By Prof. Roberto de Mattei
The following talk was given at the Voice of the Family conference “Handing on the deposit of the Faith – the mission of the Catholic family today”, held at Newman Hall, University Catholic Chaplaincy, Cardiff, 6-8 September 2019.
The words of Sister Lucia of Fatima
In an address given in May 2017 at the Rome Life Forum, Cardinal Carlo Caffara confirmed that he had received a long hand-written letter from Sister Lucia in 1983 or 1984 that ended with these words:
“Father, there will come a moment in which the decisive battle between Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But there is no need to be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
Cardinal Caffarra died a few months later, in September 2017, just when he found himself at the centre of the battle over the family which opened up within the Church after the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis. But this battle – which we continue to live out today – is only one battle in a greater war between two cities which have fought throughout history; the two cities of which St Augustine of Hippo wrote: the City of God and the City of Satan. The City of God consists of the Church of Jesus Christ, the other of the followers of Satan. The two cities oppose one another on earth like two armies: the purpose of each is to annihilate the other and thus their conflict is continuous and unending.
The family is an earthly image of the City of God, which is the Church. So the destruction of the family has been a permanent objective of the enemies of the Church.
The family makes the state
The Church teaches that the family is not a simple union between two individuals but a social institution. And it is not a simple social institution like so many others, but a social institution based on a sacrament: the Sacrament of Matrimony. This has many consequences.
In a 1946 discourse, Pius XII affirmed that the two pillars of the civil order conceived of and willed by God, are the family and the state.1
There is a fixed relationship between the family and the state. The prosperity of nations depends on the prosperity of families and vice versa. The decline of nations is, therefore, linked to the decline of the institution of the family.
The existence of this relationship is logical and obvious. From our birth, we are all members of a society, because as the Book of Genesis says, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The family is born with man, just as every form of society is born with man: the family, the state, and the Church – which, since it was founded by Jesus Christ and headed by Him, is the most important society of all. And for this reason, the Magisterium of the Church has always spoken of the family as the first cell of society, the image and model for all of society, which is born from the family and expands from the family. Pius XII writes:
“Every family extends and expands itself in the relation which the bonds of blood unites. And the alliances of different families, through their harmonious agreements, compose, link by link, a net whose harmony and solidarity assures the vital unity of a nation, the great family of the great home that is the Fatherland.”2
In La città antica (1864), the French historian, Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges (1830-1889), demonstrates how the family is the founding element of ancient civilization, both Greek and Roman. The greatness of Rome is based on the family, which Cicero defines as seminarium rei publicae.3 The Roman family was founded on fides, the nuptial contract between the spouses. A group of families formed the gens, which was recognised a common ancestor and which guarded the mos majorum, the customs of the ancients and the nucleus of the moral tradition.
Christianity elevated matrimony to a sacrament, affirming its indissolubility. When the Roman Empire collapsed the only reality which endured to form the basis of a new society was the family. The birth of the Middle Ages coincided with the development of the family institution. As Régine Pernoud observes, to understand Medieval society we need to study its familial organisation: “It is there that we find the ‘key’ to the Medieval Period and also its originality.”4
What was novel about that era was the status and authority of the Church: while in the pre-Christian period every family had its own religious cult, in the anarchy which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, the ecclesiastical institutions, with the Pope at their apex, guided the spiritual and moral rebirth of society. This was the origin of feudalism: the baron was above all the head of a family to whom other heads of families showed homage. The grouping together of feuds was the origin of kingdoms. The territory of the king is the patria, which takes its name from pater, the father. The king is the father of a people and the kingdom is governed like a family.
For over one thousand years, the family constituted the model of political society in Europe. The French Revolution abolished the monarchy, but the paternal character of monarchical government lasted until 1918. The Austrian Empire was still ruled by a monarchical and familial system. In traditional monarchic law, the king performed a public mission in the service of the people, to whom he was like a father.
Marriage is also a sacrament
The family is not only the first element of the state from a historical point of view. Citing Pius XI’s encyclical letter Casti Connubii, Pius XII states: “The family is the fundamental cell, the constitutive element of the State”.
