What is the Principle of Patriarchy? In its simplest form, it is the natural product of healthy masculinity in a social body. When we talk about what it means to be a man, and what we are teaching our sons in teaching them to be men – we are (or should be) talking about the Principle of Patriarchy.
This principle is a social recognition of the meaning and purpose of masculinity. One of its primary consequences is that it brings to human society what we can best describe as headship and authority.
Masculinity: Headship and Authority
The philosophers will tell us that wherever there are multiple people all working together towards a single goal, you will find one person at the head of them all, directing them. The reason for this is simple: multiple people will have multiple opinions about where to go or what to do, but one person will have only one opinion. As a result, if anything is to get done, it becomes necessary for many people to be subject to one person.
This is where authority structures come from, and this is why they are important. Masculinity is the driving force that is intended to bring those authority structures to life.
Now, the Principle of Patriarchy is the rule that tells us how men bring these authority structures to life. When this principle is strong, authority structures are strong. When this principle is weak, authority structures are weak.
One of the most conspicuous side effects of a strong authority structure is what we might call “the sword”. Scripture tells us to obey civil law, and civil authorities do not “bear the sword” for no reason (Romans 13). This “sword” is their authority, and their right to enforce the law. It is called “the sword” for a very practical reason: those who cross it feel its cut.
When authority structures are strong, there will be some measure of fear among the subordinates in crossing that authority. Not an overwhelming fear, as under a dictator or tyrant, but a reasonable amount of fear. Corresponding to this is, naturally enough, a real ability of that authority to enforce its command.
But when the Principle of Patriarchy is weak, then authority structures are weakened. Not only does an authority become weaker in its ability to enforce its command, there arises even fear of enforcing that command: fear of being an authority. Corresponding to this, among the subjects, there arises fear not of the authority but merely of being subordinate to that authority.
The Fullness of Masculinity
Young men who are eager to find the truth about the meaning of manhood often arrive at the Scripture passages which say that the husband is head of his wife, and the wife is to be subordinate to her husband; they often think that this must be the answer, and that all our problems must come down to husbands not being head of their wives and wives not being subordinate to their husbands. Indeed, correctly living out these roles are part of the answer – but not the full answer.
The big cover-up today, regarding gender, is that there is another piece to the puzzle besides the duties of husband and wife. That other piece is the Principle of Patriarchy.
Pillar of Mutual Love #7
What is the Principle of Patriarchy? It is a social recognition that it is the masculinity of men which primarily brings headship and authority to human society, and consequently it should primarily be men who represent headship and authority in the family and in wider society.
This means that we have a true precedent to set. It means that, today, we might have a female CEO of a corporation, and tomorrow we might have a female president of the United States, but that these things are disordered consequences of a weakened state of masculine identity. On the contrary, if men were as alive in their masculinity as they are supposed to be – in other words, if the Principle of Patriarchy were strong – then there would be no female CEOs or female presidents or female military commanders, nor would there be any women who would want to be these things. Why? First, because men, in the fullness of their masculinity, would ensure that nothing so disordered as this would take place, and, secondly, because women, in the presence of men who hold such a line, would instead seek after the femininity of womanhood, not the masculinity of manhood.
This is the Principle of Patriarchy, Pillar of Mutual Love #7. It is the guardian of all the other Pillars of Mutual Love, and it is the fullness of manhood to which all men are called.
It seems to me that there are two major errors made frequently among modern Catholics. The first error is to throw out what is new. These are the ones who hold that Vatican II, and most of what followed it in terms of Church teaching, was invalid and that the right course of action is to repeal everything that Vatican II did and return to how things were prior to it. Among these are those who hold that such-and-such pope from such-and-such year was the last real pope, and that the modern popes are all frauds.
The second error is to throw out what is old. These are the ones who hold that everything before Vatican II is outdated and no longer relevant. These are the ones who believe, for example, that women should now be allowed to become priests; or that the Catholic Church should become democratic in nature (like most modern Protestant Christians, and most modern states) so that the popes and bishops are elected by popular lay vote; or that homosexual behavior, or artificial contraception, should no longer be considered disordered and morally wrong…or that the teaching about the roles of husband and wife, in which the husband is called the head, is no longer relevant.
