Thursday, 14 April 2011

A traditional Catholic theologian on marriage, part 3 - Gender roles

This is the third and final instalment of my series of posts in which I look at the teachings on marriage of a traditional Catholic theologian, Pietro Pacati, whose Tractatus dogmaticus, moralis et canonicus de matrimonio christiano was published in 1906.

As usual, I will start by summarising the author's position:

1.  The husband has primacy over the wife.  The vision of marriage presented is not egalitarian, nor even complementarian, but patriarchal.  Nevertheless, the wife is not the husband's servant but his "companion and helper".

2.  This is justified on the grounds of the husband's innate superiority.  Men, it is said, are superior to women in mind and in body.

3.  The wife obtains financial support and social status from her husband.  This is the other side of the patriarchal bargain.  A wife acquires her husband's position in society and has a right to be maintained by him.

4.  The husband likewise enjoys a 'paternal power' over their children.  The wife shares in this power, but in subordination to him.


Here is the translation:

Woman is not, indeed, made a slave or a maidservant by marriage, but rather the companion and helper of her husband.  However, it is wholly necessary in any society that one party be superior and hold authority and that the others obey him.  Natural and divine law place the wife under the power of the husband, since she is allocated inferior powers both in respect of her body and in respect of her mind.  Moreover, spouses are bound to raise children and to give attention to their temporal needs, and it is clear that this is generally more suitably accomplished under the leadership of one person than under the leadership of more than one.  Hence among almost all peoples the place of power in the governance of domestic and family affairs has been assigned to the husband and sanctioned by law....


Art. 1.  On the benefits and duties of, or the consequences of marriage for, the husband

We consider two matters: husbandly power and paternal power.  These fatherly rights have their foundation in the natural law itself, such that human laws or private agreements cannot take them away or limit them in an arbitrary manner.... 

S. 1 - On husbandly power

"Husbandly power" [maritalis potestas] is the term given to the power which a husband possesses as the head of his wife, in order that he may govern and administer their domestic affairs.  This is a consequence of lawful marriage.  Though the friendship which binds spouses to one another is approximate to that which exists between equals, it nonetheless properly belongs to the category of that excellent friendship which exists between those who occupy a superior position and those who are under their power.  Moreover, the very nature of things requires that power of this kind be in the hands of the husband and not in the hands of the wife, since it is more than clear that man is in himself to be considered greatly superior to woman both physiologically and psychologically as regards his gifts of mind and body, particuarly if one looks at the maturity of his judgment and the constancy of his will, both of which qualities are strictly required for governing others....

The purpose for which the power of the husband is ordained by its nature is not the private good of the husband but the good of the marriage....

Corollaries — 1. The husband must care for and govern his wife in matters pertaining to the wellbeing and good administration of domestic matters, and indeed should engage in reasonable correction of her according to the laws of necessity and prudence.  However, he should remember that his wife was given to him by virtue of their marriage as a companion and not as a servant, and he should therefore be careful to treat her kindly and with honour. — A husband therefore sins if he allows his wife to be remiss in her duties of bringing up their children without correcting her, or to transgress the commandments of God or the Church....  The husband also sins if he deals with his wife harshly, as if she were a servant, etc.

2.  For her part, the wife is bound to pay honour and deference to her husband, as well as obedience in those matters which pertain to the governance of the home, the education of their children, and morality and wellbeing.  A woman therefore sins seriously if she violates the just commands of her husband in a serious matter, if she arrogates to herself the command and administration of the home, etc.  In practice, however, it is not so easy to say that a disobedient wife is guilty of a mortal sin, since the criteria defining a serious command rarely occur together.  Indeed, if her position is scrupulously observed, there is sometimes no blame at all, and in some matters she is able to make use of her own judgement and her husband should act in accordance with her opinion, if she speaks in keeping with prudence.  Moreover, the woman must remember that she should obey God in preference to men.  She should therefore be anxious to please her husband insofar as she is able; but, if her husband demands anything of her contrary to good morals, the precepts of religion and the honour of God, she should take care to resist him strongly and with reverence. 

S. 2 - On paternal power

I. a) It is clear that the power of the father originates from natural law, whether it is considered in itself or in relation to the particular subject in which it inheres.  The requirements of the natural order itself dictate that in those matters which pertain to upbringing, children should obey their parents.  This authority, therefore, resides both in the father and in the mother.  However, on account of the natural subjection of the wife to the husband, the father has the leading role and, as it were, the primacy as regard this authority.  The term "paternal power" itself has its origin in this.

b) This power is not one of ownership, though in some respects it resembles this, but one of jurisdiction.  It is to be exercised upon the person of the child, insofar as he is a person, and for his good.  Moreover, since all jurisdiction has a coercive element, and the wilful stubbornness of children can render their parents' concerns impotent, nature invests parents with the power to reprimand them and to require them by force to obey them.  This, however, should be accomplished with due moderation....

2.  Paternal power gradually declines as children mature.  The reason is that this power is granted by nature as a form of help and support for the lack of self-control and silliness of children, so that they may be brought to the state of being fully-formed individuals.  Therefore, as their age and maturity of reason increases, the paternal power should in turn decrease.... 


Art. 2 - On the consequences of marriage for the wife

There are two principal consequences of marriage for the wife, namely participation in the dignity and honour of her husband and a right to support.

I.  By virtue of lawful marriage, the wife is raised to the dignity and status of her husband....

II. a) The wife has a right to be supported honourably in accordance with her condition, even if she contributes no property and enters into no explicit marriage contract, for natural law demands this.  Honourable maintenance embraces not only food and clothing, but also honourable leisure pursuits, in accordance with her condition, and also the ability to make a moderate level of charitable donations, since a wife remains bound by the laws of charity.


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