Friday, April 29, 2016

Is Patrarchy a punishment for sin?

Chaucer's Wife of Bath. What is it
all women desire?
In my last post I considered the claim that all the many Scriptural texts saying that wives should be subordinate to their husbands should be read in light of Ephesians 5:21's reference to the 'mutual submission' of Christians. Here I want to address another argument, based on Genesis 3:16, or rather the second half of it. It is part of the curse of God on Eve after the Fall (King James Version):

your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.

The curse implies that the harmonious relationship between husband and wife, which was Adam and Eve's in Eden, will be disrupted by sin.

Pope St John Paul II suggests, or perhaps 'hints' would be a better word, that the ruling of the husband over the wife which this verse speaks of, can be seen as a part of the consequences of the Fall which can be seen as reversed in the Christian dispensation. Mulieres dignitatem 11:

Mary means, in a sense, a going beyond the limit spoken of in the Book of Genesis (3: 16) and a return to that "beginning" in which one finds the "woman" as she was intended to be in creation, and therefore in the eternal mind of God: in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity. Mary is "the new beginning" of the dignity and vocation of women, of each and every woman.

The suggestion, if that is what it is, seems to be one of a parallel with the abolition of divorce by Our Lord, by reference to the original intention of God in creation before the Fall. Another partial parallel would seem to be the Augustinian view of political authority, which has it that it is necessary because of sin. Like death, authority, then, comes into the world at the Fall; like divorce, perhaps at least this kind of authority can be abolished with the help of grace and the sacraments.

But what does the verse of Genesis actually mean? On the face of it, it is very puzzling to connect the idea of 'desire for the husband' and his rule over the wife.

One interesting thing is that the Vulgate gives a different reading, leading to the Douay translation: 'thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee.' This has always been used as a text supporting the authority of the husband in marriage, but it doesn't help determine whether the power was new, after the Fall, or simply newly irksome.

Looking at the long list of Bible translations given by BibleHub, although something like the KJV wording dominates, a couple translate 'desire' in a quite different way again:

You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.

And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.

The reason for this is an intriguing link with a later verse of Genesis, 4:7, when again God is speaking, this time to Cain. All translations (except the Vulgate / Douai) concur this time, with something like this:

If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is toward you, but you shall rule over it.

(The Vulgate again treats the two phrases as reiterating each other, not contrasting with each other, giving 'if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.')

It is, in fact, the same Hebrew phrase (as Robert Sungenis explains in more detail). The 'desire' of the sin, and the desire of the woman, is for domination, and contrasted with that is the possibility, or probability, that this desire will be frustrated by the assertion of authority by the other party. It is not Adam's authority, any more than Cain's inclination to upright action, which is new; it is the temptation to kick against it.

Authority is a remedy for sin, but that is not all it is. St Augustine is the classic exponent of the view that the authority of the state is a remedy for sin, but he did not regard the authority of Adam over Eve as starting with the Fall. In St Thomas Aquinas the connection between Adam's patriarchal authority and political authority is brought out. Without the Fall, Adam would have ruled his extended family; without sin, that would have been a matter of guiding cooperative action and the nurturing of civic friendship, which look very much like political aims. It is true that Christ is able to roll back some of the consequences of sin, and render some of the remedies for sin mandated in the Mosaic Law unnecessary, but there is no support in the tradition for the view that God's creative intention was for some kind of non-hierarchical, anarchist commune.

That, at any rate, is clearly the view of the New Testament authors, who show zero awareness of any new dispensation in light of the Gospel to abolish the authority of husbands over wives. On the contrary, there are more explicit references to this authority in the New Testament than there are in the Old. To interpret Genesis 3:16 as implying that the authority of husbands is a temporary expedient to deal with sin until the New Covenant, like divorce or circumcision, one needs to ignore the revealed testimony of the New Covenant itself.

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1 comment:

  1. One might also attempt to draw a parallel from the angelic hierarchy, as traditionally formulated, which seems to be what St. Thomas had in mind. See ST, I, Q.96, art 4, co.

    Interestingly, St. Thomas raises the question you do in the second objection in Article 4, an objection which, he says a little later, is "founded on the first-mentioned mode of mastership" (i.e., slavery), which he concludes "could not have existed" in the state of innocence. Thus, the objection as stated implies that a woman's subjection to her husband after the Fall was in the nature of a "penalty," that is, a kind of slavery. And this is plainly evident from today's culture of death and obscenity, in which women are viewed as objects for the "master's use," as St. Thomas puts it. Indeed, women today WILLINGLY make themselves slaves to fallen man by poisoning their bodies with contraceptives and killing their own children by abortion. If that isn't slavery, I don't know what is!

    Thank you, Jesus, for redeeming humanity and restoring us to the life of grace, in which there "is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).