Theology of the Family Emphasizes Domestic Church
Joseph Atkinson is the founder of the “Theology of the Family” project (TheologyoftheFamily.com).
An associate professor of sacred Scripture at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, he created and hosted a 13-part series for EWTN that presented the biblical vision of marriage and the family. He recently added more insights into God’s vision for family life in his new book, Biblical & Theological Foundations of the Family (CUA Press, 2014).
Atkinson discussed with the Register how this project is a major help for the problems family and marriage face today.
Why did you begin the “Theology of the Family” project?
I founded the project because of the profound needs of the family in the modern world. The purpose is to help people not only recover the biblical vision of the family, but also to be open to the healing grace of God.
Please explain why you say, “The greatest need in the modern world is to recover the biblical vision of marriage and family.”
In the West, we’ve lost our way. The West has many different competing ideologies, views and understandings of what the human person, the family and gender are. Even the purpose and value of human life is debated.
The West used to be grounded in the Judeo-Christian vision — man is made in the image of God; marriage is sacred; marriage and family have given purposes. The Church teaches that the family is the basic cell of society. That has been drastically reshaped and attacked on many levels, and this leads to what [St.] John Paul II called the “culture of death.”
What is the answer?
The answer to this malaise is to recover the biblical concept of reality. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Without a vision, the people go wild / perish.”
Having lost the vision of truth God has for us, we’re wandering around lost. People and families suffer greatly. Our society is becoming more violent and crude.
The antidote to that is to see that God has a purpose for each of us and our families. As we accept this truth, we will be set free to become who we are meant to be. Wherever truth is proclaimed, whenever we open ourselves to Christ, there is always hope, healing and freedom in the family.
You clearly show that the term “domestic church” was taught by the Church Fathers. Please explain.
The vocation of every family is to become a small body of Christ. That is, what we experience in the Church we should experience in our family relationships. In other words, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy, worship and the healing of God is actually meant to be present in our own “domestic church,” the church of the home.
Augustine and John Chrysostom saw this and emphasized two things: first, the reading and teaching of Scripture in the home and, second, an authentic order to the family, which leads to peace (shalom) and life, just as there is in the Church. Augustine shows one part of the father’s role is to act like a bishop. Here, there is no domination; but like any good bishop/shepherd, the father must lay down his life for his family. He is responsible to see that all in the family know Scripture, understand the truth and keep from heresy. He helps them to maturity. The mother is a fellow worker with her husband as they — together — form the family in Christ.
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.