What Thomas Aquinas Said About Women Priests


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Here is what St Thomas has to say regarding the ordination of women (listen to the podcast above to get my commentary on his thoughts).

Objection 1. It would seem that the female sex is no impediment to receiving Orders. For the office of prophet is greater than the office of priest, since a prophet stands midway between God and priests, just as the priest does between God and people. Now the office of prophet was sometimes granted to women, as may be gathered from 2 Kings 22:14. Therefore the office of priest also may be competent to them.

I answer that, Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of the sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament. Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way. Wherefore even though a woman were made the object of all that is done in conferring Orders, she would not receive Orders, for since a sacrament is a sign, not only the thing, but the signification of the thing, is required in all sacramental actions; thus it was stated above (Question 32, Article 2) that in Extreme Unction it is necessary to have a sick man, in order to signify the need of healing. Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order. Some, however, have asserted that the male sex is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament, because even in the Decretals(cap. Mulieres dist. 32; cap. Diaconissam, 27, qu. i) mention is made of deaconesses and priestesses. But deaconess there denotes a woman who shares in some act of a deacon, namely who reads the homilies in the Church; and priestess [presbytera] means a widow, for the word “presbyter” means elder.

Reply to Objection 1. Prophecy is not a sacrament but a gift of God. Wherefore there it is not the signification, but only the thing which is necessary. And since in matters pertaining to the soul woman does not differ from man as to the thing (for sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul), it follows that she can receive the gift of prophecy and the like, but not the sacrament of Orders.


16 thoughts on “What Thomas Aquinas Said About Women Priests

  1. Absolutely not sexist by any stretch of the imagination. If Christ wanted women to be the leaders of the Church, He would have founded the Church on one of them – perhaps Mary Magdalene or Veronica. But no, He established men to lead the Church. Why change 2000 years of tradition? Not sexist. I personally appreciate that men lead the Church. For the most part, they have done a wonderful job for the past 2000 years! Why fix what isn’t broken?

  2. I appreciate the whole concept of the Church not having the authority to ordain women, however; a strong argument could be made that the Church does have that authority. You could point to the power to bind and loose on earth, the authority of Christ handed to the Apostles, infallibility, etc. If the Church has Christ’s authority, then it sounds like a cop-out to say, we don’t have the authority to do something that Christ did not do. At the end of the day, the Church has Christ’s authority so it can’t really blame Him for not being able to do something.

    This argument also seems like it’s just passing the buck to God. It’s like conceding that it’s unfair and a snub… but… there’s nothing we can do about it, sorry. That’s not going to assure people and encourage them that we are serving a God of love… it’s going to confirm their suspicions that we serve a false God.

    1. The Church is not sexist at all. In fact, it is the institution that values the dignity of women moreso than any other institution. It calls for respect for a woman’s true, inherent dignity.
      According to Christoper West’s “crash course” in the Theology of the Body, a woman wanting to be a priest is just as misguided as a man wanting to become pregnant. Our bodies have been designed specifically to reflect the nature of Christ’s love. The man is the initiator and giver of love, and the woman actively receives his love and gift of self, and in receiving him, gives herself to him in return. This reflects Christ and the Church. Since Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride, and since priest are In Persona Christe during the sacraments, it could only be a man who enacts Christ’s initial gift.
      All member of the Church share in the priesthood of Christ and in his mission, but only a man can adequately reflect the mysteries of Christ’s love in the Ordained priesthood since, as the Theology of the Body reflects, Christ’s loving mystery inspires the man as the initiator of the gift, as Christ himself is to his bride, the Church.

      God Bless you all, friends!

    2. I agree that when dialoging with those who are not Catholic or are struggling to make sense of the priesthood being restricted to makes only that we should offer better reasons than: Because the Pope said so!

      But I disagree that the because the Church has the power to bind and loose that it can do anything! Obviously the Church does not have the authority to declare that Coke and Pizza are suitable substitutes for bread and wine or that we may not baptize with beer!

      1. But isn’t that authority the same as the authority that Christ spoke and taught with? If it has the authority to forgive sins, which is surely an authority reserved for God alone prior to Christ’s coming, then it can do whatever God can do.

        The explanation seems to say that God wouldn’t ordain women… but goes no further (which doesn’t seem very satisfying to skeptical ears). I think we need to do a better job of explaining why God wouldn’t. Are the reason’s purely theological, and thus, inaccessible to many laypeople and especially non-Catholics? The explanation that the role of Christ is initiator and that being a specifically male role depends on the the assumption that men and women are bound to ‘roles’. Modern sensibilities about sexual egalitarianism push the idea that roles are a property of a sexist legacy or our culture. If we’re going to use that argument, we need to step back further and explain why ‘roles’ actually make sense (assuming they do). If we can’t do that, then our theological explanation about Christ being a bridegroom and the Church being the bride is begging the question. Our modern culture mostly accepts same-sex unions so we need to stop relying on that imagery as if it will resonate with people. We need to ask ourselves if there are practical reasons why Christ chose only male apostles? We need to ask ourselves why God might have introduced himself as Father and why he was incarnate as a man. Is there something intrinsic to the male person that is not intrinsic to the female that insists on this particular outcome? Is our sexual identity restricted to our biology or are we the subject of our own deterministic will? Is it because God is sexist? If so, what does that mean? We have to answer these questions adequately if we’re going to be at all effective in helping people overcome their impediments to sympathizing with Catholic Christianity.

      2. Matt makes a really valid point here. In some ways its like the question can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it. God has set an order to things, which He has revealed to us, and we continue to warp the divine and human order to things only at our peril. We should not question the things and twist them to the way we think they should be instead of the way they are. Matt has done a wonderful job in his ministry especially in explaining the gift of human sexuality, and the Lord is using him in helping men and women be delivered from spiritual bondage which distorts the gift of God especially as God has created us as male and female. Why do I bring that up in light of the priesthood being reserved only for men? Its because the idea of the priesthood is written in our nature as male and female. Even the male anatomy and the female anatomy show that a man is designed to give and a woman to receive. The life that she receives in her womb mirrors the divine life the Church receives from Christ. Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, lays His life down for the Church, He gives Himself to His Bride the Church. The ministerial priests act in the Person of Christ to make His Sacrifice Present and to make His forgiveness present. This is why they are male because they actually act in Persona Christi. Read carefully the above reflections posted by Matt on the priesthood by JPII. JPII was overall a more pastoral pope, and not one to make many infallible sounding declarations, so in his personal opinions some Catholics may have some disagreements, or perhaps prefer how other Popes have worded things, etc. However, when JPII uses a word like “declare” no one has any authority to contradict him, unless they would dare to contradict God Himself, as he is speaking as the Vicar of Christ. It’s also wonderful that Matt has pointed out that the congregation for the doctrine of the faith pointed that out, because overall modern Catholics in 1994 and 1995, and certainly continuing to this day, have become a bit dimwitted in understanding exactly what a magisterial teaching is! May Christ bless all of us as His Church this Easter so that we may all as the Bride of Christ receive His Divine Life, His Salvation. I pray that we may receive these truths humbly in our Great High Priest, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Divine Bridegroom!

  3. All I can say is that I would NEVER enter a confessional if it was a woman on the other side. I wouldn’t want a woman to be priest anymore than I would want my father to be a woman. There are many great ways in which women can serve Christ and the Church… as the past and present demonstrate! Any woman who wants to be ordained is looking to gain power not to serve Christ.

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