Sins of Omission- Part 3

It has been some time since I covered the subject of Catholic teaching about sex and marriage. The last post I wrote on the subject, The Christian Family and Understanding God’s Authority, covered an article that did a good job explaining Traditional Church teaching about marriage, submission and headship. It served as a nice antidote for the false misunderstandings and false teaching found in the first and second posts in this series.

This brings me to this post. While following links through various blogs, I came across the blog The Sincere Gift, where the blogmistress (who was the reader/commenter that pointed me to the article I linked above) had written a post about marriage and headship in a Catholic context. Within she quoted extensively from Mulieris Dignitatem, a letter written by (then) Pope John Paul II in 1988. The entire letter is incredibly long, and I won’t insist that people read it in its entirety. Instead, I am going to quote selectively from it, using many of the same passages that Mrs. C used in her post. As you will learn, the title is somewhat misleading for this post- omission isn’t the sole problem here.

Therefore when we read in the biblical description the words addressed to the woman: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16), we discover a break and a constant threat precisely in regard to this “unity of the two” which corresponds to the dignity of the image and likeness of God in both of them. But this threat is more serious for the woman, since domination takes the place of “being a sincere gift” and therefore living “for” the other: “he shall rule over you”. This “domination” indicates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and the woman possess in the “unity of the two”: and this is especially to the disadvantage of the woman, whereas only the equality resulting from their dignity as persons can give to their mutual relationship the character of an authentic “communio personarum”. While the violation of this equality, which is both a gift and a right deriving from God the Creator, involves an element to the disadvantage of the woman, at the same time it also diminishes the true dignity of the man.

The immediate problem with this particular paragraph is found in the emphasis on “equality.” By itself it isn’t dangerous, but together with some other concepts can distort the truth of what God intended. The problem lies with the fact that the equality is in value or worth, not in authority (at least, in the context of marriage). But this distinction is not mentioned, it is omitted, if you will. The language on domination will also be important later.

This statement in Genesis 3:16 is of great significance. It implies a reference to the mutual relationship of man and woman in marriage. It refers to the desire born in the atmosphere of spousal love whereby the woman’s “sincere gift of self” is responded to and matched by a corresponding “gift” on the part of the husband. Only on the basis of this principle can both of them, and in particular the woman, “discover themselves” as a true “unity of the two” according to the dignity of the person. The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot become the “object” of “domination” and male “possession”. But the words of the biblical text directly concern original sin and its lasting consequences in man and woman. Burdened by hereditary sinfulness, they bear within themselves the constant “inclination to sin”, the tendency to go against the moral order which corresponds to the rational nature and dignity of man and woman as persons.

A couple of points to make here. The first, and more important of the two, is that there is an omission here (in this paragraph and others)- the reason for Adam’s punishment. What is that reason? Here is some more scripture to clear it up:

17 And to Adam he said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

(Gen 2:17)

God punished Adam in part because he obeyed, “listened to voice of”, his wife. Adam committed two sins: he obeyed Eve, and he ate from the tree. Of course, the only reason why Adam could have sinned by obeying his wife was if he wasn’t supposed to obey his wife. Logic and reason dictate that the only explanation for this would be that it was Eve who was supposed to do the obeying, not Adam. All of which destroys the argument here that it is because of original sin that women are “ruled” by men. Hierarchy and authority are etched into foundation of reality- they are not the product of disorder. Rather, anarchy and rebellion against authority is the product of disorder, of sin. God has authority over us because he created us. Jesus has authority over us because “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15); by virtue of being eldest Jesus has authority over us. Likewise it is with Man and Woman. Woman was created for Man to be his helpmeet, and so that he wouldn’t be alone. Original sin didn’t create the marital hierarchy- it existed before the Fall. Its existence, in fact, is rooted in natural law and the moral order of the universe.

