Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.

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Los Angeles wants to ban the computer hardware terms "Master" and "Slave devices."

How does a city full of S&M addicts, who use the same language in their bedrooms to refer to other people (or, more properly, in their "dungeons"), come to decide that these terms are offensive when used of computer hardware?

The same culture that brought you "The Gimp" now has decided that a hard drive needs more dignity. When will it end?

And do they plan to get rid of "bus mastering" on motherboards and USB hubs too? Same etymology. Who knows where lingering racism might lie dormant? What about the master cylinders in automotive brake systems? Master keys for locks?

I am waiting for someone to counter-argue that all the slave devices on his computer are perfectly content and well-kept by their masters -- much better off than if they were on their own. Zorak adds: "One could even consider the buzz coming from the computer as a hardware spiritual."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/26/2003 02:12:00 PM | link

Wow. Mommentary's taken everything way too personally, and has gotten angry. I suggest we put the whole topic away before it actually damages what I presumed was the good rapport between us.

The problem seems to lie in the fact that she cannot distinguish the following three levels of discussion in my post:

1) Theoretical discussion of headship (sources of doctrine, nature of authority, etc.).

2) Discussion of how headship should be practiced in the home in the abstract: i.e., generic practical advice that anyone can implement. Just making the theoretical more particular to commonly-encountered life situations.

3) Personal critique of how she practices headship in her own marriage with Cacciaguida.

#3 was never part of any of my posts. Never once. Please go back and read them. I realized this when the lady wrote:

"How about getting it into your head that my conscience is no business of yours."

YOUR conscience is certainly no business of mine. But I never said it was. In all previous posts, I was arguing against a position you presented as a categorical assertion: That no wife's conscience was the business of her husband. I disagreed with that assertion. That assertion falls into category #2. I wouldn't presume to counsel you regarding your marriage to Cacciaguida. Indeed, I began this thread by telling the whole blogosphere that Zorak and I admire you as a couple, and consider you both to be role models, and thus I was surprised at your particular aversion to the way headship is often discussed and advocated among conservative Christians and Catholics.

(Me:)I am not saying this is Elinor's reason for reluctance.
(Elinor:)Except by implication, of course.

Um, no. I was being quite sincere there. I'm sorry you're so mad you no longer presume honesty on my part. Really didn't mean to send you into the stratosphere.

I specifically added "I am not saying this is Elinor's reason for reluctance" to avoid giving the impression I was functioning in mode #3 above. The whole context of that paragraph should make that clear. I was emphatically rejecting the idea that no one but the wife could decide the moral issue of how best to submit to her husband. This is again, an issue of applying the theory, #2 above. Go back and read it. I was arguing against what I took to be your categorical assertion: that no man -- be it her priest or her husband -- could tell the wife what was her moral duty with regard to headship.

Next time we meet, I'll administer an examination of conscience to you. I'm sure you'll find that entirely proper. After all, I'm only counseling you as a fellow Christian.

Again, this statement only tells me one of two things:

(A) You cannot distinguish between #2 and #3 above, and take all abstract discussions of pastoral application of theology to be intensely personal remarks.

(B) You're so mad, you're not listening to a word I've said.

If (A), the next statement is futile, but I'll repeat it nonetheless: Whether you examine my conscience on a particular issue and are effective in that task entirely depends on the issue and the relationship between us. I wouldn't presume to counsel you on some matters, but if you had just killed a man, damn sure I would raise a personal criticism. Likewise, you wouldn't be in a position to criticize how we spend our money, but our pastor is. Or if I just confided that I stole the car I used to drive to your house over your dinner table, I darn well expect a full-dress examination of what I thought I was doing. But I never claimed to be your pastor.

I'm explaining why even a faithful Catholic woman is a) annoyed when a stranger pokes his nose uninvited into her conscience and her marriage

In your original post, you claimed much more. You stated that no man had the right to question a wife's conduct in these matters. Moreover, you mentioned that anyone who talked about his belief in male headship would be run out of the house if he tried to court your daughter. While Cacciadelia is a charming young girl, I have no interest in telling you who ought or ought not court her. But I presumed you were making a broader statement, valuable to the discussion, namely: Any young man who felt strongly about headship must be a reactionary kook, or compensating for some insecurity, or a future wife-beating goon. This conclusion seems to be supported by the other general statements you say about such men, and your repeated generalization from personal experience.

Your representation of such men struck me as an excessive and unjust characterization of those who believe strongly that it is their duty as Christian men to understand husbandry and fatherhood in terms of headship.

I offered myself as a personal example of a non-wifebeating husband, which lapse into realm #3, but I didn't presume you really thought that of me. I was trying to offer myself as a known non-wifebeater who, as the blogs show, is ardent about the existence of headship.

On the practical level (#2), I'd imagine that your advice, taken in hand by mother and teenage girls more broadly, might lead to traditional Catholic girls missing out on perfectly good guys just because they talked about headship. Granted it would be weird on the first date. Or constantly. Sure. But like my analogy said: Even if the first three dogs you've met turned out to be Cujos, it doesn't mean all dogs are bad.

and b) more comfortable and receptive to this teaching when it comes from another woman. Why some men extrapolate from this a rejection of the teaching on obedience is another question.

I totally agreed with your insight that advice is often best given to women by other women. Indeed, I agreed in boldface. If you don't believe me, scroll down and read it, and you'll see. I never extrapolated that you rejected the teaching. I did extrapolate from your earlier statements, however, that you believe how a woman conducts herself in marriage is an entirely private affair between her and God alone, which is an error on the level of #1 above. And this makes it seem like you are reticent to recommend the teaching to others (realm #2). Perhaps you are really enthusiastic about the doctrine, but just to other women in person-to-person conversation, and not on the blog.

(And if it's not obvious already, when I say "the matter isn't between her and God alone", it does not by implication mean that it is therefore a matter between me, the Old Oligarch, and all such women. That's just bad logic. The not-God doesn't entail ME. Never said it did. You read that in. I said several times that even the woman's priest needs to proceed with caution to be pastorally effective here.)

I gather that you aren't really arguing with me at all. Can't you find a woman to argue with who doesn't accept this doctrine? It would, certainly, be more difficult than pretending that I disagree with it, but don't let that worry you.

I never said you rejected the doctrine of headship. I took difference with the way you suggested that men (in general) talk about it with women (in general), because of your statement about it being a private affair between the wife (in general) and God. So I was talking about both the substance of the teaching and the manner, although you are right, my emphasis was on the former.

I've tried to flesh out more practical concerns in the last two recent posts (where I link to T-crown, and where I answer more practical questions.)

Can we put away the cudgels?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/25/2003 03:18:00 AM | link

Revised to give proper credit:

Thomas Crown (at home here) is guest-writing at The Ben File. He is the author of that really good post on living the vocation of male headship. He makes several excellent points that should further alleviate the concerns of those writers who have sent me questions primarily focused on the "power balance" in a marriage where headship is practiced.

A well-structured marriage isn't about achieving a power balance. It's about achieving an overflow of caritas. That's why unconditional love, selfless devotion, trust and submission are the primary categories; rather than self-will, equal representation and other "democratic" metaphors.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/23/2003 02:25:00 PM | link

Oooh. A politically-motivated "holiday" I can agree with: National Buy Ammo Week. (See ammoday.com.) The day is over, but you can still get one more day out of the week.

(from Kim du Toit. If you were a male surnamed Kim and French to boot, you'd make the dewussification of the West your top priority, too.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/23/2003 05:01:00 AM | link

From Harangutan:

It's like St. Paul said. "I preach nothing among you but generic monotheism, uncrucified." Like at Georgetown, when the crucifixes start coming down in the name of ecumenism, the ball game is pretty much over. Might as well give due credit to Flannery O'Connor and rename your congregation The Church Without Christ.

Glad to see that the Germans are still holding up high standards in this important category.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/23/2003 02:58:00 AM | link

Well, the mailbag was full this week. I will reply to Frank, Eric and Lisa. Frank says I take a snide tone with Elinor, while Eric congratulates me on my "calm approach." Go figure. I intended to be frank and slightly forceful, but not snide.

Frank had the longest letter and began by saying:

So I read your arguments with sympathy, but I came away dissatisfied. I don't think your arguments can succeed in your disagreement with Elinor Dashwood, because you're leaving too much out.

I admit I had set my sights on the hubristically incomplete goal of defending its existence more than its practice.

First, I don't think anyone disputes the existence of a long-standing tradition on this matter.

Eh, not true. I know lots of Catholics who think that the "headship" passages can be safely by-passed as relics of St. Paul's Greco-Roman and Hebrew culture which no long apply to our modern age. But even amongst trads, my concern is that the theology doesn't become so attenuated it no longer means what the Fathers believed it meant.

To hop to the end of Frank's long and thoughtful letter, he writes:

Another problem is that you consistently speak of this doctrine as if it were virtually de fide -- and the great weight of your argument is from authority -- but you somehow neglect to deal with the way the magisterium addresses the issue. What does the pope say? The Catechism? Vatican II? Do you really expect orthodox Catholics to accept your arguments without seeing these sources at least alluded to?

I sure do. Surely the subject does not need to have been addressed in the past 50 years in order to enjoy the status of a definitive teaching? Or to persuade orthodox Catholics? When was the last time Jansenism was officially condemned?

Regarding its theological grade: Wifely submission to the male as head of the family is a positive moral commandment in Scripture, and it has been defended by both the Fathers and by papal magisterium. To my knowledge, no ex cathedra statement has been made about it, and I do not know if any ecumenical council has published a canon regarding male headship. Based on that, I would say the theological grade of the teaching of male headship is sententia fidei proxima, if you want me to be scholastic about it.

