The family and the anti-family
27 November 2017
The title of this paper – ‘The Family and the Anti-family’ – points toward my belief that we are currently at a threshold regarding marriage and family. Throughout all history, among every people and culture, marriage and family life has been cherished as something magnificent, which the State had a duty to defend and even promote. Even those peoples that, at various times in their histories, practiced evil customs – especially infanticide – like the adherents of the Carthaginian cult of Moloch, or indeed just some among the families of ancient Rome, they still carried out these practices precisely despite their very static conception of the marital state, the construction of the family, and the dependence of the State on the familial household. Today however, we cannot even agree upon a definition of marriage, of the family, or even something as elementary as human fertilization. What is more, not only will those engaged in the destruction of the family not willingly offer any kind of definition with which they might replace the classical conception, but those who wish to defend the family are increasingly struggling to retain clarity regarding their own position. Despite the desire to withstand the rage against that most natural of conditions – that little society called the family – those seeking to offer some defence have evermore adopted a language which is at root anti-metaphysical, egalitarian, and based on all sorts of false notions of State intervention, the place and primary agent of education, the proper relationship of the spouses, the leadership of parents, the liberty of children, and arbitrary (or negative) conceptions of freedom – and that last point I will explain at some length in a moment.
The theme of this conference is ‘Fatima: The Final Battle’, so it might be worth at this moment thinking about exactly what this final battle is. Servant of God Sr. Lucia of Fatima, who as you all know outlived the other two Fatima visionaries by about nine decades, wrote a letter in the early 1980s to Cardinal Caffarra as he was establishing the Pontifical Institute for the Studies on Marriage and the Family, which he did at the request of Pope St. John Paul II. This letter from Sr. Lucia contained what can fittingly be described as a prophecy, and the following is an excerpt from this letter:
“[T]he final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.”
In turn, on this, the decisive issue, there are really only three fundamental points I wish in this lecture to convey. Firstly, I will focus on the inherent, perennial, and unchanging identity of the family. Then I will move onto the enemy, or enemies, of the family. We cannot possibly defend marriage and family unless we understand philosophically its enemy – what I am broadly calling ‘the Anti-family’ – and the historical and ideological sources of this enemy. Finally I will address the issue of the family specifically in relation to the Holy Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ, the light of the world, the barque of Peter, the salvation of sinners (that’s you and me). Without grace man cannot even fulfil the requirements of nature, so darkened is his mind by original sin, and so wounded is he from his beginning. The family therefore will not withstand its enemy without God’s grace, of which the Church is the treasury.
The Identity of the Family
There are many ways by which one can approach the meaning and identity of the family, its foundation in marriage – that natural institution at the heart of all civilisation – and the dynamic of education and love which ordinarily finds expression there. However, in order to understand the family in its relation to the State, the family itself should be considered insofar as it is a society of its own, indeed it is the elemental society on which all else depends. The family is a society, and must be understood as such, or it has no chance of defending itself against ideological aggressors.
There are three elementary societies. That is to say, all societies other than these three are artificial societies. I do not mean to say that artificial societies are bad – in fact in most cases they are very good – but only that such societies simply arise by human contrivance and invention, like any sports club, business, guild, or hobby association for example. Whereas the family and the State arise out of nature, and are therefore societies properly speaking, just as the Church is a society, but derived not from nature, but from supernature. The family and the State are natural societies for man comes into existence belonging to both, and cannot achieve his proper finality – cannot live a life proper to the human person – independently from these societies. In regard to the Church, man is cut off from his supernatural end – that is, participation in the divine life of the Triune God – without this society.
These three, therefore, comprise the elementary societies necessary for man to achieve his proper finality. They relate to each other, ideally, on the model of the human person, for whom they exist. The family is to the State what the cell is to the body, and the State is to the Church what the body is to the soul. This is no novel theory, and in fact can be found in Francisco de Vitoria, St Robert Bellarmine, extensively so in Francisco Suarez, and is articulated beautifully in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Immortale Dei (13-14).
