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From the January/February, 2001
issue of Touchstone

 

Missing Fathers of the Church by Leon J. Podles

Missing Fathers of the Church

The Feminization of the Church & the Need for Christian Fatherhood

by Leon J. Podles

You may have noticed that, in general, men are not as interested in religion as women are. There are usually more women than men at Sunday mass, and there are far more women than men at devotions, retreats, and prayer groups. The men who do come are often there because wives or girlfriends have put pressure on them to attend. In fact, if men speak honestly, they will tell you that men have a general feeling that the Church is for women. They may add that women are more emotional than men are, or that religion is a crutch that a man doesn’t need, as Jesse Ventura, the candidate of young white men, said in Playboy.

In my book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, I examine the lack of men in the Western churches, which only the unobservant doubt, and I look at the possible causes and results of the lack of men. My thought has continued to develop, and I have slightly revised my thesis. In what follows I will first summarize my thesis that men stay away from the Church because they regard it as a threat to their hard-won masculinity. Second, I will explore how the Church has become identified with femininity. Third, I will consider how this feminization has undermined fatherhood, and how the Church can reach men and help them to be Christians and Christian fathers.

I think the lack of men is self-evident, but the reactions to my book have shown me that some people have not noticed and that others choose to deny the obvious because of a feminist, or, what has surprised me, a traditionalist agenda. Sociologists have gathered statistics about both practice and opinion, and the studies confirm the popular impression: religion, especially of the Christian variety, is largely a feminine affair in Western society.

James H. Fichter asks, “Are males really less religious than females? Most of the studies made on the question seem to indicate that they are, and this appears to be true for all the Christian churches, denominations, and sects in western civilization.”1 Michael Argyle generalizes, “Women are more religious than men on all criteria, particularly for private prayer, also for membership, attendance, and attitude.”2 Gail Malmgreen points out the disparity between the gender of the clergy and the gender of the faithful: “In modern Western cultures, religion has been a predominantly female sphere. In nearly every sect and denomination of Christianity, though men monopolized the positions of authority, women had the superior numbers.”3 Christianity is a religion of and for women.

Nor do women simply join churches more than men do. They also are more active and loyal. Of Americans in the mid-1990s, George Barna writes that “women are twice as likely to attend a church service during any given week. Women are also 50 percent more likely than men to say they are ‘religious’ and to state that they are ‘absolutely committed’ to the Christian faith.”4 The differences seem to be increasing rapidly. In 1992, 43 percent of men attended church; in 1996, only 28 percent.5 Patrick Arnold, a Jesuit of liberal theological leanings, claims that at churches he has visited, “it is not at all unusual to find a female-to-male ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. I have seen ratios in parish churches as high as 7:1.” Women are more active in all activities of the church, both in public and social activities, such as peace and justice committees, and in spiritual activities, such as prayer and Bible study.

Church attendance in the United States is about 60 percent female and 40 percent male. The more liberal the denomination, the higher the percentage of females. Fundamentalists are almost evenly divided, but the only religions that sometimes show a majority of men are Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and Eastern religions such as Buddhism. Men say they believe in God as much as women do, but the more Christian a practice or belief becomes, the fewer men will own up to it. Men go to church less than women do, they pray far less than women do, and they believe in the afterlife and heaven and hell far less than women do.

The difference is neither recent nor limited to North America. In seventeenth-century New England, Cotton Mather puzzled over why his congregations were overwhelmingly female. Nor is the United States the worst off. Latin men are notoriously resistant to going to church.6 In one conservative Spanish village, for a man to be outstandingly religious is considered shameful. A man is humiliated, pasar vergüenza, if he is in debt, or “if he is seen in church holding a rosary, or sitting in the front benches in church.”7 A man can be a Catholic without disgrace, but to be outwardly religious is incompatible with masculinity. All over Europe the pattern is the same. In England, the difference has been growing: “the imbalance between the sexes is becoming more rather than less marked in contemporary society.”8 The difference can be traced back as far as there are statistics about church involvement—not only a difference in outward observance, but also in belief: far more women than men subscribe to basic Christian beliefs.9

In modern France the church is the domain of women. This was the situation after France had recovered from its bout of extreme anti-clericalism in the nineteenth century. The difference between men and women grew less in the mid-twentieth century, in part because more men were going to church, and in part because fewer women were going to church.10

