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Saint thomas aquinas and the women



Image: Saint Thomas Aquinas, by Blessed Fra Angelico.



From a debate among friends: did Saint Thomas Aquinas despise women? Did his work reflect the prejudiced and medieval culture of his time? Should we, as women, be offended when reading what he wrote about us?


Below I offer you a short article resulting from an investigation I carried out, by carefully re- reading the Summa Theologiæ.


My dear friends friars and deacons do make me work! But perhaps this was the most enjoyable study I have ever done.


First I was not devoted to him: one of my sons is named after Saint Thomas Beckett, precisely because I had heard that Saint Thomas Aquinas had been merciless towards women. But from opening his book and seeing Aristotle's opinions all over we should not assume that there could be no fertile soil for good conclusions on women's rights and dignity in his work. Indeed, we can note that he corrects and surpasses Aristotle on such matter – and he finds a better conclusion without need to argue with the Philosopher.


Perhaps readers will be truly surprised by what I found; I was quite surprised, at least, that a religious man in the 13th century had more advanced thinking than the legal framework in the UK concerning women's entitlement to heritage in the 20th century.


It's hard not to fall in love with Saint Thomas Aquinas. He deserves all the praise. May he continue to be elevated to the altars!


With the love and affection of


Ana Paula Arendt.


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Saint Thomas Aquinas' mistakes
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Saint Thomas Aquinas’ mistakes

Ana Paula Arendt*



Abstract: Did Saint Thomas Aquinas despise women? Did his work reflect the prejudice against women in the medieval culture of his time? Should women be offended by what he wrote about them? The work of Saint Thomas Aquinas is particularly important due to the place it occupies in the Catholic Church as a dogmatic source of reference. The article results from the investigation and careful re-reading of the Summa Theologiæ on the following points: If Thomas searched to adapt to the medieval society of his time, or if his ideas reflected current thought; the structure of the Summa and the purpose of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas concerning women; if he considered man by nature more perfect than woman; if we find in his work a woman should be subject to the man because she is inferior to him; if he thought women are capable of having the same gifts as men, in wisdom and science; if Saint Thomas was a misogynist or if we find an evident and certain admiration for the opposite sex in him; if Saint Thomas Aquinas gave rise to persecution of women in the courts of the Inquisition; if he considered women are able to exercise the power of the keys and the power of the government; what was his opinion on the right of women to own property and to manage it; what he thought about the nobility of a man's and woman's bodies; if Saint Thomas was stricter with sin when it comes from women than from men. We conclude that St. Thomas rejected prejudice against women, and on these topics, we found no errors or offenses against women in his main work. Also we found out he was a theologian far beyond his own time, when defending women’s dignity.


Keywords: Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thomism. Scholastic. Gender issues. Women. Feminism. Women’s dignity.



“Woman was made in paradise, not because of her dignity, but because of the dignity of the principle by which her body was formed.”

(Saint Thomas Aquinas, Prima Pars, Question 102,

From paradise, man's home, Article 4, Response to the Third).


“Although in those who are simple and in women devotion abounds, crusher of pride.”

(St. Thomas Aquinas, Prima Pars Secundae, Question 82,

On devotion, article 3, response to the Third).


It is not uncommon the opinion among the laity, the faithful and even among scholars that Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274) would have produced, in his masterpiece Summa Theologiæ, prejudiced passages against women. Here and there there is a tendency in assuming the decline of Thomism as a necessary current opinion: allegedly the thought of Aquinas is too old-fashioned to understand the theological questions of modern times. Proof of that would be his supposed errors in retrograde claims, which one demands to be overcome, in defense of the dignity of women.

2. Naturally, these criticisms that accuse him of errors are presented without delving into the content that he offers us in his sublime study. In the Summa Theologiæ, Aquinas discusses different readings, without necessarily endorsing the citations of saints, biblical canons and philosophers that he digests and analyzes himself. But current thought, made up of snap judgments, attributes full responsibility for what is found there as coming directly from his authorship. In any case, these suspicions constitute a propitious occasion to study more closely a very important work of theology.

3. It is necessary to first observe a cause possibly related to these criticisms: such suspicions naturally extrapolate the problem of misunderstanding or offense towards women in the work of Saint Thomas, since they contain an implicit questioning against the Catholic Church itself. After all, the ecclesiastical body has in Saint Thomas a model for theologians: from an early age his work was acclaimed, through the inclusion of his œuvre in the Seminaries; he was canonized by Pope John XXII; proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pius V; said a man who serves as a model for “higher Biblical studies” by Pope Leo XIII; valued with sound applause since 1921, on the occasion of the encyclical Fausto Appetente Die, by Pope Benedict XV, as “teacher and patron of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities”; compared to Joseph, in Egypt, a source of food for the body, by Pope Pius XI, in the encyclical Studiorum Ducem, of 1923, as a source of delicious food for the spirit. Logically, pointing out the errors of Saint Thomas, or an eventual misogyny, would mean saying that for centuries the Church has lived well with his errors, and that it does not care about possible attacks against the dignity of women, since it insists on maintaining, inexorably, the devotion to the saint upon suspicion.

4. Fortunately, as a response, men have emerged, especially deacons and priests, who have risked defending Saint Thomas Aquinas from suspicions of having uttered prejudice against women, attributing the content that despises them to third-party authors that Saint Thomas welcomes and scrutinize. Although it is a correct defense, it is still insufficient: since women would be the party supposedly offended by scholastic thought. Thus it would seem appropriate that women – the alleged victims – came to examine the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to assess whether or not they are offended by the Saint's writings.

5. Considering that the author of this text is a woman, we do not intend to make an exhaustive analysis, but proceed with the legitimate right to ask three questions: is the accusation aforementioned, that Saint Thomas would have considered women as a category inferior to the men, a true fact? Can we stigmatize him with the accusation that he would have lived under the prejudices of his time, and that by so he was a representative of medieval thought? Should a woman be offended by the arguments admitted by Aquinas in the Summa Theologiæ or by his conclusions?


If Thomas was a young man well adapted to the medieval society of his time


6. A brief look at the biography of the Saint leads us to the opposite impression. We know that Saint Thomas was the son of the Count of Aquino, lord of Roccasecca Castle. He was educated from the ages of 5 to 10 by the monks of the nearby Monte Cassino, where it was said that he displayed signs of unusual intelligence. In 1239, he was forced to return to his family, as the monks had been expelled by the emperor at that time; he went to study liberal arts at the University of Naples then. Even young, of promising intellectual performance, of formidable stature and belonging to the nobility, he does not seem to have adapted well to secular life and he wished to return to the religious environment of his early childhood. In 1944, at the age of 19, he dropped out of the course and knocked on the door of a Dominican convent, begging to be admitted. The choice of the Dominicans would have been intentional: he wanted the peace of a religious life, but also to dedicate himself to a practice of preaching and teaching, instead of isolating himself from the world, like the Benedictine monks who raised him.

7. His father, Count Landulf, Emperor Frederick's nephew, was a Langobard; and his mother, Countess Theodora, was a Norman. What makes a child seek refuge in a convent and want to change the world through teaching? The tradition tells that there was a hermit named Bonus who would have prophesied to his mother the fate of Thomas in the Church. Other hypotheses are added, in addition to divine fate: perhaps some more serious conflict had arisen within the family or student environment, which had led him to seek meaning in life elsewhere, far from his family and friends.

8. Having known Normandy well, the author can affirm that, among the Normans, there is no one in which one could not find the gift of beauty. It seems unlikely to assume that Thomas would have been ridiculed for his appearance by his colleagues, coupled with the report of his formidable aspect. However, in the Summa itself, our holy hero confesses and laments that there are “those who know nothing nobler than bodies.” (Prima Pars, Question 1, Art. 9 Reply to a Third Party). Perhaps beauty standards were meticulous enough to encourage any kind of exclusion; or perhaps his writings, though brilliant on religious subjects, were not well received in the secular disciplines. Either we have the hypothesis that he was upset by the superficiality of social conversations, dedicated to unraveling facts and events that seemed irrelevant to him; or the greater friction of the disputes that characterize secular coexistence. Physical beauty was not enough, by the way, for Santa Rosa de Lima to escape harassment in a convent of Dominican sisters, having been ridiculed for her piety. Ridiculed or not, the truth is that we cannot doubt that Saint Thomas felt uncomfortable with the culture of his time and the place where he studied.

9. It seems more natural to look for a place where before he had felt valued and loved, accepted without so many demands, instead of fitting into the strict molds that small companies set for dubious approval. He preferred to throw it all overboard and leave trivial discussions behind. However, instead of simply rebelling against his surroundings, and seeking his own way, with what the family inheritance allowed him, he sought to go further: he decided not only to save his own soul, but to save souls in general. From this follows a divine call and a special vocation, for which he had already been prepared. He had redundant dreams.



Saint Thomas Aquinas by Blessed Fra Angelico




10. According to Spiazzi, based on the biographies of Petro Calo and Guillhermo di Tocco, St. Thomas' pupil, his mother (and certainly for his father's will), knowing about his decision to consecrate himself to God in an mendicant order – those orders at the time were not well regarded due to the official position of the Church – would have sent emissaries to kidnap her son, when he was designated by the Dominicans to study in Paris, in his trip; and his own family would have made him prisoner in a tower for over a year. His brothers would have even hired a prostitute to sabotage his vow of chastity, when it is said two angels appeared to him to safeguard his vow of chastity. It wasn't just about a resistance to adhere to a mendicant order, therefore, but a resistance to their authentic religious vocation. From this we can conclude with some degree of certainty that Thomas may have been an attractive young man, with a pleasant appearance: otherwise, his family would not have seen a poor religious life as a waste of time and of the best years of his youth. If the legend is true, we have, in any case, evidence that something admitted as part of current culture – initiation with a prostitute – was, for Saint Thomas, a profanation of chastity. Christ lived with women in respectful relationships. The Saint then defended himself with a red-hot iron that he took from the fireplace, so that the prostitute would not come near him; and with or without her help, he escaped from his father's prison. Once back among the Dominicans, he became a disciple of Albert the Great, as he also spent time in the harsh cold of methodical Germany.