In the initial post, I said that I thought Julian David may be correct in saying this teaching concords with the unanimis consensus patrum. I want to repeat that I have not done the research, so I would not feel comfortable making the latter claim in an academic forum. But my gut says he's right.

Doctrines proxima fidei and the unaminis consensus patrum are binding on the conscience of the believer beyond mere "reverent silence" about matter if one initially disagrees with it. Or so says Dr. Ott in his manual. How's that?

Regarding recent sources, these come to mind:

Pope Pius XI's encyclical, Casti Connubii.

The latter was written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Leo XIII's encyclical on marriage, Arcanum.

Pope Pius XII is credited with an excellent series of exhortations to newlywed couples on the nature of marriage. These have been recently gathered and published under the title Dear Newlyweds: Pope Pius XII Speaks to Married Couples. Chapters 38-40 concern the topic of authority within marriage and the obligations of spouses to each other. I do not own the work. I am going from memory. If I can get it in the library and scan it, I will. It has some nice passages concerning headship.

As far as I know, the present Holy Father hasn't said very much about this at all. I know some people who have expressed disappointment about his language of "mutual submission in Christ" (in Dignitatis Mulieris?). While vague, the phrase isn't at odds with the traditional theology. Of course the husband must curb his own self-will and submit his will to Christ in doing what is best for his wife. But without more instruction on the matter, the phrase seems to mislead some into thinking that the Holy Father intends to "do away with" the idea of wifely subordination in favor of a model of completely unilateral teamship.

I do not know whether the Second Vatican Council found it necessary to say anything specifically on this matter.

Casti Connubii is online, and so I can quote it. After discussing the primary good of marriage (= the raising of children), Pope Pius addresses the issue of headship in nos. 24-29. The context is important, but I'll excerpt:

- - - - - - - - - - -
27. 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 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.

28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .

29. ... Leo XIII...speaking of this order to be maintained between man and wife, teaches: "The man is the ruler of the family, and the head of the woman; but because she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, let her be subject and obedient to the man, not as a servant but as a companion, so that nothing be lacking of honor or of dignity in the obedience which she pays. Let divine charity be the constant guide of their mutual relations, both in him who rules and in her who obeys, since each bears the image, the one of Christ, the other of the Church."

- - - - - - - - - - -
So there's some fairly recent magisterium for you.

Both Lisa and Frank ask for more concrete examples concerning practice. Lisa already presumes I agree with the following general principles; and she's right, I do.

1) The wife must not obey the husband when what he commands is contrary to the commandments of the Lord. If the clearly foreseeable outcome of the husband's proposal is gravely sinful, she is free of any obligation to obey. In fact, she has the positive moral obligation to resist -- prayerfully and charitably -- and to protect the children.

2) On the flip side, "Darling please make dinner at 6pm" is so trivial a request (in most households) that wifely cooperation is scarcely distinguishable from a desire to please one's spouse in all sorts of small ways. Lisa wants an example with teeth, and she and I agree that these examples are often found in situations where a prudential moral judgment must be made regarding the goods of the family and husband & wife disagree.

Lisa suggests the following:

For example, let's say a wife wished to make a risky investment, but her husband advised against it. She might accede to his wishes, but must this necessarily be a question of obedience? She might base her decision on the principle that neither partner in a marriage can defy the other's wishes without doing great harm to the marriage. Would she be wrong to interpret the matter in this light?

If he were the party who wished to make the risky investment, would you still counsel her to offer an opinion but ultimately to concede, though the family's financial security is at stake? It is likely that she could not actually stop him, if he were the family's wage-earner, but if her signature were necessary would you counsel her to go ahead and sign? If past experience had proven him to be a bad judge of the market, would you insist that she had to give in on the basis of his headship?

I think this is an excellent example, provided we are both assuming that the risks of the bad investment are not so serious that the family will lose its house or someone will starve / go without basic medical care. (The wife of a chronic gambler, for example, has every right to protect their property from the husband's abuses, for everyone's sake. If the husband's approach to the market was one of repeated, enthusiastic but stupendous failures, that's a different issue than a one-shot risky investment.)

But the risks are real: The family might lose, say, 15-20% of its yearly income that year. As a consequence, the children might be forced to assume a larger part of the cost of their education as debt. The house might want for repair. Both spouses may have to work long hours to make ends meet as a consequence of the bad investment. That's the level of real, but not life-threatening, risk I am talking about.

In that situation I would say:

A) The wife has the unlimited right to discuss the matter with her husband, provided the discussion is about persuading his mind and his heart, rather than wearing down his will through nagging. She ought request that they pray about it before doing anything further once a serious difference of opinion emerges. A good husband is obliged to wait and to hear his wife's counsel in a day or two when things have calmed down if they have been arguing.

B) If, after discussion, the husband is still honestly convinced that the investment is sound (i.e, the potential benefits outweigh the risk involved), and their disagreement is intractable, the wife ought to submit to his judgment.

Submission is not the same as an endorsement of his analysis of the investment. In fact, it is just the opposite. Nor is submission a temporary reprieve of anger, i.e., a license for vindictiveness if the investment does turn out badly. (I.e. If she's banking on using the "I told you so" factor, that's not submission.)

Neither is submission a statement of her moral inferiority. Eric adds the remark:

If, whenever an individual judged things differently than an authority judged them, he acted upon his personal judgment instead of obeying the authority, we would never have any social goods whatsoever. Societies large and small (families to government) require that individuals submit their own capacity of judgment to the will of a single leader for the promotion of a greater social good.

Fr. K adds the same remark, more concretely:

I find it more useful to speak of a unique male leadership role, and remind people that although we are all equal to GW Bush, we are all also subordinate to him in certain areas.

Prompted by the remark of this Benedictine monk, I am also reminded of another parallel: religious obedience. I am sure there is not a religious priest, brother or sister out there who believes that his superior is free from error, or more fully human, or even necessarily more frequently correct in his judgment of practical matters. Nonetheless, the virtues of religious obedience are real, and necessary for the monastic life. So too in a marriage.

Thus I conclude:

C) She ought to sign the papers, if her signature is required.

Lisa continues:

She might base her decision on the principle that neither partner in a marriage can defy the other's wishes without doing great harm to the marriage. Would she be wrong to interpret the matter in this light?

I'm not sure what you mean here. In situations like your example, where the decision involves two options -- to do X vs. not to do X -- and the spouses are opposed, I do not see how this principle helps either side to come to a decision.

Many families find that they can avoid issues of headship and confront difficult decisions by a few simple criteria:

1) The person with the most expertise in the matter assumes this domestic responsibility. Zorak doesn't mess with the electricity in the house b/c I'm the scientifically-inclined one. I don't claim to understand complicated issues in Republican party politics because she's the in-house expert. (I am practically a Luddite when it comes to national news.)

2) The person to whom the issue matters most is deferred to, out of love. Perhaps this is what you mean by the above?

(1) and (2) are perfectly good decision-making strategies, and often adopted implicitly over years of living together. But they are distinct from headship. Yet headship can certainly involve (1) and (2).

For example, take (1): A good husband will draw upon his wife's strengths and make sure her talents serve the whole family. He will take care to see that potentials in her do not go undeveloped. He delegates wisely, and knows his own limitations.

Or (2): In calculating the risk of the investment, a good husband will consider the emotional strain potentially placed on the household by its failure, and not merely the capital lost. In more general terms, he must consider emotional stability and spiritual fulfillment as goods which can trump material gain. If his wife really feels strongly about something, or would be honestly torn apart by anxiety over the children's well-being because of the risky investment, that may be the overriding factor in his judgment. (Of course this presumes the wife is not being over-dramatic for the purpose of manipulation, which is just a more subtle form of nagging.)

Yet these two criteria will not necessarily resolve every conflict painlessly. There still remain times when the husband and wife are at odds concerning a prudential matter of judgment, even after honestly considering the matter from a detached perspective with everyone's best interests in mind. There is an impasse, and the temptation is high to make the matter into a war of the wills. St. John Chrysostum sees this as the inevitable breakdown of marriage considered as a "democracy of two." (See Homily 20, cited in the first post.) In such cases, as far as I understand it, the New Testament and Church Fathers both counsel the wife to submit to the judgment of her husband.

Frank wrote such a long meditation about hierarchy, but I don't have the strength to address it tonight. Perhaps later this weekend. In closing, though, I want to add:

From the scant Patristic and magisterial texts that I've read, both make two remarks consistently:

Situations in which the husband must appeal to his headship in order to finalize a decision are not the ideal. Both Popes and Fathers seem to counsel that through fervent love and prayer, such situations become rare and "the more excellent way of love," guided by the Holy Spirit, will minimize conflicts of the will that can only be resolved by an appeal to authority. But the way of love also means that both man and woman conform their characters to the ideals presupposed by headship: the woman astute in her counsel, supportive, encouraging, forgiving, willing to follow her husband; the man, selfless in generosity, unflagging in dedication, objective and sober-minded in all serious decisions, and so forth.

There is considerable latitude concerning how strictly or how "formally" individual families recognize the headship of the husband. It is not gravely sinful if one's practical implementation of headship tends to be real, but muted; indisputable, but rarely exercised, because of the high degree of concord already existing between the souls of the spouses.

