The Grace of Christ in the Cell of the Social Order

Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo

According to Melissa Eitenmiller,[1] it appears that many theologians and Christians today do not have a clear understanding of the metaphysical bases of realistic philosophy, especially of St Thomas Aquinas (maybe leaving it to the philosophers). In particular, they do not see the importance of the notion of being and participation with regard to the bearing that it has on theology, particularly within the realm of Christology, grace and the sacraments, including the sacrament of marriage. This is unfortunate, because without an understanding of grace as “participation of divine being and nature”, i.e. an ontological participation in the life of God, Christians are left with the idea of justification as a simple “covering up” of sin, without any real transformation taking place in the soul, life, family and society. It is appropriate to recall in the context of our scientific culture what St Thomas says about studying, which “non est ad hoc quod sciatur quid homines senserint, sed qualiter se habeat veritas rerum”.[2]

The Status of the Human Being in the Age of Science

Before we examine the participation of grace in the sacrament of marriage, it might be important to consider the status of the human being in the empirical sciences today in relation to St Thomas’ view of the human person with regard to being and act, and consequently, with regard to the transcendentals, and to the supernatural life of grace.

Knowledge about Man: the possibility of two approaches

There was no great problem between the different domains of knowledge until a line was drawn between nature understood as having a soul or surrounded by a soul, and a soul which was in itself characterised by an end: this was the age of Aristotle’s Physics, De Anima and Ethics. This line was drawn at the end of the Renaissance, which had not assimilated the originality of the thought of St Thomas.

The problem worsened when nature became the subject of science, based on pure observation, mathematical calculation, and experimentation. This was the meaning of the Galileian and Newtonian revolution, as Kant (1787) defined it. The human mind thought that it did not have access to the principle of the production of nature in itself or in something other than itself, which Aristotle called form or the formal principle as principle of operation: ‘every essence in general is called “nature”, because the nature of anything is a kind of essence’.[3] Therefore one can only gather natural gifts made known through their appearance in space and time and try to ‘save the phenomena – τὰ φαινόμενα σώζειν’, as Plato himself suggested, who in this was Galileo’s mentor.

This is no minor endeavour given that the field of observation is so unlimited and that the imaginative ability to form hypotheses with a mathematical formula, to enlarge and replace models, to vary their character, and to invent procedures of verification and falsification, is so powerful. This is no minor endeavour also because mathematics, which is in part a construct of the human being’s mind, corresponds to the category of quantity which constitutes the matter of every individual and expresses in the body the realisation of individuality through the parts of such material structure. There is quantity in the mind of man and in the corporeal structure (atoms and sub-atomic structures, molecules, cells, organs, etc.). Thus, although there is no ancient Aristotelian correspondence between the mind and reality through the notion of form, there is the modern correspondence through quantity inspired in Pythagoras of Samos and Plato – something that was often pointed out by Benedict XVI in his Magisterium.

However, as regards phenomena relating to human beings, this asceticism of hypotheses, of the creation of models, and of experimentation, is in part compensated for by the fact that we have partial access to the production of certain phenomena that can be observed through philosophical self-reflection (and through faith, of course, for believers). Thus, we are dealing with praxes, which are different from this mathematical and quantitative scientific approach and have as their reference point the genetics of action that belong to fundamental anthropology and to ethics. Reflection on human praxes is the point of convergence because it indicates the path that leads to the goal, i.e. perfect human work as fullness of the act. The success of work (ἐργόν) can only be observed in the perfection of praxis itself (ἐνέργεια) in relation to its end.[4]

On the two objective levels of knowledge

It follows from these two experiences that man’s knowledge is not a matter of a single plane or level – that of external observation, explanation, and experimentation (as a reproduction of phenomena) which is the pathway of modern science. Man’s knowledge develops in the interface between the natural observation of science and the reflective understanding of philosophy. The human being is simultaneously an observable being, like all the beings of nature in which he or she participates, and a being who interprets himself, who knows himself as Heraclitus and later Socrates had already suggested (a ‘self-interpreting being’ to employ the definition of Charles Taylor or Paul Ricœur).

This statement on the two objective levels of knowledge that combine in the human being, the one of the external world which is the object of science and the one inside him, which has the I at its centre, can provide an answer of reconciliation and pacification to the question raised by the status of the human being in the field of knowledge in the age of the predominance of science, that is, as long as positivist ideology does not claim the right to abolish the border between the sciences of nature and the sciences of the human being and to annex the latter to the former.

In this spirit we can reconcile the conflict connected with the science of genetic mutations or heredity, which, although discovered (let’s not forget) by the Augustinian monk G. Mendel (1822-1884), was, after Darwin (1809-1882), frequently linked to the theories of evolution. No external limit can be imposed on the hypothesis according to which random variations and changes are established and reinforced within the ‘narrow corridor of evolution’ in order to ensure the survival of a species, and thus of the human species as well. Hitherto we have had historical and perhaps philogenetic evidence, therefore something “more than a hypothesis” to employ the famous phrase of St John Paul II,[5] in relation to which the experimental sciences must apply greater empirical rigour.

The starting point of natural theology, philosophy and social sciences

Philosophy, and not only philosophy but the social sciences as well, are open to knowledge that derives from cultural anthropology and perhaps biology as well, but they must not engage in the battle, which is lost from the outset, to establish the empirical facts. This is the task of the natural sciences.

