My reason being that I know what it’s like to have a deep awareness of and longing for something that you don’t quite (or at all, even a little bit) know how to achieve. Due to an unfortunate erasure of the collective memory, many of us have been in the position of recreating something, the form of which we hardly can conceive. And some of us are seriously impaired and could use a lift from someone who’s gone down the road before.
Part of the struggle is utterly practical. And part of it — the part where we have to fight through early indoctrination and latent, subconscious habit — is theoretical.
It’s the theoretical that I decided to tackle with this reading of Casti Connubii (so quaintly called Chaste Marriage in plain, 19th century — because Pius XI, writing in 1930, was a 19th century kind of guy — English). I would put it to you that it’s well worth it to figure out how the unbroken tradition of the Church interprets Scripture in the light of current problems, which is essentially the definition of an encyclical, LMLD-style.
Not to shy away from the tough bits, I would like to expand on a few points that are going to be stumbling blocks for your average 21st-century gal.
1. … as though to suggest that the license of a base fornicating woman should enjoy the same rights as the chaste motherhood of a lawfully wedded wife. (50)
As dear Jenny said in a comment, this seems to be the harshest statement in the document. He’s talking about redefining marriage and taking the procreative act out of the context of marriage. The whole encyclical is directed towards women. He’s taking feminists at their word and giving his answer to what they propose, which is nothing less than a tectonic shift in human relations — one based on power rather than love.
You might wish that he would talk directly to men, and maybe someday there would be an encyclical about men: Husband, Father, Leader. I would like to see that.
You can’t have it both ways, though — getting upset that everything is about men, and then getting upset that everything is about women.
This is how I read this passage: There is an honor that is specifically reserved for the woman when she bears a child in wedlock, and, given the magnitude of what the sexual act means to the woman — the long-term consequences for her and her child, should she conceive, and the ultimate difference it makes in her life and the lives of her children whether she is married or not — it is only justice to acknowledge that.
It’s a mercy to state it plainly. The effects of not doing so are all around us, and I won’t belabor them.
2. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. (74)
and… for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as amongst the pagans the mere instrument of man. (75)
Don’t let your reaction to this one be, at bottom, a question of style, one way or another. The whole notion of submission, or subjection, or obedience — and, conversely of leadership and headship — is not about changing your personality or essential way of grappling with reality.
The problem is that we all have the tendency to confuse equal with same.
So, when, for instance, John Paul II comes along with Familiaris Consortio (another document of lesser stature than this one that should, nevertheless, be read!) and speaks of “mutual subjection,” we forget that two people can be equally devoted to each other, but not in an identical way.
The wife’s being subject to her husband is about two things, one really big thing and one really little thing. The big thing is that she be willing to go where he goes. As the Irish say, that she hang her washing up with his, that she be buried with his people.
Their relationship won’t last long and their children will suffer if an extreme case arises that threatens to separate them, and it can’t be resolved by whatever means they normally employ.
The little thing is that she be willing to respect him and to show him that she respects him. I call that one little because it has to do with her tone, her attention, and her fundamental bonding to him as a person whose state — not necessarily personality or qualifications — bestow on him the right to be called the head of the family. It’s something she gives to him, freely, willingly.
So do you see how those two things are connected? One big, one little. One macro, one micro, let’s put it that way.
In between is the whole range of human activity and decision-making that can go lots of different ways, depending on how two people are constituted — and that no one is saying anything about how you should handle!
This is another effect of thinking “sameness”: We women get anxious thinking that all women should be the same — that you are going to impose your way of interpreting something on me, and make me go around as quiet as a mouse, never to be able to speak my mind again!
And that is just not going to happen.
If you are by nature compliant, that’s you! True, you might try to be a little more assertive, in charity.
If you are by nature someone who pushes back, who speaks out (not that I know anything about this), you might try to soften a little.
And of course, there’s the personality of the husband as well. And then there is the way the two personalities mix. Only God could sort it all out! And He does, by being very encouraging of our freedom, contrary to what most people think.
In Scripture, as in these documents, it’s abundantly clear that the husband has to be just as devoted as his wife — possibly more so, unto death.
The fact is that most men in America are afraid of women, and women in our day have been trained to be, well, obnoxious — specifically towards their husbands. So that is why reading this sort of thing is a good corrective. But you have to know yourself.
And as time goes by in a marriage, experience shows the wisdom of this “division of labor” — husbands love your wives/wives submit to your husbands — because the characteristic fault of the husband is to treat his wife in a loveless manner (even if he really does love her), exerting his power over her — and the characteristic fault of the wife is to complain about and boss and nag her husband (and really not to respect him much).
A little secret? Wives even sometimes overtly submit to their husbands but in a particularly over-tolerant and uncharitable way! They make their husbands feel stupid, while pretending to be submissive!
Oh, it’s a tricky business! No one wants your submission if that’s what it’s going to be like!
Be free, be real, be kind.
The same spirit of freedom and devotion goes for working or not working. Can’t you see that circumstances make all the difference? A woman to whom God has given say, one child, may have much more opportunity to work outside the home than one who has many children. She may not. But, depending on their attitude, each may be equally “enthroned” in her home as its heart and queen — or, sadly, not.
That is why Pius XI says this:
As, however, the social and economic conditions of the married woman must in some way be altered on account of the changes in social intercourse, it is part of the office of the public authority to adapt the civil rights of the wife to modern needs and requirements, keeping in view what the natural disposition and temperament of the female sex, good morality, and the welfare of the family demands, and provided always that the essential order of the domestic society remain intact, founded as it is on something higher than human authority and wisdom, namely on the authority and wisdom of God, and so not changeable by public laws or at the pleasure of private individuals. (77)
Unfortunately, we have more than realized his prophecies. The “emancipation” way isn’t working. It’s led to a war of women against men, with children as the collateral damage.
That can’t be. It’s worth overcoming our anxieties to find out what God’s plan really is, and submit to that, men and women alike.