Round Two

Anthony Zimmerman
Husbands, submit to your wives
Letter to Editor
Homiletic and Pastoral Review
Published March 2001.
Reproduced with Permission

My expression "Husbands Obey Your Wives" rubbed George Gil the wrong way (October 2000). My response is that Pope John Paul II teaches that submission is not one-sided but mutual." Actually the word "submission" conveys the meaning of the Pope teaching better than the word "obey."

Popes are not wont to contradict each other, but tend to fill in what is still lacking. How to resolve the issue?

Pope Leo XIII, in "Christian Marriage" February 10, 1880, wrote how polygamy abused the rights and dignity of wives: "Hence, too, sprang up the greatest confusion as to the mutual rights and duties of husbands and wives, inasmuch as a man assumed right of dominion over his wife, ordering her to go about her business, often without any just cause; while he was himself at liberty...Nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low...Without any feeling of shame marriageable girls were bought and sold, just like so much merchandise; and power was sometimes given to the father and to the husband to inflict capital punishment on the wife."

Siding with the ladies, Leo XIII tells husbands to shape up: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that he might sanctify it." He skipped Paul's admonition to the ladies: "Wives, obey your husbands."

Pope Pius XI in "Casti Connubii, December 31, 1930, wrote: "This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her to obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment. But it forbids the exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family...For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love...In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family."

Pope John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Letter "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women," August 15, 1988, that conjugal submission is mutual. His words:

"The author of the Letter to the Ephesians... knows that this way of 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."

His term "'subjection' is not one-sided but mutual" completes what previous popes had begun. Wise words of all the popes. My father never ordered my mother to scrub the kitchen, do the laundry, or sew clothes for us ten children. Neither did my mother order my father to plant corn here, oats there, and alfalfa on the hills. They fought plenty about this and that, but I do not remember that they ever argued about who is boss. Maybe they did, but I don't remember. Had they argued about that, they may have left us children out of the picture, and may have curbed each other's spontaneity and generosity to give their all for the family. They knew in their hearts that "subjection" should not be one-sided before John Paul II said so.