All Things Except Some Things

I thought I’d continue my thoughts from a comment thread at Sunshine Mary’s here, since the conversation is dwindling there, and I need to post here anyway.

The topic became wifely submission, and soon the usual question arose:  “What if a husband commands his wife to have a threesome / rob a bank / chop off her hand?”  In other words, does God’s command for wives to be subject to their husbands in all things really mean all things?  Ellie responded with:

God’s commands trump a husband’s orders.

But following the husband’s orders IS one of God’s commands. That’s the whole point: if a husband gives his wife an order to do something she thinks is sinful, she’s not choosing between following God’s command or her husband’s command. She’s choosing between God’s command to obey her husband or God’s command to avoid the sinful act.

Ss. Peter could have said “subject to their husbands’ virtuous commands.” St. Paul could have said, “Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things except sinful commands.” When they were preaching these things (remember, their letters were only the tiny chunk of their ministry that we happen to have; they were out preaching to the people in person every day), do we think it never occurred to anyone, as it immediately does to us, to ask something like, “Yeah, but what if he tells her to become a prostitute to make money so he can lounge around all day?”  Of course it must have.  St. Peter was even speaking specifically of being subject to a non-believing husband, and who knows what such a man might order? So the fact that they didn’t put any conditions on this submission is something we should take seriously, and not assume they meant something else that they very easily could have said.

And when Abraham took Isaac up the mountain and was ready to plunge in the sword until the angel stopped him, the angel didn’t say, “Awesome job on the total faith thing, really, but you should have known that God didn’t really want you to commit murder.  That’s a sin, stupid.”  No, because Abraham was willing to commit murder to obey God, he was rewarded.

As I said over there:  as a Catholic, I take comfort that I have the Church and twenty centuries of saints and theologians to guide me in understanding scripture.  But consider the girl who doesn’t have that, who belongs to a church that says, “It’s all in the bible; read it and let the Spirit guide you,” or who is more-or-less secular.  If she’s assured that she can ignore her husband’s orders when they’re sinful (presumably skimming really fast through Peter 3 and Ephesians 5), who will guide her in determining where that line is?  Her friends?  Her hamster?  Oprah?

These extreme examples that we bat around are easy:  yes, a threesome is clearly sinful (to keep it simple, let’s assume we’re not talking within a polygynous marriage, so there’s clearly adultery going on).  But most calls won’t be that clear.  In most marriages, none of them will be that clear.  Ellie says, “Anything that is not clearly, black-and-white, wrong should be obeyed,” but almost nothing in life is truly black-and-white, especially in marriage.  Say a kid is refusing to eat his peas, and the husband says not to let the kid leave the table or eat anything else until those peas are gone.  The wife hated being made to eat her peas as a child, and her shrink told her that forced eating might have led to her body-image issues, so it could be considered child abuse — voila, it’s sinful, she doesn’t have to do it!  Human nature being what it is, the line between sinful and acceptable orders is bound to keep edging over closer and closer to the line between “orders I like” and “orders I don’t like.”

One last thing: let me be clear that I probably seem much more certain about all this than I really am.  If I marry again, the question of “Is this order I’m about to give her going to cause her to sin?” will always be uppermost in my mind, because that’s a huge responsibility.  It’d be much easier to give her the veto, to let me partly off the hook.  I’m arguing for the stricter interpretation mostly because the rest of the world is arguing for the lax one, so the stricter one needs a fair hearing.  “The door is narrow,” you know?  So when our reaction to a piece of scripture is, “It can’t really mean that,” I think our wisest reaction is to say, “Well, what if it really does mean that?”

Ultimately, if a husband commands his wife to have a threesome, I don’t think she’s going to be damned to Hell if she commits the sin of adultery OR if she commits the sin of disobedience.  Her husband really holds the responsibility for the sin either way, not she.  But I think she will be much better off if she arrives at the Final Judgment having always been subject to her husband even when she thought he was wrong, rather than if she says, “Yes, I obeyed him when he was right, and disobeyed him to prevent evil the rest of the time.”  The latter is so much more likely to end up being cover for, “I actually ran the relationship and let him lead when I felt like it,” even if that’s not what she intended at the start.

You can’t be subject to someone in all things and hold veto power over him at the same time.  That’s really the bottom line.

