No institution in modern American life is as attacked as the family. Getting the fundamental notions of the family right is, therefore, crucial.
A small, yet powerful, book, The Christian Institution of the Family: A Dynamic Force to Regenerate Society delves deeply into the nature and future of this vital institution. No one can read the book without feeling reinvigorated and encouraged. Published by the Glasglow-based Tradition, Family and Property Association (TFP), the book edits the thinking of TFP founder Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who can be considered the author.
The Disintegrating Family
The modern world misuses the word “family” in so many ways that it has lost its meaning. It is exploited to create a false sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. A company’s president might address employees as part of the firm’s “family.” Marketers manipulate “family” images to advertise everything from disposable diapers to pharmaceuticals to life insurance.
While the family survives in imagery, social practices and moral decadence work to erode the institution. One way the family is destroyed is by members segregate themselves by age group. The elderly are shuttled off to some “senior living community.” Youth go to school, university and apartments. Parents and children increasingly retreat into their devices’ screens, living alone together.
On a broader level, quickly obtained divorce tears families apart. Socialists offer government programs and subsidies as substitutes for many family functions. The moral disintegration happens when the homosexual lobby calls for “families” with two fathers or mothers, and children who profess a “gender” based on their emotions du jour.
The Family as It Should Be
The Christian Institution of the Family presents a far more accurate and healthy picture of what a family should be. It gives readers a clear picture of what needs to be defended.
First, the book provides readers with an accurate and simple definition of the family. “The family is an institution of the natural order, founded on a sacrament, and given the task of perpetuating the human species and educating the offspring.”
Of course, the natural order calls for one man and one woman. The sacrament is Holy Matrimony, which gives the “till-death-do-us-part” union the blessing of God, the Church, and the community. Such a marriage produces and educates offspring in a stable spiritual and economic setting.
Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira’s concept of the family goes far beyond the modern “nuclear family.” He claims that “The family is the institution of natural law that assures the realization of historic works through generations.” The family extends through shared ancestry and the actions of living grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. As time passes, such families grow as they develop traditions and lineages. Traditions define the characteristics of the family over time and help project its influence into the future.
Such “extended families” provide bulwarks for their members to fight against negative moral influences and the State’s intrusive power. Families are safety nets that help members in hard times and make welfare programs unnecessary. They can assist a mother overwhelmed by illness or fight a school system imposing an alien ideology. Families more effectively take care of their elderly with affections and diligence.
The Forces of Disintegration
The Christian Institution of the Family also lists the historical forces that contributed to its disintegration. The rise of the nation-state de-emphasized the family. Industrialization further splintered the unity of the family by moving employment farther from home. New ideologies focused exclusively on the individual. The unanchored individual became morally, psychologically and physically isolated.
Once outside the family’s protective embrace, individuals degenerated to become the “masses” of Karl Marx and the progressives. Quoting Pius XII, the author defined the characteristics of the mass. The pontiff states that “The masses…wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, tomorrow another.” The modern individualist becomes what Our Lord called the “man building his house upon the earth without a foundation” (Luke 6:49).
Modern society is full of individuals searching for a “mass” to which they can belong. Young adults look to Antifa and BLM so that they might enjoy a shared sense of “social justice” of an ideological “family.” Unhappy and isolated teenagers contemplate suicide. Fatherless inner-city youths look to the connection and protection offered by gangs.
Restoring the Family
The road to the restoration of the family will be a difficult one. The Christian Institution of the Family offers a promise and a hope.
The promise is an enticing goal. “Thus, traditional family life, when imbued with steadfast religious principles and supported by heredity and tradition, forms an individual with a strong and lively personality able to confront and triumph over a decadent and secularized world.”
The book also offers hope to those who are isolated without a clear sense of meaning and purpose. “However, we must not forget – no matter how vital a principle for society the family may be – that any good human society can only reach its plentitude, can only be saved from the most dangerous agents of deterioration, by placing all our faith, all our hope, and all our love in He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Christian Institution of the Family does not have a “how-to” section. It provides no list of tips for those who want to rebuild their own families. The family is an organic structure that needs to develop in its own way because each family is a unique mix of talents, abilities, financial resources and opportunities. The foundation is built of strong principles, prayer and faith. Get the family’s fundamentals right, and everything else will be ordered as a natural consequence.
One thing is certain. Any return to an ordered society must begin with the family. Reading The Christian Institution of the Family carefully is an excellent way to start the process of regeneration.