Philosophy, theology and human sciences should examine how to find a meeting point with the scientific point of view, starting from the position according to which the human being is already a speaking, questioning and social being (political animal – πολιτικὸν ζῷον).[6] Thus, beginning with his questions, the human being has given himself some answers that speak of his domain of moral law and freedom in relation to a given nature and community life. While the scientist follows the descending order of species and brings out the uncertain, contingent and improbable aspects of the result of the evolution of the human body, philosophy starts from the self-interpretation of man’s intellectual, moral and spiritual situation and goes back through the course of evolution to the sources of life and of being that man himself is. The starting point can still be the original question, which has existed since the beginning and has always been latent with a sort of self-referentiality of principle. Moral law is what Kant sees as the different life of the human being and freedom is what Hegel calls ‘the essence of the spirit’;[7] ‘I’ or self-awareness is what Kierkegaard defined ‘a relation that relates itself to itself and in relating itself to itself relates itself to another, who is the fundament’.[8]

So, once reason recognises that man is characterised by moral law, freedom and self-awareness or self-reflection, it can legitimately ask itself how the human being arose from animal nature. Thus, the approach is retrospective and retraces the chain of mutations and variations. This approach meets the other, progressive, approach, which descends the river of the progeny of the human being – man and woman. The two approaches intersect at a point: the birth of a symbolic and spiritual world where moral law and achieved freedom define the humanity of the human being.

The two meanings of the term “origin”

The confusion that has to be avoided lies in the two meanings of the term ‘origin’: the meaning of genetic derivation, especially of the body and brain, and the meaning of ontological foundation, especially of the soul and spirit.

One refers to the origin of species in the succession of space and time beginning with an already originated datum; the other poses the question of the appearance of its participated being beginning with the Being by essence. This is the first origin of the being that is the ‘passage’ from nothing to being, which is not properly a passage but the primary origin of the being that emerges from nothing thanks to the act of participated being: ‘Ex hoc quod aliquid est ens per participationem, sequitur quod sit causatum ab alio’, i.e. ‘from the fact that a thing (entity) possesses being by participation, it follows that it is caused’.[9] Hence the complete formula of creation as participation (passive in the creature and active in God): ‘Necesse est dicere omne ens, quod quocumque modo est, a Deo esse’, i.e. ‘It must be said that every being that in any way is (exists), is (exists) from God’.[10]

Essential in this origin is the analogical de-centring from activity towards the centre, or the subsistent self – constitutive of every [each] person – and the analogical re-centring towards the Other who is Being by essence, namely God, as was also observed by St Thomas in his late work: ‘Deus est et tu: sed tuum esse est participatum, suum vero essentiale’ i.e. ‘God is and you [are]: but your being is participated, His is the essential being’.[11]

The passage from simple being as an animal creature to the metaphysical dignity of spiritual being analogous to that of God is founded on human dignity as ‘forma per se subsistens’, that is, intellective soul, a transcendental I, thanks to the direct belonging of the intellective soul to the participated being (esse) or act of being (actus essendi). St Thomas is very determined on this point, which is the most original point of his anthropology, as a reflection of his metaphysics of the act. Consequently, he explains, for the first time – we can say – in Western thought: ‘Hence in composite things i.e. in creatures there are two kinds of act and two kinds of potency to consider. For first of all, matter is as potency with reference to form, and the form is its act. And secondly, the nature constituted of matter and form, is as a potency with reference to the same being, insofar as it is able to receive this. Accordingly, when the foundation of matter is removed – as in the spiritual substance and in the human soul – if any form of a determinate nature remains which subsists of itself but not in matter, it will still be related to its own being as potency is to act. But I do not say, as that potency which is separable from its act, but as a potency which is always accompanied by its act.’ And he closes in this way: ‘the nature of a spiritual substance, which is not composed of matter and form, is as a potency with reference to its own being; and thus there is in a spiritual substance a composition of potency and act’.[12]

The conclusion that can be drawn from this very lofty speculative reflection by St Thomas is that the dignity of being spirit is characterised by Kant and by Hegel after the Copernican and Galilean revolution in convergence with St Thomas: in modern thought we have the transcendentality of knowledge, of freedom and of moral law that have the self at their centre, but in St Thomas these transcendentalities, like the self as well, are founded in the transcendence of the act of being and its necessary belonging to the finite spirit is had by means of the direct participation of God. Therefore, each single subsistence, as Kierkegaard also showed, has its origin as a created person and finds itself in front of God with the absolute capacity for responsible choice in relation to the ultimate end. St Thomas considers that the person is the most perfect reality in the universe: “Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature – that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature”.[13] He tweaks this Boethian definition as follows: “that which subsists in an intellectual or rational nature’ is the definition of a person”.[14] By placing in the notion of person the attributes of rationality (rationalis) or intellectuality (intellectualis), he implicitly or avant la lettre assigns to the person all those very important properties on which modern and contemporary sociologists and philosophers insist when they speak of the person: self-awareness, freedom, communication, relationship, reciprocity, coexistence, participation, solidarity, subsidiarity, etc. Rationality or intelligence, or a relationship, however perfect, without a subsisting being (esse subsistens) does not yet make a person; so much so that the human nature of Christ, not being subsistent, does not make a human person. Nor need rationality or intelligence be present as operations in act, but it is sufficient that they be present as faculties or potencies, for example in a person who is sleeping or even in a comatose state, or in the unborn child.

