Friday, February 23, 2007

Blessed Pope John Paul II's Teaching Concerning Marital Submission: Consistent Development or Contradictory Innovation?

Some radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs) claim that Pope John Paul II's teaching on mutual submission in marriage contradicts the constant tradition of the Church. I shall contend that Pope John Paul II's teaching is a development of earlier Church teaching, albeit a rather startling, almost "innovative" one (but not quite, in terms of being, as is alleged, inconsistent with what came before). First of all, though it is correct that he seems to have spoken little about the wife's one-directional subjection per se, it is not clear to me that by this he necessarily intends to contradict earlier teaching.

Rather, in my opinion, the pope was simply placing great emphasis on one (crucial) aspect of the subjection issue (one that was often neglected in the past) and giving it the utmost attention, so as to counterbalance excesses primarily in practice (i.e., extremes in applying the emphases of the old style of teaching about marriage). He was also placing the passage in Ephesians in a much wider, trinitarian context (more on that below), and grounding it in the realm of love and voluntary service out of (mutual) love, rather than the former usual "legal" emphasis on strict authority structures.

I think this can be synthesized with earlier teaching and certainly with the Bible, in which it is explicitly grounded. That man and wife are absolutely equal in terms of human dignity and status under God should go without saying. After all, the same St. Paul who wrote Ephesians also wrote the letter to the Galatians, where he stated (3:25-28: RSV):
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; 26: for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Moreover, the "one flesh" in marriage, taught by Jesus (Matt 19:5-6; cf. Eph 5:31) describes an organic unity, not a separate, merely legalistic one. Also, we see subjection within the Holy Trinity, even though the three Persons of the Trinity are absolutely equal in dignity, power, and status (all being God). The Son subjects Himself to the Father, and He voluntarily "empties" Himself in order to take on flesh and become a man (Philippians 2:5-11). I wrote in my paper on biblical proofs for the divinity of Jesus:
Jesus' subjection to the Father is seen in such verses as John 14:28: ". . . for my Father is greater than I," 1 Corinthians 11:3: ". . .the head of Christ {is} God," and 1 Corinthians 15:28: "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." These verses and others have been utilized historically by heretics such as the Arians (of whom Jehovah's Witnesses are a revival), as well as non-trinitarian theists such as Unitarians, to "prove" that Jesus is lesser than the Father and therefore not God in the flesh. Upon closer inspection, however, a clearer picture emerges.


John 14:28 is to be understood in light of passages such as Philippians 2:6-8, which show us that Christ in John 14:28 was speaking strictly in terms of his office as Messiah, which entailed a giving up, not of the Divine Nature, but of certain prerogatives of glory and Deity which are enjoyed by the Father. Christ subjected Himself to the Father in order to undertake His role as the Incarnate Son and Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Similarly, one might say that "the President of the United States is a greater man than I am," but this would not mean he was necessarily a better man. In any event, he is still a man like us. Since Jesus is still God, even while "humbling" Himself (Phil 2:8), Scripture also indicates that the Father is, in a sense, "subject" to the Son:


JOHN 16:15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew {it} unto you.

JOHN 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give {it} you.

When the Father is called the "head" of the Son (1 Cor 11:3), this also does not entail any lessening of the equality between the Son and the Father. . . . one Person of the Godhead can be in subjection to another Person and remain God in essence and substance (Phil 2:6-8). Luke 2:51 says that Jesus was "subject" to Mary and Joseph. Yet no orthodox Christian of any stripe would hold that Jesus was lesser in essence than His earthly parents! The same Greek word for "subject" in Luke 2:51 (hupotasso) is used in 1 Cor 15:28, and in 1 Pet 2:18 below. Besides, submissiveness and servanthood is not presented as a sign of weakness in Scripture. Quite the contrary:


1 PETER 2:18 Servants, {be} subject to {your} masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

MATTHEW 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for "greatest" here is meizon, the same word used in John 14:28. Thus, any notion that submissiveness is a lessening of equality is absolutely unscriptural.
Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:28, the subjection spoken of is that of the Son as incarnate, not the Son as Son in essence. While this verse tells us that God will be "all in all," Colossians 3:11 tells us that ". . . Christ {is} all, and in all." Thus, Jesus' office as Messiah and Mediator will cease in time, but not His Godhood, since Scripture teaches that He will be "all in all" just as His Father is.
One key in the above analysis, for our present topic is Luke 2:51, where Jesus subjected Himself to His earthly parents Mary and Joseph. This has great relevance to the more fully-developed notion of marital mutual subjection, stressed by John Paul the Great. And that is because Jesus was on a fundamentally higher plane than Mary and Joseph were: He being God (never ceasing to be God for even one microsecond) and they creatures. Yet He was (rather remarkably) subject to them.