But the right course of action is neither of these. Christ said, “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Matthew 13:52). Among the early Christians, this was understood as an affirmation of Matthew 5:17 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”). For us today, we can in some sense understand this to mean that the “scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven” is the one who can use both what is new and what is old, in terms of Church teaching: pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II.
The fact is, we must continue moving forward: we cannot move backwards. It will do us little good to eliminate the past fifty years of Church history and forget all that we have learned since that time. At the same time, it will also do us little good to eliminate all Church history prior to the 1950′s. We have to be able to face modern realities with a modern perspective, but we have to be able to tie these things in to the perspective of the historical Church so that what is new in Church teaching is a true development of what is old.
To develop Church teaching does not mean to abolish older understandings of it; it means to come to a fuller understanding of it. We know that Christ did not come to abolish the law, but neither did he come to merely reinforce the law: he came to fulfill the law, and that meant changing it in a certain way to complete it. It meant, in a sense, growing it. Likewise, for us today, we cannot abolish the truth, and “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law” – but we can come to a better understanding the truth, in order to live our lives more closely in alignment with it. In other words, the teaching of the Church can grow as the Holy Spirit causes our understanding of the truth to grow.
It is duly noted that a plant does not grow by reaching down and strangling off its own roots – that would kill it. But instead it grows by reaching higher and further, unfolding in unexpected but beautiful ways. Church teaching develops in the same way. The deposit of faith doesn’t change, but our understanding of that faith grows.
Our responsibility today is to be able to rightly understand the past and the present so that new Church teachings truly are a development of past teachings, and not some kind of fraudulent replacement. A new faith teaching that essentially alienates all past teaching on the subject would not be a true development of that past teaching. Instead, new teachings must grow out of the older ones, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.
What are these pillars of mutual love? They are seven points that I believe are necessary in order for a human society to have a just regard for the men and women that make up its adult populace. I will go through each of them briefly now.
#1 The duty of a husband to love his wife and the Principle of Mutual Submission
The Principle of Mutual Submission is derived from Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaching on the mutual submission of husband and wife. This principle refers to the duty of a man to love his wife in a masculine, sacrificial way. While the wife is called to be subordinate to her husband, the husband, in loving his wife, is also held to an equal submission: as much as one who is subject to another forgoes his own plans in order to obey the wishes of his superior, so in a similar way one who loves another will, in a unique and special way, forgo his own desires and plans in order to seek the welfare of the one he loves. This is how we can rightly understand this pillar and the Principle of Mutual Submission.
The plain reality that can be observed – now, or in ancient times – is that social injustices against women are the result of the failure of a husband to love his wife. In merely doing whatever he pleases, without regard for the responsibility he has for the welfare of his wife and children, a man perpetuates a kind of domination over those in his care.
This pillar then emphasizes the duty of a man to take responsibility in family life, and to be a husband and father to the fullest extent he is capable. It includes the importance of chastity and purity among men and boys, as well as the importance of the role of a father in protecting his family from great external dangers. It also includes his duty to be the provider for his family and to be the spiritual leader, teaching his children the spiritual realities of the faith, and guiding his whole family in moral uprightness.
#2 The right understanding of gender equality: equal and unequal
This pillar holds that the right understanding of gender equality can be derived from 1 Peter 3:7:
“Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”
Here we have a Scriptural foundation for showing that there is both equality and inequality between the genders which must be honored. We cannot settle for any kind of “total equality” between the genders because this does not fit the reality of male and female, as God has made us.
The inequality consists in the differing physical and mental constitutions between men and women, each one seeming to be formed for a unique purpose. We understand these unique purposes to be fatherhood (masculinity) and motherhood (femininity). This inequality does not imply inferiority or superiority of one gender over another. Instead, it implies gender complementarity.
The equality consists in the equal dignity between men and women; their equal humanity; and their equally being loved by God, and their call to holiness.
#3 The importance of both masculine and feminine in human society
This pillar asserts that masculine and feminine are both equally important to human society. They most both be fully honored in human society, without one being universally valued, across the board, as more important than the other.