Also, the line about a woman not being a “male possession” isn’t exactly consistent with scripture:

24 He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,
a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.

(Sirach 36:24)

Wives are also referred to as treasures in scripture, and the Book of Sirach compares them to “a fertile field”, i.e. a valuable property. [In fact, for Jews of the time, land was perhaps the most valuable asset a man had (besides, as this scripture points out, his wife).] Also, Scripture does not refer to this as an evil at all. Now, this may sound ugly to modern ears, but as Christians we should be conforming to God, not to the world and its beliefs. The New Testament does clarify the roles of husbands and wives, and through that clarification an argument can be made that the old order was swept away (this is in fact argued in part of the letter quoted later). Indeed, one could argue that 1 Cor 7:4 makes the spouses the owners of the body of the other spouse. But if wives cannot be “possessed”, then that is a change, and should be acknowledged as such, because the Old Testament indicates otherwise.

I should also say that the use of the phrase “discover themselves” highly troubled me, as it is straight out of most nearly all feminist playbooks. The context is not consistent with its use by feminists, but I can’t say that I am comfortable with using their language.

This brings us to the second to last section I’ve excerpted:

In our times the question of “women’s rights” has taken on new significance in the broad context of the rights of the human person. The biblical and evangelical message sheds light on this cause, which is the object of much attention today, by safeguarding the truth about the “unity” of the “two”, that is to say the truth about that dignity and vocation that result from the specific diversity and personal originality of man and woman. Consequently, even the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words “He shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the “masculinization” of women. In the name of liberation from male “domination”, women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine “originality”. There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not “reach fulfillment”, but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. In the biblical description, the words of the first man at the sight of the woman who had been created are words of admiration and enchantment, words which fill the whole history of man on earth.

The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her “fulfillment” as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the “image and likeness of God” that is specifically hers. The inheritance of sin suggested by the words of the Bible – “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” – can be conquered only by following this path. The overcoming of this evil inheritance is, generation after generation, the task of every human being, whether woman or man. For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman’s personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation.

Really quickly I want to point out the problem here with the language about “rightful opposition.” Once again, no effort is made to distinguish between right and proper authority, and improper “rule.” Without that context, this work can only serve to undermine marriage, as it seems to encourage the idea that the exercise of any authority in marriage by a man is wrong. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the language used here implies that authority by a man over a woman is inherently the product of sin.

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife” (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ” (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, 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.

In relation to the “old” this is evidently something “new”: it is an innovation of the Gospel. We find various passages in which the apostolic writings express this innovation, even though they also communicate what is “old”: what is rooted in the religious tradition of Israel, in its way of understanding and explaining the sacred texts, as for example the second chapter of the Book of Genesis 49.

At last everything becomes clear. Mutual Submission or Subjection is the end point. No mention is made here of 1 Peter 3 or Col 3. They are simply ignored- omitted. Instead, we see the usual tactic of using Eph 5:21 to try and “clarify” the next passages. And yet, there is no explanation as to why that provision, which if applied to the following passages changes their entire nature, does not show up in the other parts of the New Testament dealing with marriage and authority. Instead, we get references to a “new” way of thinking and speaking using the “old” language. This is, said respectfully, utter rubbish. Christian women in 1 Peter 3 are told to be subject to non-Christian husbands, men who don’t even know Christ, so how does this “mutual subjection” work then? Answer: It doesn’t. Ephesians 5:21 isn’t applied to marriage, it fits with the verses above it. The Douay-Rheims 1899 American translation provides the proper, accurate picture:

18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury; but be ye filled with the holy Spirit,

19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord;

20 Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father:

21 Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ.

22 Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord:

23 Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body.

24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things.

Both verses, 5:21 and 5:22, are set apart and do not address the same topics.  Mutual Submission or Subjection is between Christians in general. Marriage changes the relationship between them. A different hierarchy, the marital hierarchy, applies. I could delve further into this, but that is probably best reserved for another post. Besides, others with better command of Scripture and Tradition than I have spoken on it.

Of course, it might be that JPII didn’t intend to convey that there is no authority exercised by a husband in marriage. He merely might have been trying to clarify the equal value that women hold in the eyes of God, and their ability to contribute in ways that are equal in the eyes of God. But his omission of clear mentions of authority and hierarchy within marriage creates quite the opposite impression. Worth acknowledging, however, is that there are other Papal missives on the subject of marriage. Perhaps he covered authority and hierarchy in marriage at other times, and in an unambiguous manner. His motivation in this letter might merely have been to cover some very specific theological points.  What concerns me is that his words seem little different that what you would expect to find uttered by a Christo-Feminist Protestant who advocates egalitarian marriages. Especially troubling is the use of Ephesians 5:21, which would seem to forswear any exercise of authority by the husband over the wife. Even if JP II didn’t intend to advance feminism through this letter, his use of language and adherence to their frame could not help but do so.

