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Is the Pope a Feminist? And what’s “Wives Submit” mean anyway?

*Update*: After this article was published here on HBB, some found a 2015 story from a Conservative News Source where Francis supposedly blamed the marriage decline on male chauvinism. The story is not true, although Francis’s actual remarks still deserve criticism. Popes are not above criticism. See YES POPES SAY STUPID AND TONE DEAF AND CLUELESS THINGS for more.)

St. Pope John Paul II: When we consider the ‘iconic’ complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church’s essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the “Marian” principle and the Apostolic- Petrine principle.” Letter to Women.

I’ve been told recently that Pope Francis has turned into a feminist and a socialist, because he’s excoriated capitalist excessed and called himself “a little bit of a feminist” and said “women’s emancipation” is not unChristian. Such remarks need to be put in proper context, and that context is something called Catholic Social Teaching.

Emancipating women is good. Emancipating men is good. He’s talking of what today we might call Christina Hoff Sommers feminism or unicorn feminism. Indeed, Christina Hoff Sommers’s “Equity Feminism” is almost all Catholic 101 Social Teaching. I’m sorry for whatever backwards anti-Catholic rubbish you absorbed culturally made you think it was ever otherwise.

The only exception on “Equity Feminism” I can think of is that no right-thinking Catholic would support Christina’s apparent romantic attachment to false fantasies of “Chivalry.”

Otherwise, when she’s talking Equity Feminism, she is absolutely stating things that are mostly already contained within the doctrine of Complementarity, which in turn is also consistent with Catholic Social Teaching since at least the late 19th Century formalized in the Papul Bull known as Rerum Novarum.  That Papal Bull was the culmination of years of the Church wrestling with sweeping changes in the 19th century era of Robber Baron Capitalism, Mass Industrialization, and the looming atheist Marxist threat. All those forces were new to the Church, and the document of Rerum Novarum was to refocus us on the beliefs we think the Church has taught for the last 2000 years when it comes to economic and social matters. These teachings were affirmed and somewhat updated 100 years later for late 20th Century developments by St. Pope John Paul II in Centessimus Annus, and I predict that within the next generation, there’ll be another Bull to contend with still further changes to global economic and social forces.

You will find, by the way, that “Social Justice progressives” and feminists generally hate the principle of Complementarity. Ironically some of them call themselves Catholics, but it is shameful that they would so attack bedrock Church social teaching this way.

No means no, ladies.
What women priests gets Protestants. The Episcopalian Communion imploded with incoherence and a stream of people out the door within a decade or so of ordaining women Bishops. By the way ladies you look ridiculous. 

“Equity Feminism” is Catholic doctrine. Has been forever. There’s really only one exception to this and the world will just have to deal with it: No women priests or Bishops. And “no” is a complete sentence. Suck it up, Buttercup. We haven’t changed it in 2000 years and I’m betting pretty heavily that 2000 years from now we still won’t have changed it, especially after watching what happened to liberal Protestants.

An awesome thing about the orthodox Christian tradition is that the Church teaches that we are fully connected to all 2000 years of our history and are part of all to come who join. We are all part of the mystical Body of Christ, and that body is eternal. So when I tell you that the Church has taught at least 1600 years now that Creationism is silly, that has some weight behind it. Similarly, when I say we’ve never let women be Bishops or Priests as a matter of policy, it means something. Protestants are on their own with whatever their tradition teaches. Yes, you’ll find renegade Bishops have ordained women here and there periodically throughout our 2000 year history, and rumors of secret women Popes still abound here and there. But your chances of getting Rome to ever recognize any of that as valid are slim and none.

Ladies, if you ever thought “why does he get to be the priest?” you were thinking selfishly. Seriously. The priesthood is a sacred burden and a complete submission to the sacramental needs of the Church, including giving up the right to have your own opinions on many matters. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but the fact that you don’t instinctively understand that the priesthood is a position of submission and surrender? It’s proof you don’t belong there in the first place.

And by the way, if you’re not even Catholic, why’s it any of your business?

Jadwiga_by_Bacciarelli
St. Jadwiga, who ruled Poland in her own name.

