Catholic perspective on marriage teachings


#1

I'm having a lot of trouble understanding the whole marriage shabog having to do with "submitting," "obedience," "leadership," "head of the wife," etc. No amount of reading has helped me understand this.

Here's the various answers I usually receive when trying to understand this:

  1. A wife has to submit to her husband the way the Church submits to Christ. Obviously if Christ tells us abortion is wrong, we obey by not supporting that or doing that in any way. However, does that mean if a husband gives his wife a directive the way God would give us one, the wife has to follow it without question the way the Church would follow without question?

  2. A husband is "the boss."

  3. An obedient wife is "lower" in the hierarchy of marriage.

  4. Submission only works in one direction in a marriage-- the husband never submits to his wife. He's only supposed to love her.

  5. A husband is a "leader," and a wife is a "follower," meaning a wife is not allowed to exhibit leadership skills in the home or in marriage.

Correct or not? And please, use real examples. None of this theological word mincing is helping me understand this. By the way, all of the listed are answers that I have received from a Protestant perspective, because I haven't really been able to get answers from a Catholic perspective.


#2

I hope this was helpful!


#3

Yes, actually your responses were quite helpful! It's interesting to see how so many interpretations can leave love out of the equation, and render submission as blind obedience. At least, that is the impression I had received for a long time about this issue. Try being 18 and understanding what this means:rolleyes: I'm not sure if you really can at times.

I'd be interested to see what others have to say. Many Protestant interpretations put submission to one's husband as following orders, even when the orders can be brainless in direction or even hurtful. One area is with sex-- I have heard Protestant women on other Christian websites argue that their feelings and their physical state of being come secondary to their husbands' desires:(


#4

[quote="spunjalebi, post:3, topic:216936"]
Yes, actually your responses were quite helpful! It's interesting to see how so many interpretations can leave love out of the equation, and render submission as blind obedience. At least, that is the impression I had received for a long time about this issue. Try being 18 and understanding what this means:rolleyes: I'm not sure if you really can at times.

[/quote]

I have heard some similar ideas before in protestant circles and sadly, some Catholic ones but it isn't correct. Takers is right. Marriage is a partnership. My husband does not lord over me and neither do I lord over him. We work together. He is still the head of the household but all our decisions are jointly made for the most part.

I'd be interested to see what others have to say. Many Protestant interpretations put submission to one's husband as following orders, even when the orders can be brainless in direction or even hurtful. One area is with sex-- I have heard Protestant women on other Christian websites argue that their feelings and their physical state of being come secondary to their husbands' desires:(

This is wrong. The husband and wife must consider the other's feelings. If a wife is not feeling well enough for sex then the husband must take that into account. He would be abusing her if he forced her to have sex when she is ill. That isn't how a marriage is supposed to work.


#5

[quote="spunjalebi, post:3, topic:216936"]
Yes, actually your responses were quite helpful! It's interesting to see how so many interpretations can leave love out of the equation, and render submission as blind obedience. At least, that is the impression I had received for a long time about this issue. Try being 18 and understanding what this means:rolleyes: I'm not sure if you really can at times.

I will fully admit that I didn't really understand the concept of 'submission' until I got married. Before then I always figured it was for overbearing men and wimpy women. It was in the process of dating, being engaged to, and finally marrying my husband that I realized that true 'submission' comes from love. Without love you can't have 'submission', imo. At 18 I thought people who did this were fundamental wackos. Now I know better. :D

I'd be interested to see what others have to say. Many Protestant interpretations put submission to one's husband as following orders, even when the orders can be brainless in direction or even hurtful. One area is with sex-- I have heard Protestant women on other Christian websites argue that their feelings and their physical state of being come secondary to their husbands' desires:(

[/quote]

That's definitely not good. Why would any intelligent person follow someone else's harmful directions? Doesn't make sense to me, but I can see that if you don't fully understand a concept your ideas of that concept can get be off-base.


#6

One argument I saw in defense of the having sex whenever the husband wanted was that a wife should be thankful that her husband would still find her attractive after years of being together and having children:shrug:


#7

All women are motivated by concerns for their safety. A strong intelligent woman is not easily threatened, so she tends to seek a stronger man, who can protect her from the world.

