Yesterday, December 29th, Catholic parishes all over the world celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  To mark this feast, lectors read the following Scriptural passages: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3: 12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.

Celebrated in the context of magisterial condemnation of lesbian and gay relationships, this feast also trumpets the singular superiority of heterosexuality.  Many Catholics, most notably those who both love as a gay person and love gay people, often find this feast day painful.  Surrounded by pews filled with babies bouncing on the knees of their heterosexual parents and struggling to remain attached to a church that tells them their families are unholy, many LGBT Catholics feel the Feast of the Holy Family like a wound.

This feast typically affirms fathers as ultimate authorities over (infantilized) wives and (feminized) children.  Because God is male so too must men be gods.  Male headship qualifies as both natural and divine.  Women, especially those convinced of their equality to men, may also bristle at the church’s celebration and sacralization of patriarchal families.

With Sonja, I wish this were all a misunderstanding.  I would love for the Bible to be innocent and its interpreters alone the guilty ones.  While the church does tend to read Scripture through a patriarchal lens, Scripture still contains patriarchal passages.  In light of this, I argue, we must find a way both to critique those who misinterpret Scripture while also conceding Scripture’s operation as a text of terror.

Indeed, one can offer a strong critique of the way the church uses Scripture.  Indeed, one can question why it selects the texts that it does.   Popular belief notwithstanding, Scripture does in fact celebrate non-traditional families.  Ruth and Naomi form a family headed by two women; to each other, they pledge their undying devotion.  Even if their relationship would not qualify as “sexual” according to the modern understanding of the term, it is undoubtedly covenantal.  Recognizing this, many heterosexual couples select the love story of Naomi and Ruth to be read at their Catholic wedding masses.   Are not Ruth and Naomi also a Holy Family?

One could also question the way priests interpret these readings during their homilies.  Rather than evidence of the holiness of male headship, do these texts not also call it into question?  While the Sirach reading extols the son who “honors,” “reveres,” and “takes care of” his father, the Gospels do not depict Jesus as particularly devoted to cultivating these virtues of filial devotion.  He calls other men away from their families and family businesses.  He even identifies filial hatred as a precondition of discipleship.  He commits to a ministry that will lead to his early death, even though it will preclude him from caring for his father in old age as Sirach commands all sons to do.

Catholic interpreters typically make Mary and Joseph universal spousal prototypes.  The story of the Holy Family’s exodus to Egypt becomes a parable about the importance of fatherly protection in light of their wives’ and children’s dependence on them.  Joseph did indeed protect his family.  But this story is quite specific.  Rather than just a story that all fathers can relate to, this passage tells a tale of imperial and ethnic political persecution.  Jesus’ identity–his divinity, his Jewishness, and his status as a colonized person–make him an enemy of the state.  They also make the state an enemy of Jesus.  Jesus is not just any baby; his parents are not just any mommy and daddy.  Jesus and his parents have very little in common with many U.S. Catholics, who live cozy lives of upper middle class comfort.

In lifting Mary and Joseph up as a model for all families to follow, Catholic homeliests almost always omit her virginity.  After all, the Catholic church maintains that Mary remained a virgin not just at the moment of Jesus’ conception, but all throughout her marriage to Joseph.  Especially in light of recent papal theologies of the body, Mary’s virginity renders her very much unlike the Catholic model of wifely holiness.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit, baby Jesus is removed from the chain of patriarchal generation.  While Jesus had a step father, he did not have a biological father.  As Sojourner Truth thunders, “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”  In patriarchal societies, to be the son of a father imbued boys and men with a power and dignity denied to daughters.  His adoption by Joseph does not make his origins any less unnatural.  Jesus is the man who neither has a natural father nor conceives natural sons.  Perhaps in removing Jesus from natural processes of filiation, God offers a critique about the goodness of patriarchy.

This novel approach to a typically sexist text does not get the Bible off the hook altogether.  Nor can we make patriarchal passages go away simply by ignoring them.  We do not merely face a problem of bad interpretation or inexpert selection of texts.  The words of wifely subordination still remain.

Catholic authorities increasingly try to rescue Paul’s words from the sin of sexism.  The missal used by the parish at which I attended mass yesterday attempted to make the following apology for Paul.  Paul’s command that wives be subordinate to their husbands, it argued, is “unfortunate” given the contemporary reality of “spousal abuse.”  This explanation, though a step in the right direction, misses the point.  First of all, wifely subordination represents an injustice even when husbands do not abuse their power.  Wifely subordination qualifies as unjust and therefore unholy because women are equal to men.  Second of all, this apologetic attempt also conveniently overlooks the connection between wifely subordination and spousal abuse.  Spousal abuse would have occurred in Paul’s day, even if it would not have been recognized as such.

John Paul II attempted something similar.  In his apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, he argues that Paul’s commanding wives to be subordinate signifies “mutual subordination out of reverence for Christ” (24).  John Paul’s intentions are admirable; his exegetical maneuver fails.  If Paul wanted to encourage mutual subordination, he surely could have.  Instead, he envisions obedience uni-directionally; wives obey husbands; slaves obey masters; children obey parents.  We can not make these words mean their opposite.