The family is based on marriage and as Pius XI explains in Casti connubii, marriage consists of three great goods: proles, fides, sacramentum: the children, fidelity, and the sacrament. The proles is the purpose of marriage, the procreation and education of children; but the proles presupposes the fides, the pact of fidelity between the spouses. Marriage is a contract which is born from the free consent of two spouses, but which cannot be dissolved by their will, because it is rendered indissoluble by the sacrament. The sacramentum, the symbol of divine creation and the image of the Church as the Spouse of Christ, makes the matrimonial contract indissoluble. Fides and proles are both part of other traditions, while the sacramentum characterises only the Christian family and makes it sacred. Because there is a distinct but connected relationship between the natural order and the supernatural, the sacramentum, fides and proles are not separate elements but form a single whole
The entire life of the Church is organised around the seven sacraments. Marriage is the sacrament which indissolubly unites man and woman and gives them a specific grace to live together and educate their children. Like Holy Orders, it has a social character. This social purpose is natural but also supernatural: to beget and educate children destined for Heaven, the supernatural destiny of every human being who comes into existence.
Thus the Christian family is not only seminarium rei publicae, as Cicero defined it, but also seminarium ecclesiae. It is the first cell of both the State and the Church. The Church militant on earth is formed by families, both natural and religious, and is herself a great family, under the guidance of the Pope and bishops.
It is for this reason that marriage is placed under the watchful care of the Church.
The attack of the Revolution on the family
The antithesis of this Christian vision of the family is the revolutionary project for the destruction of the family. In the last two hundred years, the principal enemies of the family have been Marx and Engels, Sigmund Freud, and the intellectuals of 1968.
The first denial of the family is philosophical, and it is the daughter of the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). In The Origin of The Family, of Private Property, and of the State7 Engels pretends to demonstrate scientifically that the family is not a natural reality, but an arbitrary superstructure produced by history that is destined to disappear. The family, according to Engels, cannot be a natural reality because there is no permanent and stable nature of man. From the Marxist perspective, all that exists is matter animated by continual movement; nothing is permanent, everything changes and is transformed. In primitive times, argues Engels, humanity lived not only in the communism of goods but also in sexual promiscuity. Only later, in the society of classes born with private property, was the family born, where the woman was the victim and the man the exploiter. There is also a relationship between familial alienation and the exploitation of the proletariat, the oppressed class. The movement towards communism thus includes the “liberation of the woman” by way of the suppression of the family and of marriage. The social model for communism is the life of primitive men, such as those still living in the Amazon.
The second denial of the family is of an ethical character and comes from Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his followers. If Marxism attacks the philosophical bases of the familial institution, Freudianism attacks its moral foundation. The family is, in fact, a reservoir of moral values, that arise from the effort of generations to progress morally and materially. Freud opposed Christian morality, based on the spirit of sacrifice, with a hedonist morality, based on pleasure, the libido, which constitutes the hinge of psychoanalytic theory. The Austrian psychoanalyst introduced two new ethical categories: the repression and the liberation of instincts. Man ought to free himself from repressive morality which prevents him from realising himself, in order to give a free outlet to his own desires and his sexual urges. A disciple of Freud, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), sought to combine psychoanalysis with the doctrines of Marx. He was the founder of so-called Freudo-Marxism which lies at the roots of the student revolt of 1968. Its principal theoretician was Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). The fundamental thesis of 1968 is that Marxism must be overcome because it limits itself to a political revolution without subverting the values of culture and daily life.
One of the foundational texts of 1968 was The Death of the Family8 by David Cooper (1931-1986). For Cooper, the bourgeois “happy family” is indissoluble and therefore lies at the root of all social repression. The “madness” is not only the response to pathological institutions like the family, but it is a value in itself, the foundation of a new political consciousness.
It should be added that the intellectuals of the destruction of the family who prepared 1968 did not limit themselves to works of philosophical theory but, in accordance with the principles of Marxism, demonstrated the strength of their ideas by initiating concrete projects for the conquest of power.