A weak uninformed woman is threatened by men, so will seek a weaker man whom she can control to provide her resources to try and feel safe. Giving up control is too scary, but carrying the burden of having to control everything in her environment is draining. This supreme effort leaves her unhappy and insecure because controlling everything is impossible. So the only solution for her is to try and control more in order to further remove uncertainty, but this increases her burden and unhappiness. (spiral)

This phenomena is consistent with belief in entitlement, regulation of every imaginable thing, growth in government and the right to the continue receiving financial support from an ex-husband, whom she divorced because she needed more control. These women will rally the other women around them to achieve safety in numbers.

Submission is a demonized word, but can be understood as “mission under”. Men innately have this understanding and are comfortable with it. Picture a group of guys getting together to build a deck. The first thing each must figure out is “Who is in charge here?” Men first establish order (hierarchy). After that, the guy in charge will assign tasks to each man and each man will perform his task (sub-mission) to support the project (mission). If no one (or everyone) is in charge it will be a circus. The truth is that a lot of guys do not want the leadership job because it is much less stressful to work for the mission in a supportive role. Often a particular man will not want to be in charge, but other men will decide who has the best skills, leadership ability and knowledge (democracy). Thus a reluctant leader will often step up when he is chosen. Of course there are always jerks that want to be in charge but don’t know their butt from a hot rock. Then the team will not work as hard or as effectively and may walk off the job. This innate male behavior is often corrective within the group.

With a similar application of this understanding, it is quite simple to see how the best type of women can feel safe with a “mission under” a man. These are strong smart women, but other women are often threatened merely by their existence. Strong women often have a greater trust of men in general than they do of the other women. These women know that responsibility goes with leadership and decision making.

I don’t know if this is right or not but this is the way I choose to see the world.


#8

If we project the Church submitting to Christ as the Wife submitting to the Husband, we need only look at the works Christ did for the Church, and ultimately sacrificing Himself for the redemption of the other. Not saying that every husband should die for their wife (although I like to believe that God gives each husband the strength to if put in that situation), but you get the idea - total sacrifice. Christ did not use the Church, or boss it around for the sake of being in charge. He so loved His Church that He taught her, guided her, and died for her. Christ is the perfect example of a husband's love because He is the perfection of all love.


#9

spunjaelbi have you been reading the Marriage Bed forums? I must admit I have as well though technically I wasn't supposed to since I'm not married. It seemed most of the people there had that attitude, not only regarding intercourse but all sorts of intimate behavior (most of which is forbidden for Catholics anyway). The idea seemed to be that wife is somehow being selfish and unloving if she doesn't go along with whatever the husband wants her to do. That she has a duty to please her husband. Why it's not considered just as selfish for someone to pressure a spouse to do something he or she didn't want to do, I never understood. :shrug: I've also seen the idea that a wife who refuses her husband could tempt him to adultery, and I've seen such a wife being cautioned to remember that she provides the only acceptable way her husband can satisfy his sexual desires without sinning. I think this is the same mentality that causes non-Catholics (or even Catholics) to be completely mystified by the idea that it's wrong to lust after your wife.

From what I've seen around here and in RL, it seems Catholics view the idea of wifely submission a little differently than an evangelical fundamentalist does. One poster (who I hope will chime in here because I forgot who it was) compared it to the role the Vice President of the US has as President of the Senate, that the role is pretty limited except in extraordinary situation where someone has to cast the deciding vote.

I think fundamentalists tend to confuse submission with obedience. Yet Catholic wedding vows for a bride do not include the promise to obey. For obedience is something owed by children to their parents, or a monk to an abbott, etc., not a wife to a husband. Obedience is supposed to be unquestioning, and there is an assumption that a child is not the equal to a parent in experience, understanding, etc. A wife, however, is not seen as unequal to a husband in this way. Their roles in marriage are seen as different, but this is not the same as having the wife somehow less inherently valuable than a husband. I've also seen fundamentalists who think that a wife doesn't actually need to love her husband, just respect him (actually saw a bunch of fundamentalist women saying that on one of those "newsmagazine" TV shows), and that men actually prefer being respected, even feared, to being loved.


#10

[quote="C_S_P_B, post:7, topic:216936"]

Submission is a demonized word, but can be understood as “mission under”.

