[In] pre-modern times, the family took measures to ensure a continuity that spanned the centuries. Family members became trustees who shared not only a common blood of heredity, but a common spiritual and material inheritance that each generation must hold as a sacred trust to be safeguarded and increased.
The Christian family, regardless of social class, naturally developed many variations of institutions such as primogeniture and entail where family goods and property could be preserved undivided. In most cases, the principal heir had the demanding obligation to preserve the family estate, keep alive the memory of the family’s past, endow brothers and sisters, care for parents and relatives in misfortune, and guarantee the livelihood of descendants. In this way, the family served as a powerful and affectionate social safety net, providing so many of the services that later fell to the cold detached modern State.
Painting by John Callcott Horsley
Such concepts make the family more than just a single relationship; it is an institution uniting personalities, property, names, rights, principles, and histories. Husband and wife are responsible for each other and their family to such an extent that divorce becomes inconceivable. Because it furthers the well-being of all society, it is in the interest of the State to favor this notion of the family and its continuity—and not burden it with inheritance taxes.(1)
A Family of bobbin Lace makers by Giacomo Ceruti.
This concept of continuity can also apply to professions that “run in the family.” From this, we can also see veritable dynasties of carpenters, teachers, soldiers, doctors, or statesmen who carry on the family tradition and talents towards perfection.
Types of the Territorial Army, from The Graphic, 1910
Finally, the continuity and unity transmitted by Christian traditions are expressed in family sentiments, morals, and customs. “Yet of greater import still is spiritual heredity,” states Pius XII, “which is transmitted not so much through these mysterious bonds of material generation as by the permanent action of that privileged environment that is the family.”(2)
This impressive stability and continuity must be our goal.
(1) In this regard, Pius XI affirms: “The natural right itself both of owning goods privately and of passing them on by inheritance ought always to remain intact and inviolate, since this indeed is a right that the State cannot take away.” Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, no. 49.
(2) Pius XII, “1941 Allocution to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility,” in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII (Vatican: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1941), 363-6. (American TFP translation.)
John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 181-2.