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Katie van Schaijik

Are wives supposed to submit to their husbands?

Aug. 8 at 12:04pm

Over at First Thingsin an article on "obedient wives," Margaret Fox touches a flashpoint of mine.  She refers to an association called the "Obedient Wives Club" formed last year in Malaysia.

The group argues that social problems like divorce, adultery, prostitution, and even domestic abuse could be solved if wives obeyed their husbands and exhibited the sexual prowess of a high class prostitute. In other words, men wouldn’t be unfaithful, hire prostitutes, or beat their wives if they were kept happy in bed. 

Of course, as a woman and a Christian, Margaret Fox is appalled.  But, she finds that just because she's a Christian, she's often thought to endorse the same idea.

Many of my neighbors who take offense at the OWC’s message believe that, as a Christian, my own views on gender represent the exact same patriarchal prejudice. After all, the OWC bases its teachings on the Scriptures of another Abrahamic religion: Islam. 

I know how she feels.  I once found myself in an online discussion with progressives who argued that Christians and Muslims have basically the same repressive sexual morality, since it all boils down to virginity until marriage.  (This came as a genuine shock to me.  I mean, how could anyone not see the abyss of difference between the Christian understanding, wherein a young woman's sexuality is her own, and Muslim teaching, whereby it belongs to the men in her life?)

So far, so good between me and Fox.  But then, a snag.

...many self-styled progressive Christians would like to omit verses like Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord”—from the Bible altogether. They draw the battle lines at that word, submission, and glare at me expectantly: which side are you on?

Speaking as Christian who rejects utterly the "progressive" modifier, I want to say that I think there are good reasons for balking at that particular verse.  In a post-feminist world, it is problematic, and it has been widely misunderstood and misapplied in certain Christian circles. 

Back in my undergrad days, during the heyday of the Covenant Community phenomenon, Ephesians 5:22 was invoked as the basis for wretchedly abusive policies and practices.  Their basic teaching on marriage—even in Catholic Covenant Communities—was that "the role of the husband" was to lead; "the role of the wife" was to submit to his leadership.  It was "God's plan for marriage." In this view, the husband is, unambiguously, in a position of authority over his wife.  She is his subordinate.  She becomes holy by obeying him.  

Along with countless other zealous Christians wanting to "take a radical stand against feminism," I eagerly embraced this teaching as a freshman and sophomore.  After all, there it was, right in Ephesians, plain as day.  I thought anyone who didn't embrace it was guilty of lukewarmness, if not outright dissent.

Then I encountered the writings of Dietrich von HIldebrand and John Paul II.  Also, I fell in love.  My eyes were opened both intellectually and experientially to the ugliness and wrong of this interpretation of that passage.  Around the same time, the Covenant Communities began to experience problems.  Many women were objecting to the way they were being treated.  And, of course, the more they objected, the more they were "admonished" for being "rebellious."  Eventually, Bishops had to intervene and force corrections, particularly on the point of "headship and submission" in marriage.  

But the basic idea hasn't gone completely away.  I encounter it often among religious Christians: talks or articles laying out "the Biblical model" for marriage, focussing on Ephesians 5.  "Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as to the Lord." These authors always include (just as Margaret Fox does) a stress on the fact that the husband has to love his wife as Christ love the Church—as if that resolves any problem anyone might have with wifely submission.  

But does it?  I don't think it does, quite. Further, I don't think this interpretation really is "God's plan" for marriage.  Consider:

1. In the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, we have an authoritative interpreter of Holy Scripture.  In the 50 or so years since the sexual revolution began, the Church has issued scads of encyclicals and documents on the subject of marriage.  None of them set up the husband as an authority over his wife.  None of them stresses the need for her to be submissive.  None of them.

2.  The Church has dropped "obey" from wedding vows.  Why?  Was it a regrettable concession to liberals, like the execrable gender-neutralizing of parish hymnals?  I don't think so.  I think it was a recognition that the word is no longer fitting.  It doesn't do full justice to the dignity of women in marriage.  