The situation was even worse in the nineteenth century when anti-clericalism was in full rage. In 1858 the rector of Montpellier lamented that “religious duties are almost completely neglected by the men or practiced only for appearance’s sake. Generally only women observe their duties.”11 He said this because only 15 percent of the men made their Easter duty. In 1877, in the western part of the diocese of Orléans, only 4.7 percent of the men made their Easter Communion, although 26 percent of the women did.12

The strategy of the French Church has been to maintain a presence in society through the influence of women.13 This strategic decision even has affected doctrine. The Church had from time immemorial condemned contraception. But in France, peasants practiced coitus interruptus to limit the division of their inheritance. Acting on the advice of Alphonse de Ligouri, confessors decided that women were not guilty if their husbands practiced this form of contraception. This decision was based on a fear that rigorism would alienate women, and that the Church would thereby lose all influence in French society. In 1842 the Trappist (and doctor) Debryne argued against a rigorist position on the use of contraception: “One should give serious attention to this; that one should not alienate women through an imprudent rigor; the matter is one of immense importance. The coming generation is in the hands of women; the future belongs to her. If the woman gets away from us [the ‘us’ seems to be his priest readers], with her everything will disappear and vanish into the abyss of atheism—faith, morality, and our whole civilization.”14

Wherever Western Christianity has spread, the Church has become feminized. Rosemary Reuther observes: “In Germany, France, Norway, and Ireland women are 60 to 65 percent of the active churchgoers. In Korea, India, and the Philippines, women are 65 to 70 percent of the active churchgoers.”15

Anecdotal evidence indicates that this pattern of greater female piety goes back far before the Reformation. Even medieval preachers made reference to women as being more active in the church. Berthold von Regensburg noticed that more women than men attended church. He preaches to “you women, who are more merciful than men and go more willingly to church than men and say your prayers more willingly than men and go to sermons more willingly than men.”16

A closer analysis of the sociological data shows that it is not exactly being male or female that makes the difference, but being masculine or feminine. That is, men who have feminine personality characteristics tend to go to church far more often than other men do. Women who have masculine personalities tend to go to church less than other women do.

Masculinity & the Church

Anthropologists and developmental psychologists who have studied masculinity have come up with a fairly widely agreed upon topology of masculinity. I will begin with child development, because that is something almost all of us are familiar with.

A boy is born of a woman and has an intense and close relationship with a woman for the first years of his life. At first the child is not even aware of his mother as a separate being. He gradually realizes that his mother is a separate being, a separate person. He then starts realizing that his mother differs from him in an extremely important respect: she is what he cannot and should not become—a woman. The boy must break this intense, close relationship with his mother to establish his separate identity. The girl is separate, but she can become feminine by imitating her mother. The boy cannot become masculine by imitating his mother; he must turn from her to other models, usually his father.

Intense pressure is put on the boy to make this break. If he does not make the break, he is called a momma’s boy, a girl, and much harsher things. He learns that at all costs he must become a man. A man has other responsibilities in life; he takes up the dangerous work of a society. He may work himself to death as a lawyer, or get shot in war, or anything in between. Even in the United States, men hold almost all the dangerous positions in our society, as measured by the chance of death or serious injury. Only after he earns his spurs as a man can the male reconnect to the world of women by marrying and becoming the father of a family. As a boy the male is protected and provided for; as a man he must protect and provide for others, even at the cost of his own life.

This pattern is almost universal. Societies in general have what Yale anthropologist David Gilmore calls an ideology of masculinity. Boys all over the world are subject to initiations and trials to break their relationship with their mothers. Boys must learn to endure pain and suffer deprivation, so that they will undertake the dangerous and destructive work that all societies have. The feminine world is (for a man) far safer: he doesn’t have the hazard of childbirth. Therefore he must be constantly pressured to distance himself from the feminine world. He is given a higher status in return for assuming the masculine role, but he pays a price. Michael Levin says: “If sex roles are to be regarded as the outcome of bargaining in which men received dominance in exchange for the risk of violent death, it is hardly clear that they got the better deal.”

Western Christianity has become part of the feminine world from which men feel they must distance themselves to attain masculinity. That is why men stay away from church, especially when they see that the men involved in church tend to be less masculine. The most religious denominations, those that have the most external display, have the worst reputation. Anglo-Catholics were lambasted in the Victorian press as unmanly because they devoted themselves to lace and plaster statues (in some cases, this criticism was justified). Psychological studies have detected a connection between femininity in men and interest in religion. There may even be a physical difference. Among men, football players and movie actors have the highest testosterone level, ministers, the lowest. Success and self-esteem can even change hormonal levels.