For this reason, the human being is capax Dei, “capable of God”, as is precisely stated in the opening of the Catechism promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, id est, the human being is capax Dei.

The grace of Christ makes human beings capable of eternal life

The human soul, which is a “subsistent form inseparable from the act of being” (actus essendi) capable of knowing and loving, i.e. spirit, although it is a substantial form of the body, is intrinsically incorruptible in the real order of things. This is the metaphysical foundation according to which the human person is in himself free and capable of ethical order, and emerges from the forces of nature and the instincts of animals.

Participating in the being and image of God, the human person has a desire for God and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops seeking. God comes to the encounter of the human being in a thousand ways, but with the Incarnation of Christ through his truth, life and grace, which are “participation in divine nature”[15] and a “new creation”.[16]

As a spiritual subject, the human being, imago Dei, is capable of “receiving grace”, truth of faith, and divine love, and this is the highest status and dignity that a human being can reach as a spiritual being. Hence, “when the human being has received grace, he is capable of performing the required acts”[17] for himself and others.

The social dimension of grace

This is the social dimension of grace that Pope Benedict XVI refers to, which comes to heal and elevate man’s nature as a “political animal” and not only his individual life. Just as, according to Aristotle, it is not enough for a good politician to focus on himself, but he must want the common good of the city, in the same way the human being, since he is admitted to take part in the good of a city and becomes its citizen, requires not only individual but social virtues, such as wanting the good of the city and social justice. Analogously man, being by divine grace admitted to participate in heavenly beatitude, which consists in seeing and enjoying God, becomes a citizen and partner of that blessed society called Celestial Jerusalem, in which, according to St Paul, we become ‘fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God’.[18] It follows that the human being, incorporated in heavenly things, is responsible for free social virtues, that is, infused political virtues. The prerequisite (praeexigitur) for these infused social operations is pursuing the common good of society as a whole, which is divine good, inasmuch as it is also the object of beatitude.[19]

The Necessity of the Sacraments

As stated before, grace, considered in itself, perfects the essence of the soul, in so far as it is a “participated likeness of the divine being and nature”. And just as the soul’s powers flow from its essence, so from grace there flow certain perfections into the powers of the soul, which are called virtues and gifts, whereby the powers are perfected in reference to their actions.

Now the sacraments are ordained unto certain special effects which are necessary in Christian life: thus, for instance, Baptism is ordained unto a certain spiritual regeneration, by which man dies to vice and becomes a member of Christ: which effect is something special in addition to the actions of the soul’s powers: and the same holds true of the other sacraments. Consequently, just as the virtues and gifts confer, in addition to grace commonly so called, a certain special perfection ordained to the proper actions of the powers, so does sacramental grace confer, over and above grace commonly so called, and in addition to the virtues and gifts, a certain divine assistance in obtaining the purpose of the sacrament. It is thus that sacramental grace confers something in addition to the grace of the virtues and gifts.

St Thomas said: “Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others.... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head... Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments”.[20]

As stated above, the grace of the virtues and gifts perfects the essence and powers of the soul sufficiently as regards ordinary conduct: but as regards certain special effects which are necessary in a Christian life, sacramental grace is needed.

In addition to these special effects to cooperate in performing Christian life, the grace of the sacraments has the potential to heal the residuary habits of sin. In general, vices and sins are sufficiently removed by virtues and gifts, in so far as they prevent the human being from sinning. But in regard to some past sins, the acts of which are transitory whereas their guilt remains, man is provided with a special remedy in the sacraments.

In short, St Thomas makes a philosophical analogy: “Sacramental grace is compared to grace commonly so called, as species to genus. Wherefore just as it is not equivocal to use the term animal in its generic sense, and as applied to a man, so neither is it equivocal to speak of grace commonly so called and of sacramental grace”.[21]

The seven sacraments of the Church

Aquinas makes a certain celebrated similitude between the development and stages of natural life and the stages and development of spiritual life. The sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian spiritual life: they give birth, growth, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith and grace for the whole community.[22] This order, while not the only one possible, does allow one to see that the sacraments form an organic whole in which each particular sacrament has its own vital place. Of course, in this organic whole, the Eucharist occupies a unique central place as the “Sacrament of sacraments”: “all the other sacraments are ordered to it as to their end”.[23]

Setting the centrality of the Eucharist, St Thomas continues the analogy between the life of the spirit and the life of the body and establishes an important distinction: “Now a man attains perfection in the corporeal life in two ways: first, in regard to his own person; second, in regard to the whole community of the society in which he lives, for man is by nature a social animal”.[24] Following this analogy, with regard to a person there are the sacraments of initiation and development of Christian life (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist); then there are the sacraments of healing (Penance and Reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick).

The social dimension of the sacraments

In regard to the need to receive sacramental grace for the whole community or for the social and political dimension of society (the Aristotelian “political animal”), the human being is perfected in two ways. First, by receiving the power to rule the community and to exercise public acts: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is the sacrament of order, according to the saying of Heb., VII:27, that “priests offer sacrifices not for themselves only, but also for the people”.

The second way to perfect the whole community is in regard to the natural goal of society, i.e. procreation and education of offspring. This is accomplished by marriage both in corporal and in spiritual life, since it is a function of nature that becomes elevated and purified by the sacrament. In reality, it is the only sacrament that aims to perfect a natural function of society.

