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Part IX: The Church’s Assault on Women – Not a Myth

This series focuses on the region from where the roots of Western Judaic and Christian civilization of today are traced: the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern region surrounding the Mediterranean  from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine,  Jordan, Iraq, (western) Iran, and Egypt).  A similar evolution and change happened in the (farther) East that became dominated by Islam and Hinduism. 

To read the entire series, or to read other Zeitgeist Change Commentaries by Janet Wise, go to

Note: The term androcracy is used to describe a social system ruled through force, or threat of force by men. This term derives from Greek root words Andros or “man,” and kratos (as in democratic), or “ruled.”

PART IX: PUNISHING EVE— Catholic Church Consolidation of Power Completed Denigration of Women

To set the tone, as we enter the Christian era of Western civilization, each succeeding (Part) will begin with a quote from the Malleus Maleficarum: or Hammer of Witches. Written in (1484), by Heinrich Godfrey Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, Catholic Dominican Inquisitors The Malleus was written as a text for the witch inquisitions in response to Pope Innocent VIII’s papal bull to formalize a plan of action against the Catholic Church’s paranoia of a worldwide conspiracy of witches and Satan. It became the encyclopedia for inquisitors and courts throughout Europe to identify, accuse, torture convictions from, and execute somewhere upward to 9,000,000[1] women as witches over the next three centuries. It even, for a brief time, spread to the Calvinist American colonies. The Church was never censored nor condemned for this holocaust against women.                                                                                          

As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sex than among men; it is indeed a fact that it were idle to contradict, since it is accredited by actual experience, apart from the verbal testimony of credible witnesses.

For some learned men have proposed these three reasons . . . the tongue, an Ecclesiastic, and a Woman, which know no moderation in goodness and vice . . . and when they exceed the bounds of their condition, they reach the greatest heights and lowest depths of goodness and vice  . . . and when they are governed by an evil spirit, they indulge the worst vices.

. . . But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from the bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives. 

The Malleus Maleficarum: or Hammer of Witches, Part I, Question 6, Concerning Witches who Copulate with Devils; Why is it that Women are Chiefly Addicted to Evil Superstitions? (1484), by Heinrich Godfrey Kramer and JacobSprenger, Catholic Dominican Inquisitors.

With the advent of the birth of Christ, reverence of virginity was raised to an even higher and grossly misogynistic level; enter the pregnant (virgin) Mother – a mortal woman, not a deity – who was, after the fact, mythologized as having become impregnated by Immaculate Conception. Since sex with a woman was now unclean in Christian theology, just as it was in the Hebrew Old Testament, this very contrived story edited sullied sex with Christ’s mother out of that myth. Though they elevated the son to god-divinity, the mother was a mere woman of flesh and blood – just touched by a bit of magic to become the impregnated womb needed to bear the son, a womb protected by an intact hymen.  Yet though they claimed Mary was a virgin, she was still “unclean” due to having given birth. Therefore a festival of the purification of the Virgin Mary was introduced into Rome at an early date to “cleanse” her, and forever after institutionalizing the belief in the uncleanliness of motherhood.[2]  Christian baptism is a ritual to “cleanse” the newborn from the sin of being born of woman – to be made fit for the company of man and (the male) God. As already discussed, Eve, in enticing Adam, was the cause and justification for all women to be denounced as the elicitor of sin and deserving of any and all punishment having to do with sex and reproduction. Thus women never stood a chance in the Christian mythology. Even so, it would take a very dark and violent imagination to ever conceive of what was to follow.

As the Catholic Church became synonymous with the sword and power of the Roman Empire, the Catholics’ edited and revised religious hierarchal system emerged supreme. Along with their political dominion enforced by the might of a great military through which they achieved an unchallengeable authority over all the lands conquered by Rome, they also became mega-wealthy.  The Church was so entrenched with power, after Rome collapsed, it (the Catholic Church) would become the cohesive dominant authority in what we consider to be Western civilization – this would be particularly true from mid 300 A.D. through the 18th century. To this day they have remained among the most profitable businesses in the world and owners of a lot of very valuable real estate – tax free real estate that they confiscated through the might of the sword, corrupted means, and the corrupt and barbarous inquisitions. Through the Crusades, the European wars, and their animosity toward science and advancements in medicine – even hygiene – the Church would be responsible for millions of deaths. As well, they became, beyond comparison, the most brutal and murderous of women.

Some would make the case that the first two centuries after the birth of Christ was a period of feminine resurgence. And certainly there is evidence in the Gnostic Gospels[3] that Christ included women as well as men in his circle. Christian factions battled among themselves, from the time of Christ’s death, over the ideology of his teachings. Divided primarily into two groups, they were: the orthodox who favored a hierarchical system of males in the roles of bishops, priests and deacons to rule over the masses as the guardians of what they saw as the only “true faith;” and a wide array of groups that were collectively known as Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that to “know oneself” was to “know God,” with women being considered equal in knowing as men.[4]  They took turns in leading scripture study, women leading groups as often as men; in other words, no bishops or priests were needed to teach them (a system not to be allowed by the orthodox Catholics as it would have relegated bishops, priests, and deacons out of power, and into the ranks of the unemployed).  By the time of Constantine’s conversion, the orthodox faction had won and forced the Gnostics underground, persecuting them as heretics.

