Ephesians 5 Round Up: Does “Wives Be Submissive” Have Any Content?

As I wrote a bit over a week ago, my attention was caught by a post in which Brett Salkeld asked the question, Does the Injunction that Wives Submit to Their Husbands Have any Content? He said:

I am not so progressive that I am opposed in principle to the idea that there might be something of value in this claim. In other words, I do not presume that Paul’s teaching on this matter can be dismissed simply as a function of his era. Of course, investigation may determine that his teaching is not central to the Christian understanding of marriage and is simply the result of his writing at a particular time and place, but that is not my presumption. Such claims, for me, must be demonstrated, not presumed. I am conservative enough to insist that they are are not self-evident.

I have found myself frustrated, however, by those authors and commentators within the church who insist that wives must in fact submit to their husbands—that men are, necessarily, the “head of the household.” Such an insistence is typically followed by numerous qualifications and caveats indicating precisely what such a claim does not mean in the concrete. Men are not to be tyrants. They are not to make every decision independently. They are to provide space for the development and self-expression of their wives. All well and good, of course. Who would disagree with any of these? But as easy as it is to highlight what not to do in the concrete, it seems to me that this teaching will have no purchase on the reality of contemporary marriage if no one can articulate what it actually does mean in the concrete.

Is it essential to the Christian understanding of marriage that men be the “head of the household”? Does Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands belong to the deposit of faith, or is it merely a historical accretion on the gospel? Finally, and this is what interests me the most, if this injunction is essential to Christian marriage, what does it actually mean? What does it look like in the day-to-day lives of married people?

I shared a bit of the timidity which frustrated Brett as I attempted to answer his question, but I felt the urge to do so because I agree with him that it seems inappropriate to discard the quote or answer it only with qualifications as to what it does not mean. Nor did I find any of the comments he’d got particularly helpful. So, knowing that as a couple-written blog here at DarwinCatholic we have a pretty good mix of male and female readers, in my original post I asked a number of married women bloggers who are, virtually-speaking, in the neighborhood their thoughts on the matter. There were a number of very interesting responses.

MrsDarwin talked about submission from a specific and personal point of view.

Bearing of Bearing Blog responded with a part one which contained general considerations as to what “wives be submissive” means, and a part two which addressed the question in more specific terms. Both of these are very well thought out and helped to clarify my thinking a bit. I’d strongly encourage reading them if you haven’t already.

Dorian Speed of Scrutinies also responded with a part one and a continuation, talking both about why this can be such an aggravating topic and giving some specific ideas as to what being “submissive” as a wife means.

Betty Duffy also provided some very good thoughts on the issue.

 Willa of Quotidian Moments and Calah of Barefoot and Pregnant stepped up and provided thoughtful and personal responses.

This is the sort of group discussion between disparate people who hold the same things sacred which I find particularly enjoyable about the Catholic blog community. I really can’t recommend strongly enough that you read the above-linked posts. The only reason I don’t quote more of them is that there’s a finite practical length to posts which I will already be pushing with this one. But do please click through.

I’m going to respond to one of the themes that was brought up several times and then attempt, having read all of these responses and thought further on the topic, to address the questions with which Brett closed his piece.

I’d purposefully directed all of my tags to married-woman bloggers, because I particularly wanted to understand what this passage meant to Catholic women who are married. One of the thoughts several put forth was that the injuctions for women to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives represented a case of telling each sex to focus on what comes less naturally to them. Willa put it in most detail:

Men, I would argue, don’t have to be told to submit. It is something that comes very naturally to them. It is part of their strength, and it can also be a weakness. Sure, they will jostle for first place. But I am always struck by how on athletic fields and in other masculine areas, men are able to acknowledge the best among them, and admire the one who comes in first, without hard feelings or jealousy OR cringing servility. In the past, the best men have had no problem kneeling to a king without feeling a loss to their own dignity. In fact, the most masculine men are usually the ones who can serve nobly and faithfully. Think of the centurion who Jesus spoke of admiringly, who drew the analogy between the men who served him and then applied it to Jesus’s power.

Think also of chivalry and the romantic ideal — a man naturally thinks in terms of service, I believe. Where I think he may sometimes need to be reminded is in the area of “love”– that is, a faithful and long-term drawing-together, a willingness to be perfected and completed by the other, to stay in the holistic relationship and in the true sense “husband” and cultivate his family rather than making his role a sort of stylized formality. I think that this kind of wholehearted love and commitment is harder for a man. Perhaps Adam reneged on his role when he basically took the “whatever” role when Eve set it upon him, and then laid the blame on her for his own lapse of commitment.