In short, the sacraments of order and marriage are primarily directed towards the healing and elevation of others, that is, to the salvation of society; if they also contribute to personal salvation, they do so through service to others. They are properly ministries or services. They participate in the mission of the Church and serve to build up society or the People of God by the grace of Christ.

Let us put aside for the moment the “lay priesthood”, that is, the exercise of the priesthood imprinted on all the baptised even those who are not specially consecrated. We find in the anointing of the Visigoth royals – imitating King David – a residue of this power given to the laity to rule the community towards a temporary common good and justice. Let us focus on marriage.

The essence of marriage

Wanting to clarify with the language of metaphysics the essence of marriage, St Thomas has no difficulty in seeing that it is a relationship (relatio): “marriage is a kind of relation, nor is it anything other than a union”.[25] Hence, what is put into practice with marriage is not a substance, nor a quantity, nor a quality, etc., but an equal-sided relationship, because a relationship cannot arise on one end without arising on the other. For no one can be a husband without a wife, or a wife without a husband, just as no one can be a mother without a child. Such a relation exists equally in both members. So marriage is a personal relationship founded on mutual love between the two spouses. Although one can love someone who does not love them back, there cannot be a union between them unless the love is mutual. This is why Aristotle says in Ethics that friendship, which consists in a certain union, requires love in return.[26]

Such a relationship of singular mutual love that should reign between those who are joined in matrimony represents the highest form of friendship: “The greater the friendship, the more stable and lasting is it. Now, there seems to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife: for they are made one not only in the act of carnal intercourse, which even among dumb animals causes an agreeable fellowship, but also as partners in the whole intercourse of daily life. As a sign of this, man must leave father and mother for his wife’s sake (Gen., II:24)”.[27]

Although it is a natural inclination (inclinatio naturae), St Thomas points out that it is a duty that does not bind all individuals but only humanity in general because it is a social need and service and not an individual need. In fact, the individual is not obliged to satisfy all social services by himself, “else each man would be bound to agriculture and building and other such offices as are necessary to the human community; but the inclination of nature is satisfied by the accomplishment of those various offices by various individuals. Accordingly, since the perfection of the human community requires that some should devote themselves to the contemplative life, to which marriage is a very great obstacle, the natural inclination to marriage is not binding by way of precept, even according to the philosophers. Hence Theophrastus proves that it is not advisable for a wise man to marry, as Jerome relates (Against Jovinian, 1[28])”.[29]

The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony

As well as a natural institution, through the will, goodness and participation of Jesus Christ, marriage has become a supernatural institution: a sacrament. While marriage, as a natural institution, is born to perpetuate humanity, as a sacrament: “it is also directed to the perpetuity of the Church which is the assembly of the faithful”.[30] “And seeing that the sacraments cause what they signify, we must believe that the sacrament of matrimony confers the grace to take part in the union of Christ with his Church on those who are joined in wedlock, since it is most necessary that they should so seek carnal and earthly things as not to be separated from Christ and his Church”.[31]

To those who affirm that marriage is in no way a cause of grace but is only a sign, St Thomas replies that “this cannot stand, because according to this assertion marriage would not differ at all from the sacraments of the Old Law; therefore there would be no reason why it should be enumerated among the sacraments of the New Law”.[32] Aquinas also rejects the sentence of those who limit the grace of marriage to the legitimacy of an act (sexual union) which without marriage would be a sin: “This is too little, because even in the Old Law there was this advantage”. And so St Thomas concludes that “marriage contracted in the Christian faith confers the grace that helps to fulfil the duties related to that state”.[33]

Just as in the other sacraments, something spiritual is symbolized by external actions, so in this sacrament the union of husband and wife signifies the union of Christ with the Church, according to the saying of the Apostle: “This is a great sacrament, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church”.[34]

In short, the grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their unity. By this grace they help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children. It may well be said that marriage is a “secular sacrament” with a grace of state intended to heal and elevate the relationship of love and friendship between the spouses in order to fulfil the natural purpose of the cell of society and the network of “bonds of perfection”[35] with their children and those around them. Amoris laetitia therefore is right when it says for the first time in the texts of the Magisterium: “more generally, the common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, will be steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one with us. Neither of the spous- es will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way”.[36]

The Family as the Cell of Society

St Thomas understands marriage as being perfected by grace and ordered to a supernatural purpose in the fulfilment of the natural order, in the light of that capital theological principle of his doctrine: “Grace does not abolish nature, but perfects it”.[37] In addition to marriage, the family is the social nucleus composed of the spouses and their children and possibly of the grandparents and collaterals who live with them.

