MULIERIS DIGNITATEM - JOHN PAUL II
"... Of fundamental importance here are the words of the Letter to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
that he might present the Church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives..." (5:25-32) ...
Corresponding to the truth of this institution is the exhortation: “Husbands, love your wives”, love them because of that special and unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become “one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31). In this love there
is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched. This is precisely the way Christ acts as the bridegroom of the Church; he desires that
she be “in splendour, without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27). One can say that this fully captures the whole “style” of Christ in dealing with women. Husbands should make their own the elements of this style
in regard to their wives; analogously, all men should do the same in regard to women in every situation. In this way both men and women bring about “the sincere gift of self”.
The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife” (5:22-23).
The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ” (cf. Eph 5:21).
This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life.
However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual.
In relation to the “old” this is evidently something “new”: it is an innovation of the Gospel. We find various passages in which the apostolic writings express this innovation, even though they also communicate what is “old”: what is rooted
in the religious tradition of Israel, in its way of understanding and explaining the sacred texts, as for example the second chapter of the Book of Genesis.49
The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an environment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The “innovation” of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message
and is the result of the Redemption. However, 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. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew. Saint 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! And what is one to say of the
many forms of slavery to which individuals and peoples are subjected, which have not yet disappeared from history?
But the challenge presented by the “ethos” of the Redemption is clear and definitive. All the reasons in favour of the “subjection” of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a “mutual subjection”
of both “out of reverence for Christ”. ...”