Women, I would argue, don’t have to be told to love. They will love whether told to or no. They are attracted to the good even when it’s hidden, and receptive to it. They look for completion in a relationship. But they have a harder time submitting, putting their agenda in second place. Even their service and sacrifice can be a form of control if they don’t watch out. Ask me how I know, as long as you don’t expect me to answer. But “sub-missio” implies making your mission wholeheartedly subordinate to that of the other. I would argue that the feminine difficulty with this goes back to Eve’s seizing of the initiative in the relationship of our First Parents, and was decisively set back to rights by Our Lady’s Fiat at the Annunciation.

The first couple times women brought this up in comments and in response posts, it seemed very odd to me. As a man, I don’t necessarily think of myself as particularly good at submitting. I am, after all, like many other men, very conscious of hierarchy and thus very competitive to be at the top of hierarchies rather than lower down. Reading Willa’s post, however, I realized that this is in a sense what is being said. In management circles, people sometimes talk about “male-type” decision making structures which have very clear hierarchies of responsibility and command versus “female-type” decision making structures which are based on consensus. In a highly “male” structure, each person is clear on his responsibilities and makes decisions on his own about issues within his scope while deferring up the command structure for issues that excede his brief. In a highly “female” structure, there’s a major effort to make sure that everyone agrees before a decision is made, and people feel betrayed if decisions are made without first informing everyone and making sure that everyone is in agreement.

At a practical level, it’s very hard to run any organization (a family very much so) without consensus, but it’s even harder to run an organization if there’s not a clear way of deciding differences of opinion and if everyone thinks he or she has to be consulted before any decision is made.

Applying this to the point at hand, it seems to me that this pair of submit/love commands suggests that Paul is taking the husband to have the final say in the familial decision-making hierarchy, while reminding the husband that his command of the family is not for himself but rather for his wife and for his children.

Brett asked three questions which I’d like now to try to answer to the best of my ability, though I’ll treat them as two:

Is it essential to the Christian understanding of marriage that men be the “head of the household”? Does Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands belong to the deposit of faith, or is it merely a historical accretion on the gospel?

I think I would answer this “No” and “Yes”. I don’t think that it is “essential” to the Christian understanding of marraige that men be “head of household” in the sense that this is how Christ revealed marriage to be and so we must live it that way or else we’re sinning. I don’t think that the husband being the head of a family is an idea created by Christianity or unique to Christianity. However, I don’t think that this is “merely a historical accretion on the gospel” either by any stretch. Rather, Paul is assuming that this is the way that things work, that husbands are dominant over wives in the family command structure, and telling us how, given this, we as Christians should live out marriage. For comparison, look to the following two pairs of commands in chapter six: Children, obey your parents; fathers, don’t provoke your children. Slaves, obey your masters; masters, do not mistreat your slaves.

We may not have slaves anymore, but we still have earthly masters and the advice:

obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

could just as well apply to your relationship with your boss at work in modern day America as it did to a slave’s relationship to his master in the first century Roman Empire. Come to that, managers could use the advice to masters:

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

Paul isn’t laying out a new set of social institutions here. Instead, he’s telling people how to live in a way that turns their ordinary lives into means of sanctification. He’s not laying out a new set of social structures and redesigning human society, he’s tell us how to live holy lives in the society that already exists.

This is the sense in which I think that a more fundamentalist reading of “wives be submissive” goes wrong: There is no holy and sacred command that we preserve and maintain what we imagine to have been the command structure of a first century marriage.

At the same time, I think those who see this as a historical relic of a partriarchal past go seriously wrong. Paul accepts that a family is headed by the pater familias, and I think he does so not by some historical accident that this is how things happened to work in the particular time and place where he was, but rather because this is how we as humans work. Men and woman are not interchangeable but rather complimentary, and as such husbands and wives have different functions in a family. This does not mean that one is better than the other, but it does, among other things, mean that one is the “head”. This doesn’t mean that the husband makes every decision (that’s a terrible management structure) and it certainly doesn’t mean that he is to do so without regard to the wife (via a Christian understanding of leadership he is the head for her not for himself) but he is the head. And honestly, in a command structure of two, you have to have someone who is finally in charge. There is, otherwise, no tie breaking vote in a group of two.