I hope that helps as a further clarification of what I think about the matter.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/20/2003 10:52:00 PM | link

Best-named blog in my logs this week: Harangutan. Zorak-esque brief style. The Old Man of the Blogosphere (Orang-utang = old man of the forest) links to scientific studies on ultra-rare Foreign Accent Syndrome (a/k/a Mountford's Disease) and things any man could have told you but scientists spent money on anyways.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/19/2003 06:25:00 PM | link

Elinor replies again. Her words in italics.

Be my guest and call it "headship" if you like; you'll be widely and invidiously misinterpreted, because that word already has a heavy load of contextual baggage

If we Catholics refuse to do a robust theology of male headship, and continue to let the terms be defined extra muram, sure. We will always be borrowing words from a discourse we do not control. Yet I've suggested, and given a few examples, that there are scores of Patristic and Medieval writings on the subject where a discourse already exists and merely needs to be recovered.

I find no reason to be embarrassed by the Biblical terminology. There are plenty of phrases that have to be accommodated to the pastoral needs of individuals. That is a derivative concern. If, in approaching women, "wifely submission" works better, fine. A little pointless, IMHO, since the submission is given only to her husband because he is her husband. If the pastoral concern risks obscuring the main point, the more difficult term is better addressed head-on.

But I stick to my guns on this: submission is a matter of conscience between a married woman and God....No one, not man or woman, not even her husband, has the slightest right to question a wife on this subject, any more than he or she has the right to pry into any other aspect of another adult's conscience.

Sticking by an error does nothing to make it true. It is absurd and unchristian to say, categorically, that no one has a "right to pry into an aspect of another adult's conscience." Either Elinor means something much more specific than what she says, which she has not clarified, or else she's confused Kant with Catholic moral theology. I am surprised everyone's favorite moral self-exemption ("Who are you to judge?") has founds its way to her lips twice.

There are scads of issues where it is acceptable to call someone's conscience into question, especially in theory, and that is the point here: Unless Catholics are willing to examine the issue of headship objectively, and theologically, all the advice on how to "privately recommend the practice to women" will be built on matchsticks. When pastoral theology leads, and moral theology sits in the back seat, disaster happens.

Many things people do in their private time can be called into moral examination. If a man is a drunk, that's not between him and God alone, even if he is a single man and not hurting anyone but himself. Likewise sloth. Likewise masturbation.

Counseling someone individually requires a different approach, and that job is not just anyone's business. But it denies charity to say that there are certain teachings of the Church which people need to be holy, but about which we ought not counsel them.

Might as well throw the whole interior forum of marriage under the rug of moral solipsism. Or, as happens all the time: "Who is Father So-and-So to give me advice on how I conduct my marriage? That's personal!" Sometimes, Fr. So-and-So may be a poor pastor, but most times, this is just a stubborn refusal to let the honest light of moral inquiry fall on a portion of one's life. I am not saying this is Elinor's reason for reluctance, but she's handing an easy excuse to those inclined to duck the issue.

She continues:

"I'll try to state this plainly, since the message does not so far seem to have gone home: the reason I am rendered uncomfortable by male input about this is because every man who I know who beat up his wife had also a pronounced tendency to harp on the subject of submission."

OK. I'll respond in kind: Bad sample set: move on. Sorry for your bad experience, but generalize. If the first three dogs I met bit me, I'm sure I wouldn't like dogs for a while. But it would be immature not to go beyond that experience and realize that many dogs are quite friendly. If I started counseling all my friends to categorically avoid dogs, that would be irrational behavior. It would misguide them. I know the lady knows many trad Catholics. In fact, I know that she once worked in a trad environment where there are scores of young ladies who voluntarily and cheerily propound a theology of male headship to their less credulous peers. I know because they do the same to me all the time. Certainly all these children were not beaten into submission by their fathers or fiancees? Have I met cases where the husband has overstepped his role and abused his headship? One most definitely. Others were more over-the-top than I would be. But many seem to have perfectly happy about it. And this impression I usually get from the daughters. (Not like the sons would admire a father who caused mom to suffer, either.)

Rather than trying to stick the subject of male headship into an untouchable corner of private conscience, it should be discussed objectively. Privatizing the issue is the same tactic used by liberals who are reluctant to address the "private" issues of birth control and substance abuse.

Covering the issue with smattering of horror stories dredged from personal experience is likewise irrelevant. Why mimic the response of every feminist who is confronted with an argument about the Christian nature of marriage and the impossibility of divorce? What does the feminist do? She promptly repeats story after story of "women who were trapped in bad marriages." As unpleasant as these stories are, they have no bearing on a rational discussion of the issue. This is not discourse. It is diversionary.

in my forty-four years, I've seen a perfect correlation between an obsession with biblical teaching on obedience...and wifebeating.

Then the lady hasn't tried very hard to branch out. Moreover, are we to presume that every Church father who gave an emphatic homily on the matter would beat his wife if he had one? And having an "obsession" with biblical teaching on obedience is far different from heartily defending it.

Moreover: "We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." Beside the many terrestrial ones within the lady's reach, she could also cast her glance backward over the communion of saints for examples.

the real-world application of the teaching requires some personal experience.

Agreed. Here I completely agree that it is often rhetorically effective for women to counsel other women, but to demand that this be the exclusive fashion in which the doctrine is taught is too restrictive. There is no reason why a priest shouldn't teach this to a woman, or one Christian to another, even if they happen to be of the opposite sex.

Women remind men about the fact that they can be emotionally callous, carnally-minded, self-indulgent cads often enough. Sometimes, it's true and serves a good point, even if the recipient is hostile to the criticism. What accurate moral criticism doesn't generate initial hostility? If women need to be reminded that deference to their husbands is a virtue, so be it. Obviously, if such a reminder is delivered in a completely ineffective way, it is pointless. But to say any counsel which raises someone's hackles will be certainly useless is also pointless. The best counsel I've received both in the classroom and in the confessional pissed me off, because I am proud. That's the nature of sin.

So I hope to conclude by summarizing the state of the disagreement, using Elinor's own points:

1. Submission is an important teaching which women need to think about.

Ok. With you 100%.

2. Women are irritated by men's talking about it because a) it's a matter of private conscience,

No, it's not. It's immoral to claim that it is. See above.

b) when ordinary married men do talk about it, it is too often entirely in terms of rights and power

I did not do that. Chrysostum didn't do that. It's not too hard to avoid doing that. People can be jackasses about any moral argument that coincides with their self-interest. This is important to avoid, but it doesn't prevent men from talking about this with women.

c) in the general way, it is feminine human nature (not mine, D.g., but generally) to take all questions personally rather than objectively.

If a woman is so emotional and self-centered as to be unable to talk about a moral norm that applies to her in the abstract, she has every right to good pastoral care by someone who can. But that doesn't prevent those who can operate in a depersonalized, functional mentality from talking to others -- men or women -- who are likewise capable of hashing something out in the abstract and applying it to themselves.

3. Submission has never been easy.

Taking the doctrine of headship seriously as a husband isn't easy either. It is easy to paint the male as being on easy street: heels up, chuckling, "It's good to be the king." But this is dishonest. No one who takes St. Paul's advice to the husband in Eph 5:25-26 seriously would behave like this.

No woman is going to feel safe in being submissive to a man who watches racy reality shows on UPN, drops a few thousand dollars on new golf clubs or a plasma TV without discovering first what she may need, and spends his free time hanging around with the guys instead of taking part in family life.

Yeah, granted. I don't see why the lady feels it is impossible for both spouses to confront their responsibilities frankly in light of the Gospel, or why it will always be the male who's the jerk and the slacker in trying to live according to the Gospel. For every example of an indolent, hypocritical male dominating a patient and loving female, I could just as easily conjure a counterexample of a patient, giving husband paired with a rebellious, self-centered woman. In fact, I've been best friends with a man in that situation, and lived next to it for two years. But such examples are secondary.

4. Every man's hand has to be against wife-beaters.

Yes. OK. 100%. Sure. Tangential, but sure. Can we put the wife-beating thing away now?

5. Finally, the most necessary ingredient in this effort is neither exegesis nor persuasion but prayer. The commonest element in the stories of women who turned around on this issue is the power of prayer,

I completely agree. And this is even more true when it comes to one spouse counseling another.

...first in changing their own hearts, and then in guiding their husbands away from claiming a right (which Scripture doesn't in fact give them) to taking up their own responsibility to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the Church.

To get you really mad, I'll say what has to be said: It's both a responsibility and a right. And in fact, 1 Peter 3 makes it clear that the husband still has the right to his spouse's obedience even when he has erred in the past. Of course this right can never be won by force. It would be foolish even to think the Scripture implies that. The woman also has a right: the right to her husband's sacrificial devotion. If he is genuinely negligent in his concern for the good of the family (as opposed to differing with her about what this good is), she has a right to demand he cease such behavior immediately. In that instance, she is recalling him to his vocation to be the responsible head of the family.

As with many Biblical obligations, rights are counterbalanced by responsibilities. The husband and wife both have them. They are reciprocal, but they are not symmetrical. Yet each is quite demanding and requires denial of self, but in different ways, according to their gender.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/18/2003 10:06:00 AM | link

A brief reply to Mommentary's clarification about her remarks concerning what she prefers to call wifely obedience rather than male headship.

I will take the remarks topically, out of order. Her words in italics:

I really advise against any man's mixing himself up in this matter....I incline to the view that this is a subject which is best talked over among women. Men will do better to stick to exhorting one another about the next verse, which sets out a husband's responsibilities

1) I agree that in terms of pastoral effectiveness, it is better for women to talk about this among themselves. This is true of many aspects of marriage, and sexuality, and indeed, more broadly, of the conduct of the spiritual life, which is why most tertiary organizations / personal prelatures are segregated by sex.