One gender can be valued over another in certain conditions. For example, if the need is for birth and nurturing of children, the female gender will be much more highly valued than the masculine gender. Or, if there is a need to go to war, the masculine gender will be much more highly valued than the feminine gender. Justice, however, demands a certain moderation so that society never comes to think that one of the genders is universally more important than the other; as if one gender is always the preferable one, in any condition. Instead, both genders must be honored as being equally important, in what each one brings, so that human society is balanced in its appetites and focuses.
In addition, this pillar also highlights the duty that an individual has to live a lifestyle corresponding to his, or her, gender.
#4 The Reciprocal Principle of Spousal Love
This principle refers to the duty of the husband to love his wife, and the duty of the wife to be subordinate to her husband. This is the God-given plan for how man and woman are to be able to live together in marriage, and raise a family, for their entire lives.
This reciprocal principle is the river which has been dammed up today; if this river is restored, then all the downstream valleys and brooks that are our communities and families will again flow with water, nourishing the parched fields of life. This principle is truly the wellspring of life in the modern family: through it will flow all good order, all peace, all justice, all life. Without it there is chaos and disorder; there is injustice; there is irresponsibility and codependence. Moreover, with the ever increasing complexity of human life, the potential for conflict and miscommunication within the family is greater than it ever has been before. This necessitates all the more a clearly established order of the home that is rooted in the mutual love of husband and wife.
#5 The importance of a culture in which wives remain at home
This “remaining in the home” is not meant to restrict a wife to a certain space, or to exclude her from some part of society, but rather refers to her priorities: the necessity is for a culture in which the priorities of women be ordered towards, and remain in, the home, so that motherhood can be most fully manifested, increased, and honored.
Pregnancy, birth, nursing, and child rearing is a duty of every marriage. The earlier tasks are assigned in a special way to the woman by nature itself, for the woman is the one who bears the bodily organs necessary for pregnancy, birth, and nursing. Moreover, her feminine nature makes her mind, body, and spirit especially conducive to the nurturing needs of a child. However, these things cannot be done with the fullest attention if the wife is working outside the home, or is too preoccupied with other things, even in the home. Moreover, there should be very little that commands our attention more than the raising of our own children.
The reality is that we need a cultural view that the things of family life (pregnancy, birth, nursing, raising and educating children) are more important than career work. A necessary part of such a view is a true culture of encouragement and acceptance of the duty of wives to remain in the home and be devoted to the duties found there.
#6 The natural cycle of married life
There is a natural pattern of married life that is present in a normal and healthy marriage: conjugal union between husband and wife, the possible result of pregnancy, birth, and nursing – causing a delay in the return of the wife’s fertility (organically producing a healthy spacing of babies) – followed by weaning the child. Then the cycle repeats. The rightly ordered pattern of married life is one in which the husband and wife allow this natural cycle to run its course, without interfering with it.
Artificial contraception does violence to this natural cycle of marriage, and so is never morally permissible. Even the use of Natural Family Planning, while morally acceptable, cannot come to be used to disrupt this natural cycle of married life without serious reason.
This pillar also asserts that sexual immorality is seriously destructive to the ability of an individual to live the natural cycle of married life. Thus, this pillar asserts the importance of women and girls highly valuing their purity, chastity, and modesty.
#7 The Principle of Patriarchy
“For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church” (Eph 5:23). Put simply, the Principle of Patriarchy is recognizing that it is men, in their masculinity, which primarily bring headship and authority to human community. As a result, it should, under normal circumstances, be men who represent headship and authority in the family and in wider society. More than anything else, to deny this is to reject the essence of what masculinity is.
The Principle of Patriarchy is a cultural recognition of the meaning and purpose of masculinity. It is a general affirmation that the social governance of any community that pertains to both men and women should be performed by men, unless circumstances prove that there are no capable men available to perform the job.
Historically, a prime example of when a man is not available to do the job might be the absence of a king, leaving the queen to rule in his stead. Another example might be the family whose father has left, or is deceased, leaving all authority and management of the home to the wife, unless she marries again.