It was the communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who elaborated the strategy for the conquest of power in the West, and the American author Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) set out its most radical conception and “the long march through the institutions”.9 Among Alinsky’s disciples is Hillary Clinton, whose senior thesis at Wellesley College, written in 1968, was titled: “There is only the Fight . . . : An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.”
Like Gramsci, Alinsky also maintained an absolute ethical relativism. Relativism is the cultural vision that dominates our times. There is no natural law, no absolute and universal principles. Everything depends on historical circumstances and the intentions of the subject. This philosophy, which has even penetrated the Catholic Church, is at the root of the new moral paradigm proposed by Pope Francis.10
Benedict XVI frequently denounced the contemporary “dictatorship of relativism”. In his speech to the European Popular Party, 30 March 2006, he recalled the existence of “principles which are non-negotiable”. He listed these as:
“…the protection of life in all its phases, from the first moment of conception to natural death; the recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family, which is a union between a man and a woman based on marriage, and its defense from attempts to render it juridically equivalent to forms of union that are radically different which in reality damage it and contribute to its destabilization; the protection of the rights of parents to educate their own children.”
The “non-negotiable” values are thus the right to life; the right to a natural family; the right of education of one’s own children. These rights are linked among themselves because it is within the family that life is born and it belongs to the family to develop life by means of education.
I will limit myself to analysing briefly the contemporaneous attack on these three non-negotiable values: family, life and education.
The principal attack on the family is constituted by divorce, which dissolves its structure. The origin of divorce arises from the Protestant Revolution, but its introduction into European society happened thanks to the French Revolution. All of the leaders of the Protestant reform permitted divorce, beginning with Martin Luther in his De captivitate babylonica. Luther denied that matrimony is a sacrament, and, consistent with this position, denied its indissolubility. He affirmed that matrimony could be dissolved ipso facto by infidelity on the part of one of the spouses. Divorce spread widely in the following centuries in Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican countries, but civil divorce was officially introduced in public institutions only after the French Revolution. Article 7 of the Constitution of 1791 considered matrimony uniquely as a civil contract: “the law considers matrimony only as a civil contract.” The law of 20 September 1792, organised the civil state of marriage. Thus was born the concept of civil marriage, which was previously unknown. From the moment that matrimony was only as a civil contract, the State claimed that it had the right to regulate it. The Church, which already in the Council of Trent had reaffirmed the sacramental character of marriage, claimed its rights over marriage with several important documents, such as the encyclical Arcanum by Leo XIII issued on 10 February 1880.
The principles of the French Revolution were diffused in all of Europe by Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1805 which in addition to divorce affirmed the obligatory equal division of the paternal patrimony between all of the children. From the moment that marriage was considered only as a civil contract, the state claimed that it had the right to regulate it. But with divorce, the family ceased to be a natural institution and became a consensual pact between individuals, destined to be able to be dissolved at any moment and for whatever reason. The supreme law became that of the self-determination of the individual. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of The Citizen of 1789 attributed to man the possibility of doing whatever he wants, even to his own harm, ignoring or denying every natural and moral law, with the only limit of not causing harm to the freedom of others. Freedom declares article 4 of the Declaration, “consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others: thus the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those limits which assure to other members of society the enjoyment of those same rights”. Such limits, the Declaration specifies, “may be determined only by law,” which, according to article 6 of the text, is the expression of the “general will”.
The same principle of self-determination is at the foundation of the attack against the second non-negotiable right: the right to life. Abortion, which is the killing of the innocent in the womb of the mother, is a logical consequence of the contraceptive mentality, which spread throughout Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The primary proponent of the necessity of reducing births was the Anglican pastor Thomas Robert Malthus (1776-1834). Malthus, however, in contrast to his followers, proposed chastity as the one licit means of limiting births. Anti-natalist neo-Malthusianism developed in England at the end of the 19th century, thanks to Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), an atheist doctor affiliated with Freemasonry, and Annie Besant (1847-1933), a feminist who later became the president of the Theosophic Society. Their ideas were diffused in America by Margaret Higgins Sanger (1879-1966), an anarchist who was the foundress of a movement in favour of the right of a woman to be the “absolute mistress of her own body”. If it is licit to limit births in the name of having absolute mastery over one’s own body, the next logical step after contraception is abortion.