3. In John Paul II's Letter to Women, he called feminism a "substantially positive" development in history.  He acknowledges that the dignity of women had not been adequately recognized and respected in history and culture, in law and customs, and that the time has come to rectify the injustice.

4.  In his own teaching on Ephesians 5, JP II says that the preceding verse  provides the interpretative key: "Defer to one another."  The verses following are meant to be read not as assigning gender roles, but as throwing light on the mystery of marriage as an icon of the mutual, self-donating, life-giving love of the Holy Trinity.

5.  In The Jeweler's Shop, the character Andrew proposes to Teresa this way: "Will you be my life's companion?"  He chose the words carefully.  He was asking her to be his companion for life, not to take up a function in his household.  This captures a genuine shift in Catholic understanding and ethos.

The thrust of Karol Wojtyla's philosophical personalism and his teachings as Pope, especially in his Theology of the Body, are opposed to an externalist, functionalist interpretation of marriage.  Again and again, the personalist Pope directs attention to the mystery of spousal love.  And he opposes it—radically—to the master/slave dynamic of the Fall.  Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a harmonious, reciprocal union and communion of love.  After the Fall, shame enters the picture, and with it the sinful tendency to objectify and abuse others and ourselves.  Adam is tempted to "Lord it over" his wife, and she is tempted to behave slavishly toward him.  In the mutual self-donation of spousal love in the Sacrament of marriage, this evil dynamic is undone.  Man and Woman are restored to their original unity and full dignity as persons.  

Now, none of this is to suggest that there are no important differences between the sexes in marriage, or that there's no meaningful way to speak of the woman as the heart of the home, while the man is the head of the home.  But it does offer, in my view, a deep and decisive refutation of a superficial, externalist reading of Ephesians 5 still prevalent in some Christian circles.  It gives us true personalist grounds for denying that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands as if to an authority figure.  

From her strong stress on reciprocity in marriage, I suspect Margaret Fox would agree. 


 

Patrick Dunn

I think I agree with what you wrote here, Katie, though my concern is how then to understand and deal with Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord.”

Is it bad or awkward wording (specifically, I mean "submit") of a phrase that was actually intended to convey"defer"?

Is it simply a sign of the consciousness and culture of Paul and his time?

Something else? 

Thank you for your post and your thoughts.

#1 - Aug. 8 at 1:16pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Well, I can't claim to be an exegete.  But, in the light of John Paul's thought, I now understand it in the way I understand St. Paul's telling slaves to obey their masters.  It's not an endorsement of slavery.  And it IS relative to the culture of his time.

At the time, wives were understood to be subordinate to their husbands.  That was a given.  It took centuries of Christian reflection and experience for the implications of the "ethical demands" of Jesus's teaching on marriage to unfold.  

#2 - Aug. 8 at 1:34pm | quote

 

Devra Torres

These authors always include (just as Margaret Fox does) a stress on the fact that the husband has to love his wife as Christ loves the Church—as if that resolves any problem anyone might have with wifely submission.  

But does it?  I don't think it does, quite. 

I agree. I know Fr. John Riccardo addresses this, and it has something to do with the way the verb "submit" is in the original.  It also has a lot to do with understanding headship as a service, a responsibility, and a burden, not just a privilege.  We can rule out interpretations that don't account for the dignity of the woman, but what exactly do we put in their place?  I hope lots more people jump in here!

#3 - Aug. 8 at 2:28pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Greetings!

I think I agree, Katie, with what you are saying. But may I push just a bit on this?

Yes, historical context is very important for understanding Scripture rightly. But, just the same, there has been a trend in Biblical scholarship of the recent century or so to go way too far in this direction, essentially reducing Scripture to a mere human artifact of its time (thus practically emptying it of timeless divine truths).

Even as we certainly must do our best to see Paul's words in the light of his time and place and the situation in which he was writing, so too, we need be careful that we don't lose sight that God is the primary author of Sacred Scripture (all of it with all its parts). God's timeless truths are revealed in and through the very words of Paul. And as Dei Verbum says, "everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit" (no. 11).

So, we can't ignore this verse (as any verse) as though it has no meaning. What was Paul saying that the Holy Spirit fully asserts? What is Paul's real meaning here?

