& Roman
Christian Order
Read Christian Order
Main Page


June/July 2002

The idea of a divinely instituted hierarchy in family life, the embodiment of natural law, has been all but destroyed by feminism and the catastrophic hyper-egalitarianism of neo-Enlightenment thinking. In the December 2001 edition, Mr Dilsaver laid out the constant teaching of the Church on the patriarchal hierarchy of the family. In this important sequel he considers John Paul II's personal, innovative view of this teaching and how it might be integrated into the traditional doctrine of Christian patriarchy. It is important that a distinction be made between that written as a private theologian and that as Pope; hence the use of his given name when discussing private writings and the use of his papal name when discussing papal writings.

Karol Wojtyla and the
Patriarchal Hierarchy of the Family

His Exegetical Comment on Ephesians 5:21-33 and Genesis 3:16


The intent of the following study of Karol Wojtyla’s writings is to locate certain innovative and, as such, controversial aspects of them within the corpus of magisterial teachings on familial patriarchy - that is, to attempt to position them for integration as a legitimate development of doctrine. Indeed, it is this integration that will give rise to the further development of the doctrine of Christian patriarchy. In attempting to locate the following passages within the corpus of previous Church teachings, it must be recognized that there is no charism inherent in the papal office, much less that of the function of a private theologian, that would guarantee that all theologically progressive utterances of a pope are in fact a valid development of doctrine. Since it is not within the competency of this study to make any conclusive judgments concerning specific issues of valid development of doctrine, an attempt will be made to present arguments that support the possibility of such an integration. For, finally, only that which can be construed in harmony with the doctrine of Christian patriarchy, that which leaves intact the singular headship of the Christian husband and father, has the possibility of being a legitimate development of doctrine. Since the discussion of the roles of men and women is bound to touch on social and political issues—issues not of a spiritual nature—certain observations of Wojtyla may not be by their nature admissible to the body of Church doctrine, but rather prudential applications tied to time and place. Such non-doctrinal applications are unlike the teachings on familial hierarchy itself, which have been taught over the span of Church history as a spiritual doctrine at the very heart of the sacrament of marriage.

Finally, if the following study were to undermine the very principles which it sought to uphold - that is, those of Christian hierarchy - it would be a senseless exercise. To avoid such an undermining, the critique only compares the present pontiff's writings with previous pontifical writings or established teachings of the Church, and, as such, does not challenge the authority and dignity of the papacy as a whole, or the pontificate of John Paul II specifically. To this end, only the most essential points of criticism have been included.


Pope John Paul II has used his Wednesday catechesis conference to read much of his private theological works. Among these is The Theology of Marriage and Celibacy. In this work, Karol Wojtyla (as a private theologian, since this work was completed prior to his ascending to the papacy) introduces the novel concept of "mutual submission" in his exegesis of Ephesians 5.(1) The scriptural passage reads:

"Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church" [Eph 5:21-24].

Wojtyla takes the first sentence, which at face value simply gives the ultimate reason why one is to be submissive, and gives it a specific prescriptive meaning: "The author speaks of mutual subjection of the spouses, husband and wife, and in this way explains the words which he will write afterwards on the subjection of the wife to the husband."(2) From this first premise, Wojtyla deduces that "the husband and wife are in fact 'subject to one another,' and are mutually subordinate to one another." Furthermore, he states: "Love makes the husband simultaneously subject to the wife, and thereby subject to the Lord Himself, just as the wife to the husband"(3) [emphasis mine]. This novel premise of "mutual submission" is properly viewed as an interpretation rather than as a translation of the passage; for the author of Ephesians does not explicitly "speak of mutual submission of the spouses," nor does this concept appear in the rest of Holy Scripture or any previous magisterial or authoritative exegesis of this passage.

Wojtyla's "mutual submission" in orthodox context
To construe the interpretative concept of "mutual submission" as a development of doctrine (that is, as an integral growth from, and harmonious with, previous Church teachings and exegesis) requires an expanded understanding of the word "submission." It is true that a husband, in a certain sense, submits himself to his wife by giving his life for her; though this broadening of the term has never been employed by the Church in her exegesis of the Ephesians 5 or her teaching on marriage. By broadening the term "submission," the term acquires an analogous meaning. It cannot be applied exactly the same to both husband and wife, but only in a somewhat similar manner. This analogous broadening of the term is necessary to keep intact the previously understood meaning, i.e., that of a hierarchical order. If, on the other hand, Wojtyla's statement that a husband submits to his wife "just as" she submits to him, is construed to mean that this submission is identical, then the understanding of the term "submission" would not be analogous but rather univocal. But such an univocal understanding would necessarily contradict a hierarchical order as enunciated in previous magisterial pronouncements, and thus bar it from being incorporated into the corpus of authentic Church teachings. An orthodox construal, then, requires that Wojtyla’s "mutual submission of the spouses" be seen as an analogous submission, where the man paradoxically submits himself to a life of authority that entails both headship and sacrificial service.

