Thomas Aquinas on Women

by Frank A. James

I have long been something of a fan of Aquinas. For many years I have told my students that Protestants have not given Aquinas his due. However, when it comes to his view of women, I have to respectfully demur from the Doctor Angelicus.

Aquinas’ views on women are well known indeed. Also well known is that Aquinas was indebted to Aristotle for his views of women. The most common reference to the views of Aquinas on women are from his Summa Theologiae (1a, q. 92, a.1, Obj.1). The question under consideration there is whether the female, because of her inherent imperfection, should not have been part of the original creation.

Aquinas replies that “woman should have been produced in the Eden, since she is necessary for the generation of the species.” He then goes on to cite with approval Aristotle’s infamous affirmation that “the female is a misbegotten male.” (De Gener. ii, 3). Aquinas himself declares that women are “deficiens et occasionatus” – defective and misbegotten. (ST Ia q.92, a.1, Obj. 1)

And there is more.

In reply to the question of whether the female should be subject to the male, Aquinas asserts that females are inherently subordinate to males and that this “subjection existed even before sin.” Female subordination, for Aquinas, is not a result of the fall, but part of the created order. Such female subordination, he argues, is actually “for their own benefit and good.” (This sounds eerily familiar.)

Following Aristotelian logic, Thomas adds that without female subordination, “good order would have been lacking in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. (ST q.92, a.1, Obj. 2).

We learn two things from this little waltz down memory lane. First, that women are by nature “deficient and misbegotten.” The essential value of her creation is “for the generation of the species.” Women are important not for any inherent value or virtue, but for their ability to reproduce. For Aquinas, women are merely a means to an end. That the female is described as “misbegotten” is a pejorative term probably referring to Eve’s eating of the fruit in the garden of Eden. To be “misbegotten” carries the connotation of contempt and disgust. Second, we learn that the female was an inherently subordinate and inferior being (inferior in intellect and reason).

I say all of that to say this: It is quite clear that Aquinas did not believe females were made in the image of God in the same way as males. The simple fact of the matter is that Thomas was both a product of his times and a casualty of his devotion to the pagan Aristotle.

About carolyncustisjames
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Thomas Aquinas on Women

  1. “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. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.” Aquinas, Summa Theologica


  2. Yep. I just wrote a paper a couple weeks ago about “men, women, and authority in the church.” In my research I found that Aquinas was one of the early church fathers who had a distorted view of women that was based in pagan philosophy and not scripture! The problem is that this tradition (concerning women) has been passed down in the church as being biblical when in fact it is not. Furthermore, most laypeople do not study the original languages so they take English translations of words like “submit” “authority” and “head” and take it to mean something that Paul did not actually mean in his epistles. Definitely need to get this word out to more pastors!


  3. Lori says:

    Thank you for this post.


  4. Carolyn says:

    TA's words may be at least one influence that helps to explain why church teaching regarding women's roles historically has often centered on childbearing and mothering—which limits women to certain events and a season of life and leaves out all the rest of a woman, as well as excluding women who never give birth.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. FAJ says:


    Thanks for your comment. I want to be careful not to get us sidetracked on an academic debate when the issue of spiritual abuse is so much more important. But I will make one final effort to address the issue.

    As we all know, scholars differ among themselves on most issues—even about how to interpret Aquinas. We need to be honest and recognize that scholars/
    theologians have different motivations and agendas behind their particular interpretation. So for instance, if you are a devout and conservative Catholic scholar in 21st century America, you may be predisposed to avoid portraying Aquinas (who is perhaps the greatest Doctor of the Church) as a misogynist.

    However, when one actually reads Aquinas—it is rather clear that Aquinas was very much aligned with most other medievals in having rather unfortunate views of women. No serious modern scholar denies that.

    As for your citation, it is helpful to realize that Aquinas is distinguishing between the “individual” nature of a woman in contrast to womankind in a more “general” sense. Aquinas is quite clear that women as individuals ARE defective and misbegotten—that is precisely what he says. At this point, he is following Aristotle as well as the prevailing misogyny of the medieval era.

    When Aquinas then adds that womankind in “general” is not misbegotten (i.e., your citation), he is merely stressing that God did not make a mistake in creating the female of the species. Like most Christians, Aquinas believed that God did not make mistakes. The nub of the matter for the Doctor Angelicus is that the creation of womankind (in the general sense) was no mistake because the feminine was necessary to Gods sovereign plan—to produce babies. God did not make a mistake in creating the means by which humanity could reproduce itself. Another way of putting it, is that for Aquinas, the reproductive function was not misbegotten, but women in themselves ARE misbegotten.