HOWEVER, if we are discussing the issue as a matter of theology, and not person-to-person spiritual counsel, it is completely inadmissible to say that women alone should research and interpret the issue of male headship. Why does Elinor adopt the favorite tactic of identity politics on this issue? I.e. how is the statement, "Only women should talk about headship" different from: "Only blacks can talk about racism." "Only a woman can talk about abortion, since men never carry a baby to term." or "Only married clergy can effectively counsel married couples." or "How can celibate men ever counsel women."? I reject the suggestion this is an area of theology which only belongs to women alone to investigate, just as I reject the analogous suggestions of the previous statements.

Elinor implicitly suggests, time and again, that those who talk about male headship argue out of self interest and are out to "interfere" with some woman, somewhere. If one cannot approach the issue through the lens of objectivity, then one should not discuss it. That goes for egotistical males as well as women for whom it is a push-button issue.

I note, for example, that Elinor frames my response in this manner, simply because I am a man:

The Old Oligarch has joined the ranks of men determined to stir up hornets' nests.

Not true. I am theologian. It is my job to investigate and protect neglected areas of doctrine. The issues I raise on my blog are scattershot, and I would just as happily talk about Clement of Alexandria's theology of revelation (which I am reading now), but no one seems to be blogging about it, and Athanasius' soteriology (phone call). Elinor blogged about headship in a way that seemed excessive to me, and so I replied. If she said something about Rahner's transcendental Thomism, and I saw it, and it bothered me, I would have replied.

Calling me the latest adjutant to the ranks of men determined to "pry" into the lives of women is the equivalent of calling pro-life men "meddlers" when they defend the more important issue of abortion. Yes, it's a gender issue. No, it's not a gender war. Those who read the question of male headship like a war for political sovereignty are not going to be receptive to anything the text has to say.

Likewise, when she writes:

The instruction is given to wives with reference to their own conduct; no mandate is given to men to enforce or even to demand submission.

Yes, the instruction is directed to wives. Neither the text, nor I, said anything about "enforcing" or "demanding" submission. If the wife isn't willing to defer to her husband in particular things, no argument in the world is going to convince her to defer to her husband as a matter of principle.

Yet the later point is a pastoral issue. The theoretical point stands: Aside from the tricky context of a man talking about this with his wife, there is no reason why one should not be able to talk about the obligation to submit in general, as a matter of marital theology. Just as it is difficult to counsel a friend or a spouse about conjugal issues, but not difficult to talk about the theology in abstracto, so too here.

Elinor continues:

No one, not man or woman, not even her husband, has the slightest right to question a wife on this subject, any more than he or she has the right to pry into any other aspect of another adult's conscience.

I fear I may be opening a fiercer hornet's nest, but this makes no sense at all. I thought we were talking about Catholic moral theology and Christian counsel, not Enlightenment views of the self-legislating conscience and absolute moral autonomy. If my wife deemed it her role never to counsel or correct me on matters of my personal conduct, that would be a total failure, IMHO. I don't know what counts as "prying." I never suggested we take you and Cacciaguida as a case study, nor Zorak and I, as interesting as those studies might be. 8-) But to equate the suggestion that we talk about the theology of headship with "prying into someone's personal life" again repeats the favorite excuse of relativists, namely: Merely making a moral argument is some kind of "imposition on their private life."

In her blog, Elinor suggests a distinction between "submission" and "headship." She writes: " I suggest that "headship" is not a useful term when the matter under discussion is the Ephesians teaching of submission." In her letter to me, apropos the same topic, she makes the distinction more clearly:

a very little research into the matter will reveal a subtle but important divide between submission and headship. Submission means deciding to let your husband make the final decision; "headship" means imbuing the husband with the notion that it's his duty as much as his right to stick his nose into his wife's conscience

I do not know what Evangelical literature says about the matter. I confess I don't have the time to investigate it, and I'm sure there is a range of interpretation. Perhaps they have sharpened the language of "headship" and "submission" into two distinct concepts in practice.

I return to the Biblical text. I maintain that in each case, either explicitly or by analogy, headship is presented as the reason for submission. Both terms must be used in order to be accurate. The explicit case is Eph 5:22-23: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife..." In Eph 5, 1 Cor 11, and 1 Peter 3, there is also an argument by analogy: As Christ is the to Church, so too the husband is to the wife. It would be weird to say that the Church's submission to the will of Christ wasn't rooted in some fact about the nature or office of Christ. It risks obscuring the passage to disconnect the wifely behavior (submission) from the office of the husband.

In the excerpt from Chrysostum's Homily 20, he approaches the issue in the same way. The husband's headship is the reason for the wife's submission:

"let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love on his part as a counterpoise to obedience on her part. For example, let the hands and the feet, and all the rest of the members be given up for service to the head, but let the head provide for the body, seeing it contains every sense in itself. Nothing can be better than this union."

This is no innovative move or bold expansion of the NT texts on Chrysostum's part. All he is doing is taking St. Paul's own words about Christian order within the Body of Christ from 1 Cor 12 (the next chapter) and applying them to 1 Cor 11 and Eph 5:22-23. To save you a click:

1 Cor 12:12ff: "[12] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ....[14]For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body....[17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single organ, where would the body be?...[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable,[23] and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor...[25] that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
[26] If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

Lastly, she writes:

I don't know what he means by headship...."headship" is widely used to mean allowing the husband to act as the wife's spiritual director, and also to demand constant sexual availability, to forbid questions about his decisions, and to direct what she wears, eats, and reads, how she does her hair, what friends she makes, and how she occupies her spare time. I trust that isn't what he means.

As should be clear from the original post I wrote: "Constant sexual availability" = disordered passion = Genesis 3:16 problem. "Forbid questions" = denial of spiritual / intellectual / moral equality = Genesis 3:16 problem.

Regarding the latter issues (dress, diet, reading material, time, etc.), some measure of spousal concern for what the other is doing is normal. To deny any ability to set limits seems absurd. I would not permit my wife to read Playgirl (not like she wants to) and I wouldn't be happy with her reading "Harlequin Romances" either, just as she would not permit me to read any erotic literature.

But I appreciate the force of the question: How is headship practiced in the house? Two observations:

1) This should be the focus of the question, not whether there is such a thing as headship and corresponding wifely submission. It is a waste of time to argue it doesn't exist, rather than to focus on what it means. But if necessary, its existence must be defended. That's all I set out to do in post #1.

(An analogy: Only in dealing with atheists do we devote a large amount of time to proving that God exists. Exploring His Nature, Word and Activity is the more important part of the subject for those living the Christian life.)

2) How headship works out in practice is a delicate matter. From my cursory exposure to the problem, it seems to have been a delicate matter from Day 1. Love is the pre-eminent way of ordering the household rather than appeals to law. That is why St. Paul continues his logic from 1 Cor 11, through 1 Cor 12, and then says, "But I will show you a more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31) and begins 1 Cor 13 with the famous discourse on love. ("If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal"....Love is patient, love is kind, etc.)

That does not mean there are not practical norms that might fit 90% of Catholic families. I've gone on long enough today, and can't afford to write a whole 'nother treatise on how this works out in practice. I do not feel adequately informed about the issue to speak authoritatively about it in its practical details, and I certainly expect there to be variations depending on the nature of the spouses.

I suggest that a tradition-minded priest weigh in on the issue, taking stock of sources both ancient and modern on this issue. I doubt the issue was undiscussed by the pre-eminent moralists of the two centuries previous to the last one. Such a man will also be free from the accusations of mercenary behavior, unless even a wifeless man can "join the ranks" of "prying" spouses by proxy.

Let's put down the halberds and actually examine the matter in charity. Just as men who have swaggering and self-interested dispositions do not flatter discussion of the theology, so too categorical resistance on the part of women.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/17/2003 03:07:00 PM | link

Dander is raised. Thus I give you: Prelude to a much longer post about Male Headship, which I will write sometime in the far distant future.

Disclaimer: I am far, far too busy for the next two months to do the research necessary to post something even quasi-academic on this subject. Nor even a casual review of the major points of the tradition like the post in which I defended the male priesthood. Can't do it. Sorry. But someday, I will.

I stopped by the blog of Elinor Dashwood at Mommentary just to see what she has been up to lately, and found that she had made another anti-headship remark on her blog in response to something she read at Julian David. Get the original links yourself from Mommentary. They're all there.

I know both Elinor and Cacciaguida. I've had the pleasure of staying at their lovely home a few times, and seen the marvelous economy of their household. Indeed, Zorak and I consider them role models for our own personal adventure of living out a Catholic marriage. But her original remark several months ago troubled me, and her return to the theme does as well.

There is no question that both Scripture and tradition unambiguously endorse the position that the male is the head of the household, and by that office, he wields an authority in matters both spiritual and temporal, and that obedience to him is a uniquely feminine mode of piety willed by God. I do not know why, but many Catholic women who are quite traditionalist in other matters are as happy to dispose of this teaching of the Church as they are to dispose of the chapel veil that once signified it. (Cf. 1 Cor 11:6-10,16.)

Elinor's repeatedly observes that the only three men she's ever known to quote Ephesians 5:22 in defense of male headship are all wife-beaters. I resent the implication. I believe in male headship, and I don't beat my wife. There are plenty of other sane, sober, caring, intelligent men who take the Gospel seriously on this point; men who would rather plumb the depths of what is required by this divine vocation than to ignore the text or deform it according to the predilections of modern society. I can't decide which kind of logical fallacy she wishes to exercise by this example? Implicit ad hominem attack? Straw man? Hasty generalization? It's on the level of people who compare their opponent to Hitler, so I'll just move on.

