Bible verse in question (often misrepresented)
Eph. 5:21-33 New Jerusalem Bible
“21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord,
23 since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife;
24 and as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands, in everything.
25 Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her
26 to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words,
27 so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless.
28 In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself.
29 A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church,
30 because we are parts of his Body.
31 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh.
32 This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.
33 To sum up: you also, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband. “
Church Teaching on this issue
The church interprets this verse in context. One must first note the reply in Acts - “One must obey God above men”, no husband has the right to force his wife to act against God.
” Let me read to you what Pope Pius XI taught in 1930 which is still very relevant. He said (Casti connubii, 10 cf. The Navarre Bible — Captivity Epistles):
“The submission of the wife neither ignores nor suppresses the liberty to which her dignity as a human person and her noble functions as wife, mother, and companion give her the full right.
It does not oblige her to yield indiscriminately to all the desires of her husband; and his desires may be unreasonable or incompatible with her wifely dignity.
It does not mean that she is on a level with persons who in law are called minors. And minors are ordinarily denied the unrestricted exercise of their rights because of their immature judgment and not having enough experience. ” http://www.ewtn.com/library/Marriage/wivesubmis.htm
Secondly, this must be taken in context of St. Paul’s general encouragement and appeal for holiness, and the imitation of God’s goodness. This appeals both to husband and wife, and should never violate the dignity of the person of the wife. Notice- the appeal to obedience is to the wife- addressed to her. It does not say “husbands control your wives”, but rather “ To sum up: you also, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself” yet to the wives- a lesser appeal - “let every wife respect her husband”.
The Husband’s authority is there in order to minister lovingly to the wife- to act in sacrificial love, and caring strength- making his wife holy, by loving her, and imitating Christ. “The married man thinks of the ways of the world, and how he can please his wife”. Notice- he aims to please his wife. the church furthers this teaching, as EWTN elaborates-
A husband is called to love his wife as Christ loves the Church! He is called to love his wife as Christ loves the Church! And how does Christ loves the Church? He loves Her with a sacrificial love. And this must be the husband’s love for his lovely wife. It must be a sacrificial love! He must love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church. It must never be a selfish love. Christ loved the Church, not that the Church might do things for Him, but that He might do things for the Church.
St. John Chrysostom wonderfully said to the husbands about this passage:
“Have you seen the measure of obedience? Hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obey you as the Church obeys Christ? Then you care for your wife as Christ cares for the Church. And if it is necessary that you should give your life for her or be cut to pieces a thousand times or endure anything whatever, do not refuse it. He brought the Church to His feet by His great care, not by threats nor fear nor any such thing; so that’s how you must conduct yourself toward your wife!”“
This is furthered by Jesus treatment of women- not ignoring that they are different- and made from man’s bone- but at the same time- respecting them as creations made equal with man. Notice that it is the women who first see the tomb, and the Woman, who is called: blessed by God, and sees the actual angel, as Joseph is given a dream.
Women are equally human and equally responsible and adult along with men. They must not compete in a marriage- but complement one another. The man’s authority extends- only as far as he uses it for the uplifting of the family. He has no right to abuse his spouse- least he portray Christ- whom he represents to the world- as abusive. He should treat his wife with love- often this is hard to worldly men. The wife- should likewise compensate possible weakness- and actually respect her husband- especially should he love her. She should, first obey God, and then authority in order.