Therefore, to say that a husband can also be subject to a wife (within the paradigm of a biblical, traditional priority of order, with the man being the "head"), or that spouses can be in ongoing mutual subjection, is a thing that cannot really be objected to at all, since God Himself subjected Himself to His own creatures.This is the biblical analogy.
Not only that: we see Jesus often doing acts of service or teaching the high importance of same, and describing Himself in this fashion, as the preeminent role model:
I am among you as one who serves.

(Luke 22:26b; see 22:24-27)

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Matthew 20:25-28)

3: Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
4: rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.
5: Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
6: He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?"
7: Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand."
8: Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."
9: Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
10: Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you."
11: For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."
12: When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
13: You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
14: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
15: For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

(John 13:3-15)
Now, it is rather obvious by now, that if God Himself can subject Himself to His own creatures in this extraordinary fashion, that a husband can submit himself to a wife (women being altogether equal to men as fellow human beings under God, whereas God is infinitely higher than human beings), just as the wife submits herself to the husband, even given the teachings of subjection of wife to husband. And that is because there is no contradiction in doing so. Jesus did the same, and He had a far greater "superiority" in terms of authority than a husband has over a wife.

Since Paul teaches husbands to "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25) and this is how Jesus Christ showed His love, then who can say that marital subjection must always be in only one direction? This is how John Paul II's emphasis looks towards larger issues of the analogy to God and His creatures. Husbands ought not "lord it over" their wives anymore than Jesus did not do so with His disciples. Once we realize that the passage in Ephesians starts out with the concept of mutual submission ("Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." - 5:21) we are right to the heart of John Paul II's emphasis.

I think all that is necessary to demonstrate that this teaching is eminently biblical, is seen above (and surely more could be brought to the table). But is it true that this has never been taught in the history of the Church? No. St. John Chrysostom, an eminent Church father by any estimation, taught something not unlike what John Paul II taught in this regard. Mary Shivanandan's article, Feminism and Marriage: a Reflection on Ephesians 5: 21-33, highlighted this similarity (see Chrysostom's Homily XX on Ephesians 5:22-24):

Chrysostom begins his commentary on 5:22-24 by focusing on the blessing of agreement or harmony between husband and wife. From the beginning God intended there to be a very close bond of love between the man and the woman. And he quotes Gen. 1:27, Mat. 19:4 and Gal. 3: 28 with regard to the creation of man as male and female. It is to foster this harmony on which the whole household depends that St. Paul advises "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as unto the Lord." It is for the sake of relationship, relationship between husband and wife, between parents and children and between master and servant. The husband occupies the place of the head and the wife of the body but the husband is head "as Christ is also of the Church, and He is the Saviour of the body." He mitigates this inequality in two ways by saying that since husbands and wives are part of the Church both are subject to Christ and the husband has the arduous role of loving his wife and giving himself up for her. For she is his own body. He sums it up as follows:

The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love as a counterpoise to obedience.
He is adamant that unless one is in a position of authority there can never be peace. The wife possesses "an authority and a considerable equality of dignity but at the same time the husband has somewhat of superiority." In marriage this authority must be exercised with love not fear and it is the husband's principal duty to love. Both, however, are admonished to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (5:21) Even if the wife does not reverence him, the husband is still to love her.
The great Father speaks very eloquently about husbands loving their wives like Christ loved the Church (emphasis added):
"Husbands," saith he, "love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church."
Thou hast seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Wouldest thou have thy wife obedient unto thee, as the Church is to Christ? Take then thyself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever, - refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom thou art already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave thyself toward thy wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon thee, and disdaining, and scorning thee, yet by thy great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, thou wilt be able to lay her at thy feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though thou shouldest suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this.
St. John Chrysostom's comment on Ephesians 5:33 approaches closely even to John Paul II's teaching in Mulieris Dignitatem:
The principle of love, however, he explains; that of fear he does not. And mark, how on that of love he enlarges, stating the arguments relating to Christ and those relating to one’s own flesh, the words, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother." (Ver. 31.) Whereas upon those drawn from fear he forbears to enlarge. And why so? Because he would rather that this principle prevail, this, namely, of love; for where this exists, everything else follows of course, but where the other exists, not necessarily. For the man who loves his wife, even though she be not a very obedient one, still will bear with everything. So difficult and impracticable is unanimity, where persons are not bound together by that love which is founded in supreme authority; at all events, fear will not necessarily effect this. Accordingly, he dwells the more upon this, which is the strong tie. And the wife though seeming to be the loser in that she was charged to fear, is the gainer, because the principal duty, love, is charged upon the husband. "But what," one may say, "if a wife reverence me not?" Never mind, thou art to love, fulfill thine own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own.
This then is marriage when it takes place according to Christ, spiritual marriage, and spiritual birth, not of blood, nor of travail, nor of the will of the flesh.
John Paul II likewise writes in his 1988 Apostolic Letter:
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 . . . In relation to the "old" this is evidently something "new": it is an innovation of the Gospel. [24]
It's "new" but it is a consistent doctrinal development, rather than a corruption or reversal. The late great pope argues that it will take time to take root, given culture and abuses of the biblical principles of marriage, just as in the case of slavery:
The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an environment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The "innovation" of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual "subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ," and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew. St. Paul not only wrote: "In Christ Jesus...there is no more man or woman," but also wrote: "There is no more slave or freeman." Yet how many generations were needed for such a principle to be realized in the history of humanity through the abolition of slavery! And what is one to say of the many forms of slavery to which individuals and peoples are subjected, which have not yet disappeared from history? [24]
Note the phrase "and not just that of the wife to the husband." This shows that he saw no contradiction between this subjection and the mutual subjection. He accepted both. He was not teaching that mutual subjection wipes out the older emphasis purely on wifely subjection. The two notions coexist and complement each other. He writes:
All the reasons in favor of the "subjection" of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a "mutual subjection" of both "out of reverence for Christ." [24]
It's true that he seems to subjugate the wife's subjection to the mutual subjection, yet he doesn't eliminate it; it's still there; merely in a larger, more fully-developed context. He doesn't, after all, speak of the husband's subjection to the woman in the same terms that he refers to the wife's position. It's either the wife's subjection or mutual subjection. Therefore, it is obvious that he still retains the "older" teaching" by the very manner in which he speaks.

That's why this is not contradictory to past Church teaching. It is simply a striking development: much the way that Jesus Himself brought out meanings of the prevailing understanding of the Jewish Law that were thought to be contradictory, but were in fact not. His application of the Law was simply deeper, more sublime and profound. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it (Matt 5:17). He developed Jewish teaching and highlighted its essence. Likewise, John Paul II and the biblical teaching on marriage. Tradition is not a dead thing. It is constantly renewed through development and reflection and a return to the great truths of the Bible, with the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who leads us into all truth.

Catherine Clark Kroeger, in her fascinating paper, Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of "Head", brings out further meanings in St. Paul's use of the term "head" (in terms of "headship" - cf. Eph 5:23), that tie into the idea of "mutual submission":

Exactly this concept of growth is what we find explicated by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:19 and Ephesians 4:15–16, his two sole passages dealing with the function of the head in relation to the body. In both of these passages, he maintains that the head not only causes growth but also causes the body to build itself up. A more expanded paraphrase might read as follows:

From the head, the entire body grows with the growth of God as it is supplied by the head and held together by every ligament and sinew.
(Col. 2:19)
Paul gives very nearly the same concept when he turns to the relationship of head and body in Ephesians chapter 4, certainly a passage to take very seriously when we are considering Ephesians chapter 5. The Apostle wrote:
Let us grow up in all things unto Him who is Christ, the Head. He causes the body to build itself up in love as the head provides empowerment according to the proportion appropriate for each member as they are bound and supported by every sinew.
(Eph. 4:15–16, the author's translation)
Frequently, we assume that the Bible uses "head" to imply "boss" or "chief," and so we miss the assurance of this passage. Here the focus is on the function of the head in producing growth. Every part of the body is connected to the head, and, if the connecting nerve is severed, even a perfectly healthy member will wither. But every part is also interconnected to every other part, and each has a different function that causes it to depend on every other member.
We cannot do better than to emphasize the interdependence and relationship noted by Paul between head and body. How illuminating to conceive of the husband as empowering the wife to build herself up in love so that she may grow into the person that God meant her to be.
In conclusion, John S. Grabowski provides a magnificant overview of John Paul II's teaching on marriage, taking the position that it is a development, not a reversal, in his paper, Mutual Submission & Trinitarian Self-Giving (+ Part Two):
Pope John Paul II's understanding of the relationship of husband and wife as characterized by "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" is an authentic development of Catholic doctrine concerning marriage grounded in a trinitarian understanding of the human person.

