History is a Bit@h

When we debate a woman’s role in church we are not just trading theology we may be parrots of patriarchy repeating rhetoric from ancient history.

To make sense of my overuse of alliteration let’s time travel for a bit through the history of theology.

First weird bit of info to get your head around is 2 non-Christian men had a massive influence on how we do Western theology- Plato and Aristotle.

As this fancy writer explains, “Twenty four centuries ago they (Plato and Aristotle) laid the foundations of Western culture, and their ideas and insights still dictate essential features of our world right now, from what we eat to what we see on the Internet” (1).

The effect these Plato and Aristotle had on modern life has a Michelle Yeoh vibe- everything, everywhere, all at once- including theology.

This blog is going to get a vibe on Plato’s influence upon the who’s who of theology.

Stay tuned for Part 2 later when I will deal with Mr Aristotle.

So let’s take a trip through time.

Plato was the one who went viral on ancient tic-toc declaring that humans are both body and soul. The body, this visible matter was inferior to the invisible eternal soul, which was the source of life and reason.

So we could say we have him to thank for the incorrect Christianese idea that when humans die our souls rise up to heaven to live in the clouds with God.

Clement of Alexandria was influenced by Plato big time. He united Greek thought with Christianity enabling the most powerful culture at the time to access Christianity.

Origen was influenced by Clement. Origen was the first systematic theologian.

Augustine, a big gun in the theology world, was also influenced by Plato. He is considered the greatest Christian philosopher of the ancient world.

Luther acknowledged Augustine as his greatest theological influence. Luther is considered the father of Protestantism.

Calvin was also deeply influenced by Augustine. Calvin wrote the the first systematic theological treatise of the reform movement.

All these men had a profound influence on how Westerners think about God.

So given their influence is so profound, what were their thoughts on women?

Plato: Bizarrely, the one non-Christian is this bunch is arguably the most respectful to women.

He had this mad idea that women could be educated.

He said, “…if the difference consists only in women bearing and men begetting children, this does not amount to a proof that a woman differs from a man in respect of the sort of education she should receive” (Plato, Book V).

Although Plato also wrote in the Republic, “Can you think of any human activity in which the male sex is not superior to the female?”

Clement: “For souls are neither male nor female when they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35). And perhaps this is the way in which the woman is made into a man when, equally with him, she has become unfeminine and male and perfect.” (2)

All together now, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way” (sarcasm intended).

Origen “What is seen with the eyes of the Creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.” (3)

For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman. Origen (d. 258): Fragments on First Corinthians, 74

Hey Origen, I got some consequential words that wanna come out of my mouth right now buddy.

Give me a moment and I’ll choose grace (maybe)- a n d breathe.

Augustine: Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head.

I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.

Dude, in the dark depths of PMS, I could say I fail to see what use a man can be to woman except for his boy bits for making babies. But I would never be that vulgar.

Luther:  ‘If women grow weary or even die while bearing children, that does no harm. Let them bear children to death, that’s what they’re there for.


God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.’

The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes”. –Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546), Works 12.94

Calvin: It can be argued he was kinder to women, (compared to Luther, Trump is kinder to women) he did reject the common idea that women were defective males. Never-the-less, he said some crackers from his 19th Sermon upon the second chapter of 1 Timothy

“Seeing man is made to be the woman’s head, and the woman is a part and, as it were, an accessory of man, we must follow that order ” John Calvin The 19th Sermon upon the second chapter of 1 Timothy

“The pride of women was well condemned by Paul, when he shewed, that if they will needs brag and boast themselves, they should look upon Eve, who was the cause of all our undoing”

I CAN’T EVEN (taking another moment for some deep breathing)

Stuff that important people proclaimed as “truth” thousands of years ago sits within the sphere of thought that still has a profound influence on how women are treated today and we are oblivious.

Yeh, yeh, I know we don’t pick up on everything these guys said but it can be amazing how much gets absorbed by mental osmosis.

As Goheen and Bartholomew (2008, 9) explain, “If the church, consciously or unconsciously, were to accept the world-story of the surrounding culture as basic, as the true account of the world, then it will be obliged to tailor the gospel to fit somewhere in that cultural story”.

Here’s a thought- If the gospel, which at its heart is about liberation, at any time threatens our liberty as women, could it be “theology” that devalues women is more about two dead philosophers than Jesus?

  1. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/60264-5-reasons-why-plato-and-aristotle-still-matter-today.html
  2. https://www.academia.edu/6327929/_Becoming_the_Perfect_Man_Clement_of_Alexandria_on_the_Philosophical_Life_of_Women_Pages_389_413_in_Women_and_Gender_in_Ancient_Religions_Interdisciplinary_Approaches_Ed_S_Ahearne_Kroll_P_Holloway_and_J_Kelhoffer_T%C3%BCbingen_Mohr_Siebeck_2010
  3. https://margmowczko.com/misogynist-quotes-from-church-fathers/

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