[/quote]

I have never ever heard of submission being described that way. Submission in the contexts I've read or have heard of have been "my wife didn't submit when I told her to do such and so," or "a wife should submit, even when she knows that something is truly wrong because she should be able to convince her husband otherwise without words," and to top it off with a way to justify abuse, "a wife submits to her husband in ALL things."

Submit according to my education in these matters, has come to mean that a wife is obedient the way an unruly child ought to be obedient to her or his parents. I once read a Christian book about marriage back in my early 20's and an example in the book talked about how a husband and wife were having a disagreement as they were driving to a destination. The husband cited that his way was better, and the wife said "I don't like it, but I'm going to submit." The first thing I thought was "what the f---!" It sounded like wives were expected to say "eh, I don't like it but who am I to question your AUTHORITY?"

When Christians throw around words like "leadership," "authority," and "obedience," what are we really trying to say with marriage? That's what I'm trying to understand. I've come across church websites talking about how submission for a wife is supposed to be liberating, but when you find out that a wife's husband pushed her to quit her job, stay at home, and know her "role," you have to wonder how truly liberated she is. Not that I am bashing SAHM's or anything, I personally would LOVE to do that one day but it's a choice that I've made for myself. I wouldn't want to be "submitted" into a decision or forced into "obedience."

Toeinwater, I do see that a lot on tmb site. I know that there's often arguments about headship, submission, and mutual submission and from what I gather, I don't think anyone's gotten it "right," in the sense that things will work for everyone the way they should. That's why I've taken to doing a lot more of my own personal study, but I will be honest the evangelical interpretation never sat well with me.


#11

Many Protestants do not realize that a Bible is supposed to come with the explanatory Church that goes with it. It is a set. There is no end to the preposterous conclusions you will read if you believe that anyone who picks up a Bible has the ability to interpret it. I will be honest: I have even read Catholic web sites touting some of this nonsense that somebody just made up, things that the Church does not teach.

I also think that most people marry without realizing how much mutual submission is required for a marriage to work. “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) is the starting point for that whole section.

I have come to conclusion that the key is in this: leadership in the secular world is about wielding power. You have to get rid of that idea of leadership in order to understand Christian marriage. Too often, Protestant views of marriage are based on a secular understanding of authority and power. Yet what did Christ say to his first bishops? (This was, incidentally, the Gospel reading at our wedding):

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37

So you can see that in a marriage, the husband is Christ. OK. But you cannot be Christ unless you submit to the point of death to the Will of the Father. There was no, is no, and will never be any tyranny in the leadership of Christ. By the words coming out of the Lord’s own mouth, children are received as Christ. Obviously, then, the family is a unit of profound mutual respect.

The Gospel, alas, can be used to tyrannize the vulnerable. Rebellion from that tyranny can lead people away from any willingness to yield to legitimate authority. That is where we are now, I think. The devil says that following our own sense of good and bad is to live so “your eyes are open” and “to be like gods” (Gen. 3:5), but that is not true.

I’ve been married for over 20 years, I’ve been observing marriage for a lot longer than that. Grasping at power, whether the husband does it or the wife does it, prevents married couples from being happy. To have a solid marriage, you have to renounce that grasping attitude. You have to be careful not to marry a man with that grasping attitude, a man has to be careful not to marry a woman with that grasping attitude. In reality, that is what submission means: renouncing power struggles. It is not easy, but it is what works. If the husband “lays down his life” for his wife, submitting to God’s will as Christ did, and the wife submits to a leadership modelled after Christ, there is no tyranny. There is harmony. When the husband, like David, strays from God’s will and abuses his authority in a self-serving manner, then the wife, like the Prophet Nathan, must let him know. She does not become king in his place, but she has the office to remind him what his office requires of him:
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; 5 and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:3-8

I hope that helps.

But I’ll bet that this is your ultimate question: Why word it like that? Why not just say “submit to one another”? Because we are not saints yet. We are too weak to be directly answerable to God; we cannot trust ourselves to be without disputes. Why is the male in charge? I don’t know. My personal theory is this: because the male is naturally stronger, and this works best when the ways of nature are not obliterated–God created nature and made man the stronger–but when they are transformed by grace. But that is my opinion. As far as I know, the Church only teaches that the husband has that office, and does not hazard a guess about why.