Besides the limits on Bishops and Priests, however, there is nothing to be found anywhere in Catholic doctrine that says a woman can’t be anything else: Queens, Presidents, corporate CEOs, firefighters, blacksmiths, or even, if they really want to be subversive in this day and age, stay-at-home moms. All of it’s just fine, so long as it fits with what God wants for them as individuals. And figuring out that calling is between that woman and God, and not for the men in her life to tell her. Nor is it on anyone to tell any man what his calling from God is.

Of course, if you  angrily insist you don’t believe in God you can say it’s between she and her imaginary friend.  You’re welcome to share that opinion with anyone who agrees with you. No one’s forcing you to listen to us or to God.

No priest, no Bishop, can tell a woman she has to strictly be a stay at home Mom. Period. Furthermore, women have worked, owned property, and done commerce outside the home since before the time of Christ. And they did so whether they were married and had kids or not. So if there are laws that prevent her from things she has every right to pursue, or that prevent any man from the same, those are bad laws–although it’s not definitively bad if sometimes there are laws specific to one sex, so long as there is a complementary right or obligation for the other. Neither sex is subservient to the other.

This also brings me to a bone I have to pick with some Catholics who have been hanging out in Protestant circles too long or spending too much time trying to find “common ground” with our Protestant brethren. A foolish move has begun among English-speaking Evangelicals to “return” to what has been known as the “surrendered wife,” now sometimes known as the “wives submit” movement. Another variation on this is to declare a sort of “Captain/First Mate” relationship between husband and wife.

While there is something rather alluring about all that to tradition-minded Catholics, it deserves some skepticism. Looks like potentially a devil’s bargain to me. While such relationships might work out quite splendidly for some people–genuinely, it might be a brilliant relationship for some!–there is no Christian obligation for all to adapt a primitive literalist reading of such phrases as “women submit” or “man is the head/woman is the heart” in some universal imperative for women to do all the emoting and men doing all the commanding.

Indeed, such a relationship, if pursued too literally, would almost certainly result in a wife who gets all she wants by whining and manipulation, which is a sick perversion. This is the genesis of the phrase “the man is the head, the woman is the neck,” which is not a Biblical teaching, but rather an ancient Christian joke and sardonic warning: Men who think they rule their wives are fools who will be used by their wives. Even William Shakespeare, himself almost certainly a Catholic it turns out, knew that only a foolish husband would take such thinking literally–I refer you to The Taming of the Shrew just for starters.

Watch this to the very end to see what the very Catholic William Shakespeare had to say about thinking men can rule women.
Men who think they rule their wives will be used and abused all their lives. Watch this movie all the way to the end to see what the very Catholic William Shakespeare saw about puffed up “man in command” stuff.

I think it’s a Christian husband’s obligation to avoid such simpleminded thinking, and to bow neither to this primitivism nor to the other foolishness of feminist “equal in all things” nonsense. So  how’s this for a simple, orthodox-based read?

It is plainly observable that men pretty much instinctively do whatever women ask them to do, if nothing else to make them stop complaining. Indeed, think what the phrase “make her stop complaining by doing what she wants” actually implies. If you doubt this please show me where it is not so, except in conditions of primitive barbarism. Whether it comes to their mothers or their wives, men know that if they love their women they must meet their needs. And mostly, they do.

At the same time, it is plainly observable that a man who does not at least occasionally stand up to his woman is a miserable wretch, especially when she’s being bitchy and irrational, or fearful and panicky, or vain and gossipy. Women are prone to all of that (sorry ladies but you are) and it’s pretty much men’s job to stand up to her when that gets in the way of the marital relationship. A woman needs to be reminded that sometimes her man is just right, and that her man has limits or what today we would call “boundaries.” So sometimes she needs to relent and give him his way–you know, his husbandly authority–over some things, because let’s face it we all know women who will take charge of and complain about everything if you let them. (Don’t make me say “not all women” or I’ll choke you.)

By the way, some translations use the word “relent” instead of “submit” for this very reason. In the current context, if you read “submit” as “relent” then everything I just said here should make complete sense.