Following in the footsteps of Aristotle, St Thomas considers that the family is the first form of community among human beings and is “constituted by nature for each day, that is, for those acts which must be performed daily”.[38] Consequently, he illustrates this concept by using denominations: “For one man, named Carondas, calls those who live in a family ‘diners’ (homostitios), as if they were one dish, because they share the food; another, named Epimenides, a native of Crete, calls them ‘hearth companions’ (homocapnos), as of the same smoke, because they sit by the same fire”.[39]

Different aspects of an object, with respect to universality and particularity, or totality and partiality, diversify communities of human beings; and with respect to this diversity, one community is superior to another: “now it is evident that a family or household (domus) is a mean between the individual and the city or kingdom, since just as the individual is part of the household, so is the household part of the city or kingdom”.[40]

The family does not originate from some social convention but from nature itself, for the purpose of generating and educating the person. However, from the point of view of the common good, the family is not the most perfect community: this title belongs to the political community (kingdom, state): “It is evident to every man that the city contains within itself the other communities: for families, as well as villages, are part of the city. That is why the political community is the only superior community in an absolute degree; consequently, it proves to contain the most important of all human goods: for it aims at the common good, which is better and more divine than the good of the individual, as is written at the beginning of the Ethics[41]”.[42]

The pedagogical purpose of the family

On the other hand, family life is a form of human and social life, much more intimate and with a greater “belonging” to the natural being (esse naturae) than political life, in accordance with Aristotle’s statement that, for living creatures, be- ing is life.[43] This is supported by St Thomas when he assimilates the family to a “spiritual womb” (spirituali utero): “For a child is by nature part of its parents: thus, at first, it is not distinct from its parents as to its body, so long as it is enfolded within its mother’s womb; and later on after birth, and before it has the use of its free will, it is enfolded in the care of its parents, which is like a spiritual womb”.[44]

Here it is remarkable how intensely St Thomas emphasises the pedagogical purpose of marriage. It is part of the fundamental, essential, principal relationship of the bonus prolis. The reason for the essential relationship between marriage, family and education derives from the natural inclination of human beings to happiness. It is the task of parents to develop such a desire for happiness in their children by means of virtue, which provides the wise and proper way of judging: “Since judgment appertains to wisdom, the twofold manner of judging produces a twofold wisdom. A man may judge in one way by inclination, as whoever has the habit of a virtue judges rightly of what concerns that virtue by his very inclination towards it. Hence it is the virtuous man, as we read (Ethic. X), who is the measure and rule of human acts”.[45] To this way of knowing, evaluating and judging, Aquinas gives the powerful notion of “knowledge by connaturality”.[46] Family education should also be by a kind of connaturality or by testimony of virtuous life, carried out in that spiritual womb which is the family and which follows the mother’s womb, where the educational relationship already begins in a certain way.

Bad examples and rigour in all things must be avoided at all cost, without ever acknowledging their good work. It is the Apostle St Paul who gives this advice: “Fathers, do not provoke (ἐρεθίζετε) your children, so they may not become discouraged”.[47] The explanation given by St Thomas is very important because it points to the educational purpose of making the human being responsible as a free being created in the image of God. “Paul gives – Thomas said – this advice because adults keep the impressions they have had as children. And it is natural for those raised in slavery to be always faint-hearted. This is the reason why some say that the children of Israel were not immediately led into the promised land: they had been raised in slavery, and would not have had the courage to fight against their enemies: say to those who are of a fearful heart: be strong, fear not! (Isa 35:4)”.[48] Sons and daughters are not the property of parents or means to an end, like servants, but an end in themselves: “the authority of a father with respect to his child is different from that of a master with respect to his servant. For the master employs his servant to his own advantage, but the father manages his child for the child’s advantage. It is necessary that fathers educate their children for the children’s own good; not, however, by excessively restricting or subjecting them. ‘Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged’.[49] Because such provocation does not inspire them to good”.[50]

Therefore, the state of virtue that education in the family pursues is that by which the daughter or son goes from being a child to becoming an adult, to a moral majority: “another law regulating the education of children who need to be taught how they are to achieve manly deeds later on”.[51] Such a state of virtue means being able to be “self-providing” (sibi ipsi providere), so education consists in helping to “become prudent”.[52] The way to carry out this education on the part of the parents will be by developing the natural inclination to happiness through freedom and virtue, above all with regard to family life in its daily manifestations.

The children, inclined also by nature to happiness, will then judge “connaturally” that their parents seek for them a good – and happiness – in educating them, and will receive their teachings with confidence. In order to learn, it is always necessary to trust and believe in the person who teaches: “every one who learns thus must needs believe, in order that he may acquire science in a perfect degree; thus also the Philosopher remarks (De Soph. Elench., I:2) that it ‘behooves a learner to believe’”.[53] Therefore, in family education, the admonitions of parents and the trusting obedience of children will usually suffice, according to the advice of St Paul: “Children, obey (ὑπακούετε) your parents in all things”.[54] Such trust, knowledge by connaturality, and obedience are to be done for this is “well pleasing to the Lord”, “that is, – St Thomas comments – it is in the Lord’s law, because the law of charity does not destroy the law of nature, but perfects it. And it is a natural law that a child is subject to the care of his father: ‘honour your father and your mother’ (Exod., XX:12)”.[55]

Educating in the Life of Grace: Domestic Church

In the late Commentary on Matthew, St Thomas presents the family as the cell of the social order, which is the basis of both the community of the city and the community of the kingdom or politics: “There are three sorts of community: the house or family, the city, and the kingdom. The house is a community formed out of those things which bring about common actions; therefore, it is formed out of three conjoinings, out of father and son, out of husband and wife, and out of lord and slave. The community of the city contains all the things which are necessary for the life of man: hence, it is a perfect community as regards the mere necessities. The third community is that of the kingdom, which is the community of completion. For where there is a fear of enemies, one city cannot subsist on its own; therefore, owing to fear of enemies, a community of many cities which makes up one kingdom is necessary. Hence what life is in a man, so is peace in a kingdom; and just as health is nothing but the blending of the humors, so is peace when each one preserves his own order. And just as when health is withdrawn a man tends toward destruction, so it is with peace: if it withdraws from a kingdom, the kingdom tends toward destruction. Hence the last thing attended to is peace. Hence the Philosopher: just as a doctor is to health, so the defender of the republic is to peace”.[56]