First, there are the usual preliminaries which I hope no Catholic needs to be reminded of. But why presume in this day and age?

Man and woman are equal in their spiritual and moral dignity. I will argue from Genesis briefly because Our Lord teaches us to do this (Mt 19:4). Man and woman both share the image and likeness of God. They both are destined for the beatific vision. They both have equal potential for sanctity, which is the only thing that matters at the end of the day. Genesis 2 teaches us this, as does Our Lord by both word and example. So in this regard, there is equality.

There is also reciprocity. Adam would not be complete ("At last, this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone" = idiom for "all of me") if Eve did not possess an intrinsically different character which complemented and fulfilled Adam's. Moreover, the Hebrew word used to describe Eve, rendered "helpmate" (Gen 2:18) has a sense of complementary. Eve fits Adam like left hand fits right in a handshake. Or like lock fits key. In this regard, the sexed body is once again an icon for the soul: complementary in presentation, fruitful only when united. Even the apostle most likely to be accused of wife-beating by Elinor, St. Paul, recognizes this in the way he frames the husband-wife relationship in 1 Cor 11. One cannot function without the other, just as the head cannot function without the body and vice versa. Thus 1 Cor 11:11-12, the same passage which is equally emphatic about headship (1 Cor 11:3-10).

There is headship. Man and woman have non-exchangeable roles within their reciprocal relationship with each other, and in their relation to creation. These roles are hierarchical. A landfill the size of Guam would not be large enough to dispose of all the Rabbinic, New Testament and Patristic exegesis which focuses on facts such as:

Adam was created first, and Eve from him (1 Cor 11:3,8-9).

Adam names Eve. Twice in fact: once before the Fall and once after (Gen 2:23 & 3:20). Naming is always a sign of having authority over someone in the Bible. Adam names Eve with respect to her nature ("She shall be called woman") and her vocation ("She became the mother of all the living").

The Fall is not complete until Adam falls because he is the ultimate ordering principle of the Garden, the "prince" of creation as it were. All men sin in Adam (rather than in Eve, even though she is the first to fall) because sin is a subversion of authority, and that subversion is complete only when Adam shares in Eve's sin. This is not meant to be a deductive argument. You'll have to take my word that it's a common gloss on Scripture. If I had a full-time job right now, I'd dig out examples of Patristic exegesis for you.

The Fall wounds everything, from the man-God relationship all the way down to the man-dirt relationship. This includes the Genesis 3:16 problem. The curse on woman is as follows: "in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The curse falls on both the physical and spiritual halves of our gendered, incarnate persons. It gets harder for Eve to fulfill her telos with respect to the biological aspect of human existence (childbearing), just like it gets harder for Adam in this regard (providing sustenance / the earth brings forth thorns and thistles). On the spiritual side, Eve has a disordered level of affection for her husband; but he, in turn, tends to take advantage of this by dominating her: uncaring, impersonal, self-centered over-assertiveness is the male vice. In the LXX, Eve's curse seems further to imply that Eve will care more for her husband than for God. (Reading "apostrophe" = diversion of orientation, as is maintained in the Godspy article I linked earlier for unrelated reasons.) Eve is diverted from the highest good (God), to a lesser good (her husband). Likewise Adam turns from God and becomes self-centered.

Genesis 3:16 is the reason why a minority of people who defend male headship do so out of egocentric, "dominating" motives that has lead Elinor to reject headship all together. By calling attention to this curse, Scripture itself cautions us about this tendency in men, and calls men to constantly examine their motivations in exercising headship. But the solution to an abuse of power or hierarchical office is not the complete destruction of the power or office. Apart from being Marxist reasoning, this will never get us back to the divine plan.

Consider the analogy:

A) Because of Genesis 3:16, men have a tendency to be overbearing in their exercise of authority, and on rare occasions they even physically abuse women. Therefore, no woman should permit / encourage her husband to exercise the authority of headship.

B) Because of Gen 3:16, women have a tendency to be over-attached to their husbands; worse, clingy, and on rare occasions, fatally attracted or smothering. Therefore, no man should permit a woman to express her affections, get profoundly attached to him, or to enjoy moments of romantic passivity.

Our Lord's teaching on divorce shows us that God, through grace, wants to recall married couples to the properly ordered love that existed before the Fall. Because grace perfects, but not totally and immediately, this love will still have novel elements of sacrifice and danger in our post-lapsarian world, but neither of these give us theological license to depart from the Lord's ideal for marriage.

Just to get the big NT texts on the table, besides for Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Cor 11:3, there's also 1 Peter 3:1-8, another favorite among the Fathers. I am sure I am forgetting at least one more. Like 1 Cor 14:35. But there are others.

In each, the message can only be obscured through intentional twisting of the text. In Eph 5:22, hupotasso means "submit." Head (kephale) means head: the head commands. The husband is head, the woman is not head. He commands, she submits. There is not a parallel verse where she commands, and he submits. Rather, he must be constantly mindful of her, never abuse his authority, and be selfless in his love, even to the point of death (since Christ died for His Church).

In 1 Cor 11, St. Paul has Gen 3:16 in mind and warns husbands to remember that they are not completely autonomous autocrats in marriage (thus 11:11-12), yet the husband alone is head, and his relationship to Christ (ordered submission of will) is the model for her submission to him. If that scares you (as a man or woman!), that is a spiritual defect, not the fault of the Biblical text. I would say that more lovingly, but you (the reader) are not my wife.

1 Peter 3 likewise follows the pattern of instruction in Ephesians.
Both Peter and Paul concur on the matter in Sacred Scripture. This should be sufficient for any Christian.

If the husband behaves in a manner contrary to the Gospel, it is clear that the wife should not follow the command of her husband over the commandment of the Lord. Yet even when the husband errs, 1 Peter 3:1-2 and 5 make it clear that the husband does not thereby forfeit his position as head of the family. Even in reproaching their husbands, wives are instructed to be respectful and deferential.

Of course this strikes the modern woman as completely batty. If you want to argue that this piece of Scripture is an outdated relic that needs to be abandoned, you can make that argument somewhere else, i.e., with the homosexuals who are tearing apart Paul on catamites in the same fashion and reinterpreting Sodom as the world's most inhospitable city.

If, on the other hand, you want to make a nuanced argument regarding how the ideal of headship needs to be understood in the modern world, that is fine, provided you don't begin by denying the existence of headship or reducing to some completely negligible, titular primacy of honor which has no practical bearing on household order. Neither of these are honest opening gambits of interpretation.

Oh, where to go from here? I guess we will completely pass over the entire OT, and the Rabbinical tradition following thereupon, with its image of the father as patriarch and priest within the context of his family.

Let's go to the early church instead. I have not made a systematic study on the issue, nor will I here, but I have not yet come across an early Church father or Medieval theologian who did not support male headship. I will have to abandon any pretense of being exhaustive, however. Maybe, like Elinor, I have a bad sample set, but I do not think so. The onus is on the skeptics to immerse themselves in the tradition. If you claim to be a faithful Catholic, step one when thinking about conscious dissent from a traditional teaching of the Church is to consult the positive theology.

Patristic texts that leap to mind -- again, randomly -- are usually commentaries on Genesis or commentaries on one of the three NT passages cited above.

I will leave aside the common Patristic trope that wives who claim to have equal or greater authority than their husbands are repeating the sin of Eve, and subverting the God-ordained order for some selfish good. It's a commonplace.

I have already been away from my work long enough. I will close with three hastily culled examples which I think are very, very typical of Patristic writing on the subject.

For Augustine, the matter is cut and dry. In dealing with the question of the polygamy of the OT patriarchs in On Marriage and Concupiscence, he asks why polygamy was permitted, but never polyandry. In Chapt 10, he writes:

"Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, 'The head of the woman is the man;' and, 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.' So also the Apostle Peter writes: 'Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.'"

Many times, the issue gets no more treatment than this. But St. John Chrysostum takes up the theme several times, without the occasionally acerbic ascetical tone of Augustine, and with a lot of spiritual insight and pastoral depth.

Consider this passage from Homily 10 on Col 3:18-25:

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ver. 18. "Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."

That is, be subject for God's sake, because this adorneth you, he saith, not them. For I mean not that subjection which is due to a master, nor yet that alone which is of nature, but that for God's sake.

Ver. 19. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them."

See how again he has exhorted to reciprocity. As in the other case he enjoineth fear and love, so also doth he here. For it is possible for one who loves even, to be bitter. What he saith then is this. Fight not; for nothing is more bitter than this fighting, when it takes place on the part of the husband toward the wife. For the fightings which happen between beloved persons, these are bitter; and he shows that it ariseth from great bitterness, when, saith he, any one is at variance with his own member. To love therefore is the husband's part, to yield pertains to the other side. If then each one contributes his own part, all stands firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband becomes yielding. And see how in nature also it hath been so ordered, that the one should love, the other obey. For when the party governing loves the governed, then everything stands fast. Love from the governed is not so requisite, as from the governing towards the governed; for from the other obedience is due. For that the woman hath beauty, and the man desire, shows nothing else than that for the sake of love it hath been made so. Do not therefore, because thy wife is subject to thee, act the despot; nor because thy husband loveth thee, be thou puffed up. Let neither the husband's love elate the wife, nor the wife's subjection puff up the husband. For this cause hath He subjected her to thee, that she may be loved the more. For this cause He hath made thee to be loved, O wife, that thou mayest easily bear thy subjection. Fear not in being a subject; for subjection to one that loveth thee hath no hardship. Fear not in loving, for thou hast her yielding. In no other way then could a bond have been. Thou hast then thine authority of necessity, proceeding from nature; maintain also the bond that proceedeth from love, for this alloweth the weaker to be endurable.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Or, lastly, please read this long and wonderful Homily 20 on Ephesians 5:22-24, which contains all sorts of wonderful advice: How the highest aim of the husband should be the moral advancement of his wife, how there are great risks yet great dangers in this kind of godly advancement in love, how domestic peace follows from male headship, and -- yes, Elinor -- at least two strong condemnations of any form of physical threat. The whole homily is wonderful. I recommend reading it from start to finish as a random example of patristic thought on the matter.