40 thoughts on “All Things Except Some Things

  1. Excellent post.

    Submission is more than just obeying orders. It is a behavior, an attitude that extends to respect. One in which I had to surrender all “what if” fear in order to realize and embrace. My rebellion to God was revealed when my husband was the decision maker on deployment in an unprotected remote area and he had to decide between ugly and potentially really ugly. I would not respect his decision. And I attempted to put on my husband an appeal to my interpretation of what God would have him do. He would not have it and the full weight of my disobedience to God’s call for me as a wife was realized by RLB at a time when he was half a world away, could do nothing about it, and could have been distracted away from his mission. When I came to realize the gravity of the situation and how much could have happened had he listened to me, I knew I had to repent of this fear and rebellion. Surrendering this fear must include all of the what ifs if she is to fully understand what submission and respect is and so that she will never attempt to usurp his authority based on what she believes God would have him do.

    A self righteous wife who holds on to “I will submit to him unless…/I will respect him unless…” is not far away from being his moral authority. “You went to a strip club? I can not respect that, that is immoral” “You lied? I can not respect that” “You don’t want to go to church? I can not respect that” – you get the idea.

  2. This is an issue of following the greater authority or the lesser authority when there is conflict. Allow me to paint a word picture: The CEO hires you and places you in a division of the company, gives you the company manual, and sends you on your way, expecting you to obey the guidelines and work to fulfill the company’s mission. You meet your new division manager and are startled to hear, “Produce widgets? No way! What we do in this division is embezzle money from other divisions so that at the year end review we can show the most revenue and receive bonuses from the CEO.” or “Produce widgets? No, we spend our time going around and firing (loose analogy for murder) people in other divisions even though that is something the CEO has told us is his job.” Does the CEO commend the low-level embezzler for his obedience or does he condemn him for his wrongful action? Is pleading obedience to the CEO an argument that the CEO will honor when judging your lack of obedience to little boss? I believe that it is (seek ye first the kingdom of heaven; love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind).

    Should the low-level employee treat his manager with disrespect? Should he sit in a position of scorn, condemning every wrongful action? No.Your boss is habitually working against the company mission- does that make the low-level flunky the boss? No. But he should refrain from sin himself.

    It is not the slightest bit self-righteous to fervently reach for godliness or to fervently hate sin. It is self-righteous if we think of ourselves as the standard, if we rate ourselves in comparison to another’s performance, if we boast in our goodness.

    I will submit to my husband unless if he asks me to physically commit a sin. I realize that the Lord will judge if I was a usurper or if I was trying to abide by the character of the Lord. Where I differ from SD and Cail is that I think that one can usurp God by following an immoral command by a temporal authority, and that it is an action owned singularly by the one who does it.

    I think what you are describing, SD, is a wife misusing this. You were using a tool wrongly. You thought it was ‘just’ because you lacked discernment and humility. The solution is not refraining from all judgement, all moral choice.

    Cail, is it a virtue if a wife obeys her husband by joining the church of satan and participating in their rituals? Would God say that she acted in accordance with His will if she were to refuse her husband? If you say that yes, she would be commended for this act of faith (anyone who chooses father or mother over Jesus is not worthy of Him), then it stands to reason that the command to submit to your husband is not absolute and that some cases of resisting authority are praiseworthy.

    I would also like to point out that there is no positive command, anywhere in Scripture, praising sin in those who are under orders.

  3. Your argument, while seemingly airtight, is flawed in the same way that the following hypothetical example is:

    What would a person (perhaps like Abraham) do with a command from God that said “Do not obey me”?

    It’s self-nullifying.

    If a husband said to a wife, who was obeying her husband primarily motivated by God’s command, “Wife of mine, do not obey that God of yours any longer. Obey me and the Roman state: renounce your Christ and light incense to honor the Roman gods. Enough with this foolishness that leads to martyrdom.”

    If the wife obeys her husband’s command that contradicts God’s commandment, she has now been released from obedience to God, who was the one binding her to obey her husband in the first place.

    By not obeying her husband when he is in clear conflict with God, she preserves the basis for her obedience of her husband in all other matters. If she disregards that, she throws it all away.

    The hierarchy of God first, husband second must be preserved.

    The example of Abraham does not map, as there is no hierarchy, and so no potential conflict in the chain of command.

    I am not suggesting the wife has the ability to reserve the option to disobey her husband whenever she sees fit. I’m merely pointing out a gap your argument does not cover, and in some respects opens.

    The bottom line is that either God comes first or he doesn’t. The burden of forming and following one’s conscience is never abated.

  4. David says of Abigail in 1sam25:32 that God sent her to him to keep him from bloodshed. Double-take. What? She acted knowingly and brazenly in direct contradiction of her husband’s orders. Why would God commend that disobedience unless her husband were not her absolute authority?