Elsewhere in this exegesis of Ephesians 5, Wojtyla asserts that by the passage "'wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord'... the author does not intend to say that the husband is the 'lord' of the wife...." For this statement to be construed as harmonious with previous Church teachings on the subject, "lord" must be understood in a strictly pejorative sense; that is, as a "lording over" abuse of authority or, as Wojtyla says in the same passage, an understanding of a husband's lordly position as "a one-sided domination."(4) But the other meaning of 'lord,' the positive meaning, must not thereby by seen as discarded, for the husband as "lord of the wife" is not only intrinsic to the Church’s teachings on familial hierarchy, but also in accord with the most fundamental principle of biblical exegesis. This first exegetical principle is to interpret scriptural passages in light of other similar writings of the day, most especially companion scriptural writings. In the epistle of St. Peter, Christian wives are exhorted to imitate the "holy women of the past..., like Sarah, who was obedient to Abraham, and called him her lord." [1 Peter 3:5-6] (N.B. Emphasis is that of the text.) So too, the rest of the Pauline letters continually stress patriarchal hierarchy.(5)

It is the clause "give way to one another in the Lord" at the beginning of the Ephesians' passage that Wojtyla uses as the cornerstone of his novel exegesis of Ephesians 5. Yet to construe "give way to one another in the Lord" as a universal prescription of mutual, univocal submission would, in effect, do away with all hierarchical order, including that of the parents and children, magisterium and faithful, and government and citizens. Instead, a reading of the entire passage in accord with simple grammatical logic clearly shows that "give way to one another in the Lord" indicates both the source of legitimate authority and the spirit of dutiful submission. The author of Ephesians goes on to delineate some specific domestic relationships of authority and submission that find their source and spirit in the Lord, beginning with that which is the model for the rest, the relation of man and wife. If Wojtyla's use of the term "mutual submission" were to be taken in a univocal sense, and hence isolated from previous Church exegesis of the passage, then it would follow that not only is a man to submit to his wife, but, as Ephesians goes on to delineate domestic relations, parents are to submit to their children as well.

If the term "submission" is construed in an implicit, secondary manner that includes a man's—or a parent's—giving of his life in sacrificial service of those under his authority, then the explicit, primary meaning which entails a hierarchical structure remains intact. Wojtyla's exegesis must be viewed as an implicit, secondary development of the passage in order to position it in the light of previous magisterial teachings and exegesis. The primary, explicit meaning, the meaning previously asserted by the Church, is that which is derived from a simple reading of the passage.

John Paul II's purifying of hierarchy
Publishing as Pope, John Paul II’s most authoritative pronouncement to date on the issue of familial hierarchy, in the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, contains a puzzling passage that employs a historical-critical methodology in its exegesis and seems to equate familial patriarchy with slavery:

"The awareness that in marriage there is mutual 'subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ,' and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behaviour and customs. St. Paul not only wrote: 'In Christ Jesus... there is no more man or woman,' but also wrote: 'There is no more slave or freeman.' Yet how many generations were needed for such a principle to be realized in the history of humanity through the abolition of slavery!"(6)

Here, as elsewhere in his papal pronouncements, John Paul II uses his private writings as a basis and reference; that is, he is premising his argument on "in marriage there is a ‘mutual subjection’ of the spouses out of reverence for Christ'." As such, John Paul II's use of quotation marks here can also be somewhat misleading. Elsewhere in the passage the use of quotation marks refers to a direct quotation of a scriptural passage, yet here they are not enclosing a scriptural quotation, but rather a highly interpretative extrapolation of a scriptural passage. The point being, it is important to keep in mind that "mutual subjection of the spouses" is not a given scriptural or doctrinal premise, but rather a concept that comes from Wojtyla's work as a private theologian.