So given this fact that the husband is, in some sense, the “head”, Paul tells us how we as Christians are to live out lives of virtue within the structure of marriage. The wife is to submit willingly to the husband. The husband is to love his wife as he loves himself, as his own body.

Finally, and this is what interests me the most, if this injunction is essential to Christian marriage, what does it actually mean? What does it look like in the day-to-day lives of married people?

I think what this actually looks like is going to vary a whole lot from couple to couple. That may sound like a cop-out, but since I’m holding that Paul’s injunction is not some magical command of “your marriage must work precisely this way” but rather an injunction on how to live as a Christian within the thing that is marriage, I think that it really will vary not only with time and place but also with specific husbands and wives. One of the things I always realize when I have the chance, as in the responses to my original post, to read about how other people’s marriages work is how little I understand other people. We know the most about being us. I know myself and my wife moderately well. But other people, even ones I know quite well, are often mysterious to me. Sometimes more so as I get to know them better, since when we know little of someone we often fill in the gaps with “just like me”.

To sum up, let me see if I can lay out some of what I think that this headship means for husbands and wives.


For Husbands:
- The buck does indeed have to stop somewhere. There are times when no one wants to go on record as making a decision. Congratulations, that’s when you get to step in and make the decision. And take responsibility for it.
- When you are at the top of the command structure you bear responsibility for all decisions. This means that if something your wife wanted to do did not work out well, you do not get to play “I told you so”. If you really thought it was such a bad idea, you should have said no.
- As in any other leadership situation: Do not ask your wife to do anything you wouldn’t want to do. If you love having a clean house, but whenever you personally have free time to prefer to read or play video games or go hang out with the guys rather than doing any share of the cleaning, then you can hardly get upset if your wife shows similar preferences when she has time which she could either spend cleaning or reading a mystery novel. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything, but if you’re not willing to ever do some particular task, yet you’re asking your wife to do it, you are probably being unreasonable somewhere.
- Just as you must love your wife as your own body, you also need to command her the way your command your body. In sports your learn quickly the dangers of trying to make your body do things it can’t. Don’t ask your wife to do things or be things that she can’t.
- Your wife is part of the team; never, ever undercut her in front of other members of the team, much less other teams.
- If your management style with your family is one that would annoy you if your boss used it on you, find a new style.
- Any time you start feeling all “leaderly”, remember the purpose for which you are the leader: to serve others not to boss them around and aggrandize yourself.

For Wives (heavily cribbed from MrsDarwin, Bearing and Dorian):
- When things go badly with a decision, be assured that your husband probably already feels pretty bad about it and don’t pile on.
- Be willing to believe that your husband means the best even when you think he’s not making the best decision. While you should certainly provide him with all the help/advice that he’s willing/able to take, at some point a decision needs to be made. And unless this is the sort of catastrophic issue you think you need to put your marriage on the line over (and if that sort of issue seems to come up all the time, something is wrong) there’s a point in which you need to allow a decision to happen. There is, in Catholicism, a long tradition of obedience as a path to holiness — it’s why monks and nuns take vows of obedience to their superiors. Hard as it may be, you may need to do this sometimes with the thin comfort that cheerful obedience can be a means to holiness even when the decision is not good. (And when the only other choice is resentment, it’s probably more enjoyable in the long run too.) Plus, predictions of failure backed up by uncooperation tend to be self-fulfilling.
- Don’t undercut or mock your husband in front of the children or behind his back with your girlfriends.
- If you want something, be willing to ask for it (and risk a no) rather than silently contemplating what a failure your husband is for not thinking of doing it for you.
- Try to be realistic about who your husband is and what he’s capable of, and try to accept that with grace.

28 Responses to Ephesians 5 Round Up: Does “Wives Be Submissive” Have Any Content?

  • bill bannon says:

    One problem is that both Vatican II and the catechism are totally silent on this topic while Casti Connubbi of 1930 trenchantly insisted that undermining wifely obedience is the work of false prophets….section 74….as one reads on, there is more nuance in subsequent sections but the initial insistence of section 74 seems to have….?….gone where by the time Vatican II arrives. Darwin and Brett have done more work on this than the Magisterium post Pius XI and that is not ideal because in a marriage crisis, a husband telling his wife to talk to their pastor about this topic is rolling the dice. It’s not hard to imagine the pastor being as non committal in this area as John Paul II was since he used Ephesians’ “mutual submission” to be everything and only mentioned the 5 other NT passages in passing and negatively as being the old way of the OT…..in both “Dignity of Women” and in “Theology of the Body”. Fortunately someone had the sense to at least not put his view in the catechism. I used to debate a Catholic woman on the net who argued against wifely submission based on the above two texts of John Paul II.