Which reminds me of a joke…Two brothers are waiting while their mom makes them breakfast, which is homemade crepes. When the first one is done, the two clamour over who gets the first one. Their mother chides them: “What would Jesus do, boys?” After which one brother turned to his brother and said quickly, “You be Jesus this time!”


#12

[quote="ToeInTheWater, post:9, topic:216936"]
I've also seen the idea that a wife who refuses her husband could tempt him to adultery, and I've seen such a wife being cautioned to remember that she provides the only acceptable way her husband can satisfy his sexual desires without sinning. I think this is the same mentality that causes non-Catholics (or even Catholics) to be completely mystified by the idea that it's wrong to lust after your wife.

[/quote]

My thoughts on this matter have always been that it is a matter of intent when you speak about 'lusting after one's own wife.' It is great to be passionate, to want to have that physical connection with your spouse, and to express their love in such a way. That doesn't mean sex has to be boring or a chore for either party.

But when it comes to lust, I view that as not thinking about having intercourse with your wife in the spirit of love, but rather desiring personal 'satisfaction' and using your wife solely as the means to do so. Granted, this may be a subjective thing for each person, but those are my thoughts.

As a disclaimer, I am not yet married, so I cannot speak to the physical relations between man and woman from an 'experienced' point of view, but I have still thought about the meaning of that phrase and have given you my thoughts on the matter as a Catholic.


#13

Yes, that does help:thumbsup:

Mumbles, I think I know what you are saying. There have been times where my husband has expressed a desire to be intimate, but if I was in pain, was ill, or was tired he would back off. There were many times where I insisted on just "going along with it," but that would upset him because he wanted me to want to be intimate, versus him just forcing himself on me. In other words, I think husbands and wives should CARE about how their spouse is feeling if it is legitimate--not the "I have a headache" stuff.


#14

Catholic marriage is a partnership of equals with the man being the head of the house. That said, it does not give him the right to make chioces in the marriage that are harmful or not in the best intrest of his wife or his family . This includes using his wife as an object too fullful his wants or disires. Abusing and not taking care of his family and not putting the wants and needs of his wife and family first, would not make a fit husband and possible not even a fit man. Being the head does not give him all the power either, partnership in all things. Basicly as the head he gets to make sure that eveyones wants and or needs get met together with his partner then consider his own. The key to this whole thing is to chose wisely! Good luck and God Bless


#15

[quote="spunjalebi, post:6, topic:216936"]
One argument I saw in defense of the having sex whenever the husband wanted was that a wife should be thankful that her husband would still find her attractive after years of being together and having children:shrug:

[/quote]

That's just whoey in my mind. More likely the man has no self-esteem and can only think of himself as a man when he browbeats his wife into doing something she doesn't want to do just so he can feel that he's 'in charge'.


#16

[quote="Mumbles140, post:12, topic:216936"]
My thoughts on this matter have always been that it is a matter of intent when you speak about 'lusting after one's own wife.' It is great to be passionate, to want to have that physical connection with your spouse, and to express their love in such a way. That doesn't mean sex has to be boring or a chore for either party.

But when it comes to lust, I view that as not thinking about having intercourse with your wife in the spirit of love, but rather desiring personal 'satisfaction' and using your wife solely as the means to do so. Granted, this may be a subjective thing for each person, but those are my thoughts.

[/quote]

Well, to clarify, I'm actually not mystified myself I've just noticed that a lot of people are, and often accuse the Catholic Church of teaching that sexual desire is wrong even in marriage, or erroneously believe that the Church teaches that marriage and sex is only for procreation.

I agree that a man lusting after his wife refers to him having a selfish attitude of sexually using his wife. So, a husband isn't guilty of lust just by having physical desire for his wife, if he still sees her as his beloved and sees sex as a way to express that love. But, he could be guilty of lust if he sees his wife as a sex object to be used for his own gratification.

As for the main topic of submission, I agree with EasterJoy that the concept of submission gets corrupted by secular ideas about leadership. Yet, even in the secular world, lording it over someone, demanding your every whim be satisfied, etc., is not leadership, that's dictatorship. A President of a country who expected his Cabinet to simply rubber-stamp his ideas, or a CEO of a corporation who expected his subordinates to obey him without question, would likely not be very successful. (And no, I am not referring to any particular person here.) I think that in fundamentalist circles, way too much emphasis is placed on the wives being submissive and accepting their husband's leadership, but the husbands are not being taught how to be good, Christ-like leaders, for the best leaders are those people want to follow.


