November 19-25, 2001
volume 12, no. 157

The Egalitarian Revolution    part seven

The Role of Woman in the Family

    By its nature, the family is hierarchical. God intended, as Pius XII noted in an Allocution to newlyweds in 1941, that "the husband should show 'firm command' and the wife 'respectful, docile obedience' and a generous reciprocal giving in active and mutual love. This hierarchical arrangement permits what St. Augustine defines as the harmonious union of authority and obedience among those who live together."(1) Of course, the Revolution, which by definition is disorder, wanted to destroy the hierarchy, this wise order, in the family.

    To assume the headship of the family is not such an easy mission, but it is one that a man is suited for by his nature. It falls to him to provide the conditions for the family to live according to Catholic principles and, if it is possible, to progress, as well as to defend and protect his wife and children from outside dangers. The woman's role in this mission of man is to create an ambience of mutual admiration and affection for her husband and children. One builds and pushes forward. The other conserves and creates a good ambience to maintain the family.

    Of course, there can be exceptions to this ideal. Certainly it can happen that a man, for various reasons, cannot provide for his family. He can become sick or die. Then the woman needs to work with the situation, to practice resignation in case of reduced material benefits, to try to maintain the good ambience of warmth and affection and uprightness for the children, even if she needs to seek employment to maintain the family.

    I think of Mama Margarita, the mother of Saint John Bosco, whose husband died while her John was a boy. She had to work in the fields to support her two sons. The family suffered a material disadvantage, but not a moral one. St. John Bosco often spoke with great fondness of his childhood, the memories of the stories Mama Margarita told, the walks beneath the stars in the heavens above. The maternal goodness, affection and strength of this simple peasant woman, a widow, helped to form a great saint.

    Another problem faced by the revolutionary nuclear family is a lack of stability. In the Catholic patriarchal society of times past, there was the normal and natural desire of parents to better the material conditions of their children. But there was not a kind of mania to jump from one social level to another. There was more the sense of preserving the condition and ways of being, even the professions that were received from the parents. That is to say, the normal priority of the family is 1st, to maintain with dignity what they received, and 2nd, to progress.

    I heard a story once of an American businessman, let's call him Mr. Jones, who was visiting a village in Southern Italy. Mr. Jones became a regular diner at a very popular, small family-owned restaurant. Mr. Jones thought he would share some business tips with the amiable proprietor, who reigned as a small lord over the prospering restaurant, staffed by warm and genial family members.

    "Here's what you need to do," Mr. Jones advised. "Take a successful little restaurant like this. Good taste. Good menu. Good wine. You need to clone it - make another one exactly like it across the town. It will prosper, and then you can go to the next city. Eventually, you can cover the whole region. I promise you, you'll make a fortune in less than ten years."

    The normally genial Italian proprietor looked at Mr. Jones like he was a mad man. "Are you crazy?" he cried. "I do all that and for what? To be-come a slave of my restaurant, instead of its master."

    The Italian proprietor was not willing to give up his serene and dignified life for money. He had more of the notion of an organic progress, which is like that of a tree - which does not grow too fast. It is not progress like the Silicon Valley fortunes, with every day a new millionaire and now every day a spectacular bankruptcy. Modern progress comes with grave liabilities, not only the threat of losing everything tomorrow, but the loss of time for family and leisure. This pressure and loss of leisure time can often cause to psy-chological problems - apprehensions, anxieties, depressions, among others - that easily could lead to the end of family peace, and even to divorce.

    Also, there is something that is essential and often overlooked for the serene and happy life of a family, which are the good manners and customs developed by Christian Civilization. The Germanic barbarian, after a long period under the wise guidance of the Catholic Church, became the Catholic gentleman.

    The husband and sons, who open the doors for the ladies of the home and try to relieve them of the heavier work, make their mothers and sisters feel loved and protected. The wives and daughters, who utilize their femi-nine charm and grace to support and encourage the men of the house stimu-late them to provide and protect the family. You can see some of this in the charm and mystique of old American Southern society, with its distinctive and amiable ways of addressing and treating each other. I might add, this is a small way that we traditionalist might begin to model our own lives within the family.

    May I stress here in closing an important piece of history often dis-torted by feminists and progressivism, who say that women were oppressed in Catholic society. The exact opposite is true. It was the Catholic Church that raised and elevated the role of women in society. It is interesting to note that the existing world civilizations from Asia to China to Europe are all founded on the tradition of the patriarchal family. (2)

    But it was Christianity and the Gospel of Christ that established the family on a new basis, a basis that gave a high dignity to women. For it was the Church that insisted on monogamous and indissoluble marriage. The husband belonged to the wife as exclusively as the wife to the husband. Further, the Church fostered the ideal of virginity as a higher state of life than the married state, and upheld the woman's right to choose a religious vocation even over the objection of her father. Only consider the early virgin martyrs, for example, Saint Philomena who refused to marry an emperor in or-der to dedicate herself to Christ. Or the noble woman Saint Clare who refused her father's order to marry and ran away from her home in Assisi to receive the habit from Saint Francis at the Portinucula in 1212.

    Because of the Church's insistence on the indissolubility of marriage, her encouragement of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her reverence for the religious life, women were able to achieve fuller expression in Catholic culture than any other.

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.


  • (1) - "The Christian Wife," September 10, 1941.
  • (2) - Christopher Dawson, "The Patriarchal Family in History," in Dynamics of World History, (Las Salle, Il: Sherwood Sugden and Co., 1978) p. 161.

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

    November 19-25, 2001
    volume 12, no. 157
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