  • A wise Husband and Father will always attempt to lead his family, especially by example, but he will understand that authority and respect are by products of wisdom and successful leadership. If a husband is making hare-brained and/or selfish decisions, he is misusing his role in the family. There is a great deal of difference between leadership and tyranny. Husbands and Wives in my experience tend to get along best when big decisions are made by consensus, and when they talk things over rather than one party attempting to do a fait accompli on the other.

  • Darwin says:

    a husband telling his wife to talk to their pastor about this topic is rolling the dice.

    I hope I’m not going to massively offend someone here, but it seems to me that a husband who is sending his wife off to talk to their pastor about whether or not she needs to be submissive towards him is dealing with a near total breakdown situation in the first place.

    I imagine it would be great for a marriage in which the wife is constantly feeling the need to assert her independance on Every Single Point if she, on her own, came to some sense of how none of us get our way all the time and there’s a Christian virtue to submission of the will at times. But at a relationship level, I can’t imagine that a guy telling his wife, “Hey, you gotta submit. Just go ask the pastor.” will work. In a situation like that, if he’s going to succeed as a leader he’s going to have to successfully win respect and credibility, not demand it by fiat.

    Just my 0.02.

  • Fr. Jim Stehly says:

    I apologize in advance: I haven’t read every comment and link in this series, and someone may have already hurled this into the discussion.

    St. Paul did not write to the Ephesians: “Wives should be submissive to their husbands.” He wrote: “Wives should be submissive to their husbands AS TO THE LORD.” That “as to the Lord” is the operative phrase. How do we submit to the Lord? In some sort of grinding, dehumanizing slavery? Of course not. On the night before He died for us He said “I call you no longer slaves, but friends.” And that is the submission we owe to Him: we say our “yes” to Him, we submit to Him, as to our closest and dearest friend. We are happy to say “yes” to Him (even if it means saying “no” to ourselves) because He is that Friend closest to our hearts; He is our “other self”. And that is the submission that wives owe to their husbands: they say “yes” to their husbands as to their closest, dearest friend.

    Oh…and, by the way, if husbands will love their wives in that astonishingly demanding and self-sacrificing way that St. Paul outlines in the verses following his brief exhortation to wives, it will be ever so much easier for those wives to “submit” to their husbands.

    fr. j.

  • bill bannon says:

    Darwin
    The Catholic net is about active Catholics….the Church’s flock is multiples larger than that.
    The Church is not just dealing with great marriages or great people….or elegant people who would never say your above…” Hey, you gotta submit…etc.”. The Church rather is dealing with people of such a wide spectrum that probably half are mixing the Faith with everything from spiritism in Africa…to Santeria in the Domican Republic…to Euro derived whites in the US mixing it with illegal speeding down streets that might have children playing.
    That is why the New Testament has exactly fiats on this topic…fiats…but it has
    those fiats within a culture wherein it was presumed that males studied the Bible
    more than the NFL season schedule. So what to do when in the modren world, by the time he dies, most Catholic men have not read a quarter of the Bible on their own? Hence the confusion. The fiats are about studying families who live out the read faith in the workplace in conscience. Take away that context and you have many Catholic families as Benedict has just opined in the recent interview book.
    Read Pius XI, CC, section 74…..fiat oriented but a much different world.

  • Art Deco says:

    If I recall correctly, there was an article in First Things in 1993 on just this topic that would be worth a second read. I think the title might have been something like, “Marriage in Counterpoint and Harmony”.

