November 12-18, 2001
volume 12, no. 156

The Egalitarian Revolution    part six

The Catholic Patriarchal Family

    As Cardinal Billot, one of the favorites theologians of St. Pius X, explains in his treatise on the Church, human society can be compared to the human body. Now, the body is not just composed of indiscriminately placed cells, but cells that make up organs, which make up systems. So also in human society. We do not just have indiscriminately placed individuals, but families, which make up organic systems.

    In this issue, I would like to present, first, a model ideal, the Catholic patriarchal family, which I would propose as an organic solution to today's crisis in the family and society. In itself the patriarchal Catholic family and organic society is a topic for a symposium. I will intro-duce this subject only briefly, and then go on to discuss the true role of women in the family, how the revolution worked and is working to distort that role, and the Church's response to feminism after Vatican II.

    If you consider only the nuclear family, composed of father, mother and children, you have the initial cell of the society. This is, I realize, where many of young traditional Catholic families are starting. Many of them were children of nuclear homes. Some are from broken homes. How many of us have had to suffer cleavages and breaks in our immediate families, often over lifestyles and religion, the only thing worth fighting for, as G.K. Chesterton said.

    To present the ideal of a Catholic patriarchal family is not to discourage, but to encourage these new families, who may still be small in size, but are noble in intent. Today's "Brave New Family," united under the strong and firm governance of the father, nourished by the warmth and goodness of the mother, strengthened and enlivened by a blessing of God, the children, will be the seeds of a Catholic organic society that will thrive and prosper under the maternal guidance of Our Lady in the days to come.

    The patriarchal family is the extended family. It begins with a strong basic unit, that nuclear family with which so many are starting today. The children marry and have their own children and live together or in the same general area. Then these marry and have their own families, and all remain united around the persons of the parents. During this organic process, the role of the father -- who is now a grandfather and great-grandfather - grows and extends with the family as well. With the time that passes, the father becomes more respected, more consulted, more integral to the whole.

    This whole can even include kin and members outside the immediate children and their children. For example, perhaps the father's sister was widowed and without children. So she is invited into her brother's household. She cultivates an herb garden and the family gains from her medicinal skills and maternal care. The family can even extend to include the servants. For example, some of the servants that had been in the old Catholic families in Brazil for generations had even taken the surname of the families.

    A beautiful example of the rich and warm relationships of an aristocratic Catholic Spanish family in South America at the beginning of the century can be seen in the 4-video movie entitled "St Therese of the Andes" (available from the Daughters of St. Paul), which I highly recommend. It presents a sweet taste of Catholic family life in a hierarchical and organic society.

    Let's look at another facet of the Catholic patriarchal family. Often the children and the grandchildren will take up either the same profession as the father or one complementary to it. The knowledge of the father, his experiences and gifts are passed on, so to speak, through the generations, enriching not only the family but the village, the region, and sometimes even the country. His honors of achievement, be he a dairy farmer, a carpenter or politician, define and belong to the entire family. Thus, along time, the father becomes a kind of small feudal lord of his extended family that includes numerous kin and members. When you have a man like this and an extended family that meets around him, you have what I call a patriarchal family.

    To be a member of such an organic and Catholic family is great blessing, a great security, not without sacrifice and suffering, but far out-weighed by the joy and vitality it gives.

    I used to describe to students at the university this kind of family and relationship, which is the special fruit of Catholic principles applied to society, particularly as they existed in the Middle Ages. I tried to explain that it would be easier to cut off this arm and have it exist by itself unconnected to the body, than for a member to be cut off from this type of family. It was a concept outside the experience of most young people, who exist only as individuals, who rush out to get an apartment and make their own life without the collateral support the family normally would give them. They are suddenly anxious to "find themselves," with all the anxieties, insecurities and uncertainties that accompany this unnatural process.

    Again, how interesting it would be to discuss further the Catholic pa-triarchal family, and the ferocious attack that has been made on it in the last century. But here I was only able to present its bare outlines: a Catholic family based on a hierarchy, the spirit of sacrifice, and the other values of the spirit. One sees that such a family becomes a small society, a little world that supports its members and provides elements to develop the natural personality of each member of the family. It is within such a structure that a young man or woman can expand naturally and be sanctified.

    Let me end with an example that will only whet the appetite of souls interested in the principles of organic society and could easily be the beginning of a new talk. When Chesterton was traveling through the Baltic States, he remarked on a difference in the very structure of the landscape of the countryside. In Catholic Lithuania, when he came upon a country farm, there was a cluster of houses grouped together, and around it lay the farmland, which extended outward from all sides. The homes belonged to members of a family - the father, perhaps one or two sons or a daughter, and their respective households. Altogether, it presented a picture of a small commu-nity, a little village.

    In Protestant Latvia, it was different. It was a landscape of nuclear-family homes. He would see a single house and the barns surrounded by a patch of land, and then another one, and a little further, another. A landscape, I might note, more similar to the essentially Protestant American landscape of the West and Midwest. You can see how the very structure of the houses reflects different mentalities.

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

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For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

November 12-18, 2001
volume 12, no. 156
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