Yet like many contemporary church-goers, John Paul desperately wants to.  These words just do not sit right with a growing number of us.  In its admission of sexual equality, recent magisterial authors have outpaced Paul in moral wisdom.  Yet the church clings to these texts nonetheless.

We struggle with how to make sense of texts we know to be wrong.  So we try to preserve the sanctity of Paul’s words by interpreting them differently, even at the expense of common sense.  Perhaps we fear that if Paul is wrong, then God is not really guiding us.  But shouldn’t we find a God who commands men to act as authorities over women much more terrifying than a God who allows his followers to be wrong?

43 thoughts

  1. There seems to be a strong patriarchal thread in all the readings for this feast. Even Joseph doesn’t seem to consult Mary a about fleeing to Egypt.

    It is helpful that the scriptures themselves remind us that they reflect the limited theological understanding and social outlook of their human authors, because this is an essential reality to take into account when interpreting sacred scripture.

    OTOH, rescuing the text can be helpful in certain contexts. In Ephesians, Paul does mention mutual submission. One might also have this text interpret itself: as wives should also do what is asks of husbands, to love their spouse, then it seems to follow that husbands should also submit. One could also consider the various types of submission – some good and some evil.

    God bless

  2. Paul himself openly acknowledged that he could be wrong – that he knew only a little: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part…..For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

  3. Mercifully, my parish re-used the the reading from the feast of the Holy Innocents (1 John 1:5 – 2:2) instead of this reading from Paul.

  4. Why not just throw everything that “Paul” supposedly said with both hands!
    Then perhaps you will see the world (and human bodies to) a new as it was (and i s in each and every moment)) on the “first” day.

  5. “We can not make these words mean their opposite.”


    “Shouldn’t we find a God who commands men to act as authorities over women much more terrifying than a God who allows his followers to be wrong?”


  6. I was bracing myself for the homily at my church in Chicago yesterday, because the readings seemed so patriarchal. The priest went on to talk about how this feast often makes people feel guilty through the ‘Christmas card’ image of family it portrays, but that love is what makes a family. He mentioned LGBT families specifically. It made me teary, except for knowing that what he said was completely contrary to Catholic doctrine and that he might get punished somehow for his message. But I liked his ‘ignore Paul’ approach over the ‘sanitize Paul’ approach.

  7. Dear feminists,

    I hope everyone here is as open to discussion as I am. As proof of my openness to discussion and willingness to suffer your hatred and critique, I have read the article thoroughly and will address as best I can, the points that have been raised. Though my request is likely of little worth in your eyes, I ask that you might offer me the same.

    Miss Grimes’s second paragraph comments on the Church’s stance toward homosexual relationships, claiming that homosexuals do not like this feast day because it re-emphasizes the Church’s position (more specifically that “their families are unholy”). I agree that those individuals would feel some pain on a feast day which traditionally celebrates heterosexual families, however what the author really seems to be arguing is that the Church is wrong to condemn these relationships. In my opinion, this comment is significantly out of place since (in this context) it is merely the assumed position of the author and hence there is nothing for me to discuss. Perhaps some other time, the author would be good enough to provide us with her reasons for believing that the Church is wrong about homosexual relationships. As the body of her argument discussed other issues and never returned to this one, I leave it there.

    In the next paragraph, Miss Grimes brings up the main topic of her post: her belief that Paul is asserting that men are the “ultimate authorities over (infantilized) wives and (feminized) children.” At the very least, I must question several of the points. First, would not God be the “ultimate authority” over all of them (man, woman, and child)? Second, where is it that we conclude that (1) “God is male” and (2) that men are somehow gods? On the first point, perhaps Miss Grimes means that Jesus is male, and Jesus is God, therefore God is male. However, God is a divine person and has no gender (or rather “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes”, see CCC 239). On the second point, I also do not see how this follows from the premise, nor would I support anyone who actually claimed this to be true, but I have never heard such an argument actually used so it is something of a straw-man anyways. Lastly the author states an opinion (which is probably true) that women may also dislike this feast for celebrating a patriarchal family if they agree with her position. Nevertheless, disliking a feast is no reason to not have it (for an extreme and seasonal example, consider Scrooge).

    The fourth paragraph is a condemnation of the messages brought up in the previous two paragraphs and a claim that there must be a way to critique the misinterpretation of Scripture and concede those evil passages as a “text of terror.” As most of the argument made by this paragraph is opinion, I will bring up the two points I would like clarified: (1) where does the proper interpretation of Scripture come from, and (2) do you see any problems with rejecting certain Scriptures that do not conform to your views? As a Catholic who is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, I will echo the Catholic answer to the first question: “the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted” (CCC 82).