#4 - Aug. 8 at 2:50pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Authority is (and has been), of course, easily and often abused in our fallen world. But, are we able to see, from within the framework of grace and the human person redeemed and transoformed by grace, that in God's perspective, authority is not an essentially negative thing? Can we still see that in fact authentic authority, when utilized in imitation of Christ, is wholly and entirely good and a service to others? We have to be careful, I think, that because of the awful and frequent abuse of authority as we too often experience it in our fallenness, that we throw the baby out with the bathwater and don't allow oursevles to see that authority--at its pure essense--not only is not a negative thing, but is entirely good. We need to check ourselves on mistaking our frequent experience of something in its fallen, twisted mode, for the essence of that thing.

While I agree that the original impetus of modern feminism was very good, the more recent radicalized version of it seems to be incapable of finding any essential good at all in the exercise of legitimate authority by men in any context.

#5 - Aug. 8 at 3:06pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

And so, Katie, I am not suggesting you are making this mistake of the radical feminists (presuming that all association of authority with men is by definition evil).

But, this whole subject should prompt us to seek out earnestly, in a positive fashion--what is Paul's meaning here?


For, if we don't make the modern mistake of negating whole sections of Scripture by casting them aside as mere timebound artifacts of their day with no relevance for us, we have to come back to the question, what is the unchanging truth here? For surely, it means something? In other words, the Holy Spirit has something to teach us here in the Word of God that is always and everywhere applicable and true, in all times and places. What is it? And it has to be integrally united with Paul's own meaning. If we divorce a meaning "for today" from the meaning intended by Paul, we are not reading Scripture in a Catholic way.

Questions like this have to refer to the orginal Greek. I'm sure there must be tons of baggage we have attached to our lived understanding of the English word "submit" that is not intended in Paul's Greek.

#6 - Aug. 8 at 3:16pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

So, I would like to gently and reverently ask the following (and then I must get back to work!):

Is there, in any true, authentic, sense--from the point of view of God's design for the family--any way in which (with grace and under grace, under God's headship) the husband is meant to have a leadership role that is particular to being the husband? (Fully reverencing his wife's own equal dignity and personhood.)

Is there in God's plan anything special about the leadership of men, as men? Or do men have nothing of unique value as men to contribute to society in leadership roles?

(I ask this assuming the context of the human person as saved and elevated and contstantly assisted by divine grace.)

Can men, even with grace, possibly lead others in ways that women (generally speaking, allowing for exceptions) ordinarily could not?

Or, is there no essential natural difference at all between the (positive, graced) leadership that can be offered by men as compared with the leadership offered by women?

Perhaps here is the underlying root of this issue. Did God create man and woman with natural, complementary differences in their leadership roles? And does this impact marriage?

#7 - Aug. 8 at 3:48pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

And please know, by 'different,' I do not mean to imply that one role is inferior to the other. I intentionally mean here to invoke the wonderful Catholic understanding, applied to natural leadership roles (if there is such a thing?) of the sexes, that there is full equality in value and dignity to roles created by God to be different in beautifully complementary ways.

#8 - Aug. 8 at 3:56pm | quote

 

Patrick Dunn

Scott Johnston, Aug. 8 at 1:50pm

So, we can't ignore this verse (as any verse) as though it has no meaning. What was Paul saying that the Holy Spirit fully asserts? What is Paul's real meaning here?

Scott, yes, that is essentially my concern.  Even with all the good reflection, experience, theological development, etc. that we have at our disposal, still, there is that verse, that notion in Paul that we must, I think, come to terms with.

