Truth at the Service of Freedom
Sally Anscombe / Getty
Truth at the Service of Freedom

Truth at the Service of Freedom

Edmund P Adamus FAITH MAGAZINE March-April 2014

Edmund Adamus has been the director for marriage and family life in Westminster diocese since March 2012 and was its director for pastoral affairs from 2003. His work covers marriage preparation, marriage support and enrichment, and help for couples in difficulty. He also promotes the doctrine of parents as the primary educator of their children.

On 13 May 2004, in an address to the Italian Senate entitled “Europe: Its Spiritual Foundations of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who one year later would be Pope Benedict XVI) proclaimed these words, indicating the contemporary challenge facing the family:

Believing Christians should look upon themselves as a creative minority and help Europe espouse once again the best of its heritage, thereby being at the service of the whole of humanity.

The words “creative minority” might well describe the Christian family: a household of Christocentric faith with an explicit matrimonial and sacramental identity.

Christian social teaching speaks of the option for the poor. But if our social fabric is to retain anything of a civilised identity, then we must proclaim a radical option with the family in order to “safeguard … its task of being the primary place of humanisation”.1 I say option with the family because the family is the “chief subject” (not object) “of social rights and obligations”.2

The phrase “civilisation of love”, which describes the domestic church, that is, the family, means that in order to be a citizen of such a civilisation, one has to be – in every sense of the word – civil.

''Thus fidelity, the bonds and ties of marriage and home, the unconditional love of parents for their children, the value we attach to small, domestic things – all these become the building blocks of a society that coheres.''

In transmitting values, conscientious parents striving to love their children authentically, know how important it is to inculcate virtues. Pope Paul VI invites us to ponder what it means to communicate in truth and freedom in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, on the subject of the Church. It describes four qualities essential to authentic dialogue, which when applied to the family (particularly to the role of parents) make it more evident why John Paul II compared their role to the ministry of priests.3

Four Qualities of Authentic Dialogue

The first quality necessary for genuine dialogue is clarity.

“Clarity [says Pope Paul] demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion  … all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?” (Ecclesiam Suam n81)4

Parents often have to exercise this quality in communicating with their children. A careful choice of words, as well the appropriate facial expression or physical gesture, in all the stages of a child’s development, deepens self-awareness. The apostolate of dialogue takes place par excellence in the family and enlivens its sense of mission, which for parents is the divine mandate to carry out the ministry of love, the “love that casts out fear” (1 Cor 13:7).5

The second quality of authentic dialogue is meekness. This is the virtue required to combat anger or frustration in the home. As the encyclical puts it:

It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of barbed words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, […] avoids peremptory language, [and] makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity. (Ecclesiam Suam n81)

Here, we must not confuse meekness with weakness.6 The father of the family must be always strive to be a gentle-man. The mother must display a true Marian spirit towards her children, “treasuring all these things in her heart”, but she must never allow caution to be a prelude to inaction. To be meek, therefore, is not to be weak. To be meek is to foster a sexual complementarity in which the masculine virility of the father and the feminine tenacity of the mother both work to preserve the peace and harmony of the home.

The third mark of true dialogue is confidence, which can only be sustained through prayer in the home.7

Confidence is also necessary; … not only in the power of one’s own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking. (Ecclesiam Suam n81)

The more the family becomes familiar with gathering in prayer, where sacred words are uttered, the more communication within it will bring “peace to … homes”.8

The final quality required for authentic dialogue is prudence:

the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer [Mt 6:7], particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile … [who] is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and … [who] adapts himself … to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers. (Ecclesiam Suam n81)

This is particularly important for the moral formation of adolescents, who with the exuberance of youth display a natural thirst and energy for social justice. Their formation presents an urgent challenge, as the youth of today are exposed to a language of “rights” without responsibilities, especially with regard to the unborn (whom Pope Benedict described as being among the “poorest of the poor”)9 and to freedom of sexual expression.10

Fundamentally, it is a question of the way in which truth is nurtured in the family by the parents. When parents exercise their “unrenounceable authority”11 as a service to the well-being of their children, the children’s gifts of love, respect and obedience become their specific contribution to the building up of both Church and society.12

The family is a microcosm of the nation, so parents need to learn the art of statecraft. Fathers especially can take as their model the patron of statesmen, St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England in the 16th century, who was once described in The Sunday Times newspaper as “the most saintly of humanists, and the most human of saints”.13

He was a husband and father who personified and embodied with joy the deepest sense of duty, to encourage his family and others to flourish as human beings. Though renowned for his wit, he never lost sight of the seriousness of his role or lacked paternal vigilance in exercising it.

