St. Thomas Aquinas (1224 - 1274 AD)

Thomas's doctrine of 'Natural Law' had many consequences for the Christian sexual code, affecting the status of women, contraceptives, homosexuality and nudism.

Thomas Aquinas was the most influential theologian in the Middle Ages. Most later theologians copied their arguments from him.

In Thomas’ time women were excluded from the ordained ministries. Thomas had to find justification for this as a theologian. The main reason, he decided, was woman’s inferior nature.

Thomas based his reasonings on what he read in Aristotle's work, whose books became known in Europe at the time through Arab scholars.

Like Aristotle, Thomas believed that only the male seed carried life. Following Aristotle's assessment, he judged women as having less intelligence and being weak in character. Everything was determined by God in the laws God laid down as Creator in nature.

On this page we outline Thomas’s teaching. To read the exact words of Thomas, click on the links indicated!

For an analysis of the validity of Thomas’s arguments, click here!

God created MAN first
making him the origin
of the rest of humanity.

God created WOMAN
out of man and for man.

  God created MAN in his own image
in the full sense of the term
since God is the source of everything.

God created WOMAN in his image
only to the extent that she too has a mind.

Differences at Birth
The active force in the male seed derives its power also from the stars.

A MAN’s seed contains the future child.

In procreation, a WOMAN only contributes her womb
- which is like a ploughed field in which a grain of seed has been sown. The woman feeds the foetus.
  When a MALE child is born
the birth is perfect.

Every FEMALE child is born through an ‘accident’.
‘The semen is weak or the material [in the womb] is unsuitable, or because of the action of some external factor such as the winds from the south which make the atmosphere humid.’
But in God’s overall plan women do serve a purpose.
They are useful for generation. After all, in his providence, God can even make use of ‘accidents’.

    Strictly speaking, every WOMAN is a ‘monster’ of nature.

The female sexual organs too will rise at the resurrection.
For resurrection repairs the defects of nature.

Other Gender Differences
MAN has the greater power of reason.
Because God ordered [= streamlined] him for intellectual activity.

WOMEN are not ordered to intellectual operation.
Though a WOMAN is carnally united to a man in generation, she is not united to him in his higher faculties.

That is why St. Paul forbade women to teach or to have authority over men.

A MAN naturally commands authority.

WOMEN are subject to men.
For man is the beginning and end of WOMAN.

Even a WOMAN’s hair is a sign of her subjection to man.

    God made WOMAN a helper to man, but only for generation, not for a man’s other tasks.

Representing Christ
  MAN is in a state of perfection.

MEN signify eminence in human nature.

WOMAN is in a state of subjection.
The FEMALE SEX cannot ‘signify eminence of degree’ [= women cannot be the expression of perfect human nature].

  Therefore, it is MEN who can represent Christ at the Eucharist.

Therefore, WOMEN cannot represent Christ at the Eucharist.

    John Wijngaards  
Documents on St. Thomas Aquinas
Women and procreation Inferiority of women Arguments Overview The priest as sign Women and holy orders If Thomas had known