The orthodox Catholic Christian Church had endorsed as canonical “the pseudo-Pauline letter of Timothy, which stresses and exaggerates the anti-feminist element of Paul’s views: Let a woman learn in silence and with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”[5] And that is the way it would remain in the Catholic Church ever after.

Two important reminders to make on this: the Christian religion was a small persecuted sect of no renown – other than due to their notoriety in facing executions by the Romans when they refused to pay tribute to the Roman gods during the first three centuries after Christ’s death.  But when Constantine converted and Christians became politically powerful, the orthodox Catholics had firmly put women back in their place – elicitors of sin, to be owned and controlled by men. They were the intellectual and spiritual inferior of men whose role was for procreation only, and only when married, and preferably impregnated without the sin of sexual desire on the part of the impregnator.

Researcher and professor of psychology Jeanne Achterberg Ph.D writes, “It was the supreme masculine victory, consummated in the cult of the Virgin. For the first time in history, a mother kneels before her son and freely accepts her inferiority. Her rehabilitation for being the elicitor of original sin was to be through the accomplishment of her defeat. The most obvious way for women to atone for original sin was through the Church itself; the Church making virginity and a life-time of service a way to mitigate against this curse of Eve’s sin. Daughters of wealthy landowners were especially welcomed as they carried a hefty dowry with them into the cloistered walls. The nuns, or ‘Brides of Christ,’ were not allowed to pass down any landholdings to future generations, but rather to the Church. By the end of the Middle Ages, through this and other policies, the Church had acquired over one-third of the land mass of Europe.”[6] Whereas the late Babylonian priests put women on their backs to earn wealth for the temples, the Catholic fathers married virgins to Christ, taking all their worldly wealth, while putting them on their knees in a lifetime of servitude – a very inventive method for the continued denigration of women and for confiscation of wealth and property to add to the church coffers.

By the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., Catholic bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them. Possession of books denounced as heretical was made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed.[7] And those convicted of heresy were punished severely, often put to death; reasons why the Gnostic gospels were hidden away. Christianity, perceived in its early years as a lunatic fringe group beholden to outlandish superstitions had progressed into mainstream theology with power over countries – even continents. This was accomplished through fear and hysteria delivered by the might of the sword.

The orthodox Catholics wrote what became known as the New Testament; the selected scriptures recorded between 200 – 300 years after Christ’s death. Once in control of Roman leadership, they edited and left out the scriptures written by those (Gnostics) with whom they disagreed. And so it was from 313 A.D to about the end of the 18th century – the Catholic Church was the powerful ruling force over all of Europe.

Catholic Phobia and Loathing of Sexual Desire

There have been numerous theologians whose writings had great influence on Catholic dogma, but perhaps none more so than Latin Christian theologian Augustine (354-430 A.D.) bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. His writings would echo through further Catholic writings for centuries. It was St. Augustine’s philosophy that the Church elevated into absolute doctrine that only the Church could absolve one of sin. Again, from Achterberg, “It was an ingenious play of power that kept people chained to the institution with guarantees of forgiveness and eternal life. Women lost on all counts. In order to maintain the logic underlying the Church’s hold on power, women’s inherent sinfulness also had to be sustained. If there had been no evil temptress, no sin would exist, and the promised deliverance would wield no control over the masses. The doctrine of Original Sin was critical: the established Church was dependent upon an economic power-base of unquestioned obedience, and it would collapse if the Church was not seen as the gateway to heaven. Later, this doctrine would be used to beat women without overt cause except that they were of an evil nature and needed it. And original sin of Eve became an excuse for torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands – millions – of women during the Inquisitions and witch-hunts.”[8]

Augustine considered lust to be one of the most grievous sins, and a serious obstacle to the virtuous life. His view of sexual feelings as sinful impacted his view of women. His beliefs were so extreme that he considered a man’s erection to be sinful because it did not take place under his conscious control. Rather than resolve his internal struggle with his own sexuality, he blamed women for being “stimulating.” His solution was to place controls on women to limit their ability to influence men:

“Thus the woman, but not the man, should veil herself to prevent her from causing this sinful response in the male.” [9]

Augustine viewed women not only as threatening to men, but also as intellectually and morally inferior:

 “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters; that they who excel in reason, excel in power.”[10]

“Flesh stands for the woman, and the spirit for the husband… The serpent, which represents the enticement to disobedience to God and the preference for selfish desires, first approached Eve, because as a woman she had less rationality and self-control and was closer to the ‘lower’ or female part of the soul… Adam, on the other hand, was equated with the higher, superior part of the human soul.