#9 - Aug. 8 at 4:07pm | quote

 

Teresa Manidis

Katie, you are spot on, as always, and this dovetails nicely with your earlier posts.  A lot of work needs to be done with our (mis)understanding of this verse in particular, and of 'submission' in general, in a Christian context.  I know, during our own PreCana sessions, we received mixed messages.  While our pastor told me to omit vowing obedience during the marriage ceremony (something which would scandalize family members who thought I, as an impetuous 21 year old, just decided to 'drop'it on my own) that 'progressive' (yes, Katie, horrible qualifier) move was coupled with the priest's own hidebound definition of 'obedience'.  When I asked, point blank, what obedience (whether vowed or not) was supposed to look like in real life, I was told, 'Well, you know, whenever a decision has to be made, or whenever it's something important, you know, that affects you both, or your family, or your souls - well, then, in those cases, to avoid unpleasantness, the decision is solely the man's to make.'  While we just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this week, given that definition, I am afraid this thinking-girl, besides the love and loyalty, has given her husband a lot of unpleasantness

#10 - Aug. 8 at 4:12pm | quote

 

Teresa Manidis

And, Scott, I have spoken to you in person and know you to be a truly thinking person yourself, but I do not believe, in the fallen world in which we live, any man, given the power, could act as you hope.  Think of it as Aragorn, who knew how the Ring compelled him, and wouldn't trust himself with it.  And, no offense, not many men are Aragorn.

#11 - Aug. 8 at 4:16pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Let me stress in reply, Scott, that I don't mean to be doing exegesis or Biblical hermeneutics.  I'm not the least qualified for either endeavor. 

It is the Church who authoritatively interprets Scripture and human experience.  I got my understanding of this passage not out of my own head, or from reading femininist literature, but from John Paul II, who reflected long and deeply on the mystery of marriage and sexuality, as an original philosopher and as Pope. I endorse it with all my heart, not only because I'm a faithful Catholic, but because it has the ring of truth.  It matches my experience.  

I'm also indebted to theologian John Grabowski, whose essay "Mutual Submission and Trinitarian Self-Giving," makes a compelling case that John Paul II's teaching on this passage represents an authentic development of Catholic teaching.

#12 - Aug. 8 at 4:21pm | quote

 

Devra Torres

Scott, I was really, really struck by the way you phrase the questions, so thoroughly and so careful to head off possible misunderstandings.  I can only imagine that talking about this subject, as a man, must be a lot like tiptoeing through a minefield and I congratulate you!  (I have to go now but hope to add more comments later.)

#13 - Aug. 8 at 4:29pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Scott Johnston, Aug. 8 at 2:48pm

Did God create man and woman with natural, complementary differences in their leadership roles? And does this impact marriage?

Yes, of course.  But I don't think God says or that the Church teaches that men are supposed to be the leaders in marriage.  I think that's what we (in our fallen condition) have read into the passage.

God gave dominion over the earth to Adam and Eve together.  In their original state they were co-regents. 

The masculine is not in charge of the feminine; they are entrusted to each other.

But their ways of relating in marriage will naturally reflect the differences between men and women.  And they will "defer to one another" according to their different gifts and different responsibilities.

The head/heart analogy is useful here I think.  The head can't do without the heart any more than the heart can do without the head.  Neither would it be true to say that the head always leads.  Being more sensitive and intuitive, it is often the heart that leads. 

#14 - Aug. 8 at 4:38pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Devra Torres

...It also has a lot to do with understanding headship as a service, a responsibility, and a burden, not just a privilege.  We can rule out interpretations that don't account for the dignity of the woman, but what exactly do we put in their place?  I hope lots more people jump in here!

I'd be surprised if John Paul II ever used the term "headship."  

I don't like it.  I don't think it adequately reflects "the mind of the Church" on this question.

The man is not the "leader"; he's the husband and father.

A man is responsible not just for his wife, but to his wife.  She is likewise responsible for him and to him.  She needs him to be a man; he needs her to be a woman.  She loves and respects his manhood; he loves and respects her womanhood. 

I can't quite understand the urge to translate this into practical "roles," as if applying gender externally.  It reminds me of the Galations who kept wanting to get back "under the law."  Freedom makes us nervous.  But "it's for freedom that Christ has set us free."

(I don't mean to impute fear to you, Devra!)

#15 - Aug. 8 at 4:47pm | quote

 

Patrick Dunn

Katie van Schaijik, Aug. 8 at 3:38pm

But their ways of relating in marriage will naturally reflect the differences between men and women.  And they will "defer to one another" according to their different gifts and different responsibilities.