Abortion was legalised for the first time in Russia in 192011 when the transformation from the political Revolution to the sexual Revolution was formulated.12 In 1922 a conference was held at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, directed by David Ryazanov (1870-1938), with the purpose of deepening the concept of the cultural Revolution, or rather of a total revolution which would involve man himself, his nature, his customs, and his deepest being. In 1929 the directors of the institute invited Wilhelm Reich to Moscow for a series of conferences. This led to the publication of the treatise Dialectic Materialism and Psychoanalysis, the founding text of Freudo-Marxism. The practice of contraception and then of the right to abortion spread rapidly in the West in the 20th century. Pius XI in Casti Connubii condemned these crimes in a definitive and binding way.
The third non-negotiable value is denied by sex education. Education is the formation of man, giving him the means to strive for the end for which he has been created. It has for its subject man burdened by original sin, needing to correct his evil inclinations. Parents have the natural and divine right to educate their own children. This right precedes that of civil society, and it is subject to the judgment of the Church. The Church is, in fact, a spiritual mother who educates her children by means of her Magisterium, and only she can guide them to the fullness of their earthly and heavenly destiny.
The state wanted to take away from the Church and from families this right in order to replace Christian education with anti-Christian education. So-called sex education is, in reality, a form of cultural and moral corruption. The most radical expression of this moral corruption is so-called gender theory, which is the initiation of children into moral perversity. According to this theory, there is no masculine or feminine identity rooted in human nature except what we define as masculine and feminine. Man and woman are only historical constructs, roles given by society, which have nothing to do with biological sex. Gender theory finds its roots in the evolutionism of Marx and Engels, in the psychoanalysis of Freud and Reich and in the feminism and homosexualism of authors like Michel Foucault (1926-1984). In the perspective of these authors, man does not have his own essence nor a specific nature. His body is unformed matter which can be manipulated as one pleases, according to necessity.
If abortion kills the body, gender education kills the soul. For this reason, parents have the right to defend their own children from this aggression, assuring them an authentic religious instruction and refusing to entrust them to the corrupting influence of state education.
The work of the restoration of the family
What is to be done? There is a necessary point of departure. We cannot have the illusion that we can fight and win this battle with merely natural forces. Nothing can be done except with the help of grace.
The work of restoration must lean above all on supernatural means: prayer, grace and the sacraments. Above all, prayer – the elevation of the mind to God, is necessary. And the highest form of prayer is the Holy Mass. But we need priests to celebrate the Mass and administer the sacraments, which constitute the vital nourishment for Christians. Thus, we must conclude that above all there is a need for priests. While this is true, we also need mothers, because without mothers there will not be priests.
We also need fathers, because without fathers there are neither mothers, nor children, nor a future. We need men. And, as Monsignor Delassus says, we no longer have men because we do not have families to produce them.13
It is said that behind every great man there is a great woman. This is only partly true because the contrary is also true: often, behind a great woman, there is a great man.
We need both men and women, both fathers and mothers. And not simply biological fathers and mothers but fathers and mothers who will educate their children, form them and lead them to eternal life. “Mother, the Christian woman sanctifies her son; daughter, edify your father; sister, better your brother; spouse, sanctify your spouse,” writes Monsignor Delassus (1836-1921).14 “Heureux l’homme à qui Dieu donne une sainte mère!” “Happy the man to whom God gives a holy mother!” writes the poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869).15
“Thank you, my God, a thousand times thank you, for having given me a holy mother!” exclaimed St Basil and St Gregory Nazianzen, at the death of their mother St Emilia.
“I want to make my son a saint,” said the mother of St Athanasius.