When the Principle of Patriarchy is weak or absent, a society itself becomes weak in its ability to:
- administer and adhere to justice;
- face the hard realities of spiritual and natural life, and teach these realities to its youth;
- raise young men up in the masculine spirit;
- ensure good social order is kept intact.
In my last post, I discussed the natural cycle of family growth, how marriage is meant to honor and encapsulate that cycle, and how the covenant union of husband and wife is violated by the use of artificial contraception. There are some significant implications of such an understanding of marriage. We’ll go through some of those now.
A Way of Life
Let’s be realistic. The way a lot of people live now, this way of life – this openness to children that I have described – would be very difficult. Literally, the circumstances of many people’s ordinary lives are a serious handicap in their ability to live the kind of lifestyle that I am describing. Yet the reality is that, in many of these cases, these circumstances are the direct result of lifestyle choices that were made, often early on in life.
If the purpose of marriage is as I described it in the last post – openness to the conception of more children being central to it – this presupposes a certain way of life to surround it. Among other things, it requires the laying of a proper foundation at an early age, built upon through the childhood and adolescent years, so that by the time the question of marriage comes up, the young person is emotionally, financially, and spiritually prepared for it – or is at least not weighed down by a lifetime of emotional or financial baggage.
Purity and Chastity
In the first place, this understanding of marriage is greatly facilitated by a true embracing of the virtues of purity and chastity. There is little that is more destructive for a young person than to embrace the lifestyle of sexual license that is offered by the culture today.
It seems to me that there are mainly two phases in the loss of an individual’s sexual morality to the immorality of modern culture. The first phase is the phase of lust, which exists purely in the mind – typically in the minds of young men – and manifests itself in the use of pornography, masturbation, and a general outlook of sexual covetousness. This phase is introduced as early as middle school through movies, television, music, the general popular culture, and even ordinary styles of dress, particularly women’s styles of dress.
To a boy, this phase teaches him some level of expectation of what he should be striving for in terms of sexual behavior (though of course it is really just enabling his own tendency towards the sin of lust); to a girl, this phase teaches her what she should be prepared to give to those boys who come in pursuit, and how she can derive some measure of self-satisfaction from this process. In general, then, this first phase lays the foundation for the second phase.
The second phase is actually being sexually active, and once into this phase, a young person seriously compromises his emotional, financial, and spiritual readiness for the future in general, but especially for marriage. Between men and women, it is young women who suffer the greatest risk, however.
There is great injustice in the modern culture’s agenda of sexual license. This injustice abounds against all parties involved, but especially against the women involved.
Children must be protected from the modern culture’s vulgar understanding of human sexuality. Instead, they must be raised in an atmosphere that teaches and upholds the virtues of purity and chastity, so that they will be in the healthiest state of mind and body when the question of marriage arises.
Father: Provider for the Family
Another important item to address is that this way of life requires the husband and father to be the sole provider for the family. That means he must have a stable job that is lucrative enough – alone, without his wife needing to work also – to meet the financial needs of his family.
Such modern novelties as the “stay-at-home dad” are completely incompatible here. The stay-at-home dad lifestyle is almost prohibitively difficult unless mom is not having any more children (to say nothing of the other factors complicating the validity of such a lifestyle). If a wife is going to be free to become pregnant, carry her children, birth them, nurse them, and wean them, according to the marriage lifestyle we are speaking of, this requires her to be at home and attending to her family – not leaving the home every morning to go to work.
Another implication here is that boys and young men have to be raised with the understanding that the purpose of their careers and work in the world is so that they can provide for a family one day once they are married. How many headaches (and arguments) would be avoided between engaged or married couples if the man involved had come into the relationship knowing that it was his responsibility to be the provider for their family! Seeking work, and securing a stable position is certainly part of this. Also included, for example, is saving up money so that a newly married couple is capable of putting a decent down payment on a house, in order to get them off to a good start with their family life. In general, boys and young men need to be given this as a particular objective: seek to be financially prepared to marry and have a family.
