  • S.T. I, 92, 1, ad 2. See footnote 14 above.
  • In Pol. I, 10.
  • In Eth. Exp. VIII, 10 and 11, 1684-5 and 1694.
  • Eph. 5:22.
  • In ad Eph. V, 8.
  • S.T. I, 92, 2, ad 3.
  • S.T. I-II, 105, 4. See footnote 11 above.
  • S.T. II-II, 66, 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 118, 2.
  • In Eth. Exp. V, 2, 1006-15.
  • Ibid., 1015.
  • S.T. II-II, 57, 4.
  • S.T. II-II, 32, 8, ad 2.
  • Suppl., 45.
  • Suppl., 47, 3.
  • S.C.G. III, 123, 4.
  • S.C.G. III, 124.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. II-II, 154, 8.
  • Suppl., 61, 1; 64, 1.
  • S.T. II-II, 154, 8, ad 2.
  • Cor. 7:1.
  • In I ad Cor. VII, 1, 314.
  • In Eth. Exp. VIII, 5, 1632.
  • Ibid., 1605.
  • S.C.G. III, 124, 5.
  • Ibid., 123, 6.
  • S.C.G. III, 123 and 124.
  • Suppl., 64, 5 (in American edition). In Leonine: 64, 3.
  • In ad Eph. V, 10.
  • Ibid., lect. 8.
  • S.T. I, 92, 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 164, 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 186, 4.
  • De Reg. Prin. IV, 5; In Eth. Exp. VIII, 12, 1721. 60In Pol. III, 2, 376.
  • Ibid.
  • In Eth. Exp. VIII, 12, 1721.
  • In Pol. II, 6.
  • S.C.G. III, 122, 6-8; 123, 5; 124, 3; S.T. II-II, 154, 2 and 8; Suppl., 62, 4; 65, 3; 67, 1. 65S.C.G. III, 122, 6-8.
  • Ibid., 8.
  • S.T. III, 55, 1, ad 3; 67, 4, ad 1.
  • S.T. II-II, 164, 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 10, 12.
  • S.T. II-II, 89, 9, ad 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 32, 8.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.; In IV Sent. 49, 4, 1.
  • S.T. II-II, 32, 8.
  • S.T. II-II, 88, 8, ad 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 32, 8.
  • S.T. II-II, 65, 4, ad 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 154, 1.
  • S.T. II-II, 154, 6.
  • Ibid.
  • Suppl., 43, 2; S.T. II-II, 88, 9.
  • S.T. II-II, 88, 9.
  • S.T. II-II, 189, 6.
  • Suppl., 45, 5, ad 1.
  • Suppl., 43, 2; S.T. II-II, 88, 8, ad 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 32, 8 ad 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 88, 8, ad 2.
  • S.T. II-II, 88, 9; 89, 9, ad 3.
  • S.T. II-II, 154, 6.
  • In Pol. II, 6.
  • Ibid.; De Reg. Prin. IV, 5.
  • In I ad Cor. XIV, 7, 881.
  • In Pol. II, 13.
  • In I ad Cor. XIV, 7, 880; In IV Sent. 19, 1, 1, 3, ad 4.
  • Suppl., 39, 1, ad 2.
  • De Reg. Judaeorum.
  • Ibid.
  • In Pol. III, 1, 352-5; S.T. I-II, 105, 3.
  • In Pol. III, 1.
  • In IV Sent. 19, 1, 1, 3, ad 4.
  • Suppl., 39, 1.
  • S.T. III, 60, 2.
  • Suppl., 30, 1.
  • Suppl., 39, 1.
  • Ibid.
  • See footnote 100 above.
  • In IV Sent. 19, 1, 1, 3, ad 4.
  • Ibid.
  • In I ad Tim. II, 2, 78-80; In I ad Cor. XI, 2, 596; XIV, 7, 870-1; S.T. II-II, 177, 2. 110S.T. II-II, 177, 2.
  • Ibid.
  • S.T. III, 55, l, ad 3.
  • In I ad Cor. XI, 2, 596.
  • Ibid., XIV, 7, 880.
  • S.T. III, 72, 8 and 10. 116S.T. III, 67, 4. 117S.C.G. III, 125, 7.


St. Thomas had a very close relationship with his natural sisters, whom he converted later in his life (cf. Torrell's biography). He wrote to women (e.g., to the duchess Margaret of Flanders, daughter of King St. Louis IX).
His teacher St. Albert wrote an early treatise in gynecology (De Secretis Mulierum), a commentary on the valiant woman of Proverbs 31:10-31, the first great Marian treatise (the Mariale), and obtained much knowledge of women from confession (e.g., by confessing sailors!), as shown in his commentary on Aristotle's Animals.
Their deep Marian devotion helped them know the most perfect Woman. St. Albert even had a vision of her.


Are Catholics required to accept every article of Aquinas's «Summa Theologica»?
Summa Theologica I q. 92 a. 1 ("Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?") ad 1:
In response to the objection (arg. 1) that God "should not have made woman" because she "would be an occasion of sin to man," St. Thomas replies (ad 3) that
QuoteIf God had deprived the world of all those things which proved an occasion of sin, the universe would have been imperfect.
Thus, women perfect God's creation. From this alone it's clear that St. Thomas is a philogynist.


I have only read a part of the above writings of Dr. Popik and just started a better reading of the introduction to the first part. What I have read so far is very good. Thank you, Geremia!