Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is St. Paul Sexist?

Q - Would you please explain for me the passage from 1 Corinthians 11:1-16?
Does the description in 1 Corinthians 11:3 imply some kind of hierarchy therefore subordination from one member to the other? Why is a man not supposed to cover his head while a woman has to? Are these traditions? Finally, Jesus has long hair, do you see any contradiction?

A - Thanks for the questions. I will try and tackle all of them. First of all, we have to remember a few things about the authors of the Sacred Scriptures.
1 - God inspired them to write truth that leads to salvation. Here is what Vatican II said in Dei Verbum:
"since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation."
2 - The human authors are limited by their own humanity and do not write about the natural order of things if they are ignorant about something. God inspires the truth that is supernatural and transcends the natural order. Therefore, a writer could not tell us about modern scientific discoveries thousands of years ago. Thus, when we read the Bible we must consider what the original human author knew about the world. The Catechism says:
109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.
So, when we go through these passages, we must keep these things in mind.
Here is the passage in context:
"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God."
1 Corinthians 11: 1-16
What is Paul getting at here? Well, it will take a while to break it all down.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. 
When Paul is saying to imitate him, he is speaking about the preceding passage, not this one. So, I will address the rest of this passage without directly linking them to Paul's example.

The rest of this passage is disputed by scholars. One school of thought is that he is talking about sexual differences between all men and women. Some say it has to do with marital relationships, not the broader differences between men and women. The Greek in this passage for "man" and "woman" can be also translated into "husband" and "wife", so this is where some of the scholars get this thought.

Now, the word "head" in Greek is Kephale. It can mean a physical head of a person's body, ruler, leader, source, or origin. So, there are different ways of interpreting what Paul is saying here. One way of interpreting Scripture is to read it in the context of other passages. Paul also talks about headship in Ephesians 5 and starts off with these passages:
"Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,"
-Ephesians 5: 21-16
So, husbands and wives are to be subordinate to one another - which means to let the other person's interests and welfare come before your own. Also, if a man is to be head of his wife as Christ is, then a man should lay down his life for his wife, as Christ did for the Church. There is no subjugation of women here. Rather, there is sacrificial love for one another.

Now, what about the head covering issue?
The Church teaches that this was a cultural practice in Paul's day and he is asking them to keep the practice up. This is not a matter of doctrine, but a discipline, therefore it can be changed as other disciplines in the liturgy have over time. Thus, the document Inter Insigniores says:
"it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value."
So, there is no moral or Church law that would ever require a woman to cover her head or wear what some women still wear - a chapel veil (mantilla) - rather, this is a personal devotion and women are permitted to wear them if they so choose.

As for Jesus and long hair - we just don't know what he looked like or how he had his hair.

Now, based on archaeological data, we can say that most Jews of Jesus day would have had long hair and beards (by today's standard). But, most women would have had hair much longer, probably down to their waists. So, what Paul is calling long is a cultural standard as well. He is asking men to try not to appear as women do.

I hope all of this helps.

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