Supposing that these are the elementary societies, how are we to form a definition of the term ‘society’ which is fittingly applicable to all three of these societies. Well, a fairly classical definition of a society does just that:
A society is an aggregate of persons forming an ordered community for the attainment of man’s end, with its own geographical and juridical dominion; its own hierarchy, government and ultimate legislator; its own laws, customs, and right to direct, coerce and punish its subjects.
What does this definition tell us when applied to the family? First, that the family is a community of persons bound by something beyond mere arbitrary choice, that the subjects subsist in this society with a disposition of gratitude for this community and the benefits that are derived from it, including the very life of the subjects. Also, that the family is ordered toward the attainment of man’s end. Being a complex creature, man’s end can be broken down into complex categories, but to keep things simple we can say for now that the end for which he acts is to attain happiness. As we will see in a moment, the family must unite with other families in order to achieve this end for its subjects.
What else can we learn from the definition given? The family possesses by an inherent right private property in which it can realise its geographical and juridical dominion. This of course means that any State can be called unjust which not only allows for, but does not take positive steps to prevent, the perpetuation of property-renting among families. It belongs to the very nature of any society to have a geographical jurisdiction. A building and some land has generally been understood to be the proper and basic geographical territory for the average familial society. It should be noted that by the 19th century the Church was strikingly clear in its social teaching that the right to possess property was intrinsic to the nature of man, that this right was fortified insofar as he participated in familial life, and that he had an obligation therefore to secure property. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII taught the following:
“Every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own… That right to property, therefore, which has been proved to belong naturally to individual persons, must in like wise belong to a man in his capacity as head of a family.”
The right to possess property is not a civic right, of which the State can act as the arbiter. Property belongs by nature to families, and the State must do all it can to come to the aid of families in securing their geographical dominion.
What else can we say of the family from the definition we have given? The family has its own hierarchy and government. It is formed not by vote, but by assent to the articles of the marital constitution by two people who can in principle procreate, under whom a hereditary dynasty is perpetuated, traditionally identified by the surname of the male ruler, which his co-ruler takes as her own and is in turn identified with his authority. This government then has its foundation in the authority and providence of the husband and father, whom the family must serve as he sacrifices himself and all his possessions for them. One may sense that this is not a popular way to speak about the family today, but we shall see in a moment why it is so essential to hold fast to this position.
The husband forms his government with his spouse, but not necessarily in equal authority with her, and the children are ordered toward that which is good for them by the coercive and directive laws of the familial government, i.e. the parents. Some may be shocked to hear the family described in such terms, and yet we all know this to be true, and have indeed lived it in some way. No good parents live alongside their children in a perfectly lawless environment, in which the children may do whatever they like. So too, no good parents refrain from issuing household rules, and supporting such rules by making sure there are consequences to disobeying them. If children are told not to do something, and they do it, parents might withhold ‘pocket money’ for example. This is because the parental government precisely has a coercive and directive authority, and may legislate and punish in accordance with justice. Furthermore, this familial society has its own culture and customs, which when good should be defended, and approached with reverence. Within this little society the subjects should have piety, that is, a just gratitude, toward the familial government.
As I said a moment ago, this particular society must join with other societies of the same kind, in order to achieve its end. For this reason the family has traditionally been referred to as an imperfect society, for it cannot self-perpetuate, nor sufficiently defend itself against violent attack. It cannot exist independently from the other families which constitute the polity and still provide for all its own needs, and nor can its subjects attain their final natural end without also being subjects of the political society, for the wisdom of the wider community can only be accessed by participation in the wider community. On the other hand the State within itself “contains what is necessary for fulfilling its purpose.” Nevertheless the State is only a perfect society – as opposed to an imperfect society like the family – because it contains within itself families, on which it depends for its own continued existence. There is not merely, and only, a hierarchy of dependence between these two natural societies, but a relationship of co-dependence. As an aside, we can note here that the modern invention of homosexual ‘marriage’ is a direct affront to this reality, and in part arises from a lack of understanding concerning the authority of the State, which has its own jurisdiction from which the familial society’s dominion is distinct. In turn, the State has no right whatever to redefine, and in turn reconfigure, the structure of the familial society. Such attempts at seizing control over familial dominion indicate tyranny on the part of the State.
