Video: Eve – Is Woman a Misbegotten Male? (Thomas Aquinas vs. Aristotle)

This is going to be controversial! Today we look at the classical and medieval understandings of woman as she relates to man. We do so by looking at the Genesis account and along the way we get into some dicey theology.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.53.35 AMIf you’re a rock-ribbed feminist, you may want to stop reading here. Just sayin’. Thomas Aquinas locks horns with Aristotle on this issue of “woman as misbegotten male.” I think you’ll find this video especially interesting and helpful as you engage with others who argue that “The story of Adam and Eve is misogynistic!” You’ll also learn about Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy. As always, I look forward to the comments!!!

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Here’s the video on: “Eve – Is Woman a Misbegotten Male? (Thomas Aquinas)”

You can get videos like this every week through the New Saint Thomas Institute

Here’s the mp3/audio version if you want to listen to it or download it:

What does “Eve” mean?

Eve comes from the Hebrew: חַוָּה‎, pronounced Havah or Hawah.

Eve in the Hebrew language is Ḥawwāh, meaning: “living one” or “source of life”, and is related to ḥāyâ, “to live”. The name derives from the Semitic root ḥyw.

Why the Rib? (STh I, q. 92, a. 3.)

Thomas Aquinas gives this account:

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.

Secondly, for the sacramental signification; for from the side of Christ sleeping on the Cross the Sacraments flowed–namely, blood and water–on which the Church was established.

Aristotle on “Female as Misbegotten Male”

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher before the time of Christ. He had been a student of Plato. Aristotle was brilliant and the rediscovery of Aristotle in the Middle Ages led to a renaissance in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim intellectual circles – especially in the fields of science.

While the Church Fathers taught “immediate” conception, Aristotle taught a “delayed” conception.

Consequently, Aristotle taught that “the female is a misbegotten male.” Aristotle, De Gener. ii, 3.

Thomas Aquinas depends on Aristotle quite a bit, but not slavishly. Thomas frequently points out where and why Aristotle is wrong on hundreds of points. So it is interesting to see Thomas wrestle with Aristotle on the “status” of women in the scope of creation. Here’s the answer from Thomas Aquinas (it’s in more detail in the video lesson):

“Reply to Objection 1. As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). 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.” STh I, q. 92, 1, ad 2.

Here’s how Thomas understands it: From the Aristotelian point of view of philosophical act and potency, an embryonic female is just a little less actualized (XX chromosome) than a male (XY). But Thomas says, “on the other hand,” from the biblical Judeo-Christian point of view woman is NOT a misbegotten male. She is integral to the fabric of creation.

Question: So let’s get the comments rolling! What do you think? Does Thomas handle this appropriately? Does he not go far enough? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Daniel D

    Dr. Marshall

    I loved the presentation. Havah… the source of life … without knowing Aquinas view I’d always had the same view but didn’t understand fully. Secondly, what a beautiful explanation about why the bible speaks to Eve being created from the rib of Adam as God’s plan for them in union to procreate life. What struck me was the connection you addressed with the Blood and Water that flowed from Christ’s side. His church…. to create new life in union to be with God for all eternity…. so many times Christ said “I come to make ALL things new.” and we are so reminded of this point everyday at Mass … the Eucharist …. the source of life for us. Thank you!

    • There are so many beautiful things to meditate about here. And the Eucharist is a nice connection point!

  • Mary C. Tillotson

    Do you think a modern understanding of biology would have affected St. Thomas’s views?

    • Daniel D

      Mary

      I’d venture to say no. Why? I can’t remember where I’ve read that toward the end of Aquinas’ life I believe he had a vision where Christ said “You have written well of things.” And when he saw that he had only scratched the surface of everything he had written about could not continue because of the magnitude of it all. So I believe he was inspired and thus would have said the same. Again this is just my perspective view.

      • I’ve heard about this as well, but “you have written well of things” is different from saying “everything in here is true and accurate from all angles, perspectives, etc., and human knowledge cannot advance past this.” ST is a work of philosophy and theology, not biology.

