Founding families (2)
By Mgr Henri Delassus | 11 January 2023
This is the tenth in a series of twenty-one articles, drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905), in which he examines the conditions for the restoration of Christian society and the return to social truth. The section of this work that is translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of all society and the disastrous effects of human tampering with this institution so manifestly wanted by God and nature.
The first part of this series, entitled “How states are formed”, appeared in the Digest in April 2022.
As the number of children in the family solidly established on the land, or in the factory, or at the company increases, the guarantees of prosperity are strengthened, because the children have different aptitudes and qualities and all work towards the common good. Some adults remain in the paternal home. The girls who do not get married are the providence of the children, the relief of the infirm, the sick and the elderly, the joy of the home, and the guardians of good morals and of sound traditions.
By their talents and virtues, offspring gifted with superior aptitudes raise themselves higher and higher from the rank occupied by the family — be it in the clergy, the judiciary, or the army. The most illustrious and the most humble alike are pleased to honour their motherhouse; they return there for certain anniversaries, even from the most remote places. By that, they signal the moral education that they have received in the paternal home as being the cause of their success; and they show their descendants the source of the traditions of honour and virtue to which the widely spread families owe their prosperity. Cicero, speaking of his hometown of Arpinum, said:
“Here is my true country and that of my brother, Quintus; here we were born of a very ancient family; here are our sacrifices, our relations, many monuments of our ancestors. You see this house? I was born in this very place. And I cannot describe the charm which touches my heart and my senses here.1
As for the heir of an old house: during half a century, he procures the education and the establishment of two generations — that of his brothers and sisters and that of his own children. Then, having instituted and guided his heir, he dies in his turn, happy in the thought that his world is on the path of good, where his family will persevere indefinitely.
His memory, and that of his father and his ancestors, is piously kept in the family home — in the heart of their descendants and in the commonplace book. All the moral and material strength, gathered by the previous generations and destined to be developed further by the work and virtue of generations to come, is also conserved to make the family climb the social hierarchy step by step.
As l’abbé de Pascal has remarked so well:
“The family — the primordial group, necessary to society — was also solidly constituted and defended, rooted profoundly in the land, possessing, thanks to the general system of written and customary legislation, serious guarantees of stability and continuity. Under this system, France was peopled with professional families, transmitting, as well as love for their profession, innate aptitudes to exercise it in some way — and a special education drawn from familial apprenticeship, and this at all ranks of society: families of peasants, of artisans, of notaries, of magistrates, of diplomats, of men of the sword, and one could say that the country has lived until our own days on the vestiges of these professional families.”2
Being good for society, the organisation of the founding family is good for individuals. It equitably distributes the benefits of their responsibilities among members of the same generation. To the heir, in balance with great responsibilities, it confers the consideration which is attached to the ancestral home. To the members who marry outside the family, it assures the support of the motherhouse. along with the advantages of independence that the patriarchal family does not accord. To those who prefer to remain in the paternal home, it gives the peace of celibacy along with the joys of family. To all, it affords the happiness of finding memories of earliest childhood until extreme old age. It is just as good and beneficial for all classes of society. It preserves riches from corruption by imposing severe responsibilities; it furnishes the least wealthy with the means of sparing their offspring the hard trials of poverty.
This system is constituted spontaneously, with its principal characteristics, among sedentary, fertile families devoted to assiduous work. Being founded on the very nature of man, everywhere it has been the work of custom, not of written law, and it still exists among almost all the peoples of Europe. Despite the forced law of equal shares, it is still represented by admirable models in France, above all in the region of the Pyrenees. Founding families are still counted today in France by their tens of thousands, and in the rest of Europe, by their millions, making peace, prosperity and true liberty reign in and around them.
Feudalism was favoured in its evolution by the system that we have just described. In effect, the feudal system grouped lords into a superior hierarchy, with the sovereign at the top, just as it grouped the different class of tenants under the authority and protection of the lords of each fief. The property of the fief and the lordly function was transmitted to one of the sons, with whom the father associated himself during his lifetime. The heir had to take charge of all family obligations. He had to conserve the memory of ancestors, provide emoluments for his brothers and sisters, assure the goods of his descendants; in a word, to take on all the responsibilities imposed on a founding family of farmers and warriors. The tenant was assured the enjoyment of his domain — rights analogue to those of which the lord exercised over the property of his fief — and he transmitted them in the same condition to an heir whom he could freely choose.
In this way, society was as solid and stable as the family. It had a stability that nothing could break. François-René de La Tour du Pin Chambly said:
“The dominant family was attached to the land by a fief, the serf family by a glebe, the free family by a censive (land on which they had to pay tax): the same land bore and nourished these three trunks, not like three isolated trees with no connection other than the shadow which they cast, but as three branches, whose roots were interlaced in an inseparable manner. One could not suffer but that the other two would come to its aid, because they would be incapable of living without one another; I will say more, the life of one is the life of the other: this one protects that one; this one nourishes that one.”
In this system, the family found the material and moral strength which safeguarded the independence of the territory. While it maintained itself in a powerful and living hierarchy, permitting all its talents to be deployed, everything prevented it from falling in status, as a result of which we have had so much to suffer.
This series will continue next month with “Founding families (3)”.
1. De lig., II, 1.
2. And elsewhere:
“To me, it does not seem very scientific to deny the fecundity of the law of heredity in a time when science has demonstrated its effects — good and bad — with such a wealth of daily experience. What! History shows us that families of rulers, fighters, diplomats, magistrates are created to the letter; that one of the grand goals of education is precisely to develop the good seeds deposited by heredity and to eliminate the bad; and you will deprive yourself of the natural law of such power! You say that heredity is a brutal and animal law, which ends up in the formation of closed casts in the public order. I respond to you that heredity, by the continuation that it assures to the social body, is an imitation (however minute) of divine permanence; ruled, contained, modified by the Christian spirit, by morals, by customs, it does not result in casts but in a professional tradition which, in the eyes of all true political philosophy, is a good of the first order. I understand perfectly that political and social heredity is dismissed by those who, like socialists, reject economic heredity; but from the moment that one admits this, what difficulty does one have in admitting that social heredity tends, as in itself, to join economic heredity?” (L’abbé G de Pascal, Philosophie morale et sociale: formes du pouvoir).