On the Civilization of Love and the Family

John Paul uses the phrase “civilization of love” as a forerunner to the notion of the culture of life. We usually think of civilization in terms of its upper achievements of art, literature or political order. But John Paul suggests that we look to the foundation first, to the family. Here is his account of civilization of love:

The phrase is ed to the tradition of the domestic church in early Christianity, but it has a particular significance for the present time. Etymologically the word civilization is derived from civis (citizen), and it emphasizes the civic or political dimension of the life of every individual. But the most profound meaning of the term civilization is not merely political, but rather pertains to human culture. Civilization belongs to human history because it answers man’s spiritual and moral needs. Created in the image and likeness of God, man has received the world from the hands of the Creator, together with the task of shaping it in his own image and likeness. The fulfillment of this task gives rise to civilization, which in the final analysis is nothing else than the “humanization of the world.”  

In a certain sense civilization means the same thing as culture. And so one could also speak of the culture of love, even though it is preferable to keep to the now familiar expression. The civilization of love, in its current meaning, is inspired by Gaudium et Spes  §22: “Christ… fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling.” And so we can say that the civilization of love originates in the revelation of the God who “is love,” as John writes (1 Jn. 4:8, 16); it is effectively described by Paul in the hymn of charity found in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:1-13).  . . .

the family is the center and the heart of the civilization of love.  Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God “is Love” and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence for its own sake. Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the communion of persons in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons. The family constitutes the fundamental cell of society. JOHN PAUL II LETTER TO FAMILIES 1994 §13. 

It was a commonplace that the family is the fundamental cell of society. Life depends upon the healthy cell; without the healthy cell, we have cancer, and death. There are many reasons why it is the fundamental cell. John Paul gives a precise reason in his exhortation on the family — it has to do with the “law of free-giving” —

 The very experience of communion and sharing that should characterize the family’s daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society.  The relationships between the members of the family community are inspired and guided by the law of “free giving.”  By respecting and fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity.     Thus the fostering of authentic and mature communion between persons within the family is the first and irreplaceable school of social life, an example and stimulus for the broader community of relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love. The family is thus, as the synod fathers recalled, the place of origin and the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society. Apostolic Exhortation FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO  (On the Family)  (December 15, 1981) §43.

 Any adequate political philosophy or  program for political action must start with an authentic understanding of and promotion of the family. We know how far the U.S. has strayed from an understanding of the nature of the family and how its policies consistently undermine it..

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