Women in the Church

I touch on the role of women in the church in several of my other pages but it seemed to make sense to coordinate the main issue onto one page. It is important to put our view of what went on back in Jesus' day in context. Remember, these people are not "just like us, just teleported back in time 2,000 years". They were in a completely different social structure with different rules and morals. What we find to be strange, they would have taken as normal.

So, back in the days of Jesus, rabbis were married. Most of his disciples were married. There was no "shame" to be married and religious, it was normal. It was in fact highly encouraged. You wanted your spiritual leader to be able to understand the problems you were having in your relationship. A man who was of marrying age and who did not marry was thought to be somewhat strange and "not performing his proper role as an adult".

Even through the first, second and third century, most of the priests were married. Nothing was thought of it.

Then came issues over MONEY - and everything changed. The church was beginning to gain wealth and land. In essence the church didn't want the priests to have kids to then lay claims on the lands and ownings of the father. They wanted a way to ensure that the land always stayed in the hands of the CHURCH. They convened the Council of Nicea in 325. They decreed that once a man became a priest, he could NOT marry. It was not long after that that future declarations shut down the rights of priests more and more until they all became celibate. Celibate priests = no kids= no problem when the priest dies.

Women lost power by this in that they were no longer "influencing" priests directly, but how about women BEING priests? Heck, as we know, women priests can get pregnant even if they aren't married :) And it's hard to claim that the child isn't theirs. So conveniently, in 352 there was a Council of Laodicea. It decreed that women could not be ordained. Of course this seems to mean that before that point they COULD be ordained and the council wanted to put an end to this. Now they had completely shut down all ways for children to get into the system. They only had celibate men who would 'caretake' the wealth and glory of the church.

So it wasn't Jesus or any of his contemporaries who felt that celibacy was important. It was the people 300 years later, who were trying to lock down control on a religion that was growing in income.

Brown says that Mary was abandoned by worshippers after her death - but on the contrary, women and Mary were much sought after during the days of chivalry. Chivalric love was of the highest order, and many priests of the time complained about the HUGE attention Mary was getting - far more than Jesus in many areas. What were the giant cathedrals named? "Notre Dame" - "Our Lady". One of the best known is Notre Dame in Paris, begun in 1163. Sure, women were not equal to men. But they were hardly ignored.

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Engraving of witch being apprehended

Probably one of the most wild statements in the entire book - Brown claims that 5 million women were burned at the stake by the church. I'm female and very much in support of women's rights, but even so, only maybe 50,000 men AND women were slain during those times - and most weren't burned. Sure, there were the Crusades where the zealous knights rode to take back the Holy Land from the heathens. I don't count that as church stake-burning women. In 1233, it was Pope Gregory IX who decided we needed an "Inquisition" to help root out the non-believers. Dominican Monks were the inquisitors. This was used by various popes to wipe out enemy groups - the Knights Templar, the Cathars, etc. Again, not a ton of women being burnt.

In 1478, the Spaniards thought this was a great way to get rid of Jews and Muslims. Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain, put together "The Holy Office". They chose a Dominican Monk, Tomas de Torquemada, to head it. The monks turned torture into a science. It was only gotten under control in 1834. OK, women were burnt here, but not 5 million of them! Note that there was still an official Inquisition Office at the Pope's HQ until 1965!! At that point it was renamed the (ahem) "Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith".

As an interesting aside, at one point Brown says that Shekinah is a female deity found in a Jewish temple. Actually the rabbinic texts are talking about GOD there :) So that's one spot where Brown turned God into a female :)

Visitor Opinion -
I am so glad you picked up on the 5 million women killed for witch craft... a little on the high side one would imagine.

My Response -
Yes, that 5 million count was a bit out of the ballpark :)

Visitor Opinion -
Factual errors and differences of opinion notwithstanding, I think The Da Vinci Code is a theory that is believable. This is because I see precisely the same thing happening in my country. I am a hindu and a worshipper of the Feminine Force, "Shakti" as it is known in India. All over the hill regions of India and in the East (especially in West Bengal), the Goddess is the supreme deity. It is my observation, that it is only as one descends into the plains of India, where societies start distancing themselves from their tribal agrarian roots and moving away from flat power structures towards city dwelling and power in the hands of a few(larger land holdings on flat land allow this) that the physical strength of the male overpowers the special attributes of the female. This happens both in human and divine society. The female deity is reduced to the consort/ daughter/ mistress of the male god. Inspite of this, there are remanants of goddess worship even in the plains of India, where the Goddess has her own special festival eg Diwali, the festival of lights when Lakshmi is worshipped. It is interesting to note that the more modern reason for celebrating the festival is the return of the legendary Ram, prince of Ayodhya to his kingdom yet another example of the male attempting to takeover from the female.

