One of the relatively few modern theologians revered by Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons alike is C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). While secular audiences know him best for his Chronicles of Narnia series, perhaps his greatest work is Mere Christianity, in which he strove to reintroduce a rapidly-secularizing Britain to Jesus Christ.
There’s a fascinating (and controversial) section in the book in which he defends the permanence of marriage… and then male headship. He introduces the topic this way:
So much for the Christian doctrine about the permanence of marriage. Something else, even more unpopular, remains to be dealt with. Christian wives promise to obey their husbands. In Christian marriage the man is said to be the “head.” Two questions obviously arise here, (1) Why should there be a head at all —why not equality? (2) Why should it be the man?
It’s the first of these questions that are of interest here, because he shows the need for a single head in this way:
The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement. What do they do next?
They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority. Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution.
Lewis, as an Anglican, certainly never intended that to be a defense of the papacy, but look at how neatly the argument works in that way nevertheless.
The analogy between marriage and the Church is no stretch. Much of the Christian doctrine of marriage derives from Ephesians 5, in which St. Paul famously compares marriage to the union between Christ and the Church. And like marriage, the Church is meant to be a union for life. Christ promises that “the gates of Hell” shall never destroy the Church (Matthew 16:17-19), and prays for His future followers (that is, you and me) that we will be wholly united (John 17:20-23):
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
Jesus Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, is head of the Church, His Bride. This is the model for all of Christendom, down to every individual family, the so-called “domestic Church.” The husband’s headship over the domestic Church is patterned off of Christ’s Headship over the cosmic Church (Ephesians 5:25-27): “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’
But in the same way, the bishop’s headship over the local Church, and the pope’s headship over the global Church is likewise patterned off of Christ’s Headship. And so St. Ignatius of Antioch, a student of the Apostle John, writes to the Trallians around 107 A.D. to praise them for respecting the bishop’s singular headship:
For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all.
St. Optatus of Milevis points out (writing in the mid-300s) that this need for headship extends, not just to the family or the local Church, but to the global Church as well, and that it was for this reason that the Lord established the papacy:
So we have proved that the Catholic Church is the Church which is spread throughout the world. […] You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim—-each for himself—-separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner. Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.
Optatus’ point is virtually identical to Lewis’. Male headship isn’t premised off of the idea that women are in any way inferior to men, but upon the idea that there is a need for someone to have the final decision-making authority.
If the couple is to be one for life, there is a need for a single individual to have final authority. This is no less true for the Church. Otherwise, you end up with interminable disputes, divorce (in the case of marriages) and schisms (in the case of the Church). This, of course, has precisely been the case of Protestantism: a felt need to continually embrace either heresy or schism. And the remedy here is exactly what Lewis lays out: a return to a Biblical understanding of headship.