  5. Yeah, having followed that discussion I have to say that the more I learn about Scripture and human nature the more I get pushed towards being Catholic.

    Even with hypotheticals that wouldn’t happen in real life the slippery slope is slippery.

  6. Cail

    Ephesians 5:22-24 is definitive. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ also is the head of the Church.”

    The authority of the husband is defined as being equal, the same, identical to the authority of Christ over the church. This makes it very easy to determine just how far that authority goes, because we know that ALL authority has been given to Christ. Therefore, within marriage, all authority resides in the husband. That goes all the way back to Genesis 2:14. He had the power to initiate the marriage, he is in authority over it.

    Every attempt to find exceptions is an attempt to reframe the argument in such a way as to limit the authority of a husband over his wife. I wrote The Bright Red Line on this subject. The headship issue is the foundational issue. Period. Every attack on the headship of the husband is a direct attack on the headship of Christ over the church.

    The idea that a wife should go to her pastor is not Biblical, because Scripture says that wives are to be silent in church and if they have any questions they are to be instructed by their husbands at home. The wife in need of Godly counsel should go to one of the older women in the church who should be teaching them to be obedient, keepers of their home and to love their husbands.

    In 1st Peter 3:1 the wife is commanded to obey her husband even if he is in sin, in silence, and win him over with her quiet and chaste conduct. Notice how that verse begins (In the same way, wives…), which is a direct reference to the previous discussion of masters and servants. That one verse completely removes the entire “beatin and cheatin” justification most women today use as their standard answer for why they are in rebellion and divorcing their husbands. Notice that God promises that if they are suffering unjustly and bearing up under it for the sake of conscience, He will look on that very favorably. The example given is the suffering of Christ. Then came the command to the wives that in the same way they are to submit to their husbands even if he is in sin, silently, that he might be won over with their quiet and gentle spirit.

    The “Ephesians 5:21 is the context” argument that the husband and wife are equal got blown out of the water in Numbers 16. The argument of Korah and his followers is exactly the same. They made that argument before God and they lost their lives for it. Stare Decisis.

  7. Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you and be submissive…do so with joy” – are we ever to go against government authority that commands us to commit sins? Not if you interpret submission the same across all Scripture. “Whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (Rom 13). There is no out here for men- no “if it is a godly order” clause. You must obey.

    Now look at the disobedience of the apostles to the governing authorities throughout Acts. Do they misunderstand this?

    Just because this has been wrongly used does not mean that it does not exist.

    A lot of things that people claim are gray areas are really black and white things that they don’t really like the answer to.

  8. Ellie, the problem with the CEO analogy is that you can go ask the CEO for a ruling. Not many humans have a hotline to God. (Yes, we are given a conscience and the guidance of the Holy Ghost, but we also have Original Sin and hamsters, so there will usually be wiggle room or doubt there.) To improve the analogy: the CEO goes on vacation, and leaves a message that says, “VP Jim is in charge. Do what he says.” Then Jim says he’s decided to turn the widget factory into a porno palace, so you try to call the CEO, but he’s incommunicado. You go into his office looking for more information, a different contact number, some way to forestall Jim’s plans. You discover the CEO’s diary, and on the last day before he left, it says, “I said Jim was in charge. Do what he says already!”

    That’s Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3. No exceptions, no conditions, just “be subject to.” Now, does that mean the CEO really wants Jim to turn the factory into a porno palace? Surely not. Jim will pay for that when the CEO returns. But how will the CEO feel about the way you did (or didn’t) follow his clear and repeated order to be subject to Jim? If he’s a fair and just boss, he will have no choice but to commend you.

  9. A lot of things that people claim are gray areas are really black and white things that they don’t really like the answer to. — Ellie

    But that’s exactly the problem: what might be black and white becomes gray when emotions and biases are involved, which means whenever human beings are involved. You can keep using extreme examples like threesomes or satanic masses, but that’s not real life. The problem is, if you say it’s okay for a wife to disobey her husband in those cases because they’re black-and-white, then someone else has her own black-and-white issues that you would think are gray.

    Let’s say being ordered to participate in a satanic mass is a clear, black-and-white, open-and-shut case: God wants her to refuse. Okay, fine.

    What if he orders her to become Muslim (she’s Christian)? Hmm, not as extreme as satanic, but it’s still worshiping a false god by any traditional Christian understanding, so she should refuse. Okay, fine.

    What if he wants her to become Catholic, but she was raised to believe the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon? Can’t do that. Okay, fine.