Behind St Augustine there was St Monica, behind St Dominic there was Blessed Giovanna d’Aza who saw three of her sons raised to the altar; behind St Louis IX there was Bianca di Castiglia; behind St John Bosco there was Margherita Occhiena, “Mamma Margherita”. And, when he was complimented on the piety he had shown from his childhood, the Cure d’Ars would say “after God it was the work of my mother”.
We need Christian families, holy families, like the Martin family, who gave four Carmelites to the Church. From the marriage of Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie (Zélie) Guérin in 1858, nine children were born, but only five daughters survived. The parents had the joy of giving all five children to the Lord: four in the Carmel of Lisieux and one to the Visitation Sisters of Caen. The most renowned of them is St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. “The good God gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth,” wrote St Therese in a letter on 26 July 1897.
Therese was only 14 years old when, during a pilgrimage to Rome, she understood her vocation as a spiritual mother for priests. In her autobiography, she writes how, after having known many holy priests in Italy, she also understood that, notwithstanding their sublime dignity, they remained weak and fragile men. “Let us live for souls, we are apostles, let us save above all the souls of priests…let’s pray, let’s suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful.”
When St Therese was already very sick and walked with great fatigue, her doctor ordered her to take a daily walk in the garden. Although she did not believe there was any point to this exercise, she did it faithfully every day. One time one of her fellow sisters who accompanied her, seeing the great suffering which walking caused, said to her: “But Sister Therese, why do you go through all of this exhaustion if it makes more suffering for you than it relieves?” The saint responded: “You know Sister, I am thinking that perhaps right at this very moment a missionary in a far-off country feels very tired and discouraged, and so I am offering my exhaustion for him.”
This is the communion of saints, which links together all Christians in a supernatural bond that has the family as its first model.
The natural and divine idea of the family
It is impossible to reform society and the Church without holiness. But there is no holiness possible without a model to which we can make reference.
In the last fifty years, the crisis of the family has assumed frightening dimensions. What makes the situation even more serious is that the attacks on the family are not coming only from the outside, but also from within the Church. But the first remedy is indicated by Pius XI in Casti Connubii: to meditate on the divine idea of matrimony and, with the help of God, to live in conformity with this idea. The Christian family today needs above all to be defined because one cannot love or live out, what one does not know. Pius XI recalls a maxim of sound philosophy and sacred theology: “to restore to their pristine state, according to their nature, the things which have deviated from rightness, there is no other way than to bring them back to conformity with divine reason, which (as the Angelic Doctor teaches) is the exemplar of perfect rightness.16 And thus it is necessary, in order to restore right order in the matter of marriage, that all consider the divine design concerning marriage and seek to conform themselves to it.17
According to the divine design, the family is a society, founded on marriage, which indissolubly unites a man and a woman for the purpose of the procreation and education of children.
It is this image of the family, which according to Pius XI, “it is necessary above all to recover the natural and divine idea of the family as a permanent and stable model which does not change even over the course of centuries; a model which may undergo eclipses and have crises but which has an intrinsic perfection.”
Otherwise, we are forced to give in to relativism in matters of the family, from so-called “homosexual marriage” to polygamy which, in many respects seems to be the final destiny of the West.
Family and tradition
At one time, the word “family” in traditional society did not mean only the father, mother and children, as it does today, but all of the descendants from one’s ancestors as well as future children.
Msgr Louis Isoard (1820-1901), bishop of Annecy, relates an episode which makes us understand what life was like in the France of the Ancien Régime. It is a conversation between a prince of the royal family and one of his peasants. The farmer, looking at the prince, says to him: “Last December makes 347 years that we are under your patronage.” The prince responds to him, “We were here before you; I don’t know the exact number, but I only know that it was more than six hundred years.” And Msgr Isoard comments: “Behold, two men in whom the sense of Tradition was not yet deformed.”
What is the sense of Tradition?
Each one of us, affirms the French bishop, lives, or ought to live, in his own unique life three different existences.18 We ought to have the feeling of having already lived not only in our parents but also in our grandparents and great grandparents. The life of our ancestors, which we don’t always know about, but of which our parents have spoken represents the first life which we have not lived, but which we ought to relive.