The family, whilst imperfect, is a complete society. Pope Pius XI presented this same position in 1929, claiming that the family is “instituted directly by God for its peculiar purpose, the generation and formation of offspring; for this reason it has priority of nature and therefore of rights over civil society.” This position was continually held in Catholic social teaching, and in 1983 under Pope St John Paul II the Magisterium issued the Charter of the Rights of the Family. As I mentioned earlier, scholars have employed a body-and-soul analogy to articulate the desired Church-State relationship, with the State-family relationship often described as analogous to that of body and cell. Dr William Newton poses this in the following way:
“…the State is a conglomeration of families, as a body is a conglomeration of cells. A very important consequence of this is that the family has rights prior to the State and which are not derived from the State by positive law. This means that these rights are innate (in-born) and are part of natural law; they are not given to the family by the State.”
Inside the familial society, the father and mother form a government over the children, who are their subjects. Parental rights are sacrosanct. Francisco de Vitoria states that “the father’s rights over his child are given by God and any harm done to the father… is also done to God.” For this reason Vitoria, in his lectures on the evangelisation of South American natives, states that “overriding parental consent – even if for such an important matter as baptism – is a violation of natural law, which protects parental rights.”
Just as a number of cells form a body, so a collection of families form a State. If those belonging to these natural societies are baptised, then they also form the Church, and so the family-State-Church community is a single community constituting three fundamental societal principles, analogous to cell, body, and soul in a single human person. This classical conception found in traditional Catholic social teaching is increasingly being lost.
Unless families know they are quasi-sovereign entities, with their own rights and duties, laws, customs, right to property etc., they cannot present any defence against the ways in which they are undermined. We simply cannot defend the family if we do not know what it is.
On considering the various assaults on the family one soon creates a great list in one’s mind, and feels completely overwhelmed by how they might be considered, exposed, explained – and in reference to what exactly? Furthermore, one does not want to miss out any particular instance of the undermining of the family, in case it is thought that the true gravity of the situation has not been properly grasped. But I would need to devote a whole paper to each of these issues: homosexuality, it’s enshrinement in so-called ‘gay marriage’ legislation, the pornography industry, contraception, the killing of the unborn, unsavoury programmes which dominate television viewing, no fault divorce, adultery, sex education programmes in schools and other attempts to sexualise children, popular narratives directed toward undermining parental authority and promoting loose sexual relationships, egalitarian notions of the family, the advancement of fictions such as gender identity; the list could go on and on.
The question is, therefore, what is common to all these assaults on the integrity of the family? What ideological position underpins all these aggressive initiatives?
To answer these questions in a complete way, it would be helpful at this point to look in detail at the historical development of the ideology now referred to as ‘secular liberalism’. It is however beyond the scope of this paper to delve into the intellectual history necessary to render clear how we found ourselves in the current confusion.
I only wish at this point to consider the concept of conscience developed and proposed during the Reformation, for it has had enormous consequences for the political sphere in the West and beyond, insofar as it has been the key to establishing individualism. Protestantism, reacting against the notion that one should inform one’s conscience, and therefore be sensitive to the guidance of an authority (like the Church, for instance), formulated a concept of conscience as simply the ‘voice of God within’. “Conscience is God’s vicegerent in the soul” said John Calvin. It is of course impossible on these terms for the conscience to be in error, as the God who speaks within supposedly cannot be mistaken, being perfect. In the modern secularised version of this the conscience is thought to be an independent moral instinct which should be the guiding principle of one’s actions – the concept of an erring conscience then is incomprehensible to many. Worse still, the notion that one should inform one’s conscience sounds alarmingly like brainwashing, and not ‘authentic conscience’. Neither the Protestant’s ‘voice of God within’ nor the secularist’s ‘moral instinct’ needs to be informed (through learning from an authority) or formed (through virtue and purity). There is no need then to really seek the truth and conform one’s acts accordingly.
