With the rise in popularity of the book turned film, 50 Shades of Grey, the word “submission” has suddenly risen from taboo, to chic for many avid fans. Ironically, a hipster-minded Catholic might venture to explain that we’ve been embracing a teaching on submission long before it was riddling the pages the pop culture phenomena… just in a very different context. I would dare to even say, that Scripture’s definition is more attractive, romantic, and passionate than any romance novel could ever portray.
The word, submission shows up most notably in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he says, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything” (v.22-24). For many, these few sentences fell like battery acid poured their eye. In order to appreciate the true meaning of this, let’s look more closely at what the word submission really means.
We all know that the word “sub” means under. We could say therefore that “sub-mission” is equivalent to being “under the mission of.” What is this mission of the husband? Well, in the words of Saint John Paul the Great, “It is the duty of every man, to uphold the dignity if every woman.” When Saint Paul speaks of wives being submissive to their husbands, he is speaking of this very thing. In fact, he goes on, in this same passage, to boldly say that husbands should “love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (v. 25). Wow. Our all-powerful God makes Himself the subordinate One in order to lay down His life for His bride (the Church). Saint Paul invites all married men to do the same: live their lives ordered to the holiness of their wife and children.
Ultimately, the fulfillment of our dignity is understood in Heaven. All human relationships, romantic or platonic, have one purpose: to bring another to holiness. In the garden, this became the desire of Adam’s heart, to share the Paradise of God with another. In the vocation of marriage, a husband stands before God promising to do this very thing—to make it his mission to bring his wife to the Paradise of Heaven.
What woman in love with Christ wouldn’t want to be under that mission? I can almost hear all the Catholic single ladies across America shout “Amen!!” Our response as women isn’t to blindly do whatever our husband says, however, we do what God asks when He commissioned Eve to be the “helpmate” for Adam. We share in the mission and collaborate to create an environment to encounter God in our homes, relationships and daily lives. The teaching on submission doesn’t repress women; on the contrary, it honors them.
Now, in regards to the sudden enthusiasm regarding sexual submission, could it be true that the devil is up to his same old strategy? So often, the devil takes something that is good, true, beautiful and also the longing of our heart and twists it just enough to make us believe his version will satisfy. Perhaps this is the root of the intrigue of the type of sexual domination and submission in 50 Shades of Grey. Physical harm, misogyny, and degrading sexual acts may sell books, but it won’t satisfy in the way that real, selfless, sacrificial love was designed to do.
Katie Hartfiel is an author and speaker dedicated to sharing the intense love of God. She graduated Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she received a degree in Theology. She served as a youth minister for seven years in Houston, where she now resides with her husband, Mark, and two daughters. In 2012, Katie released her first book, Woman in Love (available at womaninlove.org).