    Next Miss Grimes brings up the story of Ruth and Naomi as proof that Scripture “does in fact celebrate non-traditional families.” I might beg to differ because of the actual relationship between Naomi and Ruth is a mother-in-law to her daughter-in-law. In fact, in the story, Naomi urges Ruth to go back to her family, but Ruth’s devotion to her deceased husband’s mother is too great. To me, it seems likely that Ruth was concerned that her widowed mother-in-law might not be able to support herself alone in her old age. Regardless, I do not understand how this passage is supposed to reflect a “non-traditional family” since both of them are women who were married to men for some time and became widows. Perhaps someone wiser than I has that insight. Unless some better examples can be raised, I think we will find that Scripture upholds the traditional heterosexual family to the extreme, though I welcome the challenge should I be provided with actual proof.

    Furthermore, in that same paragraph, she argues that this is also a “Holy Family” and should be held up for our admiration. Simply put, the Holy Family is the family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. The title is representative of God’s intervention and physical presence in that family. The title is uniquely given to their family and should not be used to indicate whichever family we think should be held up for our admiration so it has nothing to do with the debate. Consider that I could not point to another heterosexual couple and say, “are not X and Y also a Holy Family?”

    Continuing, the author makes an assertion that these same texts also call into question the “holiness of male headship” by use of other pieces of scripture. Regarding the claim that Scriptures “do not depict Jesus as particularly devoted to cultivating these virtues” I would say that is quite the bold claim considering Luke’s Gospel explicitly says as much (Luke 2:51). Not to mention the Tradition of the Church consistently attests to Jesus’ filial devotion (particularly to His mother). Reading onward, the author refers to the fact that Jesus called other men away from their families and business. While this is true, it is a stretch to say that this denies filial piety because this is in the limited context of following Jesus Himself and not a blanket statement about leaving one’s family and business. In some exegesis, it is even a statement about the priesthood, but now I’m getting off topic. The strongest point the author makes is Jesus’ claim in Luke 14:26 to hate one’s father and mother. The only thing I will say about this is that the Scripture’s are sometimes difficult to interpret and the Traditional interpretation is that “Christ’s disciples must be prepared to part from any one who prevents them from serving him” (see footnotes in RSV-CE). Towards the last claim that Jesus’ ministry will preclude him from caring for His father in old age I have two comments. First, that Joseph was likely dead by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion because He gives responsibility for His mother to the beloved disciple. Second, the prescription to care for one’s father after one’s death is clearly a clause dependent upon the child surviving to do so and the argument would only be valid if Our Lord killed himself explicitly to avoid this duty.

    Miss Grimes goes on to comment in the next two paragraphs that the Holy Family are hardly a universal model for us because (1) they are virgins, (2) Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father and (3) Jesus was God. I would add to this list that we are also not Immaculate (i.e. free from sin) like Our Lady. It is true that they are not always a complete model for us (which is a more Muslim interpretation anyways), but they are still a good model to emulate in the appropriate respects. I would not advocate that we should, as a whole people, follow their virginity. If we did, the human race would die out very quickly. However, to say that we should not emulate them because of the dissimilarities is as silly as to say that we should not emulate Jesus because He was God (and Jesus explicitly says to imitate His example).

    The following paragraph is used to suggest that Jesus’ lack of a natural father is a critique of the goodness of patriarchy in general. I see two main problems with this argument: first, I highly doubt this argument “to be the son of a father imbued boys and men with a power and dignity denied to daughters” and I would argue that being the son of God imbues a much greater power and dignity than being the son of a man; second, how is this even a critique of the goodness of patriarchy? Please enlighten me if you hold this position so that I may better understand your position.

    Two paragraphs later, Miss Grimes brings up one apologetic attempt at her parish and the big picture that “wifely subordination represents an injustice.” As a first point, what is the basis of this system of justice? If God is justice itself, would it still be unjust if He commanded it? Perhaps we have a different understanding of wifely subordination to begin with and this is part of the trouble. A wife is asked to submit to her husband in all things that are just, and is always subject to the higher authority that is God Himself (just as the husband is also). Furthermore, the man is not just free to do whatever he pleases. He is supposed to “love [his] wife as Christ loved the Church” which means he must die for her (in some cases literally). Regarding spousal abuse, it is a horrible thing and an abuse of both authority and power. Women do not have to submit to a wicked person, because their first submission is to God. Where there is spousal abuse, the tradition (as I understand it) is that the spouses should live separately although they are still married according to the Church. And as the author has made it clear that she believes there is a necessary connection between wifely submission and spousal abuse, I would ask for proof that this is a necessary connection (i.e. that one cannot exist without the other). Given the author’s statement “even when husbands do not abuse their power,” I doubt I can be provided with such an answer.

    It is furthermore claimed that men and women are equal. I ask for clarification here, because I would agree that men and women are equal in dignity, but we likely disagree about other forms of equality. There seems to be an invalid form of mathematical equivalence going on because men and women are clearly not equal in physiology (hence the distinction between a man and a woman). As such, I could just as easily say that because a man is not a woman, men and women are not equal and therefore wifely subordination may be valid on account of their inequality. This is not the way I would argue because it is too generic, but I believe the author will see my point.