  • Harper MacDonald says:

    I frankly don’t believe that wives should be so bloody submissive. Period.
    To clarify, I believe that marriage should be an equal, loving relationship–with neither partner being lord and master over the other. I see repeated references here to being different than pagans. . . but, judging by the ‘differences’ being cited, I’m wondering if anyone here has actually studied pagan cultures. In many pagan societies, women were (and are) completely submissive to all men, husband included. It seems that if we, as Christians, really want to be different, we should respect women.
    Furthermore, it doesn’t sound like anyone has taken into account the fact that PEOPLE VARY. Surely, a larger number of men may possess certain character traits, and a larger number of women may possess certain other character traits, but you can’t lump people together by any rule, gender included. There are men that are very quiet, loving, bookish types, and there are women who can’t get enough of hunting, fishing, and football.
    Also, the entire system of being ‘submissive’ is just unequal and unfair. Those in favour of wifely submission always stress that the husband and wife are equals, neither better than the other, but these are really just empty words; because, in actual practise, the husband is obviously in charge. Sort of like a master’s relationship with a slave, eh?
    And, when wives try to be submissive, this often puts a strain on the relationship. Aside from the fact that some wives may feel resentment, there are other problems that can arise. A brief anecdote about a couple I am acquainted with: Husband and Wife are a good, Christian couple, loving towards each other. Wife tries to be submissive, and always lets her husband make the final decision. Their lives go along, seemingly happily, until one day, they have a huge argument–Husband says, “I feel like I’m married to a dog! You never want to make any decisions, and you just follow me around like a retriever! What happened? You used to be so adventurous and fun!” Wife, nearly in tears, says, “But I was just trying to be submissive!”
    See? Any normal man will get rather tired of a wife who is more like his servant than his partner. And, in the case of huge, majour arguments, in which neither partner is willing to budge, there’s a better way to solve the problem than always letting the husband have his way–take turns. Isn’t this what we all learn as children, that sometimes we have to let the other person have a turn? So, in one argument the wife can give in, then in the next one the husband has to give in. Fair, square, and absolutely Christian.

  • Darwin says:

    Harper,

    I’m not clear to what extent you intend your comment to respond to the post versus just the theme or title, but I certainly do not (nor did any of the posts linked) advocate wives behaving in the manner described. Indeed, that would seem directly opposite to what Paul says when he writes:

    Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord…. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

    NO relationship should consist of dog-like submission — but that doesn’t mean that every relationship should consist of “we take turns having our way” equality. Indeed, that seems to me a particularly bad way to run any relationship, marital, parental or managerial.

  • Randy says:

    Any time you start feeling all “leaderly”, remember the purpose for which you are the leader: to serve others not to boss them around and aggrandize yourself.

    Wow. Being a leader is evil if you are a husband? Why don’t you just say Ephesians 5 is wrong? This is nice advice but you have completely lost the moorings of the original text. It is no longer an exegesis but rather a gab session. Not that gab sessions are bad. Just that the summary conclusions don’t come from the text. If anything the emphasis is the opposite of what the text says.

    We have lost the concept of submission in Catholicism. You could replace that with what does it mean to submit to your priest or bishop. To most Catholics it means very little. We used to submit to a fault. We had male chauvinism and we had clericalism. Now we have flipped to the other extreme. Authority means nothing. It is worse than nothing. It is seen as a vice rather than a gift.

  • Harper MacDonald says:

    Darwin, (I’m assuming that isn’t your real name?)

    Thanks for the reply. Perhaps I didn’t say what I meant very clearly–I don’t think that couples should just take turns doing what they want. I think that they should try to come to a satisfactory conclusion for both of them. But, as mentioned in some of the posts this article links to, there sometimes are things that a husband and wife just cannot agree on. And, the answer to that according to many people, is that the husband should automatically make the final decision. THAT is what I object to–I’m not one of those rabid feminist types, but I am an advocate for equality and human rights. And relationships that are fair to both partners.

  • Randy,

    No, I neither think that it’s evil if a husband is a leader nor that Ephesians 5 is wrong. My point, which was perhaps lost in an attempt at rhetorical cuteness, is that from a Christian perspective leadership is not a matter of “I’m the leader, which means I’m special and better than you and can boss you around” but rather a matter of service. Again, in the text Paul says wives should be subject to their husbands “as you are to the Lord” and that husbands should love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.

    How did Christ love the Church? Well, shortly before he suffered and died for us (which is certainly the biggest example) he provided the apostles with an example of Christian leadership by serving them at the Last Supper. Does that mean that he was not in fact in authority over them? Of course not. If anyone has ever been in authority over anyone, Christ was in authority over His followers.

    Not being like Christ, we all have a tendency when we feel ourselves to be in authority to think that this means we’re better, or that this is a great opportunity to make others do things we don’t want to do while we kick back a bit. It was refuting this and substituting a reminder that Christian leadership is for service, not for self, that I was trying to get at with the “feeling all leaderly” comment. This is most certainly in keeping with Catholic history. After all, one of the titles of the pope is “servant of the servants of Christ”.