Why Is the Church “Feminine”?

Is there something innately feminine about Christianity? Many traditionalist Christians believe this. But God became incarnate as a man, and Jesus’ life follows the classic masculine pattern of development. He even had to place some distance between himself and his mother: he left her as an early adolescent to teach in the temple, to do his Father’s work; he left her to undertake his public ministry; and he had to leave her behind when he died.

The God of Judaism and the Father of Jesus Christ was masculine because he was a holy God, which meant he was separate from Creation. The Hebrew word for “holy” is kaddosh, “separate.” The Jews came to know the nature of God through his actions, which were actions of separating. He separated a people, the Jews, from the pagan nations; he separated light from darkness, the land from the sea. He created by separating, and his people were a separate people, set apart from the rest of the world.

Jesus’ actions were those of God. He created a new people by separating them from the Jews. He came not to bring peace, but a sword that divides. He came to give the Holy Spirit, which separated out pagans and Jews from their old environments and brought them together into a new thing, the Church. As Christianity spread, it has provoked opposition, violence, persecution, and murder, from the Crucifixion to the contemporary Christians who are being crucified in the Sudan. This new people is called to be holy and separate from the world. In the Apocalypse, the angel commands the Church to come out, to separate, from Babylon.

The age of the martyrs and the Fathers, the first millennium, evinced no great signs that Christianity was especially for women or that it was a threat to masculinity, although there are some patristic precursors of later feminization. Christianity is not, as Nietszche claimed, a religion of slaves and women, unfit for the hypermasculine Superman.

The feminization of Western Christianity can be dated rather exactly. Suddenly, in the thirteenth century, during the lifetimes of St. Dominic and St. Francis, women began to get involved in the Church to such an extent that both Francis and Dominic warned their followers not to spend all their time preaching to women and ignoring men. St. Francis of Assisi, in a somewhat uncharacteristic note, said (according to Thomas of Pavia), “The Lord has taken away wives from us, but the devil has given us sisters.”17 St. Dominic tried to keep his followers away from women. The earliest constitutions, written in 1220, before Dominic’s death in 1221, prohibit Dominicans from undertaking the cura monialum, “the spiritual direction of women.”18 This prohibition seems not to be based on Dominic’s fears about celibacy but on his fear that his followers would be overwhelmed by women and neglect their preaching to men.19 This indeed happened. Within a century the Dominicans were devoting their time largely to women.

What happened in the medieval Church? In his immensely influential sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that the relationship of the Christian soul to God was that of a bride to a Heavenly Bridegroom. In this he continued an allegorical exegesis that goes back to Origen, but his preaching fell on fertile ground, and was taken up by popular piety, which had undergone a mysterious transformation into what we might call affective, or sentimental, piety, although these words are not exact. Emotions and sentiments had always played a part in Christian life, but now for some reason the emotions were those of women.

Bernard’s language expressing the union of the soul with God in erotic terms was highly congenial to women. Valerie M. Lagorio in her survey of mystical literature concludes: “In the works of the women visionaries, one notes the prevalence of Brautmystik, the love affair between Christ and the soul, leading to espousal and marriage.”20 Birgitta of Sweden usually referred to herself in the third person as “the bride.”21 After 1300 in Germany, “it was chiefly among women . . . that the Brautmystik was received with fervor.”22 Mechtilde had a vision of Gertrude of Helfta: “She [Mechtilde] saw the Lord Jesus as a Spouse, full of grace and vigor, fairer than a thousand angels. He was clad in green garments that seemed to be lined with gold. And she [Gertrude] for whom she [Mechtilde] had prayed was being tenderly enfolded by his right arm, so that her left side, where the heart is, was held close to the opening of the wound of love; she for her part was seen to be enfolding him in the embrace of her left arm.”23 Medieval eros, which delighted in bright colors and knights who had received wounds of love, is prominent here.

