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On Mutual Submission – A Word for Men from St. John Chrysostom

June 2, 2010

If you’ve followed the blog for the past couple of weeks, or are just joining in, you’ll notice that one theme continues to crop up in all of my writing about marriage: mutual submission. This, of course, is because I believe that true marriage is a man and a woman who live their lives in full submission to and love for one another.

The idea of mutual submission is typically attributed to St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, where he exhorts the church at Ephesus:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

I’ve too often heard these verses read alone. In graduate school, it was the pseudo-feminists who read them and declared that St. Paul was clearly a misogynist. In church circles, it was the alpha males who read it while puffing up their chest with pride, declaring that their wives needed to sit down and submit to their authority. Both groups were clearly engaged in an adventure in missing the point.

After all, St. Paul goes on to say:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.”

The idea of mutual submission perplexes some and just plain vexes others. And yet, I believe it is the call we’ve accepted in the vocation of marriage. I find that this notion is particularly difficult for men to get their head around. For this reason, I call your attention to St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on Marriage. Enjoy!

Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him as tie accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife. A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one’s partner for life, the mother of one’s children, the source of one’s every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not with a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church. /…/

Whenever you give your wife advice, always begin by telling her how much you love her. Nothing will persuade her so well to admit the wisdom of your words as her assurance that you are speaking to her with sincere affection. Tell her that you are convinced that money is not important, that only thieves thirst for it constantly, that you love her more than gold; and indeed an intelligent, discreet and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Show her that you value her company, and prefer being at home to being out. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers. If you are overtaken by poverty, remember Peter and Paul, who were more honored than kings or rich men, though they spent their lives in hunger and thirst. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2010 7:07 pm

    This was beautiful. Thanks for posting it. I have never heard / read it in such a way….and I am thankful that I can take a few minutes to absorb this teaching. The last two sentences are priceless….truly priceless. Thanks.

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