10bis. Later on, when he gained recognition for his theological works, he was appointed archbishop of Naples: a position he rejected. Perhaps Thomas knew too well the expectations of his time and of his family who, like the others, hoped he could occupy a prestigious position to ensure his social position and family benefits. However, instead of condemning what he saw, he refused to participate and continued to think about what society should be, its values and its legal framework; what individuals should observe to achieve the common good and salvation.

11. Also: Saint Thomas Aquinas is a colleague of this author. He was also a poet. Author of several passionate hymns, the most famous of them, Tantum Ergo, is sung by the entire Catholic Church in the world, in the Holy Thursdays, translated into Portuguese by the renowned Father Zezinho. Poets are the antennas of his race, as Ezra Pound has rightly said; but they also live from restlessness. As Saint Augustine, whom my colleague quotes so many times, once said: “You made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

12. Therefore, I decide: Saint Thomas did not seek to adapt to the expectations of his time, nor he reflected the culture of his time, nor used women as an object of pleasure, nor tried to conform to the appearances that medieval men valued. Malicious tongues might suggest that the prostitute episode would not be sufficient proof of respect for women or himself, but rather a defect. However, entering into the work of the Saint, where his appreciation for women is perfectly revealed, it will become substantially evident that this is just another undue slander against the most Holy Thomas: “Thus, Paul alleges the word of Aratus (Acts 17, 28) : “As some of your poets say: That we are divine lineage.” (Prima Pars, Question 1, art. 9).


The structure of the Summa and the purpose of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas


13. First of all, it is worth remembering that the Summa is only part of the work of Saint Thomas, written in the absence of electricity, without access to large libraries, without email and Google, Jstor or Scielo; in an academic community that lived in poor nutritional conditions.

14. It is structured in horizontal questions that he collects from his environment, from ongoing debates, and philosophy, with which it does not always agree: he objects and resolves several interconnected questions, in short breaths, of a few pages. They follow a logical sequence: the questions begin with epistemology, the definition of the method and object of a science of sacred doctrine; It goes through the explanation of God, of Christ, of heavenly things, of the world, of visible and invisible things, about the human being, where Saint Thomas manifests himself as a scientist and speculates in complete freedom; he is dedicated to virtues and morals; and he includes issues related to government, the common good, and legal institutes. Many of the questions also seem to emanate from his own doubts. Naturally, some questions arise, in particular, from the rediscovery of the works of the Peripatetic philosophical school of the stagirite Aristotle, which was in popularity at that time and promised the total enlightenment of man. Metaphysics had become fashionable again thanks to Averroes. According to researcher María Milagros Rivera,


“In 1255, the University of Paris imposed mandatory reading of Aristotle's works, which were copied by others. Aristotle has been systematically read, commented on and disseminated from the theory of relations between the sexes that he defended – or so it was said – when he lived in Greece, in the 4th century before the Christian era. This theory is called polarity of the sexes. He said that men and women are substantially different and that men are superior to women.” (Rivera, 2005, p. 98)


15. From the Summa, the fundamental thing to understand from his work is its whole: and above all the first questions, where Saint Thomas develops his objectives and assumptions. His object is not to exhaust Holy Scripture, nor to establish indefectible conclusions, indisputable among the wisest by the force of his arguments, or by some divine illumination that he presumes to rest on himself. On the contrary, he addresses beginners: he wants to bring thorny issues to light, to seek discernment aimed at those who do not believe they are the best: those who have doubts, those who believe they know little; that are able to assume that they may be wrong and, without succumbing to vanity, correct themselves; also capable of producing new knowledge in fraternity. In his prayer before the study, Saint Thomas shows great humility, a pure and sincere heart: he prays to God, asking Him to remove the double darkness into which he was born, sin and ignorance.

16. It is necessary to understand what the sacred doctrine consists of for him, citing Ecclesiastes 3, 25: “Many things have been revealed that exceed the understanding of men.” Theology for Saint Thomas is the science belonging to the sacred doctrine, which serves to know the divine Revelation (Prima Pars, question 1, art. 1, Answer to the Second), which is beyond the comprehension of human reason. “And this is what Dionysus says: it is impossible for us to be illuminated by the divine ray without being surrounded by the variety of sacred veils.(Prima Pars, Question 1, art. 9). Therefore, his writings should not be taken literally, as divine orders or prescriptions transcribed in a summary; but as a personal effort to understand something that is beyond his writings, in permanent movement; the more comprehensible as the eyes of those who look at it improve, as the divine light makes truth visible. The purpose of the study of Saint Thomas, according to himself, is eternal happiness (Prima Pars, Question 1, Art. 5., Solution). Therefore, he is not concerned with endorsing or refuting what any philosophical school says, but above all he is trying to achieve a better understanding to enjoy divine goods.

17. In the first part of the Summa, we observe that he establishes Sacred Scripture as a touchstone: in order to assess the purity of a philosophical conclusion, it is first necessary to analyze it and lead it to the truth of Sacred Scripture, so that it finds better meaning, under the light of divine revelation. The goal of his exercises, he makes clear throughout his entire work, is to clarify the eternal truths, which are aimed at restoring the dignity of every human person, saving each one’s soul. The great leap of Saint Thomas is that he starts from philosophical premises and assumptions making use of logic and the philosophical method itself to reach a conclusion that is compatible with the values and principles contained in Holy Scripture. It is a work that also serves to enlighten and evangelize philosophers: demonstrating that the Christian faith is perfectly compatible with the use of reason.

18. Where is the opinion of Saint Thomas Aquinas? Despite organizing his arguments and ideas very well, Saint Thomas Aquinas is not a linear thinker, who tries to prove that something is true or false, like a Manichean; nor an ideologue, interested in making his own opinion prevail over others. Sometimes he simply describes what he finds, without giving his opinion or developing it, taking advantage of a certain theme to reach another point. He sometimes points out what are the problems in opinions along a debate between them, which should not be confused with his own proposals and opinions. And even when he provides the solution, looking for a synthesis, the solution does not always seem satisfactory. Sometimes he still leave the conclusion there; sometimes he just gives up, maybe expecting someone might reach better understanding from there. He sometimes decides that the answers to the objections are clear enough, having found a better argument; at other times, he simply adds to the complexity of the problem. In certain occasions, there is just silence after a tricky point. It is precisely in this sense that it is recalled that the phrase that he attributes to women the label “imperfect male” comes from Aristotle, not from Saint Thomas. But then, if the work of Saint Thomas is not to be discounted for it, what is that terrible phrase doing there, in the work of such a famous and holy theologian? It is necessary to explain that. To do justice to the immense quality, brilliance, and value of his work, it would be appropriate to examine this theme along with all the passages in which he speaks of women. As Susan Sontag suggests: “Intelligence is a kind of taste that gives us the ability to savor ideas.”

19. This diagram summarizes the logic structure with which Aquinas seeks to analyze different issues, choosing what seems compatible, and deconstructing what seems incompatible with the Christian faith:








20. Understanding this logic and structure of his work, it is possible, then, to delve into the three issues that move us, analyzing its content: 1) whether or not Saint Thomas Aquinas concluded that women were inferior to men, 2) if he has submitted to or been influenced by the medieval thought of his time and 3) if any woman should be offended by his ideas.


The human race in the salvific plan is one, according to Saint Thomas


21. Let us note that, in Prima Pars, Art. 6 – “If the will of God is always done”, St. Thomas concludes the following:


“(...) we can understand it in the sense that the distribution is made according to the genders of the individuals and not according to the individuals of each gender: and, thus, God wants there to be those who are saved, in all human states – men and women —Jews and Gentiles, small and great: not all of every state, however (emphasis added). (Prima Pars, Question 19, “Of the will of God”, Art. 6, “If the will of God is always done”, Answer to the First).


22. Saint Thomas reasons many times without making a distinction between men and women. The Summa seems dedicated to both. In this specific passage, he makes a brief reminder that divine Revelation does not fail to resort to the same effects without regard to persons, without distinction of gender, culture or ethnicity, for the purpose of salvation. Where does Saint Thomas base his starting point on? He implicitly affirms as truth contained in the Holy Scripture and that is of public knowledge, whereof we know appears that


“(…) God created man in his image, in His image God created ; male and female He created.” (Genesis 1:27).


23. This is confirmed by Saint Thomas in Prima Pars, Question 93, “The end of the production of man, insofar as he is 'image and likeness of God'”, Art. 4, “If the image of God is in any man”, denying that man was created in the image of God, but that woman was created in the image of man:


“In both man and woman there is the image of God, as well as that in which the essence of the image mainly consists, that is, the intellectual nature.” (Prima Pars, question 93, art. 4, First answer).


24. Reference is often made to man, in the biblical sense, implying with this term male and female. When it is necessary to make distinctions, the feminine term is evoked to refer to women and their specificities. However, in general, when speaking of “man” in the Bible, one refers to men as male and female, an important assumption that appears already in Genesis: woman (female) was made, along with man (male), in the image and likeness of God. Contrary to everything that is said about him, Saint Thomas also seems to follow this same biblical line, making distinctions only when he deems it necessary; and he goes even further, specifying that the essence of the image of God is intellectual, present in both men and women.

25. Even so, in Sacred Scripture there are differences in the time and manner in which God creates male and female, as well as in the circumstances through which God relates to both. Let's see: the man is created from a rough material, the clay, while the woman is created from a better material, the human material; man is created by God before paradise, but woman is created by God already inside paradise; the man receives directly from God the burden of responsibility on himself and on the woman to know the trees and not eat from the forbidden tree, before the woman was created; which may mean that the woman did not receive this same task directly from God. Despite these fundamental circumstantial differences in the biblical account of creation, Holy Scripture affirms that the same divine nature is present in both. Therefore, even making these circumstances known, Saint Thomas keeps attached to what he knows true and he starts from this principle.