I'm wondering still what deferring to one another means, in light of the distinction that Paul makes (wives submitting, husbands loving)?  At first, in verse 21 of Ephesians 5, he suggests a mutual or identical deference ("be subordinate to one another").  But then he makes the distinction and unpacks it in verses 22-30, speaking to them separately, as if assigning them with a different 'role'. 

Perhaps, through his counsel, he was implicitly stressing a particular area in which men and women would struggle (to carry out that mutual deference), precisely as men and women because of how our fallen condition has affected our masculinity and femininity?  Men, in other words, prone to dominate their wives because of original sin, need to be reminded that they are to "love" them instead. 

#16 - Aug. 8 at 5:04pm | quote

 

Roz

I join everyone here in not being an exegete. Caveat emptor.

 Katie van Schaijik says:

. . . I don't think God says or that the Church teaches that men are supposed to be the leaders in marriage.  I think that's what we (in our fallen condition) have read into the passage.

 The actual passage in Ephesians reads thus (NIV):

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I agree that the way some Christians have interpreted this passage has far too much of the world"s "I'm in charge here!" view of headship instead of Jesus' model of servant leadership. However inferring, especially in the absence of good exegesis, that the husband's role carries no responsibility of leadership seems to me quite a stretch. Just my $.02.

#17 - Aug. 8 at 5:22pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

But, again, Roz: I'm not doing it "absent exegesis", I'm just not speaking as an exegete.  Nor am inferring from Ephesians. Rather, I'm following Pope John Paul II, who interprets the passage in light of the totality of Catholic doctrine, theology, and experience.  He uses exegesis and hermeneutics.  And he separates out in it what is culturally conditioned and what is essential, as the Church does generally in interpretting the Bible.  

He draws the analogy with slavery, as I do, following him.  In the Jewish culture of the day, slavery was a given.  The subordination of women to men was likwise a given.  St. Paul is not here prescribing that women be subordinate.  He is announcing a radically new understanding of marriage: that the union of the spouses shall be a sacred, self-giving union and communion of love.

#18 - Aug. 8 at 8:34pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Patrick Dunn, Aug. 8 at 4:04pm

I'm wondering still what deferring to one another means, in light of the distinction that Paul makes (wives submitting, husbands loving)? 

I don't think Paul is "making" that distinction quite in the way we hear it.  That distinction was given in Jewish culture of the time.  What's radical in the teaching is the way he relates marriage to the divine, and to Jesus's total, redemptive sacrifice in love.

#19 - Aug. 8 at 8:36pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

I wholeheartedly agree with the author of this post. (Full disclosure: She is my lovely wife, but I write freely and under no duress whatsoever.) I also agree that we cannot just set aside the relevant passages in Ephesians, as if they no longer apply in modern times. Fortunately John Paul II interprets them deeply and beautifully in Mulieris Dignitatem.

The key is to distinguish between the two levels of meaning contained in them. The first has to do with relationship between Christ and the Church, the second with the relationship between husband and wife.

Reading this rich and complex passage, which taken as a whole is a great analogy, we must distinguish that element which expresses the human reality of interpersonal relations from that which expresses in symbolic language the "great mystery" which is divine. (MD 23)

The mysterious analogy between those two relationships, for all its richness and profundity, has an obvious limitation. Jesus is God, the Church is his creation. They are emphatically not equal. But husband and wife are equal. Both are creatures, and both are called to imitate Christ in making a sincere gift of themselves and laying down their lives for one another.

#20 - Aug. 8 at 8:41pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

... continued ...

This is why St. Paul adds the line — (JPII calls it "an innovation of the Gospel," because "in relation to the 'old' this is evidently something 'new') — about "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ"

...whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual. (MD 24)

John Paul II realizes that his interpretation of these passages departs from previous ones. It is not, however, a contradiction of what came before, but a development of it. To explain this development, and why it took so long, he explicitly mentions the cultural conditions in which St. Paul was writing, and he also uses the case of slavery as a similar case:

The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an environment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The "innovation" of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption.

#21 - Aug. 8 at 8:43pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

... continued ...