. . . This paper will examine this novel description of marriage and the exegetical and theological basis for it. It will argue that this teaching represents a genuine development of doctrine the ultimate analogical basis of which is found within the mystery of God's own trinitarian life. It is this theological basis which enables John Paul II to understand both the mutual love of Christian spouses and the self-giving of the Divine Persons within the Godhead as a communion of persons (
communio personarum).

. . . it is often assumed that the New Testament texts belong to the same genre and embody the same view of women as inferior to men.

However, a closer look at the biblical examples of these texts suggests that such a conclusion may be premature. Unlike most of their Hellenistic counterparts, the obligations described in the NT texts are reciprocal, directed at men as well as women. Hence the injunction of the First Letter of Peter 3:1, "you wives should be subordinate to your husbands," is juxtaposed with that of verse 7, "Husbands, likewise, conduct your married life with understanding, pay honor to the woman's body, not only because it is weaker, but because you share together in the grace of God." This reciprocity introduces a note of mutuality into the relationship between Christian spouses, pointing to a fundamental equality between women and men in Christ (c.f. Gal. 3:28) which would be utterly foreign to a Hellenistic view of the family.

Further evidence for such a view can be found by brief examination of the most elaborate and important of these texts - that of Ephesians 5:21-33. The context of the passage is given in 5:21 with the injunction "
hypotassomenoi allelois en phobo Christou" ("subordinate yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ"). This statement refers both backward to 5:18 as a specification of what it means to be "filled with the Spirit" and forward in supplying the overarching context for life within the Christian household. This verse also elliptically supplies the verb for the specific submission of the wife to her husband in verse 22. Because the verb itself actually appears only in Christological formulations (as in 5:21 and in describing the submission of the Church to Christ "hos he ekklesia hypotassetai to Christo" in 24a), it should be read "in the middle voice with an imperative force," suggesting that it is the voluntary act of a free agent.

The fact that the context of the passage is one of mutual submission among believers indicates that Christian spouses should manifest this same reciprocity in their own relationship. It does not, however, eliminate their differences as male and female or necessarily deny the existence of particular roles which flow from this.

. . . The servant leadership exercised in self-giving love on the part of husbands is not wholly different from the voluntary subordination enjoined on wives insofar as both describe a form of mutual deference - putting the needs and desires of the other ahead of oneself - in language that will be intelligible within a specific cultural horizon. Yet the text transposes this horizon into a distinctly theological milieu, at once pneumatological, ecclesiological, and Christological. The pattern of life of the redeemed household is a specific form of discipleship which manifests the "one flesh" unity of Christ, the New Adam, and his Bride, the Church, in the New Creation (c.f. 5:31-32). Hence while still utilizing some of the language and ideas of the culture from which it emerged, the text seeks to transform the patriarchal household from within.

. . . In his reading of Ephesians 5:21-33, the pope notes that the text moves simultaneously in two directions. On one level, it speaks of the relationship of actual men and women created in the image of God and called to form a
communio personarum through spousal love which God intended for marriage from "the beginning." On the other level, it builds upon and incorporates the nuptial imagery used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and his people Israel in the covenant, transposing it to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Both of these levels together make up the sacramentum magnum ("great mystery") described in Ephesians 5:32. While there is a fundamental analogy between the human and divine levels of the text, there is discontinuity between them as well (MD, no. 23).

. . . John Paul II is certainly aware of the novelty of this teaching with regard to previous formulations, but states that the mutual character of submission within the marital relationship is part of the "'ethos' of the Redemption" and the newness of the Gospel message takes time to "gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior, and customs" (MD, no. 24). . . . The implication is that the pope sees this teaching as an authentic development of doctrine just now being articulated, which nevertheless flows from the very heart of the gospel message and is based in the text of Ephesians itself.

But is this an accurate assessment? When compared to previous Church teaching, can this be understood as a genuine development which shows organic continuity with previous formulations? Or is the "innovation" here so great that in fact the teaching represents a break with previous teaching and is thus a case of doctrinal discontinuity?