26. Later, in Christ, the precedence will be reversed: God will first establish direct communication with Mary, and will even place himself below her, asking her permission to give birth to the Christ, dispensing with the intermediation of man (male), reversing the situation of sin. Rather, direct contact with man, man's mediation between God and woman, resulted in Eve's sin and the fall of both from Paradise; then, when there was direct contact between God and the woman, mediation through the woman, the result is the incarnation of God and the return of the man and the woman to Paradise. After Christ: the woman saves the man, giving him Christ; and Christ saves the woman, clothing man and woman with the “new man”, no longer governed by sin, in incorruptibility. We also note further that Saint Thomas bases all his work, passim passages, on this certainty of faith.

27. Saint Thomas, being one of the greatest connoisseurs of Sacred Scripture, knows the book of Genesis better than anyone, and for this reason he does not need to quote all the passages to affirm that: “God wants men to be saved, in all human states”. But he also feels the need to underline: "men and women”.


If man is by nature more perfect than woman


28. In this context, the work reaches its conclusion rejecting what the peripatetic philosophy suggested about women, in Prima Pars, in the Treatise on bodily creation, Question 92, “On the production of women”. The philosophy of antiquity was interested in the production of causes: it maintained that the virtue of active generation surpassed the virtue of passive generation, giving cause to events and to human evolution. Any man and woman with life experience could question the experience of the Philosopher, in practice. After all, there are many occasions in which the reproductive act has the initiative of the woman: maybe Aristotle was virgin. But we know Saint Thomas was attached anyway to his chastity: so he could hardly know better. In any case, for them, the man, having an active force in his body and the woman being a passive part in reproduction, thus demonstrated, in the opinion of the philosophers, man’s superiority on the matter of active generation. Saint Thomas will not deny that indeed, under this very specific criterion, man has more strength and plays a more active role in human reproduction. Because without semen the woman cannot conceive, she is not autonomous for reproductive purposes. But he objects, using reverse logic: that man alone is sufficient for reproduction either. The counterfactual does not support the hypothesis.

29. Well, as a consequence of the philosophers proposition, if man was perfect and the woman was an imperfect man, then why wouldn't God have created only men? Saint Thomas reaches relevant conclusions, starting from the principle that God is the perfect being, not man. Being God perfect, the fact of being born a man or a woman depends on accidental elements: on a slightly greater or lesser probability, “the north wind” or the “south wind”, as Aristotle himself suggests (Prima Pars, question 99, Art. 2., Reply to the Second). This conclusion has a remarkable scientific precision, both before the scientific revolutions and technological advances that made it possible to verify that the sex of a baby is, by nature, something random and that it tends to a probability of 50%. In an old word, “accidental”.

30. We can also point out, at this point, that although a rather limited medieval thought was in vogue, that which considered man's semen as a sufficient element for the generation of a new human being, the Sacred Scriptures affirm that “the two are to become one flesh.” From the most recent scientific point of view, it is known that human life is formed from both semen and ovum, something unknown in the Middle Ages. But much before that, solely based on the biblical text, Aquinas found a more secure basis for his conclusion: that both were needed and part of the equation.

31. Also from the philosophical point of view Saint Thomas promotes a progress. The Saint considers that, due to a characteristic of a particular nature, if compared with the male, in general the female actually has less physical strength; but only if that particular aspect was sufficient for the reproductive act to be considered. However, to reach a conclusion about the nature of each, it is not enough to look at the particular nature of these minor physical differences. Universal nature asks to go beyond this strict observation of the force given by each to the reproductive act. From this better perspective, which encompasses many factors and a much greater complexity for survival, neither man nor woman is superior to the other, since it is the combination of both that results in human survival. At this point, Thomas is not limited to supporting what the Stagirite says; he is restricting the Philosopher's conclusion to one aspect that turns out to be not so fundamental to concluding about the nature of men and women.


“In her particular nature [according to Aristotle], woman is deficient and misbegotten. Because the active virtue, which is in the semen of the man, tends to produce a perfect being similar to him, of the male sex. [says Aristotle]. But the fact that the woman is generated comes from the weakness of the active virtue, or from some indisposition of matter; or also, of some extrinsic transmutation, p. for example, from the south winds, which are humid, as Aristotle says [That is, the Philosopher just contradicted himself]. But, in comparison with the universal nature, the woman is not a defective being, since she is destined, by intention of the nature, to the work of generation. But the intention of the universal nature depends on God, the universal author of it. That is why in this institution God produced not only the masculine but also the feminine”. [If God is perfect and created the world perfectly, we cannot assume that his creation is defective or imperfect in its original nature, by principle.] (Prima Pars, Question 92, Art. 1, Answer to the First).

32. No woman feels offended when she discovers that a man has more strength or better physical and intellectual performance than her. Is seems rather an interesting fact that women have been choosing for ages companions who are phisically stronger, so men can relieve their restlessness fighting beasts and other threats, who can carry heavier weights. After all, today we know that, due to their particular nature, hormonal characteristics have different consequences: testosterone produces strength and energy, and progesterone and estrogens produce smoothness, oxytocin, and beauty. So, by measuring the woman by the characteristics of the man, a lack of strength will undoubtedly be found, due to the lack of testosterone in her body. But vice versa: in men there will also be a lack of acceptance, softness and beauty, due to the lack of progesterone and estrogen, of oxytocin. It is not bad that Saint Thomas maintains what Aristotle said, because in reality the woman has less vigor and physical strength compared to the man, in general; though he is silent about the reverse reasoning. However, Saint Thomas's instinct reacts; and he refuses to be satisfied with that philosophy, and to stop on that reasoning; because he knows, intuitively, thanks to a divine or innate wisdom, that women have something that men do not have; and that they are not worse than men. That is why he appeals to universal nature, and to the fact that God created the female, to give harmony and continuity to the species, affirming that the woman is not a defective being.


If the woman should be subject to the man because she is inferior to him


33. As for questioning the subjugation of women by men, Saint Thomas is more cautious and achieves even better results than the Stagirite, without having any framework of knowledge that we have today, of modern sociological theories. He affirms, taking due account of the situation he experienced, that in the case of the woman,


“There is a double submission. A servile one, by which the superior uses the subject, in his utility, and this submission was introduced after the sin. Another is economic or civil subjection, by which the chief uses his subjects for his own good: and such subjection existed before the sin.” (Prima Pars, Question 92, On the production of women, Art. 1, paragraph 2).


34. This excerpt, as the problem is so correctly put, could have been perfectly found in any contemporary feminist texts. It is important to note that, in this passage, Aquinas mentions what he finds to be a fact, something that does not seem to come from his opinion; but of a social situation that has always been observed. He is still not reaching an opinion about it on this passage.

35. What is St. Thomas's solution to the oppression of the female sex? In Prima Pars, Question 38, The gift as the name of the Holy Spirit, article 1 passim, he decides to assume that subjection in itself is not a bad phenomenon, nor that it necessarily diminishes the person who is subject, because it constitutes a relationship of cause and consequence: it arises conceptually from the granting of a gift. Now, “the gift implies a certain subjection to whom and by whom it is given. (...) As a personal name, the gift does not matter the subjection to the giver, but only the origin from him matters.” In Prima Pars, question 42, On the equality and similarity of divine persons among themselves, article 4, Response to the first, he recalls that “the subjection of the Son is love of nature”, while “subjection to others is due to the imperfection of creation.” In Prima Pars, Question 96, Art. 4, “If a man, in a state of innocence, had dominion over another”, Saint Thomas points out that domination can also imply the subjection of men to each other, without taking away dignity or equal value. Being subject, according to Saint Thomas, is not a result from oppression, but rather a necessary order within any society.


“Now then, whoever dominates a free man directs him for his own good, or for the common good (...). Well, for many there could be no social life without someone who presides over them and directs them towards the common good. (...) And Augustine: the just governs, not out of eagerness to dominate, but out of duty to lead.” (Prima Pars, Question 96, Art. 4, Solution).


36. However, this seems to be a subjection established by consensus among equals. And what about women? We note that Saint Thomas admits the fact, the double submission of women, but only first removing their thorns. We may argue.

37. In the state of first subjection, it is necessary to understand that this subjection comes from sin. We see an immense delicacy when accepting the facts to think about the subjection, by not debiting the submission to the intrinsic nature of women; but attributing their situation of submission to a negative circumstance, sin. The cause of submission is not in the worst quality of the woman. He does not go into detail about what type of sin: whether sin of the man, of the woman, or of both. Perhaps he was referring to the original sin of wanting to acquire knowledge of good and evil. Wanting to be better than God, or better than the other, and looking for suggestions that go against the divine order, the woman, by her least physical strength, she had, as result of such sin, domination. It is from sin, from error, therefore, that feminine submission comes from.

38. Then, by simple deduction, outside of sin, is there no reason for female submission? The logical reasoning of St. Thomas is perfect and compatible with the dignity of women: since sin is later forgiven with Christ, the woman leaves this state of subjection when her sins are redeemed: she has become worthy of eternal happiness. He quotes himself, as we will see later, the Letter to the Colossians, 3,10, recalling that in Christ we are clothed with the new man, and that from here comes the gift of prophecy, which depends on the mind being illuminated by God (Question 177, article 2, Response to the Second) and that there are reasonings that we make for before Christ, within the logic of the Old Testament; and that after the Resurrection of Christ, we must reason according to a new logic, which does not arise from the problem of sin. How woman will actually benefit from the new logic and whether she will make use of these gifts resulting from a deliverance from sin depends, however, on a set of circumstances; circumstances that he considers pertinent and to which one should be careful, so as not to give rise again to circumstances that lead to sin.

39. But he poses a double subjection, not only the subjection for sin. Note that again he also removes the thorns from the second type of female restraint that he found. Feminine subjection exists in the civil and economic sphere; but it does not happen to satisfy the subjector, turning him into the oppressor of the subject; but for the good of the subject. Submission does not mean, therefore, oppression, as medieval and ancient thought wanted to justify, through philosophy or theology. In this, too, Saint Thomas seems to approach the problem with a certain sense of justice: women were already subjugated by the man. Why would he reduce her pledging inferiority, to prostrate her and oppress her even more? Even if that was to be considered before the Sacred Scripture, oppressing the woman and furthermore claiming that she is oppressed because she is inferior does not seem to make any sense to the Angelic Doctor, because this does not lead to salvation, nor to the eternal happiness of the woman. He is moved by a sense of justice and the common good; without raising the dignity of the subject, subjection cannot be justified.

