April 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the controversial president of the Pontifical Academy for Life (appointed by Pope Francis in August 2016), has recently expressed concerns about referring to the family as a “little church” or the “domestic church”. During a speech delivered in late March at the diocesan major seminary in Querétaro, Mexico, Paglia was quoted as saying, “The Church, which is a familial Church, for me, it isn’t very clear, it’s dangerous, for example, to define the individual family as a little church.” He added, “It’s very dangerous, because it can encourage an egoism of the family”. In view of his rather disgraceful track record (e.g. obscene sex-ed curriculum, homoerotic mural in cathedral), one is forced to wonder what motivated this subtle attack on the family.
Providentially, Archbishop Paglia’s statements were brought to my attention just hours prior to my lecture entitled “Holiness at Home: The Importance of the Family,” which I delivered at the recent Catholic Family News conference in Deerfield, Illinois. Throughout my speech, I provided the Scriptural and Patristic basis for the venerable term “domestic church,” citing such authoritative sources as the Roman Catechism (commissioned by the Council of Trent) and the writings of St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) and St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430).
Traditional Sources Support “Domestic Church”
The Roman Catechism, for example, teaches the following about the Christian family and its relationship to the Church:
Portions of the Universal Church are usually called churches, as when the Apostle [Paul] mentions the Church at Corinth, at Galatia, of the Laodiceans, of the Thessalonians.
The private families of the faithful he also calls churches. The church in the family of Priscilla and Aquila he commands to be saluted [cf. Rom. 16:4]; and in another place, he says: Aquila and Priscilla with the church that is in their house salute you much in the Lord [1 Cor. 16:19]. Writing to Philemon, he makes use of the same word [cf. Philem. 1:2]. (Emphasis added.)
St. John Chrysostom, providing commentary on St. Paul’s teaching concerning marriage, wrote in his Homily 20 on Ephesians:
Seek the things which are of God, and those which are of man will follow readily enough. Govern your wife, and thus will the whole house be in harmony. Hear what Paul says. ‘And if they [wives] would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home’ [1 Cor. 14:35]. If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church. For indeed a house is a little Church. Thus, it is possible for us, by becoming good husbands and wives, to surpass all others. (Emphasis added.)
Similarly, St. Augustine emphasized the father’s spiritual headship of his family – going so far as to compare the father’s role in the home to that of bishops in the Church – in his Sermon 94 (sometimes numbered as Sermon 44) on Selected Lessons of the New Testament:
Discharge our office in your own houses. A bishop is called from hence, because he superintends, because he takes care and attends to others. To every man, then, if he is the head of his own house, ought the office of the Episcopate to belong, to take care how his household believe, that none of them fall into heresy, neither wife, nor son, nor daughter…Do not neglect, then, the least of those belonging to you; look after the salvation of all your household with all vigilance. (Emphasis added.)
Traditional Meaning of “Domestic Church”
In his remarks at the Mexican seminary, Archbishop Paglia expressed his doubts about calling the family a “little church” (the very term used by St. John Chrysostom) or “domestic church.” Yes, the term “domestic church” has been misunderstood in recent decades and, in some instances, used subversively to attack the Church’s hierarchy in favor of egalitarianism. However, the abuse of something good does not change the inherent goodness of the thing misused. The remedy for such confusion and subversion is not the condemnation of the term “domestic church,” as Archbishop Paglia seems to think, but rather an orthodox explanation of the term and the important reality it expresses.
For starters, both the Church and the family are societies founded by God and intimately related by His design; so much so, in fact, that in Scripture the Church is called “the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15) and her members “the domestics of God” (Eph. 2:19). Consequently, the health and vitality of one affects the health and vitality of the other. The Church, as a supernatural and perfect society (“perfect” in the sense of “containing within itself all the resources needed for attaining its end”), is by nature superior to the family and is not, strictly speaking, dependent upon it (on the contrary, the family desperately needs Holy Mother Church, her sacraments, and her infallible teachings for support). However, since the universal Church is made up of individual families, it stands to reason that if a majority of those families are spiritually and morally weak, the Church (in her human element) will likewise be weakened and much less effective in fulfilling her divine mission to convert all nations. Hence, the importance of cultivating holiness within the family.
According to Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Roman Catechism, the Church is the family of God. The vocation of the family, in turn, is to be the domestic church – a microcosm or extension of the universal Church. This does not mean the family can somehow replace or do without the Church founded by Christ on St. Peter (c.f. Matt. 16:13-19) and the other Apostles (c.f. Eph. 2:19-20). It does mean, however, that the family, as a hierarchical society of baptized persons (father, mother, and children), is called to reflect the hierarchical structure and life of the Church in the home – specifically, the roles of teaching, governing, and sanctifying (themes covered in more detail during my lecture).
“Final Battle” for the Family
Catholic psychologist and author G.C. Dilsaver speaks to the vital importance of the family in his book The Three Marks of Manhood: How to be Priest, Prophet, and King of Your Family:
If there is to be a wholesome future for the West, if Christianity is once again to make inroads into a heathen world, then the Christian family must be miraculously restored. For it is the family that will produce the saints of tomorrow: be they bishops, priests, religious, fathers, or mothers. And it is the Christian family that is on the front lines of today’s conflict between good and evil: it bears the brunt of that battle as the very last defense against the total domination of the secular and the profane. (Emphasis added.)
Pope John Paul II once stated, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Similarly, as the family goes, so goes the Church to a large degree. Perhaps this is why, as Sister Lucia of Fatima revealed to the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
In light of these sobering words, I sincerely hope Archbishop Paglia will reconsider his position, lest he find himself on the wrong side when he stands “before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Matt Gaspers is the editor of Catholic Family News. Audio CDs of his lecture, “Holiness at Home: The Importance of the Family,” are available for purchase from CFN.