Christ had revealed himself to Gertrude as “a youth of about sixteen years of age, handsome and gracious. Young as I then was, the beauty of his form was all that I could have desired, entirely pleasing to the outward eye.”24

The bridal union of the soul with Christ is not simply other and higher than earthly marriage; it replaces it, and takes on some of the physical eroticism of the missing sexual union. Margaret Ebner feels Jesus pierce her “with a swift shot (sagitta acuta) from His spear of love.”25 She feels her spouse’s “wondrous powerful thrusts against my heart”26 and she complains that “sometimes I could not endure it when the strong thrusts came against me for they harmed my insides so that I became greatly swollen like a woman great with child.”27 Jesus had spoken to her these words: “Your sweet love finds me, your inner desire compels me, your burning love binds me, your pure truth holds me, your fiery love keeps me near. I want to give you the kiss of love which is the delight of your soul, a sweet inner movement, a loving attachment.”28 She had learned of this kiss from Bernard: “I longed for and greatly desired to receive the kiss just as my lord St. Bernard had received it.”29

This change in devotion found a justification in new Scholastic theories of the masculine and feminine. The Scholastics’ reception of Aristotle in the High Middle Ages set the stage for the revaluation of women and provided a justification for the increasingly noticeable absence of men from the Church.

The Scholastics, as Prudence Allen has shown in The Concept of Woman, rediscovered and Christianized the Aristotelian analysis of the female. Aristotle followed Pythagoras in organizing reality into polar opposites. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle said that in a pair of contraries, one is the privation of the other.30 Aristotle was especially interested in the contraries of form, and he placed the male on the side of form, the female on the side of matter: “the female always provided the material, the male, that which fashions it.”31 As the giver of form, man rules; as the matter that is given form, the woman obeys.

In the order of nature the woman is therefore inferior to the man. Nevertheless, in the order of grace, Christian Aristotelians taught, the woman is above the man, precisely because of her natural inferiority: “Mary herself became a kind of material for the formative power of God. Her perfect identity as nonresistant material for the working of the Holy Spirit led to her complete absorption of the wisdom of God. Therefore [for St. Albert the Great] it followed that Mary knew everything that God knew. She was the perfect philosopher, theologian, lawyer, physician, scientist, and so on.”32 What is true of Mary is true of women in general. Precisely because they are more like the raw material on which form is imposed, they are more open to the forming of the Holy Spirit. Men have a form already, a form that gets in the way of the shape of Christ that the Holy Spirit wishes to imprint on the human person. Women, relatively lacking form, are more open to receiving another form.

This analysis permeated all medieval discussion of gender. As Ann Astell says, “In the metaphysics of sexuality, every person, male and female, is more feminine than masculine in relation to God—because receptive, dependent, and small.”33 The philosophical and theological explanation for women’s greater interest in Christianity was in place, and has continued to be the received wisdom.34

The explicit eroticism of the medieval mystics is still around, as anyone who has read Mariette in Ecstasy knows. Pseudo-mystics who have erotic fantasies about Jesus plague the Catholic Church. This is extreme, but much of popular devotion has a watered-down version of this eroticism.

Both Catholics and Evangelicals talk about a personal relationship with Jesus. Respondents to my book, The Church Impotent, have made it clear that what people understand by this language is a romantic relationship with Jesus, “falling in love with Jesus.” Not only old hymns like “O How I Love Jesus” bear this mark. Frederica Mathewes-Green reports that there is a genre of Christian rock that Christianizes love songs by substituting the name of Jesus for the girlfriend. The Communion hymns used in Catholic churches in the 1950s used Victorian melodies and sang of “the Bridegroom of my soul”; the current melodies are frequently romantic ones suited to easy-listening love songs.

The devotion to the Infant Jesus that began in the Middle Ages and continues in full flower among Catholics today bears some traces of eroticism. But even when it is wholesome, it creates problems for men, who do not have strong maternal feelings. And is our relationship to Jesus that of caring for and protecting a helpless child?

I recently visited EWTN, where Mother Angelica does excellent work. But the young men who work on the TV programs sometimes feel like barking like seals and banging their heads against the iron fences, because the atmosphere is one of sentimental motherhood. In general, normal men stay away. They were far harsher than I have been in their appraisal of this atmosphere.

I think that even doctrine has been affected by the feminization of the Church. Femininity is characterized by themes of union, of integration, and of maintaining relationships. Universalism is the received wisdom in almost all churches today.