Women need to be reminded to relent: sometimes, the man gets his way and yes, sometimes the man is the more rational one. Women already get their way most of the time and the ones who aren’t narcissists know it. Even in places like Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran, supposed hellholes of “patriarchal” oppresion, I’ve had Muslim men tell me that counter to what you see in the Western media, men are frequently women’s lapdogs, sometimes legally enslaved as servants.

Through history, wherever you go, women get what they ask for. They almost always do.

And by the way, on that “woman is the heart” business? Everybody also already knows that one of the ways men get irrational–oh, yes, we are known to get irrational as men aren’t we?–is when they get hyperfocused and can’t see through to the emotional truth of a matter, and it often takes a woman to get him to stop and see the error of his ways. This is an obvious truth, though it seems somehow revolutionary to speak it aloud today.

Yes you may call my views old-fashioned. They are very, very old fashioned indeed.

When St. Paul was making those observations he wasn’t giving a divine commandment to be slavishly obeyed, just as in the same passage he was not giving eternal divine commands for whether or not to wear head coverings. He was making observations about the way men and women naturally tend to be together, and why women need to respect men. His meaning, I would argue, goes to how men and women most often need to be reminded how to love and honor each other. He didn’t mean “Women, you are your man’s slave” or “Men, you must do all the thinking and deciding.”

Men most frequently take charge of certain things naturally, and women usually would do best to let them. But how exactly they work that all out? It’s really between them. And God, hopefully. But one thing I notice is that in all the best relationships, men and women seek each other’s counsel and advice constantly. Because sometimes, a man needs to hear something from a woman, and sometimes, a woman needs to hear something from a man.

And if they’re married, they’re mystically united in flesh and spirit–literally, in Catholic teaching. Catholics are the Western mystics you know. So it’s plainly apparent that if one side of that spirit isn’t listening to and respecting the other, something’s gravely wrong. We view none of this as sentiment (or we shouldn’t, anyway, as the Church does teach that this is literally true.)

By the way, in the Catholic sacrament of marriage, the vows are a thing entirely separate from the mystical sacrament of marriage. Protestants can have whatever range of opinions they want on that matter, and as is usual they do.  Certainly every Evangelical’s opinion seems to be just as good as any other’s. In Catholic teaching, it’s plain: the entire sacrament is mystical spiritual and is affirmed by each member of the couple both saying “I marry you” or answering affirmatively as part of some larger statement. That’s what seals the sacrament: the affirmation. Any Catholic vow you have ever heard is an optional addition to the ceremony.

The marriage isn’t about the vows, in other words. The vows were something you took that you hoped would make you better able to keep your spiritual tie to your spouse healthy.

In Catholic thinking, you’re still married even if you break all those vows. Because it is a spiritual bond literally and not just in fancy words. Taking vows isn’t a bad idea, and the Bishops demand some specific ones nowadays before they’ll grant the sacrament, but none of it’s about “wives submit.” Various “traditional” vows have actually changed countless times over the centuries, because the vows are not integral to the sacrament.

Any healthy relationship you have ever seen has been one in which women have endless areas of authority big and small–and firm boundaries where the man’s wishes will be obeyed. How the couple works out the details of that are, for the most part, their business, so long as the children and their families are properly cared for. (Yes, women do work to take care of their families, remember? One of her duties is to take care of him, just as it is his duty to take care of her.)

Catholic teaching is that a very few things are reserved for men just as motherhood is reserved for women, but that quite naturally men and women are going to diverge certain ways. But no one should be artificially prevented from pursuing any vocation God draws them to, which will tend to be indicated by whatever talents and opportunities are given to her by God. Full stop. We just happen to believe most women’s vocation is to be mothers, and if you look at surveys of women, most women worldwide completely agree regardless of their religion. We also take it as part of the natural order that most men will have a vocation to be fathers but not all.

By logic it flows from there that there will be some men and women who are not called to such. Where we differ from the modern day Hayekian capitalists as well as the Marxists is that treating either the mother or the father as individual units independent of each other and their children is disordered, which is one of several reasons why the Pope still frequently notes and objects to the excesses of modern Capitalism: because if the economic system does not recognize that the natural orientation for most people (not all but most) is toward extended family and community, society will become perverted and people will suffer needlessly.

