The Pillar of the Family

The basic moral principle of Domestic Society is: the family is the natural unit of society and the right of education belongs primarily to the parents, not to the State.

The family in the natural order is the only divine instruction in the world. God did not found the American Chamber of Commerce, the CIO, the National League, or the USSR, but in making man and woman, who find the natural complement in one another, and whose children are the incarnation of their mutual love, God did found the family.

As the family is the divinely organized society of the natural order, so the Church is the divinely organized society of the supernatural order. Since grace is built upon nature, the Church cannot destroy the natural rights of society. The family, therefore, as a society, precedes both the State and the Church.

Since the family is the natural unit of society and precedes both the State and the Church in nature and in time it follows that the parents, and not the State, have the primary and normal right of education. The family holds directly from the Creator the inalienable right to educate. This right is inviolable by any power on earth, as is evident from the fact that the education of the children is the concern of the parents long before it is the concern of anyone else. The State exists for the family, the family does not exist for the State.

The parents may, if they wish, delegate the exercise of this right to the State, but even then the primary responsibility for the education of the child remains with the parents, not with the teacher. The teacher only supplements, but never supplants either the right or duty of parents. The function of the State, when it receives this delegation, is merely to protect and foster but never to absorb either the individual or the family, or to substitute itself for them.

The teacher always acts in the name of the parents, not in the name of the State; though the State, to safeguard its citizenship, may guarantee the efficiency of the teachers. A teacher receives his mission from humanity, not from the government. Whatever authority he exercises over the children to teach, control, and discipline them comes from God, through the parents, and not from the State, except insofar as the State acts on behalf of the parents. To make the teacher the representative of the State, as in Nazi Germany, is to make him the guardian of a party, its fleeting policies, its ideologies, its theories, and thus an enemy of culture, of tradition, and of humanity.

This basic principle of domestic society, that the primary and normal right of education belongs to the parents and not to the State, is a conclusion of the moral law. It is not Catholic doctrine exclusively, though it has wrongly become identified as Catholic teaching. As a matter of fact, it is part of the legal tradition of the United States enthroned in both the fourteenth amendment and the decisions of the Supreme Court. For example, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down this decision:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in the Union repose, excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

The principle is denied by all Totalitarian ideologies which affirm that the total man, body and soul, belongs to the State. It is also denied by some of those intelligentsia and so-called “expert” educators at home. In a survey made by Dr. A.P. Raup of two thousand students seeking teaching certificates in seventy institutions, it was discovered that 50 percent of them had been indoctrinated by naturalist teachers who denied both the moral law and the existence of any rights except State-given rights, and whose basic assumption was that man is an animal.

Too many parents today shift their responsibility to the school and assume that by doing so they have fulfilled their parental obligations. Have they forgotten that the education of their children is their concern seven years before it is the concern of the school? A rough calculation will show too that, when schooling starts, the child still spends about 85 percent of his time at home. The child has been given by God to the parents as so much putty in their hands; and how the little ones will be moulded and formed is the primary responsibility of the home. There is such a thing in the Providence of God as “mother-craft” and “father-craft,” but there never was a time when these noble professions were in such danger of being lost. Sending a child to school no more acquits the parents of responsibility than sending a child to a swimming pool acquits the parents of responsibility for that child’s cleanliness.

What has complicated and intensified parental irresponsibility is the fact that most schools today assume that education consists only of the imparting of knowledge. This is an egregious error, because knowledge is only a part of education. The whole man must be educated, and this means the will must be trained as well as the intellect. More important than knowledge is the formation of character, the right ordering of conscience, and the formation of personality, none of which can be taught in a school which deliberately rejects the teaching of morality and religion. Plato was right when he taught that the primary purpose of education is the inculcation of the distinction of right and wrong.

Parents have, perhaps unconsciously, fallen prey to the fallacy propounded by those intelligentsia who, to cover up their own reactionary theories, call themselves “progressives.” This group has led parents to believe that evil, sin, and crime are due to ignorance, and that if we educate by imparting knowledge we will abolish crime. Typical of this was Guizot, who when nonreligious education began said: “He, who opens a school, closes a prison.” Today the facts retort to Guizot: “Well, we opened thousands of schools, but we closed no prisons.”

Our crime bill today is forty million dollars a day. Our prison population has nearly doubled since 1927. We have the largest homicide rate in the world. This rate has doubled in the last thirty years. Our murder rate is from six to forty times higher than European countries in normal times. A major crime is committed every twenty-four seconds. We have a murder every forty minutes.

Never before in the history of the world was there so much knowledge; and never before so little coming to the knowledge of the Truth. Never before so much straining for life; never before so many unhappy lives. Never before so much science; never before was it used so for the destruction of human life.

In the face of this, then, shall parents not see that it is not the intellects of the world that have gone wrong; it is consciences. Reason, without moral purpose, can be reason at the service of evil as well as good. It is not the schools that are to blame; it is the parents. The right to educate belongs to them.

A final indication of the breakdown of parental authority is the present tendency of mothers who, outside o cases of necessity, work in war plants to the utter neglect and detriment of their children. In Los Angeles a social worker counted forty-five infants locked in cars at a single parking lot while their mothers were at work in war plants. In jam-packed Warren Township, outside of Detroit, children who go to school on an afternoon shift have actually been sent out to wander the streets at night so they will sleep later and not wake up their working parents early in the morning. One thirteen-year-old girl in a beer hall told the California State Department of Health officer, “I’m just waiting until twelve. My bed is not empty until then.”

