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This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
Why Re-Look at the Text? Traditionalism and its influences
Theological issues relating to women—the texts, the interpretations, the history, the challenges—lie in an area of teaching and thus of academic interest to me. Because seminary degrees cannot shoehorn every topic into a set number of credit hours, often people looking at history or the history of ideas must go outside of seminary walls to learn chronologies, read the primary documents, and learn social contexts.
Such was the case when I took a doctoral course on women’s history. Acknowledging that I taught at a seminary, my professor let me consult with a historian at my own school to create a supplementary reading list. She ran it by some seminary profs she knew to make sure we added any seminal texts I might have missed, and I set to work reading and processing.
In knocking out that list, I made many happy discoveries. But one unhappy jolt came from reading portions of some writings of men whose theology I loved, such as Augustine, Bonaventure, and Martin Luther. These men spoke disparagingly of women. In fact I quickly learned that “the traditional view of women in the church” contained shocking revelations. I wish I had known about them before I hit the doctoral level of study. So here you go: a sampling from some of the most influential thinkers in church history:
John Chrysostom (347–407)– “The woman taught once and ruined all. On this account therefore he says, ‘let her not teach.’ But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively.” Chrysostom, an early-church Father, was archbishop of Constantinople. He interpreted Paul as teaching that women—not only Eve, but the sex collectively—are weak and fickle.
Augustine (354–430) – [Satan made] “his assault upon the weaker part of that human alliance, that he might gradually gain the whole, and not supposing the man would readily give ear to him or be deceived….”  Augustine was a theologian and philosopher. This bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, Roman North Africa, lived in the fourth century. As of 2022, the Roman Catholic Church had named only 37 Doctors of the Church, and Augustine was among them. He was enormously influential, and I commend to readers his important works, which include The City of God. But our brother Augustine came to Christ as a sexually broken man. And in the statement above he is saying the snake targeted the woman because she was the weaker of the two humans. Augustine’s writings have influenced the development of Western philosophy and Western Christianity.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) – “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation….”  Aquinas, was an Italian Dominican friar and priest, who would have easily qualified for membership in Mensa. He was and is an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism. But his views on male and female were deeply influenced by those of Aristotle, who saw woman as defective.
Add to these Bonaventure, Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Knox and many more and you’ll see that some tremendously influential theologians held unbiblical views of woman. And this is precisely why Protestants do not have popes; we believe no one is infallible. We can love what Aquinas says about friendship while rejecting his views on gender. The above information is also part of why in the late 1980s, some conservative evangelicals began to replace the label “traditionalist” with “complementarian.”
Those who appeal to church history as a reason for barring women from public service in the church must grapple with the reasons underpinning practice as given by these influential men. One must evaluate whether the reasons were rooted in Scripture or capitulations to the patriarchal seas in which these men swam.
 Translated by Philip Schaff. Augustine. The City of God and Christian Doctrine, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series 1, Volume 2, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XIV.11.html, accessed September 5, 2022.
 Thomas Aquinas. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Summa Theologiae, 2nd ed. (1920) First Part, Question 92, reply to Objection 1. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1092.htm, accessed September 5, 2022.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.