Wives, be subject to your husbands

We heard that passage in the Mass readings today. Few passages in the New Testament raise as many eyebrows as that line from St. Paul, which is found in both Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22. Few passages are so misunderstood. Few passages have been so abused by men seeking to rationalize mistreatment of women.

Blessed Pope John Paul II provides an awesome understanding of this passage in his Theology of the Body whereby women, far from being oppressed, actually have the best part.

First, we need to look at the passage in context.  Here’s Ephesians 5:21-33:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

So wives ought to be subject to their husbands. Another translation sometimes used for the word “subject” is “submit” , which comes from “submission“. Submission is composed of two parts: sub, which means under, and mission. So when St Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands, he is saying that they ought to place themselves under the mission of their husband.

So what is the husband’s mission? St. Paul tells us in the same passage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A husband’s love for his wife must imitate the love and mission of Christ towards the Church. Read the Gospels. Did Christ ever lord it over his followers like a bossy tyrant? No. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) We see it on every page of the Gospels. Jesus is constantly making himself available to heal, console, instruct, affirm and feed. He never turns down anybody because he’s too busy or too tired. He even gave his life after hours of cruel torture. That’s the mission of a husband towards his wife.

A modern day husband isn’t called to preach to large crowds, but he certainly needs to affirm his wife, instruct his children and help them with homework. He’s not called to multiply loaves and fishies, but must certainly prepare dinner, feed his family and do dishes. He’s not called to cure lepers, but must certainly care for his sick wife or children, spending the night at their bedside if necessary. He’s not called to cleanse the Temple, but he should sure clean some dishes and take out the trash. And yes, if it comes to that, he must be willing to sacrifice his life for his wife and children.

Back to the title of this post. When St. Paul tells wives to place themselves under the mission of their husbands, that means they are to let their husbands serve them in the above manner. As John Paul II wrote :“the husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand, is she who is loved.” (Source)

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Note two additional principles at work here.

  1. First, in the loving relationship between Christ and the Church, the Church is called to reciprocate Christ’s love. It goes without saying that the same is true for wives towards their husbands, which is why the entire passage above starts with St. Paul saying “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Reciprocity.
  2. However, Christ is the initiator. Remember that it wasn’t humanity that initiated the plan of salvation, it was God. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) It’s Christ that makes the first move of drawing close to us. Similarly, part of the husband’s mission is to love first, to serve first. If a conflict arises, as it inevitably does in every marriage, it’s the husband’s job to initiate reconciliation, even if he’s not in the wrong. That what it means for the husband to be “the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” Leadership in the household isn’t about calling the shots, but about leading through an example of service.

Granted, this is not how many Christian marriages work. Men have often used Ephesians 5 to justify themselves lording it over women. This is not the mind of the Church. When properly understood, Ephesians 5 provides the basis for a very protective environment where women can flourish.

4 thoughts on “Wives, be subject to your husbands

  1. How Blessed it is to see someone post this, (you, John, in this case, and of course many thanks as well). and as Deacon Bob Macdonald says in his books on the Catholic family, when this order in the family is maintained as God orders it, there is peace, the wife can blossom and be the nurturing lover she is intended to be and be secure. There will be happiness even in the midst of struggles which of course and inevitabley will arise, as will suffering of varying degrees. What man would not choose to have the benefits and promises God offers when he
    exercises his authority according to God, not the Rambo sort?
    He would have to be mentally ill or under the influence of diabolical spirits, to choose the latter.
    As was already said how many households actually have men following this…Far too few I am afraid to say. Holy Father, God, Son, Jesus Christ and Holy Ghost we pray through the example of Good
    St. Joseph, we pray to you, to please open their hearts and minds and eyes of all your beloved sons who you created in your image to be like you and lead like you in sacrificial love and service first, before their wives and families to see your example of a Godly husband, father and worker to all, and especially to those men who desire that…Amen

    Thank You
    and
    God Bless you

    In Jesus, Joseph
    and Mary
    For Life

  2. We started going downhill when the feminists decided women shouldn’t respect men just because of a few bad ones.
    Most women have been eating the wrong fruit for too long.

  3. Ken , Dr.Betty Friedan has been manipulated into leading generations of women into serving men. Her followers are doing the same in a school near you.

    In 1873 Suffragette Leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton who started The women’s Newspaper, The Revolution, with Susan B.Anthony ,because women could not vote, and were considered property under Science and Law; stated,” When we consider that women are treated as property it is degrading to women that we treat our children as property, to be disposed of as we see fit.” Stanton also wrote,” No matter what the motive, the woman is awfully guilty who commits abortion, it will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death, but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to commit the crime.” Today these good women would see modern feminists,and Politicians, who pass Legislation that legalize perversion and murder; then teach this in schools searing the consciences of innocent impressionable Canadian schoolchildren, as betraying women in the service of men.

    Politics is overwhelmingly important for citizens to control in a Democracy, or Corruption rules.

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