The Catholic Church has lost the plot on marriage

Some nice recent use of irony at the Dalrock blog to make a good point:

” Somehow (and as at best a sceptic) I find it very hard to think that Christianity just happens to be a perfect fit for Feminism and that despite this no one these past two thousand years – that is until the last decade or two – even noticed.

This was in response to egalitarian pastor Wade Burleson, but it is equally applicable to pretty much all modern Christians, including the complementarians at TGC and CBMW.  The only difference is that while egalitarians explain that headship and submission are vestiges of a barbaric patriarchal age (and therefore either no longer apply or never really had any meaning), complementarians explain that headship and submission are only offensive to our modern feminist sensibilities because we don’t understand what Peter and Paul were trying to get across.  According to complementarians, if we only were able to shed our modern age’s barbaric patriarchal views and read the offending Scripture as the egalitarians of the ancient world understood them, we would realize that they don’t really contradict the feminist wisdom of our age.

Of the two, the egalitarian view is at least less internally contradictory. “

In my opinion, the rot set in within the Catholic Church with Pope John Paul II’s document Mulieris Dignitatem. This introduced the concept of mutual submission to Catholics relying on a (dubious) reading of Ephesians. The man who himself became pope later, Joseph Ratzinger, made some comments at the time that suggested he had his doubts about the statement. Nevertheless it was released and created confusion. It is the basis of modern complementarian thinking about Catholic marriage.

With an almost audible sigh of liberal relief, suddenly all that talk of a wife being “obedient in all things” could be quietly forgotten.

Of course none of this ” making nice ” stopped the ongoing destruction of marriages.

As the Dalrock comments remind us, how likely is it that St Paul really meant to be read as a feminist and two thousand years of church leaders just never got the message – until now? It is absurd when you think about it.

Many modern couples and churchmen (Bishop Olmsted in America is a recent example) still understand scripture in the same way as it has always been understood (before the last few years.) However wilful wives have been able to rely on “mutual submission” as a convenient way to avoid the commands of scripture that might cramp their style.

Also, from a Catholic perspective, why is the teaching of St Peter, considered as the first pope, not given primacy? This was quoted in the old Trent Catechism and leaves no doubt about the full authority of the husband.

Whole conferences are organised these days by earnest Catholics to consider complementarian ideas. But in fact the message of scripture is simple: wives, obey your husbands. There is nothing difficult about the basic idea. The truth of course is that everybody wants to muddy the waters.

I have not read all of John Paul II on this topic. I believe he applied a philosophical approach he favoured as an erstwhile teacher of philosophy. My feeling is however that excessive “lawyering” of a text should not be required to discern the truth.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Setting aside whether the theology was well constructed, there is another reason why I believe the Pope erred with the document. By using similar (or the same) language to what non-Catholics use in discussing marriage, the Pope invited confusion between what Catholics teach and what Protestants teach.


    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on May 31, 2016 at 2:35 am

      I have a sneaking suspicion that both the pope and the cardinal were being a little tricky with that document. Certainly Ratzinger remarked at the time that although “most scholars” wanted to read the mutual submission text as the introduction to the remaining text (an interpretation that is extremely dubious according to some experts – Bob Sungenis wrote a trenchant critique), nevertheless the man remains the “head”.

      It is possible that this was an attempt to moderate and rein in liberal scholarship, and give a Catholic interpretation, at least in Ratzinger’s mind (although JPII seemed quite attached to the mutual submission idea).

      A careful reading of Mulieris Dignitatem shows that it can be squared with tradition. It seems to propose different forms of “submission” for the spouses. Love for the husband: obedience for the wife. But really, the ordinary faithful should not be required to follow highly nuanced arguments.

      The document refers to the husband as the head; but the emphasis is clearly on his sacrifice and service. I have seen nice young Catholic ladies mooning over that, and almost felt cruel when I pointed out that it was also about authority as the rest of the language in that passage shows. In fact, wives are told three times I think in Ephesians to obey their husbands.

      The pope also as good as admitted that there are numerous other New Testament texts that are clearly hierarchical. The obsession with Ephesians alone is part of the problem.

      In a time when husbands and wives badly need to be given clear roles, it is lamentable that we are subject to this confused teaching. A community needs a head, not two “heads” in “mutual submission”.


  2. Posted by Julian O'Dea on May 31, 2016 at 10:18 pm

  3. […] Here is one case in point: Is the Pope a Feminist? And what’s “Wives Submit” mean anyway? Given the length, I won’t quote the whole thing. Instead, I ask my readers do so to help understand my post. [Hat tip: Julian O’Dea] […]


  4. Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 8, 2016 at 9:26 am

    The critique of Mulieris Dignitatem by Robert Sungenis:


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