  • Harper,

    No, Darwin is not my real name, but I’ve been going by it in the blogsphere for a number of years so I tend to stick with it. (My real name is on the contributors page if you’re seriously curious.)

    Understood on the “who gets to decide”, though at the same time I’d disagree that a relationship in which there is one person who is the head of the other is necessarily unequal in the human sense, or contrary to human rights. (Or that such a relationship means one person makes all the decisions.)

    For instance, in my professional relationship with my director at work, there are certain types of decisions which I am authorized to make. My director gave me those responsibility on the basis of his authority, and he holds responsibility if I make a decision in that area of responsibility which ends up working out badly for the company. But they remain my decisions, and he allows me to make them even in cases where he disagrees with me, because he has assigned those areas of responsibility to me and he respects that assignment.

    On the other hand, there are areas in which he has final say, and although I may advocate one choice all the way up to the line, if he chooses to go the other way I need to fall in line and support and implement his decision.

    There are lots of different ways that responsibilities could legitimately be assigned between us, but the only way that it works as a decision-making structure is if there is in fact one person who actually holds authority. It is, to my mind, not possible to work entirely by consensus. Nor does it seem to me that married couples fall naturally into totally equal relationships, but rather complimentary relationships. It sounds like that may be our main point of difference here — that I’m assuming that even with the incredible variation between people and couples, and the many different ways that one can live out a successful marriage, there that is a basic reality which Paul correctly recognizes here that husbands naturally tend to be the heads of households. And it’s within the context of that natural reality that Paul is advising Christians on how to live within that structure as Christians.

  • Harper MacDonald says:

    Darwin,

    Interesting points you bring up. And I agree that husbands and wives can have separate responsibilities (e.g. wife is completely responsible for groceries, husband has complete authourity over lawn manicure, etc.).
    However, I think it is possible to have an equal relationship between two people. For example, two people who decide to start a business together COULD have one of them hold more authourity, but there are also many business partners who are precisely that–equal partners.
    Also, when you speak of ‘assigning’ responsibilities–who does the assigning? The husband, right? Unfortunately, that is something that just strikes me as so completely unfair, I can’t emphasise it enough. It seems very much like a parent-child relationship, with the husband handing out whatever privileges he deems appropriate. And, though I hate to quibble with Paul, deciding who gets the authourity based solely on gender has always seemed to me to just be (sorry, Paul) rather silly. As I said above, people vary. Gender is not the only factor at work.

  • Aaron B. says:

    Since joining a traditional (Latin Mass) parish, I’ve met many families who subscribe to this heartily. Interestingly, it’s the wives who insist on it more than the husbands. As in one discussion some of us were having about it, and a woman said, “My husband is the head of our household, and he’d better be, or I’ll kick his —-!” These are no shrinking violets, but strong women with opinions, and one of those is that they expect their husbands to step up and take charge of things.

    When I was dating, one thing I learned was how deadly is the answer, “I don’t know; what do you want to do?” Not that you shouldn’t ever let the woman make a decision, but when a man routinely tries to leave decisions up to a woman, it doesn’t convince her he cares about her opinion; it convinces her he’s a schmuck who can’t lead.

  • Dan A. says:

    Of course wives should submit to their husbands. It’s in the Bible, end of discussion. I’m not married yet, but when I am, I will expect my wife to submit to my decisions and not argue.

  • Randy says:

    Actually the title of your post indicated to me you wanted to allow this text to teach something counter-cultural. Sure leadership should be done charitably. But should it exist at all? I was looking for something in the conclusions that Oprah would object to. I guess I didn’t find anything. Just declarations that it is nice to be nice. Using the term “leaderly” as something obviously equivalent with self-aggrandizement seems to be defeating the point you try and make in your reply. Christian leadership is not like that. I think you agree with that in principle but don’t allow for it in practice.

    One real question with authority is when the leader is bad. Or at least in your opinion the leader is bad. We give ourselves huge loopholes that practically reduce submission to only when you basically agree. Then we leave ourselves as the sole judge of whether we have abused these loopholes or not. I don’t want to single out wives because I see this pattern every time obedience is called for. Not just by liberal Catholics. Orthodox Catholics can be worse. The more we want the community to do God’s will the harder it is to give in on what we have discerned to be God’s will.

