C. S. Lewis on Headship
But I dare not mention this Pagan sacrament without turning aside to guard against any danger of confusing it with an incomparably higher mystery. As nature crowns man in that brief action, now the Christian law has crowned him in the permanent relationship of marriage, bestowing—or shall I say, inflicting?—a certain “headship” upon him. This is a very different coronation. And as we could easily take the natural mystery too seriously, so we might take the Christian mystery not seriously enough. Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church—read on—and give his life for her (Eph. V, 25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least loveable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows. In the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or in his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a king Cophetua who after twenty hears still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.
To say this is not to say that there is any virtue or wisdom in making a marriage that involves such misery. There is no wisdom or virtue in seeking unnecessary martyrdom or deliberately courting persecution; yet, as it is, none the less, the persecuted or martyred Christian in whom the pattern of the Master is most unambiguously realized. So in these terrible marriages, once they have come about, the “headship” of the husband, if only he can sustain it, is most Christ-like.
The sternest feminist need not grudge my sex the crown offered it either in the Pagan or in the Christian mystery. For the one is of paper and the other of thorns. The real danger is not that husbands may grasp the latter too eagerly; but that they will allow or compel their wives to usurp it.
The Four Loves, p. 105-106.