As indicated in an earlier blog in THE GOOD WORD, there are a number of passages in the writings of St. Paul which suggest understandings of, and limitations on, women that seem unreasonable. It is too long a project to analyze here all of these passages - indeed, a fair and final evaluation of them means an attempt at understanding each of Paul’s sayings in its context. But I offer one thought which means to be a general principle applicable to all Paul wrote, including the material regarding women. Paul’s writings issue from an inspired, highly intelligent, holy person who is, at the same time, a child of his tradition. Paul never left behind his adherence to Jewish Law and practices. If he were aware of conflicts between his way of thinking and that of Jesus, he deferred to Jesus. But if it was not clear to him what Jesus’ thinking might be in concrete situations and in the analysis of human nature that has come down to him from his Jewish tradition, Paul regularly appeals to his tradition in counselling others. To put the matter briefly, Paul depended on his Jewish tradition to guide him in regard to women, a tradition which has been constantly shaped anew by reflection over centuries on the words of Christ. Consider an example: it is clear that Jesus never allowed divorce, yet the Church does. It is only by the Christian tradition’s thinking about the mind of Jesus that it came to the conclusion that divorce in certain circumstances is permitted, and thus is according to the mind of Christ. In regard to Paul, he offers some of the most profound insights into the mind of God and Christ, but he is, when left without clear revelation of God’s mind, limited to his Jewish tradition. Thus, if one is to understand Paul (and correct him), one must understand the Jewish view of women. This is no excuse, as it were, for Paul’s thinking, nor is it an attempt to analyze all the particular statements of Paul (which often are made in view of certain circumstances not readily known); it is rather a constant call to understand what of Scripture is of Christ and God, and what is to be understood as limitations on human thinking. Ultimately, it is the Church which decides what is perennial, what is passing in Scripture.
St. Paul and women