However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual "subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ", and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behaviour and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew. Saint Paul not only wrote: "In Christ Jesus... there is no more man or woman", but also wrote: "There is no more slave or freeman". Yet how many generations were needed for such a principle to be realized in the history of humanity through the abolition of slavery! And what is one to say of the many forms of slavery to which individuals and peoples are subjected, which have not yet disappeared from history?

But the challenge presented by the "ethos" of the Redemption is clear and definitive. All the reasons in favour of the "subjection" of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a "mutual subjection" of both "out of reverence for Christ".

#22 - Aug. 8 at 8:44pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

... continued ...

It is clear, then, as John Grabowski writes in the article Katie mentioned, that John Paul II views this teaching "as an authentic development of doctrine just now being articulated, which nevertheless flows from the very heart of the gospel message and is based in the text of Ephesians itself."

#23 - Aug. 8 at 8:45pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 Scott, I failed to address this point yesterday:

Scott Johnston, Aug. 8 at 2:06pm

Authority is (and has been), of course, easily and often abused in our fallen world. But, are we able to see, from within the framework of grace and the human person redeemed and transoformed by grace, that in God's perspective, authority is not an essentially negative thing? Can we still see that in fact authentic authority, when utilized in imitation of Christ, is wholly and entirely good and a service to others?

I have no dififculty with the notion of authority itself.  I believe in it.  I believe it can be exercised in true service.  I have it over my children.  The Church, various civil bodies, etc. have it over me.

I don't object to the common interpretation of the verse because I resent the idea of authority; I object to it becasue (following JP II), I deny that the position of husband is a position of authority vis a vis the position of wife.

The authority entailed in conjugal love and married vows is entirely reciprocal, though it will naturally be expressed according to the different gifts and responsibilitys of husband/father and wife/mother.

#24 - Aug. 9 at 8:40am | quote

 

Rhett Segall

What’s being grappled with in the present discussion is coming to terms with Scriptural teaching, Church reflection and phenomenological insight.  I find it very helpful and I agree with Jules assessment.

Some further thoughts:

C.S. Lewis says that when push comes to shove it is the husband’s duty to call the shot!

 About 1955 my mom told our parish priest that she differed with my dad over an important decision. He told her:

“Mrs. Segall, you must do as your husband says.”

Kathy and I have been married 41 years. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is coming to a prudential decision when we differ in critical areas regarding child rearing, money usage, etc. I suppose the only way to handle such, in the context of the present analysis of Christian marriage, is to examine the depth of one’s position and, so long as it’s not a question of an absolute Divine prohibition, to be willing to compromise and continue to engage in ongoing discernment while at the same time being attentive to the ever present dangers of the capital sins. We must then trust in the grace of the Sacrament to lead us in the direction of God’s will.

#25 - Aug. 9 at 11:06am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 Thanks for your always thoughtful feedback, Rhett.

Rhett Segall

C.S. Lewis says that when push comes to shove it is the husband’s duty to call the shot!

 About 1955 my mom told our parish priest that she differed with my dad over an important decision. He told her:

“Mrs. Segall, you must do as your husband says.”

Lewis and priest are speaking as men of their time.  This was the going understanding among Christians until recently.  (Remember that comical line from the song of the father in Mary Poppins?  "I'm the Lord of my castle, the sultan, the leige.  I treat my subjects—servants, children, wife—with a firm but gentle hand.  Noblesse oblige.")

Since the 1950's, we've received the great gifts of Vatican II, the John Paul II papacy, the Theology of the Body, a new version of Canon Law, several crucial papal encyclicals touching on the theme of marriage and family life, a new Catechism, Pontifical Institutes and graduate schools dedicated to marriage...  All of these, taken together, and interpreted according to a genuine, faith-filled "hermeneutic of continuity" bear out, IMO, the view that the relation between husband and wife is a relation of complementary equals, not authority and submission.

#26 - Aug. 9 at 12:55pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Consider:

Children are ontologically equal to their parents.  The foot soldier is as much a person and as infinitely valuable as his commander.  The professor has no more metaphysical dignity than his students.  The Abbot is, on that level, no better than the novice.  In the moral and spiritual realm, the novice may be far better than he.  