The liberalist – morally relativist – worldview, with its own individualist social theory, is this way established, and many have suggested that it can be traced through three great cultural ruptures in European history: the Protestant revolt, the French revolution, and the Bolshevik revolution. With the last revolution in mind, it is here worth considering Marxism’s most avant garde thinker, the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre was the product of a long line of deeply unhappy marriages. In his memoirs he remembered his grandmother referring to married life as “an endless chain of sacrificing, broken by nights of coarseness.” Sartre talked about how there was no love at all between his father (who died when Jean-Paul was only a baby) and his mother; they apparently loathed each other. Sartre often said how pleased he was that his father had died when he was so young. For Sartre fatherhood was the ultimate symbol of determinism, and the limiting of freedom. To quote Sartre: “The rule is that there are no good fathers. It is not the men who are at fault but the paternal bond which is rotten.” If this is true of a finite father, how much more true must it be of an Eternal Heavenly Father!
Sartre’s thought was fundamentally a reaction against classical philosophy, and its assumption in the Christian tradition. It is a revolutionary philosophy, and a philosophy for revolutionaries. In classical philosophy we encounter Plato’s so-called ‘world of ideas’, which consists of the ideals of all things we experience in the world, these worldly things being just dull reflections of those perennial and perfect forms which comprise reality properly speaking. Aristotle – Plato’s student – later located these forms in the things themselves, teaching that this is what makes any given thing identifiable and definable: a dog’s ‘dogness’ makes it different from a cat, and due to its form we define it differently to a cat. In accepting Aristotle’s realism we cannot completely abandon Plato’s view, for the question arises: As the multiplicity of forms gives such order to the material world – ‘that’s a dog, that’s a cat,’ and so on – what is the free Intelligence which authors all things into ordered being? Furthermore, surely forms must have their exemplars in this Intelligence as ideas, and so obviously these exemplars must metaphysically precede anything existent, and determine it. Well, St Augustine took this up and located in the mind of God the preceding ideas of existent things. The mind of God, otherwise called the Logos, or the Eternal Word. Such a worldview, making sense of reality ultimately by reference to the mind of God, is a great threat to what Sartre means by freedom, so he decided to get rid of God altogether, stating, “If God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before his essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man.” It is difficult to know whether Sartre reasoned his way into atheism, or reasoned to justify his already established rebellion against God, but his writings suggest the latter.
The Protestant reformers had taught that original sin had destroyed human nature, in continuity with this Sartre also denied human nature, and therefore denied any possible human finality. Sir Anthony Kenny explains Sartre’s position in the following way: “[A]n oak tree has to follow a particular life pattern because that is the kind of thing it is, human beings do not belong to a kind in this way: it is for each person to decide what kind of thing to be.”
This all sounds rather familiar. One hardly needs to make many intellectual leaps from here to get to the emergence of terms like ‘transgender’, ‘gender-fluidity’, ‘gender non-binary’, ‘trans-age’, ‘trans-species’ etc.
Sartre thinks that the notion of man having a particular end implies we are simply made for something, and this reduces us to an instrument, and of course an instrument cannot be free. So, for Sartre, man determines his essence through arbitrary choice, and this is the measure of his freedom.
Sartre does accept that there are limitations on our freedom, insofar as one cannot choose to be a horse, or choose to breathe under water for example. However, to avoid concluding to an acceptance of human nature he ambiguously refers to man being limited by ‘facticity’. Presumably the hope is that such limitations could ultimately be overcome with the right technology in any case.
The important point to note here is that for Sartre, no one can determine objective values. Universal moral norms, or distinguishing between good and bad choice, is always delusional. As noted by Fr Frederick Copleston, according to Sartre one can only determine “the nature of choice, and the difference between authentic and unauthentic choice.” One simply cannot talk of morally bad or good choices.
But here is a serious problem in Sartre’s thought: For a man to make an authentic choice he must be free, but one cannot choose what is good according to one’s nature, because neither the good nor human nature exist. So, freedom is exercised in choosing between equal choices, but each choice limits one’s freedom because it cuts one off from the multitude of other choices which were open to the individual before the choice was made. So, although Sartre wants to defend freedom of the individual, he is really defending never exercising one’s freedom in making a concrete choice and remaining faithful to it. This, in reality, is resigning oneself to being entirely determined and not self-determining at all, for in seeking to defend freedom he rather promotes slavery to circumstance. Those who try to live Sartre’s philosophy quickly find themselves in a sort of desperate existential paralysis in which they cannot commit to anything, and in turn cannot achieve the maturity proper to a functioning and adult human being. This way of thinking has in fact given rise to generations of strikingly infantilised individuals – people spending their lives acting like adolescents, believing their freedom is expressed insofar as they appear to never grow up and actually remain faithful to anything.