    Regarding JPII’s attempt to institute “mutual subordination,” I agree that the exegetical maneuver fails and demonstrates the Blessed man’s mistaken view of the Traditional interpretation of this text. In an endeavor to defend the pope of recent memory, perhaps he meant to draw out the analogy with St. Paul’s whole verse in Ephesians 5:22-6:4. In those verses, Paul gives more explicit commands to both wives and husbands regarding their duties. Men are supposed to “love their wives as their own bodies” (5:28) and to “love [their] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). These passages indicate that this was not quite as “uni-directional” as Miss Grimes may perceive it, though perhaps not quite what she was hoping for.

    Although there was a time where these words “did not sit right” with me, I have found that these words held a mystery I had not yet grasped. Is it perhaps possible that Miss Grimes is the one clinging to something that is not true out of devotion to absolute equality in all things while the Church is right to cling to these texts? The final paragraphs contain many questionable statements that are difficult to discuss (for example, the phrase “we know to be wrong”). And maybe, just maybe, we should be worried about who is guiding us. I have the confidence of Christ’s promise to guide the Church (Matthew 28:20), but where is Miss Grimes’s assurance?

    My following statements are addressed to the above comments in this thread.

    @Chris Sullivan,
    I’m curious why you believe that Joseph should have consulted with Mary who had already given her fiat to the angel (indicating she is on board with whatever God wills). What if they had stayed and allowed the child Jesus to be slaughtered in His infancy? Just something to consider.

    Granted, the authors were human beings and were not just copying down dictation from the Holy Spirit, but they were inspired. Furthermore the Church and the Scriptures themselves both attest to the fact that all Scriptures contain truth (not necessarily scientific truth, but certainly spiritual truth). As such, it is quite dangerous to throw out one verse or another because it seems to contradict our values, so be very careful with that line of thinking.

    Paul could be wrong, but can the Holy Spirit? Can the Church? These are the real things that are at stake here.

    Merciful? Is it merciful to ignore the truth so that your congregation will continue coming to Mass rather than to engage the Scriptures meaningfully? I doubt the opponents to the faith will be so kind… I would rather be prepared for the battles I must fight.

    Are you an atheist? I’m just curious what an atheist would be doing in a forum about theology (literally words about God), just as you may be curious what a man is doing in a forum for women in theology.

    I honestly do not know what you are trying to say… sorry!

    I am so sorry for the entire parish to have a priest that will not support Catholic doctrine. My prayers are for your parish today: that the will of God be done there and in all the world. I hope that this is the exception rather than the rule in N.O. parishes (pardon my presumption that you attend a N.O. parish, but it seems fairly obvious given your comments). If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably realized that I do not believe Paul should be ignored or sanitized, but properly understood. Hopefully you share the same belief and actually want to get to the truth rather than just find confirmation of what you already believe regardless of whether it is true or not.

    With respect to you all, I submit this post and accept the hatred I have no doubt incurred. Please consider that I have taken much time to give a detailed response and would greatly appreciate the same as it will be much more fruitful for all parties. AMDG

      1. Pardon my question, but how exactly does it follow from what I wrote that Jesus would not have died on the cross for our sins if Joseph had been alive? I wrote about a historical tradition that has been promoted by the Church that Joseph was likely not alive at the crucifixion (because of the fact that Jesus gave His mother over to the beloved disciple) so the obligation would not even apply. Of course, you’d have to accept the tradition for that argument to be valid.

      2. I am glad that you are glad, but I do not wish to give any false impressions since I would not be inclined to agree with that statement. Could you be a bit more precise about what you mean? Perhaps I missed something, but I do not recall explicitly saying that Jesus disagreed with the book of Sirach about what makes a son good and I have not found in my post where it is that you think I have put established the contradiction. Since you believe this to be the case, perhaps you could list what the book of Sirach says about being a good son and how something Jesus said is explicitly contrary to that?

      3. the passage from the book of sirach read at mass on sunday states that a good son is one who takes care of his father in his old age. Jesus chose a lifestyle that he had good reason to expect would lead to his early death, thereby preventing him from being around to take care of his father in his senility.

        A dead son cannot take care of a living father.

        Get it?

      4. Now I see the point you are trying to make regarding Jesus and Sirach. I do not believe this is solid proof for the fact that Jesus was acting contrary to the words of Sirach. First, because we do not know the age of St. Joseph, it is possible that in Jesus youth, He already attended to St. Joseph in Joseph’s old age and Joseph passed away. Second, if Joseph was young, we cannot prove what Jesus would do in Joseph’s old age since He never had the opportunity. Third, it seems clear enough that the words of Sirach are to apply only to sons that presently have an elderly father. Your argument is retrofitting this to apply back to situations before. Here is an analogy to make the problem clearer. When a man turns 50, he should have a colonoscopy (for various health reasons). Therefore if a man enlists as a soldier at the age of 20, he is going against this advice because he is likely to die in the line of duty well before he turns 50 and can get that colonoscopy. You see how the latter does not follow from the former?

      5. Analogy: “a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification.” Yes, I would say it is an analogy. You may argue why it is a flawed analogy (and I encourage you to do so), but I doubt you mean that it is not an analogy.