    It is hard. Sometimes the dad is a real jerk and the mom seems to have it together. Should she submit to him for the rest of her life? I would advise talking to your priest. That still sounds like an easy out because most priests won’t insist on submission. But at least it is better than leaving the boundaries of submission to the judgment of the submitter.

  • Dorian Speed says:

    You know what I find interesting? And I may be wrong here, but – it seems like all the guys are over here talking about the topic, and the comment-box discussions on the women’s posts consist of women talking about it. So we’ve retreated to the virtual kitchen, while y’all are standing around the grill.

    (This all falls apart if Harper is “as in Lee” and not, you know, a dude. I can say that, because I have a man’s name).

  • Randy,

    Sure leadership should be done charitably. But should it exist at all?

    Yes, of course. I’m not sure if we’re missing each other here or something, because I’m under the impression that I’ve made the case a couple times here for leadership (and in the context of marriage and family, specifically that the husband is the ultimate leader) while you seem to think that I’m wiggling out of it.

    I was looking for something in the conclusions that Oprah would object to. I guess I didn’t find anything.

    I’m not familiar with the Oprah oeuvre, so I can’t say for sure, but I would assume that she would disagree with my stated foundation for all this that marriage is a complementary rather than an equal relationship in terms of command structure, and that the husband is the ultimate leader within that structure.

    One real question with authority is when the leader is bad. Or at least in your opinion the leader is bad.

    FWIW, my thought on that was in one of the bullets in the “for wives” section near the end of my post: “Hard as it may be, you may need to do this [obey a decision you think is bad] sometimes with the thin comfort that cheerful obedience can be a means to holiness even when the decision is not good.”

  • Dorian Speed says:

    Randy – ” I was looking for something in the conclusions that Oprah would object to. I guess I didn’t find anything. Just declarations that it is nice to be nice.” Ouch!

    I do think that the Oprahfied outlook on marriage would differ from some of the conclusions, particularly – as Darwin pointed out – the idea of obedience as a path to holiness, submitting to a decision even when you think it is bad. I think Oprah would say, “and husbands, you need to make sure you’re doing the same,” but possibly add something about how the inner holistic wisdom of women means we don’t make boneheaded decisions, so husbands should probably just let the woman do what she knows is right. I’m probably being unfair to Oprah here, since I don’t watch her show.

    But I also think that there is the greater issue of how this all plays out within the context of a Catholic marriage. So, the question of submission would come into play with a question like, “I want to have another baby, but my husband feels like our financial situation is so messed up that we have grave reasons to avoid pregnancy. Should we abstain during the fertile part of my cycle?” And the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist response would be something like, “what the hell are you talking about? He can just go get himself fixed and then you don’t have to worry about it.”

  • Dorian,

    I dunno, but for whatever reason TAC tends to have a pretty heavily male audience (with honorable exceptions!) while DarwinCatholic seems to have a pretty even mix — perhaps because of our moderately unique format as a co-written husband and wife blog.

    Though when MrsD and I have had big gatherings, it seems like everyone ends up in the kitchen except the children who wander the house and yard like a pack of wild something-or-others.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Ok, here’s my distaff take on this. Men have a particularly strong need to feel respected for both their brains (decision making ability) and brawn (physical/emotional strength). They need their wives to trust and respect them. Hence the injunction to wives to “submit” to husbands — not in a groveling or “I don’t want you to get mad at me” sense, but in an “I trust you to do the right thing” sense.

    In fact I would extend this beyond marriage — in the workplace and in social relationships, men need to be respected; they especially hate it when a woman in a position of authority treats them like bumbling or rebellious children. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell a guy he’s wrong — but you have to do so in a way that conveys basic respect — “You need to know that isn’t right,” not “You idiot, don’t you know any better?”

    The greatest need women have is a bit different — they need to be appreciated, to be told that what they are doing is helpful and valuable, even if it’s not completely perfect. Now we all know (some) men who have trouble with this — they assume that as long as they are keeping a roof over the family’s head and food on the table, that is sufficient proof of their love. For most women, it isn’t. They need to be told “You’re beautiful and I want you to be happy” in words and actions. Hence the injunction to husbands to love their wives.

    Now here is yet another subject on which I like to quote C.S. Lewis. In “The Four Loves” he says (I’m paraphrasing here) that the headship conferred upon the husband in the Christian faith means that he wears a crown of thorns just like Christ did.

