BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE
[continued from yesterday]
..."Wives, be obedient to your husbands in the Lord."
Like all other social movements, the movement for the emancipation of women is fraught with the danger of rushing into the opposite error of that which is to be remedied. Impotent of discernment, the agitator will purge away both the dross and the gold together. Especially in this question of the obedience of wives to husbands will he, or rather she, persist in confusing the true obedience with false, in condemning an obedience which no Christian wife is supposed to render.
Let us see then what is conjugal obedience. No one will deny that in some sense the husband is the head of the family. Man was made first, and made lord of the earth. In his overlordship he was lonely and had need of a helpmeet for him.
To this end was a woman taken from his flesh and bone and given to him to be his wife. She was not to be reckoned, among the rest of creation, as part of the man's goods and chattels. Nor yet was she to be reckoned above man. Nor yet again was she to be reckoned as fulfilling the same office as man. She was to be his complement, helping him in those things for which by nature he was unsuited. He was to be the strong element, she the gentle. He was to be her protector; she was to find her joy in the sense of the security of his protection. Obviously, then, she was meant to yield, at least to some extent, to his overlordship.
The only question is as to what extent.
We all know the distinction between servile and filial obedience. The one is the obedience of slaves, informed by the motive of fear; the other is the obedience of sons, informed by the motive of love. So, likewise, there is a distinction between servile obedience and conjugal obedience.
The obedience of wives is as much raised above that of sons as that of sons is above that of slaves. Doubtless there have been many husbands who have demanded of their wives the obedience of a slave. And doubtless such husbands are largely responsible for much of the present misunderstanding of the nature and limits of wifely obedience. Broadly speaking we may say that the obedience of the wife is due to the husband only within certain limits. It is not absolute. It is due to him in all those matters where it is evident that he must rule. It is not due to him in those matters where it is evident that the wife must rule.
All matters of business, everything which seriously affects the income of the family, the choice of trades or professions for the children, — these evidently belong to the judgment of the husband.
The wife may be, and ought to be, frequently consulted. But having expressed her opinion she ought to abide by the decision of the head of the family. On the other hand the interior domestic arrangements pertain to the judgment of the wife.
The management of servants and babies, for instance, are points upon which the husband should have nothing to say, except perhaps when he is asked, or when he divines that his suggestion will meet with his' wife's approval. And a wife would be acting well within her rights were she to resent any interference in these matters.
Hard and fast rules, however, cannot be laid down. Much depends upon the temperament of individuals and the force of circumstances. If a man has failed in business, say three times, and eventually has to depend on his wife's dowry for a livelihood, or upon another business built up by his wife, then he cannot expect to have the same authority as one possessing the full complement of manhood.
Again, no obedience is due to him when he is obviously demanding something contrary to divine law. To require a wife to give up any of her religious duties as a Catholic, to ask her to do something which is against any of the Ten Commandments, — these are occasions when she not only may, but must disobey. In all cases of doubt, however, the presumption is in favor of the husband.
Above all things, however, the obedience must have its foundation in mutual love.
Unless there is present that determination to love each other through thick and thin, through success and through adversity, through life and through death. It will be useless to try to decide by argument who has the right to command and who the duty to obey. The love in marriage is a great mystery, and he who would reduce it to mechanical laws must possess a higher knowledge than that ever yet possessed by mere man.
[End of Chapter VI]
From Marriage and Parenthood, The Catholic Ideal
By the Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
Author of "Cords of Adam," "The Wayfarer's Vision," ETC.
Copyright, 1911, by Joseph F. Wagner, New York.