Creating a Culture of Life
In this post, I have been speaking mainly of the complicating realities of a very misguided modern culture. Culture is what we live and breathe – usually without paying much attention directly to it. Consequently, the nature of culture is that individuals are far along in their growth before they gain the ability to question the culture from which they come. In the case of modern American culture (and Western culture in general), with as many dangers and foolish things that it routinely espouses, a great many people never realize the troubles they have gotten themselves into until they are too deeply caught to escape the consequences. They were just doing what they were taught to do! This is the danger of a cultural environment that espouses things that are not healthy to the individual or the society.
Anyone, at any time, can turn his life around and take steps in the right direction. However, the fact is that the kind of marriage I am describing is best facilitated by people who have been raised to understand how to properly live such a marriage, and have been properly prepared for it. In other words, children need to be raised in a culture that fosters healthy marriages. A culture of life.
Anyone who has had any involvement with the Natural Family Planning movement has likely heard the joke at some point or other: why is it that NFP instructing couples frequently have so many children? The punch line, of course, is the implication that NFP does not actually work to prevent the birth of children. The answer to this is that, yes, NFP works, but the use of NFP involves a certain way of life, and this includes its moral and right use. The moral and right use in particular includes that the conception of children can only be deliberately avoided through Systematic NFP when sufficiently serious reason exists to do so. This brings us back, once again, to the problem of the contraceptive mentality in our culture today.
The subject of today’s post has been through several iterations. Originally, my idea was to specifically address the problem of widespread contraceptive use. My own foundations for belief about the immorality of contraception comes from Catholic teaching, but what I have come to find is that all practical considerations of this subject return to the same point: the use of contraception is unnatural (and causes unnatural conditions to appear in normal social life), violating above all the sanctity of the union of husband and wife, and is consequently a serious violation of human dignity, both to women and to men. But the contraceptive mentality arises when understanding of what marriage actually is begins to crumble, through poor levels of education and cultural currents that undermine that understanding.
As a result, I began to realize that if there is a widespread use of contraception, this presupposes a different problem: a basically disordered understanding of what marriage is.
Marriage: Natural and Organic
What is needed is a view of marriage which understands that having children is one of the primary purposes of marriage. That is, for whatever other reasons a particular couple may get married (and there are some very important ones), that couple is also getting married to start having children, and, generally speaking, to have as many children as God and nature gives to them.
In other words, couples should not get married without the intention of living a lifestyle of openness to life. A lifestyle of openness to life is one that lives the marriage bond above all in a natural or organic way. It is natural that husband and wife come together in sexual union; it is natural that this union, for most couples, has a possibility of resulting in pregnancy; it is natural that after childbirth a woman will be devoted to her newborn, staying home with the child, and nursing the child; it is natural that this nursing bond between mother and child will prevent the mother’s fertility from returning until the baby has been given sufficient time to grow, organically producing a healthy spacing between the birth of babies in that family; it is natural that this cycle will then repeat itself.
This has to be the primary pattern of married life, and it should only be deliberately altered if sufficiently serious reason exists to do so. The point is, the entire marriage relationship has got to be oriented first towards those purposes that are of highest importance, and one of those purposes is the having of children. If the marriage relationship is oriented first towards making money, or living comfortably, or even towards accomplishing one’s personal dreams or goals (if those dreams or goals are distinct from this purpose of marriage) – this is a marriage that is not ordered properly.
Sufficiently Serious Reason
Now, this does not mean parents have an obligation to have children at the cost of driving their family to homeless life on the street – here again we reiterate that if there exists sufficiently serious reason, then pregnancy can be avoided. Yet this evaluation has to be made in the context of a certain seriousness of mind, understanding and respecting the importance of this purpose of marriage.
It is important to stress that “sufficiently serious reason” here connotes a certain spiritual element, requiring some level of spiritual discernment that cannot be taken out of the context of Catholic moral teaching. However, purely as an external measure, we can tell if families generally are abiding by this rule by whether or not the general culture is one that embraces openness to life. That is, if the common theme in a certain cultural segment is for a married couple to have only one, two, or three children, then we have strong reason to suspect that “sufficiently serious reason” is not really present in the avoidance of pregnancy in this cultural segment. The point is, if things are operating as they should, then a couple has the freedom to determine that they have sufficiently serious reason to avoid another pregnancy, but if this is the case, it should go against the norm of the culture in which they live: as a general rule, marriage must be oriented towards having more children, and this necessarily means that the average number of children per married couple in an area should be more than a mere two or three. There are always exceptions, but this is precisely the point: these exceptions should remain exceptions and not become the rule.