Universalism is the doctrine that all human beings (and some add even the fallen angels) will be saved in the end. Hell, if it exists, will be empty. Julian of Norwich heard Jesus say to her, “All shall be well.” She questioned how, and was told only, “All shall be well.” Other saints argued with God, asking how he could send even sinners to hell. This affects the highest levels. Hans Urs von Balthasar, a favorite of John Paul II, wrote Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? His answer was yes, and he clearly leans toward universalism. He was heavily influenced by a woman mystic, Adrienne von Speyer. While we all devoutly hope and pray that this will be so, Jesus gives us many harsh warnings about hell fire and the worm that dieth not. He will separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. Even in ordinary Christian life, judgment, damnation, and hell have vanished from the ordinary consciousness, as has the practice of confession. If we are all going to heaven why worry about repentance? If everyone is going to heaven, why do people need to become Christians? If Christianity is a mere verbal game, a decoration, men have better things to do with their time.

Men have sought their religious fulfillment outside Christianity. The Freemasons and similar organizations provided a confrontation with death and a rebirth as a new man. Sports became a new religion, as did war, nationalism, fascism, and Nazism. Men have sought and continue to seek the transcendent not in Christianity but in the new religions of masculinity. Men know the pattern of death and rebirth because they have all had to die to the boy and the safe maternal world so that they could be reborn as men. They know that to be fully masculine they must die and be reborn and they therefore seek this death and rebirth wherever they can find it. In seeking death, they may fall in love with it; they may become criminals and nihilists. Christianity is a religion of death and resurrection, but masculinity, separated from Christianity, too often provides an ersatz resurrection and a real death.

By driving men away from the Church, this feminization has undermined Christian fatherhood. A man cannot be a Christian father unless he is a Christian first, and even fatherhood has been undermined in the churches.

Medieval Catholicism weakened the family. In the Middle Ages, consanguinity, both natural and spiritual (that is, through the godparents) was grounds for annulment. Since almost everyone was related to everyone else, almost any marriage could be annulled. The Reformers, in denying that marriage was a sacrament, and taking it from the jurisdiction of the Church, were trying to strengthen it. The Counter-Reformation followed suit by forbidding secret marriages and reforming the laws on consanguinity.

Luther and Calvin, I suspect, reacted to the feminization of Christianity by stressing the patristic concept of the Christian life as a daily death and rebirth (Luther is especially moving on this), and by stressing the role of the natural family as the domestic church, the religious duties of the father within the family, and the spiritual nature of lay work. Luther did not want to see nuns mooning over religious dolls but mothers caring for real infants. The Catholic Church used the figure of St. Joseph to uphold the dignity of fatherhood and lay work. During the Middle Ages he was portrayed as a comic old man on the periphery of the story of Mary and Jesus; after the seventeenth century he became a young father, protecting and teaching the child Jesus.

In attempting to demonstrate to the feminists the importance of women in the Catholic Church, the current pope, for all his excellencies and orthodoxy, has undermined the role of men in the church. He states he cannot allow the ordination of women, but allows the presence of altar girls, who have replaced altar boys in many churches. He talks about mutual subordination, but has never mentioned the father as the head of the family. This doctrine has been repeated by every pope in modern times except John Paul II.

In parishes, fathers are ignored or denigrated. Priests boast that they became priests because of their mothers (don’t they have fathers?), and I have been astounded at the personal revelations in sermons. One priest on Father’s Day read his own poem about how his father used to come home and beat his mother and terrorize the children. I have sympathy for such men, but why are they allowed to function as pastors? The situation in the mainline churches is far worse. The seminaries have a female majority, and shortly the ministry will be a female occupation. One will have to say male minister as one now has to say male nurse.

Making Men into Christian Fathers

Men can be taught to be men only by other men, and all too many pastors are not real men. A pastor called me about my book. He had been ordained in the mainline Presbyterian Church. When he entered the seminary, he had to take a battery of psychological tests and talk to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist looked over the tests, and the first question he asked the candidate was, “Are you a homosexual?” The candidate responded, “No, I’m not, and why do you ask?” The psychiatrist replied, “You have the psychological profile of a homosexual. But don’t worry, all the successful ministers in your denomination have this profile.” The problem, as the minister realized after reading my book, is that pastors too often become pastors because they enjoy working in a feminine world, and they adopt the mental attitudes of women, who are their principal audience. In men, such a psychological profile is effeminate.