St Thomas More embodies and personifies truth serving freedom precisely because his ability to excel as a lawyer and statesman was based upon his fidelity as a husband and father. Furthermore, it was his authentically English identity which added unique value to his and his country’s contribution to humanising culture and civilisation. But what is this “Englishness”?

England’s Role in the Economy of Salvation

There is a long-established maxim in this country that “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. It was established as common law by the lawyer and politician Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook) in The Institutes of the Laws of England, published in 1628:

For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].

This enshrined in law the popular belief expressed in print by several authors in the late 16th century. It was even argued that outlawed English Catholics still enjoyed the protection of this maxim, at least culturally if not always technically. Henri Estienne wrote in 1581 in The Stage of Popish Toyes: conteining both tragicall and comicall partes:

The English papists owe it to the Queen that “your house is your Castle”

What was meant by “castle” was defined in 1763 by the British Prime Minister William Pitt, also known as Pitt the Elder, who said:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.

The principle was also imported into the United States, where Henry W Grady, a journalist and writer on the US Constitution, proclaimed:

Exalt the citizen. As the State is the unit of government he is the unit of the State. Teach him that his home is his castle, and his sovereignty rests beneath his hat.14

From time immemorial, the English have had a passion for the sovereignty of hearth and home. They have the widest variety of chimneys in the world as well as more garden sheds than anywhere else.15

I am convinced that one of the reasons the English have such an innate sense of natural justice about the authority they feel ordained to exercise within their own four walls is that long before England became a political reality, she existed as a spiritual realm. At the time of the arrival of St Augustine (the Apostle to the English) in AD597, a one-nation entity did not exist. Augustine and his monks first worked in the kingdom of Kent under the patronage of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha (later Saints Ethelbert and Bertha). It was not until long after the synods of Whitby and Hertford (AD664 and AD672 respectively), which made England a united spiritual realm, that the country began to cohere into one political reality – a process only completed in the 10th century, under the descendants of King Alfred the Great.

During his visit in 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II referred to Great Britain as having an “exalted destiny in justice and in peace”, and I believe we have clung to this sense from our earliest times. We British like to pride ourselves on being exemplars of fairness, supporting the underdog and coming to the defence of those who are treated unjustly, whether at home or abroad.

I believe, along with others, that one of the sources of that sense of liberty is and has been our cultural and spiritual association with the Blessed Virgin. England has the unique title “Dowry of Mary”. In the 14th century King Richard II dedicated the kingdom to Our Lady and used the title with papal approval.16 The word dowry, from the Latin “dos”, means gift; and a dowry is a gift that traditionally formed the basis of material security for marriage. So in a sense England, as given or “gifted” to the Mother of God, has a special role to play, both as a nation and as a culture, in sustaining the matrimonial family. But what the king decided to do formally and solemnly in the 14th century was inspired by sentiments that already ran deep in the national psyche and consciousness of the English people.

Richeldis de Faverches was a Saxon noblewoman who lived in the small village of Walsingham, in the east of the England. She had a deep faith in God and devotion to Mary and was renowned for her good works. In 1061 she was rewarded by a vision in which she was shown the house in Nazareth where the Archangel Gabriel had greeted the Blessed Virgin. Mary asked Richeldis to build a replica of that house in Walsingham. This is how Walsingham became known as England’s Nazareth. The shrine rapidly became one of the most popular in Europe and later helped to develop and deepen the idea of England as the Dowry of Mary.