So amongst other things, this means we may be at odds with “rugged individualists” because we think people have a moral obligation to support their families as best they can. “Charity starts at home” is not a selfish idea. It is, rather, what Catholics in the West call “Solidarity and Subsidiarity.” Which we believe is not just the best teaching for Catholics but the best teaching for anyone who will listen.

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." --St. Francis of Assisi
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” –St. Francis of Assisi

Our Church was teaching that all this was the natural order of things a really long time before the civil and human rights movements of the 20th century were a thing. Did we always live that perfectly? Can you find clerics who went off the reservation and said or did some stupid or even horrific things here and there? Yeah, you can find that anywhere. But go to authoritative sources: the Church has always taught that men and women are equally worthy in the eyes of God. It also, by the way, has always rejected racism, at least when you define “racism” as hatred of or contempt for a person on the basis of race–because once again, you remember that whole “all human life is of divine origin” thing? Yeah, that’s our whole outlook as orthodox Christians. You may have heard we tend to think that way.

I think as human beings we sometimes get so focused on our current personal and political battles we start making wild assumptions: please remember that still in most of the world most people believe “feminism” means “equal rights.” While a lot of us are seeing success at battling the forces that peddle that lie, the Pope doesn’t actually involve himself in insurgent political movements. He’s a 79 year old theologian and ambassador to the world for the Church. One of his main missions is to protect the right of free worship for all Catholics. Which we don’t have in every part of the world, and have often lost it.

The Church is not really a political body although it influences politics. Even if you’ve seen the rare cases of priests or Bishops fighting publicly with politicians, I’m quite certain if you think about it you’ll realize the Church never endorses political candidates and you almost never see clergy allowed to run for public office. That’s because the Church set that as a policy long ago, to keep it more distant from Earthly corruption (although subject to Earthly corruption the Church still is). Even today, if you see us in the news at all as Catholics it’s almost always over some very grave matter of what we believe to be human life at stake. You may not like that this is the Church position but you can’t knock us for lack of consistency, as we believe that for 2000 years we have said this and we won’t be changing our minds on that any time soon just to suit you or anyone else. And we have as much right to say that as anyone who disagrees with us.

Ideological feminists hate us for our unchanging stance on all this, by the way.

Indeed, given that orthodox Christians seem to be the only institutional presence in the world that actually has Patriarchs within something that is a genuine, authentic, indisputable Patriarchy, how do you think we hear the words “Smash the Patriarchy” anyway? Hint: a lot of us think they’re talking more about us than anyone else.

Maximilian Mary Kolbe, gave his life for another man in Auschwitz. Dean Esmay's Confirmation Saint.
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe gave his life for another man in Auschwitz. The Author’s Confirmation Saint.

Anyone who’s looking can plainly see their steaming hatred for Catholics with one eye shut, and our sister Church, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates, now face their harassment. Ancient, orthodox Christians are the only ones the feminists can’t fully penetrate you see. We’re the only ones I can see where men will keep just saying “no” to women whether they like it or not. So of course the feminists want us destroyed one way or the other.

Before you laugh, look at the 20th Century record and notice the Christians most likely to be genuinely persecuted and slaughtered: They were usually Eastern Orthodox or Western orthodox (you know: Catholic) and sometimes Coptic or Assyrian. We were hated by the Soviet Politburo and KGB, we were hated by the Nazis, we were hated by the KKK, we are hated by the NeoNazis and many so-called “White Nationalists,” and are hated by many other totalitarian-minded people around the world. Stalin murdered 13 million Russian Orthodox Christians, some of whom fled to survive in places like the tiny but beautiful Orthodox Church of America. Millions of orthodox Catholics including countless priests were targeted for extermination by Hitler, especially in Poland. My own confirmation Saint, Maximilian Mary Kolbe, was among them. My children’s grandmother still has a tattoo she got from an experimental vaccine program she was put in by Mengele as a child. (Anti-Catholic obsessives should get over the “secret concordat” and other conspiracy nonsense; yes there were a few Nazi sympathizers in the Church, but name any worldwide organization that didn’t have somesuch within it. Hitler was one of history’s greatest murderers of Catholics.)