My Response -
Well yes if you want to look at the history of mankind in general, it seems that the fertility and goddess rituals are very popular in cultures that live directly with the land. They see their cows making baby cows. They see the seeds growing and flowering. It is all very feminine. They realize just how powerful the female is. In fact if there aren't females of course the village has no youth and it dies. So the women are incredibly important.

However, once a culture gets bigger that people are starting to be separated from that original direct tie with the land, then power and the ability to hold land is much more important than simply surviving and eating and breeding. So then the ones with power (i.e. the strong-muscled males) are the ones who are worshipped. If a woman tries to protest, she can be shut up by the power of the male. You can see many matriarchal societies in the world that were then taken over.

But life is in constant flux. Our society is always changing in growing. In the past 100 years, we are changing from a society that deals with physical power to settle disputes to using mental power / economic power. Sure, we still have a few wars - but nothing like that CONSTANT fighting that used to go on in the old days! People who complain about wars should have tried living back in the days of feudal Japan, or the Roman Empire expansion or so on. It used to be just constant. So now that it is not about physical power, women again are able to show their strength. In fact where only 100 years ago pretty much NO women were allowed into higher education ("our brains weren't able to handle it") now over half of all graduates ARE women - meaning that soon half of all jobs of that level will be held by women. And once women are in management, they will change the way companies are managed. It's already beginning to happen.

So THEN the question you have is - will things really be better? It's all well and good for women to claim that men are evil and women are good. But that's pretty silly. The naive notion of a band of women all working together singing songs and being charming to each other rarely happens in real life. If you go into real life situations with women in a corporate culture you sometimes find general harmony - and you sometimes find backstabbing and sniping and gossipping. Women have just as much potential for harm, in their own ways, as men do. We just haven't had the opportunity to flex our power recently to show that ...

I guess my point is that things ARE changing but that the women who think "and that automatically means things will be better" might be in for a rough surprise ...

Visitor Opinion -
The idea of the worshipping of the goddess is a large part of Irish history - in the stories of the Tuatha de Danann, a tribe who supposedly possessed magical powers, and ruled Ireland long before Christ's birth, women and men were considered equal, as warriors and rulers. I'm also going to be really picky here, and say that your comment on wars not being constant nowadays, in one of your replies in the "women in the church " section, is very inaccurate, and (I don't mean to be rude) very American. As I said I live in Ireland. You're probably aware that there's been a war going on in the northern part of my country for the last 25 years.Before that, there was a patched up peace from about 1914 until roughly the 1960's, and before 1914, we were under British rule, and constantly at war. It's not a hugely publicised war as such, and I'm don't want it to be,because frankly, it's just embarrassing. But people are being beaten and killed every day-still-because of their religion. Protestant and catholic. Obviously there are all the other wars going on too at the moment, and to be honest,one war is too many. Unfortunately, it seems that many Americans don't really understand the rest of the world because your continent is so big. However,all that aside I think your website is pretty good, and definitely makes you think!

My Response -
Certainly the Irish had very equal lives for men and women for the longest time. My family comes from Ireland and we have a house there in fact so I am quite familiar with Irish politics and religious situations. If anything it was the influx of English and other influences that made women in Ireland take a back seat to the men. As far as the wars go, I think you can agree that there's a huge difference between a civil war in Ireland and a continent-wide war that engulfs all of Europe. There will always be fighting. I'm afraid that's just true. And if we're going to talk about fighting, there is *far* far worse fighting going on in Africa and the Middle East than was ever seen in Ireland. My point is that the entire world used to be engaged in war that touched pretty much every single person. Now we have gotten things down to small pockets of fighting, and yes it hurts those immediate people, but a lot of people have lived combat-free lives and do not really understand what it is like to live in that situation. Hopefully some point in the future will bring a virtually fighting-free life, but I don't think we will ever get to the point where there is NO war going on anywhere in the world. There will always be people who feel oppressed and who feel there is no other solution. Even in the US, where people are pretty much the wealthiest that humans have ever been in history, and have more social networks and support available, we have people who would rather shoot someone and steal their wallet vs get food / clothing / shelter in another manner.


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