    The most “perfect” kind of husbandly headship, he says, exists not necessarily in a good and harmonious marriage, but in a marriage where the husband heroically bears “the sickness and sufferings of a good wife, or the faults of a bad one; in his unwearying (never paraded) care or inexhaustible forgiveness; forgiveness, not acquiescence.”

    Lewis goes on to say that, of course, this does not excuse deliberately or carelessly entering a bad marriage, any more than Christians are supposed to deliberately go looking for unneccesary persecution or martyrdom. Still, it is in the “martyred” husband giving his all for a wife who may not always appreciate it, that the figure of Christ giving Himself for his (not always spotless) Bride can be seen.

    Finally he says: “The sternest feminist need not grudge my sex the crown offered to it in either the Pagan or Christian mystery.” (The “Pagan mystery” to which he refers is the natural dominance of the man in sexual pursuits.) “For the one is of paper, and the other of thorns. The real danger is not that men will grasp it too eagerly, but that they will allow or compel their wives to usurp it.”

  • A very insightful comment Elaine. I have always been surrounded by strong women: my mother, my wife, my secretary of 25 years and now my teen-age daughter. I think one of the things that drives a lot of women crazy is if they perceive a man as not listening to them. If a man does listen to the women in his life, it is amazing how much smoother everything goes for everyone. The man may not do what the women suggests, but the give and take of listening and responding can often lead to improved situations. It sounds simple, but it is amazing how many men never seem to grasp this fact in my opinion. The converse of course are women who will never let the men in their lives get a word in edgewise!

  • Harper MacDonald says:

    Mr. McClarey,

    Well said! That’s precisely it—as a woman, it does absolutely drive me nuts when I feel as though men don’t listen to me, or that I’m not respected (just because I am female). Marriage should be a give and take relationship, with each partner listening to the other, and giving due respect to the other’s thoughts.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Aaron B makes some good points.

    With modern feminism, and man rarely knows where he stands.

    Are we to “lead”, to be bold and assertive, and run the risk of being labeled a sexist, a patriarchal scumbag who loves to oppress and dominate women?

    Or are we to cower, to defer, to beg and to plead for the dubious benefit of being accepted by politically correct opinion?

    Unfortunately we may not have a choice. I know at least one person who was denied a promotion – a man – by a corporation because he spoken openly of this very topic of wifely submission in his place of work, in response to a question about his faith. Undoubtedly if the man were a Muslim, he would have been given a promotion and a bonus, but since he was a white Christian male, he was read the riot act and told that he couldn’t be trusted because he held these view. A black Christian male just might have gotten a more condescending talking to without sanctions.

    Feminism and hysterical anti-racism are about punishing those seen as the historically “dominant” group for their past sins. Many within the group openly accept this and submit to politically correct thought tyranny.

    What feminism really leads to is repression, as surely as Puritanism does. Men learn to suppress and destroy their natural instincts out of fear of being socially ostracized. So they get channeled into unhealthy fantasies and ideas that are kept private until they explode. This is why we have an epidemic of pornography addiction. This is why the pornography becomes increasingly violent.

    This also happens when men have no social restraints in the opposite direction – when instead of being raised to be competent leaders, they are raised to become absolute tyrants over the lives of their wives and treat them as chattel. That isn’t proper leadership; we know it in politics and it is evident in the household as well. All feminism did was swing to the opposite extreme and make the man a total coward instead of a total tyrant.

    But on the whole, men and women do have real differences that a healthy society must respect. There are always exception to the general trend, with some women more than capable of leadership and some men who are probably better off submitting. Someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. I can’t rationally say that it must ALWAYS be the husband, but I can rationally say that it usually ought to be. Whoever is more rational ought to lead. If a husband makes consistently bad decisions, a wife cannot be expected to silently submit to them. But a husband ought to be given the benefit of the doubt until such time.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “Are we to “lead”, to be bold and assertive, and run the risk of being labeled a sexist, a patriarchal scumbag who loves to oppress and dominate women?
    Or are we to cower, to defer, to beg and to plead for the dubious benefit of being accepted by politically correct opinion?”

    Of course men should find a happy medium between being macho jerks and being wimps. In my personal opinion, the BIGGEST reason many men can’t, is because they grew up without fathers or other stable male role models who could show them what it means to be a “real” man. Even in the animal kingdom, young males need older males around to guide them or else they literally run wild.

    If the radical feminists were right, one would think that removing the “oppressive” and “patriarchal” influence of fathers from the home would make young men less prone to crime and violence. Actually, it has done just the opposite.

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