40. Removing the thorns from difficult issues (oppression against women), only the roses remain, which have a good smell and do not harm women. Outside of sin there is no reason for subjection; and even if there is subjection, in the civil and economic field, this relationship is only justified if it fulfills the purpose of the good of the subject. A reasoning not only more sophisticated than that of his peers, but also of greater nobility.

41. But the Saint goes much further in his proposed solution:


“It was convenient for the woman to be formed from the rib of the man. – First, to signify that there must be union between man and woman. Because this one must not dominate the first, and for this reason she was not formed from the head; neither she should be despised by man, in servile subjection, because she was not formed from the feet. – Second, by the sacrament; because, — from the side of Christ, asleep on the cross, sprouted the sacraments, that is, blood and water, with which the Church was instituted”. (Prima Pars, Question 92, On the production of women, Art. 1, Solution).


42. Saint Thomas says that the woman is to be side by side with man, nor above, where a woman could be placed on an altar, to despise other women as inferior; nor below, to oppress them. It should be noted that in subtle reasoning, he adds at the end that "the institution of the Church" took place on the side of Christ, asleep on the cross, "from where the sacraments flow." Maybe he refers to Christ's determination that the Apostle welcome her mother, Mary taking her place, to care for her; and Mary must welcome the Apostle, taking him as her Son (John 29, 26-7). Therefore, for Saint Thomas, the Church must also be guided by mutual respect between men and women, in which there is no superiority or contempt between men and women; at least that is what Saint Thomas clarifies and suggests on this point, in a reminder that in the Church relationships are also established from the side of Christ.

43. These ideas are well founded and contrast sharply with the ideas of his time; they do not seem to be influenced by a circumscribed local culture, but rather by the divine truths that he seeks in the Holy Scriptures. They make a clear contrast with those attempts of referring to Saint Thomas’ thought to justify that women are to be left behind men in the Catholic Church nowadays.


If women are capable of having the same gifts as men, in wisdom and science


44. Where then are Saint Thomas Aquinas’ mistakes, promise of the title of this article? At this point, it should be revealed that the title was chosen to invite whoever is eventually guided by looking for the errors of the Saints to see that, until this extent, we find still no error of his part in the work of Saint Thomas, at least when it comes to the dignity of women.

45. Can saints make mistakes? According to Professor Antônio Lopes Ribeiro, PhD in Pnemology, and Professor of Pneumology at the São Boaventura Institute, sanctification consists of "falling to get up, falling to get up, falling to get up, until getting up to never fall again." It seems nevertheless perfectly admissible that, in carrying out his work, however brilliant it may have been, Saint Thomas made errors or inaccuracies; and Saint Thomas himself argues that even from human comprehension erros divine wisdom can emanate. But the process of sanctification is continuous, so that the errors, in the saints, occur to be overcome and corrected by themselves or by a force superior to them.

46. This is the case, for example, when, in the Secunda Secundae part, of the “Treatise on the specific acts of certain men”, question 177, article 2, asking “if women can also receive the grace of the word of wisdom and knowledge”, and whether or not women should be allowed to teach in public:


“the grace of prophecy depends on the mind being illuminated by God; and in this there is no difference of sex between male and female, according to the Apostle: putting on the new man, according to the image of the one who created him, where there is no difference between male and female. (Secunda Secundae, question 177, article 2, answer to the second).


47. This question is particularly interesting because it raises the possibility that women taught in public, even in medieval times; because if taken to be reasoned, that means there were possibly women circulating in the academical environment, showing signs of enough knowledge to teach; or wanting to. This suspicion is confirmed when Saint Thomas affirms that women have the same capacity in teaching as in grace, coming the full wisdom of God. However, he does not allow the possibility that women expose themselves in public, maybe having in mind the subjugation of women to men – which, as we pointed out before, he affirms a necessary practice in the civil and economic sphere to protect women, for the good of women as subjects. He considers only the Word public teaching by men to be lawful.

48. Indeed, at this point Saint Thomas seeks to make a statement that is completely compatible with the dignity of the woman of his time, through the following: a female public exposure to a mass of medieval men, to teach the Word of God or whatever other syllabus, in the absence of safe spaces and with guarantees for their security, would certainly be the worst possible idea. Even if concupiscence did not exist, the woman would inevitably be destroyed by the dispute over possession, scrutiny for her defects, in a society that welcomed barbarity. We find his reason not in a matter of principle, but in practical reason: for zeal, security and protection, Saint Thomas does not consider this hypothesis admissible. This did not, however, prevent women from exercising their gifts in safe spaces, as Mary and the other women followers of Christ did among the Apostles, where there was friendship and mutual respect. The restriction defended by Saint Thomas, in this case, is of a practical, pragmatic nature: restricting teaching by women in private, safe environments.

49. Perhaps the nature of the role of public education might also have influenced his thinking. As audiences are generally large, due to a shortage of teachers, it was necessary to have a stronger voice to preach and teach in public, at a time when there were no microphones or visual aids. However, what today would be a mistake has been corrected: as public spaces have become safer and more adapted for women, through the expansion of education, courtesy and respect, and technology, women have come to exercise their gifts. Today it is not necessary to correct the conclusion of Saint Thomas, because it was already true: the reasons that led him to be excessively cautious about the sin of concupiscence no longer persist, since there has been a change in customs and normality parameters in social exchange among many societies. Relationships are already established under Christ and under new rules of civility. With the stupidity of men and the vulnerability of women overcome, the risk can now be balanced with certain guarantees of integrity for women in the exercise of their gifts. It was time and the course of events, along history, that corrected the reason that today would sound like an error to our ears.

50. This correction by time, obsolete the reason behind his solution, does not invalidate that, in his time, his conclusion was correct and necessary - and perhaps it is still useful, even in current times, since we still notice, in secular spaces, hostilities against feminine grace and intentionality when questioning women. A public statement by a woman still results too often in a quick reaction of denial and, in sequence, exposure and retaliation, especially when the statement takes place in spaces where women are novelty; and when they are not accompanied by other women. Submitting to the prudence of Saint Thomas and taking refuge in his protection, in this case, is not a demerit or an inferiority, but a rational gesture of self-care and pragmatism. See, for example, the sad event related to the practice of journalist Lara Logan, former reporter for the television channel CBS News: she was raped by a group of dozens of men in Egypt, in 2011, during the coverage of the Arab Spring. There are also inadvisable spaces in Brazil: in WhatsApp groups, female military police officers were insulted and compared to food by male members, which has led to disciplinary proceedings and expulsions. There are spaces where, most unfortunately, it is still necessary to avoid participation and exposure, and first prepare those spaces, so as to reach a free professional exercise of women – before they can do so, in order to prevent damage.

51. But the question is about Saint Thomas, and whether or not it is offensive that he considered the precaution of not exposing women to audiences where anonymity in large groups would make it difficult to maintain order. Now, this submission that Saint Thomas proposes is not due to the worse nature of women, but again due to an assessment of risks and assignment of roles. On his part, we observe the duty of active virtue of strength and nobility, which he himself invokes: he himself fights for the dignity of women in his arguments, in his perfect chivalry, without diminishing women’s dignity. But to be definitive, he cannot ignore the need to preserve the dignity and physical and spiritual integrity of women, upon pratical scenarios, and even of men, as he also mentions. The result comes before the right: the Sacred Scriptures, as he put it in the commencement of his work, is a practical science. However by safeguarding in principle the very grace of the gifts, Saint Thomas did not produce a prohibition in principle that women come to exercise their gifts in safe spaces; safe spaces which he promoted the opening himself, several of them, which he gave rise by his work and study.


If Saint Thomas was a misogynist or if we find an evident and certain admiration for the opposite sex in him


52. We must also analyze the human side of St. Thomas at this point where he seems bored, not to say tired: for writing a long work at the level of Summa Theologiæ implies many years of solitude and a deepening that requires reasonable concentration, even if he dedicated himself also to teaching and to the tasks of his office. He completely emptied himself, so as not to want to leave a trace of himself in his work. The result is a work that reveals many of his deep aspects.

53. Unlike Moses, Saint Francis, Saint John of the Cross or Pope Francis, Saint Thomas does not seem to have found affection in a feminine correspondence to his projects, like Miriam, in the exodus of the Jewish people, Santa Clara, in poverty, Santa Teresa de Ávila, in spirituality of the soul, or Santa Terezinha de Lisieux, in the simplicity of love. In this regard: there are those who doubt the importance of Miriam, because she only touched a tambourine that made the multitude of the Hebrew people advance in their exit from Egypt; and there are those who doubt that Santa Clara was someone special for San Francisco, because she was only 12 years old when they met. Now, getting the Jewish people to move collectively is a task that even God has had difficulty with, and Miriam succeeded; and a 12-year-old girl was at the height of a virgin value that needed to be guarded, at that time. When having a glimpse of her hair, cut by Saint Francis and preserved in a reliquary, it's hard not to see this loving moment as one of the greatest treasures of the Catholic Church.

54. In other words, it seems natural, therefore, that from the assessment of the human condition comes out some interesting material we found in the solitude of Saint Thomas, at least when his work is read by the opposite sex; and even the wide range of his work shows that he sought to fill such affective void through intense intellectual activity; which makes the affective emptiness in him, and the need of attention of a woman, most evident aspects. We go further.

55. The reader is convinced, throughout the Summa, that Saint Thomas fully masters the Holy Scriptures and philosophical instruments, especially logic. Even so, in question 177 art. 2 apparently forgets to have with him the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:29, that "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away from you", as it suggests that women should not expose themselves to the public through public teaching; so that the sin of concupiscence does not result from it. But Saint Thomas, in this passage, for the sake of truth, seems to be fabricating a praise of the female sex, through a gap, intentional or not, in his logical argument. He is being irrational at this point because if the eye can lead to sin, and one should not try to blame what is seen, but gouge out the eye itself; it is by logic also possible that the eye does not lead to sin, and one can remain with the eye looking at the woman in a teacher's position without too many problems. However, Saint Thomas, even knowing too well this teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that in the convents the abbesses and mothers already taught families, and even dominating that all affirmative assertive logic gives rise to the possibility of also being negative, affirms, against all logic, that it is impossible not to sin when there is a woman exposed in public, teaching things from the Holy Scripture; that the alternative possibility cannot be considered.

