So to get your mind over the election, I thought I’d post more from my BYU talk on the Christian view of the family. This is in the form of a speculative draft, and so I welcome your comments and criticisms.
St. Augustine ranks the personal satisfactions of the family, despite their imperfections, higher than those of the city, philosophy, and friendship. The family is the social relationship intended by God. Politics is a punishment for sin, and political arrangements as we actually experience them are inevitably distorted by pride. All political order—all patriarchy—is deeply arbitrary or unsupported by true theology. To some extent, political order is always or at least typically an imposition of angry men on women.
In chapter 9 of book XVIII of THE CITY OF GOD, St. Augustine reports that the enraged men of Athens demanded, to compensate for their city being named by women (who outvoted the men in the assembly by one) for a woman God, that women lose the right of suffrage, that they not be able to give their names to their chldren, and that they were never to be known as citizens of Athens.
This account of the naming of Athens comes from Varro, of course, and Augustine’s own comment is only “How many reflections one is tempted to make. But I hasten on to other matters.”
To give explicitly his own, Christian affirmation of what we might call these proto-feminist complaints about the unjust foundation of “the noblest and most brilliant city Greece ever had” would have, of course, deeply and needlessly offended the ruling men of his time. Still, Augustine’s point was clear enough for anyone who didn’t hasten on too quickly.
So you find in Catholic writers from St. Augustine to Pope John Paul II the subdued thought that men are more proud and partisan—we might say more manly—than women. Men, as a result, need the help of women to understand themselves properly as relational beings. And they’re screwed up—angry, disoriented messes—when they’re too proud to accept that help. Pope John Paul II accepts the thought that women, typically, more carefully than men attend to other persons. Their natural inclination toward motherhood and the experience of being a mother are, of course, causes of the development of this personal capacity.
Studies show us that what a woman most longs for is a good marriage. What a man needs is any marriage at all.
The father, of course, is also a parent. But his presence is largely, by nature, as an outsider in the process of pregnancy and birth. (When today’s sophisticated couples say we’re pregnant, I stifle the impulse to response that there’s no biological evidence that you both are.) The truth is that father has to learn the full loving, relational dimension of being the parent of another person from the mother. That’s why Pope John Paul II says that the personal burden of parenthood is greater for women, and men, as persons, have a special debt that especially reluctant to acknowledge to women.
So men have the vain tendency to rank economic and political life too high, and more properly relational life too low. That’s why the Pope John Paul II said that any program of “equal rights” has to include the proper ranking of human goods that owes more to the personal realism of women than vanity of men.
That’s also why st. Augustine distinguishes between the typical prince or emperor—even the one described by Aristotle—from the Christian emperor and the Christian father. The Christian father rules his family the way God the father rules all of us. Those whom he appears to rule he actually serves. He exercises, as the evangelicals say these days, servant leadership.
The same with the Christian emperor. He rules not with magnanimity, but with humility. He has no need of and is never seduced by flattery. He always remembers that he is but a man, and so equal with other men and women under God. He rules his empire like a father rules his family, which is the way God rules us all.
The model of all human rule, to repeat, is the father of the family. And the model for the father of thie family, to repeat, is the personal, relational God. The personal, loving God has all the relational excellences we find especially in women.
One obvious criticism of St. Augustine’s Christian emperor is that a Machiavellian rival emperor would eat him for lunch. Augustine’s Christian response is that political expansion or glory aren’t the bottom line. People who think otherise are looking for security—for their true home—in all the wrong places. It’s true enough that it’s really tough to be who we are without political security, but political security isn’t relational security.