From the Christian point of view, since the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household”.[57] When these cells of the social order were converted, they desired that all family members – “their whole household”[58] – should also be saved by participation in the grace of Christ. We can say with Amoris laetitiae that there was an ebb and flow of Christ’s grace between the members of the social cell, i.e. between husband and wife, between parents and children and vice versa, which extended to the entire network of relations that they built with the world around them. These families who became believers were also a cell of the progressive diffusion of Christian life among the unbelievers in larger communities such as cities, kingdoms or political communities. In the case of Rome, they even managed to convert the Empire!

The Apostle Paul recognises the importance of families as social cells for the spread of the Gospel and its grace by greeting them with the expression “domestic Church”: “Greet the church that is in their house”.[59] The Vulgate of St Jerome translates: “Et domesticam Ecclesiam eorum... (and likewise to the Church which is in their house – in the house of the consorts Prisca or Priscilla and Aquilla)”. For the Apostle Paul, therefore, the house (οἶκος) is the place where the ecclesial community gathers, in which a certain fullness of Christ’s grace resides to be communicated to the other communities. The ebb and flow of grace and love, the Christian testimony of its members, was a very effective means of spreading the gospel and its grace.

The spiritual animation of society

What should the Christian family do in today’s situation? What do Christian people need in order to conserve themselves as such and to perform their function of being light and salt for the earth, spiritual and moral animators of the period of time in which Providence has placed them, in particular during these difficult days?

The answer is neither easy nor simple. We can find an answer that sums up both the old and the new enunciation, full of immense meaning, in St Peter: today the domestic Church, that is to say the People of God, or rather all of us, or, better, every person of faith, every Christian family, must repeat the words that St Leo the Great took from St Peter: ‘“Agnosce, o christiane, dignitatem tuam” – be aware, Christian, of your dignity, you have been raised to participation in the nature of God’,[60] do not seek to fall into the lowness of your old behaviour. Remember of which Head and which Mystic Body you are a member. Think again of your liberation from the power of the shadows and your move to the light and the kingdom of God’.[61]

Supplement of strength

Yes: every family and every Christian should again become aware of their own dignity and of what they have become, through the mysterious, wonderful, real regeneration of the grace of baptism and matrimony. We have explained the status and the dignity of the human person as a creature (the level of the human being is already very high and very worthy, and should spare us the animal-like, barbarous, sub-human degradation to which our civilisation – which is no longer or not yet worthy of that name – so easily gives way), and this is all well and good. Nevertheless, this human dignity is elevated to the highest level by divine grace. Let us remember the blunt words of the prologue of the Gospel according to St John: ‘But to those who did accept him [Christ] he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God’.[62]

There are innumerable texts in Holy Scripture that teach us this vital new fact, this ‘new creation’, this sublime “divine generation”,[63] this inescapable undertaking of the human being who has become a Christian, ordering us to perform a new duty: to conform our mentality, lifestyle, personal and social customs to human reality made superhuman by Christian election, by the Word of God, which has penetrated the being and the conscience of man, by grace, by the Holy Spirit, by the God of love, One and Triune, and which dwells amongst us in the sanctuary of the human soul of the Just and of the domestic Church of the Christian family.[64]

Ancient humanism with its metaphysics, theology and virtue ethics was a providential preparation for the coming of Christ the Saviour and Redeemer.[65] Modern humanism is not enough for us because it recognises neither sin nor the elevation of the human being, which has been revealed and communicated to us by God’s design,[66] and because in the end it has shown itself to be inept in fulfilling itself, in its efforts to achieve the stature to which it feels called and has failed.[67] It does not have that surplus of strength of grace and wisdom which we can only find in the order of Redemption.

At the same time, the dominant evolutionary worldview, which considers the human being only as a refined body, fruit of the evolution of matter (walking upright, with a larger brain), without an incorruptible soul, without a spirit and without religion is even less suited to us. Deprived of the transcendent dimension of the person and his supreme dignity with the grace of Christ, God is no longer creating and saving human beings and nature but vice versa. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this immanentistic view the ‘antichristic fallacy – antichristica fallacia[68] and for St John Paul II ‘European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy” on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist’.[69] The signs and effects of this silent apostasy are the existential anguish in the west, specially in the new generations, including, in particular, the plummeting birthrate, the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as well as the increase in suicides, euthanasia and mental illness, and finally, the difficulty, if not the outright refusal, to make lifelong commitments, including marriage.

Let good defeat evil!