The pastor, in conjunction with the men of the church, should develop programs to help boys grow into men. Initiation into the mysteries of religion should be part of becoming a man, not something that leads away from masculinity. Boys and young men have a way of learning that differs from that of girls. Boys are far more physical, and for them, the usual Sunday school is but a continuation of the five-day torment of sitting still. Physical activity and training should be joined to religious training. The Scouts provide an excellent vehicle; they can easily incorporate initiatory rituals. One Lutheran Church in Baltimore has adopted the knightly initiation. The scouts pray all night in a darkened church, and in the morning receive a sword and their scouts uniform in a ceremony before the whole congregation.

Having accompanied the boy along the path to manhood, the Church can then help him become a father. Although obviously fatherhood is a fulfillment of manhood, it involves a reconnection with the feminine, domestic world that men may feel is a threat to their masculinity, or at least to that aspect of masculinity that they achieved by rejecting feminine safety and facing challenges and dangers. The role of protector or provider is also a challenge, and a deeper one, that young men must take on to avoid getting stuck in the stage of adolescent thrill-seeking. If the young man does not experience Christianity as a threat to his masculinity, he will more willingly accept its guidance in becoming a father of a Christian household.

Christian fathers should instruct their sons, primarily by example. Fathers should lead family prayers and read the Bible, and take the lead in getting the family to church. Fatherhood should be stressed in sermons as it is in the Bible. Much of the Old Testament is instruction in how to be a father, and the father is of key importance in the Christian household in the New Testament.

Preach the whole gospel, including the uncomfortable parts. Hell and damnation are realities, and it does no one any good to forget them. Christianity is a matter of infinite seriousness, far more serious than economics or politics. Christianity can give the true initiation into the mysteries of life and death, of heaven and hell, of spiritual warfare and the destiny of the human race. Men need training in spiritual discipline, and will think it worthwhile if they see the importance of Christianity. Although flawed, Mitch Finley’s For Men Only: Strategies for Living Catholic has some good practical approaches.

Remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a clinging mother. Pastors should not aim at bringing men in and getting them involved in all sorts of committees and devotions. Christian formation is necessary, but the role of the pastor should be a father, not a mother. The father’s job is to separate his children from juvenile dependence and send them out prepared for the battle of life. The laity’s role is out in the world, Christianizing our culture. Anyone who has tried to do this knows that it is a battle and that the Church needs more than just a few good men.

Notes:

1. James H. Fichter, “Why Aren’t Males So Holy?” Integrity 9 (May 1955): p. 3.

2. Michael Argyle, Religious Behaviour (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 76.

3. Gail Malmgreen, “Domestic Discords: Women and the Family in East Cheshire Methodism, 1750–1830,” in Disciplines of Faith: Studies in Religion, Patriarchy and Politics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 56.

4. George Barna, Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), p. 87.

5. George Barna, “The Battle for the Hearts of Men,” New Man, vol. 4, no. 1 (January-February 1997): p. 42.

6. Carmela Lison-Tolosana, Belmonte de los Cabelleros: A Sociological Study of a Spanish Town (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 309.

7. Lison-Tolosana, Belmonte, p. 338.

8. Grace Davie, Religion in Britain Since 1945: Believing Without Belonging (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), p. 118.

9. Davie, Religion in Britain, p. 119.

10. Femand Boulard writes (translated by Leon Podles): “The behavior of the sexes, very different during former periods, has distinctly changed in the direction of a similarity of rates. The Sunday census which covered the diocese of Versailles on November 23, 1975, made it clear that the rate of masculinity [the proportion of men in the assembly of practicing Catholics] has stabilized almost everywhere between 35 and 40% for those more than 25 years old; a little more weak among rural senior citizens, it attains an absolute parity of 50% among some urban senior citizens. In contrast, in 1907–1908 in the neighborhood of Versailles, the rate was 15.6%, and around 1880 for the whole diocese it did not reach 11%.” (Matérieux pour l’histoire religieuse du peuple français XIXe–XXe siècles [Paris: Editions de L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1982], p. 19). However, the statistics in this book reveal a longstanding and massive difference in religious practice between French men and women.

11. Gerard Cholvy and Yves-Marie Hilaire, Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine, vol. III (Toulouse: Bibliothecque histoire privat, 1985), p. 299.

12. Christianne Marcilhacy, Le Diocèse d’Orléans sous l’episcopat de Mgr. Dupanloup (Paris: Librarie Plon, 1962), p. 531.

13. The current situation in the Catholic Church, in which contraception is officially condemned but those who adhere to this doctrine are largely excluded from Catholic education and diocesan structures, may be due to the same strategy of not offending women.