My fear, however, is that he was intending to limit the exercise of authority within Christian marriage. Or perhaps he was trying to placate feminists by using flowery and open-ended language in the hopes of making everyone happy without conceding too much. Either scenario, however, involves conforming to the world, which we are called not to do as Christians. Given the length of this piece, it was not something that would have been created hastily. This was a carefully crafted message. And with messages like this, it is not wonder that marriage is in so much trouble within the Catholic Church. Such language could easily be exploited. Perhaps the Orthodox Church is faring better, but the sad truth is that no one, Protestant or Catholic, can say that their faith tradition has escaped the rot of feminism. Its roots are deep, and ever growing. And as Dalrock has pointed out, all too often it is “That Which Must Not Be Named.” Until we acknowledge or recognize the infection, we cannot begin to fight it.

[For an example of another Papal document on marriage, Mrs. C directed me to Casti Connubii)



Filed under Christianity, Churchianity, Feminism, Marriage, Men, The Church, Women

14 responses to “Sins of Omission- Part 3

  1. Benedict had some to say on masculinity and femininity in marriage in response to pushes for gay unions. While not directly related you might find it interesting

  2. deti

    A husband and wife are equal in relation to God.

    They are not equal in relation to each other.

    Just as Christ and His Church are not equal in relation to each other.

    Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. He did not submit to her as He expected her to submit to Him. He didn’t take orders from her, and He put her in her place when necessary (at times with quite pointed, forceful language).

  3. This is why I don’t even use the word “equality” in terms of husbands and wives. That is, in my opinion, stepping into the “frame” of feminism / spirit of Jezebel.

    Whenever we talk about husbands and wives it’s never about spiritual matters (sadly) but physical. In the physical world God created roles and responsibilities.

    Going to “equality” is to miss the picture completely, and what follows is always direct twisting of Scripture to say that spiritual equal means you have to be physically equal too.

    Husbands are called to the role/responsibility of head, charity, considerate of the weaker vessel, not be embittered, give sex freely to the wife, etc.

    Wives are called to the role/responsibility of helpmeet, submission, respect, give sex freely to the husband, etc.

    When any Christian starts talking about “equality” I prepare myself to test everything they say against Scripture heavily.

  4. Something that I mean to try and discover, when I get a chance, is when the doctrine of mutual submission applying to marriage showed up. At least, when it did for Catholics. Anybody have an idea? I’m curious because if it is an older concept than I won’t be so concerned. But what I suspect is that it isn’t old, but rather is new- a post (modern) feminist concept.

  5. Mrs. C


    i wouldn’t call mutual submission a doctrine. It is not. As my husband and I understand it, the word mutual doesn’t mean equal or played out in the same way when referring to submission. However, we need not fear it as a feminist term either. It simply means that there will be a submission on the part of both parties. Since the husband is called to love his wife, his submission will be voluntary and brought forth by his love. This will check his inclination to dominate. He may set aside his will, in the name of love, to defer to hers. This is usually brought about by his affection for his wife in recognition of her faithful submission which is mandatory, but also born out of her love for him. Remember the phrase “co-op with the top brings co-op from the top” in that original article I pointed you to?. It’s along those lines.

    St. John Chrysostum has some homilies that are good. I believe they are from the 300-400 AD time period. Google his name and Homily on Marriage or Ephesians 5. Can’t discuss anymore today. Dinner is in the oven, kids, homework, bath time, and so on.

  6. Mrs C is wrong here.

    Ephesians 5 NASB

    Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved [a]you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God [b]as a fragrant aroma.

    3 But immorality [c]or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among [d]saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no [e]immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 [f]trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even [g]expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are [h]exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason [i]it says,

    “Awake, sleeper,
    And arise from the dead,
    And Christ will shine on you.”