    What if he just wants her to stop going to church, so they can travel more on weekends? Hmm, Scripture clearly says to keep holy the Sabbath day, and her church teaches that God’s law says you go to church on Sundays, so she has to refuse. Okay, fine.

    What if he just wants her to switch churches, in the same denomination? Well, she’s really attached to her pastor, and she felt the Spirit move her when she was choosing that church. She knows that’s where God wants her, and it’s been great for her spiritual development, so to leave there would be abandoning the path God has set her on. Sorry, she can’t do that either.

    Can you see the slippery slope here? If you don’t think it’s that slippery, just look around at all the women who wouldn’t accept a command to make their husbands a sandwich, who actually consider that a sign of abuse. They didn’t get there overnight. They got there little by little, disobeying in the big, “black-and-white” things first, but gradually becoming comfortable with their veto power and the control it gave them, until we reached this point where women are considered to be the highest authorities on everything everywhere.

    If a woman refuses to attend a satanic mass with her husband (or whatever other extreme, black-and-white example you can come up with that never happens in 99.9% of marriages), I’m not going to criticize her. But we’d be better off — women would be better off — if their attitude was, “I will do whatever my husband says even if I think it’s wrong,” and then occasionally one changed her mind about that because the case was so extreme. That would be far better than the current situation, where most women default to, “If my husband asks me nicely to do something, I’ll think about it and decide what’s best.”

  10. What would a person (perhaps like Abraham) do with a command from God that said “Do not obey me”?

    Christians (as opposed to, say, Muslims) believe in a God of reason. God never gives unreasonable commands. Hard to obey, difficult to understand, but not impossible or unreasonable. The Catholic Catechism puts it this way: “Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” (Art. 159)

  11. By not obeying her husband when he is in clear conflict with God, she preserves the basis for her obedience of her husband in all other matters.

    As I said, if a woman disobeys her husband in some clear-cut case like adultery in a threesome, but obeys him without complaint in everything else, I don’t think she will be punished for that one disobedience in the afterlife (especially if she repents of the disobedience itself, while feeling that it was necessary — a necessary evil, in fact). I certainly wouldn’t say a word of condemnation against her.

    But I also don’t think she would be punished for adultery if she had decided that God’s command to be subject to her husband outweighed the prohibition against adultery. Either way, her husband is the one who put her in the position of having no choice but to break one of God’s commands. That sin is his.

  12. Here’s another thought: we never know God’s plan for us, how He might want to use us. If a husband tells his wife he’s going to bring home a prostitute, it’s possible that he will have a change of heart at the last minute, beg forgiveness of God and of his wife, and then the two of them will spend the rest of the evening reading scripture verses to the prostitute and convert her to a life of chastity and sainthood. Stranger things, bigger miracles, have happened, right?

    God doesn’t cause evil or wish for evil to happen, but He does allow evil, and sometimes uses it to produce a greater good (the Crucifixion being the most obvious example). Of course, that doesn’t mean we should go around doing evil on the off chance that something good will come out of it. A couple shouldn’t flirt with threesomes in the hopes of saving someone’s soul. But neither should we ever assume that an evil situation is beyond God’s ability to turn it to good, because that denies faith. A wife who obeys God’s command to obey her husband in all things, putting her faith in God to protect her from any sin that obedience may lead her into, has pretty good reason to think God will bless her for that.

  13. I tend toward radical submission, and even I can see Ellie’s point here. Of course, my husband has said in no uncertain terms that he is not my god, and I am not to treat him as such.

    This is because from day one, I ran roughshod over everyone and was willing to burn every bridge I’d walked on my whole life to be with him. when he was unregenerate, he didn’t have a problem with it. With the scales removed from his eyes, he saw how horrible it was.

    He does appreciate my heart of radical submission however, and because if that he honors God and me by NOT asking me to do anything that is clearly prohibited in Scripture. As nay good Christian man would.

    I understand where SD is coming from, I truly do. I just don’t know how to relate to her example very much, which I’m sure contributed to my initial reaction.

  14. I come at this as a philosophy geek, not a theology geek, so take this with a grain of salt.

    I am reminded here of the great atheist Thomas Hobbes. There is no appeal from the judgment of the Leviathan, however unjust. Indeed, contra the entire pre-modern/Machiavelli Western tradition, Hobbes denies that there can be an unjust law, just as there is no distinction between a tyrant and a legitimate king. All appeals to higher law beyond the positive law are anarchy. There is only the natural law, grounded in the passions, and which forms the basis for the social contract, which is inviolable by the sovereign no matter what he does.