It is the use of this principle of mutual submission that gives rise to the belief of some that John Paul II has circumvented or even negated the Church's traditional exegesis of Ephesians 5 and the derived teaching on the patriarchal hierarchy of the family. But again, in keeping with the intent of viewing the writings in harmony with previous teachings, the concept of mutual submission must be seen as making way for the promotion of an authentic Christian patriarchy based on the kingly, yet sacrificial model of Christ, or at least not implying any diminishment of the doctrine of familial patriarchal authority. So too, his comparison of the state of wifely submission to that of slavery must be viewed as a desire to do away with a worldly, or pagan patriarchy of brute dominance, while promoting an authentic Christian patriarchy based solely on the commission of Christ. Such a development purifies and defines the unique nature of Christian authority and patriarchy; it does not do away with it, but rather elevates it.

Wojtyla's re-construction of Ephesians 5
It is not possible to discount the entirety of Ephesians 5 as non-essential or to delete it, as is being done in the readings in many parishes and dioceses. For this same passage is the primary scriptural basis for the ecclesiological doctrine that Christ is the head of the Church and that the Church is His bride. In addition, this passage provides the primary scriptural basis for the doctrine of the unity and singularity of the Church, as well as the matrimonial principles of exclusivity. However, in his private theological work Catechesis on Marriage and Celibacy, Wojtyla downplays Ephesians 5’s essential theme of patriarchal hierarchy of the family in an effort to eliminate any abusive use of the passage to justify male brute domination. Therefore, in order to keep intact the ecclesiology and marital theology, while at the same time attempting to remedy any misuse of Ephesians 5, Wojtyla mutes the patriarchal theme by vigorously reworking the passage.

The novel exegetical re-vamping that Wojtyla employs is based on the following extra-textual assumption: that the ecclesial\familial analogy is used not to show how the relationship of man and wife is a reflection of the spiritual union of Christ and the Church, but rather that the analogy is used as a sort of parable of the time, employing that culture's experience of marriage to illuminate the relationship of Christ and the Church. Wojtyla advances that in order to properly understand Ephesians 5:21, the text must be read in a reverse manner ("to re-read the analogy inversely") than which it is written and that this reworking of the text is the "normative" reading and renders the primary meaning ("to express first of all....") of the passage:

"Marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians as spouses only if, precisely, that love is reflected and effected therein. This will become clear if we attempt to reread the Pauline analogy inversely, that is, beginning with the relationship of Christ to the Church and turning next to the relationship of husband and wife in marriage.... We can presume that the author, who has already explained that the submission of the wife to the husband as head is intended as reciprocal submission 'out of reverence for Christ,' goes back to the concept rooted in the mentality of the time, to express first of all the truth concerning the relationship of Christ to the Church...."(7)

Wojtyla here seems to conclude that the author of Ephesians was not elucidating primarily upon the relationship of man and wife, but upon that of the Church and Christ, and that the headship of the man and submission of the wife were merely accidental examples: an example that today is passé due to its cultural basis.(8) By proposing that the author of Ephesians face value analogy is not to be read analogously unless we "re-read the Pauline analogy inversely," and that such an inversion's focus on Christ and the Church is what the author desired "to express first of all," Wojtyla is able to turn the passage into an ecclesial statement primarily, while relegating its domestic prescription to an accidental, cultural status. Still, it must be noted that "the mentality of the times" was not tending toward patriarchy, but quite the opposite.(9) In fact, the many exhortations in the Epistles concerning patriarchal familial and ecclesial hierarchy were necessitated by the feminism of the times, especially among the upper class in cosmopolitan Roman cities or colonies such as Ephesus.

Wojtyla's re-construction of Ephesians 5:21 is accomplished by changing the literary device used by the author of Ephesians from that of typification to that of parable. Typification is a literary device that shows how essential characteristics and internal relations of a subtype are derived from a prototype. Parable is a literary device used to illustrate a sublime truth by comparing it to a common occurrence. Typification is used to bring out a truth about the more mundane concept, in the case of Ephesians 5:21 the truth of the domestic order. Whereas parable is used to illuminate the more sublime concept, which in Wojtyla's reconstruction is the relation of Christ and the Church. By changing the literary device of the passage from that of typification to that of parable Wojtyla is thus able to render the passage a discourse on ecclesiological rather than on domestic relations.

