“God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of life into two parts, and assigned the more beneficial and necessary aspects to the man, and the less important, inferior matter to the women” – Chrysostom (4th and 5th Centuries)
To which Dana Ames replied:
While cultural conditions most certainly played a large part in how women in the Church have been viewed, as Eeyore notes above, I would like to see the context of that Chrysostom quote particularly. Like Bible verses, quotations can also be cherry-picked and taken out of context. People dump on Chrysostom a lot, but there is always a context, and he was primarily a pastor and preacher, not an academic theologian. He actually urges that men and women in marriage NOT have any particular “roles”, but that they relate to one another on equal footing in the realities of living together. Sometimes women were taught not to come to church or take communion when they were having their menses; Chrysostom didn’t.. He never forbade women to come to Liturgy or partake of the Eucharist for this reason. He left it up to the conscience of each woman, according to her own sense of piety in that culture. He had a good relationship with his mother, and they were close until her death. Knowing this, and actually having read some of Chrysostom, it’s difficult for me to believe he was somehow in his heart anti-woman.
I did quite a bit of research into Chrysostom this week, and have some further thoughts that I will share later in the post. However, to kick things off, as requested, here is the full context of that first quote:
A WIFE HAS JUST ONE PURPOSE: to guard the possessions we have accumulated, to keep a close watch on the income, to take charge of the household. Indeed, this is why God gave her to you, that in these, plus all other matters, she might be a helper to you.
Our life is customarily organized into two spheres: public affairs and private matters, both of which were determined by God. To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man, all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of justice, government, the military, and all other such enterprises. A woman is not able to hurl a spear or shoot an arrow, but she can grasp the distaff, weave at the loom; she correctly disposes of all such tasks that pertain to the household. She cannot express her opinion in a legislative assembly, but she can express it at home, and often she is more shrewd about household matters than her husband. She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly, and children are our principal wealth. At a glance she can detect the bad behavior of the servants and can manage them carefully. She provides complete security for her husband and frees him from all such household concerns, concerns about money, woolworking, the preparation of food and decent clothing. She takes care of all other matters of this sort, that are neither fitting for her husband’s concern nor would they be satisfactorily accomplished should he ever lay his hand to them—even if he struggled valiantly!
Indeed, this is a work of God’s love and wisdom, that he who is skilled at the greater things is downright inept and useless in the performance of the less important ones, so that the woman’s service is necessary. For if the man were adapted to undertake both sorts of activities, the female sex could easily be despised. Conversely, if the more important, most beneficial concerns were turned over to the woman, she would go quite mad. Therefore God did not apportion both duties to one sex, lest the other be displaced and be considered superfluous. Nor did God assign both to be equal in every way, lest from equality a kind of struggle and rivalry should again arise, for women in their contentiousness would deem themselves deserving of the front-row seats rather than the man! But taking precautions at one and the same time for peace and for decency, God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of human life into two parts and assigned the more necessary and beneficial aspects to the man and the less important, inferior matters to the woman. God’s plan was extremely desirable for us, on the one hand because of our pressing needs and, on the other, so that a woman would not rebel against her husband due to the inferiority of her service. Understanding all these things, let us strive for just one goal, virtue of soul and nobility of behavior, so that we may enjoy peace, live in concord, and maintain ourselves in love unto the end.
– John Chrysostom, “The Kind of Women who ought to be taken as Wives”in Patrologia Graeca 51:230
You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not you think the original quote was a fair representation of Chrysostom. In my research I did find quite a number of quotes that made Chrysostom look quite bad, but I also found a fair number that were clearly cherry picking.
Consider this quote:
The beauty of woman is the greatest snare.
When you combine it with a quote like the following you get quite the word picture:
The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food
Now, typically I have found that when quotes are cherry picked citations are not given. They are how ever endlessly copied and parroted without checking for the original source. Facebook is of course notorious for that.
I also found that to be the case when interacting with Jehovah’s Witnesses materials on the deity of Christ back in the 1980s. They had a lot to say about what Church Fathers said about Jesus, but didn’t list their sources. I had to read through most of the 10 volume set of the Ante-Nicean Fathers to find the given quotations in their context. And yes, they were all cherry picked. It was a lot easier to do this week with the current topic.
Consider the first quote. Here it is in its context:
“The beauty of woman is the greatest snare. Or rather, not the beauty of woman, but unchastened gazing! For we should not accuse the objects, but ourselves, and our own carelessness. Nor should we say, Let there be no women, but Let there be no adulteries. We should not say, Let there be no beauty, but Let there be no fornication. We should not say, Let there be no belly, but let there be no gluttony; for the belly makes not the gluttony, but our negligence. We should not say, that it is because of eating and drinking that all these evils exist; for it is not because of this, but because of our carelessness and insatiableness. – Chrysostom, Homily 15 on the Priesthood
The second quote is similarly taken out of context, and is referring to the attributes of a single person.
That is not to say that Chrysostom gets a free pass. I found many other quotes by him that come off as very misogynistic. As I am always time limited I won’t be able to follow up on them. But at least I won’t make the same mistake as last time, and repeat them with out finding their context first.
As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
P.S. Some totally unrelated bad news, bad news, good news, good news, and good news.
1. I lost my regular paying job a month ago.
2. Last week I experienced car, furnace, and plumbing problems.
3. Everything is now resolved and the total outlay of funds was only $260, MUCH less than expected.
4. The second job I saw advertised was the prior employer of one of my references. He has already messaged them to look out for my resume.
5. Financially I will be fine for a while, and it has freed me up to do some needed renovations.