When people hear the expression ‘the woman’s role in Christian marriage’ they tend to imagine the stereotype of a timid woman who is completely dominated by her husband and has no say in how the household is run. In reality, Christian teaching seeks to guide men and women to work together to form a domestic church, encouraging each other to grow in holiness and raise any children they are blessed with with the ultimate goal of heaven. The two most famous instances when the Bible refers to the role of women are Proverbs 31 and Colossians, but the meanings behind these versus must be examined in context.
Proverbs 31 extols the virtues that a man should look for in a wife. The woman described is industrious; she rises while it is still dark to care for her household and works well into the night. She skillfully makes cloth and she has physical strength because of her work. This woman is not lazy in the least and brings her husband and her household good all the days of her life, for which both her husband and children praise her. Her work and intelligence bring honor for the family.
The woman described in this proverb is no weakling. Her focus is always first and foremost on the good of her family and household. Christian teaching says that husbands and wives should be working together for the benefit of the entire family. Neither spouse should seek to do things for personal fulfillment, but rather do what benefits the unit as a whole. In Proverbs 31 the Bible describes how the husband has complete trust and faith in his wife. When both spouses can trust each other to have the best interests of the family over their personal desires, then discussions about household can easily defer to the spouse who knows more about the topic at hand. Marriage should be the area where Christian virtues of patience, humility, and love should always be at the forefront.
The letters to the Colossians is often cited to show that women are somehow regarded as inferior to men, but that is not the case. If the entire passage is read in context, it is clear that it is speaking about the mutual love and respect needed for a successful marriage. Just as the woman is called to be subjected to her husband, the husband is called upon to honor and love his wife, just as Christ loves the church. Considering that Christ died for the church, it is clear that men are not expected to be rulers. Examine what Pope Pius XI wrote about the passage back in 1930 in Casti Connubii:
This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.
In the real world
A Christian wife should be one that always puts her family first, shuns laziness, and brings honor to those around her. Whatever role she fills, the Christian wife completes with the goal of growing in holiness and helping to guide her husband toward heaven. Consider the Catholic saint Gianna Molla, who died in 1962 and served her community as a physician. Until the day she passed she upheld a holy example for all in her life, and willingly laid down her life for that of her child. As a saint, she exemplifies the holiness all women should strive for.
An elderly couple I had the honor of knowing for many years personified the ideal of Christian marriage. The wife just passed away this year, after celebrating nearly 65 years together. Throughout most of their marriage, she had assumed the traditional duties and cooking and cleaning, but she had also worked in the Empire State building and learned to fly a plane so she and her pilot husband could fly together. The mutual respect for each other’s thoughts and opinions was evident to anyone who ever heard them speak. Over the last decade of her life, she had become increasingly frail. Her husband refused to accept help until the last few months before her death. Instead, it was he who prepared and cut up his wife’s food, changed her diapers, and brought her on short strolls. He watched his spitfire wife deteriorate from a woman who once managed five children under the age of seven, flew planes, and cared for the poor to a shell of what she once was. The humility of each was tested as she was forced to accept his help, but they were together until the end, giving to me a true example of a beautiful Christian marriage.
Caroline Vena enjoys writing about Christian values and beliefs and about her own lessons as a Christian wife and mom. She also volunteers at her church and writes curriculums, devotions and background texts that help others learn about the Bible and Christianity. She is a freelance writer for wholesale Christian jewelry companies.