. . . In response to this important objection it should be noted that John Paul II's teaching does not assert or imply a denial of this earlier formulation. That is, for John Paul II, women must still subject themselves to their husbands. However, to this injunction he adds, on the basis of the text itself, a corresponding obligation for men to subject themselves in love to their wives. He does not repudiate the previous formulation but places it within a broader context. This the pope sees as a deeper understanding not only of the text, but also of the whole of the "ethos of Redemption" triggered by pressing new social questions concerning the dignity of women.

Indeed, John Paul II also picks up and develops Pius' suggestion concerning the primacy of women in the order of love. However, here too he inserts this insight into a broader theological context which situates his anthropology of male and female within the mystery of trinitarian life. It is this trinitarian referent which provides the most profound theological basis for this development of doctrine.

. . . While the formulation "mutual submission" may sound as radical in its implications as it does in its formulation, it may not be utterly foreign to many actual relationships between Christian spouses. For in any long-term successful marriage, one generally finds some version of this principle at work. If a couple genuinely love one another, they will make the effort to talk to one another, listen to one another, and defer to one another. If this love is reciprocal, then it will not always be the same spouse who gives way to the other.

This ongoing dialogue of love takes place not apart from, but within a husband's and wife's distinctive qualities as male and female as well as their own personal temperament and gifts. There is no supposition here (as in the case of modern liberal individualism) that one must be identical in order to be equal.

. . . This study has argued that John Paul II's characterization of the relationship between Christian spouses as marked by "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" is an authentic development of Catholic doctrine concerning marriage. The teaching has a solid exegetical basis and is rightly read, not as a contradiction of previous official formulations, but as placing them in a broader and more adequate theological context.

. . . While deeply aware of the ravages which sin has wreaked on them, John Paul's vision of male and female relationships is a profoundly hopeful one. For he sees that, at root, men and women were not created to be competitors but collaborators. Both sexes are fulfilled only in self-giving, even if this offering of self takes differing forms for each of them. The differences between men and women were not meant to divide them but to summon them together in the communion of love. In a culture awash in individualism and torn by ideologies whose aim is to play on age old antagonisms between the sexes, this vision can truly be understood as good news.
Pope John Paul II again shows that he doesn't reject the traditional teaching of wifely submission, but rather, expands upon it and places it in the larger context of sacrificial love, in a passage from his 1994 Letter to Families:
The teaching of the Letter to the Ephesians amazes us with its depth and the authority of its ethical teaching. Pointing to marriage, and indirectly to the family, as the "great mystery" which refers to Christ and the Church, the Apostle Paul is able to reaffirm what he had earlier said to husbands: "Let each one of you love his wife as himself". He goes on to say: "And let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph 5:33). Respect, because she loves and knows that she is loved in return. It is because of this love that husband and wife become a mutual gift. Love contains the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of the other, and of his or her absolute uniqueness. Indeed, each of the spouses, as a human being, has been willed by God from among all the creatures of the earth for his or her own sake. Each of them, however, by a conscious and responsible act, makes a free gift of self to the other and to the children received from the Lord. It is significant that Saint Paul continues his exhortation by echoing the fourth commandment: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honour your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth'. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:1-4). The Apostle thus sees in the fourth commandment the implicit commitment of mutual respect between husband and wife, between parents and children, and he recognizes in it the principle of family stability. (19)
He's simply not denying that wives have to respect their husbands (a variant of "obey" that the Bible also teaches). Nor is he saying that husbands have to "respect" their wives, in this unilateral legal understanding.

No; what he is teaching is that the one-way submission required of the wife only works properly in an atmosphere of love and service on the part of the husband, just like the way Jesus Christ behaved when He came to earth.

He also shows by citing the parallel passage of Paul about parents and children, what he means by mutual respect or mutual submission: the children must obey the parents, but the parents, for their part, must not provoke their children to anger, and must discipline them. The analogies make it all very clear.

And this the pope refers to as "the implicit commitment of mutual respect between husband and wife" based on the Pauline analogy of the relationship "between parents and children."

Thus, the technical legal submission of wives and children is preserved, but placed in the Scriptural and ethical concept of love and service. The lines between legalism and love are made a lot less distinct. All is one.

Until RadCathRs (and liberals, who also don't get it, and think that some of this is sheer novelty) grasp that the pope is not contravening older teaching, but developing it, they will never correctly comprehend his teaching, and will continue to misrepresent it as something that it is not.

Terminological update: 12 August 2013.

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