Covenant Love: the Union of Husband and Wife
According to Catholic teaching, marriage has two primary purposes: the union of man and woman, and the having of children. Both of these are equally important, and in no situation can marriage come to be understood to exist without a couple giving themselves fully over to both of these purposes.
This brings us to the next important point: the covenant understanding of marriage, which recognizes that marriage is a covenant between husband and wife, and each time they come together in sexual intercourse, this union should represent a renewal of their marriage vows. In order for such a renewal to be a true renewal, it must reflect the vows made on their wedding day, which stated, among other things, to honor and love one another, for better or for worse, always until death. For this reason, if the sexual union of the two were to include contraception, it would not be a true renewal, since the use of contraception speaks differently from those vows: it is certainly not taking the spouse in total, for better or for worse, but rather the deliberate use of contraception to prevent pregnancy says, “I cherish and honor all of you except your fertility”. The natural disposition, then, if the couple is truly honoring their marriage vows, is a disposition that is open to the conception of more children. To do otherwise is to profane the covenant that exists between husband and wife.
This is also why, if there does exist sufficiently serious reason to prevent the conception of another child, this must be accomplished by natural processes, which respect the marriage covenant and the order of life, and cannot be accomplished through artificial contraceptive methods, which do violence to the marriage covenant and the order of life.
Being open to the conception of children is a duty of every marriage. In the first place, it is a duty that the married couple has towards God, whose first commandment to us was, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).
In the second place, it is a duty the spouses have towards each other. In marriage, fatherhood and motherhood is lived in a certain literal manner, since in marriage there will usually be biological children, and consequently biological fatherhood and motherhood. Thus, for married men or women, the fullest pursuit of fatherhood and motherhood, to which they are called, naturally depends on their being open to the conception of more children. This necessarily depends on both of them. As a result, we can say that husband and wife have a duty towards each other to be open to the conception of new life.
In the third place, it is a duty that a married couple has to the community in which they belong. It is children that represent one of the greatest resources of a community, since it is children who will eventually carry that community on. Consequently, the married couple has a duty to the community – to mankind, as it were – to bring children into the world.
It will be important for us to look at the some of the practical implications of what I have been describing here, and I will do that in my next post. For the time being, this post is entitled, “A Constitution on Family Life”, because the understanding of marriage described here is necessary in order for gender, marriage and family to be understood properly in today’s society.
I played soccer when I was young, and as a soccer player one of the things I would do to practice was to kick a soccer ball back and forth against a wall – usually a concrete or brick one. However, I recall one particular occasion as a child when I was very foolish: I started kicking a soccer ball against a wall that also happened to have a glass window in it. Needless to say, it did not take long before I got a good kick in and sent the ball sailing straight at the window – which shattered upon contact. I suppose it was better that this window was one on my family’s house and not someone else’s. But this was not much consolation for me once my parents got home.
Because, you see, my parents were not home at the time I started kicking the ball against that side of the house, nor were they home when the window shattered.
Actually, my mother did stay home with my siblings and I when we were young (in this case she happened to be out on an errand), and I am enormously grateful to her for making the decision to do this. But these days, particularly among my generation, there aren’t many whose homes see the same commitment. Mom’s aren’t staying home: both parents usually work, and their children are either in school somewhere, or in day care. In the evenings, when everyone returns home, there are frequently sporting events or other after-school activities which take the children, and sometimes the parents, yet again away from the home.
To look at it from another angle, I have heard it said that the center of life for ordinary people today has shifted from the home to the corporate office. Corresponding to this, we see the corporate office all the time becoming more home-like, with all kinds of activities and events being set up which don’t really have anything to do with the job, facilities for people to eat, sleep, relax, and play, and a certain pull to get people out of their cubicles and away from their work to enrich the office community. The natural desire for home life is moving from the home to the office, because that is where most people are spending most of their time.