    If God is a reasonable God (as you wrote and as I must agree) then He cannot give unreasonable commands, nor can He give contradictory commends. He cannot command X and Not-X at the same time.

    Therefore it would seem that the apparent contradiction—don’t do X, but follow Y, who says do X—must be accountable not to God but to some other factor. And the weak link in the chain must be the husband who, being human, is fallible. God is inherently not fallible. Hence there is a world of difference between God commanding the sacrifice of Isaac and a husband commanding an unambiguously sinful act. And that’s leaving aside the all-important point that God rescinds that command. I think the story in particular and the Bible in general would become unintelligible if God and insisted that the command be carried out. That would be in keeping with the problem you identify (and which I again agree with) in Islam.

    Beyond all this, as a Catholic, you will recognize the rank order of sins. I don’t know what the catechism specifically says about wifely submission. But in any case, certainly we all must agree that a wife commanded by her husband to do a sinful act faces a binary choice between two sins. There is no way out of the trap, unless we can show that the command to commit sin is ipso facto invalid (which seems reasonable to me but not definitely textually established). Then the sensible, moral thing to do in all such cases is to choose the lesser sin.

    If the command is something ambiguous, then best to submit. If venial, then probably best to submit. If mortal, best to disobey.

    What wife wouldn’t prefer to walk into a confessional to confess having disobeyed her husband, rather than having had a threesome on his orders?

    And then beyond this, the teaching that submission is always right is tantamount to license to evil husbands to recruit and manipulate an army of instrumentally evil wives—Carmela Sopranos all the way down. It is inconceivable that God could have had such a possibility in mind. Kant is a dope, for the most part, but the categorical imperative is not without insight. Universalize this principle and the result is industrial scale evil.

  15. The problem with your argument is that God uses the same ‘placing you under authority’ command for people and their government, bondservants, and children. But the apostles disobeyed and you have no good explanation for why they could and why wives cannot. (Heb&Rom13)

    I won’t deny that there is a slippery slope that women are tempted to use to usurp their husband’s authority (I think that it is character building to try to resist that slope). But there is also a valid use of claiming “God over man” – and homosexuality+adultery is a great place to start. It is like “judge not”- if God already proclaimed the judgement, are we sinning if we apply His judgement? Judgement can be used properly at the same time as a person can uphold “judge not”. God expects us to balance His commands with wisdom.

    You think that things like requests for threesomes are rare- I think that they are increasingly common. Evil is creeping up, increasing all around us.

    In response to your last paragraph, please check Rom 3:8. If we do evil, hoping that God will turn it to good, we pervert the gospel.

    Do you think that a wife has the right to confront sin in her husband?

  16. Let me flesh this out a little.

    You made the point that the command for wives to submit to their husbands does not admit of caveats. It does not say “submit to his virtuous or just commands” for instance. True enough.

    But follow that logic. The Ten Commandments do not say “Thou shalt not—except if you are a married woman who is so commanded by her husband.” They don’t admit of caveats or exceptions either.

    So, since neither admits of exceptions or caveats, why is the choice for submission to the husband rather than to God so obvious? Put in those terms, it would seem that the logical choice would be the reverse.

    But now we are back to the same issue identified above. God cannot command X and Not-X at the same time. Or, He can, but He must know that man as man is not a being capable of understanding or fulfilling such commands. My read of the Bible, which is no doubt shallower than all of yours, does not find many (or any) instances of God posing such dilemmas to man. Rather, His commands are–if not always straightforward–at least fulfillable, if not necessary intelligible. That is, the reasoning behind them may not be intelligible to man. The “what to do” must be. And, as it happens, is.

  17. Cail,
    I appreciate your point of not knowing God’s plan. It’d be so interesting to know how often women get in God’s way with their rebellion.
    Ellie, Christian women who live with their husbands in submission and with respect in everything, who keep a quiet, gentle spirit, who live their lives with purity and reverence, are not asked to have threesomes by their husbands on anymore than an excruciatingly rare basis. In fact if you read the example I left over at SSM’s place, this non Christian husband’s protection instinct increased in a huge way. He once brought her wih him to do nasty things wih him. When she turned her life over, and he saw her read her Bible, he never asked her to take part again. He even told us as much once, that he’d never allow the people with whom he was associating around his wife. The guy was a mess, but he treasured his wife’s submission and respect she had for him despite all of his ugliness. He told RLB she makes him want to be better. Praise God!