56. Could it be argued that, under the restriction on women to exercise the service of the word, it would be understood only the service of the word by the priest, during mass, in public spaces? That could be discussed. But Saint Thomas does not limit what he proposes as public teaching as the service of the priestly office, nor he excludes schools and universities. Schools and universities are also public spaces.

57. The Angelic Doctor seems rather to show signs of a well-preserved masculinity on this point, being irrational: there is a gap to fill with the argumentative complement. This is due to the fact that from the logical argument that he constructs, it can be deduced that Saint Thomas himself does not stop teaching in public or in private, no matter how much this may arouse some concupiscence in the women who listened to him, considering that women were present in teaching environments, as students and listeners, and in other audiences. At the same time, he himself assumes that women can not only lawfully learn but also teach privately. He could not presume otherwise, knowing that Jesus Christ also teaches women, as Saint Luke 10, 38-42 attests: "Mary chose the best part of her and she will not be taken from her". Saint Paul also leaves these details aside to name Phoebe, in Romans 16:1; because the risk of an entire community being left without the teaching of the Word was much worse than the risk that women can run by teaching in public.

58. Saint Thomas, however, maintains that only men can teach publicly, so as to preserve the authority of public teaching by word; while he considers that women have the same grace of gifts, and cannot preserve the same authority by word. So it would be necessary, in order to maintain the cohesion of his argument, that he did not consider it possible for any woman to be interested in him, in a way that could produce the risk of concupiscence, in an inverse analogy. However, Saint Thomas maintains his conclusion: only because he considers the woman as an irresistibly desirable figure; and because he assigns himself, as a man, a completely undesirable figure. He does not believe it is possible for women to subvert the authority of a man during public education, finding in them a more affable, pure character. His skin has a thick and hard outer coat; but it is extremely sweet inside, as the Popes so well suggest.

59. Is it possible that he perfectly courted women who, having mastered the use of logic, and knowing ancient rules of court, would come to read him? It should not be a discarded hypothesis, since this approach was the perfect foundation for the wooing of a man with a woman, during medieval times: to consider the woman everything, and himself nothing. Medieval as it is: a timeless charm, once you find the logical gap in his reason, that produces a soft likability even today.

60. What matters, ultimately and for all purposes, is that having verified the entire content of the Summa Theologiæ and its unequivocal dominance over Sacred Scripture, especially within the question it raises, in question 177, art. 2, Saint Thomas does not seem to be wrong when he is pragmatic in front of the mass of rude men who need to be educated, emphasizing that he thinks it by result and not by principle, since he agrees that women can teach in spaces reserved. This is derived from the passages in his work in which he affirms the divine image and equalness as an intellectual virtue. And, once faced with the apparent lack of cohesion of his argument, after he had demonstrated all the capacity to make a cohesive argument, by choosing not to consider that the risk of the sin of concupiscence also occurs in an inverse way, the hypothesis arises that the Saint may rather be courting, in the best medieval style, a woman whose domain of reason allows such reading, to get out of solitude after thousands of pages; or eventually he is just practicing courtship alone. And it does not seem a mistake that he did it, because alone or not, it is not a mistake to love in Christ. From the reading it appears at least that his argument is not based on an error: in fact, it seems rather an argument he prepared to be unfolded, so that he proposes he is nothing attractive, as those who are of his kind; and that women will always necessarily be.

61. Let us remember that, as we said before, the entire Summa is pertinent not only to men, but also to men and women, according to the Saint. It was also rare in antiquity and the Middle Ages that men bothered to address any relevant issue by including women in the equation. Furthermore, it would be unthinkable to consider their particularities and specific needs in any relevant subject, science, or society, except perhaps for procreation. But St. Thomas includes women as recipients of his high-level reflections on divine wisdom; and he treats them delicately in the matters that pertain to them. We can safely deduce at this point that Saint Thomas is far from being a misogynist: in his work he enjoys writing about women against common opinion, overcoming any well-reputed philosopher; he has carefully let himself be unarmed, having given to a woman all assumptions, instruments and logics necessary to do so; and he seems attentive to a woman’s specific needs.


Saint Thomas Aquinas and the persecution of women in the courts of the Inquisition


62. Would this restriction proposed by Saint Thomas to the exercise of public education by women have resulted, even if unintentionally, in delaying the entry of women to the spaces of education, science and government, for centuries, denying half of the world's population the right to exercise their intellectual capacity in public?

63. However, the participation of women achieved by modernity should not be romanticized or overestimated. Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, inventor of modern diplomacy, recalls in the first volume of his Mémoires that the admission of women to newspapers, as columnists and dictating the opinions of French society could not have worked well by any means. Women did not participate in the decisions they made nor suffered the consequences of their opinions. Therefore, they served as true instruments of automatisms, in State mechanisms that, in the words of some Saints, are pure madness and vanity; two faces of the same instituted perdition men and women often continue to serve, even in modern times. In addition, already in the medieval centuries, there were women who made important contributions, although their names were not recorded. To say that women, in previous centuries, did not work or decide in all levels, and that only now, when they appear publicly, do they work and decide, would be the biggest lie.

64. On the persecution of women by the Holy Office, Saint Thomas was 27 years old when the papal bull Ad Extirpanda was published. The bull legalized questionable interrogation practices, as long as they did not result in the death or loss of limbs, and as long as the interrogations were conducted by reputable Catholic people. According to BISHOP (2006), when Saint Thomas is silent, it can be assumed that he prefers not to give an honest opinion, for fear of not being well understood. This was the case when he spoke neither for nor against torture in the courts of the Inquisition, although he considered heresy a crime. Without his condemnation of the potential risks of that bull, when implemented in societies marked by ignorance, the pretexts continued; the practice of violence increased, and power was concentrated in the hands of the monarchs. But it seems clear that, as a religious, Saint Thomas could not disagree with Pope Innocent IV, in hierarchical terms. Furthermore, the Aquino family was related to Emperor Frederick I; and there was a dispute between Pope Innocent IV and his successor, Frederick II, suspected of inciting the heresy of Catharism, resulting in the death of inquisitors and the invasion of churches (RUST, 2014). If Saint Thomas expressed reservations against the bull, he would be under the suspicion of sympathy for Emperor Frederick II.

64bis. It is also important to point out that Saint Thomas Aquinas expresses himself fundamentally against the condemnation of the innocent; although he agrees that, in a trial, the magistrate must rely solely on the evidence available in the process. However, he clarifies that for a trial to be fair, it is necessary for the magistrate not to measure forces to search for and include in the files the necessary evidence to exonerate a person from the accusations. The exercise of mercy and justice for him consists in the fact that the magistrate does not become satisfied with the evidence provided by the accuser (we agree with RUST, 2014).

65. In the days of Saint Thomas, the mentality of the people and of the authorities had not yet been captured by the witch hunt, which would only take shape later, especially after the Malleus Maleficarum, a book by the Dominican friar Heinrich Kraemer, in the XV century, as we know; censored by the Catholic Church, but widely publicized, edited and distributed. The work of St. Thomas could hardly have influenced or served as an incentive for the persecution of women for witchcraft, since he often affirms feminine dignity; and he not infrequently seeks to protect women by imposing a greater burden of responsibility on men.

66. Modern States were shaped in no small measure by the terror that these courts and prosecution initiatives inspired, especially among political dissidents and women; but, on the other hand, it also made Saint Pope John Paul II feel ashamed and ask forgiveness for the acts of the Church practiced for a millennium, on March 12, 2000, confessing as abominable the violence practiced by some religious, when they did not use evangelical methods to judge or inquire.

67. Although Saint Thomas does not raise at any point the persecution and violence against women in his work, the appropriation and selective use of his words by others, making them imposing statements, when he questioned the limitations of his work himself, is a fact that invites us to learn: even silence or opinions that initially seemed small, when arising from the work of a theologian for his virtues, later praised, can assume great proportions and cause immense damage in the following centuries. It is a sad hypothesis, because he did not know himself to be a Saint; he was a religious interested in research, highly creative, focused on producing new answers; and he wrote the Summa in the first person, out of his humility. He did not seem to intend that his personal opinion was extended definitive truths, since he presents his works rather as an exercise of study and devotion to God. Nevertheless he expressed prophetically the following, anticipating the necessary defense of his work, knowing of such risk of misuse: “Because the truth about God, told by reason, would reach men through few, after a long time and mixing with many errors ; although on the knowledge of this truth depends all human salvation, which consists in God. (Prima Pars, On the Sacred Doctrine, Question 1, Art. 1, Solution)”. However, he could not set aside the duty to seek to know what God consists of.

68. But if from such learning comes useful knowledge for the next millennium and from it follows a return to the truth of evangelical love, the hesitation of Saint Thomas in having an opinion on that matter do not constitute, concerning his part, a complete error; but an overcoming of the unavoidable mixed errors that he had already anticipated, when seeking truth about God. It is also necessary to take into account that, if we wanted to blame Saint Thomas for the tragedies in which he did not participate or support, we should also attribute to him the good events that were made possible: it was because of the concentration of power in the hands of the Modern States that the Discovery of the New World and our current existence were made possible. Our existence, in this context, is only justified by the duty to console the victims of abominations and torture, to repair the traces that persecutory structures raised by the Church have left in government structures even today, ever more prone to endorsing accusations (see “The Black Beast: condemned to litigate”, problem scrutinized by the current Garde des Sceaux, the French Minister of Justice, the penalist DUPONT-MORETTI, 2013). At this point, the work of São Tomás de Aquino, signaling the importance of due legal process, the need for greater accountability of men, and the construction of evidence of innocence, in any case would prove to be an important resource for the defense of women.


