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THE HUSBAND AS HEAD OF THE FAMILY

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Scripture

The Holy Catholic Church teaches, through Scripture and Tradition, that the husband is the head of his family and has God-given authority over his wife and children. This gift of authority does not give a husband any greater dignity than his wife.  Both are equal members of the marital covenant, as is reflected by God creating woman from the side of man (as opposed to his head or feet).  Instead, this order of authority reflects the divine order between God, Christ and man.  God blessed the marital covenant with this order to maintain peace and harmony in the family, the “domestic church.” Just as Christ is the Head of the Catholic Church (the family of God), so the father is the head of his domestic church (his family).

1 Cor. 11:3 – “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

Eph. 5:22-24 – “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the church, His Body, and is himself its savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.”

Col. 1:18 – “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

Titus 2:5 – Wives should be submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited.

1 Peter 3:1-2 – “Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior.”

1 Peter 3:5-6 – “So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.”

Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9; 1 Tim. 2:12-13 – while some people argue that God imposed the submission requirement upon women as a punishment for the original sin, this is not true. God designated the man as the head of his family from the very beginning of creation, even before the original sin.  Therefore, man’s authority over the woman was not imposed as a punishment for the original sin, but to reflect the order of creation.

Gen. 3:16 – in fact, God revealed that women would want to usurp their husband’s authority as the result of the original sin. After the original sin, God tells Eve: “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  Thus, as a result of the original sin, Eve would desire to rule over Adam, but God ensured that Adam would rule over Eve. 

Gen. 4:17 – also shows that the Hebrew word for “desire” refers not to a hunger for affection, but a desire to rule over someone.  Here, God tells Cain “sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  Sin wants to rule over Cain, but Cain must rule over sin.

Isaiah 3:12 – the prophet laments about how women were usurping the authority of men, during the height of Israel’s covenant apostasy. 

Just as wives must be submissive to their husbands as the head of the family, husbands must love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loves the Church:

Eph. 5:25,28 – just as wives must submit to their husbands, husbands must “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” Just as the Church is legally and morally obligated to submit to Christ, wives are obligated to submit to their husbands. This is why Paul makes the comparison between husbands and Christ, wives and the Church.

Eph. 5:33 – “let each one of you love his wife as himself.”

Col.. 3:19 – “husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

1 Peter 3:7 – “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Because men are spiritual fathers to their families (as both ministerial and royal priests), God revealed through St. Paul that women should be silent in church, and not usurp the roles that God intended for men:

1 Cor. 14:34-35 – “the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

1 Tim. 2:11-15 – “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”  Paul is emphasizing the woman’s primary role as the giver of natural life, just as a man’s primary role is the giver of supernatural life.  Again, Paul bases his teaching on God’s order of creation.

1 Cor. 14:34-35 – “the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”  Notice that Paul says women should be silent in churches “as even the law says.”  In verse 37, he reiterates “what I am writing you is a command of the Lord.” Paul is explaining that forbidding women to speak in church is a divine command from Almighty God (and not sexist or culturally motivated). 

1 Cor. 11:4-10 – Paul also teaches that a woman must cover her head when she prays or prophesies, especially in church: “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head -- it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.  (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.”

The veil symbolizes that the woman is under the authority of man and must submit to him, just as the Church is under the authority of Jesus Christ and must submit to Him.  Paul again explains that his instructions are divinely-inspired when he tells women to wear veils “because of the angels.”

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Tradition / Church Fathers

“...and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil; it behooves you also, therefore, as ‘a peculiar people, and a holy nation,’ to perform all things with harmony in Christ. Wives, be ye subject to your husbands in the fear of God; and ye virgins, to Christ in purity, not counting marriage an abomination, but desiring that which is better, not for the reproach of wedlock, but for the sake of meditating on the law.” Ignatius, To the Philadelphians, Ch 4 (c. A.D. 100).

“Do you go forth (to meet them) already arrayed in the cosmetics and ornaments of prophets and apostles; drawing your whiteness from simplicity, your ruddy hue from modesty; painting your eyes with bashfulness, and your mouth with silence; implanting in your ears the words of God; fitting on your necks the yoke of Christ. Submit your head to your husbands, and you will be enough adorned.” Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, Ch XIII (c. A.D. 200).

“Now, when I find to what God belong these precepts, whether in their germ or their development, I have no difficulty in knowing to whom the apostle also belongs. But he declares that ‘wives ought to be in subjection to their husbands:’ what reason does he give for this? ‘Because,’ says he, ‘the husband is the head of the wife.’ Pray tell me, Marcion, does your god build up the authority of his law on the work of the Creator? This, however, is a comparative trifle; for he actually derives from the same source the condition of his Christ and his Church; for he says: ‘even as Christ is the head of the Church;’ and again, in like manner: ‘He who loves his wife, loves his own flesh, even as Christ loved the Church.” Tertullian Against Marcion, Ch XVIII) (c. A.D. 200).

“The ruling power is therefore the head. And if ‘the Lord is head of the man, and the man is head of the woman,’ the man, ‘being the image and glory of God, is lord of the woman.’ Wherefore also in the Epistle to the Ephesians it is written, ‘Subjecting, ourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Husbands, love your wives, as also Christ loved the Church. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies: he that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh.’ And in that to the Colossians it is said, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as is fit in the Lord.’”  Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Bk 4, Ch 8, (c. A.D. 200).