  18. Whether or not you & your husband are equally yoked is not the point. This is a question that transcends your individual situation, namely, is a wife to obey God’s commands if her husband orders her to do the opposite. This is also a question of whether or not God orders His people to sin in order to do good by obeying Him. This is not about your situation anymore- we are digging into the theology under-girding your ideas.

    No where in Scripture is it promised absolutely that a believing submissive wife WILL have a kind, loving, godly husband. Read those verses carefully. There are women all over the world who are devout, who love God intensely, who are submissive and who have husbands who are not believers, husbands who mistreat them, and husbands who hate God. Do you own your own sin? Does your husband own his? Can you cause someone to sin? Can you cause someone to not sin? Think about the implications of what you said. Generally speaking, treating a man with respect will cause him to treat you more kindly. But there really are no guarantees.

    Col 3:18 adds to the submit command “as is fitting in the Lord”.

    Submission can become an idol, just like every other good thing taken out of context. Where do you get the idea that submission sits at the apex of God’s structure of sins? It is not in the 10 commandments, the “Love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor..”, the list of the 6 things the Lord hates, it is not mentioned at all in the OT. I would imagine it does not break the top 15 sins. Why do you think that God would view lack of submission to ungodly orders as being more serious than, say, aborting your baby? And so why do you advocate just that? Do you realize (Rom1) that those who approve of a sin are judged as well as those who commit the sin? Cail, you will share in judgement by merely approving of submitting to sinful orders.

    You have no ability to condemn Nazi soldiers under orders. You cannot. Bondservants are given the same commands as wives.

  19. I argue from Catholic Catechism, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2:

    “2217 As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”22 Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so”

    If a child has this right, does a wife?

  20. I have searched through CC extensively and cannot find anything at all specifically about a wife’s submission. However, again, from Catholic Catechism at


    1777 Moral conscience,48 present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

    1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

    Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise. . . . [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.50
    1779 It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:

    Return to your conscience, question it. . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.51
    1780 The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality (synderesis); their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. The truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by the prudent judgment of conscience. We call that man prudent who chooses in conformity with this judgment.

    1781 Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. The verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God:

    We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.52
    1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”53


    1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

    1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.

    1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path,54 we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.55


    1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

    1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

    1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

    1789 Some rules apply in every case:

    – One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

    – the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”56

    – charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.”57 Therefore “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.”58

  21. The solution to wives abusing the authority structure is to encourage the development of their character and conscience. It is not to cripple their humanity, to subject them to God’s judgement for abrogating their duty to apply moral judgement.

  22. Ellie, I don’t think threesomes are rare. I think the situation under discussion is rare: a woman genuinely wishes to be subject to her husband and does so in all things, until one day out of the blue he commands her to be in a threesome, and she’s stuck between adultery or disobedience. Replace “threesome” with “robbing a bank” or “abortion” or whatever black-and-white sin you choose, and it will still be very rare.

    That it’s very rare doesn’t mean it can’t happen or isn’t worth discussing, of course. But it gets to be a bit like medieval theologians arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Intellectually stimulating, but it doesn’t really have much to do the the topic as it applies to an ordinary person’s life, which involves deep dilemmas more like, “Should she obey when he tells her to grow her hair longer?” Maybe you and I can see that that’s a no-brainer time to submit, but how many wives would do so without argument or trying to get something in return? Is it more than 1%?

    That’s the real problem, not patriarchal men demanding threesomes of their sweet, submissive wives.

  23. There’s a lot of weak sauce in the new CCC, and enough flowery language that anyone can find nearly any interpretation he wants in it. It also leaves out many things, which, because of the way Tradition works in Catholicism, doesn’t mean those things don’t count anymore. I’m not surprised that you found nothing on wifely submission; many things that modernists prefer not to think about were left out. Fortunately, the CCC itself isn’t doctrine (although it refers to many doctrines that already existed), and it doesn’t trump anything that went before it. So I’m not going to get into parsing the CCC. Not trying to dodge it, but if you think two people reading Scripture can come to different conclusions, the CCC is far worse.

    Just looking at that part on conscience, they spent about a thousand words explaining what the old Baltimore Catechism could teach to little kids in a couple paragraphs, while making it far more murky. And it’s still irrelevant to the ultimate question we’re discussing. Of course a woman’s conscience should be trained and developed, but she’s still human, so her conscience will never be perfect, so there’s still a danger that if you put conditions on the command of wifely submission, she will stretch those. What’s new?

  24. Would you prefer a reference to the Catechism of the Council of Trent? “The catechism further exhorts the wife to yield to the husband “in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.”

