Headship of Christ and Queens

In the Edenic world of Perelandra, from C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, Ransom notices something about how the Green Lady treats the animals:[1] “There was in her face an authority, in her caresses a condescension,[2] which by taking seriously the inferiority of her adorers made them somehow less inferior —raised them from the status of pets to that of slaves.”

And then later when she realized that Ransom was not the King of his world:[3] “And now for the first time there was a note of deliberate courtesy, even of ceremony, in her speech. Ransom understood. She knew now at last that she was not addressing an equal. She was a queen sending a message to a queen through a commoner, and her manner to his was henceforward more gracious.”

Much of Perelandra is concerned with authority and here Lewis deftly illustrates its role while highlighting our misunderstanding. Authority is for the exaltation of others. Recognizing that Ransom is beneath her, she can no longer speak to him informally, she must lift him up in her speech and decorum so that he can be higher than she, just as she exalted the animals to the level of rational creature. In the hands of a king, what is low is made less lowly and what is high is made higher.

But frequently we use authority to lord over, to suppress those beneath us. It is the sin of pride, born of fear, that causes us to keep under our thumb what we are called to raise up. It is a sin that begets a fall, for if you push down what you should uplift you yourself are made lower in the effort. True authority uplifts and in their submission to those beneath them, they themselves are lifted up higher than where they began.

When the Green Lady honors Ransom, he is exalted above her, and when he in turn honors her, she is returned to her place above him, but each at a higher level. A failure to honor those in authority denigrates them both and all are lowered. So in order to be exalted one must humble himself. Authority and submission form the engine that drives glory.

This topsy-turvy dynamic is reflected in the Trinity. Within the Trinity there is ontological equality (very God of very God; Oneness) and economical subordination (the Father, Son and Spirit; Threeness). This isn’t a flat hierarchical relationship for there is intersubmission, as seen in history. The Father sends the Son, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, humbled himself even to death, and was exalted and given a name above all names. When all things are subjected to him, reigning until he put all enemies under his feet, the Son will again be subject to the Father, that God may be all in all.

This relationship is pictured in the husband and wife. There is a unity as expressed in their oneness of flesh, but also a subordination. As the Trinity does not operate in a static hierarchy, marriage is characterized by intersubmission. The husband is the head of the wife in the way Christ is the head of the church, as God the Father is the head of God the Son, but the wife is the housemaster (perhaps we should call her the head of the house[4]) and she has power over the body of her husband. This demonstrates why Jesus is the ultimate example for both men and women, he is the submissive head, the servant king.

Authority depends upon intersubmission. The king serves the people even as he rules them. Parents serve their children even as they train them to obey. We, through our baptism in Christ, are counsellors to the Most High. Whatever we ask in the name of the Son, He will do it. He, the king, obeys us, his servants. This is the nature of true hierarchy, an ascendant cartwheeling into further glory.

This multiplicity is balanced in the unity of the Dominion Mandate, given to both the Man and the Woman, to subdue and take dominion. In this they are united, assisted by the paraclete, the Holy Spirit who comes alongside, sent from the Father and the Son to teach us all things and bring all things to remembrance that God may be all in all.

So the husband, as the head of the wife, glorifies the wife; and the wife, as the head of the house, glorifies the family. She is clothed in strength and honor, and glorifies her family in scarlet, who in turn is glorified in the gates. As man is the glory of God, and woman is the glory of man (meaning she is the glory of the glory of God, thrice glorious), the father is the glory of children,[5] forming another cycle of glorification.

To be the head is to initiate and begin glorification, rising when it is yet night. The loyal subject witnesses and finishes the glorification, returning it to the head. The Father creates the world through the Son, initiating its glory, and the Son brings it to further glory, through the Holy Spirit. If a word is not ratified then it falls to the ground, if a gift is rejected it dies, to merely bury the talent is wickedness and sloth. True obedience receives the service of the king, increases it and returns it.

Despite the perichoretic dance within the Trinity, the persons are not guises or modes; the Father is always the Father, the Son is the Son and the Spirit is the Spirit. Even so, in the sanctuary garden, Adam, as the liturgical head, is given the helpmeet of Eve; she is the liturgical witness, the needed second voice to establish a thing.

Each in their role exalting the other, initiators in submission and sacrifice. Christ, as the head of the Bride, is the helpmeet of the church as she labors in the world.[6] The husband works in the salt mines so that his wife can raise the future. As Christ glorifies the Bride she is granted greater and greater authority on earth. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father,” (John 14:12). If the king is not increasing the power and authority of his subjects then he is hating his own flesh for they are members of his own body.

Yet like so many Yertle the Turtles we see power as a zero sum game, to increase in power means the decrease of others, but the inner life of the Trinity shows us another way. Glory to glory; initiator and witness; begetter and begotten; Alpha and Omega; we fail to live up to the mystery when we flatten out the relationship between husband and wife. To speak of headship and submission should be as fraught with tension as the discussion of the Trinity.

The famous quote by Gregory of Nazianzus is a helpful template: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.” Or for us, No sooner do I conceive of One Flesh than I am illumined by the splendor of the Head, the Body and the Fruit of the Body of the home; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to their unity.

In the Sabbath, creation is brought to rest and enthronement, and woman, being associated with the Sabbath,[7] is to be kept and sanctified by man. But even though the woman was brought out of the man, all men are now born through women and all from God so that we are all born of Christ and Queens.

Remy Wilkins teaches at the Geneva Academy in Monroe, Louisiana.

 

[1] Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. New York: Scribner, 2003. p.56

[2] We use “condescend” in a negative sense, but its meaning is: “to yield deferentially,” from the Latin condescendere “to let oneself down.”

[3] Ibid., p.58

[4] The word oikodespoteo, used in I Timothy 5:14 and translated “guide the house,” is formed of two words: house despot. In Titus 2:5 oikourgos is used and translated “keepers at home” combining house with the word for guard. This echoes the word used to describe Adam’s role in the sanctuary garden, to keep/guard it.

[5] Proverbs 17:6

[6] The word translated help meet in Genesis 2:18 is most frequently used to describe Yahweh. See Psalms 33:20, 70:5, 115:9,10, 121:2, 124:8, 146:5.

[7] 1 Corinthians 11:9 + Mark 2:27