To sharpen the point about the authority of the husband however, I excerpt these three paragraphs, emphasis mine:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ver. 33. "Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear her husband."

For indeed, in very deed, a mystery it is, yea, a great mystery, that a man should leave him that gave him being, him that begat him, and that brought him up, and her that travailed with him and had sorrow, those that have bestowed upon him so many and great benefits, those with whom he has been in familiar intercourse, and be joined to one who was never even seen by him and who has nothing in common with him, and should honor her before all others. A mystery it is indeed. And yet are parents not distressed when these events take place, but rather, when they do not take place; and are delighted when their wealth is spent and lavished upon it.-A great mystery indeed! and one that contains some hidden wisdom. Such Moses prophetically showed it to be from the very first; such now also Paul proclaims it, where he saith, "concerning Christ and the Church."

However not for the husband's sake alone it is thus said, but for the wife's sake also, that "he cherish her as his own flesh, as Christ also the Church," and, "that the wife fear her husband." He is no longer setting down the duties of love only, but what? "That she fear her husband." The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love on his part as a counterpoise to obedience on her part. For example, let the hands and the feet, and all the rest of the members be given up for service to the head, but let the head provide for the body, seeing it contains every sense in itself. Nothing can be better than this union.

And yet how can there ever be love, one may say, where there is fear? It will exist there, I say, preeminently. For she that fears and reverences, loves also; and she that loves, fears and reverences him as being the head, and loves him as being a member, since the head itself is a member of the body at large. Hence he places the one in subjection, and the other in authority, that there may be peace; for where there is equal authority there can never be peace; neither where a house is a democracy, nor where all are rulers; but the ruling power must of necessity be one.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In closing, I apologize for half-broaching an issue which I know is contentious. But as with everything else on this blog, it gets the tattered ends of my time most days, and having given it the past two hours, I am already long overdue to leave it for another week.

The above was slapdash, but hopefully a worthwhile sketch of what's out there in the tradition. Or at least better than nothing -- sitting in complete silence while a point of traditional theology is abandoned even by conservative Catholics. Julian, I firmly believe, is quite correct when he cites the consensus patrum on this issue. More importantly, before one dismisses the theology of male headship as a relic of the past -- or worse, as an excrescence of a psychologically deformed mind -- one must reckon with the NT and with not a few Patristic authors before feeling free to make that point. Anything else is irresponsible when such a large amount of data is there, should one care to read it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/15/2003 03:31:00 AM | link

Solomonic Eye for the Straight Guy

Zorak enters room, sees Oligarch combing unknown substance into his beard.

Zorak: What's in the bowl, honey?

Oligarch: I'm anointing my beard with olive oil.

Zorak: You're putting that on your beard?

Oligarch: Yes, it's too dry in the winter. See how luxurious it feels now?

Zorak looks away in exasperation. Thinks about, but does not ask, whether I've tried conditioner.

Oligarch: Oh come on. You knew what you were getting into when you married a trad!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/15/2003 02:41:00 AM | link

I used to complain about easy penances, but nothing beats this:

Penitent: I'm gonna have a hard time getting started, Father.

Priest: You're in the house of God now, my son. Speak your mind.

Penitent: Well, Father, I've killed a lot of men, and sinned with a lot of women. (Pauses. Begins again.) But the men needed killing. And the women...well, I was never one to argue.

Priest: Go and light a candle by the altar, my son. (Gives absolution.)

(The penitent is Marlon Brando in The Appaloosa, which happened to be on AMC when I woke up.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/14/2003 03:01:00 PM | link

The Onion: Mom finds out about blog. Hilarious. Now can they write one entitled, "Students find out about blog" or "Ph.D. advsior finds out about blog"?

Heh...Blogger posted a reply to the Onion: A how-to fact sheet on dealing with maternal intrusion. Once again, the pseudonym's virtues are upheld.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/12/2003 10:05:00 PM | link

The incredulous D.B. writes:

"Black leather bondage wear??? Where on earth did you hear that? I can't imagine that it was actually published anywhere."

Yale Alumni Magazine, Nov/Dec 2003, p. 25. See article entitled, "The Queen's Professor" (pun intended):

"But are the British ready for a priest whose going-away present from her local church is a priest's vestment -- made of black leather? The unorthodox garment symbolizes Adams' support for the inclusion of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the Anglican Communion. 'I will take it with me," says Adams, 'because after all, these troubles with the gay issue have not gone away.'"

I only made explicit the bondage connection. Everything else is in black and white.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/12/2003 09:54:00 PM | link

Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead!
Oxfordian Stupidity Proves Yale's Gain:
Adams to Leave Yale

After more than a decade of proving the detriment of Yale's Religious Studies department and Divinity School, "Rev." Marilyn McCord Adams, Anglican priestess and expert on William of Ockham, is leaving Yale to accept the Regius Chair at Oxford. Yes, folks, that's the top chair in the field at Oxford, if not the top, in the modern academic way of assessing prestige.

Adams' staunch opposition to Thomists, especially to Catholic Thomists, has kept Yale without any Medieval philosophy professors (except her!) since the early 1990s. She has personally opposed hiring some truly great assistant professors, who will remained unnamed because I don't want to make life more complicated for them. She exemplifies the typical attitude of the liberal academic: always promoting "tolerance and diversity" in her own agenda, but behaving in an opportunistic and intolerant fashion to subordinates who do not share her academic opinions. An ardent nominalist, I've known Adams to penalize undergraduate papers simply because they defended a moderate-realist theory of universals. God forbid you express the opinion that St. Thomas was correct and Ockham's nominalism was the beginning of the slide toward the irreparable epistemology of the Enlightenment. Or that Ockham's voluntarist theology of God is the source of manifold problems in the theology of providence, justification and grace in the Reformation. Kiss anything higher than a B goodbye.

Switch the topic from Medieval epistemology to Christian theology, and it gets much, much worse. Example? Take this one:

Even in 1997, before the gay agenda was mainstream in the Episcopalian communion, Adams was already searching for theological models for homogenital relations. United Voice ran this (reprinted) article on Adam's role in a theological seminar promoting the blessing of same sex unions. Some charming statements to note: She compares the Trinity to "a gay men's chorus" and adds "I used to think that the Trinity might be a model of kinky relations."

Her going away present from the gay-friendly New Haven Christ Church Episcopal congregation? A suit of clerical attire made of black leather bondage-wear. And just to top off the visual, here's what she looks like in daylight, from a Nov 2003 Yale Alumni Magazine photo:

Yes, that's what Oxford just hired as its most prestigious chair in religious studies. Take a moment to further downgrade your estimation of the role that prestigious institutions of higher learning will play in the preservation of Western culture.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/12/2003 11:47:00 AM | link

Ah, how perfect. It would be weird, n'est-ce pas, if the issues surrounding the latest vanguard of sexual confusion did not manage to include something pornographic?

Larry Flint possesses, but will not publish (yet), nude photos of Jessica Lynch frolicking topless with male soldiers before going off to war.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/12/2003 02:26:00 AM | link

This is what happens to your hit counter when you blog about the Zion Archives:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/12/2003 02:16:00 AM | link

I know others have blogged this, but check out GodSpy.

Natural Woman -- so typical of many people we've known who have adopted NFP, through twists and turns and sometimes despite their pastors and DRE.

Love vs. Willpower. I think they wrote this just for me.

The Natural Mysticism of Childen. Some of my friends know Paul Chu from St. Mary's in New Haven, or the Pythagorean brotherhood.

Priesthood and the Masculinity of Christ. My jury's out on the analysis, but an interesting take nonetheless.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/10/2003 11:18:00 PM | link

I've got the key to the Zion Archives. I won't spoil the fun in case someone wants to find the MD5 hash on their own (have L0phtCrack handy). Thanks to Keanuette and the Matrix Community.

The first 31 hex characters of the key are "embedded" on the Matrix: Reloaded DVD. The last character can vary. Depending on what you enter (from 0 to F), it shows you various pics and clips, but "E" gets you into the Zion Archives. The Archives contain a VR walk-through of many of the sets of the movie, together with all sorts of clickable details. Check out these screen shots (the numbers are a by-product of the capture software): The Oracle's Brand of Cigarette, Double Destiny (got to read the label!), and Le Vrai dessert choices 1 and 2. I'll take two.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/09/2003 02:54:00 AM | link

Matrix Website Mindbender
I've figured out the meaning of "Go deeper.
Path/ViaRevolutions/ThirdSlot/top/EmbeddedDVD/0x(31)+0-F/ ZionArchives TheMatrix.com"

There's a special elite area on the TheMatrix.com. So cool. They have all these little puzzles built into the incredibly expansive website, and this is one of them. If you can crack the "binary access" code, you get into the secret "Zion Archives" area for the incredibly brainy. My bet is that the archive has something to do with the "Embedded DVD."