There is a second life, which is our present life, the life of each day and the present moment, which in reality is only a flowering or a shining forth of the first life. I continue the work of my great grandfather, fill out his thought, I do what he wanted to do, correct his errors, develop his virtues, prolong his action in this world.
Then there is a third life, which is the one that is projected into the future. It is the way of my children and my grandchildren, those whom I know and those which are yet to come. We do not live only in our ancestors, but also in our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We sacrifice for their sake. Our family is at the centre of many generations. The life of the family is similar to the life of the Church, which coincides with Tradition.
Tradition is the faith of the Church which the popes have maintained and transmitted over the course of the centuries; it is the ordered development, in time, of a principle or a nucleus of principles which as such are immutable. During times of crisis, the rule is that of Benedict XV, who in his encyclical Ad beatissimo Apostolorum Principis of 1 November 1914, declared against the modernists: “We desire that the ancient noted law remain intact ‘Do not modify anything, be content with Tradition’: nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est.”19
Tradition is the living and unchangeable element of society. Tradition is what is stable in the perennial unfolding of things, it is what is unchangeable in a world that changes, and it is so because it contains in itself a reflection of eternity. And the family is the deposit of Tradition in society.
The prophet Jeremiah thus turns to God in the Book of Lamentations: “Converte nos Domine ad te et convertemur; innova dies nostros sicut a principio” – “Make us return to you, O Lord, and we will return; renew our days as in the beginning.”20
A true reform of society is always a return to the perfection of the beginning. Tradition is nothing other than this: fidelity to the original principles, those on which everything else is guided, from which everything stems. We are men and women who, in this era of confusion in which we live, lift our eyes to God like Jeremiah, looking for unchanging principles on which to construct the life of men and of society. We defend the family because above all we defend the principles that the family preserves and hands down. But these principles are guarded by the Church. Today the Church is under attack and we, her children, are fighting to defend her, because she is the first and the noblest of Mothers.
And it is in this perspective that we meditate on the words of Sister Lucia with which we opened, and with which we will conclude:
“Father, there will come a moment in which the decisive battle between the Kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But there is no need to be afraid because the Blessed Mother has already crushed the serpent’s head.”
This is what the Madonna promised at Fatima, and we, with immense faith, believe her.
 Pius XII, Discourse of 20 February 1946.
 Pius XII, Radio Message to French families, 17 June 1945.
 Cicero, De Officiis, I, 54.
 Régine Pernoud, Lumières du Moyen Age, Grasset, Paris 1981, p. 10.
 Pius XI, Encyclical Casti connubi of 31 December 1930.
 St Augustine, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, II; PL 44, 421; De bono coniugali, 24, 32; ibid.40, 394.
 Friedrich Engels, L’origine della famiglia, della proprietà privata e dello Stato, Editori Riuniti, Rome 1970, p. 103.
 David Cooper, The Death of the Family, Penguin, New York-London 1971.
 Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Encounter Books, 2001.
 José Antonio Ureta, Pope Francis’s “Paradigm Shift”. Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church?, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, Spring Grove, PA, 2018.
 Cf. Giovanni Codevilla, Dalla Rivoluzione bolscevica alla Federazione Russa, Franco Angeli, Rome 1996.
 Gregory Carleton, The Sexual Revolution in Russia, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
 Monsignor Henri Delassus, Il problema dell’ora presente. Antagonismo tra due civiltà, Desclée, Rome 1907, vol. II, p. 546.
 Ibid, p. 580.
 Alphonse de Lamartine, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses; Harmonie poetique, III, 9.
 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a–2ae, q. 91, a. 1-2.
 Pius XII, Encyclical Casti Connubii cit.
 Cit. from Monsignor Henri Delassus, Il problema dell’ora presente, vol. II, pp. 541-542.
 St Stephen I, Letter to Saint Cyprian, in Denz-H, n. 110. 4.
 Lamentations 5: 21.