A few weeks back commenter Ioannes Barbarus was curious why John Chrysostom was so adamant that husbands cannot beat their wives:
In more than one place, but especially in his homily on 1 Cor 11, St. Chrysostom denies that men may beat their wives. The vigor of his denunciation bothers me. Oddly, it’s to him I look for support for the very reason I disagree: that women are best treated somewhat like children, as he says in his homily on Ephesians 5. Can you, DG, or anyone else, shed some light on this topic?
Before I write a post addressing that question, I would like to include some of the Doctor of the Church’s discussion on the subject. Here is part of his 26th Homily on First Corinthians:
8. Let not then the wife tarry for the virtue of the husband and then show her own, for this is nothing great; nor, on the other hand, the husband, for the obedience of the wife and then exercise self-command; for neither would this any more be his own well-doing; but let each, as I said, furnish his own share first. For if to the Gentiles smiting us on the right, we must turn the other cheek; much more ought one to bear with harsh behavior in a husband.
And I say not this for a wife to be beaten; far from it: for this is the extremest affront, not to her that is beaten, but to him who beats. But even if by some misfortune thou have such a yokefellow allotted you, take it not ill, O woman, considering the reward which is laid up for such things and their praise too in this present life. And to you husbands also this I say: make it a rule that there can be no such offense as to bring you under the necessity of striking a wife. And why say I a wife? Since not even upon his handmaiden could a free man endure to inflict blows and lay violent hands. But if the shame be great for a man to beat a maidservant, much more to stretch forth the right hand against her that is free. And this one might see even from heathen legislatures who no longer compel her that has been so treated to live with him that beat her, as being unworthy of her fellowship. For surely it comes of extreme lawlessness when your partner of life, she who in the most intimate relations and in the highest degree, is united with you; when she, like a base slave, is dishonored by you. Wherefore also such a man, if indeed one must call him a man and not rather a wild beast, I should say, was like a parricide and a murderer of his mother. For if for a wife’s sake we were commanded to leave even father and mother, not wronging them but fulfilling a divine law; and a law so grateful to our parents themselves that even they, the very persons whom we are leaving, are thankful, and bring it about with great eagerness; what but extreme frenzy can it be to insult her for whose sake God bade us leave even our parents?
But we may well ask, Is it only madness? There is the shame too: I would fain know who can endure it. And what description can set it before us; when shrieks and wailings are borne along the alleys, and there is a running to the house of him that is so disgracing himself, both of the neighbors and the passers by, as though some wild beast were ravaging within? Better were it that the earth should gape asunder for one so frantic, than that he should be seen at all in the forum after it.
But the woman is insolent,says he. Consider nevertheless that she is a woman, the weaker vessel, whereas you are a man. For therefore were thou ordained to be ruler; and were assigned to her in place of a head, that you might bear with the weakness of her that is set under you. Make then your rule glorious. And glorious it will be when the subject of it meets with no dishonor from you. And as the monarch will appear so much the more dignified, as he manifests more dignity in the officer under him; but if he dishonor and depreciate the greatness of that rank, he is indirectly cutting off no small portion of his own glory likewise: so also thou dishonor her who governs next to yourself, wilt in no common degree mar the honor of your governance.
Considering therefore all these things, command yourself: and withal think also of that evening on which the father having called you, delivered you his daughter as a kind of deposit, and having separated her from all, from her mother, from himself, from the family, entrusted her entire guardianship to your right hand. Consider that (under God) through her you have children and hast become a father, and be thou also on that account gentle towards her.
Do you see not the husbandmen, how the earth which has once received the seed, they tend with all various methods of culture, though it have ten thousand disadvantages; e.g., though it be an unkindly soil or bear ill weeds, or though it be vexed with excessive rain through the nature of its situation? This also do thou. For thus shall you be first to enjoy both the fruit and the calm. Since your wife is to you both a harbor, and a potent healing charm to rejoice your heart. Well then: if you shall free your harbor from winds and waves, you shall enjoy much tranquility on your return from the market-place: but if you fill it with clamor and tumult, thou dost but prepare for yourself a more grievous shipwreck. In order then to prevent this, let what I advise be done: When any thing uncomfortable happens in the household, if she be in the wrong console her and do not aggravate the discomfort. For even if you should lose all, nothing is more grievous than to have a wife without good-will sharing your abode. And whatever offense you can mention, you will tell me of nothing so very painful as being at strife with her. So that if it were only for such reasons as these, let her love be more precious than all things. For if one another’s burdens are to be borne, much more our own wife’s.
Though she be poor do not upbraid her: though she be foolish, do not trample on her, but train her rather: because she is a member of you, and you have become one flesh.But she is trifling and drunken and passionate.You ought then to grieve over these things, not to be angry; and to beseech God, and exhort her and give her advice, and do every thing to remove the evil. But if you strike her thou dost aggravate the disease: for fierceness is removed by moderation, not by rival fierceness. With these things bear in mind also the reward from God: that when it is permitted you to cut her off, and you do not so for the fear of God, but bearest with so great defects, fearing the law appointed in such matters which forbids to put away a wife whatsoever disease she may have: you shall receive an unspeakable reward. Yea, and before the reward you shall be a very great gainer, both rendering her more obedient and becoming yourself more gentle thereby. It is said, for instance, that one of the heathen philosophers , who had a bad wife, a trifler and a brawler, when asked,Why, having such an one, he endured her;made reply,That he might have in his house a school and training-place of philosophy. For I shall be to all the rest meeker,says he,being here disciplined every day.Did you utter a great shout? Why, I at this moment am greatly mourning, when heathens prove better lovers of wisdom than we; we who are commanded to imitate angels, nay rather who are commanded to follow God Himself in respect of gentleness.
But to proceed: it is said that for this reason the philosopher having a bad wife, cast her not out; and some say that this very thing was the reason of his marrying her. But I, because many men have dispositions not exactly reasonable, advise that at first they do all they can, and be careful that they take a suitable partner and one full of all virtue. Should it happen, however, that they miss their end, and she whom they have brought into the house prove no good or tolerable bride, then I would have them at any rate try to be like this philosopher, and train her in every way, and consider nothing more important than this. Since neither will a merchant, until he have made a compact with his partner capable of procuring peace, launch the vessel into the deep, nor apply himself to the rest of the transaction. And let us then use every effort that she who is partner with us in the business of life and in this our vessel, may be kept in all peace within. For thus shall our other affairs too be all in calm, and with tranquility shall we run our course through the ocean of the present life. Compared with this, let house, and slaves, and money, and lands, and the business itself of the state, be less in our account. And let it be more valuable than all in our eyes that she who with us sits at the oars should not be in mutiny and disunion with us. For so shall our other matters proceed with a favoring tide, and in spiritual things also we shall find ourselves much the freer from hindrance, drawing this yoke with one accord; and having done all things well, we shall obtain the blessings laid up in store; unto which may we all attain, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father, with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.