I was reading online and came across this EXCELLENT discussion of the passage in Ephesians that I have heard so many times in my life: Chapter 5. In her article, Respecting Ephesians 5, this author discusses the issues feminism has with the passage and why those are misguided. She is very clear on the meaning of the passage IN CONTEXT which is something I rarely see. She is very good with this topic. Do please read her article over at the Catholic Chapter House Blog.
I most enjoyed her excellent handling of the material in context. It is too often true that this passage is taught in pieces, with those pieces taken out of context, and the woman is painted into a position of servant to her master which is just wrong. I have seen this wrong way of interpreting this passage used to blame the woman for her husband’s sin and used to argue that the woman should stay in an abusive marriage and that MORE submission will cure the abuse. When this passage is so abused as to take the sinful actions of the man and excuse them as the fault of a wife lacking in submission it becomes a scandal that brings on the objections of all reasonable persons, not only feminists.
In contrast, when the passage is taken in context, there is a rich image of a sound marriage where both the man and woman are respected and aided to grow in virtue.
First is the submission to one another before Christ which is so often ignored and which points out the equal dignity before God and the essential nature of mutual submission in order for each person to fully aid the other in growth in virtue and toward heaven. This mutual submission benefits the persons in the marriage, allowing them to demonstrate respect and humility toward each other and through their examples to demonstrate these virtues to their children. A child who sees their parents being gentle and giving to one another, listening to each other, seeking to aid each other in growing in virtue will grow up to seek that same mutual self giving, demonstrated here in mutual submission before God and the embracing of the two essential roles described in Ephesians 5, in their own marriage.
Second, Ephesians 5 specifies the unique aspects of the male and female roles in the family. Understanding these roles is extremely important in the selection of a spouse! The man should not marry if his love for the woman is not filled with a desire to sacrificially pour out his life for her good and the good of their children. Nor should a woman marry if her trust in her potential spouse does not permit her to submit to him as leader. This ideal of male leadership is rarely demonstrated as fully as it is described in this passage. Servant leadership requires a sacrificial love and humility. In seeking to live this ideal, the man is perfected in virtue and becomes ever more worthy of his position. The closer the man comes to servant leadership, the easier it becomes for the woman to submit to his leadership.
Third, submission of the wife to the leadership of her husband helps encourage him to courageously grow in the virtues needed for sacrificial self giving. Submission is an act of humility which counters pride in the woman. The feminist rebels against this submission because of a selfish desire to have the husband be the servant but let her be the master. This error is a logical outgrowth of telling women to submit to the husband as master rather than as a servant leader whose acts of sacrifice for his family mirror the sacrifice of Christ. For the woman of an Ephesians chapter 5 man who is struggling with his fallen nature and cooperating with the grace of God to live up to his role as servant leader, her submission will help her to counter her own fallen nature. In seeking to submit, the wife seeks to grow in humility and to seek the good of her husband and children over her own selfish desires. Thus being asked to submit is, for the woman, a key to growth in virtues and in her vocation.
Fourth, the dual instructions in Eph 5 are exercises in trust. Trusting another person not to abuse your vulnerability as you seek to live the humility inherent in either role is difficult. People make mistakes. Sometimes they act like jerks and it is painful for the submissive wife of a man who has failed in exhibiting servant leadership to submit. It is equally difficult for the husband of a rebellious or selfish wife to be a servant pouring his life out for the ungrateful wench! In both cases the failures are due to selfishness and pride. The cure for the selfishness and pride that damages the marriage bond is to seek to fulfill the proper roles as shown in Ephesians 5. A good marriage between equals will include the communication and respect that leads to a natural acceptance of these roles.
My personal experience is that my husband, who is an incredible example of a servant leader, causes me to feel convicted when I am lacking in humility and I work to drop the tendency to be bossy. I tend to micro-manage and he does not NEED this from me, in fact, he needs me to trust that he can handle his role in this marriage and he needs me to work on MY role in this marriage. That is, I think, the core of this passage: A healthy working marriage has mutually supportive and complimentary roles which take the forms of servant leadership in the man and submission to that leadership in the woman.
Enjoy the link. The author did a stellar job explaining this passage.