Constant Church Teaching on Ephesians 5
Yet the Church has always taught that marriage is modeled on Christ's relationship with the Church. Indeed the sacramentality of marriage is due to it being a type of the union of Christ and His Church. That is, marriage as type derives or patterns its character and internal dynamics from the prototype, Christ and the Church. Marriage as type is temporal; Christ's relation with the Church as prototype is eternal, lasting not only beyond marriage, but somehow preceding it is as well. That is why St. Paul can imply that the union of man and wife as it was in the pre-fallen state, where a man leaves his father and mother and becomes one flesh with his wife, is because of the pre-existing prototype of Christ and the Church. The Church has always considered the Ephesians 5:21 passage as one that typifies the relation of husband and wife in accord with the prototype relation of Christ and the Church:

"In His most far-reaching foresight God thus decreed that husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race. [Footnoted as follows:] As fact and as symbol, nothing could be more beautiful and significant than this act of God. It is all a marvel of His love, the climax of which is reached in the institution of Matrimony, imaging the mystical nuptials of Christ with His Bride, the Church, taken from his own open side in His sleep of death upon the cross. In that union of Christ with His Church we have for all time the model of every Christian marriage"(10) [Emphasis mine].

Finally, St. Thomas says, "a type is a protestation of the truth, and therefore can never be detracted from in the slightest degree."

In addition, the reading of Ephesians 5:21 as a typification - meant to bring out a truth about the marital relationship by deriving that truth from the illustration of Christ's relation with the Church - is warranted by the context of the rest of the chapter, which is clearly a treatise on proper Christian behaviour, both personal and domestic, as opposed to a treatise on ecclesiology. This typification does not, however, diminish the ecclesiological import of the passage. Unlike the literary device of parable, in which the mundane illustration is poetical and is not intended to convey a truth about itself (e.g. the parable of the labourers in the vineyard [Mt. 20:1-16] is not intended as an economic statement on just wages), the use of typification necessarily asserts the higher truth of the illustrated prototype.

Wojtyla further seeks to transform Ephesians 5 by the statement that the author of Ephesians "has already explained that the submission of the wife to the husband as head is intended as reciprocal submission 'out of reverence for Christ'." This imputes a meaning to the phrase "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" that is manifestly not explained by the author of Ephesians in the extended manner subsequently developed by Wojtyla.

If Wojtyla's novel extrapolation of "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," is not to be viewed as derived from a premise that is totally outside the context of either scripture or tradition, it must be interpreted in the context of not only the rest of the passage but the other Pauline and Petrine epistles as well. It thus must be considered to be in harmony with the traditional teaching on familial patriarchy, regardless of its lack of reiteration of that teaching, and intended only to eliminate that which is a distortion of that teaching, i.e., a male brute and pagan dominance. Nor, it may confidently be supposed, does Wojtyla's characterization of the passage as "rooted in the mentality of the times" reflect an intent to implement the historical-critical method in an effort to deconstruct and eliminate one of the Church's constant teachings.


In Mulieris Dignitatem, section 10, Pope John Paul II refers to one of the consequences of original sin: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" [Gn 3:16]. The Holy Father writes:

"This domination indicates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and the women possess in the unity of the two.... The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot become the object of domination and male possession…. The words of the Book of Genesis quoted previously (3:16) show how...the inclination to sin, will burden the mutual relationship of man and woman."

Here, neither the assertion of fundamental equality, nor the condemnation of woman as "an object of domination and a male possession," is contrary to authentic Christian patriarchy. The former is but the assertion of the equal dignity of men and women, the latter is but the condemnation of a pagan or worldly patriarchal order based on power.

Yet further on in Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II's use of phrases such as "fundamental equality" and "a unity of two ... called to exist mutually one for the other," are liable to be construed as implying that before the Fall there was no hierarchical order: "These words of Genesis [3:16] refer directly to marriage, but indirectly they concern the different spheres of social life: the situations in which the woman remains disadvantaged or discriminated against by the fact of being a woman. The revealed truth concerning the creation of the human being as male and female [i.e. as fundamentally equal before the Fall] constitutes the principle argument against all the objectively injurious and unjust situations which contain and express the inheritance of sin. . . ."(11) An example of "injurious and unjust situations" is given in Familiaris Consortio: "the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of 'machismo,' or a wrong superiority of male prerogative which humiliates women [i.e. "causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships"]" (para. 25). Again, the Holy Father's words, in harmony with constant Church teaching, must be applied to "a wrong superiority" rather than to all patriarchal prerogative. So too, while there was no sin before the Fall and hence no sinful domination, there still existed a patriarchal order.(12) Pope John Paul II's teaching then, understood in the light of constant Church teaching, advances that Christ purified and restored marriage to its pristine but still patriarchal state, eradicating not familial hierarchy but rather that which was a sinful perversion of it.