If women are able to exercise the power of the keys and the power of the government


69. We also have the question concerning women in government, or the possibility of using the keys, in Question 19: Of the ministers of the keys. In the priestly jargon, we know that the power of the keys is used to open the kingdom of heaven, to grant the remission of sins and to absolve, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a sacramental key and the right to compel and absolve that, for Saint Ambrose, is only allowed to priests. It is important to note that the use of the keys is not a power conceived of as a priestly power in the ancient Temple. In Art. 1 of that Question, Saint Thomas explains that, after Christ, this power comes from self-sacrifice. In Art. 3 of the same Question, when asking if women should be allowed to use the keys, that is, to invoke upon themselves the weight of sin to redeem the sins of others, Saint Thomas relies on two authorities, at the Response to the Fourth: the Apostle, who affirms that women live in a state of subjection for their own protection, considers that it is the man who must sacrifice himself for them; and it is further based also on an opinion of the Philosopher, who affirms that the order of the city is corrupted when power falls into the hands of a woman. Saint Thomas does not develop this latter point, but if he does not, it is for an understandable reason: the order of the city, for the Philosopher, is not the order of Christ. The consideration is not relevant, and we see that he does not develop it: he explains later himself that Aristotle's phrase does not matter (Art. 3, Reply to the Second).

70. At this point, it is necessary to look at this question as a whole, and three salient aspects emerge from it: the first is that the use of the keys is sacramental, and therefore does not depend on the merit of whoever bear them. In Art. 5, for example, Saint Thomas affirms that although the gift of the Holy Spirit is necessary to make an effective use of the keys, even bad priests, having them, can produce good effects. Second, in art. 3, St. Thomas goes against the Apostle and the Philosopher, stating that women may be allowed to use the keys, especially to govern other women, when there is a risk to women that men do so. Therefore, he envisions that women may assume the burden of calling sacrifices for themselves, under the just attempt of ruling other women; suggesting that according to the practice of his time it was natural for them to do so.


“Now certain women have the power of the keys; therefore, abbesses have spiritual power over their subjects. Therefore, not only the priests have the power of the keys.”(Supplement, Question 19, “The Ministers of the Keys”, Art. 3, Fourth and Response to the Fourth).


71. The power of the keys, in this passage, does not seem to be confused with the priestly function of presiding over the Eucharist, resulting from ordination, in which the sacerdote takes in persona Christi.

72. Thirdly, Saint Thomas points out that the power of the keys is not a temporal power of government, from which it follows that kings or queens rule (see Question 19, Art. 3, Response to the Second). It is about assuming a sacrifice, and Saint Thomas, being a man, cannot conceive of women supporting someone else's burden, when there are male priests who can do it. Still in many civilized societies there are limits and legal prohibitions as to the loads that women can take care of physically, as a sign of respect for women; what St. Thomas proposes is the same principle, applied to spiritual burdens.

73. We reflect that Saint Thomas could not argue otherwise: only women themselves could do so, so that their share of equal dignity is consistent, seeking to share the burden with men. The order, for the man, is to protect the woman; for the woman, to save the man. But a man cannot be required to simply forget his orders, any more than expecting that a woman does not want to save the man, as she is required by God. This seems to be a conscious limitation of Saint Thomas, of which he does not exempt himself, but of which the feminine questioning seems to emerge as the indispensable complement. Complying with the order that Saint Thomas assigns himself, the duty to protect women and to assume responsibility for them, does not seem like an error either: because it gives rise to a display that balances the overload. By the very biblical truth, of the same dignity, women cannot allow men to take upon themselves all the duty of self-sacrifice.

74. Finally, regarding the faculty of women to exercise the power of the keys, it is important to point out the delicacy of Saint Thomas in not taking Aristotle's opinion further, that cities governed by women had corrupted the social order. He limits himself to quoting Aristotle, without corroborating or refuting it. He does not develop the argument from a logical point of view. Why doesn't he do it?

75. In Antiquity, the available history did present terrible examples of Roman matrons who, when in rule, had incestuous relationships and were involved in political conspiracies, such as Fulvia and Messalina. There were those who, losing their chastity, lost their reason, like Lucretia and Dido – though more to a literary character, in the song of Virgil. Cleopatra was a polytheist and inspired the opposite of Christian virtues in women, and she had had no successors since Caesarion was killed. Boudicca, leader of the Anglo-Saxon resistance against the Roman Empire, and Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, saw their armies defeated. Queen Sibyl of Jerusalem was also unable to resist satisfactorily; and Queen Teresa de León, by allying herself as a lover with the one who fought her son, the legitimate king, also ended up unsuccessful and defeated by her son, Afonso Henriques, in Portugal. It seems natural that, at a time when warfare directly demanded the king's leadership in the ranks of his armies, the role of women as ruler would encounter an insurmountable obstacle. Until the time of Aquinas, even strong women, once in power, did not have full autonomy over their own government, nor did they rule except by marriage, such as Queen of Sheba and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

76. Saint Thomas still did not had enough evidence to affirm the opposite of what Aristotle suggested, since Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Princess Elizabeth of Brazil, Saint Joan of Arc, in her military maneuvers, Elizabeth II, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, and all the other female leaders who succeeded in following the goals they had set for themselves are political figures who do not belong to his time. The difference also seems that these women, by accidental circumstance or by their own merit, were able to achieve mastery and greater knowledge about the consequences of their government decisions, participating in the consequences of their decisions. This full notion of reality made them differ in results, in relation to the women who ruled before Saint Thomas. In addition, most of the outstanding women received their public commissions at a time when physical force gave way to strategic force and the technological factor, aspects that have allowed an approximation of the circumstances in the exercise of decision-making power between men and women. However all this: it seems forceful to suppose that Elizabeth I, after having translated Boethius from Latin, had no contact at all with the Summa; or deny at least she had it for consultation, since widely known Saint Thomas presents relevant knowledge on public issues and the legal system.

77. In any case, it seems inevitable that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Saint Thomas restricted himself to recalling Aristotle's opinion, not having at that time sufficient evidence to question him and overcome his arguments, as in other issues related to women he frankly did.

78. It could be argued that, even without having counterexamples that could support a questioning of this false conclusion of the Stagirite, Saint Thomas could reason, by simple logic, that the fully successful government of men cannot be found in History either, despite having a masculine condition. On the contrary, those personalities who stood out the most as leaders of their time, especially evoking in themselves the virtue of virility, had destinies as disastrous or more than women, such as Julius Caesar, Xerxes, Alexander the Great – a disciple of Aristotle —, Leonidas, king of Sparta, John of England, Phillip of Spain, and even the kings of Cyprus, Hugo II and Hugo III, who are considered possible recipients of an important letter from Saint Thomas Aquinas himself, the illustrious work De Regno: for they could not reconquer the Acre. Perhaps only Charlemagne escapes from this failed fate and from the political vicissitudes of the governments of men that succeed one another in history. After all, the problem of the secular and temporary government is that all the variables and the objectives from which it feeds are directed towards earthly ambitions, thus not producing the long-awaited common good and political stability, instead seeking benefits and heavenly goods. It does not matter, therefore, whether they are men or women in power; but St. Thomas could only conclude that today. His silence by not developing the issue of how disorder would be installed under the government of women, and the fact of making it known that, in the Church, there are abbesses who govern, referencing himself that they should do so, seems to demonstrate that Thomas does not consider women unfit for government. In the case of bearing the keys, when calling upon oneself the sacrifice of others, he thinks it better suitable for men, but he cannot avoid doing so, unless by renouncing his masculinity, his chivalric duty.


On the right of women to own property and manage it, with the support of the tribe


79. Regarding property ownership, in the time of Saint Thomas, he again finds that the following is found from another source: “Many states and kingdoms were destroyed mainly because women were allowed the right to property, as the Philosopher says”. But in this case Saint Thomas confronts Aristotle head-on with Sacred Scripture: “it is established by the ancient law (Numbers 27, 8): When a man dies childless, the inheritance will pass to his daughter.” He later put what could be questioned out of biblical statement, assuming that such law was not adequately concerned with the good of the people. In the Answer to the Second, the Saint insists that this is exactly what it is and it is enough, that “the succession was granted to the women for the comfort of the father, that it would be painful to see her inheritance pass entirely to strangers”; and that it would suffice to assure that women, succeeding in the paternal inheritance, when they came to marry, did so only with men of their tribe, so as not to confuse the assets of the tribes (Prima Pars, Question 105, On the reason of being of the judicial precepts, Art. 2, “If the judicial precepts related to social life were properly established”). For the Holy Doctor, property in the hands of women does not harm the social order. Despite appearing in Holy Scripture, it should be noted that the endorsement of Saint Thomas goes against the general opinion of his time in medieval Europe.

80. It should be noted that Saint Thomas was not only ahead of his time, in seeking to base himself on the Scriptures, regarding this right of women to their property: it is much more advanced than the Brazilian Civil Code itself, authored by Clóvis Beviláqua, which from 1916 to 2002 prohibited women the right to receive inheritance and manage the assets that belong to them alone. In Great Britain, it was not until 1922 that the Property Act allowed husbands and wives to inherit each other's property, guaranteeing equal rights to inherit property from intestate children; and it was not until 1926 that legislation was passed conferring equal right to inheritance (UK PARLIAMENT, 2023).


Saint Thomas saves reviled women from suicide and dishonor


81. The Romans tended to elevate Lucrecia to the altars, for having preferred to take her own life, after having been desecrated by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last king of Rome, when for this scandal Rome abolished the monarchy and instituted the Republic. She was considered a model of honesty and chastity. Saint Thomas affirms against this perspective of praising purity ab absurdum, consoling the vilified woman so that she does nothing against herself, not even when her honor and dignity have been taken from her:


“Likewise, it is not lawful for a woman to kill herself so as not to be corrupted by another. Because she must not commit a maximum crime against herself, such as killing herself, to avoid a lesser crime in others. Well then, no crime is committed by the raped woman if she does not give her consent, because the body is not stained except with the consent of the soul, as Lucía said. (Secunda Secundae, Treaty of Law, Question 64, Art. 5, If it is lawful to kill oneself, Response to Third Party)


82. Who is Lucia? The Saint consults a woman to give his opinion on this matter. See the “Tractatus de Laudibus Virginitatis” and the poem “De Laudibus Virginum”, by Saint Adelmo, a devotee of Saint Lucia). It is quite common that the victim of violence bear the guilt and all doubt for having suffered a rape. That is why the pagans considered honest those women who killed themselves to prove their innocence, by rejecting to live with their violated bodies. And regrettably the burden of a crime is often placed on the victim still today. But in this matter, Saint Thomas once again takes a position in defense of women.