Of course, the fact is that when one denies human nature one very quickly contradicts oneself. Sartre insists that “there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it” and yet repeatedly refers to the universal nature of the human person, i.e. ‘mankind’; for example, when he writes, “Resignation is my will for everyone, and my action is, in consequence, a commitment on behalf of all mankind.” Sartre teaches that for man to be free human nature must be denied, but we must respond: then why do you speak of man?
Despite its obvious incoherence, Sartre’s philosophy gained enormous popularity, and formed the worldview of a great many people, including many architects of modern Western society, and has trickled down into the consciousness of perhaps most people in the Occident. If you want proof of this, you have only to strike up a conversation with anyone on the street, a conversation which touches upon some moral issue, and you will soon be confronted with views expressing total individualism and radical self-determination.
Well, this total individualism is about as far as one can get from the view of man as existing always in a natural society, primarily in the family. Marguerite Peeters sums up the conflict between the modern conception of ‘freedom’ and the place of the family in a striking passage:
“Postmodernity has destabilised the concept of family defined as a community constituted by the covenant of a man and a woman in the framework of marriage and comprising children who are the offspring of their union. It has broken this ‘single model’ of the family, which it claims limits the individual’s ‘possibilities to choose’, and promoted an ‘enlarged’ concept – the ‘diversity’ of family forms – a concept which would celebrate the individual’s ‘freedom to choose’.”
Now, do I mean to say that we should be against freedom per se? No, but we do need to make sure that we have a different concept of freedom, which is in no way corrupted by this Sartrean view of freedom. The classic Christian concept of freedom is something positive, not negative. To be free is not primarily to be free from things, but to be free for things, and the degree to which in freedom we choose to be husbands, wives, parents, good citizens, good Christians, etc. is the degree to which we are truly free, because then we are really living, whereas the alternative is imprisonment in our own isolation. It is not, then, as Sartre believed, the denial of objective truth which makes us free, but precisely it is the truth which makes us free.
The Sartrean conception of freedom was understood by Pope St John Paul II to be the underlying problem in popular morality, and for this reason he devoted the entire second part of Veritatis Splendor – which comprises nearly half the work – to strongly criticising this position.
Sartre’s view is the commonly held one. In turn, if your body limits your freedom, mutilate your body. If your sex limits who you can marry, then there is a problem with the law, not with your desire for ‘sexual liberation’. If your capacity for reproduction limits your freedom, develop the technology to change that. If your spouse limits your freedom, change your spouse. If your newly conceived child limits your freedom, end its life. This is the Sartrean ethic.
The family will always be seen to be the greatest threat to this new vision of the human person. You cannot escape being born into a family, however disordered that family might be, and however separated from your parents others might force you to be. You cannot escape parental influence. You cannot escape – without extreme brutalisation – that deep desire for familial acceptance, for a home, for the love of mother, father, sibling. It is our nature, and so the family will always be the object of hatred for those who deny that there is such a thing as human nature. It is the family which shows us the limits of what it is to be human, and so paradoxically it is the family which shows us how to be the most free, in the truest sense.
The union of Church and family
I have heard it said by one orthodox Catholic theologian that one of his worries about the popular individualist conception of man is that the isolated individual simply cannot stand up to the State when it becomes rotten and seeks to manipulate and exploit its subjects. He says that the only society really strong enough to stand up to the State, as it is itself a natural society too, is the family. Only the family, he insists, can withstand corrupting advances made by the State – the solitary individual cannot.
I, however, do not believe it to be true that the family is strong enough to stand up to the State. The family is only a very small society, and with cultural breakdown and individualist morality, no two ordinary families will agree on what is and what is not beneficial – or even tolerable – in political governance. Furthermore, the State can wield coercive power in a way which the family cannot by its very nature equal. With aggressive secularism, the State will, it seems, continue to degenerate and seek to take over the family, no longer recognising the domestic dominion which by right belongs to the family. It will continue to change the definition of what a marriage is, and what a family is, until we reach the point that in the public consciousness marriage and family will be a fluid concept determined at any given time by whatever the State happens to say these are.