    Did the historical church leaders consider a husband’s authority to go above Scripture? No.

  25. There are women all over the world who are devout, who love God intensely, who are submissive and who have husbands who are not believers, husbands who mistreat them, and husbands who hate God.

    Come on, really? You really think such extreme mismatches happen “all over the world”? Like, around every corner? Or would a few dozen on each continent qualify for such hyperbole?

    I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’m sure such marriages do exist. But how do they happen? How does a devout, submissive woman end up yoked to an abusive, faithless man? Why would a faithless man marry a woman who’s always praying or wanting to go to church? Why would such a woman marry such a man? In which scenario are such extremely unequally-yoked marriages more likely to happen:

    1. When a girl thinks, “Some things about him worry me, but marriage is 50/50, so I’ll work on him and change those things over time.”

    2. When a girl thinks, “If I marry him, I’m going to be subject to him in all things. What’s the worst I can imagine him asking me to do, and could I obey him in that?”

    I would submit that sexual equality and “mutual submission” probably result in more such unbalanced marriages, because they keep people from understanding how important it is to be equally yoked and have a good spouse right from the start.

  26. How about Pope Pius XI (quoted from above link): “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…But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love. ”

    You are at odds with the historical teaching of the Catholic church that a wife does indeed have the right to follow her conscience to follow the commands of God when they oppose the commands of her husband. That is my point.

  27. Your essential argument is that wives do not have the right to follow conscience, to follow God’s commands but must instead submit to every whim of their earthly ruler (husband). The funny thing is that the closer you get to ultra-conservative communities, the more prominent this kind of argument is. I think that most doctrines have to walk that fine line and deviation to the right or the left of it are both fallible. I understand that you are concerned with the prevalence of rebellious wives, but advocating sin in the name of submission is not the answer to that.

  28. Would you prefer a reference to the Catechism of the Council of Trent? “The catechism further exhorts the wife to yield to the husband “in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.”

    Yes, Trent is preferable. See how much clearer that sentence is than anything from the CCC? Still, that only tells her what to do when her husband’s commands are pious — yield with ready obedience. It doesn’t say what she should do when his commands are not pious, or (the more likely scenario) seem like they may not be pious. Perhaps she should still obey, but register her objections first. It doesn’t say.

    Did the historical church leaders consider a husband’s authority to go above Scripture? No.

    Of course not, but since scripture includes his authority in all things, he can’t really go above that. It’s already in there.

    I think I’ve been clear that I don’t think a wife should just turn off her conscience and blindly do whatever her husband says. But I don’t think she should have an attitude of, “I’ll submit unless…” either. If she puts some effort into being equally yoked, the specter of being commanded by her husband to do serious sin should be unthinkable — she shouldn’t need to think about it. It shouldn’t enter into her day-to-day responses to him.

    Now, if a devout, submissive woman somehow ends up shacked to an abusive heathen — maybe she found God after the wedding, or he seemed devout before and then went bad — then she’s in a bad spot, no doubt. And maybe in that spot her best choice is to disobey — even to leave him. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for her disobedience. That’s what I’ve been trying to get at — a particular sin may be the lesser of evils, but it’s still a sin, even if lightened by extenuating circumstances. It’s still something to be avoided as much as possible.

    It’s a bit like putting your money into an investment like a 401k where there’s a big penalty for early withdrawal. Maybe after you put it in there, you find out that the guy running the investments is a crook, so you yank your money back out, deciding that the early withdrawal penalty is preferable to risking having him steal your entire savings. But you still pay the penalty. And if there were no penalty — if you could get out of paying the penalty by offering any one of a handful of excuses — people would be far less diligent about where they invest their money.

    People today aren’t at all diligent about whom they marry, and it’s partly because they don’t take these scriptural admonitions about marital duties as seriously as they should — if they’re aware of them at all.

  29. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know that the Catechism was updated recently – I only started reading it today. Read the quote from the Council of Trent again- both the positive and negative can be inferred from it: yield to the husband “in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.”// do not yield to the husband “in all things inconsistent with Christian piety”.

    I do not think you have been clear about that- at SSM’s you said that a threesome was less sinful than saying no to her husband.

  30. You are at odds with the historical teaching of the Catholic church that a wife does indeed have the right to follow her conscience to follow the commands of God when they oppose the commands of her husband.