      6. attempting something is not the same as actually doing it. for example, if I intend to build a house, but it has only one wall, then i have not in fact built a house.

      7. What is the flaw in the analogy? Or to apply your analogy, what “walls” are missing from my “house”?

    1. Hi Jason, happy new year and I hope you had a blessed Christmas. Otherwise jumping right in.

      I find that the Apostle Paul’s attitude about women is that they could be and should be leaders of the Christian communities–as evidenced by the fact that in his own communities there were women who were church organizers, deacons, and even apostles (Romans 16). That attitude is much better than the one inserted by a later scribe into Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians, which claims women should always be silent in the church (1 Cor. 14. 35-36), or the one forged under Paul’s name in the letter of 1 Timothy, which insists that women remain silent, submissive, and pregnant (1 Tim. 2. 11-15). Moreover, the forged Acts of Thecla offers another example of the acceptance of women apostles by Paul and the prominence of women in the early Christian community, particularly since she was, more or less, a household in name throughout parts of Christendom until the second half of the second century. While Tertullian alerts us to the forgery, the forger did not make up his stories out of whole cloth. He drew on oral traditions then in circulation concerning the apostle Paul and his most famous female convert.

      Furthermore, it is important to recall the historical view that the biblical writers were all living in a different world from ours and reflected the assumptions and beliefs of people in their world. Their world, for instance, had no concept of what we think of as homosexuality. It didn’t exist in their world. Of course, men had sex with men and women with women, but there was no sense of sexual orientation in that world, because it is a notion that developed among Western thinkers in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, the very assumptions that lie behind the apostle Paul’s denigration of same-sex relations are very different from the assumptions that people in the modern world have about themselves as sexual beings. You cannot very well take Paul’s instructions on same-sex relations, remove them from the assumptions that Paul had about sex and gender, and transplant them onto a different set of assumptions.

      One other point, the substitution of texts for oral discourse engendered a hermeneutic position; that is to say, the holy text needed to be interpreted to derive law, prescriptions, and systems of belief and nonbelief. By nature, interpretation is a subjective endeavor, although theological systems, exegeses, and legal codes of the managers of the sacred establishment can become, even though they are derivative, sacred and absolute in their own right. The danger is that the Book and all of the discourse surrounding it, deemed orthodox that is, becomes a Closed Official Corpus according to procedures developed and supervised by scholars, theologians, saints, etc: official because they resulted from a set of decisions taken by “authorities” recognized by the community; closed because nobody was or is permitted any longer to add or subtract a word, to modify a reading in the Corpus now declared authentic. This is our historical, linguistic, and cultural constraint, right? Whatever the status of Jesus’ first theological enunciation, there was a passing to text and a fixing in writing of the message put together in certain historical conditions. I was not present for Jesus’ first oral enunciations nor his ministry nor did I meet with the disciples who heard, memorized, and transmitted this message, but I do have some sort of text(s) and the texts that are derivative from those things. Considering this, in the contemporary setting, I, seeing as how the age of priestcraft has passed, must determine for myself what is noble, disgusting, and loving about those biblical passages. Of course, we need some sort of interpretive framework, within reason, that is, but, most importantly, we need to try and read the book of the Lord with our own eyes, because we have been reading it with borrowed eyes for hundreds of years.

      God bless

    2. Jason,

      I think we don’t know for sure whether or not Joseph consulted Mary. The text does not indicate that he did, which is consistent with the previous texts and what we know of social attitudes of the times.

      On today’s solemnity of the Mother of God, when the Church encourages us to listen to and follow Our Lady, I suspect that most Catholics would find it a little odd not to consult the mother of God, especially if she happened to be right there present in the room.

      Miscongynist attitudes boil down to a lack of respect for the Mother of God, and an insufficient depth of Marian theology, both of which are quite contrary to Catholic faith.

      Catholic doctrine does require us to love and respect our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families.

      God bless

      1. Chris,

        Thanks for the reply and I agree wholeheartedly with your post above. Given that Joseph never speaks to anyone in Scripture, it is not entirely fair to say that he definitely did not consult Mary. Either way, I was asking for what reason he would have needed to consult with her regarding the angel’s message to flee so that their son’s life may be spared. For example, he could have doubted the angel’s message, or perhaps the veracity of the dream, though we have no indication that either of these were the case.

        Misogyny is truly contrary to Catholic doctrine, as is all hatred and even indifference, but especially misogyny because of Our Lady. Mary is hailed as the Mother of God and as the woman who is full of grace. I am a fierce devotee of Mary, by whom we have received so great a savior and who, as Queen-Mother pleads for us and wins many souls for her Son. In the words of St. Louis de Montfort in his True Devotion to Mary (and later the motto of Blessed Pope John Paul II), “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt.”

        Furthermore, you bring up an excellent point that we are required to love and respect our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their actions. However, that does not mean we have to condone and accept sinful behavior. Instead, like a good parent who loves their child, we must correct and encourage them to live holy and upright lives (see Proverbs 13:24).


      2. Jason,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply !

        The Church encourages careful discernment in the interpretation of dreams, which are usually more images of the unconscious mind than divine messages, hence the need for consultation with others, in this case with Our Lady.