As one final angle to consider, we can look at the situation in terms of the issue of contraception. Here, matters become a little more clear. The simple fact of life is that a woman who is pregnant is going to be much more greatly impeded in carrying out worldly activities – such as work or school – than she would be if she were not pregnant. Furthermore, as a woman continues to become pregnant, even if she is able to continue with such work during the pregnancy, as the number of her children grows, greater demands will be placed on her as a mother, preventing her all the more from doing these activities. Thus, it is not difficult for us to see that the idea of the highly educated working woman, who leaves the home every day, fits like a glove with the regular use of contraception and the restriction of having only one or two children.
The Heart of the Situation
What is at the heart of all of this? I believe what lies at the heart of these matters goes back to modern conceptions of gender. I have written elsewhere about the traditional Church teaching that as the husband is called the head of the family, so the wife is called the heart. As the wife is called the heart of the family, she is also the heart of the home.
The following is part of the teaching that can be found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent on the duties of wives:
“To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband’s consent.” (1)
This teaching given at the Council of Trent is derived in part from such Scripture passages as 1 Timothy 5:14 (“So I would like younger widows to marry, have children, and manage a home, so as to give the adversary no pretext for maligning us”) and Titus 2:3-5:
“Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.”
Of course, this teaching would also have been derived from common sense and practical considerations of the cultural environment of the times. And this is why I bring these teachings up now. There is a simple fact of life that has been true since God first fashioned Adam and Eve, and will be true until the end of time: generally speaking, a person can only do one thing at a time. Due to the nature of pregnancy and child-rearing, it is evident that a woman can only be reasonably expected to work or study most effectively while she is not pregnant and raising her children. There are of course some women who are gifted so as to be able to successfully manage both; but there are a great many more who get the modern message that they should do both of these tasks but eventually find that doing both is only managed with enormous difficulty and often results in one or the other of the two suffering in quality.
The Modern Super Woman
It is ridiculous for us to presume that it would be otherwise. Among Catholic circles, there is a curious phenomenon that has developed: Catholic mothers increasingly are aware of the need for the Culture of Life; they are increasingly aware that the large family is truly a kind of Catholic-family ideal; but they are also aware of the push of the modern culture. The result from the combination of these two things is a truly preposterous situation: a demand has developed for the Catholic super-woman; the woman who can have eight, ten, or twelve children, raise them and educate them, but also be the manager of a radio program, or be a magazine editor, or a corporate executive – in other words, a woman who can somehow also balance a successful career enterprise along with having her large family.
There may be one woman in a hundred (or a thousand) who is capable of such successful balance, and she is often singled out and then presented before everyone. But behind the scenes there are 99 (or 999) other women who do not have such skill, but they experience the same demand. These feel the pressure of implication that they are less worthy because they cannot do both, and sometimes the consequence of this is that the having and raising of children gets put to the side in favor of career.
The Real Need
The fact is, there is a real need today for a cultural environment to develop in which women remain in the home. It is not coincidence that traditional Church teaching affirmed this: it corresponds perfectly to the natural state of affairs of marriage and family life. Today, as we reject this pattern of women remaining in the home, we increasingly see the family suffering. Contraception comes to be considered as having such great importance that it is thought that women should have free access to it, and it is viewed as necessary in order for a woman to live a complete life. The implication, of course, is that her natural fertility works against her.
The fact remains that natural tendencies and practical necessities guide us towards this order in which a woman channels her intelligence and skills towards the betterment and wholesomeness of the home and the family that is nurtured there.
A New Paradigm
What I think will help for the development of a culture in which women can remain in the home is for a new paradigm to be introduced. This paradigm has to honor the fundamental human dignity of all women, while at the same time casting down the materialism of our times which leads so many today to conclude that career work is the most important work we can do in the world.
What is needed here is a paradigm which teaches women to participate in the world through the home. That is, we need women to devote themselves to things such as:
(1) striving to create a household environment that is full of life and peace;
(2) working to ensure that children are raised with good conduct, manners, and morals so as to produce mature adults that are a grace to the outside world rather than a hardship;
(3) having interactions with the outside world that are not based on, or modeled after, the masculine functions of men but are instead based on the heart of a mother, for example:
a. extending the mothering instinct to the community through charity and volunteer work, especially for those in need of particular help, with the intention of improving and nurturing human life within that community;
b. reaching out to family and friends for purposes including increased unity and support within the community;
c. the training of younger women in the functions and roles of women in society.