The root of this trouble is in the home; and those who talk about more nurseries, better playgrounds, curfews, better milk, and more dance halls, are perhaps diminishing the effect but not removing the cause. Behind every delinquent child is a delinquent parent. Behind every broken young life is a broken home. There are problem children only because there are problem parents.

It, therefore, behooves those mothers who are doing defense work, to the utter neglect of their children, not to flatter themselves that they are aiding the war effort. The price for working in a war plant is too high, when a little less time spent in welding pipe to pipe, and a little more time spent in welding child to virtue would profit America a thousand times more. In many cases, it is not a desire to hasten victory and peace that spurs such a mother on to work, but a desire to make money. And what kind of peace will we have if, during the war, these mothers turn out future mothers with a sordid background of disease and crime? Our soldiers at the front are entitled to better wives when they return, or else the fighting is all in vain. This war’s greatest casualty so far is—the American home.

Does this mean the American home is doomed? No! There are high hopes for better home life in the new America arising in the hearts of the soldiers. This war has brought home to the American soldier a glaring contradiction between his education and the ideas for which he is fighting. He has thus come to see some of his peace education was wrong, and his war ideas are right.

Such statements as the following are commonly heard today:

In college I was taught that I was only an animal, but in the army I am taught to act like a man; or my professor told me that there was no difference between right and wrong, good and evil; but now my buddies die, and I prepare to die to prove that Hitler was wrong and we are right. My textbooks ridiculed sin and evil, but I find that war is caused because some men are evil. In school I was taught to be self-expressive; I was told that inhibitions and restraints were wrong, and that liberty meant to do whatever I pleased. In war I learned obedience, discipline, restraint, and, above all, that anyone who died to preserve that kind of eviscerated liberty was a fool. In law school I was taught that there were no inalienable rights, but on last July 4th I recalled the Declaration of Independence and realized that I was fighting to preserve those inalienable rights which my law school denied. My teachers told me that I must try to get all I can out of life, but on the battlefield I learned to give even my life.

Thus has our youth aroused himself to the tremendous disproportion between what his head was taught in school and what his heart learned amid death and shell and sweat and blood; theoretical repudiation of the moral law in education, and the practical necessity of it to win a war and establish peace.

This war has knocked into a cocked hat all those vaporous theorizings of naturalist education which separated education from morality, which understood freedom of speech as freedom from morality; freedom of religion as freedom from worship; freedom from Fascism as freedom from Communism; freedom from fear as freedom from law; and freedom of thought as freedom from truth.

The future of America is in the homes. This sounds like a platitude, but it is not, for unless the home is sound, America will not be sound. The rebirth of the home is conditioned upon three factors, all of which are grounded in the moral law:

First, marriage is a permanent bond until death. There are only two words in the vocabulary of love: you and always. You because love is unique; always because love is timeless. No one ever said, “I will love you for two years and six months.” The modern rubbish about sex confuses feeling with love, an organic reaction with an act of will, and falsely believes that when the “thrill” is gone, marriage is ended, forgetful that in marriage, as in running a race, there is a second wind. What the moderns call the “thrill” is only the choke that starts the motor; moderns never stay together long enough to enjoy the thrill of driving. The frosting is not the cake, but the moral law says you may not take the frosting unless you eat the cake. One of the great values of a vow is that it keeps couples together during the shock of the first cold plunge, that later on they may enjoy the swim. Love is life’s courier and must not linger only in the rivers of rapture, but must launch out into the deeper and more authentic waters where the single happiness of “being together” mirrors the mystery of God’s eternity and reflects the harmonies of the triune God.

Second, marriage by its very nature is destined to bear fruit, for love is mutual self-giving which ends in self-recovery. All love is creative—even God’s. All love tends to an incarnation—even God’s. The spark of love, caught from the flames of Heaven’s altars, was not given to scorch the flesh, but to solder life. The only reason life ever surrenders itself to life is to meet the challenge of death and conquer individual weakness by filling up the other’s lacking measure in the birth of their mutual love. As the marriage of earth and tree is messianic to new life, so man and woman must not make a covenant with death but, in obedience to nature’s law, pay back life’s loan of life with life and not with death. In vain will they who break the lute of God’s designs ever hope to snare the music. Humanity is the quarry, husband and wife the sculptors, and every child they beget a living stone to be fitted and compacted into the temple, the cornerstone of which is God.

Third, marriage can prosper only on condition of sacrifice. All love craves a cross—even God’s. True love is sacrificial. That is why courtship is characterized by gift-giving—a surrender of what one has. In marriage this sacrificial love should deepen by a surrender of what one is. Because too many measure their love for another by the pleasure which the other gives, they are in reality not in love, but in the swamps of selfishness. Hence to preserve the family, the greatest sorrow of each member should be to be outdone by the cherished rival in the least advantage of self-giving. Our poor, frail human souls at best are like jangled strings, made toneless by self-love; and not until we tighten them with self-discipline can we attune them to those harmonies that come from God, wherein each, having given to the other hostage of its heart, finds himself free in the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Peace first came to the world when the wise men discovered a family. And the dawn of peace will come again when other wise men return to homes where, in the new vision of domesticity, they see the human family of father, mother, and children, as the reverse order of the Holy Family: a Child, a Mother, and a Father.


This article is adapted from a chapter in War and Peace by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.

Share this post with your friends


Stay Connected

Sign up for our free email newsletter to stay up to date on the latest from!
  • Hidden

Scroll to Top