The Freedom of the Family

There are a number of philosophical theories about the origin of human society. There are two extreme positions.

One is the Social Contract theory dear to Hobbes and Rousseau which maintains that in the beginning there was no society. Man was totally free. Because of evil, human beings banded together to form social contracts which like a plank to a shipwrecked man saves people from the evil tendencies of others. Society is simply a convenience in this theory, which one should be able to do without but necessity requires for survival.

The other extreme is the Marxist or totalitarian theory, which holds that man has such a strong social nature that he has no individuality. Man is simply a cog in a giant machine and all his acts are social. Society is a part of his substance.

The position of the Church has been quite different.

Following philosophers like Aristotle, the Church has maintained that man is by nature social.  This social character is not of his substance. It is a property of human nature because man has a spiritual soul and freedom.

As Blessed Pope John Paul II was fond of pointing out using what he called the “personalistic norm” explained in Gaudium et Spes no 24:3:  no human person is an object of use but must be a subject of love, and the human person only finds himself in a sincere gift of himself to another.  Society is the place where this gift is given and received.

There are many societies depending on what the good is that the members pursue. In fact, it is this good which forms the nature of one society as opposed to another. This good, also called the “common good” is not just the sum total of the private goods of the members, but it obliges them to go outside themselves to practice a good and form their character in the way they could not do if left merely to themselves.

This common good or purpose shapes the kind of authority and institutions necessary to pursue the goods in question. Most of these goods are temporary and incidental. Three are permanent and every human person must be a member of the societies they pursue in order to perfect his soul. They are the family, the state, and the Church.

The family is oriented to the good, which is the unity of the parties which turns around the relationship of procreation and education of children. To pursue this goal there must be peace among the spouses and peace in the home. A proper authority structure insures this.

Men must truly be fathers, who offer both spiritual and emotional support to women and children. This includes intellectual affirmation in the adolescent years. This is especially realized in telling the truth.

Women must be mothers, who emotionally support both their husbands and children by an empathy born of love. She also must tell the truth.

The economic order participates in the goal of the family and is an extension thereof. The just wage, which is necessary to reward work and offer some stability in the home, with freedom from want is essential to this. The goods and services provided by business are also necessary.

The state has as its final purpose providing a climate of peace and order in which families and businesses can successfully provide the support needed for the material and spiritual welfare of the family. Authority in the state must be of the sort that the particular society may pursue the justice and rights of the citizens. It cannot subsume the family or the individual into itself. Nor should it pursue its private good to the expense of the common good. That being said, it could be a monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy, or combination of all three.

The purpose of the Church is to lead people to heaven. In fact, the Church is not a natural society which can be founded by human beings because her common good is heaven, and grace is the means to pursue this goal. Accordingly, Church authority is a hierarchy of service based on grace founded directly by God.

In Catholic social teaching there is a famous principle called “subsidiarity.” This is the Church’s recognition of the necessity of all three of these societies.  It also entails the judgment that small is beautiful.

It would not be fitting for the higher society to assume the functions and powers of the lower society. This would cause social disorder.

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So it is not appropriate for the state to be the primary educator or health provider. These belong to the family. The place of the state is to encourage business and the family to pursue their characteristic goals and not to try and supplant them.

The state is too huge already, and no human society can expertly provide every human service.    If the state makes laws about business or the family these should be to encourage each to do its proper task in encouraging human good.

The Church also must not seek to supplant the state or the family as happens in a theocracy.  Instead, the Church encourages the state to obey the natural law and so to pursue its proper good.  The Church may certainly teach what that law demands and may also instruct families in their obligations, but it would be unfitting for the Church as a society to absorb the other two or have clerics running them on a regular basis.

The present tendency in Europe and America to replace the family and business with the nanny state is completely disordered. It undermines both the family and business. Since these are the cornerstones on which civil peace is based and maintained, the state also undermines itself. It must be reversed for there to be true peace and domestic tranquility.

Father Brian Thomas Becket Mullady, O.P. is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. In 1966, he entered the Dominican Order and he was ordained a priest in Oakland, California in 1972. Father Mullady received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Angelicum University in Rome, Italy, where served as a professor for six years. He has taught at several colleges and seminaries in the United States and is an academician of the Catholic Academy of Science, the theological consultant to the Institute on Religious Life, and the author of the Question and Answer column in Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He has been featured in several series on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The author of three books and numerous articles, Fr. Mullady has served as a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, and mission preacher.
Articles by Fr. Mullady:

  • Brian English

    Excellent article Father. We need more priests to address these issues in this direct fashion.