The purpose of this ideal of wives remaining at home is not to restrict women to a certain space, or to specifically exclude them from other parts of society, as happens in other cultures where the dignity of women is not honored as it should be. Rather, this ideal of women remaining in the home refers to a wife’s priorities. Specifically, the priorities of women should be ordered towards, and remain in, the home.
To be ordered towards the home means that these priorities cannot simply be worldly work that is transferred to the home. For example, the idea here is not that women will just bring all of their career work home with them, and do that work from home. The idea is that women will let the career work go and devote themselves to the tasks of homemaking and of taking care of the needs of the family that lives in that home. That is what it means for the priorities of women to be ordered towards the home.
Relating to this is the work of women who are not married. While it is true that unmarried women will frequently not have the same responsibilities as a married woman, and thus will be free to pursue other types of activities, we must be very careful. In order to create the cultural environment in which wives can remain in the home, we must of necessity do away with the idea that it is better for a woman to work in the world of career than to perform the work of a mother and homemaker, her priorities being ordered towards the home. This is only possible if women in general – and not just married women – adhere to this. Otherwise, a contrary trend will develop that will once again work against the cultural environment that allows the married woman to remain in the home.
This is why even those women who will never marry, such as religious sisters or nuns, or those living a chaste single life, must all have worldly interactions that are based upon the heart of a mother, and not based upon or modeled after the masculine functions of men. Thus, it should be a relatively rare and unique situation in which we find women of any circumstance working in the world of career. While such women will be present at times, and must be honored in their work, they must remain the exception rather than the rule, and certainly cannot be celebrated as performing a more valuable function than other women.
Furthermore, in circumstances where women do work in such areas, both the equality and the inequality of the genders must continue to be honored. Thus, for a woman working in these environments, there must not be any pressure for her to be considered the same as the men with whom she works. At the same time, of course, she must not be prevented by unjust discrimination from doing her job or from obtaining just wage increases or position advancements.
Still, we must not lose sight of the right order. This should manifest itself in a general encouragement given to all women, but particularly young women, to pursue marriage and home life, or religious life, and not career work, unless it is out of true necessity.
The Culture of Life
Ultimately, this culture of wives remaining in the home is a step that must be made in order for the Culture of Life to succeed. The reason for this is that the entire process of pregnancy, birth, nursing, and child-rearing is greatly facilitated by an environment in which women generally remain at home, and is inhibited or frustrated, or in general made much more difficult, when they do not. Furthermore, in order to raise this pattern of wives remaining at home to the high level of dignity that it should have, older women, or unmarried women, must serve as examples leading younger women and married women towards this same pattern of home life, instead of doing the opposite. For career is naturally opposed to mothering, since both demand significant time and attention, and there is only so much time in the day and one only has so much capacity to divide one’s attention. As long as career is valued as more important than mothering, the family will continue to suffer and these cultural changes will not take root.
What is truly needed is for people to understand that the greater things in life, the more important things, are less about money, power, and material comfort, and more about love, sacrifice, honor, and spiritual duty. Openness to children in marriage is a duty of every marriage. Yet, this duty will continue to be suppressed while we go about believing that the greatest work we can do is to work in the office, or write a famous book, or produce a hugely-successful movie, or get a master’s degree. We must recognize that far more important than all of these are the spiritual duties of fatherhood and motherhood.
Every last man among us is called to fatherhood; every last woman among us is called to motherhood. If we are married, then we are called to these things in a particularly literal way; but if we are not presently married, even if we will not ever marry, then we are called to them in a more spiritual sense – but still called.
In conclusion, I cited earlier that we call the wife the heart of the home. Truly, home is where the heart is, so where are our hearts and where are our homes?
1. Catechism of the Council of Trent: The Sacrament of Matrimony. Duties of a Wife. http://www.catholicapologetics.info/thechurch/catechism/Holy7Sacraments-Matrimony.shtml