But it wasn’t just the intense devotion of the English to our Lady that characterised the English sense of national identity. It was also the fact that the replica Holy House of Nazareth depicted for them their profound and long-held appreciation for the homestead as the sanctuary of family rights and duties founded on sacramental matrimony. Walsingham, in a sense, crowned in the physical context what the English had for centuries – perhaps sub-consciously – understood to be the source and summit of all liberty and justice, the marital and family home. In 597 AD, the evangelisation of Britain under Pope St Gregory the Great was able to happen precisely because that faithful married couple St Ethelbert and St Bertha, King and Queen of Kent, by their material – and more importantly their moral – power, enabled it to happen. In other words it was the witness of the primary agents of the evangelisation of culture, a husband and wife, that made the work of St Augustine and his monks possible.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. In 1992 the Institute of Economic Affairs published a book on the crisis of the family entitled Families without Fatherhood. Its authors, Norman Dennis and George Erdos (neither of them Catholic) quoted The Ecclesiastical History of England by the Venerable Bede to remind readers of an earlier time when society had been in an equally parlous state. When St Augustine arrived in England, he wrote to Pope Gregory to describe the aggression, lawlessness and promiscuity, the broken families and the neglect of children, which his monks had encountered there. All these things, he felt, made his work futile.

The Pope told him to concentrate on teaching the Anglo-Saxons about marriage and its many benefits. Augustine and his missionaries did so – and, according to Bede, England recovered. So we see that a renaissance of marriage and family life based on natural law has taken place once already in Britain, serving the good of society and upholding the absolute sacredness of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. Despite all the odds, it can be achieved again with God’s help.

Such a renaissance emphasises that in marriage the spiritual precedes the material and that the vows are intended to be made in the heart before the two are united in one flesh. The reason the English took to their Marian devotion with such intensity and fervour is that, in their cherishing of marriage from the sixth century onwards, they could instinctively perceive how Mary was the exemplar (through the power of her own assent to God) and the national emblem of the way in which the spiritual precedes the physical. This is especially true of a vow – in particular the marriage vow, which gives rise to the physical establishment of the home as the microcosm of society, shaping a universal commonwealth.

The fact that England had this Holy House, that it was Mary’s land, that it honoured marriage as Pope St Gregory wished, led over centuries to that long continuity of our institutions, in which Christian values became writ large in national life. And just as out of the small house of Nazareth came a child who grew into a man who was the salvation of the world, so out of this domesticity, grounded in the pre-eminence of the values of the spirit, came the fidelity to a sense of covenant with God in justice and freedom. It is the seed of family life inspired by the Gospel of Life within the cell of the home, symbolically venerated in Walsingham, which multiplied through generations to make a Christian society; and strong cultural traces of that society remain in British life even today. There is no need for me to enunciate the many and diverse risks facing the family. The message of the 2008 World Day of Peace puts it succinctly:

Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace.

Thus fidelity, the bonds and ties of marriage and home, the unconditional love of parents for their children, the value we attach to small, domestic things – all these become the building blocks of a society that coheres. The 19th-century Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote that “the ordinary acts we practise every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest”. If the family really is the domestic church and parents the primary educators and protectors of their children, then we must be more creative in promoting and supporting them as the first and best of teachers in the home, the school of human virtues.

Against the backdrop of what was once a strong national conviction, and which even today is not completely obscured – namely, the intrinsic link between the free choice of the heart in marriage and the collective appreciation of Our Lady’s consent to become God’s mother – is the whole idea of voting. The word vote, which comes from the same root as vow or votive (as in votive candle), expresses both liberty and the protection of liberty, for a vow always emphasises and underpins the primacy of spiritual values in the interior world of choice, love and truth.

This deep sense of natural justice afforded by the state for the home is echoed by Pope Benedict’s analysis of John of Salisbury (c1120–1180), an English author, educationalist, diplomat and secretary to St Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury. In a thesis entitled Policraticus (the Man of Government) John of Salisbury claimed that natural law is characterised by “equity”, that is, the attribution to each person of his own rights. From this conviction stem precepts that are legitimate for all peoples, and in no way can they be abrogated. In his general audience of 16 December 2009, Benedict XVI said:

The theme of the relationship between natural law and a positive juridical order, mediated by equity, is still of great importance today. In our time, in fact, especially in some countries, we are witnessing a disturbing divergence between reason, whose task is to discover the ethical values linked to the dignity of the human person, and freedom, whose responsibility is to accept and promote them.