    • Eliz Gard says:

      These women are whole human beings. Stop making excuses for church misogyny.
      St Thomas Aquinas, for all his education, simply is exaulting himself. He is no deep thinker.


  6. Pingback: A Brief History of Feminism and its impact on Modern India

  7. Pingback: Aristotle and the Woman’s Desire – REFORMING ANTHROPOLOGY

  8. Daniel Stepke says:

    Hey I noticed that your quotations refer to Aquinas’ objections, and not the “On The Contrary,” or his replies to the objections. Aquinas writes the objections in order that he may disagree with them and show how they are wrong. Often, they represent common heresies or false beliefs. If it is permissible to quote Aquinas’ objections here, then it is permissible to quote him in the objections where he wrote arguments against God’s existence in order to refute them. This is horrible misrepresentation of Aquinas and his views. Read Gardeil on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. davidthurman says:

    The dude was a blithering moron not fit to discuss the bible. I might say Michealangelo said more with zero words when the la pieta was revealed at age 24 than Aquinas entire life of “straw”. I have no idea exactly why such folks such as aquinas get any attention at all. He is a zero artist. Now the real deal Hildegard von bingen, now that’s a different sort of person she is sharp and an actual scientist/artist/polymath/mystic to boot.. Aquinas was just a windbag of total nonsense.


  10. Pingback: Theological Differences, Respectful Debate: A Concluding Conversation with John Mark Hicks on Gender and the Bible - Renew

  11. Marcus says:

    No doubt if you judge the ancients with our standards today, you will probably find them vile and base, which will probably be how our future generations see us in many many ways. The spirit of charity, however, invites us to see what is redeemable and what is human even in what & who one deems wrong, and perhaps it is only this kind of love and honesty that can generate the forgiveness and reconsiliation that can stop one human from hating another, for whatever reason we might deem righteous and just. See here for an alternative approach to Aquinas’ view on women:

    “I answer that, It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man. First, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither use authority over man,’ and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet.”

    Aquinas, ST, q. 92, a. 3

    I wish to fully acknowledge what you are pinpointing in Aquinas about his belief that women were misbegotten, etc, which was wrong, no doubt. But in doing so, Aquinas was simply following the most widely recognized scientific hypothesis of his time, (which again was wrong on women) which is something that we are doing as well (following certain scientific hypotheses of our time) without realizing that many of those views may be deemed wrong in the future. But, if you are willing to dig deeper, you will still find a beautiful view of the human person that is open to the entire human race in which grace will heal and perfect our wounded human nature and lift us all to God in the beatific vision and the resurrection of the body.

    All the best!


    • Eliz Gard says:

      You are charitable, but you are male and have never been disparaged for your gender. You have no concept of misogyny.
      Yeah, so he said a nice(?) thing about women. That’s so women will continue to work for the church for nothing. He hated women for no good reason. End of story.


  12. Eliz Gard says:

    Why would you “respectfully” disagree with this kind of hate? This is a horrible negation of the humanity of women. (His mother must have been either a monster or unavailable.) I do not give this moron any slack for being a creature of his times. Many men, even men who believed in the Creation myth, who did not talk about their mothers and daughters in such a monsterous way. Thus kind of stuff led to witch-burnings. It’s easy to burn a person alive if you do not believe they are as human as you.


  13. Pingback: Misogynistic Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers - Marg Mowczko

  14. Pingback: Eve’s Choice: Patriarchy No Longer Rules – Smart Again

  15. clinton hage says:

    he was right about women


    • MCS says:

      No, he was not right about women, the rule of kings and tyrants, or the “right” of the Roman Church to murder people who disagree with them.

      Philosophers, unfortunately, publish their opinions…just their opinions…and people read them. People still read Aristotle and Plato. Just opinions of people trying to figure out what life is all about. Aristotle believed all sperm would produce males unless something went wrong…in which case, a female was born. = misbegotten. This is obviously error. We know about DNA etc. now. But what do we know of “somatids” v bacteria. I suspect we will look woefully ignorant in a few hundred years. Why students study these philosophers, who knew little but talked endlessly of their opinions, is a mystery.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s