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Why is the husband the spiritual leader of his family?

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Caitlin Bootsma - published on 04/30/13

God has given different persons different roles in the family

In Ephesians, we hear this teaching: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church” (5:22).

One wonders whether any Scripture passage has ever provoked as much ire among those sitting in the pews. Part of this misdirected anger comes, no doubt, from a sense that somehow men and women are being declared unequal. Additionally, some may see this as unjust license given to men to oppress women and deny them their dignity.

It is essential, therefore, to strip away our own preconceptions about what the word “head” means and discern what St. Paul is actually teaching. Rather than a “head” in the sense of a CEO or boss, St. Paul seems to be referring to headship as it relates to the body. Note that St. Paul relates spousal roles to the relationship between Christ and his Church, the Body of Christ. We know that while Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and has authority, he also died to save us. Husbands and fathers are called to this same level of sacrificial leadership.

Within the body of the family, each member is given a particular role and responsibility. These roles do not indicate that one person is more valuable than another, but rather that different complementary functions are needed to sustain a loving, holy family. Pope Pius XI discusses the roles of spouses saying, “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” (Casti Connubi, 27). Both of these roles require a great deal of virtue and of love for one another and one’s children. Neither is more important or more necessary than the other.

Always seeking to imitate Christ, men should take this call to spiritual headship in their family seriously. To serve as a leader, husbands should be a humble example of virtue to their family, earnestly pursuing a life of prayer and discernment and ever seeking to love his family, recognizing that just as a family needs a head, a head also needs his heart (his wife) and his children.


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