Perhaps John of Salisbury would remind us today that the only laws in conformity with equity are those that protect the sacredness of human life and reject the licitness of abortion, euthanasia and bold genetic experimentation, those laws that respect the dignity of marriage between a man and a woman, that are inspired by a correct secularism of the State, a secularism that always entails the safeguard of religious freedom and that pursues subsidiarity and solidarity at both the national and the international level. If this were not so, what John of Salisbury terms the “tyranny of princes”, or as we would say “the dictatorship of relativism”, would end by coming to power: a relativism “which does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires” .

Given the ethic espoused in Policraticus, we can see how England moved towards and beyond the formulation and application of the Magna Carta in 1215. That great charter of the liberties of England was once described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.
The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta will occur in 2015. It presents a wonderful opportunity to rediscover and revive the “concealed heart of the English identity”,17 namely, the home as the seedbed of virtues and the sanctuary of life. The modern European family may have chosen to ignore its Christian roots, but Benedict XVI is correct when he says that “the roots remain alive”.18
If we do not reclaim justice for the family then the stark warning of Blessed John Paul II, the pope of the family, in Familiaris Consortio speaks for itself:

Families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.


  1. Christifideles Laici n40.
  2. John Paul II: Address to the Members of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, May 2001, n5.
  3. “The sacrament of marriage gives to the educational role the dignity and vocation of being really and truly a ‘ministry’ of the church at the service of the building up of her members. So great and splendid is the educational ministry of Christian parents that Saint Thomas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests: ‘Some only propagate and guard spiritual life by a spiritual ministry: this is the role of the sacrament of Orders; others do this for both corporal and spiritual life, and this is brought about by the sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship God.’” Familiaris Consortio n38.
  4. Cardinal Masella: “A person of dialogue is one who has the patience to become thoroughly acquainted with his conversation partner. He appreciates him, he loves him, interprets his hidden aspirations, shares in his passion for the Truth and for Good and is desirous of walking with him to seek together new elements of light and goodness.” L’Osservatore Romano, 23 November 1968, as cited by M Masciarelli in Teacher of Dialogue; Architect of the Council, written to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI on 6 August 1978. L’Osservatore Romano 1 August 2007, English edition.
  5. Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Pontifical Council for the Family.
  6. Back to Virtue. P Kreeft, Ignatius Press, pp139 ff.
  7. “Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother – exercising their royal priesthood – penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.” Familiaris Consortio n70.
  8. General Audience Address. Pope Paul VI, 11 August 1976.
  9. In an address to the Diplomatic Corps at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that “the poorest human beings are unborn children” (1 August 2009). And in his annual Message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January 2009, Benedict XVI noted: “The extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings.”
  10. “Youth is the period for the conscience to be formed so that that young people can become people who are clear-sighted in life, people of principle, people who inspire trust and are credible. It is through rightness of conscience that young people make the most important contribution in the world and in the Church.” Dilecti Amici, Apostolic Letter to Young People, John Paul II, 1985.
  11. Familiaris Consortio n21.
  12. “…diciamo, e costituisce una piccola Chiesa, un ‘elemento’ della costruzione dell’unica e universale Chiesa qual è l’intero Corpo mistico di Cristo. Questa sacralità della famiglia cristiana nulla toglie all’integrità e alla naturalezza della famiglia ordinaria, anzi la illumina interiormente d’uno Spirito nuovo di amore e di felicità, la fortifica nelle prove e nelle pene della vita, le conferisce la coscienza d’una missione sua propria…” General Audience Address, Pope Paul VI, 11 August 1976.
  13. Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Sunday Times newspaper, 27 November 1977.
  14. See the biography of H W Grady by Joel Chandler Harris (1800).
  15. The Tablet, 29 September 2012. Markie Robson Scott book review of How England made the English. From hedgerows to Heathrow, Harry Mount.
  16. The Wilton Diptych, completed about 1395, depicts King Richard II formally handing England to the Mother of Christ. It confirms and commemorates the dedication of England as her “dowry” (from the Latin word dos or gift/donation).
  17. See Tom Paulin’s review of Clare Asquith’s book on Shakespeare.
  18. Message to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Culture, for the occasion of a day of study on the theme: “Dialogue between Cultures and Religions”, 9 December 2008, Benedict XVI.

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