(In fact, his choice to eat the forbidden fruit along with his wife was viewed by Augustine as)

“an act of kindly companionship, lest she be left alone outside paradise” [11]

In other words, Augustine believed that sin entered the world because man—the spirit—did not exercise proper authority over the woman—the flesh. In that regard, Augustine saw a noble purpose in rape. While promising women that savage lust perpetuated against them will be punished, he also praised rape for keeping women “humble,” letting them know:

 “whether previously they were arrogant with regard to their virginity or over-fond of praise, or whether they would have become proud had they not suffered violation.”[12]

Women would suffer for the next millennium and a half, in all of Western civilization, due to St. Augustine’s views being held as “normal.”

Already viewed for centuries as unclean, according to the Hebrew Old Testament, the many pronouncements of the Catholic popes, monks, and theologian writers reinforced this loathing of female sexuality and her biological ability to reproduce: “She was to hide her face in shame, especially during menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. Lovemaking was no longer hers to enjoy, but rather to endure, in order to conceive children in sin. The feminine role in creation was not blessed but cursed.”[13]

The Roman Empire now united with the Church imposed new restrictions upon women. Directions as to a woman’s dress were made the subject of a Canon; usually this meant she had to be veiled. At certain periods, even in some places as late as the 19th century, conversation with women was forbidden.[14]

Charles Singer, DM, DLitt, DSc, FRCP (1876-1960), British historian of science, technology and medicine wrote that beginning with the 5th century, apart from actual war, the chief business of the Catholic Fathers was to decide certain theological questions such as the amount of power to be wielded by the clergy, and the part to be played by women in church services. Those questions were settled to the satisfaction of the Church – the Church obtained more and more temporal power, and women were more and more forced into the background. Singer calls the 5th century the beginning of the dark period of the world of sciences that would last more than a thousand years.”[15]


[1] Note: Because court records were often not accurately maintained and preserved over time, the actual number has been difficult to verify, other than it has been possible to trace the numbers well into the hundreds of thousands with other historical writings documenting the 9,000,000 figure. In Germany alone, 100,000 witch burnings have been carefully documented. There were very likely many more. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort to downplay the numbers by those either sympathetic to, or aligned with, the Church. It is interesting to note that in reading historical accounts written closer to the time in history that this heinous crime was being perpetrated onto the masses of women in Western society by the Church, that the estimated numbers were greater, with factual accounts provided, and that they have lessened in later writer’s estimations. This indicates that over time those sympathetic to the Church have lessened the numbers by methods common to those who create deceptions; scoffing the credulousness of the numbers, disguising in Church-sympathizer pseudo-studies which are biased, and simply by repeating the premise of the lie often enough that it becomes the standard-bearer of truth. No matter what the true numbers were – and this writer is inclined to believe the older historical accounts which studied it closer to the time in which the crime occurred – the victims’ crime was being women; and it invariably had to do with the loathing of her sex and sexuality.

[2] Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State, (Arno Press, A New York Times Company: New York, 1972), p 60,  reprinted from Library of Congress copyrighted edition of 1893

[3] Note: In 1945, in caves near the town of Naj Hammadi in upper Egypt, an Arab peasant discovered a red earthenware jar almost a meter high. Inside were thirteen papyrus books bound in leather. Some were burned as kindle in his mother’s oven. Others made their way to Cairo and were sold on the black market through antiquities dealers and soon attracted the attention of the Egyptian government, and made their way to the Coptic Museum in Cairo. But still more of the find was smuggled out of Egypt and offered for sale in America. Scholars who translated this text and later the texts in Cairo’s Coptic Museum discovered gospels written shortly after the death of Christ which tell a different story of the origin of the human race in terms very different from the usual reading of Genesis and of the teachings of Jesus Christ. It was speculated that these texts were buried in order not to be destroyed as heresy by the Catholic Church once the Catholic doctrine came into power as part of the struggle critical in the formation of early Christianity. Though the translations made their way public by the 1970s the Church to this day denounces them as heresy.

[4] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. (New York: Random House, 1979) pp. xiii – xxxvi

[5] Ibid, p. 63

[6] Jeanne Achterberg, Woman as Healer,  (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1990) pp. 53-54

[7] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979) p. xix

[8] Ibid. p. 67

[9] Reuther, R.R. Augustine: Sexuality Gender and Women, 2007 quoting J.C. Stark (Ed.), Feminist interpretations of Augustine. (pp. 47-68). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

[10] Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153, as cited at

[11] Reuther, R.R. Augustine: Sexuality Gender and Women, (2007), p. 54

[12] Ibid. pp. 55-68

[13] Jeanne Achterberg, Woman as Healer, p. 67

[14] Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State, p 62.

[15] Charles Singer, A Short History of Medicine: to the Nineteenth Century, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941)



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Janet Wise

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