Someone by the name of Lisa who recently stumbled across this blog (or perhaps has known about it a while but has been quiet) provided me with a link to a great article concerning marriage, submission and headship in a Catholic Christian context. This was in response to my previous posts, Sins of Omission Part 1 and Sins of Omission Part 2, on the subject of Catholic teaching about sex and marriage. The article, titled Wives, Obey Your Husbands, was written by Fr. Christopher Rengers. His bio:
Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., was ordained in 1942 and did graduate work in history at St. Louis University. His assignments have been teaching, parochial and hospital work, and promoting devotion to St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Books in print are Mary of the Americas and The Youngest Prophet, both by Alba House. His last article in HPR appeared in the April 1996 issue.
The entire article is too long to quote in full, so I’ll instead mention some of the more pertinent sections. My commentary will be sparse, as most of the material speaks for itself. I will start with the introduction:
Authority means the right to command. It implies the right to make a choice for another person. The other person, meaning the one who is commanded, does not thereby lose freedom. He can choose to obey or disobey. He may ask for a reason. He may cite circumstances that will influence the person who has the authority to change his command, to alter it, or to cancel it. But if the person having authority is not convinced, and re-states his command, then the one commanded has again the simple choice of obeying or disobeying.
This paragraph serves as an important reminder to us that we always have choices in life. We may not like the choices, we may consider some to not be much choice at all, but we always have a choice. For Christians, the principal choice we must make is whether or not to obey God.
Two Co-Pilots Not Logical
A family with no true authority vested in one person will be rudderless in the stormy sea of life as it exists on this earth. It will not be able to survive crises that inevitably develop, when choice is deadlocked. The example may be given of an airplane. It needs a pilot and a co-pilot. To have two copilots with equal choice in moments of need and crisis will end in disaster. The same can be said of a ship or of an automobile. The ship needs a captain. The auto needs a driver. Two people cannot steer a car through a maze of traffic, if both have equal choice in steering. Sooner or later, a situation will come up where one will brake while the other steps on the gas. One will veer to the left and the other to the right. The copilot in a plane may be more skilled than the pilot, the driver of a car less skilled than a passenger, but when the plane is in motion and the car moves along the road, the pilot and the driver have to be in command.
This is perhaps the most obvious and logical argument why there must be some kind of hierarchy in a family. Unless there is a clear chain of command, you will have spouses working against one another, possibly with disastrous results.
Helps Understand God’s Authority
Logically too, for anybody who believes in a personal God, there has to be a strong recognition of and example of authority in the family, if all concerned are to understand the authority of God. It is necessary for the father of a family to know he has authority and use it, if he is to recognize God’s authority over him. It is necessary for the wife to recognize and submit to the husband’s authority, if she is to understand God’s authority over her. It is necessary for the children to have an observable model of authority used and heeded, and to follow it themselves, if they are to be truly submissive to God. Where the authority is over-exercised or mean, children will tend to fear or rebel against God. Where it is underexercised, they will tend to have a sentimental, buddy-buddy relationship with God and minimize his laws.
This argument is one I hadn’t seen before, but I found particularly powerful. I have heard something similar in that a proper Christian marriage is similar to our relationship with God, and thus a model for the parents. But I hadn’t considered before the impact that a proper Christian marriage would have on children. Observing proper authority and hierarchy in action would have to have a positive influence for children as they grow up, to give them guidelines on how to live Christian lives.
The Teaching of St. Paul
St. Paul in chapter five of Ephesians says (v. 22 – 24) “Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord: because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church, being himself savior of the body. But just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things.” The rest of what St. Paul says makes quite clear that this subjection is not a slavish subjection, but one which holds for both husband and wife an obligation to love each other. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, St. Paul starts his chapter with an exhortation to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. In chapter six, he exhorts slaves to obey their masters as they would Christ. The various passages have been construed as reflecting the cultural situation of the time. The dwelling on headship and love in regard to husband and wife, however, link headship and love together in a much stronger way. Paul wants them to be co-existent and he draws out and refers to “the mystery” of Christ and the Church. The union of husband and wife illustrates this mystery of close unity. It is a unique unity, but as the unity of Jesus and the Church has him as the head to the body, so the unity of husband and wife has the husband as head to his own body. It is rather difficult to relegate this strong comparison to the area of culture only. The stronger indication is that St. Paul is teaching a truth about God’s plan for marriage in its fullest beauty and ideal state.
While there is nothing unique about this line of thought, it is still a solid argument for why St. Paul was not speaking in a cultural context.
I found it heartening to read this article and know that some in the priesthood haven’t given in to cowardice or taken a bite out of the feminist apple. I can only hope that the recent homilies (sermons for the non-Catholics out there) I’ve heard about choosing to obey God’s laws over worldly laws are a sign that the Church is beginning to assume an overt counter-cultural position. Because when you get down to it, culture is worldly in nature, not Godly; which means that Christianity is always, should always, be counter-cultural.