I still have many things to say on this subject. I will limit myself to just one, which seems to me the gravest and the most insidious for the human and Christian dignity of persons and families that deserves our defence and recognition as a supreme value. This is the threat of the ‘globalization of indifference’, which has become epidemic and aggressive, with its mainstream ideology (pensée unique) denounced by Pope Francis, characterised by the “de-structuring” or, worse, the destruction of the family, by means of human trafficking, prostitution and by that sexual revolution pushed to unbridled and repugnant expressions, both in the media and in the public sphere. This sad phenomenon comprises the theory that paves the way to licentiousness disguised as freedom, and to disordered instincts defined as emancipation from conventional scruples (Freud, Marcuse, Marx, Engels, etc.). Both liberal ideology and Marxist ideology agree on this. Promiscuousness, pornography, the exploitation of the body, especially women and children’s bodies (even on the internet), illegal substances, and the exaltation and brutalization of the senses – depraved and accursed according to the Word of God – assault the healthiest and most reserved environments such as the family, schools, work and leisure. Every defence seems to grow weaker and to fall; in most countries even the law justifies every offence against the family and public decency. What is almost a sense of fatalism inhibits good people and people in power from having any legitimate and effective reaction.

Dear friends! Live according to the Beatitudes of the Gospel and the lesson of Matthew 25 ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’, as Pope Francis indicates. Do not allow awareness of grace, of the gifts of the Spirit and of moral values to go dark within you. Do not allow the awareness of the grace of the sacraments, especially of the sacrament destined for the social good, which is marriage, to fall asleep. Keep in mind that each of us should be an instrument of grace for the other and vice versa, as the Pope theologian Benedict XVI defines the essence of social life.[70] Keep alive the awareness and recognition of the important new indication of Amoris laetitia: ‘the common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, will be steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament’.[71]

As the Synod Fathers of Amoris laetitia point out, despite the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and to form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration for the Church”. In response to this desire, the covenant of love and fidelity experienced by the Holy Family of Nazareth, enlightens every family and enables it to better face the vicissitudes of life and history. On this basis, every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world, radiating the grace of the Gospel. Nazareth must teach us the meaning of family life, its loving and gracious communion, its simple and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable nature. As St Paul VI said, may “the family of Nazareth teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its formation, how fundamental and incomparable is its role in the social order”.[72]

Do not lose your awareness of sin, your judgement of good and evil; never allow the conjoined meaning of the freedom and responsibility specific to the Christian person and to the Christian family, and for that matter, to global citizens, to not be vigilant. Do not believe that those who defends the dignity of the human being and of the family do it because of a purported inferiority complex. Do not think knowledge of evil has to be acquired through personal experience. Never see purity and self-mastery as ignorance and weakness. Do not suspect that you will not have love and happiness if you look for them in an authentic life according to the Beatitudes of the Gospel. Take care of the sick, of the suffering (especially including the family), of those who weep, of those who work for peace, and of the young and the elderly, whom contemporary society tends to marginalise and exclude.

Know how to recognise, together, the best signs of our time in the straightforward and necessary upholding of the centrality of the human person, of truth, of justice, of loyalty, and of Christian coherence; know how to look for good wherever it is and expand your optimistic outlook on the world so as to admire it in its magnificent reality and its wonderful advances, that is to say, so as to define it, help it and, if possible, heal its deficiencies and its errors; give to ascetic efforts, to heroism, to sacrifice and to love for our brethren the importance that Christ, the Crucified Redeemer, gave to them; and make of your personal moral energy a generous gift for the Church: she needs this gift today from each Christian person and family especially for the healing and uplifting of the social order and the globalised people of God with the grace of Christ.