        I expect Joseph did consult Mary, and given the political situation, to flee into Egypt would seem a very prudent decision.

        Correcting sinners is a good thing, although one needs to be careful not to fall into the temptation of being judgemental. My own personal view is that one should steer well clear of making judgements on the private lives of others and we need to respect the consciences of others, even when they may differ from the Church on certain points of sexual morality.

        God bless

    3. I’ve never commented here before; I wandered here because I, too, feel uncomfortable with this passage. I think there are better ways to interpret it, especially based on the historical context, but the words themselves are a bit troubling.

      That said, since you claim to be a spokesperson somehow for Catholic Teaching and Catholic Tradition, how can you act as though the tradition were unified and clear on this topic? There’s a huge difference between how, for instance, St. Basil the Great understood this passage and how Thomas Aquinas did. Or look at what Pius XI said about it, or what John Paul II said. All of these are very different, and represent a developing, changing tradition. I’ve given the topic some study — because I have a strong desire to adhere to every Catholic doctrine — and I cannot find a single infallible proclamation about whether women are to obey their husbands or what might be the “Catholic” interpretation of this passage.

      Catholics don’t just grab verses from the bible to use as a proof-text. We read Scripture with the mind of the Church. And what I see from the Church is that there is a wide range of acceptable ways to read this passage.

      I am quite happy with John Paul II’s take on the subject; I can see you aren’t. You also aren’t happy with what you like to call the “N. O.” and the rest of us usually call “the Mass.” By what authority can you claim to know better than the Popes, who are given the grace of infallibility by Christ?

      And why the heck is a traditionalist man so fascinated by feminists? “Dear feminists.” It makes me chuckle. Surely you are aware that the traditionalist viewpoint and the liberal Catholic viewpoint contain so little overlap that fruitful dialogue is almost impossible. In fact, you obviously expect a fight. Do you just enjoy arguing?

      1. Sheila,

        I am here because I too have a strong desire to adhere to every Catholic doctrine. Honestly, I do not wish to have a fight. The only thing I want is to have the truth, because that is the standard by which our beliefs should be challenged. And no, I do not hold to the belief that there is so little overlap that fruitful dialogue is impossible. Instead, I hold the good faith principle that even this blog admits: “People who post on this blog, and people who comment on it, do so in order to seek greater understanding and contribute positively to Christian feminist reflection. Each party will assume that any response to her work has this positive goal in mind, even if it takes the form of a negative critique.” (Rules of Engagement)

        I do not mean to claim that I speak for the Catholic Church and Tradition, though I am trying to uphold what I believe to be the Church’s teaching on this subject. You are directly challenging that belief and I appreciate the sincerity of your desire for clarity on this issue. However, your opening statement reveals your own bias and will make it hard to find any answer acceptable which does not assuage the discomfort you have with this passage, so I implore you to put that discomfort aside while you seek the truth.

        First of all, if your line of reasoning that “there is a wide range of acceptable ways to read this passage” is correct, then I can argue that my way of reading is perfectly valid. If this was everything, then there is no further discussion to be had because we must merely agree to disagree, but I will address the challenges you have raised.

        Of the four examples you explicitly cited, I am only familiar with three of their perspectives so I cannot comment on the fourth (St. Basil) and would welcome an explicit quotation to demonstrate his position. As I have already commented on Blessed Pope John Paul II’s take, I will allow that to stand. For Saint Thomas Aquinas and Pope Pius XI, I will put some quotations that reveal their positions:

        “The reason for this subjection is that the husband is the head of the wife, and the sense of sight is localized in the head—“The eyes of a wise man are in his head” (Eccl. 2:14)—and hence a husband ought to govern his wife as her head. “The head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor. 11:3). Then he brings in his example when he says: as Christ is the head of the church. God “has made him head over all the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:22-23). This is not for his own utility, but for that of the Church since he is the saviour of his body.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians)

        “The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii)

        To make this tradition clearer, here are some further Magisterial teachings:

        “The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For ‘the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church. . . Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things.'” (Pope Leo XIII, On Christian Marriage)

        “Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, The Duties of Married People)

        “You are equal in dignity, but this equality does not preclude a hierarchy that establishes the husband as head, and the wife as subject to him. This hierarchy is not just necessary, but indispensable for unity and happiness. Catholic men and women have the duty to combat the changing social conditions that undermine hierarchy in the family.” (Pope Pius XII, Allocution to Newlyweds)

        As such, I would challenge the statement that these represent a “developing, changing tradition,” but rather that innovations such as Blessed Pope John Paul II’s are a break with tradition near the end of Vatican II rather than a continuation or even development of those traditions. If you can prove otherwise, then I encourage you to do so (I am quite certain the other ladies on this blog would applaud you). If, on the other hand, my reading is in line with this continued tradition of the Church’s teaching, then would it not be fair to say that I am reading this passage “with the mind of the Church” as you challenged?

        My preference for the Vetus Ordo has little (if anything) to do with this conversation, therefore I will not make any further comment here.

