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Commonplaces

Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Topic: Family



The education of women must be important, as the formation of character for the first seven or eight years of life seems to depend almost entirely upon them. It is certainly in the power of a sensible and well educated mother to inspire, within that period, such tastes and propensities as shall nearly decide the destiny of the future man; and this is done, not only by the intentional exertions of the mother, but by the gradual and insensible imitation of the child; for there is something extremely contagious in greatness and rectitude of thinking, even at that age; and the character of the mother with whom he passes his early infancy is always an event of the utmost importance to the child.

Sydney Smith
from "Female Education" in The Selected Writings of Sydney Smith (ed. W. H. Auden, 1956)


Family Commonplaces #10 May/June 2020


All our modern notions and speculations have taken a bent toward individualism. In the state we have been engaged to bring out the civil rights of the individual, asserting his proper liberties as a person, and vindicating his conscience, as a subject of God, from the constraints of force. In matters of religion, we have burst the bonds of church authority, and erected the individual mind into a tribunal of judgment within itself; we have asserted free will as the ground of all proper responsibility, and framed our theories of religion so as to justify the incommunicable nature of persons as distinct units. While thus engaged, we have well nigh lost, as was to be expected, the idea of organic powers and relations. The state, the church, the family, have ceased to be regarded as such, according to their proper idea, and become mere collections of units. A national life, a church life, a family life, is no longer conceived, or perhaps conceivable, by many. Instead of being wrought in together and penetrated, to some extent, by historical laws and forces common to all the members, we only seem to lie as seeds piled together, without any terms of connection, save the accident of proximity, or the fact that we all belong to the heap. And thus the three great forms of organic existence which God has appointed for the race, are in fact lost out of mental recognition. The conception is so far gone that, when the fact of such an organic relation is asserted, our enlightened public will stare at the strange conceit, and wonder what can be meant by a paradox so absurd. My design, at the present time, is to restore, if possible, the conception of one of these organic forms, viz: the family. For though we have gained immense advantages, in a civil, ecclesiastical, and religious point of view, by our modern development of individualism, we have yet run ourselves into many hurtful misapprehensions on all these subjects, which, if they are not rectified, will assuredly bring disastrous consequences. And no where consequences more disastrous than in the family, where they are already apparent, though not fully matured. . . .

Horace Bushnell
Christian Nurture (1847, rev. ed. 1861), s.v. "The Organic Unity of the Family"


Family Commonplaces #22 Jan/Feb 2020


I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.

C. S. Lewis
Time Magazine interview, September 8, 1947


Family Commonplaces #39 July/Aug 2019


Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since, then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States, springing as they do from the depraved morals of the people, and, as experience shows us, opening out a way to every kind of evil-doing in public and in private life.

Pope Leo XIII
Arcanum (1880)


Family Commonplaces #69 Jan/Feb 2021


It is one of the strangest ironies of modernity that, under the pressure of technology, the world is becoming more and more "masculinized" and power obsessed, even as in the West, the male's sense of his own masculine identity weakens and grows more confused, and as homosexuality becomes more prominent. . . .

We see today not uncommonly an emasculated maleness on the one hand and a kind of two-dimensional, functional maleness on the other hand, increasingly patterned on the machine and displaying an ersatz machismo shaped by the ambient culture of violence. Parallel to this, the danger is great that modernity will continue to "defeminize" and harden the authentically feminine, as the negative expression of the feminist movement—feminism as ideology—has already managed to do. . . . What I call the "authentically feminine" inclines towards a sensitivity that is intuitive more than analytical, receptive more than aggressive, communal/familial more than individualist/independent. It remains to be seen whether a genuinely feminine influence, such as we can unquestionably discern in many social, educational, political, and humanitarian movements in our day, can survive and flourish in the harsh modern climate. . . .

George Hobson
The Episcopal Church, Homosexuality, and the Context of Technology (2013)


Family Commonplaces #70 Jan/Feb 2021


Inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the community, and founded more immediately in nature. . . .

The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. . . . Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself. . . . The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home. . . .

Human society in its civil aspects was renewed fundamentally by Christian institutions. . . . Wherefore, if human society is to be healed, only a return to Christian life and institutions will heal it.

Pope Leo XIII
Rerum Novarum (1891)


Family Commonplaces #73 Jan/Feb 2021


What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilization, and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change, like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
from the keynote address at "The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Interreligious Colloquium," convened by the Vatican, November 17, 2014


Family Commonplaces #98 Sept/Oct 2021

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