In turn, the only way that the family can withstand the State is by maintaining the ecclesial-familial alliance. What I mean by this is that the family will hold its integrity insofar as the family participates in the divine life of the Church. The family, then, will resist its enemy insofar as it subsists as the domestic church.
The family exists within a geographical territory assumed by the State, and so the family must unite itself to something superior to even that, and this can only be a transnational society which is not dependent in its genesis on the order of nature, but rather transcends nature. Well, this can only be the supernatural society of the Holy Catholic Church. The Church’s subjects are, by virtue of its essence, subjects of this holy society far more than they are citizens of the State. The Church, being in essence supernatural, cannot be overcome by the State when the State ceases to function as it ought, and therefore the family will be protected insofar as it is assumed into this supernatural society. Not to discount how dire things might become in the Church, the gates of hell nevertheless will not prevail.
As anti-family advances are being enshrined in State legislation, the family, whose own parental government can very easily make mistakes, must be able to access knowledge of perennial laws which it can obey with clarity, and by which it can gauge the legitimacy of State legislation. Seeing as every father cannot be another Aristotle – and even he got many things wrong – the familial government needs an authority to which it can continually turn in this time of confusion. This authority is the Holy Catholic Church. The family, in order to remain in the truth, must be united to Our Lord as His Bride.
Natural societies, due to original sin, are predisposed toward degenerating. Nature can only be essentially perfected in one way, and that is by the reception of grace. The family will degenerate along with the State, and along with the State’s increasing appropriation of the family, insofar as the family is not the recipient of grace. If the family – that foundational society for all civilisation – is not to be completely corrupted, this will be by being made holy.
The family then must do all it can to live the mystery of the domestic church. So, my advice, for what it’s worth: Pray with your families, catechise your families, offer penances for your families, entrust your families to Our Lady, decorate your homes with holy images, bless your homes with holy water, support your priests, learn the traditional devotions, raise your young ones to be disgusted by contraception and horrified by the killing of the unborn, and… cancel your television subscriptions. Finally, enthrone the image of the Sacred Heart in your homes. If Christ’s social Kingship is to be recognised again one day, it will be because all along He was reigning in the domestic sphere of faithful Catholic families.
As I conclude something else must be acknowledged; the ecclesial-familial alliance must be maintained by both sides. The past few years have been confusing regarding the Church’s duty to defend the family. The members of the Church’s hierarchy would do well to frequently recall that the Church Militant is made up of earthly subjects – subjects issued forth from families. If the family is corrupted, so too is the Church’s presence on earth. As with the family and the State, there is a relationship of co-dependence which necessarily exists between the family and the Church.
This is a time of crisis, as the State becomes ever more hostile to the family. The family home must become the domestic church, as the Church must be again the great Family in which all families find their home.
Sebastian Morello is a formator and lecturer at the Centre for Catholic Formation, south London. A philosopher by training, he recently began new philosophical research under Professor Roger Scruton at the University of Buckingham.
A convert from Anglicanism, Sebastian was received into the Catholic Church in South India, and has subsequently given talks on a range of subjects at Catholic events. He is a contributing author of a number of publications, including ‘Luther and his Progeny: 500 years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society’, published by Angelico Press.
Sebastian enjoys travelling, and has lived in countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. He now lives in rural Bedfordshire with his wife and two children.
 Leo XIII. Rerum Novarum 6, 13
 Bernice Hamilton. Political Thought in Sixteenth-Century Spain p. 33
 Pius XI. Divini Illius Magistri 12
 William Newton. A Civilization of Love p. 58
 Bernice Hamilton. Political Thought in Sixteenth-Century Spain p. 118
 André A. Alves & José M. Moreira. The Salamanca School p. 56
 Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Humanism p. 3
 Anthony Kenny. A New History of Western Philosophy p. 823
 Frederick Copleston, SJ. Contemporary Philosophy p. 136
 Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Humanism p. 4
 Ibid. p. 4
 Marguerite A. Peeters. The Globalisation of the Western Cultural Revolution p. 69