“The Male and Female are One:” Man and Woman as the Image of God According to Thomas Aquinas

Modern scholars often look askance at patristic and medieval authors for their supposed “misogyny” when discussing the role of women or feminine characteristics. It is certainly true that pre-modern Christians lived within mostly patriarchal societies and that masculinity was considered generally superior to femininity. At the same time, the writings of some of the Church’s greatest minds convey the inherent dignity of woman and her essential role in her relationship to man. She is not an add-on to creation, but an indispensable part of what it means for human beings to be in and live according to the image of God. Thomas Aquinas is one such theologian who, as a man of his times, assumes a superiority of man over woman. Yet Aquinas writes elegantly about the creation of woman and the ensuing relationship she has with the man that results in a full picture of humanity living according to God’s image in a way that the man could not have done on his own. She was his “helper” or, “ezer,” who completed the man, enabling humanity to accomplish its God-given task to be fruitful and care for the world. Aristotle, upon whom Aquinas frequently draws, believed that a woman is a “misbegotten man.” Aquinas corrects this view of his ancient teacher by showing the woman’s inherent dignity, worth, and purpose. Therefore, in this paper I hope to demonstrate that even within a medieval context, Thomas Aquinas makes the case that woman completes man in three ways: 1) according to the manner of her creation, 2) according to her role as “ezer” to the man in completing the human task, and 3) according to the way she is in relation to the man that symbolizes the union of Christ with his Church. In sum, man and woman together are the image of God. To demonstrate this, I will draw upon relevant biblical and historical literature including primary works from some of Aquinas’ medieval predecessors.

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