        I just had a chance to watch this section of the video (starting around 7:30), and I do remember (as Dr. Marshall mentions) from my biology classes that after conception, embryos either do or don’t get a wash of testosterone that triggers their development as a male or female baby, depending on whether they have a Y chromosome (which they have or don’t have from the moment of conception). That makes sense. But, I don’t think it makes sense to say that women are less physically developed than men overall. Men tend to be taller and stronger, so you could say they are “more advanced” in those areas, but women are certainly “more advanced” in ability to carry, bear, and nurse children.

        I suppose you could say that men are more advanced in this area too because they can’t bear children, but this is a belief Catholics often to accuse feminists/modernity of, not a belief Catholics typically subscribe to.

        I think it makes more sense to say we are different, but, as Pope John Paul II said, it’s only through the duality of the masculine and the feminine that the human finds its true realization. This avoids the “two separate species” issue and speaks to the unity we ought to have.

        Dr. Marshall, what do you think?

        nb, I don’t fault Thomas for this; he didn’t have modern science to work with. But I think we who do have modern science should think about it in that light.

    • Most definitely. The discover of DNA demonstrates an “actualization” at the very moment of conception. This pretty much devastates Aristotle’s understanding of human conception.

      But remember, Aristotle and other ancients were studying miscarried infants. That was all that knew about babies in the womb. So we should cut them some slack.

      Godspeed,
      Taylor

  • JoeAllen

    Biologically speaking, women are much more robust than men. The Gender Chromosome pair in women is XX; one X is from the father and the other X is from the mother. So, women have an independent, backup X chromosome. Men suffer many genetic defects because of their single X Chromosome. For example, COLOR-BLINDNESS is caused by defects in the Gender Chromosome pair; 20% of men suffer COLOR-BLINDNESS while only 4% of women suffer Color-Blindness.

  • JoeAllen

    NEWS FLASH: God made Eve from Adam; God made Jesus from Mary. Jesus and Mary are identical twins. Adam and Eve are also identical twins. The story of Mary and Jesus is the exact reverse of the story of Adam and Eve. Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus was made from Mary’s rib … !!!!!!!!!

  • Jeff Knox

    Very thought provoking! The more I learn about what God said and did as the Catholic church teaches, the more I realize how incredibly “literal” it all really is; Adam’s bride came from his side, made from his own flesh and blood. Christs bride, the church (all of the baptized believers) by this beautiful insight or revelation, came from his side as baptized in the blood that flowed from his side on the cross, but also, as we read in John 6, unless we eat of his body and drink his blood, we are not part of his church/body. In a very real biological sense (to the extent the Eucharist is REALLY the body & blood of Jesus Christ-which, of course, it IS) our body assimilates the very fibers of the body of Christ, and thereby we become “ONE” with his body; similarly, husband and wife become “one flesh”. We, the church, truly are the bride of Christ.

    As to the equality of men and women. I believe a deeper analysis should include a consideration of “why” we ascribe value to man’s greater physical size, namely, things of “value” can be accomplished by men that can’t be done by women because they require greater physical prowess. Yet no mention is made of the greater “value” women contribute by virtue of being able to nurture and incubate life in the womb and thus propagate the species. Should that not be considered value-added to the human race? And what about brain development research that shows much stronger cross hemisphere communication, and the attendant advantages, in women’s brains vs men’s. I love Aquinas but by what I learned here I would have to believe he would conclude that elephants are better than humans cuz they grew more. Seems way too superficial to me.

  • Sherry B. Cleveland

    Wow, so many beautiful insights! Aquinas went as far as he could have and should have because of what was available to him in his time. But are we His children, brothers and sisters, or bride?

  • Guest

    Dr. Taylor Marshall,

    Have you read or studied Pope St. John Paul II’s “Catecheses on Human Love” also known as “Man and Women He Created Them: A Theology of the Body” to any degree? If not I think you would love and it would enrich your own insights greatly.

    Peace

  • Theodore Capaldi

    Dr. Taylor Marshall,

    Great video! Thanks be to God for all that you do in your apostolate!

    Have you read or studied Pope St. John Paul II’s “Catecheses on Human Love” also known as “Man and Women He Created Them: A Theology of the Body” to any degree? If not I think you would love and it would enrich your own insights greatly.

    Peace,

    T.J.