Go to the website. Choose "High Bandwidth" version with flash. You'll get a NavBar at the top. Notice in the NavBar section for "Matrix Revolutions" the third little window on the top row isn't clickable. Instead it displays the code "0x0AC01BFA." Mouse over all the way to the right of the screen and click on the last little vertical object in the NavBar, with the yellow LED on it. It will illuminate and expand. Click on the small green square. When you mouse over, you will get the "binary access" area puzzle.

(Update: They've apparently given us some help with this in the "Breaking News" section of the website, since the feature is obscure to say the least.)

But what to enter into the DIP switches? If you look on the screen shot of the Oracle's apartment, you'll see all these alphabet-magnets on her fridge. "6F" jumped out at me right away. It's the only pair on the fridge. Gotta be hex. Convert that to binary: 1101111 and viola! You get past the 8-bit protection.

Only to be presented with the 32-bit protection puzzle!

But here, we have already been given the code. Convert 0AC01BFA into binary (00001010110000000001101111111010) and enter that into the DIP switches. Bammo. Next level gets you this mother-of-all puzzles, 128 bit encryption. Apparently they just added this because enough people had solved the first two puzzles.

Zion Archives 128 bit encryption puzzle
(My screen shot. Click to enlarge to full size.)

Now, long story short, it's my belief that the 128bits you are asked to enter are an MD5 hash. MD5 is a simple, popular, one-way means of data encryption that gives you a resultant code of 128 bits. You can use this online MD5 utility to see how it works. It takes text and gives you a unique hexadecimal sequence that corresponds to this text. (MD5 is often used to verify passwords.) Convert the right phrase to MD5, convert the resultant hex into binary, and enter it into the puzzle.

But, frustratingly enough, I cannot figure out what magic phrase to MD5-encrypt. I've tried:

"Path/ViaRevolutions/ThirdSlot/top/EmbeddedDVD/0x(31)+0-F/ ZionArchives"

But that seems to be merely a hint to show you where the 32-bit puzzle solution lies. Just to be sure, I tried:

"TheMatrix.com/Path/ViaRevolutions/ThirdSlot/top/EmbeddedDVD/0x(31)+0-F/ ZionArchives"

That doesn't work either. Continued with:

"Zion Archives" "Zion410E20" (from the faceplate of the 32-bit access panel) "EmbeddedDVD" and "EVERYTHING THAT HAS A BEGINNING HAS AN END."

None of those worked. At that point, the machine that runs my matrix (=dear Zorak), forbade me to waste any more time trying to hack the matrix elite area.

So I leave it up to you, dear reader, to break the code. If you find it, please e-mail me. Thanks!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/08/2003 11:52:00 PM | link

Jessica Lynch finally admitted that she was raped today.
Told you all so a long, long time ago. Now that public furor over her capture has long since subsided, and no one will view it as a decisive issue, the truth comes out. For the news story, read here.

Well, besides abortion and euthanasia, I can't think of many things that piss me off more than the utterly inhumane extremes we are willing to countenance in the name of gender equality. I'm sure -- after more therapy and feminist propaganda -- that Jessi will find it in her to say she was a brave little rape victim so that the shining cause of women in combat can continue. Does the abortion get a purple heart too? How about her future spouse?

I suppose the feminists will tell me that I should become as accustomed to the regular existence of mothers and wives who have been beaten and sodomized senseless by another country's all-male fighting force as I am accustomed to the phenomenon of fathers and husbands who suffer post-combat shellshock. This is, of course, a load of crap and presumes the psychological equality between men and women which I deny.

Rather than write my own rant about the topic, read:

Jessica Lynch's Army: The Clinton Legacy. Insightful in many regards. Note Atkinson's analysis of the performance of Lynch's 507th, which received reduced "combat support only" and "gender-normed" training, as compared to the performance of other all-male, fully-trained combat troops who were ambushed while serving in a support role.


Thoughts on Women-in-Combat.

We will be very, very sorry we've taken this step toward androgenous barbarism. But by then, we will have so thoroughly butchered God's plan for human psychology and the family that we will be too blind to care.

And before you dismiss Atkinson as an armchair critic, here's his bio.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/06/2003 03:19:00 PM | link

The Matrix: Revolutions
(Spoilers after picture, several paragraphs below)

After much waiting and anticipation, Zorak and I saw the premier of The Matrix: Revolutions, and we finally learned how the Wachowski Brothers' resolved the many open questions which remained from Matrix 1 & 2.

But first a brief word about the aesthetics: the pace & cinematography. Revolutions was suspense from start to finish, with very little slackening of the momentum. Heck, we begin the third film knowing that all those machines are borrowing down towards Zion and Neo's in a coma. That's enough to get you anxious, and it doesn't stop there. The 140 minutes flew by. In my review of the second film, I felt that the action scenes were a bit bloated, and possibly extended because they had to "stretch" the second film a little because they had too much material for just two movies, but not enough for three. They totally make up for the lag in Matrix 2 with the lean, fast-paced deployment of Matrix 3.

We get the same density of allusion to Judeo-Christian religion and classical myth in the third film as we did in the first two. Get ready to see a modern update of Hades, the River Styx and Charon. There is a journey to the underworld and back again, a la Aeneid, 6. But the Wachowskis love to fuse Graeco-Roman and Christian motifs, so the Fields of Asphodel look like Limbo, and we find out that Seraph and the Merovingian are former buddies before a celestial falling-out occurred between them. (BTW, "limbo" is an anagram for MOBIL -- stick that in your pocket for when you see the movie.) I do not want to give anything away, so enough identifying the allusions for now.

Rest assured there is a highly-saturated background for the viewer to pick apart on DVD. For a random example, take this boilerplate on a lamp post in Zion:

Mark 13:24: "But in those days, following that distress,
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light"

In the war for Zion, you get as much high-tech special effects as you expect from the trailer of the last movie. Staggering amounts of simulated evil machines vs. human-powered machines fighting each other in vast industrial regions. They also spared no expense on the "Machine City" scenes or Niobe's incredible ride on the Hammurabi.

But the remaining philosophical questions are by far the more important for the merit of the film. Those questions included:

1) Will the movie ultimately side with a realist perspective, or a subjectivist one? Will the ostensibly "real" world we see in Matrix 1 & 2 turn out to be just another mental construct? More importantly, will same be said about the values and meaning of human life within the real world. Is it matrices all the way down?

2) Will the movie endorse free will or determinism? While only evil characters endorse fate (Agent Smith, the Merovingian), the movie hasn't said the final word on this yet.

3) What is Neo's purpose? The answer to this question is critical to the interpretation of both Matrix 1 andMatrix 2. As I said in my second post on Matrix 2, Neo has failed to grasp his purpose / his destiny by the end of the second movie. The Oracle constantly tries to guide him to realizing his own raison d'etre, which she cannot tell him, but he must discover for himself (but he clearly hasn't yet). Likewise, the Merovingian continually mocks Neo for not understanding his reasons for acting. My original comments are the most concise:

"The Merovingian berates Neo for coming to him just because other people (Morpheus, the Oracle) have told him to do so. Like other pitiful human beings (the girl who eats the cake), Neo has failed to escape the ubiquitous dynamic of cause and effect. He does not act with his own innate sense of purpose, according to goals of his own design, like the free programmers do (such as the Architect, Merovingian, Agent Smith). If the third movie is going to solve anything important, it is this question, and with relation to Zion.

"Heretofore, Neo has acted simply out of reaction to the amazing events of being drawn out of the Matrix, unplugged, and launched into a battle whose scope and purpose he has yet to fully comprehend. What will Neo's telos be? What positive goal will he end up adopting as his mission, rather than simply staving off evil? Moreover, until Neo makes sense of the purpose of life outside of the illusory world of the Matrix, it is hard to give a complete answer to Cypher's Dilemma at the end of the first movie, which is the major question of that film. (Cypher is willing to take the red pill, forget he was ever unplugged, and live happily ever after in the illusion of the Matrix -- a privilege he gets in exchange for betraying Neo.) "

4) Is there a coherent explanation for all the Christian allusions? And Gnostic allusions? I have never sided with critics who have claimed that all these allusions are thrown into the movie for "wow value" and to add the facade of depth. There is clearly the potential for a profoundly religious message in the movies, and there is also the bourgoning Messianism in Zion, as a growing minority of people place their hopes in Neo.

5) Is the philosophical / religious message of the movie ultimately sound? In the final analysis: How syncretic is it? How Gnostic is it? How "Eastern" is it? How modern is it?

Spoilers Below! And Answers to the Questions!

OK. Straight into spoilers. Indeed, I'm not going to spend too much time on telling you the plot. You'll have to see it for yourself. I'm diving straight into my apologia for the movie, since I liked it, and Zorak did not. I am writing this before reading anything else, so I'm curious to see how other people reacted to movie, but I won't let that bias my own assessment.

The entire philosophical value of the movie rests on the words and actions in the Super Burly Brawl, the in-house name given to the final, apocalyptic fight scene where Smith and Neo trade blows on the order of megatons, exploding buildings, causing earthquakes, and generally behaving like meteors until they settle down to some mano-a-mano dialectic at the end.

Getting ready to assess the film, I realized that the pressure on the third movie was intense. In my mind, the Wachowskis faced a dichotomy, having raised so many philosophical questions which are central to the Western tradition. Would they chicken out and run? Would they prove critics correct who claim that all the religious allusions are merely window dressing designed to make the film look "deep"? To avoid endorsing a worldview, the Wachowskis could have provided an intentionally ambiguous ending and hid behind that dishonest old disclaimer of authorial responsibility: "the audience must figure it out." This would be lame. Matrix: Rev was not lame. They took a side. They took the right side. Thus the movie gets my unqualified thumbs up.