“First, if our prophetesses have spoken, show us the signs of prophecy in them. Second, even if the daughters of Philip did prophesy [Acts 21:8-9], they did not do so inside the church. Likewise in the Old Testament, although Deborah was reputed to be a prophetess [Judges 4:4], there is no indication that she ever corporately addressed the people in the way that Isaiah or Jeremiah did. The same is true of Huldah [2 Kings 22:14].” Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4, 74, 6-16 (c. A.D. 220).

“As the church takes its beginning from Christ and therefore is subject to him, so too does woman take hers from the man and is subject to him.” Ambrosiaster, CSEL 81.3:117-118 (c. A.D. 380).

“And the apostolic word has also escaped their notice: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach in such a way as to exercise authority over men. She is to preserve the virtue of quietness.’ And again, ‘For man is not from the woman, but woman from man.’” Epiphanius, Panarion, 49, 3 (c. A.D. 380).

“Since man did not make woman, the question here does not concern the origin of woman. Rather it concerns only submission.” Serverian, Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, 15:260.

“For just as God has nobody over him in all creation, so man has no one over him in the natural world. But a woman does - she has man over her.” Serverian, Pauline Commentary, 15:261.

“For the man is the head of the woman in perfect order when Christ who is the Wisdom of God is the head of the man.” Augustine, Against the Manichaeans 2, 12, 16 (A.D. 391).

“Wives be subject to your husbands” he writes to wives: “That is, be subject for God’s sake, because this adorns you, Paul says, not them. For I mean not that subjection which is due to a master nor yet that alone which is of nature but that offered for God’s sake.” John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians, NPNF1 12:304 (A.D. 404).

“Observe again that Paul has exhorted husbands and wives to reciprocity...To love therefore, is the husband’s part, to yield pertains to the other side. If, then, each one contributes his own part, all stand firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians, NPNF1 13:304 (A.D. 404).

‘Subjecting yourselves one to another,’ he says, ‘in the fear of Christ.’ For if thou submit thyself for a ruler’s sake, or for money’s sake, or from respectfulness, much more from the fear of Christ...rather it were better that both masters and slaves be servants to one another...Thus does God will it to be, for he washed his disciples’ feet" John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily XIX, NPNF1, 142 (A.D. 404).

“Then after saying, ‘The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is of the Church,’ he further adds, ‘and He is the Saviour of the body.’ For indeed the head is the saving health of the body. He had already laid down beforehand for man and wife, the ground and provision of their love, assigning to each their proper place, to the one that of authority and forethought, to the other that of submission. As then ‘the Church,’ that is, both husbands and wives, ‘is subject unto Christ, so also ye wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as unto God.’ For she is the body, not to dictate to the head, but to submit herself and obey.” John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 5:22 (A.D. 404).

“Wherefore, saith he, ‘Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.’...For if it is their duty to be in subjection ‘as unto the Lord,’ how saith He that they must depart from them for the Lord’s sake? Yet their duty indeed it is, their bounded duty...For he who resists these external authorities, those of governments, I mean, ‘withstandeth the ordinance of God (Rom 13:2), much more does she who submits not to her husband. Such was God’s will from the beginning.” John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, NPNF1, 143-144 (A.D. 404).

“For the name of Christ is on the lips of every man: it is invoked by the just man in doing justice, by the perjurer in the act of deceiving, by the king to confirm his rule, by the soldier to nerve himself for battle, by the husband to establish his authority, by the wife to confess her submission, by the father to enforce his command, by the son to declare his obedience, by the master in supporting his right to govern, by the slave in performing his duty...” Augustine, Letters, CCXXXII (A.D. 410).

“Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, ‘The head of the woman is the man;’ and, ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.’ So also the Apostle Peter writes: ‘Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.’” Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Bk 1, Ch 10 (A.D. 419-420).

 “Nor can it be doubted that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, ‘The head of the woman is the man’ [1 Cor 11:3]; and ‘Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands.’” Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence 1, 9, 10, NPNF1 5:267 (A.D. 419-420).

“Paul is particularly concerned here with believing women who are married to unbelieving men: thus, their subjection is in service to the Lord, that is, as the Lord commands.” Theodoret, Interpretation of the Letter to the Colossians PG 82:621A (A.D. 435).

“Man has the first place because of the order of creation.” Theodoret, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 234 (A.D. 435).

 “For though the wife be her husband's equal in the marriage act, yet in matters of housekeeping, the head of the woman is the man, as the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 11:3).” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Treatise on the Theological Virtues, Question 32, Article 8.

“For the higher reason which is assigned to contemplation is compared to the lower reason which is assigned to action, and the husband is compared to his wife, who should be ruled by her husband, as Augustine says (De Trinitate xii,3,7,12).” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Treatise on Gratuitous Grace, Question 128, Article 4.

“The Apostle says (1 Corinthians 14:34): ‘Let women keep silence in the churches,’ and (1 Timothy 2:12): ‘I suffer not a woman to teach.’ Now this pertains especially to the grace of the word. Therefore the grace of the word is not becoming to women. I answer that, Speech may be employed in two ways: in one way privately, to one or a few, in familiar conversation, and in this respect the grace of the word may be becoming to women; in another way, publicly, addressing oneself to the whole church, and this is not permitted to women. First and chiefly, on account of the condition attaching to the female sex, whereby woman should be subject to man, as appears from Genesis 3:16" Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 177, Article 2.

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