83. If at least one victim could have been saved by reading the consolation of Saint Thomas, it follows that his text can still save many. He only makes an exception with certain holy women who, by means of certain procedures, did not commit suicide, but preferred death for reaching a greater purpose; like Samson, in the time of persecution, also excused by the Spirit, whose memory the Church celebrates. At this point, and after holding some doubt, and against what seemed to be his will on first preserving the life of women, St. Thomas compares the virgins celebrated by the Church with Samson.

84. With the same tact, Saint Thomas welcomes the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God, although the pagans took the birth of Christ as an illegitimate conception, because His birth did not have the cause of Joseph, with whom she was betrothed; just as he welcomes all the so-called dishonest women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, in the evangelical text. The loss of chastity is not an impediment, in his opinion, even when consented by women, to achieve great merits and the remission of sins.


On the nobility of women's bodies


85. On the question of whether man is more noble than woman, it is necessary to first understand what St. Thomas means by nobility, in Tertia Pars, Treatise on the Incarnate Word, question 31, art. 3, Answer to the Fifth. Saint Thomas recalls that there are sinful women mentioned in the genealogy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that this does not interfere with the plan of salvation, since Christ is born precisely from a lineage that includes sinners "to erase the sins of all". This does not interfere with the nobility or purity of his lineage.

86. Also in Question 31, Art. 4, “If the matter of the body of Christ must be taken from the woman”, although current thought by his time affirms “Because the male sex is more noble than the female, it is that Christ assumed human nature in that sex”, it is necessary to take into account the meaning of the word "noble". Nobilis means better quality, stronger material, like steel is stronger than iron. Perhaps it was about nobility understood in its civil, social or economic sense, because men are better known in society, due to their greater transit, than women? However, Saint Thomas does not seem to use this meaning of nobilis, if man is better known, and has more prestige; nor does he refer to an aspect of cradle or birth. Nobility in Latin also has to do with material nobility, since there are more noble metals, because they are more resistant than others. Men are physically stronger than women, on average. This understanding is valid as well as the one we recalled before, in other parts of the Summa: St. Thomas considers that the woman was originally made of a more refined material than man. Because in Genesis, man is made of rough material, of mud, of something thick; and the woman is made of human material, finer and more delicate.

87. Although he does not mention it, perhaps the presence of certain impurities, such as female menstruation, would also be presumed in this greater nobility of the male body. In this regard, Saint Thomas analyzes menstruation as an impurity along with leprosy, although he does so only in the context of explanations of purification rituals. Something impure can always be purified. It is important to know the origin of this thought, namely: the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Jewish tradition, largely superseded today, except in ultra-Orthodox niches; it does not come necessarily in the society of his time. In the Indo-European culture, the cult of female deities gave rise to an appreciation of the fertility cycle. The Milan Cathedral, for example, is constructed over the Temple of Minerva, which by its turn is constructed over the Temple of Belisma, the goddess of fertility, worshiped in Etruria, Gaul and Brittany, under different names. These ideas of associating menstruation with impurity do not reflect the Indo-European cultural milieu, but Jewish culture, borrowed by Thomas, already in the Christian era. Today, with current knowledge advances, St. Thomas would hardly have any reason to derive the notion of impurity from this, mainly due to his propensity to deal with issues from a scientific point of view.

88. Even having already examined the matter, and considered nobility only the fact of having more physical strength, as we see, by using the term nobilis to refer to bodily resistance, Saint Thomas recalls Saint Augustine: “Do not want to despise one another, men, because the Son of God wanted to be a man. Do not despise yourselves, women, because of a woman the Son of God was born”. And the Doctor of the Church continues, removing all relevance from this strict comparison between the physical aspects of men and women:


“Now the nature of our soul is very different from our bodily nature. How much more so is that of God, Creator of soul and body! God knows that he is everywhere, without any place containing him; he knows that he is going to a place without leaving where he was; he knows that moving away does not imply leaving where he came from.” (Tertia Pars, Treatise on the Incarnate Word, Question 31, Art. 4, Response to the Second).


89. Furthermore, it is evident that Saint Thomas Aquinas, despite his chastity, shows no little knowledge of women; on the contrary, he shows that he has a completely open mind to investigate the nature of man and woman and to better understand everything. In Question 31, Art. 5, Saint Thomas, assuming the quality of a scientist, speaks of a particular form of female orgasm, "the semen of women” – yes, he does that! – in the midst of doubts about the birth of Jesus and Mary. Perhaps the monastic life and convents of the Middle Ages made it possible to freely address issues related to sexuality, as evidenced by the Exeter Book, the founding manuscript of English poetry, which contains a collection of riddles and jokes by monks and nuns, also related to sexuality.

90. Even so, Saint Thomas does not seem to approach the subject according to a culture of his time, but does so shamelessly and with full freedom of thought. The generous amount of pages to discern about semen, about the reproductive act and speculations about the subject that perhaps most interests men and women in general, reveals an impressive and sometimes even amusing text, as he maintains sobriety at the same time. These questions of human intimacy, together with higher concerns, about angels, the empyrean and the evo... Definitively, they give the impression that there is no Saint in the Church who has produced a work similar to that of Saint Thomas.

91. He seems bolder than the monks and nuns of his time, in approaching questions related to sexuality from a rational, logical and scientific perspective, until he completely exhausted the problem. In performing this task, the impression arises that he is not completely alienated and estranged from the women of his time. Did he get his knowledge from somewhere other than medical manuals? Most medieval men were probably completely unaware of these details. Were there women with whom medieval intellectuals could exchange ideas and information, directly or indirectly, to arrive at a description of the female orgasm, like Saint Thomas? It seems so: Trotula di Ruggiero (1050-1097), for example, was a professor and doctor at the Medical School of Salerno, in southern Italy. According to Ibituruna (2022),


“The medieval records also allow us to suppose that some monasteries admitted girls to receive education and return to the lay community, instead of remaining in the religious environment and being ordained. In other words, female education was not limited to nuns.” (Ibituruna, 2022, p. 13).


92. In addition, as we saw previously, Saint Thomas himself records that in his time there was already a debate about the presence of women in public teaching spaces, in Question 177, article 2.

93. Therefore, surprised in what concerns his approach on the female and male sexuality, his study definately does not seem to come from the medieval religious culture of his time. His scientific study attempts to find the traces of the divine hand in every human aspect, and seems unparalleled in the production of laudatory biographies, the shorter technical treatises of other saints, and in Peter’s Cathedra documents. In his time there is nothing like his effort.


If Saint Thomas is stricter with sin when it comes from women than from men


94. The Angelic Doctor affirms at one point in his Summa that, on the contrary, the propensity to certain sins is found outside of women more than in them. This is the case of the study of succubi and incubi, in Prima Pars, Question 51, On the relationship of angels with her bodies, the problem of lust does not come from women:


“As Augustine says, many experts, or instructed by experts, confirm that Silvanos and Faunos, commonly called incubi, are often lustful with women, desiring them and performing carnal acts with them, so it is imprudent to deny such a fact.” (Prima Pars, Question 51, On the relationship of angels with bodies: Answer to the Sixth).


95. Of Eve, Saint Thomas affirms in Prima Pars, Question 73, "Of the things pertaining to the seventh day", that


“Nothing that follows has been done by God is entirely new, that did not pre-exist in some way in the works of the six days. Thus, certain things materially pre-existed, such as the formation of woman from Adam's rib. (Prima Pars, Question 73, Article 1, Answer to the Third).


96. Now, the original sin, resulting from Eve's initiative, cannot be understood, following Saint Thomas's reasoning, only by a gesture of her autonomy, taking into account that Eve pre-existed, her nature being intimately united to the nature of Adam. For this reason, we do not find in the Summa any differentiation of the weight of sin between men and women, to affirm that Eve would have caused Adam to sin, or to lessen or alleviate Adam's responsibilities on himself and cast the blame on Eve, since that he is the one who had first received the instruction from God, before Eve was created (what the Angelic Doctor calls superior judgment).

97. But Saint Thomas manages to go much further than any woman would be able to defend, considering justifying Eve, pointing out that she only “gave her husband the forbidden fruit; by which the higher reason is represented [in Adam]”; wondering if she had only consented to sin, attributing original sin cause to Adam; to immediately conclude that the imaginative power is sudden and not deliberate, and that we can carry out an act without time to deliberate; and that unfortunately both the lower and the higher judgment can be accompanied by deliberation, within a certain time (Prima Pars, Art. 7. “If the sin of the consent of the act resides in the higher reason”, Fourth, and Reply to the Fourth). Saint Thomas wanted to save Eve from original sin, but he couldn't. If this is not the rise of man, the rise of Theology; So what is it? The mere fact that Saint Thomas tried to find some logical argument, against the biblical text itself, to save Eve, says a lot about the extreme holiness of this author. At this point, the reader begins to perceive something that goes beyond the immense investigative effort, the pleasure of intellectual speculation and the enthusiasm for knowledge: the text is being written with love from holy hands.

98. Shortly thereafter, on another matter, Saint Thomas rebels against his own conclusion, taking the apostle Paul as his source. In the hypothesis that he analyzes in Question 81, On original sin, Article 5, he recalls the affirmation of Saint Paul (Rom 5) that sin entered this world through one man; and he wonders if "it is more correct to say that he entered by both", male and female; and then later he also rebels against the Apostle assertion. He concludes, in the Solution, that the woman has nothing to do with it; and that if Eve had sinned, but Adam had not sinned, the original sin would not be transmitted to the children, because man would have to be guilty for so; and, in this merely speculative hypothesis, there would be no inevitable death. For St. Thomas the problem of sin occurs in the active principle, and he insists that the woman only handled the matter, trying to exempt Eve (!).