Although of course every Catholic in the pews can’t be expected to know all this vast history and complex theology, those of us who study and watch the world know: the world hates us, and as a result we always have to watch people who are talking about us. And how they are distorting our message. Believe me, when people are attacking us, we listen. And we notice not just what they say, but what they do. And the rabid secularist “Social Justice” forces don’t even grant us lip service in their agenda of “inclusivity.”

The reality is that the Church has stood against genuine racism and genuine sexism its whole history. Selective and hostile anti-Christian or anti-Catholic prooftexting to try to say different is offensive and rightly scorned.

When I helped a large group of people create the Men’s Rights March 2013 Internet Statement, which came from dozens of people of various backgrounds and ethnicities, I was amazed as the group consensus on almost every item almost always came to one that Catholic Social Teaching would almost certainly affirm. Even the controversial abortion position would be argued by Catholics of good faith on both sides. I find something instructive about that, since I happen to find that much of what the Church teaches is subconsciously but obviously true to a lot of people.

In closing, let me close by noting something: Slavery is normal in the world today. It has never gone away. So far as I can tell from reviewing history, the only place where moral condemnation of slavery became normal for most people was in ancient Christian lands. Many, indeed, speculate that because of the deep undeniable doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man, the sacredness of all human life, Christians in the old Roman Empire were increasingly pressured to free their slaves and end cruel entertainments and tortures. Many smart observers think one of the main reasons the Roman Empire fell was that while Christianity unified the Empire for a while, it eventually put a stop to the most cruel excesses of that same Empire–and without cruel excess the Roman Empire could not survive. By the time the fight over African slavery began more than a thousand years later, slavery was all but extinguished in most of Europe, save a few eruptions of it here and there and periodic outbursts of indentured servitude. This seems to have happened nowhere else across so many different languages and cultures at once, unless you count Communism as freedom from slavery.

Emancipation, freedom to be who God wants us to be, holding no one else as a slave, is an ancient Christian concept it seems to me.

Even today, it appears that it’s only in historic Christendom that it’s universally agreed that slavery is a bad thing. And while Christians did fight Christians to end slavery in the United States, in most of the Christian world slavery was ended peacefully. And rightly so.

As an orthodox Christian I have a firm historical and theological basis for my willingness to say slavery is objectively evil. You as a smirking secularist don’t get to tell us what we taught in the past, we know what our faith teaches here and we know our own history, and it’s grounded on way more than modern moral relativist secular values. What do modern day secularists stand on opposing slavery and genuine oppression besides inherited sentiment from their religious grandparents? Where do they stand except on sentiment on evils like sexism, racism, and slavery?

Equal and/or complementary rights for all, under Natural Law. This radical sentiment brought to you by ancient orthodox Catholic Christianity. Find me the priest or Bishop who’ll gainsay me on a word of it.

By the way, anyone steeped in true International Socialist literature should already know why the Church is not moving toward “socialism” by what I’ve already written here alone. But if you still doubt me on how Catholic social and moral principles are not new and how challenging capitalists just like challenging Marxists is not new, here is a video from a Catholic Bishop that should make it clear as a bell:

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Dean Esmay

A strange sort of pseudo-celebrity. Also a tasty floor wax!

  • http://www.deanesmay.com ن Dean Esmay

    I love the Title image for this one at the top, showing a traditional Catholic wedding of the 1700s in France by Pietro Longhi. Catholics have long rejected Chivalry. Notice how there’s no “Bridezilla” here, and note how they are BOTH kneeling TOGETHER to signal surrender to God and each other. Something bad changed, and it wasn’t ancient, organized, orthodox Christianity’s fault, as much as some would like to blame us.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com ن Dean Esmay

    Well, looks like in recent news Francis has just stepped on it and invalidated some of what I wrote here. Oh well, will have to do an update soon at some point. He needs to stop putting this on men, and that looks like what he’s suddenly done this week. Dammit Francis…