14. Quoted by Langlois, Claude. “Féminisation du catholicisme,” in Histoire de la France religieuse, vol. 3, Du rois Très Chrétien à la laicité républicaine (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1991), ed. Jacques Le Goff, p. 303.

15. Rosemary Radford Reuther, “Christianity and Women in the Modern World,” in Today’s Woman in World Religions, ed. Arvind Sharrna (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), p. 285.

16. Berthold von Regensburg preached: “Ir frouwen, ir sît barmherzic unde gêt gerner zuo kirchen danne die man unde sprechet iuwer gebete gerner danne die man unde gêt zu predigen gerner danne die man” (Predigten, vol. 1, ed. Franz Pfeiffer [Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1862], p. 41). In another sermon, Berthold continues in the same vein, and says that women are “erbaumherziger, danne die man und betet gerner, mit venie, mit danne die man, mit kirchgengen, mit riuwe, mit ûf stên, mit salter lesen, mit vigilie. Mit maniger guottæte sît ir bezzer.” (More merciful than men and more willing to pray with prostrations than men, with visits to church, with quiet, with standing, with reading the Psalter, with vigils. With many good deeds are you better.) (Predigten, vol. 2, p. 141).

17. “Dominus a nobis uxores abstuli, dyabolus autem nobis procurat sorores” (quoted by Herbert Grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter [Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1961], p. 262, n. 149). Somehow this quote was omitted from the English translation, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. by Steven Rowan (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995).

18. The decision reads “prohibemus ne aliquis fratrum nostrorum de cetero laboret vel procuret, ut cura vel custodia monialum seu quarumlibet aliarum mulierum nostris fratribus commitantur” (we prohibit either to labor or to seek out that the care or custody of nuns or of any other women be committed to our brothers) (quoted by Roger De Ganck, Beatrice of Nazareth in her Context [Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991], p. 21, n. 89).

19. Grundmann says of Dominic: “On his deathbed, in his last conversations on the order, he pressingly warned his brethren against association with women, particularly with young women. Was he only warning against the moral attitude of individual friars? Is it possible that the founder, preoccupied with questions about the future of his order in these last utterances, had been discussing whether the order should incorporate further women’s communities, placing friars to oversee and supply them, thus withdrawing from the order’s primary duty of preaching?” (Religious Movements, pp. 94–95).

20. Valerie M. Lagorio, “The Continental Women Mystics of the Middle Ages: An Assessment,” in Roots of the Modern Christian Tradition, p. 81. Leclercq et al. concur: “It was chiefly among women . . . that the Brautmystik was received with fervor” (Jean Leclercq, François Vandenbroucke, and Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, trans. by the Benedictines of Holmes Eden Abbey [London: Burns and Oates, 1968], p. 373).

21. Birgitta explains: “One should know that this most humble handmaid of God never presumed to call herself or have herself called the bride of Christ, or his channel, because of vainglory or transitory honor or any temporal advantage, but at the instruction of Christ and of blessed Mary, his most worthy mother, who both called her so.” (Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations, ed. Marguerite Tjader Harris, trans. Albert Ryle Kezel [New York: Paulist Press, 1990], p. 71).

22. Leclercq et al., Spirituality, p. 374.

23. Gertrude of Helfta, The Herald of Divine Love, trans. and ed. by Margaret Winckworth (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), p. 82.

24. Gertrude, Herald, p. 95.

25. Margaret Ebner, Major Works, trans. and ed. by Leonard P. Hindsley (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), p. 156.

26. Margaret Ebner, Major Works, p. 135.

27. Margaret Ebner, Major Works, p. 150.

28. Margaret Ebner, Major Works, p. 122.

29. Margaret Ebner, Major Works, p. 96.

30. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1055b, 25–29 in The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 1, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 1667.

31. Aristotle, Generation of Animals, 738b in The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 1, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, l984), p. 1146.

32. Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC–AD 1250 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), p. 383.

33. Anne W. Astell, The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 13.

34. I note that Steve Clark thinks that this is a misunderstanding of the Scholastics and that Prudence Allen has misled me, but he has not provided me with any details of his disagreement.


Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and has worked as a teacher and a federal investigator. He is the author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and the forthcoming License to Sin (both from Spence Publishing). Dr. Podles and his wife have six children and live in Naples, Florida. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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