As a final note on Mulieris Dignitatem, it should be mentioned that John Paul II did not intend to convey a dogmatic statement when he writes: "that the first sin is the sin of man, created by God male and female. It is also the sin of the 'first parents,' to which is connected its hereditary character. In this sense we call it 'original sin'" (Sec. 9). For strictly speaking, though the first sin was that of Eve, it was the second sin of Adam, as head of the human race, which was original sin.(13)

Restoring preternatural hierarchy
Christ, indeed came to restore the dignity and loftiness of marriage to its preternatural state, and, indeed, to raise it above that state. But that state was not one of total non-hierarchical equality, but rather a patriarchal hierarchy based on the very authority of Christ. Christ's restoration of marriage then entails not the elimination of the patriarchal hierarchy of the family, but rather its elevation from a sinful, worldly context: which is exactly what St. Paul and all subsequent positive magisterial pronouncements on the subject have strongly affirmed.

Secondly, the consequences of original sin have not traditionally been considered sinful in themselves, nor results of an inclination to sin, but rather as embodying "remedies that limit the damaging effects of sin."(14) Nor did Christ do away with the effects of original sin, but rather made them the very means of man's sanctification (i.e. the redemptive nature of suffering, such as childbirth and manual labour). So while the punishments prescribed in Genesis do not give husbands a license for sinful domination (just as they do not give an employer a license for exploitation of his labourers), they do establish a woman's need ("desire" or "yearning" for) her husband and a husband's ruling position. It is the disorder of sin that necessitates that ruling, the act of "making straight," is an integral part of headship.

That which is prescribed in Genesis as a result of the Fall may be to some extent alleviated (though not to a degree that they no longer act as "remedies that limit the damaging effects of sin"), but there should be no attempt to circumvent or do away with them since they were divinely ordained.


In the same manner as those that feel free to delete from the Deposit of Faith any teaching that was not repeated in the Documents of Vatican II (which is the vast majority of Church teaching) by claiming its exclusion is its rescission, there are those that wish to discard the traditional teaching of the Church on familial patriarchy due to John Paul II's non-reiteration of that teaching. But non-reiteration is neither rescission nor repudiation. While the papal charism disallows formal statements of heresy, it does not compel positive statements of orthodoxy. When John Paul II's writings on patriarchy are read in the contextual harmony with previous magisterial pronouncements on the subject they must needs be viewed as having the primary intent of eradicating that which has in the past masqueraded as a Christian patriarchy. John Paul II’s writings, then, can be seen as paving the way for the establishment of an authentic Christian patriarchy, a patriarchy purified of all brutish dominance and worldly power and based firmly on Christ and his commission of authority as per traditional exegesis and teaching.

The author has a Masters degree in theology from the John Paul II Institute and is currently studying for a doctorate in psychology, working on the formulation of an authentic Catholic clinical theory and practice. He can be contacted at



(1) See "The Principle of Christian Patriarchal Hierarchy," Christian Order, December 2001, pp.655-657, for the traditional exegesis of this passage.

(2) John Paul II, General Audience, Catechesis on Marriage and Celibacy in the Light of the Resurrection of the Body (11 August 1982) sec. 3.

(3) Ibid., sec. 4.

(4) This pejorative use of "lord," in the sense of "lording over," can be seen in the writings of H. Balthasar on the Papacy. Balthasar's ardent intent, nonetheless, is to preserve and strengthen authentic papal authority.

(5) 1Cor 7:1-7; 11:1-16; 14:33-38; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-21; 1Tim 2:8-15; TI 2:1-10.

(6)John Paul II, apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, (15 August 1988) Ch. VI, Sec. 24.

(7) John Paul II, Catechesis on Marriage and Celibacy; sec. 3, 4, 5.

(8) Ibid., sec. 6.

(9) See "Ancient Paganism," Christian Order, December 2001, pp. 650-51.

(10) Leo XIII, Arcanum, encyclical, 1880.

(11) Ibid.

(12) See "Preternatural State," Christian Order, December 2001, pp.648-650.

(13) If only Eve had sinned, there would have been no original sin nor Fall. The pivotal dogmatic teaching on original sin states that it was through Adam exclusively that humanity inherited its consequences. In light of the dogma of original sin as committed and transmitted exclusively by Adam, it is irrefutable that Adam in his preternatural state had a most august and crucial headship that was not found in Eve.

(14) Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1609.