Orthodox Patristic Tradition and Wife Abuse
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
It is estimated that 1 out of 6 women in the United States is abused by her partner, and that between 7 - 11% suffer serious injuries (Straus & Gelles, 1986). This social and family problem cuts across all sectors of our society (Toufexis, 1987), and recent information indicates that the Greek Orthodox Community is not immune to its effects (Geanacopoulos, 1999).
Wife abuse has serious noxious consequences on individual, couple, and family well-being (Holtzworth-Munroe, Beck, Beatty & Anglin, 1995; Gelles & Corte, 1991). Women who are physically abused report experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress such as depression and anxiety (Christopoulos, Cohn, Shaw, Joyce, Sullivan-Hanson, Kraft & Emery, 1987; Gelles & Harrop, 1989). Children who have witnessed domestic violence are significantly more likely to experience socioemotional developmental difficulties (Christopoulos et al., 1987; Gelles & Corte, 1991), and are more likely to grow up to be abusing parents and spouses (Gelles, 1980; Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 1995). As a result, laws have been enacted to curb the frequency of this behavior, and husbands who abuse their spouses can expect to be arrested and, at minimum, incarcerated.
This Article's Objectives
Along with the adverse effects that wife abuse inflicts on individuals, couples, families, and society, patristic tradition asserts that wife abuse also negatively impacts individual, couple, and family religious and spiritual well-being. The remainder of this article will seek to briefly discuss why wife abuse can have a negative impact on spousal, marital, and family religious and spiritual well-being. To accomplish this task, a brief overview of marriage from the holy fathers' perspective will be presented, as well as some observations from St. John Chrysostom regarding wife abuse.
Marriage From a Patristic Tradition
We live in a postmodern, secular age. As such, it is not uncommon for members of our society to view marriage as a human construction that has evolved through social consensus. It is also not unusual for members of our society to place a positive value on marriage so long as it serves to enhance their emotional, social, economic, and psychological well-being.
The holy fathers of our Church do not find these and other similar perceptions concerning marriage of significance in their own efforts to conceptualize marriage. Patristic tradition lifts marriage out of a pragmatic, mundane, secular context, and contextualizes it within a life in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The consequences of this is that marriage is not predicated on what is deemed socially, politically, legally, economically or philosophically correct, but is entirely dependent on certain divinely revealed truths that have emerged as God has manifested His truth to humankind. Moreover, among these divine truths, the following assertions and presuppositions are of central importance to the Fathers' conception of marriage:
The Adverse Effects of Wife Abuse on Religious and Spiritual Well-Being
In light of what the father’s maintained about marriage, it is not difficult to imagine that they condemned wife abuse, since this behavior serves to undermine a couple's efforts to cultivate a Christian marriage. The following quotes from St. John Chrysostom illustrate this point.
While commenting on Ephesians 5: 25 - 26, St. John offers the following insights and counsel to husbands.
Elsewhere St. John would also write the following regarding wife abuse.
St John makes a number of important observations in these two quotes that are typical of what the holy fathers taught about wife abuse. Among these observations, the following five points bare mentioning.
Social science literature clearly describes the adverse socioemotional, marital, and familial effects that wife abuse has on individuals, couples, families and society. This short article has sought to reinforce this point, while also pointing to the adverse effects that husband’s abusive behavior can have on individual, couple, and family religious and spiritual well-being. Wife abuse clearly contradicts patristic teaching, has no place in a Christian marriage, and compromises spouses, couples, and family's religious and spiritual well-being.
Christopoulos, C., Cohn, D. A., Shaw, D. S., Joyce, S., Sullivan-Hanson, J., Kraft, S. P., & Emery, R. (1987). Children of abused women: Adjustment at time of shelter residence. Journal of Marriage and Family. 49, 611-619.
Chrysostom, J. (1986). St John Chrysostom: On marriage and family life. C. P. Roth, Trans.) Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. (Original work published in 407)
Geanacopoulos, P. (1999). Domestic violence: A training manual for the Greek Orthodox Community. (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc.) New York, NY.
Gelles, R. J., (1980). Violence in the family: A review of research in the seventies. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 42, 973-885.
Gelles, R. J., & Harrop, J. W., (1989). Violence, battering, and psychological distress among women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 4, 400-420.
Gelles, R. J., & Corte, J. R. (1991). Domestic violence and sexual abuse of children: A review of research in the eighties. In A. Booth (Ed.), Contemporary families: Looking forward, looking back. Minneapolis, MN: National Council of Family Relations.
Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Beck Beatty, S., & Anglin, K. (1995). The Assessment and Treatment of Marital Violence: An introduction for the marital therapist. In N. S. Jacobson & A. S. Gurman (Eds.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
Straus, M., & Gelles, R. J. (1986). Societal change and change in family violence surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 48, 465-479.
Toufexis, A. (1987, December). Home is where the hurt is: Wife beating among the well-to-do is no longer a secret. Time. P. 68.