    I don’t think I’m at odds with it, though I certainly haven’t studied the matter enough to be sure, and that would mean going back much further than Trent. I’m exploring the seeming contradiction and trying to find the line, the Golden Mean. Modern society, including most Christians, says wives shouldn’t submit at all; that’s old sexist stuff. Some tradcons, like the ones Dalrock chronicles, say the answer lies in “mutual submission” and wives “submitting” by giving their husbands lists of chores to do. I don’t think that’s where the line belongs. I think it belongs a lot closer to the stricter interpretation of “subject in all things,” if not all the way there.

    Look, if my sister told me her husband was insisting on a threesome, I wouldn’t tell her, “Well, he’s the boss, get on with it.” But I also wouldn’t tell her, “He’s obviously not a pious man. so he doesn’t deserve your obedience,” because Peter clearly says that’s not an excuse. The best advice I could give her would be to pray about it and consult her conscience, of course, so that if she decides to refuse him, she can be as certain as possible that she’s doing the right thing. But I would also talk to her a bit about how submissive she is on other occasions. Is her behavior chaste and submissive on ordinary occasions, so as to win his heart to the Lord, as in Peter 3:1-2? Could it be that she’s been disobedient on smaller things, so he figures why not push for something big, what’s he got to lose? Before she condemns him as a husband not worthy of obedience — even worse than an unbeliever — she should at least consider her own behavior and see if there’s something she should change about that which might win him over without the need for disobedience.

  31. Ellie, thank you too for the discussion. My thoughts on this weren’t fully formed (they rarely are), so it’s possible they’ve changed a bit as I’ve written about it. I don’t recall saying a threesome would be less sinful than disobeying her husband, though. I’ll have to go re-read and see. I think what I’ve said is that it’s not clear which would be less sinful, since both involve violating a command from scripture.

    To add to the example from my last comment, if I encouraged my sister not to refuse her husband’s command outright, it wouldn’t be so much because I think obedience is the better choice there, but because by not refusing right away, she leaves open the opportunity to change his mind, or for God to work in his heart and get him to back down. Stall if you can, in other words, and maybe you won’t need to choose the less of evils after all.

    As I mentioned somewhere, nearly all the women I’ve ever had relationships with suggested a threesome at some point, but it never happened for various reasons. One time it got close and we all chickened out. Other times they wanted me to find the other girl and I didn’t have the guts (finding the first one was hard enough). The point is, unless the other woman is right there disrobing the first time the husband brings it up, the wife does have options other than a blunt “yes” or “no.” She can say, “I vowed to obey you in all things, but this really bothers me. That you would even want to do this cuts at my heart. Can you explain it to me?” She’s not disobeying; she’s humbly asking for help obeying, and if he has a shred of humanity, that will appeal to it. He has a conscience too, after all.

  32. Pingback: When submit in everything means “but not this thing.” | Sunshine Mary

  33. @Cail

    I’ve been considering a whole new language for what we talk about, and I’m interested in your contribution. If you’d like to participate, email me at my WordPress comment address.

  34. Cail,

    Ellie raises some very good points. I am a cradle Catholic educated in 12 years of post-VII Catholic schools (albeit by two traditional parents) in what is probably a ‘middle of the road’ diocese, so make of that what you will regarding my catechesis. I am as critiical as any Catholic I know of the Church’s manifest abdication of its duty to protect the sacrament of marriage on any number of fronts, but I don’t believe the Church has ever commanded unquestionioning submission – there has always been an expectation that conscience trump submission.

    A wife should suffer no pangs of conscience for refusing to engage in manifestly sinful activities at the behest of her husband.

    Youi are absolutely correct that most of the disobedience is indeed that insofar as it’s not centered on manifestly sinful behavior.

  35. And maybe in that spot her best choice is to disobey

    I don’t think the situation is as rare as you say – say the husband tells his wife she’s forbidden to go to Mass that day. Boom, mortal sin. Not just sin, but a mortal sin.

    And so I can’t believe that if the husband directly commands the wife NOT to go to Mass that day and go, say, clean the house instead, the wife is obligated to obey the husband. And I can’t imagine the choice is a lesser sin. Natural law dictates that one may ever, ever sin for a good result, so I can’t see any logical way for God to force that situation. I can only conclude that, in the rare cases where a mortal sin is directly commanded, the wife would have to disagree.

  36. Also, I don’t think of it as, “He’s not a pious man, and doesn’t deserve your obedience”. Rather, “He’s asking you to commit a mortal sin. You can’t do that”.

  37. My apologies to those whose comments I didn’t get approved right away. I’ve never had so many comments that they didn’t all show up right on top of the list for approval before! Thanks to everyone for the discussion.

Comments are closed.