But in the social realm, one is superior to the other.  To have authority means to be the superiorsocially speaking.

But not every human relation has this structure.  Friendship doesn't.  Business partners don't.  Marriage doesn't.

#27 - Aug. 9 at 1:02pm | quote

 

Rhett Segall

Katie:

I agree with you.The juxtaposition of my paragraphs may have been confusing.

Nonetheless, I think it fascinating that someone of Lewis' ilk should have held on to the traditional position.

I wonder what he thought after a few years marriage to Joy Davidman!

#28 - Aug. 9 at 1:30pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Yes, I thought you were agreeing, Rhett.

I, too, wonder what C.S. Lewis would have thought after marriage.  One doesn't get the impression that she was the submissive type. :)

Chesterton, too, had views on marriage that I think no longer hold.  Same with St. Thomas Aquinas. 

I'm working now on a post about Edith Stein, whose feast is today.  She, too, even though she was definitely a feminist from some points of view, didn't see as far as John Paul II.

#29 - Aug. 9 at 1:49pm | quote

 

Stephen Granderson

Perhaps it would be helpful to quote the passage from C.S. Lewis.

Referring to why there must be a "head" in marriage:

"The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent.  Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage.  But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen?  Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement.  What do they do next?  They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority.  Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways, or one or other of them must have a casting vote.  If marriage is permanent, then one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy.  You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution." (Mere Christianity)

#30 - Aug. 11 at 12:10am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

How do you see that as helpful, Stephen?  Do you mean to agree with Lewis here?  The husband is the head over his wife, in the sense that he makes the final decisions?

#31 - Aug. 11 at 2:47am | quote

 

Stephen Granderson

Well, I think C.S. Lewis definitely has a point in saying that, when a major disagreement arises, one or the other of the spouses must have the authority to make a final decision, and the other must yield.  Assuming, of course, that it does not involve doing something that is definitely wrong.  And if both spouses have reasonably sound judgement, such situations should be rare.

#32 - Aug. 12 at 10:59pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Stephen Granderson

Well, I think C.S. Lewis definitely has a point in saying that, when a major disagreement arises, one or the other of the spouses must have the authority to make a final decision, and the other must yield.  

I contend

1) That it is not teaching of the Church that the husband has "final authority", and

2) That it's not true that someone has to have final authority.  The marriage relation is not hierarchical.

I've been married for 23 years.  My husband and I make decisions together.  We don't always agree on everything.  Neither do we begin with the assumption that if we disagree, we go with his decision.  That's just not how it works.  Sometimes I say, "You're right," or "I'm going to trust your judgment on this one."  Sometimes he says, "You're right."  

If a wife really disagrees with her husband in a critical matter, she may think it's in the best interests of the family for her not to yield.  Sometimes a husband may decide to go with his wife's judgment in a particular matter, because she's closer to issue in question, or feels the point more deeply and strongly than he does.  

#33 - Aug. 13 at 11:29am | quote

 

Kevin Schemenauer

I am someone reluctant to take headship over another and agree with Grabowski’s analysis of Ephesians. He was my dissertation director and has been a great mentor for me.

I have often struggled to give content to this idea of headship and submissiveness. Are the terms no longer relevant, a cultural and historical artifact? One place in my own marriage where I thought there might be some relevance to the term was during and shortly after the birth of our two sons. If my wife asked for something, she got it, so she was in charge in perhaps the most important ways. She was focused on the birthing process and then after birth, recovering, nursing and nurturing a newborn. During and shortly after the birthing process I had to have courage and confidence to make decisions on my own that I would usually make with my wife. That was an experience. This is a question: since men and women are different, can we speak of ways in which men and women are generally (maybe not universally) the head and generally submissive or would any such notions of complementarity be unique to each relationship?

#34 - Aug. 13 at 1:09pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

My own post-JP II preference is to speak not of headship and submission (which I think has been shown inadequate to the truth) but mutual subjection of the spouses to each other.