    • Brian Mullady

      I should add one clarification as this seems to be causing people a lot of trouble realizing the primary point of the article. When I state that it belongs to the family to be the primary educator and health care provider I do not mean that families should run schools or hospitals or that the state cannot sponsor schools or health care programs. What I mean is that they cannot usurp the right away from individual families to choose what schools they will go to or to choose their own health care. I also mean that the state cannot be the determiner of whom health care will be offered to or who shall practice it. This belongs to the industry itself which is an extension of the family. Please realize it is difficulty to make all distinctions in 1000 words. The real point is that the state should encourage all these societies and businesses to do what they were meant to do and not supplant them with some very large impersonal bureaucracy.
      Fr. Brian Mullady

      • Doran

        How would you reconcile your position with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI called for universal healthcare? If people get access to healthcare, a basic right in a sophisticated modern economy, that’s the point–who cares if they can choose among different providers? Should we preserve this empty notion of freedom of choice but allow the 40 million uninsured to continue to get no care?

      • Brian Mullady

        I believe what you referring to is a statement of Cardinal Bertone interpreting the Pope. The Cardinal has a right to his opinion but this is hardly Magisterial teaching. No one is again coverage for every one but socialized medicine where all are reduced to a giant computer is not the way to do it. There are many other principles which must be respected.

  • smartypants

    Amen amen! Thank you Father.

  • David_Naas

    But, why do I never see even a glancing mention in essays like this of the destructive role of industrialism and the corporations in erasing family connections?
    It was industrialism of the Manchester type which first broke up the extended family in order to feed the greed of the factories and foundries. It is the overweening demand of the corporations for ever greater profits which are wiping out even the nuclear family.
    Why be surprised, shocked, or dismayed if the state moves in on ground which capitalism has already plowed?
    Moreover, it was business greed, not state initiative, which reduced holy days from the calendar in favor of production. It was business greed which sought, and still seeks, to eliminate any form of morality which threatens hedonistic consumerism. It is still business greed which pays off politicians who attack the state’s intervention in order that money — Mammon — may produce a laissez-faire society, one in which 8-year old addicts and 11-year old prostitutes will be the norm. (Take a look at what happened to the kids who worked for Disney — wonderful role models, are they not?)
    And who abets the greedy in their quest for ever-more wealth, power, and privilege at the cost of the destruction of society? For starters, let us look at those who use the phrases like, “nanny state”, or “entitlements”, or other propagandistic ringtones.
    If we are to be truly Christian in our analysis of what’s wrong with society, let us not fail to comment on the sinfulness of businessmen any more than on the sinfulness of politicians, or educators, or entertainers, or… the person in the mirror.

    • The_Monk

      Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor. What Eisenhower referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex. But in every particular, socialism is wrong, where capitalism is wrong only in its abuse. The Bible is full of examples of industrious capitalists, and indeed are the pith of many of the Lord’s parables. Socialism (and all its kissin’-cousin variants) is a criminal enterprise from the get-go….

      • David_Naas

        Without offence, you seem to repeat yourself, as evidenced from your reply to ‘mollysdad’.
        Capitalism is not blessed by God, and there is actually a difference, if you should care to actually study economics, between traders and family businesses and “capitalism”.
        While I appreciate your passion, I must truly dispute the sloganeering talking points which have evidently been gleaned from the minions of the “business-conservatives” (as opposed to the “traditionalist conservatives”, who want to maintain society, the family, the Church against both socialist assimilation and capitalist domination.)
        And, there is more wrong in capitalism than its abuse. In purest form, it elevates Mammon above Christ (idolatry, you know), for which I merely refer anyone to an observation of the current culture in the USA.
        Just because “godless socialism” is not a good thing, is no reason to trump “industrial-finance capitalism” as the only alternative. That is like telling people they must choose between being hung or being beheaded, without mentioning that they do not ‘have’ to do either. It is a false choice, but one which both socialist and capitalist propagandists would want you to believe. Neither one are Christian.

  • eerww

    I am curious when the Bishops and various Catholic charities/organization will begin to put this teaching into practive and stop accepting payments from the federal government for services. This structure not only violates subsidiarity but also one of the Ten Commandments since all that money is forecefully taken at gun point.

  • mollysdad

    How can the family be a ‘health provider’ if the parent’s aren’t doctors? And if the state doesn’t ensure free or affordable health care for all, does that mean that if you get sick it’s too bad if you can’t pay?

    • Dylan

      No, it means that we need a better way to fund our health insurance. Thus far, I’m most interested in an idea advocated by Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins: establishing “health savings accounts” from date of birth. Please look it up if you have the time. The problem with “free or affordable health care” is that someone has to pay for it. Of course taxpayers today will pay, but so will the generations (long) after.