        With that, I wish you all a very blessed new year and a continuing Christmas season. AMDG

      2. Two questions:
        one, so, you are saying that you, Jason, interpret the tradition, not members of the magisterium like the pope?

        two, would you apply this same hermeneutic to the magisterium’s change of opinion on issues like slavery? magisterial acceptance of and support for slavery, like its endorsement of male headship, is much older than its condemnation of it. We can find many many more popes and bishops supporting and participating in slavery than we can find popes and bishops condemning it. Like papal support for sexual equality, papal condemnation of slavery is also very very new. So would you also say that recent condemnations of slavery represent a break with tradition (and therefore an act of disloyalty to it) rather than a continuation of it?

        I’m trying to figure out what your method is here. It seems to be “whatever the church believed for the longest period of time.” Which is fine but then this would require you to support slavery, reject religious freedom, and even democracy.

      3. Ms. Grimes,

        In reply to question one, no, I am not the final interpreter of the Church’s tradition. However, I am saying that no one, not even a pope, can change Church doctrines (and I would apply that hermeneutic uniformly). For example, Pope Francis cannot decide that the Church now teaches that Jesus is just a man (i.e. that He is not divine). We would recognize that the Church has taught that Jesus is both God and man, and despite what the pope has said, it remains so. With that said, a pope may further develop our understanding of a doctrine and he may change disciplines, but he may not change doctrine. Given that point, you are free to argue that the family hierarchy is just a discipline and not a doctrine, and I would be happy to hear your reasons for thinking this is the case.

        In regards to the issue of slavery, I would say that the Church has made a clarification rather than a break with tradition. Even as early as Paul, the Church has distinguished between just servitude (which is acceptable) and unjust servitude (which is unacceptable). The difficulty is in understanding what exactly is just and unjust servitude. Honestly this is a topic which I have not given the proper study to comment on further, and this is again getting out of the scope of this discussion anyway.

        My methodology is to discern what is the authentic teaching of the Church and then to accept and try to understand it. Often this requires one to look at the breadth of Church history and even to struggle with the apparent difficulties. Unfortunately the Magisterium is not something as simple as “whatever the pope says” and we must struggle to find the Truth, no matter how muddled or confused the transmission becomes.


      4. What you call my “bias,” I call my opinion. Can you call me biased simply because I don’t agree with you?

        For a little history, I was raised to believe in the submission of wives, and intended to obey my husband. It was something we agreed on before we were married. But once we actually tried it, the results were not good. It made our marriage very unhappy. When we discussed it and agreed instead to mutually submit to one another, things markedly improved. I’ve been happily married for about five years. So in this case my previous bias was altered by my experience.

        Since all truth comes from God, I know God’s law can’t be in total contradiction with lived experience. In fact, it became pretty clear to me upon reading John Paul II that it *isn’t.* Can a wife obey her husband if she wants? Sure! My mother does. But that doesn’t make it obligatory.

        I noticed you only quoted a short blip from Casti Connubii. Let me add a little more for some context:

        “This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs…. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family.” (Casti Connubii, 27-28)

        Is it in *total opposition* to the lines you quoted from Trent? No, but there is a clear development from one to the other. The first says a wife should obey “in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety”; the second adds that she also is free from obedience in anything opposed to reason or her dignity as a wife as well as in cases where he is not living up to his own responsibilities. St. Thomas Aquinas believed that women were mentally inferior to men; this is also a belief that the Church has generally discarded. It doesn’t trouble me. It was never infallible in the first place.

        Take, for instance, this line from Casti Connubii on mixed marriage: “They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation.” (Casti Connubii, 82) This is in contrast not only with current canon law and practice, but also with Scripture itself, which says that the unbeliever may be saved by a believing spouse. This could shake my faith in the Church’s authority — or, I could understand that this is all fallible, developing teaching.

        What I want to know is how *you* square it all. You see (incorrectly, as I believe) an unbroken tradition from the apostles to Vatican II, then a complete break afterward in John Paul II’s writings. How do you explain that to yourself? Are we to believe that everything before Vatican II possesses more authority than everything after? If you judge them by the same standard, you are going to have to accept that the Magisterium is *not* unanimous on this point. As long as one source differs, it’s not unanimous.

        I tend to frown on the idea that since a Catholic person thinks something, it must be acceptable for a Catholic to believe. For instance, if your priest or neighbor tells you abortion is a-okay, that doesn’t make it “Catholic teaching.” But I can’t imagine how you can admit that a *Pope* said something, in an encyclical no less, and then dismiss everyone who agrees with it as in error. Is the Pope an inadequate authority to appeal to?

        Do you believe the gates of Hell have prevailed against the Church? Because when a person insists upon a few older teachings as divinely ordained, and then finds a new teaching at the same level of authority which is in contrast, it seems leaving the Church is the only option. If the Church is not a reliable guide, why bother with it?

  8. Jason, apparently you equate the Church with the Holy Spirit; I don’t. To me that’s a dangerous – I’d say fatal, in fact – thing to do.