[1] Eitenmiller M., Grace as Participation according to St. Thomas Aquinas, New Blackfriars, September 20, 2016. Published online,
[2] In I De coelo et mundo, lect. 22, ed. R. Spiazzi, Marietti, Taurini - Romae, 1952, no 228.
[3] ὅλως πᾶσα οὐσία φύσις λέγεται διὰ ταύτην, ὅτι καὶ ἡ φύσις οὐσία τίς ἐστιν (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. V [Δ], ch. 4, 1015 α 13).
[4] ‘it may be held that the good of man resides in the work (τὸ ἔργον) of man, if he carries out a special activity (ἐνέργεια) which will permit to discern a fulfilled human life’ (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. I [Α], ch. 6, 1097 b 20 ff.).
[5] ‘new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution’ (Papal Addresses, ed. M. S. S., The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican City, 2003, p. 372).
[6] Aristotle, Politica, Bk. I [Α], ch. 2, 1253 a 2.
[7] Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse, § 482.
[8] The Sickness unto Death, first part.
[9] St Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 44, a. 1 ad 1.
[10] Ibid., S. Th., I, q. 44, a. 1.
[11] St Thomas Aquinas, In Psalmum XXXIV.
[12] ‘Unde in rebus compositis est considerare duplicem actum, et duplicem potentiam. Nam primo quidem materia est ut potentia respectu formae, et forma est actus eius; et iterum natura constituta ex materia et forma, est ut potentia respectu ipsius esse, in quantum est susceptiva eius. Remoto igitur fundamento materiae, si remaneat aliqua forma determinatae naturae per se subsistens, non in materia, adhuc comparabitur ad suum esse ut potentia ad actum: non dico autem ut potentiam separabilem ab actu, sed quam semper suus actus comitetur. Et hoc modo natura spiritualis substantiae, quae non est composita ex materia et forma, est ut potentia respectu sui esse; et sic in substantia spirituali est compositio potentiae et actus’ (De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1 c.). Cf. Disputed questions on spiritual creatures. English translation available from Internet (with my adjustments):
[13] “Persona significat id quod est perfectissimum in tota natura, scilicet substantia in natura rationalis” (S. Th., I, q. 28, a. 3 c.).
[14] “omne quod subsistit in intellectuali vel rationali natura, habet rationem personae” (Cont. Gent., Bk. IV, ch. 35).
[15] θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως (II Pet., I:4).
[16] καινὴ κτίσις (II Cor., V:17).
[17] St Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, q. 2, a. 11.
[18] Eph., II:19.
[19] Cfr. De Caritate, q. un., a. 2 c., ed. cit., Q. D. II, p. 758 s. Also, De Virtutibus in Communi, q. un., a. 9.
[20] St Thomas Aquinas, In Symbolum Apostolorum, a. 10.
[21] S. Th., III, q. 62, a. 2 ad 3.
[22] Cfr. S. Th., III, q. 65, a. 1 c.
[23] S. Th., III, q. 65, a. 3.
[24] S. Th., III, q. 65, a. 3.
[25] In IV Sent., d. 27, q. 1, a. 1, 1 s. c.
[26] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. VIII [Θ], ch. 2.
[27] “Amicitia, quanto maior, tanto est firmior et diuturnior. Inter virum autem et uxorem maxima amicitia esse videtur: adunantur enim non solum in actu carnalis copulae, quae etiam inter bestias quandam suavem societatem facit, sed etiam ad totius domesticae conversationis consortium; unde, in signum huius, homo propter uxorem etiam patrem et matrem dimittit, ut dicitur Gen., II:24. Conveniens igitur est quod matrimonium sit omnino indissolubile” (Contra Gentiles, III, c. 123).
[28] The original work by Theophrastus is not extant, but the saying is quoted by Jerome in Bk. 1 of Adversus Iovinianum (M. L., XXIII:276).
[29] S. Th., III, q. 41, a. 2.
[30] Contra Gentiles, Bk. IV, ch. 78.
[31] Ibidem.
[32] In IV Sent., d. 26, q. 2, a. 3.
[33] In IV Sent., d. 26, q. 2, a. 3.
[34] Eph., V:32.
[35] σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος (Colossians, III:14).
[36] Amoris laetitia, § 74.
[37] “Gratia non tollat naturam, sed perficiat” (S. Th., I, q. 1, a. 8, ad 2).
[38] “nihil aliud est domus quam quaedam communitas secundum naturam constituta in omnem diem, idest ad actus, qui occurrunt quotidie agendi” (In I Politicorum, lect. 1 A, supra 1252 b 12
[39] Loc. cit.
[40] S. Th., II-II, q. 50, a. 3 c.
[41] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. I [Α], ch. 2, 1094 b 9.
[42] In I Politicorum, lect. 1 A, supra 1252 a 6.
[43] “for living creatures being is life”, i.e. τὸ δὲ ζῆν τοῖς ζῶσι τὸ εἶναί ἐστιν (De Anima, Bk. II (Β), ch. 4, 415 b 13.
[44] S. Th., II-II, q. 10, a. 12 c.
[45] S. Th., I, q. 1, a. 6 ad 3.
[46] “rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, second, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has learnt the science of morals, while he who has the habit of chastity judges of such matters by a kind of connaturality” (S. Th., II-II, q. 45, a. 2 c).
[47] Colossians, III:21. Cfr. also: “You fathers, don’t provoke (παροργίζω) your children to wrath, but nurture them in the discipline (“παιδείᾳ”) and instruction of the Lord” (Ephes., VI:4).
[48] In Col., III, 21, lect. 3, ed. R. Cai, Marietti, Taurini-Romae, 1953, t. II, p. 158, no 175.
[49] Col. 3:21.
[50] In Ephes, VI, 4, lect. 1, ed. cit., t. II, p. 80, no 342.
[51] S. Th., I-II, q. 107, a. 1 c.
[52] Cfr. Contra Gentiles, Bk. III, ch. 122.
[53] S. Th., II-II, q. 2, a. 3 c.
[54] Colossians, III:20.
[55] In Col., III, 20, lect. 3, ed. cit., t. II, p. 158, no 174.
[56] In Mat. Ev., c. XII, v. 25, lect. 2, ed. R. Cai, Marietti, Taurini -Romae, 1951, p. 158, no 1011.
[57] Acts, XVIII:8.
[58] Acts, XVI:31; cfr. Acts, XI:14.
[59] καὶ τὴν κατ ̓ οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν (Romans, XVI:5).
[60] Cf. II Pet., I:4.
[61] Serm. I de Nat.; M. G. 54:192.
[62] Ioan., I:12-13.
[63] γέννησις ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (I Ioan., V:18). Also: ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων (Iac., I:18).
[64] Cf. II Cor., III:16-17; VI:16; VI:19; Rom., VI:4; I Ioan., III:1; etc.
[65] Fides et ratio, § 38 et passim. Cfr. also Pope Francis, Dei Vizi e della Virtù, Rizzoli, Milano, 2021.
[66] Cf. Eph., I:18-19.
[67] Cf. Rom., I:24 ff.
[68] “The antichristic fallacy (antichristica fallacia) already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 676).
[69] Ecclesia in Europa, § 9.
[70] ‘[men and women] are called to make themselves instruments of grace, so as to pour forth God’s charity and to weave networks of charity. This dynamic of charity received and given is what gives rise to the Church’s social teaching, which is caritas in veritate in re sociali; the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society’ (Caritas in veritate, § 5).
[71] Amoris laetitia, § 74.
[72] St Paul VI, Address in Nazareth, 5 January 1964.




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