      • mollysdad

        I live in the United Kingdom where we have fully tax-financed health care. Tax-financing can be done by central government, or it can be done by regional governments as well. The advantage of this is that we have peace of mind when we fall ill. This is just as well, since we are heading for a society in which the middle class is no more: the very rich own everything and the rest of us are either unemployed or working on the margins of destitution.

        • The_Monk

          Welcome to the brave new world of socialistic thinking. Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor. The unholy triumvirate to which we must all pay homage and obeisance. As well as all our chuck and cash. No room for small business, family nor church in that tangle….

  • Patrick

    It seemed as though everything was going quite well with this article until the premises mentioned above were applied in an incredibly haphazard way. This is the first time I have ever heard someone claim that the Church considers it inappropriate for the state to be the primary provider of education and health care. By your logic it seems you would also be saying that it would also be inappropriate for the Church to provide these as well. What should we make of all those holy religious that have created hospitals and schools over the years? Does subsidiarity really entail the judgement that small is beautiful??? Should I have a smaller family than the one I have? Should the Catholic Church not be 1 billion strong? Why did God make the universe so big? I am confused here. This just seems to me like another attempt to mask republicanism with the clothing of Catholic theological terms. Let’s talk about Jesus and what he really wants for us. Don’t use the Church to push your political agenda please.

    • Dylan

      As I understood it, “small is beautiful” doesn’t refer to the size of the society. It refers to the number of societies. Not the quantity of members in a family, citizens of a state, or believers in the Church—rather the family, the state, and the Church as the three smallest, centralized authorities for serving the common good. Three is small and that is beautiful.

      Also, don’t you think it’s a bit rash to insinuate that this article was written as propaganda? Particularly when your understanding of the article is confused (which I addressed above)?

      • Patrick

        Read it again Dylan… Small does not apply in this article to the number 3… That would be a little odd don’t you think? The following commentary deals with the size of the “nanny state”. Its all there, look harder.

      • Stephen_Phelan

        Wow… I can’t imagine a more mistaken reading of the concept of subsidiarity. If the number of levels of society is what we are supposed to minimize, let’s get rid of the Church and the family and only leave the State. Isn’t 1 smaller than 3? Would that be better? Sorry, but that is almost literally Communist reasoning.

        Subsidiarity and solidarity are two sides of the same coin, and both are directed at orienting us toward one another as persons made in the image of our Creator. That happens only at the personal, lowest level. The family is the first and most important, but from their arise small communities to interact – parish, neighborhood, village, etc. When these are inadequate to deal with a real problem, a higher level representative of the people may be employed, AS LONG AS it respects the proper authority of the lower levels.

        Father is right.

    • The_Monk

      We shall soon see how ecumenical and open-minded are the bureaucrats who oversee the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. How many Catholic Hospitals will begin offering sterilizations and abortions rather than shutting down, perhaps by justifying doing some good more than offsets the evil they do….

      • David_Naas

        My, don’t we have a predisposition to prejudge evilly persons whom we do not know. It is a trial to be so good that all other people look so bad.

        • The_Monk

          There you go – change the subject….

          • David_Naas

            I *could* comment about ‘invincible ignorance’, but, what good would it do. Your mind is blatantly made up, why should you be disturbed with mere matters of fact.
            However, I implore you, do not try and baptize your politics in the blood of the Savior. It is you who will have to account for your idle words, as I must for mine.

    • Stephen_Phelan

      Look up the word “primary.” Being the primary caregiver or teacher in no way precludes the free choice to utilize other services in healthcare or education. It means that the higher levels of society cannot force their way into the smaller sphere except in cases of abuse. Humility and virtue are necessary at all levels of society.

  • Bill

    Father Mullady states, “So it is not appropriate for the state to be the primary educator or health provider. These belong to the family. The place of the state is to encourage business and the family to pursue their characteristic goals and not to try and supplant them.” Further, “The present tendency in Europe and America to replace the family and business with the nanny state is completely disordered.” The conservatives are constantly chanting that phrase, but just how is this to be accomplished, in a country with 40 million without health insurance or whom 14,000 die each year because of it, and 60% of all bankruptcies are caused by sky high medical practices that are not available to so many? I heartily agree in the concept of subsidiarity. I preached this mantra when I worked as an internal consultant to management. I am tired of conservatives beating their drums to their mantra of no national health care scheme or any other type of assistant to those less fortunate then those of us with jobs or sufficient funds. Why aren’t they humane enough to develop a scheme to solve these issues? If we are truly Catholic Christians let us feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. Stop preaching conservatives and ACT/

    • PatriotGuard782

      I believe the good Father is stating that it is wrong for there to be government owned and operated schools and hospitals. Schooling and medical care should be provided by private individuals.

