The Holy Bible did not fall from the heavens as a complete publication ready for copying by the quill pen. Many of the 45 assorted books of the Hebrew Scriptures were most likely assembled by Jewish authorities during the Babylonian exile about five hundred years before the birth of Christ. By Jesus’ time the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated into Greek by 70 Jewish scholars becoming the Septuagint version Old Testament known today. It is very significant then that when assembling the many Biblical books during the Babylonian exile, the Jewish scholars chose to introduce the inspired Word of God by two epic sagas about family life. Genesis I recounts the familiar six days of creation culminating in the formation of the male/female unit open to new life known today as the family: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis II confirms the primacy of the family: “When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.* Clearly, the Jews understood family life to be a foundational element in God’s plan for humanity.
When epics and sagas had their run, the sacred authors introduced the Bible’s more historical chapters with another story of family life. The voice of God is heard for the first time in history promising childless Abraham and barren Sarah that they would finally be a family: All the families of the earth will find blessing in you. Having placed family life at the very heart of human history, God the Father could do no different than to have his own divine Son enter the story of mankind within a family. Jesus could have entered history as an angel, a demi-god, a spirit, or some ethereal force. But no, the Son of God was born into a family context: father and mother, relatives, hometown, nationality, gender and religion. The Incarnation of Jesus was not simply a spiritual embrace of man’s soul; the Incarnation incorporated the most basic elements of human society sanctifying for all time the family unit as humanity’s most worthy and most vital component.
Christianity’s first centuries also reveal the centrality of family life in God’s plan. While the conversion of national leaders like Constantine and Clovis had a lot to do with populations embracing the faith, the Christian commitment to family life also turned hearts toward the Gospel message. Not unlike our own era, the ancient world was rife with abortion, divorce, infidelity, promiscuity, homosexual activity, concubinage, sexism – and the like. The resistance of the early Christian community to these social aberrations eventually won over the minds and hearts of the Greco/Roman world. The fidelity of far-flung Christian soldiers to their wives at home and the chastity of the wives who remained at home opened the eyes of many pagans to the inner strength available to Christians. Respect for women as integral members of the Christian family unit was also a compelling invitation for pagans to reconsider Christianity. The welcoming of both male and female newborns among Christian families also gave pagan society pause. Centuries of abuse were reversed by the dutiful embrace of marriage and family by these first generations of Christians. Certainly, missionary saints like Denis, Patrick, Augustine and Boniface had a lot to do with the evangelization of Europe. But the example of the domestic Church, the family, in bringing home the practical and sensible meaning of Christianity should not be ignored.
Inflammatory headlines notwithstanding, the recent and continuing Synod on Marriage and Family is exactly what the Christian world and the secular world both need. Christians and non-Christians must come to realize that the family is not an arbitrary social construct that evolves randomly over the centuries. Indeed, there have been extended families and there have been nuclear families during various eras. There have been tribes and there have been communes. But father, mother, sons and daughters are the basic unit of society as Scripture, Tradition and history well testify. Christian spouses by their chaste fidelity and their responsible parenting are the living Gospel needed for modern times.