99. Does this imply an indifferent role for women in matters of deliberation and choice, necessary to avoid original sin? No, because again, without being able to exculpate Eva, sticking to Holy Scripture, Saint Thomas understands that it is pure speculation. That is why he tries to solve the problem in another way: he inserts the Virgin Mary ex machina, in the Response to the Third, concluding that “she was necessary, not to avoid the transmission of original sin, but so that the Mother of God would shine with the maximum purity”... It should be noted that Saint Thomas calls her “Mother of God”, thus ruling out any hypothesis that women may have played an irrelevant role in the salvation of men, within God's salvific plan.

100. Also in Art. 7, of the same Question, “If the external pain is greater than the internal pain of the heart”, when Saint Thomas comes across the citation of Eccl 25, 17, which states “The sadness of the heart is a universal plague, and the wickedness of women is consummate malice”, he does not use this biblical quote to criticize malice to a greater extent in women. He could have done if he had something against women, but he doesn't. He reads it as if the woman question were just an analogy used on rhetorical pretext, to say that the sadness of the heart surpasses all other external sadness. He then continues his reasoning in search of the reasons for sadness of heart, without investigating into the question of female malice.

101. Returning to Prima Pars, Question 25, of the Divine Power, Article 4, If God can make the past non-existent, Answer to the Third, Saint Thomas affirms that “Although God can remove all corruption from the soul and body of a woman corrupted, however, He cannot make it not to have been corrupted; neither He can make a sinner not have been a sinner, and that man would not have lost charity”. At this point, it is necessary to demonstrate that Saint Thomas did not take woman and man as the means for suggesting a differentiation by gender, since it is not the matter of sin that he analyzes; but the divine power and all its possibilities to change the past. At the time of that Saint, certain resources with which Canon Law alters the past were not yet widely known, demonstrating the power of God also in the ability to rediscover, in the past, something that was unknown, making sin useless. Pope Francis demonstrated this when he recalled, during his visit to Brazil in 2013, the provision on the annulment of marriage, redeeming and washing away the sins of many divorcees.

102. However, this is a limitation of the thought of Saint Thomas before the omnipotence of God and the power that God extends to the Church instituted by Christ; and not a mistake or offense against the woman. To this end, let us consider that the same reasoning applies to men, in another matter, lost charity, just to give an example of what he wants to express. As Saint Curé of Ars said, much later than Saint Thomas: “Our errors are small grains of sand compared to the great mountain of God's mercy.” But much before this, in article 5, in the following analysis, St. Thomas corrects himself: "Notwithstanding the current order of causes determined by existences, wisdom and divine power are not limited to such an order. Hence, although no other order is good and convenient for existing things, yet God could make others and impose another order on them.” (Prima Pars, Question 25, Art. 5, Reply to Third). No gender bias, additional offense or burden, either in this, concerning an eventual sin of the woman.


On the application of the sacraments according to the specific characteristics of the woman


103. It remains to be seen if we find any offense or prejudice when St. Thomas returns to the distinction between men and women, to address the sacrament of penance and marriage in the Supplements, Penance Sacrament Question 28, art. 3, “If solemn penance should be imposed on women”, and in the Sacrament of Marriage, Question 65, “On the plurality of women”; and Question 67, “On the libel of repudiation”. As this point the author still does not have yet mastery, study or specialization on the sacraments of penance and marriage, which imply a much more complex dynamic within society; refraining, for the moment, from analyzing these issues within the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, leaving the task for a later article.


Conclusion


104. Before denouncing this article as a partial evaluation of the subject, taking into account the declared devotion by the author to this Saint, it is necessary to remember that the properties of the object of our study can only be addressed correctly through affection, as taught by Saint Bonaventura, his close friend. Pope Benedict XVI joins this perspective that calls for getting rid of the political element to see a work clearly, quoting Saint Irineu: the big problem is wanting to appropriate the characteristics of something sublime to destroy what is divine in the object of your attention.


“In man, from his origins, the desire to become God powerfully boils; the desire to be one’s own Creator and no longer have to thank anyone is, ultimately, nothing more than the cry to no longer have God, but to be a god oneself. Regarding this, Irenaeus states: “It is right that man wants to become like God, and that he cannot rest before reaching the freedom of sonship – only this can be the freedom that is suitable for him, only this can be his salvation. But he cannot be God, he can only become God; and he cannot come to be if he intends to violently seize the Divinity, to eliminate Him”. (...) When the supernatural is not sought in the natural impetus of the human condition, but in its repression, the same can be said from the opposite side: even before they are men, they already want to be gods. For Irenaeus, it is true that man is not, but becomes; that is why an educational process takes place in the individual that advances step by step, a gradual formation also through his failures. Since, however, the goal is maturity, that is, full freedom, that is, likeness to God, sonship, this education to the divine condition can only be achieved through Him, our likeness to Him only can be achieved if He becomes like us. (...) Precisely for this reason, however, this salvation is not some magic formula, no miracle drug that the person just needs to take to stay, so to speak, high forever; it is not (...) the renunciation of the adventure of the human condition, but its possibility”. (RATZINGER, 2019, p. 35).


105. Even Benedict XVI, a great doctor and thinker of the Church, when addressing the work of Saint Thomas, limits himself to underlining the difficulties he had in understanding it, without detracting from this work of investigation into supreme and divine truths. So the thought of Saint Thomas is not sublime due to the property of his reasoning, but rather, by his opening to divine revelation. He puts faith in a knowledge that is beyond his own: and this is one of the most important foundations of Catholic doctrine, a faith open to the Revelation of God. Defending St. Thomas is therefore necessary to also defend the openness of the Church to a better understanding of itself and of God.

106. On the unfounded criticisms that are disseminated against his work, as Saint Thomas teaches in Prima Pars, Question 94, Art. 4. “If man, in the primitive state, can be deceived”, the intellect of man, in the primitive state of innocence, may adhere to a falsehood as if it were true, but, having read and found the falsehood, one cannot persist in error without committing willful sin. Nevertheless such a willful sin cause harm to those who impute what is wrong to themselves, since it also means wanting to be above a Saint: to become a god, through the repression and elimination of what is sublime in the writings of a Saint. This is a dangerous conduct that we must distance ourselves from, because the search for divine knowledge needs room, above all, for intellectual honesty and the humility of knowing less than God. It seems justifiable the suggestion to write and delve into this subject, seeking to clarify these doubts about Saint Thomas’ work.

107. Have we found any problems in Saint Thomas, after all? But how could he have been misogynistic or prejudiced if he sticks to what the Holy Scripture says about women? It would seem, then, more convenient for a critic to come to condemn what is in Holy Scripture, instead of directing his disapproving gaze at Thomas Aquinas; to try to understand first why, in Christian societies, different treatment is given to men and women, however much they have the same and equal dignity. The conclusion of this author continues to be that wanting to be greater than Saint Thomas and saying that scholasticism is out of date seems the biggest mistake to avoid. Because every good theological work must dialogue and present itself for its own value, and not because of the depreciation of the value of a work with which it dialogues. The Summa Theologiæ teaches us so, giving us a good example of an intellectual exercise that elevates us, without degrading Aristotelian thought, but developing with it.

108. Finally, after analyzing in detail and getting to the bottom of the issues raised, we were able to verify that saying that Saint Thomas despises women seems inappropriate, because his work demonstrates the opposite. The Super-Saint supported, with great strength and notable effort, a heavy structure of Aristotelianism that denied extending the same dignity of man to woman, by relying on the Holy Scriptures, even against the general opinion of his time; and with great skill he eliminated everything that could be harmful to women, seeking to preserve the divine image and likeness in them, finding examples, arguments and exceptions that demonstrated that men and women are equally worthy. Not satisfied with defending and appropriating the biblical truth that gives prestige to women, with logical arguments, in the face of danger, he also sought to elaborate a proposal in which the integrity of the feminine soul precedes, in the first place, the aspect of physical superiority; and he even abandoned logical reasoning, when it was necessary to protect women’s integrity. This seems to derive from his view of the sacred doctrine as a practical science.

109. We also find no support in evidence that the thought of Saint Thomas would show signs of having been a reflection of the ideas or prejudices of his time. He was smart enough to cite authors without necessarily endorsing them. There are many times that he cites them only to refute them, and to find exceptions that relativize what previously seemed unquestionable. In the absence of evidence and better arguments, he did not develop prejudiced arguments against women, even if they were well established opinion; as if the Saint suspected, perhaps by divine grace, that he would end up badly if he did. A fool would have developed Aristotle's thought when the evidence was abundant, in order to win the approval of his peers. But Saint Thomas, sure of the truth that he had defended, noting certain incompatibilities with Holy Scripture, does not fall in that trap: he does not proceed in what Aristotle suggests.

110. After all, the abundant content of the Summa in which he stresses the equal dignity of men and women serves as the best antidote against suspicions of misogyny raised against him: it is not possible to ignore the general line of the work, just to follow extracts and casuistries that do not interfere with the general principle; nor do they result in ambiguity, contrary to what POPIK (1978) suggests. For the rule of principle cannot be considered less than the exception, made by either observing how women were inserted in society, or as a guarantee of a better result in the protection of their rights. The problem of gender violence appears implicit, not explicit, in the Summa de Thomas, since he prefers not to issue a negative judgment on the culture and behavior of the society of his time. Furthermore, it is quite surprising having discovered that a European man from the 13th century proposed women’s entitlements of law in a much more advanced and substantive way than the legal framework implemented in Brazil and in the UK during the 20th century. As he explains in the epigraph of this article, it doesn't matter if women are inferior or superior to men in measurable ways or due to observable circumstances. His argument of equal dignity by principle refute the medieval conviction and that of classical philosophy that women could have less dignity due to less physical strength. The numerous occasions in which Saint Thomas shows affection for women in the Bible and in the Church, trying to affirm their value, also prove that one cannot simply infer from quotes from philosophers or from the thought of his time to arrive at the truth about what he says and thinks.

111. It seems fair and appropriate, therefore, that this Saint continue to be defended, also by women. When unjustly accused, the ideal would be to provide opportunities to repair his image, which the Church reveres for his singular intellectual effort: with greater devotion, greater care, and more respectful treatment by the Church and theologians.



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* Ana Paula Arendt, literary pseudonym of R. P. Alencar, is a political scientist, poet and diplomat, Corresponding Member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, of the New York Academy of Sciences, and of the International Society of Female Professionals.

















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