But let's not skip ahead. Before seeing the film, I thought to myself: If the Wachowskis do offer a definitive answer to the central philosophical questions -- if they do show us a Neo who understands the nature of his mission as Messiah -- we should not expect this answer to be a better answer than the Gospel itself. Let that sink in for a minute, because I think it's key. If you're Christian, don't be disappointed if the Matrix doesn't offer you an alternative narrative of the salvation of man or the next best thing since Nietzsche. Rather, be happy. The Matrix: Rev doesn't give us a radically new story, but a radically new way of telling it. If Neo is the Messiah, the best possible outcome for the movie would be to depict a Christlike Messiah. And in large measure, that is what we get. If Zorak or others are disappointed by this, they can explain why.

To take my earlier questions one by one:

1. Will the movie ultimately side with a realist perspective, or a subjectivist one? Agent Smith's speech at the end of the Super Burly Brawl makes it clear that the movie endorses the side of realism. There is no matrix within a matrix. More importantly, Neo explicitly affirms (while Smith denies) the existence of an absolute good, truth and freedom, as well as the unconditional goodness of love. Smith asserts that all these things are merely human constructs: arbitrary, changeable, ephemeral constructions "just like the Matrix," and Neo emphatically denies it. Then he triumphs over Smith. Booyah.

Whoever wrote Agent Smith's monologues redeemed the crappy speeches in Matrix: Reloaded. The only speech to miss the mark in Revolution was Trinity's final scene. Why can't they write for a woman with depth? Niobe had more depth. Sheesh.

2) Will the movie endorse free will or determinism? Here again, the movie clearly endorses free will. Both the Oracle and Neo make critical decisions based on their own belief in the reality of human freedom and the non-existence of fate. We've seen this before in the second movie. (When Neo first visits the Oracle, she says he is not The One, but when he returns after his showdown with the Architect, she says he is The One. Likewise, Neo alters what has seemed to be Trinity's inevitable death at the end of the second movie.) But the ultimate endorsement of freedom vs. fate hangs in the balance as long as the two pro-determinism antagonists are in play: Agent Smith and the Merovingian. In the Super Burly Brawl, it is clear that Neo's decisions to journey to the Machine City and to keep fighting until death have destroyed the inevitability of the future which Smith says he has repeatedly foreseen, a future in which Smith is victorious.

3) What is Neo's purpose? Neo realizes that as Messiah / The One, he must ultimately die to bring about the universal salvation of mankind. Moreover, Neo dies for the sake of agape -- not philia or eros.
All of the personal motivations for Neo to continue on his mission are progressively stripped away: Morpheus' faith has already collapsed by the end of Reloaded. The continual hope offered by the Oracle dies after Smith kills her. And in the end, Neo loses the hitherto ultimate motivation of Trinity's love.

Zorak was unhappy with the decisive dialogue between Agent Smith and Neo when Smith relentlessly asks Neo why he won't stop fighting. Just a few lines ago, Smith has savaged all the higher-order universals: Goodness, Truth, Freedom, Purpose, Love. Neo's reply is clearly framed as the raison d'etre of human existence. And from among these five he chooses to emphasize -- Ack! -- freedom.

At this point, I got very concerned for the sake of the movie. It seemed to veer -- at this pivotal moment -- in the direction of voluntarism or existentialism. Was the movie endorsing a view wherein the answer to the meaning of human existence lies in the fact that we are free to ask and to answer this very question for ourselves? Was I seeing the existentialist glorification of the unanswerable mystery of man's freedom as the meaning of life itself? Was Neo, in effect, repeating the gayest Rush line ever: "I choose free will"? Or was I seeing the typical post-Enlightenment elevation of the will as an end in itself? "What is the meaning of life, Neo?" "The fact that we can do whatever we want, Smith."

But don't conclude that the movie blew it just because Neo emphasizes freedom as the key to the meaning of human existence in his speech. Remember that while Neo is giving this speech in the Matrix, he is also, in the Machine City, performing an equally important act.

There, in the heart of the fortress of death itself, Neo has chosen, out of pure agape, to spread his arms out in the form of the cross and to allow the machine to jack into him. Likewise, moments later in the matrix, Neo accepts the fatal blow from Agent Smith whereby Smith "overwrites" his code onto Neo, since Smith believes that he will kill Neo just as he has killed the Oracle. The parallels to the Passion of Christ in this scene are unmistakable. Neo allows himself to "become sin" in order to permanently destroy "sin." Just as the Lord takes upon Himself, in mind and in body, the entire experience of human disintegration and depravity, so too Neo is pumped full of machine ports and he allows himself to be completely subsumed by the inky black hatred of Smith's code which violently burns to destroy everything human. In so doing, Neo "destroys death" from the inside out. To paraphrase Gregory of Nyssa, Neo places the bait of his suffering humanity on the hook of his indomitable spirit. When Smith takes the bait, and Neo dies, Neo reconciles all things in himself -- "the equation is balanced." The Machine pronounces "It is Done." (I.e., "It is finished.") The dragging away of the body clearly parallels the deposition from the cross.

So I don't think that Neo's actions in the Machine City permit us to interpret his reply to Smith in the Brawl in a purely voluntaristic or existentialist way. One must interpret both speech and act together. Moderns are right insofar as they emphasize the importance of freedom over determinism, and that emphasis is a key theme of the movie. But freedom is only the "efficient cause" of the moral life, so to speak. In order to have a complete account, you must have a "formal cause" and "final cause" as well, and we see these portrayed unmistakably in Neo's actions: self-sacrificial love. Freedom and self-sacrificial love together give a complete answer to the movie's central question, but the Wachowskis don't want to preach to you, nor hit you over the head with it, and so the point about self-sacrificial love is less prominent in comparison to the explicit endorsement of freedom. If the importance freedom in itself was the sole message of the movie, there would be nothing to separate Agent Smith or the Merovingian from Neo, but it is clearly Neo's belief in an absolute truth and his willingness to die to redeem mankind that sets him apart and allows him to defeat Smith.

On the Christian vs. Gnostic side, therefore, Revolutions definitely came down on the side that salvation is not only for a chosen few elites who possess the esoteric knowledge of the Matrix. Rather, salvation is through self-sacrificial love and faith in The One. We see this concretely in the actions of the minor characters in Zion: Niobe, Link's wife Zee, Morpheus, and the young boy all make professions of faith in Neo before their Zion-saving actions in the film, and they all do so out of motivations of love. Compare the behavior of Cmdr. Lock on the other hand.

Moreover, Revolutions prevents the viewer from adopting any dualistic philosophy of flesh vs. spirit. In the first two movies, the great emphasis on Neo's superpowers gained through self-knowledge and mental mastery of the matrix exalt the spirit so much that one is left to wonder whether The Matrix was a lesson in unalloyed Platonism. But witness the awesome speech given by Bane, the traitor who is possessed by Agent Smith, and his thoroughgoing hatred for the flesh and all incarnate beings! Compare that with the attitude of Neo, Trinity, Morpheus or the Oracle regarding the frailties and finitude of human nature.

So IMHO, you can't ask much more from the movie philosophy: The Messiah is crucified in a one-and-for all act of comprehensive victory over the tyranny of sin and death. Since chances are likely I'll write more on the subject, I'll leave it at that for now.

Some concluding observations:

Zorak hates the optimistic, happy ending. I don't know why. It is a divine comedy. We've seen Hell and Purgatory (or at least Limbo) already in the film. At the end, we don't see heaven, but we do see an earth redeemed from the tyrannical domination of The Machines and flourishing in an era of peace. (Just as the death of Christ inaugurates the New Covenant, which is an era of spiritual peace free from the tyranny of sin.) Two things are clear in the closing exchange between the Architect and the Oracle.

First, just as the Oracle has come back to life despite her apparently death when Smith "overwrote" her, and again, the scene with her lifeless body after Smith is destroyed, so too we have hope that Neo may return someday. Second, We also are told that the balance of power between machines and man may also become unbalanced at some time in the future. This is an analogy to the Second Coming of Christ and the resurgence of tribulations before the apocalypse. It also explains my standing question of why Neo is clearly #6. (We are told there have been 5 "Ones" before him.) Since 7 is the perfect number when things come to completion, and not 6, I was wondering in the second movie whether the young boy who admires Neo so much might be the 7th One. Not so. When Neo comes again, his second coming will be as the 7th One.

The young boy, IMHO, is St. John: the youngest apostle, the beloved disciple. We see him rushing out to evangelize Zion when he realizes that Neo has saved the city.

The website has an incredible amount of detail. Visit: http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/. Not only is the Zero Hour Global Synchronous Debut a groundbreaking trend in movies, so too is the sheer volume of background information about the making of the movie. Note too the level of direct, personalized credit given to even the most minor contributors among the crew, yet the page on the Wachowskis is almost entirely blank.

They're also keeping up the riddles. Can anyone figure out the hexadecimal (or is it octal) code required to access the third area? On the top of the menu bar, look at the menu for Revolutions, then mouse-over the third box from the left, top row. The screen will read: "OxOAC01BFA." In "Breaking News" they add: "A witches brew of hex is in the pot and being stirred. For those who have tamed 8 bit, and then 32 bit encryption here at the site, what might be next?" Lastly, there's the enigmatic instruction: "Go deeper.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 11/06/2003 02:55:00 AM | link


Friends Outside the
Prophetes Viatoresque:
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