#17

[quote="spunjalebi, post:1, topic:216936"]
I'm having a lot of trouble understanding the whole marriage shabog having to do with "submitting," "obedience," "leadership," "head of the wife," etc. No amount of reading has helped me understand this.

Here's the various answers I usually receive when trying to understand this:

  1. A wife has to submit to her husband the way the Church submits to Christ. Obviously if Christ tells us abortion is wrong, we obey by not supporting that or doing that in any way. However, does that mean if a husband gives his wife a directive the way God would give us one, the wife has to follow it without question the way the Church would follow without question?

  2. A husband is "the boss."

  3. An obedient wife is "lower" in the hierarchy of marriage.

  4. Submission only works in one direction in a marriage-- the husband never submits to his wife. He's only supposed to love her.

  5. A husband is a "leader," and a wife is a "follower," meaning a wife is not allowed to exhibit leadership skills in the home or in marriage.

Correct or not? And please, use real examples. None of this theological word mincing is helping me understand this. By the way, all of the listed are answers that I have received from a Protestant perspective, because I haven't really been able to get answers from a Catholic perspective.

[/quote]

I think your misunderstanding is centered on the part that I bolded. St Paul actually says "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it". Stop and think about this for a second. This is not even close to, "he is only suppose to love her" type approach. Think about how Christ loved the church for a second and now realize that the entire passage places a much greater burden on the husband than on the wife. Focusing on the submissiveness of the wife seems greatly misplaced when we consider the extent that the husband's love is supposed to take.


#18

How does that differ from understanding submission? In a way, does that mean a husband submits to his wife in some manner if he were to cherish her the same way Christ cherished the Church?

Also-- this is a biggie-- if a husband is the head of the wife and therefore the "leader" or what ever term one likes to use-- does that mean he is the sole and final determinant of all things in their marriage?


#19

[quote="spunjalebi, post:3, topic:216936"]
Yes, actually your responses were quite helpful! It's interesting to see how so many interpretations can leave love out of the equation, and render submission as blind obedience. At least, that is the impression I had received for a long time about this issue. Try being 18 and understanding what this means:rolleyes: I'm not sure if you really can at times.

I'd be interested to see what others have to say. Many Protestant interpretations put submission to one's husband as following orders, even when the orders can be brainless in direction or even hurtful. One area is with sex-- I have heard Protestant women on other Christian websites argue that their feelings and their physical state of being come secondary to their husbands' desires:(

[/quote]

Thats funny you say that because if anything, ive noticed catholic perceptions to be much more strict than protestant ones. But then again, I haven't talked to the protestants you have. Many protestant woman here don't even follow their husband like that. Usually she takes the lead, lol.


#20

[quote="spunjalebi, post:18, topic:216936"]
How does that differ from understanding submission? In a way, does that mean a husband submits to his wife in some manner if he were to cherish her the same way Christ cherished the Church?

Also-- this is a biggie-- if a husband is the head of the wife and therefore the "leader" or what ever term one likes to use-- does that mean he is the sole and final determinant of all things in their marriage?

[/quote]

Christ gave Himself up for the Church. The husband is told to do the same. In a practical way, that could mean working a job he doesn't necessarily like, but is qualified to do, simply because he earns more doing it and that allows his wife to stay home (or work part time) and raise the family. Or it allows the family to live in a home in a safer area or one that fits the size of a larger family. It means that maybe he drives the economical or old car to work so that his wife has the nicer (safer and newer) vehicle to drive to work or run the kids around in. It means that if he needs to give up an expensive hobby/activity he enjoys so his kids can have a good Catholic education, he does it.....willingly. What I'm saying is that the husband is called to "die to self" if necessary so that his family can reasonably live a safe and happy life.

When you think about it, that's a pretty big thing for any man to do, so it's important to make sure any future spouse is willing to do that. If a husband lives out his part of the command, it makes giving him leadership a lot easier to do. I have read on here that marriage needs to be a 100% giving of each other to one another. I agree with this, but on a practical note, view my marriage as a 49/51 thing. That's pretty much 50/50, but my hubby gets the "51" as head of the household.


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