The Husband-Wife Relationship in Ephesians 5, 21-23

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Exegesis of the text given at General Audience, August 11, 1982.

Today we begin a more detailed analysis of the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-23. The author, addressing husbands and wives, recommends them to be "subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (5:21)....

The mutual relations of husband and wife should flow from their common relationship with Christ. The author of the letter speaks of the "reverence for Christ" in a sense analogous to that when he speaks of the "fear of God". In this case it is not a question of fear which is a defensive attitude before the threat of evil, but it is above all a case of respect for holiness, for the sacrum....

The mystery of Christ, penetrating their hearts, engendering in them that holy "reverence for Christ" (namely, pietas). should lead them to "be subject to one another": the mystery of Christ, that is, the mystery of the choice from eternity of each of them in Christ "to be the adoptive sons" of God.

In fact we read: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). In saying this, the author does not intend to say that the husband is the "lord" of the wife and that the interpersonal pact proper to marriage is a pact of the domination of the husband over the wife.

Instead, he expresses a different concept; that is, that the wife can and should find in her relationship with Christ—who is the one Lord of both the spouses—the motivation of the relationship with her husband which flows from the very essence of marriage and of the family.

Such a relationship, however, is not one of one-sided domination. Marriage, according to the Letter to the Ephesians, excludes that element of the pact which was a burden and at times, does not cease to be a burden on this institution.

The husband and the wife are in fact "subject to one another", and are mutually subordinated to one another. The source of this mutual subjection is to be found in Christian pietas, and it's expression is love.

The author of the letter underlines this love in a special way, in addressing himself to husbands. He writes: "You husbands love your wives...", and by expressing himself in this way, he removes any fear that might have arisen (given the modern sensitivity) from the previous phrase: "Wives, be subject to your husbands".

Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband, an object of unilateral domination.

Love makes the husband simultaneously subject to the wife, and thereby subject to the Lord himself, just as the wife to the husband.

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