    15 Therefore [j]be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 [k]making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, [l]for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to [m]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to [n]God, even the Father;

    Paul (inspired by God) says:

    1. Here’s what you SHOULDN’T DO in the text I bolded, and
    2. Here’s what you SHOULD DO after that.

    Then he says:

    21 [o]and be subject to one another in the [p]fear of Christ.

    It’s clear that even as we are to be imitators of God that we are to expose the things of darkness to the light (v8-14).

    If you remember back to Romans 12 where it talks about “no one should think of themselves more highly than they ought, but to have sound judgment” in the body this becomes clear.

    If a believer is caught is in sin and a brother or sister points it out then we should “be subject” to their correction or rebuke in fear of Christ/God so as to be imitators of God.

    This aligns clearly with Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 on how to treat believers in sin.

    Preaching mutual submission of the husband and wife does not align with any other Scripture and is demonstrably false.

    If a husband is in sin a wife should point it out *respectfully* and if he is indeed sin then he should submit to that correction in fear of Christ. In this, a wife is her husband’s helpmeet as to the Lord.

    This is the only interpretation that I can foresee that aligns this passage with all of the other Scriptures.

  7. Pingback: Mary’s Request and Leadership of Christ at Cana | From the Depths To the Wilderness

  8. Mrs. C, I found the homily you were referring to. It is indeed excellent, for a lot of reasons besides the subject of subjection/submission. I can easily craft several posts from that, and more besides from Casti Connubii.

  9. Pingback: Is there mutual submission or not | Reflections on Christianity and the manosphere

  10. Mrs. C

    “I wouldn’t call mutual submission a doctrine. It is not” says I above. But I would be wrong. I’ve always thought of it as a concept within the scope of the doctrine of marriage but not a doctrine itself. Until I saw that mutual submission was referred to as a doctrine just today. So, I take that back.

  11. Mrs. C

    Oh, and also, I’m glad you found some good reading in the Chrysostum homily and Casti Connubii.

  12. @ Mrs. C,

    I’m curious, was it a Catholic or Protestant source where you saw this. I ask because my use of the word “doctrine” was based in large part because it is such for many Protestant sects now. That is where I first observed it and learned of it.

  13. Mrs. C

    It is a Catholic source. It is the most comprehensive and defining overview that I have read yet to explain the ideas of the late Pope John Paul II in Mulieris Dignatatum. I’m actually finding an even deeper understanding of what the Pope was trying to say about mutual submission. It’s quite beautiful.

    It’s 133 pages long and I’ve managed to read the introduction, which is quite dry but a necessary lead in for understanding the rest of the concept. So the first 21 pages, I slogged through and found that Ch. 1 was much more readable and understandable. I made it up to the first part of Chapter 2 and duty calls so I will not be able to read further today.

    I can tell you the mutual submission that is talked about is not egalitarian, but complementary in nature. If you want to find a way to fit Red Pill concepts into it, you won’t have much luck. I will admit I’m not a fan of anything manosphere and Red Pill but not because I’m a feminist (my blog should bear that out) but because although there are some threads of agreement in the complementarian view of the male/female relationship, I have also found a lot of dark and ugly things associated with it that I reject the whole concept. I also find a lot of trying to redefine Christianity into the Red Pill concept rather than referring to Scripture and the Church to see if Red Pill is in alignment with it.

    The summary of part 1 of Ch. 2 of the writing I’ve been reading today has this to say, but not only this, in regards mutual subordination.

    In the words of Eph 5:21-33, the husband does this by “handing himself over for his wife”, and the wife does this by freely placing herself under her husbands care. Without such self-giving love, it is impossible that a marriage could be considered a Christian marriage.

    Here’s the link

  14. Something that I mean to try and discover, when I get a chance, is when the doctrine of mutual submission applying to marriage showed up. At least, when it did for Catholics. Anybody have an idea?

    Are you familiar with Jason and Crystalina Evert? They’ve written quite a few popular Catholic marriage/abstinence textbooks, and run a couple’s ministry (or, um, the Catholic equivalent). They don’t use the exact term “mutual submission” in their textbooks, but if I remember correctly their interpretation of submission itself is rather bizarre.

    I can’t figure out why they call themselves Catholic and write Catholic textbooks, since they seem to practice some-form of Pentecostalism (which began the “mutual submission” movement).

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