      It is amazing to see people willfully forget that doctors used to be regarded as individual professionals, the same as lawyers (the original professions were: physicians, clergy, lawyers (and prostitutes)). You sought out doctors the same way you sought out a lawyer, you hired them for the expertise they provided. They were not “a right,” the doctor operated a private business. The doctor of yore charged what he believed you could afford (of course, back then, doctors couldn’t do much to cure your disease or treat your wounds.)

      “…14,000 die each year because of it…” Wellllll, I fact checked that. The estimates are all over the board, from less than a thousand to over 2 million.

      You most likely pulled the statement of 14,000 people lose their coverage each year from the Florida Socialist Party website and did some “creative editing”.

      For the sake of your argument, let us assume 14,000 die each year due to no access to health care due to no insurance. 14,000 deaths per year works out to 38 deaths per DAY across the ENTIRE USA. Pray tell, how does one tell which ONE person in a given state out of 38 died due to “no health insurance?” Hmmmmmm? Did they have a big ol’ “Uninsured” tag on there forehead? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm?

      I live in Indiana. I have NEVER seen in ANY media, a story reporting someone completely denied access to health care due to lack of funds. In fact, Indiana is a leader in providing care to not only poor Americans, but the seriously injured of the world. At little to no cost to the patient. How do you handle that statement?

      No health insurance does NOT mean no health care. Government owned and operated “health care” does equal DEATH. See <a href=""here.

      “Why aren’t they humane enough to develop a scheme to solve these issues? If we are truly Catholic Christians let us feed the poor, clothe the
      naked, etc. Stop preaching conservatives and ACT[.]”

      You must be a hard core Marxist/Leninist, Comrade Bill. A true believer in Liberation Theology. The Catholic Church HAS been feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick for CENTURIES…..until Uncle Sam said Roman Catholic morality was wrong and shut down our orphanages, adoption agencies, soup kitchens, free clinics, charity hospitals, homes for pregnant teenagers, homes for the homeless, nursing homes for the aged. Just because we call homosexuality a sin…..

      May God have mercy on us all, because we are collectively spitting in His eye each and every day. Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing on the USA today. There is fire and damnation coming from on high, soon……

    • The_Monk

      Health care is not a ‘right’. If health care were a right, like the right to life, all people would be born with equal health even as they ARE created with equal dignity. Further, as Catholics we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion of rights. Instead, we Catholics have duties, as commanded by the Lord, to attend to those who are hungry, naked, in prison, sick, etc. We, the Catholic community, are so charged. So we do have some common ground. But we cannot abrogate our duties to the state for any price….

      • David_Naas

        Neither is the ‘right to vote’ a right. Neither is habeas corpus or a speedy trial a right. Neither is no cruel or unusual punishment a right. In fact, there are no rights. Hurrah, repeal the Declaration of Independence, and return to the benign rule of monarchy. Better yet, abolish all government but Theocracy.
        I do not apologize for being flip. Your statements can justify nothing else, presuming you are a citizen of a Western Democracy. Moreover, I should remind you that as Catholics, we MUST attend to the notion of rights, for we are admonished to be citizens, nor merely subjects. Nor are we to be servile to the state, having no object but our own good, which precludes limiting our endeavors to charitable acts. (Though those should not be neglected.)
        I don’t know where you derived these notions, but they do not appear to come either from any of the documents of US history, nor from any statement of the last several pontiffs.

        • The_Monk

          Both Pope JPII and Benedict XVI were men whose viewpoints were molded under the statist regimes of Hitler and the Soviet Union. Recall Pope JPII’s comments (“Witness to Hope”) regarding the American bishops and how they didn’t get it. Neither man was privileged in the political life we have here in the west, and their papers give solid evidence of such. The totalitarian state, with which both men were well acquainted and both denounced, is nearing fruition here in the U.S. And the monstrous policies that have been enacted into law will leave no doubt as to the fact that the U.S. is a member in good standing in the Culture of Death….

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  • Rose

    Amen, Father. This is refreshing and well said.

  • The_Monk

    By the way, Father Mullady, got your DVD’s on the “Seven Sacraments” – well done. Will be hosting a prayer group this fall, and will use those lessons to help fill in the blanks so many Catholics today have regarding the nature and importance of the sacraments. God bless….

  • Jcar

    Sadly Father, I was playing by the rules. I was ready to go down with the ship and stood firm with my libertarian convictions. But I was betrayed by those entrusted with the keys to the treasury. They could not keep their hands out of it. They fell into temptation so easily. It’s easy to say to tell someone to pull oneself up by the bootstraps but not so easy actually do it. Please tell me I’m wrong. I want to believe again.