Monday, December 31, 2007


The Sunday in the octave of Christmas is the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (it is celebrated on December 30 when there is no Sunday between December 25 and January 1), the model for all families. It is an invitation to revisit Catholic doctrine on the family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:

“A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated.” (CCC, No. 2202)

“The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.”(CCC,No.2205)

“The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.” (CCC, No. 2207; italics in the original)

Contemporary social philosophy owes to Father Joseph M. De Torre* the explanation—of the notion that the family is the “original cell” of society—in terms of society’s “ultimate causes” (from the classical paradigm): The "formal cause" (what gives a thing the act of being what it is), the “form”, of society is the “union of wills” of its members; society’s "efficient cause" (what directly gives rise to and maintains it in existence) is "love" or "solidarity" (the minimum of which is “justice”); the "final cause" (ultimate purpose), the “end”, of society is “the common good”. The family is the "material cause" (what gives a thing the potency or capacity to become what it is), the “matter”, of society.

The family, rather than the individual, is the “matter” of society because the individual’s participation in social life is normally mediated by the family, an entity different from the individual (the family is a group) and from society itself (the ties that bind members of the same family are different from those that bind in society). From birth until the age of majority (when he can vote, enter into contracts, etc.), the individual participates in social life through parents and family; and even in adulthood, his participation in social life is mostly colored by family considerations (concern for spouse and children).

The individual stands as the “remote” material cause of society. The “immediate” matter of society is the family. Accordingly, social policy should be primarily directed towards the well-being of families, rather than the individual; otherwise, society would fall into the error of “individualism” (which translates, politically, into anarchistic “liberalism” and, in the field of economics, into unbridled or laissez-faire "capitalism"). On the other hand, if social policy were made to serve, primarily, neither the individual nor the family, it would end up serving society itself, the State, which is the error of “collectivism” (politically, “totalitarianism”, and as to the economy, “socialism”). Individualist and Collectivist ideologies spring from a disordered operation of our basic instincts for self-preservation (self-assertion) and for association, respectively, which, in the right order, find expression in the principles of “subsidiarity”** (independence) and “solidarity” (inter-dependence).

The right order of society is linked with recognition of the family as the “basic cell” or matter of society that public policy must first serve, above the individual or the collective. This is so because, while Individualistic ideologies would have “(individual) freedom”, and Collectivist ideologies, “equality”, as the highest value of social life, in truth, it is neither freedom nor equality but “justice”.

Justice, as the “minimum” of love, is the “manageable” aspect of the “efficient cause” of society (what brings and keeps society in existence). While love itself cannot be a matter of compulsion, justice can be. Thus, the promotion of “justice” (giving everyone his due)—not “freedom”, not “equality”, although these are good in themselves—should be the primary function of government (the political authority operating as the legal system). As St. Augustine expressed it, “a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves” (De Civitate Dei, IV, 4; quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, 28).

At present, attacks against the family consist, precisely, in advocacies (that have, in some places, ripened into laws) which place the individual above the family—“freedom” to renege on the marriage vow (divorce), “freedom” to eliminate unwanted babies (abortion), “freedom” to enjoy the pleasures of sex in denial of its procreative purpose (contraception and same-sex marriage)—or which place the State above the family (and the individual), as in State-sponsored population-control programs that dictate the number of children families could have, whether by force or by fraud.

St. Josemaria writes: “In order to draw close to God, we must take the right road, which is the Sacred Humanity of Christ” (Friends of God, No. 299). God became man so that we could become His in Christ, imitating Christ, and collaborating with Him in the work of Redemption; in our case as laypeople, “by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Lumen Gentium, No. 31). Not the least of these "temporal affairs" is family life. “The first thing Jesus sanctified with his presence was a home” (F. Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 1, No. 31.1). May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Family, help us to defend “the value of family life” (Opening Prayer, Feast of the Holy Family).

A blessed new year to all!

* See, among Father De Torre’s many books, The Roots of Society (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, 1984). Father De Torre is Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

** The principle of subsidiarity states: “(A) community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good….By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (John Paul II, Encylcical Letter Centesimus Annus [1991], No. 48).