Calvin on Men as Heads in General

Recently I got in an online discussion about patriarchy. I was told that “Patriarchy is NOT the historic teaching of the church.”  Whether this is right or wrong depends to a large degree on the definition of patriarchy. In the discussion patriarchy was defined as women submitting to men in general. It was assumed that wives should submit to husbands and that women could not be pastors. But men do not have a headship over women in general. By the logic put forth in other discussions, if this was the case, we would find men ordering women around everywhere they went.

There are several issue at play here. But in this post I simply want to quote John Calvin who clearly does assert that men are heads of women in general. And I doubt this led to the men in Geneva ordering all the women around.  This quote comes from a sermon on I Corinthians 11:4-10.

Now St. Paul is not speaking here of individuals, or of particular households. Rather he has divided the human race into two parts, as was indicated in the previous sermon. So there is the male, and the female. I say this, because even though a man may not be married, he still has this privilege of nature: he is a head. Of whom? Of women, because we are not merely to examine one house, but the order that God has established in the world. In the case of a widow, or of a young woman who has yet to marry, the subjection of which St. Paul is speaking still pertains to them. Why? Because it applies to the entire feminine sex…From this we see the stupidity of some who have expounded this text of St. Paul as if it referred only to married women. For, as I have already indicated, he is not dealing with each individual in particular, but with the general order.

You may disagree with Calvin. I do not. However, that is not the point. The point is a historical one. Calvin clearly did hold to the general submission of women to men. He did not restrict it to wives and husbands only. He says the same thing in his commentary on this passage.

Does this make women less than men? Are they not also made in the image of God? Does Christ relate to men in the same way as women? See this blog post where Calvin affirms that women are made in the image of God and salvation is fully their’s in the same way it belongs to men. In Christ, we are equal and all are made in the image of God. But “in this passing life” [Calvin’s term] there is a need for order. And God created men to rule.