When it comes to the natural differences and complementarity of the sexes, I think a head/heart analogy works well, provided we keep in mind von Hildebrand's rehabilitation of the heart as a "spiritual center" on par with the intellect and the will.

There are many times and occasions in marriage, like you describe, when the woman relies on her husband's specifically manly leadership.  Likewise, there are times and occasions when the wise husband recognizes that his wife's intuition and understanding in certain areas means he should, so to speak, follow her lead.

And I do think the way it works out varies dramatically from couple to couple.  

#35 - Aug. 13 at 1:29pm | quote

 

bookworm1116

I am new to the scene and usually a lurker, but this topic has been a thorn in my side for too many years, certainly since I have become acquainted with John Paul's thought, so I am compelled to give my 2 cents.  My husband and I have been married for 47 years and I cannot remember a time in our marriage when he was left to make that final decision.  Our respect for and trust in one another calls us to dialogue, dialogue and dialogue some more.  As married couples I am sure that we all have our spouses best interest at heart and that would always be the basis of decisions that are made.  I believe that "Who is in charge?" is the wrong question when it comes to marriage, but rather, "How can I lay down my life as Christ did for your best good?".  If anything, that is how my husband leads me.  It is his good example of laying down his life for my sake that encourages me to do the same for him.  I believe this follows what Ephesians says since as male and female we do this differently as Katie points out. 

#36 - Aug. 15 at 10:41pm | quote

 

Jae Duran

In an era where women have to support men to provide for the household, headship should be as co-equals and co-partners. Man as the provider cannot cover all of the bills and she is forced by circumstances to help, then power should be equal. Also, my husband likes me to perform sex with him on live camera with other’s online---which I disobeyed. He likes porn. I also disobeyed. My husband  doesn't like it when I go to church, or read the Bible or any other spiritual pursuit. I have not obeyed. He also wants open sexual relationships with other women. I still don't obey. Yet, I have to go out and help him provide for our household? Shouldn't I stay home and take care of the house while obeying all of his demands? Now what? The women are subject to obeying these unholy desires of her spouse? "Wives, be subject to and obey your husband in EVERYTHING?" But every male or spouse doesn't live up to, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church." Christ died for the Church and gave Himself for it. Not one utter of a word mention from men here. 

#37 - Feb. 24 at 10:35pm | quote

 

Mudpie

I'm afraid I haven't studied enough to know what exegesis even is! And I'm a newcomer, and I didn't have time to read all the comments, so maybe this has already been said. I feel compelled to add something, poor though it may be! I remember reading somewhere, that JP II said something to the effect that men and women find their true image of the trinity most fully within the context of marriage. I think the verse on submission is more profoundly understood when I ponder it in this context. Teresa Mandis makes a point when she says this: "I do not believe, in the fallen world in which we live, any man, given the power, could act as you hope." And I'm wondering if any woman could live up to the idea of submission as St. Paul may intend the word to be understood, either? I suspect that in this verse we are called by the Holy Spirit to "be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect." Matt 5:48

 

#38 - Apr. 25 at 1:56pm | quote

 

Mudpie

 If we think again of JP II on our image of the trinity being most perfect in marriage, it must be a trinitarian understanding of the verse we are supposed to take? Then, there is the understanding of boundaries, we can add- perhaps the verse is saying "Wives- let men be men, even when it costs you something or means you don't get what you legitimately want, or even need-  and men, be sensitive to how much it hurts your wives to have to do that." I think if we love within a set of boundaries (I'm equating submission with boundaries, here) great graces can flow out from within that boundary to us- and then, back in again. It reminds me of the use of iconostases in the Eastern Churches. If you knock down the barrier between God/man or in this case husband/wife- you don't get to experience the love as fully when it does get through because it ends up being all one thing, or fusion, instead of two things (people) that are separate- but one. Able to experience unity by repeatedly doing away with, and then re-erecting the boundaries that paradoxically need to stay in place most of the time.

#39 - Apr. 25 at 2:00pm | quote

 

Mudpie

There aren't enough words allowed to express what I'm trying to say- I am sorry!

#40 - Apr. 25 at 2:18pm | quote

 

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