    And yes: the church is provably wrong about some things, has often been wrong in the past (it’s amended its own behavior over time, after all; notice that it no longer encourages the death penalty for heresy, for example), and will continue to be wrong in the future.

    1. No Barbara, I do not equate the Church with the Holy Spirit, though I understand how you might think that. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, but clearly distinct because one is God (the Holy Spirit) and one is the bride of Christ (the Church).

      I believe you are using a different definition of the Church. What I mean, is the Church mentioned in the Catechism of Catholic Church paragraph 889: “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith.'” When you say the Church, I believe you are referring to the fallible people that make up the Church. Now this is getting into a whole other topic of the Church’s infallibility which I am happy to discuss, but it may muddy the waters here so perhaps it could go elsewhere.

      1. “unfailingly adheres to the faith” is not the same as “has never made inaccurate moral judgments” and even if it did, as barbara points out, we could very easily disprove that empirically. (and let’s just forget for a second that “the magisterium” also includes theologians and say it just includes popes and bishops). the magisterium once said slavery was good under certain circumstances, now it says it is evil under all circumstances. the magisterium once said women were not equal to men; not it says they are. the magisterium once said religious freedom was wrong, now it champions it. etc.

      2. Miss Grimes, as I just mentioned this is getting into the topic of infallibility that starts going beyond the scope of this discussion. I’d be happy to discuss it, but it will take time and this may not be the best place. I recommend you read the whole section of the Catechism on it if you want a summary of my perspective (Part 1, The Profession of Faith, The Profession of the Christian Faith, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church). I do not claim that the members of the Church have “never made inaccurate moral judgments,” but the Church herself is greater than these statements which some flawed people have made. In regards to your comments, I believe you are stretching the term Magisterium which is more strictly defined in those same Catechism points I mentioned.

      3. ooh the catechism…i’ve never heard of that before. could you like explain that to me? is it online somewhere?

        (oh and by the way, it’s “Ms. Grimes,” “Katie,” or, in a few months, “Professor Grimes.” thanks.)

      4. Very well, Ms. Grimes. I did not intend any disrespect and I hope you’ll pardon the use of Miss Grimes which was intended to be a term of respect.

        Your sarcasm is both unappreciated and unhelpful. If that is all that this conversation has led to then I am sorry we cannot continue any discussion of the topic.

  9. Hello, first time reader here stumbling on this fascinating discussion as a result of my own truth seeking… I really admire the substance of these arguments but have to agree with the last commenter that Grimes pretty much lowered it to schoolyard antics. Her sarcasm and title clarifications give me the impression of a very frustrated debater with a hurt ego or at most, clear insecurity. What a shame, “Professor.” Only one of inflated self-importance would feel there was any condescension worth defense in this exchange. Quite the opposite.

    1. Calling an adult woman, “Miss,” especially one you don’t know, is sexist and patronizing. Men are “Mr.” regardless of their age or bachelorhood. When someone calls me “Miss,” they treat men like a child and imply that I can only be considered an adult unless I am married. (not to mention that Jason does not know my marital status.) But men get the dignity and respect of a grown up title even if they are very young men or unmarried.

      Now, this is a blog so I am quite comfortable with things being much less formal, which is why I gave Jason the option of calling me by my first name.

      Here is a really good primer:

    2. Let me start by saying that I don’t have the pleasure of knowing Katie (or any of the authors of Women in Theology.) She is, however, one of my favorite contributors and WIT is one of my favorite sites.

      Admittedly, I felt some discomfort at her post, but not for the same reasons. My discomfort stemmed from the recognition that people would be more apt to focus on her delivery rather than the validity of what she was saying.

      Jason had the time/energy/desire/etc. to check out the Women in Theology policy on commenting (as evidenced by his response to Sheila), but it appears he didn’t bother to check out the Authors page to see the credentials of the person he was engaging in debate. If he had, he would have noticed that Katie is a PhD candidate at Boston College in theological ethics. This is important for two reasons.

      1. It is highly likely that Katie has more than a cursory knowledge of the contents of the Catechism. While it’s not the least bit surprising that Jason would recommend she familiarize herself with a section (given that his arguments are based on reverential regurgitation or direct quotation), it does underscore a lack of respect/patronizing tone that has been present in his comments from the onset.

      2. Depending on when the Authors page was last updated, her dissertation may have been accepted. Fall semester just ended, after all. When there’s doubt about which honorific to use, ask (and in the instance of female honorifics, unless you know the person, always ask.)

      My grandfather is a dentist. While he was in the hospital this past fall, the nurses and physicians that came in the room often referred him to as “Mr.” Immediately, one of his five daughters would correct with “Dr.”

      My given name is Caroline. While I was growing up, I corrected anyone that called me Carolyn.

      On the sexual orientation spectrum, I fall under bisexual; Kinsey would mark me down as a 4. I self-identify as queer. The use of “homosexual” to describe another person causes me to cringe because most folks in the LGBT community don’t self-identify as “homosexual,” but gay, lesbian, queer, etc. I’ve pointed this out in conversations with friends and family.

      Are these examples of inflated self-importance?

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